THE BATTLE OF WARSAW

 

PILSUDSKI

JOZEF PILSUDSKI

 

 

 

 

At the end of the First World War, Poland, which had been partitioned between Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia for the last 123 years had sought to firmly define its own borders and gain full independence from its European overlords.

The partitioning powers however would have none of it and without consulting the Poles began to realign the country in a way which was very unfavorable to the Polish people. Russia's new western borders completely cut Poland off from the rich coal and industrial regions of Silesia.

Germany also attempted to compensate for it's losses during the war by acquiring Polish territory on it's eastern borders, while Austro-Hungary had no further designs on Poland as the former empire had been completely destroyed and fragmented with its northern provinces ceded to form the independent state of Czechoslovakia.

The Polish Head of State and Commander in Chief Jozef Pilsudski, put forward the concept in which Poland was to enter a federation made up of emerging countries from Russia's crumbling western empire. A plan that would unite Poland, Ukraine, Belorussia and Lithuania. Pilsudski believed this would restrain any imperialistic intentions by both Germany and Russia.

On April 25th 1920, the Polish General Staff launched the " Kiev Expedition " an offensive aimed at defeating the Soviet forces on Poland's southern borders and establishing a friendly government within the Ukraine.

Three Polish armies commanded by Jozef Pilsudski comprising the 3rd, 2nd and 6th under General's Smigly, Roja and Jedrejewski along with two Ukrainian Infantry divisions under Ukrainian nationalist Symon Petliura crossed the Russian border with 65,000 Poles and 15,000 Ukrainians.

Opposing this force were the Soviet 12th and 14th armies numbering 55,000 men under the command of General AlexanderYegorov. Within a week of the offensive the Polish 3rd and 2nd armies had virtually destroyed the Soviet 12th army while in the south the Polish 6th army along with Petliura's Ukrainians had forced the Soviet 14th army to withdrawal from Ukrainian soil.

On May 7th the Polish 3rd army captured the city of Kiev enabling Petliura's Ukrainian forces to arrive and establish a provisional government a few days later.

 

Polish Soldiers

POLISH TROOPS ENTER KIEV

 

 

 

 

The expected masses of volunteer's for the enrolment into Petliura's army of the UkrainianPeoplesRepublic never materialized, Ukraine had suffered greatly in the previous war and its population were tired of the constant hostilities and bloodshed.

As a direct result the Ukrainian units could not replace the Polish divisions already holding the front lines against the Soviets, thus the Polish troops had to extend their presence in the Ukraine much longer than was originally planned.

On May 24th Russian General SemyonBudyonny arrived with his elite 1st Cavalry Army supported by two Infantry divisions scraped together from the remnants of the Soviet 12th army and launched a counter attack centered around Kiev.

After twelve days of heavy fighting Budyonny's forces broke through the Polish defenses south of the city on June 5th. Five days later all Polish forces within the Ukraine were in full retreat allowing the Soviets to recapture Kiev on the 13th.

The Soviet reoccupation of the Ukraine was characterized by the rape, torture and mass killing of civilians designed to instill a sense of terror and subservience within the Ukrainian population.

As 3rd army withdrew General Smigly implemented a series of brilliant counter attacks against the advancing Soviet's which resulted in the capture of the 44th Infantry Rifle Division's entire command staff along with annihilating two of its Infantry brigades. This was  followed by the severe mauling suffered by the Soviet 4th Cavalry Division in which one of its Cossack regiments defected and switched sides.

These two stunning victories allowed the Polish - Ukrainian forces to withdrawal virtually unscathed and in good order to their initial defensive positions along the Polish border where at this stage both the Poles and Soviets lacked the sufficient strength to launch any further offensive operations.

 

                                               

                                                    GENERAL RYDZSMIGLY                                                   GENERAL BUDYONNY

 

 

                                              General Haller                                                      General Mikhail Tukhachevsky

              GENERAL HALLER                                                                         GENERAL TUKHACHEVSKI

 

 

 

 

Polish Military Intelligence was now becoming quite aware of Russian preparations for a major counteroffensive stretching from Latvia in the north to the Pripet Marshes in the south.

