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Polish-Soviet War

From Academic Kids

Template:Warbox The Polish-Soviet War was the war (February 1919 – March 1921) that determined the borders between the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic and Second Polish Republic. This armed struggle between the Soviet Russia and Poland was a result of Polish attempts to secure territories lost in the late-18th-century partitions of Poland and the Soviet attempts to recover territory lost by Russia in World War I and expand the Communist revolution to the Eastern Europe. The frontiers between Poland and the Soviet Russia were not clearly defined in the Treaty of Versailles and were further rendered chaotic by the Russian revolutions, the Russian Civil War and German withdrawal from the east front. Poland's head of state Józef Pilsudski envisioned a Polish-led East European confederation as a bulwark against German and Russian imperialism. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks began to gain the upper hand in the Russian Civil War and advance west.

In 1919 the Poles gained control of most of the disputed territories. Border skirmishes then escalated into open warfare following Pilsudski's attempt to take advantage of Russia's weakness with a major incursion into Ukraine in early 1920 (the Kiev Operation). He was met by a Red Army counterattack in April 1920. This Soviet counter-offensive was very successful, throwing Polish forces back westward all the way to the Polish capital of Warsaw. Meanwhile, Western fears of Soviet troops arriving at the German frontiers increased Allied interest in the war. A French military mission, which had been operating in Poland since 1919, and was responsible for improvement of the organization and logistics of the Polish forces, was expanded up to about 600 advisors and was joined by General Maxime Weygand. For a time, in midsummer, the fall of Warsaw seemed certain. This generated great excitement among many communists in Moscow, who began to see Poland as the bridge over which communism would pass into Germany, bolstering the Communist Party of Germany. In mid-August the Polish forces achieved an unexpected and decisive victory at the Battle of Warsaw. The Polish forces advanced eastward, and the war ended with ceasefire in October 1920. A formal peace treaty, the Peace of Riga, was signed on March 18, 1921, dividing the disputed territory between Poland and Soviet Russia.

Both states claimed the victory in the war: Poland rightfuly claimed the successful defense of the state, while Soviet Russia claimed repelling the Polish Kiev offensive, which was sometimes considered part of a foreign intervention during the Russian Civil War.

Contents

Names and dates of the war

The war is referred to by several names. "Polish-Soviet War" may be the most common, but is potentially confusing, since "Soviet" is usually thought of as relating to the Soviet Union, which did not officially come into being until December 1922. Alternative names include "Russo-Polish War [or Polish-Russian War] of 1919-21" (to distinguish it from earlier Polish-Russian wars), or "Polish-Bolshevik War". In some histories it has come down as the "War of 1920" (Wojna 1920 roku), while Soviet historians often either called it the "War against White Poland" or considered it a part of the "War against Foreign Intervention" or the Russian Civil War.

A second controversy revolves around the start date of the war. Some historians argue that the war started in April 1920 with the Polish thrust into Ukraine, the Operation Kiev. While it is true that the events of 1919 could be described as a border conflict and that only in early 1920 both sides realised that they are in fact engaged in an all-out war, the conflicts that took place in 1919 are an essential part of the war that begun in earnest a year later. In the end, the events of 1920 were only a logical, if almost totaly unpredictable, consequence of the prelude of 1919.

Prelude to the war

Main article: Causes of the Polish-Soviet War

In 1918, with the end of the First World War, the map of Central and Eastern Europe had drastically changed. As Germany's defeat rendered her plans for the creation of the Mitteleuropa puppet states obsolete, and as Russia sank into the depths of the Russian Civil War, the newly emergent countries of that region saw a chance for real independence and were not prepared to easily relinquish this rare gift of fate. At the same time, Russia saw these territories as rebellious Russian provinces but was unable to react swiftly, as it was weakened and in the process of transforming herself into the Soviet Union through the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War that had begun in 1917.

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Meanwhile, with the success of the Greater Poland Uprising in 1918, Poland had regained her independence lost in 1795 with the Third Partition of Poland. After 123 years of Poland's rule by her three imperial neighbors, the Second Polish Republic was proclaimed and the reborn country proceeded to carve out its borders from the territories of her former partitioners, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Polish politics was under the strong influence of the statesman Józef Piłsudski and his vision of the "Federation of Międzymorze", a Polish-led confederation comprising Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and other Central and East European countries now emerging out of the crumbling empires after the First World War. The new union was to be a counterweight to any imperialist intentions of Russia or Germany. To this end, Polish forces set out to secure vast territories in the east. Poland had no intention of joining the Western intervention in the Russian Civil War or of conquering Russia itself.

