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Borkowo: Soviet 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.
 

Soviet commander's brief

It is 0900 hours, 14 August 1920 and you command the 31st Rifle Brigade of the Soviet 11th Rifle Division, part of Kork’s 15th Army. You are currently stationed in Nasielsk, having arrived there yesterday afternoon.

Your division’s current orders are:

Advance westwards to Borkowo with one half your division and seek to form a bridgehead over the Wkra river, preferably including the bridge at Borkowo. Start immediately from receipt of this message.

The remainder of the division is to be positioned to screen Nasielsk from attack from the south-west, but be prepared to follow up the lead brigade once a crossing point has been established and support to your south has been established.

Your northern boundary is Jozefowo–Cieksyn–Katne. Your southern boundary is Golawice–Psucin.

The Soviet 16th Rifle Division are to your NW, HQ at Nowe Miasto, and will be attacking towards Plonsk, but will also cover any attack by the Poles from Popielzyn. The 6th Rifle Division are to your SE, between you and the River Bug (aka Narew), perhaps 10km away. It is intended that they will attack towards Modlin but communication with them has been lost and they may be unable to  prevent an enemy attack from Modlin on your southern flank.

Your standing orders are:

Immediately attack any enemy. Seek to destroy them from the first meeting. Losses will be tolerated, so long as the momentum of the Soviet advance is maintained.

Your KomDiv (Divisional Commander) has entrusted your brigade with the attack on Borkowo and has given you the divisional cavalry and a battery in support. Your advance is to remain south of the River Nasielua [i.e. the one that runs from Cieksyn to Chlebiotki]. He has sent the divisional commissar to “assist”.

The 32nd Brigade will move to defend the main road south of Nasielsk in the Siennica area, and will send patrols out as far as Studzianki. The KomDiv will remain in Nasielsk for the moment, with the remainder of the artillery divizion (two batteries) and the divisional train. (The division on paper has a third brigade, the 33rd, but it spends its time well to the rear, foraging and protecting the supply chain.)

Your brigade has recently been brought up to strength so that it consists of the full complement of three regiments, each of three battalions and an MG company. A rifle battalion has 5 bases; MG companies 2 bases; a battery is two gun bases. Your cavalry squadron is 4 bases (it would be slightly more, but some are used to supply messengers and scouts for the 32nd RB).

Most of your units are standard Red Army infantry but the recent influx of  men means that the third battalion of each regiment is composed almost entirely of new recruits and inexperienced commanders. Your cavalry are hopeless, being untrained peasants on horses.

Your men are tired after the long march from Russia, but exhilarated by the ease of their advance up until now. This tends to cancel out their lack of interest in taking the revolution to the rest of Europe. So you have every reason to believe that, though they will attack happily enough, their morale is brittle and they will not take a strong reverse. Conversely the Poles, thanks to a recent influx of bourgeois elements, seem to be very resistant but lack energy in their attacks.

You are low in all small-arms ammunition, but not yet dangerously so. Your artillery has 40 minutes of shells but they should use them conservatively. You will need to seek permission from the KomDiv for resupply.

The division faces units of the “Siberian Brigade” in Borkowo and Popielżyn, several thousand infantry strong. Their forward screen runs from Cieksyn to Lelewo. There are also conflicting reports of enemy massing to your south-west. Some put them there at a few regiments, others talk of a “Volunteer” Division.

Allowing for the time to plan your attack, gather your subordinates and organise your men, a start time of 1000 hours from the western edge of Nasielsk will be assumed.

 [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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