river vistula

The End of Poland (no sound)

October 1939, Soviet and German troops meet at the center of Poland after its defeat, as part of the agreements of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, in which it was stated that the soviets would occupy Eastern Poland, while the Germans kept the west, the Vistula river becoming the new border between the two nations.

The flyers the germans are handing over read: “The German Army salutes the Red Army of workers and farmers, which has always held in the highest respect.” 

El Final de Polonia (sin audio)

Octubre de 1939, tropas Soviéticas y Alemanas se encuentran en el centro de Polonia luego de su derrota, como parte de los acuerdos del Pacto Ribbentrop-Mólotov, donde se estableció que los Soviéticos ocuparían Polonia oriental, mientras que los alemanes se quedarían con occidente, el río Vistula convirtiéndose en la nueva frontera entre ambas naciones.  

Los panfletos que los Alemanes reparten dicen: “El Ejercito Alemán saluda al Ejercito Rojo de trabajadores y granjeros, el cual siempre ha tenido en el mayor de los respetos”.

Der letzte Wehrmachtsbericht (The last Armed Forces Report)

During the Second World War the German high command, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), instituted a daily mass-media report of the status of the German armed forces. The commentary was mostly aimed at the civilian population on the German home-front, being written by a professional army officer in layman’s terms so that the former could easily understand the reports.

All broadcasts had to go through the Reich Ministry of Propaganda however, ensuring that they would become a key component for control of information the war effort. The first broadcast was September 1st, 1939, giving coverage of the Invasion of Poland, the start of the Second World War.

The Wehrmachtsbericht continued on throughout the war into Operation Barbarossa, the reports of which helped craft the image of the Wehrmacht’s continual success deep into Russian territory. Even after the Red Armies Yelnya Offensive, which was the first reverse for the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front, the Wehrmachtsbericht was keen to word the setbacks in a positive manner portraying them as “front corrections” or “planned withdrawals” while pushing the narrative of massive enemy causalities.

This trend of continuing to avoid publishing bad news on the air continued even after the Red Army offensive Operation Uranus, which encircled 300,000 Axis soldiers. The report mentioned a Red Army attack in the east, but didn’t address the extent of the disaster.

Post Battle of Stalingrad the communiqués were more factual and steady, with Joseph Goebbels issuing specific instructions to use “cautious optimism” as to not set expectations too high at the home-front. Even as the apparent victories were getting closer to Germany itself, the Wehrmachtsberichts maintained giving a positive light to the situation.  

The final Wehrmachtsbericht aired on May 19th, 1945. Here is the English translation:

“The High Command of the Wehrmacht announces: 8 p.m. and 3 minutes. Reichssender Flensburg and connected stations. We bring today the last Werhrmachtsreport of this war.

In East Prussia yesterday German divisions were still defending the mouth of the River Vistula and the western sector of the Frische Nehrung. The 7th Division in particular distinguished itself. General der Panzertruppe, was awarded the Diamonds to the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in recognition of the exemplary behavior of his soldiers.

Forming an advance bulwark, Generaloberst Hilpert’s armies in Courland covered themselves with untarnished honor throughout the months of bitter fighting against vastly superior Soviet infantry and tank forces. They rejected a premature surrender. Aircraft first transported wounded and then children were evacuated to the west. Commanders and officers remained with their men. At midnight all movement and fighting ceased on the German side in accordance with the conditions laid down. The defenders of Breslau, having resisted the attacks of the Soviets for two months, bowed to the enemy superiority.

On the southeastern and eastern Fronts, from Bruenn to the Elbe near Dresden, the orders to cease fighting were obeyed. A Czech uprising covering the whole of Bohemia and Moravia may affect the implementing of the capitulation in that area. To date no reports have been received by OKW from the Löhr, Rendulic or Schörner Army Groups.

The garrisons of the Atlantic fortresses, our troops in northern Norway and the occupation forces in the Aegean islands, through their obedience and discipline have demonstrated German military honor.

From midnight the guns have been silent on all Fronts. The Grand Admiral has ordered the armed forces to cease a struggle which was hopeless.

The honorable struggle which has lasted almost six years is, therefore, at an end. It has brought us not only great victories but also heavy defeats. The German armed forces have been overcome, finally, by superior force. The German soldier, loyal to the oath he had sworn, has achieved imperishable things in this struggle for his people.

