Polish Ground Forces

In 1939, the Polish ground forces was organised into 7 armies and several independent operational groups. They contained 30 active and 7 reserve divisions, 12 cavalry brigades and one mechanized cavalry brigade. The typical Polish infantry division was roughly the same size as a German one but was less well equipped, containing fewer anti-tank guns, artillery support or transport.

In theory, a fully mobilized Polish army would have had a strength of approximately 2.5 million soldiers. However, due to disorganisation and mismanagement, only 600,000 Polish troops were in position to mount a defence against German invasion on September 1, 1939.

The Polish Forces were organised into the following armies and groups:

A Polish soldier waiting for the German attack.

Polish tank strength at the beginning of the invasion.

Poland 1939 (Fall Weiß) (panzerworld.com)

Of the 932 Polish tanks, only 130 (13.9%) were modern designs (Vickers 6-Ton with 47 mm Vickers and 7TP).

Kaparty Army

Commanded by Major General Kazimierz Fabrycy, it consisted of the 2nd and 3rd Brygada Górska (Mountain Brigades); the Carpathian Half-Brigade of National Defence; 1st Motorized Artillery Regiment and 9th Heavy Artillery Regiment.

Additionally it was planned that a newly formed Tarnów Group would be attached to it, consisting of 22nd Mountain Infantry Division and the 38th Infantry Division (reserve).

This last unit would be made up of elite troops from the Border Protection Corps. The main purpose of this army was to secure the mountain passes in the Carpathians. Altogether, Karpaty Army was made of 26 battalions, 160 cannons and 16 planes.

Major General Kazimierz Fabrycy, commander of the Kaparty Army.

Public Domain

Kraków Army

General Antoni Szylling, commander of the

Kraków Army.

Public Domain

Commanded by General Antoni Szylling it consisted of five infantry divisions (6th, 7th, 11th, 23rd and 55th); two cavalry brigades (10th Motorised and Krakow) and one brigade of mountain infantry (the 21st). Altogether, the army was made up of 59 battalions, 29 squadrons, 352 cannons, 90 tanks, two armoured trains and 44 planes.
Its main objectives were to:

  • to defend Upper Silesia,
  • to protect the general direction towards the city of Kraków from southwest,
  • to defend the strategic rail line from Dąbrowa Górnicza Ząbkowice to Częstochowa,
  • If necessary, to form a final line of defence: Fortified Area of Silesia - Mikołów - Pszczyna - Bielsko-Biała - Żywiec.

Tankettes from the 10th Cavalry Brigade lined up.

Lublin Army

Commanded Majoy General. Tadeusz Piskor this improvised military force consisted of the Warsaw Armoured Motorized Brigade (Warszawska Brygada Pancerno-Motorowa), the 39th Infantry division and a variety of smaller units. This army group was not originally part of Polish planning and was only created as a reaction to the German advances. 

Łódź Army

Commanded by General Juliusz Rómmel, although it was planned this army would be situated between the ‘Krakow’ and ‘Poznan’ armies, this group was mistakenly located too close to the border and found itself involved in the fighting much earlier than anticipated.

It consisted of the 2nd Legions, 10th, 28th and 30th Infantry divisions, the Kresowa and Wołyńska Cavalry Brigades and the Sieradz National Defence Brigade. It could also call upon two armoured trains.

Soldiers from the 10th Cavalry Brigade.

Modlin Army

With its primary purpose being the defence of the Polish capital, Warsaw, this Army group was commanded by Brigadier General Emil Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski and consisted of the 8th and 20th Infantry divisions, the Nowogródzka and Mazowiecka Cavalry Brigades and the Warsaw National Defence Brigade. In total, it had 28 infantry battalions, 37 cavalry squadrons, 180 artillery pieces, 12 anti-air artillery pieces, 1 armoured train and 28 planes.

Pomorze Army

Commanded by  Lieutenant General Władysław Bortnowski, its main focus was to defend Toruń and Bydgoszcz and to carry out delaying actions in the so-called "Polish Corridor". It consisted of five infantry divisions (4th, 9th, 15th, 16th and 27th), two National Defence brigades (Pomeranian and Chełmno) and the Pomeranian cavalry brigade. Additionally, it also contained some smaller, independent units. 

Polish M.1929 Armoured cars.

Poznań Army

Commanded by Major General Tadeusz Kutrzeba, was to provide flanking operations in the Grand Poland and withdraw towards lines of defence along the Warta river. It contained 4 infantry divisions (14th, 17th, 25th and 26th) and 2 cavalry brigades (Wielkopolska and Podolska).

Prusy Army

Commanded by General Stefan Dąb-Biernacki, this was allocated as the main reserve army designed to coordinate with the ‘Poznań’ and ‘Kraków’ armies. It contained seven infantry divisions (12th, 13th, 19th, 29th, 36th, 39th and 44th), the Wileńska Cavalry Brigade and 1st Tank Battalion.

