Operation Battle of Węgierska Górka

The 'Battle of Węgierska Górka' was the Polish defence of a fortified area in the south of Silesia against the German forces during the first phase of the German invasion of Poland in 'Weiss' (i) known to the Poles as the 'Battle of the Border' (1/3 September 1939).

Although the Polish position at Węgierska Górka, in the Kraków voivodeship, had not yet been completed and only five of its bunkers were manned, the position was held for two days and nights against the altogether superior forces of Generalmajor Eugen Ott’s 7th Division, part of General Werner Kienitz’s XVII Corps of Generaloberst Wilhelm List’s 14th Army within Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd'. One of the bunkers was successfully relieved by the Polish 1st Mountain Brigade, but the others lacked radio equipment and thus did not receive the order to retreat. Eventually, the Germans managed to break through the Polish positions, but with heavy casualties and only after a significant delay.

Following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1938, Poland’s southern border became vulnerable to a possible German invasion and, as a result, in April 1939 the General Inspectorate of the Armed Forces despatched Pułkownik Tadeusz Zieleniewski to prepare plans for the creation of fortifications along the border to cover the southern flank of the Armia 'Kraków' in the event of war with Germany. The plan assumed creation of four major fortified areas sealing the valleys of all four rivers in the area. The Soła river valley was to be blocked by 20 large bunkers located around the village of Węgierska Górka, the Koszarawa river valley was to be sealed in Korbielów, Krzyżowa and Przyborów, the Skawa river valley was to be shielded in Bystra and Jordanów, and the Raba river valley was to be defended by bunkers built in Raba Niżna. The plan was accepted on 24 June and the construction at Węgierska Górka and Korbielów started almost immediately, early in July.

The bunkers around Węgierska Górka were to form a crescent-shaped defensive position guarding the village and the town the valley between more than 3,280 ft (1000 m) high. All the work were carried out by a mobilised force of construction battalions under the command of Major Śliwiński, and all civilians were forbidden from entering the construction area. The bunkers were of different types, but all were large, able to accommodate at least one anti-tank gun, several heavy machine guns and a 'garrison' of as many as 20 soldiers. The walls and ceilings were made of reinforced concrete mixed with dense porphyry rocks. All the area’s bunkers were accorded codenames starting with the letter W. Despite the urgency of the Polish planning, in fewer than eight weeks only five bunkers were more or less ready. On 1 September 1939, at the moment of the German 'Weiss' (i) invasion, only four were manned: these were Wędrowiec (traveller), Wąwóz (gorge), Waligóra (mountaincracker, the name of a folk tale hero) and Włóczęga (hobo). The fifth, Wyrwidąb (also named after a folk tale hero) had to be abandoned for lack of sufficient men. The remaining 15 bunkers were at different stages of construction and most were little more than concrete foundations.

The four bunkers were also only provisionally prepared. Each lacked heavy machine gun cupolas of the type which were o have been mounted on top of the roofs to cover the battlefield with fire. There was neither electricity nor telephone connection, and the only means of communication was signal pipes, which were steel tubes with reflectors for Morse code communication and thus completely unusable in the dense smoke of the battle. The lack of electricity also meant that the crews had to use kerosene lamps and candles, and the electrically powered water pumps were of course not usable. Finally, the bunkers were insufficiently supplied with ammunition, which was to have been delivered on 1 September, but in reality never reached the troops.

The four bunkers were manned by troops of the 70-man 151st Fortress Company 'Węgierska Górka' under the command of Kapitan Tadeusz Semik. The trenches around the bunkers were manned by the Border Defence Corps' Battalion 'Berezwecz' under the command of Major Kazimierz Czarkowski, and the position was reinforced by two batteries of light artillery and one battery of mountain artillery of the 55th Light Artillery Regiment of the 1st Mountain Brigade. In addition, the Polish forces had been strengthened with small detachments of other units, among them two platoons of reserve forces of the National Defence Corps' Battalion 'Żywiec' and a small detachment of the Border Guard. In overall terms, Semik had about 1,200 men at his disposal.

Against the Polish forces stood the whole 7th Division, which comprised three infantry regiments, reinforced with 150-mm (5.91-in) pieces of artillery. In overall terms, therefore, Ott had about 17,000 men at his disposal, more than 10 times the number available to the defenders.

At 04.30 on 1 September, the 7th Division crossed the Polish border in the area of Milówka and started its attack toward the Polish positions in accordance with its orders to break through the weak Polish defences and outflank the Armia 'Kraków' and thereby prevent its withdrawal to the east. The German division was stopped, however, by a delaying action of two Polish infantry companies of the reserve National Defence and Border Defence Corps. Although the Germans outnumbered the Polish forces stationed along the border by at least 100/1, it was not until the late evening that they finally arrived at the area of Milówka, just 6..2 miles (10 km) from the border. At this point, the weak Polish units withdrew to the main lines of the defence in front of Węgierska Górka, which the Germans reached early in the morning of the following day.

The German infantry tried to storm the Polish positions off the march but were bloodily repelled. Ott then called for artillery and aerial bombardment of the Polish lines and repeated the assaults, all of which were again repelled by the infantry battalion manning the field fortifications around the bunkers. By the end of the day the Poles had claimed the destruction of eight German tanks and armoured vehicles, while the Germans were forced back to their initial positions between Milówka and Węgierska Górka. However, other German units in the area were more successful, and Pułkownik Janusz Gaładyk, commander of the 1st Mountain Brigade, ordered all the Polish units in the area to withdraw overnight to the area of Oczków, where they were to shield the flank of the Polish 21st Division. However, as the battle continued throughout the night, the orders reached only the 'Waligóra' bunker, artillery units and parts of the Battalion 'Berezwecz', while the crews of the remaining three bunkers and the infantry units shielding them remained in their positions.

The heavy fighting for the area continued until the early morning. 'Waligóra' was held by seven soldiers of a unit which had been routed and continued to fire at the Germans after the original crew had withdrawn. These men were armed only with their rifles and soon had no ammunition, and this forced them to capitulate soon afterward. All of them were subsequently executed by the Germans. With the Polish infantry and artillery units withdrawn, by dawn the Germans finally managed to outflank the Polish positions and partially encircle them. The crews decided to continue the struggle, however, until they had exhausted all their ammunitions. After a night-long fight, the crew of the 'Włóczęga' bunker fired their last ammunition at 08.30 and then surrendered. This sealed the fate of the nearby 'Wędrowiec' bunker as its sides were now exposed to German fire. The German infantry were now able to approach it and throw grenades through the unsealed machine gun cupola’s shaft. Although no Polish soldiers were wounded, this allowed the Germans to tow anti-tank guns right up to the bunker and fire directly into the machine gun and artillery positions. The crew withdrew to the safe part of the bunker and continued the fight with their rifles, but the bunker’s heavy machine gun and the 37-mm anti-tank gun were destroyed. Finally, at 17.00 the 'Wędrowiec' bunker also capitulated. This gave the Germans free passage toward Kraków and the rear of the Armia 'Kraków' as it withdrew. The crew of the 'Wąwóz' bunker continued the fight, but Ott decided to avoid further losses and bypassed it. Realizing this, the crew withdrew overnight and joined other Polish units still in the area.