In August 1939, he took command of the newly formed XIX Army Corps and controlled 14.5 per cent of Germany's armoured fighting vehicles.
On the day for handing over to the Russians a Brigadier-General Krivochin appeared, a tank man who had some knowledge of French, and with whom I could therefore converse. What the instructions of the Foreign Ministry had left undecided I now settled in a friendly fashion directly with the Russians. All our equipment could he carried away; only supplies captured from the Poles had to be left behind, since in the short time at our disposal we had not been able to organize the transport necessary for their removal. A farewell parade and salutes to the two flags in the presence of General Krivochin marked the end of our stay in Brest-Litovsk.
On the evening we arrived at Zambrov. The 3rd Panzer Division had already set off for East Prussia, with the other divisions echeloned behind. The corps was now dissolved.
As forerunner of the Russians there appeared a young officer in an armored reconnaissance car, who informed us that a Russian Tank Brigade was on its way. Then we received information concerning the demarcation line which the Foreign Ministry had agreed; this surrendered Brest to the Russians, since the Bug was to be the boundary. We did not regard this as a very advantageous decision; and finally we were informed that we only had until 22nd of September in which to evacuate the territory east of the line of demarcation. This was so little time that we could not even move all our wounded or recover our damaged tanks. It seems unlikely that any soldier was present when the agreement about the demarcation line and the cease fire was drawn up.
The Brest citadel was captured by the 76th Infantry Regiment under Colonel Gollnik, which had crossed over to the west bank of the Bug during the night. They captured it at the exact moment when the Polish garrison was about to attempt to break out westwards across the undamaged bridge over the Bug. This marked in a way the end of the campaign Corps headquarters was transferred to Brest and established itself in the Voivodschaft. We learned that the Russians were advancing from the east.
The ring was closed around Brest on the east bank of the Bug. An attempt to capture the citadel by means of a surprise tank attack failed, owing to the Poles having blocked the entrance gate by parking an old Renault tank at an angle across it, so that our tanks could not force their way in.
When, in the morning, General Bader, in accordance to this order, was advancing well in front of his division, accompanied only by a wireless signals truck, he ran into Polish troops between Bransk and Bielsk who had managed to escape from the Andrzeievo pocket: he had to spend a few uncomfortable hours under fire before his competent wireless operator managed to let us know what had happened so that we could get them out. This accident was a lesson to us.
The Poles near Andrzeievo surrendered. The commander of the 18th Polish Division was among the prisoners. The 3rd Panzer Division reached Kaminiec-Litovsk. They had reconnoitered as far as Brest-Litovsk. Orders for the attack on that fortress were given. We spent the night in Bielsk. See more
We knew that Polish forces had reached the famous forest of Bielovieza. I wanted to avoid a battle in the forest since this would have distracted us from our main objective—the capture of Brest-Litovsk—and would have tied up a sizeable portion of our force. I therefore contented myself with leaving troops to observe the edge of the forest.
the 20th (Motorized) Division, together with those elements of the 10th Panzer Division sent to its assistance, succeeded in surrounding the Poles near Andrzeievo, The 10th Panzer Division reached Vysokie- Litovsk, the 3rd Panzer Division Bielsk. I myself had driven to Bielsk with the foremost troops of the reconnaissance battalion, and was thus able to receive their signal by hand. In the afternoon I saw my son Kurt.
The corps headquarters was moved to Bielsk. The 2nd (Motorized) Infantry Division was freed from Army Group reserve and once again placed under my command. It was ordered to advance along the line Lomsha-Bielsk and thus rejoin the rest of the corps. The order contained the words 'the divisional commander to come on ahead.'
I passed the morning impatiently awaiting the arrival of my staff. Polish forces, trying to withdraw southeast from Lomsha, had cut across the route of advance of the 20th (Motorized) Division at a point south of Zambrov and were causing that division considerable trouble. The divisional commander decided to order the portion of his command which was beyond the Poles, advancing on the Bug, to turn round in order that he might encircle the enemy and destroy him. I moved a part of the 10th Panzer Division across to help in this maneuver. Meanwhile a rumor had spread through the 3rd Panzer Division, which was moving up on the left of the 10th, that I was myself in danger of being surrounded by Poles in Vysokie-Masovieski. Motorcycle Rifle Battalion 3 therefore turned oft towards Vysokie to get me out. The men were very pleased when they found me standing safe and sound in the middle of the village street. This oftenshown feeling of comradeship which the motorcyclists displayed was good to see.
