Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

What events led to the outbreak of the Greater Poland Uprising in December 1918?

Marek Rezler

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The situation initially spiralled out of control, but Polish units of the People’s Guard and the Guard and Security Service reacted quickly. Over the next two days, the centre of Poznań was cleared of German military units. The railway station was occupied and military transports intended to help the Germans were stopped. Polish soldiers took the Citadel, the forts surrounding the city and the barracks – except for the barracks of the 6th Grenadier Regiment (the unit left the city only after the conclusion of an agreement, which happened a short while later). A fierce exchange of fire also took place by the Police Headquarters, before the building was abandoned by German soldiers. The last armed event in Poznań was the conducting of an organised action to occupy the Ławica Air Base on 6 January 1919.

The Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council initially thought that the uprising had broken out too early. Its members had provided for the possibility of undertaking military actions, but they had been planned for mid-January, as this is when an officer with a high rank, who would take command of the Greater Poland armies, would come to Poznań from Warsaw. Talks on the subject had been going on for quite a long time. The suddenness of the action, however, resulted in the necessity of taking control of the growth of the movement. On 28 December, Major Stanisław Taczak - an officer who found himself in Poznań by accident and had, from the very start, emphasised that his service here was merely temporary - became Commander-in-Chief of Military Forces in the Prussian Partition. Over the next two weeks, he organised the Central Command from scratch, took control of the events outside Poznań, set out a plan of further actions and started the process of forming an insurgent army. 

In the same evening, news of the events that had taken place in Poznań on 27 December was communicated by phone to the farthest places of the region. Several centres, from which the insurgent movement started to spread to the nearest towns, were immediately established. These towns included: Czarnków, Gniezno, Gostyń, Grodzisk Wlkp., Kościan, Krotoszyn, Ostrów Wlkp., Szamotuły, Śrem, Środa Wlkp., Wągrowiec and Września. Power in them was taken over by poviat people's councils (finally legal since December), while local units of the People’s Guard and the Guard and Security Service transformed into insurgent companies with regional names. In smaller centres, insurgent units were formed spontaneously. After the takeover of power in their town, they set off to liberate the nearby areas. Polish priests, land-owners and social and national activists played a significant role in these activities. The units often acted instinctively, without any plan. The rotation of their members was extremely high, which is why today it is impossible to make a full list of the participants of the first, spontaneous stage of the Greater Poland Uprising. The activity of the Polish volunteers depended mostly on the number of Polish inhabitants. The closer it was to the borders of the region, the more difficult action was due to the activity of the local Germans who had often been relocated here as a result of Berlin’s former policy. As time passed, local units of Heimatschutz-Ost and Grenzschutz, together with soldiers from units forced to abandon their garrisons, were becoming increasingly troublesome while preparing themselves for offensive action. 

The spontaneous stage of the Greater Poland Uprising lasted until mid-January 1919. During that time, the insurgents managed to occupy the greater part of the area that had been in the power of the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council. A specific, Greater Poland insurgent state was established, which existed in practice until the validation of the Treaty of Versailles in January 1920.

The Greater Poland Uprising was inevitable. At the same time, it was preceded by over a hundred years of thoughtful and reasonable preparation.


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