Approach march of the armies of the Western Front to the Vistula river. Beginning of the general engagement. Fighting on the Wkra and at Radimin. Efforts of the Red Fourth Army to assist the Fifteenth Army. Capture of Tsekhanov and results of the same. Operations of the 15th August. Crisis on the 16 August. Orders of the Red command for the 17th August. Operations of the Twelfth Army. Change in the course of the battle on August 17th. Withdrawal of the Red armies from the line of the Vistula river. Plans for a new regrouping. Fourth Army on the lower Vistula. Organization of the pursuit by the enemy. General conclusions. New line of the front on the Niemen river. Advance of the First Cavalry Army on Zamostye. Brief review of events on the Southwest Front. New strategic missions of opposing forces. The Rovno operation. The Niemen operation. The Pinsk episode. Withdrawal of the armies of the Southwest Front. Armistice. Liquidation of the counter-revolutionary bands in the Ukraine and White Russia.
Accomplishing their approach march to the line of the Vistula river, the armies of the Western Front arrived on the line of this river in the formation that these armies assumed as a result of the preceding battles on the line of the Narev and Western Bug rivers, as a consequence of which the form of the approach march assumed the aspect of an oblique right movement not only of separate armies but of separate divisions within the armies. Thus the right-flank division of the Sixteenth Army (27th Div.) was situated in an oblique position 24-hours' march ahead of the remaining divisions of its army. In order to regulate properly the march time was required which, in view of the forced crossing of the Vistula river on the 14th of August, was hardly available. (Sketch 15).
The enemy meanwhile succeeded in disengaging from the action with our armies and on a considerable extent of the front accomplished the regrouping of his forces. On August 12th, in direct contact with our forces and engaged in vigorous fighting along the Golendkov - Vinnitsa and Khmelevov front, where only the screening forces of the Polish Fifth Army and the advance guards of the Red Fifteenth and Third armies. But with the Red Fourth Army and the III Cavalry Corps moving on its right flank, the enemy had no contact on this day, and our nits continued their advance westward without any interference on the part of the enemy. This is why the general engagement on the Vistula at first assumed the aspect of separate battles that took place in proportion of the successive approach of our divisions to the new line of the Polish front. Subsequently there were added to these the new battle positions that were brought about as a result of the enemy's launching of his offensive. From the fact that contact between the Fifteenth Army and the right flank of the Third Army and the enemy had not been interrupted, it might be said that the general engagement developed on the basis of the fighting for possession of the line of the Wkra river, with a gradual extension of the lines of combat due south. One such newly developing episodes was presented by the battle for the possession of Radimin. At the close of August 12th, at the immediate approaches to Warsaw, in the vicinity of the town of Radimin, the 21st Infantry Division of the Red Third Army came in contact with the Polish 11th Infantry Division. The former was being transferred to the south bank of the Western Bug river from Zalubice in conformity with the directive of the commander of the Western Front (group of armies) of August 10th with the mission of forcing the enemy that was withdrawing before the Sixteenth Army away from the city of Warsaw. Here also arrived the right-flank division (27th) of the Sixteenth Army. The remaining divisions of this army were still approximately one day's march from the Warsaw bridgehead.* As a consequence, the commander of the Sixteenth Army proposed to attack the Warsaw bridgehead with his entire forces only on the 14th August, intending to reach the line Yablonka - Marki - Volomin - Vaver - Okunev - Karchev - Osietsk and Kolberl.
* This was due to the fact that the 27th Infantry Division, after taking Drogichin, advanced directly forward, while the 17th, 2nd and 10th Infantry Divisions had to move first to the right and then turn in the new direction of their advance.
On the 13th of August, however, the 21st and 27th Infantry Divisions on the initiative of their own commanders, became engaged in vigorous fighting for the possession of the town of Radimin, in the course of which, in spite of the lack of coordination in the control of the two divisions on the battlefield, since each of the divisions acted in conformity with the orders issued by its own commander, the spirit of the offensive and the will to victory of the masses of our troops and of individual commanders proved so powerful that the first defence lines of the enemy were penetrated and the line of battle soon began approaching the Warsaw - Praga and Yablonna suburbs. Meanwhile, shifting its defense line east of the town of Radimin to an entirely unprepared and poorly situated defense line, the Polish command was being guided not by any tactical considerations but was rather following psychological trends. The Polish commanders endeavored to do everything possible to remove the Warsaw population from the actual war scene, perhaps out of fear of a possible internal explosion on the part of those revolutionary forces which for the time being still remained within the gates of the capital. The threat involved in all this and the immediate danger to the capital of Poland came very nearly to disrupting the entire Polish counter- maneuver.
At the very time when the vigorous fighting was being conducted for the possession of Radimin and the more important sector of the Polish front began wavering in the suburbs, since the route leading from Radimin to Warsaw was the closest, and was less than 23 km. from the city,*
*Only now does the full importance of the battle of Radimin begin to become apparent. The well-known French writer, Fourreur, who participated in the 1920 events on the Polish front, views our success at Radimin as a penetration of the center of the Polish First Army. According to his statements, the Red forces were already within 15 km of the Vistula bridges, and it was necessary to commit to action a considerable part of the front reserves in counterattacks that lasted two days. At this very time, the Polish radio station intercepted the orders of the Red Sixteenth Army for the delivery of a general attack on the Warsaw bridgehead on August 14th. According to General Sikorski, this order produced on Warsaw the effect of a bolt of lightning.**
**Sikorski - On the Vistula and Wkra, p. 106
It served to confirm General Haller's contention that the city of Warsaw, on the morning of August 14th, would be subjected to a concentric attack by three Soviet armies, i.e., by the Fifteenth, Third and Sixteenth armies. As a result, General Haller ordered the Polish Fifth Army to hasten the launching of an attack at daybreak of the 14th August with a view to diverging some of the Red forces from the capital, and he ordered all front reserves and the reserves of the First Army that were still available, a total of two divisions (1st Lithuanian-White Russian and the 10th Infantry divisions) to the Radimin area on the morning of the 14th with a view to liquidating the Radimin penetration.
General Haller particularly insisted on the entrance into action of the Polish Fifth Army as quickly as possible, being apprehensive lest the entire Red Third Army succeed in effecting its crossing to the south bank of the Bug river before the action of the Polish Fifth Army could make itself felt. Sikorski's views on the matter were different. He pointed out that the "forces of the Red Fourth Army and III Cavalry Corps, were hovering like heavy cloud over the Polish Fifth Army threatening it with an envelopment and in the event of a swift attack on our (Polish) communications, threatened with complete defeat the Polish north wing."* According to Sikorski's calculation , all this might take place within three days' time.**
** These calculations of General Sikorski are highly significant, indicating that we might have gained a speedy victory on the Polish northern wing before the efforts of Pilsudski's "central group of armies" could have made themselves felt.
His army was not yet ready for an attack. After considerable discussions he succeeded in gaining a postponement in the launching of his attack until noon of August 14th.***
*** It is important to note the precarious situation in which Sikorski's Army found itself at the time when it received orders for the launching of its attack, to which Fourreur referred to in the comment above cited. General Sikorski, with his forces subjected to a strategic envelopment, without having an opportunity to complete the concentration and deployment of his army, was compelled to accept battle on the Wkra river.
Thus the general engagement developed under conditions favoring us. The penetration of two Red divisions at Radimin had afforded us not only a considerable tactical victory that promised development into a strategic victory but also had a tremendous effect on the morale of the troops involved. It constituted another blow against the already harassed Polish high command. Forgetting the "heave cloud" in the shape of the turning wing of the Red Western Front, the Polish high command once more tried only to save Warsaw with every possible means at its disposal from the danger threatening it. This resulted in the hasty introduction of the Polish Fifth Army into action, whose efforts, according to General Haller, were not to produce any self-sufficient effects but were merely to facilitate the action of the Polish forces in the Radimin crisis.
