Insurgent Troops

The Greater Poland Army

Marek Rezler

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Under this term we understand the Polish armed forces formed in the territory controlled by the insurgent armies at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919. Sometimes, they were called other names: the Greater Poland Army, the Greater Poland Armies, the Armed Forces in the Former Prussian Partition, the Armed Forces of the former Prussian Partition, the Armed Forces of the former Prussian Province, the armies of the former Prussian partition, and from August 1919: the Polish Armies of the former Prussian Partition.

The units of the Citizen's Guard, formed on 14 November 1918, were the organisational foundation of the Polish armed forces. On 27 November, the Citizen’s Guard was transformed into the People's Guard (PG) headed by Julian Bolesław Lange, and was politically subject to the temporary Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council. At the same time, from 23 November, the Worker and Soldier Council in Poznań began to form the parity-based Polish-German Guard and Security Service (GSS), in which the initiative was taken by members of the Polish Military Organisation of the former Prussian Partition and a group headed by Mieczysław Paluch. On 22 December 1918, the command of the newly formed 1st Poznań Garrison Battalion of the GSS was approved. The Polish composition of the People’s Guard was ensured. The Guard and Security Service officially consisted of Poles and Germans, but it was quickly dominated by Poles as a result of manipulations related to the sound of soldiers’ names during the recruitment procedure. However, in Bydgoszcz, Leszno, Krotoszyn and Ostrów Wlkp. the GSS still comprised mainly Germans. In some cities (including Środa, Kórnik, Wielichowo and Wilków Polski) Security Guard Units, whose composition was completely Polish, were formed independently of the PG and GSS.

In Ostrów Wlkp. action aimed at forming a Polish infantry regiment had already been taken on the night of 10-11 November 1918. The regiment consisted of 1500 soldiers (at this time, the so called Republic of Ostrów was established). This action, premature in relation to the political plans of the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council, was halted on 21 November. The unit was dissolved; its soldiers were partly dispersed throughout the territory of the former Kingdom of Poland and another part joined the Border Battalion formed in Szczypiorno near Kalisz. In Kościan, in the period between 14 December and 20 December 1918, the Kościan Scouting Reserve, which consisted of 120 volunteers, was formed.

Even at that time, anticipating the formation of a future Polish army in this region, contacts were established with the Warsaw government and the General Staff; attempts were also made to appoint a supreme commander in Poznań. The Supreme Command for the territories of the Prussian partition was set up in Kalisz which became part of the 9th Military District. The main initiative in contacts between Warsaw and Poznań remained in the hands of Wojciech Korfanty.

The outbreak of the uprising on 27 December 1918 was a surprise for both parties to the conflict. As soon as it became obvious that the local riots had turned into a movement which covered almost the entire territory of the “German” Greater Poland, the need arose to appoint a supreme commander quickly, to put the spontaneously formed units in order and to draw up plans for further action. On 28 December 1918, the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council entrusted the post of Commander-in-Chief to Captain Stanisław Taczak, who, by accident, already happened to be in Poznań at that time. He was a former officer of the German army, who had already served in the General Staff of the Polish Army and who took this post with the consent of his superiors in Warsaw, being aware that his mission was of a temporary nature – until the arrival of an officer experienced in operational work and with a rank corresponding to the tasks ahead. Also, the scope of the subordination of S. Taczak was determined. He maintained autonomy in his military operations, but politically he was subordinated to the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council. The newly appointed commander (promoted to the rank of major on 2 January 1919) started to work immediately in the “Royal” Hotel, whose two floors were provided to the General Staff as its headquarters. The hotel was located on Św. Marcin Street, in the direct vicinity of the offices of the Commissariat of the SPC.

The dynamics of the insurgent operations outside of Poznań were very similar to the development of the events in the capital city of the region. The organisational foundation of the Polish units were the People's Guard and the Guard and Security Service. In smaller towns, Polish soldiers released from the front and deserters spontaneously formed subunits over which command was taken by the highest-ranking persons from among them themselves or subordinates chosen by them. These were often groups formed to liberate a given town and the nearby vicinity, and then dissolved, dispersed - or combined with other similar units. The organisational structure typical for the German army was quickly adopted for them, but with names which often significantly exceeded the real manning of the regular army and its numerical strength – with the addition of a regional name. Insurgent platoons, companies and battalions composed of colleagues and neighbours, the inhabitants of a given region, started to be formed. This spontaneous and “unorganised” period in the formation of the Greater Poland armed forces lasted about a week, until the end of the first ten days of January 1919; also respective towns joined the Uprising in different periods, sometimes only a few days after the outbreak of fighting in Poznań.

