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Soviets capture Warsaw

Soviets capture Warsaw

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Soviet troops liberate the Polish capital from German occupation.

Warsaw was a battleground since the opening day of fighting in the European theater. Germany declared war by launching an air raid on September 1, 1939, and followed up with a siege that killed tens of thousands of Polish civilians and wreaked havoc on historic monuments. Deprived of electricity, water, and food, and with 25 percent of the city’s homes destroyed, Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on September 27.

The USSR had snatched a part of eastern Poland as part of the “fine print” of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact) signed in August 1939, but soon after found itself at war with its “ally.” In August 1944, the Soviets began pushing the Germans west, advancing on Warsaw. The Polish Home Army, fearful that the Soviets would march on Warsaw to battle the Germans and never leave the capital, led an uprising against the German occupiers. The Polish residents hoped that if they could defeat the Germans themselves, the Allies would help install the Polish anticommunist government-in-exile after the war. Unfortunately, the Soviets, rather than aiding the Polish uprising, which they encouraged in the name of beating back their common enemy, stood idly by and watched as the Germans slaughtered the Poles and sent survivors to concentration camps. This destroyed any native Polish resistance to a pro-Soviet communist government, an essential part of Stalin’s postwar territorial designs.

After Stalin mobilized 180 divisions against the Germans in Poland and East Prussia, Gen. Georgi Zhukov’s troops crossed the Vistula north and south of the Polish capital, liberating the city from Germans—and grabbing it for the USSR. By that time, Warsaw’s prewar population of approximately 1.3 million had been reduced to a mere 153,000.

Battle of Warsaw (1920)

The Battle of Warsaw (Polish: Bitwa Warszawska, Russian: Варшавская битва, transcription: Varshavskaya bitva, Ukrainian: Варшавська битва, transcription: Varshavsʹka bytva), also known as the Miracle on the Vistula (Polish: Cud nad Wisłą), was a series of battles that resulted in a decisive Polish victory in 1920 during the Polish–Soviet War. Poland, on the verge of total defeat, repulsed and defeated the Red Army in what Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, called "an enormous defeat" for his forces. [3]

Supported by:
Byelorussian SSR

After the Polish Kiev Offensive, Soviet forces launched a successful counterattack in summer 1920, forcing the Polish army to retreat westward in disarray. The Polish forces seemed on the verge of disintegration and observers predicted a decisive Soviet victory.

The battle of Warsaw was fought from August 12–25, 1920 as Red Army forces commanded by Mikhail Tukhachevsky approached the Polish capital of Warsaw and the nearby Modlin Fortress. On August 16, Polish forces commanded by Józef Piłsudski counterattacked from the south, disrupting the enemy's offensive, forcing the Russian forces into a disorganized withdrawal eastward and behind the Neman River. Estimated Russian losses were 10,000 killed, 500 missing, 30,000 wounded, and 66,000 taken prisoner, compared with Polish losses of some 4,500 killed, 10,000 missing, and 22,000 wounded.

In the following months, several more Polish follow-up victories secured Poland's independence and led to a peace treaty with Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine later that year, securing the Polish state's eastern frontiers until 1939.

The politician and diplomat Edgar Vincent regards this event as one of the most important battles in history on his expanded list of most decisive battles, since the Polish victory over the Soviets halted the spread of communism further westwards into Europe. A Soviet victory, which would have led to the creation of a pro-Soviet Communist Poland, would have put the Soviets directly on the eastern border of Germany, where considerable revolutionary ferment was present at the time.

How the Russians took Berlin single-handedly

The Red Army in the streets of Berlin, April 1945. / Photo: DPA/Global Look Press

The Battle of Berlin was one of the largest battles in human history. It began on April 16 in the outskirts of the city. By April 25, Soviet troops had entered the Third Reich's capital. About 3.5 million soldiers from both sides participated in the fight with more than 50,000 weapons and 10,000 tanks.

Why didn&rsquot the other Allied forces fight in Berlin?

Soviet troops stormed Berlin while the rest of the Allied army remained more than 100 kilometers outside the German capital. In 1943, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt declared that "the U.S. must obtain Berlin." British Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed that the Nazi capital must not fall into Soviet hands. However, in the spring of 1945, these Allied forces did not make any effort to take possession of the city. British historian John Fuller called it "one of the strangest decisions ever made in military history."

Yalta Conference 1945: Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt. / Photo: Public domain

However, this decision had its motives. In an interview with RBTH, Russian historian Andrei Soyustov said that there were at least two reasons for this decision. First, according to preliminary agreements, including the accords made in Yalta, Berlin was located in the zone of Soviet military operations. The demarcation line between the USSR and the other Allied forces went along the Elbe River. "Rushing into Berlin for the sake of status, could have, at minimum, backfired and may have resulted in a USSR decision not to fight against Japan," explains the historian. The second reason for not storming the giant urban center was that the Allies had been fraught with casualties as the end of the war approached. In the period between the Normandy landing and April 1945 the Allies "were able to avoid storming large cities," Soyustov notes.

Soviet casualties in the Battle of Berlin were indeed very high with 80,000 injured and at least 20,000 killed. The German side suffered just as many losses.

A night attack under floodlights

Berlin was captured by Soviet troops on three fronts. The most difficult task fell to the soldiers from the First Belarus Front, commanded by Georgy Zhukov, who had to charge the well-fortified German position in Seelow Heights on the outskirts of the city. The attack began during the night of April 16 with an unprecedentedly powerful and coordinated artillery barrage. Then, without waiting for morning, tanks entered the battle supported by the infantry. The offensive was conducted with the help of floodlights, which were set up behind the advancing troops. Even with the use of this clever this tactic, several days were needed to seize Seelow Heights.

Soviet artillery at the Seelow Heights, April 1945. / Photo: Getty Images

Initially, almost one million German servicemen were concentrated around Berlin. However, they were met by a Soviet force that was 2.5 times greater. At the very beginning of the Berlin operation, Soviet troops succeeded in cutting off the majority of the German units from the city. Due to this, the Soviet Army encountered only a few hundred thousand German soldiers in Berlin itself, including the Volkssturm (the militia) and the Hitler Youth. There were also many SS units from different European countries.

All bets on the tanks

Hitler's troops worked desperately to defend themselves with two lines of defense organized in Berlin. Many homes were equipped with bunkers and these houses, with their thick walls, became impregnable strongholds. Of particular danger for the advancing Soviet troops were the anti-tank weapons, bazookas and hand grenades since Soviet forces were heavily reliant on the use of armored vehicles during the attack. In this environment of urban warfare, many tanks were destroyed.

Soviet combat troops on the way to the center of Berlin, 1945. / Photo: Arkadyi Shaikhet/RIA Novosti

Following the war, commanders of the Soviet operation were often criticized for relying so heavily on the use of armored vehicles. However, as emphasized by Soyustov, in such conditions the use of tanks was justified. "Thanks to the heavy use of armored vehicles, the Soviet army was able to create a very mobile unit of support for the advancing troops, which helped them break through the barricades into the city center."

The tactics used in the Battle of Berlin built on experience from the Battle of Stalingrad. The Soviet troops established special assault units, in which tanks played a critical role. Typically, maneuvers were carried out in the following manner: The infantry moved along both sides of the street, checking the windows on both sides, to identify obstacles that were dangerous for the vehicles, such as camouflaged weapons, barricades and tanks embedded in the ground. If the troops noticed such impediments up ahead, the Soviet infantry would wait for the arrival of their self-propelled tanks and self-propelled howitzers, known as "Stalin's sledgehammer." Once this support arrived, the armored vehicles would work to destroy German fortifications at point-blank range. However, there were situations where the infantry could not keep up with the armored vehicles and consequently, the tanks were isolated from their cover and became easy prey for the German anti-tank weapons and artillery.

The capture of the Reichstag

The culmination of the offensive on Berlin was the battle for the Reichstag, the German parliament building. At the time, it was the highest building in the city center and its capture had symbolic significance. The first attempt to seize the Reichstag on April 27 failed and the fight continued for four more days. The turning point occurred on April 29 as Soviet troops took possession of the fortified Interior Ministry building, which occupied an entire block. The Soviets finally captured the Reichstag on the evening of April 30.

Victory Banner over the Reichstag, 1945. / Photo: Multimedia Art Museum Moscow

Early in the morning of May 1, the flag of the 150th Rifle division was raised over the building. This was later referred to as the Banner of Victory.

On April 30, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker. Until the last moment, Hitler had been hoping that troops from other parts of Germany would come to his aid in Berlin, but this did not happen. The Berlin troops surrendered on May 2.

Was the Battle of Berlin necessary?

Calculating the losses involved in the Battle of Berlin at the end of such a bloody war, some historians doubt whether the Soviet attack of the city was necessary. In the opinion of historian and writer Yuri Zhukov, after the Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe river, surrounding the German units in Berlin, it was possible to do without the offensive on the Nazi capital. "Georgy Zhukov&hellip could have just tightened the blockade circle on an hourly basis&hellip But for an entire week, he mercilessly sacrificed thousands of Soviet soldiers&hellip He obtained the surrender of the Berlin garrison on May 2. But if this capitulation had occurred not on May 2 but, let's say, on the 6th or the 7th, tens of thousands of our soldiers would have been saved," Zhukov continues.

Berlin, the end of the World War II. / Photo: Global Look Press

However, there are other opinions that contradict this view. Some researchers say that if the Soviet troops had just besieged the city, they would have lost the strategic initiative to the Germans. Nazi attempts to break the blockade from the inside and outside would have resulted in just as many losses for the Soviet Army as the attack, claims Soyustov. It is also not clear how long such a blockade would have lasted.

Soyustov also says that delaying the Berlin operation could have resulted in political problems between the Allied forces. It is no secret that towards the end of the war the Third Reich's representatives tried to negotiate a separate peace deal with the Americans and British forces. "In these circumstances, no one would have been able to predict how a blockade of Berlin would have developed," Soyustov is convinced.

Read more: Five questions about the judgment at Nuremberg

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Soviets capture Warsaw

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On January 17, 1945, the Soviet army entered Warsaw and cleared German resistance. From the article:

"Soviets capture Warsaw - HISTORY
Soviet troops liberate the Polish capital from German occupation.

Warsaw was a battleground since the opening day of fighting in the European theater. Germany declared war by launching an air raid on September 1, 1939, and followed up with a siege that killed tens of thousands of Polish civilians and wreaked havoc on historic monuments. Deprived of electricity, water, and food, and with 25 percent of the city’s homes destroyed, Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on September 27.

