22 SEPTEMBER 1939, Page 7



HE military campaign in Poland is over, and, in effect, I Russia gave it the coup de grace. Even on Monday a considerable force lay about the confluence of the Bzura and the Vistula, north-west of Warsaw; but disintegra- tion was already setting in and, despite the gallant defiance of the Warsaw garrison, what remains is only " clearing up." Field Marshal Goering estimated fourteen days for the achievement of the " chief things." But on Saturday the remains of two great armies, the Pomorze and the Poznanian, were still engaged in the quadrilateral Kutno- Lodz-Skiemiewice-Lowicz, about the two railway lines hich supply Warsaw from the south-west. For several days they had been desperately struggling there, attempting to break out and rejoin the main Polish force. There was strong resistance east and north of the Vistula at many points. Brest Litovsk was still in Polish hands in the morn- ing. Lwow still held out. But early on Sunday morning Russian troops crossed the eastern frontier of Poland and the military position, which had degenerated from dark to desperate, was then beyond hope. Whatever resistance a fantastically brave people can make after this cannot have the nature of military operations. Her armies and her towns will be compelled to surrender and, as a nation, Poland will temporarily disappear.

On Saturday week Field Marshal Goering was publicly gloating over the annihilation of Poland's " three great armies." But not until the following Thursday was it clear that the army south of Radom had been put out of action. The Germans claimed to have taken 6o,00o prisoners, including several Generals, 543 guns and 38 tanks. This army lay in the south-west of Poland, defend- ing the province of Silesia. It was attacked heavily in front and in the rear, and seems early to have lost cohesion. As it gave way the German column operating on its northern flank turned north-east and threatened the left wing of the army of Poznania which was concentrated in Poznan (Posen). This appears to have been the strongest of the Polish armies and it was on this rock that Goering's dreams foundered. The line it had to defend flung a loop to the west, making a salient towards Frankfurt. It had to bear a heavy onslaught directed astride the Berlin- Frankfurt railway, and it suffered in the fate of its neighbours.

On the second day of the war a column moving across the west frontier of Pomorze was almost able to join hands with the columns which had struck south and south-west from East Prussia. The army of Pomorze was almost cut off, and the right wing of the army of Poznania was threatened. Quite early, then, this army had to withdraw both flanks, and Foch on one occasion in the last war warned (unnecessarily, as it happened) the British com- mander about the terrible momentum of a retreat. All through last week, that is to say a week after Goering had celebrated their obsequies, these two armies held the centre of the stage. The southern army had gone to disaster ; but these two became almost a legend. Small detachments effected a junction with the main Polish force only to be cut off again by German reinforcements. The army of Poznania with a heavy reaction flung the Germans out of Lodz where two days before the German commander had been complacently reviewing the troops which had taken it.

The two armies continued to struggle in the net which the Germans had flung about them. On Friday, part of the army of Pomorze actually broke through to Warsaw bringing with it I,000 prisoners ; and the capital went wild with joy. A day or two before, the German corn- muniques had begun to speak of a concentric attack ; but it is difficult to think this was anything more than giving an impressive name to the developments on the flanks. If there had not been this dispersion it seems doubtful if the two Polish armies west of Warsaw would not have been destroyed. But on Thursday the Germans were in the out- skirts of Bialys.ok, over too miles north-east of Warsaw. They were attacking Lwow and Rawa Ruska, far away to the south-east. They were across the middle Vistula. Clearly these movements, which threatened the rear of the main defensive line and which ultimately encircled the whole Polish field force, promised a great victory. But, as we have seen, the two armies west of the Vistula were still fighting desperately on Saturday, and the development of the greater manoeuvre was not left to be tried out. When the Russian armies crossed the frontier it was obvious that all was over. There is no more to be said than that.

It is of more interest and importance now to attempt an analysis of the causes of the Polish disaster. It will be said that the Germans won because of their superior staff work ; and, of course, it is true that in the first critical stage of the campaign a great army was flung against a collection of great fighters. Later on the German motorised columns operated with too little control, and the main end of the campaign was accordingly not advantaged. One column on Saturday was little more than 5o miles from the Russian frontier ; and this dispersion of force while the bulk of the Polish field armies were enveloped but not destroyed argues either a critical error of judgement or a lack of central control. The latter seems the more probable ; but, even granting the immense superiority of the German staff work, we are not at the end of our analysis. This was an effect rather than a cause.

The Poles were beaten by the aeroplane and the motor- car. Courage is no match for the internal combustion engine. When the opposing armies joined battle the Germans struck at once at all the main air bases, at all the main headquarters, and at all communications. They even bombed general headquarters at Brest Litovsk. The first result was to blind the Polish army, who were unable to observe the German positions, although the enemy observed theirs. But, worse still, the means of communication between unit and unit became weakened ; and, with the lack of central direction, an incipient disorganisation set in. It can now be realised that, though malice and revenge may suggest the use of aeroplanes against civilians, their proper and most economical use is against the enemy's army and its organisation. By striking against civilians one may cause suffering ; but a blow against the army may produce sub- mission, when the civilian will be left at one's mercy. The military use of the aeroplane on the Polish front is a portent. If the war is not won by the aeroplane, it will certainly not be won without it.

Thus, blinded while constantly under the eye of the enemy, the Polish army could have delivered no effective counter-attack, even if the direction and control had been available to launch it. And the army was attacked by motorised columns like a swarm of hornets. The Poles had evolved no adequate reply to these tactics. The motorised columns took no prisoners, but merely left in their wake a wide stream of dead and wounded. With mad gallantry the cavalry attacked them on several occasions ; but to no pur- pose except to create another shambles In effect it was the dash of two centuries, and the eighteenth cannot meet the twentieth on the battlefield. The Polish armies were foredoomed by almost every circumstance—the indefen- sible frontiers, the surprise attack, the overwhelming pre- ponderance of aeroplanes, the numerous motorised columns, the very weather. They stood alone beyond our power to help and their prolonged resistance in face of such odds is the one imperishable memory of the campaign.

The Polish defeat, therefore, gives us no clue to the possible value of the German army, even in open warfare, in the west. It certainly took appalling risks, and the French army is thought by detached observers to be the equal if not the superior of any army in the world. It would be valuable to know how many of the German divisions at present in Poland and how many aeroplanes will be trans- ferred to the west, and when. We must reckon on the bulk of both appearing against the allies within a short time Whether they will be flung against the Maginot line or used in one of those adventures about which gossip is revolving at present it is unprofitable to speculate. Whenever and wherever they appear, the allies attack them the more obstinately because of the rape of Poland.