Warszawa Army

Created as an improvised army group on the 10th September after the German Army had made significant advances, it was commanded by Colonel Walerian Czuma, although the overall commander was General Juliusz Rómmel. It consisted of approximately 25 infantry battalions, 86 pieces of anti-aircraft artillery and 40 tanks, (although it was later reinforced by forces of Łódź Army and elements of Modlin Army) and was charged with the defence of Warsaw. It consisted of the a variety of units – some from previously formed Army groups:

  • The 2nd Legions, 8th, 28th and 30th Infantry divisions (Modlin – commanded by General Wiktor Thommée).
  • The 13th, 15th and 25th Infantry division and a combined Cavalry brigade (Western approach – commanded by Major Marian Porwit.
  • The 5th, 8th, 20th, 44th, 1st & 2nd “Defenders of Praga” Infantry Divisions (Eastern approach – commanded by General. Juliusz Zulauff)

Generał Juliusz Rómmel, overall commander of the Warszawa Army.

Public Domain

Polish Vickers E-11 tanks on exercise shortly before the invasion.

​In addition to the various army groups formed, the Polish military also created several Operational Groups – smaller than Army groups, they were generally Corps sized (usually made up of two or more divisions).

Operational Group Wyszków

Commanded by General Stefan Dąb-Biernacki, it was ordered to defend the line of the Narew river from Germany army units advancing from East Prussia. It consisted of: 1st Legions Infantry Division, 35th Infantry Division, 41st Infantry Division, an Bartosz Glowacki (armoured train) and elements of 2nd Regiment of Heavy Artillery.

Independent Operational Group Narew

Commanded by General Czesław Młot-Fijałkowski, it consisted of the 18th and 33rd Infantry Divisions, the Podlaska and Suwalska Cavalry Brigades along with some attached air units: The Polish 151st Fighter Escadrille, Reconnaissance Squadron 51, Polish 13th Observation Escadrille and Liaison Platoon No. 9.

Polish machine gun crew.

Independent Operational Group Polesie

Created on 11th September 1939 and commanded by General Franciszek Kleeberg. Its composition changed throughout the campaign. On 14th September, it contained the following units:

  • "Kobryń Group" (seven infantry battalions) – commanded by Colonel Adam Epler
  • "Brześć Group" (five infantry battalions, two light tank companies, two armored trains) commanded by General Konstanty Plisowski
  • "Drohiczyn Poleski Group" (three infantry battalions) – commanded by Kazimierz Gorzkowski
  • "Jasiołda Group" (one infantry battalion) – commanded by Major Ludwik Rau
  • Riverine Flotilla of the Polish Navy

​However, after intense fighting and sustaining casualties, it was reorganised into the following:

  • Polish 50th Infantry Division "Brzoza" – commanded by Colonel Ottokar Brzoza-Brzezina
  • Polish 60th Infantry Division "Kobryń" – commanded by Colonel  Adam Epler
  • Improvised Cavalry Division "Zaza" commanded by General Zygmunt Podhorski (mostly containing elements of the Podlaska and Suwalska Cavalry Brigades from Independent Operational Group Narew)

Polish Air Force (Lotnictwo Wojskowe) 

The Polish air forces were divided onto the following units:

  • Air regiment (Polish: pułk lotniczy) (Wing or Group) usually 4 squadrons or 8 escadrilles / Flights.
  • Air squadron (Polish: dywizjon lotniczy) (Squadron) usually 2 escadrilles / Flights.
  • Air escadrille (Polish: eskadra lotnicza) (Flight) usually 8 to 12 planes.

​Each escadrille was given a respective number and a proper name, depending on its main tasks. Hence the escadrilles were divided onto:

  • Bombing escadrille (Polish: eskadra bombowa)
  • Fighter escadrille (Polish: eskadra myśliwska)
  • Observation escadrille (Polish: eskadra obserwacyjna)
  • Reconnaissance escadrille (Polish: eskadra rozpoznawcza)
  • Staff escadrille (Polish: eskadra sztabowa)

Polish PZL P-11c Fighter plane in 1939.

​Additionally, there was a strategic reserve which consisted of two air brigades stationed around Warsaw and additional communications squadrons. Altogether, on 1 September 1939 Edward Rydz-Śmigły, the commander of Poland’s armed forces had 146 combat aeroplanes and 60 non-combat planes at his disposal.

