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Victory of 1920 – day by day

A hundred years ago, Poland experienced one of the most pivotal moments in its history. The events that took place in the summer of 1920 didn’t only lead to a great military success but to a large extent they also helped to answer the question: ‘What is Poland?’ The hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw gives the opportunity to take a closer look back at those events.

We provide a day-by-day account of the events of July and August 1920. It was a year when the fate of the whole of Europe was at stake. The Republic of Poland, having regained its independence just a year and a half earlier, faced an essential question about itself. The military operations that ensued put the very existence of the nation in danger, and yet victory appeared to reinforce Poland’s collective identity. Poles stood up en masse for their homeland, pitting themselves against an ideology that was threatening Europe and successfully standing in the way of Bolshevism.

The Victory of 1920 project is a multivocal story told by eyewitnesses of the events from a century ago. Not only the military commanders and soldiers, but also the female workers, office clerks, priests, female artists and local inhabitants. It is based on carefully selected sources found in the archives: letters, memoirs, official notes, appeals and press cuttings, even passages from unpublished diaries. All supplemented by archival photos, some of which have never been published before. This polyphonic narrative about the remarkable year of 1920 will allow readers and listeners alike to consciously experience the incredible hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw. Following the stories as they unfold in chronological order will give us the opportunity to relive the events from a hundred years ago almost as they happened.

The successive instalments of the story of the battle will give an insight into the process that has served as a point of reference for many generations in terms of the way they think about Poland.

The series will also show how patriotism and the power of civic identity clash with an ideology that destroys both defenders and invaders alike. The success of Józef Piłsudski, his generals, the Polish military, the achievements of our outstanding cryptologists and the mass mobilisation of Polish society would go on to define the shape of Europe for decades.

A project implemented by the Niepodległa Programme Office in collaboration with Ośrodek KARTA. For almost a quarter of a century, Ośrodek KARTA has been undertaking activities to deliver a more complete picture of the war between Poland and Bolshevik Russia. The materials developed by Ośrodek KARTA are published in the Karta quarterly, in numerous publications and coffee table books, and on the website. The media partners of the project are the Rzeczpospolita newspaper, Polityka magazine and the and websites.



3–9 July 1920


On 3 July, Józef Piłsudski, on behalf of the State Defence Council, issues a proclamation mobilising the entire nation to fight. On 4 July, along the whole Western Front – from the Latvian border to the swamps of Polesia – a Soviet offensive commences; the troops attack along the Smolensk-Warsaw-Berlin line. After crossing the Horyn River, Budyonny’s Cavalry Army captures the Rivne fortress. On 6 July, Prime Minister Władysław Grabski goes to Spa for a conference of Entente representatives to ask for mediation in peace talks with Moscow. On 7 July, the General Inspectorate of the Volunteer Army is established (all citizens who are not in military service are eligible to join). On 8 July, after fording the Berezina River, Tukhachevsky’s troops continue their attack towards Minsk and Vilnius. Polish units are retreating in panic.


From a communiqué by the Ministry of Military Affairs:

After 16 days of strike, the workers have resumed work. … Although at certain times, the workers exhibited overtly subversive tendencies (the intended general strike), the revolutionaries … were unable to overcome the passive resistance of the masses which do not want a revolution. On the other hand, the Social Self-help Association had a message for the revolutionaries: where overtly subversive intentions emerge, the Polish intelligentsia, as opposed to the Russian one, will not stand by passively as the society is vivisected. During the strike, a proclamation appeared, which was signed “Soldiers’ Organisation – Front Section”, in which an unknown organisation warned the workers that from that moment on, revolutionary upheaval would be treated as a betrayal of the overarching value, i.e. the unity of our homeland.

Warsaw, 3 July 1920

[Archiwum Akt Nowych, Prezydium Rady Ministrów, Rektyfikat 49, vol. 4]


Isaac Babel (volunteer in Budyonny’s Cavalry Army, writer) in his diary:

The train’s kitchen, fat soldiers with flushed faces, grey souls, stifling heat in the kitchen, kasha, noon, sweat, fat-legged washerwomen, apathetic women – printing presses – describe the soldiers and women, fat, fed, sleepy. … Off to Zhytomyr after lunch. A town that is white, not sleepy, yet battered and silent. I look for traces of Polish culture. Women well dressed, white stockings. …

The Zhytomyr pogrom carried out by the Poles, and then, of course, by the Cossacks. After our vanguard units appeared, the Poles entered the town for three days, Jewish pogrom, cut off beards, they always do, rounded up forty-five Jews in the market, took them to the slaughterhouses, torture, they cut out tongues, wailing over the whole town square. They torched six houses, the Konyukhovsky house, I went to take a look, those who tried to save them were machine-gunned down, they butchered the janitor into whose arms a mother had thrown an infant out of a burning window, the priest put a ladder against the back wall, and so they managed to escape.

Zhytomyr, 3 July 1920

[Isaak Babel, 1920 Diary, trans. by Peter Constantine, New York 2002]


Sgt. Władysław Goliczewski (33rd Infantry Regiment):

We move in leaps towards the trenches in the distance. Suddenly, I get hit in both thighs at once. I turn on my heel and sit down. “Well, brother, this is it, we’re done!”, I am thinking. Fabiański takes over the platoon and the leaps continue. To the left of us, new Bolshevik units are counter-attacking. Further to the left, where the land is lower, Cossack squadrons are advancing! Not a good situation. At this point, Szymański gets a fatal shot in the stomach and falls off the horse. Fabiański rushes to assist his beloved commander and falls down right next to him, seriously wounded. Nowak and Olechowski still want to fight, but with their shins shattered, they both drop on parched earth, which greedily sucks their hot blood, lots of blood! Our weak formation is wobbling.

On the Daugava River, 4 July 1920

[Walecznych tysiąc. Pamiętniki sierżanta Władysława Goliczewskiego z wojny polsko-bolszewickiej, edited by Roman Umiastowski, Warszawa 1934]


General Kazimierz Raszewski (commander of the 2nd Polish Army):

The enemy, encircling Rivne from the west, attacked the city from all sides. … I went to General [Leon] Berbecki in the belief that I would find him in the location I indicated, to the east of Rivne. Instead, I found him in the middle of the city, with a marching column. … So, Berbecki intended, which is frankly incredible, to march his division away from the city without any order to do so and without reporting to me, leaving the Rivne garrison together with me as the army commander at the mercy of fate. … When the division reached, more or less, the intersection of the road leading to Oleksandriya with the railway track, the train with my staff arrived, on which 22 tanks were loaded. Seeing the marching 3rd Infantry Division, the tanks opened fire on the assumption that those were enemy units. This mistake had terrible consequences, as 48 people were killed by the shells which cut their heads off. The fleeing soldiers were shooting blindly in all directions.

4 July 1920

[Kazimierz Raszewski, Wspomnienia z własnych przeżyć do końca roku 1920, Poznań 1938]


General Jan Niesiołowski (Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Military Affairs) in a dispatch to General Tadeusz Rozwadowski:

Agitation among the dockers in Gdańsk to prevent materiel deliveries is intensifying. … It is necessary to immediately … intervene with the competent authorities so that they secure the unloading and transport of all goods arriving in Gdańsk and intended for us …. Please stress that the Allies … cannot – especially in the present situation – allow this last gate to be closed. …

We have just received reports of two incidents in the last two days in which workers from Gdańsk took an active part. On 2 July, they delayed the departure of the train carrying the 5th Siberian Division for three hours despite the fact that the Gdańsk authorities had allowed it to leave. The train only left after our soldiers had smashed the door open with the permission of the Gdańsk police. On 5 July, at the railway station in Gdańsk, our soldiers who were escorting prisoners and carried transit permits from the Gdańsk authorities were beaten and one of them was wounded. The prisoners were freed. Both the Gdańsk police and the English command of the railway station remained passive.

[Sąsiedzi wobec wojny 1920 roku. Wybór dokumentów, London 1990]


Artilleryman Stanisław Rembek (10th Field Artillery Regiment):

Yesterday was a terrible day. … Everyone was fleeing in complete confusion. Infantrymen in helmets of various shapes and colours were running, carrying machine guns, telephones and exchanges. Wagons dashed past them at a gallop. Some soldier was riding on a two-wheel carriage with a machine gun. Covered with white tarpaulin and holding a scythe on his shoulder, he looked like death on a chariot. Horse riders were passing everyone, raising clouds of dust that covered everything. Only the wounded trudged slowly, wrapped in bloody bandages. Some were supported by their comrades. …

Suddenly, a heavy shell whistled over us, making the riders lay flat on the necks of their horses. The ground in front of the cannon rose up in a giant fountain. My wagon overturned at great speed, apparently falling into a shell hole, and I flew out head first, about to go under the wheels. The box with ammunition, books and everything else that lay in front of the carriage fell down on me. I had the presence of mind to grab the horses’ tethers and was dragged in front of the wheels, but one of the horses, terrified, started to batter me with its hooves and finally fell on me. I saw another shell hit the horses of battery commander and of trumpeter Paszkowski who were chasing the cannon through the field, felling them both. … The peasants were standing outside their cottages and watching our retreat. A furious soldier shot one of them dead.

5 July 1920

[Stanisław Rembek, Dzienniki. Rok 1920 i okolice, Warszawa 1997]


General Maxime Weygand (Secretary of the French Military Council) in a letter to his wife:

Poland’s situation does not look encouraging and some concerns appear justified. The Poles do not want to listen to anyone, they are acting on their whims and stirring up hatred all around. Under these conditions, will the few friends they have manage to enlighten and guide those blind pegasi that hate being harnessed so much? This is the question I am asking myself every day, without ever finding an answer to it.

Spa (Belgium), 7 July 1920

[Jacques Weygand, “Weygand. Mój ojciec”, Zeszyty Historyczne No 19, 1971]


From the pastoral letter of Polish bishops to the nation:

Be ready for sacrifice in the service of your homeland, because it is only with great sacrifice that you will restore its freedom and strength. Remember that what you fail to give to your homeland, you take away from yourself and from future generations. If you hurt it by your selfishness, you hurt yourself. Therefore, do not skimp and do not save effort, do not mutter about ordeals and hard work, but rather be generous in giving. Offer up your possessions when your homeland calls you to subscribe for bonds. Offer your life in sacrifice when the homeland is in danger and calls for it. We do not even ask you to volunteer for conscription any more … because we know you and are sure that you will turn up to do your duty. But we call on you to provide volunteer units as well …. Through the ranks [of the volunteer army] we provide the necessary reserves to our troops … we breathe a new spirit into our fatigued army.

Warsaw, 7 July 1920

[“List pasterski biskupów polskich do narodu”, Wiadomości Archidiecezjalne Warszawskie Nos 6–8/1920]


General Józef Haller (General Inspector of the Volunteer Army) in an interview:

Many voices say that the public does not participate in the war which we have been waging for a year and a half now, and that it is staying away from it, leaving the entire burden to its few troops it cares little about. I would not level such accusations and I strongly believe that our public does not deserve to be belittled in this way. … The public feels that at such moments, you do not have to wait for an order and, in a way, for permission to defend your homeland: you can also voluntarily get involved in its defence. … I simply consider it a necessity. After all, such aspirations now reflect the spirit of our nation which understands that we are fighting for our freedom and even our existence.

Warsaw, 8 July 1920

[Stanisław Stroński, Pierwsze lat dziesięć (1918–1928), Lwów 1928]


From a declaration by Polish artists in the Rzeczpospolita [“Republic”] daily:

Today, when 150 years of aspirations have turned into a free land under our feet, Polish art and journalism face a new task: the spirit has created a body, but the spirit must now be breathed into this body. This is a necessary and enormous task, and one which has also become a burning fire in front of us and a fire from the inside – a task that demands all our hands, thoughts and hearts. … We have to work out a common position and make the numb general public aware and inspire it. We must combat spiritlessness, selfishness, the expansion of darkness and spectre of bondage. And this is our final defence, a life and death fight. The enemy is at the gates and the enemy is within us. Thus, today, as privates, we are all subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief. We are mobilising our spiritual, physical and material strength, and we are reporting for disciplined work, standing as one. We are at the service of the great, free Polish idea.

Artistic and Literary Associations’ Mobilisation Commission for the Defence of the State. Signatories: Ludwik Skoczylas, Adam Dobrodzicki, Stanisław Ostrowski, Ignacy Łopieński, Juliusz Osterwa, Edward Słoński, Stanisław Kazuro

Warsaw, 8 July 1920

[“W obronie zagrożonej ojczyzny. Głos artystów polskich|, Rzeczpospolita No 24/1920]



10–16 July 1920


On 10 July in Spa in Belgium, talks are held between the Polish Prime Minister Władysław Grabski and Entente representatives. The British Prime Minister Lloyd George who is hostile to Poland, dictates that Polish troops are to withdraw to the line marked on 8 December 1919 by the Supreme Council of the Entente as Poland’s future eastern border. On 11 July, a plebiscite is held in Masuria, Warmia and in the Lower Vistula region; almost all of East Prussia remains within German borders with Poland receiving just eight villages. On 12 July, Lithuania signs a peace treaty with the Bolsheviks. On 14 July, the Red Army occupies Vilnius. On 15 July, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland adopts a law on the implementation of agricultural reform. In this way, the government wants to win the peasants’ support and encourage them to fight on the front.


