-Rajesh Tyagi/ 5.6.2017
By late 1919, the Soviet State led by Lenin and Trotsky was emerging victorious, turning the tide in civil war and foreign intervention to their favour. Red Army under direct command of Leon Trotsky, had won a recent series of major victories against the White forces, defeating Denikin, and had forced Latvia and Estonia to sign peace treaties with it.
Now, it was the time to march westwards into Europe!
Lenin was restless to stimulate the revolution in Europe and wash off capitalism from the face of the earth. Germany topped his list, where he aimed to find a reliable fortress, a powerful launch pad for a Pan-European and World Socialist Revolution. Lenin vowed and aimed to punish the murderers of Rosa and Leibknecht as soon as possible.
Poland, then under the nationalist regime of General Pilsudski, after having acquired independence recently in 1918 after 123 years of innumerable partitions, was still engaging the Red Army in Byelorussia and Ukraine, thus becoming the best bet to knock at the doors of capitalist west as it shared long borders with Germany.
The Soviet Regime under Lenin and Trotsky, planned strategic military expeditions simultaneously to Romania in the South and Poland in the North.
In January 1920, the Red Army began concentrating a 700,000-strong force near the Berezina River and in the Byelorussian SSR. The Red Army totaled 50,00,000, with additional millions of Russian recruits in waiting. The enthusiasm for recruitment to the war ran so high that not even one in nine soldiers could be properly armed. 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 already had at their disposal much military equipment left by withdrawing German armies, and modern Allied armaments that included armoured cars, armoured trains, trucks and artillery, captured from the White Russians and the Allied expeditionary forces following their defeat in the Russian Civil War. With the new forces, Soviet High Command prepared a big offensive in late April/May 1920.
After Soviet mobilization, Poland became the main war theatre, the gateway to the World Socialist Revolution!
Stalin, stationed in Ukraine at that time, alongside other right-wing pessimists, persisted in opposition to these ambitions as ‘unrealistic’, but lost. He was transferred to Caucasus in February 1920, but somehow maneuvered to get back to Ukraine in May that year, to position him as the political commissar at the South-West Front with Alexander Yegorov as front commander.
For around an year, taking advantage of Red Army’s engagement in civil war and backed by several capitalist countries like France, Britain and Germany, nationalist Poland was gaining upper hand over Soviets intruding deeper into its territories. After successfully drawing a wedge between Ukraine and Byelorussia, and capturing the towns of Mozyrz and Kalenkowicze in its eastward offensive, Poland planned to dismember Ukraine from the Soviet Union and significantly disrupt the Soviet plans for and early offensive. Before this, the Polish forces had captured the city of Dyneburg and handed it over to Latvia.
Growing over to 7,37,767 in August 1920, Poland, conscious of Soviet preparations for the war, attacked first. On April 24 the combined forces of Poland and Ukraine opened the offensive and on May 7 captured the city of Kiev with least resistance.
Soviets were looking for this opportunity.
Soviets opened the counter-offensive on May 15. The 15th Division of the Red Army attacked the Polish forces near Ulla, while the 16th crossed the Berezina River between Borysow and Bobrujsk. The Polish offensive upon Zlobin was halted.
In the north Polish 1st Army was chased and defeated by the Red Army before a retreat towards Mołodeczno. The Polish then attempted to take advantage of the exposed Soviet flanks, with Armia Rezerwowa attacking from Święciany and Grupa Skierskiego attacking from Borysów. Their plan was to envelop and crush the advancing Soviet forces, and have the 1st Army prevent any Soviet reinforcements. The enveloping forces however failed to stop the Soviet advance. By the end of May, the front had stabilized near the small river of Auta, and Soviet forces began preparing for their next attack, targeting the Połosck region.
On May 24, Polish-Ukrainian forces clashed with 1st Cavalry under Budyonny, whose ill performance initially lost initiative to the enemy that slowed down its advance. But with direct intervention of Trotsky, the situation changed. The Cossack cavalry broke through the front by June 5 that allowed it to disrupt all Polish communication and logistics. Polish forces were forced to retreat along the whole front by June 10.