The USSR had snatched a part of eastern Poland as part of the “fine print” of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact) signed in August 1939, but soon after found itself at war with its “ally.” In August 1944, the Soviets began pushing the Germans west, advancing on Warsaw. The Polish Home Army, fearful that the Soviets would march on Warsaw to battle the Germans and never leave the capital, led an uprising against the German occupiers. The Polish residents hoped that if they could defeat the Germans themselves, the Allies would help install the Polish anticommunist government-in-exile after the war. Unfortunately, the Soviets, rather than aiding the Polish uprising, which they encouraged in the name of beating back their common enemy, stood idly by and watched as the Germans slaughtered the Poles and sent survivors to concentration camps. This destroyed any native Polish resistance to a pro-Soviet communist government, an essential part of Stalin’s postwar territorial designs.

After Stalin mobilized 180 divisions against the Germans in Poland and East Prussia, Gen. Georgi Zhukov’s troops crossed the Vistula north and south of the Polish capital, liberating the city from Germans—and grabbing it for the USSR. By that time, Warsaw’s prewar population of approximately 1.3 million had been reduced to a mere 153,000."

No Warsaw Uprising

There is no reason at all for the deliberate destruction of the city. The civilian casaualties might be high depending on the ferocity of the fighting and the lenght of it, but i would find it surprising if they were nearly as high as during the uprising.

What were the casaualties in other cities?

Deleted member 1487

There is no reason at all for the deliberate destruction of the city. The civilian casaualties might be high depending on the ferocity of the fighting and the lenght of it, but i would find it surprising if they were nearly as high as during the uprising.

What were the casaualties in other cities?

According to researcher and author Krisztián Ungváry, some 38,000 civilians were killed during the siege: about 13,000 from military action and 25,000 from starvation, disease and other causes. Included in the latter figure are about 15,000 Jews, largely victims of executions by Hungarian Arrow Cross Party militia. When the Soviets finally claimed victory, they initiated an orgy of violence, including the wholesale theft of anything they could lay their hands on, random executions and mass rape. An estimated 50,000 women and girls were raped,[4]:348–350[21][notes 1] although estimates vary from 5,000 to 200,000.[22]:129 Hungarian girls were kidnapped and taken to Red Army quarters, where they were imprisoned, repeatedly raped and sometimes murdered.[23]:70–71

Even embassy staff from neutral countries were captured and raped, as documented when Soviet soldiers attacked the Swedish legation in Germany.[24] (See Raoul Wallenberg.)

I actually meant other Polish cities. But even with Budapest, 38 thousands is a lot less than OTL losses of Warsaw population.

The second link does not say anything, basically, btw.


Eh, Warsaw was declared a fortress city IOTL but it didn't keep the Germans there from running like hell when the Vistula-Oder offensive kicked off.

In reality, all that happens is the Home Army gets disarmed by the Red Army and NKVD when the Poles come out to greet the Russians after the Germans pull out and most of them shipped off to the Gulags. Those that try to resist are both shot and used as "examples of how the Home Army are really Hitlerite sympathizers" by Stalin.


There is no reason at all for the deliberate destruction of the city. The civilian casaualties might be high depending on the ferocity of the fighting and the lenght of it, but i would find it surprising if they were nearly as high as during the uprising.

What were the casaualties in other cities?


Warsaw is still going to be trashed. Hitler was never the type to give up cities without fighting, and he was actually planning on destroying Warsaw anyway.

Relations between the Soviets and Poles are still not going to be good. ASB. Home Army is still shot or sent to the camps if they don't pledge loyalty to Stalin. And they won't.

Stalin has no reason to raze the city.



The popular belief in the West is that Stalin held off on moving into Warsaw because he wanted the Polish resistance members to be crushed. This is, in actuality, still hotly debated among historians (e.g. retired US Col. David Glantz is one of the main Western figures opposing that view). Points that the Soviets genuinely couldn't/didn't move into Warsaw for strategic reasons include:

- The Soviets experienced a tactical reverse immediately beforehand at the Battle of Radzymin, pushing them out of the Warsaw outskirts.
- Warsaw was not strategically suitable as a launch point for further Soviet offensives, and was not necessary to take for political purposes (as compared to cities such as Kiev), so the argument goes that they focused on other bridgeheads over the Vistula instead.
- German records at the time appear to indicate that they believed that their defense was what prohibited a Soviet advance.

My realistic guess would be that the Soviets don't take the city in 1944, rather in the alt-Vistula-Oder offensive in 1945. There wouldn't be any direct orders to raze the city, of course, but the worst doings of the Soviet Army tended to come from undisciplined troops acting against orders rather than direct commands from high-up.


If the Soviets were too exhausted to support the uprising in a city several kilometres from the frontlines at any point before October (when the uprising finally ended), how come did they have the strength to launch a big offensive by August 20?

Soviet radio, as well as leaflets dropped on Warsaw by the red airforce, called upon its population to rise up at the end of July. If the USSR did not intend to take Warsaw at the time, it can mean only one thing.

As I have mentioned above, during that time the Red Army was beating the Germans like a drum in the Balkans.


According to Nikolai Ivanov, Russian historian working in Poland, there are Soviet documents (disclosed after the collapse of USSR) proving, that Stalin intended to take Warsaw in late July / early August 1944 by flanking the city from north and south the operation was to executed by 1st Belorussian Front under Marshal Rokossovsky. It is a confirmed fact, that in late July 1944 Polish radio "Kościuszko" (controlled by the Soviets) kept calling people of Warsaw to rise and help the Red Army in liberating their city.
German counterattack indeed lest the Soviet 2nd Tank Army with a bloody nose and forced it to adopt defensive position, although some sources claim that it was only a short, tactical break to resupply and reinforce. According to Ivanov even in early August 1944 Zhukov and Rokossocksy presented a plan of an offensive launched from bridgeheads near Magnuszew and across the Narew river to capture Warsaw in late August 1944 Praga (part of Warsaw on the eastern side of Vistula) was to be liberated by the communist controlled 1st Polish Army , for political and propaganda reasons. However, at the same time Soviets stopped their advance towards Warsaw or even withdrew a little.
It is indeed debatable whether Soviets were able to capture Warsaw in August 1944. The documents mentioned above confirm they at least some very high commanders believed it was possible. However, they might have been wrong and Stavka (Soviet HQ), having better information, decided against it. I personally doubt it, but it is possible.
However, AFAIK there are no doubts whatsoever that the Soviets would have been able to offer a very significant help to the Uprising, had they wanted to. Armia Krajowa (The Home Army - Polish resitance) tied to make contact with Rokossovsky - the emissaries were arrested by NKVD. Soviet air force was forbidden from making any combat missions in the area, leaving the sky over Warsaw open to the Luftwaffe, since the insurgents had no anti-aircraft capability whatsoever. Stalin perosnally heavily criticized the Uprising, calling it " a stupid brawl" caused by "small group of criminals" and absolutely refused any help to the insurgents.
When the western allies started sending planes with supply drops for Warsaw, they asked Stalin to allow their planes to land on Soviet airfields. It would have significantly increased quantity of supplies and very significantly diminish allied losses, both in planes and crews. Allies proposed organizinf shuttle flights. Planes from bases in Italy would have flown to Warsaw, drop supplies and then landed ion Soviet airfield only about 100 kilometers from Warsaw. Frome there, after refueling, repairs and rest for the crews they would have flown again to Warsaw with another drop (Soviets might have provided captured German weapons and ammunition) and then back to Italy. Of course Soviets might have also provided escort against German fighters over Warsaw and wherever it was possible.
Stalin immediately refused and even threatened with interning allied pilots should any of them have landed in Soviet controlled territory. So the brave pilots (Britis, American, Polish, even South African) had to fly from Italy (with diminished cargo, since they needed much more fuel) over large part of German occupied Europe, often attacked by German night fighters and flak batteries), drop the supplies over Warsaw, and then fly back thousands of kilometers back to Italy, tired, often on planes damaged by enemy fire. Sometimes even by Soviet fire - there were reports about Soviet AA artilley shooting at llied planes, although it might have been honest mistakes - artillerymen might not have been informed abou allied planes operating in the area, so they fired at anything that wasnt's Soviet. Of course, that information might have been withel deliberately.
At the same time NKVD persecuted AK members, arresting and even murdering the officers, disarming the soldiers and forcing them to join 1st Polish Army.
Only in September Stalin eventually agreed to conduct some operations in the area - 1st Polish Army liberated Praga (as it was planned earlier) and some bave units even tried to cross Vistula, but without success - relatively small groups managed to join the insurgents, but were unable to provide any significant assitance. The soldiers were poorly trained in urban warfare and lacked any support from the Soviets. Soviet air force started to drop some supplies, but in very limited numbers, of very poor quality and often. without parachutes, so the weapons after landing were too damaged to be used.
Stalin eventually agreed to open Soviet airfields to the allies in September, but at the time it was too late - allies had little information about situation in Warsaw, insurgent-controlled areas were getting smaller every day, so much of the supplies landed in German hands. Many Polish historians believe, that Stalin deliberately waited too long, to allow Germans to deal with the Home Army and his actions in September were only for propaganda reasons to show that Soviets tried, but were unable to help. Some other historians believe, that Stalin in September indeed intended to help the insurgents, to be seen by the Poels as saviour of Warsaw, but it was already too late.

Anyway, my opinion is clear - even is the Soviets were indeed unable to capture / liberate Warsaw in August 1944, they were certainly able to provide a lot of help to the insurgents - indirectly (by allowing the allies to use their airfileds) and directly (by providing air cover and organizing decent supply drops themselves). But Stalin did not want free Poland.

Polish-Soviet War: Battle of Warsaw

One of the most easily overlooked, yet momentous short wars of the 20th century was the swift-moving clash between the post-World War I Polish Republic and Russia’s brand-new Bolshevik regime of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Reaching a climax during the summer of 1920, the Russo-Polish War is often regarded as the final episode of the Russian Civil War. In fact, it was much more — at once a reflection of the age-old enmity between two Slavic neighbors and a Marxist crusade bent on varying the torch of revolution into the heart of Europe. The campaign featured a remarkable cast of characters on both sides and mixed ferocious cavalry charges with early blitzkrieg tactics in quest of exceptional objectives.

The roots of the war ran deep. For a century and a quarter, the once-formidable Polish nation was a political nonentity, having been dismembered by Prussia, Austria and Russia in the infamous partitions of 1772, 1793 and 1795. Three national insurrections had failed to dislodge the occupying powers severe Germanization and Russification efforts, aimed at the destruction of the Polish language and culture, were imposed upon the population during the 19th century. Although such campaigns had little effect, by the turn of the century only the most optimistic Polish patriots could still dream of independence.

