moja polska zbrojna
Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Raging August Gallop

Arrange an orderly withdrawal, jump away from the enemy and reorganize own units; then halt the march of the Red Army at the gates of the capital and lead an attack from the Southern Wing – a successful outcome of that plan bordered on a miracle. However, “miracle” is not a good word to describe what happened near Warsaw in the middle of August 1920.

In 1920, August 14 was a Saturday. Warsaw, however, was far from feeling relaxed. Several dozen hours earlier, the Red Army had begun their decisive attack on the city. The Bolsheviks had just seized Radzymin. The fate of the capital was hanging by a thread. On that very day, the Rzeczpospolita daily published an article by Stanisław Stroński entitled “For the Miracle of the Vistula” [“O cud Wisły”]. The publicist, connected with the right-wing National Democracy (ND), wrote: “When tomorrow, on Sunday, millions of Polish people gather in our big and small churches, from all their hearts a prayer shall rise: Before Your altars we stand and we beg: our Homeland, our Freedom, let us keep, dear Lord.”

It was the first time the expression “the miracle of the Vistula” was used, but the phrase soon entered the political discourse for good. This was in a way encouraged by the Catholic church, which reminded people that driving off the Bolsheviks from the gates of Warsaw coincided with the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Nevertheless, the catchy phrase was mainly used by Piłsudski’s political opponents in order to depreciate his merits.

Well, was it in fact a miracle or an effect of a cool strategic calculation? “Or maybe both?” smiles Prof. Janusz Odziemkowski, a historian and an expert on the Polish-Soviet War. “One might like this expression or not. However, it has become so strongly rooted in the Polish tradition that it seems only right to accept it. We also need to keep one thing in mind – during a war, it is sometimes necessary to go out on a limb. If someone is not ready to take such a risk, they simply don’t win,” emphasizes Prof. Odziemkowski. Another expert, Prof. Wiesław Wysocki, adds: “The war against the Bolsheviks very quickly became the stuff of legends. There were, for instance, accounts of Russian prisoners of war allegedly seeing Holy Mary who forbid them to shoot. Well, unfortunately, it is not God who puts on a uniform and goes into the battlefield to fight....”

Treading on a Corpse to Reach a Goal

In the summer of 1920, the situation of the Polish Republic seemed hopeless. In June, Semyon Budyonny's 1st Cavalry Army broke the front line in Ukraine. The Poles were in retreat, and the Bolsheviks soon approached Lviv. Then, at the beginning of July, the Red Army started their counterattack in Belarus. “It’s retaliation time. The Red Banner army and the predatory White Eagle army have faced each other before the life-and-death struggle. Over the corpse of White Poland lies the road to worldwide conflagration. On our bayonets we shall bring happiness and peace to the working masses. To the West!” – this is how Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the commander of the Soviet Western Front, encouraged his units to fight.

The Bolsheviks went from victory to victory, leaving behind them burnt soil, murdered prisoners of war and civilians. The Polish government tried to look for help in the West. The Prime Minister, Władysław Grabski, went to a conference in Spa to talk to his British counterpart, David Lloyd George, who agreed to supply weapons and mediate in the negotiations with the Communists. In return, however, Warsaw had to agree to conditions that were very hard to accept, such as withdrawing its forces past the Curzon Line (demarcation line whose name comes from the surname of the then British Foreign Secretary; it ran along the current eastern border of Poland). The arrangements soon became invalid, as Vladimir Lenin turned down the offer of the West with a single gesture. “They want to snatch victory out of our hands with their deceitful promises,” he did not hide his outrage in a telegram to Joseph Stalin. It must be added that the self-confidence he demonstrated had a solid basis. At the time, Piłsudski was still hoping that Poles would be able to stop the march of the Red Army on the line of the Bug river and lead a successful counterattack, but when Brześć surrendered on August 1, he had to give up on his plans. On the same day, the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee, with Feliks Dzierżyński as its leader, came to Białystok – the Communists were slowly preparing to take over power in the conquered state.

The Poles had to risk everything. “Piłsudski ordered the Polish units to jump away from the enemy, retreat to the Vistula River line, regroup and prepare for the decisive battle. For the exhausted soldiers, it was an extremely difficult maneuver, but it was the last and only hope to save the country,” emphasizes Prof. Wysocki. Prof. Odziemkowski shares this opinion: “If the plan had failed, the war would have been lost. After the fall of Warsaw, Piłsudski would be able to drag it out for a little longer, but it would be impossible to win.” In the first days of August, masses of soldiers faced each other at the gates of the Polish capital, to soon throw themselves into a fierce battle for every inch of ground.

