The Battle of Siedlce was a military engagement that took place during the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

It was fought between September 8 and 9 in the vicinity of the town of Siedlce, which was located in the central-eastern part of Poland.

A Jewish enclave

The city of Siedlce lies in Eastern Poland and is situated in the Masovian Voivodeship. It sits between two small rivers, the Muchawka and the Helenka and is about 90 kilometres east of the Polish capital, Warsaw. 

Siedice had long had a significant Jewish element, going way back to the 16th century. The Jewish hospital dated back to the early 18th century and there had long been a number of Jewish businesses and establishments in the city: inn keepers, merchants and artisans to name but some.

In 1794, a Beit Midrash (study hall) was founded in the town, and such was the successful growth of the Jewish population that the cemetery had to be expanded in 1798.

In 1921, there was a Jewish population of almost 15,000 in the city, with a census recording 14, 685 Jews officially residing in the city.

With the overall population of the city fluctuating from year to year, the Jewish contingent sometimes found themselves the majority population. This level of population remained fairly consistent until 1939 when the German Invasion of Poland took place.

Outbreak of war

During the invasion, the Luftwaffe bombed civilian refugees escaping from Warsaw who were seeking shelter in Siedice.

The battle began on the morning of September 8, when German forces launched a fierce assault on the Polish positions around Siedlce. Despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned, the Poles fought back with great courage and determination. The fighting was intense and bloody, with both sides suffering heavy casualties.

The Polish forces involved in the battle were part of the Independent Operational Group Polesie, which was commanded by General Franciszek Kleeberg. The German forces attacking Siedlce were part of the 3rd Panzer Division and the 4th Army Corps.

As the battle raged on, the Germans brought up reinforcements and began to encircle the Polish forces. With their position becoming increasingly precarious, General Kleeberg ordered a retreat to the southeast. The Poles managed to break through the German lines and escape, but they suffered significant losses in the process.

The city was captured by the Germans shortly afterwards and remained occupied by the Germans until its liberation in 1944.

Shortly before its capture, some Polish gold reserves being held in the town had to be swiftly relocated to France to escape capture by the advancing Germans.

The city suffered greatly during the Second World War which saw almost 50% of the city destroyed. The centre of the city suffered the most damage, with the train station taking a battering and the City Hall “Jacek” being flattened.

Currently, it is the fourth largest city of the Voivodeship, the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Siedlce and is a local educational, cultural, and business centre.

Siedlce in 1939:

Ruins of New City Hall. After German bombardment in September 1939 (top left)

The centre of the city after German raids in September 1939 (bottom left)

Demolished and burned out houses, September 1939 (right)

Regional Museum in Siedlce

“On 11 September 1939 the situation northeast of Warsaw was as follows: Germans Forces were advancing from the north against Modlin and Warsazw. A bridgehead, nine miles deep, had been established south of Brok, on its southern front stood the advanced elements of the East Prussian Mechanized Division. Other German forces were marching north of the Bug toward the east, and motorized units were being employed against Bialystock from the north. While one reconnaissance detachment and group “K’ advanced on Wegrow and other parts of the division struggled through the sand at Lipski, the S.S reconnaissance detachment crossed a pontoon bridge at Brok and continued to advance toward Ziehieniec. T

The progress along the highway was continuously interrupted by traffic congestion, the shattered remains of Polish columns and the resistance offered hy the hostile artillery. At 2:00 PM we reached Wegrow, through which the leading elements of the division had already passed on their way to Kaluszyn (Sketch No. 5).

German soldiers observing an artillery bombardment during the Invasion of Poland.

British Pathé

At 1:30 PM we were ordered to Sokolow, where a number of prisoners were taken. When at 6:00 PM we left for Siedlce, We had to leave a patrol at Sokolow to guard the place and the prisoners. Siedlce had been almost entirely destroyed by fire. German fliers had completely destroyed the railway and traffic was impossible. Every stretch was blocked by trains, many of which were loaded with a vast amount of booty. The main highways out of Siedlce leading toward the south, southeast and east were reconnoitered by motorcycle patrols.

Scout cars were sent toward the northeast and west. The rest of the reconnaissance detachment provided security toward the east and northeast. 

On 12 September the main body of the division advanced via Seroczyn—Stozcek toward the Warsaw-Lublin highway, which was reached on the 13th by the advance Guard.

German Panzer I's advancing across open country during the Invasion of Poland. Germany's use of mechanized units a during the invasion was key factor in the success of the operation.

Colors of War

The roads leading toward the southeast, east and northeast were found by the patrols to be interrupted by road blocks and destroyed bridges. No organized hostile forces were found west of Siedlce, but everywhere our patrols found large numbers of stragglers. One patrol of twelve motorcyclists brought in 300 stragglers. 

During the late afternoon, Group “K” arrived at Siedlce and continued on toward the southwest. In the evening, upon the arrival of a friendly division, the reconnaissance detachment followed its own division.”


The Battle of Siedlce was a significant engagement in the wider context of the German invasion of Poland. While the Polish forces fought bravely and tenaciously, they were ultimately unable to withstand the overwhelming military power of the Germans.

The defeat at Siedlce was a major blow to Polish morale and contributed to the rapid collapse of the Polish defence effort.

Further reading