The planned occupation of Bornholm by the Polish People’s Army during the Cold War

During the Cold War, there was a time when the Polish People’s Army (PVA) developed plans for a possible occupation of the Danish island of Bornholm. These plans were part of a larger strategic effort that encompassed the entire Baltic region and aimed to control strategically important territories.

The beginnings of planning

Planning began in the early 1960s and continued through the mid-1980s. The PVA followed the directives of the General Staff of the Soviet Army. According to the operational plan in force at the time, the Polish Coastal Front was to carry out offensive actions leading to the conquest of all of Denmark (Jutland and the surrounding islands), northern West Germany, the northern part of the Netherlands and Belgium. These operations were to be part of a large-scale operation by allied forces of Warsaw Pact member states.

One of the basic tasks of the Polish divisions was to conduct air and sea land operations to occupy the largest Danish island, Zealand, and the country’s capital – Copenhagen.

The challenges and changes in planning

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the problem was not only organizing support for the land operation, but also the increasingly low overall combat capabilities of the Polish Army. The economic crisis in Poland and the rapid growth of NATO’s military potential called the entire operation into question.

Due to the economic crisis that hit the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact states, plans for the Polish Army were scaled down, and a defensive version was even drawn up. After this change, the PVA’s air and sea operations focused on the conquest of the Danish island of Bornholm.

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The role of Bornholm in the plans

Bornholm, a Danish island in the southern Baltic Sea, was considered strategically important. It was assumed that the island would be defended by a brigade of Danish infantry of about 2,840 soldiers, additionally equipped with ten tanks, twenty-six cannons and mortars, and about thirty anti-tank weapons.

In the early stages of the war, air raids mainly by the Soviet Army – were to disable Bornholm’s landing defenses. Subsequently, the plan was to conduct an airborne landing (two battalions of the 6th Airborne Brigade) at the beginning of the Polish attack to occupy the port of Rønne. This would be followed by the sea landing of a mechanized regiment (28th Mechanized Regiment of the 8th Mechanized Division) in the harbor and its vicinity. Thus, the island should be captured on the second or third day of the frontal assault (D2-D3). The landing on Bornholm was excluded from the defensive variant.

The impact of the political changes

The following months of 1989 brought political changes – first in Poland, then in the other countries of the Eastern Bloc, while in the summer of 1991 the Warsaw Pact itself was dissolved. The Polish Army was freed from Soviet control, the creation of a landing force was aborted, and the plan became exclusively defensive. Soon, the European and global political and security order was transformed beyond recognition. In 1999, Poland joined NATO; thus, Polish and Danish soldiers became part of the same military organization. Now – as comrades – they engaged in cooperation, including the creation of the multilateral Northeast Corps based in Szczecin, in which Germany also participated.

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It is difficult to take a definite position on the feasibility of the planned landing operation on the Danish islands or, looking more broadly, on Polish operational planning as such, since we do not have access to Russian (formerly Soviet) archives. Moscow completely controlled Polish war planning, and right there lies the key to understanding the role the Polish People’s Army was to play in World War III. When analyzing Polish documents, we should note that the tasks given to the Polish Army were excessive and even unrealistic. Conducting a large-scale landing operation was simply beyond their capabilities. Moreover, we can assume that only the attack on Bornholm would have been feasible – provided that the Soviet Army had provided air and sea bases.

We can be glad that these plans were never implemented. The assumption that such a large-scale offensive could have ended in victory may have been unrealistic, especially under conditions of widespread use of nuclear weapons on both sides. However, the entire Polish war machine was always prepared for military operations of exactly this kind.

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