Yet World War I provided exactly the right set of circumstances for the Poles. On November 6, 1916, Austria-Hungary and Germany, in a desperate bid to ensure the loyalty of their Polish populations, jointly agreed to the formation of a semi-autonomous ‘Kingdom of Poland.’ In Paris, France, Polish spokesmen beat the ears of Allied statesmen on behalf of an independent Poland, but none of the Western powers cared to antagonize their imperial Russian ally, which was opposed to such a move. In 1917, however, Russia had dropped into a violent vortex of chaos and revolution. Partly in consequence to that development, the Fourteen Points for peace drafted by United States President Woodrow Wilson included the creation of an independent Poland and its recognition as ‘an allied belligerent nation’ as of June 3, 1918. On October 7, 1918, with the Central Powers clearly on the brink of defeat, the Regency Council in Warsaw declared Polish independence. After the guns of war fell silent on November 11, the three torn pieces of the Polish nation were triumphantly reunited.

The representatives of France, Great Britain, Italy and the united States met in the mirrored halls of Versailles in 1919 to dismember the German and Austro-Hungarian empires and set the world right. Russia, the erstwhile ally that in November 1917 had established the world’s first Communist government, was shunned by the Western Allies Lenin’s decision to make a separate peace with Germany at Brest-Litovsk in the spring of 1918 would not be forgiven just then. Moscow’s absence form the Versailles conference later proved to be a costly blunder. While the Allies were able to produce a tentative settlement for Poland’s western frontiers, they had no means of establishing any agree-upon border between the new Polish state and the Russian colossus.

The resurgent Poles, meanwhile, quickly established a Western-style parliamentary government and chose a 51-year-old romantic, a conspiratorial and avidly Russophobic military hero named Jozef Klemens Pilsudski as chief of state. Pilsudski, a longtime member of the Polish Socialist Party’s right wing, had always placed the achievement of Polish independence ahead of the social reforms advocated by some of his more ideological colleagues. As a young man he had felt the brutality of tsarist justice, spending five years in Siberian exile for revolutionary activity. During World War I, he organized and commanded a Polish legion under Austrian auspices on the Eastern Front, convinced that Russia was the chief enemy of his country’s independence. He soon became disillusioned with vague Austrian promises in favor of Polish independence, however, and refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Central Powers. Arrested and imprisoned in Magdeburg for two years, he was released on November 10, 1918, and returned home to be acclaimed as a national hero.

Pilsudski possessed an iron will and a quick mind. He clearly regarded the new Polish army as his special province, and himself as the guarantor of independence. The republic’s forces, still motley and ill-equipped, would soon be put to the test as the commander in chief turned his attention eastward.

The re-establishment of Poland’s pre-partition 1772 frontiers, which included substantial parts of the Ukraine and Belorussia (‘White Russia,’ now Belarus), was a matter of top priority for Pilsudski. To accomplish that goal, the veteran revolutionary resurrected the old Polish idea of federalism, first championed in the Middle Ages by the kings of the Jagiellonian dynasty. Put simply, the plan called for an East European federation consisting of the independent republics of the Ukraine, Belorussia and Lithuania, bound together with Poland. The latter nation would, according to the Pilsudski scheme, play the leading role.

This incredibly ambitious designed was destined to disintegrate almost immediately. The Lithuanians, former partners in the old Polish kingdom, were intensely nationalistic, after their own long submergence in the Russian empire, and they zealously sought to protect their own newly proclaimed independence in the wake of the tsar’s fall. They wanted no part of Pilsudski’s federalist notions. The Ukrainians, while keenly desiring independence, were naturally suspicious of the Polish leader’s motives, realizing how much of the Ukraine was intended for incorporation within the Polish state. The Belorussians, for centuries caught in the crossroads of Roman Catholic Poland and Orthodox Russia, had no outstanding national consciousness yet and were frankly interested in neither in independence nor in Pilsudski’s proposals of union. The Polish argument that none of those three nations could stand next to Russia alone fell on deaf ears. To all three of the potential federal members, it appeared that they might be exchanging the former Russian yoke for a Polish one.

The Western Allies, too, were decidedly against Pilsudski’s plans. Both Britain and France accused the Polish chief of state of imperialism at Russia’s expense, and they urged Poland to limit its eastern frontiers to the farthest extent of clear-cut Polish ethnicity. As for Russian Bolshevism, London and Paris saw that not as a threat, but a temporary disease, soon to be destroyed by the anti-Communist White forces, which the Allies supported in the ten-raging Russian Civil War.

The new Bolshevik government, besieged by a multitude of armies commanded by a politically diverse collection of generals ranging from tsarist aristocrats to disillusioned socialists to provincial warlords, had its hands full at the time. The White forces of Generals Anton Denikin, Nikolai Yudenich and Piotr Wrangel, and Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, supported by Western and Japanese armies and funds, had to be stopped. The Reds had little time in 1918 to worry about Polish schemes to expand on Russia’s western periphery.

Lenin’s dynamic associate Leon Trotsky organized the Red Army to meet the White threat. By using powerful idealism awakened in the revolution, and invovling fears that the landowning aristocrats might return to power, Trotsky built a formidable force of workers, peasants and ex-soldiers of the old imperial army, complete with a tough cavalry corps, to protect the Bolshevik regime. Throughout 1918and 1919, the Reds turned the tables on their foes, one by one.

At that moment of chaos and civil war in Russia, the Poles struck. In February 1919, Pilsudski sent his troops northeast, occupying as much territory as possible for the purpose of presenting a fait accompli to the Allied Supreme Council. That body would then be forced to recognize Poland’s expanded eastern boundaries.

The Polish forces encountered little resistance and advanced rapidly, soon capturing Wilno (Vilius), a historically Polish city, from the Lithuanians, who had proclaimed it the capital of their new republic. By the autumn of 1919, the Polish red-and-white banner was flying over large sections of Belorussia and the western Galician part of the Ukraine was well.

Pilsudski ordered a halt at that point, his intelligence service having informed him that the Whites under General Denikin were pressuring Moscow from the south and could possibly capture the seat of the Bolshevik regime. The Poles surmised that a White government bent on the reconstruction of the old empire would prove more recalcitrant than the hard-pressed Bolsheviks. Denikin was willing to allow Poland to exist up to the borders of Privislanski Kaj, a former Russian province carved from Poland, in exchange for Polish participation in an anti-Communist crusade, but since those terms would deprive Poland of half the territory Pilsudski wanted, the Polish commander in chief rejected that and other White offers. Although Pilsudski secretly negotiated with the Reds for an acceptable eastern frontier, he was by no means convinced of Lenin’s sincerity.

In December, the British foreign minister, Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, proposed a frontier that roughly corresponded to the ethnic limits of Poland but failed to include the two predominantly Polish cities of Lwow and Wilno. Ironically, the ‘Curzon Line,’ as it was later dubbed, was to become the eastern border of post-World War II Poland. The border proposed by the British, although never meant to be a final frontier, was rejected by the Poles, for they had already pushed beyond it.

When it became evident to Pilsudski that the Bolsheviks had turned the tide in the civil war and the Whites appeared doomed, Polish-Soviet negotiations were broken off and the Poles prepared for another thrust into Belorussia and the Ukraine. Such an action, the Poles knew, would be tantamount to a full-blown anti-Soviet war.

Before pressing forward,d Pilsudski shopped around for an ally and found one in the anti-Bolshevik Ukrainian Ataman Semyon Pelyura, whose bedraggled troops had fought both Denikin’s Whites and Trotsky’s Reds for possession of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Nothing loess than complete Ukrainian independence was Petlyura’s goal, but he concluded the Poles were decidedly the lesser evil compared to either the White or Red Russians. Overcoming severe objections of several of his nationalist associates, the Ukrainian leader came to Poland to ask Pilsudski’s help and, on December 2, 1919, signed a treaty granting eastern Galicia and western Volhynia to Poland in return for Polish support of Petlyura’s efforts to recapture Kiev and extend the Ukraine’s borders to the western bank of the Dnieper River.

Immediately after the collapse of the Polish-Soviet negotiations, Pilsudski ordered several Polish divisions to move north and assist Latvian troops in dislodging the Bolsheviks from the banks of the Dvina River. The campaign resulted in the capture of the crucial fortress of Dvinski on January 3, 1920, and frightened the Soviets into resuming negotiations with the Poles.

Pilsudski rejected Lenin’s offer of a frontier settlement that corresponded somewhat to the existing front line he deliberately dragged his feet, convinced that the Red offer was insincere, a ploy masking Moscow’s real intentions — a transfer of troops from the crumbling White fronts to the Polish line. As a gesture of good faith, Pilsudski insisted that the peace talks should be conducted at Borissov, a small Belorussian town near the front. The Soviets’ insistent rejection of that demand apparently convinced the Polish leader that an attack on his position was imminent.

While playing the Bolshevik negotiating game throughout the winter months, Pilsudski prepared for battle. Determined to strike first, he managed to station 100,000 Polish troops on the front, but they were spread out a line more than 600 miles long. Meanwhile, Warsaw’s intelligence service kept Pilsudski informed of every detail of Soviet troops movements toward the front while the talks continued.

By that time, London and Paris were greatly alarmed at the reports they were getting of the Polish war preparations. Foreign Secretary Curzon fired a sharply worded telegram to Pilsudski on February 9, warning him that Poland should expect ‘neither help nor support’ from Great Britain. The Allied Supreme Council followed suit two weeks later with a stern admonition. Pilsudski ignored both messages.

Polish spies reported to Warsaw that more Red troops, fresh from victory over the Whites, were transferring west to the front every day. By spring, Pilsudski could wait no longer. On April 21, the Polish chief of state signed a military agreement with Peltyura and his Ukrainian National Council for a pre-emptive expedition against the Bolsheviks. Should the campaign prove successful, the Ukrainians were pledged to enter a federal union with Poland. Four days after the pact was signed, Pilsudski launched a daring offensive deep into the Ukraine.

The Western Allies were as dumbfounded as the Reds by the Polish commander’s audacity. How could a newly restored Poland, whose population had suffered terribly during World War I and whose economy was virtually nonexistent, even contemplate — let alone mount — a full-scale attack on Russia? Undeterred by the protestations of the Western Allies, Pilsudski pushed his forces all the way to the Dnieper in less than a fortnight. On the tips of their lances, the Polish cavalrymen carried a proclamation written by their chief of state that promised ‘all inhabitants of Ukraine, without distinction of class, race or religion’ the brotherly protection of Poland it exhorted the Ukraine to drive out the Bolshevik intruders ‘to win freedom for itself with the help of the Polish Republic.’

