Captain Władysław Raginis
June 27, 1908|
Dvinsk (Daugavpils), Vitebsk Governorate, Russian Empire
|Died||September 10, 1939
Strękowa Góra near Wizna, Poland
|Service/branch||Border Defense Corps (KOP)|
|Years of service||1930–1939|
|Commands held||CO of Polish forces in Wizna|
Władysław Raginis (June 27, 1908 – September 10, 1939) was a Polish military commander during the Polish Defensive War of 1939 of a small force holding the Polish fortified defense positions against a vastly larger invasion during the Battle of Wizna. Because the positions were held at great cost for three days before being annihilated with few survivors, Wizna is referred to as the Polish Thermopylae and Captain Raginis as a modern Leonidas.
Raginis was born in Dźwińsk (Daugavpils), Vitebsk Governorate, Russian Empire (present-day Latvia) to a landowning family with patriotic traditions. Soon after graduating from a gymnasium in 1927, he joined the Infantry NCO School in Komorowo near Ostrów Mazowiecka where he was a mediocre student and completed his studies in 1928. He then completed a short practice of the military and the same year he enrolled at the Infantry Officers School in Ostrów Mazowiecka. One of his schoolmates recalled:
"He had a borderland accent, and was quiet and shy. Slim, small, blond hair .... "
After graduating on July 15, 1930, he was assigned to the 76th Infantry Regiment stationed in Grodno, where he was a platoon commander and instructor-lecturer at the School Cadet Corps. In 1939, as a distinction, he was advanced to lieutenant and then to captain and assigned to the elite Border Defence Corps (KOP) as the commander of the 3rd company, heavy machine gun battalion, of the Border Defence Corps Regiment "Sarny" under the command of Lt-Colonel Nikodem Sulik.
In the late summer of 1939, the "Sarny" Regiment sent the bulk of its forces to Upper Silesia to man the Fortified Area Silesia, some units, including Raginis, instead went to Osowiec Fortress, near the border with East Prussia.
In anticipation of the outbreak of the Second World War, on September 2, 1939, Major Jakub Fober gave Raginis command of all the Wizna Fortified Area, a buffer of 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) between the Narew River and Biebrza River, which was part of defensive line of Independent Operational Group "Narew" on the right wing of Polish forces. "Wizna" secured a major artery of communication, the Łomża – Białystok road and the Zambrów – Osowiec railway.
It is worth noting that some of the shelters were incomplete as war broke out, some had little to no ventilation, many of them not camouflaged and some were not fitted with armored observation domes. The incomplete state of the shelters significantly reduced the combat capability of the emplacements.
The battle of Wizna
On September 7 Raginis' forces (approximately 720 men, out of which roughly 650 were killed) were attacked by more than 42,000 German soldiers. To keep the morale of his men high, Raginis pledged that he would not leave his post alive.
The defense of Wizna against overwhelming odds lasted for three days. On September 10, 1939, the bunker commanded by Raginis was the last remaining pocket of resistance. Although heavily wounded, Raginis was still commanding his troops. At noon on the third day, the German commander, Heinz Guderian, threatened that all Polish POWs would be shot if the defense of the bunker did not cease. Turning to his men in the shelter, Raginis thanked them for the fact that they were soldiers and did their duty. He then ordered them to surrender and leave the shelter - he would keep his word and not surrender. Seweryn Biegański, who was the last to leave the shelter, describes the moment;
"The captain looked at me warmly and softly urged me to leave. When I was at the exit, I was hit on my back with strong gust and I heard an explosion."
In his diaries, Guderian noted that 900 German soldiers were killed in action, although that number is probably a low estimate. It is certain, however, that the Wehrmacht lost at least 10 tanks and several other AFVs in the struggle.
The defense of Wizna, despite the clear imbalance of forces, of which the defenders were aware, was significant. It had pinned down the German forces for two days, allowing the remnants of Polish troops in western Poland to defend the capital, Warsaw. It helped gain time for many Polish units and the government leadership to conduct an orderly withdrawal to the Romanian bridgehead (Polish: Przedmoście rumuńskie).
The Germans agreed to allow burial of the corpses of Raginis and Lieutenant Stanisław Brykalski by Kazimierz Puchowicz, a friend of Raginis, next to the bunker where a tree was planted as an impromptu memorial. When the Red Army entered Wizna, the Soviet authorities ordered the bodies to be dug up and moved next to the Łomża - Białystok road, where an obelisk stands today. His symbolic grave is located next to the ruins of the bunker in which he died.
The inscription on the monument tablet says;
Przechodniu, powiedz Ojczyźnie, żeśmy walczyli do końca, spełniając swój obowiązek
which translates into English as:
Passerby, tell the Homeland that we fought to the end, fulfilling our duty
(In the style of the epitaph for the soldiers at Thermopylae). The family of Raginis was officially notified of his death in Wizna three years later in 1943 when his sister, Maria Morawska, received a notice through the Red Cross.
The heroic struggle and death of Raginis has inspired a number of films and videos:
- Film documentary titled "Wierność" (1969) written and directed by Grzegorz Królikiewicz.
- Film documentary titled "Dzwony znad Wizny" (1969) directed by Franciszek Burdzy
- Television documentary series episode from TVP titled "Było... nie minęło" first broadcast on September 25, 2010.
- The image of Raginis is included on a stamp in the series "Polish Defense War of 1939" issued by Poczta Polska in 1989 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.
40:1 by Sabaton
The Music video and song on YouTube by Swedish power metal band Sabaton was featured in their 2008 album, The Art of War, as a tribute to the sacrifice of the defenders of Wizna, especially Raginis. In an interview with Rzeczpospolita daily leader of the group, Joakim Brodén, said:
(a) Polish fan once sent us information about the battle of Wizna. When we read of the deeds of Captain Władysław Raginis and his friends, it was so incredible for us, a story that first we thought that it could not be true. Such incredible courage to 360 soldiers, 42 thousand resisted Germans! We recognized immediately that the battle is the most interesting history, and of course we wrote a song about it, "40:1."
Before their concert in Poland, on October 23, 2008 the members of Sabaton visited Wizna to pay their respects to the soldiers and Raginis.
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- oficjalna strona 31. Szczepu ZHP im. Władysława Raginisa w Białymstoku
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- "Lista nazwisk osób odznaczonych Orderem VIRTUTI MILITARI - R (eng:List of names of people awarded the Order of Military Virtue - R)". Retrieved June 15, 2011.
- "Awanse dla kpt. W. Raginisa i por. S. Brykalskiego" (in Polish). Retrieved August 21, 2012.
- "opis filmu "Dzwony znad Wizny"" (in Polish). FilmPolski.pl. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
- "Roman Pawłowski: Przypadek Królikiewicza". Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish). Warsaza. May 17, 2003.
- "opis filmu "Wierność"". FilmWeb.pl. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
- "strona TVP z filmem "Było...nie minęło"". TVP. September 25, 2010. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
- Sabaton (2008). Sabaton - 40:1.
- "Sabaton väcker polska känslor" (in Swedish). Sveriges Radio. 24 June 2008. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
- "Składamy hołd bohaterom". Rzeczpospolita (in Polish). June 14, 2008. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
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- Wiktorzak A., Wizna - Polskie Termopile, Głos Weterana, nr 9, 1997