Comrades, the present conferences are based chiefly upon my recollections. I have also obtained some assistance from our official documents of the operations section of the general staff at the front. I have also used the book of Comrade Sergieieff, "From the Duna to the Vistula" and in addition some French and Polish articles. The lack of time has not allowed me to dwell on these problems as long as I would have desired and as would have been necessary. So my conferences will have the character of a general birdseye view over the war operations from the strategic point of view and of a study of certain details of strategy. I will refrain from speaking of the tactical operations of the different units.
I will begin the study of the events at the moment in which the Poles open their attack on our southwest front and occupied Kiew. The situation of Russia was at that time as follows: Koltchak had been defeated on the east, as had also Denekine in the Caucasus. Wrangel alone was maintaining himself on the peninsula of the Crimea as if in a place of refuge. On the north and on the west, with the exception of Poland, operations were ended. Peace had been made with Lettonia. So the entrance into action of Poland occurred under circumstances rather favorable to us If the Polish Government had been able to make an agreement with Denekine before his disaster, if it had not been afraid of the expression of the Imperialistic manner "The Great Russia one and undivided", the attack of Denekine on Moscow, seconded by the Polish offensive on the west, might have ended much worse for us, and it is difficult to take into account the final consequences of such a decision. But the complex scheme of the Capitalistic and Nationalistic interests prevented that alliance and the Red Army was thus able to confront its enemies successively , a thing which greatly facilitated its task
In a general way, in the spring of 1920, we were able to throw almost all our armed forces on the Western Front and to begin a difficult contest against the "White" Polish forces.
On the Western Front the Theater of the operations considered is almost cut in two by the meridian of the Berezina. The banks of this stream, marshy and wooded, formed throughout their whole extent a serious obstacle for the passage of troops. These peculiarities are still further strengthened by the fact that in its upper course, in the region of Lepel, Berezina (the town), and Lake Pelik there are found marshes almost impassable and covered with forests. To the south, on its lower course, to the east and to the west forests. To the south, on its lower course, to the east and to the west of the stream extends an uninterrupted strip of woods, generally marshy and of the stream extends an uninterrupted strip of woods, generally marshy and very thinly populated. A railway crosses the Berezina at three points only" at Borysow, Bobruesk nd at Szacilki (Chatsilki), consequently the region most favorable for the forcing of the stream, in the direction of Ihumen,is entirely unsuited for the establishment of the communications for an Army. To the north of the marshes of the Berenzina, between Lepel and the Duna, is found dry ground, suitable for the movements and the operations of large masses of troops. It is true that region is covered with lakes, nevertheless, troops can operate there in an inhabited district and above all, an active army has here advantageous communications; the Duna and the railway net of Polock. The Poles call this region "The Gates of Smolensk."
To the south of the lower course of the Berezina, the terrain becomes completely unsuited for the operations of large units; the forest, the marshes and the feeble density of the population are the causes of it.
In a general way the directions most favorable for our attack can be determined; the Gates of Smolensk, on the one hand, and the direction of Ihumen on the other.
The Poles at this time had installed themselves, approximately, on the line Dziana, Polock, the River Ulla, the station of Krupki, Bobruisk, and Mozyrz. The advantage of the Gates of Smolensk for our attack was, as has been said above, that region was inhabited, the ground firm, and that the communications were favorable. The disadvantage was, that a direct attack starting from Polock would run up against a very strong obstacle, the Duna and Lepel would force our army after having penetrated into the region of the station of Orzechowna to band its line of operations as a consequence of the change of front of its right wing, by an angle of 90 degrees at least. In the direction of Ihumen, an advance could be easily made in a straight line. But as has been mentioned above, this movement would have to be effected in a region characterized by absolute lack of roads and by a terrain covered with forest and marshes, in which the organization of the rears would break down, taking into account the mediocrity of our means, and the insurmountable difficulties. That is why, in the preparation of the plan for the offensive operations, the Gates of Smolensk were chosen as the direction of the principal attack.
In accordance with the plan of the Commander-in-chief the West Front was to play the principal part. It was there, in the region Witebak, Toloczyn, (Tolotchynn) Orsza (Orcha), that large forces were assembled, transported by railway from the different fronts cleared up. The region of assembly chosen by the Commander in Chief, gave the Commander of the Front full liberty as to the choice of his line of operation. In a few marches he could lead his forces towards the Gates of Smolensk and in the same period he could concentrate them in the direction of Ihumen (See sketch No. l.)
Our assembled units could not be combined with each other. Those which had previously been on the Western Front did not deserve any great confidence. They had remained for several years distributed over wide fronts, and the more enterprising Polish troops had, by continual raids and by incessant harassment, exhausted and demoralized our soldiers; they had lost guns, machine guns and wounded. Furthermore, neither in one direction or another had any serious active operations been organized. All that, added to the reverses suffered the preceding year in our combats against the Poles, had allowed anxiety and timidity to fall like a shadow over our units. On the other hand, the units arriving from the other fronts recently victoriously cleared up, were entirely animated by a warlike spirit and their morale was very high. Their conduct in battle was absolutely remarkable.
The units coming from the Western Front (48th 53d, 8th, l0, 17th, 2d, and the 57th Divisions of Chasseurs) occupied the combat line. The units withdrawn from the other fronts were assembled in the region indicated above; Witebak - Toloczyn - Orsza. There were only two Army Commanders on the Western Front, the Commander of the XV and that of the XVI Armies, while the concentration plan, taking into account the 21 Divisions which it included required no less than four or five Army Commanders. As for the technical, railway and communication troops, there were very few of them, much too few for any operations, however unimportant they might be. The assembly of these latter troops was in general considerably later with respect to the assembly of the principal arms; so subsequent operations had to be developed under extraordinary difficult conditions.
The Polish troops were deployed in cordon along the line which they occupied and in a manner almost uniform. Each division had attempted to form its own reserves, the armies had done the same on their part. In this way, the units uniformly deployed along the front, were also almost uniformly echeloned in depth. This apparent equilibrium of the Polish dispositions produced in itself a certain danger, notably that of making it impossible for the Polish Command, in spite of all its efforts, to assemble the principal mass of its forces in any one direction whatever. Our attack always had to meet only an insignificant fraction of the Polish Army and it was consequently prepared to repulse successively the counter attacks of the reserves.
These defects of the Polish dispositions were taken into consideration by us, and in organizing our offensive, we were persuaded that a powerful attack by our forces, superior in number, would annihilate at a single blow, the Polish front line. With a view of obtaining the best result with the least time, the Division Commanders were ordered to lead their troops to battle immediately without forming any reserves. Our units by their mass crushed, and in the full meaning of the term, swept away, at the point of impact the Polish front line. After which, the successive attacks of the reserves were no longer to be feared and they shared the fate of the front line.
On the other hand, with respect to training, the Polish Army was in general, superior to us. Their equipment and armament were better.
