A key battle

The Battle of Barak, a critical engagement in the 1939 German Invasion of Poland, unfolded with a mixture of daring maneuvers, valiant resistance, and the grim reality of casualties on both sides.

It began on the 7th September and raged through the following day, leaving an indelible mark on the participants and the course of the conflict.

The battle took place in the village in the administrative district of Gmina Jastków, in eastern Poland

The history of Barak, Poland, up until 1939 is one intertwined with the broader historical developments of the country. Situated in central Poland, Barak has seen a rich and diverse past.

In earlier centuries, Barak was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a powerful union that spanned from the 16th to the 18th century. It was during this period that the village experienced relative stability and witnessed the growth of agriculture and trade.

During the partitions of Poland in the late 18th century, Barak came under the control of the Austrian Empire. The village, like the rest of Poland, endured a tumultuous period marked by political repression and economic hardships.

In the 19th century, Barak became a part of the Russian-controlled Congress Poland. The village was predominantly agricultural, with its inhabitants engaged in farming and related activities.

The turn of the 20th century brought significant changes to Barak and the entire region. The outbreak of World War I and subsequent independence movements in Eastern Europe had a profound impact. Poland regained its independence in 1918 after more than a century of foreign rule.

In the interwar period, Barak continued its agricultural traditions, with a focus on grain cultivation and livestock farming. However, this period of relative stability was shattered with the outbreak of the German Invasion of Poland in 1939, marking the beginning of the Second World War.

Polish preparations

As the Polish commanders convened prior to the battle, a plan had been formulated for a coordinated retreat across the Vistula River. However, the disarray of war often disrupts even the best-laid strategies. The 36th Infantry Division, engaged in intense fighting near Konskie, had not received the order to retreat. To rectify the situation, the task fell upon the resourceful 2nd Lieutenant Dziedzicowi, who embarked on a daring mission to deliver the crucial orders through enemy territory.

Under the cover of dusk on September 7, the 3rd and 12th Infantry Divisions, concealing their retreat from German aircraft, began their movement towards Iłża. The 36th Division, delayed by the arduous fighting in Kazanów, anticipated a later arrival on the morning of September 8, traversing a challenging distance of 40 kilometers (25 miles).

Within the 36th Division column, Lieutenant Z. Gromadzki commanded the Konskie battalions of the 165th Regiment, with Major Inglot leading the rear guard in the form of the 2nd Battalion of the 165th Regiment. Taking charge of the retreating column was Lieutenant Przemysław Nakoniecznikoff, commander of the 163rd Regiment.

However, as the Polish forces neared the Warsaw-Kraków Road, just outside the village of Barak, they were greeted with a dismaying sight—the 2nd Light Division armor, boasting Panzer I and Panzer II tanks, stood in their path. The unexpected arrival of these mechanized adversaries caught the 36th Division command at Szydłowiec off guard, compounding the perilous situation.

Efforts were made to establish contact with the German forces impeding their advance, but the 36th Division staff company faced dispersion, leaving the Polish troops isolated and vulnerable. The stage was set for a clash that would test the mettle of both sides.

Charge of the Polish cavalry

Amidst the ensuing chaos, Captain Bronisław Riczki and his cavalry unit launched a spirited attack on the German forces, momentarily disrupting their advance. Yet, the Germans swiftly regrouped, isolating and decimating Riczki's unit. With no reserves available and the 36th Division column still distant, the Polish commanders confronted a precarious situation.

News of the German occupation of Radom and Opoczno, poorly defended by the Polish forces, further exacerbated the dire circumstances. In the face of overwhelming odds, Colonel Boleslaw Ostrowki, the commander of the 36th Division, made the difficult decision to retreat from the battlefield, seeking an alternate route to Iłża for a potential rendezvous with the 3rd and 12th Divisions.

Approach of the tanks

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Przemysław Nakoniecznikoff's column approached the Skarżysko-Szydłowiec road, readying themselves for a fierce struggle. With Lieutenant Z. Gromadzki's 165th Regiment on the left, the 2nd Battalion of the 163rd Regiment on the right, and the 1st Battalion under Major Tint in the center, the Polish forces prepared a defensive posture.

When a column of German armor was spotted near Skarżysko Książęce, the Polish troops initiated defensive measures, positioning anti-tank guns under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Halicki and concealing machine guns that would only reveal their deadly fire when the enemy drew near. The clash erupted as the German armored column advanced, met by the resolute fire of Halicki's anti-tank guns.

The first tank in the German column was quickly disabled, but the relentless enemy pressed forward, determined to eliminate the Polish resistance.

In the midst of the intense engagement, Captain Pruski's three-gun artillery battery joined the fray, pounding the German tanks with precision. The Polish forces managed to disable several more German tanks, inflicting significant losses on the enemy. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Germans called upon their air support, and a Liaison aircraft soon soared above the battlefield. The thunderous roar of German heavy artillery soon followed, decimating Halicki's anti-tank guns and intensifying the peril faced by the Polish troops.

Undeterred by the mounting challenges, Lieutenant Colonel Nakoniecznikoff rallied his entire force, directing them to break through the German blockade and support the 163rd Regiment's battalion and the 165th Regiment's 6th company. With Lieutenant Z. Gromadzki's force leading the way, they made a daring breakthrough along the road.

Polish withdrawal

As dusk settled, the Germans were compelled to withdraw from Barak, allowing the Polish troops to advance cautiously toward the eastern part of the village. However, their progress was not without peril, as German artillery continued to shell their positions, serving as a grim reminder of the relentless nature of the conflict.

In the aftermath of the battle, Lieutenant Colonel Nakoniecznikoff's column redirected its path toward the area of Big Trębowiec, west of Iłża, where it would join the unfolding Battle of Iłża. The 36th Division eventually disbanded upon reaching the Vistula near Narożnik Forester's Lodge, while the remnants of the 165th Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Gromadzki, embarked on a perilous march towards Wierzbica.

It was during this march that the Polish forces encountered a German tank attack under the cover of night. The infantry, benefiting from the darkness, valiantly defended themselves and managed to repel the armored assault.

Regrouping, they pressed onward, only to face another tank onslaught the following morning near the Iłża-Skaryszew road. Forced to take cover in the surrounding forests, they found themselves trapped between German tanks and unable to break through the enemy lines.

Escape across the Vistula

In a desperate bid for survival, Lieutenant Colonel Gromadzki ordered his men to cross the Vistula River in small groups, some venturing alone.

These courageous soldiers of the former 36th Division continued to fight within other units, determined to contribute to the ongoing resistance effort.

Nevertheless, the toll of the battle weighed heavily on both sides, exacting a grim price in lives lost and sacrifices made.

Further reading