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Rebirth of Poland, March 1919

The Polish-Soviet war, like the majority of the other conflicts in Eastern Europe of that time, was more of an accident than a planned design. In the chaos prevailing in the first months of 1919, it was unlikely that anyone in Bolshevik Russia or in the new Second Republic of Poland would have deliberately planned a major foreign war. Poland, its territory a major frontline of the First World War, was unstable politically and already engaged in border conflicts with Germany (Silesian Uprisings) and Czechoslovakia (border conflicts between Poland and Czechoslovakia), while the attention and policies of revolutionary Russia were predominantly directed at dealing with counter-revolution and with the intervention by the western powers.

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Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.

This began to change in late 1919, however, when Vladimir Lenin, leader of Russia's new communist government, succumbed to a buoyant optimism, inspired by the Red Army's civil-war victories over White Russian anticommunist forces and their western allies on Russian territory. The Bolsheviks acted on a conviction that historical processes would soon lead to rule of the proletariat in all nations, and that the withering away of national states would eventually bring about a worldwide communist community. The main impetus to the coming war with Poland lay in the Bolsheviks’ avowed intent to link their Revolution in Russia with an expected revolution in Germany. Lenin saw Poland as the bridge that the Red Army would have to cross in order to link the two revolutions and to assist other communist movements in Western Europe. As Lenin himself remarked, "That was the time when everyone in Germany, including the blackest reactionaries and monarchists, declared that the Bolsheviks would be their salvation."

Revolutionaries at machine-gun posts, Berlin, November 1918
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Revolutionaries at machine-gun posts, Berlin, November 1918

The Soviet offensive into Poland would be an opportunity "to probe Europe with the bayonets of the Red Army." It would be the Soviet Union's first penetration into Europe proper, the first attempt to export the Bolshevik Revolution by force. In a telegram, Lenin exclaimed: "We must direct all our attention to preparing and strengthening the Western Front. A new slogan must be announced: Prepare for war against Poland."Template:Ref. The political purpose of the Red Army's advance was not to conquer Europe directly. Its purpose was to provoke social change and revolution. In the words of General Tukhachevsky: "To the West! Over the corpse of White Poland lies the road to world-wide conflagration. March on Vilno, Minsk, Warsaw!"Template:Ref. However, the Soviets never expected any major resistance on the part of Poland. While first clashes between Polish and Soviet forces occurred in February 1919, it would be almost a year before both sides would fully realise that they were engaged in a full-out war.

The Campaign

1919

Main article: Polish-Soviet War in 1919

Chaos in Eastern Europe

In 1918 the German Army in the east began to retreat westwards. The areas abandoned by the Central Powers became a field of conflict among local governments created by Germany, other local governments that indepedently sprang up after the German withdrawal, and the Bolsheviks, who hoped to incorporate those areas into Bolshevik Russia. Many of those groups were fragmented, merged, divided, formed short alliances with others, and almost constantly fought. Almost all of Eastern Europe was in chaos.

On November 18, 1918, Vladimir Lenin issued orders to the Red Army to begin movement westwards that would follow the withdrawing German troops of Oberkommando Ostfront (Ober-Ost). The basic aim of the operation was to drive through eastern and central Europe, institute Soviet governments in the newly independent countries of that region and support communist revolutions in Germany and Austria-Hungary. At the start of 1919, fighting broke out almost by accident and without any orders from the respective governments, when self-organized Polish military units in Wilno (Samooborona, Wilno Self-defence) clashed with Bolshevik forces, each trying to secure the territories for its own incipient government. Eventually the more organised Soviet forces quelled most of the resistance and drove the remaining Polish forces west.

In the spring of 1919 Soviet conscription produced a Red Army of 2,300,000. However, few of these were sent west that year, as the majority of Red Army forces were engaging the White Russians. In September 1919, the Polish army had 540,000 men under arms, 230,000 of these on the Soviet front.

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Soviet propaganda poster. Text reads: "This is how the masters' ideas end. Long live Soviet Poland!"

Small Polish forces had been securing the eastern border. By 14 February Polish forces had secured positions along the line of Kobryn, Pruzhany, rivers Zalewianka and Neman. Around 14 February, the first organised Polish units made contact with the advance units of the Red Army, and a border frontline slowly began to form from Lithuania, through Belarus to Ukraine.

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Polish propaganda poster. Text reads: "To Arms! Defend the Country! Remember well our future fate."

Avalanche starts: First Polish-Soviet conflicts

The first serious armed conflict of the war took place February 14 when fighting erupted near the towns of Maniewicze and Bereza Kartuska in Belarus. By late February the Bolshevik offensive had come to a halt. Both Polish and Soviet forces had also been engaging the Ukrainian forces, and unrest was growing in the territories of Baltic countries (Estonian Liberation War). Further escalation of the conflict seemed inevitable.