To the end the homeland supported him with all its strength, despite its own suffering. History will one day judge objectively this unique effort of the front and of the homeland. The achievements and sacrifices of German soldiers at sea, on the land and in the air cannot be denied by our opponents.

Every soldier can, therefore, lay down his weapon with pride and in this, the bitterest hour of our history, begin to work bravely and honorably for our people.

In this bitter hour the armed forces remember those comrades who fell facing the enemy. Those dead compel us to work loyally, obediently and with discipline on behalf of our fatherland which is bleeding from innumerable wounds.

We brought the words of the last Wehrmacht report of this war. It follows a radio silence of 3 minutes.“


LEGENDS FROM POLAND #4: THE LEGEND OF THE WAWEL DRAGON

In a cave at the bottom of Wawel Hill there once lived a terrible fire-belching dragon. This dragon roamed around the countryside and did whatever he wanted to do. He ate sheep and cattle and scared the farmers so much that they didn’t let their animals graze in the field near the Vistula River. Many brave knights had tried to kill the monster, but before they could get close enough to him, he blew fire on them and they were burned to death.The king wanted this dragon destroyed. He invited knights and noblemen to come and slay the dragon, promising that whichever one killed the dragon could marry his beautiful daughter and become king when he died. Many tried to slay the dragon sothat they could marry the princess, but the dragon killed them. The people became even more frightened; they were afraid to leave their homes and the country became poorer. One day, a young, handsome but poor shoemaker’s apprentice named Krak asked the king if he could try to slay the dragon. The king said he could try, but noted that he had no armor, no horse and no sword.The apprentice had only his shoemaker tools and a plan. He didn’t need armor, ahorse, or a sword. Krak bought a dead sheep from the butcher and some sulphur (a powder that isused in making matches) from a miner. Then he cut the sheep open with his sharpshoemaker’s knife, stuffed it with the powdered sulphur and then sewed the sheep up with the shoemaker’s thread. He put the sheep by the dragon’s cave and waited behind a rock for the dragon to come out. After a while, the greedy dragon came out from his cave. He saw the dead animal and greedily ate it. The sulphur caught fire, like a match, and the dragon felt his stomach burning. He ran to the river to quench the fire in his stomach, but drank so much water that he filled up like a balloon. He kneeled down and was very sick. Krak came out from behind the rock, and began to throw stones at the dragon. The monster tried to blow fire at him but because of all the water he drank, all that came out from his mouth was steam. The dragon kept trying to breathe fire, but because he was so swollen, he exploded and died. At last the people were free of him. Krak and the princess married. After her father, the King, died, Krak became King, as promised. He built a castle on top of Wawel Hill and for hundreds of years it was where the Kings of Poland lived. Around the hill, the people built a city which they named Krakow, after their new king.

2

Greek Sarmatian Gold, Glass and Garnet Necklace, 1st Century BC/AD

This type of necklace was manufactured by the Sarmatians in the time of their greatest expansion, when they inhabited the area from Vistula River to the mouth of the Danube and eastward to the Volga, bordering the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas as well as the Caucasus to the south. The style of necklace was copied from the late Greek Hellenistic jewellery, especially from the colonies in the so-called Pontic region. A necklace with a nearly identical pendant (photo) was found in the Olbia treasure, dated to 2nd century BC, which suggests that this particular necklace was manufactured in this city or surrounding area. Olbia’s importance and influence declined in the Roman expansion period, and by the 1st century AD, the former important centre of Greek culture became a minor provincial town, ruled by Sarmatian kings.

LEGENDS FROM POLAND #1: THE LEGEND OF THE WARSAW MERMAID

Once upon a time there was a sea mermaid who got lost and swam up the Wisła [Vistula] River. After a long journey she decided to take a rest on the riverbank and it happened to be the area where the modern-day Warsaw is located. She looked around, fell in love with the harmonious surroundings and decided to stay.

Local fishermen started noticing that something unusual was disturbing the river’s calm waters and releasing fish from their nests. Not deliberating much, they decided to catch the damage-doer.

