USSR’s aggression against Poland

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USSR’s aggression against Poland

World War II, September campaign

Soviet cavalry parade after the surrender of Lviv, Hetman Embankment next to the Grand Hotel

Time

September 17 – October 6, 1939

Place

Lviv, Ternopil, Stanislawow, Volyn, Polesie, Novogrudok, Vilnius, part of Bialystok and Lublin provinces

Territory

Second Republic

Reason

Implementation of the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,territorial claims of the USSR against areas inhabited by Ukrainians and Belarusians.

Result

victory of the USSR,annexation of the eastern provinces of the Second Republic to the USSR.

Parties to the conflict

Second Republic

USSR

Commanders

Edward Rydz-Smigly

Mikhail KovalevSiemion Timoshenko

Forces

20,000 KOP soldiers,450,000 Polish Army soldiers

600,000-800,000 soldiers,4,959 guns,4,736 tanks,3,300 aircraft

Losses

3,000-7,000 killed and missing,+20,000 wounded,320,000-450,000 in captivity

1,475-3,000 killed and missing,2,383-10,000 wounded

no coordinates

Multimedia at Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Stalin and Joachim von Ribbentrop, Moscow 23.08.1939

Aggression of the USSR against Poland – an armed attack carried out on September 17, 1939 by the USSR (without a defined declaration of war in international law) against Poland, which had been at war with the Third Reich since September 1, 1939, part of the hostilities of the September campaign – the first campaign of World War II. In Soviet historiography it had the term “liberation march of the Red Army” (Russian: освободительный поход РККА), and in current Russian historiography – “Polish march of the Red Army” (польский поход Красной армии) or “Soviet invasion of Poland” (советское вторжение в Польшу).

Its result was the so-called Fourth Partition of Poland[1].

Table of contents

1 Origins of the actions 2 Status of the war between the Republic of Poland and the USSR 3 Preparations for the aggression

4 Course of hostilities

4.1 Operations of Red Army units 4.2 Operations of NKVD and Red Army intelligence units

5 War crimes 6 Termination of hostilities and consequences 7 Reception 8 Reception – Soviet caricatures on the first anniversary of the aggression – September 1940 9 Gallery – Soviet posters and leaflets – September 1939 10 Commemoration 11 Notes 12 Footnotes 13 Bibliography 14 External links

Genesis of actions[edit | edit code].

Document of the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Map of the division of Poland (demarcation according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) published in the daily newspaper “Izvestia” on 18.09.1939

Strike of Red Army units against Poland on September 17, 1939

Jozef Beck’s September 17, 1939 instruction to Ambassador Waclaw Grzybowski in Moscow, issued after the Soviet aggression against Poland

Separate articles: Chestnut Speech and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

The Polish-French alliance, signed on February 19, 1921, proclaimed in Article II that in the event of a threat to Poland by war from Soviet Russia or in the event of an attack on Poland, France would step in on land and sea to ensure its security from Germany, as well as help defend it from the Red Army[2].

On October 4, 1938, a few days after the signing of the Treaty of Munich, the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Vladimir Potemkin,[3] told the French Ambassador in Moscow, Robert Coulondre: I see no other option for us than the fourth partition of Poland[4].

In April 1939, the French and English staffs agreed that Poland’s fate would depend not on the results of the initial struggle, but on the final outcome of the war. In August 1939, during negotiations in Moscow, the French allies agreed to allow the Red Army to enter the territory of the Second Republic[5].

Under a secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, the USSR pledged to move militarily against Poland should the Third Reich find itself at war with Poland, a euphemistic term for the German invasion of Poland anticipated even before the outbreak of World War II[a]. On September 3, 1939, Klimient Voroshilov ordered that combat readiness be raised in the districts that were to take part in the attack and that secret mobilization be launched. Stalin decided to strike when intelligence reported on the decision taken at the British-French Abbeville Conference on September 12 not to take offensive action[6].

The original scenario of the aggression assumed not only the division of the Polish state, but also did not exclude the establishment of a Polish Soviet Socialist Republic on the lands between the Vistula and Bug rivers[7].

Soviet aggression began immediately after the final truce treaty between the USSR and Japan, signed the day before in Moscow, went into effect on September 16, ending Soviet-Japanese fighting on the borderlands of Manchukuo and Mongolia[8] – a series of clashes between the Japanese Kwantu Army and the Red Army that began on May 15, 1939, culminating in the Battle of Khalchin-Gol, which began on August 20 and ended on August 27 with the Red Army’s victory. Indeed, the iron rule of Stalin’s strategy was to conduct hostilities exclusively on one front.