Throughout the period of the existence of the Greater Poland Army, for political reasons, to not make the situation of the region during the peace conference in Paris even more complicated, there were attempts at avoiding military nomenclature at higher levels, which would suggest the existence of any regular armed forces of an independent state. At that time, the administration of Greater Poland was also organised and named in a similar manner. At the highest level, i.e. the level of Central Command (CC), this rule was true too, CC was composed of officers who came from different armies; all three consecutive heads of Staff of the Central Command came from outside of Greater Poland. The assumption was also made in advance, in accordance with the line of action of the Commissariat of the SPC, that the current legal-political status of the region was temporary and that Greater Poland would be a part of the independent Polish state. No one took into account any form of autonomy, but rather the establishment of such administrative and military structures which would facilitate the simplest and most effective integration possible after the positive decisions taken at the peace conference. The outbreak of the Uprising before the signing of the peace treaty forced an acceleration of these actions; on the one hand, the formal appearances of full independence were kept up, and on the other hand, contacts with the Warsaw government and General Staff of the Polish Army were continued. This situation was reflected in the process of the formation of the Greater Poland Army.

The major task of Major S. Taczak was to establish the Central Command Staff, to bring some form of order to the Polish units operating in the area covered by the Uprising and to determine operational plans. The Central Command Staff was initially managed by Captain Stanisław Nilski-Łapiński, and from 3 January 1919 – Lieutenant Colonel Julian Stachiewicz. Four divisions were established: the Operational Division (Ia), the Organisational Division (Ib), the Personnel Division (IIa) and the Weapons and Ammunitions Division (IIb). A central command system was implemented through the day orders of Central Command, sent via couriers.

At the same time the organisational and management activities were performed by the command of the Guard and Security Service, which initially masked the work of S. Taczak effectively, but as time passed by, after attempts at maintaining independence, it submitted itself to Central Command.

Central Command adopted the double organisational structure of a formed army: that is, a horizontal one, which covered all the units from a given area - from a poviat to a military district - and a vertical one - the formation of the army based on staffing at the company, battalion and regiment levels. In its first printed day order of 5 January 1919, the CC took control of the insurgent troops in the entire area covered by the Uprising and also the units formed by the GSS. The insurgent armed forces included the People’s Guard which, however, maintained its own organisational structure. During the first period, these were:

  • soldiers of voluntary units, who had, for the most part, already undergone military training; they were 19-40 years old,

  • soldiers of the People's Guard, consisting, for the most part, of volunteers who had not been trained so far and soldiers over the age of 30,

  • military policemen, mainly volunteers, however, especially those who had already served in this formation.

The unstable situation in the field and the fragile organisational structure made detailed operational planning difficult. Also the Commissariat of the SPC tried to limit the range of the activities undertaken so as to not make the situation of the region even more complicated during the peace conference. Initially, then, the Zbąszyń Lakes line was to be reached, and in the north, the Noteć River and Bydgoszcz Canal line. Tactical instructions were sent and on 4 January 1919, central management of the respective companies, depending on the situation, began. The front lines were also established.

On 7 January 1919, the establishment of seven military districts (MD) was announced on the territory of the Poznań region.

MD I comprised the following poviats: The city of Poznań, Poznań East and Poznań West. The commander of the District was Rittmeister (Captain) Ryszard Koperski.

MD II. Poviats: Września, Środa, Witkowo and Gniezno; commander: Lieutenant Colonel Kazimierz Grudzielski

MD III. Poviats: Wyrzysk, Bydgoszcz, Szubin, Inowrocław, Strzelno, Mogilno, Żnin and Wągrowiec; commander: Major Napoleon Koczorowski.

MD IV. Poviats: Chodzież, Czarnków, Wieleń, Skwierzyna, Międzychód, Szamotuły and Oborniki; commander: Captain Zdzisław Orłowski.

MD V. Poviats: Międzyrzecz, Nowy Tomyśl, Grodzisk, Babimost, Śmigiel, Kościan, Wschowa and Leszno; commander: Second Lieutenant Kazimierz Zenkteler.

MD VI. Poviats: Śrem, Jarocin, Pleszew, Gostyń, Rawicz, Krotoszyn and Koźmin; commander: Second Lieutenant Zbigniew Ostroróg-Gorzeński.

MD VII. Poviats: Ostrów, Odolanów, Ostrzeszów and Kępno; commander: Second Lieutenant Władysław Wawrzyniak.

After occupying Inowrocław and the controversies surrounding the role of Second Lieutenant Paweł Cyms, by the Central Command day order of 13 January 1919, two other districts were established:

MD VIII. Poviats: Inowrocław and Strzelno; commander: Second Lieutenant Paweł Cyms.

MD IX. Poviats: Kościan, Śmigiel, Leszno and Wschowa; commander: Second Lieutenant Józef Gomerski.

As well as this, the Krotoszyn Poviat was moved out of Military District VI and assigned to District VII.

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