Category Archives: Poland

A joke

A Pole walking along the road happens to spy a lamp. He picks it up, and as it is covered in rust he gives it quick rub. Out comes a genie.

“I’m the genie of the lamp and I can grant you three wishes,” the genie says.

“OK,” says the Pole. “I want the Chinese Army to invade Poland.”

Odd choice, the genie thinks, but nevertheless he grants the wish, and the Chinese Army comes all the way from China, invades, and goes back home.

“Right, second wish. Maybe something more positive,” says the genie.

“No,” replies the Pole, “I want the Chinese Army to invade again.”

So the Chinese come all the way from China, lay waste to more of Poland, and then go home.

“Listen,” says the genie. “You have one last wish. I can make Poland the most beautiful and prosperous place on earth.”

“If you don’t mind, I want the Chinese army to invade one more time.”

So the Chinese army comes again, destroys what’s left of Poland, and then goes home for the last time.

“I don’t understand,” says the genie. “Why did you want the Chinese army to invade Poland three times?”

“Well,” replies the Pole, “they had to go through Russia six times.”

Foreign Policy has been asking for readers to submit foreign politics related jokes. I especially liked this one.

The Blitz

September 8, 1940, was the first full day of a new strategy by the Luftwaffe as part of Nazi Germany’s plan to invade Great Britain. Starting at tea time on September 7 and lasting until May 10, 1941, German bombers specifically targeted major British civilian and industrial centers. London was attacked for 76 consecutive nights and over 43,000 civilians were killed across the country.

The Blitz originally began as part of the Battle of Britain which lasted from July until October 1940. In July, the Luftwaffe targeted shipping centers and fleets but by August they had shifted their focus to RAF airfields and later the industrial centers producing planes and parts for the RAF. The Battle of Britain was the first all-aircraft battle in history and is generally seen as one of the decisive battles in WW2 as the German failure to obtain air superiority effectively prevented any possibility of invasion of the Home Islands. And it was a stunning victory for the British. Outnumbered, the British employed various tactical advantages to make up for their deficiencies — the small area which they had to defend, the establishment of overlapping radar detection stations all along the coastline, and the recruitment of experienced pilots from other nations.

You might recall that last week, I mentioned that a significant number of Polish soldiers and pilots escaped to Britain. Over 35,000 in total, around 8,500 of whom were airmen. However, only 145 of them served as fighter pilots in the RAF (along with over 400 other non-British pilots — New Zealand and Canada also had over 100 pilots in the RAF each) during the Battle of Britain. The Polish pilots were notable for their experience, most having already fought in the September Campaign, and several in the Battle of France. The first two fully Polish squadrons, the 301 and 303, went into action in August 1940. The 303 was known as the Kościuszko Squadron, after a Polish patriot (who also served with distinction with the American colonial forces during the American Revolution), and despite entering the battle on August 30, claimed 126 kills, the highest of any single squadron during the war. And their losses were 70 percent less than other RAF squadrons.

Because of the RAF’s outstanding efforts and the continuing increase in British industrial production, the Luftwaffe was never able to obtain air superiority, so in September, they shifted their attacks to general industrial targets and civilian centers to attempt to reduce the British morale. But because of the lack of air superiority, bombing attempts were mostly limited to night time when fighter planes were less effective — in the days before on-board radar and other targeting systems, fighter pilots had to be able to see what they were shooting at. The early part of the Blitz focused almost entirely on London, with targets spreading to other industrial cities and ports from November 1940 to February 1941 and then shifting almost exclusively to ports from February until May to assist the German Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic.

By May, the increasingly heavy air and ground defenses began to take a significant toll on the Luftwaffe, and the Germans decided to cease the bombings as being ineffective and began shifting their bomber units to the Eastern Front to support the attack on the Soviet Union. The Blitz is perhaps the most significant part of the war in the British collective consciousness. It has been depicted in numerous movies and books even in stories produced recently. As much as we owe to the soldiers and sailors and pilots who fought in WW2 (“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” — Winston Churchill), we also owe a great deal to the civilians who resisted the psychological warfare and organized and defended their homes, and today we should remember them and those who lost their homes and lives during the Blitz. And let them know that it was indeed Britain’s finest hour.