All to Arms!

Before the decisive battle, Poles did everything to increase the strength of their forces. On July 7, the Minister of Military Affairs, Gen. Kazimierz Sosnkowski, gave an order to create a Volunteer Army. The task was entrusted to Gen. Józef Haller, and he was not a random choice. “At the beginning of 1920, Haller was responsible for taking over Pomerania from the Germans. Later, he was sidelined. The French, however, strongly opted for giving him this new function,” explains Rafał Sierchuła, PhD, a historian at the Poznań branch of the Institute of National Remembrance, a co-author of general Haller’s biography. At the time, Poland’s closest allies remembered Haller as the commander of the Blue Army formed in France. “Haller was an excellent organizer. He created a good atmosphere in his units, he was able to kindle enthusiasm and ignite the fighting zeal in his soldiers,” emphasizes Prof. Wysocki. Within a few weeks, almost 80,000 people volunteered for the newly-organized units. Although there was no time for training, some of them managed to fill the gaps in the regular army battered by the Bolsheviks. Others were sent to the rear or to the auxiliary forces.

The Polish command threw over 180,000 soldiers into the battle for Warsaw. “We had, for instance, some tanks and aircraft. The presence of the latter was especially noticeable on the front, or so it would seem when reading Russian war diaries. In fact, neither the air force nor the armored formations played a significant part in the battle, simply because there was not enough such equipment,” points out Prof. Odziemkowski. The Bolshevik forces were of similar strength.

Clash of Fronts

The Polish forces were divided into three parts. The Northern Front was commanded by Gen. Józef Haller, and included the armies of Gen. Władysław Sikorski, Gen. Franciszek Latinik and Gen. Bolesław Roja. The Central Front was commanded by Gen. Edward Rydz-Śmigły. He had at his disposal the army of Gen. Leonard Skierski and Gen. Zygmunt Zieliński. The The leader of the Southern Front was Gen. Wacław Iwaszkiewicz-Rudoszański, under whose command were the army of Gen. Władysław Jędrzejewski and the Ukrainian People’s Army. Ultimately, however, this part of forces did not take part in the battle. Two additional groups were created near the Wieprz river, south of Warsaw. They were to lead a counterattack and their commander was Marshal Piłsudski himself.


The general battle plan was refined on the night of August 5/6. In short, it assumed that the forces deployed on the outskirts of Warsaw would halt the Russian attack, and the units located near Wieprz would strike the weakest, southern wing of the attacking Red Army. The work on the concept involved mainly the recently appointed Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Tadeusz Rozwadowski, and Piłsudski himself. On August 6, the general gave the order to initiate the operation, but he modified it two days later.

According to special order No. 10,000, Gen. Sikorski’s army, operating in the north, received additional tasks. It was not only to defend itself, but also hit the Bolsheviks on the Wkra river. Meanwhile, on August 12, Piłsudski unexpectedly submitted his resignation from the position of the Commander-in-Chief. He supported it with the argument that he had to take a back seat in order for the West to offer their help to Poland. Later, however, his opponents spread information that his decision was an effect of a nervous breakdown. One way or another – the resignation was not accepted by the prime minister, and Piłsudski himself appeared on the Wieprz river to carry out the arranged plan. The correspondence of the time also proves he was still in command of the whole operation.

The Red Army, on the other hand, was divided into two fronts – the South-Western Front, commanded by Alexsander Yegorov, with Joseph Stalin as political commissar, fought in the vicinity of Lviv. It included, among others, the 1st Cavalry Army. The Western Front, moving towards Warsaw, commanded by Mikhail Tukhachevsky and political commissar Ivar Smilga, had soldiers grouped in four armies, Gaya Gai’s 3rd Cavalry Corps and Tichon Hvesin’s Mozyr Group. Tukhachevsky planned to throw some of his forces directly on Warsaw, and some to the north, to cross the Vistula, go around the city and attack it from the West. “That way, he wanted to repeat the maneuver used by Field Marshal Ivan Paskevich during the November Uprising,” explains Prof. Wysocki. According to the assumptions of the Red Army’s command, the Western Front was to be reinforced by a part of Yegorov’s forces, but that never actually happened.

