Countdown to War
The German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, the British guarantee and the partial Polish mobilization in March raised political tensions. The German Ambassador in Warsaw reported wild rumors among the population, such as that border clashes had begun. Mood was further heightened by the Polish press which claimed that Germans were decadent urban dwellers that would be easy to beat. Anti-German pogroms broke out wherever there was a German minority. This led to hatred amongst the Germans, and many German communities organized their local SA units. On 20 July a Polish frontier guard at Danzig was killed when challenging a German officer and two SA men who were, in fact, on Polish territory.
Both Germany and Poland prepared for war and attempted to perfect their mobilization plans. Poland also began strenghtening border fortifications and aimed at creating more divisions. This was closely followed by German intelligence services. Germany began its own mobilization in late June.
Soviet Union was, of course, using the imminent conflict as an opportunity to potentially conquer Poland. Stalin’s ultimate aim was to extend the Soviet frontier westwards by eventually annexing the Baltic States, Finland, Bessarabia and eastern Poland. Poles, aware of this, refused to allow Soviet troops passage over the Polish territory during defensive negotiations between France, Britain, Poland and USSR which had begun in April. British and French Chiefs of Staffs dismissed Polish concerns, seeing Beck and Polish Staff as unreasonable.
But Beck was, of course, correct. Stalin was using this demand as an excuse to bring the Anglo-French talks to an end. And had he gotten his way, victorious Red Army – as seen in 1944. – would have never left Poland without another war. An agreement with Germany would give Stalin everything he wanted without having to fight, and would divide his potential enemies. For Hitler, agreement meant destroying Poland as well as putting an end to British attempt at containing Germany.
Thus, when talks broke down on 17 August over the question of securing agreement to the passage of the Red Army through Poland and Romania, Stalin was already prepared to explore the German proposals for a non-aggression pact. Ribbentrop flew to Moscow on 23 August, and agreement was signed on 24 August. This agreement divided German and Soviet spheres, and stated that…
“in the event of a territorial and political transformation of the territories belonging to the Polish state, the spheres of interest of both Germany and the USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line of Rivers Narew, Vistula and San”.
Hitler had originally planned to launch the invasion of Poland on 25 August, but the announcement of the ratification of the British guarantee of Poland, as well as Mussolini’s reluctance to honour the Pact of Steel and support Germany, led Hitler to postpone the invasion in the hope that the Poles would agree to negotiations, or else that he would be able drive a wedge between them and their western Allies. Britain and France used the next few days to try and find peaceful resolution that would not sacrifice Poland, while Germany used the time to perfect the preparations for the coming invasion.
Continued Allied attempts to secure the diplomatic solution to the Danzig crisis were worse than useless. They in fact significantly handicapped Polish war preparations. While Poland made a significant progress in mobilizing individual divisions and corps, Anglo-French pressure prevented the implementation of general mobilization until the latest possible moment. Only from 23 August did Poland start secretly dispatching call-up papers to military personnel and conscripts. By 31 August the situation was so threatening that Poland finally declared general mobilization in spite of British and French pressure. As a Foreign Office official minuted the day before on a dispatch from the British Ambassador in Warsaw:
Personally I think the Poles are fully justified in mobilizing. The fact is that they have received information to show that German military preparations will be absolutely complete on the night of 30/31 August, viz. tomorrow. Polish military preparations are not complete, and it is unreasonable that the weaker power should have to bear this disability for fear of annoying a larger power who is admittedly out for their blood. [Source: NA FO 23153.]
On the same day the Polish Destroyer Division set sail from Gdynia at 14:00 hours for Leith in Scotland, to escape what would be inevitable destruction at the hands of a stronger German Navy in the Baltic, and PAF units were dispersed to their secret wartime bases.
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