WWII. North African Campaign. 16 March 1943. Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) Panzer IV crew read a map in Tunisia.

The battle of Saumur. French Cavalry Cadet stand against German 1-st Cavalry Division.
The Battle of Saumur occurred during the last stages of the Battle of France, when officer cadets from the Cavalry School at Saumur, led by superintendent Colonel Michon, made a defensive stand along the Loire River at Saumur and Gennes. For two days the Cavalry School, and other assorted units which had fallen back before the German advance, held off a German attack. Since the battle occurred after the message by Marshal Pétain which called for an end to fighting (on 17 June, 1940), the event is often considered one of the first acts of the French Resistance.
By coincidence, the German troops advancing into the area were from the 1st Cavalry Division, a horseborne unit. The battle therefore set graduates of the German cavalry school against their counterparts from the French cavalry school. French troops took up defensive positions on four bridges of the Loire on 18 June, 1940, and held off the Germans until 20 June.
General Feldt praised the resistance of the students in his report, in which he is the first to call them "cadets of Saumur". The 218 students captured by the Germans were released in the following days instead of being interned. The school was mentioned in Despatches at the Order of the Army by General Weygand.

The site of an Abwehr incursion immediately prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Jablonka Pass is a key strategic point in the Carpathian Mountains between Poland and Czechoslovakia. On 26 August 1939, not having received word of the delay of the Polish invasion, an advance 70-man unit of the Abwehr under the command of Albrecht Herzner attacked a critical rail station and tunnel and captured some 800 Polish soldiers. A German combat division was then prepared to advance from its camp in the High Tatra. This untimely incursion, however, compromised the effect of Operation Tannenberg-the plan of the Sicherheitsdienst to paint Poland as the instigator of hostilities.
Once Hitler was certain that an agreement with Stalin was possible, he established the final timetable for the attack on Poland. On August 12, 1939, Canaris put all his espionage units on full alert. Two days later, Hitler met with his Wehrmacht chiefs in his Berghof mountain retreat outside Munich. The following day, Canaris ordered his commando and sabotage units to move into position in Poland. On August 19, two trucks from Abwehr II delivered uniforms to the SD for the 364 Abwehr and SS operatives who were to take part in the phony assaults just inside Poland. Three days later, Hitler met again with a larger body of Wehrmacht commanders, including Canaris. Also in attendance was Hermann Göring, who was about to be named head of the Ministerial Council for the Defense of the Reich (Ministerrat für die Reichsverteidigung) and Hitler’s official successor, and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. On Hitler’s instructions, all his top officers wore civilian clothing. At the end of the meeting, which, as usual, the Führer dominated, he told his military leaders that he expected the attack on Poland to begin in four days. His parting words: “I have done my duty. Now do yours.”
At 4:05 P. M. on August 25, the Wehrmacht High Command under General Wilhelm Keitel issued the order to invade Poland. Canaris immediately sent his combat and sabotage teams into action. Two and a half hours later, though, Keitel ordered his units to stand down at 8:30 P. M. because of new political developments. Great Britain, which Hitler had hoped to isolate through an alliance offer, instead signed a mutual assistance treaty with Poland that day. Benito Mussolini, Hitler’s Pact of Steel ally, now informed the Führer that Italy was militarily unprepared to join in a war that would probably include Britain and France.
Hitler had never intended to halt his invasion of Poland; instead, he delayed his assault for a few days to convince the British to abandon their guarantees to Poland and pressure Mussolini to reconsider his position about joining Hitler in war. By August 28, Hitler had decided to invade Poland on September 1.
War’s First Battle
The war in Europe began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. True? Not entirely. The first “battle” of World War II was fought—in Poland, to be sure—six days earlier. Moreover, the ultimate commander of the German combat team that fought the little-known Battle of Mosty in Polish Silesia on August 26, 1939, was a displaced admiral of the German navy, one Wilhelm Franz Canaris.
Canaris was chief of Nazi Germany’s Abwehr, or military secret service. With the attack on Poland originally scheduled for 4:15 A.M., August 26, a Saturday, the admiral’s Abwehr was supposed to send sixteen Kampfgruppen (combat teams) into Poland twelve hours ahead of the German armies for a series of raids on Polish communication and transportation facilities, such as telephone lines or bridges. In other cases, the special K-teams were to seize and hold certain facilities intact for their own Wehrmacht’s use.
Late on August 25, the teams were assembled and ready at their jump-off points—Canaris and his staff had done their homework and followed their orders explicitly. But an agitated aide from the chief of staff’s office called to report that Hitler had postponed the invasion because of political developments. “You must do everything humanly possible to halt your combat teams,” said the aide.