At the same time, Russian civil war raged on. In early summer 1920, White Russians gained an upper hand, and White forces under the command of Anton Ivanovich Denikin were marching on Moscow. Piłsudzki's is said to have considered Bolsheviks the less dangerous of the Russian civil war contenders, as the White Russians were not willing to accept Poland's independence, while the Bolsheviks did proclaim the Partitions of Poland null and void. In the coming months, Denikin would pay dearly for his refusal to compromise on this issue.

In early March 1919, Polish units opened an offensive crossing the Niemen river, taking Pinsk and reaching the outskirts of Lida. Both the Russian and Polish advances began around the same time in April, resulting in increasing numbers of troops being brought into the area. In April the Bolsheviks captured Grodno and Wilno, but in the same month were pushed out by a Polish counteroffensive. The newly formed Polish Army had proved to be a far more difficult opponent than the Russians had assumed. Unable to accomplish their objectives and facing strengthening offensives of White Russians, the Red Army withdrew from their positions and reorganized. Soon the Polish-Bolshevik War would begin in earnest.

Polish forces recaptured the major city of Wilno on April 19 and steadily continued advancing east. By 2 October Polish forces reached the Dźwina river and secured the region from Dzisna to Dyneburg.

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Central and Eastern Europe in December 1919

Until early 1920, the Polish offensive was quite successful. Sporadic battles erupted between Polish forces and the Red Army, but the latter was preoccupied with the Russian Civil War and White Russian conterrevolutionary forces and were slowly but steadily retreating on the entire western frontline, from Latvia in the north to Ukraine in the south.

Diplomatic Front, Part 1: The alliances

In 1919, several attempts at peace negotiations had been made by various Polish-Russian factions, but to no avail. In the meantime, Polish-Lithuanian relations worsened as Polish politicians found it hard to accept Lithuanians demand for a complete independence and their territorial demands, especially on ceding the city of Wilno, Lithuanian historical capital which had nonetheless a Polish ethnic majority. Polish negotiators made progress in negotiations with the Latvian Provisional Government, and in early 1920 Polish and Latvian forces were conducting some joint operations against the Bolsheviks. The main Polish success lay in signing a military alliance with the Ukrainian People's Republic of Symon Petliura. Petliura had, after his government's defeat by the Bolsheviks, found asylum in Poland and now headed a new Ukrainian Army. The Polish-Ukrainian War ended around July 1919 and from September both Polish and Ukrainians fought together.

1920

Main article: Polish-Soviet War in 1920

Opposing forces

Soviet forces had recently been very successful against the White armies, defeating Denikin, and signed peace treaties with Latvia and Estonia. The Polish front became the most important war theatere and the majority of Soviet resources and forces were diverted to it. In January 1920, the Red Army began concentrating a 700,000-strong force near the Berezina River and on Belarus. In the course of 1920, almost 800,000 Red Army personnel were sent to fight in the Polish war, of whom 402,000 went to the Western front and 355,000 to the armies of the South-West front in Galicia. The Soviets had at their disposal many military depots left by German armies withdrawing from eastern Europe in 1918-19, and modern French armaments captured in great numbers from the White Russians and the Allied expeditionary forces in the Russian Civil War. With the new forces, Soviet High Command planned a new offensive in late April/May.

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Soviet General Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

Bolshevik commanders in the Red Army's coming offensive would include Mikhail Tukhachevsky (new commander of the Western Front), Leon Trotsky, the future Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin, and the future founder of the Cheka secret police, the Polish-born Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky.

The Polish Army was made up of soldiers who had formerly served in the various partitioning empires, supported by inexperienced volunteers and recruits. Logistics were very bad, relying on whatever equipment was left over from World War I and could be captured. The Polish Army employed guns made in five countries, and rifles manufactured in six, each using different ammunition. The Polish forces grew from approximately 100,000 in 1918 to over 500,000 in early 1920. In 20 August 1920, the Polish army had reached the strength of more than 737,000, so there was rough numerical parity between the two armies.

Polish intelligence was aware that the Soviets have been prepared for a new offensive and Polish High Command decided to launch their own offensive before their opponents. The plan for Operation Kiev was to beat the Red Army on Poland's southern flank and establish a friendly government in Ukraine.

The tide turns: Operation Kiev

Until April the Polish forces had been slowly but steadily advancing eastward. New Latvian government requested Polish help in capturing Dyneburg, which was captured after heavy fighting in January and handed to the Latvians, who viewed the Poles as liberators. By March Polish forces had driven a wedge between Soviet forces North (Bielorussia) and south (Ukraine).