To their surprise, they saw an unusual woman whose legs were covered in scales, looking just like a fish tail, captured in the trap they prepared. She asked them to release her, and the mermaid’s melodious voice made them fell in love with her. They apologized and let her swim freely. From that day on they were often gathering on the riverbank after a hard day of work, listening together to the mermaid’s soothing songs.

One day a rich travelling merchant found out about the mysterious creature and sneaked to the riverside in the evening. After listening to the mermaid, his greedy heart and soul desired to own her. Merchant’s mercenaries put up a trap and captured the mermaid, then locked her in a nearby hut and were waiting for the further orders.

The mermaid started crying and her cry was like the saddest song of the nature. People’s hearts were bleeding with sadness. A brave fisherman’s son couldn’t stand the torment brought upon the mermaid and gathered the locals. Together they defeated the guards and set the mermaid free.

“I will never forget your deed” said the mermaid. “I can’t be coming to sing for you any longer, but whenever your people would meet overwhelming troubles, I will be ready with my shield and sword to protect you, just like you protected my freedom”.

The Warsaw Uprising (Polish: Powstanie Warszawskie) was a major World War II operation by the Polish resistance Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa) to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The rebellion was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union’s Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces. However, the Soviet advance stopped short, enabling the Germans to regroup and demolish the city while defeating the Polish resistance, which fought for 63 days with little outside support. The Uprising was the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II.

The uprising began on 1 August 1944, as part of a nationwide plan, Operation Tempest, when the Soviet Army approached Warsaw. The main Polish objectives were to drive the German occupiers from the city and help with the larger fight against Germany and the Axis powers. Secondary political objectives were to liberate Warsaw before the Soviets, to underscore Polish sovereignty by empowering the Polish Underground State before the Soviet-backed Polish Committee of National Liberation could assume control. Also, short-term causes included the threat of a German round-up of able-bodied Poles, and Moscow radio calling for the Uprising to begin.

Initially, the Poles established control over most of central Warsaw, but the Soviets ignored Polish attempts to establish radio contact and did not advance beyond the city limits. Intense street fighting between the Germans and Poles continued. By 14 September, Polish forces under Soviet high command occupied the east bank of the Vistula river opposite the insurgents’ positions; but only 1,200 men made it across to the west bank, and they were not reinforced by the bulk of the Red Army. This, and the lack of Soviet air support from a base 5 minutes flying time away, led to allegations that Joseph Stalin tactically halted his forces to let the operation fail and allow the Polish insurrectionists to be crushed. Arthur Koestler called the Soviet attitude “one of the major infamies of this war which will rank for the future historian on the same ethical level with Lidice.”

Winston Churchill pleaded with Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt to help Britain’s Polish allies, to no avail. Then, without Soviet air clearance, Churchill sent over 200 low-level supply drops by the Royal Air Force, the South African Air Force and the Polish Air Force under British High Command. Later, after gaining Soviet air clearance, the US Army Air Force sent one high-level mass airdrop as part of Operation Frantic. The Soviet Union refused to allow American bombers from Western Europe to land on Soviet airfields after dropping supplies to the Poles.

Although the exact number of casualties remains unknown, it is estimated that about 16,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed and about 6,000 badly wounded. In addition, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly from mass executions. Jews being harboured by Poles were exposed by German house-to-house clearances and mass evictions of entire neighbourhoods. German casualties totalled over 8,000 soldiers killed and missing, and 9,000 wounded. During the urban combat approximately 25% of Warsaw’s buildings were destroyed. Following the surrender of Polish forces, German troops systematically leveled another 35% of the city block by block. Together with earlier damage suffered in the 1939 invasion of Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, over 85% of the city was destroyed by January 1945, when the course of the events in the Eastern Front forced the Germans to abandon the city. (x)

3

The First Great Disastrous Invasion of Russia

Throughout history there are three great invasions of Russia which have ultimately led to the collapse of great empires and a changing course in history.  The last two are pretty well known.  In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grande Armee invaded Russia, only to succumb to winter weather and scorched earth tactics.  The failed invasion annihilated Napoleon’s army and set in motion the event which would lead to the collapse of the French Empire.  Then in 1941 German forces under Adolf Hitler drove deep into Russia with the goal of capturing Moscow.  Roughly four years later Russian hordes stormed the streets of Berlin while Hitler gloomily eyed his pistol and cyanide capsule.  While these two invasions of Russia are well known, the first is almost forgotten.  However, it was an important invasion, one that would define Russian strategy in future invasions.