* Sikorski - On the Vistula and Wkra, p. 117
In the circumstances, it would appear that the Red command should have made every effort to exploit the Radimin victory to its full extent. There was every opportunity for doing so. On the 13th of August the axis of the movement of the other divisions of the Sixteenth Army could have been moved closer to the Radimin battle area. Such a concentration of forces would have led to the gradual and final execution of the plan of the commander of the Western Front with respect to the delivery of the attack of the Sixteenth Army with a powerful right flank north of Warsaw. The nature of the Radimin battle pointed to the special need for the establishment of unified control on the battlefield. This could have been accomplished with the incorporation of the 21st Infantry Division into the Sixteenth Army. Meanwhile our forces were not augmented further in this sector of the front, that was so vital to the enemy. The divisions of the Sixteenth Army, approaching gradually to the Warsaw bridgehead, were just as gradually being committed to action, each division in its own sector without a proper coordination of efforts in any particular sector of the battlefield, which in our opinion, was due to the great distance that separated the commander of the Sixteenth Army from the battlefield, whose headquarters was situated at Vysoko-Litovsk, 120 km. from the front.*
Submitting to the insistent demands of General Haller, General Sikorski deployed by noon of the 14th August on the 25- km. line Borkovo - Zavady - Sokhotsin the first echelon of his attack, made up of the 18th Volunteer Infantry Division, the 18th Infantry Brigade, the Siberian Brigade and the 8th Cavalry Brigade. The 17th Infantry Division was left in reserve.
* Comrade Sollogub, commanding the Sixteenth Army, was quite ill at the time of the fighting here and could not be moved. The operations section of the Sixteenth Army which had moved to Siedlce could not of course entirely replace the Army commander.
On the march from Warsaw to Modlin were the 17th Infantry Brigade (9th Inf. Div.) and the 9th Cavalry Brigade. The right flank of the entire group of forces rested on the Modlin forts. All of these forces were to launch their attack at noon August l4th in the northeasterly direction, with Nasielsk as their immediate objective. Here we note the personal initiative of General Sikorski, who gave broader interpretation to his mission than that called for by General Haller. The latter was of the opinion that an assault by the Polish Fifth Army in an easterly direction would threaten the flank of the Red Third Army, supposedly crossing the Bug river; General Sikorski, on the other hand, assumed that the axis of communications of the Red Fifteenth Army was leading toward Plonsk and that of the Third Army, on Nasielsk, and he intended to deliver an oblique attack against the junction point of the Red Fifteenth and Third Armies and then threaten the Red group of forces in the Tsekhanov area with a flank attack.*
* Sikorski - On the Vistula and Wkra, p. 124
This plan of General Sikorski gave the battle on the Wkra the aspect of a meeting engagement. And the battle of Radimin henceforth also assumed a similar aspect, thanks to the strong Polish reserves that were committed to action here. Only in the sector of the center of the Red Third Army did the fighting assume the nature of an offensive action in so far as the Red forces were concerned. Here on August 14th the Red Third Army succeeded in occupying Sierotsk, though its advance was stopped short by the Zgierz fortifications before long.
On the 14th of August it might be said that the general engagement already got under way along the entire front. On the tip of the left flank the Mozyr group was committed to action. It attacked the security elements of the Polish "central group of armies" on the Zheleknov - Kotsk - Lubartov front, and it even seized the crossing at Kotsk. The center of gravity of the events on this day continued to remain on the northern Polish wing. Only the Red Fourth Army still retained its freedom of action. continuing its race to the Vistula, while the Headquarters of the Fourth Army established itself in the town of Tsekhanov, situated in the open gap between the flanks of the Red Fifteenth and Fourth armies Shuvayev, commanding the Fourth Army disturbed by the delay encountered by the Fifteenth Army during the attempts of some of its units to cross the Wkra river on the night of the 13/14 August, at this juncture attempted to manifest some initiative of his own. Maintaining in position his right flank on the line Lautenburg - Bezhun - Sierpets, and moving up the III Cavalry Corps to the line Lipno - Wioslavek, the commander of the Fourth Army decided to turn two of his division (54th and 18) toward Ratsionzh - Flonsk, with a view to assisting the Fifteenth Army. To accomplish this both of these divisions were required to turn 180o back and to advance eastward, with the enemy being situated between them and the Army Headquarters.
A vigorous execution of this maneuver threatened dire results for the Polish Fifth Army. The main forces of the latter army might have found themselves wedged in with their front and rear between the Red Fourth and Fifteenth armies. In order to realize more fully the precarious situation of the Polish Fifth Army in pursuance of this maneuver, if it had been executed, let us turn to the events taking place in the sector of this army on the 14th of August. Here the advance of this army did not develop fully, and afforded no decisive results. As is often the case in the development of a large-scale meeting engagement. local successes alternated with local failures. The left-flank group of the Polish Fifth Army (General Krayovski's 18th Infantry Division ) had crossed the Wkra river, occupied the Rzhevin village and began developing its movement on Mlotsk, athwart the inner flanks of the Red Fourth and Fifteenth armies, but its right flank, halting on the Wkra river, in the Sokhotsin - Ionets sector, was in turn subjected to a powerful assault by the two right-flank divisions of the Red Fifteenth Army (4th and 16the Inf. Divs.) This compelled General Krayovski to concentrate all his efforts against these divisions. The remaining divisions of the Fifteenth Army, in connection with the right flank of the Third Army, were themselves involved in vigorous attacks against the positions of the Polish Fifth Army on the Wkra river. These not only halted the attempts of the Siberian brigade of the Polish Fifth Army, which had also crossed the Wkra river, in developing their further advance, but by evening of the 14th August, by means of a counterattack launched by the 11th Infantry Division, the Polish Siberian Brigade was routed, and on the heels of their forces the Red 11th Infantry Division penetrated the Borkovo village, where it captured many prisoners and a battery of artillery.*
* Sikorski - On the Vistula and Wkra, pp. 132 and 133.
The Siberian Brigade retreated to the Vronsk - Yusefovo area with heavy losses. To the south, units of the Red Third Army enjoyed a local victory, capturing two forts, those of Menkotskin and Torun, in the inner line of the fortress.
The fall of these forts caused much confusion within the fortress. Of an equally intensive nature was the fighting in the Radimin area. The enemy succeeded in repelling the attack here and in capturing Radimin, but after midday the latter once more passed into the hands of the Red forces. The counterattacks launched by the 1st Lithuanian White Russian division (reserve of the Polish First Army) were without success, and the front (group of armies) reserve, (10th Infantry Division) could as yet not be put into action. Thus, on the 14th August our forces penetrated the Polish front on the very line indicated by General Weygand as the essential line for a development of a counterattack by the central group of armies." The Red Fifteenth Army forced the Wkra river over a considerable portion of it in the sector of the Polish Fourth Army. At Radimin we continued to drive our wedge far into the Polish lines. Already on the northern wing of the Polish front reserves were becoming exhausted, while at our disposal there was still the Red Fourth Army that had as yet not been committed to action and which at this particular time had gained the exposed flank of the Polish northern wing, which was highly important. In this situation, General Rozvadovsky applied to Pilsudski with a request to accelerate his advance, and to launch it on the 15th of August, Pilsudski, however, adhered to the time set for the attack without changing it, which was August 16th.*
* Sikorski - On the Vistula and Wkra, p.131
It might well be said that at the close of August 14th a crisis had developed along the entire northern wing of the Polish Front and in the center ( at Radimin). In so far as the Red forces were concerned, there was necessary one more effort, some sort of new forces to the end that a combination of all the tactical victories be turned into one general victory, and by so doing also gain a tactical victory in the north before the results of Pilsudski' counterattack in the south, which could develop into a menace for us, could make themselves felt. This is why in the circumstances the turning of the two divisions of the Red Fourth Army on Plonsk, which amounted to getting them involved in the general battle on the Wkra river, was of such vital importance, and, as the reader may by now realized, held the fate of the entire Polish front. The situation of the Polish Fifth Army became even more difficult by the course of the battle at Radimin, which was as yet quite unfavorable for the enemy. This center of the fighting had already attracted the last G.H.Q. reserve, the 10th Infantry Division, from Yablonna Meanwhile, the 10th Infantry Division at Yablonna secured both the flank and rear of the Polish Fifth Army during its advance on Nasielsk.*
* Sikorski - On the Vistula and Wkra,p.134.
