12th - 15th September 1939

A scenic village

Seroczyn is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Sterdyń, within Sokołów County, Masovian Voivodeship, in east-central Poland, located about 100 kilometres north-east of the Polsih capital, Warsaw. Like many villages in Poland in 1939, it found it peace and quiet shattered by the German Invasion on 1st September 1939.  

Parish of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Seroczyn.

Seroczyn - palace and park complex with a grange. The residential complex includes: a palace, a manor, a grange with a distillery and a park. The original wooden manor house, with a porch supported by four pillars, was built in the 1st half of the nineteenth century, The palace was erected at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by the then owner of the estate, Edmund Werner.

The German advance

In the first few days of the invasion, streams of displaced refugees and retreating Polish army units flowed through the village as they headed south-east and hopefully safety. The pursuing German army units were not far behind.

The German armoured division “Kempf” was moving from the south, hoping to cut off and eliminate any retreating Polish units. At Seroczyn, the Germans caught up with the retreating Poles and fighting broke out. The ‘Steiner’ battle group – part of the “Kempf” division – occupied Seroczyn on the 12th of September. Two other German battlegroups – the "Landgraf" and "Kleinheisterkamp" secured the surrounding areas.

The Poles responded on 12th September by sending in units of the 11th Armoured Squadron from the Mazovian Cavalry Brigade – part of the larger “Modlin Army”. Commanded by a Major Stefan Majewski, several Wz. 29 and Wz 34. armoured cars attacked elements of the “Steiner” battlegroup approaching from the direction of Siedice.

A Polishwz. wz 29 'Ursus' armoured car - several of these vehicle saw action at Seroczyn.

The German forces consisted of pioneer battalion 505, SS "Späh" armoured company – consisting of a company of motorcyclists, a platoon of armoured cars and a platoon of assorted artillery. After a short skirmish, two German armoured cars were destroyed but after one of the Polish wz. 29’s was knocked out, the Poles retired, taking cover behind a nearby hill.

The Germans maintained the pressure and soon the Poles were forced to fall back across the Świder River. Realising the Germans were squeezing them out, Major Majewski organised all the Polish forces in the area into a single unit, under the command of the squadron's communications officer Lieutenant J. Herman. His forces included a horse-drawn artillery battery – somewhat hampered by a lack of horses – a the newly arrived 62nd Reconnaissance Tank Company.

Polish cadets carrying out artillery exercises in 1937. Poland made extensive use of artillery during the Invasion and had some success against the relatively lightly armoured German armoured forces.

The Poles attempted to attack across the river but where repulsed, the first Polish vehicle crossing the bridge being demolished by German artillery, while over to the right, Polis tankettes found themselves floundering in marshy meadows and the attack started to falter. The Germans then chose this moment to launch their own attack with tanks and artillery, and once again, the Poles were forced to swiftly withdraw – falling back to Garwolin early in the afternoon.

By this point the Poles had lost several vehicles: two wz. 29, one (or two) wz. 34th and 1st tankette from 11th Squadron and several from 62nd Companies but despite these setbacks, they still clung on to their positions west of Seroczyn, allowing them to continue to block the Seroczyn – Żebraczka and Seroczyn – Borki roads and menace the German supply lines on the Żebrak – Seroczyn  road – they succeeded in cutting these lines on several occasions. Such were their efforts, that they prevented the German "Landgraf" group from breaking through from Stoczek Łukowski to the north.

Germany made effective use of artillery during the Invasion.

HistoryAtWar - YouTube

September 13th

At 4am on September 13th, the Poles launched an attack from the village of Borki, the 5th Infantry Regiment of the Józef Piłsudski Legions of the 1st Legions Infantry Division engaging with the “Steiner” battlegroup. Intense artillery and machine gun fire pelted with Germans until 8:30am, inflicting significant losses.

At 10:30 though, relief for the Germans arrived in the form of 12 panzers from the “landgraf” group which launched several counterattacks on the Poles, hampering their efforts.  The tanks also attempted to force the Polish forces out of Borki itself but came unstuck when they blundered into effective Polish anti-tank defences, which cost the Germans several tanks knocked out.

Polish cavalry squadron taking care of their mounts - photo by a Polish officer Narcyz Witczak-Witaczynski.

With the German armour now floundering, the Poles renewed their efforts, the second battalion circling Seroczyn from the north and assaulting the German forces at Wodynie, smashing through the defences, and severing the Siedlce – Stoczek road link, which completely cut off the supply chain for the "Steiner", "Landgraf" and "Kleinheisterkamp" groups. A German supply column was caught up in the fighting and completely destroyed, the casualties including General Kempf’s personal equipment which – somewhat amusingly – included his underpants!

