After the Uprising

The Greater Poland residents in their fight for the borders of the Second Polish Republic 1918-1921

Mariusz Niestrawski

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The pro-independence movement of the Greater Poland residents in late 1918 cannot be considered only in the context of Greater Poland’s state affiliation. The inhabitants of Greater Poland played an immense role in the battles for nearly every border of the Second Polish Republic. Military units from the Poznań region were some of the most valuable throughout the two difficult years when the Polish eastern border was shaping. Furthermore, it was, among others, units from Greater Poland that first entered the lands of Gdańsk Pomerania, granted to Poland under the Treaty of Versailles. Numerous Poles from Greater Poland also took part in the Silesian uprisings, which influenced the final annexation of a part of Upper Silesia to the Second Polish Republic.

The Polish-Ukrainian war

Military action aimed at the revival of Poland commenced in the night of 31 October to 1 November 1918 with a conflict with the Ukrainians. Battles were initially fought in Lviv which was inhabited mostly by Poles. For the next several months, fierce Polish-Ukrainian battles were fought in Eastern Galicia and Volhynia. Even though a Ukrainian ring surrounding Lviv was successfully broken, the situation of the Polish soldiers in the contested lands was still extremely difficult.

Being aware of the deadly battles going on, the command of the Polish Armed Forces of the former Prussian Partition decided to send reinforcements. On 8 February 1919, over a week before the armistice in Trier was signed, the command announced voluntary conscription to a unit that would be sent to Eastern Galicia. On 9 March, the Voluntary Poznań-Lviv Company, composed of 200 soldiers, marched to the east. The soldiers were well-equipped and experienced in war.

More units from Poznań were sent several days later. On 12 March, a train with the first units of the Greater Poland Group, commanded by Colonel Daniel Konarzewski, set off. Its core was Lieutenant Colonel Gustaw Paszkiewicz’s 1st Greater Poland Rifle Regiment. The soldiers from this regiment, whom the Ukrainians called “Horned Devils”, demonstrated exceptional skills when they occupied Stryi. 

An important element of the units sent from Greater Poland to Galicia was the 1st Greater Poland Air Force Squadron. As soon as it became ready for battle, the squadron, commanded by Second Lieutenant Pilot Wiktor Pniewski, set off for the east. Its main task on the front was reconnaissance, but it also attacked observation balloons and carried out bombing raids and air assaults. In the third week of April, it took part in operation “Jazda”, the goal of which was to take certain positions before the general offensive planned for May.

In May, the Voluntary Poznań-Lviv Company proved its merits several times. On 14 May it occupied Zarudce in a daring attack, six days later it took Novyy Yarychiv, and on 28 May, together with the 38th Infantry Regiment, it occupied Zalissia. On 30 May, it occupied Monilovka near Zborov, located on the line of former Russian trenches. General Major Wacław Iwaszkiewicz, who commanded the Polish forces in this area, praised the soldiers from Greater Poland for that achievement.

Due to the risk that Polish-German military action might be resumed, the soldiers returned to Greater Poland. The veterans of the war with the Ukraine were welcomed in Poznań as heroes. On 11 June, the 1st Greater Poland Rifle Regiment, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd battery of the Light Artillery Regiment, the 2nd battery of the 2nd Heavy Artillery Regiment and the 1st Greater Poland Air Force Squadron were awarded with sashes in the national colours (for the infantry), and metal eagles with plaques reading “For the Defence of the Eastern Borderlands” (for the air force and artillery). The standard of the 1st Greater Poland Rifle Regiment was decorated with a ribbon for the defence of Lviv. Officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Volunteer Poznań-Lviv Company received the Crosses of Lviv Defence.

For Minsk, Babruysk and all along the Berezina Line

The Greater Poland residents started military action on the north-eastern borders of the Second Polish Republic as early as 1919. Their new enemy was the Red Army. Regular battles in this war started in mid-February 1919. After three months, the Polish forces moved to attack Vilnius, and threw the Bolsheviks out of the city. Units of the Polish Armed Forces were soon reinforced by the Poznań Death Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Feliks Józefowicz. The PDB was composed of soldiers who were disobedient, whose beliefs were too revolutionary and who were critical of General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki. 