On April 24 Poland began its main offensive, Operation Kiev, aimed at creating an independent Ukraine that would become part of Piłsudski's Międzymorze Federation and an ally in the fight against the Soviet Russia. Poland was assisted by the allied forces of the Ukrainian People's Republic of Symon Petliura.

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Polish Breguet 14 operating from Kyiv airfield

The Polish 3rd Army easily won border clashes with the Red Army in Ukraine. The combined Polish-Ukrainian forces captured Kiev on May 7, encountering only token resistance. Polish military thrust soon met with Red Army counterattack Polish forces in that area, preparing for offensive towards Żłobin, manged to push back the Soviet forces back, but were unable to start their own planned offensive. In the north Polish forces had fared much worse. The Polish 1st Army was defeated and forced to retreat, pursued by the 15th army which recaptured territories between Dzwina and Berezyna. Polish forces attempted to take advantage of the exposed flanks of the attackers but the enveloping forces failed to stop the Soviet advance. At the end of May the front had stabilised near the small river Auta, and Soviet forces begun preparing for the next push.

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Polish Kiev Offensive at its height. June 1919

On 24 May 1920, the Polish-Ukrainian forces in the south were engaged for the first time by Semyon Budionny's famous 1st Cavalry Army (Konarmia). Repeated attacks by Budionny's Cossack cavalry, however, broke the Polish-Ukrainian front on June 5th and sent mobile cavalry units to disrupt the Polish rearguard, targeting communication and logistics. By June 10th the Polish armies were in retreat along the entire front. It was a bitter day for the Poles and Ukrainians when, on June 13, they abandoned Kiev to the Bolsheviks.

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A Polish cavalry charge at the Battle of Wołodarka, May 29,1920, slows the Russian offensive. (Painting by Mikołaj Wisznicki, 1935.)

String of Bolshevik victories

The commander of the Polish 3rd Army in Ukraine, General Rydz-Śmigły, decided to break through toward the northwest. Polish forces in Ukraine managed to withdraw in orderly fashion and relatively unscathed, but were unable to support Poland's northern front and reinforce the defenses at the Auta River for the decisive battle that was soon to take place there.

Due to insufficient forces, Poland's 200-mile-long front was manned by a thin line of 120,000 troops backed by some 460 artillery pieces with no strategic reserves. This approach to holding ground harked back to Great War practice of "establishing a fortified line of defense." It had shown some merit on a Western Front saturated with troops, machine guns and artillery. Poland's eastern front, however, was weakly manned, supported with inadequate artillery, and had almost no fortifications.

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Polish fighters of the 7th Kościuszko Squadron

Against the Polish line the Red Army gathered their Northwest Front led by the young General Mikhail Tukhachevski. Their numbers exceeded 108,000 infantry and 11,000 cavalry, supported by 722 artillery pieces and 2,913 machine guns. The Russians at some crucial places outnumbered the Poles four-to-one.

Tukhachevski launched his offensive July 4th along the axis Smolensk-Brest-Litovsk, crossing the Auta and Berezyna. The northern 3rd Cavalry Corps of Gej-Chan was to envelope Polish forces from the north, moving near the Lithuanian and Prussian border (both of these belonging to nations hostile to Poland). 4th, 15th and 3rd Armies were to push decisively west, supported from south by the 16th Army and Grupa Mozyrska. For three days the outcome of the battle hung in the balance, but the Russians' numerical superiority finally became apparent. Due to the stubborn defense by Polish units, Tukhachevski's plan to break through the front and pushing the defenders southwest into the Pinsk Marshes failed, but from July 7 the Polish forces were in full retreat along the entire front.

Polish resistance was offered again on a line of "German trenches," a heavily fortified line of World War I field fortifications that presented a unique opportunity to stem the Russian offensive. Once again, however, the Polish troops were insufficient in number. Soviet forces selected a weakly defended part of the front and broke through. Gej-Chan forces, supported by Lithuanian forces, captured Wilno on 14 July, forcing Poles to retreat again. In the south, in Galicia, General Semyon Budionny's cavalry advanced far into the Polish rear, capturing Brodno and approaching Lwów and Zamość. In early July it became clear to the Poles that the Russians' objectives were not limited to pushing their borders westwards. Poland's very independence was at stake.

The Russian forces relentlessly moved forward at the remarkable rate of 20 miles a day. Grodno in Belarus fell 19 July, Brest-Litovsk fell on 1 August, Polish attempt to defend the Bug river line with 4th Army and Grupa Poleska units stopped the advance of the Red Army for only one week. After crossing the Narew River on 2 August the units of the Russian Northwest Front were only 60 miles from Warsaw. The fortress of Brzesc which was to be the headquaters of the planned Polish counteroffensive fell to the 16th Army in the first attack. The Russian Southwest Front had pushed Polish forces out of Ukraine and was closing on Zamość and Lwów, the largest city in southeastern Poland and an important industrial center, defended by the Polish 6th Army. The way to the Polish capital lay open. Polish Galicia's Lwów (Ukrainian Lviv) was soon besieged, and five Russian armies were approaching Warsaw.