German Ambassador to Moscow Friedrich-Werner von der Schulenburg arrived at Molotov’s headquarters at 6 p.m. on September 16 to demand, in accordance with Ribbentrop’s instructions, that the Red Army strike Poland immediately. This was his next intervention in this matter since the outbreak of war. Schulenburg reported:

Molotov declared that an armed withdrawal by the Soviet Union would take place immediately, perhaps even tomorrow (…) Stalin received me at two o’clock in the morning in the presence of Molotov and Voroshilov and declared that the Red Army would cross the Soviet border at six o’clock this morning along its entire length from Polotsk to Kamenets Podolsky. In order to avoid misunderstandings, he strenuously requested that the German air force not cross the Bialystok-Brest-Lviv line eastward from today. Soviet planes will begin bombing areas east of Lviv today[9]. The official pretext for the aggression was contained in the diplomatic note handed over at 3:00 a.m. on the night of September 17 by Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs Potemkin to Ambassador Grzybowski: it included an untruthful statement about the disintegration of the Polish state, the flight of the Polish government, the need to protect the property and lives of Ukrainians and Byelorussians living in the eastern Polish territories, and the liberation of the Polish people from the war. As a result, the USSR considered all treaties previously concluded with Poland (including the 1921 Treaty of Riga and the 1932 non-aggression pact) to be null and void – concluded with a non-existent state. Thus, for example, Polish soldiers taken prisoner of war status was denied.

Potemkin presented the note to the Polish ambassador when the Red Army began hostilities. The ambassador refused to accept the note and demanded exit visas for Polish diplomats.

The USSR authorities attempted, contrary to international law (the Geneva Diplomatic Convention), to prevent Polish diplomats from leaving the country and arrested them (stating that they had lost their diplomatic status)[10]. The Poles were saved by the dean of the diplomatic corps in Moscow, Reich Ambassador Schulenburg, personally forcing the USSR government to allow the diplomats to leave. In turn, the Soviet ambassador to Poland Nikolai Sharonov left the Polish territory (along with military attaché Pavel Rybalko – later Marshal of the USSR) as early as September 11 under the pretext of establishing communication with Moscow (Potemkin refused Ambassador Grzybowski the right to leave originally under the pretext of the need to return to the USSR the Soviet diplomats in Poland, who had already been in the USSR for a week)[11]. Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Kiev Jerzy Matusinski, summoned by the Soviet authorities on September 30, disappeared (he was murdered by the NKVD after his arrest)[11].

It is worth noting here that the legal government of the Second Republic did not leave the Polish borders until late in the evening of September 17, after receiving news of the Red Army’s entry on the morning of that day and confirmed information about the approach of Soviet cavalry armored units to the location of the Polish authorities. President Ignacy Moscicki, in a message to the nation issued in Kosovo, unequivocally described Soviet military actions as an act of aggression.

Even during and after the war, there were attempts to justify Soviet aggression by the need to protect the territory of the USSR in anticipation of a future German attack on the country, but in light of the results of current historical research, these attempts are devoid of any basis. In the official historiography of the USSR, the events were presented as a liberation march on the territories of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus. In contrast, in the official Polish historiography of the communist period, these events were not exposed, or were euphemistically presented as a peaceful “entry” of Soviet troops to “protect” the population in the eastern territories. From the point of view of international law, the entry of the Red Army constituted aggression, violating at the same time the provisions of the Polish-Soviet non-aggression treaty and exhausting the definition of the Convention on the Definition of Assault (1933) binding Poland and the USSR.

On October 1, 1939, Winston Churchill stated in a radio address:

That the Russian armies had to stand on this line was clear and necessary because of the danger threatening Russia from Nazi Germany. In any case, the line is there and an eastern front has been established, which Nazi Germany will not dare to attack[12]. In the USSR, aggression was justified with ideological rhetoric about historical justice against the bourgeois Polish state and the enforced Treaty of Riga and the liberation of oppressed and separated peoples. Currently in Poland, some politicians consider the aggression to be the Fourth Partition of Poland, and undertaken – like the German aggression – without a declaration of war. At the same time, all agree that for Stalin and his associates and generals it was also personal revenge for the defeat of the invasion of Poland in August 1920. On September 17, the USSR effectively became a participant in World War II as an ally of the Third Reich.

State of war between the Republic of Poland and the USSR[edit | edit code].

