The Polish-Bolshevik between Poland and Soviet Russia in 1919–1921.

The Polish-Bolshevik war was fought between Poland and Soviet Russia in 1919–1921.

It was preceded by the advances of the Red Army towards the west in the Eastern Borderlands areas, abandoned by the troops of the German Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in the East (Ober-Ost). The aggressive movements of the Soviet troops were conducted according to Lenin's directive of 29 November 1918 and to the order issued by the command of the Western Army on 12 December1918, which initially envisaged the occupation of areas up to the Grodno - Vawkavysk - Lida - Baranavichy – Maladzyechna line. The aggressive actions of the Red Army were carried out under the guise of the need to help Soviet state bodies installed in Lithuanian-Belarusian areas, but ideologically they were championed as a way of spreading the communist (Bolshevik) revolution in Europe and around the world. Until mid-February 1919, the actions of the Red Army were restrained by the Self-Defence forces of Lithuania and Belarus under the command of General W. Wejtko. In defending the borderlands, Poland referred to historical, cultural and ethnic reasons because the disputed territories were inhabited by a large number of Poles (much greater than the number of Russians living there); it was also about securing the sovereignty of the reborn Polish state and the system based on the principles of parliamentary democracy. In the dispute over the resolution of the issue of borderland area, two concepts clashed on the Polish side: incorporative, promoted by the R. Dmowski’s camp, and federative of the Piłsudski’s camp, which dominated. The attitudes of Polish society in matters concerning the war varied; This was especially evident in the early 1920s, when various political groups (including the Polish Socialist Party) submitted parliamentary interpellations in which the Commander-in-Chief and the government were blamed for conducting “imperialist politics” in the East.

After the conclusion of the Polish-German agreement in Białystok (5 February 1919), the Polish army obtained the permission of Ober-Ost to march through the German occupation zone, stretching along the Kovel – Brest-Litovsk - Czeremcha - Białystok - Grajewo railway line. On 14 February 1919, its units reached the area of the town of Masty on the Neman River and found the Red Army formations there. The Russian unit retreated almost without a fight. This, however, meant the establishment of combat contact and the beginning of the war. There was also an exchange of fire on 16 February 1919, during the fight for the town of Manevychi (on the Kovel-Sarny railway line), which was captured by the Polish army; in the north-east area Polish troops advanced to Baranavichy, Novogrudok and Lida. On 16 April 1919, the Polish army began decisive offensive actions. The cavalry of Lt. Col. W. Belina-Prażmowski has launched a risky, 100-kilometer incursion. On 19 April 1919, it captured Vilnius and held it until the arrival of three infantry battalions under the command of General E. Rydz-Śmigły. The group of general J. Lasocki took over Lida (17 April 1919) after a hard struggle against the Polish Western Rifle Division that was on the Soviet side, and the group of General A. Mokrzecki, as a result of heavy battles with the Bolsheviks, captured Novogrudok (18 April 1919) and Baranavichy (19 April 1919). Then the formations of the Polish Army conducted successful defensive actions and in the course of these battles the troops of General Rydz-Śmigły had three consecutive victories over the Bolshevik forces, grouped north, east and west of Vilnius (near Pabradė, Ashmyany and Širvintos). After further successes, in mid-May 1919 the group of Gen. Rydz-Śmigły reached far north and east to Lyngniane - Ignalino – Hoduciszki (Adutiškis) - Narach Lake line, and the group of General Lasocki – to Narach Lake – Smorgon’ - Wisniew - Piesiewicze line; at that time General Mokrzecki's group fought near Baranavichy, and General A. Listowski's group was fighting west of Luninets and at the lower Styr in Volhynian Polesia.

On 15 May 1919, the Polish army was reorganized on the Bolshevik front. General Listowski's group, which fought in the Polesia section, was treated as an independent tactical unit, and the formations located to the north of its position were combined into a higher operational group and began to act as the troops of the Lithuanian-Belarusian Front under the command of General S. Szeptycki; as from February 1919 the adversary of Listowski's and Szeptycki's troops was the Western Army (then the 16th Army), which constituted the southern wing of the forces of the Western Front, established under the command of D. Nadiozny on 19 February 1919 (from mid-July 1919 W. Gittis, then from 29 April 1920, under the command of M. Tukhachevsky).

