Military history


Still Adolf Hitler did not rise to the Russian bait. Perhaps it was because all during June he was busy at Berchtesgaden supervising the completion of military plans to invade Poland at the summer’s end.

By June 15 he had General von Brauchitsch’s top-secret plan for the operations of the Army against Poland.68 “The object of the operation,” the Commander in Chief of the Army, echoing his master, declared, “is to destroy the Polish armed forces. The political leadership demands that the war should be begun by heavy surprise blows and lead to quick successes. The intention of the Army High Command is to prevent a regular mobilization and concentration of the Polish Army by a surprise invasion of Polish territory and to destroy the mass of the Polish Army, which is expected to be west of the Vistula-Narew line, by a concentric attack from Silesia on the one side and from Pomerania-East Prussia on the other.”

To carry out his plan, Brauchitsch set up two army groups—Army Group South, consisting of the EighthTenth and Fourteenth armies, and Army Group North, made up of the Third and Fourth armies. The southern army group, under the command of General von Rundstedt, was to attack from Silesia “in the general direction of Warsaw, scatter opposing Polish forces and occupy as early as possible with forces as strong as possible the Vistula on both sides of Warsaw with the aim of destroying the Polish forces still holding out in western Poland in co-operation with Army Group North.” The first mission of the latter group was “to establish connection between the Reich and East Prussia” by driving across the Corridor. Detailed objectives of the various armies were outlined as well as those for the Air Force and Navy. Danzig, said Brauchitsch, would be declared German territory on the first day of hostilities and would be secured by local forces under German command.

A supplemental directive issued at the same time stipulated that the order of deployment for “White” would be put into operation on August 20. “All preparations,” it laid down, “must be concluded by that date.”69

A week later, on June 22, General Keitel submitted to Hitler a “preliminary timetable for Case White.”70 The Fuehrer, after studying it, agreed with it “in the main” but ordered that “so as not to disquiet the population by calling up reserves on a larger scale than usual … civilian establishments, employers or other private persons who make inquiries should be told that men are being called up for the autumn maneuvers.” Also Hitler stipulated that “for reasons of security, the clearing of hospitals in the frontier area which the Supreme Command of the Army proposed should take place from the middle of July must not be carried out.”

The war which Hitler was planning to launch would be total war and would require not only military mobilization but a total mobilization of all the resources of the nation. To co-ordinate this immense effort a meeting of the Reich Defense Council was convoked the next day, on June 23, under the chairmanship of Goering. Some thirty-five ranking officials, civil and military, including Keitel, Raeder, Halder, Thomas and Milch for the armed forces and the Ministers of the Interior, Economics, Finance and Transport, as well as Himmler, were present. It was only the second meeting of the Council but, as Goering explained, the body was convoked only to make the most important decisions and he left no doubt in the minds of his hearers, as the captured secret minutes of the session reveal, that war was near and that much remained to be done about manpower for industry and agriculture and about many other matters relating to total mobilization.71

Goering informed the Council that Hitler had decided to draft some seven million men. To augment the labor supply Dr. Funk, the Minister of Economics, was to arrange “what work is to be given to prisoners of war and to the inmates of prisons and concentration camps.” Himmler chimed in to say that “greater use will be made of the concentration camps in wartime.” And Goering added that “hundreds of thousands of workers from the Czech protectorate are to be employed under supervision in Germany, particularly in agriculture, and housed in hutments.” Already, it was obvious, the Nazi program for slave labor was taking shape.

Dr. Frick, the Minister of the Interior, promised to “save labor in the public administration” and enlivened the proceedings by admitting that under the Nazi regime the number of bureaucrats had increased “from twenty to forty fold—an impossible state of affairs.” A committee was set up to correct this lamentable situation.

An even more pessimistic report was made by Colonel Rudolf Gercke, chief of the Transport Department of the Army General Staff. “In the transportation sphere,” he declared bluntly, “Germany is at the moment not ready for war.

Whether the German transportation facilities would be equal to their task depended, of course, on whether the war was confined to Poland. If it had to be fought in the West against France and Great Britain it was feared that the transport system would simply not be adequate. In July two emergency meetings of the Defense Council were called “in order to bring the West Wall, by August 25 at the latest, into the optimum condition of preparedness with the material that can be obtained by that time by an extreme effort.” High officials of Krupp and the steel cartel were enlisted to try to scrape up the necessary metal to complete the armament of the western fortifications. For on their impregnancy, the Germans knew, depended whether the Anglo–French armies would be inclined to mount a serious attack on western Germany while the Wehrmacht was preoccupied in Poland.

Though Hitler, with unusual frankness, had told his generals on May 23 that Danzig was not the cause of the dispute with Poland at all, it seemed for a few weeks at midsummer that the Free City might be the powder keg which any day would set off the explosion of war. For some time the Germans had been smuggling into Danzig arms and Regular Army officers to train the local defense guard in their use.* The arms and officers came in across the border from East Prussia, and in order to keep closer watch on them the Poles increased the number of their customs officials and frontier guards. The local Danzig authorities, now operating exclusively on orders from Berlin, countered by trying to prevent the Polish officials from carrying out their duties.

The conflict reached a crisis on August 4 when the Polish diplomatic representative in Danzig informed the local authorities that the Polish customs inspectors had been given orders to carry out their functions “with arms” and that any attempt by the Danzigers to hamper them would be regarded “as an act of violence” against Polish officials, and that in such a case the Polish government would “retaliate without delay against the Free City.”

This was a further sign to Hitler that the Poles could not be intimidated and it was reinforced by the opinion of the German ambassador in Warsaw, who on July 6 telegraphed Berlin that there was “hardly any doubt” that Poland would fight “if there was a clear violation” of her rights in Danzig. We know from a marginal note on the telegram in Ribbentrop’s handwriting that it was shown the Fuehrer.73

Hitler was furious. The next day, August 7, he summoned Albert Forster, the Nazi Gauleiter of Danzig, to Berchtesgaden and told him that he had reached the extreme limit of his patience with the Poles. Angry notes were exchanged between Berlin and Warsaw—so violent in tone that neither side dared to make them public. On the ninth, the Reich government warned Poland that a repetition of its ultimatum to Danzig “would lead to an aggravation of German–Polish relations … for which the German Government must disclaim all responsibility.” The next day the Polish government, replied tartly

that they will continue to react as hitherto to any attempt by the authorities of the Free City to impair the rights and interests which Poland enjoys in Danzig, and will do so by such means and measures as they alone may deem appropriate, and that they will regard any intervention by the Reich Government … as an act of aggression.74

No small nation which stood in Hitler’s way had ever used such language. When on the following day, August 11, the Fuehrer received Carl Burckhardt, a Swiss, who was League of Nations High Commissioner at Danzig and who had gone more than halfway to meet the German demands there, he was in an ugly mood. He told his visitor that “if the slightest thing was attempted by the Poles, he would fall upon them like lightning with all the powerful arms at his disposal, of which the Poles had not the slightest idea.”

   M. Burckhardt said [the High Commissioner later reported] that that would lead to a general conflict. Herr Hitler replied that if he had to make war he would rather do it today than tomorrow, that he would not conduct it like the Germany of Wilhelm II, who had always had scruples about the full use of every weapon, and that he would fight without mercy up to the extreme limit.75

Against whom? Against Poland certainly. Against Britain and France, if necessary. Against Russia too? With regard to the Soviet Union, Hitler had finally made up his mind.

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