Sarny Fortified Area

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Sarny Fortified Area (known in Polish in several names: Sarneński Rejon Umocniony, Sarneński Odcinek Umocniony, Bastion Polesie) was a line of bunkers and trenches along both sides of the Sluch river, in the area of the town of Sarny, northern Volhynia in Ukraine. In the interbellum period Sarny belonged to the Second Polish Republic, it was located close to the border with the Soviet Union. As Polish military authorities regarded the Soviets as the main threat (see: Plan Wschod), in 1936 construction of fortifications began. It was planned to be fully operational in the spring of 1940. Total length of the defence works was some 170 kilometers, number of objects - 358.

Structure[edit]

Depth of defence works was up to 5 kilometers; they were connected by the radio, but walls of some bunkers were so thick that operators had to go outside. In every bunker there were up to 30 soldiers of the Border Defence Corps (KOP); they were equipped with 75 mm cannons and machine guns. The Border Defence Corps Regiment "Sarny", which operated the Area, was very well trained, and its soldiers, including Władysław Raginis, distinguished themselves during the Battle of Wizna (see Polish September Campaign), and in other battlefields in the area of Osowiec and Upper Silesia, where up to 80% of KOP died or were wounded.

Polish September Campaign[edit]

Those soldiers who remained in the Sarny Fortified Area were ordered in mid-September 1939 to abandon the bunkers and move with their equipment towards the Romanian Bridgehead. On September 16, 1939, the eve of Soviet attack on Poland, there were smaller units, defending the Area - two fortress battalions (Sarny) and (Malynsk), two border battalions (Rokitno) and (Berezne) as well as a cavalry squadron Bystrzyce, altogether some 4000 soldiers, but lacking heavy equipment, as it had been sent towards the German border in the summer of 1939.

Defence[edit]

In the morning of September 17, 1939, Soviet aircraft bombed the trucks, which were getting ready to move south. Also, the railway junction in Sarny was bombed, but the Armored Train Marszalek repelled the enemy. Despite this, Colonel Nikodem Sulik and General Wilhelm Orlik-Rueckemann decided to unload the stuff and take up defence positions. The Sarny Fortified Area was attacked by the Soviet 60th Rifle Division, whose advantage was crushing. The Poles defended the fortifications for three days, on September 20, facing encirclement, they had to withdraw. However, soldiers in some bunkers did not get the order to withdraw, and in some places the Poles resisted until September 25. Several bunkers were blown up by the Red Army engineers with their crews, unknown number of soldiers were murdered, including seven officers, who were shot near the Orthodox church in the village of Tynne.

Among those killed was Lt. Jan Bolbot, who was in 1989 posthumously awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military decoration. He commanded a platoon of 50 men, who holed up in their bunker and refused to surrender despite hopeless odds. Bolbot's men stopped Soviet attacks with heavy losses. Unable to beat the Poles, the Soviets set the bunker on fire. Bolbot and his entire command died in the flames.

In late September, the defenders of Sarny, as part of Independent Operational Group Polesie, took part in two major battles against the Red Army - Battle of Szack and Battle of Wytyczno.

Aftermath[edit]

In late 1939 and early 1940 the Soviets carried out detailed investigations of the defence works. In mid-1940s, the bunkers served as a hideout for Ukrainian nationalist partisans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Today, the bunkers are in ruin.

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