For August 15th General Sikorski assumed two objectives: Restoration
of the situation on the Wkra river, by committing to action all of his
reserves; and a continuation of the development of the assault with his left
flank (18th Infantry Division and the 8th Cavalry Brigade) from the Sokhotsin
area against Golymin Stary and Pzhevodovo, i.e., as heretofore, operating
athwart the inner flanks of the Red Fourth and Fifteenth armies. The entire
cavalry, supported by one infantry regiment, was ordered in the direction of
For the protection of Plonsk, General Sikorski could detach only one infantry regiment (4th Pomorzany) and a marine battalion. Subsequently it was intended to send to Plonsk the 9th Cavalry Brigade that was enroute to join General Sikorski's forces, the first echelons of which were expected at Modlin on the evening of the 15th August. General Sikorski, committing to action all of his divisions on the Wkra river, had made every possible effort to gain a victory before the Red Fifth Army could come upon his rear.* Actually, in the course of the 15th August the hostile cavalry forced its way into Tsekhanov.
In endeavoring to save itself, the headquarters of the Fourth Army began jumping about from one of its divisions to the next, losing all contact 3withthe front (group of armies) commander, which was none too well established even before this. As a consequence of all this, on the one hand, orders from the front commander were reaching the Fourth Army with much delay, and the execution of the same was always too late to affect the situation; and on the other, there was an increased gravitation of any front reserves that were still available, to the north, since the army reserve of the Fifteenth Army (33d Inf. Div.) had given the mission to dislodge the enemy from Tsekhanov.
On August 15th the fighting on the Wkra river began taking on an unfavorable aspect for the Fifteenth Army; the enemy was forcing it back all along the line in a series of vigorous, sanguinary battles. At the close of the 15th August the front of the Polish Fifth Army extended along the line of the Mlava - Modlin railway, on the sector Sonsk, Sverzhe, thence it turned abruptly southwestward and east of Borkov, to the line Menkotsin - Studzianka - Tsegelnia. As a result of the day's fighting the divisions of the Red Fifteenth and Third armies were driven back to the left bank of the Wkra river. Only the 6th Infantry Division (Third Army still continued to engage in vigorous fighting on the line of the northern forts of Modlin. The Red Fourth Army had been disposed as follows on this day: The 12th Infantry Division was engaged in isolated fighting with a small detachment belonging to Lieut. Colonel Gabikht in the suburbs of Lautenburg. The main forces of the III Cavalry Corps occupied the Sierpets area, stationing strong detachments in the directions of Bobrovniki, Volozlavek and Lipno. Behind these was situated the 53d Infantry Division. The 18th and 54th Infantry Divisions were concentrating in the Ratsionzh area. Thus there is no doubt but that on the 15th of August the enemy gained a tactical victory on the Wkra river, but he was not yet firmly established there so long as on the flank and in rear of the Polish Fifth Army there was still the Red Fourth Army. Another lucky incident served to reveal our plans to the enemy. Late in the afternoon the Polish radio station intercepted the orders of the army commander, Shuvayev, to the 18th and 54th Infantry Divisions with respect to the advance on Plonsk; these divisions were to conform their advance to that of the frontal advance of the Red Fifteenth Army. Further, Shuvayev ordered the 53d Infantry Division to halt in the Bezhun - Sierpets area in order to cover the advance on Plonsk from the north, while the III Cavalry Corps was required to perform a similar mission in the Lipno - Vlozlavek area, against possible hostile action from the direction of Thorn, i.e., these were the very same instructions that had been issued by Shuvayev back on the 14th August.
This information now found the Polish Fifth Army in an extremely difficult position, since it had committed to action all of its reserves on the Wkra river. Plonsk itself afforded no defense advantages whatsoever. True, Sikorski had been promised new reinforcements in the shape of the 8th Infantry Brigade (from the Second Army), but this reserve could not arrive at Modlin before daybreak of August 17th. General Sikorski in his book On the Vistula and Wkra has the following to say in this connection: "The prompt, logical exploitation of our weakness at the time on the left wing of our army even on the part of the above Red two divisions would have brought about the destruction of our weak screening force at Plonsk and led to the beginning of a new battle with the participation of first by two divisions and later, in the event of the proper execution of the orders of the commander of the Western Front, the participation of six hostile divisions against the rear of the Polish forces that were engaged in frontal action with the Red Fifteenth and Third armies. The advance of the Red Fourth Army and of the III Cavalry Corps, coordinated with the actions of the Red Fifteenth and Third armies, in cooperation with the Red Sixteenth Army advancing frontally against the Warsaw bridgehead, might well have afforded really decisive results in the battle on the Vistula."*
*Sikorski - On the Vistula and Wkra, p. 146.
Upon the receipt of the news of the threat confronting the Polish Fifth Army, the commander of the Polish North Front (General Haller) proposed to limit the successes gained on the Wkra river, to leave there a screening force, and to turn the main forces of the Fifth Army against Plonsk. The commander of the Polish Fifth Army, however, endeavored to exploit his success, which he wanted to secure by the capture of Nasielsk, notwithstanding the threat that was facing him from the direction of Plonak. This decision of General Sikorski was supported by General Weygand, and brought about a unique situation in the sector of the Polish Fifth Army on the 16th of August, which we shall take up later; for the time being let us consider the events on the other sectors of the extensive battlefield.
In the Radimin sector the general lack of control on the battlefield continued as heretofore to affect our forces adversely. On the 15th of August a complicated regrouping of forces was here undertaken with the object of liberating the 21st Infantry Division, which the commander of the Third Army was endeavoring once more to move up to the northern bank of the Western Bug river for action against Zgierz. This division in the circumstances was to effect a change of its front of 90· on the battlefield, The maneuver in question failed, for, at the very moment of the regrouping there followed the counterattack of two Polish divisions (1st Lithuanian White- Russian Division and the 19th Inf. Div. ) directed against the wedge formed by our forces the head of which had reached a considerable distance in the direction of Yablonna. After some vigorous fighting, our forces yielded Radimin and withdrew beyond the Rzhondza river . Subsequent efforts at regaining the initiative in this sector merely led to intensive but fruitless battles.
In similar failure there ended on this day the attempts of the Red 17th and 10th infantry divisions at launching attacks on the stronger sector of the Warsaw bridgehead. The vigorous attack of the 10th Infantry Division on the central sector of the Polish bridgehead, against the numerically stronger Polish 15th Division, resulted in the temporary capture by the Red forces of the Vyanzovna village, which the Polish forces recaptured after committing to action all reserves of the Polish 15th Infantry Division. This attack,* apparently, produced such an
General Sikorski, in his On the Vistula and Wkra, erroneously assumes that the battle at Vyanzovna took place on the night of the 16/17 August. effect on the morale of the Polish command here that in the days that followed, upon launching further attacks, this division already proved rather sluggish and indecisive. A local victory was also gained by the 8th Infantry Division on the left flank of the Sixteenth Army in its sector. This division on the line extending from Karchev up to Magnushev had reached the line of the Vistula river and occupied the bridgehead fortifications of the enemy at Gura-Kalvaria and conducted a vigorous reconnaissance of the crossings over the Vistula river (See Sketch 15).
On August 15th in the sector of the Twelfth Army events took place that served as the prologue to the counter- maneuver of Marshal Pilsudski. On this day the right-flank units of the Polish Third Army repelled units of the Red Twelfth Army that had crossed the Bug beyond this river in the Grubezov area and by so doing secured the beginning of the development of the counter-maneuver of the "central group of armies". The order calling for the launching of the counter- maneuver was issued on the night of the 15th/ 16th August. First Pilsudski directed on the Siedlce - Novo - Minsk front three divisions of the Polish Fourth Army and he secured this assault on the right by sending the assault detachment of the Third Army (2 infantry divisions and 1 calvary brigade) against the Brest - Biela line from the left. On August 17th the Polish First Army was to support this movement with an attack to be launched by considerable forces against Novo-Minsk. In the execution of this, the commander of the Polish First Army sent several battalions of the Polish 15th Division with mechanized elements to attack Novo-Minsk. At the same time Pilsudski began gradually to relieve the Polish Second Army behind the Vistula, sending part of its forces to reinforce the Polish First and Fifth Armies.
