Defending the Narew river

Ostrołęka is a small city in north eastern Poland on the Narew river, approximately 120 kilometres (75 miles) northeast of Warsaw, with a population of 51,012 (2021) and an area of 33.46 square kilometres (12.92 sq mi).

The city's name refers to a sand-mud plain on the left bank of the Narew River, which has historically flooded in the spring. In the 11th or 12th century, a tiny fort was built on an island, which is now only one kilometre west of the modern city centre.

At the time, the fort was one of the few fortifications along the Narew River. Over time, a community sprang up around the fort, which is now known as Ostroka's first settlement.

Ostroleka's main street, circa 1920.

The town is now part of the Masovian Voivodeship (since 1999), and it was once the capital of the Ostroka Voivodeship (1975–1998). Ostroka is the county seat of both Ostroka County and Ostroka City County.

The city was founded in 1373 as part of the autonomous Duchy of Masovia. Ostroka was a local railroad junction until the late 1980s, with four lines branching from the railway station: eastwards to Apy and Biaystok, southwestwards to Tuszcz and Warsaw, northwards to Wielbark and Olsztyn, and southwards to Makinia.

On September 8, 1939, the Germans invaded Ostroka during World War II.

During the occupation, around 1000 Ostroka residents were murdered. Under the code name "Golesin," Gymnasium and Lyceum teachers organised a covert school in territories absorbed into the General Government.

At the same time, underground activities grew, with the Home Army becoming especially active. Liberation of the city occurred on September 6, 1944.

The City Hall in Ostrołęka before the war.

The growing threat

A meeting of the highest military authorities was held in Warsaw in response to the growing military threat to Poland posed by Adolf Hitler's speech on 21st March 1939, which demanded the annexation of the Free City of Danzig to the Reich and consent to the construction of an extraterritorial highway and railway line through Polish territory.

It was presided over by President Ignacy Mocicki and Edward Rydz Śmigły. The assembly unanimously voted to use force to confront the inevitable German onslaught.

It was determined to form six armies and one SGO for this reason (independent Operational Group).

SGO "Narew" was in charge of the Makinia-Grodno-Vilnius railway line, as well as the position on the Narew, Biebrza, and Augustów Canal lines. The towns of Chorzele and Goworowo formed the "Narew's" western border. The SGO was made up of the following elements:

  • The 18th and 33rd Infantry Divisions
  • The Podlasie Cavalry Brigade
  • 138 field and 8 anti-aircraft guns
  • 26 tanks
  • 30 aircraft

Fortification works on the Narew River

In April 1939, the commander of the SGO "Narew," General Czesaw Mot-Fijaowski, examined the territory under his command and identified the locations of defence works. They only began in July. The construction of a 10-kilometer line of shelters on both sides of the city began on the Ostrołęka sector. This task has not been done entirely. There was also no damming of the water beneath Ostrołęka.

Located in Ostrołęka 5. The Zasawski Uhlan Regiment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Stefan Chomicz, attained combat readiness within the timeframe specified, and also deployed a platoon of heavy machine guns. At 7pm on 31st August 31,, the arrived at their designated positions in the direction of Stawiski.

Map of Polish rivers. The Narew river can be seen just North of Warsaw, its proximity to the Polish capital highlighting its strategic importance.

Narew Wikipedia (

Auxiliary troops

The mobilisation also included territorial National Defense groups. In May and April, the Kurpie Battalion ON was founded, which under the name OF ON "Ostrołęka" was subject to the commander of the SGO "Narew". Capt. Wodzimierz Nowicki led the battalion, which included three infantry companies, a ckm company, and a cycling platoon.

However, the unit's armament and equipment were insufficient and antiquated, as was common in many European armies at the time. After the horrors of the First World War, many countries were reluctant to invest in their military to a sufficient degree, hoping that a widespread, European conflict would be unlikely to happen again.

A Polish Bofors 30mm Anti-aircraft gun. An effective weapon, the Poles lacked these in sufficient numbers to combat the every present Luftwaffe threat during the Invasion of Poland.