By May 7, Kiev had fallen to the Poles without resistance. For the fourth time since 1918, the Ukrainian Soviet government under Christian Rakovsky was forced to flee its capital once again, the anti-Bolshevik regime of Petlyura ensconced itself in the city and announced the end of Russian domination of the Ukraine. The capture of Kiev boosted Pilsudski’s popularity at home. Even his political enemies, the National Democrats, changed their minds about the ‘Ukrainian adventure’ and ceased their verbal attacks. The Polish government passed a resolution of praise for Pilsudski on May 18, and a Te Deum Mass was sung in his honor in every Polish church. Portraits of the bushy-browed, heavily mustachioed old revolutionary were hung in all public buildings. Hardly an honor remained unbestowed on him, for he had already been promoted to the rank of marshal in March.

The celebrations would be short-lived. Red Army Commissar Trotsky, no longer concerned about the White threat, was able to muster a sizeable and battle-tested force for action against the Poles. Pilsudski’s swift drive to Kiev had severely overextended his supply lines, and his troops found little comfort in the Ukraine, whose population, though anti-Russian, was also historically anti-Polish.

The initial Bolshevik response came in late May, with the appearance of the most famous unit of the civil war, the First Red Cavalry Army, or Konarmiya. Consisting of 16,000 saber-swinging horse soldiers backed up by five armored trains, it was commanded by 37-year-old General Semyon Mikhailovich Budyonny, described by a British military historian as a ‘hard-riding, spectacular savage of great personal courage.’ On June 5, the Red Cavalry crashed through the rear of the Polish lines south of Kiev, pausing to burn down a Polish military hospital filled with hundreds of wounded men. The thinly stretched Polish forces could not contain the Soviet counterattack and immediately retreated westward toward Volhynia and Podolia.

Kiev was abandoned on June 11, and the hapless Petlyura and his Ukrainian National Council fled the city for the last time. The fierce Soviet counterattack was part of a two-pronged strategy. While Budyonny’s horsemen of the Southern Front pushed the Poles out of the Ukraine, a northern attempt at evicting the Poles from Lithuanian and Belorussian territory was underway. Five Red armies, estimated at 160,000 troops. opened a massive campaign at the beginning of July.

The commander of this Northern Front, General Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky, was a 27-year-old former tsarist lieutenant who had joined Lenin’s cause shortly after the Bolshevik triumph in 1917. Considered something of a military genius, Tukhachevsky had rendered invaluable to the Reds throughout the civil war it was he who brutally suppressed the Kronstadt sailors’ rebellion in St. Petersburg. Now the so-called ‘Demon of the Civil War’ would turn his considerable talents against the Poles. On July 5, Tukhachevsky opened his campaign in the north, his right flank led by another remarkable character, the Armenian cavalry general Chaia Dmitreyevich Ghai, whose hard-riding Caucasian III Cavalry Corps consistently outflanked the Poles and drove them toward Warsaw.

Undersupplied, outgunned, outnumbered and outmaneuvered, the Poles fought hard but could not stop the Urssians’ northern drive. On July 12, Minsk, the Belorussian capital, fell to the Red,s followed by Wilno on the 14th and Grodno on the 19th. In his order of the day for July 20, Tukhachevsky sounded an ominous note: ‘The fate of the world revolution is being decided in the west the way leads over the corpse of Poland to a universal conflagration…To Warsaw!’

Western military observers were as surprised by the Bolshevik onslaught as they had been by Pilsudski’s before it. The flames of World War I had been extinguished not two years, and memories of the long months of preparation necessary to advance a few yards at a time from the trenches were still keen. Yet here was a conflict of swift movement spearheaded by cavalry, a branch that had long been pronounced useless. The question was, where and when would the Bolsheviks stop their advance?

The Soviet government at first had met the serious Polish challenge by appealing to the Russian people, not for the sake of Bolshevism, but for nationalist reasons. Even the old aristocratic old tsarist General Aleksei Brusilov, the last Imperial Army commander, responded to this approach and joined in an anti-Polish campaign many other patriotic ex-tsarist officers followed his example. But now that the Poles had been evicted from Belorussia and the Ukraine, ideology overwhelmed nationalism. The intoxicating success of Budyonny and Tukhachevsky revived in Lenin’s mind an old Bolshevik dream: the Red Army breaking through Poland to Germany, where it would assist the strong and well-organized German Communist Party in establishing a socialist republic in the homeland of Karl Marx.

Several key members of the Bolshevik Central Committee, including Trotsky and Josef Stalin, strenuously objected to Lenin’s plans to reach Germany. Karol Radek, the Soviet expert on foreign policy, opined that the Polish and German people were not prepared to accept communism. Why not make peace with the Poles on the basis of the British-proposed Curzon line of 1919? In the heated arguments that followed, Lenin vehemently and repeatedly insisted that the time was right to spread the revolution westward. Supported by Lev Kamenev and Grigori Zinoviev, the Bolshevik leader’s point of view held sway Stalin and several others changed their minds when the crucial vote was taken, giving Lenin the victory.

The Soviet plans became readily apparent when Tukhachevsky’s troops reached ethnically Polish territory. In the city of Bialystok, the Russians installed a ‘Polish Revolutionary Committee,: headed by Felix Dzerzhinski, Julian Marchlevski and Felix Kon, longtime Communists known for their opposition to Polish independence. On August 3, the committee issued a ‘Manifesto to the Polish Working People of Town and Country,’ proclaiming a revolutionary socialist government.

To Lenin’s great surprise, the promulgations of this Moscow-organized regime fell on deaf ears. None of the committee’s members had the remotest link to the Polish working class indeed, one of the Bialystok group’s most important members, Dzezhinski, was Lenin’s close associate and the head of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police. The mere mention of the ‘Polish Revolutionary Committee’ was enough to send thousands of Polish workers flocking to the national colors to defend their capital. Still, the uncharacteristically impatient Lenin disregarded those ominous signs and insisted on the immediate capture of Warsaw. The Bolshevik leader’s political advisers warned him not to count on a proletarian insurrection anywhere in Poland. Bitter, centuries-long memories of Polish oppression could not be raised by raising the revolutionary red flag in Warsaw. Trotsky, who seconded that gloomy appraisal, also warned Lenin that the speedy capture of the Polish capital could only be achieved by stretching the Red Army’s supply lines to precariously thin limits. Again, Lenin rejected the opinions of the doubters in his midst.

Meanwhile, the rapid Soviet advance on Warsaw caused a serious political crisis that resulted in the collapse of the Polish cabinet. After 15 days of haggling, Prime Minister Wladislaw Grabski finally managed to form a crisis government. He then appeared, hat in hand, before the Allied Supreme Council at Spa, Belgium to appeal for help in defending the Polish capital, only to be subjected to bitter criticism of Pilsudski’s eastern policy. If the Poles expected the Supreme Council to help arrange a truce with the angered Bolsheviks, the price would be high. On July 10, Grabski, having little choice, signed the Protocol of Spa, in which Poland agreed to accept the council’s recommendations on the disputed Polish-Czechoslovakian and Polish-Lithuanian frontiers to return Wilno to Lithuanian control to respect the Allies’ solution for the Polish use of the port of Danizg to abide by any future decision on the status of Ukrainian-inhabited eastern Galicia and finally, to pull all Polish troops behind the Curzon Line until an armistice could be arranged.

The severity of those terms masked the actual alarm felt by the Allies as Tukhachevsky’s forces crossed the Bug River and headed for Warsaw. Frantic appeals from the Polish capital for arms and ammunition underscored the urgency of the situation. Torn between saying ‘You made your bed, now sleep in it,’ and providing the requested assistance, the Western Allies decided they had no alternative but to render aid to the beleaguered Poles, lest the Red Army thrust its way into the heart of Europe.

Accordingly, the French and British sent high-powered civilian and military missions to Warsaw. The combined Allied mission reached the city on July 25. The French contingent featured the prominent General Maxime Weygand, Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s chief of staff during World War I. The celebrated Frenchman brought along his aide-de-camp, a trim and proper junior officer names Charles de Gaulle. The British were represented by Viscount Edgar Vincent d’Abernon and Maj. Gen. Percy de B. Radcliffe, an old-time cavalryman with a reputation for logical thinking.

The Western military experts swiftly proceeded to show the battered Poles how the Red Army could be stopped. Fed information on the existing situation by French officers attached as advisers to the Polish army, the Allied mission came to believe that Marshal Pilsudski had seriously underestimated the gravity of the Soviet threat. The British felt it necessary under these circumstances to force the Poles to accept Weygand as de facto commander of the Polish forces. The Poles steadfastly refused, although they feigned deference to the great French general’s advice rather than jeopardize their source of supplies. In reality, Weygand was excluded form the decision making whenever possible.

By July 22, the day Tukhachevsky’s troops crossed the Bug into indisputably Polish territory, the defenders’ resistance had stiffened considerably. Pilsudski was reported to have been quite surprised that the Soviets had dared traverse the Curzon Line, the truce frontier suggested by the British. By August 1, the Polish leader realized that the Bolsheviks intended destination was Warsaw. On that day, the fortress town of Brest-Litovsk fell to the invaders the capital lay only 130 miles west.

Pilsudski knew that a dramatic counteroffensive was the only possible way to save Warsaw, but where, he wondered, could he muster the forces necessary for such a move? The entire Polish army was committed to the defense of the country. Despite the more pressing threat posed by Tukhachevsky in the north, the Poles were reluctant to pull out their troops facing Budyonny on the Southern Front — the Galician region that had never been under Russian control, not even temporarily. They preferred to build their military strength by conscription and volunteers.

Time was obviously of the essence. Pilsudski finally decided that the war would be decided in the north. But for effective resistance, the Poles were in desperate need of Allied war supplies, which became increasingly difficult to obtain. The problem came from pro-Bolshevik German and Czech railroad workers, and even some British dockworkers, who refused to load the Polish-bound equipment in their countries. Some of the materiel could reach Poland only through the Baltic port of Danzig, the Free City under League of Nations administration. There too, German dockworkers — convinced by Bolshevik and German propaganda that a Soviet victory would unite Danzig with Germany — obstructed delivery. French marine infantry had to be sent to Danzig to expedite the unloading of munitions.