As a result of the entry of the armed forces of the USSR into the territory of Poland, the two countries found themselves in a state of war. Polish authorities have stated several times that they qualify the actions of the USSR as aggression: Polish President Ignacy Moscicki, in his address on September 17, 1939, spoke of the invasion of Germany and the USSR at the same time,[13] in the protest note of the Polish government of September 17, 1939, signed by Chairman of the Council of Ministers Felicjan Slawoj-Składkowski,[14][15] in the note of the Polish government to the governments of Great Britain and France on the aggression of the USSR of September 17, 1939,[16] in the order of Commander-in-Chief Edward Rydz-Smigly of September 20, 1939[17]. The Polish government’s September 30, 1939 protest against the findings of the September 28, 1939 German-Soviet border and friendship treaty spoke of two aggressors and the struggle against them to liberate Polish territory[18][19][20]. In an instruction sent to Ambassador Waclaw Grzybowski in Moscow on September 17, 1939, Jozef Beck, approving the ambassador’s actions, stated: Our troops actively resisted the Soviet invasion[21].

Wladyslaw Sikorski spoke several times about war with the USSR[22]:

  • December 10, 1939: The onslaught of the mighty, but only in number and space, Russia against the small and extremely brave Finno-Ugric nation opens the eyes of many people of good will to Soviet imperialism. These two imperialisms [the Third Reich and the USSR] are now in silent collusion, acting in the closest conspiracy. Here lies the main source of the danger threatening humanity. The coalition is materially and morally powerful enough to defeat these enemies outright by maintaining the will to fight.”[23]
  • March 1, 1940: Poland’s official policy was a policy of peace. It was betrayed by Russia, going to the aid of Germany militarily, hitting us in the back with a knife at the moment agreed with them. Henceforth we are at war with the Soviets on an equal footing with the Germans[24].
  • March 5, 1940: Things are not much better in the areas of Soviet occupation, where Stalin’s brotherhood of nations has turned out to be a faithful lie. (…) Like the Third Reich and Bolshevik Russia, it does not keep any agreements. It hastened to seal the lawlessness and carried out by force in the country it occupies the so-called national assembly elections. Their only role was to passively, blindly and obediently approve the annexation and legalize the looting. (…) The hour will also then be struck, liberating the world, along with the Germans and Russians themselves, from Hitler’s Germanism and from Moscow’s Bolshevism[25].

At a meeting of the National Council on April 16, 1940 in Angers, Foreign Minister August Zaleski said:

We are in a rather strange situation: The previous government did not declare war on Russia and we de jure are not at war with it. Although the fact that Polish troops in some places defended themselves against Russia and fought – this fact is already sufficient in the opinion of some lawyers as proof that we are at war with Russia. (…) With the present Government taking the fall, then declaring war would expose us to a certain ridicule.26 There was such a question asked as to why Poland did not turn to the League of Nations about Germany and Russia attacking us. Of course, this question should have been addressed to the previous Government, because when we came to power, it was too late for that[27].

Later, at the same meeting, Foreign Ministry Deputy Zygmunt Galinski said:

In all our statements we stand on the position that we have a state of war between Poland and the USSR, and we put these things quite clearly, despite the fact that we realize that between us and the Allies there are, as it were, two faces in relation to Russia and in relation to Germany. For as far as Russia is concerned – Poland is in a state of war, at the time when England and France are in a state of neutrality with regard to Russia. We are not in a position to declare war on Russia at the present time, first, because a state of hostilities does not exist at the present time, and second, if we did so now, we would thereby consider the moment of making such a declaration as the moment when martial law began, when, as we understand it, it occurred on September 17[28].

On August 21, 1940, at a meeting of the House of Commons, when asked by George Hicks about relations between Poland and the USSR, Foreign Office Under-Secretary of State Rab Butler stated: There is the closest cooperation between His Majesty’s Government and the Polish Government in all matters relating to the conduct of the war, including questions of foreign policy. Since last September, the Polish Government has left His Majesty’s Government in no doubt that it must regard the Soviet Union’s violation of the Soviet-Polish non-aggression pact as placing it at war with the Soviet Union[29].

On October 16, 1940, when asked by Edvard Beneš whether Poland was at war with the Soviet Union, Sikorski declared: we signed a peace treaty with them [the Soviets], and they invaded us[30].

The onslaught led to massive national persecution in the eastern territories of the Second Polish Republic annexed by the USSR (in implementation of the September 28, 1939 Border and Friendship Pact between the Third Reich and the USSR and its secret protocol) – arrests and incarceration in concentration camps, executions, murders and widespread deportations.

Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly issued a so-called “general directive” of content in Kolomyia on September 17:

The Soviets have entered. I order a general withdrawal to Romania and Hungary by the shortest routes. Do not fight with the Bolsheviks, unless in case of an attack from their side or an attempt to disarm the troops. The task of Warsaw and the cities that were to defend themselves against the Germans – unchanged. Cities approached by the Bolsheviks should negotiate with them on the exit of garrisons to Hungary or Romania[31]. The lack of a public declaration by the President and the Polish government of the fact of the existence of a state of war between the USSR and Poland and the absence of a clear order from the Commander-in-Chief to resist the invaders led to confusion. The commander of the Red Army’s 29th Armored Brigade, Kombrygion Krivoshein, became a Soviet hero in those tragic days for Poland: his units in Brest-on-the-Bug took 1030 Polish officers, 1220 non-commissioned officers and 34,000 privates. No battle was needed. Dozens of Polish military transports with soldiers and equipment arrived at the railroad station in Brest in a mess of retreat toward safe borders. They disembarked from the wagons directly into Soviet hands as late as September 25[32]. Many times soldiers were taken prisoner by deception – Red Army officers presented themselves as allies in the war against Germany, Soviet tanks were decorated with red and Polish flags (including in Zaleszczyki), fictitious agreements were made with Poles to agree to evacuation, and then they were surrounded, disarmed and transported to prisoner of war camps. About 250,000 soldiers and officers were taken prisoner (mostly non-resisting), indirectly leading to the Katyn massacre of several thousand Polish Army officers.

The detention of prisoners of war in camps known as POW camps, which were subordinate to the NKVD Prisoner of War Board, also proves the existence of war. The “Provision on Prisoners of War” in effect at the time of the Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Executive Committee of March 19, 1931 stated in Article 1 that:

Военнопленными признаются захваченные вооруженными силами Союза СССР: а) лица, принадлежащие к составу вооруженных сил государств, находящихся в состоянии войны с СССР (the following are considered prisoners of war: a) persons belonging to the armed forces of countries at war with the USSR)[33][34].

Molotov’s statement: the Soviet government, which has so far maintained neutrality, can no longer remain neutral in the face of these facts[35] was tantamount to starting a war, albeit without using that name,[36] but the importance of this statement was ignored by the Allies[37].

The warnings coming from the Polish military atas in late August and early September 1939 about the existence of a secret military agreement between the Third Reich and the USSR and the USSR’s preparations for aggression against Poland (secret mobilization and concentration of the Red Army over the border with Poland), as well as the September 13 report that the entanglements on the Soviet side of the Polish border had been cut, signifying final preparations for invasion, were disregarded by the Supreme Commander[38][39].

Preparations for aggression[edit | edit code].

Red Army units during the aggression against Poland

Soviet infantry columns entering Poland on 17.09.1939

Polish soldiers – prisoners of war escorted by the Red Army to railroad loading points across the Polish-Soviet border

Meeting of Wehrmacht and Red Army soldiers on September 20, 1939, east of Brest

Talks between Wehrmacht and Red Army officers about the delineation of the current line of demarcation of troops in the attacked Polish territory. Brest, September 1939; in the foreground, General Heinz Guderian (inverted from rear half-profile).

Entry of the Red Army into Vilnius on September 19, 1939.

The meeting line between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht

Map of the final separation of Poland between the Third Reich and the USSR, dated 28.09.1939, with the border line drawn. Signatures for compliance: Stalin, Ribentropp, date

Preparations for the invasion began in late August 1939. The invasion plan was drawn up by the chief of the Red Army General Staff, Commodore Boris Shaposhnikov. On September 3, People’s Commissar of Defense Kliment Voroshilov issued directives to troops from the Leningrad, Kalinin, Byelorussian, Kiev, Moscow and Kharkiv Military Districts ordering them to achieve combat readiness, halting dismissals to the reserves and interrupting the leave of commanders. On September 6, the USSR government ordered mobilization, and Voroshilov ordered the start of large-scale exercises of troops from the mobilized 6 districts and the Orlovsk Military District, provided for by Plan No. 22 “A,” which was effectively a plan of operations against Poland[40].

On September 8, 1939, People’s Commissar of the Interior Lavrenty Beria issued an order specifying the tasks of the NKVD’s special operational groups that were to be the first to enter the lands of the Second Republic. It is likely that at the same time a directive No. 16633 from People’s Commissar of Defense Klimient Voroshilov and Red Army Chief of General Staff Boris Shaposhnikov to the War Council of the Byelorussian Special Military District (which was transformed into the Byelorussian Front on September 11) about launching an offensive against Poland on the night of September 12/13, 1939 was prepared with a release date of September 9 – eventually the release date was changed to September 14, and the timing of the attack from the night of September 12/13 to the dawn of September 17[41]. On the afternoon of September 9, Vyacheslav Molotov informed German Ambassador Friedrich-Werner von der Schulenburg that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would begin military action in the coming days. However, on September 10 he notified, Schulenburg that the stated date of the attack was no longer valid. He admitted that the Soviet side had been taken completely by surprise by the speed of the German offensive. He revealed how he intended to justify the occupation of the eastern lands of the Second Polish Republic: the Soviet government intends to take the continued advance of German troops as a reason to declare that Poland had disintegrated, following which the Soviet Union was forced to come to the aid of Ukrainians and Belarusians “threatened by the Germans.” These arguments will make it possible to justify the Soviet Union’s intervention, while at the same time it will make it possible to avoid the charge that the Soviet Union is acting as an aggressor[42].

