A fascinating study of the warfare of the Early Second World War, and the destruction it caused, Blitzkrieg: The Invasion of Poland and the Fall of France publishes later this week. To celebrate, we have a preview extract for you to read ahead of its release. 

Illustrated throughout with detailed maps, artwork and contemporary photographs, this account tells the story of these first breakneck attacks, examining the armed forces, leaders, technology, planning and execution in each campaign as well as the challenges faced by the Germans in the pursuit of this new and deadly form of warfare.

It will be published on 2 September. Pre-order your copy here.


Blitzkrieg: The Invasion of Poland to the Fall of France, ed. by Dr Stephen Hart and Dr Russell Hart

The German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 signalled the commencement of World War II in Europe. The outcome was a foregone conclusion since the invasion pitted Europe’s best military and greatest industrial power against an impoverished eastern neighbour. To seal defeat, Germany had secretly agreed that the Soviet Union would invade Poland two weeks after the German attack. Polish strategy hinged on Anglo-French entry into the war, diverting German forces to the Western Front; but this strategy collapsed when France remained overwhelmingly on the defensive, well protected behind the fortifications of the Maginot line.

The German campaign’s nature was not similarly defensive. Even if the outcome of the 1939 Polish campaign was predictable, the nature of the fighting was not. The 1939 campaign represented the first demonstration of the Blitzkrieg style of warfare. The German assault was spearheaded by Panzer divisions whose firepower and shock action were further amplified by the use of Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers to provide close air support (that is, aerial fire support to the contact battle). The Polish army of 1939 was not as backward as is often portrayed, and its stubborn defence gave the Germans the occasional surprise, for example during the Bzura counter-offensive. The German military’s novel tactics were certainly imperfect, and casualties were therefore relatively heavy for such a short campaign. The Polish campaign proved to be a crucial learning experience for the Wehrmacht. It uncovered the shortcomings in German training and doctrine. The German forces vigorously addressed these weaknesses over the winter of 1939–40, during an intensive period of tactical self-reflection and adaptation. These tactical and organisational improvements made possible the stunning decisive victory the Wehrmacht achieved in the 1940 Western campaign.

If a single image dominates the popular perception of the Polish campaign of autumn 1939, it is the imagined scene of Polish cavalrymen bravely charging the advancing German Panzers with their lances. Like many other details of the campaign, it is a myth that was created by German wartime propaganda and perpetuated by sloppy scholarship. Yet such myths have also been embraced by the Poles themselves as symbols of their wartime gallantry, achieving a cultural resonance in spite of their variance with the historical record. Given the many advantages the Germans had at the start of the campaign, which were augmented when the Soviets invaded Poland from the east, it is surprising that on a good number of occasions the defending Polish forces fought with great determination and effectiveness.

From pages 17 to 18 of Blitzkrieg: The Invasion of Poland and the Fall of France