It was not until 05:00 hrs. that I discovered that the bridges over the Narev, which were to have been ready by midnight, had been dismantled on the orders of the 20th (Motorized) Infantry Division's commander and moved downstream where they were to be put up anew for his division to cross. The two panzer divisions were therefore compelled to go on using ferries and nothing but ferries. It was desperate. The engineer officer had not informed the divisional commander of my order. The latter had acted in all good faith. Now we had to wait till evening before a new bridge was built for the tanks. See more
On this day General Wiktorin's 20th (Motorized) Infantry Division became involved in heavy fighting near Zambrov. Strong elements of the division were marching towards the Bug in the direction of Nur. I had sent the Reconnaissance Demonstration Battalion ahead of the division to this crossing-place over the Bug, and the battalion had arrived there without encountering any resistance. The 10th Panzer Division pushed on to Bransk, fighting a number of engagements on the way. I followed this division towards evening and spent the night in the burning village of Vysokie-Masovieski. My corps staff, which had crossed the Narev that evening and was following behind me, could not get through a small village that was on fire north of Vysokie-Masovieski, and so we were compelled to spend the night in separate villages, a bad state of affairs from the command point of view. I had ordered the move of the headquarters prematurely; we would have done better to have spent another night in Vizna.
At 08:00 hrs. I arrived at Vizna where I found the staff of the 10th Panzer Division. Its commander, General Schaal, had had an accident, and the division was now under General Stumpff. The latter informed me that his infantry was over the river and had reported the capture of the Polish fortified positions dominating this sector. The battle was continuing. Reassured by this news I next visited the Lötzen Brigade; originally this unit had been intended to garrison these fortifications, but now had to cross the Narev in open battle. The brigade and its commander, Colonel Gall, made an excellent impression on me. They crossed the river and went into the attack. Quite satisfied with the measures that the brigade commander was taking, I returned to the 10th Panzer Division. See more
When I arrived back in Vizna, I found to my disappointment that the morning's report on the successes of the division's infantry was based on a misapprehension. They were across the river, but they had not reached the concrete defense emplacements on the far bank. For the time being nothing was happening. I therefore crossed the river myself to see the regimental commander. I did not succeed in discovering his command post. The battalion's headquarters were very well hidden too. I found myself in the front line. There was no sign of the division's tanks, which were in fact all still on the north bank of the Narev. I therefore sent back my adjutant to order them across. In the front line an extraordinary performance was going on; when I asked what was happening, I was told that the foremost companies were being relieved. It looked like nothing so much as a guardmounting parade. The troops knew nothing about any order to attack. An artillery observer from the heavy artillery was located in the middle of the infantry and had no idea what he was supposed to be doing there. No one knew where the enemy was; there was no sort of reconnaissance being carried out.
The Army Group's original intention was to attach my corps to General von Küchler's Third Army; it was to operate in close coordination with his left flank and to advance from the Arys area, through Lomsha, towards the eastern side of Warsaw. It seemed to me that such close co-operation with an infantry army was not in accordance with the full potentialities of my troops. I pointed out that the proposed operation would not enable me to make use of the speed of my motorized divisions, and that a slow advance on our part would give the Poles in the Warsaw area the chance of withdrawing eastwards and of establishing a new defensive line along the River Bug. See more
Salmuth and Colonel-General von Bock agreed to my suggestion; I received the necessary orders and went at once to the military training area Arys, where I told the corps order group to assemble (to receive fresh orders for the advance on the Narev River). Of my old divisions, I was to retain the 3rd Panzer Division and the 20th (Motorized) Infantry Division. The 2nd (Motorized) Infantry Division was for the time being withdrawn from my command into Army Group reserve. The 10th Panzer Division, which up to then had formed part of Küchler's army, together with the Fortress Infantry Brigade Lötzen, a newly formed unit of men from the older agegroups, were now subordinated to my XIX Corps; both these units were at present in action along the Narev in the neighborhood of Vizna.