Lead by a brilliant young Russian General, MichailTukhachevski, the Soviet  4th, 15th, 3rd and 16th armies organized north to south respectively numbered 700,000 men including 12,000 cavalry supported by 750 artillery pieces.

The Polish Northern Front commanded by General Jozef Haller countered with the 1st and 4th armies under General's Latinik and Skierski numbering 120,000 men and 460 artillery pieces with no form of strategic reserves to call upon.                                                                         

On July 4th Tukhachevski launched his grand offensive along a massive 200 miles of front. After three days of fierce resistance the Russian's numerical superiority finally began to tell upon the Poles as they slowly began to fall back. The heroic defense by the Polish 33rd Infantry Regiment in holding three Red Army Divisions at bay for two crucial days, denied Tukhachevski the opportunity to turn the northern flank of the Polish 1st army allowing the Poles to withdrawal in good order.

Polish forces now made a stand before the city of Vilna occupying a heavily fortified line of German field trenches left over from the Great War. From July 11th - 13th the Russian's launched a series of disastrous frontal assaults against the center of the Polish defenses suffering heavy casualties.

Soviet intelligence now informed Tukhachevski that Polish forces holding the northern defense lines had been greatly weakened in the effort to support their center. Armed with this information Tukhachevski quickly drew up plans for an immediate attack against that sector of the Polish front.

On July 14th the combined assault by the Soviet 4th and 15th armies under General's Kork and Shuvayev, broke through the left flank of the Polish 1st army forcing Haller to call a general retreat.

Tukhachevski's four Soviet armies now relentlessly advanced across the open plains of the Polish interior. The city of Grodno was declared an open city and fell on July 19th followed on August 1st by the surrender of Brest Litovsk and the Soviet crossing of the River Bug. Tukbachevski's forces were now only sixty miles from the Polish capital.

On the Southern Front Budyonny's 1st Cavalry Army supported by the now refitted Russian 14th Army had pushed the Polish and Ukrainian forces a further sixty miles into Southern Poland and captured the cities of Tarnopol and Stryy on August 2nd.

On August 10th the Soviet 4th Army breached the VistulaRiver defenses around the city of Plotsk 25miles North West of the Polish capital. Three days later Tukhachevski ordered General Lazarievich's 3rd Army to launch an assault against Warsaw from the East in conjunction with the 4th Army's Northern advance.

 

Battle of Warsaw 1920 Map

SITUATION AUGUST 14th

 

After the fall of Radzymin on August 14th only a mere fifteen miles separated the Russians from the greatest prize of the campaign. General Haller reported to Pilsudski that unless the military situation was drastically reversed, the entire Polish front would soon collapse and his forces pushed back upon the suburbs of Warsaw itself.

Within the capital, women, children and the very old were pressed into worker battalions constructing makeshift barricades in an effort to defend the city against the inevitable Russian assault.

Faced with seemingly total defeat and complete subservience to Russia, in Poland's darkest hour Pilsudski saw an opportunity to reverse the dire situation facing his crumbling nation.

Pilsudski recognized that the bulk of the Russian forces comprising the Northern and Southern army groups were separated from one another during their advance by the immense Pripet Marshes. Tukhachevski had left only 8,000 men of the Mozyrska Group in the center to establish a continuous link between the two.

Pilsudski decided to gamble the entire campaign on one last offensive, devising a plan to breakthrough the Russian center then swing north behind Tukhachevski's Armies and roll up the entire Soviet Northern Front.

Pilsudski now set about massing the sufficient number of troops needed for the offensive by stripping every combat unit along the entire Polish Southern Front of its most veteran battle hardened troops and the necessary resources which could be spared leaving the Polish armies dangerously weak.

After an incredible feat of logistics Pilsudski managed to raise an assault group of 20,000 men which would be supported by the 4th and 3rd armies under General's Skierski and Smigly. 

On August 15th Tukhachevski ordered Budyonny's 1st Cavalry Army to begin their southern advance on Warsaw. Budyonny however blatantly disobeyed this order due to his petty jealousy of Tukhachevski's success during the campaign and a personal grudge between himself and the Russian South West commander in chief General Yegorov. 

