1943 Overrun Countries: 5¢ Flag of Poland
US #909 – Flag of Poland from the Overrun Countries Series

On September 1, 1939, Germany launched a land, sea, and air invasion of Poland, marking the start of World War II in Europe.

Poland has a long and varied history.  At one time, Poland ruled an empire that stretched across much of central Europe.  In 1795, Poland was conquered and divided among Russia, Prussia, and Austria.  This brought an end to Poland’s centuries-old existence as a separate nation.

1966 5¢ Polish Millennium
US #1313 was issued to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity by Poland in AD 966.

The Poles fought with Austria against the Russians in World War I.  In 1917, a Polish National Committee was formed in Paris to win allied support for an independent Poland.  Under the 1919 Treaty in Versailles, Poland regained large amounts of land from Germany.  In 1921, the Russian Treaty of Riga established a border that gave back some of the Russian territory.  The new Polish state faced many problems, but during the 1920s and 1930s, Poland slowly rebuilt its economy and developed uniform systems of government, transportation, and education.

Following the Treaty of Versailles, Germany, in turn, lost 13% of its territory and overseas colonies.  The National Socialist (Nazi) party was formed in 1920 to unite German workers against international businesses, which were viewed as being Jewish dominated, and to draw them away from internationalism and communism.  In the midst of the Great Depression, Adolph Hitler was appointed chancellor.  He soon abolished parliament and became Führer, or “leader,” in 1934.  Hitler began rearming his country, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, and supporting a German nation within expanded borders.

1941-44 Germany, Set of 11 Hitler Heads
Germany #510//29 – collection of 11 World War II-era Germany stamps picturing Hitler

Hitler’s expansion began in 1938 with the annexation of Austria and continued with the occupation of Sudetenland and all of Czechoslovakia.  These lands were taken without major fighting, and Hitler hoped the same would be true of Poland.

In August 1939, Germany signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, to prevent them from coming to Poland’s aid.  The pact also included a secret clause dividing Poland between the two nations.

1943 Overrun Countries: 5¢ Flag of Czechoslovakia
US #910 – Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany from March 15, 1939 to May 1945.

The invasion of Poland was planned for August 26.  However the day before, Hitler learned that Britain had promised Poland military support if it was attacked.  Hitler then ramped up his ongoing propaganda campaign against Poland, using a theme of aggression against Germany.  Poland began to call up troops, but was encouraged by Britain and France to wait in the hopes they could convince Germany not to wage war.

But Hitler’s mind was made up.  On the afternoon of August 31, he sent Nazi troops in Polish uniforms to stage a fake invasion of Germany.  They claimed this was an unforgivable act of aggression by the Polish and prepared to invade.

1993 29¢ World War II: Allied Forces Battle German U-boats
US #2765a – Germany’s invasion of Poland came by land, sea, and air, including U-boats.

The German attack commenced early the next morning, September 1, 1939, at 4:45 a.m.  Some 1.5 million Nazi troops invaded Poland’s 1,750-mile shared border with Germany.  At the same time, German Luftwaffe planes bombed Polish airfields while warships and U-boats fired on Poland’s naval forces in the Baltic Sea.

Poland, 800v
Item #MP2055 – Get 800 Poland stamps for just $45.

The next day, Britain and France threatened Germany to withdraw by September 3, or they would declare war.  Germany refused and Britain declared war, followed by Australia, New Zealand, India, and France.

Meanwhile, in Poland, the German army advanced quickly, utilizing their blitzkrieg (“lightning war”) strategy.  The Luftwaffe continued to bomb not just airfields, but cities as well, inflicting civilian casualties.  Though Poland had managed to raise an army of 1 million men, they were outmatched.  Within a week, German troops traveled 140 miles and reached the outskirts of Warsaw.  The defending Polish hoped to hold out long enough to launch their own offensive, but on September 17, Soviet forces invaded from the east removing all hope of a Polish victory.

The Polish defenders held out until September 28, when they had no choice left but to surrender.  Germany and the Soviet Union then split the country per their earlier agreement.  During this time, Britain and France didn’t provide much for military aid to Poland.  In the coming months, they only launched a few small attacks on German forces.   That changed in the spring of 1940 when Germany attacked Norway and France.  And the following year Germany attacked the Soviet Union, breaking their nonaggression pact and capturing all of Poland.

1943 5¢ Flag of Poland Classic First Day Cover
US #909 – Classic First Day Cover

In the coming years, a large Polish resistance force was raised and fought against the occupying Germans.  After suffering six million casualties during the nearly six-year occupation, Poland was liberated in May 1945.

Click here to browse our selection of Poland stamps and here for more WWII stamps.

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  1. History repeating itself. A dictator with his evil mind set on conquering a neighboring country using a false claim that they pose a threat. Hitler doing so with Poland and Putin with Ukraine. And in the process bombing innocent civilians. Both are war criminals and Putin and his inner circle should be regarded as such and all the consequences that accompany.

  2. Very good history lesson. One vital ally of Britain ,which you neglected to mention,came to her aid immediately supplying troops,airmen, ammo and food to feed Britain. We Americans often take this friend for granted too…perhaps because we are so close.

  3. Again, history repeating itself. Russia steamrolling into Ukraine!!! Peace loving independent people with more horses than tanks.

  4. Thank you for the rich, albeit sad, history of Polish occupation by Russia and Germany in recent centuries. A sovereign nation that had its period of power, but somehow let it slip away.

  5. “At one time”: When did Poland control an empire stretching across Central Europe? I ( obviously) do not know 18th century European history-only England and France ( barely).

  6. I remember from my High School History, that Poland was compossed of a rather land land mass during the 19th Century. It appearse that the Polish people did not posses a sence of nationalism, which lead to this country losing much of their land to outside European powers of the time. When my wife and I were in London some years ago, the tour guide mentioned that the Canadians have been closer and more dedicated to the country of Great Britain than the United States. The British regard them as their ‘friend’. The Canadian Embassy is much larger and and formidable structure than that of the US. Therefore, I believe it would stand to reason that it would be the Canadians that would come to their aid.

    1. I wish we had more friends like Canada. Once on a trip to a country in the Middle East ,friends from Canada were in a taxi on the way to the airport. The driver asked what country they we from…they said Canada. He replied…”that’s not a real country…it’s just part of the USA..you never hear much about Canada in the news.” They replied…”Maybe that’s a good thing?”

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