Insurgent Troops

Commanders of the Greater Poland Uprising – their actions and achievements

Bogusław Polak

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On 3 January 1919, Lieutenant Colonel Stachiewicz, to be appointed Head of Staff at the CC, appeared at Central Command. A telephone network was used to effectively communicate with the field. It made it possible to give orders to units located in remote areas, and to receive reports on the battles going on within the province. Joint briefings of commanders from Poznań and the province became part of Central Command’s activity. The briefings were held at the “Royal” Hotel. With these means, Major S. Taczak was able to affect the course of events taking place on the newly-established Polish-German front.

Neither would the thoroughly formulated assumptions of the staff, nor the most devoted work of the Commander-in-Chief or the officers of individual divisions do any good, if several centres giving orders were maintained. Lieutenant Colonel M. Paluch was removed from his position as Commander of the Guard and Security Service in Poznań. On 9 January, by order of Central Command, the Poznań City Command was dissolved, and its agendas were handed over to the Command of Military District 1 and the Command of the Square in Poznań.  

Another step towards putting field commanding matters in order was Major Taczak’s intervention at the Commissariat of the SPC, which resulted in the Political Department of Division 3 (Politics and the Military) of the SPC Commissariat issuing an address “To all Poviat People’s Councils”, which read as follows:

“We hereby wish to inform the Poviat People’s Councils that Central Command has been established in Poznań. The CC is responsible for leading all military forces, appointing commanders, managing weapons and ammunition etc. We would like Poviat People’s Councils not to get involved in military affairs, not to be in possession of any military forces, weapons or ammunition nor to make any changes to military commands.”

The fundamental task of the CC was to create, as Major Taczak put it “an organisational base for the uprising.” A double organisational structure was adopted: horizontal, territorial – from poviats with commanders, through military districts, the commanders of which exercised supervisory power over all the insurgent units in a specific area, to front commanders; and vertical – covering regular companies and battalions formed of loose insurgent units.

Initially, on 7 January, the staff of Central Command, commanded by Major Taczak, divided the area of Greater Poland (or the Duchy of Poznań) into seven military districts:

District 1 – composed of the poviats of: Poznań-Wschód, Poznań-Zachód and units of the Poznań Fortress garrison; Commander - Rittmeister Ryszard Koperski;

District 2 – poviats of: Września, Środa, Witkowo and Gniezno; Commander - Lieutenant Colonel Kazimierz Grudzielski, staying in Września;

District 3 – poviats of: Wyrzysk, Bydgoszcz, Szubin, Inowrocław, Strzelno, Mogilno, Żnin and Wągrowiec; Commander - Major Napoleon Koczorowski in Inowrocław;

District 4 – poviats of: Chodzież, Czarnków, Wieleń, Skwierzyna, Międzychód, Szamotuły and Oborniki; Commander - Second-Lieutenant Zdzisław Orłowski in Czarnków;

District 5 – poviats of: Międzyrzecz, Nowy Tomyśl, Grodzisk, Babimost, Śmigiel, Kościan, Wschowa and Leszno; Commander - Second-Lieutenant Kazimierz Zenkteler in Buk;

District 6 – poviats of: Śrem, Jarocin, Pleszew, Gostyń, Rawicz, Krotoszyn and Koźmin; Commander - Second-Lieutenant Zbigniew Ostroróg-Gorzeński in Tarce;

District 7 – poviats of: Ostrów, Odolanów, Ostrzeszów and Kępno; Commander - Lieutenant Władysław Wawrzyniak in Ostrów.

P. Cyms owed Central Command’s decision of 13 January 1919 on establishing, under his command, a new district no. 8, to the emotional reactions of his subordinates. The new district covered the poviats of Inowrocław and Strzelin.

In accordance with earlier directives, every district was subordinate to a commander, who was responsible for the units within his district and who organised regular armies out of the formations that already existed. The commander was also responsible for defending the district and the adjacent section of the front. All of the local units and commands - rural, municipal and poviat-based - were subordinate to him.

The establishment of the structures necessary to carry out the recruitment procedures was also hindered by a number of difficulties. Due to the considerable share of German population, Major Taczak found that the rule of common conscription should be rejected at the initial stage until the Polish field administration was reinforced. The Commander-in-Chief’s intention was to conscript men born in 1900 and 1901, in mid-January. Making General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki the Commander invalidated the intention, as the new Commander-in-Chief had his own idea for the recruitment of new soldiers in Greater Poland.

Major S. Taczak, despite not having graduated from a military academy, turned out to be a skilled commander. His decisions were well-balanced and very specific. He was respected for his humility and tactfulness. All of his tasks were completed above his qualifications as a front officer with the rank of captain.  

The most important stage of the Greater Poland Uprising was the period of the 16 days between 28 December 1918 and 12 January 1919. Let us remember that Captain S. Taczak was appointed temporary Commander-in-Chief until J. Piłsudski chose a new candidate with the rank of general. 

But the effects of his actions went beyond all expectations. Although the results of the uprising were influenced by a lack of time, which was not Central Command’s fault, by the end of the first ten days of January the insurgents had managed to maintain the achievements they had made so far and created a strong anti-German front, making it possible to develop offensive operations within the actual limits set by their own capacities. S. Taczak and J. Stachiewicz also set out the operational goals of the uprising and formed the foundations for their pursuit.

It can be stated that the activities of Major S. Taczak, to a certain degree, limited the excessive initiative of commanders. Through his decisions, he got them to act in a coordinated manner according to an operational plan set out before. The creation of front groups, military districts, a conscription infrastructure, initial forms of infantry and cavalry regiments, technical units, an air force and procurement services (food, uniforms, armaments, transport, sanitary and medical service) was of crucial significance in the process of forming a regular army in Greater Poland.