By September 11, the first-strike units had replenished their posts, and on that day Voroshilov issued an order to concentrate troops in the designated border areas to the War Councils of the Byelorussian and Kiev Special Military Districts (which were transformed into front commands), but some units had already reached these positions on September 8. By September 13, the designated Red Army units were in their starting positions[40].

On September 15, Beria issued an order specifying the tasks of the NKVD operational groups established on September 8. On September 15, the staff of the Red Army’s Byelorussian Front issued Combat Order No. 01, signed by front commander Commodore Mikhail Kovalev and Front War Council member Petr Smokaczov, which spoke of the obligation to help the Belarusian, Ukrainian and Polish peoples:

  1. The Belarusian, Ukrainian and Polish peoples are bleeding in the war launched with Germany by the area-capitalist clique ruling Poland. The workers and peasants of Belarus, Ukraine and Poland rose up to fight their eternal enemies – the area-capitalists. German troops inflicted a heavy defeat on the main forces of the Polish army.

2 With the dawn of September 17, the armies of the Byelorussian Front move to the assault with the task of supporting the insurgents of the workers and peasants of Belarus and Poland in throwing off the yoke of the landowners and capitalists and preventing Germany from conquering the territory of Western Belarus[43].

At the end of the day on September 16, Voroshilov and Shaposhnikov’s secret directive No. 16634[44] (analogous to the aforementioned directive No. 16633), dated September 14, reached the troops assembled in the border area, which read: Strike at dawn on the 17th![40]

In a proclamation read to soldiers preparing to attack Poland, Kovalev wrote, among other things:

The time has come to liberate the brotherly peoples of western Belarus and western Ukraine from the oppression of Polish landowners and capitalists. For 20 years now, the police boot of the Pilsudskis has been trampling the native lands of our brothers Belarusians and Ukrainians with impunity. These lands never belonged to the Poles. These indigenous Belarusian and Ukrainian lands were seized by Polish generals and territorialists in those days when the Soviet republic, defending itself against the numerous forces of counter-revolution, was still not strong enough. […] The red banner of the uprising was raised in western Belarus and western Ukraine. Area manors caught fire. Generals began to titter. They directed machine guns and cannons against the insurgents. But nothing can quench the anger of the peoples of western Belarus and western Ukraine. Through the roar of the cannons we hear the call of the Belarusian people: – To help! To help, comrades! We no longer have the strength to endure the oppression of the territorialists and generals[45].

The armies of the first order were formed into two fronts, which included 8 armies:

Belorussian Front (1939) (commander Commodore Mikhail Kovalev)

3rd Army (commanded by Comdt. Vasily Kuznetsov)

4th Army (command komdyw Vasily Chuikov)

10th Army (commanded by Commodore Ivan Zakharkin)

11th Army (command komkor Nikifor Medvedev)

Ukrainian Front (1939) (commander Commodore Semyon Timoshenko)

5th Army (command komdyw Ivan Sovetnikov)

6th Army (command komdyw Filipp Golikow)

12th Army (command komdyw Ivan Tiuleniev)

13th Army (command komdyw Filipp Parusinov; did not participate directly in combat operations)

In total, the first-strike forces included 21 infantry divisions, 13 cavalry divisions, 16 armored brigades and 2 motorized brigades, for a total of 618,000 soldiers, 4733 tanks and 3298 aircraft. These units thus had, among other things, almost twice as many tanks as the Wehrmacht on September 1, 1939, and twice as many combat aircraft as the Luftwaffe on the Polish front[46].

Course of hostilities[edit | edit code].

Operations of Red Army units[edit | edit code].

