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Poland (1920–1939). Romania (dark brown) is to the southeast of Poland.
Polish and German forces after 14 September 1939 and troop movements after this date.
The Romanian Bridgehead (Polish: Przedmoście rumuńskie; Romanian: Capul de pod român) was an area in southeastern Poland, now located in Ukraine. During the invasion of Poland of 1939 (at the start of World War II), on 14 September the Polish commander-in-chief Marshal of Poland Edward Rydz-Śmigły ordered all Polish troops fighting east of the Vistula (approximately 20 divisions still retaining the ability to cooperate) to withdraw towards Lwów, and then to the hills along the borders with Romania and the USSR.
The plan was a default plan in case it was impossible to defend the Polish borders, and assumed that the Polish forces would be able to retreat to the area, organise a successful defence until the winter, and hold out until the promised French offensive on the Western Front started. Rydz-Śmigły predicted that the hills, valleys, swamps, and the rivers Stryj and Dniestr would provide natural lines of defence against the German advance. The area was also home to many ammunition dumps that were prepared for the third wave of Polish troops, and was linked by transport to the Romanian port of Constanța, which could be used to resupply the Polish troops.
This plan is one of the reasons the Polish–Romanian alliance was not activated by Poland. Poland and Romania had been allied since 1921 and the defensive pact was still valid in 1939. However, the Polish government decided that it would be much more helpful to have a safe haven in Romania and a safe port of Constanța that could accept as many Allied merchant ships as required to keep Poland fighting. The Polish Navy and merchant marine were mostly evacuated prior to 1 September (see Peking Plan); they were to operate from French and British ports and deliver the supplies through Romania.
In adherence with the secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact which provided for the partition of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the USSR invaded from the east during the early hours of 17 September, violating its non-aggression pact with Poland, while the French, despite their promises, had not begun any significant offensive against Germany, making it impossible for the Polish army to hold out, at least in eastern parts of the country. During the late hours of that day, the Polish government and members of the military high command crossed the Polish–Romanian border with the intention of relocating to France where the Polish forces in the west were being formed. Polish units were ordered to evacuate Poland and reorganize in France.
As many as 120,000 Polish troops withdrew through the Romanian Bridgehead area to neutral Romania and Hungary. The majority of those troops joined the newly formed Polish Armed Forces in the West in France and the United Kingdom during 1939 and 1940. Until Germany attacked the USSR (Operation Barbarossa) and the USA joined the war, the Polish army was one of the largest forces of the Allies.
The Romanian government also received the treasury of the National Bank of Poland in 1939. One part of it, consisting of 1,261 crates containing 82,403 kg of gold, was loaded aboard a commercial ship in the port of Constanța, and transported to Western Europe. The transport was escorted by ships of the Romanian Navy, in order to prevent interception by Soviet submarines in the Black Sea. The second part of the treasury was deposited in the Romanian National Bank. It was returned to Poland on 17 September 1947.
Crossing the border at Zaleszczyki into Romania on 15 September 1939, 2 days before the Soviet invasion from the east - passport.
Polish troops, escapees from Nazi-Soviet occupied Poland, being welcomed by Romanian population while crossing the Romanian border.
In popular culture
The Romanian Bridgehead and the retreat of Poles into Romania is part of the historical fiction novel A Witness to Gallantry: An American Spy in Poland 1939. A fictional description of the evacuation of the gold from Warsaw forms part of the novel The Polish Officer, by Alan Furst. The gold's evacuation is also the subject of the 1986 Polish-Romanian movie Złoty pociąg/Trenul de aur ("The Gold Train").
- Dariusz Baliszewski (19 September 2004). "Most honoru". Tygodnik Wprost (in Polish) (1138). Archived from the original on 14 May 2007. Retrieved 24 March 2005.
- Michael Alfred Peszke, The Polish Underground Army, The Western Allies, And The Failure Of Strategic Unity in World War II, McFarland & Company, 2004, ISBN 0-7864-2009-X, Google Print, pp. 27–32
- (in Romanian) Toma Virgiliu, "Agresorii în ofensivă", in România Liberă, October 13, 2007
- Wojciech Włodarkiewicz, Przedmoście rumuńskie 1939; Bellona, Warsaw, 2001. ISBN 83-11-09255-9