Major Taczak understood the specific nature of voluntary units based on territorial structure. Thus, he did not interfere with those issues concerning the method of appointing officers and never – at least not in any official orders given by the CC – criticised the meetings of soldiers where political matters were often discussed.

The creation of the front gave Central Command the freedom of organisational action in the process of forming an insurgent army. One must also be aware that in the first days of the uprising, up until 5-6 January, activities proceeded spontaneously, along their own course, with Central Command having hardly any influence.

By approving the success of the insurgents, Central Command generally stuck to the directives of Polish political authorities. At the same time, it took every opportunity to liberate areas located outside the range of the uprising. Due to the lack of officers, organised units – which should be at the CC’s disposal – or the scarcity of war material seized in Poznań, more complex operational plans, however, did not stand any chance to succeed. The plan of expanding the uprising to the region of Pomerania may be a good example. The Commander-in-Chief and his staff’s methods of work were adapted to the current needs: from organisational action and training, to the planning of operational activities.

Major S. Taczak was also in contact with the General Staff and the Supreme Command of the Polish Army, as well as with the Ministry of Military Affairs. Whenever possible, he tried to supply the units of the Polish Army with weapons and ammunition, which does not mean that he depleted the inventory of the uprising.

Always claiming to be “impartial in political affairs”, he was against any disputes and arguments related to personal affairs or competences. Taczak and the members of his staff were loyal to the authorities in Poznań. The results of their activities strengthened the political authority of the Commissariat of the SPC, providing it with such an important attribute as an army, especially in relation to the Prussian authorities and the German population in Greater Poland, not to mention their allies and Warsaw.

In a short time, Major Taczak gained authority among his closest collaborators and those who initially treated him as an intruder and were reluctant or even hostile to him. He impressed them with his decisiveness, his sense of discipline, his tact in his contact with people, his impeccable manners, as well as his devoted and tireless work. He gave his all, expecting the same from the others. A great number of his initiatives, later developed as part of General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki’s work, contributed to the growth of the insurgent military forces. At the same time, he respected his opponents’ views and analysed opinions contrary to his own. The most important and crucial period in the Greater Poland Uprising was the three weeks from 28 December.

I agree with Marek Rezler’s opinion that Major Stanisław Taczak “did immense work, far beyond the scope of his formal competences as an officer of his rank and with his military education. Owing to his work, in January 1919 his successor only had to develop and expand what Taczak had done.”.  General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki never said a word of respect about his predecessor. 

The position of Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army in Greater Poland was formally taken by General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki on 15 January 1919. Major Taczak’s successor was designated by J. Piłsudski in agreement with the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council. On 8 January, General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki arrived in Poznań to get acquainted with the situation in Greater Poland.

He held talks with Commissioners S. Adamski, W. Korfanty and A. Poszwiński. As a result of these talks, an agreement setting out the terms and conditions of cooperation between Dowbor-Muśnicki and the Commissariat of the SPC was signed on 11 January. The General was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces in the entire Prussian Partition. According to the agreement, the Commissariat of the SPC, recognising the unity of the Polish Army, for political and international reasons temporarily wanted the armed forces in the former Prussian Partition to remain separate and independent. Appointing officers and military clerks required SPC approval, while the commander-in-chief was supposed to present the words of the military oath to the Commissariat for approval. The Commissariat of the SPC was also to appoint a Head of Military Affairs, whose competences were subject to a separate agreement between the Commissariat and the Commander-in-Chief. W. Korfanty remained responsible for the military and political affairs handled by the Commissariat. All plans concerning army formation or military operations had to be agreed with him. For these reasons, a political division with a Public Safety and Army section was established at the CSPC.

On 14 January, General Dowbor-Muśnicki met with J. Piłsudski to report on the results of his arrival to Poznań. On the next day, he returned to Poznań and on 16 January he officially became Commander-in-Chief. Greater Poland welcomed him with honours, as well as with caution. Even later, he had difficulties with his relations with subordinates. His long-term service in the Tzar’s army had impacted his views, behaviours and even his Polish-speaking skills. On the other hand, however, he was an excellently educated staff officer with broad experience, a great organiser and an advocate of a regular army with iron discipline. He paid particular attention to the proper organisation of the army, emphasising in his “Military Thoughts” that “the key to victories lies in the knowledge of the complex issue of organisation”, and that “in the battlefield, only regular armies are of any value” as the “spiritual union of the individual units of the army connected to each other with a common ideology.” According to Muśnicki, a commander-in-chief is “the army’s brain and soul”, while the staff is its “nervous system”.

General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki's view on the role of commander-in-chief and his staff was inspired by the examples he drew from the Tzar's army. Contrary to the German army, however, he claimed that the role of the staff was merely auxiliary - it was to be a tool which executed the commander-in-chief’s directives. The model was applied in Greater Poland, where the commander-in-chief was appointed by the CSPC and was directly subordinate to it. It was an indirect link in performing commanding functions towards subordinate armies.  

What characterised the order of battle of the Greater Poland Army was the combination of two organisational patterns: Russian and German. The structure of the army roughly resembled the order of battle applied by the 1st Polish Corps in Russia. The resemblance resulted from the fact that General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki wanted to form three four-regiment divisions. Such organisation was also adopted by the Polish Army. Cavalry was composed of three uhlan regiments forming a mounted brigade, while artillery comprised six regiments divided into three brigades, one per each infantry division. In his long-term perspective, the general wanted to form corps, but he did not manage to implement the plan. As far as the organisation of regiments, brigades and divisions was concerned, the German structure, which Greater Poland residents knew well from the period when they had served in the German army, was adopted. It also referred to training regulations, which were frequently translated from German  with small modifications to provide for the specific nature, training and tactics of the Greater Poland Army.

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