18. In Polish Military Service
In a talk with Col. Perkowicz early in 1936 I made a request to attend a course at the High Command and General Staff College, and Col. Perkowicz was simply shocked. Not because he thought this odd or unnecessary, but because he was surprised that I still wanted to study at the age of forty-eight. I really did always have an itch for study, and in 1929 I graduated from radio-technical school (of a military type, under the command of Staff-Major R. Jackowski). Col. Perkowicz made inquiries of the College Commandant, General T. Kutrzeba and chief of the 2nd Department of the General Staff, Col. T. Pelczynski, and the matter was favorably resolved. Early in May I was offered a contract with the rank of Major to undergo a staging training with the 18th Infantry Regiment during summer maneuvers. General Kutrzeba knew me personally from meetings at the Bureau of Military History where he spent much time collecting material for his book published in 1935 under the title "Wyprawa Kijowska 1920" (The Kiev Expedition of 1920). At his request I worked on organizational and operational data about our part in that war, particularly about our 6th Division which marched on Kiev together with the 3rd Polish Army. General Kutrzeba only saw difficulties with my rank because according to regulation, the College only accepted officers between the rank of lieutenant and major. When Col. Perkowicz informed me about this, I replied that a Polish military rank was no obstacle to me. From talks with officers who graduated from that school I found that its scholastic level was very high and I wanted to increase my knowledge of tactics even at this advanced age. I was particularly impressed with the leading thesis of Polish military doctrine on which was based practical training of officers and ranks, the motto of Marshal Pilsudski: "Strategy and tactics of real situations."
I was sorry to leave the Staff where I put in so much work, but I was glad at the prospect of getting a modern military education.
When I arrived at the 18th Inf. Reg. of the 26th Division, I was being awaited there (Capt. Guttrie had brought the news) and I was met by deputy commander Col. T. Klimecki (General during the war, Chief of Staff of Gen. Sikorski, both killed in an airplane crash at Gibraltar in 1943). For my staging Col. Klimecki assigned me to the 2nd Bat., 18th Inf. Reg. under the command of Staff-Lt. Col. W. Wislocki (later professor of Infantry Officers' School and during the war chief of staff of General Olbrycht's Operational Group). A real gentleman, but very demanding as a soldier, Lt.-Col. Wislocki did not spare time or effort to get me to know all secrets of Polish military art. Several days later the commander of the regiment came back from furlough. He was Col. F. Matuszczak, a Pilsudski legionnaire. He spoke Ukrainian, being a native of Galicia. He was a first-rate tactician and exceptionally intelligent, his peculiar trait was watching without saying a word. For example, he knew by memory all tables of machine-gun firing. After a few days he introduced me to the Division Commander, General T. Kozicki who asked me why I had joined the Polish Army. With my answer "to learn" I placed myself in the right position with him and I was treated as an equal of all the other officers, to my great satisfaction. During the next maneuvers I commanded a battalion defending a position against enemy attack. I organized the defense in such a way that the commander of the maneuvers, Col. Matuszczak and the arbiters recognized my battalion's right to hold the defensive position all day and only toward night they permitted the enemy to penetrate the battalion's position to a depth of about 200 meters. When I took the initiative to throw the enemy out of his position in a night attack, and succeeded. Col. Matuszczak and Gen. Kozicki praised my initiative during the discussion following. The next time during division maneuvers I commanded a regiment holding a defense line, and all went well. Gen. Kutrzeba, who was acting Army Inspector and in charge of inspecting the 26th Division, was particularly emphatic about the good organization of defense through proper utilization of artillery and reserves.