From the declaration of the Polish and Czechoslovak delegations on Cieszyn Silesia:

For eighteen months, a fierce battle has been waged between our nations in Cieszyn Silesia. Although it is true that the urge to fight is dictated by patriotic feelings on both sides, this fight has often been conducted with deplorable tactics. Violence has been used, accusations have been made and threats have been bandied about. We deeply regret any abuses that have been committed and, on behalf of our governments, undertake to promptly take the measures necessary to remedy this state of affairs as soon as possible so that normal peaceful and friendly relations can be restored in the plebiscite area and all those who have suffered as a result of, or have been affected by, improper conduct during the plebiscite campaign may be adequately compensated under an agreement between the two governments. Both governments appeal to the population of the disputed areas, calling for their inhabitants to remain calm and show mutual kindness.

Spa (Belgium), 10 July 1920

[Kwestja cieszyńska. Zbiór dokumentów z okresu walki o Śląsk Cieszyński 1918–1920, edited by Włodzimierz Dąbrowski, Katowice 1923]


Władysław Grabski (Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland):

In Spa, I signed an agreement which stipulates the manner in which our Czech border will be finally settled. … As for Cieszyn Silesia, I agreed that the demarcation line be drawn by the Allies without our participation. I agreed to their arbitration with no guarantee that it would be in our favour. … It was an absolute necessity for us at that time. …

When leaving for Spa, I was not at all prepared to accept a decision on Silesia. Basically, I was always of the opinion that a plebiscite would be the most appropriate solution for that region, as I considered Poles to have a clear majority in the large coal basin that was its most important part for us. However, completely different views were held by the Polish delegation. The delegation for Silesia consisted of [Józef] Wielowiejski, [Erazm] Piltz and [Józef] Kiedroń. In conversations with me, they all claimed that given the state of affairs in Poland [the war], a plebiscite was unthinkable at the moment and it could bring unfavourable results, and that, on the other hand, arbitration should not be feared. … Wielowiejski, who had information from the French … assured us that nothing bad could result from the Allies’ arbitration, thanks to France’s position, which was supposedly favourable to Poland.

Spa, 10 July 1920

[Władysław Grabski, Wspomnienia ze Spa, London 1973]


General Tadeusz Rozwadowski (member of the Polish delegation in Spa):

I was certain that we could only count on ourselves, and I was reaffirmed in this belief by what I heard from the English Marshal [Henry] Wilson, the then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who firmly warned me when saying goodbye at the Spa conference: “Just don’t count on any intervention, diplomatic or otherwise. The Soviets have decided to annihilate Poland: I have reliable information that they will make every effort to do so and will not let themselves be stopped by anyone. We all cannot really help you after the world war, and even if we had the necessary forces at our disposal, we would not be able to transfer them to Poland in time anyway. So your future is all in your own hands, and if you cannot win on your own, you will surely perish”.

[“Gen. Tadeusz Rozwadowski o przeciwuderzeniu znad Wieprza”, Wojskowy Przegląd Historyczny No 4, 1992]


Józef Piłsudski:

This incessant peristaltic movement of numerous enemy units, which is punctuated as if by leaps – a movement that lasts entire weeks – gives the impression of something irresistible, coming upon us like some kind of a monstrous heavy cloud which there is no stopping. There is something hopeless about it, something which crushes our inner values both as individuals and as a group. …

This impending hail cloud was breaking our state, shaking our resolve and depriving our soldiers of courage. I saw the impact of this march everywhere. And whereas I have already mentioned the influence of Budyonny’s cavalry, now Mr Tukhachevsky’s continuous march had still a much greater significance and impact than the previous events. On our Polish side, an ever clearer internal front was emerging as a result of this pressure in addition to the external one, and in the entire history of warfare, such fronts heralded defeat and played the greatest role in losing not just battles, but wars. … The state machinery was creaking, the troops’ efforts were wasted in reflexes and the commanders’ work was becoming more difficult and morally harder every day.

[Józef Piłsudski, Rok 1920 / Michaił Tuchaczewski, Pochód za Wisłę, Łódź 1989]


Lt. Stefan Brzeszczyński (3rd Artillery Battery, 1st Lithuanian-Belarusian Division of the Polish Army):

We had no contact whatsoever with battalion command. And we had no maps, since my “school” one ended somewhere near Daŭhinava. Luckily, the major still had a sheet of a 1:500,000 map …. We largely lived off the land, and the country around us was poor; in addition, this was pre-harvest time. And yet … the openheartedness, kindness and helpfulness of these poor, simple Belarusian people was astounding. Whenever our battery had to stop in a village, for instance to water the horses, the entire local population came to greet us: men, women and children. And everyone carried something: farmers brought bundles of hay and pails of oatmeal for horses, women gave us curdled or fresh milk, others offered some bread or a few eggs; children brought cherries in pots or in their hands … Weeping, they asked for assurances: “But you’ll be back, my dear? You won’t leave us at the mercy of those heathens forever?”. And we assured them with deep conviction: “Why yes, we’ll be back … we’ll be here before the harvest is over”. We honestly believed it, and they believed us. … And we were also ashamed that we were leaving them to their fate. So we avoided the villages, or at least passed through without stopping. And yet we were not running from the enemy – we were conducting a fighting retreat as per the orders received.

Near Valozhyn

[Stefan Brzeszczyński, Dzika Dywizja. Wspomnienia z lat 1918–1922, Poznań 1996]


Maria Dąbrowska (writer) in her diary:

Russia has gathered all her forces against us. Our front has started to buckle and break. We have already gone back nearly 300 versts and who knows if Vilnius has not been captured today. We are retreating while mounting a fierce defence. Moreover, the nation has finally been shaken awake by defeat. Proclamations by the State Defence Council (I, among others, was commissioned to write a draft version) and Piłsudski put everyone on their feet and under arms. A volunteer army is being formed. We have all reported to military authorities, waiting for orders. The streets of Warsaw resound with the footsteps of marching volunteers and bugle calls; by now, every passer-by knows three rules: the white cross, the red cross and the state loan. Rontaler’s school opposite our house has been occupied by the army. In the evening and at dawn, the bugles are calling us – we are living our modest camp life just outside our home. …

We still live under the shadow of war. The Bolsheviks have treated English proposals for a truce with Poland with derision. The National Democracy, which had already knelt before England and humbly offered Poland to it, has yet again suffered an utter defeat. In fact, one reprimand from Piłsudski was enough for the plotters to disperse. Thugutt was right when he wrote that all it takes is to shout loudly at them.

Warsaw, 14 July 1920

[Maria Dąbrowska, Dzienniki, vol. 1, 1914–1932, Warszawa 1988]


Cpt. Wacław Jędrzejewicz (head of 1st Army intelligence, captured by the Bolsheviks near Vilnius):

Hayk [Bzhishkyan] was a young man of around thirty-five. He was handsome, with a typically eastern beautiful face, sharp black eyes and a short-trimmed moustache. He leafed through my documents in silence and, holding the 1st Army operational order in his hand, asked: “Skazhyte, gde stoit shtab pyervoi armii?” [“Please tell me where the headquarters of the 1st Army is”] … I replied firmly that just like him, I was an officer and he should be aware that I cannot answer questions of an operational nature. There was a long silence, during which my fate was decided. … Hayk did not say anything, but drummed his fingers on the table. His officers were looking intently at him …

After a long time, which seemed like an eternity, Hayk said [in Russian], and I remember his words: “Well, you’re an honest officer and if you don’t want to answer, I won’t ask. Let’s talk about politics then”. I breathed a sigh of relief and thought: I will live. …

Hayk asked me if I really did not understand what was going on. After all, this was an utter defeat and annihilation of the Polish army. His Cossacks are pushing ahead so fast that their horses are dropping dead. This is the end of Poland, a new communist order will be established here and everything will change. His corps is now marching on Grodno and will continue its unstoppable march.

Vilnius, 15 July 1920

[Wacław Jędrzejewicz, Wspomnienia, Wrocław 1993]


Father Kazimierz Nowina-Konopka (Jesuit, military chaplain):

Masses of Bolsheviks are coming. It is an incessant flow, day and night, like a river. In Olyka, the Bolsheviks have shot down an aeroplane with an American officer and another aviator who was a Polish officer, a Jew who arrived from that area told us. He also said that there were so many corpses between Olyka and the railway station that it was difficult to get through. Corpses were decomposing in the heat and there was a terrible stench. Maybe there are more corpses in this Jew’s head than on the road. Hmm. So there was a big battle? Here, you would not know. … I did not hear any shots. Anyway, how can these Bolsheviks fight such big battles here? How can they fight at all? Dressed in ragged clothes, without shoes, mostly without rifles? They are nothing more than a gang! The peasants themselves say that it is a shame that the Poles are running away from such a gang. Still, it is God’s punishment for their excesses, they say, because those Pollacks forgot God when fighting.

Around Lutsk, 15 July 1920

[Kazimierz Nowina-Konopka SJ, Wspomnienia wojenne 1915–1920, Kraków 2011]

Article in the Gazeta Olsztyńska [“Olsztyn Gazette”] daily:

The decisive moment has passed. Despite the violence, robbery and incredible terror that prevailed in Warmia and Masuria all the time, we had to turn up and vote. We are sure that all those Warmians and Masurians who feel Polish hastened to do their duty to their homeland on that day. … The votes cast in ballot boxes in favour of Poland, even if there were fewer than it would have been the case if the plebiscite had been conducted fairly, are of extraordinary importance. They indicate that the Polish spirit in Warmia and Masuria is awakening and it is felt by ever greater numbers of the Germanised people here. The seed has been sown and it will yield crops in the near future. None of us was under any illusion that Warmia and Masuria could pass to Poland in their entirety as a result of the plebiscite. The Polish people in Warmia and Masuria have not received any of their rights guaranteed by the Treaty of Versailles. …

However, we have an unwavering hope that neither Poland nor any other nation in Europe will recognise the plebiscite that took place under such conditions. … Warmia, which is historically and ethnographically Polish, should belong exclusively to its motherland: a free, rich and united Poland.

Olsztyn, 15 July 1920

[“O polską Warmię i Mazury”, Gazeta Olsztyńska No 85/1920]


Isaac Babel (volunteer in the 1st Cavalry Army, writer):

A wail over the village, the cavalrymen are trading in their horses, giving the villagers their worn-out nags, trampling the grain, taking their cattle, complaints to the chief of staff, Cherkashin is arrested for whipping a muzhik. … Gaunt, angry Sokolov tells me: We’re destroying everything, I hate the war. Why are they all here in this war – Zholnarkevich, Sokolov? All this is subconscious, inert, unthinking. A nice system. …

We’ve found a Piłsudski proclamation: Warriors of the Rzecz Pospolita. A touching proclamation. Our graves are white with the bones of five generations of fighters, our ideals, our Poland, our happy home, your Motherland is relying on you, our young freedom is shuddering, one last stand, we will remember you, everything will be for you, Soldiers of the Rzecz Pospolita! Touching, sad, without the steel of Bolshevik slogans, no promises and words like order, ideals, and living in freedom. Victory will be ours!

16 July 1920

[Isaak Babel, 1920 Diary, trans. by Peter Constantine, New York 2002]


17–23 July 1920


On 17 July, in a note to the British government, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Georgy Chicherin rejects Western mediation in negotiations with Poland. On 19 July, troops of the Soviet Western Front capture Grodno; on the same day, at a State Defence Council meeting, leader of National Democracy Roman Dmowski attacks Józef Piłsudski as the commander-in-chief, but does not succeed in having him dismissed from this role. The workers’ strike in Gdańsk, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain and Belgium paralyses supplies to fighting Poland. On 20 July, Prime Minister Władysław Grabski resigns. On 23 July, a Soviet government for Poland is formed in Smolensk; it includes, among others, Julian Marchlewski and Felix Dzerzhinsky.


Major Kazimierz Świtalski (head of the Political and Press Department of the Commander-in-Chief) in his diary:

To [Symon] Petliura, the Commandant explained that force majeure, which is the European public opinion, has waved aside the issue of Ukraine. … Ukrainians themselves have to create facts which would prove that Ukraine exists. One such fact would be an uprising which Ukraine should start. Petliura wanted to open the question of Eastern Galicia. The Commandant answered that here, the force majeure is the Polish public opinion. He refused to authorise a mobilisation in Eastern Galicia.

Warsaw, 17 July 1920

[Kazimierz Świtalski, Diariusz 1919–1935, Warszawa 1992]


Juliusz Zdanowski (politician linked with the National Democracy, economist) in his diary:

Today, oblivious to the current situation, Polish Socialist Party activists are pasting proclamations in the streets. The shouts “out with Grabski, long live the workers’ government” fully remind me of the style and content of the proclamations published on the eve of the Lublin coup [in November 1918]. Meetings and rallies are being prepared for tomorrow to put pressure on the government, there will also be a ruckus in front of the English embassy. Between the two very sharp currents of criticism, one of which is directed against the Chief of State and the other against the head of government, governing has become impossible. With Poland having no civil service tradition and no clerks who are apolitical to the bone, when senior positions are filled with people who grew up in a different atmosphere, we necessarily get officials with political leanings. Different sections of the government apparatus are thwarting one another … Finally, today all newspapers should be closed and only the official journal should be left. Party announcements, and above all the activities of party-affiliated army recruitment offices, should be prohibited. Indeed, different and separate military cadres are being created today.