Notwithstanding the rather vague and generally unfavorable turn in the situation along the entire front, the commander of the Western Front on August 15th and during the following night still refused to yield the initiative and endeavored to designate active missions to the forces on the flanks. Assuming that the Polish "central group of armies" was concentrating to the east of the actual place of its disposition, namely, in the Siedlce - Dubenki - Krasnostav area, the commander of the Western Front ordered the commander of the Twelfth Army to concentrate his main forces in the Dubenki - Korytnitsa - Grubezov area and to attack the enemy in the general direction of Siedlce. The Mozyr group was to assist in this maneuver by an attack with not less than 1 1/2 divisions in the north and it sent the 58th Infantry Division on this mission, ordering it to develop its attack from Vlodava on Kholm. The fighting here assumed a purely local character; it had no immediate effect upon the course of the operation as a whole, and we shall therefore consider it separately. The discovery of strong bridgeheads at the eastern approaches to Warsaw, and the verification of information of the concentration of large hostile forces beyond the Wieprz river,* had caused the commander of the Western Front to introduce some important changes in the action of the Sixteenth Army.
*Orders, No. 110 issued to the Polish Third Army were intercepted by the Red Twelfth Army on August 14th but were not brought to the attention of the commander of the Western Front until the 15th August.
This army was ordered to shift its efforts toward its left flank, to move up to the Lukov area, in front (group of armies) reserve, the 8th Infantry Division, and to assist the Mozyr group. These instructions of the commander of the Western Front delay occasioned in the arrival in the Lublin area of the First Cavalry Army. At the same time, seeing in the advance of the Polish Fifth Army the realization, in a manner of speaking, of his own wishes for an opportunity to deliver a decisive blow against the enemy to the east of the Vistula river, the commander of the Western Front (group armies) decided on the "envelopment and destruction of the over-extended hostile group of forces." With this in view, the commander of the Western Front demanded on August 16th the strengthening of the right flank of the Third Army and issued orders for the turning of the main forces of the Fourth Army to the line Sakhotsin - Zakrochim ( in the Modlin area). As a result of these orders, there had been directed against the left flank of the main Polish forces the concentric attack of our three armies ( Fourth, Third and Fifteenth armies). The latter was not accomplished in time owing to the assault of the enemy on Tsekhanov, and the right- flank units of the Fourth Army continued on the execution of previously received orders, making every effort to reach the Vistula river. At the same time, the Red Fifteenth Army was to launch its attack in the general direction of Plonsk ( See Sketch 16).
August 16th was the day when the crisis finally developed in the entire battle on both flanks. On this day there was being concluded in the north the fight, unfavorable for us, for the final consolidation of the enemy positions on the line of the Wkra river, and in the south came the successful development of the counter-maneuver of the "central group of armies" launched by Pilsudski.
During the 16 of August all efforts of the main forces of the Polish Fifth Army were directed toward the capture of Nasielsk. At the same time, the 33d Infantry Division of the Fifteenth Army succeeded in dislodging the Polish 8th Cavalry Brigade from Tsekhanov, and the latter brigade lost contact for a number of days with its army. Next the 33d Infantry Division began developing its advance on Sonsk with a view to the turning of the left flank of General Krayovski's group. Here it defeated, and practically annihilated the Polish 42d Infantry Regiment.*
* Some of our historians show this episode to have taken place at Tsekhanov, and they give the number of prisoners taken as 1,2000 men. Actually this occurred in the Sonsk and Sarnovoi Gury area.
During this same time, there was also discovered the advance of the Red 18th Infantry Division on Plonsk. Thus, on the 16th of August the left flank of the Polish Fifth Army was in a precarious position, and even on this day there was still the possibility of gaining some sort of victory on our part.
Thanks to a coincidence, there had arrived at Plonsk almost simultaneously with the advance guard of the 18th Infantry Division of the Red forces, the advance guard of the hostile 9th Cavalry Brigade from Modlin. It entered the town at the very time when its garrison (4th Pomorsky regiment and marine battalion) was preparing to flee from the town in view of the news of the approaching Red forces. The arrival of the advance guard of the 9th Cavalry Brigade restored calm in the town and its defense was now organized.**
** Sikorski - On the Vistula and Wkra, p.154.
At the same time when ,by a lateral movement of the forces to the left, the Polish l8th Infantry Division succeeded in delaying the development of the advance of the 33d Infantry Division. This served to save the situation on the left flank of the Polish Fifth Army, which permitted the enemy at the close of the 16th August to seize Nasielsk. The capture of this point by the enemy meant his penetration of the junction point of the Red Fifteenth and Third armies.*
* In the opinion of Fourreur, the operations of the Polish Fifth Army during August 14 - 16 constituted a vivid example of how a bad strategic situation may be changed under favorable tactical successes. True, the latter were due solely to a number of great blunders committed in the control of the Red Fourth Army.
After committing the 33d Infantry Division to action, there were no more available reserves at our disposal with which to counteract the increasing efforts of the enemy, and both of our armies were compelled to withdraw 10 kilometers to the east of the Mlava - Modlin railway line. The loss of Nasielsk was in a small measure compensated for by the recapture of Grubeszov by the Twelfth Army which was the only purely local victory gained by the Red forces on this day.
On the 16th of August, apparently for the very same reasons that obtained at Radimin, the last chance was lost to inflict a separate defeat upon the Polish Fifth Army by the development of a vigorous assault on Plonsk, which required a unified control on the battlefield of the 18th and 54th Infantry Divisions., However,the commander of the Red Fourth Army, not yet having received the instructions of the commander of the Western Front (group of armies) of August 16th, after some wavering, once more decided to continue his race to the Lower Vistula and he moved with it the III Cavalry Corps. This brought about action in diverging directions on the part of the Red Fourth Army and the final loss of control over it. Meanwhile the Plonsk screening force of the enemy was steadily being strengthened. On August 17th there arrived at Plonsk the entire 9th Cavalry Brigade and a considerable part of the 8th Infantry Brigade (belonging to the Polish Second Army). Consequently it was difficult to count on the success of scattered attacks launched by the 18th and 54th Infantry Divisions. Having contented himself about the fate of Plonsk, the commander of the Polish Fifth Army decided on August 17th on the concentration of all of his attention and strength toward the exploitation of the success gained at Nasielsk. This decision was in the fullest possible accord with the actual requirements of the situation. The Red Fifteenth Army at the time had as yet not lost its combat efficiency, and by means of frequent counterattacks continued to contest every inch of yielded ground, which involved the exertion of much effort on the part of the enemy in order to completely break its resistance. The launched offensive of the "central group of armies," at once began developing with entirely unexpected success for the enemy.*
*In more detail, the organization of this offensive was as follows: The Polish Fourth Army, by the end of August 16th, was to reach with its infantry divisions the line: Radin - Zhelekhov - Gonciza. Its divisions were directed as follows: the 21st Infantry Division, on Lukov - Siedlce; General Ridz-Smigly, commander of the Polish Fourth Army, proceeded with this division, in order to accelerate its progress. The 16th Infantry Division was given the direction of advance: Zhelekhov - Stochek -Kalushin. The 14th Infantry Division, accompanied by Marshal Pilsudski himself, marched over the Warsaw highway to the line Goncize - Garvolin - Novo-Minsk.
Securing the assault detachment of the Polish Fourth Army on the right, two infantry divisions and one cavalry brigade (4th) of the Polish Third Army were given the following missions: The 1st Infantry Division of Legionnaires situated north of Kholm was ordered to proceed to Vlodava. The 4th Cavalry Brigade, proceeding in the gap between the above forces was to secure contact between the two divisions.
In the review above referred to by Forreau the latter presents several interesting characteristic details on the organization of the counterattack of the "central group of armies," which may be of interest here.
