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Poland - Cross for War 1918-1921

Poland - Cross for War 1918-1921 Image

Cross for War 1918-1921

Between 1918 and 1921 Poland had to fight to re-establish itself as a nation. The most dangerous enemy that Poland faced at the time was Bolshevik Russia, under Lenin. At the very least Lenin wanted to recapture Poland and other lands (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bialy-Russia and Ukraine) lost as a result of Czarist Russia's defeat by Germany in WW I. It is now widely believed that Lenin wanted to expand his Bolshevik empire beyond the former Russian boundries, using the Red Army as a tool to accomplish a wider Revolution. Germany and France were War weary and were experiencing problems such as un-employment and general economic disruption. Lenin already had political agitators in those countries, but in order for his Revolution to succeed he would need the presence of a military force, the Red Army. It became apparent that Lenin was begining to win the Civil War in Russia and would soon be able to free up the Red Army for use in Europe. In a pre-emptive strike intended to stop the Bolsheviks, Jozef Pilsudski, the commander of Polish Forces, attacked the Bolsheviks in force in February 1919. Pilsudski could not allow the Bolsheviks to gain full strength. Pilsudski was hoping that the White and Red forces in Russia would weaken each other to the point that neither were a threat. Pilsudski also hoped that other countries (namely Bialy-Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic States) would form a defensive alliance with Poland against Russia (Red or White). The alliance never materialized. The War expanded and reached a critical moment in August, 1920, at the Battle of Warsaw, when the fate of Europe was decided. This War, and the important events surrounding it, are virtually absent from most history books. This is surprising given the huge impact on Europe that would have occured had Poland lost this War.

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Before WW I.
The Polish state became weak in the late 18th century due to bad leadership, disorganization and the fact that Poland was surrounded by powerful and better organized enemies. By 1795, the third partition of Poland was complete. Poland was divided up amongst Russia, Prussia and Austro-Hungary and would remain occupied until 1918. Polish Patriots were determined to regain Independence (or at least some rights) and staged uprisings in 1830, 1844-46, 1848 and 1863. Although these revolts were crushed, an effective resistance was established and continued to exist as various "Secret Societies". One of the champions of Independence was Jozef Pilsudski. Born in 1867, he began underground political resistance activities in the late 1880's, with the goal of an Independent Poland at Russia's expense. After being imprisoned in Siberia for anti-Czarist activities, he escaped and made his way to Austrian Poland (Galicia). Because Austria was an enemy of Russia, Pilsudski was permitted to continue his campaign against Russia. Pilsudski gave valuable intelligence to Austria about Russian positions in Poland and elsewhere. Pilsudski was able to raise a para-military force in Austria by 1908, know as the Society (or Riflemen) of TIR. Major locations of activity included Lwow and Krakow. This force would later form the basis of the Legions.

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During WW I.
Pilsudski placed his Legions under Austrian command in 1914. They were to fight exclusively against Russia, with the goal of an Independent post-war Poland. After Russia surrendered in 1917, the Germans wanted to use the Legions against France. Pilsudski refused to allow the Legions to be used against France and was imprisoned at Magdeburg for the remainder of the War. Von Bessler was appointed the head of the Legions. The Legions disbanded instead of accepting Von Bessler as leader. In April 1917, only men from the 2nd Brigade swore an oath to the Germans. Most men of the other Brigades were imprisoned at places including Szczypiorna, Lomza and (officers) Benjaminow. Many Legionnaires that were not imprisoned went underground, joining resistance cells of groups like the POW (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa).

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