to the Polish 5th Army, 14 August 1920
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!
Well, that’s all a bit over the
top perhaps, but the middle of
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
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
tide had failed, often quite quickly.
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
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
Sikorski’s orders to the brigade are:
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
region. H Hour = 1100. I expect the indicated regions to be certainly
reached by 1800.
Colonel Luczynski’s attack via Przewodowo on Pultusk; take
The ordered attack should be executed with the greatest energy, while
keeping the cohesion of the troops. … All units should seize
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.
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
of your men have shoes – but the men lack familiarity with
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
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.
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
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
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,
in rallying etc.