My social relations were the best, and among others, on motion of Col. Matuszczak, the general meeting of the officers of the regiment awarded me the regimental badge, in spite of the fact that I had been with the regiment for only a few months, and the rules required at least one year's service to be eligible for the badge. After the maneuvers I read a paper to the officers of the garrison (18th Inf. Reg. and 26th Art. Reg.) on the struggle of the Ukrainian nation for independence, illustrating the origin and course of the war of 1920 with graphs. Incidentally, I had the opportunity to show an original map from the Brockhaus & Ephron Encyclopedia (Russian edition of 1869) of political conditions in Europe around 1340 AD in which the city of Moscow did not appear, and the territory along both banks of the Dnipro were marked "Ukraina." In my comments upon the map I stated that neither the publishers nor the Russian censor could be considered pro-Ukrainian, but they could simply not avoid presentation of true historical facts. The deputy of Gen. Kozicki, Col. W. Hulewicz listened to my address, and then took the floor commenting favorably on what I had said and wishing in the name of those present that the Ukrainian people might "soon become masters of their own home," and that I should be successful in my studies. After the speeches the officers held a banquet in my honor at which Lt-Col. Wislocki made a very warm and sincere speech. I wish to note that among the regimental officers the most erudite and best oriented was Captain Hala, who fell in the Battle of Kutno in 1939.
The regiment returned from maneuvers late in September and I was given a three-week furlough to prepare for the High Command and General Staff College which was to start on November 1st.
Actually, the College did not teach "strategy" only technique of staff service and provided the necessary background for higher studies. Strategy and operations were studied at special courses, maneuvers and games in the General Inspectorate. The course in the College was two years. During the first year we studied tactics of units up to a division, followed by games on maps, maneuvers and studies in the field. During the second year there were studies of operations of combined arms at the operational group level, also games on maps, and then studies and maneuvers in the field, usually with studies of operations from World War I. In addition, during summer courses students inspected fortified installations, arsenals and industrial plants to learn production. Military plants and laboratories in the so-called C.O.P. (Centralny Okreg Przemyslowy – Central Industrial District) impressed me with bold planning and specialization in manufacture of heavy arms, at a time when Poland had been an independent nation for only twenty years.
The first weeks in the College surprised me with the tempo and variety and quantity of tactical and technical terminology which was so rich that it left no time for homework. Normally Polish officers assigned to the College had several years service as line officers, then required the Officers' Infantry School, and only then could they qualify for the College. I lacked this technical preparation, and had to work very hard for the first few weeks to catch up with them and go along at the required pace. I was already fifty years old, but everything went fine.
I have retained very good impressions from that period of interesting events. During the summer maneuvers in the first year we had so-called skeletal maneuvers. I commanded a regiment, my aide was my colleague Captain Braksal, and the umpire was Staff-Col. Wondolkowski. During a certain tactical situation he asked me what my decision was and what arguments I had to offer. My answer was correct because he made no remarks. After finishing my arguments, the Colonel asked me: "And what next?" I could not see what he wanted, and Capt. Braksal also repeated all that I had said before and could add nothing. Then the Colonel said: "In that case, you gentlemen will stay here, and I will advance because you said nothing about what you are going to do. Naturally, you had to add: and now we shall advance." Such surprises happened often in order to test the students' reaction. Every idea during games or maneuvers had to be related to the umpire, otherwise without his approval no move could be made. This was quite a normal requirement, but people were so tense on maneuvers that sometimes they would forget to relate the decision to the umpire and ask for his acceptance. The faculty of the College was recruited from among the ablest graduates, full of fire and energy, with the most outstanding among them being Staff-Col. Litynski, Staff-Lt-Col. Sabatowski, and Staff-Lt.-Col. Werigo. Some of the students were very friendly to me, particularly Capt. (now Col.) M. Tonn, Capt. (now Lt-Col.) I. Krzyzanowski, Capt. Dr. M. Bereza, and others. All were very pleasant and loyal colleagues.