Strategic Reserve - HQ units

  • Communications platoon No. 1 (Pluton łącznikowy nr 1)
  • Communications platoon No. 2 (Pluton łącznikowy nr 2)
  • Polish 16th Observation Escadrille
  • Staff Escadrille

Pursuit Brigade (Brygada Poscigowa)

The Pursuit Brigade was the main aerial reserve and was used for air cover of the Polish capital of Warsaw. It was similar to the Bomber Brigade, composed of two squadrons, each in turn composed of several escadrilles. It was the most successful element of the Polish Air Force during the Defensive War.

​On 1 September, while defending Warsaw, it shot down 16 German planes, for a loss of 10 of its own fighters. It is credited with shooting down 42 German airplanes in the first 6 days of the war. By that time, however, it had lost 38 of its 54 fighters.

  • Polish 1st Fighter Squadron of the 3rd Air Regiment (III/1. Dywizjon Myśliwski)
  • Polish 111th Fighter Escadrille (111 Eskadra Myśliwska)
  • Polish 112th Fighter Escadrille (112 Eskadra Myśliwska)
  • Polish 1st Fighter Squadron of the 4th Air Regiment (IV/1 Dywizjon Myśliwski)
  • Polish 113th Fighter Escadrille (113 Eskadra Myśliwska)
  • Polish 114th Fighter Escadrille (114 Eskadra Myśliwska)
  • Polish 123rd Fighter Escadrille (123 Eskadra Myśliwska)

Polish Pilots in 1939.

​Bomber Brigade

The Bomber Brigade was created just before the outbreak of war and so was not yet at full strength.  It consisted of 36 modern PZL.37 Łoś medium bombers and 50 older PZL.23 Karaś light bombers, plus 21 support planes. It was organised into four squadrons, each in turn composed of two escadrilles.

  • Polish 10th Bomber Squadron (X Dywizjon Bombowy)
  • Polish 211th Bomber Escadrille (211. Eskadra Bombowa)
  • Polish 212th Bomber Escadrille (212. Eskadra Bombowa)
  • Polish 15th Bomber Squadron (XV Dywizjon Bombowy)
  • Polish 216th Bomber Escadrille (216. Eskadra Bombowa)
  • Polish 217th Bomber Escadrille (217. Eskadra Bombowa)
  • Polish 2nd Bomber Squadron (II Dywizjon Bombowy)
  • Polish 21st Bomber Escadrille (21. Eskadra Bombowa)
  • Polish 22nd Bomber Escadrille (22. Eskadra Bombowa)
  • Polish 6th Bomber Squadron (VI Dywizjon Bombowy)
  • Polish 64th Bomber Escadrille (64. Eskadra Bombowa)
  • Polish 65th Bomber Escadrille (65. Eskadra Bombowa)
  • Polish 55th Independent Bomber Escadrille (55. Samodzielna Eskadra Bombowa)
  • Communications platoon No. 4 (Pluton łącznikowy nr 4)
  • Communications platoon No. 12 (Pluton łącznikowy nr 12)

Polish Naval Forces (Polska Marynarka Wojenna)

The Polish navy itself was divided onto four flotillas:

  • Destroyer flotilla under Lieutenant Commander Roman Stankiewicz
  • Submarine flotilla under Counter Admiral Adam Mohuczy – made up of the submarines Wilk, Żbik, Ryś, Sęp and Orzeł.
  • Pińsk river flotilla under Commander Witold Zajączkowski
  • Vistula river detachment under Lieutenant Commander Roman Kanafoyski

A number of other vessels were left in the Polish naval bases, including several smaller torpedo boats, mine trawlers, minelayers, auxiliary and support vessels and two obsolete gun boats. Three Polish destroyers had already relocated to Britain as part of the Peking Plan.

Due to the vulnerability of the Polish Corridor, its defence was organized into several fortified lines that were designed to protect the important naval base of Hel Peninsula, along with the city of Gdynia. It was commanded by Counter Admiral Józef Unrug, and contained the following units:

  • Wejherowo Independent Detachment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Kazimierz Pruszkowski: 1st Marine Rifles Regiment, Puck National Defence Battalion
  • Redłowo Independent Detachment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ignacy Szpunar: 2nd Marine Rifles Regiment, 1st Reserve Infantry Battalion
  • Kartuzy Independent Detachment Commanded by Captain Marian Mordawski: Gdynia II National Defence battalion, Kartuzy National Defence battalion, Gdynia I National Defence battalion.

In total, this came to around 15,000 men.

In addition, the Hel Fortified Area itself could muster an another 3,000 men – commanded by Counter Admiral Włodzimierz Steyer, along with the 4th battalion of the Border Defence Corps and the garrison of 200 men at Westerplatte.

​The remainder of the Polish forces in this area, included various ad hoc or improvised units, the mobilized Police, Polish Border Guard, Border Defence Corps and volunteers. Additionally, it also contained some air defence units - the 1st and 2nd battalion of AA artillery, with fourteen 75 mm guns and fourteen 40 mm guns.