Soviet forces under Golikow crossed Dniepr west of Czerniow cutting the rail communication in that region and the forces under Yakir captured the Bila Tserkva. The Polish 3rd army in Kiev now faced the danger of being encircled and completely wiped out. On June 13, Polish-Ukrainian forces abandoned Kiev to the Bolsheviks but they succeeded in securing an orderly retreat as Soviet forces under Budyonny still lacked in coordination and communication.
The commander of the Polish 3rd Army in Ukraine, General Rydz-Śmigły, planned to break through toward the northwest and the town of Korosteń, thus avoiding a direct confrontation with the bulk of Soviet 1st Cavalry Army near Koziatyń.
Polish 3rd Army and newly formed 2nd Army regrouped near Słucza and started a series of their own counter-attacks, that failed. In the battles of June 19 at Usza, July 1 at Horyń, July 8 at Równe, Soviet offensive was delayed but eventually Soviet forces advanced East. In Mid-July when soviet offensive in Ukraine appeared to have been halted, a new Soviet offensive in the North, was to prove devastating for the Polish forces.
The Red Army's Northwest Front was commanded by the young General Mikhail Tukhachevsky, only 26 at that time. Tukhachevsky’s forces included 108,000 infantry and 11,000 cavalry, supported by 722 artillery pieces and 2,913 machine guns and were divided into one cavalry corps and four armies: the 3rd cavalry and 4th, 15th, 3rd and 16th armies, deployed respectively from North to South.
Soviet offensive begun on July 4 along the axis Smolensk–Brest-Litovsk, crossing rivers of Auta and Berezyna. The northern 3rd Cavalry Corps of Gej-Chan was to envelope Polish forces from the north, moving near Lithuanian and Prussian border territories, both unfriendly to Poland. 4th, 15th and 3rd Armies were to push decisively west, supported from south by the 16th Army and Grupa Mozyrska.
Gej-Chan broke through the northern Polish units on the first day of the offensive and Polish 1st Army pursued by Gej-Chan forces started a disorganised retreat. From July 7 the Polish forces were in full retreat on the entire front.
On northern war front, Tukhachevsky secured swift decisive victories one after the other.
Polish armies attempted to regroup at the heavily fortified line of German World War I field fortifications. The "Battle for Wilno" took place here from July 11 to July 14. Once again, however, the Polish troops were unabe to man the whole front, and Soviet forces broke through one of the weak points in the north. Gej-Chan forces, supported by Lithuanian forces, captured Wilno on 14 July, making Polish plans for defensive along old German trenches, useless. On 19 July Grodno fell and after a failed Polish counterattack towards Grodno the 1st Army had to retreat behind Neman River and was soon pushed further back. The whole front was rolled back. In the south, in Galicia, Budyonny's Red Cavalry Army now advanced far into the Polish rears, 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 farther west, but Poland's very independence was at stake.
Under Marshal Tukhachevsky, the Russian forces advanced rapidly at a rate of 20 miles a day; shocking many commanders and foreign observers who were expecting a repeat of the Western snail paced advance. After the capture of Grodno in Belarus on July 19, Tukhachevsky ordered that Warsaw be taken by August 12. Brest-Litovsk fell on August 1 and the Narew and Bug River were crossed by the advancing Red Army. Now Soviet forces faced no natural barriers between them and the Vistula River on which Warsaw was situated.
Polish attempt to defend the Bug River line with 4th Army and Grupa Poleska units could only slow down the advance of the Red Army to 12 miles per day, only for a week. Units of the Russian Northwest Front, after taking Łomża and Ostrołęka and crossing the Narew River on August 2, entered the 60 miles radius of Warsaw. Fortress of Brześć, planned to be the headquarters of Polish counteroffensive, fell to the 16th Division of Red Army, in the first attack itself. The Russian Southwest Front had pushed Polish forces out of Ukraine and was advancing on Zamość and Lwów, the metropolis of southeastern Poland and an important industrial center, defended by the Polish 6th Army. Lwów was captured and five Russian armies were approaching Warsaw.
