A Landing Operation in Denmark:The Polish Military's Losses in the First Phase of a Warsaw Pact
Offensive Were to Reach 50 Percent
by Paweł Piotrowski
The idea of creating a new front within the Warsaw Pact in the northern segment of the western theater of war was born after the October 1956 watershed, when Poles replaced Soviet officers in the leadership positions of the General Staff of the Polish People's Army. To Gomułka's team, the creation of a national front manifested the sovereignty of the People's Republic. But Moscow viewed Poland's aspirations with distrust. Even though the Politbureau had approved the decision in 1958, it was not until 1961 that the Kremlin agreed to this form of involvement in the Warsaw Pact for Poland.
A Polish delegation went to Moscow then to collect a handwritten directive from the USSR's minister of national defense, Rodion Malinovsky, which spelled out the Polish Front's mandate. On the basis of this directive, the Poles drew up a front operational plan for their People's Army. The Soviet side charted the operational direction of the front and its basic parameters.
According to the Polish Front's operational plan, codeword OP-61, the First and Second Armies formed by the Pomeranian and Silesian Military Districts were to attack first. It was assumed that the attacking NATO forces (it was always the imperialists who started wars) would be stopped by Soviet units stationed in the GDR. At the same time, units of the Polish Front would reach their areas of concentration in northern Poland and the GDR, where a developed military infrastructure and ammunition, fuel, and equipment warehouses were located. The Polish attack would head from western Mecklenburg toward Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. In two or three days, the attacking armies would break up NATO's Jutland Military Corps, reach the Elbe and the Danish-German border.
In the second phase of the offensive, the Polish Front troops would cross the Elbe and reach the Rhine and Moselle Rivers across the plains of Lower Saxony and Holland. The General Staff's planning did not go beyond this line, since the front's subsequent goals would be set by the Warsaw Pact leadership. The Fourth Army deployed by the Warsaw Military District had a different mission. In peacetime, its units were heavily reduced (below 30 percent of the strength planned for the eventuality of war). Their equipment also differed significantly from that of the Pomeranian and Silesian Districts. Compensating for this disadvantage would be nuclear strikes accompanied by concentrated acts of sabotage and propaganda. The Fourth Army's mission was to mobilize quickly, deploy its troops over a distance of more than 1,000 kilometers (from northern Mazovia and Warmia to Hamburg), make the transition "from marching" to fighting and controlling the Jutland Peninsula, the Danish isles, and then occupy Denmark.
The Danish Straits
The Navy was to support the northern wing of the front attacking along the coast. The first exercises of this "teamwork between naval and land forces" were conducted in 1954. At that time, the naval forces were stronger than what was planned for mobilization. This changed in subsequent years, as less investment was made in the navy than in the other armed forces. After the Warsaw Pact was founded in 1955, cooperation was built up with the USSR's Baltic Fleet and the GDR navy. From the early 1960s on, these forces together formed the United Fleet. Its main goals were to dominate the Baltic Sea, cooperate on a landing operation on the Danish isles, and secure free access to the North Sea.
A landing on the Danish coast was prominent in plans being made in 1961-63. Selected for this mission were the Seventh Landing Division ("blue berets") and the Sixth Air-Landing Division ("red berets"). These units were being prepared for an air-sea operational landing on the Danish isles located between Great Belt and Øresund (including Zealand). The Polish divisions would be backed up by the Baltic Fleet, Soviet air-landing and marine units, and a landing regiment of the National People's Army of the GDR.
In 1962-73, Polish shipyards constructed 23 ships intended for the Second Brigade of Landing Ships stationed in Świnoujście. Plans were also made to buttress the landing forces with ships mobilized from the civilian fleet. After gaining control of Zealand, the landing forces could be used to launch an attack on southern Norway, around Oslo.
The Nuclear Sword
From the 1960s, the leadership of the Warsaw Pact attached great importance to equipping its armies with missiles, considered the best carriers of nuclear warheads. In 1961-68, the Polish army formed four artillery brigades equipped with operational-tactical rockets and fourteen artillery units armed with tactical missiles. In virtually every exercise, the concentrated use of nuclear weapons presaged success. In an offensive operation, the exercises assumed the use of nuclear strikes of various magnitudes (on the territory of the FRG alone, there were to be some 100 of them). Every attacking unit would use 30-40 operational-tactical missiles (with a 300 km range), 50-60 tactical missiles (with a range of up to 65 km), and conduct 6-15 nuclear bombardments.
If the enemy used nuclear weapons, the operational plans expected major losses. Estimates made in the early 1970s projected operational troop losses of 48-53 percent in the first front operation.
Plans for the Polish Front continued to be perfected until the end of the Warsaw Pact. It is fortunate that we managed to avoid seeing our troops march in the streets of Copenhagen or Hamburg, transformed into a radioactive desert. At the same time, the streets of Warsaw, Cracow, and other Polish cities would have looked similar.
A Polish Nuclear Attack
"It is desirable to consider (...) nuclear attacks on such centers as Hannover or Brunswick, Kiel and Bremen. The destruction of these cities will likely cause a complete disorganization of political life, the economy, etc. It will significantly influence the creation of panic in areas of nuclear strikes. The exploitation of the effects of strikes by our propaganda may contribute to the spread of panic among enemy armies and populations (...). In order to exclude Denmark from the war as quickly as possible, nuclear strikes should be launched at Esbjerg (an important strategic point in the NATO system) and Roskilde (Zealand Island), and subsequently a widespread special propaganda action aimed at deepening the existing panic should be conducted to warn Denmark's troops and civilian population of the consequences of further resistance and the threat that, in the event of continuation of the war, further atomic strikes will occur."
Paweł Piotrowski works as a historian in the Wrocław division of the Institute of National Remembrance, specializing in the military affairs of the Polish People's Republic.