For the past 22 years Poland has been celebrating Święto Wojska Polskiego (Polish Army Day) on August 15th. Same as each year, celebrations reach even the furthest contingents that the Polish Army has worldwide. The main celebrations are traditionally held in the capital, Warsaw. But there is more than just Warsaw being the capital to why the celebrations are held there and why on August 15th. Let me tell you a story of how a tiny country, that just got its independence back a year before, managed to stop the Bolshevik invasion of Europe.
So what are we actually celebrating here in Poland? It all started in 1919. Poland just got its independence back after 125 years of occupation by Prussian, Russian and Austro-Hungarian forces. The new state immediately came under threat from a newly forming power to the east. The Bolshevik Russia, after securing a decisive victory against the anti-revolutionary forces, was big about keeping the momentum and spreading the wind of red revolution across Europe and beyond. The “Revolution from Outside” doctrine meant that the Red Army would aid revolutions in nearby countries to achieve domination of Socialism over more and more terrain.
Poland (as many times before in its history) stood as the gateway to Western Europe. The Bolshevik forces started to reoccupy the lands previously controlled by the German “Ober-Ost” Army as soon as the First World War ended in November of 1918. Soon incursions into ethnically Polish lands started. Since Bolshevik Russia was not recognized worldwide as a legitimate state, there was no officially recognized border between Poland and the Red State. The Red Army in the region was still engaged in fighting against the “White Russians” (anti-revolutionaries and remnants of the Russian Imperial Army) and therefore could not pose a significant threat—although at the time the Polish army was weak. It was mainly formed of conscripts and officers that previously served in the Imperial Armies of the old occupiers (Russia, Germany and Austro-Hungary).
Officially the war started in March of 1919. Since both sides could not field a significant force, the conflict rapidly progressed into a manoeuvre war, something the World War One trench veterans were not used to. By the end of the year, the conflict ended with a stalemate but this gave the Polish state the much needed time to train and deploy a much more significant force to the area.
It had become obvious that the Bolsheviks would soon eliminate the last pockets of resistance within Russia and would be able to deploy extra forces to the Polish front. The Poles decided to conduct a preventive strike. The aim was to liberate countries like Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine in order to create an independent buffer zone between ethnically Polish lands and Bolshevik Russia.
The offensive started on April 25th, 1920. Swift operations secured a swift victory and by May 7th, Kiev had been taken by the combined Polish and Free-Ukrainian forces. The Polish forces begun the formation of the Ukrainian state and took actions to ensure that the Polish Army was perceived as a liberator by the local population and not just another occupant.
By late May 1920, the Bolsheviks relocated the 1st Cavalry Army of Gen. Semyon Budyonny from the Caucasus to the Ukrainian front. This elite and battle-hardened unit quickly found a weak spot within the Polish lines and succeeded in breaking their defences on June 5th. In the first days of June, the Polish Army withdrew 150-200 miles along the entire frontline. The two Red Army groups then began an assault towards two major Polish cities, Lviv in the south and the capital, Warsaw, in the north. Defences were rapidly formed in both cities to prepare for the arrival of the Red Army.
The situation proved even more desperate as across Europe socialists begun an anti-Polish smear campaign which successfully blocked western aid to Poland. As a result of atrocities on the Polish prisoners of war at the hands of the progressing Red Army, special Death Squadrons were formed in Poland to mercilessly strike, and obliterate to the man, isolated detachments of the Red Army. National Defence Divisions were formed from all souls willing to take part in combat, this included the elderly, women and kids as young as 14 years old (who had to fake their real age in order to be allowed to join).
The onslaught against Warsaw started on August 13th. Three divisions of Gen. Tukhachevskiy’s North-Western Front attacked Warsaw’s east outskirts. The attack encountered fierce Polish resistance in the village of Radzymin. Over the course of the next day, the Polish forces were eventually overrun and the fighting entered into the streets of Warsaw.
On August 15th most of the Bolshevik forces were engaged in fighting which opened a window for the Polish counter-attack. Two Polish Reserve Divisions attacked the Red Army’s flank in an all-out charge and they secured a decisive victory and recaptured Radzymin on the same day. In Polish tradition, this day is called the Miracle on the Vistula (main Polish river, also runs through Warsaw). As a result, the entire North-Western Front of the Red Army collapsed over the following weeks.
The War continued until a ceasefire on October 12th 1920, signed in Riga. By this time the Polish Army secured a significant part of Bolshevik-held territory in the region. This included Eastern Lithuania, Western Belarus and Western Ukraine. The later peace treaty of Riga signed in 1921 finally confirmed the Polish-Soviet Union border for the years to come.
This is why we celebrate our Army Day in Warsaw on August 15th. Least we forget those who gave their lives to protect their homeland and ultimately stop the Bolsheviks in their tracks on the road to a World Revolution of the Proletariat.
PS. Some photos from this year’s celebrations.