Friday, January 16, 2009

DBTL 4: The Armored Dream

Warsaw, Poland
1 September 1939

The President of Poland and his cabinet generally met once a week, at 10 AM Friday morning. The event was preceded by a less formal meeting two hours earlier by the President, Prime Minister and War Minister, during which all of the actual business was conducted.

On Friday, 1 September 1939, War Minister Stanisław Skwarczyński began the earlier meeting by telling his two colleagues about a dream he had had that morning. "I was standing near the old frontier with Germany, a few miles west of Poznan. Nothing very remarkable, just an open field with some trees scattered across it. Until the tanks came into view." He used the German panzers rather than the Polish pancers.

"Panzers?" said President Walery Sławek. "As in German tanks?"

Skwarczyński nodded. "These were very definitely German tanks. And not just one or two. There were at least a dozen in view, rolling across the field, followed by squads of infantry."

Prime Minister Jósef Beck said, "I don't think the Germans had a dozen tanks altogether when they attacked us three years ago."

"These were nothing like Röhm's tanks," said Skwarczyński. "These were state-of-the-art, easily as good as anything the French have."

The other two men were suitably impressed. It was generally acknowledged that the French had the most highly mechanized army in the world.

"In the dream," Skwarczyński continued, "I was able to see past the field for many miles, all along the old German border, and everywhere I looked, I saw the German panzers. I could see aircraft overhead as well, also German, also state-of-the-art. Whenever the panzers met our men, the men either broke and ran, or stayed and died or were captured. The panzers were unstoppable. The aircraft were able to bomb our cities practically unopposed."

There was silence for a moment after Skwarczyński finished, then Sławek said, "This is certainly an interesting dream, but I for one don't see how it could come about."

"I've been giving the matter some thought since I woke up," said Skwarczyński. "If Röhm had embarked on a rearmament program as soon as he came to power, and had not invaded three years ago, then the forces at his command now would be similar to those I saw in my dream."

"Of course," said Beck, "Röhm couldn't embark on any rearmament program then, as he hadn't gained control over the German army at that point. Building up the strength of the regular army would have been building up the strength of a rival power."

"Not to mention," said Sławek, "the economic turmoil that his policies provoked. Röhm was lucky to have enough mess kits for his army, never mind tanks and planes."

"I was able to comfort myself with similar logic," said Skwarczyński, "until a thought occurred to me. What if those panzers have red stars decorating them rather than black crosses?"

Beck sniffed. "We whipped those red puppies twenty years ago, and we can do it again today."

"Can we?" wondered Skwarczyński. "Twenty years ago, Russia was suffering from the effects of six years of invasion, revolution and civil war. The Russia we face has had two decades to recover from those experiences. Also, the Red Army was still in its infancy. All they could send against us was infantry and cavalry. They had no artillery to speak of, few aircraft, and no tanks at all. But now..."

"Yes?" said Sławek.

Skwarczyński shrugged. "We just don't know. Stalin is fanatical about maintaining security. He kills hundreds of people every year on suspicion of espionage. Naturally, this makes it almost impossible for us to infiltrate any real spies into Russia. For all we know, the Red Army could be in no better shape than it was twenty years ago. Or it could be as highly mechanized as the French army, and three times the size. We won't really know until he uses it against somebody. In the meantime, it would be prudent for us to assume the latter possibility, and plan accordingly."

"The Marshal," said Sławek, by which of course he meant Marshal Piłsudski, "often expressed his concern over the need to modernize the army and the air force. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough money. We already spend a third of the government's revenue on military appropriations just to maintain what we've got."

"That was before the war," Skwarczyński pointed out. "Now we've got the resources of our German conquests to draw upon. I propose that we do so. I also believe that we should investigate the possibility of developing new weapons for ourselves. The British have been experimenting with jet aircraft, and I think we should start our own experimental program. And what was the name of that German fellow who was here in Warsaw last month, the one with the rockets?"

"Von Braun," said Beck.

"That's him," said Skwarczyński. "We may want to consider funding his proposals as well. The Marshal always believed that Russia was and always would be our greatest enemy. The Russians have never reconciled themselves to our independence. It is not a question of whether they will attack us, only of when. When they do, I want Poland to be ready to meet them."

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