Battle of Grodno (1939)

Battle of Grodno (1939)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Grodno
partof=Invasion of Poland
date=September 20September 22, 1939
place=Grodno, Poland (now Belarus)
result=Soviet victory
combatant1=flag|Soviet Union|1923
commander1=flagicon|Soviet Union|1923 Ivan Boldyn
commander2=flagicon|Poland Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński
strength1=15th Armoured Corps
strength2=2,000-2,500 (September 20)
3,500-4,000 (September 21)
2 AA guns
casualties1=Soviet counts:
57 KIA
159 WIA
23 AFVs Polish counts:
800 KIA, MIA and wounded
casualties2=Soviet counts:
644 KIA
1,543 captured|

The Battle of Grodno took place between September 21 and September 24, 1939, during the Polish Defensive War. It was fought between improvised Polish units under Gen. Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński and the Red Army of the Soviet Union, at the time allied with Nazi Germany by the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.


The Soviet aggression caught much of the eastern Poland virtually undefended, as most of the Polish forces from the area had already been transferred to the German front. After breaking through overstretched defences of the Border Defence Corps, the Soviet 15th Armoured Corps started a fast advance towards the city of Grodno. Commander of the pre-war Grodno Military Area Command Gen. Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński, together with the mayor of Grodno Roman Sawicki, started organizing city defences, based mostly on march battalions, volunteers, Boy Scouts and police forces.

The battle

Ill-equipped, undermanned and lacking any anti-tank artillery, the Polish defenders relied mostly on improvised anti-tank means such as bottles of gasoline or turpentine and anti-tank obstacles. On September 20, the Soviet tanks of the Soviet 27th Armoured Brigade of the 15th Armoured Corps reached the city's outskirts. Although both numerically and technically superior, the Soviet forces lacked infantry support and oil, which stopped many tanks. Also, the tank crews had no experience in urban warfare, which was a significant help for the defenders.

The Soviets tried to seize the city from the south through the bridge over the Niemen River. However, the initial assault was repelled. In the early morning of September 21, the defenders were joined by the remnants of the reserve Wołkowysk Cavalry Brigade under Brigadier General Wacław Przeździecki. After two days of heavy fighting, often in close quarters, much of the city centre was destroyed by Soviet artillery. Seeing no chance for further defence, on September 22 the remainder of the Polish forces withdrew towards the Lithuanian border. According to Soviet sources, the Red Army suffered casualties of 57 killed and 159 wounded. However, Polish historians, Andrzej Krzysztof Kunert and Zygmunt Walkowski claim that the Red Army lost around 800 KIA, MIA and wounded. They also lost 19 tanks and four armored cars.

Polish losses, both civilian and military, remain fully unknown, although Soviet records do exist (by the Soviets - 644 killed, 1,543 captives plus salvages: 514 guns, 146 machineguns, one mortar, one antiaircraft gun etc.).


After the battle, the remaining forces of the Wołkowysk Cavalry Brigade broke through the lines of the recce battalion of the 2nd Armoured Brigade in the battle of Kodziowce and headed for the Augustów forest.

About 300 Polish defenders of the city, including teenage boys, were murdered by the Soviets after the Battle. []

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