Insurgent Troops

Commanders of the Greater Poland Uprising – their actions and achievements

Bogusław Polak

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Under a decree issued by the SPC, on 17 January 1919 General Dowbor-Muśnicki announced the conscription of men born in 1897-1899. In his address to the insurgent armies, annexed to Central Command’s day order of 18 January, General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki declared that he would not favour officers from “individual Polish formations commanded by Dowbor-Muśnicki, Piłsudski, Haller etc.”, but he warned the soldiers against “taking part in the life of any political parties. The army should be apolitical and serve the country’s unity instead of strengthening individual parties.” The principle of electing commanders was done away with. According to the rule assuming the apoliticism of the army, General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki later resigned to show his disapproval of the participation of soldiers from Greater Poland in elections to the Legislative Parliament.

One factor that influenced the army’s aesthetics, and at the same time discipline, was the introduction of consistent uniforms. They were made of German uniform fabric. The design of the uniforms was undoubtedly the best in the entire Polish Army shortly before the Second Polish Republic, and the “rogatywka” cap with its triple rosette immediately gained the army’s and society’s recognition.

The organisational tasks set before General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki by the CSPC required expansion of the staff of the CC and the forming of regiment and division staff, commands and services (inspectorates) etc. The notorious shortage of officers was a significant obstacle in this case. In the German army, approximately 140 Greater Poland residents were ranked as officers. In other invaders’ armies, it was much easier for the Poles to be awarded the rank of an officer. Whereas the number of younger officers grew by way of promoting deputy officers and the most skilled non-commissioned officers, senior officers were only available in Warsaw. As a result of the efforts taken by General Dowbor-Muśnicki, within a couple of weeks from January to May 1919, 181 of his former subordinates from the 1st Polish Corps and the Russian army, 18 from the Austrian army and 12 former soldiers from the Legions came to Greater Poland.

The process of transforming the staff of Central Command had several stages. The first one, which lasted until the end of the first weeks of February, solidified the division into two functions: one focused on tactics and organisation (as the 1st Quartermaster Function) on the one hand, and the other focused on administration (the 2nd Quartermaster Function). There was also the so-called “Unit 3” as the adjutant’s office. The functions retained their structure of departments and offices according to the CC manning structure approved on 2 January.

On 19 January 1919, the Commander-in-Chief said to the army that “all men conscripted in the former Prussian region are a part of the Armed Forces of the former Prussian region”, and that the Staff of the Supreme Command of Polish Armed Forces in the former Prussian region and Head of Provisions were the bodies responsible for the execution of his regulations.

Central Command’s operational order no. 1 of 18 January approved the division of the front in Greater Poland into four groups: north, west, south-west and south, which had been functioning since the middle of January. In tactical terms, group commanders were directly subordinated to the CC, and in administrative terms, to the commanders of the respective military districts. Units formed in MD I / in the city of Poznań were a reserve that Central Command had at its exclusive disposal. According to the order, MD II (Września – Gniezno) organised the reserves for the northern group. Group commanders were ordered to immediately start transforming infantry units into rifle regiments. The process of transforming front units into regular regiments at the end of January and the beginning of February was disrupted by German offensives and was finalised at the end of February, or even, in certain cases, in mid-March 1919.

On 26 January, Central Command and the units formed in the 1st Military District were sworn in on William’s (Wolności) Square, while the 1st Greater Poland Rifle Regiment received a standard funded by the women of the region. The last part of the event was a 20-minute military parade, participated in by infantry, artillery and cavalry units. Several days later, on 28, 29 and 31 January, two Poznań-based garrison battalions were sworn in in the former Bernardine church, while in the first half of February, the formation of a few infantry regiments was completed.

The signing of the armistice gave the Commander-in-Chief and the CC Staff the possibility of reorganising the front in Greater Poland and the military districts and, above all, to form large infantry, artillery and cavalry units. As the fighting on the first front lines became less intense, it was possible to withdraw a number of units to allow them to regain their strength and to train them, or to organise them into regiments as part of the organisational scheme adopted by the Greater Poland Army.

Under a decree of the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council of 19 March 1919, Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki was appointed General of the Branch. On 26 April, Colonel (soon-to-be General) Jan Wroczyński became Head of Staff at Central Command.

For the purposes of the expanded army, detailed manning projects were drawn up, which showed that Greater Poland had a deficit of 800 officers. At the end of June, there were 1759 officers in total, including 872 from the former German army, 45 from the Russian army, 16 from the Austrian army, 112 from the 1st Polish Corps in Russia, 10 from the 2nd Corps, 6 from the Polish Legions, 2 from the “Polnische Wehrmacht” and 4 from the Polish Army. There were 688 officers whose origin was impossible to determine. The Supreme Command of the Polish Army was unable to send more officers to Poznań, because they were also needed in the newly established units of the Polish Army. An Officer’s Infantry School was therefore founded.



The course of the fighting in Poznań showed the effects of the absence of any central headquarters. The commander-in-chief was appointed only as a result of the events of 27 December for which the highest Polish military authorities are to blame. The staff of Central Command, composed of officers from Warsaw, could have acted covertly, keeping its intentions and activities confidential. It was only the decisions made by Major Stanisław Taczak and his staff that laid the foundations in terms of organisation, materials and operations on which the insurgent armies were based. By mid-January 1919, Central Command had established 9 lower commands at the level of military districts, commands for the four front groups and an intendant’s office. The work of Major Taczak’s staff was characterised by a professionalism and methodology which made it easier to take organisational control over the insurgent units. The next stage was to be the formation of a regular army. After 16 January 1919, General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki continued to pursue this organisational concept with several modifications. A serious challenge he had to face was to develop an operational action plan, as there had not been any before 27 December. Due to political reasons, the goal of any armed activities had not been specified either. Central Command received some general ideas no sooner than in the first two weeks of January. During that time, the Commissariat of the SPC reminded everyone that the liberated territory had to be treated as a front within the Polish area of aspirations - as a political and military demonstration of the endeavours of the Poles.