In the early 18th century, Sweden had developed into a very powerful empire which dominated Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.  Under the rule of Charles XII, the Swedish Empire comprised of Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Livonia, and parts of Northern Germany.  In addition, Charles XII had installed puppet rulers on the thrones of Denmark and Poland.  In 1707, continuing conflicts with Russia led Charles XII to organize a grand invasion with the goal of capturing Moscow itself.  Amassing an army of 40,000 he crossed the Vistula River on the 1st of January, 1708.  Later he was joined by another 20,000 allied Cossacks. 

By the Spring of 1708 the Swedish Army had its first clashes with the Russians, all of which were resounding victories.  Again and again Charles XII dealt blow after blow, causing often horrific casualties among the Russian Army.  To Charles XII frustration, the Russians withstood punch after punch, devastating blow after devastating blow.  However with each battle the Russians stood back up, brushed themselves off, and demanded more. It seemed that no matter how badly the Russians were defeated, they would never surrender. The Swedish advance was being slowed by engagements with the Russians, but worse yet it was part of Czar Peter the Great’s grand strategy to draw the Swedes into Russia.  Peter the Great is credited as being the man who modernized Russia in the 18th century.  However at the time there was still much work to be done in modernizing the military.  He knew that his troops were nowhere near the caliber of professional Swedish soldiers, so he developed a strategy of drawing the Swedes deep within Russia while slowly weakening them, the cut off their reinforcements, and finish them off.  The Russians burned, hid, or transported away anything of value to the Swedes, especially food, clothing, and shelter.  When the winter of 1808/1809 hit, the Swedish Army was forced to halt after a weather event occured called the Great Frost of 1709, where temperatures dropped up to 15 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). For the average Swedish soldier, there was nothing to do but starve and shiver. During the winter, 12,000 of his men froze to death.  Others died of disease, malnutrition, and exhaustion.  In addition, Peter the Great led a surprise attack against a force 12,000 Swedish reinforcements escorting a convoy of 4,500 supply wagons.  Despite suffering heavy casualties the Russian annihilated the Swedish force at Lesnaya, and Charles XII was left without much needed supplies and reinforcements.

In the summer of 1709 Charles XII decided to invade Ukraine instead of Moscow, in hopes of rebuilding his army and continuing the march into Russia later.  By them his army had been reduced to 16,000 men.  Worse yet, his Cossack allies switched sides and abandoned him.  At Poltava, Ukraine, the Swedes and the Russians met for a final show down.  There, the Russian had built a series of trenches, ramparts, and forts manned by over 50,000 men.  Despite being outnumbered, Charles order a full assault.  At first the Swedes were successful, capturing the first two lines of defenses, but then the Russians counterattacked, driving panic among the Swedish Army and forcing them off the battlefield.  A mere month later, the Russians surrounded and captured the Swedish Army at Perevolochna, forcing them to surrender.  Charles XII managed to escape to the Ottoman Empire.  Of his 40,000 man grand army, only 543 remained.  

Charles XII remained in Turkey for a few years, convincing the Turks to make war on Russia.  The war was short lived before a peace treaty was signed, and he was forced to return home empty handed.  When he arrived back in Sweden, he found that the major powers of Europe had gathered together to pick the carcass of what was his grand empire.  His old enemies, such as Russia and Denmark had declared war and invaded, but so had also new enemies such as Prussia and Great Britain.  Charles XII fought off as many enemies as he could, but was also force to make several concessions.  Charles XII was killed in battle in 1718, and would be the last absolute ruler of Sweden, as the country changed governments to a constitutional monarchy.  The Swedish Empire never recovered from the defeat dealt by the Russians, and over the coming decades was forced to give up much of its territories, such as Finland, to Russia.

THE MANY DIFFERENT NAMES OF POLAND:
#1 Poland with an S:
Samartia and Scythia

One of the earliest and most persisting geographical designations of this part of Europe, was Sarmatia. The term was first used by the Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus in the 2nd century AD, and covered a region that stretched all the way from the Black Sea to the Vistula River and the Sarmatian Ocean (better known today as the Baltic Sea). As such, Sarmatia encompassed much of what we call Eastern Europe today. Further to the east there was only Scythia, the name which was sometimes identified with Poland, but which eventually came to be identified with Russia.