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Bolshevik offensive successes. Early August 1920

Polish forces in Galicia near Lwów launched a successful counteroffensive to slow the Soviets down. This had put a stop to the retreat of Polish forces on the southern front, but the worsening situation near Polish capital of Warsaw prevented Poles from continuing that southern counteroffensive and pushing east. After Soviets captured Brześć, the Polish offensive in the south was put on hold and all available forces moved north to take part in the coming battle for Warsaw.

Diplomatic Front, Part 2: The political games

With the tide turning against Poland, Piłsudski's political power had been weakened and his opponents, including Roman Dmowski had risen to power. However Piłsudski did manage to regain his influence, especially over miliary, almost at the last possible moment - as the Soviet forces were approaching Warsaw and Polish political scene begun to unravel in panic. Meantime, by the order of the Soviet Communist Party a Polish puppet government, the Tymczasowy Komitet Rewolucyjny Polski, TKRP (English: Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee), had been formed on 28 July in Białystok to organise administration on the Polish territories captured by the Red Army. The TKRP had very little support from the Polish population and recruited its supporters mostly from the ranks of Bielorussians and Jews. In addition, political intrigues between Soviet commanders grew in the face of their more and more certain victory. Eventually the lack of cooperation between the top commanders would cost them dearly in the upcoming decisive Battle of Warsaw.

Western public opinion, swayed by the press and by left-wing politicians, was strongly anti-Polish. Many foreign observers expected Poland to be quickly defeated and become the next Soviet republic. Britain's Prime Minister, David Lloyd George pressed Poland to make peace on Soviet terms and refused any assistance to Poland which would alienate Whites in the Russian Civil War. On August 6, 1920, the British Labour Party published a pamphlet stating that British workers would never take part in the war as Poland's allies, and labour unions blocked supplies to the British expeditionary force assisting Russian Whites in Arkhangelsk. French Socialists, in their newspaper L'Humanité, declared: "Not a man, not a sou, not a shell for reactionary and capitalist Poland. Long live the Russian Revolution! Long live the Workmen's International!" Poland suffered setbacks due to sabotage and delays in deliveries of war supplies, when workers in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany refused to transit such materials to Poland.

Lithuania stance was mostly anti-Polish and the country eventually joined the Soviet side in the war against Poland in July 1919. Lithuania decision was dictated by a desire to incorporate the city of Wilno (in Lithuanian, Vilnius) and the nearby areas into Lithuania and to a smaller extent by Soviet diplomatic pressure backed by the threat of the Red Army stationed on Lithuania's borders.

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American volunteer pilots, Merian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy, fought in the Kościuszko Squadron of the Polish Air Force.

Polish allies were few. France, continuing her policy of countering Bolshevism, now that the Whites in Russia proper had been almost completely defeated, sent in 1919 a 400-strong small advisory group to Poland's aid. This group comprised mostly French officers, although it also included a few British advisers led by Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Carton De Wiart. The French effort was vital to improving the organization and logistics of the Polish Army, which until 1919 had used diverse manuals, organizational structures and equipment, mostly drawn from the armies of Poland's former partitioners. The French offcers included a future President of France, Charles de Gaulle, who during that war won Poland's highest military decoration, the Virtuti Militari. In addition to the Allied advisors, France also facilitated in 1919 the transit to Poland from France of the "Blue Army": a force of troops, mostly of Polish origin plus some international volunteers, formerly under French command in World War I. The army was commanded by the Polish general, Józef Haller.

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General Józef Haller (touching the flag) and his Blue Army.

In mid-1920 the Allied Mission was expanded by some new advisers (the Interallied Mission to Poland). They included the French diplomat, Jean Jules Jusserand; Maxime Weygand, chief of staff to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Commander of the victorious Entente; and the British diplomat, Lord Edgar Vincent D'Abernon. The newest members of the mission achieved little; indeed, the crucial Battle of Warsaw was fought and won by the Poles before the mission could return and make its report. Subsequently, for many years, the myth persisted that it was the timely arrival of Allied forces that had saved Poland, a myth in which Weygand occupied the central role.

The tide turns: Miracle at the Vistula

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Polish defenses at Miłosna, near Warsaw, August 1920.