Warsaw, 17 July 1920


Today was the day of the Volunteer Army. Its marching ranks, consisting mostly of very young boys, prompted shouts of enthusiasm to erupt. Carts from which state loan bonds were sold attempted to discount this enthusiasm. Young male civilians were insulted on the streets. The excitement was enormous. This sincere, broad, deep-rooted national current in Warsaw is something to be loved. One has the impression that among these people and with their help, all decentralist tendencies can be suppressed and eliminated.

Warsaw, 18 July 1920

[Dziennik Juliusza Zdanowskiego, vol. 3: 4 VIII 1919 – 28 III 1921, Szczecin 2014]


Wincenty Witos (peasant activist, deputy to the Legislative Sejm):

On my way, I met three soldiers, supposedly coming back from Kiyv. Emaciated and miserable, without shoes or underwear, they dragged their injured feet with great difficulty. … During its retreat from Kiyv, their regiment was encircled by the Bolsheviks in the woods of Volhynia, routed and crushed. … Ukrainian peasants set fire to the forests and many soldiers were burned alive. Terrified and dazed, they pushed forward blindly, until finally they got on a train at some railway station and rode for three days because the train moved incredibly slowly and sometimes stopped for hours. Nobody asked them anything or stopped them. They thought that the Polish army had ceased to exist at all ….

I immediately started my work in the villages. I simply could not recognise the people there, there was panic and disbelief everywhere. The peasants certainly expected the Bolsheviks to invade, they were weary and totally discouraged. … At my rallies, they even protested against military service and taxes in some cases. They complained loudly about their poverty and the greed of their masters, priests and Jews. At rallies, I often heard shouts: “Let the masters and Jews enlist in the army, we have nothing to defend!”. Sometimes I had the impression that these slogans were rehearsed, although they were often dictated by bitterness. I did not know where they came from, but I did know that they made a huge and unpleasant impression.

Wierzchosławice, 18 July 1920

[Wincenty Witos, Moje wspomnienia, Paris 1964]


Col. Józef Jaklicz (commander of the 25th Infantry Regiment):

I am depressed by the news that the State Defence Council has accepted Lloyd George’s terms according to which our border is to run along the Zbruch and Bug Rivers. If this is true, then I think I will shoot myself in the head. We have not fought for so many years, willingly risked our necks and waged battles in White Russia, Lithuania and Eastern Galicia in order to give it all back. Thinking about it, I think that I will go crazy or organise a rebellion in the army and die on the battlefield.

Rafailovka (Ukraine), 18 July 1920

[Rok 1920. Wojna polsko-radziecka we wspomnieniach i innych dokumentach, Warszawa 1990]


Article in the Rzeczpospolita [“Republic”] daily:

Warsaw had one of its finest days yesterday despite ever louder threats from the Soviets and despite [the Soviet diplomat Leonid] Krasin’s boasts in London that Poland’s war with the Soviets would end after Warsaw has been captured. Yesterday, the capital of Poland showed those who are mean and hostile that in times of danger, it is able to rise up, close ranks and prepare to resist the enemy’s most savage plans … Already at dawn, the still sleeping city resounded with the rhythmic marching of volunteer units which were being prepared for the parade by their leader and organiser General [Józef] Haller. …

For two hours, the volunteers marched in tight ranks. It appeared that the parade never ended, as if the entire nation were formed into columns and passed through the streets of the capital of the Republic to remind all the living that the power of the Polish spirit knew no bounds and no end. Pupils, students, workers and peasants paraded before their leader, and their eyes and their entire attitude said: we will fight until we are victorious. A unit bearing scythes is passing. … Yesterday confirmed … the belief that not only Poland did not perish, but that every enemy would be repelled by the unwavering power of the Polish spirit. The Polish capital vowed victory yesterday.

Warsaw, 19 July 1920

[“Wczorajsze święto Armii Ochotniczej”, Rzeczpospolita No 35/1920]


Major Ignacy Boerner (head of the Second Department of the Staff of the 3rd Polish Army) in a report to the Commander-in-Chief:

On 19 July, the Bolsheviks entered Grodno. … The Cheka immediately started to work overtime. The number of people shot so far has not been confirmed, but the local population claims that 200–300 people have been executed – this is Cheka’s work. … The Polish Red Cross dispensary functioned until the last moment. Two sisters of mercy worked there …. Both were shamefully raped by several Cossacks. Everything in the dispensary was stolen.

[Stefan Kamiński, Lata walk i zamętu na Ukrainie (1917–1921), Warszawa 1928]


Józef Piłsudski at the meeting of the State Defence Council:

I would also like to ask you to put yourself in the situation of a man who has been charged with governing the newly emerging Poland and who holds in his hands the office of the Chief of State and of the Commander-in-Chief. You must agree: what kind of state is this where … accusations are constantly and systematically being levelled against me. A state with such a representative who irritates everyone would be disgusting even to me. … There must be some reason why our troops are constantly being defeated now. … After all, the same people who led them to victories are losing battles today.

There is a quote from Napoleon which seems ridiculous to laymen: success is three quarters the moral factor, and just one quarter material forces. And when those people who were once winning are now breaking down, they lack the morale, but that morale for the army must come from the country. … In the absence of morale, in the face of dashed hopes that the Entente will intervene soon, you must finally make sure [that the parties] say to one another – we must defend the state, form this government, rally the people, awaken the masses. So that the soldier can see that this country has some desire to defend itself …. You are all standing over the precipice and will take part in the slaughter tomorrow; cannot you give up certain things in these circumstances? How can the army be healthy if, when the trial came, you came up short? Gentlemen, think about it: if this disagreement is about me, then remove me, replace me with someone else, and maybe you will be able to reach agreement for a while, but wake up … because otherwise, there is only patching, which I am going along with, because it is my bounden duty.

Warsaw, Belvedere, 19 July 1920

[Rok 1920. Wojna polsko-radziecka we wspomnieniach i innych dokumentach, Warszawa 1990]


Lt. Kobyliński (34th Infantry Regiment):

A courier arrived and instead of orders to attack, he brought an announcement from the brigade commander that he was sending us five tanks. Thus caused a great stir – a new weapon, which we only knew from stories and descriptions, was about to come to our aid. …

The tanks made a strong impression on us: their solemn movement as well as the ability to keep up with the infantry and manoeuvre gently without rattling or making other noises endow them with dangerous seriousness and inspire confidence. Over one of the tanks, a tiny flag flies – it is the commander’s tank. The flag is leaning to the left and to the right. In this way, the commander gives orders to his subordinates. Three tanks were armed with 37 mm cannons, and two with machine guns. The vehicles made immediate use of their weapons, shooting at enemy groupings, which were already visible. The tanks’ arrival gave the cue to attack. … Many soldiers were initially walking in a line away from the tanks, but wanting to have a closer look, gradually sidled closer and finally groups of soldiers marching behind and next to each machine formed, as if they accompanied the tanks and used them as shields.

Olszanka near Grodno, 21 July 1920

[34 pp. Atak na Olszankę i forty Grodna dnia 21 lipca 1920 r., study by Lt. Kobyliński, CAW, I.400.562]


Vitovt Putna (commander of the Bolshevik 27th Rifles Division):

The condition of our army, which was by that time showing signs of deep exhaustion, and especially the state of our resource base started to concern me. The divisions were still moving fast all the time and having progressed from the Berezina River far into the enemy’s territory, they were unable to secure their rear sufficiently. … The general public’s sympathy for the Reds, which was strong in the Minsk region, began to fade as we moved closer to the Bug River. Almost all this was due to the fact that, separated from our bases and having no railway transport for the army, we very often requested that peasants transport us in their carts. According to peasants, being released from oppression would be a good thing, but so far remained hypothetical only, and in reality they were forced to wander for weeks on end with their carts while overripe grain stood in the fields.

[Vitovt Putna, K Visle i obratno, Moscow 1927]


Zofia Romanowiczówna (inhabitant of Lviv) in her diary:

The savage hordes are approaching. Our remarkably brave young army has so far repulsed them, defending its positions as best it could, but for how much longer will these forces suffice when the enemy has such a crazy numerical advantage? Here, an alert has been announced, and since yesterday a new panic has reigned … And this is not only dangerous and terrible for us here – after all, these wild beasts would push inexorably towards the west.

Lviv, 21 July 1920

[Zofia Romanowiczówna, Dziennik lwowski 1842–1930, vol. 2, 1888–1930, Warszawa 2005]


Fr. Michał Woźniak (parish priest in Chojnata):

The situation on the front is very bad. Vilnius, Minsk, Slutsk and Husiatyn have already been surrendered, with refugees emigrating to the Poznań and Pomerania Provinces. Grodno has reportedly been captured as well. In the country, an unusual patriotism has been aroused, but exclusively among the intelligentsia, since the peasants receive the news indifferently, not comprehending the horror of this situation. …

In my parish, school boys are happy to enrol in the army. The older ones await forced conscription with great trepidation, because lists are already being drawn up in haste. Citizens have taxed themselves voluntarily for the benefit of the army and are supposed to give up 5 percent of their horses for military purposes. Peasants are not obliged to do so, with a few exceptions.

Chojnata (Łódź Province), 22 July 1920

[Ks. Michał Woźniak, Kronika parafii Chojnata 1911–1920, Warszawa 1995]



24–30 July 1920


On 24 July, the Chief of State appoints a new cabinet headed by Prime Minister Wincenty Witos, called the Government of National Defence. On the same day, Bolshevik Commander-in-Chief Sergey Kamenev divides the tasks: the Western Front (commanded by Mikhail Tukhachevsky) is to capture Warsaw, and the South-Western Front (commanded by Alexandr Yehorov) is to push towards Lviv. On 25 July, an Allied military mission including General Maxim Weygand arrives in Warsaw. Germany issues a prohibition on transporting any war supplies through its territory, which is directed against Poland. On 26 July, General Tadeusz Rozwadowski becomes Chief of the General Staff. Following the 28 July decision of the Conference of Ambassadors of the Entente to take away from Poland part of Cieszyn Silesia south of the Olza River, Polish delegate Ignacy Jan Paderewski declares in Paris on 30 July that Poland will implement the decision, but does not consider it fair.



Article in the Kurier Lwowski [“Lviv Courier”] daily:

The military situation, which is generally stable in the south, continues to be threatening in the north. Bolshevik troops are tightening the encirclement and the area controlled by us is decreasing. A complete defeat and pogrom will follow unless we become deeply convinced that we will not be defeated – and if we fail to make every effort to defend the state, having prepared our souls for the greatest bravery and sacrifice.

Lviv, 24 July 1920

[Kurier Lwowski No 180/1920]


Zofia Dąbska (wife of Jan Dąbski – Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs) in her diary:

Many deputies are absent. The new ministers gathered near the podium congratulate one another. The right wing resigned without protest, but not without some spiteful shouts as, for example, when [Juliusz] Poniatowski was named as the Minister of Agriculture. The general mood is restrained. … Witos, as President of Ministers, delivers a policy statement. … He reads his speech in a hard voice, without emphasising any words, without exclamations, without suspending his voice, without any oratory and rhetoric – and this works. Willy-nilly, I am touched. In his voice, I think I can hear the hard, serious speech of the Polish people who tend to hesitate and fob off the interlocutor for a long time, but once they make up their minds, they start moving firmly and unshakeably, as in times of must, of a necessity. …

The magnificent grey-haired [Ignacy] Daszyński listens with a stony face; from a distance, he looks like a dried Egyptian mummy. Poniatowski huddles in the corner. The faces of some ministers mask their emotions, and yet they are curious. It is an incredible theatre. The President of Ministers, a peasant who used to drive a plough and does not wear a tie, will give orders to former presidents …. I harbour an inexplicable sentiment for this man although I know that he is sneaky, cunning and distrustful and that he surrounds himself with mediocrity, because this mediocre intelligentsia readily bows before him. … A great and at the same time lonely boor, whom no one understands and who must tolerate everything and use everything for his purposes, although he may well know that he wades in the mud and touches filth. Life is hard for a boor who wants to be a human being in Poland!

Warsaw, 24 July 1920

[Zofia Dąbska, Pamiętnik 1912–1927, Archiwum Zakładu Historii Ruchu Ludowego, Ref. No P-225]


Maria Kasprowiczowa (wife of writer Jan Kasprowicz) in her diary:

Once again, a war storm is gathering over Lviv. After the Russian invasion of 1914 and the Ukrainian one of 1918, the city is preparing for the new and most terrible Bolshevik one. Fighting is already taking place near Volochysk. A few days ago, the news came that enemy patrols were sighted near Radekhiv, already on our side. Panic broke out in the city. The authorities ordered evacuation. Admittedly, the order was rescinded on the same evening, but this did not stop the population from escaping in droves. They left the city, taking everything they could with them: sometimes all furniture, crockery, baskets and trunks from their flats. “The Bolsheviks will come and take everything!”, they said. Even the most level-headed people, who survived both previous invasions, asked with trepidation: should we stay or rather run? And they usually ran.