Our forces and the Polish forces, at the end of our concentration, were numerically equal. The General Staff even thought that we were stronger. But that came from the fact that we were accustomed to counting the strength of our divisions in accordance with the number of combatants, while the Poles counted only the rifles and sabers, a thing which complicated comparisons. (See Table No. 1)
During the concentration of our forces on the West Front, the Poles continued to carry on the struggle victoriously on the southwest front Their success had its effect in the north. The Poles occupied Mozyrz and began with success an attack on Rzeczyca (Jetchytsa). Intensive raids and operations by small and medium Polish detachments took place over the entire Western Front. All that indicated that we were on the eve of a Polish offensive. In order to maintain our positions and to not allow the Poles to involve our principal grouping in the operations which were forces on us, it became indispensable to pass from the defensive to the attack. It was for that reason that the offensive was undertaken on May 14th..
That offensive was begun before the end of the concentration of all our forces. The divisions which were late were considered as reserves. At the same time, it was necessary not to loss sight of the fact that the success of our first offensive had to be absolute, gained at the opportune time, and could not limit itself to temporary undertakings of no importance.
The plan for the offensive provided for the crossing of the Gates of Smolensk, the destruction of the left wing of the Polish Army and the throwing back of the rest of its forces into the marshes of Pinsk.
This plan offered the advantage of a considerable economy of force. Lithuania, hostile to Poland could, in case of an advance on our part, cover with success our right flank and rear. The same mission could further on, fall on East Prussia, even in spite of itself. In this way, as soon as the Gates of Smolensk were passed, all our forces could take part in active operations against the main forces of the Polish Army without having to concern ourselves very much as to our right flank and rear. In the direction of Ihumen, the operations of the XVI Army (Commander d'A. Sollohub,Chief of Staff Batorskij) were to consist, after the forcing of the Berezyna River, in attacking from the front the principal group of the :White" Polish forces and in preventing them from opposing the main attack of the XV Army.
The units of the XV Army operating to the north of the Duna were placed under the command of Comrade Serghieieff, in a northern group which had the mission of forcing the Duna in the region west of Polock, and of operating on the flank and the rear of the enemy engaged against the XV Army.
The latter (Commander D. A. Kork, Chief of Staff Kuk) struck like a battering-ram the weak detachments of the Lithuanian-White Ruthenian Division which was occupying in a general) way the banks of the Ulla. These detachments were defeated, demoralized and dispersed on the first day. The progressive entry into line of the Polish Reserves served only to still further increase their defeat, which contributed to depress still more the morale of the Polish Army. Our offensive began to be developed rapidly and violently (See Sketch No. 2).
The XV Army executed without difficulty its change of direction at the Gates of Smolensk and continued its advance in the direction of Molodeczno. The success was so decisive and so unexpected by the Poles that the Commander-in-Chief displayed a complete lack of decision and began the transfer of his forces from the southwest front to the west front.
The entry into line of those new reserves had a certain effect; for example, on the line Postawy-Budslaw-Ziembin. Our troops struck a series of general counter attacks and were compelled to halt. On the other hand, the XVI Army, there was added a certain dispersion of its forces. The divisions, being distributed in three directions (Postawy, Molodeczno, Ziembin), constituted at no point an attack group, and the division which was in reserve was unable to pass in time from one position to another.
Finally, a decisive attack of the Poles, coming from Postawy caused the Issue of the operation to be decided. The units of the XV Army were broken up and the entire army was obliged to fall back hastily. An ordinarily happens after a great excess of fatigue, or after a great victory, a serious defeat in an important direction spread like a flash over the whole front; the equilibrium of the forces was immediately destroyed, and a rapid retreat began.
To check the retreat, it was decided to organize the defense of the Gates of Smolensk in the following manner (See sketch No. 3.): The northern group received orders to occupy the region of Hermanowicze and to close solidly the defiles between the Lakes Biale, Jalno and Zad (Jad): the XV Army received orders to reinforce its southern group and to bar the entrance to the marshes of the Berezyna in the direction of Wielka-Czernice (Tchernitsa), the remainder of the forces of the XV Army, to defend the crossing of the Mniuta. The further advance of the Poles in the direction of Polock would lead them between the jaws of a pincers.
The Polish command, fearing a movement from the front, decided to defeat first of all our north groupment. Against the 18th Soviet Division, recently arrived in the north groupment, it threw the 10th Division and the 7th Reserve Brigade.
The battle lasted the whole day and finally the 18th Division had to fall back after having suffered severe losses. But the assailant was also badly shaken, and lost for the moment all suitability for decisive operations. This was the critical point of the operation; the battle swung back and forth for sometimes; in a general way, the Gates of Smolensk remained in our hands up until the time in which we undertook the second offensive, the decisive offensive.
This first operation was of great importance for us. Our troops saw that they were capable of defeating the foe. The truth is that the Poles, in a whole series of combats, displayed superior military training, but our energy, our boldness and our skill proved that in general, from the tactical point of view, our units were superior to the Polish units. This state of things put a definite and to the hesitation which was still persisting in a few units. Future battles were looked forward to everywhere with a proud spirit, and with a complete confidence in victory.
The second important result of our first offensive was the relief afforded the situation on the southwest front and the obligation which we imposed on the part of the Polish forces to abandon the direction of Kiew at the moment most critical for that front.
Finally, the most important result for us, was the occupation of the Gates of Smolensk, which permitted us to organize much more easily the later offensive and to put our hands on the railway Molodeczno-Polock.
During the first half of the month of June, a calm prevailed over all the Western Front. The forces present at that time are designated in Table II.
Taking into account these forces, taking into account besides, that all our reinforcements had finally arrived, it was evident that it was not necessary to wait for a rapid development of the main operation. It was indispensable to find a way to fill up our weakened units.
The commander of the front contemplated in principle, the diminution of the number of rifles in each division of Chasseurs by one-half.
That was an exceedingly difficult problem, that of the reorganization. The Great Pan-Russian General Staff, an organ eminently bureaucratic, which was never capable of fulfilling the mission entrusted to it, was still functioning at that time. The work of mobilization and the struggle against lawlessness were carried on by it in a formal manner, without conviction, and did not give any results. The High Command had a reserve army to which fell first of all the mission of filling up our active armies, but the means of that army were limited and were never able to satisfy our needs.
It is necessary to note on this subject, that the training of the men of the reserve units of the Red Army was not very advanced. It was not possible before the receipt of equipment, to complete it because of the severity of the climate, which did not allow the soldiers to perform any drill with bare feet. As soon as the equipment was received temporary companies and battalions were rapidly formed and embarked and sent to the front.
It was in this lamentable state that the question of the reconstitution of our armies was found at this period. Each front and each active army had, within the limit of its powers and by the aid of local resources, to fill up the losses of its units. It was evidently a difficult task, and there resulted from it a lack of homogeneity in the matter or recruiting; but there was no way to do otherwise.