On August 10, 1920, Russian Cossack units under the command of Gay Dimitrievich Gay crossed the Vistula River, planning to take Warsaw from the west while the main attack came from the east. On August 13, an initial Russian attack was repulsed. The Polish 1st Army resisted a direct assault on Warsaw as well stopping the assault at Radzymin.

The Soviet commander-in-chief, Tukhachevski, feeling certain that all was going according to his plan, was actually falling into a trap set by Piłsudski. The Russian advance across the Vistula River in the north was advancing into an operational vacuum, as there were no sizable Polish forces in the area. On the other hand, south of Warsaw, where the fate of the war was about to be decided, Tukhachevski had left only token forces to guard the vital link between the Russian northwest and southwest fronts. Another factor that influenced the outcome of the war was the effective neutralization of Budionny's 1st Cavalry Army, much feared by Piłsudski and other Polish commanders, in the battles around Lwów. The Soviet High Command, at Tukhachevski's insistence, had ordered the 1st Cavalry Army to march north toward Warsaw and Lublin, but Budionny disobeyed the order due to a grudge between Tukhachevski and Yegorov, commander of the southwest front. Additionally, the political games of Joseph Stalin, chief political commissar of the Southwest Front, decisively influenced the disobedience of Yegorov and Budionny. Stalin, seeking a personal triumph, was focused on capturing Lwów—far to the southeast of Warsaw—besieged by Bolshevik forces but still resisting their assaults.

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Polish General Władysław Sikorski.

The Polish 5th Army under General Władysław Sikorski counterattacked August 14 from the area of the Modlin fortress, crossing the Wkra River. It faced the combined forces of the numerically and materially superior Soviet 3rd and 15th Armies. In one day the Soviet advance toward Warsaw and Modlin had been halted and soon turned into retreat. Sikorski's 5th Army pushed the exhausted Soviet formations away from Warsaw in a lightning operation. Polish forces advanced at a speed of thirty kilometers a day, soon destroying any Soviet hopes for completing their enveloping maneuver in the north. By August 16 the Polish counteroffensive had been fully joined by Marshal Piłsudski's "Reserve Army." Precisely executing his plan, the Polish force, advancing from the south, found a huge gap between the Russian fronts and exploited the weakness of the Soviet "Mozyr Group" that was supposed to protect the weak link between the Soviet fronts. The Poles continued their northward offensive with two armies following and destroying the surprised enemy. They reached the rear of Tukhachevski's forces, the majority of which were encircled by August 18. Only that same day did Tukhachevski, at his Minsk headquarters 300 miles east of Warsaw, become fully aware of the proportions of the Soviet defeat and ordered the remnants of his forces to retreat and regroup. He hoped to straighten his front line, halt the Polish attack, and regain the initiative, but the orders either arrived too late or failed to arrive at all.

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Polish soldiers displaying captured Soviet battle flags after the Battle of Warsaw.

The Soviet armies in the center of the front fell into chaos. Tukhachevski ordered a general retreat toward the Bug River, but by then he had lost contact with most of his forces near Warsaw, and all the Bolshevik plans had been thrown into disarray by communication failures.

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Polish Thermopylae: Russian cavalry are stopped at the Battle of Zadwórze. (Painting by Stanisław Kaczor-Batowski, 1929. Polish Army Museum, Warsaw.)

The Bolshevik armies retreated in a disorganised fashion, entire divisions panicking and disintegrating. The Red Army's defeat was so great and so unexpected that, at the instigation of Piłsudski's detractors, the Battle of Warsaw is often referred to in Poland as the "Miracle at the Vistula."

On August 17 the advance of Budionny's Cavalry Army toward Lwów was halted at the Battle of Zadwórze, where a small Polish force sacrificed itself to prevent Soviet cavalry from seizing Lwów and stopping vital Polish reinforcements from moving toward Warsaw. On 29 August Budionny's cavalry moving through weakly defended areas reached the city of Zamość and attempted to take the city in the battle of Zamość, but was soon facing increasing number of Polish units which could be spared from the succesfull Warsaw counteroffensive. On August 31 Budionny's cavalry finally broke off their siege of Lwów and attempted to come to the aid of Russian forces retreating from Warsaw, but were intercepted, encircled and defeated by Polish cavalry at the Battle of Komarów near Zamość, the greatest cavalry battle since 1813 (and one of the last cavalry battles in history). Budionny's Army managed to avoid encicrlement but its morale had plummeted. What was left of Buidonny's 1st Cavalry Army retreated towards Włodzimierz Wołyński on 6 September and was soon again defeated at the Battle of Hrubieszów.

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Battle of Komarów, one of the greatest cavalry clashes in world history. (Painting by Wojciech Kossak.)