After the danger of the Polish-German war was obviated (end of June 1919), a new period of offensive actions by Polish troops on the Bolshevik front began. The political goal of further operations resulted from the aspirations to significantly expand the eastern areas of the state, and the military goal was to seize the railway line that led from Rivne in Volhynia through Luninets - Baranavichy - Minsk - Molodechno to Polotsk on the Daugava River. The implementation of these plans was initiated on 1 July 1919 by the attack on Molodechno (captured on 4 July). Szeptycki's troops pushed the Bolsheviks north-east, to Polotsk and stouth-east, to Minsk, and they captured Luninets in Polesia (10 July 1919). In mid-August 1919, the Polish army stopped the enemy's counter-offensive at Naliboki, and then moved to offensive operations and, as a result of successful battles, captured Minsk (08/08/1919). The Polish army was also successful in other regions. After the victory over the West Ukrainian armed forces, from 17.07.1919, the Polish army was in a convenient position on the Zbruch River and tried to stop the Bolshevik forces that were approaching from the north-east. In Volhynia, the Polish troops fought victorious battles with the Bolsheviks: on August 9, 1919, they captured Dubno and Kremenets, On 13 August 1919, they seized the city of Rivne and its fortress, on 16 August 1919, they captured Ostroh and reached Horyn River, on 18 August 1919, they entered Zaslav, and on 30 August 1919, they began to strengthen their positions in Olevsk on Ubort River. Polish troops also made great progress in the Lithuanian-Belarusian territories.

On 14 August 1919, they captured Ihumen (30 km east of Minsk), on 20 August 1919, they entered Barysaw on Berezina River, on 25 August 1919, they began operations aimed at Polotsk and Dyneburg, On August 28, 1919, they used tanks for the first time and, after heavy battles, seized the fortress of Babruysk on Berezina River, then they took two strongholds on the eastern bank of this river: one in Babruysk (1 September 1919), the other in Barysaw (11 September 1919). ). On 2 September 1919, Polish troops also reached the Daugava River and by 13 September 1919, they captured the line of this river as far as the mouth of Dryssa River, and after victorious battles near Braslaw (11-16 September 1919), they strengthened their positions on the Daugava River between Dzisna and Dyneburg.

There was a lengthy break in the activities of the Polish troops (from mid-September to the end of October). Józef Piłsudski did not even indirectly want to support the Whites troops of General A. Denikin, since he refused to recognize the independent Polish state. After the defeat of Whites at Oryol (15–20 October 1919) Polish troops resumed their offensive operations and by mid-January 1920 took over the following areas: Ushytsia River (left tributary of the Dniester) - Proskuriv (nowadays Khmelnytskyi) - Starokonstiantyniv - Shepetivka - Zviahel (nowadays Novohrad-Volynskyi) - Olevsk - Ubort (right tributary of the Pripyat River) - Babruysk – Berezina River - Dyneburg (captured after heavy fighting that took place from 3rd till 21st January 1920).

The military operations were accompanied by confidential diplomatic talks in Moscow (A. Więckowski – J. Marchlewski: 19-29 July 1919) and Mikashevichy (I. Boerner - Marchlewski: 11 October – 14 December 1919), but did not lead to the peace agreement; Despite the seemingly favourable Soviet proposals, no arrangements were made in the period January - April 1920, because the parties to the negotiations did not trust each other.

From the turn of 1919 and 1920, when the Red Army defeated the White Army, Piłsudski began to depart from the federative concept, leaning towards an incorporative solution with regard to Belarusian areas and an independence solution with regard to the Ukrainian cause. On 21 April 1920, he concluded a political pact, and on 24 April 1920, a military convention with the leader of Ukraine, ataman S. Petlura, who recognized Polish territorial claims eastwards up to the Zbruch River. These decisions became the cause of great operations initiated by the Polish offensive in Ukraine, also referred to as the Kiev expedition 25 (April 1920). Polish forces: the 6th army of General W. Iwaszkiewicz, the 2nd army of General Listowski and the 3rd army of General Rydz-Śmigły took over Ukraine up to the right bank of the line: Jaruga on the Dniester - Lipovets – Vasylkiv - Kyiv (7 May 1920) from a stronghold on the eastern bank of the Dnieper.

The formations of the Red Army, defeated in Ukraine, turned however to extensive offensive operations (14 May 1920) in the Lithuanian-Belarusian areas (the first Tukhachevsky’s offensive) and pushed the Polish troops as far as Narach Lake, but were stopped and in mid-June 1920 they withdrew to previous positions.