On Aguust 8, Tukhacehvsky, confident the Poles were on the verge of collapse, issued his orders for the capture of Warsaw. He intended to bypass the city’s northern defenses, move on to the lower Vistula River and attack from the northwest. The Red Sixteenth Army was to proceed from the east, while its flank was to be protected only by the 8,000-man Mozyr Group. Although Moscow had detached Budyonny’s cavalry from General Aleksandr Yegorov’s Southern Front and assigned the horsemen to Tukhachevsky, the latter appears not to have planned to use those additional forces for the protection of his flank. The Bolshevik commander apparently believed that the Poles posed no danger to his exposed periphery. Additionally, Lenin wanted Warsaw delivered as soon as possible.

As Tukhachevsky planned his strategy, the Polish forces had grown much stronger than his 150,000 men. Pilsudski’s army had grown to 185,000 by August 12, and in two more weeks the Poles could count 370,000 hastily trained, poorly equipped soldiers on their rolls, including almost 30,000 cavalry. Included in this force was General Jozef Haller’s army of Polish-Americans, which had seen Western Front service in World War I, and the 7th Eskadra ‘Kosciuszko,’ a squadron of daring young American volunteer pilots. The capital’s defense was augmented by a motley but enthusiastic force of 80,000 workers and peasants. The crisis government of Prime Minister Wincenty Witos, which had replaced the Grabski cabinet on July 24, had done its job well.

In spite of the progress of the Polish defense plans, the situation remained grave. Marshal Pilsudski, having little time left, issued his orders for a bold and imaginative counterattack on August 6, several days before he learned of Tukhachevsky’s plans to encircle Warsaw. The Polish commander had finally brought several key units up from the south. A 20,000-man strike force, commanded by General Edward Smigly-Rydz, was to smash through Tukhachevsky’s Mozyr Group and begin a sweeping, encircling movement to cut off the Soviet northern forces. The Polish Fifth Army under the able General Wladislaw Sikorski was to hold the crucial Wkra River line north of the capital. The city itself was defended by a 46,000-man garrison aided by the worker-peasant volunteer brigades, while the Third and Fourth armies were to support the strike force.

By August 12, it was apparent to the Allied military mission in Warsaw that Tukhachevsky intended to attack the city from the northwest. Weygand expressed grave reservations about the Poles’ ability to defend the Wkra River line, where they were severely outnumbered. The Allied commission even recommended that a more effective Polish defense might be mounted west of the Vistula, though that would mean abandoning Warsaw. The next morning, Bolshevik infantry units broke through Polish lines and captured Radzymin, only 15 miles form the capital. Bloody hand-to-hand combat ensued until the arrival of reinforcements enabled the Poles to recapture the town on the 15th.

Meanwhile, General Sikorski’s Fifth Army attacked the Red Fourth Army northwest of Warsaw and broke through, seriously exposing the Polish flank in the process. The Russian failure to capitalize on such an opportunity was the result of a lack of communications — disrupted by the Poles — and a lack of cooperation among the Bolshevik commanders. In addition to a poor coordination among Tukhachevsky’s army commanders around Warsaw, the headstrong Budyonny (possibly on Stalin’s advice) had ignored Tukhachevsky’s call to join him, instead remaining in the Lwow area to the southeast.

Sikorski, quick to take advantage of the chaos among the Reds, continued his advance, raiding the Red Fourth Army headquarters at Ciechanow and capturing its plans and ciphers. Using tanks, trucks, armored cars and mobile columns, the Polish general has been credited with employing the first blitzkrieg tactics of the 20th century. Instead of attacking Sikorski’s vulnerable left flank, the Red cavalry commander Ghai, who refused to support the Fourth Army, busied himself cutting Polish railway lines some 40 miles west.

In those desperate days of mid-August, more Allied supplies finally arrived. At Warsaw’s Mokotow Airfield, Polish mechanics labored day and night assembling former Royal Air force figher planes in order to deny the Soviets any aerial reconnaissance. On the 16th, when Budyonny’s Cossacks finally crossed the Bug River and began their advance on the city of Lwow, aircraft of the III Dyon (air division), comprised of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 15th Eskasdri, began three days of bombing and strafing in an effort to stem the onslaught. Flying a total of 190 sorties, dropping nine tons of bombs, Polish and American airmen managed to slow Budyonny’s advance to only a few miles a day, buying precious time for Polish land forces to move to counter the Soviet threat.

On August 16, too, Marshal Pilsidski ordered his strike force into action. Covering toughly 70 miles in three days, the Polish northward movement encountered almost no resistance. Breaking through the gap in the Bolshevik ranks, the Polish Fourth Army, supported by 12 French-built Renault M-17FT light tanks, reached Brest-Litovsk and in the process cut off and trapped the Red Sixteenth Army. While Sikorski’s troops kept the Bolsheviks in a state of confusion, Pilsidski, who traveled in the back of a truck with his forward units, pushed his forces farther north.

The Allies, meanwhile, had arranged for another round of Polish-Soviet peace negotiations, apparently believing that only a truce could save Warsaw now. On August 17, delegates from both sides met in Mink, where Moscow presented its conditions for a cease-fire: the Polish army was to be dismantled and the Allied military commission was to be sent packing. The Curzon Line was the only acceptable frontier, declared the Soviet delegates, with some small alterations in favor of the Poles.

News from the front, where Pilsidski’s success astonished everyone, including the marshal himself, made the Bolshevik peace terms sound ludicrous. By August 18, Tukhachevsky realized that he had been completely outflanked and ordered what amounted to a general retreat — it was, in reality, a rout. Those Red units in a position to do so immediately bolted for the East Prussian border before the Poles could close the ring. Some groups, such as Ghai’s cavalry and the Red Fourth Army, were locked in battle with Sikorski’s troops and were trapped. Although badly mauled by ferocious encounters with pursuing Polish units, Ghai’s battered horsemen managed to reach East Prussia, where they were immediately interned by the German authorities. The Fourth Army could not escape and was forced to surrender in Poland.

By August 24, it was virtually over. Tukhachevsky’s forces had left behind more than 200 artillery pieces, more than 1,000 machine guns, 10,000 vehicles of every kind and nearly 66,000 prisoners of war. Total Soviet casualties were in the vicinity of 100,000 the Polish victory had cost 238 officers and 4,124 enlisted men killed, as well as 562 officers and 21,189 soldiers wounded.

There remained only the threat of Budyonny, whose cavalry had committed atrocities the Poles would not soon forget. Placing General Sikorski in command of the Third Army on August 27, Pilsudski then ordered h8im to oust Budyonny’s force from the Southern Front. On August 29, Sikorski’s vanguard Operation Group, consisting of the 13th Infantry Division and 1st Cavalry Division under the overall command of General Stanislaw Haller, confronted Budyonny’s Cossacks at Zamarsc. In an unusual battle by 20th century standards, Polish lancers rode at full gallop into the Red cavalry and tore the Russians to pieces. After a second engagement with Sikorsky’s forces that evening at Komarow, Budyonny quickly ordered a rearguard action and fled homeward, barely avoiding the complete annihilation of his army.

While Sikorski gave chase to Budyonny in the south, Pilsudski pursued Tukhachevsky’s battered legions into Belorussia. Catching up with the Reds on the Niemen River on September 26, the Poles smashed the Soviet defensive lines and inflicted another humiliating defeat on them, destroying their Third Army in the process. Pilsudski’s troops entered Grodno on the same day. Following up on September 27, the Poles pummeled Tukhachevsky’s beaten and de moralized troops yet again on the Szczara River, sending them scurrying back to Minsk. In the Battle of the Niemen River, the Russians lost another 50,000 prisoners and 160 cannons.

The rout now complete, Poland rejoiced in her hour of victory Marshal Pilsudski’s prestige soared and the Allies breathed a sigh of relief. The Red Army had suffered its most disastrous defeat of the entire Russian Civil War period. An armistice was officially declared on October 12, followed by a protracted series of negotiations to formally end hostilities and settle the Polish-Soviet border question.

The result was the treaty of Riga, signed on March 18, 1921, in the Latvian capital. Poland received a significant portion of her pre-partition frontiers, including the city of Lwow, and took possession of territories inhabited by about 12 million Lithuanians, White Russians and Ukrainians.

Little remembered in the West, the Battle of Warsaw was in fact one of the most significant land engagements of the 20th century. Strategically, it reversed an ideological onslaught that might otherwise have carried Soviet Communism into Western Europe in 1920 — an eventuality the consequences of which can only be imagined by posterity. Militarily, the sudden counterattack by which Pilsudski and his lieutenants split and routed the Bolshevik forces — themselves led by one of the enemy’s most brilliant generals — deserves a place among the tactical masterpieces of history.

This article was written by Robert Szymczak and originally published in the February 1995 issue of Military History magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!

Interview with Dr. Alexandra Richie, Author of "Warsaw 1944"

To commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Capture of Warsaw by Soviet forces, we reached out to Alexandra Richie, D.Phil, to shed light on this event.

On January 17, 1945 Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, was captured by Soviet forces after more than 5 years of German occupation. I conducted an online interview with Alexandra Richie, D.Phil, to shed more light on this event and what led up to it.

Richie is a historian of Germany and Central and Eastern Europe, with a specialization in defense and security issues. She is also the author of Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin, which was named one of the top ten books of the year by American Publisher’s Weekly, and Warsaw 1944, which won the Newsweek Teresa Torańska Prize for best non-fiction book of 2014 and the Kazimierz Moczarski Prize for Best History Book 2015.

She has contributed to many articles, documentaries, radio, and television programs, and is the Convener of the Presidential Counselors at The National WWII Museum. She is also a member of the Senate at the Collegium Civitas University in Warsaw, Poland, and the Władysław Bartoszewski co-chair of History and International Studies at the Collegium Civitas.

Q: Warsaw had been occupied by German forces since September 1939. The segregation of the local Jewish population into a ghetto is well known, but how was the occupation for Warsaw as a whole?

A: When Hitler was planning for the invasion of Poland he made it clear that this was going to be a completely new kind of war. According to Nazi ideology, the Poles and Jews living in the east were racially inferior beings who had taken over and defiled territories which rightfully belonged to the Germans. War against them was not to just be a war of conquest, it was also to be a war of racial annihilation to be carried out, as Hitler put it, with the 'greatest brutality and without mercy.' This would have terrible consequences for the people of Poland, and the citizens of Warsaw.

On 1 September 1939 two million German soldiers attacked Poland. With them came two thousand members of the new Einsatzgruppen and twenty one Order Police Battalions. Hitler had put Reinhard Heydrich in charge of Operation Tannenburg—the task of arresting and killing Poles whom the Security Police classified as 'anti-German elements.' His preliminary list contained the names of 61,000 people.