Tukhachevski managed to reorganize the eastward-retreating forces and in September established a new defensive line running from the Polish-Lithuanian border to the north to the area of Polesie, with the central point in the city of Grodno in Belarus. In order to break it, the Polish Army had to fight the Battle of the Niemen River. Polish forces crossed the Niemen River and outflanked the Bolshevik forces, which were forced to retreat again. Polish forces continued to advance East on all fronts, repeating their successes from the previous year.

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Battle of the Niemen River, the second greatest battle of the war. (Painting by Wojciech Kossak.)

After the mid-October Battle of the Szczara River, the Polish Army had reached the Tarnopol-Dubno-Minsk-Drisa line. The Bolsheviks sued for peace and the Poles, exhausted and constantly pressured by the Western governments, with the Polish army now controlling the majority of the disputed territories, agreed to once again negotiate. A ceasefire was signed October 12 and went into effect October 18.

Aftermath

Main article: Aftermath of the Polish-Soviet War

According to the British historian A. J. P. Taylor, the Polish-Bolshevik War "largely determined the course of European history for the next twenty years or more. […] Unavowedly and almost unconsciously, Soviet leaders abandoned the cause of international revolution." The Bolsheviks' defeat in the war prevented Poland from becoming another Soviet republic and possibly spared Germany, Czechoslovakia and other nearby states from a similar fate.

Much of what Poland had won during the 1920 war was lost in the peace negotiations that were by many characterized as short-sighted and petty-minded. Due to the disastrous military defeat, Bolsheviks offered the Polish peace delegation substantial territorial concessions in the contested borderland areas. However, to many observers it looked like the Polish side was conducting the Riga talks as if Poland had not won, but lost the war. The exhausted Poles, pressured by the League of Nations, decided to sign the Peace of Riga on March 18, 1921, splitting the disputed territories in Belarus and Ukraine between Poland and Russia.

The treaty actually violated Poland's military alliance with Ukraine, which had explicitly prohibited a separate peace. It worsened relations between Poland and her Ukrainian minority, who felt Ukraine had been betrayed by her Polish ally, a feeling that would be exploited by Soviet propaganda and result in the growing tensions and eventual violence in the 1930s and 1940s.

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Second Polish Republic 1921-1939

The Polish military successes in autumn 1920 allowed Poland to reclaim the city of Wilno, where a puppet goverment Governance Committee of Central Lithuania (Komisja Rządząca Litwy Środkowej) was formed. A plebiscite was carried out and the Wilno Sejm has voted on 20 February 1922 for incorporation into Poland. This has worsened Polish-Lithuanian foreign relations for many decades to come. Repercussions of this still continue (though to a diminishing extent) to affect the foreign relations among these countries.

The outcome of the Polish-Bolshevik War, while welcomed by some Polish politicians such as Roman Dmowski, who favored a relatively small, ethnically homogeneous state, was a death blow to Piłsudski's dream of reviving the powerful and multicultural Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the form of a "Międzymorze Federation."

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Powazki_1920.JPG
Graves of Polish soldiers fallen in the Battle of Warsaw, Powązki Cemetery, Warsaw.

During the course of the war, waged by two countries experiencing great economic and social difficulties, and often unable to care even for their own populations, the treatment of the prisoners of war was far from adequateTemplate:Ref, with tens of thousands of POWs from both sides dying from inadequate health care during the rampaging post-WWI Spanish Flu Pandemic.

Military strategy in the Polish-Bolshevik War influenced Charles De Gaulle, an instructor with the Polish Army who fought in several of the battles. He and Władysław Sikorski were the only military officers who, based on their experiences of this war, correctly predicted how the next one would be fought. Although they both failed in the interbellum to convince their militaries to heed those lessons, early in World War II they rose to command of their respective armed forces in exile. This war also influenced the Polish military doctrine, which for the next 20 years would stress the mobility of the elite cavalry units.

Among the technical advances ultimately associated with the Polish-Bolshevik War was one that would, two decades later, affect the course of World War II. Poland's Marshal Piłsudski and his staff enjoyed a vast advantage from their military intelligence decrypting ("breaking") Red Army radio messages. These were encrypted in primitive ciphers and codes, and often involved incredible breaches of security by Bolshevik cipher clerks. The Polish cryptologists and commanders were thus regularly able to look over the shoulders of the Bolshevik commanders, including Mikhail Tukhachevski himself, and their superior, Leon Trotsky.Template:Ref Poland's cryptological achievements in the Polish-Bolshevik War were a prelude to the spectacular achievements of her General Staff's Cipher Bureau (Biuro Szyfrow), from December 1932, in decrypting German Enigma machine ciphers. Their subsequent decryption in World War II by the Western Allies at Bletchley Park — given a flying head-start by Poland's having revealed her techniques and technology to Britain and France at Warsaw a month before the outbreak of war — substantially affected the outcome of the war.Template:Ref

In August 1939 the Soviet Union allied itself with Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and on 17 September 1939, invaded eastern Poland, ensuring Poland's defeat in the Polish Defence War of 1939 and sealing the fate of the Second Polish Republic. The Soviet occupation of eastern Poland have brought Stalinist repressions to the Polish population. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Soviet Union succeeded in acquiring direct or indirect control of more territory than Imperial Russia had and partly fulfilled Lenin's original dream of bringing communist revolution to Germany.

