A panicky runaway of weak Polish troops crushed by the roller of German forces is a false and unfair image of the September 1939, held in the awareness of most Poles. The truth is we were capable of fighting our aggressor almost as equals, or even surprise our invader with our bold counterattacks, during which we would enter the territory of the Third Reich, and occupy German villages.
On the first day of World War II, crossing German border was forbidden, as this would mean being accused of provoking a conflict. It was quite soon, however, that the Poles began counterattacks against the Nazi forces. In Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) province, the situation was the most advantageous, as the province was located in between the main German invasion routes on Poland, and was in fact attacked by only inconsiderable forces. One of the greatest Polish counterattacks was the Raid on Fraustadt (Polish: Wypad na Wschowę), which was to be a retaliation for Nazi occupation of Rawicz and for bombing Leszno.
On September 2, the Polish forces retook Rawicz, and a platoon commanded by Zbigniew Janowski raided other side of the border and attacked German forces in Königsdorf (today: Załęcze), where it disrupted German vehicle column of several dozen vehicles. The commander of Wielkopolska Infantry Brigade, BrigGen Roman Abraham, encouraged by these successes, decided to carry out significantly greater raid towards Fraustadt (today: Wschowa) on the same day. In the morning, air reconnaissance was conducted around the town. The commander of the 55th Infantry Regiment, Col Władysław Wiecierzyński, gathered military forces.
The main attack force of over 300 soldiers was commanded by Capt Edmund Lesisz. The unit comprised of two companies of the 55th Infantry Regiment, supported by Capt Ludwik Śnitka’s artillery platoon, and the platoons of panzer vehicles and heavy machine guns. From the north, it was covered by the platoon of the 17th Uhlan Regiment, commanded by 2ndLt Tadeusz Stryja, and from the south – Lt Zbigniew Barański’s military bicycle platoon, and Lt Wacław Chłopik’s tankettes squadron. The southern forces were under the command of BrigGen Abraham. The communication between all the Polish units was provided by the cavalry and the cyclists. The presence of the cyclists in the army can be surprising, they were however an indispensable element of contemporary army forces in most of Europe. They were faster than infantry, they did not need fuel as the motorcyclists did, and – contrary to the infantry – they did not have to take care of any live creatures. These were fast and agile forces, which would get on very well in a difficult terrain.
Assault of Tankettes
The operation started on September 2, 1939, about 5:00 p.m. First, the infantry units were transported by buses to their starting point: a village of Długie Stare at the border. The soldiers, formed in extended line, started off to the Grenzschutz watchtower in the village of Geyersdorf (today: Dębowa Łęka), which was also being shelled by Polish artillery. What is interesting, our machine guns were unable to get close to the protected by anti-tank ditches village, so they would fire over the border.
The Nazi were totally surprised. Their motorcycle unit tried to save the situation, but they were forced to retreat. In the Grenzschutz’s border watchtower, a vast quantity of weapon was taken. It was then that the Polish tankettes entered the operation – they drove the last groups of German defenders off, and, with the support of the infantry, invaded the village. TKS tankettes were small, turretless tanks with a crew of two, armed only with a machine gun, but very fast and agile, so the Polish units quickly occupied Geyersdorf. The irony of fate was that this village by virtue of the Versaille Treaty had originally been Polish, and only in 1920, as a result of the intervention of some local estate owner, it was annexed to Germany in exchange for the Wijewo village.
The Shelling of Fraustadt
Meantime, the artillery platoon commanded by Capt Śnitka launched from their position in Geyersdorf the shelling of German military barracks in Fraudstadt. The town was panic-stricken. The army units hastily started their retreat. After futile calls for help to nearby Głogów – evacuation started, and it was so hectic that the masses of civilians blocked the road from Fraustadt to Głogów.
The shelling damaged the town’s church tower and military barracks, and several civilians, a German policeman and a customs officer were killed. Over a dozen people were wounded. The killed victims had ceremonial funerals, and their memory “as the victims of the Polish invasion” was later commemorated by a monument. Fraustadt/Wschowa was probably the only border German town shelled in September 1939 by Polish artillery, which was never forgotten by the Nazi. In 1943, the Gestapo haunted Capt Lesisz in an Oflag (POW camp for officers), where he was arrested and later bestially murdered.
Polish artillery units, having fired 36 shells on Fraustadt, started their withdrawal. The Polish infantry reached the town’s toll house. The platoon of Lt Stefan Perkiewicz broke as far as 8 km into the territory of Germany, and captured POWs. After dark, however, the infantry also withdrew back to Leszno, as did the rest of the Polish forces. During the retreat, a tragicomic incident took place in the village of Święciechowa, where the local 5th column took the retreating Polish soldiers for the invading Germans, and greeted them with Nazi flags. Obviously, it was exposed and neutralized in a flash.
We Know How to Win
A successful raid bolstered the morale of the soldiers in Wielkopolska, because it revealed that the Nazi are not undefeatable. Unfortunately, it was practically of no strategic significance. It was no use to attack the Germans with greater forces, because it would mean weakening the still threatened Leszno. However, this effective operation raised the soldiers’ spirits to support them to continue their fight, and surely contributed to the “Poznań” Army’s great performance in the Battle of the Bzura. Today, the Raid on Fraustadt is commemorated by the monument at the outskirts of Wschowa, along the road to Leszno.
autor zdjęć: Grafika PZ