Late 19th Century, 1863-1914 Between the Wars, 1919-1939

Poland in World War I

A.) Battlefield Poland

When World War I broke out, Russia's armies were on the offensive, occupying most of Austrian Galicia and a large part of the German province of East Prussia. Polish soldiers were meanwhile fighting on either side of the front, wearing Russian, German or Austrian uniforms. The Russian army attacked with largely superior forces, had succeeded in taking the fortress of Przemysl (believed to be i mpregnable), but were stopped in the BATTLE OF TANNENBERG (26.-30. August 1914), where 160.000 Russians faced 40.000 Germans (Russian casulaties 50.000, P.O.W. 90.000, the Russian commander committed suicide).
The Central Powers were able to repel the Russians out of East Prussia, to liberate much of Galicia by spring 1915. In summer 1915, the Central Powers armies pushed eastward, occupying most of Russian Poland, Lithuania proper and Courland, and leaving the Russians with only marginal parts of Eastern Galicia. The frontline in this segment changed little between September 1915 and December 1917, when an armistice was signed. Then, during the negotiations to the PEACE OF BREST-LITOWSK (March 1918), the Central Powers' forces advanced far east, occupying Estonia, Livonia, Belorussia and Ukraine.

B.) Polish Patriots during the War

JOZEF PILSUDSKI, leader of Galician riflemen's associations, believed that Poles should play an active role in the war if the war should lead to Poland's independence. On August 6th 1914 he lead his riflemen across the border of Russian Poland, transferring the private club into an irregular military unit. On August 16th, the SUPREME NATIONAL COMMITTEE was established at Cracow, lead by WLADYSLAW SIKORSKI, forming three Polish legions of volunteers, fighting as Polish units within the Austro-Hungarian army. Their first task was to liberate their homeland, Russian-occupied Galicia. In fall 1914, the POLSKA ORGANIZACJA WOJSKOWA (Polish Military Organization) was established secretly to organize partisan warfare in Russian Poland.
On the Russian side, another POLISH NATIONAL COMMITTEE was established, supported by the (pro-Russian) National Democrats.
Their leader DMOWSKI in 1915 saw his hopes for a reunification of Poland under Russian protection dwindle. He went to London to win over the western powers for the reconstruction of a Polish state.
With the situation becoming more difficult in 1916, Germany and Austria agreed to reestablish a Kingdom of Poland, to win over the Poles to their side. On November 5th 1916 the Kingdom of Poland was proclaimed (in the Two Kaisers Proclamation), as a hereditary monarchy with a constitution. However, it did not have a government, and it's borders were not yet defined. A state bank was established Dec. 1916), which issued coins and paper money. On January 17th 1917 a PROVISORICAL STATE COUNCIL was established, with J. Pilsudski as a member.
The Entente regarded the Kingdom of Poland as a puppet state of the Central Powers. On April 6th 1917 the USA entered the war, and the reestablishment of Poland was one of US President Wilson's famous 14 points. On August 15th 1917, Poles in exile founded the POLISH NATIONAL COMMITTEE in Lausanne. It was recognized by the Entente forces. Pilsudski meanwhile had stopped to collaborate with the provisorical state council and with the Germans and had been arrested.
In October 1917, a regular government was installed in the Kingdom of Poland, the Polish state becoming reality. With the Russian Revolution going on, the 3 Polish corps in the Russian Army refused to place themselves under Bolshevik command and, in early 1918, protected the Minsk region from Bolshevik incursions. Soon the area was occupied by German forces, and the Polish corps were dissolved.
With Germany surrendering on November 11th 1918 - the German Revolution had broken out on Nov. 8th, the republic been proclaimed on Nov. 9th,, a POLISH REPUBLIC took shape within days, comprising of Russian Poland and Western Galicia.

Links from looksmart
War and the Polish Lands, from Library of Congress, Country Studies : Poland
A Brief History of Poland during the last 200 years, from genpoland , encyclopedic, many maps
DOCUMENTS Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : The destroyed fortress of Brest-Litowsk, Russian Trench under artillery fire, Russian soldiers during the Brussilov Offensive, 1916, H. Sienkiewicz
Polish banknotes, from Was Nensberg's Collection of Russian Banknotes, also from Ron Wise's World Paper Money and Currency Museum
Paul von Hindenburg's Army Order Following the German Attack on Warsaw, 27 November 1914, from First World
Alexander von Krobatin on the Austrian Surrender at Przemysl, March 1915, from First World
Grand Duke Nikolai on the Battle of the Carpathian Passes, April 1915, from First World
August von Mackensen on the Opening of the Battle of Gorlice-Tarnow, 2 May 1915, from First World
German Press Statement on the Opening of the Battle of Gorlice-Tarnow, 2 May 1915, from First World
Alexander von Krobatin on the Opening of the Battle of Gorlice-Tarnow, 2 May 1915, from First World
British Military Observer's Account of the Battle of Gorlice-Tarnow, 2 May 1915, from First World
Grand Duke Nikolai on the Battle of Gorlice-Tarnow, 3 June 1915, from First World
General von der Boeck on the Capture of Warsaw, 4 August 1915, from First World
Frederick C. Walcott on German Military Rule in Poland, September 1917, from First World
Speech by Polish Member of Prussian Legislature Regarding German Rule in Poland, 1917, from First World
Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" Speech, 8 January 1918, from First World
REFERENCE Enno Meyer, Grundzüge der Geschichte Polens (Main Features of Polish History), Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgemeinschaft 1977, in German
Robert Koter, Geplantes Königreich Polen (Planned Kingdom of Poland), in : Money Trend 4/2003, p.138; in German
Article : Poland, in : New International Year Book 1916 p.551, 1918 pp.507-508
Article : Galicia, in : New International Year Book 1916 p.252, 1918 p.237

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on March 21st 2007

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