The corps staff and the advance guards of the divisions crossed the Vistula. Corps headquarters was set up in Finkenstein, in the very beautiful castle that belonged to Count Dohna-Finckenstein and which Frederick the Great had given to his minister, Count von Finkenstein. Napoleon had twice used this castle as his headquarters. The Emperor first came there in 1807, when he took the war against Prussia and Russia over the Vistula and into East Prussia. After crossing the poor and monotonous Tuchel Heath, Napoleon exclaimed at the sight of the castle: 'Enfin un château!' His feelings are understandable. It was there that he had planned his advance towards Preussisch-Eylau. A mark of his presence was still to be seen in the scratches left by his spurs on the wooden floor. He was there for the second time before the Russian campaign of 1812; he spent a few weeks in the castle in the company of the beautiful Countess Walewska.
I slept in the room that had been Napoleon's.
Our corps had a surprise visit from Adolf Hitler. I met him near Plevno on the Tuchel-Schwetz road, got into his car, and drove with him along the line of our previous advance. We passed the destroyed Polish artillery, went through Schwetz, and then, following closely behind our encircling troops, drove to Graudenz where he stopped and gazed for some time at the blown bridges over the Vistula. At the sight of the smashed artillery regiment, Hitler had asked me: 'Our dive bombers did that?' When I replied, 'No, our panzers!' he was plainly astonished. See more
During the drive we discussed at first the course of events in my corps area. Hitler asked about casualties. I gave him the latest figures that I had received, some 150 dead and 700 wounded for all the four divisions under my command during the Battle of the Corridor. He was amazed at the smallness of these figures and contrasted them with the casualties of his own old regiment, the List Regiment, during the First World War: on the first day of battle that one regiment alone had lost more than 2,000 dead and wounded. I was able to show him that the smallness of our casualties in this battle against a tough and courageous enemy was primarily due to the effectiveness of our tanks.
As we neared the Vistula, we could see the silhouette of a town against the sky across the river. Hitler asked if that was Kulm. I replied: 'Yes, that is Kulm. In March of last year I had the privilege of greeting you in your birthplace; today you are with me in mine. I was born in Kulm.'
Our conversation turned on technical matters. Hitler wanted to know what had proved particularly satisfactory about our tanks and what was still in need of improvement. I told him that the most important thing now was to hasten the delivery of Panzers III and IV to the fighting troops and to increase the production of these tanks.
The battle for the Corridor was approaching its end.
The troops had fought brilliantly and were in good spirits. The casualties among our other ranks were small, but our losses of officers had been disproportionately heavy, for they had thrown themselves into battle with the greatest devotion to duty. General Adam, State Secretary von Weizsäcker, and Colonel Freiherr von Funk had each lost a son.
On the 3rd of September I had visited the 23rd Infantry and 3rd Panzer Divisions and had thus had the opportunity of seeing my son Kurt and also the towers of Kulm, my birthplace, glittering in the sunshine on the far bank of the Vistula.
The Corridor was pierced. We were available for fresh employment. While we had been fighting hard, the political situation had taken a serious turn for the worse. England and, under pressure from England, France had declared war on the Reich; this destroyed our hope of an early peace. We found ourselves engaged in a second World War. It was plain that it must last a long time and that we would need all the fortitude of which we were capable.
the 23rd Infantry Division, under General Graf Brockdorff, was committed between the 3rd Panzer Division, which had pushed on to the Vistula, and the 20th (Motorized) Infantry Division: by this maneuver, after many critical moments and some heavy fighting, we succeeded in totally encircling the enemy on our front in the wooded country north of Schwetz and west of Graudenz. The Polish Pomorska Cavalry Brigade, in ignorance of the nature of our tanks, had charged them with swords and lances and had suffered tremendous losses. A Polish artillery regiment on the march towards the Vistula was overrun by our tanks and destroyed; only two of its guns managed to fire at all. The Polish infantry had had heavy casualties too. A portion of their supply and bridging columns was caught while withdrawing and was annihilated.
Armored Reconnaissance Battalion 3 had reached the Vistula during the night. At the farm of Poledno, near Schweiz, it had unfortunately through carelessness sustained considerable officer casualties. The main body of the 3rd Panzer Division was split into two by the Brahe and during the morning the Poles attacked the units on the eastern bank. It was noon before a counterattack could be launched and the division could continue its fighting advance through the woods. The 23rd Infantry Division followed behind the 3rd Panzer Division by means of forced marches. Both the motorized infantry divisions were making good progress across the Tuchel Heath.