Awaken the Fighting Spirit

The attack began on August 13. Early in the morning, Bolshevik units of the 3rd Army and the 16th Army attacked Radzymin. The city fell, and the 11th Infantry Division, which was protecting it, was broken up. “Haller was terrified. He didn’t see losing Radzymin simply as a local setback. Without waiting for confirmation, he assumed the strength of the Soviet attack was threatening Warsaw and, together with Rozwadowski, started sending telegrams for help in every possible direction,” writes Prof. Norman Davies in his book White Eagle, Red Star. Ultimately, after several days of heavy fighting, the Red Army was pushed away from Radzymin, with the use of Polish tanks, among other things. Another murderous battle, also won by the Polish forces, took place near Ossów.

Meanwhile, the initial successes of the Bolsheviks at Warsaw’s bridgehead urged the Polish command to introduce corrections to their plans. Gen. Sikorski’s 5th Army had to undertake offensive actions earlier than planned. It was to hit the right wing of Tukhachevsky’s forces. Sikorski’s task was not easy. “The 5th Army, created just a few days earlier, didn’t have any combat traditions […]. This sick mass of people needed someone to resurrect their dying soul, to cure it and bring back its ability to take action and fight. I needed to awaken among the soldiers the feeling of certainty and hope for the victorious outcome of the commencing battle, despite the fact that we were outnumbered by the enemy forces,” remembered the general years later.

The 5th Army crossed the Wkra river and threw itself on the Bolsheviks. In Ciechanów, the Polish uhlans took over the radio station of the Russian 4th Army, depriving them of contact with their front command for several dozen hours. As a result, Tukhachevsky was unable to contact the army with the order to attack a wing of Sikorski’s forces. The 4th Army continued their march towards the Vistula, and its retreat was delayed. The 5th Army also managed to seize Nasielsk.

In the meantime, on the early morning of August 16, Piłsudski began the counterattack from the Wieprz river, breaking up Hvesin’s Mozyr Group and the south wing of Nikolai Sollogub’s 16th Army. Poles came out at the enemy’s rear. The fate of the battle was practically settled, especially given the fact that the Bolsheviks failed to go around Warsaw and attack it from the West. After dramatic fights, Gaya Gai’s corps was pushed away from Płock. The Red Army ran away in panic, and the Polish pursuit groups followed hard on their heels. “Not some mediocre quadrille, but a raging gallop played the music of war! Not day with day got mixed up, but hour with hour! The kaleidoscope turning to the tempo of the raging gallop let no Soviet commander stop on any of the danced figures. They burst in one second, placing in front of the terrified eyes entirely new people and new situations, which completely surpassed all conjectures, plans and intentions,” remembered Józef Piłsudski.

Series of Mistakes

The war went on for another several months, but from mid-August it was the Poles who dictated its rules. “It’s hard to indicate one breakthrough moment in the Battle of Warsaw,” says Prof. Wysocki. “Of course, the counterattack from the Wieprz river was extremely significant. However, we need to keep in mind that if the Poles had failed to stop the Bolshevik march on the outskirts of the city, the attack led by Piłsudski would have had nothing to hit.” The historian also underlines the role of Sikorski’s army, which was even mentioned by Tukhachevsky himself soon after the battle. The achievements of the Polish intelligence were also invaluable. “Due to braking the Russian codes, Poles got to know the plan of the attack on Warsaw. On the other hand, we were also very lucky. On August 13, near Brześć, the Bolsheviks found a battle order with a map on the body of the killed Major Wacław Drohojowski. However, the Red Army commanders didn’t believe that it was the actual Polish plan for resolving the battle,” reminds Prof. Wysocki.

That was not the only mistake made by the Communists. “First and foremost, the Red Army scattered their forces too much. Tukhachevsky didn’t receive support from Yegorov. In the correspondence between Stalin and Lenin, there is a recurring subject of sending Bolshevik units from the vicinity of Lviv to the south: to Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria. He must have considered Poland as practically already conquered,” points out Prof. Odziemkowski. That was not all. “Tukhachevsky underestimated the threat that could come from the south. That wing of his front was especially weak. And one other thing: Piłsudski commanded his forces on the front line, whereas he had his staff hundreds of kilometers away – in Minsk. It significantly hindered communication with his forces. Before the information coming from soldiers was read, analyzed, and orders coded and sent back, a lot of time passed, while the situation near Warsaw was undoubtedly very dynamic,” emphasizes Prof. Odziemkowski.

Victory of Polish Generals

The Battle of Warsaw not only saved the young Polish state, but also halted the Bolshevik march to the West of Europe. “The Polish war was the most important turning point not only in the policy of the Soviet Russia, but also global policy. There, in Europe, it was possible to seize everything, but Piłsudski and his Poles inflicted a gigantic, unprecedented defeat to the cause of the world revolution,” admitted Lenin.

