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Eyewitness To History: Luftwaffe Planes Bomb Poland, September 1939

It is September 1939. Germany has invaded Poland. German warplanes scream over Polish skies wreaking destruction....

The people of Poland were obliged to recognise the devastating power of the Luftwaffe. ‘I was awakened by the wail of sirens and sound of explosions,’ wrote diplomat Adam Kruczkiewicz in Warsaw. ‘Outside I saw German planes flying at incredibly low level and throwing bombs at their ease. There was some desultory machine-gun fire from the tops of a few buildings, but no Polish fliers … The city was stunned by the almost complete lack of air defence. They felt bitterly disappointed.’ The town of Łuck belied its name: early one morning a dozen German bombs fell on it, killing scores of people, most of them children walking to school. Impotent victims called the cloudless skies of those September days ‘the curse of Poland’. Pilot B.J. Solak wrote: ‘The stench of burning and a brown veil of smoke filled all the air around our town.’ After hiding his unarmed plane beneath some trees, Solak was driving home when he met a peasant on the road, ‘leading a horse whose hip was a blanket of congealed blood. Its head was touching the dust with its nostrils, each step causing it to shudder with pain.’ The young airman asked the peasant where he was taking the stricken animal, victim of a Stuka dive-bomber. ‘To the veterinary clinic in town.’ ‘But that’s four miles more!’ A shrug: ‘I have only one horse.’




A thousand larger tragedies unfolded. As Lt. Piotr Tarczy ski’s artillery battery clattered forward towards the battlefield, Stukas fell on it; every man sprang from his saddle and threw himself to the earth. A few bombs dropped, some men and horses fell. Then the planes were gone, the battery remounted and resumed its march. ‘We saw two women, one middle-aged and one only a girl, carrying a short ladder. On it was stretched a wounded man, still alive and clutching his abdomen. As they passed us, I could see his intestines trailing on the ground.’ Władysław Anders had fought with the Russians in World War I, under the exotically named Tsarist general the Khan of Nakhitchevan. Now, commanding a Polish cavalry brigade, Anders saw a teacher leading a group of her pupils to the shelter of woods. ‘Suddenly, there was the roar of an aeroplane. The pilot circled, descending to a height of fifty metres. As he dropped his bombs and fired his machine-guns, the children scattered like sparrows. The aeroplane disappeared as quickly as it had come, but on the field some crumpled and lifeless bundles of bright clothing remained. The nature of the new war was already clear.’

Thirteen-year-old George l zak was on a train with a party of children travelling home to Łód from summer camp. Suddenly there were explosions, screams, and the train lurched to a stop. The group leader shouted at the boys to get out fast and run for a nearby forest. Shocked and terrified, they lay prostrate for half an hour until the bombing stopped. On emerging, a few hundred yards up the track they saw a blazing troop train which had been the Germans’ target. Some boys burst into tears at the sight of bleeding men; their first attempt to reboard their own train was frustrated by the return of the Luftwaffe, machine-gunning. At last, they resumed their journey in coaches riddled with bullet holes. George reached home to find his mother sobbing by the family radio set: it had reported Germans approaching. Pilot Franciszek Kornicki went to visit a wounded comrade in a Łód hospital: ‘It was a terrible place, full of wounded and dying men lying everywhere on beds and on the floor, in rooms and corridors, some moaning in agony, others lying silent with their eyes closed or wide open, waiting and hoping.’ Gen. Adrian Carton de Wiart, head of the British military mission in Poland, wrote bitterly: ‘I saw the very face of war change – its glory shorn, no longer the soldier setting forth into battle, but the women and children being buried under it.’

Source: Inferno-World At War: 1939-45 By MAX HASTINGS (Page 16)



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