The commander of the Polish Fourth Army considered the protection afforded his right flank by the advancing echelon of the Polish Third Army, situated one and one-half days' march behind to be insufficient. He therefore had his right flank moved up so as to maintain closer contact with the 1st Legionnaire Infantry Division of the Third Army. Forreau considers this to have been quite proper. From the standpoint of methodical safety this may have been so, but we wish to point out that it was precisely because of this action that the heavy artillery of the Red Sixteenth Army, the artillery of the 10th and 17th infantry divisions along with elements of these divisions withdrew successfully from under the very noses of the Poles on the 17th of August over the Siedlce highway.
The Mozyr group was repelled in an easterly direction, and the enemy reached the line: Lukov - Biela, occupying at the same time Garvolin in the sector of the Sixteenth Army who was under the impression that "for the time being there were only small hostile forces operating" here, attributing the withdrawal of the Mozyr group to the exhausted and worn condition of its troops Therefore the commander of the Sixteenth Army ordered a continuation of the regrouping of his forces on the 17th of August on his left flank and the recapture of Garvolin..
It was at this time that the commander of the Western Front (group of armies) ordered the commander of the Twelfth Army to capture the Kholm - Lubartov area with his main forces. The commander of the Twelfth Army proceeded with the execution of these orders, sending two of his divisions to the line: Vlodava - Savin - Reioverts, while directing his two other divisions as heretofore against the Tomaszov - Rava - Russka line. Thus the line of the Twelfth Army was stretched out over about 180 kilometers, and this army began operating with two equally divided groups of forces in diverging areas. As a consequence, the Polish screening force in the Lublin area succeeded fully in the performance of its mission. At this same time, the First Cavalry Army was pinned down to the Lemberg area.
In the course of the 17th August the advance of the Polish Fifth Army on Pultusk developed rather slowly, encountering the vigorous counterattacks of the Red Fifteenth Army. Nevertheless, the Polish forces succeeded in capturing Pultusk by the end of the day.
On this same day the "central group of Polish armies" forced back the left flank of the Sixteenth Army. At the close of August 17th units of the Polish Fourth and First Armies joined at Novo-Minsk. On the night of the 17-18 August the commander of the Western Front (group of armies), being apprised for the first time of the advance of the "central group" by the commander of the Sixteenth Army by direct wire, realized the way that events were developing in the Demblin area the scope of which surpassed those that had taken place two days before on the Wkra river, and he accordingly assumed the task of curtailing that advance, to disengage from the enemy and to regroup his forces in a retrograde movement and prepare for the launching of a counterattack, intending to concentrate considerable forces on his left flank, at the junction point of the Twelfth Army.
The directive of the commander of the Western Front, No. 406/op of the 17th August essentially provided for a disposition of our forces to insure the withdrawal of our forces from the line of the Vistula river The Sixteenth Army was moved back of the Livets river, assigning two divisions in reserve on the left flank with a view to having it nearer to the lagging Twelfth Army and to establish cooperation between these forces.
At the same time the Fourth Army was to effect its concentration in the Prasnysh - Tsekhanov - Malava area for an attack against the rear of the enemy operating against the Fifteenth and Third armies. The Fifteenth Army, in order to cover the regrouping of the Fourth Army was to deliver an attack on Plonsk; the Third Army was to assume the defensive on the Narev and Bug rivers, while the Mozyr group was to once more launch an attack on Biela. The difficult maneuver involved in the regrouping in the course of the retrograde movement with the lateral shifting of divisions toward the left flank failed in the course of its actual accomplishment, inasmuch as freedom of movement in the case of most of our armies at this time was directly affected by the continuously developing advance of the enemy, who appeared in the Drogichin area ahead of our own divisions, where the commander of the Western Front (group of armies) had contemplated the organization of a new assault detachment.
The commander-in-chief, taking into consideration the general situation, proposed the gathering of the reinforcements that he had sent to the Western Front in the Brest area, but the fall of this point prevented the execution of this plan. The generally unfavorable situation was further complicated by the tactical success of the III Cavalry Corps of the Fourth Army, which had seized the crossing of the Vistula at Wlozlavec and, occupying the town of Bobrovniki, transferred it reconnaissance elements to the left bank of the Vistula. Thence the corps was directed against the city of Plotsk and on the night of the 18/19 August was engaged in successful action for the possession of Plotsk, but found it impossible to bring the battle here to a final conclusion in view of the fact that it had received orders at daybreak of the 19th from the commander of the Fourth Army to advance on Plonsk in conformity with the directive of the commander of the Western Front (group of armies) of August 17th referred to above, calling for the concentration of the entire Fourth Army in the Prasnysh - Tsekhanov - Mlava area.
The 48- hour delay of the Fourth Army proved fatal, since this now separated it from the rest of our armies at the very time when the enemy had proceeded with a vigorous exploitation of his success. On the 18th of August the enemy effected new regrouping of his forces, and from the units of his former Third, Fourth and Second armies there were organized the Second and Fourth armies. The Second Army was given the direction of Byalistok, via Mezhirech, and the Fourth Army that of Grayevo, via Kalushin - Mazovetsk; the First Army on Ostrov and Lomzha via Wyshkov. The missions of these three armies, which had altered the direction of their advance due north, included the envelopment of the greatest number possible of the forces of the Western Front. The Fifth Army was given the mission of destroying the Red Fourth Army by means of a turning movement directly north in the direction of Tsekhanov - Mlawa, and finally the Third Army was directed against the Red Twelfth Army. Having exhausted their strength in the preceding battles, the Red Third and Fifteenth armies found it impossible to put up successful resistance against new pressure of the enemy and began moving eastward avoiding the attacks directed against them. And inasmuch as the Fourth Army had been situated somewhat in advance of these armies, all assaults delivered by the enemy came upon the Fourth Army, which avoided the hostile attacks and came upon the East Prussian frontier, twice breaking through the ring of the enemy, and being compelled finally to cross into East Prussian territory with its main forces on August 26th.*
*In view of the fact that the commander of the Red Fourth Army was not with this army at the time of its withdrawal, control of the withdrawal developed upon the commander of the III Cavalry Corps, comrade Gai. It was he who twice penetrated the ring of the enemy with his III Cavalry Corps. The penetrations were facilitated by the fact that all of the pursuing Polish armies were arriving at the East Prussian frontier at different periods, namely: the Polish First Army reached Kolno with advance units on August 24th; the Polish Second Army occupied Grayevo on August 25th. As regards the Polish Fifth Army, it was following behind the Red III Cavalry Corps, the latter succeeding in penetrating its encircling ring at Mlawa.
It might be said that with these episodes there came to a close our
operation on the Middle Vistula that had developed into an extensive general
engagement. In this battle both sides had assumed the objective of destroying
the manpower of their adversary.
The question still remains as to just why our tactical victories on the northern wing of the Polish armies failed of development into a decisive general victory. In order to answer this question properly, it is merely necessary to summarize our partial conclusions. The causes that served to impede the exploitation of our partial victories were as follows: the absence of unified control on the Radimno battlefield and Plonsk; the continued diversion of the efforts of the Red Fourth Army from the battled Modlin (on the Wkra river) which went further in lowering the relative strength of our forces facing the enemy there; a number of propitious circumstances favoring the enemy, such as the timely interception of the orders of the Red Sixteenth and Fourth armies;*
* True, we also had favorable instances of this nature, capturing the orders of the Polish Third Army, though we failed to take proper advantage of it.