Edgar Vincent D’Abernon, a British ambassador in Berlin and a member of the international diplomatic mission sent to Poland in the summer of 1920, put the Battle of Warsaw among the most important battles in the history of the world. “Had the Battle of Warsaw ended with a Bolshevik victory, it would have been a turning point in the history of Europe; as there is no doubt that with the fall of Warsaw, Central Europe would have been left open to Communist propaganda and Soviet invasion,” he stated. It did not happen, though. Why?
Maxime Weygand, a French general, who during the war advised the Polish staff, had no doubt: “This victory, which is the reason of a great celebration in Warsaw, is a Polish victory. Military operations were carried out by Polish generals in accordance with the Polish operational plan. It was the heroic Polish nation that saved itself.”

I used books written by: Norman Davies, White Eagle, Red Star, Kraków 2006; Andrzej Nowak, Ojczyzna Ocalona. Wojna sowiecko-polska 1919-1920 [Homeland Saved. The Polish-Soviet War 1919-1920], Kraków 2012; Janusz Odziemkowski, Leksykon wojny polsko-rosyjskiej 1919-1920 [Lexicon of Polish-Russian War of 1919-1920], Warszawa 2004

Łukasz Zalesiński

autor zdjęć: Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe

dodaj komentarz


Żołnierze ewakuują Polaków rannych w Gruzji
„Sarex ’24”: razem w czasie kryzysu
Sukcesy reprezentantek CWZS-u
Najmłodsi artyści Wojska Polskiego
„Pierwsza Drużyna” na start
Dwa srebrne medale kajakarzy CWZS-u
Flota Bayraktarów w komplecie
Ustawa o obronie ojczyzny – pytania i odpowiedzi
Tomczyk: „Tarcza Wschód” ma odstraszyć agresora
Ustawa o obronie ojczyzny – pytania i odpowiedzi
Ustawa o obronie ojczyzny – pytania i odpowiedzi
Piedimonte – samobójcza misja
Ustawa o obronie ojczyzny – pytania i odpowiedzi
Wojskowi medycy niosą pomoc w Iraku
Dwie dekady ulepszania Sojuszu
Przysięga w Limanowej
Zawsze gotowi do pomocy
Wojna w świętym mieście, epilog
Ameryka daje wsparcie
Kto wywalczy tytuł mistrza MMA?
Żołnierz ranny na granicy z Białorusią
Wielki triumf 2 Korpusu Polskiego
Barbara wzmocni polską obronę powietrzną
Grupa Północna o wsparciu dla Ukrainy
Ustawa o obronie ojczyzny – pytania i odpowiedzi
Nowe zadania szefa SKW
Serwis K9 w Polsce
They Will Check The Training Results in Combat
Pokazali bojowego ducha
Dwa krążki kajakarki z „armii mistrzów”
Obradował Komitet Wojskowy Unii Europejskiej
AGM-158B JASSM-ER dla lotnictwa
Szachownice nie dotarły nad Finlandię
Pływacy i maratończycy na medal
Podróż po AWACS-ie
Ostatnia droga Pileckiego
Centrum Szkolenia WOT świętuje
Systemy obrony powietrznej dla Ukrainy
Po śladach polskich bohaterów
Broń Hitlera w rękach AK
Sejmowa debata o bezpieczeństwie
WAT-owskie eksperymenty na ISS
Żołnierzu, wyślij dziecko na wakacje z Rewitą
WAM wraca po latach
Morska Jednostka Rakietowa w Rumunii
Polscy żołnierze stacjonujący w Libanie są bezpieczni
By Polska była bezpieczna
„Sarex”, czyli jeden za wszystkich, wszyscy za jednego
Hełmy – nowoczesne i na miarę
Wszystkie misje AWACS-a
Polki pobiegły po srebro!
Mobilne dowodzenie
Tarcza Wschód – odstraszanie i obrona
Cień atomowej zagłady
„Grand Quadriga ‘24”
„Ryś” z laserem
Nie szpital, a instytut
NATO on Northern Track

Ministerstwo Obrony Narodowej Wojsko Polskie Sztab Generalny Wojska Polskiego Dowództwo Generalne Rodzajów Sił Zbrojnych Dowództwo Operacyjne Rodzajów Sił Zbrojnych Wojska Obrony
Żandarmeria Wojskowa Dowództwo Garnizonu Warszawa Inspektorat Wsparcia SZ Wielonarodowy Korpus
Szkolenia Sił Połączonych
Agencja Uzbrojenia

Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy (C) 2015
wykonanie i hosting AIKELO