In addition to the technical reasons which were opposed to local reorganization, there were added serious political objections. Many were of the opinion that the soldiers of the Red Army fought badly when they were too near home, and that the least defeat would occasion their desertion to their homes and the crumbling of the units.
Nevertheless, vital necessities which compelled everybody to have recourse everywhere to that method of reorganization on the spot, showed the falsity of this reasoning In case of defeat, the soldiers coming from the regions furthest away deserted as readily as those from the immediate localities. The difference from that point of view was a minimum. On the other hand, all the serious efforts, all the expeditions, and the difficult operations almost always rested on local mobilizations and on local reorganization. That is also what took place in June 1920. The numerical weakness of the units, the necessity of a rapid offensive, and the desperate state of the units of the central reserves, compelled the Western Front to try to reorganize itself by its own means. According to our information, the Western Front to try to reorganize itself by its own means. According to our information, the Western Front was full of deserters belonging to the classes subject to mobilization. We considered that by organizing a regular campaign for this purpose, that we would be able to draw 40,000 deserters from the villages.
The plan of that campaign was carefully prepared; the political and administrative factors were set in motion; authorities endowed with powers of severe repression were created to as great extent as possible and the campaign opened at an extremely rapid pace. The result exceeded all hopes. The deserters began to come back voluntarily; more often they would try to enroll themselves as volunteers in the combat units. Only a very few elements were brought in through administrative channels. During June about 100,000 deserters were enrolled in the army, or 2 1/2 times more than we had hoped for.
All this mass was sent to our reserve army and into the reserve regiments of the active armies where an intensive effort was undertaken to train them and to send them later on to the combat regiments. The difficulties were enormous. The complete lack of equipment, the insufficient quantity of means of housing hindered the training and lowered the quality of it.
We saw the mobilized Communists arrive at the front; the members of the professional syndicates were mingled with that mass of men freshly recruited; they soon dominated it and instilled into it the spirit of bravery and audacity in the struggle against the Poland "of the Masters".
To sum up, at the end of June, thanks to the intense energy of the agents who were working for the Red Army, that colossal task, almost impossible, was completed and reinforcements began to arrive at our divisions by the thousands. At that date the plan adopted for the diminution of the order of battle by one- half, was almost entirely finished.
That allowed us to foresee success near at hand and permitted us to develop our operations in time and in space.
The morale of our troops was excellent. Everybody was aware of the seriousness of the situation and the necessity of defending Soviet Russia against the invasion of the Polish "Masters", without regard to the sacrifices, and these sentiments had strongly established, both among the Red Soldiers of our units and also in all the worker and peasant population, the conviction that it was necessary to fight to the finish
The organization of the Rears was carried out with the same zeal, with a view to future operations. The existing railway units (work trains and railway groups) were brought up and although numerically very weak for the task contemplated they allowed the railways to be refitted in accordance with the plan adopted for the concentration of the forces.
The construction of the bridge over the Duna at Polock was completed, and at the beginning of the operations we had communication by railway with the station of Ziabki, Considering the difficulty which the rebuilding of a bridge at Borysow. presented (its length exceeded 75 sagenes (1) ), we began those preparations rather early. Spies informed us that the Berezyna in that region had a width of 25 sagenes. The profile of the line was known to us. As we intended to build a pile bridge, we built the constituent element of that bridge at the time desired on storage tracks and we set them up on platforms. These methods allowed us to build in five days during the offensive, that bridge which was 75 sagenes in length. Our field railway units did not think it was possible to obtain such rapidity of construction
Because of the lack of means of transport in our units, we were reduced to the necessity of mobilizing large number of vehicles. The IV Army mobilized 8,000, the XV and the III Armies mobilized as many as 15,000 and the XVI Army 10,000. It was a heavy burden for the local population, but the fear which the invasion of the "Masters" inspired in them assisted us in having recourse to this process easily. This great quantity of means of transport permitted our troops to develop their operations rapidly and boldly and to maintain constant activity in their rears. There was, it is true, an enormous amount of confusion in that work, but at least as far as the Bug and the Narew, our troops were rather well supplied in materiel of all sorts.
Means of signal communication were drawn from everywhere; they were formed in part in the Reserve Army of the Western Front; but in spite of a great insistence of the authorities in that respect, we began our operations in July under conditions of insufficient preparation We lacked means of signal communication and that was the very cause of the failure of the operations itself. It must be noted that for the first time in the operation of July, operating centers and units of the communication lines of the front were organized in accordance with a fixed plan.
On its part the "White" Polish Command did not remain inactive; it reconstituted and reinforced its units (Table III).
(1) Sagens (Russian measure) equals to 2 meters, 1336; 75 sagenes equals 160 meters, approximately..
In that table, there is included in the strength of our Chasseur Divisions the Reserve Battalions of the Divisions. That is why in the calculations there also appear the Reserve Battalions of the Polish Combatant Regiments. Although the disposition of the Polish troops displayed a certain tendency to reinforce itself in front of our right wing, that reinforcement could not be considered as real, and preserved the character of a cordon, a passive character. These weak parts of the Polish Armies were taken into consideration and exploited by us in the decisive offensive in July.
The plan of the offensive was absolutely similar of that of May. It was based, like it, on the idea of resting our right wing on Lithuania and on East Prussia and on throwing the Polish forces back into the Marshes of Polesia. The direction of the main attack, then, still passed through the Gates of Smolensk; but this time the movement through the "Gates" was infinitely more convenient. We were no longer compelled to turn our left wing and we were able to operate straight against the flank of the Polish Army, after having established ourselves strongly astride the railway Polock-Molodeczno, already put back into operation.
We had remedied up to a certain point deficiencies of command which had been displayed in the first operation. We had four Army Commands and one Command of the Group of Mozyrz. It is true that these commands, except for the XV and XVI Armies were very feebly organized and deprived of the means of signal oommunication; nevertheless, the progress, even in that respect was noticeable.
We concentrated three of our armies in the decisive directions; the IV, with the exception of the Northern Group (Commander d"A. Serghieieff, Chief of Staff Chouwaieff), the XV (command unchanged; and the III (Army Commander Lazerewitch, Chief of Staff Lisowski). The XVI Army was located further to the south in the direction of Ihumen (command unchanged), and the Group of Mozyrz in the direction of Mozyrz (Commander Khvesin). This way of grouping our forces allowed us to assemble in the direction of Glebokie, superior forces, while keeping them well in hand in a connected disposition, elastic and strong.
The IV Army contained, without the 48th Division of Chasseurs, 14,000 rifles and sabers, approximately : the XV Army reached a strength of 26,000 and the III 20,000. The XVI Army had 25,000 and the Group of Mozyrz about 6,000.