A strong attack by the Red Army in Ukraine took place on 29 May 1920. On 5 June 1920, it led to a break in the Polish front achieved by the Cavalry Army of S. Budyonny and to a general retreat of Polish troops, which continued as far at Brody (29 July – 2 August 1920) where Budyonny suffered defeat. At that time, the great attack of Tukhachevsky's troops, started on the Avuta and Berezina rivers on July 4, 1920, was already developing. At the turn of July and August 1920, the troops of the Western Front (four armies and two operational groups), under the command of Tukhachevsky, defeated the Polish troops of the Northeast Front, commanded by General Szeptycki (two armies), and after breaking their defences on the Bug and Narew line, the Soviet troops moved to the lower Vistula and also towards Warsaw.

In mid-August 1920, Tukhachevsky's troops attempted to cross the Vistula near Włocławek and in Płock, and a great battle took place on the outskirts of Warsaw and Modlin, which then covered the area from Włodawa in the south to Działdowo in the north and went down in history as the Battle of Warsaw. The hardest battles were fought by the Polish 1st Army under the command of General F. Latinik, near Radzymin and by the 5th Army of General W. Sikorski near Modlin and on the Wkra River. This battle was conducted in accordance with the plan devised by Piłsudski and elaborated in detail by the Chief of the General Staff, T. Rozwadowski. The offensive of the Red Army was stopped, and on 16 August 1920, the counterattack by Polish troops from the Wieprz River to Mińsk Mazowiecki - Kałuszyn - Siedlce - Biała Podlaska began. It led to a crushing defeat and the retreat of Tukhachevsky's troops to the Neman River, where they were finally defeated in another great battle (20-28 September 1920). There was also a significant improvement in the situation in the southern part of the Polish-Soviet theatre of military events, where the formations of the south-western front under the command of A. Jegorov were confronted by two slim divisions, constituting the beginning of the Ukrainian army of General M. Omelianovych-Pavlenko, a group of several thousand Belarusian volunteers of General S. Bułak-Bałachowicz, and three Russian White Army units.

After the Battle of Brody, Budyonny's cavalry began to push from the northeast to Lviv, but on 17 August 1920, it was stopped near Zadwórze, while the infantry units of the 14th army of G. Voskanov in the area of Stryi. Then the mounted army was recalled from Lviv and after regrouping forces near Sokal, it moved to Zamość, where on 29 August 1920 heavy fighting began, ending with the crashing defeat (Komarów) and retreat to Volodymir-Volynski on 6 September 1920. On 12 September 1920, an offensive of the Polish 3rd Army under the command of General Sikorski began in Volhynia. This led to the regaining of Rivne on 18 September 1920, and to reaching the line of Ubort and Sluch rivers. Thus, the formations of the Soviet South-Western Front were also defeated. The Polish offensive in Podolia was launched on 14 September 1920, under the command of General R. Lamezan de Salins, then General S. Haller, and in the last days of September it ended with the 6th army reaching the position: from Stara Ushytsia in the south through Zinkiv - Proskuriv - Starokostiantyniv to Łabuń (Novolabun’) in the north. The combat operations in eastern Ukraine ended with a deep raid by the Polish cavalry corps under general J. Rómml command on Korosten on 8-12 October 1920, where the railway junction and military warehouses were destroyed.

The Polish-Soviet negotiations in Minsk, which started in mid-August, were interrupted and then resumed on 21 September 1920 in Riga. On October 12, 1920, they resulted in signing the preliminaries for the peace treaty and the provisions of the truce agreement. Military operations ceased on 18 October 1920, and a peace treaty, preceded by long negotiations, was signed in Riga on 18 March 1921 (Treaty of Riga).

The war ended with Poland’s military victory, but the political goals with regard to the Eastern Borderlands were only partially achieved; the Ukrainian issue was not resolved in accordance with the concept of Piłsudski and Petliura.


  • Przybylski A., Wojna polska 1918–1921, Warsaw 1930;
  • Wojna polsko-sowiecka 1920 roku. Przebieg walk i tło międzynarodowe, ed. A. Koryn, Warsaw 1991;
  • Wrzosek M., Wojny o granice Polski Odrodzonej 1918–21, Warsaw 1992.

Mieczysław Wrzosek


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