Insurgent Troops

The military aspects of the Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919

Zbigniew Pilarczyk

Select Pages

To sum up this issue, it can be assumed that the Polish independence movement, on the eve of the uprising, had 8000-10000 people at its disposal. However, a reservation must be made that at least half of them did not have any weapons. Here, it is worth remembering the statement made by General Stanisław Taczak, in which he pointed out that among the insurgents, there were many Poles serving in the German army, who, upon returning home, carried their personal weapons with them (most frequently a rifle) in accordance with the applicable regulations. It must be supposed that these weapons were the basic “insurgent arsenal” during the first days of the uprising.

As to the size of the German garrison, in this case we can also find various data in the literature, which mention figures between 2500 and 4500 soldiers. They were very well trained and armed. However, attention must be paid to the fact that the potential of these units was significantly limited. In general, the Germany army in the year 1918 was not the same army as four years before. The war, the long time spent on the front, and last but not least, the revolution, had all left their mark.

The events of November and December 1918 resulted in the fact that Poznań, in particular, resembled the proverbial “powder keg”. A military confrontation seemed to be inevitable. In principle, both parties were waiting for a sign, a situation, or just an incident which, as often happened in the past, would be the spark, that would ignite this keg. Despite numerous appeals, the situation in Poznań could not be considered peaceful, quite the contrary. Thus, the content of the daily report of the Corps Command sent from Poznań to Berlin, in which reassurances were made that things were quiet in Poznań, sounded rather strange. When it became clear that Ignacy Jan Paderewski was going to arrive in Poznań on 26 December, things took on a completely new dynamic. The Germans protested, not so much against the visit, because they were most unhappy about, or even outraged at, the fact that there was a mission of British officers participating in the expedition. On the other hand, the Poles, knowing the attitude of the German authorities to Paderewski's visit to Poznań, for fear of the safety of the guest, commenced a mobilisation of forces which would guarantee his safety. This role could be fulfilled best by units of the People's Guard and the Guard and Security Service, which were quickly brought to Poznań. A prominent role was also played by the scouts of Poznań, who arrived at the railway station in uniforms and at full strength despite the fact that their activities were illegal. After many disruptions Paderewski arrived in Poznań on 26 December 1918, and at 9.00 p.m., got off the train at the Poznań railway station. On 27 December, the situation in Poznań, from the very morning, became even more complicated. Different groups of the Polish and German population marched through the streets, which either expressed their joy or irritation at the arrival of the guests. The units of the People's Guard tried hard to prevent these demonstrations from getting directly to the “Bazar” Hotel. However, it was probably there that a shot was fired at 4.40 p.m. symbolically initiating the uprising. During the following half hour or so, events started to unfold violently and spontaneously. It can thus be concluded that none of the parties had any intention to undertake their planned military activities. However, it turned out then that the long years of preparation, the organic and organisational work and the activation of various social circles had all brought an effect. However, in all likelihood, no one was aware at that time what was really happening. But even if this awareness was not present, instinct prompted that “something must be done now”. The militia groups were probably the first to reveal their activity, then later, all these activities began to be ordered and concentrated in one centre. Certainly the training of the subunits of the People’s Guard and the Guard and Security Service bore fruit. Perhaps more intuitively than based on any plan, the activities of the insurgents were redirected to the sensitive areas of the city: the Main Post Office, banks and offices. The activities related to the seizing of the building of the Police Headquarters were particularly spectacular, for one thing because of the importance of this institution, and secondly because of the almost direct neighbourhood of the “Bazar” and the building of the Wilhelm's Museum, where the centre for the management of all activities was established. However, it is worth noting the fact that it was possibly the first time the decision was taken not to seize a building by force but rather to negotiate the conditions for the termination of operations with the Germans holding it. This was the case with the Citadel, Fort Grolman and the barracks, but an attempt at negotiating control of the Air Base in Ławica turned out to be ineffective. Similar cases were also observed in other areas of Greater Poland. This is certainly a very distinctly marked trait of the combat activities during the Greater Poland Uprising in that period. Another fact that was frequently taken advantage of was that there were many Poles among the serving members of those buildings, serving at that time in the ranks of the German army. Here, I would like to return to a reflection concerning the time of the outbreak of the uprising. It should be admitted that the mobilisation of the insurgent forces was impressive. Units from several smaller towns surrounding Poznań, e.g. Kórnik arrived in Poznań as early as in the evening hours. Next day, the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Power tried to take matters into its own hands by issuing a statement in which it pointed out that the responsibility for the course of events on streets in Poznań during the preceding day lay with “pan-German instigators”. There is also a characteristic statement that Polish blood was shed in defence of the banners of the coalition. In order to calm the situation and restore some order, a Polish-German Command of the City was established with Jan Maciaszek and Captain […] Andersch as its leaders. A state of emergency was introduced which included a ban on carrying weapons. Patrols of the People's Guard and Guard and Security Service were in charge of order in the city. It seemed at that time that the events which had taken place on 27 December were just a minor incident and everything would soon return to normal. Such an approach did not really suit the commanders of radical militia groups, who strived for the expansion of military activities.

During its first hours or even days, the Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919 was the sum of many “local uprisings” in the Poznań region. The process of liberation was organised and conducted in all of these towns. Almost all of the organised insurgent units set the seizing of important areas in a given location, such as barracks, police stations, post offices, administration centres, etc. as their main goals. When these tasks were achieved, many of them disbanded thinking that they had fulfilled their duties. It was only later, as the situation developed, that repeated mobilisation would take place. After the insurgents had definitely gained the military and administrative advantage, the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council “took over” all their achievements. To be fair, it must be mentioned that the system of field people's councils had already proved its value.

The development of the Uprising during the first period was a reflection of the reality of the independence movement in general Polish society in the Prussian partition. In the period of the several months before the outbreak of the uprising, quite a large number of local leaders were “born”, but there was no time for the appearance of any such leader who would be able to cover everything. In order to maintain the achievements of the local insurgent commanders and units, the need of the hour was to get everything in order and introduce some central management and command of it. Out of sheer necessity, and perhaps not to antagonise the local circles, the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council chose to entrust the management of the uprising to Captain Stanisław Taczak, who, by accident, had stayed in Greater Poland. Although he was a Greater Poland resident and a professional officer, his service was in the General Staff of the Polish Army in Warsaw. A few days later, Stanisław Taczak was promoted to the rank of major and received the task of completing the insurgent staff. The command of the uprising was located in the “Royal” hotel at 38 Św. Marcin Street. Initially, it was Captain Stanisław Łapiński who was appointed head of staff, however, from 3 January 1919, this post was taken by Lieutenant Colonel Julian Stachiewicz, who had been sent from Warsaw. Thus, it was necessary to build a command system in the heat of the battle, starting from the level of Central Command. In addition to the appointment of the above-mentioned head of the staff, a very complete organisational structure was rapidly formed with the aim of facilitating the command of the uprising. The command was very deeply covert, e.g. formulae used at that time in the Polish Army were avoided by using a different nomenclature. Stanisław Taczak was banned from publishing any information about the activities of Central Command in the press or in the form of leaflets or notices. Such actions were justified as there were attempts made during this time by the Supreme People’s Council to create the impression that the events which had occurred in Greater Poland since 27 December were just spontaneous actions and not a regular war. 

Select Pages