Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

The Greater Poland victory 1918/1919

Janusz Karwat

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The Greater Poland Uprising in the years 1918–1919 was a Polish national uprising. It is one of the most important events in the history of Greater Poland. It also became an element of the patriotic tradition of the inhabitants of this region. The Greater Poland inhabitants participated in all the military efforts of the 19th century, making both human and material sacrifices. As well as their military efforts, a significant role was played by organic work which established strong economic foundations for the Polish community. The uprising was prepared in moral terms and therefore it was a natural consequence of the persistent patriotic-natural work. The Poznań residents skilfully combined both, military abilities and good management with a sense of organisation and discipline. Making the most of the favourable moment of the development of events on the international arena, they liberated most of the Greater Poland region with weapons in their hands.

On the way to the uprising

In November 1918, shots on all fronts of the First World War subsided. Three partitioning countries were defeated, which meant the rebirth of Poland for Poles. The euphoric mood was felt in Cracow, Lublin and Warsaw, but not in Poznań. The experience which the Greater Poland inhabitants did share, however, was that of disappointment. They had rather expected that, after Germany’s defeat, the Polish western territories would re-join the Motherland. The armistice signed on 11 November 1918 in Compiegne provided for a return to the borders on 1 August 1914. Greater Poland would still remain part of Germany, and the fate of this region was to be determined by a peace conference. The German units, who had stayed here for over one hundred years, were returning from the front. Also the Greater Poland inhabitants were coming back to their homeland. Some of them became involved in the activities of clandestine or legal military organisations. In general, they had a lot of wartime experience and still preserved high military abilities.

In the situation characterised by the revolutionary chaos that encompassed Germany, the Greater Poland inhabitants did not simply wring their hands. There were three centres of power which functioned in parallel: the Prussian administration, which was working on a continuous basis, the soldier and worker councils and the Polish people’s councils, the latter elected their own representation in the form of the Supreme People's Council during the proceedings of the Partition Sejm of Poznań (3-5 December 1918). The politicians from Greater Poland, mainly national democrats, took into consideration the outbreak of the uprising, which would even cover the whole Polish territory of the Prussian partition. In this case, it was hoped that the Polish Army in France (General Józef Haller) and the armies of the Entente state would provide the much needed help. They were supposed to arrive in Gdańsk by sea and move towards the south. According to the plan, the Uprising was to break out in Poznań, Inowrocław and Ostrów Wielkopolski after they had reached Toruń. Initially the landing of the troops was planned on 19 December 1918, then it was postponed to the end of December and ultimately to the middle of January 1919. The discovery of the Polish plans related to the Polish Army in France was used by the Germans as an anti-Polish argument in the international arena. This fact was also eagerly used by the English who did not wish to strengthen Poland as an ally of France in the Baltic Sea region and rejected the plan of a naval expedition to Gdańsk. They effectively frustrated the plans of Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Roman Dmowski, Wojciech Korfanty and the Poznań leaders.

The Poles already had their own paramilitary forces at their disposal. Before the outbreak of the uprising, about 8000-10000 volunteers, ready to fight, were deployed in different units within the Greater Poland region. The most numerous formations, whose organisation resembled military units, existed in Poznań. These included the legally functioning companies of the People's Guard (PG) and the Guard and Security Services (Wach-und Sichercheitsdienst, GSS) organised at the end of November 1918 with the consent of the authorities in Berlin. The latter, as the emperor's army was in complete degradation, were to be on guard duty in the respective garrisons. As a result of skilfully conducted recruitment activities, the Guard and Security Service became a strictly Polish organisation. Although a German officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dobschutz, was officially the commander of this formation in Poznań, in practice it was commanded by Second Lieutenant Mieczysław Paluch. The Poznań-based companies of the GSS consisted of about 2000 soldiers on the first day of the uprising. In addition to the capital city of Greater Poland, other companies were also established in other garrison cities such as Jarocin, Kórnik, Pleszew, Środa Wielkopolska, Wielichowo and Września.

The People's Guard was a local formation and was subject to the local people’s councils. The soldiers of the People's Guard were mainly recruited from members of the Polish Gymnastic Society “Sokół”, and its commander was Julian Lange - the head of the Guard. At the beginning of December 1918, units of the People’s Guard were present in 30 out of 42 poviats of the Poznań province, whereby some of these units were armed. Above all, they were organised in places where the Polish population was dominant.

The most radical independence organisation which strived for military settlements was the Polish Military Organisation of the Prussian Partition (PMOPP) (commander: Wincenty Wierzejewski), loosely linked to the Polish Military Organisation in the Polish Kingdom. For the most part it was composed of scouts and deserters. Though at the beginning of November 1918, it consisted of hardly 200 members, it contributed significantly to the successes during the first days of the uprising. Furthermore, about one thousand members of scout groups, independent military groups and Greater Poland border units, (the battalion in Szczypiorno) organised within the Congress Kingdom, were preparing for the uprising.

The first hours and days were the most important.

On 26 December 1918, an enthusiastic welcome was given to Ignacy Jan Paderewski in Poznań. The following day brought quite unexpected events to the leaders of the Polish independence movement, who had rather planned for any military efforts at a later time. The general initial plans of the Secret Military Staff, organised by Bohdan Hulewicz and Mieczysław Paluch, did not manage to reach the stage of maturity necessary to be implemented. In response to the Polish demonstrations, the Germans decided to manifest their presence in Poznań by organising their own march in the afternoon of 27 December 1918. It was headed by soldiers of the local garrison and marched to the Bazar hotel, where I. J. Paderewski was accommodated together with the allied mission. The alarmed companies of the People's Guard and the Guard and Security Service restored law and order in the city. According to a report by the head of the British military mission, Colonel Harry Herschel Wade, in Poznań on 27 December 1918, the Polish and allied flags placed on the Bazar hotel, where I. J. Paderewski and the allied mission were accommodated, were removed.

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