Topics of coins

Vilnius Offensive

The Vilnius operation was planned and launched by Józef Piłsudski in April 1919 contrary to the opinion held by the Polish and French military staff, who foretold its failure. The Commander-in- Chief hoped to forestall the expected offensive by the Bolsheviks, who were concentrating their troops beyond the Neman to hit the Polish state, which was only just organising itself, and to transform it into a soviet republic.

Part of the Polish forces attacked Navahrudak, Baranavichy, and Lida, thus catching the attention of the enemy. Under their cover, a group made up of a cavalry brigade commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Władysław Belina-Prażmowski and several infantry battalions led by General Edward RydzŚmigły advanced on Vilnius on 16 April. Belina’s cavalry overtook the infantry and, moving through the woods, caught the strong Bolshevik garrison in Vilnius by surprise at dawn on 19 April. With the support of the local people, part of the city was seized. The enemy recovered from the surprise, and heavy street fighting broke out. In the evening, when the cavalry was running out of ammunition, a battalion of the 1st Infantry Regiment of the Polish Legions arrived in Vilnius on a captured train. Victory was secured by the arrival of the main forces of the Polish infantry on the night of 20 to 21 April. By noon on 21 April, the entire city was captured.

For the Bolsheviks, losing Vilnius was a great propagandistic and military failure. In Poland, the news of the city’s liberation triggered an explosion of joy. The success was seen as a promise of a future victory in the war against Bolshevik Russia. The foray of Belina’s cavalry to Vilnius was considered one of the most beautiful actions of the Polish cavalry in the wars of 1919−1920.

The reverse of the coin features an image of Lieutenant Colonel Władysław Belina-Prażmowski, dubbed the first uhlan of the Second Republic of Poland, against the background of the cavalry marching to Vilnius. He was a legionnaire and the organiser and commander of the 1st Uhlan Regiment of the Polish Legions; he organised the 1st Cavalry Brigade in independent Poland, which he commanded in the years 1919−1920. In the autumn of 1920, he left the army at his own request. In the years 1931−1933, he was the Mayor of Cracow, and then the Voivode of the Lvov Province until 1938.

The obverse carries an image of a military commemorative badge awarded to the participants of the Vilnius expedition in the interwar period.

Prof. Janusz Odziemkowski