Instead Budyonny choose to attack and lay siege to the important industrial city of Lwow. Although the move was militarily sound, this critical error would also neutralize the Russian 14th army and would exclude both from taking part in the upcoming battle.

In the early morning hours of August 16th Polish forces crossed the WieprzRiver and began the offensive which would decide Poland's fate. The Poles quickly overran the weak positions held by the Mosyrska Group and for the next two days steadily advanced North East without encountering any Russian opposition.

 

Battle Map Warsaw 1920

SITUATION AUGUST 18th

 

Outside of Warsaw the Russian General's, completely unaware that large Polish forces were operating in their rear areas blindly continued with their offensive operations bringing them to within eight miles of the Polish capital.

The Poles now began to capture large enemy supply depots and sever the Russian lines of communication with their forward armies. On the evening of the 18th, reserve units of the Soviet 16th Army under General NikolaiSollohub encountered advance elements of the Polish 4th Army.

Sollohub quickly informed Tukhachevski of the large Polish counter attack against his left flank. Completely unaware that the Poles had effected a major breakthrough, Tukhachevski believed the attack to be no stronger than a single division and ordered a limited withdrawal to straighten his front line.

Pilsudski now ordered a forced march of 163 miles from Lubartow northward towards the city of Bialystok to cut off any lines of Soviet retreat. Confusing reports of enemy activity in their rear areas now began to reach General's Lazairevich and Solluhub who in response sent two divisions to investigate, in two separate battles however both divisions were caught out in the open and annihilated by superior Polish forces.

Tukhachevski now realized this was no small diversionary attack and saw that his Armies were in danger of being cut off and surrounded. Tukhachevski immediately ordered all commanders to cease offensive operations against Warsaw and withdrawal Eastward with all speed to escape the Polish trap.

Tukhachevski's order however had been issued too late, after an epic march lasting six days Polish troops had fought their way to Bialystok effectively completing the encirclement of the entire Russian Northern Army Group.

General Haller now ordered the Polish 1st and 5th Armies to abandon their defensive positions around Warsaw and go over in pursuit of retreating Soviet Armies.

As the Soviet command structure within the Russian pocket began to breakdown, the Russian Armies quickly lost cohesion with one another as entire divisions simply disintegrated as their troops marched off into the Polish interior in search of finding an escape route.

Only the Soviet 15th Army stood firm and attempted to shield the withdrawal of the most westerly extended Russian 4th Army. But twice defeated in the field on August 19th and 20th, it too joined the general rout along with that of the 4th Army, reaching the East Prussian border where they surrendered to German troops.

As the Soviet 3rd Army retreated east it managed to fight its way through the Polish lines and broke free of the encirclement suffering the least amount of casualties. After fighting its way to the city of Bialystok the weak and exhausted remnants of the Russian 16th Army had nothing left to give and surrendered.

 

CAPTURED SOVIET BATTLE FLAGS PULLED FROM THE VISTULA RIVER

 

By August 30th all organized resistance within the Soviet pocket had ceased to exist. The battle of Warsaw had ended in complete and utter defeat for the Russian invaders. During the two months fighting of July and August,the Polish Army lost 50,000 men while the Soviets suffered 150,000 casualties.

The Poles had also taken 66,000 prisoners, 230 artillery pieces and 1000 heavy machine guns in addition to the 40,000 Soviet troops disarmed and interned by the Germans inEast Prussia.

The Polish victory at Warsaw was absolute but not decisive. On August 31st Polish forces engaged and defeated General Budyonny's 1st Cavalry Army at the battle of Komarow and followed suite with two more victory's at the battle's of the Niemen River, September 15th - 25th in which a further 40,000 prisoners were taken and the battle of the Szczara River in early October which finally broke the back of the Russian Army as a whole.

The Soviet Union now had no choice but to sue for peace, offering the Poles vast amounts of territory along their borders in exchange for the armistice which was signed on October 12th, with the Final terms agreed upon at the Treaty of Riga on 18 March 1921.

Throughout Europe there was great relief at the news of the Polish victory, Poland had stood alone and bore the full brunt of the Red Army and Lenin's idea of exporting the communist revolution by force of arms. Poland's victory also thwarted the Communist time table for expansion into Central Europe for the next quarter century.

 

 

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