Lviv, 24 July 1920

[Maria Kasprowiczowa, Moje życie z nim: 1910–1914; Wojna: 1914–1922, Warszawa 1932]


General Maxime Weygand (member of the Allied mission) in a letter to Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch:

I was called to the Belvedere where I had a conversation with Marshal Piłsudski, which lasted from 10 pm to 1.15 am. For three hours, the Marshal talked about himself, about his victories, about the military difficulties facing him and about the possible assistance that could be extended to him. Not even for a moment did he give an impression of a leader whose homeland is in danger and who is determined to give commands, impose his will and make demands. He complains about the allies, about communications and about the rear; he believes that only an Allied military intervention could bring salvation. He does not, however, command in the sense of the word which you taught me; here, there are no firm orders, control, discipline. …

He is very attached to his military mission and will never agree to give it up.

Warsaw, 25 July 1920

[Jacques Weygand, “Weygand. Mój ojciec”, Zeszyty Historyczne No 19, 1971]


Stanisław Karpiński (banker) in his diary:

Things are very bad. We are constantly retreating. Big losses. …

A coalition Government of National Defence has been formed, which is headed by Witos. Deputy Prime Minister is Daszyński. Grabski remains Minister of the Treasury.

Weygand, Marshal Foch’s chief of staff, has arrived.

Warsaw, 26 July 1920

[Stanisław Karpiński, Pamiętnik dziesięciolecia 1915–1924, Warszawa 1931]


Juliusz Zdanowski (politician linked with the National Democracy, economist) in his diary:

Bolsheviks are near Białystok, in the White Forest above Pruzhany and in Byaroza Kartuzskaya. Morale is declining quickly. You can feel this around you. … Some lower-ranking officers ordered the evacuation of Suwałki and Augustów, and finally Białystok yesterday. The emptied Augustów has not been captured by anyone for a week, and no one knows who ordered the evacuation and why. …

As a result of the Bolsheviks’ fast movement – their nimble units consist of just several dozen soldiers – larger Polish units have lagged behind and now running away in fear and ignorance, not knowing who is commanding them and how to communicate with others. All this is either some kind of huge psychosis, although it is difficult to explain it away like that, or just treason. …

For two days, nobody knew where the entire command of the Grodno District was. … It is unbelievable for commanders to get information about the front from random civilians. [Jan] Kowerski’s accounts appear to indicate that all troops from the northern section have completely disintegrated and got lost. In the vicinity of the front, both the population and the army look as if they are waiting for somebody to take are of them and lead them.

Warsaw, 28 July 1920

[Dziennik Juliusza Zdanowskiego, vol. 3: 4 VIII 1919 – 28 III 1921, Szczecin 2014]


Report of a liaison officer affiliated with the Polish Military Mission in Gdańsk:

Major Wagner, who returned from Berlin two days ago, brought … the following news. The Bolshevik offensive will certainly reach the Bug River. Brest-Litovsk will be captured by the Bolsheviks who are imitating French tactics from the World War. Just as the French reached the Rhine and manned the bridgeheads on the other side of the river, the Bolsheviks are doing the exact same thing in Poland now, securing a base on the Bug River for their forays. …

The Bolsheviks want to conclude a ceasefire similar to that made by the Allies at the time: 1) with the occupation of a large swathe of Polish land; 2) with the handover of all artillery, munitions and war materiel so that Poland, like Germans at that time, becomes in fact powerless and has to agree to all Bolshevik conditions. The Soviet government intends to create a large federal republic which will include Poland, leaving it some autonomy. However, it will demand the complete abolition of border controls and the introduction of wide-gauge railway tracks. In fact, Poland is to cease to exist as a separate power and is to be combined with Russia to form a single state. …

At the peace conference, the Polish corridor is to be erased from the map of Europe, and Pomerania and Gdańsk are to be ceded to Germany. The latter reports are so categorical that I think that the Bolsheviks must have given Germany assurances in this respect.

Gdańsk, 29 July 1920

[Józef Piłsudski Institute of America in New York, Adiutantura Generalna Naczelnego Wodza, Ref. No 105]


Zofia Kirkor-Kiedroniowa (social activist):

Yesterday, the Conference of Ambassadors announced the contents of the decision defining the borders between Czechoslovakia and Poland in the Duchy of Cieszyn, Spiš and Orava. … Ms Kłuszyńska came to Wisła and visited me. “There is already a decision”, she said. “Karviná, Třinec, and Fryštát go to the Czechs”. After a while, she added: “This is too terrible to be true, this decision cannot stand”. Yes, it was terrible. However, the coming reports crushed all illusions.

I lay completely prostrate for a few days, silently repeating: Karviná, Třinec, Fryštát… – just as you repeat the names of your loved ones whom death has taken away. And then I made the decision to stay with them, with the loved ones who had been given into captivity.

Wisła, 29 July 1920

[Zofia Kirkor-Kiedroniowa, Wspomnienia, vol. 2, Kraków 1988]


Ignacy Jan Paderewski (Polish government envoy) in a declaration addressed to the President of the Supreme Council of Allied and Associated Powers Alexandre Millerand:

The Polish government has signed a formal commitment that must be fulfilled. With insurmountable pain, I will put my signature to a document that takes away from us such a valuable, precious and dear part of our nation. However, before I do so, Mr President, I want to declare that, although the Polish Government sincerely wishes to fulfil its commitments completely and loyally, it will never succeed in convincing the Polish people that justice has been done. National consciousness is stronger and lasts longer than governments.

Warsaw, 30 July 1920

[Kwestja cieszyńska. Zbiór dokumentów z okresu walki o Śląsk Cieszyński 1918–1920, Katowice 1923]


Julian Marchlewski (Chairman of the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee) in a letter to Lenin:

The valiant Red Army … has entered the territory of Poland as an active participant in the Polish proletariat’s struggle against noble and bourgeois oppressors.

Please convey our deep gratitude to all workers and peasants of Russia for this effective assistance. I consider it my duty to inform you that the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee has been set up to direct work in the territory liberated from the nobles. The Committee is chaired by Comrade Julian Marchlewski and includes Comrades Felix Dzerzhinsky, Feliks Kon, Edward Próchniak and Józef Unszlicht.

Following the example and experience of Red Russia, we hope to successfully complete the liberation of workers and peasants of Poland in the near future and to fly the Red Banner of the revolution over the fortress of imperialism and reaction that is Russia’s closest neighbour.

30 July 1920

[Archiwum Akt Nowych, Tymczasowy Komitet Rewolucyjny, Ref. No 2/1297/0/1/168/I/9]


Wincenty Witos (Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Poland) in an appeal to peasants:

My peasant brothers in all Polish lands! … It is up to you whether Poland will be a free people’s state in which its people will be able to rule and live happily, or whether it will become a slave to Moscow; whether it will develop freely and prosperously or whether it will be forced to work for the invaders and feed them with its blood and hard toil under the whip of Russian rulers. My peasant brothers, it is our responsibility whether we defend our country from annihilation, ourselves from the yoke of slavery, our families from misery and entire generations from shame, and we will bear this responsibility. It is from us, my peasant brothers, that People’s Poland may demand salvation – first of all from us, because we are the most numerous and because it can offer us the most in the future. The state is the nation, the state is you! …

My peasant sisters! A great and honourable civic duty falls to you today as well. You must let your husbands, sons and brothers perform hard but glorious service. Run from your villages and homesteads those who have deserted the army, for they have stained the honour of the nation and the people; show contempt for those who, at the moment when our Homeland is in danger and when you are threatened with dishonour and destruction, stay at home and evade conscription. In this manner you will save your Homeland, you will save your future and that of your children. I believe that you will fulfil your duty.

Every alderman and every village head should make sure that all those called up to the army join its ranks so that there is not a single deserter in any village.

Warsaw, 30 July 1920

[Wincenty Witos, Moje wspomnienia, Paris 1964]


31 July – 6 August 1920


On 31 July, the Soviet troops of the Western Front reach the Kovel-Tykocin-Nowogród line; the next day, they enter Brest-on-the-Bug. The Bolsheviks proclaim the Belarusian Soviet Republic. On 4 August, the State Defence Council, in view of the Polish delegation having been sent back from Baranavichy, sends a new delegation with authorisations to conduct peace talks with the Soviets in Minsk. On 5 August, when the Red Army approaches Ostrołęka, the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee, which has been installed in Białystok, issues a proclamation “to the proletariat of Warsaw”. On 6 August, the Commander-in-Chief together with General Tadeusz Rozwadowski draws up an order to prepare a decisive Polish counter-attack from the Wieprz River and to break up Mikhail Tukhachevsky’s Western Front. The deadline is 16 August.



Col. Józef Jaklicz (commander of the 25th Infantry Regiment) in a letter to his wife:

The Bolsheviks are standing on the Narew River, just two steps from Warsaw. … It is high time to fortify the Vistula with trenches and barbed wire and not to give this line up as long as the last man is alive …. I do not trust in negotiations and oppose them, I trust in our weapons …. Negotiations will only bring us humiliation, violence and shame. And while we are allowed to die, we must not be degraded.

Stobychva (Volhynia), 31 July 1920

[Rok 1920. Wojna polsko-radziecka we wspomnieniach i innych dokumentach, Warszawa 1990]


Artilleryman Stanisław Rembek (10th Kaniów Field Artillery Regiment) in his diary:

Today is Sunday, and thus we believe, based on our repeated experience, that our battery will get a belting from the Bolsheviks, because this has been an unlucky day of the week for us. On a Sunday we left Maišiagala, where we fared very well, on a Sunday we were attacked by the Cossacks near Myto and also on a Sunday we were shot at on the road to Sokółka. …

Yesterday … I fell asleep in the tent because the rain was constantly pounding its roof. I was woken up after a moment, because the battery was getting ready to retreat. The Bolsheviks repulsed the 30th Kaniów Riflemen Regiment and forded the Narew River, but were soon themselves repulsed by the 29th Regiment. So we stayed for the night, but did not have tents any more. The rain was pouring furiously. We stood soaked to the skin and knee-deep in mud around bonfires which we lit, although banned from doing so. I stood watch in the night. I wanted to sleep so badly that I fell asleep standing up when I finished my duty. However, I was soon woken up as we were fleeing. The Bolsheviks were already in our village. … This was one of the most terrible nights. … My shoes completely disintegrated in the wet, so I had to take them off. Around my ankles I have deep wounds from lice bites.

Faszcze (Suwałki region), 1 August 1920

[Stanisław Rembek, Dzienniki. Rok 1920 i okolice, Warszawa 1997]


Mikhail Tukhachevsky (commander of the Western Front of the Red Army):

Constant failures and retreats finally broke the Polish army’s ability to fight. It no longer was the army that we had had to face in July. Total demoralisation and complete disbelief in success sapped the strength of both commanders and ordinary soldiers. In some cases, retreat happened for no reason at all. Our rear was completely flooded by deserters.

[Józef Piłsudski, Rok 1920 / Michaił Tuchaczewski, Pochód za Wisłę, Łódź 1989]



Polish peasant (Ostrów County, Białystok Province):

The first harbingers of defeat began to emerge in the form of defeated and completely demoralised units of our army. … Those soldiers led numerous horses and wagons with them, which they sold, and at the same time requested peasants in villages to lend them carts, although they did not need them, just to take these carts away from their owners after some time. I and my father were also requested to lend our carts, but then we stood idle for three days. When I went to the unit commander, asking to be released, he told me bluntly: “If you do not wish to wait, you churl, go home and we’ll drive your wagon ourselves!”. … That officer led me to a military police post and only after the policemen had intervened was I released.


[Pamiętniki chłopów. Serja druga, Warszawa 1936]


Lt. Stanisław Lis-Błoński (Polish liaison officer in the Belarusian unit fighting alongside the Polish Army, which was commanded by General Stanisław Bułak-Bałachowicz):

I received a report from our advance guard units that a local revolutionary committee in Krimne had prepared to welcome us with bread and salt. … Lo and behold, when we entered the market square in Krimne, right next to the wooden cross a delegation lined up, consisting of the president of the revkom, his deputy and several hundred local citizens. Of course, delegation members were almost without exception black-haired with aquiline noses. The president of the revkom was holding a tray with bread on it. Offering me this gift …, he welcomed “our” troops as Trotsky’s victorious army which brings liberation to the working masses of the whole world. Paying homage to us, he declared that the revolutionary army would have bread in abundance in the lands of “White Poland”. Finally, he filled us on the details: the reactionary troops of the “bandit” Piłsudski’s have already fled in panic …. He went on to tell us that they had murdered several “bandit” soldiers from the “white Polish army”. …

We had to “thank” comrade president and his companions immediately. Because of the need to keep silence at all costs, as there was a regular Bolshevik army in the vicinity, we decided to attack this bunch with cold steel. As a reward for his servility, the president of the revkom died on the gallows.