It was only General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki who was allowed to form a regular army based on mandatory service and discipline. Relying on organisational patterns he knew from the German and the Russian army, as well as on the structure of the 1st Polish Corps in Russia, the Commander-in-Chief established a three-division army with a cavalry brigade, three artillery brigades and an air force, covering technical units and services. This was possible thanks to the number of soldiers conscripted and the involvement of the appropriate cadres. The regional units lost their mostly homogenous territorial composition, which made it possible to transform the army into an organisation based on regiments and divisions. The commanding staff included senior officers from Poznań. Younger officers were soldiers who had undergone accelerated training, either that or deputy officers and the most talented non-commissioned officers were promoted. Poznań also welcomed younger officers from the 1st Polish Corps and other formations.

The front and the military districts were organised, inspectorates for infantry, artillery, technical forces, air forces, National Defence, district military mobilisation commands and sanitary issues, subordinated to the Commander-in-Chief, were created or expanded. For the purposes of an army of 100000 soldiers, both of the quartermaster departments of Central Command, the general division and the Field Commissariat were expanded. Thus, the Greater Poland Army was a continuation of Major S. Taczak’s and his collaborators’ ideas.

The absence of a detailed plan for the uprising before 27 December 1918 and - despite the formation of several groups of younger officers - of any central headquarters and a commander-in-chief had to take its toll on the courses of action taken by the insurgent units. Under a conscious policy of the invaders, only a few Poles serving in the German army had been promoted to the rank of officer. Privates and non-commissioned officers, however, the vast majority of whom were soldiers experienced in war and soldiers who had received a patriotic upbringing from their family, Catholic Church and Polish organisations, did not passively wait for events to proceed. Organised in the units of the People’s Guard, the Guard and Security Service, or sometimes the Border Guard, they awaited the outbreak of the uprising. The less experienced youth, the members of the Polish Military Organisation in particular, were ready for the uprising back in November, neglecting any real chances for success. The fact that in Poznań and the province there were numerous German military warehouses that were relatively easy to occupy made it possible to duly equip the units.

Analysis of the individual stages of battles allows for the drawing of some general conclusions. The way the battles were fought by the insurgent units, and later by the regular army, depended on how they were organised and commanded. In the first ten days of the uprising, the actions in Greater Poland resembled guerilla warfare. The units were led by commanders who were full of patriotic zest, but who lacked qualifications, which was demonstrated in the battlefield. They often committed elementary mistakes that duly trained and experienced officers would never commit. The mistakes sometimes led to tragedies, including the deaths of inexperienced officers. W. Wiewiórkowski, E. Krauze or K. Mann were among the commanders that paid the highest price for their errors. The initiator of the “liberation rally” in Kuyavia, Second Lieutenant P. Cyms, committed a number of elementary mistakes during street fighting in Inowrocław.

The lack of formal qualifications and experience in commanding frequently revealed the commanders’ ineptitude. Only a few commanders were down to earth and proficient on the battlefield. Ineptitude was often made up for with foolhardiness and belligerence, which resulted in commanders committing fundamental mistakes that, in a regular army, would lead them before a field court. In the insurgent units, only a few commanders were burdened with any actual responsibility for their decisions. P. Cyms was put on trial, but was acquitted, while A. Breza was dismissed as the commander of the Rawicz section. Central Command was aware that tasks entrusted to certain commanders were far beyond their capabilities. Although they served well as privates, they were unable to become good commanders.

An example of incompetence among older officers is the allegation addressed to Lieutenant Colonel K. Grudzielski, who, in the first fight for Szubin (8 January), did not assume personal command of the action, nor prepare its plan, nor control the course of events or organise reserves, which could have saved the failed attempt at occupying Szubin.

As the fighting proceeded, however, there was a group of commanders who managed to complete the tasks they had been entrusted with. In the northern section of the Greater Poland Front these were, among others: I. Mielżyński, K. Dratwiński, J. Tomaszewski, K. Golniewicz, E. Rogalski, Skotarczak brothers, T. Fenrych, Z. Orłowski, W. Kowalski, W. Wlekliński; in the western section: K. Zenkteler, K. Szcześniak, S. Siuda, S. Tomiak, D. Vogel, W. Eckert; in the south-western section: B. Śliwiński, S. Sikora, S. May, M. Talarczak, F. Szyszka, J, Namysł; in the southern section: W. Wawrzyniak, S. Thiel, B. Kirchner, M. Szulc; from the units of the Poznań garrisons: W. Pniewski, A. Kopa, B. Hulewicz, F. Maryński, E. Materne, W. Rossa. In 1921, most of them were awarded with the V Class Virtuti Militari War Order and the Cross of Valour.

In the later stages of the uprising, there were hardly any cases of commander incompetence. Military discipline was also stricter, which became visible during the persistent defence battles at the end of January and in mid-February, particularly in the south-western section, and to a lesser degree in the southern section (the battles for Rawicz). It should be borne in mind that the experience drawn from the uprising, and the commanding staff from Greater Poland to a large degree contributed to the victory in the third Silesian uprising in 1921.

There were, undoubtedly, many factors that influenced the success of the 1918-1919 uprising. It was a result of the joint endeavours of commanders, their subordinates, politicians and their French ally, as well as the effect of the organic work done by several generations of Greater Poland residents. Favourable circumstances on the international scene were another success factor. No other region of the Republic of Poland was able to reach for independence and defend it in the war of 1919-1920 in such an effective way and after such a long period of occupation.


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