Finally, the failure on the part of certain of the Red army commander to adopt prompt changes to meet the conditions of the rapid developments incident to mobile airfare, in effecting appropriate changes in the disposition of their forces, and the unusual distance of the headquarters of the Western Front from the actual front, to which we have already referred above/ This resulted in a certain tardiness in the performance of our control functions, which had been aggravated because of the distance of our field headquarters from the points where the more vigorous fighting had been taking place. Nor must we overlook the matter of permitting the enemy to develop his efforts in the more decisive areas ahead of us. All of these failures on our part testify to the fact that our technique in the exercise of the functions of command over large forces was still rather poor. But regardless of the standpoint from which we may consider the operations on the Vistula, one thing remains indisputable; The Red command, from lowest to highest, had made utmost use of the superior morale of our forces. From this standpoint, the battle on the Vistula is a classical example of military history. However, the basic strategic reason for our defeat on the Vistula remains the divergence of the two fronts along opposing directions at the very time when the enemy was strengthening his forces both by the organization of new military units and the concentration of the groups of armies for the battle on the Vistula that had been provided for even before the operation had been embarked upon by the commander-in-chief, and that provided for in orders after deviations therefrom, covered in the directive of the commander-in-chief of the 11th August, in spite of the feasibility of the execution of the same as regards the elements of time and space, had not been accomplished because of a variety of difficulties encountered by the Red command. This campaign, lost by us, affords an outstanding lesson in the matter of the proper control of forces in war, and the proper peace-time training of an army for war.
Finally, we must mention the effect of the breakdown in our communications in the operations on the Vistula.
Such is the lesson to be drawn from the history of the operations on the Vistula for the future. While preserving fully the boldness and daring of our military thought, we must at the same time master fully the technique of the military profession in every detail and learn how to combine this in practice.* This is the path indicated for us by history.
* Fourreau makes some important admissions in this connection. He states that at the outset of the operations on the Vistula all military experts had completely given up all hopes for Poland; not only was the strategic position of Poland helpless but the morale of the Polish forces was such as to render a Polish disaster inevitable.
The abrupt turning of the main hostile forces north caused the enemy later on to lose considerable time in a new regrouping of his forces. This permitted the main forces of the Western Front (group of armies) to establish themselves on the Niemen river and along the line: Wolkowysk - Pruzhany - Kobrin.
At the time when the Battle of Warsaw was coming to a close there finally came along the long-awaited advance of the First Cavalry Army, undertaken at the instance of the commander-in- chief. The Cavalry Army had concluded some intensive fighting on the 19th of August for the possession of Lemberg and was given the mission, while operating in the direction of Krasnostav - Lublin, to capture the Krasnostav area within four days. By the 25th of August the Cavalry Army reached the Sokal area and on the 27th engaged in action the Polish Third Army, but it failed to receive the support of the Twelfth Army. In the course of August 28,29 and 30, the First Cavalry Army endeavored to seize Zamostye, but being subjected to an attack by the superior forces of the enemy from the south and north and lacking the support of the Twelfth Army, it began withdrawing behind the Western Bug river. On September 1st the enemy, having concentrated considerable forces, continued his advance from the Grubeszov area, and the fighting extended also to the sector of the Twelfth Army. After a vigorous battle lasting six days the First Cavalry Army again withdrew on September 6th to the Vladimir-Volhynsky area.
While a crisis was developing on the banks of the Vistula during this campaign, the Fourteenth Army of the Southwest Front (group of armies) in Galician territory was engaged in vigorous fighting with the Ukrainian Army and the Polish Sixth Army, endeavoring to capture the city of Lemberg. The fighting at the approaches to the city were most sanguinary. However, the favorable outcome of the battle of Warsaw for the enemy also had its effects on the situation in Galicia, and compelled the Fourteenth Army to contract its lines somewhat, and to pass to an active defense on the line: Busk - Rogatin - Gnilaya Lipa - Dniester, where the fighting, with some alternating successes and failures, continued throughout the first half of September.
When the failures of the Red armies at Warsaw became apparent on August 22, 1920, the Bureau of the Petersburg Committee of the Communist Party made public a communication from the front. This stated that "our valiant though exhausted Red forces, owing to their incessant fighting, have been compelled to withdraw somewhat." The Petersburg committee of the communist party and the presidium of the Petrograd executive committee decreed a mobilization within 72 hours of the best available members of the Petrograd organization, which amounted to 1,500 men.
`The mobilization got under way on August 25th, and the "Pravda," central organ of the party, wrote: "Petersburg is the pioneer of the revolution, it always has been a city of heroes. It remains such to this day. When the Petrograd workers heard of the defeat of the Red Army at Warsaw and of its retreat, there was little confusion; they acted without delay."
The All-Russian central council of trade unions announced a new mobilization. The Moscow soviet of trade unions ordered the mobilization of 600 men from among the more sturdy and self- abnegating members of the labor unions, factory and local trade- union committees,etc. On August 26th mobilization got under way also in Petrograd through the trade-unions The same was conducted also in the provinces. In the small place of Novoye Ladoga the party organization mobilized 16 reliable workers; at Novgorod a communist cavalry detachment was organized; Yaroslavl mobilized 52 men, followed by an additional 100 men and, 140 responsible trade-union workers.
On September 23, 1920, the All-Russian Conference of the Communist Party convened at Moscow. The report of the Central Committee presented the figures of the last mobilization. The first party mobilization in the transport service provided 5,905 men; the second mobilization in the Ukraine and on the Western Front - 4,537 men; the third, for reserve units - 5,000; on the Wrangel front - 1,100; on the Turkestan front - 148; Poles, Lithuanians, White Russians - 109; Galicians - 37; Moslems - 102, and finally the last mobilization on the Western Front was fully carried out and provided 5,000 men. In all there had been mobilized 23,420 men. This testifies to the fact that the tempo of the party mobilization during the Polish campaign had been faster than in the case of all preceding mobilizations. And yet there was hardly anything in the press to indicate that the communists had effected a change in the situation at the front, brought about an improvement, etc.
The reason for this was the fact that matters in the Polish conflict had nothing to do with any changes or improvements in the morale of the Red army troops. From a vast amount of contemporary correspondence we may take as an example the letter of a responsible worker mobilized at Petrograd, written after the Warsaw defeat, and contained among other things, the following: "The relationship between the Red personnel of the army and the communists is marvelous. We have not seen a disagreeable look or hear an unpleasant remark either during our train trip or later in our military organization. The men are greatly dissatisfied with our retreat. Many of them reply to questions of the reasons for the retreat with the words: 'We cannot understand just how it happened, we were only eight kilometers from Warsaw.' Others added: 'It doesn't matter, Warsaw will be ours, regardless.' we retreated; we did have some reverses, but then we have lost none of our confidence in ultimate victory."
The picture here was quite different from that existing at first during the Yudenitch or Denikin advance. As regards front-line units, matters apparently had nothing to do with the need for changes or improvements in the morale of the Red troops. The very nature of the activity of the party and professional (trade-union) organizations during the retreat of the Red armies from Warsaw indicates the aspect of the efforts required in order that the party and trade-unions afford the necessary assistance to the front. Both at Moscow and Leningrad there were inaugurated weeks during which various unions donated for the front various articles of their products, such as, in the case of chemical unions - soap; food organizations - sugar; metal workers - buttons, aluminum spoons, tacks, canvas buckets; tailor unions - a thousand and one different articles of clothing, etc.
At the Third All-Russian Congress of tannery workers, comrade Lenin said: "Tremendous energy will be required, along with individual effort especially on the part of the workers, members of the trade-unions, and first of all of those workers that are closely connected with those branches of industry relating to defense. Our main difficulty at the present time is not in connection with a shortage in manpower, but in a shortage of supplies. Lenin suggested " to imitate the example of our Petrograd workers who recently again and again manifested untiring energy in matters of supply and provisioning the Red army and in furnishing men for the military service. The main subject of our discussions, conferences and reports should be on giving all aid to the Red Army."
The organizational efforts of the members of the communist party at the front maintained their full force and importance, but the new circumstances, the "abundance of manpower but lack of supplies," had the effect of presenting to the communist party in a new light the problems of aiding the front, and added to the already existing slogans" "everything for the Red Army." The fact that the party organizations and trade-unions had undertaken this task produced a tremendous effect upon the second half of the campaign, as did also a number of other factors, which we shall discuss later.
One of the first political results of our Warsaw operation was the protracted nature which the negotiations for peace assumed that had been started in the city of Minsk. The Polish peace delegation endeavored to place entire blame for the ear on the Soviet Union and on August 23, 1920 announced the rejection of our peace terms. At the same time, as a consequence of their military successes, there was a change in the political aspects of the Polish government which now included many reactionary elements, which further rendered the Polish delegation intractable. The Russian and Ukrainian soviet delegations, in putting forth their peace terms, suggested to the Polish delegation to do the same. The latter, however, declined to do so, apparently awaiting the outcome of the fighting. Under these conditions, the place of the peace conference was shifted to Riga, on August 30th, upon the mutual agreement of both governments in the matter.