The Poles fought valiantly but there was little hope of holding out against the joint Soviet-German invasion and a force bent on the obliteration of the enemy. In the first large-scale terror bombing of the war Major Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen targeted Warsaw destroying over ten percent of buildings and killing 20,000 people. The Poles were shocked by the violence meted out against civilians as they learned of the obliteration of villages, attacks against Red Cross aid stations and the strafing of columns of refugees. The Germans had already executed 16,000 civilians by the time of Hitler's victory parade through Warsaw on 6 October. It was clear that the attack against Poland also heralded a fundamental shift in the way in which Germans were to wage war in the east.

Warsaw was seen as the head and heart of Poland and as such it had to be crushed. The occupation was extremely brutal. Groups of innocent civilians were simply arrested and executed in Pawiak Prison or in the garden of the Sejm—the Polish Parliament—in order to spread terror amongst the population. Between December 1939 and July 1941 over 1,700 Poles and Jews from Warsaw were taken to the nearby forest at Palmiry and shot pictures show women being led to their deaths still in their dressing gowns. In the spring of 1940 Warsaw was hit by another wave of arrests and murders in the so-called AB Aktion—this time it was the turn of over 6,500 pre-war politicians, attorneys, school headmasters and intellectuals to be executed. On 15 August 1940 the first group of Warsawians was rounded up and sent to a new German camp called Auschwitz.

According to the Generalplan Ost the city of Warsaw was eventually to be downgraded to rank of a small German provincial town. Its pre-war population of 1.3 million people was to be eliminated with only a few thousand to remain to serve the new German masters. The Nazis quickly took control over every aspect of life. Schools, colleges and other institutions were closed to Poles newspapers and businesses and banks were taken over, swastika flags and propaganda posters were everywhere and fifty modern loudspeakers were installed at intersections so that orders could be barked out to the inhabitants.

For the Poles the Nazis years were ones of violence, deprivation and fear. For the German occupiers, however, life in Warsaw was grand. 60,000 came in from the Reich joining the 15,000 ethnic Germans, or 'Volksdeutsche' already in the city. The majority were single men in their 20s or 30s looking to make a career in the new German 'Ost' although some 15 percent came with their wives and families. There was a regular influx of employees who worked for the post office and the Reichsbahn there were also over 8,000 members of the SS. The Germans lived in their own districts with almost no contact with the Poles. All kinds of goods were available beyond the official rationed supplies and they simply helped themselves to any food, liquor and valuables which caught their eye. Liberties were taken which would not have been tolerated in Berlin and the venality of the occupiers was legendary. The new elite seized goods and property, moving into houses and offices and furnishing them with items consisting mostly of confiscated Jewish property. Once set up the Germans would write home proudly boasting of their glamorous modern lifestyles and trucks and train cars of stolen goods were sent back to families in the Reich.

Social life was good too. The Germans founded clubs and cinemas and cafes they had German fashion stores and restaurants and Kasinos. Streets were renamed to reflect the new order—local girls were forced to waitress for the soldiers stationed on Adolf Hitler Platz while Jerusalem Avenue was renamed 'Bahnhof Strasse.' Buildings of Polish national importance were given new identities—the Bruhl Palace became the Official Residence of the Distrikt Governor Ludwig Fischer while landmarks like the Sejm, the National Museum and the Academy of Sciences became headquarters of the murderous police battalions. The German Chamber of Commerce and Industry oversaw the takeover of Polish and Polish-Jewish businesses. Institutions like the Polish Industrial Bank and the URSUS factory were Germanized while German firms like Siemens and Junkers and Organisation Todt moved in. Slave labor was used in the Warsaw Ghetto by entrepreneurs like Walter C. Toebbens and Fritz Schultz both of whom made personal fortunes during the war. Waldemar Schoen was in charge of ghettoization and it was he who decided Jews were to receive no more than 253 calories a day. More than 70,000 people died in the Ghetto before the deportations to Treblinka began in the summer of 1942.

Everything that the Nazis did in Warsaw was underpinned by violence. Between 1942 and '43 alone 6,000 Warsawians were killed in random street round-ups. Wilm Hosenfeld, who would later save the 'pianist' Wladyslaw Szpilman, recalled watching a Gestapo man simply shooting into a crowd of people gathered in a doorway. The violence in the Ghetto was simply horrific. An air raid warden described how Jewish employees in his factory 'were dragged away from the machines and mown down with machine guns'. The SS and Police were particularly brutal. Police Battalion 61 used the beer hall on Krochmalne Street as their private club. After getting drunk they would regularly hunt Jews for sport, putting a chalk mark on the wall of the tavern for each victim and proudly boasting of their '4,000th kill.' The Germans in Warsaw knew about the mass deportations of Jews in August and September 1942 but most were relieved that the 'swamp' was being 'cleared out.' During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 German ladies would take their coffee and stand on the roofs straining to get a glimpse of the action against the Jews. This colonial German paradise collapsed in the summer of 1944 but for over four years, the Nazis had lived the good life while overseeing a reign of violence, terror, and murder.

Q: The Warsaw Uprising, which began in August 1944, is one of the most honorable and tragic of World War II. You have written THE book on the subject, so please tell us, what made the Polish resistance of Warsaw decide to act then?

A: The Warsaw Uprising began on 1 August 1944, and the reasons for this are complex. The Poles had always planned to rise up against the Germans but Warsaw had deliberately been excluded from these plans in March 1944 as General Bor-Komorowski, commander of the Polish Underground, feared the damage it would do to the city and its inhabitants. However the summer of 1944 had seen dramatic changes on the eastern front and the Armia Krajowa began to rethink its earlier plans.

The decision to reverse the order excluding Warsaw from the fight was made by Bor in the second half of July. There were three crucial elements which led to this fateful decision. The first was the success of the Soviet summer offensive Operation Bagration. The second was the 20th July plot to assassinate Hitler, and the third was Walter Model's counter-offensive against the Red Army at the end of July 1944.

Bagration was the single greatest Nazi defeat of World War II and the AK watched as the Red Army swept through Byelorussia towards Poland. Bor sent AK soldiers to help the Soviets take cities like Vilnius and Lvov and relations were cordial until the NKVD arrived and began arresting the Poles. At the same time Stalin made moves to create a new Communist government in Lublin. It was clear to the AK that Stalin was fighting a political as well as a military war. The Poles would never be strong enough to stand up to Stalin, but perhaps some grand gesture would at least prove to the world that the Poles deserved a free independent state after the war?

The second even was the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. This attempt on Hitler's life bolstered the Polish view that the Germans were finished. Thanks to Bagration Warsaw had been filled with bedraggled German soldiers trudging back to the west. The AK leadership deluded itself that it would not be difficult to defeat this beaten army in Warsaw and welcome the Red Army as equals.

The final factor was Walter Model's counter-offensive just outside Warsaw in July 1944. Model was one of Hitler's ablest generals and had been appointed head of Army Group Centre on 28 June when even Hitler had begun to realize the sheer scale of Stalin's Bagration. Model had amassed an impressive collection of troops and smashed into the unsuspecting Red Army at Razymin and Wolomin just to the east of Warsaw on 31 July 1944.

Now largely forgotten, these were titanic clashes—the Battle of Wolomin was the largest tank battle fought on Polish soil during the war. The Poles waiting in Warsaw mistook the distant sounds of battle for the triumph of the Red Army. With no direct contact with the Soviets they could only guess at what was happening and they miscalculated this was not helped when the AK's Warsaw commander Colonel Monter rushed into the final meeting before the uprising on 31 July with the incorrect information that the Soviets were in the Warsaw district of Praga. Bor did not wait for verification and gave the order to begin the uprising at 5 pm on 1 August.

Thanks to Model there was no way that the Red Army could have reached Warsaw in the first week of August, and although this was only a temporary setback for the Red Army Stalin used to justify not going to the aid of the beleaguered Poles. The Germans were not challenged by the Soviets, and took murderous revenge on the Polish capital.

Q: What role did the uprising play in the Germans decision to not put up a fight against the Soviets in January 1945?

A: The Uprising was not a major factor in the German reaction to the Vistula-Oder Offensive on the contrary the Germans didn't put up a fight because they were simply overwhelmed. The Soviets had a 5:1 superiority of forces and when the Vistula-Oder offensive began at the Baranow bridgehead in the morning of 12 January the German 4th army was in utter disarray. This was also true of the Magnuszew and Pulawy Bridgeheads by Warsaw. Konev began his attack against the 9th Army at 8:30 am with a massive bombardment. The Germans fought back but simply could not hold off the massive strength of the Red Army. The XXXVI Panzer Corps of the 9th Army was forced back over the Vistula and the Soviets captured Warsaw on 17 January. Hitler had wanted his troops to fight on until the death for his 'Fortress City' and sacked 9th Army commander General Smilo Frieherr von Luttwitz and XXXVI Panzer Corps commander Walter Fries, but the reality was the Germans simply could not stand up to the sheer might of the Soviets who raced over 300 miles from the Vistula River to the Oder River in less than a month.

Q: Tell us about those Poles who remained in the ruined city after the uprising and before the arrival of the Soviets?

A: Some of the most remarkable people in the history of WWII Warsaw were the so-called 'Robinsons' named after Robinson Crusoe, who despite the enormous risks managed to hide from the Germans in the ruins of the city. They fell into two main groups—the first were around 17,000 Jews who hid from the Germans after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. The other group, primarily Jews but also Polish Home Army soldiers and others, hid in the ruins between the end of the Warsaw Uprising on 2 October 1944 until the arrival of the Soviets on 17 January 1945.

When the Poles capitulated at the end of the Warsaw Uprising Hitler ordered that the city be emptied of all its inhabitants and be 'glattraziert'—blown up block by block until there was literally nothing left. Warsawians were forced from their homes to the transit camp at Pruszkow from which many were sent as slave labor into the Reich or were transported to camps including Auschwitz and Ravensbruck.

Some decided it would be better to hide rather than risk capture by the Germans. This was an extremely dangerous decision as the Germans moved through the city burning and blasting away their hiding places, discovering many people in the process. Even so some few hundred managed to survive. Some had prepared elaborate bunkers with supplies of food and water others were actually buried by friends in underground caves and existed without light or heat for months. Danuta Slazak of the Home Army hid in the basement of a hospital with patients she had saved they used the bodies of the dead to cover the entrance to the hiding place. I had the great honor to know Marek Edelmann, last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, who was hiding in the district of Zoliborz. He described how Germans would come and loot the houses in the district. He hid under the floorboards of the entrance hall and could feel the boards press down on his chest as the Germans walked over him. He and his group were miraculously saved by a Home Army rescue squad who got them out dressed as medical personnel.