Polish forces in Galicia near Lwów launched a counteroffensive to slow the Soviets down. The 6th Army of general Jędrzejewski and fragments of the Ukrainian forces defended Lwów, and the 2nd Army and Grupa Operacyjna Jazdy attacked from Styr towards Brody and Radziwillów, Masovian Voivodeship. During the battle of Brody between 29 July to 2 August, the Polish forces seized Brody from Budyonny and surround the Soviet forces stationed there. But the victories of Marshal Tukhachevsky near Warsaw forced the Polish army to abandon the southern counteroffensive and prevented it from pushing east. After Soviets captured Brześć, the entire Polish offensive in the south was put on hold and all available forces moved north to take part in the coming battle for Warsaw.
With the turning tide against Poland, Piłsudski's political power weakened and his opponents, like Roman Dmowski rose to power. However, as the Soviet forces were approaching Warsaw, Pilsudski regained the power. The government of Leopold Skulski had resigned and new prime minister Stanisław Grabski had transferred all power to the Council of Country's Defence which consisted of Józef Piłsudski, Marshall of the Sejm, Prime Minister, 3 Ministers, 3 Army's representatives and 10 Members of the Parliament. Grabski's government supported by the Western diplomats begged peace negotiations with the Soviets, which Soviets igonored completely. Stanisław Grabski resigned and a new government was formed by Wincenty Witos.
Sure of their victory, the Soviet Communist Party formed the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee (TKRP), on 28 July in Białystok to govern Poland. It was composed of Polish communists and members of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party: Julian Marchlewski (chairman), Edward Próchniak (secretary), Felix Dzerzhinsky, Feliks Kon and Józef Unszlicht. It began operating from 1 August issuing various decrees on nationalisation of industry, promising the creation of Polish Socialist Republic, creating 65 revolutionary committees, issuing newspaper ‘Goniec Czerwony’ and recruiting soldiers for the 1 Polish Red Army commanded by R. Lągwa. The TKRP had very little support from the ethnic Polish population and recruited its supporters mostly from the ranks of minorities, Bylorussians and primarily Jews, who were persecuted by Poles.
In Moscow, the delegates to the Second Congress of the Third International looked with enthusiasm at the progress of the war. Leaders of Comintern viewed Poland as the bridge over which revolution would pass into Germany, bolstering the Communist Party of Germany.
Britain offered to mediate for a peace negotiation between Soviets and the Poles, but Soviets ignored it completely. Lenin demanded total capitulation of Poland to get a negative response.
International community was deeply divided on war. In Britain while the Prime Minister Llyod George supported the Soviets, Winston Churchill the Secretary for War supported Poles. While Lloyd George advocated for war supplies, including tanks to Soviets, Churchill advocated sending Royal Air Force to Aid Poland.
Workers in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany refused to load, unload or transit any war materials to Poland.
On August 6, 1920, the British Labour Party published a pamphlet stating that British workers are not Poland's allies. The French socialist newspaper L'Humanite, declared: "Not a man, not a gun, not a shell for reactionary and capitalist Poland. Long live the Russian Revolution! Long live the Workmen's International!"
Poland suffered huge setback when In Gdańsk German workers refused to unload ships with military supplies and British troops were asked to do so. Same happened in Brno in Czechoslovakia.
France and a section of British supported Poland. Latvia supported Poland, while Lithuania remained on the side of Soviets. Hungary sent cavalrymen and mauser rifles to Poland.
At the threshold of a spectacular defeat, France withdrew all financial aid from Pilsudski.
On August 10, 1920, Russian Cossack units under the command of Gaj-Chan crossed the Vistula River, planning to take Warsaw from the West, i.e. from the direction opposite to that of the attacking main Soviet forces. On August 13, an initial attack under direct command of General Tukhachevsky from Radzimyn started to take the city of Warsaw.