Krimne (Volhynia), 4 August 1920

[Stanisław Lis-Błoński, Bałachowcy, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 15545/II]


Cpt. Stanisław Jan Rostworowski (head of the Operational Department of the 5th Polish Army):

We waged … a victorious battle in which Biała was saved, at least for the time being, and two Bolshevik divisions (the 8th and the 17th) were encircled and destroyed. Prisoners of war and machine guns were once again paraded through the city streets. Volunteer battalions consisting of young students from Lublin returned from the battlefield, singing songs. We saw again that carefree cheerfulness which we “old soldiers” experienced six years ago when we went into battle for the first time. A day like this means a lot. To a completely exhausted soldier, it feels like a cup of good wine. It puts him on his feet again. And the surroundings mean a lot. Since a battalion of recruits from the Biała district was fighting here, no wonder that soldiers were fed during the march and that if anyone got wounded, he was immediately treated, albeit often using home remedies. Officers and soldiers feel that they are fighting for their own homes, so “every doorsill shall be a fortress”.

In other sections, the fighting was hard. One had to demand huge effort from regiments that had not slept under a roof for six weeks, had not rested a single day, constantly waging battles and marching. … A soldier who is so tired that he falls asleep under fire sometimes becomes so indifferent that he no longer cares about anything.

Biała (Lublin Province), 4 August 1920

[Stanisław Jan Rostworowski, Listy z wojny polsko-bolszewickiej 1918–1920. Z frontu litewsko-białoruskiego oficera sztabowego gen. Szeptyckiego i Sikorskiego do świeżo poślubionej żony, Warszawa–Kraków 2015]


Stanisław Karpiński (banker) in his diary:

The Bolsheviks have rejected the truce and are approaching Warsaw. At the Conference of Ambassadors, we lost the dispute with the Czechs over the Cieszyn area, which does not surprise me, since when you are weak, everyone will walk all over you, including the ambassadors of great powers! …

At the meeting of the Banking Association yesterday, I clashed with the banks on the issue of evacuation. I do not consider it possible that the Bolsheviks will enter Warsaw and therefore, in good faith, I spoke out against the evacuation, which will lead to panic, while the City Council calls on the residents of the capital to persevere and remain calm. Notwithstanding, a decision was made to “request the Government that banks be allowed to remove everything that is valuable from Warsaw”. I declared to those present that the Bank of Cooperative Societies which I represented would not evacuate.

Warsaw, 5 August 1920

[Stanisław Karpiński, Pamiętnik dziesięciolecia 1915–1924, Warszawa 1931]


From the proclamation of the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee:

Comrades! In its victorious march, the revolutionary Red Army is approaching Warsaw, heralding the crushing of capitalist slavery and the final liberation of the working class. … At such a moment, the heroic proletariat of Warsaw must not wait passively. … The proletariat that produced such martyrs and champions of the workers’ cause as Waryński, Kunicki, Okrzeja, Kasprzak, Rosa Luxemburg and Tyszka must be faithful to its noble tradition and cannot remain silent and indifferent. … Take up your hammers! It is you who should capture Warsaw! It is you who should fly the red banner over the Royal Palace and the Belvedere before the Russian Red Army enters Warsaw. It is your great duty to overthrow the rule of the nobles and of the bourgeoisie, to seize power and to meet the Russian liberation army as free proletarians. To arms, comrades, you must act and fight!

Białystok, 5 August 1920

[“Do proletariatu Warszawy”, Goniec Czerwony No 2/1920]


Maciej Rataj (Minister of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment):

Meetings of the [State Defence Council] took place at the Belvedere in the large hall on the first floor – usually late in the evening and they often lasted until three in the morning. It was a hot time, the evenings were sultry and heavy thunderstorms occurred almost daily. I will not forget the horror of those meetings – woeful tidings about the military situation accompanied by roars of thunder and lightning …

Piłsudski has certainly gone down in my eyes! It was not because of military failures and not because of defeats in the battlefields, because even the greatest commanders had their share of those. In the face of defeat, Piłsudski has lost his head. He has been overcome by depression and helplessness; he kept repeating that this was all the result of the army’s morale having collapsed (he was actually right about that), but he could not identify ways of lifting this morale; everyone, even those closest to him, was set aback by his apathy. It was suggested that he go visit one army unit or the other, show up and comfort the soldiers – all in vain! … At times, when I forgot about the tragedy of the state of which he was the head and commander-in-chief, and when I saw him only as a human being, I felt that what he experienced at that time must have been terrible. Hailed just a few months ago as a victor and conqueror of Kiyv, enthusiastically fêted in Warsaw even by his fiercest enemies, applauded in the Sejm even by Fr. [Kazimierz] Lutosławski, boasting before foreign correspondents that he would go wherever he wished in Russia and do to it whatever he wished, today he is helpless, kicked and criticised as a leader by everyone, including civilians.


[Maciej Rataj, Pamiętniki, Warszawa 1965]


Isaac Babel (volunteer in the 1st Cavalry Army, writer):

Why am I gripped by a longing that will not pass? Because I am far from home, because we are destroying, moving forward like a whirlwind, like lava, hated by all, life is being shattered to pieces, I am at a huge, never-ending service for the dead.

Khotyn, 6 August 1920

[Isaak Babel, 1920 Diary, trans. by Peter Constantine, New York 2002]


Józef Piłsudski:

I made all major decisions during the war on my own, never convening any councils. … At that time, three gentlemen stood the closest to me by virtue of their office: General Rozwadowski as Chief of Staff, General Sosnkowski as Minister of War and General Weygand who arrived in Poland at that dangerous time as technical advisor to the Franco-English mission. Their opinions of the situation were, as usual, completely divergent. And since the situation was extremely heated, the debates in my absence were probably not very pleasant as well. Once I found that two of those gentlemen, namely General Rozwadowski and General Weygand, were only talking to each other via diplomatic notes, which were sent from one room to another in the building on Saski square. …

We were supposed to send a delegation to Minsk, where Mr Tukhachevsky was residing, to beg for peace. I cannot call it anything else than begging because peace talks were supposed to begin at the time when the victorious enemy was knocking at the door of our capital and threatened to destroy our state before even a word about peace was spoken. … To a man such as I, who was taught for a long time, but never learned, to be humble, this was the hardest moment of my life, and as the Commander-in-Chief and Chief of State, I had to take care to ensure that our delegation did not leave the capital without the certainty that it could be held. …

On 6 August, not during some meeting, but in a lonely room at the Belvedere, I was working on myself to extract a decision. There is a wonderful description by Napoleon who said that when he had to make an important decision during the war, he was … like a girl who gives birth. … Everything appeared grim and hopeless. … I immediately resolved that I would lead … the counter-attacking group personally.

Warsaw, 6 August 1920

[Józef Piłsudski, Rok 1920 / Michaił Tuchaczewski, Pochód za Wisłę, Łódź 1989]

7–13 August 1920


On 8–9 August, during the British-French conference in Hythe, truce conditions to be imposed on Poland are discussed (including immediate demobilisation to the level of 50,000 soldiers and Russia’s unconditional right to conduct transports through Polish territory). The acceptance of such conditions would mean Poland becoming Sovietised. On 10 August, Prime Minister Lloyd George announces in the British Parliament that the conditions are favourable and that they relieve Great Britain of its duty to help the Poles. On 11 August, units of the Soviet Western Front reach the Vistula River. On 12 August, before going to the front, Józef Piłsudski submits to Prime Minister Wincenty Witos his resignation from the posts of Chief of State and Commander-in-Chief to be potentially used thereafter. On the same day, thanks to cryptologists, the Polish command learns the Bolshevik plan of attack on Warsaw.


Fr. Michał Woźniak (parish priest in Chojnata):

Moscow is standing at the gates of Warsaw. The draft has started, but it is excruciatingly slow. Those registered would already willingly go to the front, because uncertainty is very tiring. In a situation of such an urgent need conscription is spread over multiple months, so there are probably no weapons. Tomorrow, after the High Mass, a collection for the army will be held in the parish. People can donate whatever they have: underwear, food, money and weapons.

Chojnata (Łódź Province), 7 August 1920

[Ks. Michał Woźniak, Kronika parafii Chojnata 1911–1920, Warszawa 1995]


Wincenty Witos (Prime Minister):

In order to raise the spirits of the capital’s residents, Catholic Church authorities ordered public prayers in all churches. Huge processions have passed through the streets of Warsaw for two days, carrying flags, singing songs and asking God for victory. I went to the city to look at those tens of thousands of people from different backgrounds and of different ages and professions who had been walking around for days … but refused to participate in the work necessary to defend the capital, which was so gravely threatened …. I invited the Minister of the Interior [Leopold] Skulski to discuss ways in which so many healthy people could be prevented from wandering around the city aimlessly in the face of the greatest threat to the state …. However, the Minister … must take into account the mood of the population as well as of a significant part of the clergy.


[Wincenty Witos, Moje wspomnienia, Paris 1975]


Aleksander Orłowski (Mayor of Pabianice) in a proclamation to town residents:

There is a growing need to relocate numerous people and state offices as well as state property and assets from the areas recently evacuated which are now occupied by the enemy. In our town, the first persons have been relocated a few days ago …. It is the civic duty of all residents to assist as far as possible the military and administrative agents authorised to conduct the relocation. Let us hope that laudable resolutions and decisions by local residents to put themselves at the disposal of the military authorities and to offer their work, time, assistance and premises will not be empty words!

Pabianice, 8 August 1920

[“Odezwa”, Dziennik Urzędowy Zarządu Miasta Pabianic No 32/1920]


Maria Macieszyna (wife of Aleksander Maciesza, military doctor):

The streets are chock full. Tumska and Dominikańska are clogged with carts and carriages. Cows, oxen and sheep are thrashing around, exhausted animals dying of terrible heat in the traffic jam. Cows are running along sidewalks. Kanoniczny square and its side streets are flooded with animals which have been pushed out of this crowded space. A second river flows through Dominikańska. In the side streets, loaded carts are parked. The people are silent, but look insane; they do not say anything, but keep trying to break free from the crowd or throw themselves on the carts, as if fainting. Horses are neighing, cows are mooing, and pigs and sheep are contributing to the noise as well. This crowded river rolled from early morning until late night.

Residents of Płock have been dumbfounded. On the street, I met some people from Drobin. I offered them an apartment. “Cross the Vistula!” was all they said. “The Bolsheviks are between Bielsko and Drobin!”. I saw my acquaintances flee, accompanied by several carts loaded with bedding, other things and some livestock. The carts were driven by small boys, girls or sleepy ladies, because farm hands did not want to go, nor did they allow belongings to be taken. …

We came to a conclusion that maybe nothing will happen tonight, that Płock will be evacuated and that the army will leave us, followed by the police. We believed that all men should join the Civic Guard, and that they will also leave the city later on, and only women and children will remain, because maybe the Bolsheviks will not harm them. Afterwards, a lofty resolution was adopted that no one should leave the city and that we should defend it to the last. …

We were so indignant when we saw the police escaping from Łomża that we almost beat them. They swore to us that they would join the army and retake Łomża.

Płock, 10 August 1920

[“Listy Marii Macieszyny”, Notatki Płockie No 2/1997]


Stanisław Karpiński (banker) in his diary:

Things are very bad. Warsaw is threatened. The Capital Defence Council has been formed. Banks have already emptied their vaults and moved the contents either to Kraków or to Poznań. …

I just cannot accept the possibility that Warsaw could be captured. Fearful crowds of fugitives disgust me. The entire square in front of the main railway station is filled with cars, trunks and bundles. I heard Deputy [Jan] Kwapiński speaking from the bridge: “Look at those shameless escapees, those rats leaving the ship, and remember well who it was that only thought about saving their property at the time when the enemy was nearing the capital”.

Warsaw, 12 August 1920

[Stanisław Karpiński, Pamiętnik dziesięciolecia 1915–1924, Warszawa 1931]


Lt. Jan Kowalewski (Head of the Second Cipher Section of the Second Department of the High Command of the Polish Army):

Our signals intelligence intercepted a multi-page coded telegram of the 16th Bolshevik Army. It was an operational order, and it must have been important since a new cipher was used to transmit it. You can imagine the pressure under which we started our work. Luckily, in less than an hour the cipher began to unravel. The telegram was not yet fully deciphered, but from the snippets we already knew that this was a huge order concerning the decisive assault on Warsaw itself. Every minute was of consequence, but we were encouraged by short radio dispatches sent from the Bolshevik divisions’ headquarters demanding that the order be repeated as due to weather conditions gaps had appeared in the long text they had received.

Meanwhile, our signals intelligence had intercepted the order in its entirety, so we could analyse the cipher without any problems. The Bolsheviks were so sure of their success that in point four of that dramatic order it was stated that the 27th Rifles Division was to conduct the main strike, cross to the other bank of the Vistula in the vicinity of the Praga suburb and capture Warsaw. We knew beforehand that this division had received fresh replenishments from Russia, was specially strengthened and included more than 13,000 riflemen.