One winter night a group of students of the Military Command School came to my house and we worked on the solution of a very difficult and complicated group assignment. After solving our problem we had some doughnuts and coffee, and my friends left a little after midnight. Toward dawn I woke with acute pains in my abdomen, and nothing helped me, neither sedatives nor hot packs. Finally my wife called an ambulance from.the Army Hospital and I was taken to the Hospital nearly unconscious. After some injections the pain stopped, but my stomach was distended and drugs did not help. The doctors said that I probably had kidney stones and they would operate on me the next day. But I avoided an operation miraculously. I went to sleep in the afternoon, and when I woke up, the pain was almost gone. When I was x-rayed the next day, my kidneys were found to be normal, with no trace of any stones. My attack had been an intestinal block from a twisted intestine which is usually fatal, but in my case it just righted itself.
I completed the College in September 1938 with "good" grades and I was immediately offered a contract of Lieut.-Colonel with the provision that the following March 19th, the traditional day of promotions (Pilsudski's birthday) I would be given a contract of Colonel.
After graduation I returned to the 18th Regiment and took over the position of deputy regimental commander. Life in the regiment was routine until the middle of March 1939, when as a result of Hitler's ultimatum, the regiment along with our and ten other divisions was placed on a footing of mobilization readiness. From that time on I had the duty of directing tactical exercises of battalions and of the entire regiment until our transfer to the Poznan area to man the border on the Kcynia sector. I had to prepare tasks for each battalion and serve as umpire during tactical exercises because the regimental commander was swamped with administrative work and could only spend one to two hours on inspection from time to time. One day in April, when we held defense exercises of the battalion with live ammunition shot by artillery of the division polygon and took all the necessary precautions, three howitzer grenades fell about thirty paces in front of the deployed infantry and twenty-three men were wounded. As commander I was standing even closer.
By the end of May the regiment was combat ready after reserves had brought it to full strength. Before tensions between Poland and Germany reached the nature of inevitable war, the Ministry of Military Affairs ruled that regimental commanders could grant short furloughs to thirty per cent of the reservists for the purpose of taking care of their family and business affairs. Each case, however, had to be considered individually on its merits. I was appointed chairman of the furlough commission. Being to a certain extent an impartial observer, I found some interesting things in this connection: whereas generally speaking the officer corps of the Polish armed forces was full of patriotism and pride of the nation, ready for sacrifice and enthusiastic about the Government's decision to resist German aggression, and properly trained and prepared to engage in war or other military action. These characteristics did not apply to the ranks, and particularly to reserve ranks. It seemed that they placed family interests above all else, and had an acute feeling of being torn away from their families. There were no social security provisions for families of men called into military service and many men told me that there families were destitute. This, of course, reflected upon the reservists' morale who were compelled to weigh duty to country against duty to family, with the latter consideration usually gaming the upper hand because of their comparatively low intellectual level. All requests for furloughs were nearly without exception certified by officers of the local administration, and we were swamped by hundreds every day. My position in this matter was quite precarious, and I asked to be relieved of that duty.
In my daily work I also found that material and technical equipment of the Polish Army, although of high quality, often lacked in quantity (e.g., anti-aircraft artillery, automatic arms, anti-tank cannon, vehicles, etc.). This was not a surprise to me, with all their sacrifices the Poles simply could not build up a machine to oppose Germany within merely twenty years of their statehood. Polish military circles knew this as well as I, and even the rank soldiers saw it, and felt depressed. In retrospect one cannot resist comparing the situation in 1939 with the patriotism and sacrifice of the Poles during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, when they no longer thought about family, and did not pay attention to technical and material shortcomings, but without food or even water, attacked German tanks with bare hands.
On July 7th the regiment was put aboard trains along with the entire Division and we went to the Poznan region near the city of Kcynia, where the Division was preparing a defense line along lakes under the command of the Divisional Commander, Colonel Parafinski, to whom I was attached as chief of staff. In this work the Colonel and I had good opportunities to appraise the possibility of outbreak of war between Poland and Germany, and the chances of its outcome on the basis of personal observation. I realized that war was unavoidable, and that German technical superiority, especially in tanks and aviation, was overwhelming. In my opinion, the direct outcome of the war looked grim for Poland because the Poles could only oppose German technical equipment with manpower.
