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Borkowo: Polish Briefing


General Order to the Polish 5th Army, 14 August 1920


Soldiers!

The counter-offensive which the Polish Army and all the nation has been waiting for such a long time starts today.

The sublime mission of attacking first in the decisive battle of the Polish-Russian war has fallen to the 5th Army.

Soldiers, when you are assaulting into the face of a deluge of machine-gun fire, remember that you are fighting not only for immortal glory, but for the liberty and strength of our fatherland.

At this moment you are carrying the future of Poland on the point of your bayonets.

The whole country is with you in heart and spirit. All Poland hopes and believes. From the approaching merciless battle there can be only one result:

The victory and triumph of the Polish Republic’s army.

Tenacity and strength!

The illusory power of the Bolsheviks will collapse under your blows. With sword blows you will restore Poland’s former borders.

Forward, soldiers! Forward!

Look death in the face, because death is glorious and victory is our future.

Forward until the enemy is destroyed!

Long live Poland!

       General Sikorski.


Well, that’s all a bit over the top perhaps, but the middle of August was to see the crucial battles of the Polish-Soviet War of 1920.

The Poles had been pushed back almost to Warsaw, whose loss would have been a tremendous, perhaps fatal, blow to the newly re-emerged country. Sikorski’s 5th Army was defending the northern approaches to the capital, from the Modlin out to Plonsk. Facing it was the Soviets’ 15th Army (Kork) and a portion of the 3rd Army (Lazarevich). To their north the Soviet 4th Army (Siergiev), and particularly the KavKor was advancing against very light opposition, so as to get behind the Polish defenders of the capital.

We now know that the Polish defenders around Warsaw were able to hold out for long enough for Pilsudski to be able to assemble and launch his decisive stroke from further south on the Vistula, but this was not at all obvious at the time – every previous attempt to hold the red tide had failed, often quite quickly.
 

Polish commander's brief

It is early morning 14 August 1920 and you command the 2nd Regiment of Colonel Rumsza’s Siberian Infantry Brigade, part of General Sikorski’s 5th Army. You arrived last night in Borkowo, having finally received some desperately needed equipment. You have spent the time sorting out the new equipment and hastily training some of the greener men on it.

The 1st Regiment’s is slightly to your north in Zawady [a.k.a. Popielżyn].

Sikorski’s orders to the brigade are:

The Siberian Brigade will attack from Zawady towards Nowe Miasto and seize it. It will then direct the bulk of its forces towards Stary Golymin [Gołymin Północ] and attempt to establish as early as possible on the Modlin–Mlawa railroad, in the Gasocin–Szustowo region. H Hour = 1100. I expect the indicated regions to be certainly reached by 1800.

Ultimate objectives: support Colonel Luczynski’s attack via Przewodowo on Pultusk; take Stary Golymin.

The ordered attack should be executed with the greatest energy, while keeping the cohesion of the troops. … All units should seize any opportunity to get into the rear of the enemy and to attack his troops. The fate of the war depends on the result of the 5th Army’s offensive; no-one may recoil from the great sacrifices that will assure us complete success.

Unfortunately you have learned that the Luczynski group, ordered to attack Nasielsk and therefore cover the right flank of your brigade’s advance is not ready to start on time. Therefore Colonel Rumsza has decided that your regiment will attack from Borkowo directly towards Nasielsk and then only proceed northwards to join the rest of the brigade once you are relieved by Colonel Luczynski.

Specifically:

1st Regiment is to prepare an energetic attack on the enemy in Nasielsk, and then hold that town until relieved. The attack is to leave Borkowo at 1100 Hours.

Your regiment consists of 3 rifle battalions, each of three companies, each of 4 bases. There is also an MG company, of 3 bases, which can be spread among your battalions if you prefer; a cavalry squadron of 3 bases; and a battery of 2 field gun bases.

Based around Poles repatriated from Siberia, your unit is not battle-tested and has been greatly increased in size by new recruits. It is mostly well equipped – unusually for Polish army almost all of your men have shoes – but the men lack familiarity with their equipment. Morale was quite low but has improved greatly in the last week as the new recruits are at least eager, if green.

You have sufficient small-arms ammunition for two day’s heavy fighting. Your artillery carry 40 minutes of ammunition with them and have a resupply train with another 40 minutes (in Borkowo). But if you use this there may not be any more resupply for quite some time (due to the precarious situation of the Polish commissariat and the difficulty of transporting the stores from Modlin).

You have dispatched pickets to watch the line from Cieksyn to Lelewo, with particular attention to the road from Nasielsk. They have rounded up enemy deserters that inform you that the 11th Rifle Division is in the area of Nasielsk but they know of no other enemy units in the immediate vicinity. The 11th RD does not have a lot of cavalry or guns, but is well equipped with MGs and is several thousand bayonets strong. They have a supply problem, both for ammunition and food.

 [A base represents about 40 riflemen or sabres, 4 MGs or 2 guns.]
 

Terrain

You have a map from 1913, which is accurate (in your experience) with respect to roads, rail lines, waterways and towns, but not so good on forests and swampy bits. The map does also try to show, although it can be hard to tell, the various heights. You will be supplied with more accurate maps as areas become visible to you (which might not be very fast, see below).

The area is extremely flat. Obviously the land around the water features is lower, with the ground sloping down gently in wide valleys, but only on the Wkra River and the Nasielua River up to Malczyn are there anything that might be called “banks”.

The land is almost all farmed, with scattered copses and small forests. There are no hedges, fences, substantial ditches or other barriers to movement or visibility. The edges of the streams and rivers tend to have some light scrub.

The villages towns are strung out along the roads and there are plenty of independent farmsteads. The buildings, other than the churches and gentry houses in the main villages, are merely peasant huts.

The roads are sandy and easy going, particularly the main roads.
 

Visibility

The flatness of the terrain actually makes observation more difficult because it is hard to find any elevation at all. Woods and villages cannot generally be looked over. As the summer days heat up the haze reduces visibility even more. However the dryness means that marching troops tend to kick up a fair amount of dust, particularly on the roads (but then so do moving cattle and refugees).

Polish cavalry are lance armed and wear nice shiny uniforms, but otherwise it is pretty much impossible to definitively tell Soviets from Poles at any range over a few hundred metres – and even then identification can be mistaken. The solutions are: flags, call signs, identification signals or very careful instruction of units as the whereabouts of other units.  

In these circumstances, troops tend to actively use their flags as a means of location and identification. You can order units to lower their flags, but there are some pretty obvious consequences of this – lost messengers, disoriented lines when advancing, difficulty in rallying etc.
 
 
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