Soviet invasion of Poland

Soviet invasion of Poland

Soviet invasion of Poland

The Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 was a military operation that began on September 17, 1939, in the early stages of World War II, sixteen days after the invasion ofPoland by Nazi Germany. It was a major victory for the Red Army of theSoviet Union

In early 1939 the Soviet Union tried to form an alliance with the UK, France, Poland and Romania to face Nazi Germany but presented several difficulties, such as the refusal of Poland and Romania to allow Soviet troops to pass through their territories for collective security. In the absence of progress in the negotiations, the Soviets changed their strategy and signed on 23 August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany. Consequently, on September 1,Germanyinvaded westernPolandwhile the Soviets invaded eastern on September 17. The Soviet government announced that it was acting to protect the Ukrainians and Belarusians who lived in the eastern part ofPoland, due to the collapse of the Polish administration after the Nazi invasion. According to the Soviets, such administration could no longer guarantee the safety of its citizens.

The Red Army quickly achieved its objectives because it exceeded in number the Polish resistance. Around 230,000 Polish soldiers or more (452 500) were made prisoners of war. The Soviet government annexed the new territory, bringing it under their control and declaring in November that year that thirteen and a half million Polish citizens living in the annexed area, had become Soviet citizens. The Soviets countered the opposition by executions and arrests. Several hundreds, or thousands, according to estimates of those arrested were sent to Siberia and other remote areas of theUSSR, in four series of deportations produced between 1939 and 1941.

The Soviet invasion, which the Politburo called “liberation campaign”, allowed the incorporation of millions of Polish, Ukrainian andBelarusianSovietSocialistRepublicsofUkraineandBelarus. During the existence of theRepublicofPoland(1945-1989), the invasion was considered a delicate matter, becoming taboo and omitted from the official history in order to preserve the illusion of “eternal friendship” between members of Eastern Bloc.


In the late 1930s, the Soviet Union sought to form an alliance against Germanywith the UK, Franceand Poland. The negotiations, however, were difficult. The Soviets insisted on creating a circle of influence stretching from Finlandto Romaniaand asked for military aid, not only to act against any country that attacked directly, but also against any organization that attacked the countries of the sphere of influence. Since the start of negotiations with Franceand the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union demanded their right to occupy the Baltic States (Latvia, Estoniaand Lithuania). Finlandshould also be included in the Soviet sphere of influence and the Soviets finally claimed their right to act in Poland, Romaniaand the Baltic Stateswhen their safety is threatened. The governments of these countries rejected the proposal because they felt that if the Red Army invaded its territory ever, and never abandon, as noted by the Polish foreign minister Józef Beck. The Soviet Union ceased to trust the British and French to maintain collective security since they rejected assist the Second Spanish Republic against the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, or when waived protect Czechoslovakia from Nazi Germany. Similarly, suspected that the Western Allies would prefer the Soviet Union face Germanyitself, while they were watching the situation. Given these divergent interests, the Soviet Union left the resumed dialogue and talks with Germany.
On 23 August 1939 theSoviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany, catching the Allies by surprise. The two governments announced that the agreement was merely a non-aggression treaty. However, in an appendix also secretly agreed to dividePoland between them and dividedEastern Europe between the circles of Soviet and German influence. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which has been described as a license to the war, was a key factor in Hitler’s decision to invadePoland.

The treaty gave the Soviets extra defensive space in the west. Also given the opportunity to recover territories ceded toPolandtwenty years earlier and unite the Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples east and west under a Soviet government and, for the first time under one state. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin saw advantages in addition to untie a war inWestern Europe, as it could weaken their ideological enemies and open new areas for the spread of communism.

Shortly after the German invasion ofPolandon September 1, 1939, Nazi leaders began to encourage the Soviets to play their trump card of the Molotov-Ribbentrop to invade easternPoland. The German Ambassador inMoscow, Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg, and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, exchanged a series of diplomatic statements on the matter.

The Soviets delayed their intervention for several reasons. They were immersed in a series of border disputes withJapan, needed time to mobilize the Red Army and saw an advantage in wait diplomaticPolanddisintegrated before making a move. The September 17, 1939, Molotov declared on the radio that all treaties between the Soviet Union andPolandhad been canceled because the Polish government had abandoned his people and was no more effectively. That same day, the Red Army crossed the Polish border, beginning the invasion of the country.

Military Campaign

The Red Army made its foray Kresy area, east of Poland, with seven field armies and between 450,000 and 1,000,000 soldiers. These armies were grouped into two “fronts” (Soviet equivalent of an Army Group): the Belorussian Front under the leadership of Mikhail Kovalyov, and Ukrainian Front under Semyon Timoshenko orders. Until that time the Poles had failed to defend his western borders and in response to German incursions, had launched a counter of some importance in the battle of Bzura. The Polish Army originally had a well developed defensive plan against a potential Soviet invasion but were not prepared to stand up to two simultaneous invasions. By the time the Soviets invaded, the Polish commanders had sent most of his troops west to face the Germans, leaving the east with minimal protection of twenty battalions, which had about 20,000 soldiers border defense (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza in Polish), under the direction of General Wilhelm Orlik-Rueckemann.

