The German Invasion of Poland in Numbers – 1 September 1939 | History Hit

The German Invasion of Poland in Numbers – 1 September 1939

Alex Browne

30 Aug 2018

75 years ago the Wehrmacht launched a total invasion of neighboring Poland in the name of reclaiming lost territory and creating Lebensraum. Overcoming Poland was central to Hitler’s vision of a number satellite, puppet states in territories such as Bohemia and Western Poland that would sustain an ascendant German people.

Hitler was assured Soviet complicity by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which guaranteed a division of Polish territory, and so moved to conquer Poland on 1 September 1939.

The conflict itself resulted in a decisive defeat for the Poles, even if the nature of the struggle has been distorted by several myths.

Overwhelming supremacy in military size and skill was the main factor in the Nazi/Soviet victories, and this is illustrated in the graphic below.

In June 1940, the Channel Islands - British Crown Dependencies - were occupied by German forces. On the orders of Adolf Hitler, they were transformed into impregnable fortresses, works that still mark the islands today.
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Size of armed forces by country

Already the German supremacy is evident, particularly if one factors in the Soviet invasion.

In terms of raw numbers of troops, planes and tanks the Wehrmacht was leagues ahead of its opponent.



In numerical terms there is little disputing the German advantage in this regard. Not only was the Wehrmacht the best trained army in the world, it was also huge.



An extension of Germany’s infantry advantage, it also had access to more heavy guns that, when combined with the Luftwaffe bombing campaigns, were essential to dismantling Polish defences.



The Heer organised its tanks into 6 new Panzer divisions that were designed to follow a new Operation Doctrine, to punch holes in enemy defences then encircle, isolate and destroy enemy units.

The Polish tank force consisted of two armoured brigades, four independent tank battalions and some 30 companies of TKS tankettes attached to infantry divisions and cavalry brigade. Its standard tank was the 7TP light tank.



Germany won the battle of the Lotnictwo Wojskowe vs Luftwaffe.

Well-planned preemptive air strikes are credited with crippling the Polish air force (although it wasn’t destroyed) and paving the way for a rapid infantry advance.

Certainly Germany’s superiority in the air was very effective in destroying industrial and urban centres, demoralising the Polish population and supporting manoeuvres on the ground. Terror bombing and strafing in particular accounted for Poland’s huge casualty figures.

Casualties by country

Polish casualties were swelled by high numbers of civilian deaths. Civilians were exterminated by the Luftwaffe, SS and Wehrmacht in order to create Lebensraum for the ethnic German population.

Alex Browne