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The Warsaw Voice » Society » August 2, 2010
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A Battle That Saved Europe
August 2, 2010   
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The 1920 Battle of Warsaw, in which the forces of the newly-formed Polish state warded off the might of the Red Army, helped save Europe from a communist onslaught, according to many historians.

The British ambassador to Poland at the time, Lord Edgar D’Abernon, called the Battle of Warsaw, from Aug. 13 to 25, 1920, one of the most important battles in world history.

French general Louis A. Faury compared the Battle of Warsaw to the 1683 Battle of Vienna, when “Poland saved the Christian world from the Turks.”

The Battle of Warsaw went down in Polish history as the “Miracle of the Vistula.” Not only the Bolsheviks but virtually all Europeans were convinced that the Red Army could not be stopped.

Lev Trotsky trumpeted, “This is the beginning of a European communist federation – a union of the proletarian republics of Europe!” Russian general Mikhail Tukhachevsky added, “The fate of the wider revolution will be decided in the West. Over the corpse of White Poland lies the road to world-wide conflagration.”

An appeal to Red Army soldiers read, “Comrades! God, the greatest oppressor of the proletariat, has fallen. Our enemies have fallen. You are now free. But look, in the West your oppressed brothers are reaching out to us... Over the corpse of Poland lies the road to a global revolution. Go and drown the criminal Polish regime in the blood of the crushed Polish army. On to Vilnius, Minsk and Warsaw—comrades, march!”

The commanders of the Red Army units promised that after the capture of Warsaw each soldier would receive 40,000 czarist rubles and would be allowed to loot Warsaw homes and stores for two or three days. Some of the commanders had maps of Warsaw with the richest stores marked out. Bourgeois class enemies were to be executed in public on Zamkowy Square in front of the Royal Castle.

In its manifesto to Polish workers, the Interim Polish Revolutionary Committee, set up by the communists in the city of Białystok, promised that a Polish Socialist Soviet Republic would be created in the aftermath of the war.

In mid-August 1920, the Red Army reached the Vistula, posing a direct threat to Warsaw. It was believed that the Polish capital would be defeated within hours. Foreign diplomats left the city in panic. Only Italians, members of the Interallied Mission to Poland and papal nuncio Achille Ratti, who went on to become Pope Pius XI, stayed in the city. In the face of apparently unavoidable defeat, the Polish government resigned. Under these dramatic circumstances, Wincenty Witos, a Polish patriot and politician, assumed the post of head of government, while Gen. Tadeusz Rozwadowski became chief of the general staff. Rozwadowski made plans for the battle and was the main architect of the victory over the Bolsheviks.

Tens of thousands of volunteers joined the army. Units made up of university students, secondary-school students, scouts and workers were formed. Jewelry and money donations were collected for military purposes. The working day in arms factories was extended to 12 hours. Priest Ignacy Skorupka, the chaplain of the infantry regiment composed of the youngest volunteer soldiers—university and secondary-school students—died as a hero and his funeral turned into a great patriotic demonstration.

The main burden of defending the capital rested on the North Front forces commanded by Gen. Józef Haller. After a frontal Soviet attack failed, the army of Gen. Władysław Sikorski carried out a successful offensive on Red Army positions on the Wkra river. Units commanded by Józef Piłsudski struck Aug. 16 from the direction of the Wieprz river. The Soviet units, attacked from the south and west, were forced to cross the border with Prussia. Some of them withdrew eastward. Around 4,500 Poles were killed in the battle. The Soviets lost around 25,000 soldiers and more than 60,000 were taken prisoner.

Charles de Gaulle, who was in Poland during the battle as an officer of a French military mission, wrote, “The enemy, totally surprised, is not putting up any major resistance anywhere, he is fleeing in complete disarray in every direction or surrendering whole units... this is a complete victory, a triumphant victory.”
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