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90th Anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw

The Battle of Warsaw of 1920 was not only a decisive armed clash of the Polish-Soviet war but also a key factor which determined the subsequent course of history of the Polish people. Poland's victory over the Bolsheviks saved Europe from the risk of forced imposition of the unwanted socio-political system. The year 1920 saw a military confrontation of Soviet Russia and the Republic of Poland. The Polish state sought to fight the Bolsheviks and reduce the threat posed by Russia for centuries. Whereas the Chief of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Józef Piłsudski aimed to exclude Ukraine and Lithuania from the sphere of Soviet influence, the intention of Russia's Bolshevik authorities was to spread the communist revolution across Europe, which would be prompted by the intervention of the Red Army.

Following the initial successes in Ukraine, the Polish army was forced to retreat in June 1920 under pressure from the advancing Red Army. The Soviet High Command intended to crush the defence of the Polish troops in Warsaw region in order to capture the capital of Poland by way of blitzkrieg.

Should the resistance collapse, Poland's very survival was at stake. Hence, thousands of volunteers joined the defence of Warsaw, to supplement regular forces, already decimated during the earlier retreat. Nearly all the people engaged in the Battle of Warsaw, both directly - rising up in arms, as well as indirectly - supporting the army supplies, building fortifications, etc.

Having broken Soviet ciphers, the High Command of the Polish Army could foresee the deployments of the Russian military forces and took advantage of their dispersal. The credit for devising the plan of the battle goes jointly to the Commander-in-Chief Jozef Pilsudski and the Chief of the General Staff General Tadeusz Rozwadowski. General Kazimierz Sosnkowski and French general Maxime Weygand, an adviser to the Chief of Staff, also contributed to its development. The plan was a very risky gamble, which involved fighting a defensive- offensive battle. Whilst the main Bolshevik forces were to be halted on the outskirts of Warsaw, the restored reserve group on the right wing was to hit the southern Russian flank. The battle of Warsaw was fought from 13 to 25 August 1920 and included three phases: defend the outskirts of Warsaw and the Vistula-Wkra line (13-15 August), spearhead an offensive from the Wieprz river and push the opponent beyond the Narew river (16-18 August), pursue and attempt to break the 4th Soviet Army (19-25 August).

The defence of Warsaw, and especially military operations near Radzymin, are considered decisive for the defeat of the Red Army. The death of one of key figures, Ignacy Skorupka, a regiment chaplain, who fell in this battle went down in the history of Poland as a symbol of a patriotic act. The Battle of Warsaw indeed culminated in a manoeuvre whereby the main forces concentrated near the Wieprz river to launch a counter-offensive on 16 August. Quadrupling the Soviet forces in numbers, Poles easily forced the Bolsheviks into retreat. The pursuit came to an end on 25 August near Kolno, where the last operating Bolshevik troops crossed the German border to be interned there. Most of the Red Army forces, weakened but not destroyed, withdrew eastwards, where they participated in the final phase of the war.

Soviet casualties and losses in the battle of Warsaw totalled about 25,000 killed, 60,000 captured, and 5 000 internees. Poland's losses totalled 4,500 dead, 22,000 wounded and 10,000 missing, most of whom have remained unaccounted for until this day.

As a result of the Battle of Warsaw and the subsequent battle of the Niemen river in October 1920 an armistice accord was concluded. This act was confirmed by the peace treaty signed in Riga on 18 March 1921, whereby Poland had its eastern border demarcated, whereas Russia was to pay monetary compensation of 25 million roubles in gold and surrender works of art and other Polish national treasures which were confiscated at the Polish territories during the times of partitions.

According to Edgar Vincent Lord D'Abernon, who eyewitnessed the battle of Warsaw, the event was one of the most important battles in the history of the World.

Witold Głębowicz
Polish Army Museum in Warsaw