The turn in the campaign at this juncture favored Polish arms, and it brought about new objectives, which both governments assumed up to the conclusion of the campaign. These involved on the Polish side, the gaining possession of as much territory as possible by the time of the signing of the armistice, and for us, the effort of retaining that special territory which the Soviet government assumed to constitute and integral part of the fraternal Union Republics of White Russia and the Ukraine.
Under the protracted peace negotiations, the armies of the Western Front, considerably disorganized in the course of their retreat, now established themselves on the line: Lipsk - Krynki - Pruzhany - Kobrin - Vladimir-Volhynsky. On this line the commander of the Western Front (group of armies) intended to restore the organization of his armies, to have them filled up to war strength and to resume the offensive. The commander of the Western Front (group of armies) intended to have his armies once more ready for action by the 15th of September, and he even contemplated the launching of a "preliminary operation on the left flank:" with the Twelfth Army and the First Cavalry Army. These plans, however, did not gain the approval of the commander-in-chief, and were moreover incapable of execution for the reason that the enemy himself anticipated our action, gaining the initiative in the southern sector of the Western Front Here the Polish Third Army once more reinforced through the general regrouping of the Polish forces on the 18th of August, was quite successful in liquidating the special operation of the First Cavalry Army at Zamostye. Driving the First Cavalry Army at Zamostye. Driving the First Cavalry Army beyond the Western Bug river, it did not limit its action here and continued to exploit its success, forcing eastward our weak Twelfth Army. The Polish Third Army thus wedged itself into the gap between the inner flanks of the Twelfth Army and the new Fourth Army. The latter designation was given our former Mozyr Group which was covering the Kobrin area.
Thus, with the beginning of the month of September, there were signs of the advancing of the enemy in the direction of Rovno. On the other hand, the commander of the Western Front (group of armies) decided on a new plan for a counterattack against the Brest area. On September 12th the commander of the Western Front ordered the reinforcing of the left flank of the Sixteenth Army by shifting its army reserve in the Pruzhani area (17th Infantry Division). The Fourth Army was reinforced by the 55th Infantry Division, which had been transferred by the commander of the Western Front from Petrograd. This division was to be moved up to the Kobrin area. After this, the Fourth Army was to launch an attack on Kobrin - Wlodava, while the Twelfth Army was to repel the enemy in the Brest-LItovsk area. However, on the day when this directive was issued the enemy penetrated the flexible front of the Twelfth Army and gained possession of the town of Kovalew in rear of the units of this army, whereupon he began vigorously to widen the gap between the inner flanks of the Fourth and Twelfth armies, forcing the latter to continue its withdrawal eastward. The Fourth Army, after intensive though fruitless fighting at Kobrin, finding itself considerably in advance of the Twelfth Army, was also gradually withdrawing in an easterly direction. Finally, the unfavorable situation on the front of the Twelfth Army also reacted upon the situation on the right flank of the Fourteenth Army, which had to be refused in the Lemberg area. On September 14th the enemy captured Vladimir-Volhynsky.
In evaluating the situation on the sector of the Twelfth Army, regarding it as the beginning of a new important operation of the enemy, the commander-in-chief hastened to place in reserve the First Cavalry Army in the Rovno area. He assumed that only by an attack with the reserves concentrated behind the lines could the enemy be prevented from entering the Ukraine. The decision of the commander of the Western Front, who also endeavored to move up the First Cavalry Army to the Rovno area, anticipated the plan of the commander-in-chief, and was concurred in by the latter.
At the same time, the commander-in-chief on September 15 established a new boundary line between our two fronts: Sokall - Torgovitsa - Rovno - Dubrovks (on the railway line Novograd- Volhynsk - Shepetovka) - R.R. station Kodnia (Railway Zhitomir - Berdichev). In the event that the Poles launched an attack against the armies of the Western Front before these armies completed their own preparations, the commander-in-chief emphasized the necessity of a gradual withdrawal of the reserve divisions of the front (group of armies) without committing them to action until they were fully prepared.
The continued rapid retreat of the Twelfth Army rendered doubtful the possibility of organizing a counterattack from the Rovno area. On September 16th the Twelfth Army already began its withdrawal beyond the Styr river, as a result of which the concentration of the First Cavalry Army was shifted to the Berditchev and Zhitomir area. Rovno was abandoned by our forces on September 18th.
The immediate consequence of the Rovno operation of the enemy was the diversion of our attention and forces by the commander of the Western Front (group of armies) in the direction of the left flank of this front. The operation, conducted with the forces of the Polish Third Army alone had produced such important results because it had before it practically only the rather feeble force of the Twelfth Army spread out on a wide front. Neither the commander of the Western Front (group of armies), nor the commander-in-chief, were interested in committing to action the First Cavalry Army and, on the contrary, were making every effort to place this army in reserve. Inasmuch as the enemy had not changed materially the disposition of his forces on his left flank, established there as a consequence of the organization of the pursuit of our forces after the climax in the Battle of Warsaw, the enemy now assumed the immediate mission of "defeating the Soviet forces concentrated in the Grodno - Lida - Slonim - Volkovysk quadrangle."
During the latter part of September the general line of the Western Front (group of armies) was as follows: The right flank of the Red Third Army started north of Lipski, at which point it came into contact with the left flank of the Lithuanian Army. Farther the line of the front extended via Krynki, along the Svisloch river up to the village of the same name, thence to Pruzhany - Kobrin ( exclusive); next the line of the front in the sector of the Fourth Army, resting on the Pripet river, turned abruptly along the course of this river due east up to the city of Pinsk, thence through the towns of Grodno and Vysotsk, on the left bank of the Goryn river, where the sector of the Twelfth Army began. On the stretch from Lipski up to Kobrin the enemy was practically everywhere in direct contact with our forces. South of Kovel the hostile forces were primarily concentrated along other sides of the Rovno - Novograd-Bolhynsky highway. Thus the swampy forest sector to the north of this highway up to the line of the Pripet river, with a similar gap between the Styr and Goryn rivers, had been practically free of hostile forces.
The principal role in the Niemen operation devolved upon the Polish Second Army. This army was called upon to contain the Red forces that were confronting it, which consisted of the Third and Fifteenth Red armies on the Grodno - Mosty line, while with its strong mobile group it was to turn the right flank of our Western Front through Druskennki and seize Lida, defeat the reserves of the Western Front situated thereat, at the same time cutting off the line of retreat of our forces situated in the Grodno area, on the left bank of the Niemen. The Polish Fourth Army operating in the Korbin area was to assist in this operation with its left flank.
In turn, the commander of the Western Front (group of armies), assuming that the enemy transferred part of his forces for employment against the south wing of the front, regarded the situation favorable for the delivery of a "decisive attack" upon the enemy in a precarious position. The commander of the Western Front intended to accomplish this in the following manner. After defeating the Byalistok - Bielsk group of forces of the enemy, the main forces of the front (group of armies) were to change direction to the southwestward against the approximate direction of Lublin.
The efforts of both sides with respect to the execution of the missions assumed by them served as the basis in the preparation of the Niemen operation - the last large-scale undertaking in the principal theater of operations. The enemy anticipated us in the attack, inasmuch as Pilsudski's directive for the launching of the Polish offensive had been issued on the 19th of September. The essential features of the enemy's plan, as may be seen from the material above presented, involved the turning of the right flank of our Western Front (group of armies),coupled with a simultaneous penetration of this front in the Mosty area. But, in view of the fact that the commander of the Western Front, in preparing for his own attack, continued to maintain the Fifteenth Army as a shock force, holding it on a narrow front, while concentrating behind it a reserve force of two divisions, the attack of the enemy developed against the line of our greater resistance and not only failed to produce expected results but even led, after a series of stubborn battles many of which assumed the aspects of meeting engagements for the possession of the line of the Svisloch river, to the exhaustion of the strength of the Polish assault detachment. In the Wolkovysk area we even gained a considerable tactical victory on the 24th of September, which demonstrated the combat efficiency of our new military formations.