As the final offensive on Warsaw was to begin, Tukhachevsky insisted for the reinforcements from the the high command, as per the plan. The high command ordered Yegorov to move to aid the capture of Warsaw. But Stalin, Yegorov and Budyonny having reinforcements under their command, betrayed the war plan and disobeyed the high command. Instead of moving to close ranks with the forces marching upon Warsaw and Lublyn under Marshal Tukhachevsky, they started moving away to Polish city of Lwow, 200 kms away from Warsaw, to earn personal glory and steal the march over Tukhachevsky, in an apparently winning war at that time. It turned out that they had planned the betrayal in advance as early as in July.
The Commander-in-Chief of Southern front Sergei Kamenev, ordered the transfer of troops of the 1st Cavalry under Budyonny and Voroshilov from Yegorov’s forces to reinforce the attack on Warsaw led by Tukhachevsky. At the crucial juncture, Stalin refused to counter-sign this order on the pretext that it did not have the requisite two signatures on it.
Desperate, Marshal Tukhachevsky continued to ask for reinforcement for final offensive and the high command asking Yegorov and Stalin to abide by the plan and orders. But the conspirators- Stalin, Yegorov and Budyonny- all ill-perfomers with bad war records to their credits, openly disobeyed.
Meanwhile, Pilsudski decoded telegraphic communications and came to know of the situation.
The next day, i.e. August 14, Pilsudski ordered the Polish 5th Army under General Sikorski to cross the river Wkra to start a counteroffensive against the Soviet 3rd and 15th Armies. The battle at Nasielsk lasted until August 15 and resulted in almost complete destruction of the town. However, the Soviet advance toward Warsaw and Modlin was halted at the end of August 15 after Polish forces recaptured Radzymin city.
From that moment on, Sikorski's 5th Army pushed exhausted Soviet units away from Warsaw, in an almost blitzkrieg-like operation. Sikorski's units were given the support of almost all of the small number of mechanized units – tanks, armoured cars and two armoured trains – that the Polish Army had. It was able to advance rapidly at the speed of 30 kilometres a day, disrupting the Soviet plan to surround from North.
The Soviet armies in the center of the front fell into chaos. After the Polish 203rd Uhlan Regiment broke through the Bolshevik lines and destroyed the radio station of Soviet 4th Army under Dmitry Shuvayev, it continued to fight its way toward Warsaw, unaware of the overall situation. Only the Russian 15th Army remained an organized force obeying Tukhachevsky's orders, shielding the withdrawal of the westernmost 4th Army. But defeated twice thereafter, on August 19 and 20, it became part of the general rout of the Northwest Front. Tukhachevsky was forced to order a general retreat toward the Bug River, but by then he had lost contact with most of his forces near Warsaw. All the Bolshevik plans were thrown into disarray by communication failures. The Bolshevik armies retreated in a haphazard manner, divisions panicking and disintegrating. By the end of August the 4th and 15th Red Armies had been defeated in the field, and their remnants crossed the border into East Prussia and were disarmed. Nevertheless, the troops were soon released and again fought against Poland.
The Bolshevik 3rd Army retreated east so quickly that Polish forces could not catch up with them, and so that army sustained the fewest losses. The Bolshevik 16th Army disintegrated at Byłystok, and most of its men become prisoners of war.
The Soviet cavalry group that was trying to encircle Warsaw from the west, became helplessly isolated from the main forces. Panic started, several major officers abandoned their troops and escaped by cars to Byłystok. Gay-Chan took the command, cruelly restored discipline, abandoned everything that would hinder fast march and moved his troops so fast, that pursuit was impossible; they found refuge in East Prussia.
Stalin and his aides, Yegorov and Budyonny, fighting for nothing but to secure personal gains in the war, met the same fate later but after failing the Soviets. On August 17 the advance of Budyonny's Cavalry Army toward Lwów was halted at the Battle of Zadwórze, where a small Polish force prevented the cavalry from seizing Lwów.
in August 1920, shamefaced Stalin was called back to Moscow and summoned before the Politburo of the Party. He attempted to defend himself before the Politburo by attacking the whole campaign strategy drawn under Lenin and Trotsky.
