History you should know: the Battle of Wizna, 1939

Posted By on February 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I’ve previously noted my (admittedly self-described, perhaps immodestly so*) extensive base of knowledge regarding military history in general, and World War 2 in particular. So it is, if not exactly unusual, then at least an occasion of some interest for me to run across information that leaves me wondering why I didn’t already know more about a particular fact or event.

The inspiration for my most recent bout of curiosity: the Battle of Wizna, Poland, September 7th-10th, 1939.

As the German Wehrmacht stormed across Poland following the blitzkreig which began on the 1st of September, a force of about 700 Polish troops (approximately a battalion sized force) under the command of Captain Wladyslaw Raginis took position at fortifications — a handful of well-sited bunkers and pillboxes — in and near the village of Wizna, approximately 75 northeast of Warsaw.

Often cited as being a fight at odds of 40 to 1 (the math actually says more like 60 to 1, but that’s immaterial) the 700+ Poles held for three days against a force of over 40,000 German troops under the command of one of history’s most brilliant tactical thinkers, General Heinz Guderian. Ultimately, the Polish fortifications were destroyed and captured by German troops.

If perchance you hear echoes of the stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, you aren’t the only one, not by a long shot.

Many — I’m not going to concede “most” — have heard of the “forlorn hope” charge of Polish cavalry against German panzers. This has been shown to be a myth — the actual charge was against a German infantry unit, and was a tactical success — but has been used to illustrate alternately the valor of Polish arms, as well as the supposed futility of putting up a fight against overwhelming odds. Indeed, it was for the latter purpose that German propagandists fabricated the “lances and sabers vs. tanks” myth in the first place.

Not at all mythical is the valor of the Poles. Think on this: it’s a week into the German blitzkrieg; as a Pole, you have to know that things are going very poorly. You are tasked to defend positions 75km northeast of Warsaw. You are vastly outnumbered and outgunned. And yet you make a stand.

Hopeless? Undeniably so. Futile? That’s something else altogether. There is much value in setting an example, in creating a legend, and in resisting evil if only for the sake of doing so, even (as for most** of the Poles at Wizna) at the cost of your own life.

Almost as curious (at least to me) as the subject itself is what prompted me to look into it. In my random wanderings about the internet, I ran across the video of a song by a band I’d never heard of before called Sabaton, from their album The Art Of War. Apparently, this band themes most of their music off of military history subjects. Weird, but hey, it could be worse. And lest you think they’re neo-nazis or some such: no. The very notion is belied by their song “The Rise of Evil.”

How bizarre is this? That I should be spurred to investigate something because of a music video of a Swedish band, singing in English, to an audience of Poles, from an album based on the writings of a Chinese strategist. The mind boggles.

I’m not really much of a “metal” guy, but I have enough of the head-banger in me to like this one quite a lot: “40:1″….

No army may enter that land that is protected by Polish hand
Unless you are 40 to 1 your force will soon be undone

[Complete lyrics here.]

No wonder the song has become something of an anthem for Polish youth. They could have chosen much, much worse.

* “Perhaps“????

** There is some question as to whether any of those few who survived the battle then went on to survive German captivity.


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