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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Germany Invades Poland, September 1, 1939

Today in 1939, Germany invaded Poland. England and France, who had remained mostly silent while Hitler built his war machine in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, gave Germany an ultimatum: withdraw from Poland by September 3rd or risk an all-out war on the Continent. The Second World War had begun.

The events of the day actually began the evening before, when SS troops dressed as Polish soldiers destroyed a German facility just over the border from Poland. This event was used as thin justification for the invasion barely eight hours later along a 1700 mile front.

While the history books and most armchair historians point to September 1st, 1939 as the beginning of World War Two, the actual beginning of the war is hard to determine. In reality, the roots of the war go back to the end of the First World War, when the Allied powers, and France especially, wanted to severely punish Germany for making war in Europe. The economic conditions created in the beaten nation made perfect prerequisites for the rise of fascism.

Ten years after the end of World War One, the modern world began to slide into an economic depression. Most countries made drastic cutbacks in their defense budgets. Germany spent the decade of the 1930's building her navy, air force and army into a force the likes of which the world had never seen. Even though nations like France could field armies nearly as large as Germany’s in terms of manpower, their equipment and tactics were no match for the ultra-modern Wermacht.

Hitler’s only concern with an invasion of Poland was the Soviet Union. In order to quell this potential adversary, Germany entered into a non-aggression pact with the Soviets on August 23rd, a mere nine days before the invasion. The pact contained a secret portion promising the Soviets one half of Poland. They took their half on September 17th, when the Red Army invaded from the east. The Polish Army fought bravely, even sending their mounted cavalry against the German tanks.

At 11pm on September 3rd, the ultimatum for withdrawal of German forces from Poland expired. Fifteen minutes later, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, a man who had once stated that Hitler was someone he could work with, informed his nation that the United Kingdom was at war with Germany. France soon followed suit.

Few realized it then, but the war would last for six years and one day (we’ll talk about the surrender tomorrow). When it was over, empires would end, superpowers would rise and the world that was would cease to exist.

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