We were still frantically working on the cipher, but had already forwarded the gist to the Belvedere, asking if we should translate it. However, Marshal Piłsudski stated that the Russian text was sufficient and expressed his satisfaction with the enemy’s intentions, since the point was precisely to tie the Bolsheviks on the Warsaw front as much as possible.

A new question arose: should the Bolsheviks be allowed to communicate by radio, or should we exacerbate the chaos in their ranks by preventing them from making radio communications? Our staff decided that we should prevent the Bolsheviks from communicating by radio for 48 hours from the moment we strike. The Marshal’s only concern now was that the Bolsheviks do not change their original plan too early. We had to switch our entire machine to that task, which was a complete novelty in warfare.

Work in the radio communications section was in full swing; the plan drawn up by Colonel Jawor turned out to be so good that during those two critical days, Tukhachevsky’s entire front was unable to transmit or receive a single radio dispatch. Our signals intelligence, knowing the frequencies and call signals of all Bolshevik stations by heart, only allowed them to call each other and establish communication. However, as soon as they started transmitting, our broadcasting stations started jamming on the same frequency [by reading passages from the Bible].

Warsaw, 12 August 1920

[Związek Łącznościowców. Komunikat 2001, Londyn 2001]


Józef Piłsudski:

I left Warsaw in the evening. After arriving in Puławy where our headquarters were, and looking around, I concluded … that the morale of all the divisions gathered there, and there were four of them, was not as bad as I had previously assumed. And although just before my arrival one of those divisions, namely the 21st, had followed the custom acquired just a month ago, retreating from a suburb on the banks of the Wieprz River – from Kock, which it had been ordered to hold – after being pressured by a small enemy grouping, I did not think that the difficult breakthrough in morale that is required in order to counter-attack after a long retreat was an impossible thing to achieve. … Besides, I saw incredible shortcomings in the soldiers’ equipment and uniforms. I had not seen such utter paupers, as I called them, earlier in that war.

Puławy, 12 August 1920

[Józef Piłsudski, Rok 1920 / Michaił Tuchaczewski, Pochód za Wisłę, Łódź 1989]


Vitovt Putna (commander of the Bolshevik 27th Rifles Division):

In the evening, a Polish map fell into my hands, which we found on an engineer whom we had taken prisoner. … Judging from the notes, the information shown was from noon 13 August! I examined the map in detail and, having assessed the situation, I decided to have a direct conversation by telegraph with the army commander. I described to him the exact situation and conditions in which we were forced to fight. Irrespective of the success we had already achieved, I came to the conclusion that we could not improve our situation and, worst of all, in the next few days we could not count on real support from the Polish worker and peasant masses, which had joined enemy units in significant numbers as voluntary reserves. I proposed that we withdraw to the Bug River. The army commander was stunned by my proposal and to make sure I had not gone mad, he asked what I thought this could achieve. I answered, in short, that it would be better to turn back from Warsaw with our army unbeaten than to retreat after being forced to do so by the enemy. After a brief consideration, the commander upheld the order to attack.

Near Radzymin, 13 August 1920

[Vitovt Putna, K Visle i obratno, Moscow 1927]


General Władysław Sikorski (5th Army Commander) in his order:

Each commander must hold the positions currently occupied to the last man even if he were temporarily encircled from all sides, unless he receives an order to retreat. … I stress that since we are shooting privates for escaping from the battlefield, I will not refrain from executing officers who bear full responsibility for the situation in the units they command.

In the section held by the 5th Army, the fate of Warsaw and of the entire Poland will be decided. I will not allow the recklessness or thoughtlessness of some officers to ruin our Homeland. I will remove the bad soldiers ruthlessly, I will stand firm with the good ones, and I will win.

13 August 1920

[Bitwa Warszawska. Dokumenty operacyjne. Część I (13–17 VIII), Warszawa 1995]


General Franciszek Latinik (1st Army Commander) in his order:

We are entering a decisive battle. The Commander-in-Chief, the Government and the Nation, convinced that the 1st Army will not give up a single inch …, do not doubt that our troops will stop the Bolshevik storm with their bodies. Aware of the responsibility for the outcome of this battle, I order all commanders … to hold the lines they occupy. In defence of the capital and when fighting for the Polish “To be or not to be”, we may heroically die in battle, but we must not dishonour our Homeland.

13 August 1920

[Franciszek Latinik, Bój o Warszawę. Rola Wojskowego Gubernatora i I-szej armii w bitwie pod Warszawą w 1920 r., Bydgoszcz 1931]



14–20 August 1920 – The Battle of Warsaw


On 14 August, the 5th Army commanded by General Władysław Sikorski commences its assault from the direction of the Wkra River to relieve the defence of Warsaw near Radzymin. Apart from storming the Warsaw bridgehead, in the north the Soviets conduct a flanking manoeuvre (on the Płock-Brodnica-Włocławek line). On 15 August, the Bolsheviks stationed in Siedlce state that “the Red Army has entered Warsaw”. Members of the Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee move to Wyszków. On 16 August, the decisive counter-offensive of the Polish army, led by Piłsudski, is launched from the direction of the Wieprz River towards Mińsk Mazowiecki, Brest and Siedlce. On 17–18 August, the Polish Army routs the Soviet 16th Army. The Red Army retreats behind the Vistula River. A fierce battle is ranging for Lviv, and in the north Płock is being defended. On 19–20 August, a Polish uprising breaks out in Upper Silesia.



Maria Macieszyna (wife of Aleksander Maciesza, military doctor):

General Haller’s soldier [Wiktor] Szczawiński spoke from the stairs of the garrison church, urging us to donate copper for cannons, and jewels for the defence of the Homeland. Within a few hours, people brought several carts of saucepans and metal sheets. Even poor people offered their mortars, which are a treasured belonging in every woman’s home. Silver and gold, jewels, watches, chains and rings were piled on tables near the Orthodox church. People offered their rings, unfastened their brooches and removed their earrings. … In addition, 120,000 marks were collected.

This morning, the arrival of the army was expected, which was to defend Płock. The ladies peeled potatoes all night, but nothing has happened so far. A security guard has formed, which includes exclusively young boys. We women want to organise and defend ourselves because a lot of riff-raff has already arrived from the surrounding villages and all men have been ordered by the authorities to leave town.

Płock, 14 August 1920

[“Listy Marii Macieszyny”, Notatki Płockie No 2/1997]


Zofia Kirkor-Kiedroniowa (social activist):

I was surprised and horrified by the sight of heavy cannons and chests of ammunition on wagons being pulled from Warsaw along Grójecka street. What is that supposed to mean? Are they going to give up Warsaw? I was barely able to drag myself farther. Riding a tram through the Jewish quarter, I watched with horror and anger crowds of Jews who were excitedly discoursing and not even masking their joy. From Sigismund’s square to Ordynacka street, I walked on foot. As is usual on a holiday afternoon, Krakowskie Przedmieście was full of people strolling – all dressed up, calm and cheerful. …

My husband, who returned from work on fortifications later than I did from the Ochota district, said that the first defensive line in the Grochów suburb was manned by the Women’s Legion, and set against that, the amused public on Krakowskie Przedmieście made a similar impression on him.

Warsaw, 15 August 1920

[Zofia Kirkor-Kiedroniowa, Wspomnienia, vol. 3, Kraków 1989]


Maria Dąbrowska (writer) in her diary:

The battle of Warsaw is already raging. Tonight, you could hear the cannons and see the glow from our windows. … Each day, we come back from the office in great spirits even though the city looks like a camp or a marketplace: there are crowds of refugees, mostly landowners, and streets are chock full of carts, cows, sheep, horses, carriages and people. The weather is wonderful, there is a heatwave and I do not believe that the Bolsheviks will enter Warsaw, although they are so close…

Warsaw, 15 August 1920

[Maria Dąbrowska, Dzienniki, vol. 1, 1914–1932, Warszawa 1988]


Karol Wędziagolski (engineer, associate of the anti-Bolshevik Russian Political Committee in Poland):

We drove towards the front with [Victor] Savinkov [leader of the Russian Political Committee]. … On our way, we noticed with some surprise a number of heaviest artillery positions, the existence of which we were not aware. Along the road stood gunmetal giants, eight inches and more in calibre, with their barrels raised high for long range. Some strange artillerymen, looking more like doctors of philosophy than gunnery sergeants, were moving briskly among those guns, commanded by battery sergeant majors from the old Russian, German and Austrian armies. The boom when those monstrous weapons fired was deafening, but still put joy in our hearts.

… The enemy is still in Wyszków. … Manoeuvring between the sparsely growing pines, two cannons are approaching. They line up one after another, situated one hundred metres apart at different heights on the forested slope, and after a few minutes they open up from their terribly noisy throats. The one higher on the hill is probably trying to find machine gun emplacements. It targets a tall tenement house by the river, fires three shells and the machine guns go silent. …

I watched my Russian friend carefully from the corner of my eye. I had to admit that he staged neither an intellectual tragedy nor a diplomatic comedy. He was sincerely and earnestly concerned about the success of our cause, which his conscience and reason told him to champion. This Russian could put many Poles to shame with his enthusiasm – you could see the victorious triumph in his eyes as he watched his compatriots being routed.

Near Wyszków, 15 August 1920

[Karol Wędziagolski, Pamiętniki, Londyn 1972]


Vitovt Putna (commander of the Bolshevik 27th Rifles Division):

Due to the large losses we had suffered in the last few days, our regiments were quickly becoming smaller and the ammunition ran out. Soldiers were in a state of extreme exhaustion. A moment came when not just single units, but the entire mass lost faith in the success of our fight against the enemy, faith in our chance to win. The string that had been tightening since we forded the Bug River finally snapped. On the night of 15–16 August, I was certain that we would have to retreat – not just our division, but the entire army.

Near Radzymin, 16 August 1920

[Vitovt Putna, K Visle i obratno, Moscow 1927]


Cpt. Józef Godlewski (Second Department of the General Staff of the Polish Army):

At dawn, Józef Piłsudski together with his closest staff, which included General Leśniewski and I as his adjutant, set off for the front at Ryki near Puławy. Despite our requests that he not expose himself, Piłsudski walked on foot among the first ranks of the infantry. I took turns with the other adjutants in carrying a small suitcase with medals, which Piłsudski pinned immediately after the battle on both officers and privates for their accomplishments, heroism and courage. A new spirit entered the soldiers. After a short and surprising battle, we captured Ryki and took first prisoners.

Ryki, 16 August 1920

[Józef Godlewski, Na przełomie epok, Londyn 1978]


Cpt. Charles de Gaulle (member of the French military mission in Poland):

The offensive began very well. The Manoeuvre Group led by the Chief of State Piłsudski … is rapidly moving north. The enemy, completely surprised by the sight of Polish troops on his left flank when he thought that they had disintegrated, puts up no serious resistance, flees in disarray in all directions or surrenders en masse. Anyway, the Russians’ attack on Warsaw faltered at the same time …. Ah! What a beautiful manoeuvre it was! Our Poles seem to have grown wings in order to accomplish the task; the same soldiers who were exhausted both physically and morally a week ago are now running forward, covering 40 kilometres a day.

17 August 1920

[Charles de Gaulle, “Bitwa o Wisłę. Dziennik działań wojennych oficera francuskiego”, Zeszyty Historyczne No 19, 1971]


Article in the Żołnierz Polski [“Polish Soldier”]:

Which soldier wins? The one who can hold the line. … It is not ammunition that wins, not troop numbers and not even excellent training, but only the soldiers’ brave attitude. The one with the stronger character wins. A coward laden with grenades, revolvers and sabres runs away from a daredevil who only wields a bayonet in his hands. The more courageously you attack, my brother, the more likely you are to defeat enemies even if they number more.

Our lads have done this with the Bolsheviks a hundred times. A Red Guard gang is approaching. There are twenty of us and fifty of them. They are howling, shouting, whistling and running, trying to scare our soldiers. And the Poles are standing still. They have fanned out and are ready to shoot. The Bolshevik unit loses its momentum when their soldiers have seen the valiant attitude of our lads. They have less and less confidence in their step and they are no longer shouting. Our lads have not yet opened fire, but the enemy is already intimidated, coming to a stop, hesitating. And then shots are fired from our side. Even more shots follow. In the Bolshevik gang, some are killed, some wounded and the rest confused; now they are afraid. Our lads start moving briskly towards them. The Bolsheviks are fleeing.

… Stop! We are commencing our counter-offensive. The enemy is on his last feet.

Warsaw, 17 August 1920

[“Stój!”, Żołnierz Polski No 145/1920]


Article in the Górnoślązak [“Upper Silesian”] daily:

New disturbances have occurred. Around six o’clock, large crowds of demonstrators gathered in front of Hotel Deutsches Haus where the Polish Plebiscite Office is located. The crowd demanded that weapons be handed over, believing that many of those were stored inside. This demand was not met and a fierce battle broke out in front of the Office. Around eight o’clock, the crowd started a fire on the lower floors of the hotel. When the flames began to die down, flasks filled with flammable liquid were thrown, which exploded. Subsequently, the crowd stormed the building and dragged the persons present at the Office outside, throwing them to the furious demonstrators. One person was shot and two others were slaughtered. All the files kept in the Plebiscite Office were carried out into the street and destroyed there. The hotel building was completely demolished.

