Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

The Greater Poland victory 1918/1919

Janusz Karwat

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In Greater Poland, it was Grodzisk which played the role of coordination centre. Here, action was taken to liberate the area to the west of the Warta River. The most urgent objective for the insurgents, under the command of Kazimierz Zenkteler, was the reaching of the Obra River line and the Zbąszyń lakes and to cut the railway connections running from Berlin and Krzyż to Greater Poland. Rakoniewice, Wolsztyn and Nowy Tomyśl were occupied. Fierce unsuccessful battles for Zbąszyń and Miedzychód took place on 4-5 January 1919. Central Command in Poznań banned the insurgents from crossing the Obra River line. The pressure to issue this decision was exerted by the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council which was motivated to it by political considerations.

The power in the Kościan and Gostyń poviats was taken over until 30 December 1919. The lack of determination in the local People’s Councils to act quickly was taken advantage of by the Germans. They formed volunteer battalions in Leszno and Rawicz, and also received reinforcements from Wrocław and Głogów. It was not until 6 January that an insurgent battalion, commanded by Second Lieutenant Bernard Śliwiński, set off from Gostyń to Leszno. Kąkolewo, Osieczna and Pawłowice, among other towns, were occupied, which allowed for the obtaining of connections on the flanks with the Western and Southern section of the frontline. In the south of Greater Poland, insurgent operations were initiated by the Border Battalion from Szczypiorno, which consisted of volunteers from Ostrów. It was supported by volunteer units from Jarocin, Ostrzeszów and Pleszew. This frontline section was commanded by Second Lieutenant Władysław Wawrzyniak. On 31 December 1918, Krotoszyn and Ostrów Wielkopolski were occupied. The insurgent operation was concentrated in Jutrosin and Miejska Górka (Second Lieutenant Ignacy Busza).

Initially, the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council tried to negotiate with the Germans. For a week it reassured the authorities in Berlin that it was in control of the situation, claiming that these were just some local riots. On 3 January 1919, the Supreme People's Council adopted a resolution on taking over power in the Poznań region. However, the German authorities were not informed of this fact until five days later. This changed the situation of Central Command (CC), which had so far operated covertly, that is, in the rear part of the Royal Hotel at Św. Marcin Street. Several officers from their staff wore civilian clothes instead of uniforms. Central Command did not disclose its activities until 5 January, when it issued its first Day Order. The territory of Greater Poland was divided into 9 military districts. During the first ten days, the operations of the volunteer units had the characteristics of irregular operations. They took place spontaneously according to local possibilities and had their own history. The simplest activities were conducted with the best results.

The seizure of power in the poviat cities was generally tantamount to taking control of the entire poviat. In situations where the Germans took steps to push the insurgents out and jeopardised the Polish territorial acquisitions, volunteers from neighbouring cities came to each other's aid (e.g. Września and Gniezno). The units were consolidated and relied upon ad hoc preparation of plans, the commanders took offensive action which in a way resembled raids.

The insurgent operations during the first days were characterised by a great vitality but also a lack of experience in command. These shortcomings were partly compensated by the strong will to fight and the patriotism of the volunteers. On many occasions, mistakes committed on the battlefield led to tragic consequences. They sometimes ended in the death of their commanders, as was the case with Korneliusz Mann, Edmund Krause and Władysław Wiewiórkowski, to name a few.

After several days of the Uprising, a group of commanders emerged, who, despite their low military ranks (lieutenants and sergeants), coped really well in posts which would normally be occupied by higher-ranking officers. These were, among others: Edmund Bartkowski, Paweł Cyms, Konrad Golniewicz, Bohdan Hulewicz, Andrzej Kopa, Włodzimierz Kowalski, Ignacy Mielżyński, Zdzisław Orłowski, Mieczysław Paluch, Edmund Rogalski, Stanisław Siuda, Kazimierz Szcześniak, Bernard Śliwiński and Kazimierz Zenkteler.

During the first two weeks of the Uprising, the number of volunteer units was very fluid. In many villages and towns the volunteers would just return home after having performed their tasks. In the case of another task, volunteers were recruited again. According to the so far incomplete estimates, the volunteer formations on the front consisted of about 9000 - 10000 insurgents. In the middle of January 1919, these forces rose to 14000 volunteers.

Major Stanisław Taczak, understanding the specifics of volunteer units, based the organisation of the army on a territorial structure. Officially he did not interfere with the internal life of the units, and the volunteers would often choose their own commanders, addressing each other with the word “comrade”, based on experience earned in the “Sokół” organisation.

The Greater Poland Army and the defence of the Uprising’s achievements

The success of the Uprising and the military organisational achievements were largely determined by the successive commanders-in-chief: Major Stanisław Taczak, General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki and the officer corps. It was actually Major S. Taczak who established the organisational foundations of the Uprising and the front that shielded the liberated territories. On the other hand, General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki was responsible for turning the insurgent units into a regular army, based on compulsory conscription. Professional officers, especially his subordinates from the former 1st Corps, constituted the foundation of the officer corps. The formation was composed of three infantry divisions, one cavalry brigade, three artillery brigades, technical units (sappers, telegraphic, railway and motorised units), gendarmerie, and also sanitary, veterinary, judiciary and pastoral services.

The Greater Poland line of defence was divided into four internal fronts (from 19 February, only three) and their corresponding Military Districts. Inspectorates of the respective arms were established: infantry –Second Lieutenant General Kazimierz Grudzielski, artillery – Colonel Anatol Kędzierski, air forces – Colonel Gustaw Macewicz, technical units – Colonel Jan Skoryna, sanitary services –Second Lieutenant General Ireneusz Wierzejewski and National Defence – Colonel Julian Bolesław Lange.

Within the structures of the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council, there was the Military Division which fulfilled the function of a local “ministry of war”. This body was managed by Second Lieutenant General Kazimierz Raszewski, a former colonel lieutenant of the Prussian army hussars. As a confidante of the Supreme People's Council, he fulfilled the role of “controller” of the activities undertaken by Dowbor-Muśnicki.

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