HANS-ALBRECHT HERZNER (1907-1942) was a German Abwehr (intelligence) officer and commando leader. One week before the official outbreak of war between Germany and Poland, and contrary to an unreceived withdrawal order, Herzner led the first German attack on Poland, bringing a company of commandos across the border to seize a crucial rail tunnel on the line between Vienna and Warsaw. Offered here is the first military telegram of World War II, one page, 8 x 6 inches, written and signed for transmission by Herzner only thirty minutes after he and his 70 men crossed the border into Poland and engaged in the first military action of the war. The hastily-scribbled pencil telegram was written on a generic telegram form, headed "No. 1", and sent to: "Ic AO/II". He writes in full: "2 Company crossed frontier about 0100 hours without incident. Herzner". Fine condition. The story behind this botched attack is fascinating. According to Adolf Hitler's order, the invasion of Poland was planned to commence at 0425 on August 26, 1939. However, on August 25 the attack was postponed when Hitler learned that Britain had signed a new treaty with Poland promising military support if Poland was attacked. The original plan called for bands of commandos in civilian garb to cross the border to secure positions for larger Wehrmacht formations following behind them. Herzner failed to receive the recall order, and his men crossed the border only half an hour before he penned this message. They attacked and took the rail station at Mosty, seeking to prevent the sealing of the rail tunnel at Jablonkow. Repelled at the tunnel by the Polish machine gunners stationed there, the commandos stole a locomotive and again tried to forcefully overcome the tunnel's defenders, without success. By morning, they began to retreat back across the border. The embarrassed German government explained this grievous error to the Poles, blaming the action on an "insane" individual acting on his own. Nevertheless, the attack was an act of war ordered by Hitler himself and thus this is the first military telegram of the monumental conflict of World War II. On September 1, 1939, the day the Germans again invaded Poland, the Poles blew up the tunnel at Jablonkow an hour after war was declared. Herzner ultimately received the very first award for valor of World War II, the Iron Cross, 2nd Class, with the award document signed by General Wilhelm Keitel himself in October, 1939. Herzner later led the "Nightingale" Battalion in Russia. He would die under rather suspicious circumstances. It is known that he had been loosely involved in plots against Hitler in 1938. A few years after the abortive raid, in 1942, Herzner is reported to have drowned while undertaking water therapy for his broken back. Whether Hitler had learned of his treachery is unknown. Photos for illustrative purposes only and not included.

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June 9, 2020 12:00 PM EDT
Chesapeake City, MD, US

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