Consequently, on our right wing, against a little more than 30,000 Polish rifles and sabers, we threw about 60,000 men. It must be noted that the Poles had echeloned their forces in depth, but without forming any well defined grouping and that their first line was deployed in cordon; furthermore, their reserves were not able even after a preliminary grouping, to form a mass which could threaten us at the time in which we passed to the attack. They were numerically too weak for that, too scattered and too much dispersed.
Our plan subsequently included the simultaneous entrance into action of all our forces, in order to capture at a single bound the front line of combat of the enemy. The later intervention of the Polish Reserves would then no longer be to their advantage but to ours, for it would allow is to defeat them in succession.
In the sector of the XVI Army, the strength of the forces was almost identical. On the other hand, on our left wing, which was the least important, in the direction of Mozyrz, we were twice as weak as the Poles, (Sketch No. 4)
In thus disposing its forces, the Command of the Front contemplated an enveloping movement of the IV Army on Glebokie, and a flank attack of the III Army in the direction of Parafianowo.
The XVI Army, after having assembled its forces, was to attack in the direction of Ihumen and of Minsk, in order to hold in place the entire enemy center. The Group of Mozyrz, which at the moment had occupied Mozyrz, was to cooperate with the XVI Army in the direction of Hlusk.
The disposition above was decided on by an order of the Commander of the Western Front, of June 30. In the composition of the IV Army, in addition to the 48th Division of Chasseurs there were also included the 12th, 18th and 53d Division of Chasseurs there were also included the 12th, 18th and 33d Divisions of Chasseurs, 164th Brigade of Chasseurs, and the 3d Cavalry Corps, composed of the 10th and 15th Cavalry Divisions under the command of Comrade Gaj; in that of the XV Army . the 4th, 11th, 16th, 33d and 54th Divisions of Chasseurs; The Group of Mozyrz remained unchanged.
On July 2, the Commander of the Western Front gave the order to assume the decisive offensive on July 4 at daybreak (Sketches No. 5 & 6). The IV Army was charged with the main attack to the north of the Lake Wielkie-Jelno; it was to penetrate on July 5, into the region of Szarkowszczyzna and Luzki. The masses of Cavalry were to be thrown on the left bank of the Duna and in the direction of Swieciany.
The XV Army received orders to attack in the direction of Glebokie.
The III Army received orders to occupy, on July 5, Dokszyce, and to out on the 6th, the enemy's line of retreat by the railway in the region of Parafianowo Station.
The XVI Army was to force the Berezyna on the 5th and 6th of July, in order to attack in the direction of Ihumen. The Group of Mozyrz was to act in combination with the XVI Armies, Dzwonie, and the sources of the Berezyna. Between the III and XVI Armies, Dzwonie, and the sources of the Berezyna. Between the III and XVI Armies, Lake Pelik, and the upper course of the Hajna.
The offensive enveloped with complete success. The IV Army threw to the north of Lake Wielkie-Jelno the 12th and the 53 Divisions of Chasseurs and the 164th Brigade of Chasseurs; the Cavalry Corps broke through behind them; the 18th Division of Chasseurs advanced along the Duna.
After having easily broken the resistance of the small enemy Infantry detachments the attack group of the IV Army executed with rapidity and vigor its enveloping movement. Nevertheless, it unexpectedly ran up against, enroute, some small Polish units of the 8th Division. We had previously learned that the Poles were preparing for the offensive, and that their first objective would be to drive us out of the region of Dzisna
It was perfectly evident that the movement of the 8th Division debouching from Hermanowicze on the north bank of the Lake Wielkie-Jelno constituted the preliminary of that maneuver. The units of the 8th Division were attacked on the march, defeated and lost all their value as combatant troops. But our detachments, themselves, did not accomplish what should have been done in our detachments, themselves, did not accomplish what should have been done in such circumstances. The lack of means of signal communications did not allow the Commander of the IV Army to make his action felt in a vigorous manner, and that is why the operations of the 12th and 53d Divisions seem somewhat disconnected. In any case, the enemy was defeated and our units continued their offensive, scarcely turning aside from their mission. The 18th Division fought a stubborn engagement with the enemy, and it was only the out-floating maneuver executed by the attack group and the success gained by the neighboring XV Army which permitted it to advance.
After having easily broken the resistance of the small enemy infantry detachments the attack group of the IV Army executed with rapidity and vigor its enveloping movement. Nevertheless, it unexpectedly ran up against, enroute,some small Polish units of the 8th Division. We had previously learned that the Poles were preparing for the offensive, and that their first objective would be to drive us out of the region of Dziana.
It was perfectly evident that the movement of the 8th Division debouching from Hermanowiczxe on the north bank of the Lake Wielkie-Jelon, constituted the preliminary of that maneuver. The units of the 8th Division were attacked on the march, defeated and lost all their value as combatant troops. But our detachments, themselves, did not accomplish what should have been done in such circumstances. The lack of means of signal communications did not allow the Commander of the IV Army to make his action felt in a vigorous manner, and that is why the operations of the 12th and 53d Divisions seem somewhat disconnected. In any case, the enemy was defeated occupying on that date the line Zyrmuny-Lida. The XVI Army was during that time to occupy the region Baranowicze, and the Group of Mozyrz was to march on Pinsk. In order to assist the XVI Army in its progressive occupation of German trenches, beginning on the right, the 2nd Division of Chasseurs, which had been placed in the front line reserve, was sent to that Army.
The zones of action: Between the IV and XV Armies Oszmiana,Woronowo Skidel; between the XV and III Armies, Listopady,Sobotnikn, Lida, Mosty Station; between the III and X Armies, Wolma, the confluent of the Berezyna, Dereczyn. There was also entrusted to the III Army as a partial mission, the forcing of the Niemenn and the advance of a part of its forces on the left bank. This
The XV Army which had in front of it the main forces of the enemy, waged throughout the whole day a bloody and stubborn battle. It was only towards evening over all the front, that the Polish troops were defeated, overwhelmed and thrown back with heavy losses in the direction of Glebokie. Prisoners, machine guns, and artillery, were taken from the enemy. The III Army forced the Berezyna, dispersed the Polish units which were opposed to it, occupied at the desired time Dokszyce and, also at the desired time,cut the railway in the region of Parafianow, The enemy dispersed in that direction by the energetic movements of the units of the III Army had to fall back in disorder in a north and northwest direction, through marshy territory situated north of the railway. By July 7, it was evident that the enemy detachments in the region of our main attack were completely overwhelmed.
The operations of the XVI Army were, also completely crowned with success. After having crossed the Berezyna and defeated the Polish units encountered on its route, it advanced rapidly in the direction of Khumen.
The Group of Mozyrz, attacking in the region of Hlusk toward the northwest, rendered it valuable assistance.