And the fighting was equally indecisive for the enemy on the front of our Third Army, which had maintained the line of the Niemen river. The fate of the operation was decided by a turning movement in depth in Lithuanian territory by the mobile group of forces comprising two Polish infantry Divisions and two cavalry brigades, after the Lithuanian army was defeated and retreated to Vilna. Even though our Third Army could have mustered three divisions of infantry against this hostile turning movement, these cold only have been gradually moved up to the front and committed to action on the right flank of the army since one of these divisions, maintained in reserve of the Third Army, had been situated behind its left flank and another of these divisions, placed under the control of the commanders of the Third and Fifth armies, was on its way by forced marches to a new area.*
*The 21st Infantry Division, constituting the reserve of the Red Third Army, immediately upon the receipt of information of the capture by the enemy of the town of Druskeniki, was moved up by the commander of the Third Army, comrade Lazarevich, to the Ostrino area on September 27th; the 2nd Infantry Division (attached to the Fifth Army) at the time was in route by marching from Zhirmuny to Ozera.
The available forces of the Third Army in their regrouping toward the right flank during the retrograde movement failed in any efforts to liquidate the hostile turning movement. The Third Army, and the Western Front after it, were to begin their withdrawal to the line of the old German trenches on September 25th.
At the very height of the Niemen operations there came the principal decision of our commander-in-chief which changed entirely the relative importance of the Polish and Wrangel fronts from the standpoint of our strategy. On the 24th of September in his directive addressed to all commanders of groups of armies the commander-in-chief designated as the main objective for the time being the "complete liquidation of Wrangel's forces with the least practicable delay."In this connection, the principal mission of the Western Front now consisted of the restoration of the combat strength of the units of this front and preparations for a decisive assault against the Polish forces in conjunction with the Southwest Front. This assault was not expected to be delivered before mid-November. The Southwest Front (group of armies),was given the mission of gaining time until the arrival of strong reinforcements, that were to become available upon the liquidation of Wrangel's forces.
Simultaneously with the Niemen operation the enemy, taking advantage of the over-extended position of the Red Fourth Army, launched a special operation against this army. On September 25th the front of this army was extended toward Kobrin and along the line of the Peshki-Antopol villages; thence turning abruptly east along the Dnieper-Bug canal, and further to the Pripet (river) at the Lakhvichi village. Along the Pripet river the line of the Fourth Army continued up to the mouth of the Yaselda river. To insure the protection of the Luninetsk railway center, on the right bank of the Pripet, there was moved up the 10th Infantry Division, comprising two brigades (28th and 29th); endeavoring to establish contact with the enemy, this division moved up its main forces to the Grodno - Vysotsk area.
On the 26th of September the strong partisan detachment under Bulak-Balakhovich, advancing from Kovel through the forests and marches along the Styr river, crossed the Pripet river at Nievel and suddenly pushed its way into the city of Pinsk, where the Headquarters of the Fourth Army was situated. Control over the Fourth Army was interrupted for several days. Comrade Shuvayev, commanding the Fourth Army, with his chief of staff (Mezhaninov) proceeded to their main forces in the vicinity of Antopol and began moving their army (the 65th and 57th infantry divisions, 30th Infantry Brigade and 17th Cavalry Division) beyond the Yaselda river in a northeasterly direction, toward Logishin. The commander of the 10th Infantry Division intended to develop his assault on Kovel, but owing to the nature of the terrain was unable to proceed directly against Pinsk, and was ordered by the front (group of armies) commander to shift one brigade for action in the immediate defense of Luninets from the west, and to move the other to the Stolin - Vidibor area.
The Bulak-Balakhovich detachment (about 1,000 infantry and cavalry) remained idle for several days within the city of Pinsk. On the 30th of September it was relieved there by a brigade of the Polish 18th Infantry Division, after which it began developing an offensive in the direction of Vidibor. The enemy's raid of Pinsk had the effect of greatly separating the inner flanks of our Western and Southwestern fronts. Shortly before that the enemy had succeeded in driving our forces out of Eastern Galician territory. The great exhaustion of our forces in the course of the previous fighting, the inability to reinforce and to strengthen our armies in time owing to the lack of time and to the poor condition of the railways in rear of our armies* as well as the transfer of the center of gravity of our efforts to the Wrangel front, now determined the further course of our withdrawal in both of the Polish sectors, up till the signing of the armistice and the subsequent peace concluded with Poland.
*The shortage of uniform equipment was also very pronounced here.
Back on the 23d of September the extraordinary session of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, with a view to avoiding a winter campaign that would impose great hardships on the toiling masses of Russia and Poland, considered it possible to modify our original peace terms. The new conditions provided for the independence of Lithuania, the Ukraine, White Russia and Eastern Galicia, and with respect to the latter, the Soviet Government agreed to a plebescite to be conducted along bourgeois-democratic lines rather than along Soviet principles. Further, the Soviet government abandoned all of its demands with respect to the Polish Army and armament, as well as the railway section of Volkovysk - Grayevo. The state boundary, in conformity with our new proposal was to the east of the line established by the Supreme Council of the Union on December 3, 1919, with Eastern Galicia remaining to the west of this line.
For its part, the new Polish government was beginning to feel the pressure of some of the parties supporting it with respect to the conclusion of a peace as soon as possible. The Polish national-democrats loudly demanded curtailment of the "Ukrainian enterprise," pointing out that the Soviet government has an inexhaustible reserves of manpower; the Polish party of socialists came out favoring recognition of the ethnographic Polish boundaries and friendly relations with the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republics: the British and French press suggested Polish moderation. Finally, on October 12th there were signed armistice terms at Riga and the preliminary peace conditions between the R.S.F.S.R. on the one hand and Poland on the other. In accordance with these conditions the independence of Soviet Ukraine and White Russia were recognized, a state boundary was established on the approximate lines as they exist today (1930) and the respective sovereignty of the two governments was mutually recognized Poland agreed to the stipulation of equal rights for all minorities and to afford Russian, Ukrainian and White Russian minorities within Poland all rights guaranteeing free development of their own culture. Both countries agreed to refrain from any interference in the internal affairs of one another and renounced any acclaims to indemnities for losses incurred in the war. Furthermore, the Polish government agreed not to support the Wrangel, Petlura or Savinkov counter-revolutionary movements. Stipulations were made for the release of all hostages, the granting of amnesty by both sides and compensation to Poland for property that had been removed from Polish territory during the period of August 1, 1914 to October 23, 1920 This agreement was ratified by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on the 24th of October, by the Ukrainian Central Executive Committee, and by the Polish Sejm 9parliament) on the 26th of October.
After the conclusion of the armistice the Red Army still had to liquidate those White Guard organizations which, operating in conjunction with the Polish army, were now found within our demarcation zone. Among these organizations were the following: In White Russia Bulak-Balakhovich detachments; in the Ukraine - Petlura detachments. Both of these were successfully liquidated by the Red forces during the month of November, 1920.
In conclusion, we may note that the Polish government, as a consequence of the 1920 campaign, failed to attain its primary objectives, which contemplated the expansion of the Polish state in the east to the line of the Polish political frontiers of 1772. In conformity with the terms of the preliminary armistice agreement Poland obtained 59,650 sq.km. of territory with 4,477,000 inhabitants less than that which had been offered her by the Soviet government in January, 1920.
We wish particularly to point out this fact because we frequently encounter in the military press erroneous estimates of the outcome of the Soviet-Polish conflict, referring to it as a war which the Soviet Union had lost.
Of course, no one is denying the fact that the Red Army suffered a defeat in the battle of Warsaw, but this was merely the loss of one strategic battle. The final outcome of the war in general was quite different from the situation existing in January 1920. And this in turn affords us the right to regard the outcome of the Soviet-Polish militarism were incomparably nearer exhaustion than the forces of the Red Army. Poland was in no position to embark on a further campaign without far greater risk than that obtaining in April.