The soldiers from the battalion were first sent to Warsaw, and later to Białystok. On their way to the front, Lieutenant Colonel Józefowicz’s people showed disobedience and seemed to be a greater threat to other Polish soldiers and civilians than to the enemy. At the turn of April and May, they were sent to fight in the region of Vilnius, where they fought the battle of Giedraičiai on 9 May, and attacked Molėtai six days later. Participants of these battles were honoured with a badge “For Vilnius”. 

In the summer, the PDB guarded the Polish-Lithuanian demarcation line. The battalion was finally dissolved in early October. Its officers and soldiers were assigned to the 1st Greater Poland Rifle Division and regiments of the Polish Legions.

Until that time, more units from Greater Poland were sent to the Lithuanian-Belarusian Front. In late July 1919, the Greater Poland Group went east, it was composed of: the 3rd and 4th GPRR, the 1st Greater Poland Uhlan Regiment, a company of sappers, the 2nd Greater Poland Air Force Squadron and a sanitary company. The group was commanded by Colonel Konarzewski.

On 8 August, in cooperation with the 2nd Legions Infantry Division, the forces from Greater Poland occupied Minsk. Less than two weeks later, they reached Babruysk and reached the Berezina Line. On 28 August, the soldiers from Greater Poland, accompanied by tanks, occupied the town and the Babruysk fortress, taking a huge amount of military property and many prisoners of war. Having occupied the fortress, they had to defend the Berezina Line from the Usha estuary up to Babruysk.

In mid-September, Konarzewski stepped down as commander and gave command to General Stanisław Dubiski (who died on 28 September, shot by a Bolshevik bullet). Konarzewski took command of the group in the north, composed of the 2nd GPRR and artillery. The brave “Poznańczyks” were praised by the Commander of the Lithuanian-Belarussian Front, General Stanisław Szeptycki.

Although the front literally froze in the turn of 1919/1920, with temperatures reaching as low as -30 degrees centigrade, the soldiers from Greatest Poland did not lose their spirit. In that period, the 1st GPRR made numerous sorties behind the Berezina Line. It moved extremely fast, mostly in snow storms, causing panic among the Bolsheviks and not allowing them to rest.

Recovery of the remaining parts of Greater Poland and Gdańsk Pomerania

As a form of a reward for the military efforts taken by the units that had fought in the insurgent forces, the soldiers were allowed to take part in the recovery of lands that were granted to Poland under the Treaty of Versailles. 

The process started in January 1920. On 17 January, small Polish infantry units occupied Leszno and Rawicz, which, on the day of the signing of the truce with the Germans, were outside the area occupied by the insurgents from Greater Poland.

The lands to the north of Greater Poland were to be taken by the 15th and the 16th Infantry Divisions (formerly the 2nd and 4th Greater Poland Rifle Divisions), comprising the Pomeranian Front commanded by Lieutenant General Józef Haller. In all of the towns, the Polish units were enthusiastically welcomed by their Polish residents.

On the left side of Haller, there was the 15th Infantry Division. Its 59th Infantry Regiment (formerly the 5th Greater Poland Rifle Regiment) reached Chojnice from Żnin. A little to the east, the 62nd Infantry Regiment (formerly the 8th Greater Poland Rifle Regiment) was recovering the region of Chodzież (including Chodzież), the region of Wyrzysk and also Nakło on the Noteć. On 20 January, its soldiers occupied Bydgoszcz. At the same time, the 60th Infantry Regiment (formerly the 6th Greater Poland Rifle Regiment) and the 16th and 17th Uhlan Regiments also entered the town. Then, all of the aforementioned units moved to the Ukraine. In the meantime, the 61st Infantry Regiment (formerly the 7th Greater Poland Rifle Regiment) was helping recover the region of Chodzież (including Chodzież), the region of Wyrzysk and also Nakło on the Noteć. Shortly afterwards, the regiment was directed to southern Greater Poland, where it guarded the border between Kępno and Rawicz.

Units of the 16th Infantry Division: The 63rd Toruń Infantry Regiment (formerly the 9th Greater Poland Rifle Regiment) set off from Inowrocław towards Toruń and after a clash with the Germans near Gniewkowo, it entered its destination city. Then it continued its march to the north, occupying such towns as Wejherowo, and finally reached Kaszubia. The 18th Uhlan Regiment marched as a vanguard for the forces occupying Toruń.

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