To better assure the success of the XVI Army, the Commander of the Front ordered, on July 6, the III Army to combine the operations with the XVI Army by marching on Winsk (Sketch No. 7)
By an order of July 7, the IV Army received the following mission: to be on the 9th in the region Twerecz (Tweretch)- Hoduciszki (Hodoutchecki)-Komai, and to occupy, on the 10th the region of Molodeczno-Station; the III and XVI Armies and the Group of Mozyrz retained their previous mission. The Cavalry Corps, disengaging itself entirely from the main body of its army and operating to the north of the lakes and marshes of Dziana, penetrated far to the rear of the Polish "White" Army, and on July 9th after a victorious battle, occupied Dwieciany, inflicting heavy losses as the enemy and capturing from him large quantities of war material.
The demoralization which this attack of the Cavalry Corps spread among the enemy troops was so great that they were incapable of resisting the main body of the IV Army on the powerfully fortified line of the Old German Position. On July 9th, the IV Army completed the task which had been assigned it. The XV Army also occupied Molodeczno on the date fixed. The III and XVI Armies, crushing by a concentric attack all desire for resistance on the part of the enemy, continued their offensive with success.
We captured some Polish orders, and according to them the Polish Command, observing the extent of its defeat in the northern sector, ordered a retreat organized by echelons in the sector of the XVI Army. But the maneuver which we began blockaded that plan and did not permit the Poles to occupy of to hold at the desired time a single one of the points decided upon. The organization of their retreat was then upset, and it degenerated into a complete rout.
At that moment the Western Front was confronted with a new strategic task. Along the Berezyna (1), which empties into the Niemen, as well as along other numerous affluent, stretches marshy territory difficult to traverse, covered with a thick forest, and containing only a few practicable roads. The upper course of the Niemen does not constitute a serious obstaclefor an assailant. On the other hand, beginning with the marshy region of the Berezyna, it flows in a westerly direction up to its junction with the Seczara, and over all that extent its current and width make of it a serious obstacle. The Commander of the Front had then to solve the question of finding out where he would cause the main body of his forces to pass, whether to the north or to the south of that obstacle so difficult to cross.
Taking into consideration our principal idea of resting our right flank on the frontier of countries hostile to Poland, also because of the smaller loss of time which the regrouping of our forces would occasion, it was decided to continue the main attack to the north of the Niemen (Sketch No.,8). An order dated July 9th directed the III Army to be concentrated on July 11th in the region of Choclo-Pierchaie (Pierchaie) Rakow;the XVI Army to occupy Kojdonow on the 11th;the Group of Mozyrz to march on Sluck and Luniniec.
The zones of action were marked by the following lines; Between the IV and XV Armies, Budzicze, Lake Narocz, Oszmiana (Ochmiana); between the XV and III Armies, Ilia (the town), the Berezyna, Lestopady-station; between the III and XVI Armies, the Hajna, Wolma. The Armies of the North were to continue their offensive.
The units of the 3d Cavalry Corps supported by the 164th Brigade of Chasseurs continued to attack from Swienciany in the direction of Michaliszki. There, as a result of the lack of means of signal communication,which made extremely difficult the command of the units of the army, occurred an unfortunate delay. The Commander of the 18th Division lost time uselessly in the region of the Lake of Swir-Michaliszki, by causing his troops to operate in isolated and scattered units. The liaison between the divisions was also equally at fault. The Commander of the Army had to go personally to the Division Staffs to obtain there the necessary information and give the necessary orders. The combined and coordinated efforts of three divisions were finally crowned with success, and the Wilia was forced. The enemy suffered severe losses and began a hasty retreat.
(1) There are two Berezyna's one the Napoleonic Berezyna, that of 1812, which empties into the Dnieper; the other which empties into the Niemento the southeast of Lida; its the latter which is meant here.
Neither was the 3d Cavalry Corps itself successful in the beginning. Its attempts to force the Wilia were repulsed each time by Polish Infantry Detachments. Finally, with the support of the 164th Brigade it was able to complete its task and some units penetrated into the outskirts of Vilna.For a certain time there occurred there desperate combats; but on the morning of the 14th, Vilna was definitely occupied by us.
It was only when the Lithuanians perceived that the Red Army was obtaining complete success that their neutrality was at once changed into a deliberate hostility towards the Poles. The Lithuanian units attacked the Polish forces and occupied Nowe- Troki and Landwarowo Station.
The rapid enveloping movement of the Cavalry Corps and the assistance of the Lithuanian troops resulted in cutting off the Polish Army of the North in the direction of Lida. It then happened, since it was exactly in the direction in which three of our armies were converging, that the Polish troops had to withdraw on the north and on the east. The necessity of stopping the attack of the XV Army on the German positions, with a view of permitting a retreat of the main body of the Polish forces, and the troops in the rear, thus became, for the Poles, a matter of life or death. As a matter of fact, fortified positions. A stubborn combat began in the region of Smorgonie.
In order to hasten the course of events on the right wing of the XV Army, by combining its operations with the attack of the IV Army, which was developing favorably, there was thrown in the direction of Smorgonie the 5th Division of Chasseurs, which had been withdrawn from the III Army and placed in the reserve on the Western Front.
The XV Army struggled without result for several days on the line of German trenches. However, the enveloping movement of the 18th Division of Chasseurs of the IV Army finally over-came the Polish resistance in the right to left, the German Positions.
The attack was recommended with a new energy: to its missions, the XV Army added that of assisting in driving progressively the Polish troops from their positions in the sector of the III Army.
The order of July 12th gave the IV Army the mission of debouching, on July 17,into the region of Orany (Sketch No. 9) to the XV Army and III Army. that of occupying on that date the line Zyrmuny-Lida. The XVI Army was during that time to occupy the region Baranowicze, and the Group of Mozyrz was to march on Pinsk. In order to assist the XVI Army in its progressive occupation of German trenches, beginning on the right, the 2nd Division of Chasseurs, which had been placed in the front line reserve, was sent to that Army.
The zones of action: Between the IV and XV Armies Oszmiana, Woronowo, Skidel; between the XV and III Armies, Listopady, Sobotnikn, Lida, Mosty Station; between the III and X Armies, Wolma, the confluent of the Berezyna, Dereczyn. There was also entrusted to the III Army as a partial mission, the forcing of the Niemenn and the advance of a part of its forces on the left bank. This movement was to assist the XVI Army as a partial mission, the forcing of the Niemen and the advance of a part of its forces on the left bank. This movement was to assist the XVI Army in its heavy task of the breaking of the German trenches over a wide extent and its later movement toward the Szczara.
One might, with much reason, suppose that the Polish Command would decide to defend itself stubbornly on the front of the XVI Army, and to utilize for that purpose the line of the German trenches and the course of the Niemen. In that case, our Northern Group would have to halt. To provide for that eventuality, the Armies of the North received a directive in accordance with which, if the XVI Army were stopped on the German positions and if the Poles massed large forces to the south of the Niemen, the mission of the III Army and of the XV Army would be to change their first direction and to attack from north to south the flank and rear of the Polish masses, the IV Army covering this maneuver by means of an attack in the direction of Grodno. This hypothesis, however, was not realized. The XVI Army, with its own forces, succeeded in breaking the resistance of the already overpowered Polish units, but the maneuver itself and the fitness of our main group to maneuver, merits a somewhat more detailed analysis.
