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First to Fight – The Polish War 1939

First to Fight – The Polish War 1939 by Roger Moorhouse, The Bodley head, 344pp

This is an interesting account of the invasion of Poland in 1939 by the Germans and then the Russians. The campaign has been neglected in other accounts of the war, and sometimes mis-represented. Britain and France had signed agreements to protect Poland from aggression, but when the Germans invaded the allies were slow to react, and realising the difficulties of a decisive intervention, they defended Poland with fine words, while the French made a token advance over Germany’s Western border, aiming to cause the minimum of casualties.

The Poles resisted bravely, many of them expecting Allied forces to come to their aid, and inflicted casualties on the Germans, but the Germans had far superior resources in armour, transport and aircraft.  It was impossible to defend the frontiers against attack from several directions, and impossible to make a fighting retreat when chased by fast-moving mechanised columns supported by aircraft.  The German airforce was able to attack at will, attacking troop formations, refugee columns and cities, causing many casualties and much destruction.

Polish difficulties were increased by ethnic minorities within their borders – Germans in the west and Ukranians and Belorussians in the East. The Russian invasion from the East facilitated by the Nazi-Soviet pact sealed their fate.  Both the Germans and the Russians behaved with great brutality, committing many massacres of Polish soldiers and civilians.

Postwar Poland remained under Soviet control, and most of the territory seized in the Soviet invasion was never returned to Poland, while to the West, Poland gained large territories, formerly German, on the Baltic coast.

A book worth reading if you are interested in WWII or Polish history.

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