The fighting at Seročín eventually ground to a halt on the evening of 13 September. The Germans now found themselves encircled, lacking fuel and with the General’s own undergarments now on the casualty list. For their part, the Poles suffered heavily too, the two battalions most heavily involved in the fighting now reduced to company strength.

A Polish machine gun crew during the Invasion of Poland.

Fighting in nearby Wodyny continued throughout the day though as the Germans made repeated attempts to break through and relieve their beleaguered comrades but all their attempts failed – their tanks slowly falling victim to accurate Polish anti-tank fire or running out of fuel (although German Junkers Ju 52 aircraft managed to airdrop fuel supplies to the troops the following day).

It took two more days and another fuel drop, before the Germans were able to eventually break through the Polish defences at Wodyny and restore the supply route.


The fighting had been relentless and brutal – no prisoners had been taken by either side:

The Poles suffered heavily too, with 146 soldiers killed and the same number were wounded. Twenty-nine civilians hiding in the basements during the battle were murdered by German forces.

The Germans had taken such a battering that their advance towards the Vistula River was delayed for some time. This allowed the remaining Polish forces under Major Majewski to link up with the Cavalry Operational Group of General Anders and withdraw towards Tomaszów Lubelski.

With Seroczyn now secure, the Germans could proceed with their plans to attack Praga, part of the Warsaw district which was scheduled for the 16th of September.

“Group “K” occupied both places and the road between. At Seroczyn weak Polish forces bad been driven toward the northwest. The division Engineer Battalion, reinforced by an antitank company, provided protection toward the west. The 1st Company occupied the center of the town, while the Headquarters Company took over the school.

(Sketch No. 6.).

About 4:00 AM on the 13th firing began, The Poles were attacking the school, assisted by two heavy machine guns in position about 150 yards from the building. This first attack was repulsed, the battery and a rifle company from Group “K” taking part in the defense. The Poles broke through the security detachments, but the engineers succeeded in holding the main part of the position. The 1st Motorcycle Company took up a position on the eastern edge of the town in preparation for a counterattack. After the hostile attack had been repulsed, the battery and the rifle company of Group “K” resumed their march toward the south.

A Panzer I destroyed during the German advance into Poland. Although a successful design. the Panzer I was hampered by relatively light armour and a lack of hitting power.

Colors of War

The Poles soon began to attack again and succeeded in penetrating the western part of the town and occupying the Jewish cemetery opposite the school. Some penetrated the wood north of Seroczyn and brought the school under flanking fire. Then came a bombardment by heavy infantry mortars and 37-mm guns. Our casualties began to increase and we were forced to abandon the windows and carry on the defense in the garden and from behind the hedges. As our fire improved the Polish advance stopped but still the school was surrounded on three sides. At this point the 1st Company and the engineers began their counterattack.


The Poles north of the school were thrown back across the road and those in the Jewish cemetery suffered heavily when our mortars came into action. When the western part of the town was set on fire by tracer ammunition, the Poles were forced to abandon it. After a time troops on motorcycles and engineers reached the former positions west of the town and the Poles were mopped up by machine-gun fire as they retreated along the road toward Borki.

A German Sd.Kfz. 231 armoured vehicle pauses while Kradschützen Truppen (Motorcycle Troops) removed roadblocks and anti-tank obstacles.

The Poles now proceeded to bombard the town with artillery. At Lomnica, which was also suffering from the effects of hostile fire, the enemy was met with such heavy machine-gun fire that he failed to attack. The scout cars established liaison with the 2d Company and, as they proceeded along the highway toward Siedlce they came upon the enemy (estimated one infantry regiment) with its heavy weapons in position on both sides of the road. The Poles had broken through at Wodynie and Olesnica, an operation in which the rear echelon of the division suffered heavy casualties. The division was now isolated. On the 14th it received gasoline by airplane and by the 15th it had restored contact with Siedlce.

Meanwhile a tank company arrived in Seroczyn from the southeast and mopped up the woods in the vicinity of Lomnica. In the afternoon it moved against Borki and annihilated the Poles located in the potato fields, but lost two tanks just outside of Borki.

German soldiers on the march during the Invasion.

Colors of War.

The German losses amounted to about 40 dead and 120 wounded, of which 11 and 40 respectively belonged to the reconnaissance detachment. The Poles lost about 300 killed. Neither side took any prisoners. Our detachment captured 12 machine guns and several light mortars.

During the night the reconnaissance detachment and the engineer battalion provided for an all-round defense of Seroczyn. On the following day contact was established with parts of an East Prussian infantry division north-east of Seroczyn, but this was soon cut by fresh Polish forces from Siedlce. During the evening of the 14th the reconnaissance detachment was relieved by an infantry battalion but remained for the night in Seroczyn.”

Further reading