As we begin the invasion, the Polish commander and Marshal of Poland Edward Rydz-Śmigły ordered the border forces to lend resistance to the Soviet invasion. Then he changed his position, after consultation with the Prime Minister Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski, ordering back and limiting attacks on the Soviets to the case of self-defense.

The two contradictory orders led to confusion and when the Red Army attacked Polish units battles erupted inevitably small. The non-response to the situation ethnically Polish added a new complication. In some cases, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jewish welcomed the entry of Soviet troops, considered liberating. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists rose against the Poles, and communist partisans organized local revolts, e.g. in Skidel.

The original plan of the Polish military withdrawal was to retreat and regroup around the Romanian border. The idea was to take defensive positions on that site and wait for the attack promised by the French and British in the west. This plan assumed thatGermanywould be forced to limit their operations inPolandin order to fight on a second front. The allies expected Polish forces resisted for several months but the Soviet attack made this strategy become obsolete.

The Polish political and military leaders knew they were losing the war against Nazi Germany even before the Soviet invasion in the defeat became inevitable. However, refused to surrender or negotiate peace with Germany. Instead, the Polish government asked all military units to evacuate Polandand to meet again in France. The same government moved to Romaniaat midnight on September 17, 1939 at the border of Zalischyky. Some Polish units continued maneuvering in southeastern Poland, enduring attacks by the Germans in front while the other faced the Soviet troops. In the days that followed the evacuation order, the Germans defeated the Poles at the Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski, which occurred from 17 to 20 September.
Soviet units often found with the Germans advancing from the opposite direction. There were several notable examples of cooperation between the two forces. The Wehrmacht captured the fortress of Brest with the help of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade, after the Battle of Brest Litovsk, on September 17. German General Heinz Guderian and Soviet Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein conducted a joint parade after taking Brest. Leopolis (or Lwów in Polish) surrendered on September 22, days after the Germans had handed over command of operations in the area to the Soviets. Soviet forces took Wilno on 19 September, after a battle of two days duration. On September 24 took Hrodna, after four days of fighting. By September 28 the Red Army had reached the line of rivers Narew, Western Bug,Vistula and San, who traced the border agreed in advance with the Nazis.

Despite the Polish tactical victory at the Battle of Szack September 28, the Polish defeat was already beyond doubt. Civilian volunteers and militia reorganized units retreated to the capital,Warsaw. Modlin Fortress, north of the capital, surrendered on September 29, after an intense battle for sixteen days. On 1 October, Soviet troops drove Polish units into the woods, in the battle of Wytyczno, one of the last direct confrontations of the campaign.

Several isolated Polish garrisons managed to hold their positions for a long time before being defeated, the last operational unit of the Polish Army to surrender, the Independent Operational Group “Polesie” (Samodzielna Grupa Operacyjna “Polesie” in Polish) General Franciszek Kleeberg. Kleeberg surrendered on October 6, after the four-day Battle of Kock nearLublin, ending September Campaign. The Soviets had been victorious. On 31 October, Molotov reported to the Supreme Soviet: “A German Army jab and then another of the Red Army, were enough to destroy this ugly creature of the Treaty of Versailles”.

Allied reaction

The reaction ofFranceandBritainto the invasion ofPolandwas silence, because they did not want any confrontation with theUSSRat the time. Under the terms of the Anglo-Polish military alliance of 25 August 1939, the British had promised military assistance toPolandif it was attacked by a European power. But when the Polish ambassador Edward Raczyński reminded the British Secretary of State signed the EFL Wood, he stated categorically that it was not a good company for theUKdeclares war on theSoviet Union. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain considered making public a commitment to restore the Polish state structure but eventually simply issue statements of condemnation.

The French had also made commitments toPoland, including the provision of air support, and these were not enforced. Once the Soviets invadedPoland, the French and the British decided that there was nothing they could do forPolandin the short term, so they began to plan a long-term victory. The French had advanced tentatively into theSaarin early September but after the Polish defeat, retreated behind the Maginot Line, as of October 4. Many Poles were outraged at the lack of support from its Western allies, creating a feeling of betrayal among Poles.