The main attack directions of the Byelorussian Front included Vilnius, Baranovichi – Volkovysk – Grodno – Suwalki, Brest-on-the-Bug. Vilnius, Grodno and Brest were reached on September 20-22, Suwalki on September 24. The main directions of the Ukrainian Front’s offensive included Dubno – Lutsk – Vladimir Volynsky – Chelm – Zamosc – Lublin, Ternopil – Lviv, Chortkov – Stanislawow – Stryj – Sambor and Kolomyja. Soviet units approached Lviv on September 19, and reached Lublin on September 28. Units of the Ukrainian Front took longer to take part in operations and occupied successive areas assigned to them until the beginning of October 1939. Armored units generally advanced in the vanguard on the Red Army’s attack directions. In the first instance, the fast units tried to reach the borders of the Republic with Lithuania, Hungary and Romania to prevent the evacuation of Polish Army units across the border. The operation was planned as regular warfare with the participation of armored troops, aviation (attacking the Polish Army from the air) and the activities of sabotage and diversion groups (Specnaz, OsNaz) transferred or organized on Polish territory already in early September 1939.

On September 18-19, the defense of Vilnius against the advancing Soviet army took place. In turn, on September 20-21 there was heavy fighting for Grodno, where, due to fierce defense, Soviet tanks failed to capture the city on the march. The city was defended only by small detachments of the garrison (most of them in the 35th Infantry Division had been transferred a few days earlier by rail transports to defend Lviv from the Germans) and volunteers, including scouts. The defenders destroyed dozens of Soviet tanks with gasoline bottles and anti-tank cannon fire. The aggressor used civilians and prisoners of war as human shields to cover the tanks’ advance[47].

The encroaching Red Army units faced armed resistance from the tactical compounds of the Border Protection Corps, the Volkovysk Cavalry Reserve Brigade and the Polesie Independent Operational Group. In a series of battles across the front, Polish troops attempted to delay the march of Soviet units. For three days (September 17-20) the defense by the KOP of the Sarny Fortified Area continued. In a night battle near Kodziowce (September 21/22), the 101st Lancer Regiment repulsed an attack by a Soviet armored unit, destroying more than a dozen tanks. On September 29-30, KOP units under the command of General Wilhelm Orlik-Rückemann smashed the Red Army’s 52nd Rifle Division in the battle of Shatsk. On October 1, they were forced to disperse after the battle of Wytycze; a small part managed to join SGO Polesie. General Franciszek Kleeberg’s SGO “Polesie,” which was advancing westward, fought victorious battles with Soviet units at Jablonia and Milanow on September 29-30.

The Polish soldier’s battles against the Red Army were commemorated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, with an inscription on one of the plaques after 1990 – “DEFENSE OF THE EASTERN BORDER OF THE REPUBLIC 17 IX – 1 X 1939.”

The first announcement of the Soviet military authorities after Lviv surrendered to the Red Army. Lviv September 22, 1939

General Mauritz von Wiktorin, General Heinz Guderian and Kombryg Semyon Krivoshein receive the joint parade of the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in Brest

As a consequence of the Soviet aggression, there was a meeting between the Red Army and Wehrmacht forces on the territory of invaded Poland, after which the Wehrmacht withdrew from some of the previously occupied areas of the Republic to the previously established demarcation line (of August 23, 1939) and surrendered the occupied area to the Soviet army (Bialystok, Kobrin, Brest, Boryslav, Drohobych)[48]. In spectacular fashion, this occurred near Lviv on September 20, when the Germans besieging that city withdrew, having earlier offered the defenders surrender.

Lviv itself, with a strong and well-armed garrison, was surrendered to the Red Army by General Langner on September 22 after a brief resistance, on honorable terms immediately broken by the Soviet authorities[49]. The officers were guaranteed in the surrender treaty a free march to Hungary and Romania – but they were arrested at the border of the Red Army troop line, deported to the Starobielsk camp and murdered in the spring of 1940 in Kharkov. (See Defense of Lviv 1939). Among the Katyn victims were officers taken prisoner throughout the Red Army’s attack belt.

Partisan units continued the fight against the Soviets, e.g. on the Biebrza River they persisted until the summer of 1941 – until the outbreak of the German-Soviet war[50].

Operations of NKVD and Red Army intelligence units[edit | edit code].

Along with the units of the Belarusian and Kiev Special Military Districts, the Polish border was crossed by operational-chekist groups formed in accordance with an order of the NKVD of the USSR on September 8, 1939. They included operational officers of the central and field bodies of the NKVD and operational-political officers of the border troops, supported by two battalions of troops of the Belarusian and Kiev Border Districts. In order to coordinate the activities of the operational-chekist groups with the military command, Deputy People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Vsevolod Merkulov was sent to Ukraine, and Viktor Bochkov, head of the Special Branch of the NKVD of the USSR, was sent to Belarus.