Katowice, 18 August 1920

[“Krwawa noc w Katowicach”, Górnoślązak No 189/1920]


Janina Śmieciuszewska-Rościszewska (member of the Polish Women’s National Service) in her diary:

These trenches look pitiful. You can barely hide your head in them, and with the huge gaps between sections, there is no communication. You have to run in the open. So, how do we communicate here? … With a heavy heart, we somehow reached the last trench. Further on, there was no army. Apparently, they went ahead to drive the Bolsheviks from some village. …

In general, civilians tried to be of help wherever they could. … At that time, I was standing next to a wounded man behind a poster pillar. I was dressing his wounds, but could not move from beyond the pillar because as soon as I did, salvoes were fired from Warszawska street. So he was lying there and I was standing next to him. In every doorway, however, there were kindly onlookers who threw various gifts to the soldiers: cigarettes, fruit and other things. This cooperation between civilians and the troops was so touching that I knelt behind that pillar, thanking God for this great desire for victory which so united our hearts.

Płock, 19 August 1920

[“Kartka z dziennika (19 sierpnia 1920 r.)”, Notatki Płockie No 4/2012]


Col. Juliusz Rómmel (commander of the 1st Cavalry Division of the Polish Army):

Right in front of our hill, a Polish plane suddenly lands. A brave airman jumps out of it and runs towards us, waving a sheet with some kind of message. As it turns out, it is a telegram from the Army. I read it. … Letters and numbers are dancing fantastically in front of my eyes. I finally grasp it! … Something extraordinary and joyful has happened! We have not heard anything so pleasant in a long time. A wave of happiness floods my brain and my heart. I hear the joyful voice of the airman who repeats for the hundredth time to the officers gathered around him that Warsaw has been saved! The Bolsheviks have been routed on the Vistula! Their entire army is fleeing in utter panic. Thousands of prisoners and hundreds of cannons have been captured. The Commandant is with the army and commands it in person.

Kulykiv near Lviv, 19 August 1920

[Moje walki z Budiennym. Dziennik wojenny b. d-cy 1 Dywizji Kawalerji generała dywizji Juljusza Rómmla, Lwów 1932]


Leon Trotsky (People’s Commissar for Military Affairs):

When the danger to Tukhachevsky’s army became clearly evident and the Commander-in-Chief ordered the South-Western Front to shift its direction sharply towards Zamość-Tomaszów, … the command of the South-Western Front, encouraged by Stalin, continued to move to the west. For three or four days our General Staff could not secure the execution of this order. Only after repeated demands reinforced by threats did the South-Western Command change direction, but by then the delay had already played its fatal role. On 16 August, the Poles took the counter-offensive and forced our troops to roll back. … If Stalin and Voroshilov and the illiterate Budyonny had not had their own war in Galicia and the Red Cavalry had been at Lublin in time, the Red Army would not have suffered the disaster.

[Norman Davies, White Eagle, Red Star, London 1972]


Article in the Ochotnik [“Volunteer”] magazine:

On prisoners captured during the last battles near Warsaw, proclamations containing desperate calls to persevere were found. Afraid that the Red Army would not withstand the Polish troops’ imminent offensive, Bolshevik commissars promised soldiers rich spoils in Warsaw as well as the opportunity to rest and entertain themselves in any way they pleased. The wild Bolshevik horde apparently doubts its strength: it is retreating and disintegrating, and Trotsky and the commissars are making last-ditch efforts to mobilise it with promises of pillage.

Warsaw, 19 August 1920

[“Bolszewicy słabną!”, Ochotnik No 9/1920]


General Maxime Weygand (member of the Allied mission):

The illustrious Polish victory will have consequences of incalculable importance for the international situation. It will consolidate the Polish state whose existence is necessary for France’s security. Germany, which was hoping to establish direct relations with the Soviets in order to direct the red armies against their enemy from across the Rhine, will be forced to renounce their efforts to overturn the Treaty of Versailles by these means. …

This victory, which has given rise to great festivities in Warsaw, is a Polish one. The far-seeing military operations were carried out by Polish generals on the basis of a Polish operational plan. My role, as well as that of other officers from the French mission, was limited to correcting a few shortcomings in execution details. … The heroic Polish nation has saved itself.

Warsaw, 20 August 1920

[Jacques Weygand, “Weygand. Mój ojciec”, Zeszyty Historyczne No 19, 1971]


21–27 August 1920


On 21–22 August, Polish troops capture Lidzbark, Zambrów, Hrubieszów, Przasnysz and Białystok. On 25 August, the Bolshevik cavalry corps commanded by Hayk Bzhishkyan, threatened with annihilation, crosses the German border in East Prussia and is interned there. The Soviet Western Front almost completely disintegrates. In this way, the Polish pursuit and the so-called Battle of Warsaw end. In the northern section, the front retreats to the Brest-Grodno line before stopping there. On 25 August, the insurrection in Upper Silesia ends in success. On 26 August, the Lithuanian army enters Vilnius. On 27 August, the State Defence Council issues a proclamation to the troops, expressing its highest appreciation and gratitude.



Hugh Gibson (U.S. minister plenipotentiary to Poland):

The accusation that the Poles are following militarist principles is completely misguided. It is true that very many Polish youths are joining the army, but since they have waited one hundred and fifty years for this opportunity, no one should be surprised by their enthusiasm. The second accusation is that the Polish nation is leaning towards imperialism and that Poland is trying to conquer the whole world. This accusation should be disregarded as well as it is levelled by people who are a minority, people who do not trust their own government, people to whom no one in Poland pays attention. Both the Polish nation and its government have repeatedly demonstrated that they wish the territories that historically belonged to Poland to be efficiently governed. They know that if they lend active assistance to countries such as Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, there will surely come a time when these nations, convinced of the Poles’ good will, will turn to them for help and cooperation. At that time, a group will form which will be strong with the will of the inhabitants of its individual countries rather than with the desire to rule over conquered nations.

When I arrived in Poland just a year ago, the entire country looked like one huge wilderness – without an organised government, a railway system or any facilities characteristic of modern times. Today, everything has changed despite six years of suffering that we cannot even imagine; the progress of the last few months has been so significant that it has not only kept up the spirit of the Polish army, has in fact elevated it to heights where nothing else exists but hope for a better tomorrow, hope of overcoming all obstacles and becoming one of the best organised nations in Central Europe.

21 August 1920

[“Amerykanin o Polsce”, Górnoślązak No 190/1920]


Kazimierz Sokołowski (volunteer, student of the Warsaw University) in his diary:

Strangely, the war makes little impression on me because I feel neither fear, nor anxiety, nor curiosity. The wounded and the killed, prisoners and loot – all this moves before my eyes without resonating in my soul or heart. Still, I have lost all the enthusiasm of an average civilian for the war and I consider it an evil – a necessary one, but evil all the same. Hence the desire for a prompt (but successful) ending and for a return to one’s own home, occupation and routine. …

We left Mława at nine o’clock in the morning. As I was momentarily accompanying the convoy, I managed to eat breakfast. Afterwards, we stayed all day long in the nearby village of Mławka where I initially spent six hours lying on the ground and observing the surroundings from a hill.

Mławka, 22 August 1920

[Kazimierz Sokołowski, Dziennik 1920, Toruń 2018]


Vitovt Putna (commander of the 27th Rifles Division):

Starting from the seventh verst westwards from the city, the road from Bialystok to Ostrów Mazowiecka was blocked by convoys of vehicles and by groups of demoralised Red Army soldiers. All those vehicles were massed into a single, increasingly dense column, which consisted of four, and in some places six wagons in a row. The head of this column, halted by the enemy who captured the road to the west of Białystok, stood still, while the wagons rolling from the west and the remaining troops kept pushing. All this combined to form a disorderly, defeated mass that had lost faith in the fight and no longer obeyed orders.

… Before 6 p.m., fighting commenced in the Starosielce area. Around 6.30 p.m., units of the 79th Brigade, under intense enemy rifle fire, were forced to stop one and a half kilometres before reaching the town. The situation looked critical. The sun was already setting in the west and the infantry attack faltered. It became clear that if we could not capture the town before dusk, the enemy could bring in additional units from Bielsko, and we would be routed. Then, as a last resort, at 7 p.m., a cavalry regiment from the northern flank attacked the Polish positions. Its energetic assault on Polish machine gun emplacements encouraged the infantry, which had lain in wait.

22 August 1920

[Vitovt Putna, K Visle i obratno, Moscow 1927]


Maria Macieszyna (wife of Aleksander Maciesza, military doctor):

Rifles, machine guns and cannons from Radziwie were firing. They made an infernal noise – it appeared that otherworldly powers were fighting somewhere in the air. There was howling, clattering, chopping, creaking and barking. … Shells were hitting the walls of the house and a few windows broke. The house was trembling. I was sure that there was a cannon in the hallway. … The battle inferno was coming and going, but no human voices could be heard. … The terrible night passed. Everyone looks dirty, with sunken eyes and ruffled hair. The Bolsheviks are gone. “They have been driven out by the highlanders – nice blokes who drink goat’s milk”, the soldiers say.

Among these cheers, terrible moaning and cries can suddenly be heard. A bunch of girls are coming, wringing their hands and weeping: “What are you…? – Oh, God! We hid in the basement on Zduńska street. As soon as one lot left, another entered! Oh Jesus… They had their way with us. Young girls and old women, they tortured all of us”. The girls were all red and blue, their eyes bloodshot, their clothes torn. We understood. They were coming back in large groups, wailing and sobbing.

Later, we heard reports of looting and rape. Only a few streets were spared, mostly those which were under fire. Many of my friends were raped. … Wives of officers and various girls I knew were raped by ten or twenty Bolsheviks each. Forty wounded soldiers in the hospital were slaughtered and the nurses as well.

Płock, 23 August 1920

[“Listy Marii Macieszyny”, Notatki Płockie No 2/1997]


General Lucjan Żeligowski (commander of the 10th Infantry Division of the Polish army):

The battlefield made a grim impression on us. A huge number of corpses were strewn all around. The vast majority were our soldiers, but not so much wounded and killed in the fighting as slaughtered after the battle. Long rows of corpses dressed only in underwear, without boots, lay along fences and in the nearby bushes. They had been stabbed with sabres and bayonets, their faces massacred and their eyes gouged out. At that time, my subordinates reported to me that an English general arrived with some English officers …. I was very disturbed. “General, you may wish to tell Mr Lloyd George how his political friends treat Polish prisoners”, I said. The general and the officers were silent.

Near Chorzele

[Lucjan Żeligowski, Wojna roku 1920. Wspomnienia i rozważania, Warszawa 1990]


Eustachy Sapieha (Minister of Foreign Affairs) in a dispatch to the Polish mission in London:

One can consider the Warsaw victory to be definitive. The Bolshevik army has been completely defeated and no longer puts up serious resistance. Each day, tens of thousands of prisoners are captured. So far, 70,000. Peasants armed with scythes and pitchforks bring in thousands of them. A huge bounty. Białystok has been captured, and as a result the rest of the Soviet army has been completely cut off. Please take advantage of the fact that Poland had defended itself before the Allies came to help it, because to date we have not received any tangible assistance except for clear moral support from France, which has kept Germany in check by remaining a loyal ally. You should also stress the futility of the blockade imposed on Poland by the revolutionaries in the face of the patriotic attitude of its entire population.

Warsaw, 24 August 1920

[Depesze poselstwa Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej w Londynie, vol. 1 (June 1919 – March 1923), Kraków 2019]


Col. Julian Stachiewicz (commander of the 65th Infantry Regiment of the Polish Army) in a letter to General Leon Berbecki:

Victory in this great battle for Warsaw has been fairly comprehensive, but the energy and rapidity of action extracted from our soldiers has also gone beyond everything that was seen before. I consider this battle to be one of the most interesting and, as concerns its effects, one the most profound that the world has ever known.

Siedlce, 24 August 1920

[Bitwa Warszawska. Dokumenty operacyjne. Część I (13–17 VIII), Warszawa 1995]


Article in the Dziennik Śląski [“Silesian Daily”]:

Eight Upper Silesian districts are in Polish hands now. The Polish self-defence has captured the entire rural districts of Bytom, Katowice, Pszczyna, Rybnik, Tarnowskie Góry and Zabrze, and parts of the Gliwice and Lubliniec districts as well. It has also been reported that a self-defence movement has emerged in the Strzelce Opolskie and Koźle districts. The Racibórz, Opole, Olesno, Kluczbork and Prudnik districts, on the other hand, have been untouched by the events of recent days. Thus, out of the Polish population of more than one million who live in the area covered by the Upper Silesian plebiscite, around 700,000 have come out in defence of their rights and legitimate demands. This is the best proof that Upper Silesia was, is and will remain Polish and that no intrigue can keep it in Germany.

