Tensions rising

Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, tensions had been growing amongst the Polish-German community in the Polish town of Chojnice, a reflection of the wider issues between the two countries. The ethnic Germans living in the town found themselves increasingly unpopular.

Shortly after this protest, on 7 April a boycott of German business was announced. Unsurprisingly, a few Polish-Germans felt they were better off elsewhere and the Polish First Rifle Brigade reported the desertion of several soldiers – Ernest Domil, Bernard Moldenhauer and Antoni Molodtke – who all absconded and fled to Germany.

Chojnyice in the 1930's.


Outbreak of war

With the outbreak of the Second World War on 1 September 1939, the Germans sneaked an armoured train into Chojnice train station. At 4:15 that morning, they had informed the Poles that a fast civilian train would be passing through between Berlin and Königsberg – a journey that due to the existence of the Polish Corridor – would require the German train to pass through Polish territory.

However, the civilian train was actually Panzerzug Nr. 3 – an armoured military train. Due to heavy fog that morning, the Germans were able to creep up undetected to the Railway station and catch the Poles off guard. Once of the German crew recalled:

So, it looked like the Germans cunning plan had worked and they had managed to capture the station with relatively little (if any) resistance. However, any celebrations would be premature as they Poles were soon to respond.

Chojnice railway station in 1917.


Polish counterattack

A Colonel Tadeusz Majewski was informed of the German incursion and quickly gathered the 1st “Chojnice” Company of the 1st Infantry Division and sent it to the station, with orders to prevent the Germans from progressing any further.

Captain Kazimierz Sochanik was in charge of the Polish forces, and he quickly set up a command post close to the railway station. A Lieutenant Stanislaw Nosek was put in charge of leading the forces that would assault, and hopefully expel, the Germans from the station.

Like the Germans, the Poles made good use of the fog and using the station buildings as cover, managed to creep up to the train undetected. A firefight then broke out as the Poles approached in a Tyraliera formation – the soldiers spaced out a few metres apart from one another.

The Germans were unaware of the size of the attacking Polish force and retreated inside the armoured train, taking their prisoners with them. The Panzer Zug then retreated out of the station and withdrew some distance back to a nearby railway viaduct.

Seriously damaged Panzerzug No. 3 near Chojnice.

www.reddit.com/r/DestroyedTanks, HistoriaChojnic.pl

Assaulting the train

Nosek then attacked again, hoping to drive the Germans away completely but the fortified defenders, well-protected inside the armoured train, were able to repel the exposed Polish troops who were attacking across open ground, inflicting heavy casualties with accurate machine gun fire.

In response to the determined German defence, Polish 75mm cannons from the 1st Division were brought into the battle, and their accurate, heavy fire quickly started to pay dividends. The command tower of the train was smashed by a shell, killing the train commander, Lieutenant Erich Euen. The train, realising the jeopardy it was now in, started to retreat further up the line towards the border.

Damaged railway viaduct in Chojnice in September 1939.


Destruction of the railway bridge

Polish sappers from "Hoszcza" company then demolished one of the viaducts over the Lichnowska road, lying about a kilometre from the station and the resulting explosion destroyed the bridge, the collapsing rubble also damaging and derailing some of the train carriages.  

This essentially immobilised the train, but the Germans attempted to detach the damage carriages and make their escape in the rest of the train. However, the Poles continued to batter the now stationary Panzerzug with artillery fire, manoeuvring an artillery platoon closer to direct fire at a close range. By a miracle, the carriage containing the Polish prisoners remained unscathed as the rest of the carriages were raked with shellfire and started to burn.

Anti-Aircraft gun mounted on the Panzerzug.


Last stand

Finally, one of the Polish shells struck the ammunition wagon, the explosion of which tossed the wagon into the air. This proved to be the final straw for the German soldiers who promptly abandoned the train and beat a hasty retreat. However, the train crew continued to hold out, thus preventing the liberation of the Polish prisoners.

One of the other carriages – an armoured car affixed to tracks – had been separated by the Poles and directed down a dead-end track. Here, there was a short firefight as the surrounded and outnumbered Germans were quickly overwhelmed, with one being killed and the rest taken prisoner.

German troops in Chojnice.


German occupation

However, despite the determined Polish actions in recapturing the station and driving off the train, it was ultimately futile. With the German forces invading Poland at several points and the Poles being driven back, Chojnice itself fell to German forces later that afternoon, with the 20th Infantry Division assaulting the town at 2pm and finally capturing it at 17:00 after heavy fighting.

 A dead German infantryman who died on 1 September 1939 near Hill 179, during the Battle of Chojnice.



With the arrival of German forces, the beleaguered train crew were finally relieved, and the Polish prisoners taken off into captivity. The severely damaged Panzerzug No.3 was repaired by the Germans and put back into service, seeing action in Western Europe in 1940, before later being stationed in Warsaw. It eventually was destroyed by its own crew to prevent capture by the Soviets in Courland, October 1944. Chojnice itself remained occupied by German forces until its liberation by Soviet troops in February 1945.

Further reading