With the present extended fronts it was impossible to attack everywhere with forces uniformly distributed. To boldly conduct operations, it was absolutely necessary to provide for the assembly of strong groupings of forces in the decisive direction, while leaving out a minimum of forces in the secondary directions. In case of success, in case of favorable development of later operations, the command of the large units would inevitably be faced by the following problem;; Is it advisable to keep on the line of combat all the masses engaged, or is it advisable to give them some room by sending a part into reserve? Is it not better to pursue with weak forces and to wait until new enemy groupings are encountered in order to attack them with powerful masses held in reserve until then?
These were the decisive problems in the present operations, considering that except for very few exceptions it is not possible to break up enemy forces by a single, powerful and energetic attack. It is necessary to arrange the operation and the attacks in series and to inflict continual losses on the adversary. To solve these problems once and for all by the aid of suitable formulas is an impossible thing. The situations are too different to be subject to rigid rules. But at the same time the ordinary development of the present operations produced certain conclusions. Above all, the extent of the general front of attack and the inevitable destruction of the railways by the army in retreat rendered impossible the arrival of troops at a suitable time. That is why an assembly in mass once accomplished, could not, in the case of a rapid offensive, be changed except with leaving only a few of his forces on the line of combat which he pursued,gave the enemy an opportunity to reorganize himself to stop our attack and to restore order in his disorganized units. That does not mean that the enemy was going to decide to engage in battle with us again. On the contrary, in the majority of cases, he avoided an engagement until he had prepared a powerful counter-attack. In such case, the entry into line of powerful formed reserves, with a view of crushing the enemy who is trying to hold, may become a stroke in the air, not giving any positive results, but causing an inevitable loss of time.
The impossibility, with the existing extended fronts, of defeating at a single blow the enemy army, compelled us to try to attain that end gradually by the aid of operations more costly to the enemy than to us. The more rapidly we would pursue him the less we would give him time to organize his retreat after the battle, and the more we would hasten the disorganization of his armed forces, and we would render impossible, or at least difficult, a new general engagement for him. In a word, a series of destructive operations logically conducted, connected by an uninterrupted pursuit, could replace the decisive battle which was the best form of engagement in former armies having less extended fronts.
To deductions of that kind, the objection could be raised with some reason that the concentration of masses of shock troops in the decisive direction would reveal too clearly the plan of essential maneuver. Possibility of surprise would disappear entirely. The preparation of the troop dispositions for the attack would facilitate for the enemy the completion at the necessary time of his preparation for the counter-attack, and when, at the desired moment, the attacking mass should debouch from this proper region, it would run up against the counter- attack.
Every battle is a complex and varied thing. The above defects of the shock attack are real ones; but if one considers the problem more closely, he will also perceive its advantages which entirely compensate for its disadvantages. In the first place it should not be forgotten that a defeated enemy is, so far as concerns the possibility of disposing of his armed forces, in a much worse position than a victorious army. The exhaustion caused by the defeat, the sentiment of an unsuccessful situation take possession of the troops on a retreat, if they are not afforded the possibility of recovering themselves and of being reassembled, and, if they are compelled to fight new battles every day and to continually suffer new losses. That is why, if the original grouping of the attacking troops is oriented in the proper direction, if it is suitably covered on its flanks and in the secondary directions, every passage of the enemy to the attack can not be considered disadvantageous buy those attack troops, but should seem to them something to be earnestly desired. The victorious assailant can feel nothing but joy at every manifestation of activity on the part of the enemy, for it allows him, at the final summing up, to meet the disorganized forces of the enemy and to five them the "Coup de grace", the final blow..
The assembly of attack masses is, as has been said above, an inevitable consequence of the character of modern warfare. The German Army on the French front in 1914 and the entire series of our campaigns during our civil war prove it. The problem of the utilization of attack masses may also likewise be studied with profit from the example of our campaign against the Polish "White" forces in 1920. When the XVI Army had need of being supported on the north, it was the attack mass of the III
Army which furnished that support by an immediate attack on Minsk. If the XVI Army had need of assistance on the line of the Old German trenches, a powerful attack executed by no less than two armies, would have taken in flank and rear the Polish Army which was opposed to it.In our later operations, during our battles on the Bug, our armies of the north might have needed a similar support; and if the case had occurred, that need could have been immediately satisfied. The defeat of our final operation on the Vistula should not cause any change in the conditions of the problem and should not lead to conclusions, unfounded or thoughtlessly deduced. It was not in the basic preparatory grouping of our attack that the fault laid, but in the insufficiency of its coverings on the flanks;we shall come back to that later.
When the final defeat of the Polish Army on the Western Front was exhibited in all of its clearness, when our armies had finally forced the fortified German lines, anxiety and panic seized not only the Polish Bourgeois, but also their European protectors.
We received a note from Lord Curzon, who proposed to us to stop on the line reached and offered us the mediation of the English Government between us and the Polish Government for the determination of our common frontiers, in conformity to the treaty of Versailles, that is to say to the racial frontier of Poland. Naturally, we could not rely on that diplomatic intervention of English capital. We had already experienced one attempt at mediation by England between us and Wrangel, an attempt which was terminated by the reinforcement and a redoubling of activity of Wrangel, under cover of the English mediation; but at the same time the note of Lord Curzon, even though occasioned by our victories, presented some of the characteristics of an ultimatum. In case we should not accept the English proposition, they threatened us by turning loose against us English capital. In what concrete way would that action be manifested? We did not exactly know, but it was perfectly obvious that the situation would become threatening. The struggle of Polish capital against the Soviet Proletarian revolution was developing on a European scale.
If we declined the mediation of Lord Curzon, we gave up by the very act the making of an appeal to European capital and the struggle was announced as a life or death battle. It was perfectly evident that even in the case of a complete breakdown of the Poland of the "Masters", the class war would not be interrupted and would expand forcibly into the countries of Central Europe.
What was the state of the Proletariat in Western Europe? Was it ready for the revolution? Would it have been able to support it, to vivify the socialistic avalanche which was being precipitated from the Orient and which was bringing it liberty? Later events gave to this question a clearly affirmative answer.
Even before the beginning of our offensive, all of White- Ruthenia, which was groaning under the yoke of the Polish Landlords and of the White Polish Armies, was in a state of ferment and was getting ready for Peasant uprisings, and we knew that in crossing White-Ruthenia we would find not only dispositions favorable toward us, but also important reinforcements in the form of a Red Army mass mobilized by us. This anticipation was completely realized. We enrolled more than 30,000 men, good and sure recruits, under our standards; they were trained by us and incorporated into the ranks of the Red Army. It is a characteristic and striking example of a class reinforcement.