A number of 'Robinsons' wrote memoirs after the war. The best known is Wladyslaw Szpilman of The Pianist fame, but others include The Bunker by Chaim Goldstein, and I Hid in Warsaw by Stefan Chaskielewicz. Others include books by Jews who were in hiding before the Warsaw Uprising and survived the war such as The Island on Bird Street by Uri Orlev. All of them share the sense of terror and fear of discovery by Germans who showed absolutely no mercy to anyone found in the ruins of Warsaw.

Q: How did the survivors feel about this “liberation?”

A: For Poles who had fought in the Warsaw Uprising and were now in exile from their city the arrival of the Soviets was greeted with much bitterness. Poles had watched helplessly as the Soviets had waited on the eastern bank of the Vistula River while the Nazis crushed and destroyed Warsaw. Stalin had even forbidden American and British planes to land behind Soviet lines, hindering western attempts to help Warsawians. Poles were largely anti-Communist and resented Stalin's imposition of a Soviet puppet government in Lublin on 22 July 1944 and they were also angry at the NKVD arrests of Polish Home Army soldiers and the terror imposed on Poland in the wake of the Soviet victory. Most Poles therefore awaited Soviet 'liberation' with fear and trepidation.

However, for the 'Robinsons' hiding in the ruins of Warsaw the Soviets truly were liberators. By the time they arrived on 17 January only a few thousand people had managed to evade the Germans and were still hiding in the ruins. The Soviet soldiers who had seen much destruction were nevertheless appalled by the sheer devastation of the city. The journalist Vasily Grossman documented his first glimpse of the shattered Polish city, meeting some of the 'Robinsons' as they crawled from the ruins, describing cellars with Jews 'emerging from under the ground'. One was a stocking maker who was carrying a small wicker basket filled with the ashes of his family. After so many months in hiding Wladyslaw Szpilman was disoriented by his new found freedom. "Tomorrow I must begin a new life," he said. "How could I do it, with nothing but death behind me?" For the 'Robinsons' of Warsaw, like those liberated from Auschwitz and other camps, the Soviets brought nothing less than the chance for survival.

Q: You lead many of the Museum’s tours through Warsaw. Can you tell us how Warsaw is today and what is the overall memory of World War II there?

A: When the war ended over 85 percent of the buildings in the city lay in ruins and most of the population had been killed or forced into exile. Warsaw was so badly damaged that the Soviets toyed with the idea of moving the capital to nearby Lodz. To their surprise, however, hundreds of thousands of Warsawians began to make their way back as soon as they could, determined to resurrect their beloved city. My mother-in-law lived in a room with tarpaulins for two of the walls as she studied to become a pediatrician others lived in cellars or makeshift shelters. Stalin made the decision to rebuild Warsaw as a gesture of Soviet 'brotherhood,' now calling Warsaw the city which 'embodies the heroic traditions of the Polish Nation'. He also realized that restoring it would help give his regime some legitimacy.

Despite the Soviet slogan 'The entire nation builds its capital' the city was largely rebuilt by Warsawians themselves using bricks from the rubble and also from former German cities like Gdansk and Wroclaw. In the Old Town fragments of buildings were preserved and a series of twenty-two paintings by Bellotto were used to accurately reconstruct the district. Most of the historic centre was finished by 1951 although the symbolic Royal Castle was only opened to visitors in 1984. This was reconstruction on a unique scale and the Warsaw Old Town is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The spirit of that post-war regeneration is very much alive in the 'Phoenix city' and it seems no matter what is done here Warsaw keeps bouncing back. Despite having been fought over in World War I, battered in the 1920's Polish Soviet war, devastated in World War II and enduring decades of Soviet rule, Warsaw has emerged as one of the most exciting and dynamic cities in Europe. It is constantly surprising and defies type casting—it is the 7th top vegan friendly city in the world while the Guardian calls it the 2nd best city in the world for international students and a 2017 European Union survey found it the 4th most business friendly city in Europe. New office buildings and trendy apartment blocks are springing up like mushrooms and there is a general atmosphere of optimism—surveys say that over 90 percent of Warsawians are happy.

Despite its youthful energy, Warsawians have a very deep connection to their past and there is open, often heated debate about the history of World War II. New museums from the Warsaw Rising Museum to POLIN Museum of the history of Polish Jews join extraordinary institutions including the fabled Ringelblum Archive—the underground archive of the Warsaw Ghetto. On every 1 August at 5 pm the entire city stops for one minute to commemorate the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and there are institutions such as Dom Spotkan a Historia—the History Meeting House—a municipal initiative where people meet to hear authors, watch and discuss films and debate WWII history in an apolitical atmosphere. The entire city is infused with history and there is so much to discover and learn. It is a must see for anyone interested in the history of World War II.

Soviets capture Warsaw - Jan 17, 1945 - HISTORY.com

TSgt Joe C.

On this day, Soviet troops liberate the Polish capital from German occupation.

Warsaw was a battleground since the opening day of fighting in the European theater. Germany declared war by launching an air raid on September 1, 1939, and followed up with a siege that killed tens of thousands of Polish civilians and wreaked havoc on historic monuments. Deprived of electricity, water, and food, and with 25 percent of the city’s homes destroyed, Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on September 27.

The USSR had snatched a part of eastern Poland as part of the “fine print” of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact) signed in August 1939, but soon after found itself at war with its “ally.” In August 1944, the Soviets began pushing the Germans west, advancing on Warsaw. The Polish Home Army, fearful that the Soviets would march on Warsaw to battle the Germans and never leave the capital, led an uprising against the German occupiers. The Polish residents hoped that if they could defeat the Germans themselves, the Allies would help install the Polish anticommunist government-in-exile after the war. Unfortunately, the Soviets, rather than aiding the Polish uprising, which they encouraged in the name of beating back their common enemy, stood idly by and watched as the Germans slaughtered the Poles and sent survivors to concentration camps. This destroyed any native Polish resistance to a pro-Soviet communist government, an essential part of Stalin’s postwar territorial designs.

After Stalin mobilized 180 divisions against the Germans in Poland and East Prussia, Gen. Georgi Zhukov’s troops crossed the Vistula north and south of the Polish capital, liberating the city from Germans—and grabbing it for the USSR. By that time, Warsaw’s prewar population of approximately 1.3 million had been reduced to a mere 153,000.


-September 1st, 1939: Nazi Germany invades Poland

-September 3 rd , 1939: Germany annexes the Free City of Danzig. 

-September 3 rd , 1939: The Bromberg Massacre occurs with many ethnic German civilians are killed in the Polish city of Bromberg (Bydgoszcz) by the Polish military.

-September 6 th , 1939: Germans capture Krakow putting the Polish Army on the retreat.

-September 9 th , 1939: German forces begin sieging the Polish capital of Warsaw. 

-September 10 th , 1939: German forces take Brest and Lviv.

-September 22 nd , 1939: German forces capture the Second Polish Republic.

-September 24th, 1939: The Danzig Pact is signed by German Hans-Adolf von Moltke and Polish Władysław Studnicki establishing the Pro-German Polish Client state known as Huzarzy Poland. Bolesław Piasecki establishes the Husaria Party (Polish: Huzarzy Partia).

-September 25th, 1939: Adolf Hitler gives the go-ahead to Alfred Rosenberg to begin Operation Shepherd (German: Unternehmen Schäfer, Polish: Akcja Pasterz). This begins the mass deportation of Jews from Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia to the Lublin Reservation.

-September 30th, 1939: Soviet and Polish resistance forces retake the Kresy and establish a line along the Bug River.

-October 7 th , 1939: The combined Huzarzy Army, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks and Romanian forces create Chișinău Line (better known as the Kishinev Line) following the border from Romanian Chișinău, along Hungary and merging with the Polish Line to Konigsberg in East Prussia against the Soviet Army. 

-October 9th, 1939: A Soviet backed power-struggle begins amongst the Free Polish Army which results in the Polish communist, Bolesław Bierut, taking control of the Free Polish Army as a communist aligned organization. This new force would be known as the Polish Liberation Front. This led many Poles who disagreed with communism to flee to the fascist Huzarzy Army or flee to France to form the Armia Krajowa led by Władysław Sikorski which was loyal to the Polish government-in-exile. The Polish government led by Ignacy Mościcki establishes a government-in-exile in the French city of Paris. 

-October 11 th , 1939: In Poland, Polish resistance fighters would begin building defenses along the Bug River and Polish Line against the German forces in the west. This would lead to a military stalemate and mimic conditions from the Great War as both sides constructed trenches. However, the trenches proved ineffective to tanks as such many Soviets started developed more powerful anti-tank mines and anti-tank weaponry. Polish soldiers known as Górniczy (Miners in Polish) would travel into no-man’s land in the dead of night and risk their lives to plant anti-tank mines in urban chokepoints. The border between East and West Poland was a scorched battlefield. Many would construct “Dragon’s Teeth” and “Czech Hedgehogs” notable anti-tank barriers as well as employ landmines and barbed wire.

-December 20 th , 1939: Commander Bolesław Piasecki of Huzarzy Poland, emboldened by the German capture of Paris begins the mass internment of Ukrainians and other Eastern Slavs in factory-prisons like the Lublin Reservation. Chancellor Władysław Studnicki who had been helping rebuild and re-arm the Polish Huzarzy Army with German aid calls for the invasion of Lithuania. The Polish-Soviet Front had been a stalemate since the initial Soviet push into eastern Poland due to the heavy armaments lining the front. 

-December 31 st , 1939: The Polish Huzarzy Army led by General Lucjan Żeligowski (who had led Żeligowski's Mutiny only 19 years earlier) begins the invasion of Lithuania.

-January 1 st , 1940: President Antanas Smetona of Lithuania sends an ambassador to Mikhail Kalinin reasserting their Mutual Assistance Treaty and asking for aid to fight back the invading Huzarzy soldiers. 

-January 17 th , 1940: Huzarzy forces capture the capital of Lithuania, Kaunas. Lithuanian Jews flee eastward to the Soviet Union. 

-January 27 th , 1940: Polish Huzarzy forces push east into the northern section of the Kresy capturing Vilnius. 

-February 5 th , 1940: Soviet forces begin amassing in Minsk pulling forces from their southern defenses. German forces use this as a means to strike eastward into the Soviet occupied Kresy and take western Ukraine.

