A city of strategic importance

Grudziadz is a border city in northern Poland, located on the Vistula River. In 1939, it contained the headquarters of the Polish 16th Infantry division and the centre for Cavalry Training (Centrum Wyszkolenia Kawalerii).

It also acted as an important strongpoint for defending the Vistula River Line and keep open potential lines of retreat for Polish forces from the Pomorze Army, which was commanded by General Władysław Bortnowski.

Among the units stationed in the nearby Polish Corridor (a key German objective as it’s capture would unite East Prussia with the rest of Germany) were the 9th, the 15th, and the 27th Polish Infantry Divisions along with the Pomeranian Cavalry Brigade.

View of Grudziadz between 1914 and 1918

National Library of Poland

The Polish High Command had been anticipating a German backed uprising occurring in the Free City of Danzig and so in mid-August, had moved the 27th Infantry Division and the Pomeranian Cavalry further north to Chojnice and Starogard Gdański to counter this. However, the sudden German invasion of Poland on 1st September found both units in the corridor and vulnerable to attack.

To the East of the Vistula River, General Günther von Kluge and the German 4th Army stood facing the city of Grudziądz, which was defended by Operational Group East under the command of General Mikołaj Bołtuć. At his disposal, he had the 4th (commanded by Colonel Tadeusz Lubicz-Niezabitowski) and 16th Infantry Division (commanded by Colonel Stanisław Świtalski) with both divisions being part of the larger, Pomorze Army.

Hostilities start

On 1 September 1939, German XXI Corps – commanded by General Nikolaus Von Falkenhorst – advanced on the area of Grudziądz with the 21st and 218th Infantry Divisions and started to push the Polish defenders back towards the east of the city, across the river Osa. The main German thrust focussed on the Polish left flank which was defended by the Polish 16th Infantry Division. The German attack here faltered in the face of strong resistance but elsewhere the Germans managed to cross the Osa at Dąbrówka Królewska and establish a bridgehead.

Brigadier-General Mikołaj Bołtuć, commander of the Polish 4th Infantry Division.


General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, Commander German XXI Corps .


After a brief pause for reinforcements, the Germans continued their advance and were only halted at 7 that evening. That night, the Poles launched a counterattack with the 4th Infantry Division led by General Bołtuć and they quickly clashed with the German 218th Infantry Division, managing to regain some of the ground they lost but ultimately grinding to a halt in the face of stiffening German resistance.

Second days fighting

Fighting continued the next day with an 8 am artillery barrage announcing the start of a fresh German assault, which was aiming to force the Polish 16th Infantry Division to give up more ground. The Germans managed to expand their bridgehead and the Polish 64th and 66th Infantry Regiments (which were part of the 16th Infantry Division) found themselves exposed and had to fall back towards the Grudziądz - Jabłonowo Pomorskie railroad.

In response, General Bortnowski sent in the 142nd Squadron from the Polish Air Force (led by Colonel Boleslaw Stachoń) to attack the German positions, however the bombing failed to inflict any significant damage on the German forces so by the afternoon, the Polish troops began to fall back. The Germans, supported by fifth columnists, managed to cause panic during some Polish units whilst attacking the Polish 208 Reserve Infantry Regiment. (This apparent lack of discipline would lead to General Bołtuć dismissing Colonel Stanisław Świtalski, and replacing him with Colonel Zygmunt Bohusz-Szyszko.)

Polish machine gunners watching out for enemy aircraft.


Despite these setbacks, General Bołtuć ordered Colonel Lubicz-Niezabitowski's 4th Infantry Division to launch a counterattack with the aim of taking the pressure of their compatriots in the 16th Division which was facing increasing, relentless pressure from the Germans. The 4th launched their assault from Radzyń Chełmiński at 8 in the evening, slamming into the German positions and forcing the enemy to retreat towards Annowo and Gruta. At the same time, the Polish 65th Infantry Regiment recaptured Nicwald. As before though, the Poles attack started to run out of steam before they could reach their original starting positions at Osa.  

Polish Withdrawal

German troops in Grudziądz


The following day saw a massive German assault launched on the Polish positions as they sought to push the Poles back completely. General Bołtuć quickly learnt that his division on the western bank of the Vistula were being worn down by the German attacks and the enemy already crossed the river. In response, General Bołtuć withdrew his forces back to avoid being outflanked and encircled by the German forces.

The Poles destroyed bridges across the Vistula to hamper the German progress and pulled back towards the southeast and the Drwęca river, where a new defensive line was established.  This resulted in Grudziądz itself being abandoned that Sunday afternoon (3rd Sept) by Polish forces and shortly afterwards, units from the German 45th Infantry Regiment entered the city, with the complete capture of Grudziądz being completed by Monday 4th September.

Polish prisoners marching into captivity after the battle.


Further reading