In the centuries to come, Sarmatia and Scythia were a constant point of reference for Western Europe trying to construct the map of the eastern parts of the continent. And in early modern Poland, the name Sarmatia and its mythical inhabitants became a key element of the inchoate cultural identity of the Polish upper classes.

5

The Soviet D-Day — Operation Bagration,

Everyone remembers June 6th, 1944 when Allied forces crossed the English Channel and invaded France, an event forever known as D-Day.  Yet while D-Day is known by many in the West, like most other Soviet operations during the war the Soviet equivalent called “Operation Bagration” is little known and recognized.  Operation Bagration was the Soviet grand offensive to destroy the Wehrmacht and bring the Third Reich too its knees, but it was much more than that.  If D-Day could be likened to a stiff right hook that dazed the German military, Operation Bagration was more like being struck in the face with a 50 lb sledgehammer, then further pummeled while on the ground, then gruesomely  dispatched with an “American History X” style curbstomp with the Battle of Berlin. 

Operation Bagaration was meant to roughly coincide with D-Day in western Europe, but due to the logistics of organizing such a massive offensive, it was delayed until June 22nd.  Named after a Russian general during the Napoleonic Wars, it was a truly massive offensive.  Spread out among three major fronts were 2.5 million Soviet troops, as well was as roughly 2,700 tanks, 5,300 aircraft, and 25,000 artillery pieces. By contrast, the Normandy invasion involved less than half the men.  After suffering terrible losses a Stalingrad and Kursk, the Germans could only muster a comparatively weak force of 800,000 men (half of which were non-combat or support personnel), as well as 800 tanks, 500 assault guns, 1,000 - 1,300 aircraft, and 10,000 artillery.

The main goal of the operation was to capture Minsk, the capital of Belorussia, and thus the onus of the offensive was against German Army Group Center, which was the largest and most important part of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front.  The offensive began on the early morning of June 23rd with a massive artillery bombardment lasting 2 hours.  According to surviving German soldiers, it was the largest and most terrifying barrage of the entire war.  The Soviets used a tactic called the creeping barrage, in which artillery fire would fire upon a target, then progressively creep forward to catch exposed troops that retreated to the rear.  After the barrage the Red Army attacked, using a tactic called “Deep Battle” where forces would exploit various weaknesses in the enemy line, eventually penetrating it, encircling enemy forces, and then driving deep into enemy territory.

The height of Operation Bagration occurred in early July when the Soviets crushed Army Group Center and took Minsk.  In a situation reminiscent of Stalingrad, 100,000 German troops of the 4th Army were surrounded in Minsk.  Unable to break out, they were utterly obliteraed, with 40,000 being killed and the rest being captured.  While Minsk was the main goal of the offensive, Bagration continued well into July and August.  By the time the operation was declared over in late August, Soviet troops had driven halfway through Poland, halting at the Vistula River, practically within shouting distance of Warsaw.  On other fronts, Soviet forces had driven into the Batlics, lifting the Siege of Leningrad and threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of German troops in Kaliningrad (which did eventually happen).  In the south, Soviet forces were invading the Balkans and preparing to storm Romania, the primary source of oil for Germany.

The worst blow to Germany was not in terms of territory or resources, but men. Around 300,000 - 350,000 German soldiers were killed or missing.  Another 150,000 - 200,000 were captured and taken prisoner, 50,000 of which would be forced to march through Moscow in a grand parade (pictured above).  Army Group Center was thoroughly gutted, and would only be able to present a shadow of itself for the rest of the war.  The loss of so many men devastated the Wehrmacht, which was unable to replace its losses.  This was further exacerbated by terrible defeats in France at the hands of the Americans and Commonwealth forces.  From thence on the German Army would suffer severe manpower shortages, often replacing their ranks with barely trained soldiers who were either too young or too old for military service.  The Battle of Bulge was the Wehrmacht’s last hurrah, shortly afterward the German military would crumble into dust.

The Soviets too suffered heavy losses, around 180,000 killed or missing and 500,000 wounded.  However, Operation Bagration was a stunning success, which irreparably shattered the back of the Third Reich.