Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

The Greater Poland victory 1918/1919

Janusz Karwat

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The first shots in the vicinity of the Bazar hotel were fired at around 5.00 p.m. Thus far, it has still not been possible to clearly determine who opened fire first; whether it was German soldiers from the 6th Grenadier Regiment or the Poles who protected Paderewski’s place of accommodation. Preserved accounts of the participants mention the German participants of the march firing shots into the air from revolvers. When the next Polish sub-units arrived at William's Square (Wolności Square), the Germans retreated to the building of the Museum, next to the Bazar Hotel, and then towards the building of the Police Headquarters. Spontaneously and without any central management of the Polish action, units of the Guard and Security Service and the People’s Guard started to drive the Germans out of the city centre. The arsenal at Wielkie Garbary, the buildings of the post office, the regency building and the main railway station were all occupied.

In many locations of the city, bilateral shootings took place, including at such sites as Chwaliszewo bridge, the area next to the municipal gasworks at Ogrodowa and Zielona Streets and during an attempt to take control of the barracks of the 6th Grenadier Regiment on Bukowska Street. A company of the GSS, commanded by Second Lieutenant Edmund Krause, at the intersection of Berlińska Street and Rycerska Street (F. Ratajczaka Street), was shot at by Germans from a machine gun located at the entrance to the Police Headquarters. The head of this company, Sergeant Franciszek Ratajczak was severely wounded, and having been taken to the garrison hospital, he died during surgery.

The red and white flags on the streets in Poznań, as well as the French, British and American flags hanging in honour of the allies, made the Germans living in the city indignant and became a pretext that triggered riots. The removal of Polish and allied symbols by the German counter-demonstration was the primary reason for the commencement of fighting in the centre of Poznań. Thus, the spontaneous, or provoked, activities of the German soldiers and civilians were quickly and effectively suppressed by the Poles. Consequently, this led to the undertaking of insurgent activities by the Greater Poland inhabitants.

During the following days, the Citadel, the barracks of the 47th regiment of infantry, artillery, sappers, rolling stock and cavalry, as well as Fort Grolman, were occupied. In this situation, the Germans were not able to take effective steps aimed at nipping the uprising in the bud. They did not shake off the surprise, and additionally, they were not aware of the size of Polish formations. The disorganisation of the German reaction was even further exacerbated by the arrest of the command of the 5th Army Corps and the highest-ranking German officials. The Germans were now deprived of military and civil leadership. As early as the evening of 28 December, the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council appointed Captain Stanisław Taczak temporary commander of the uprising, after consultations with Józef Piłsudski.

The occupation of Poznań and the barracks situated in its vicinity (the Sołacz barracks, the air base in Ławica and the training camp in Biedrusko) by the previously prepared, organised and armed Polish units was undoubtedly a military success, but also a success for morale. Poznań was taken with few losses (8 dead and about 20 wounded).

The outbreak of fighting in Poznań became a signal to take insurgent action in Greater Poland. The first volunteer units consisting of, more often than not, inhabitants of a single town were formed quickly and spontaneously. Most frequently, the commander was appointed by way of a democratic election; the organisational forms to which everyone was used to on the front in the German army were adopted. Initially, there were no units which would resemble any specific formation. Battalions and companies with assigned territorial names started operating, that is, Gołańcz company, Stęszew company, Powidz company, the Śrem battalion and the Gniezno battalion.

Volunteer units, including a battalion from the Western-Poznań poviat (Second Lieutenant Andrzej Kopa), companies from: Czerniejewo (Sergeant Franciszek Złotowicz), Kórnik (Second Lieutenant. Stanisław Celichowski), Śrem (Second Lieutenant Alfred Milewski) and Pleszew (Second Lieutenant Feliks Pamin) came to the aid of the capital city of Greater Poland. The insurgent movement expanded towards the east and south-east up to the border of the former Russian partition. Września, Gniezno and Witkowo were liberated and German expedition units, sent from Bydgoszcz to Gniezno (400 soldiers, one artillery battery and 30 machine guns), were stopped near Łopienno and Zdziechowa on 30-31 December. The battle of Zdziechowa was the first major clash of the insurgents in field conditions. It was of key significance for the development of the uprising in the Gniezno poviat. The defeated Grenschutz group could have threatened Poznań in the event of victory. After this success, the Gniezno participants started to think about attacking Kuyavia and Bydgoszcz. A volunteer unit commanded by Second Lieutenant Paweł Cyms set off on 1 January 1919. This action activated the volunteer units from Trzemeszno, Kruszwica, Mogilno and Strzelno. Over 900 people participated in the bloody fighting for Inowrocław (5-6 January 1919) - including two companies of the Polish Army which arrived from Włocławek. The city was liberated with relatively high losses: 47 dead soldiers and 5 civilians, and about 120 wounded people. In the case of the Germans there were 14 dead and an unknown number of wounded.

In the northern part of Greater Poland, the Uprising expanded in several directions: from Wągrowiec, Oborniki, Rogoźno to Kcynia and Chodzież; from Nakło and Gołańcz to Mrocza, Wysoka and Ślesin. The Września and Gniezno companies left for Żnin and Szubin. Battles were fought with varying degrees of success. The first offensive of the insurgents, directed at Szubin (8 January 1919), ended in complete failure and high losses. 23 dead, over 20 wounded and 92 taken prisoner. The main reason for the defeat was the lack of coordinated command and poor cooperation between the companies of the insurgents as well as the poor skills of the commanders to manoeuvre the battle. The fact that the initiative was now on the side of Germans in this region inhibited the fighting in north-eastern Greater Poland. As Lieutenant Colonel Kazimierz Grudzielski, who commanded the insurgent units in this direction, saw the growing threat, as early as 8 January, he requested aid from Central Command in Poznań. There, with the knowledge of Major Stanisław Taczak and owing to efforts made by Lieutenant Colonel Juliusz Stachiewicz, Second Lieutenant Mieczysław Paluch and Second Lieutenant Władysław Zakrzewski, a volunteer emergency expedition group was organised. 2000 insurgents were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel K. Grudzielski, including 5 officers, 60 non-commissioned officers, 14 heavy machine guns, 8 cannons and one cavalry squadron. This time, the offensive, i.e. the second battle of Szubin (11-12 January 1919) ended in success and the repulsion of the Germans from Żnin, Łabiszyn and Złotniki Kujawskie. The insurgents liberated the entire north-eastern Greater Poland region, defending their positions along the Noteć River line. They broke the German transportation lines running west from Bydgoszcz. This opened up the possibility of developing an attack in the direction of Pomerania. However, any further offensive to the north was put on hold. The reason for this was a Polish-German agreement which allowed for the withdrawal of units from Belarus to Germany.

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