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us now. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ — Winston Churchill, Speech to the House of Commons, June 18, 1940

September 1

Pretty much everyone in America knows that America’s entrance into WW2 was prompted by a sneak attack by the Japanese upon Pearl Harbor and other American bases throughout the Pacific. What most people don’t know is that the German attack on Poland 71 years ago today also occurred prior to an official declaration of war. (An odd concept in and of itself, really.) The combination of the Luftwaffe and the Panzer divisions of the Nazi army quickly forced their way through the initial Polish defensive lines, primarily because of numerical and technical superiority — the Polish Air Force was primarily made up of 10 year old aircraft and the Army had only 140 of their most modern tanks (which were actually better armed than the German Panzer I and Panzer II).

The Polish defensive plan prior to the war was for a slow, tactical withdrawl to allow their allies, the British and the French, time to come to their aid. However, the lack of natural defenses left them thinly spread and unable to mass enough of a military presence in front of any of the three primary routes of attack the Germans took. Within 2 weeks, the 400 plane Polish Air Force was reduced to 54, though nearly 100 pilots and planes were able to withdraw from combat through Romania. Many of them made their way to Britain where they joined the RAF and were some of the most successful pilots during the Battle of Britain — evidence of the high level of training and skill that they possessed.

After initial retreats, on September 9, the Polish Army counter-attacked along one flank as the Germans besieged Warsaw, and had some initial success before the German air superiority overwhelmed them. The 10 days of the Battle of Bzura were key in allowing other Polish forces to reorganize themselves and also allowed much of the Polish government and military high command to safely withdraw to the south and then to exit the country and make their way to Britain to set up a government-in-exile.

Despite being overwhelmed, the Polish military was preparing to make a significant defensive stand along the southern border with Romania. But on September 17, the Soviet Union invaded from the east, unveiling the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to the world. This was the deciding factor in Poland’s decision to defend itself — the government ordered all remaining members of the military to escape the country to try to reform in Britain and France. Warsaw fell on the 28th and the final active military resistance efforts were defeated on October 6.

But despite the defeat, the Polish government never surrendered. As such, it was the only non-neutral nation in Europe which did not either surrender to or collude with the Axis powers. And despite the short duration of the fighting, the Polish military inflicted a significant amount of damage upon the Germans — though it lost over 300 airplanes (most of which were outdated), the Air Force destroyed or damaged over 500 of their German counterparts and the Germans sustained almost 50,000 casualties (16,000 of which were KIA) and lost one quarter of the 2,750 tanks they had used in the invasion. In comparison, the German invasion of France, a fight between much more evenly matched militaries only lasted a week longer, involved more than twice as many soldiers on the German side alone (over 6 million total between Germany and France), and resulted in 150,000 German casualties, 1,500 lost planes and 750 lost tanks.

One of the most persistent myths about the German invasion of Poland is that the Polish military was so outdated that horseback cavalry attacked tanks with swords. The truth of the matter is that both Germans and Soviets also employed horseback cavalry and that all three militaries generally used them as dragoons (soldiers that traveled by horseback, but actually fought on foot). The myth itself was based on an event during the Battle of Krojanty, when Polish cavalry armed with rifles and sabers who had attacked German infantry were ambushed by armored vehicles.

And on a related note, September 1 also marks the halfway point for the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 in which the Polish resistance — the Home Army — attacked the German military which was in control of the city. It was intended to be a coordinated effort in which the Soviet army would attack the German forces from outside the city and in which the RAF, South African Air Force and USAAF would provide supplies and reinforcements by air drop. But the Soviets refused the RAF and USAF permission to land on Soviet air fields to refuel and stopped their advance on Warsaw, leaving the resistance fighters to fend for themselves for just over two months.

Two days after September 1, 1939, The United Kingdom and France both declared war on Germany. The German goal in invading Poland was Lebensraum — space for Germany to expand its Nazi population, a greater source of natural resources and a region to serve as a buffer against any possible aggression from Soviet Russia. But through a combination of international alliances and changing internal foreign policies (e.g. the shift in Britain away from appeasement), it initiated a massive continental war between a multitude of nations that when combined with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 and their later attacks on other nations in the Pacific led to a truly global war. September 1, 1939, is, in my mind, the single most significant day in the last 100 years.