Insurgent Troops

The military aspects of the Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919

Zbigniew Pilarczyk

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The activity of Central Command was vital, as the first period of the uprising was characterised by a voluntary draft, which resulted in low levels of both command and discipline. Again, it turned out that democracy in the army was not a good idea. In order to take control of the spreading uprising, it was necessary to plan the sequence of all the operations. Another task which Central Command had to face was the formation of front commands. A compact line of a Polish-German frontline in Greater Poland had to be established to coordinate operations on one hand and to maintain the territorial acquisitions on the other. Stanisław Taczak and his command were aware that the insurgent victories were the effect of the total surprise on the part of Germans and that when this moment was gone a massive counter-attack would be a consequence to reckon with. Time showed that these concerns were justified. During the first days of January 1919, it was possible to distinguish four front sections: the northern, western, south-eastern and southern. 

The situation which began to take shape as a result of the victories of the insurgents outstripped the capacities to manage it in a half-amateurish manner. The territorial acquisitions of the uprising had to be safeguarded by the creation of larger forces which could be better organised. Central Command initiated a pretty intensive process of the transformation of loose insurgent groups and units into a single, efficient organism - an army. While taking the post of commander-in-chief, Stanisław Taczak made the reservation that he treated it as a temporary post until the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Councils could find an officer with the rank of general who would have more experience and competences to manage the situation and indicate the directions in which to take further action. Indeed, negotiations related to this issue were conducted by political activists in Warsaw all the time. The candidate accepted by both Warsaw and Poznań was Division General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki, an officer with a lot of experience in organisational matters and also as a commander. However, it is difficult for me to agree to the thesis that, by sending General Dowbor-Muśnicki to Poznań, Józef Piłsudski somewhat passed a sentence on him. The circumstances encouraged such a reflection, as what could a former Russian general expect when facing the Prussian Greater Poland reality? However, on the other hand, the potential of the insurgent army, which Piłsudski could use to accomplish his goals in the east, was all too obvious for him to resign from it so easily in the name of personal disputes. The general arrived in Poznań on 9 January together with a group of officers and set to work immediately. He was way too experienced an officer to introduce thorough changes in the course of ongoing battles, hence his decision to maintain the organisation of the insurgent army based on the German army. The new commander-in-chief took up the idea of his predecessor and ordered universal conscription. On 17 January, the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council announced the conscription of young men born in the years 1897-1898. At a later time, the conscription also covered the age groups 1895-1896 and 1900 as well as 1894 and 1901. It is worth noting that many insurgents who had left their units returned to the army this way. In the case of older soldiers, it was proposed to them to join the People’s Guard. The official announcement of this conscription took its toll on the Polish-German relations in Greater Poland. The Germans realised that the suppression of the uprising was impossible, and that the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council would try to defend the position which it had obtained in Greater Poland by all sorts of means. 

Inasmuch as there was no problem with the recruitment of soldiers, the shortage of officers was still keenly felt. General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki suggested that non-commissioned officers who demonstrated commanding skills be promoted to the first officer ranks. This way, dozens of valuable and experienced officers were gained. Also, an officer school was founded to guarantee a constant inflow of officers in the near future. Despite these decisions, the problem was not solved indefinitely, hence there was a need for the introduction of officers who had previously served in the Russian and Austrian army into the Greater Poland Armed Forces. This resulted in another problem, as the officers who were Poznań residents accepted that state of affairs with some resistance. In some situations, it even led to the outburst of conflicts. The general, in his talks with the Commissariat, came to the conclusion that an important element that would unify the new army would be an oath. After long talks, it was agreed that the soldiers would swear loyalty to the Commissar of the Supreme People’s Council and the commanders, and that after regaining freedom, they would take an oath established by the Polish state sovereignty. The honour of taking the oath was granted to the 1st Greater Poland Rifle Regiment, and this took place on 26 January 1919 on the Wilhelmsplatz (currently Wolności Square). General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki was the first to take the oath. 

All these elements provided the grounds for a well organised and functioning army, which counted 50000 soldiers in March 1919. It was high time for this, as after the first stage of surprise and defeats, the Germans had started to reorganise themselves and planned a counter-attack which was aimed at the restoration of the state of affairs from before 27 December 1918. The newly formed Greater Poland Army had to adapt itself to the tasks which awaited it in the near future, that is, the defence of the newly acquired positions. 18 January 1919 marked the date of the appearance of operational order No. 1 in which the new division of fronts was announced: the Northern Front - from the border of the Kingdom of Poland near Inowrocław to the Białe Lake located close to Czarnków: the commander of this front was Lieutenant Colonel Kazimierz Grudzielski. The Western Front – from the Białe Lake to the Obra canal near Wolsztyn: the Commander of this front was Colonel Michał Milewski. The South-Western Front, also referred to as ”Group Leszno” – from the Obra Canal to Poniec: the commander of this front was Second Lieutenant Bernard Śliwiński. The Southern Front – from Poniec along the border of the Silesian province to the border of the Kingdom of Poland: the commander of this front was Second Lieutenant Władysław Wawrzyniak, who was substituted by Colonel Adolf Jan Kuczewski after the reorganisation. In order to increase the efficiency of the functioning of the fronts, the number of military districts was reduced to three, which corresponded territorially to the fronts. A particular role was to be played by the Poznań district, which was responsible for the establishment and maintenance of the operational reserve whose units were to be directed to those sections of the front which were at particular risk. This was an effect of the experience from the first period of the uprising when the system of transferring units was successful and on many occasions tipped the scales of victories to the insurgents. The commanders of the respective fronts were responsible for the conscription and organisation of rifle regiments which were the basic force of the Greater Poland Army. A division consisting of four infantry regiments, a cavalry regiment and artillery units was to be formed in each district. A significant element that strengthened the Army was aviation, which came into existence at Air Base No. 4 in Ławica. The captured aircraft and the available human resources allowed for the organisation of four squadrons. Particular elements of the army were armoured trains and vehicles. Four armoured trains were used to serve the Greater Poland Army. ”Poznańczyk”, ”Danuta”, ”Goplana” and ”Rzepicha”. Additionally, various types of services safeguarding the proper operations of the army were established. General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki managed to organise an army whose structure was adapted to the political-military objectives of Greater Poland in the first half of 1919. It was supposed to be capable of countering the attacks of the German armies and defending the territories occupied by the insurgents. The potential of this army was large enough to fulfil the wish of Warsaw regarding the transfer of an infantry division and cavalry brigade to the Eastern Front. 

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