The situation in Poland was favorable for a revolution. A Powerful movement of the Proletariat, a movement not less threatening of the Agricultural workers, placed the Polish Bourgeois in an extremely difficult situation. Many Polish Communists were of the opinion that it would be sufficient for us to reach the ethnographic frontier of Poland for the Proletarian Revolution in Poland to become inevitable and absolutely certain. As a matter of fact, after having occupied the region of Bialystock, we met with a warm reception and received the support of the worker population.
In mass meetings, motions in favor of enlistment in the Red Army were carried. The Peasants who at first looked at us askance, influenced by the Clergy and the Nobility, very quickly became less shy and were tranquilized. The rural farm workers frankly sympathized with us. Thus everything which we observed in the part of Poland occupied by us, absolutely favored the socialistic offensive and was ready to support it.
All the talk about the awakening of the national sentiment in the Polish working class in connection with our offensive is simply the consequence of our defeat. Fear has large eyes. It must not be forgotten that at the moment of our arrival in front of Warsaw, the working population of Praga, (1) of Lodz and of the other industrial centers was secretly muttering, but it was strangled by the units of the Polish Bourgeois Volunteers.
(1) The name of a suburb of Warsaw.
The belief in the Polish Revolution, advancing to meet our offensive and having the effect of breaking up in the hands of the Polish Bourgeois the means of oppression, had real foundations, and except for our defeat, the Revolutionary movement would have been crowned with complete success.
Would Europe have assisted that socialistic movement by the breaking out of a revolution in the west? The facts answer in the affirmative. Our rapid and victorious offensive rocked all Europe and hypnotized everybody at the same time and each one in particular, by attracting attention to the east. The worker newspapers, as well as those of the Bourgeois, were occupied with but one question, the Bolshevik offensive. It was the general preoccupation, the object of an intense and universal attention.
The German workers boldly took position against the Entents, by turning back the movements of supplies and armament sent by France; they prevented the unloading at Dantzig of French and English ships, loaded with arms and munitions; they caused railway disasters etc. In a word, they commenced an active revolutionary struggle for the benefit of Soviet Russia. In East Prussia,when we skirted its frontier, we saw enlist under our banners hundred and thousands of volunteers of Spartacists and of non-professional workers, of whom we formed a German Brigade of Chasseurs.
It must be noted that the Polish Revolutionary Committee also decided to form a Polish Red Army, the formation of which was undertaken at a fast rate, but which had not been able to complete its organization at the time of our defeat.
So Germany was boiling and was only waiting, to give the signal for the revolution, for the current of the armed revolution to arrive in it.
In England, the worker class was also a prey to the most violent revolutionary movement. Its committee for action had reached an open struggle against the English Government. The position of the latter was greatly shaken. The situation resembled the condition of the Czarist Government at the time of the Council of Workers Delegates in 1905.
In Italy, a real Proletarian Revolution broke out. The workers occupied the factories and industrial establishments and took over their administration. Without the contemptible activity of the Social Democrats, the revolution would have infallibly assumed enormous proportions.
In all the countries of Europe, the situation of capital was shaken. The worker class raised its head and ran to arms there is
not the least doubt that if we had been victorious on the Vistula the revolution would have burned in its fires the entire European continent. It is obviously easy, after the loss of the war to discover political faults and erroneous decisions. But the situation which has just been described speaks for itself. The revolution carried abroad was possible. Capitalistic Europe was shaken to its foundation, and without our strategic errors, without our defeat on the battle field, perhaps the Polish war would have become the ring which would have connected the revolution of October (1) to the revolution in the West of Europe.
(1) The taking of the revolutionary power by the Bolsheviks in October 1917.
The later offensive of our main north grouping continued without stopping and with a constant success. In the region of Zuyrmuny-Lida, the enemy suffered a great defeat and lost large quantities of prisoners and artillery. The XVI Army and the Group of Mozyrz continued their operations with equal success.
On July 18, the Commander of the Front assigned further missions (Sketch No. 9). The IV Army received orders to force the Niemen on the 21st in the region to the south of Grodno, the XV Army to force that river on the 22nd, the III Army to cross it on the 22d by force with its main body in the region of the confluent of the Szczara, the XVI Army to force the same river Szczara in the region to the north of Slonim.
Zones of action were marked by: Between the IV and XV Armies, Skidel-Indura, between the XV and III Armies, Mosty Station -Ros, between the III and XVI Armies, no change.
During this time, the Polish Command on its part, was preparing for a new operation. Having decided to hold at all cost the line of the Niemen and of the Szczara, it forced the plan of assembling an attack group of six Infantry Divisions in the region of Grodno in order to attack in flank the main group of our forces. For this purpose, it caused to advance in the direction of Grodno, the 5th, 9th, and 10th Divisions, while the 9th and 17th Divisions, assembled at Bialystock, as well as three regiments of Uhlana, were advancing by the town of Kuznice on Grodno from the west; the 2nd Lithunian White- Ruthenian Division was already in the region (Sketch No. 10).
The rapid action of the 3d Cavalry Corps caused all the plans of the Poles to fail. On the 19th July, it captured by raid the Fortress of Grodno. The Lithunian White-Ruthenian units were crushed and repulsed in disorder to the west bank of the Nieman. The 15th Cavalry Division occupied Kuznice,and the 10th Skidel, while waiting the arrival of the Infantry of the IV Army. During this time the masses of the Polish Infantry which had reached the points occupied by our Cavalry Divisions began to drive them back successfully. At the very moment in which on the West bank of the Niemen, the XV Cavalry Division was driven back on the Fortress and established itself on the banks of the river, the 10th Cavalry Division was carrying on a stubborn combat against the Polish "White" Division deployed on the approaches in the direction of Lida. The Infantry of the IV Army debouched from the great Forest of Grodno and fell upon the flank and rear of the Poles who were pushing forward. These divisions were routed, crushed and thrown back in complete disorder to the south in the direction of Mosty Station. The line of retreat was cut off by units of the XV Army which defeated them definitely, demoralized them and threw them back on to the west bank of the Niemen. Thus ended disastrously for the Poles the attempt at a counter-attack by the Polish Group organized at Grodno. Our troops pushed energetically forward and after a series of combats forced the Niemen over the entire front. The XVI Army, after having forced the Szczara, ran up against a strong Polish counter attack on the outskirts of Wolkowysk. That attack was repulsed; the Poles lost a great number of prisoners and guns. Over the entire front, our offensive continued its progress.
At the news of the occupation of Grodno, the Commander-in- Chief issued his directives for the Western Front, ordering the occupation of Warsaw for August 12th.