In October 1939 Molotov reported to the Supreme Soviet that the invasion had caused a total of 737 deaths and 1,862 wounded Soviet, Polish figures but the numbers rise to 3,000 deaths and between eight thousand and ten thousand wounded. On the Polish side, between 6,000 and 7,000 soldiers were killed in the fighting against the Red Army, being taken prisoner between 230,000 and 450,000 men. The Soviets used to bypass the terms of the rendering. In some cases, they promised Polish soldiers freedom if they surrendered but ended up arresting them when they laid down their arms.
TheSoviet Union officially ceased to recognize the Polish state when the invasion began. As a result, the two governments declared war never officially. For this reason, the Soviets treated the Polish military prisoners as prisoners of war but as rebels against the new government ofUkraine andWestern Belarus. The Soviets killed tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war. Some were executed during the campaign, like General Józef Olszyna-Wilczynski, who was captured, interrogated and then killed on September 22. On September 24, the Soviets killed forty-two people, including staff and patients of a Polish military hospital in the town ofGrabowiec near Zamość.

The Soviets also executed all the Polish officers they captured after the battle of Szack, as of September 28, 1939. More than 20,000 people, including Polish military personnel and civilians perished in the Katyn Slaughter. Some 300 Poles were executed after the battle ofGrodno.

The Poles and the Soviets re-established diplomatic relations in 1941, following the Sikorski-Mayski Pact, but the Soviets break again in 1943 after the Polish government demanded an independent review of the mass graves discovered in theKatynForest. Then the Soviet government put pressure on Western allies to recognize the Soviet-backed puppet government of Wanda Wasilewska inMoscow.

The September 28, 1939, theUSSRandGermanychanged the terms of the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Went toLithuaniato the Soviet sphere of influence and shifted the border inPolandto the east, givingGermanya larger territory. With this arrangement, often described as the fourth partition ofPoland, theUSSRkept all Polish territory located east of the line described by the riversPisa, Narew,Western Bugand San. This provided a total of 200,000 square kilometers, inhabited by thirteen and a half million Polish citizens.

The Red Army had sown confusion among the locals to ensure arriving to savePolandfrom the Nazis. Their advance surprised the Poles and their leaders, who had not received information on how to respond to an invasion of theUSSR. Some Poles and Jews might at first have preferred a Soviet regime before one Nazi. However, the Soviets quickly imposed their ideology on local life. For example, began to confiscate and redistribute nationalize all privately owned or state. During the two years following the invasion and annexation ofPoland, the Soviets arrested a hundred thousand Polish citizens and deported a total of 350,000 to 1,500,000, of whom between 250,000 and 1,000,000 died, most of them civilians.

Territories of theSecondPolishRepublicannexed by theUSSR

Of the thirteen and a half million civilians living in the territories annexed by theUSSR, the Poles were the largest ethnic group but Belarusians and Ukrainians together accounted for fifty percent of the population. The annexation to theSoviet Uniongave control of all areas where Belarusians living and Ukrainians, as some of them remained in the German zone due to movement of the border to the east. Anyway, theUSSRsucceeded in uniting most of the two peoples, expandingSovietSocialistRepublicsofBelarusandUkraine.

On October 26, 1939 were held “elections” inBelarusandUkraineassemblies to give the annexation an appearance of legality. Belarusians and Ukrainians living inPolandhad been alienated by the Polonization policy of the Government of Warsaw and repression of separatist movements, so they felt little loyalty to the Polish state. However, not all Belarusians and Ukrainians viewed with favor the establishment of Soviet rule in Poland, due to resentment by the Holodomor (famine in Ukraine) in early 1930. In general, the poor received either the Soviets while elites tended to join the opposition, despite support reunification.

The Soviets quickly introduced Sovietization policies in Belarusand Western Ukraine, including mass collectivization in the entire region. During the process, ruthlessly eliminated political parties and public associations and arrested or executed their leaders, accusing them of “enemies of the people”. Authorities also removed the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and anti-Polish character wearing actively resisting against the Polish state since the 1920s. But despite the change of regime, Ukrainian nationalists continued to aspire to an independent and unified Ukrainian state. The unifications of 1939 were nevertheless a landmark in the history of Ukraineand Belarusformed the basis for territorial with the two republics would achieve independence in 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Soviet censors suppressed many of the details of the invasion of 1939 and its consequences. The Politburo called the operation a “liberation campaign” and later Soviet publications and institutions would not change this position. On November 30, 1939, Stalin said that it was Germanywho had attacked Franceand Englandbut were Franceand Englandwho had attacked Germany. In March 1940 Molotov claimed that Germanyhad tried to negotiate peace but his proposal was rejected by the “Anglo-French imperialists.” All subsequent Soviet government denied the existence of a secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop but when the document was “found” in the Soviet archives in 1989 the truth became known. Censorship was also applied in the Republicof Polandto maintain the image of “Polish-Soviet friendship” promoted by the two communist governments. Official policy only admitted that the campaign of 1939 served to unite the Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples and to free the Polish “oligarchic capitalism”. Authorities discouraged any study or profound teaching on the subject. However, several publications covert (known in Polish as Bibuła) delved into the matter, as did other media and Jacek Kaczmarski protest song.


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