The bloodiest battle in Upper Silesia

Mikoów is a town in Silesia, near Katowice, in southern Poland. The Battle of Mikoów refers to the border action on 1st and 2nd September 1939, which took place close by during the early phases of the Second World War's invasion of Poland.

A centre of trade

Mikoów, located at a junction of trading roads, is one of the oldest settlements in Upper Silesia and became the centre of local trading. In 1349-50, the Black Death killed 33% of the town's inhabitants. There were multiple earthquakes in the area between 1433 and 1443. Mikoów was granted city status in 1547.

The town became a centre of Polish printing in Upper Silesia in the nineteenth century. During the January Uprising in 1863, Poles transported huge supplies of gunpowder through the town to the Russian Partition of Poland, and in 1871 the town became part of the German Empire - though it would become Polish again with the founding of the Second Polish Republic after the First World War.

Mikołów in the 1930's.

The town was electrified, new schools were built, a new post office, fire department, and stadium were built, and a Polish library was established during the Interbellum period.

The invasion starts

The conflict began with strikes by aircraft from Germany's 4th Air Fleet (Luftflotte), which bombed numerous targets, including the Katowice airfield. Soon after, on 1st September 1939, early in the morning, units of the Wehrmacht crossed the Polish-German border. The invaders were assisted by members of Poland's German minority, whose paramilitary group, the Freikorps, attacked Polish soldiers from behind. Several skirmishes erupted, the the majority of which occurred in the densely populated industrial sectors of the cities of Ruda lska, Chorzów, and Katowice.

The major German offensive, however, was concentrated in the industrial region's south, around the border towns of Mikoów and Pszczyna. Units of the Polish Operational Group Silesia (part of the Kraków Army) clashed with the German 8th Infantry Division (General Erwin Koch), 28th Infantry Division (General Hans von Oberstfelder), and 5th Armored Division. All of these German formations were part of the VIII Corps.

General Jan Jagmin-Sadowski, commander of the Polish forces at Mikołów.

Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe


1st September

In the morning, the German 5th Armoured Division annihilated the Polish defences while attacking Rybnik and Ory. The Polish units destroyed by the attackers were positioned in the Pszczyna Forest, their mission was to provide a connection between the Polish Operational Groups 'Silesia' and 'Bielsko'.

However, their defeat left a gaping vacuum in the Polish defences, which the Germans where as ever, quick to exploit the following next day. This rapid manoeuvring to take advantage of gaps in defensive lines was a feature of German tactics during the Invasion.

The Polish 55th Infantry Division (commanded by General Jan Jagmin-Sadowski) was unable to stop the invaders despite fierce resistance. While weaknesses with the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ tactics would become apparent later in the war, in 1939, this method of warfare was still relatively new and – for those having to defend against it – infuriatingly hard to stop.

Soldiers of the SECOND platoon of the National Defense Company "Mikołów" at the railway station in Mikołów. Identical uniforms and equipment were possessed by soldiers of the 201st Infantry Regiment, which included BON "Sosnowiec", "Zawiercie" and "Katowice".

2nd September

The Germans launched their main assault with an artillery barrage beginning at 5 a.m. Later that day, two German battalions (the 49th and 83rd) advanced towards Tychy, where they encountered Polish soldiers in the village of Zwakow.

The fight that ensued was one of the bloodiest of all that took place in Upper Silesia in September 1939. Despite the German efforts, the Polish forces were successful in preventing the Germans from breaking through and seizing Wyry.

10.5 cm guns of the German artillery in action.

Despite the fact that the frontline had been stabilised, the Armia Kraków command ordered all troops to depart Upper Silesia and withdraw towards Kraków and the Vistula river on 2nd September.

This decision was made because the Germans broke the Kraków Cavalry Brigade's positions in the area of Woniki. The Germans also broke the Polish defences in the south, and the Polish 6th Infantry Division retreated quickly towards Owicim. As a result, forces in the vicinity of Pszczyna and Mikoów faced encirclement.

The Poles withdraw

By 9 p.m. on September 2, all Polish units had received the order to execute a withdrawal. Most soldiers did not believe it, given their success in halting the Germans, but they obeyed, and the entire operation went off without a hitch. 

By September 3, Polish troops had evacuated Upper Silesia for Kraków. The majority of these battalions ended up in the Lublin area, where they took part in the Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski.

The 73rd Infantry Regiment from Katowice was among the Polish battalions that distinguished themselves in the Battle of Mikoów. It was made up of troops from Silesia and was recognised as one of the most organised and fiercest units in the Polish Army. Its determined and organised defence had helped blunt the German attacks.

Troops from the German 7th Infantry Division in Milówka, 1/2 September 1939.

On September 1 and 2, 1939, in Milówka and the vicinity of |

Horse drawn units of the German 7th Infantry Division, 2nd September. Contrary to popular myth, much of the German Army was horse drawn in 1939, and remained so throughout the war.

On September 1 and 2, 1939, in Milówka and the vicinity of |

Mikołów today.

Panoramic view of the Rynek (Market Square) in Mikołów.

Marek Świerski

Remnants of war: 

Traces of the conflict can still be seen today: Many of the bunkers remain relatively intact.

Further reading