The tasks of the operational groups of the NKVD’s GUGB and Razdviedupru (Red Army Intelligence Board) included breaking up the administrative structures of the Republic of Poland in occupied Polish territory and organizing in their place the organs of Soviet power in the form of temporary boards. Operational groups of the NKVD first seized sensitive nodes of the infrastructure of the Republic of Poland. They seized government office buildings, banks, printing houses, newspaper editorial offices, confiscated securities and archives. They made arrests and detentions on the basis of pre-prepared proscription lists and current denunciations of pre-war and acquired Soviet agents, detected and registered collaborators and functionaries, soldiers of the Polish special services, officers of the Polish administration, activists of parties, political and social groups[51].

War crimes[edit | edit code].

From the moment it invaded Poland, the Red Army committed numerous war crimes, murdering prisoners of war and massacring the civilian population. It is estimated that about 2,500 Polish soldiers and policemen and several hundred civilians fell victim to them[52]. At the same time, Red Army commanders called on the civilian population to commit murder and violence, the commander of the Red Army’s Ukrainian Front Semyon Timoshenko wrote in one of the proclamations circulated publicly: With guns, scythes, pitchforks and axes, beat your eternal enemies – the Polish masters[52]. The greatest atrocities were committed in Rohatyn,[53][54][55][56] where Polish soldiers and civilians were slaughtered, Grodno, Novogrudok, Sarny, and Ternopil,[55][56] as well as in Volkovysk, Oshmia, Svisloch[57], Molodechno, and Kosovo Poleski[57][58]. In the Sarny area, the Soviets executed the entire captured company from the KOP “Sarny” Battalion, a total of 280 soldiers and officers[59]. According to some accounts, Polish prisoners of war were tied up in Grodno and dragged by tanks over cobblestones[60]. Dramatic events also occurred in Khodorovo, Zloczow and Stryj[57]. Near Vilnius, Red Army soldiers executed captured Polish Army soldiers[55][56]. In revenge for the resistance put up in Grodno, surrendering Polish Army soldiers were shot en masse[61]. On the night of September 26-27, the Red Army entered Niemirow in Chelmsk, where a unit of cadets was staying. Surprised in their sleep, they were bound with wire and pelted with grenades[62].

Representatives of the Red Army also violated the provisions of the agreements concerning the laying down of arms, on September 22, 1939, the commander of the defense of Lviv, General Wladyslaw Langner, signed a capitulation with the Soviet command, providing, among other things, for the safe march of the soldiers of the Polish Army (including officers) and the police towards the border with Romania, having first laid down their arms, this agreement was broken by the Soviet side by arresting everyone and deporting them deep into the USSR[63]. Officers who participated in the defense of Lviv were held in the Starobelsk camp, and were later overwhelmingly murdered by the NKVD in Kharkov and buried in death pits in Pyatichatky. Lviv police officers were murdered by machine gun fire on the highway leading to Vinnytsia[64].

Red Army soldiers also premeditatedly murdered the commander of Corps District No. III in Grodno, General Jozef Olszyna-Wilczynski, and his aide-de-camp near Sopotkinii[56]. In the latter case, a statement is given in contemporary Russian literature (authored mainly by J. Mukhin) that General Olszyna-Wilchinskiy was killed while fleeing with his luggage in a passenger car after abandoning his subordinate units that were still fighting. Witnesses to the execution of the general and his adjutant by a shot to the back of the head were his wife and a dozen or so people accompanying her[65]. In fact, as a corps district commander, General Olszyn-Wilczynski performed only administrative functions and did not command any military units during the war.

The Red Army troops were followed by NKVD troops and special units, immediately carrying out mass arrests (or executions) of local elites according to pre-prepared proscription lists, with the help of local communist agents and organized militias (the so-called People’s Militia).

Termination of hostilities and consequences[edit | edit code].

USSR Postal Service stamp commemorating the occupation of the eastern lands of the Second Polish Republic

On September 22 in Brest, Kombrig Semyon Krivoshein and German General Heinz Guderian received a joint parade of German and Soviet armored units (in connection with the handover of the city to the Red Army by the Wehrmacht). Shortly thereafter, on September 28, the USSR and the Third Reich signed the so-called Treaty of Borders and Friendship, also known as the second Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, sealing the division of Poland, correcting earlier agreements on the course of the German-Soviet border (see September 28, 1939 map) and the division of spheres of influence in the Baltic states. In the latter case, this led immediately to the introduction of Soviet military bases on the territory of these states with their state independence preserved until then, followed in June 1940 by the invasion of these countries by the Red Army, their formal annexation by the USSR (August 1940) and the persecution of the population of the Baltic states – among other things, after the annexation of Lithuania, 25% of the Lithuanian population was deported (between June 1940 and June 1941) – based on Serov’s famous deportation instruction, which was later revealed[66].

The Red Army took 250,000 soldiers prisoner, including about 18,000 officers; about 7,000 soldiers died or were killed after being taken prisoner. About 3,000 soldiers were killed in the fighting, about 10,000 were wounded.

