Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

The Greater Poland victory 1918/1919

Janusz Karwat

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At the beginning of February 1919, the Germans proceeded with an offensive along the entire length of the front. The Polish command in this area focused on running a mobile defence. The places where the Germans would attack were not fully known, therefore, relatively strong reserves were organised. The toughest battles were fought on the Northern and Western Fronts. Some of the towns were passed back and forth several times (Rynarzewo). The fighting on the Western Front, where the Germans attacked the insurgents along the Międzychód section took a very dramatic course. The Germans managed to seize Babimost and Kargowa. After several days of heavy battles, the German attack was halted along the line of the Zbąszyń lakes. Despite the fact that the Germans significantly outnumbered the Poles, both in terms of people and equipment, they did not manage to achieve their objectives.

Attempts to anticipate the German offensive on the Southern Front ended in failure. Two Polish attacks on Rawicz (3 and 5-6 February) came to nothing. The Germans did, however, incur high losses. Their activities in the direction of Krotoszyn (10 February), despite having seized Zduny sometime before, were not successful.

The intensity of the battles did not decrease until the second half of February 1919. Owing to the interventions of Polish diplomacy, the efforts of the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council and also support from France, the Germans were forced to stop their military operations (the treaty was signed in Trier on 16 February 1919).

On 3 May 1919, the Greater Poland army presented itself to the people during a great parade at Ławica Airport on the occasion of a national holiday. A strong army was formed and in June 1919 it consisted of about 102000 soldiers, including 70000 as first line troops. The People’s Guard had a further 100000 members at its disposal. The expansion of the Greater Poland armies was linked to the increasing demand for officers. Taking into account their shortage, schools were set up for infantry, artillery and aeronautic (balloon) and National Defence officers.

Approximately 1800 soldiers died as a result of the insurgent battles until the middle of February 1919, and also in the clashes along the armistice line. The greatest number of victims was observed on the Northern Front, where 587 insurgents and soldiers were killed and 101 died of wounds. The Greater Poland Front existed until March 1920. Having considered the losses of the Greater Poland units fighting in Eastern Galicia and on the Lithuanian-Belarusian Front, the number of Greater Poland soldiers who fell or died of their wounds amounts to approximately 2500. At least 5000 more died during the war with Bolshevik Russia in the years 1919-1920 and in the Silesian Uprisings.

At the end of January 1919, homogeneous uniforms were introduced, using huge stocks of German uniforms. A characteristic element which distinguished the Greater Poland soldiers was a high four-cornered cap (rogatywka) made of tawny-grey cloth with a loop in the shape of a club, like that on a playing card, on the left side and red and white ribbons on the band. Also the insignia of the military ranks, worn on the sleeves and the four-cornered caps in the Greater Poland Army, were different. The national symbols which were used by the insurgents and soldiers of the Greater Poland Armies strengthened their belief that they were a part of the reborn Polish Army.

The armistice was signed for a period of six weeks and was later on extended once again. Despite this fact, local skirmishes still took place and the Germans were getting ready for another offensive which was to be headed by Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, born in Poznań. The outbreak and the course of the Uprising was also a correction to the plans of politicians who were forced to accept the policy of fait accompli. The Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council played a great role in diplomatic efforts, as a result of which the Germans were forced to sign the armistice conditions. This armistice saved Greater Poland from the intervention of the German Ober-Ost armies.

Until the end of May 1919, the Greater Poland Front functioned independently without being operationally subjected to the Supreme Command of the Polish Army in Warsaw. Given the increased threat of a German offensive, the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council made an address regarding the “unity of the national army”. On 30 May, chief commander Józef Piłsudski confirmed the operational subordination of the Greater Poland armies. The unification work lasted even until November that year.

Significance and final remarks

The peace treaty was signed in Versailles on 28 June. The Greater Poland victory greatly affected the shape of the Polish western border as the borderline covered those territories controlled by the insurgents. Also, thanks to the Polish delegation during the Paris conference and also the French support, the maximum of everything that could be obtained at that time was achieved. A significant success for Poland was the granting of those territories which were not liberated during the Uprising, including Bydgoszcz, Kępno, Leszno, Rawicz and Zbąszyń.

Despite the fact that the Greater Poland Uprising did not cover all the territories of the Prussian partition, it affected the development of the conspiratorial movement in such regions as Gdańsk Pomerania and Upper Silesia. It also had a huge impact on the shaping of the western and northern border of the 2nd Republic of Poland. The Greater Poland units fought later in Eastern Lesser Poland, on the Lithuanian-Belarusian Front, and above all during the Polish-Bolshevik war in 1920. Experienced officers from Greater Poland contributed to the victory of the 3rd Silesian Uprising in the year 1921.

Greater Poland made a significant contribution to the organisation of the reborn Polish Army. This was a manifestation not only of patriotism but also of organisational efficiency. The Poznań region, as opposed to large territories of the Austrian and Russian partitions, avoided destruction during the wartime operations. It must be emphasised that one sixth of the Polish Army was organised in Greater Poland. About 8% of the people were called to arms, that is, every twelfth inhabitant of the region joined the ranks of the Greater Poland Army. In comparison with other formations of the Polish Army, the Greater Poland units were characterised by good military training, discipline and equipment.

The maintenance of these forces required significant funding. It was not until November 1919 that the Greater Poland Army fell within the competences of the Ministry of Military Affairs in terms of financing. For this purpose, the reserves of the Polish banks and companies were used and the general populace was addressed to grant a 5% Loan for Poland's Rebirth. Until the end of the year 1919, Polish general society in the Poznań region subscribed and paid in 348000000 marks and 12000000 roubles; also gold and silver, with a value reaching 26000000 marks, were given. In May 1919, about 74 000000 marks were spent on the maintenance of the Greater Poland Front. The long lists of donors were published in the Poznań press. General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki highly appreciated the participation of society in the formation of the army. I would not be able to make even half of what was then called “the high-grade army” if it was not for the support of society.




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