During that time we learned that an Allied Mission was negotiating with Moscow for some time, on the alleged premise that the position of the Communists could prevent the outbreak of war. But with negotiations dragging, it became clear to me that the Communists were playing their own game, and that their position will not decide on avoidance of war, but, on the contrary, will contribute to its outbreak. I believed that Moscow offered a graver threat to Poland than Germany even if only because they could not forget their Warsaw defeat of 1920.
Toward the end of July Col. Matuszczak was promoted to deputy chief of the Infantry Department, and Col. Majewski came in his place. My relations with the new regimental commander were the best. In connection with Col. Matuszczak's departure, the officers decided to buy him a farewell gift which was to be performed by a delegation consisting of Major S. Kulczycki and myself. We visited Col. Matuszczak in Warsaw and gave him the present. During our talks he was still quite optimistic and hoped that the attitude of England and France would prevent the outbreak of war. I did not share his optimism, but I had good reasons to keep my thoughts to myself.
Before my return to the regiment, I discussed the possibility of war with my wife, and I asked her to stay close to the other officers' wives who were to be taken care of by the commander of the reserve battalion, Major Kolendowski. When I reached Kcynia I learned that my forebodings were coming true: the Germans began concentrating their forces along the border, and it was clear from this operational concentration opposite the Poznan Army that they intended to split the Pomeranian Army of General Bortnowski and our Army under General Kutrzeba. Full combat readiness was ordered and positions selected for the Division were temporarily manned with small units.
In the midst of this we learned that the German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop had flown to Moscow on August 23, and within two days had signed some agreement, obviously not in Poland's favor. This was fresh confirmation that Moscow continued playing its dirty game: the Allied Mission could not reach an agreement during months of negotiations, and Ribbentrop was able to do it in two days. His propositions must have been more attractive, and probably suited Moscow's political and strategic plans. I believe that this was the final blow to Polish optimism which had most probably not been shared by the responsible leaders. Poland proclaimed general mobilization on August 29th but several hours later the order was withdrawn under pressure of England. The anarchy this caused in the whole country is beyond words: all roads and railroad stations were cluttered with milling people, and all mobilization points. There was a literal back and forth movement. It was very strange that neither the British nor the Poles considered all the negative possibilities flowing from setting in motion the huge machinery of mobilization and then recalling it. The order and countermanding order produced simply disorder. I could not understand why British military leaders did not explain to umbrella-armed Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain that this was one of the chief causes of Hitler's military victory even before he started the war. I could not understand either, why the regiment received two sets of opposite orders and as a result, it abandoned very carefully prepared defense positions and began marching in the direction of Inowroclaw, and then again it was supposed to man a position in the rear of the Division. Regroupings were made during the night, and battalion commanders, following receipt of orders from the regimental commander with whom they had not managed to find a "common language" for the brief period he was in charge, asked me for explanations. But what could I say, except that the orders issued by the regimental commander were based on orders that he received from the Division, and that every one of them could use his own initiative in carrying out his orders. The maps told me that things were not in order. The most nervous was the late commander of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Regiment, Major Kozubowski, whose task was to establish a bridgehead in defense of the highway leading to Inowroclaw. That night we learned of the contents of Hitler's speech to the Reichstag, in which he enumerated the reasons for declaring war on Poland, and among them was the necessity to end the persecution of the German minority in Poland. This, to my personal knowledge and, observation, was a complete falsehood and a provocative accusation: in Poznan province where I was stationed, and where the German minority was quite numerous, I never saw or heard of a single instance of any excesses against the German population. On the contrary, I had the impression that the local Germans were quite openly critical of Hitler.
At dawn on September 1, the Germans started the war, and we felt the brunt of it immediately, being attacked during our march by German divebombers.