Fifteen of the K-teams were halted in time, but one, headed by Lieutenant Albrecht Herzner, already, irrevocably, was on its way. Herzner, striking out from a German base at Zilina in Slovakia, had been ordered to seize the railroad station at Mosty and secure the Jablunkov Pass in the Beskids. The rail line here ran from Slovakia, past Mosty, and on deeper into Polish Silesia. Following his original orders, Herzner positioned his team and gave the signal to attack. Opening fire at 1 A.M. on August 26, his K-group overwhelmed the Poles guarding Mosty, capturing the rail station and securing the pass as planned.
Oberst Edwin Lahousen frantically informed Admiral Canaris that his agents overseeing the attack on the Jablunkov Pass railway tunnel had lost contact with the sabotage team under Leutnant Hans-Albrecht Herzner. The fear now was that Herzner’s squad would provoke the very war that the Führer had just called off. Desperate Abwehr II radio operators in Germany and northern Slovakia did everything possible to contact the missing unit. Oskar Schindler’s Commando VIII unit was the main physical link to Herzner’s squad. On the morning of August 26, Oskar’s team informed Abwehr headquarters that it had heard reports of heavy rifle fire near the Jablunkov Pass and concluded that it was probably Leutnant Herzner’s unit.
Hours later, Canaris received more information about Leutnant Herzner’s activities. At 3:55 A. M. on August 26, Herzner’s unit was sent to the Eighth Army, which was part of Army Group South; this was the first official dispatch of World War II. It reported that it had taken nearby Mosty u Jablunkova station but had failed to take the Jablunkov tunnel Herzner’s squad then captured a locomotive and tried to enter the tunnel, but the Poles repelled this effort as well. The Abwehr team, which was now trapped behind Polish lines, was ordered to fight its way to the Slovak border. It met stiff resistance from Polish police forces, who now tried to block the German team’s way out of Poland. By early afternoon, Herzner’s unit remained under heavy Polish fire as it tried to move across the Slovak border in the Rakova-Madca region. Just before it entered Slovak territory, General Keitel ordered Herzner to remain in Poland.
The Germans then settled down to await the expected arrival of an entire invading division. When no division appeared after a time, the young German commander approached the Polish colonel he and the K-team had taken prisoner. What’s going on, Herzner asked, weren’t the two countries at war? “I told you they aren’t,” the Polish officer replied. He suggested that Herzner call his home base on the telephone in the station house and find out the facts. Herzner did—and was told to return to Zilina immediately. The war had not started after all!
It was a ludicrous situation, but no joke. In the war that did start six days later, Herzner was among the millions of casualties. So was Poland, which collapsed in just twenty-seven days of assault by the new German blitzkrieg.
On the afternoon of August 31, 1939, the special Abwehr, SS, and SD units that were to initiate the mock attacks were given the code words Grossmutter gestorben (Grandmother is dead). This was the signal for their final moves into Poland. A stunned Admiral Canaris, who received his orders for the initial assaults at 5:30 P. M, broke down and cried. For Canaris, war meant the end of Germany. Two and a half hours later, Germans dressed in Polish uniforms fired shots across the Polish border and left the dead prisoners as “evidence” of Polish aggression. Another group under SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Naujocks attacked and captured the radio station at Gleiwitz. The phony “Polish” occupiers then announced, in Polish, an attack on Germany. Hitler now had his justification for war.
The following day, the Völkischer Beobachter informed the German people that Polish rebels had moved into German territory and Adolf Hitler told the Reichstag that the Reich would now respond to fourteen “border incidents” of the previous night. The reality was quite different. Hitler had signed the final directive for the attack on Poland at noon on August 31. Seventeen hours later, five German armies moved into Poland, preceded by several Abwehr commando squads. Over the next few days, Hitler rejected the demands of Britain and France to withdraw as a prelude to negotiations. On September 3, London and Paris declared war on the Third Reich. By the time Soviet forces, after considerable German prodding, began to occupy their portion of eastern Poland, the Wehrmacht had almost completed its conquest of Poland and the destruction of Poland’s once proud military forces. Though some Polish units were able to escape into neutral territory, the Germans were able to defeat those that remained in Poland by October 6, 1939.

Leutnant Hans-Albrecht Herzner


German Abwher special diversionary detachment prior to attack on Jablonkow Pass in Poland, August 1939
October 6th 1942, St.Nazaire, France
German Kapitänleutnant Erich Topp
and other crew members aboard the U-552 returning to St.Nazaire after their 5th war patrol into the North Atlantic, patrolling South-East Greenland and sinking three ships. A propaganda unit is filming as the photo is taken.
Erich Topp joined the Nazi Party in 1934 and also joined the Allgemeine-SS. To the beginning of the war at least, his peers regarded Topp as a Nazi. He took the Hitler oath convinced it was the right thing to do.
He passed away in 2005.

German personnel and Pz. Kpfw. VI "Tiger I" of the Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 510, during redeployment to the city of Kaunas (Lithuanian SSR).


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