ARMATA PRZECIWLOTNICZA 40mm Wz.36 - Quartermaster Section

Due to a lack of anti-tank and heavy weapons, the battalion was essentially unable to fight independently against the contemporary German army.

Apart from the ON battalion, the 42nd Infantry Division guarded the Ostrołęka area. Waclaw Malinowski's Infantry Regiment was formed from the composition of the 18. Infantry Division [commanded by The Regiment of Stefan Kossecki] and the squadron of the 5th Infantry Division. One squadron of the 18th Light Artillery Regiment remained at Ostrołęka.

These men were tasked with defending the Narew River crossings in the Laskowiec-Kamianka area. Despite the challenges involved in organising and manoeuvring large amounts of troops, SGO "Narew" gained full combat readiness on the day the war began.

German attack

On 1st September, the Germans launched a major offensive against Myszyniec-Ostrołęka. It had the effect of relocating Polish forces from Myszyniec to the village of Siarcza ka. Despite numerous counterattacks by Polish troops carried out on General Fijakowski's orders, Myszyniec was not recovered, and the Germans, as a result of a further attack on the night of September 2-3, captured and burned the village of Kadzido and pushed the SGO "Narew" troops further south in the following days.

A column of German tanks in the vicinity of Ostrołęka.

Tired by the incessant combat, the Polish Supreme Command issued the order to evacuate to Ostrołęka behind the Narew line on September 5. Bridges in Ostrołęka were blown up the next day to prevent German vehicles from continuing the pursuit.By September 9, the Polish Army had completely left Ostrołęka, where on September 12 the first German troops entered, starting a long-term occupation.

The Germans quickly conducted searches of Polish offices and organisations. Under German occupation, the town was annexed directly to Germany and renamed Scharfenwiese in 1940 to obliterate any signs of Polish origin. The Germans removed the country's Jewish minority, who were largely exterminated in the Treblinka extermination camp.

Bridge at Ostrolenko in Poland. Ostrołęka, October 1939. The damage from the fighting the previous month is visible in this photograph.

Photographer: Hugo Jaeger


During the German occupation, a covert high school was established in Jarnuty in the General Government along the border with the Third Reich in Ostrołęka by the headmaster Jan Radomski and a group of displaced teachers. The code name GOLESIN was derived from the first few letters of the pre-war name, Gimnazjum Ogólnoksztacce LESzczyskiego, and the ending IN was derived from the names of adjacent towns, such as Gucin and Czerwin.

Middle and high school students from displaced families, as well as local rural adolescents, were assembled at teaching stations distributed around villages within a 30-kilometer radius. The school year 1941/42 marked the commencement of GOLESIN, which was sanctioned by the central authorities of Secret Teaching and had 40 students and 6 teachers at the time. It had 84 students and 8 teachers in the third and last year of clandestine instruction.

It ceased operations in September 1944, when the Red Army invaded these areas. The declassified GOLESIN, known as the "Stanisaw Leszczyski Gymnasium and High School in Ostrołęka and High School in displacement," continued to teach legally in Czerwin after passing the front.

Badge of the Secret Teaching Organization (Tajna Organizacja Nauczycielska, also referred to as the Secret Teaching Society or Clandestine Teaching Organization.

It was an underground Polish educational organization created in 1939 after the German invasion of Poland to provide underground education in occupied Poland during the Second World War.

User:Operongalicyjski - Wikimedia Commons

The pre-war curriculum was implemented at GOLESIN, with students being promoted from class to class and from junior high to high school each year. In Warsaw high schools, about a dozen students passed their matura exams. After the liberation of Ostrołęka in January 1945, the younger students returned to the walls of the pre-war school to finish their study.

Thanks to GOLESIN, several dozen people did not lose years of school, obtaining education that entitles them to further education - to the route of rebuilding the cruelly persecuted Polish intellectual.


The Home Army memorial monument in Ostrołęka.

Ostrołęka - Wikipedia

Further reading