Defending the forest

As the likelihood of war with Germany increased, the Polish high command decided that the are containing Tuchola Forest, a large, densely wooded area, would be a logical place to defend.

Covering over 3,200 km² and mainly consisting of spruce and forest trees, it is one of the biggest forests in Poland and Central Europe and was located in the Polish Corridor – one of Hitler's key objectives. Such dense terrain is normally considered challenging for tanks and armoured vehicle to traverse easily and so it is easy to understand why the Poles considered it a good place to chose to mount a defence.

The Germans, however, were familiar with the area, having conducted exercises in the region previously and one of their senior commanders, General Heinz Guderian, had been born in the area, nearby in Kulm.

Should the Germans successfully attack in this area, not only could it mean the destruction of Polish forces in the area, but also result in the linking up of East Prussia – currently separated by the Polish Corridor - with the rest of Germany.

Location of Tuchola Forest in Poland.

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Opposing forces


The Polish forces in the area comprised elements from the Army of Pomerania:

  • 9th Infantry Division led by Colonel Józef Werobej.
  • 27th Infantry Division commanded by General Juliusz Drapella.
  • The Czersk Operational Group with General Stanisław Grzmot-Skotnicki in command.


The Army of Pomerania was led by General Wladyslaw Bortnowski, who in contrast to some of his fellow officers, felt that the Tuchola Forest region was a poor choice for a defensive position.

General Władysław Bortnowski, Commander of the Army of Pomerania.

Colonel Józef Werobej, Commander Polish 9th Infantry Division.

General Juliusz Drapella, Commander Polish 27th Infantry Division.


General Stanisław Grzmot-Skotnicki, Commander Polish Czersk Operational Group.

Opposing them were:

  • Elements of the 4th German Army under General Günther von Kluge,
  • 19th Panzer Corps commanded by General Heinz Guderian, consisting of the 2nd Motorized Division under General Paul Bader, the 20th Motorized Division under General Mauritz von Wiktorin and the 3rd Panzer Division under General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg
  • 2nd Army Corps under General Adolf Strauß made up of the 3rd Infantry Division under General Walter Lichel and 32nd Infantry Division under General Franz Böhme.

The German forces were based in Western Pomerania west of the corridor.

General Günther von Kluge, Commander German 4th Army.

General Heinz Guderian, Commander  German 19th Panzer Corps.

General Adolf Strauß, Commander German 2nd Army Corps.

Position of Polish and German forces before the battle.

User:Lonio17 - Wikimedia Commons

The battle

Despite the Germans suffering setbacks at the start of the invasion – the successful Polish cavalry action at Krojanty and the successful destruction of a German armoured train at Chojnice, overall, the invading German forces were able to make good progress in this region. This was partly due to not all Polish units being in position on the 1st September and the speed of the German advance causing confusion in the Polish ranks. Furthermore, various communication issues hampered the Poles and prevented them coordinating their actions.

1930's map of the Polish Corridor (marked 'Korridor') on this map.

Initial plans for Polish counterattack were soon discarded, to be replaced with withdrawals and retreats as the Germans cut through the Polish lines in various places. The German armoured forces were powerful – including over 300 tanks - and capable of pursuing and harassing the retreating Polish forces, further adding to the problems facing the struggling defenders.

By the 3rd of September, many Polish units had been surrounded and destroyed, or were so badly damaged that they effectively ceased to function as a cohesive military entity. Others though were luckier, managing to break through the German trap and escape towards Bydgoszcz.

German armored car Sd Kfz 221 during the battle, Tuchola Forest.

It took only two more days for the Germans to effectively complete their takeover of this key region and by securing the Polish Corridor, they achieved Hitler’s plan – to link up East Prussia with the rest of Germany. (Hitler was so pleased, he visited Guderian and congratulated him on his quick progress).

The Poles suffered significant casualties - 1600 killed, 750 wounded and an unknown – but presumably high – number captured. German losses were lower, suffering 506 dead and another 743 wounded.

Polish prisoners of war escorted by german soldiers in Tuchola Forest


All that was left was for the assorted German units to mop up any isolated pockets of Polish resistance, while the German advance continued south-east, pushing deeper into Polish territory. Of the surviving Polish units, around two quarters of the battered Army of Pomerania survived and escaped the German clutches, eventually linking up with and being absorbed into the Army of Poznań (where they would later take part in the Battle of the Bzura.)

General Bortnowski had been proved right after all – it was a poor choice of location for the Poles to defend.

Polish civilians, captured by a reconnaissance patrol of the 76th Infantry Regiment of the German Army, escorted by a guard through the Tuchola Forest, 4 September 1939.