Bytom, 25 August 1920

[“Samoobrona polska na Górnym Śląsku”, Dziennik Śląski No 195/1920]


Article in the Kurier Warszawski [“Warsaw Courier”] daily:

The town, most recently abandoned by the Bolsheviks, makes a truly sad impression. We entered Łomża on Monday. … It looked deserted. There are people there, but the shops are closed and a terribly depressed air hangs over everything. And you see the same thing everywhere. Starting with Radzymin, one of the most important results of the Bolsheviks’ incursion can be seen everywhere: complete lack of food. In Wyszków and Ostrów, even if a shop or restaurant is open, the owner warns you before you even cross the threshold: “There is nothing, they took everything”.

Beyond the Bug and Narew Rivers, there are no horses and there are very few cows and other livestock left, all food has been eaten and even medicines have been taken from pharmacies. After entering a shop, Bolshevik soldiers pillaged it outright; even when they actually paid with Bolshevik rubles, they did not demand any specific goods, but asked what was available and “bought” everything. …

Newspapers are in biggest demand. In addition to multiple proclamations, we took with us from Warsaw more than 5,000 copies; on our way, so many people asked us for newspapers that we gave all of them away and brought nothing to Łomża. People are coming to meet us and ask about everything. Łomża was under the Bolsheviks for twenty days. It read Bolshevik newspapers and people were terrified to hear about what was happening in Poland; they did not know the true state of affairs. “Tell us! Tell us! What it really happening there?”.

Warsaw, 26 August 1920

[“Do Łomży i z powrotem”, Kurier Warszawski No 236/1920]


From the State Defence Council’s proclamation to the soldiers:

Soldiers! A few weeks ago, the Commander-in-Chief called on you on behalf of the State Defence Council to make every effort to fight the insolent Bolshevik invader who was flooding our lands like a devastating wave, trying to capture the capital of our state and destroy our independence. Obedient to this call and aware of your duty and the immense danger, you disregarded all hardships and deficiencies, went into battle, stormed the enemy and won!

Numerous invader units were either annihilated or taken prisoner, and some of them, completely defeated, are now aimlessly wandering around our country or beyond its borders. The enemy’s might has been largely destroyed. …

Soldiers! With your valour, blood and toil you have saved the independence and existence of your state, you have saved the honour of your nation and you have saved your families at a moment when despair prevailed both at home and abroad. … Your deed will be immortalised in the history of Poland and of Europe and your homeland will remain grateful to you for many generations. Please accept our heartfelt thanks and persevere to the end.

Warsaw, 27 August 1920

[Wincenty Witos, Moje wspomnienia, Paryż 1964]


28 August – 3 September 1920


At Zamość, fighting continues against the 1st Cavalry Army. The town is defended by the Polish troops and by the Ukrainian 6th Division commanded by Colonel Marko Bezruchko. On 31 August, the 1st Cavalry Division commanded by Colonel Juliusz Rómmel fights the battle of Komarów against Semyon Budyonny’s retreating army. It is the last great cavalry battle of the 20th century, and the defeated Bolsheviks flee behind the Bug River. Despite the invaders’ enormous losses (a total of 25,000 killed, 66,000 in captivity and 40,000 interned in Prussia), Mikhail Tukhachevsky plans a new offensive against Warsaw; reserves are coming from the depths of Russia. The Polish troops, after resting, are regrouping for new operations. On 3 September, the Ministry of Military Affairs issues a communiqué which praises the army’s bravery while reproaching it for illegal requisitions and pogroms against Jews.



Zygmunt Klukowski (hospital head):

Critical days were approaching for us. More and more fugitives passed through our town in their wagons. … We saw different types of carts and carriages, with the most popular kind being hay rack wagons pulled by elegant manor horses and loaded with various items: chests, suitcases and bedding. Not all these vehicles were driven by cart drivers or farmhands. In many cases, well-dressed gentlemen, and even ladies, older and younger, held the reins. Quite a few carts carried priests, who also made do without drivers and drove themselves, sometimes with a housekeeper at their side. The sight of escaping landowners, and especially priests, upset my steward, former landowner Rzuchowski. He stood in the open window and when priests passed in their wagons, he always sang at the top of his voice and completely out of tune: “We won’t forsake the land we came from…”. The escapees looked towards the window and lashed their horses to go faster. …

The Bolsheviks approached Zamość and crossed the road to Szczebrzeszyn. We were already physically cut off from Zamość, but for a few more hours we were able to communicate with the town by phone until the wires were cut.

Szczebrzeszyn, 28 August 1920

[Zygmunt Klukowski, Zamojszczyzna 1918–1959, Warszawa 2017]


Juliusz Zdanowski (politician linked with the National Democracy, economist) in his diary:

At the Wednesday State Defence Council meeting, [Aleksander] Skarbek submitted a motion that a proclamation be issued thanking the commanders and the army for the defence of Warsaw, and another proclamation thanking the French. Witos changed the first one so that only the soldiers were thanked. A long discussion on the second one only took place at yesterday’s meeting. Piłsudski claimed that the French had only interfered, demanding a retreat to the San River, that he had rejected the French defence just as he had rejected [General Tadeusz] Rozwadowski’s plan and that he had won the victory himself with his own plan. Rozwadowski repeated … the part about interference and even added that he himself had a lot of trouble with the French because they tried to force their advice on him and he had to directly warn his officers against the French who tried to “spy” on all their activities. … [Foreign Minister Eustachy] Sapieha was opposed as well, loudly protesting that showing gratitude to the French would be an affront to national dignity. … Then, a discussion about war and peace followed. What territorial objectives should be set for the peace treaty and what posts should be filled in case of truce or prolonged war?

We are prevented from pitching our aspirations too high by the Curzon Line defined by the Entente, and also by the disbelief in the army, the attitude of the Left and the desire to make peace at all costs. Piłsudski, who demanded that the war be continued, remained isolated with his two generals. I admit that I am inclined to side with him here. Making peace on the Curzon Line means having the Bolsheviks on our flank, enabling them to defeat [General Pyotr] Wrangel and return to the Bug in the spring. Piłsudski is acting logically here, demanding an alliance with Wrangel and not trusting that peace can be maintained by making peace. … As for Vilnius, Piłsudski declared that he wanted to occupy it, because it was strategically necessary, but on the basis of an agreement with the Lithuanians. If they do not agree, we will have to force them.

Warsaw, 28 August 1920

[Dziennik Juliusza Zdanowskiego, vol. 3: 4 VIII 1919 – 28 III 1921, Szczecin 2014]


Stanisław Karpiński (banker) in his diary:

Political parties are becoming ever more passionate. The mob is becoming ever bolder in seeking power. The government machine is still sputtering. The Treasury is in a terrible bind. So far, 33 billion Polish marks have been issued, while a year ago, when I was leaving the ministry, there were 2 billion all told!

Warsaw, 30 August 1920

[Stanisław Karpiński, Pamiętnik dziesięciolecia 1915–1924, Warszawa 1931]


Artilleryman Stanisław Rembek (10th Field Artillery Regiment):

Suddenly, amidst the impenetrable darkness, rifle fire sounded very close to us on the northern side. The bullets hit our battery so densely that at first we did not dare to move. … Shards and shrapnel whined overhead. Suddenly, machine guns started pounding us from the rear. We directed a platoon there. Second Lieutenant Tarasewicz told us that we would die here because there was nowhere to retreat, and he ordered us to put on bayonets. The Bolsheviks lit the battlefield with flares. In their glow, you could see the army, police and civilians building a barricade in the street behind us and covering windows with mattresses. The 2nd platoon was firing without any interruption. …

I sat in some shell crater, commending my soul to God. Finally, after some two hours, silence fell. … Meanwhile, everyone at the lookout was sure that we must die, because ammunition had run out after two days of siege.

… Our battery is now fired on much less frequently. Sometimes bullets whistle overhead or a shell explodes. Recently, our planes were circling above. Bolshevik artillery was firing intensely at them so that the whole sky was covered with wisps of black smoke where the shells burst. … It is reported that yesterday, a Polish plane dropped leaflets above the town asking us to hold out, as relief is at hand.

Zamość, 31 August 1920

[Stanisław Rembek, Dzienniki. Rok 1920 i okolice, Warszawa 1997]


Col. Juliusz Rómmel (commander of the 1st Cavalry Division of the Polish Army):

We are passing through a battlefield which is literally strewn with corpses and horse carcasses. We stop by one of the corpses; this is a woman who led the Bolsheviks’ charge and encouraged them to fight on when they started to flee. Lieutenant Wojciechowski from the 9th Uhlan Regiment hit her on the head with his sabre and only then did he notice her long hair and realise that she was a woman. … It was obvious that Budyonny started to retreat.

… The panic was ever greater. … The carts were overturning, the drivers cutting off the ropes and rushing on horseback towards the crossing. Great numbers of horses and people were running across the fields right and left of the road. … Our batteries, which I had left in their old positions despite the brigadiers’ requests, quickly turned to the left and now they were firing into enemy masses at a quick pace. You could clearly see the shells exploding and entire ranks tumbling where those hit. …

The two compact masses are quickly approaching one another – I can see Cossacks in kubanka hats, some are also wearing burkas and red tights! Suddenly, this mass begins to slow down and finally stops. Shouts can be heard. To the right, from behind the hill, the 1st Uhlan Regiment is charging their flank and rear! In the front of the Bolshevik mass, there are still around 100 metres between the 8th Uhlan Regiment and the Cossacks. Our 8th Uhlan Regiment starts to hesitate and slows down as well, but Second Lieutenant Kulik jumps out of the officers’ line and fires several shots from his Mauser revolver. After a moment, the officers’ line of the 8th Uhlan Regiment makes a decisive move forward, bringing the squadrons with it. Our “hurrah” drowns out everything else. The 9th Uhlan Regiment also joins in the charge. Bolsheviks cannot withstand our assault. …

I started examining the prisoners. Unfortunately, there were only a dozen or so of them, since no more could be snatched from the hands of our soldiers. The wrongs and atrocities committed by Budyonny’s men were too fresh in our memories. … The enemy is already morally beaten and it is up to us alone whether we deal the final blow to the cavalry army, giving immediate chase. …

It is 11 p.m. I am standing by the road and thank each unit one by one. The night is so bright that you can see each man’s face. The lads look as if they were drunk, with every soldier’s eye exuding pride and confidence. I am asking the most worn-out squadrons and batteries: “Are you tired?” – “No, sir!” – the chorus thunders back. Everyone shows so much enthusiasm and tireless will to fight as if they just came out of the barracks.

Near Komarów, 31 August 1920

[Moje walki z Budiennym. Dziennik wojenny b. d-cy 1 Dywizji Kawalerji generała dywizji Juljusza Rómmla, Lwów 1932]


Isaac Babel (volunteer in the 1st Cavalry Army, writer):

Pitiful villages. Fallen down huts. Half-naked villagers. We ruin them once and for all. The division commander is with the troops. The military order: delay the enemy’s advance on the Bug, attack in the area of Wakijów–Hostynne. We fight but without success. Rumours about the weakening of the army’s fighting efficiency are becoming more persistent. Desertion. … The main illness of the division is the absence of command staff, all the commanders are from the ranks, [Iosif] Apanasenko [commander of the 6th Division in the 1st Cavalry Army] hates the democrats, they don’t understand a thing, there’s no one who can lead a regiment into an attack. Squadron commanders are leading regiments.

Days of apathy. … Life is tough in the atmosphere of an army whose side has split open.

Terebin-Metelin, 2 September 1920

[Isaak Babel, 1920 Diary, trans. by Peter Constantine, New York 2002]


From a communiqué by the Ministry of Military Affairs:

Successes on the front have fundamentally changed our soldiers’ souls, filling them with self-confidence and belief in our cause; the soldiers’ morale is quite satisfactory. … The soldiers’ conduct in the territories liberated by our troops leaves much to be desired. There are many complaints that the population, often robbed of everything by the Bolsheviks, is now falling victim to requisition and theft perpetrated by individual units. … In the areas closer to the front, anti-Jewish excesses are rife, which are also committed by the troops that are passing by, especially from Poznań.

Warsaw, 3 September 1920

[Archiwum Akt Nowych, Prezydium Rady Ministrów, Rektyfikat 49, vol. 4]


Announcement by the Książnica Polska publishing house for the new school year:

The storm has fortunately passed, and has even brought some blessings that any such defeat brings. We have gained a lot of experience and have realised how many more defensive measures are required to consolidate our political and economic existence. Our excessive success so far could have spoiled us very easily, making us imprudent. …

To date, our social and economic life has had one very negative characteristic, namely the disregard for little things, normal and uneventful development, small profits and savings and minor contributions to our enterprise. We learned to count in millions. Meanwhile, the structure of today’s socio-economic life requires precisely cooperation between the broadest social circles, between as many citizens as possible. Recent events have demonstrated the great importance of this cooperation also in the field of war and politics, since it was the collective and powerful reaction by the patriotic Polish society which thwarted the intentions of the Soviet government and its army.


[“Z nowym rokiem szkolnym”, Przegląd Wydawnictw ‘Książnicy Polskiej’ No 4–5/1920]


A project implemented by the Niepodległa Programme Office in collaboration with Ośrodek KARTA. Translated by: Intertext. Multilingual communications.