-February 7 th , 1940: Axis forces manage to push the Soviets out of the Polish Kresy region.

-February 19 th , 1940: Soviet forces invade Huzarzy controlled Lithuania, they are bolstered by Lithuanian communists and pro-democracy Lithuanian forces. 

-February 26 th , 1940: Soviet forces manage to recapture Vilnius. 

-March 1 st , 1940: Axis forces capture Kiev in an attempt to encircle Soviet forces concentrated in the north. Polish Huzarzy forces stationed in Kiev massacre the Ukrainian population.

-April 2 nd , 1940: With Soviet troops stationed in Vilnius and now in Daugavpils, they begin a two-pronged invasion of Lithuania from the east and the north. 

-April 12 th , 1940: Soviet forces capture Kaunas and push the Polish out of Lithuania. 

-May 26 th , 1940: Polish forces manage to capture Minsk, Belarus from the Soviets.

-June 10 th , 1940: Huzarzy soldiers seeing the Soviets closing in and under order from begin liquidating the Ukrainian and Jewish Camps and massacre thousands of ethnic Ukrainians and Jews. 

-June 20 th , 1940: The Nazi and Huzarzy forces begin the liquidation of the entire Jewish population of the Lublin Reservation.

-June 21 st , 1940: The Lublin Uprising occurs with the Yidishe Bafreyung Farband arming the Jewish prisoners of the Lublin Reservation against the Nazi government. The YBF’s commander, Tuvia Bielski, had managed to receive backing from the Soviet military and had been smuggling weapons into Lublin to prepare for this. Around 1,000 Jewish partisan soldiers storm the Polish-Soviet border to aid in the uprising. They quickly arm thousands of Jewish prisoners who revolt against the Nazi military and while bloody manage to retake the city of Lublin. Now with around 2,500 Jewish soldiers they manage to push back fascist Polish forces until reinforcements from the Soviets arrived. This would become known as the Battle of Lublin and is lauded as one of the truly greatest moments in Jewish history. They manage to liberate Lublin, Lviv, Rzeszow, Bialystok and Brest.

-June 22 nd , 1940: Soviet forces recapture Minsk.

-August 17 th , 1940: The Soviet Union begins the invasion of Huzarzy Poland where they meet up with the Yidishe Bafreyung Farband and use the city of Lublin as a mid-point. Two sections break off, one goes north to Warsaw while the other goes south to Krakow.

-August 21 st , 1940: Soviets capture the Polish city of Krakow.

-August 30 th , 1940: Soviets capture the Polish city of Warsaw. During the Battle of Warsaw much of the city would be destroyed and nearly burnt to the ground by the sheer violence and most of its population driven out as battles took place on city streets.

-September 5 th , 1940: Members of the Yidishe Bafreyung Farband capture Huzarzy Commander Bolesław Piasecki who is imprisoned back in Moscow. Chancellor Władysław Studnicki is captured as well but he quickly commits suicide.

-September 10 th , 1940: The Soviet fully liberates Poland. Many Poles living in eastern Poland flee to the West to escape being under Soviet control. Polish Nationalists who served in the Huzarzy Army would go into hiding and join the Polish nationalist organization known as the Mieszko Front formed later.

-September 15 th , 1940: Polish Huzarzy soldiers are executed en masse by Soviet forces. Around 6,000 Huzarzy soldiers and officers are executed in the neighboring town of Bolimów. This would become known as the Bolimów Massacre despite its victims being primarily fascist sympathizers. 

-October 22 nd , 1940: The Polish Democratic Republic is established as a Soviet Satellite State.

“The ghostly 'liberation' of a corpse city”: 75 years ago today Soviet forces arrived in Warsaw, transferring one totalitarian dictatorship for another

Red army victory parade, 19 January 1945, described by writer Jeremi Przybora as a “parade of victorious troops marching between two silent rows of ghosts […] a parade of liberators who had not liberated anyone.” Public domain

When the 1st Polish Army under Red Army command crossed the Vistula on January 17, 1945, Soviet propogandists called it a liberation, a label that stuck for over seven decades.

However, as writer Jeremi Przybora later commented: “The ghostly 'liberation' of a corpse city.”

For, if truth be told, there was no-one to liberate. The city’s inhabitants had been expelled by the Germans and if the Soviets liberated anything it was a sea of rubble.

By the time the red Army arrived, Warsaw lay in ruins. Public domain

For the people who started to drift back to the ruined city, the war was over, but instead of freedom, the arrival of the Red Army ushered in a new period of terror.

Before their arrival, the Germans had spent four months razing the city to the ground and building concrete bunkers to defend Festung Warschau against the Red Army.

However, when the Soviets finally crossed the Vistula, the city was captured in several hours with little resistance from the remaining German garrison.

When the Soviets finally crossed the Vistula, the city was captured in several hours with little resistance from the remaining German garrison. PAP-CAF

The whole operation lasted four days from 14 to 17 January 1945 and involved the Polish 1st Army and the 47th and 61st Army of the Belarusian 1st Front.

The Soviet 61st army crossed the Vistula to the south of the city at the Magnuszew bridgehead and the 47th attacked from the north near Modlin. Their aim was to create a kettle encircling the German 9th Army. Aware of the trap, the Germans withdrew most of their forces from the capital.

On January 17, 1945, only German rear-guard forces clashed with soldiers of the 1st Polish Army. The main fighting took place in Bielański Forest, at the Main Railway Station and at the intersection of Aleje Jerozolimskie and Nowy Świat.

As early as in September 1944, the NKVD set up a headquarters on Strzelecka Street with a prison and torture chamber. Kalbar/TFN

What the Polish soldiers of the Red Army saw shocked them. Under a layer of snow were the ruins of homes, scorched walls that were once bedrooms, livings rooms and places where children played with their toys. Death lurked everywhere under the snow. Corpses of insurgents lay unburied in the rubble.

One Polish soldier recalled: “Ruins, ruins, ruins and sometimes corpses with white and red armbands we knew they were Home Army soldiers. Our boys looked numb, they didn't believe what they saw, they couldn't get any words out, all I heard was ‘God, God’. ”.

Another, Michal Barcz of the 1st Polish Army remembered: “Warsaw was a macabre sight. A completely extinct, demolished city, covered with snow. Exploding bullets and mines, which the Germans left a lot of.

Writer Jeremi Przybora described the Soviets’ arrival as “the ghostly 'liberation' of a corpse city.” Public domain

Stumps of burnt houses, some rubble, but the first impression was the lack of people.”

When the Soviets entered, there were only a few ghostly souls who crept out of the rubble to witness the arrival of the new overlords.

These were the people who had decided to stay in Warsaw after the fall of the Uprising, fearing death at the hands of the Germans.

Historian Andrzej Krzysztof Kunert said: "In my opinion, January 17, 1945 was not the liberation of the city but the liberation of a sea of ruins, devoid of inhabitants. I would call it the occupation of an extinct place, a few hours earlier abandoned by German units.” Rafał Guz/PAP

One of them was the pianist Władysław Spielman, known from Roman Polańśki’s film. “I didn't know Warsaw was liberated. I had been completely alone for six months, hidden in ruins. When on January 20 I heard some sounds on the street and saw people, I cried. I was free,” he said on Polish Radio later.

The once flourishing city had already been heavily damaged during the air raids in September 1939, later by Soviet air raids. After the Ghetto Uprising the whole former Northern District was razed to the ground. The greatest devastation came during the Warsaw Uprising and immediately after.

Having sent the city’s entire population to concentration camps, forced labour or exile in other parts of the General Government, the Germans set about the deliberate destruction of the city.

A team of German academics had been brought to Warsaw to identify the buildings and areas of the city that were most important to Polish culture and identity. These were systematically destroyed by special German destruction commandos.

Those who returned to Warsaw started to rebuild their lives, not yet feeling the cold wind of Stalinism that would soon blow from Moscow. NAC

Running alongside this, was the theft of anything of use or value on an unimaginable scale.

By the time the Germans left the city, 85% of the city’s buildings on the left-bank were destroyed and an estimated 45,000 railway wagons and several thousand trucks full of stolen private and state had left the city headed for Germany.

While the lifeblood of Polish resistance bled out in Warsaw, the Soviet authorities in Praga began building their terror apparatus to prepare the ground for the takeover of power by the Polish National Liberation Committee.

As early as in September 1944, the NKVD set up a headquarters on Strzelecka Street with a prison and torture chamber.

When the Soviets arrived there was no-one to liberate. The city’s inhabitants had been expelled by the Germans and if the Soviets liberated anything it was a sea of rubble. NAC

When the Polish People's Army and Soviet troops crossed the river and entered the left-bank of the city, the NKVD followed in their wake with lists of names of Polish underground activists they were to arrest.

Therefore, the parade that took place on January 19 along Jerozolimskie Avenue was a sad affair.

Jeremi Przybora recalls it as a “parade of victorious troops marching between two silent rows of ghosts […] a parade of liberators who had not liberated anyone.”

Despite a ban by the new authorities, people began to drift back to the city. “Nobody cared that there was nowhere to return to. They came back in rags, in terrible misery, people were coming back to their city. It was very touching,” said Marian Zieliński, a soldier.

The Soviet 61st army crossed the Vistula to the south of the city at the Magnuszew bridgehead and the 47th attacked from the north near Modlin. PAP-CAF

The term ‘liberation’ was used for years to describe these events.

Historian Andrzej Krzysztof Kunert said in an interview with PAP: "In my opinion, January 17, 1945 was not the liberation of the city but the liberation of a sea of ruins, devoid of inhabitants. I would call it the occupation of an extinct place, a few hours earlier abandoned by German units."

However, it was the end of the war. The German occupation for five years meant a direct threat to the lives of almost every Pole, regardless of social background, gender or age.

Those who returned to Warsaw started to rebuild their lives, not yet feeling the cold wind of Stalinism that would soon blow from Moscow.

Battle of Berlin Aftermath

The Battle of Berlin effectively ended fighting on the Eastern Front and in Europe as a whole. With Hitler's death and complete military defeat, Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 7.

Taking possession of Berlin, the Soviets worked to restore services and distribute food to the city's inhabitants. These efforts at humanitarian aid were somewhat marred by some Soviet units that plundered the city and assaulted the populace.

In the fighting for Berlin, the Soviets lost 81,116 killed/missing and 280,251 wounded. German casualties are a matter of debate with early Soviet estimates being as high as 458,080 killed and 479,298 captured. Civilian losses may have been as high as 125,000.

Watch the video: Russians Enter Berlin: Final Months of World War II 1945. British Pathé (May 2022).


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