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On 16 September 1920, at Dytiatyn, west of Podhajce, a small Polish unit fought a battle with two brigades of the Red Army. During the Polish offensive in Galicia, the 8th Infantry Division commanded by Col. Stanisław Burhardt-Bukacki received orders to capture Podhajce. In the morning of 16 September, two companies of the 3rd Battalion of the 13th Infantry Regiment, led by Captain Jan Gabryś, with the 4th Battery of the 1st Mountain Artillery Regiment and a platoon of the 7th Battery of the 8th Field Artillery Regiment, reached Dytiatyn. Just outside that village the soldiers encountered the columns of the 8th Red Cossack Division and the 123rd Rifle Brigade. The Poles moved on to the offensive, dispersed the leading enemy unit and took up positions on Hill 385. There they organised the defence, as the march of the Bolsheviks could threaten the main forces of the 8th ID. They repulsed several wave attacks by cavalry and infantry, supported by heavy artillery fire. At around 3 p.m., as the ammunition started to run out, two cannons had been damaged and communication with other Polish units had been lost, Captain Gabryś gave the order to retreat. As most of the soldiers withdrew with their wagons, the Bolsheviks attacked the artillery positions, which were being prepared to pull back and covered by the 9th Company platoon. Captain Adam Zając, who was leading the 4th Battery, took command of the group of artillerymen and infantrymen. Once again, the Poles threw back the Bolsheviks and did not respond to an offer to surrender. During another Cossack charge, after the last shells had been fired, they defended the cannons, fighting hand-to-hand. About 50 Polish soldiers, including all the officers of the 4th Battery, died at that time. The Cossacks killed the several seriously wounded who had been taken prisoner.

The battle of Dytiatyn stopped the march of large enemy forces for a whole day and prevented them from attacking the 8th ID. It passed into the tradition of the Polish Army as a symbol of a soldier’s duty fulfilled to the end, was named “the Polish Thermopylae” and immortalised on the plaques of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Captain Zając was decorated with the Virtuti Militari, and the 4th battery of the 1st Mountain Artillery Regiment was given the name of a “death battery”. The 16th of September was the holiday of the 1st Motorised Artillery Regiment, which replaced the disbanded 1st Mountain Artillery Regiment.

Prof. Janusz Odziemkowski