Further consequences of the USSR’s aggression against Poland were mass repressions against Poles and Polish citizens residing in the eastern territories of the Republic of Poland, looting of Polish national property and private assets – production equipment and documentation from industrial plants, locomotives, wagons, cars,[57] as well as livestock, both dead and alive, were taken deep into the USSR. Polish museums, libraries, as well as archives and private art collections were looted[57]. Despite the fourfold difference in purchasing power between the ruble and the Polish zloty (in fact, the ruble was the fictitious money of the communist shortage economy), the two currencies were equalized by the Soviet authorities in September 1939 in the exchange rate – which caused the immediate disappearance of all goods from the market (with Soviet soldiers buying them up en masse and sellers hiding the rest in view of the worthlessness of the Soviet currency). The blocking of all bank accounts and savings banks resulted in the rapid pauperization of huge segments of the population, the collapse of charitable, cultural and scientific institutions. December 12, 1939 saw the official withdrawal of the zloty from circulation and its replacement by the ruble with the liquidation of bank savings and no currency exchange. As a result, Polish zlotys were smuggled for exchange to the General Government, where they were exchanged for mills. Many[57] churches of the three main denominations (most of them Catholic) were also liquidated and turned into warehouses, depots, cinemas or centers for the Soviet League of the Godless, an organization formed in 1925 that attacked with atheist propaganda the belief in God and religious feelings of various religious groups. Deportations of other ethnic groups and repression of Ukrainian and Belarusian national activists were also applied. It is estimated that between 1939 and 1945, according to various sources, there was a forced deportation of between 550,000 and 1.5 million[67] Polish citizens deep into the USSR.

Separate articles: Polish prisoners of war in Soviet captivity (since 1939) and The Katyn Massacre.

The Red Army murdered with machine gun fire unarmed cadets from the Police Officers’ School in Mosty Wielkie after the cadets gathered on the roll call square and took a report from the school’s commandant[68].

Separate articles: Soviet occupation of Polish lands (1939-1941), Elections to the People’s Assemblies of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus 1939, NKVD prison massacres 1941 and USSR repression of Poles and Polish citizens 1939-1946.

On December 18, 1939, the Polish government-in-exile recognized that there was a de facto state of war between the Republic of Poland and the Soviet Union[footnote needed].

Reception[edit | edit code].

The annexation of the eastern Polish territories captured in 1939 was celebrated in the USSR and is still celebrated in independent Belarus as the “Reunification of Western Belarus with the Belarusian SSR.” The official name of the invasion of Poland was: “Liberation Campaign of the Red Army.” In 2021, Alyaksandr Lukashenka officially established National Unity Day as a Belarusian state holiday commemorating the event.

On September 23, 2009, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland adopted by acclamation a Resolution commemorating the Soviet Union’s aggression against Poland on September 17, 1939.[b]

Reception – Soviet caricatures on the first anniversary of the aggression – September 1940[edit | edit code].

Soviet caricatures on the first anniversary of the aggression. Polish-language “Red Banner” Lviv, September 1940

Gallery – Soviet posters and leaflets – September 1939[edit | edit code].

Soviet propaganda poster from September 1939 – Red Army liberates peasants from the lordly Polish yoke

Soviet anti-spy poster – here the shadow of a spy in a Polish uniform

Soviet propaganda poster from autumn 1939 – “That’s the way it was – That’s the way it is!”

Soviet propaganda poster – Red Army soldier kills White Eagle

Soviet leaflet to Polish soldiers, September 17, 1939 – Commander of the Ukrainian Front Semyon Timoshenko

Soviet leaflet to Polish soldiers, September 17, 1939 – Commander of the Belorussian Front Mikhail Kovalev

Soviet leaflet to Polish soldiers, September 17, 1939 – Commander of the Belarusian Front Mikhail Kovalyov

Commemoration[edit | edit code].

On the anniversary of the USSR’s aggression against Poland, in 1988 the government of the Republic of Poland in exile (the first government of Edward Szczepanik) issued a statement on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion,[69] and the National Council of the Republic of Poland of the seventh term issued a resolution on the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s attack on Poland[70].

The struggles of the Polish soldier in defense of the eastern border in World War II were commemorated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw with an inscription on one of the plaques after 1990. “DEFENSE OF THE EASTERN BORDER OF THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND 17 IX – 1 X 1939”. The term “aggression of the USSR” or “Soviet aggression” is widely used in Polish historiography, justified, for example, by Karol Karski in his article “Aggression of the USSR against Poland in 1939. International Legal Aspects”[71].

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