Until 1989, while communists held power in a People's Republic of Poland, the Polish-Bolshevik War was either omitted or minimized in Polish and other Soviet block countries' history books, or was presented so as to fit the communist ideology.

List of battles

For chronological list of important battles of the Polish-Soviet War, see List of battles of the Polish-Soviet War.

See also

External links

Template:Wikiquote

Notes

  1. Template:Note Lincoln, Red Victory: a History of the Russian Civil War.
  2. Template:Note Mikhail Tukhachevski, order of the day, 2 July 1920.
  3. Template:Note Jeńcy i internowani rosyjscy... and Zwycięzcy za drutami...
  4. Template:Note Ścieżyński, Radjotelegrafja...
  5. Template:Note Kozaczuk, Enigma.

References

  • Davies, Norman, White Eagle, Red Star: the Polish-Soviet War, 1919-20, Pimlico, 2003, ISBN 0712606947. (First edition: St. Martin's Press, inc., New York, 1972)
  • Keenan, Jeremy, The Pole: the Heroic Life of Jozef Pilsudski, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd, 2004, ISBN 0715632108.
  • Watt, Richard M., Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate, 1918-1939, Hippocrene Books, 1998, ISBN 0781806739.
  • D'Abernon, Edgar Vincent, The Eighteenth Decisive Battle of the World: Warsaw, 1920, Hyperion Press, 1977, ISBN 0883554291.
  • Lincoln, W. Bruce, Red Victory: a History of the Russian Civil War, Da Capo Press, 1999, ISBN 0306809095.
  • Ścieżyński, Mieczysław , [Colonel of the (Polish) General Staff], Radjotelegrafja jako źrodło wiadomości o nieprzyjacielu (Radiotelegraphy as a Source of Intelligence on the Enemy), Przemyśl, [Printing and Binding Establishment of (Military) Corps District No. X HQ], 1928, 49 pp.
  • Kahn, David, The Code-Breakers, New York, Macmillan, 1967.
  • Karpus, Zbigniew, Jeńcy i internowani rosyjscy i ukraińscy na terenie Polski w latach 1918-1924, Toruń 1997, ISBN 8371740204. Polish table of contents online (http://www.ksiegarnia.uni.torun.pl/karpus.html). English translation: Russian and Ukrainian prisoners of war and internees kept in Poland in 1918-1924, Wydawn. Adam Marszałek, 2001, ISBN 8371749562.
  • Karpus, Zbigniew, Alexandrowicz Stanisław, Zwycięzcy za drutami. Jeńcy polscy w niewoli (1919-1922). Dokumenty i materiały (Victors behind the fences. Polish POWs (1919-1922). Documents and materials). Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika w Toruniu, Toruń, 1995, ISBN 8323106274.
  • Kozaczuk, Władysław, Enigma: How the German Machine Cipher Was Broken, and How It Was Read by the Allies in World War Two, edited and translated by Christopher Kasparek, Frederick, Maryland, University Publications of America, 1984, ISBN 0890935475.
  • Wandycz, Piotr, General Weygand and the Battle of Warsaw, Journal of Central European Affairs, 1960
  • Polish Politics, and the Battle of Warsaw, 1920 Slavic Review, Vol. 46, No. 3/4. (Autumn - Winter, 1987), p. 503
  • Himmer, Robert, Soviet Policy Toward Germany during the Russo-Polish War, 1920 Slavic Review, Vol. 35, No. 4. (Dec., 1976), p. 667
  • Fiddick, Thomas, The "Miracle of the Vistula": Soviet Policy versus Red Army Strategy, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 45, No. 4. (Dec., 1973), pp. 626-643
  • Biskupski, M.B., Paderewski, Polish Politics, and the Battle of Warsaw, 1920, Slavic Review, Vol. 46, No. 3/4, Autumn - Winter, 1987 pp. 503-512de:Polnisch-sowjetischer Krieg

eo:Pola-bolŝevika milito no:Den polsk-sovjetiske krig pl:Wojna polsko-bolszewicka

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