Stalin was condemned by the Politburo of the Party and stripped off his military commission. Stalin’s actions were held responsible for the defeat and he was made to resign from the post of political commissar. Kamenev was also blamed for permitting the insubordination by Stalin.
At the Ninth Party Conference on September 22, Trotsky, Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army and War Commissar of the Soviet State, opened Stalin's war record for discussion. Stalin was accused of insubordination, military incompetence and narrow personal ambitions seeking to build his own reputation by victories on his own front at the expense of overall operations. Neither Stalin, nor anybody else at that time, challenged these accusations. Stalin rather took refuge in criticizing the original plan of the military assault in Europe.
On 29 August Budyonny's cavalry moving through weakly defended areas reached city of Zamość and attempted to take the city in the battle of Zamość, but only to face the waves of Polish reinforcements spared from the Warsaw counteroffensive.
By August 31 Budyonny realized the fatal blunder. He ordered the cavalry under him to break off the siege of Lwów and to come to the aid of Russian forces retreating from Warsaw, but his forces 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 ever.
Morale of Budonny's Army plummeted down. 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. Suwalsz czyzna was recaptured by Polish from the Lithuanian forces.
Tukhachevsky 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 Bylorussia. The Polish Army broke it in the Battle of the Niemen River, near the middle Neman River, between the cities of Suwałki, Grodno and Byałystok. Polish forces attempted to surround the Soviet forces, moving through Lithuanian territory and the Pinsk Marshes. After Polish forces crossed the Niemen River, captured Lida and Pińsk, between September 15 and September 25, 1920, the Polish forces defeated and outflanked the Bolshevik forces, which were forced to retreat again.
On 12 September Polish offensive in Wołyń under gen. Sikorski started. On 18 September Polish forces recaptured Równe, by the end of September Polish forces reached the rivers of Uborcia and Słucza and the town of Korseń. Podle offensive started on 14 September under gen. Lemezan de Sakins and S. Haller by that time reached the line from Stara Uszyca on the south through Zinków–Płoskirów–Starokonstantynów to Łabuń north.
In Ukraine between 8 and 12 October Polish cavalry under Gen. J. Rómmel reached Korosteń. After the mid-October in 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 Polish army now controlling majority of disputed territories, agreed to try diplomatic solution once again. A ceasefire was signed October 12 and went into effect October 18.
The war ended with the Treaty of Riga in 1920, which settled the border issue and regulated Polish-Soviet relations until the Soviet-Nazi War Pact of 1939 between Stalin and Hitler.
From the beginning, Stalin had opposed the plan of Warsaw offensive terming it an error and to prove himself right he deliberately got the plan punctured. He returned from Caucasus to Ukraine not to assist in the war but to subvert it to prove himself right.
In the defeat of 1920, the revolution returned from the threshold of Europe. Warsaw was the direct bridge between the Soviet Russia and the maturing revolution in Germany in 1920. Had the Bolsheviks succeeded in taking Warsaw, revolution would have been knocking at the door of Europe the doorway to World Socialist Revolution.
The defeat in Soviet-Polish war was of critical significance as it prevented the joining of the Soviet revolution with the maturing revolution in the west and perpetuated the isolation of the October revolution. This isolation immensely strengthened the bureaucratic reaction inside the Soviet Union that finally raised the banner of Stalinism. As revolution got isolated more and more, the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy reinforced itself through this isolation, thriving upon the defeats of the revolution.
Stalin, took to power at the head of this bureaucratic counter-revolution and settled his old accounts. He awarded Yegorov, Voroshilov, Buddyony with high offices for being loyal to him in the betrayal of the revolution. Marshal Tukhachevsky, who had got highest bravery awards in the Soviet State under Lenin and Trotsky for his extraordinary military skills and his role during the civil war and foreign aggression, fell under the axe of Stalin and was executed on the charge of being 'Trotskyist'. Everyone else who remained loyal to revolution, was accused of the eternal sin- ‘Trotskyism’ and got executed, before getting Trotsky himself, assassinated.