The question of deciding whether it was advisable or not to halt on the ethnographic Polish Frontier, is also one of the favorite subjects for controversy. The majority of our authors declare that it would have been more advantageous for us to halt on this line, to organize the rears, to improve liaison and to repair the railways, to incorporate the reinforcements who, to the number of 60,000 men, were being transported in rear of the armies, and after having reassured the morale of the troops and after having reinforced ourselves, to begin a new offensive to deal the final blow to the Polish Army
This statement is, as a matter of fact, a very attractive one. Now much more agreeable to pursue when the railways are functioning well, when liaison is maintained without interruption, when the units are filled up to their regulation strength and when the enemy is at the same time, under strong moral depression? But would things in reality have happened in this way? Our continuous pursuit had definitely demoralized the Polish troops. From the statements of the French and Polish Officers, the units had lost all combative strength of resistance. Polish rears swarmed with deserters. There was no hope of safety; all were fleeing to the rear, incapable of sustaining the least serious combat. This lack of energy affected not only the military units, but also the higher Polish Officers.
Could this situation, in which, although numerically weaker than the enemy, we were nevertheless stronger than he, continue if we stopped on the Frontier of Poland? Evidently not. If, on the one hand, this halt should have permitted us to reorganize ourselves, to reinforce our rears, to put order into all the mechanism of the pursuing armies, the Poles, on the other hand, the thing is evident, would have had from that viewpoint, appreciably greater possibilities. It must not be forgotten that the stake in the game was the existence of the Capitalistic world, not only in Poland but also in all Europe. Transports and convoys of munitions and of armies were arriving uninterruptedly from France and England, for the assistance of the Polish Army. The strikes and the sabotage of the Terman workers at Dantzig and on the railways were forcibly repressed by French and English troops who were in charge of unloading and transporting the necessary supplies. Polish Capital was using all its strength, displaying a feverish activity against the Bolshevik offensive.
The Clergy put itself entirely at the service of Capital and called the polish population to the defense of its native land. The formation of Bourgeois units of volunteers proceeded successfully, so that if we had left the Poles free to continue undisturbed their task, at the end of the two or three weeks which were necessary for us to complete our organization, we would have run up against armies much stronger than our own, and we would have been compelled again to risk our strategic future. Considering the disorganization of the Polish Army, we had the right and duty to continue our offensive. Our mission was difficult, bold, and complicated, but world problems are not decided like children's games.
Our battles on the Narew and the Bug began at the end of July. For the first time since the beginning of the operations, the Poles offered us a stubborn resistance.
In the sectors of the IV. XV and III ARmies, we were compelled to force the marshy streams of the Bieorza (Biebja), of the Nyzec (Noujets), which had only a few crossings and which formed serious obstacles. The Poles utilized these obstacles by placing their troops a little in the rear of them and offered us a strong resistance. Their success was favored by the habitual insufficiency of our means of signal communications, which complicated the command of the troops a great deal,gave matters an unconnected appearance and plainly hindered success. In particular this lack of means of signal communication made itself felt in the sector of the XVI Army, which occupied a front of 80 versts (1),approximately, with five Divisions of Chassurs in all.
(1) About 85 kilometers.
The situation was still further complicated for the XVI Army by the presence of the Fortress of Brzesc on its flank. After the forcing of the Niemen an order of July 23d prescribed the later offensive. The armies of the front received orders to reach by August 3, the line Ostrolenka-Kosaw-Drohibzyn- Biala-Wlodawa.
Boundries of the zones of action; Between the IV and XV Armies,Indura, Sckolowka, Pasieki, to the IV Army inclusive; between the XV and III Armies, Ros, Strable, Brok, all these points to the XV Army; between the XVI Army and the Group of Mozyrz, Brzesc, Miedzyrzec ( Miedzyjets) (Sketch No. 11).
The Cavalry Corps, preceding by one or two days march, the main body of the IV Army, marched on Ossowiec, and after a battle captured that Fortress. Its later movement was directed on Lomza. It was followed by the 12th Division of Chasseurs. The 18th and 53d Divisions, after having reached the banks of the Narew in the sector Strokowa-Gora-Babino, fought some violent battles with the enemy and forced the river; but the struggle continued with varying successes, without decisive results.
The XV Army after having debouched on the muddy banks of the Narew also began frontal attacks without results. The III Army reached the marshy borders of the Nurzec and there fought a series of disconnected engagements. The Commander of the III Army, Comrade Lazarevitzch, fell sick at that time so that he was unable to move, and the command of the Army suffered somewhat.
In fact, the III Army had received the easiest mission; it had before it no natural obstacles and had sufficient offensive capacity.
The Cavalry Corps arriving in front of Loman, attacked from the north with the XV Cavalry Division, and moved the 10th Cavalry Division to the south bank of the stream. Nevertheless, in that direction, the battles did not bring any result immediately. It was only with the support of the 12th Division of Chasseurs that they were finally able to make themselves masters of the Fortress on August 2.
The 53d Division completed the forcing of the Narew on August 1st in the region of Strakowa-Gora, attacking in flank the enemy who was offering resistance to the 18th Division.
The 18th Division of Chasseurs forced the Narew in the direction of Jezioro and advanced, fighting desperate battles.
Therefore, on the North, the enemy routed over the entire front of the IV Army and enveloped, began to fall back in front of the XV and III Armies, which were pressing and harassing him, fighting continual battles with his rear guards. With the XVI Army, things did not go so well. The Command of the Front, considering the great extension of the front of that Army, drew its attention to the necessity of assembling the main body of its forces on its right wing, in such a way as to rapidly break up the enemy resistance by combining its action with that of the principal frontal groupment.
But the Fortress of Brzesc occupied the attention of the XVI Army and attracted its forces, although because of the numerical importance of its garrison, that place was not threatening at all to us. The 27th tne 8th Divisions of Chasseurs, deployed over the immense front, fought indecisive battles along the Bug without succeeding in crossing it.
It was only after the occupation of Brzesc that the XVI Army was finally able to accomplish the prescribed grouping and to force the Bug. Again our offensive continued with success. The Group of Mozyrz, which had aided the XVI Army in taking Brezesc, also forced the Bug and accomplished its mission. Considering that the IV and XV Armies still had to force the Narew and also as a result of the still greater resistance of the enemy, the limit of the zones of action between the IV and XV Armies passed through Ostrolenka, starting from Zambrow; consequently, the entire IV Army turned the Narew.
The battles of our principal front group; on the Narow and the Biebrza lasted in all, from July 28th to August 1st. It was our first serious halt. On the other hand, in the sector of the XVI Army, matters advanced appreciably much worse. As a result of the desperation of the forces which has been mentioned above, it was not until August 6th that the XVI Army succeeded in forcing the Bug.
This last halt, which did not arise from enemy resistent but more from the difficulties of the crossing of the river, and above all, from the faulty dispositions of the Army, led the Commander in Chief and the Commander of the Front to estimate the situation in contradictory ways.
It can be seen in a telegraphic conversation of August 8th, that in the opinion of the Commander in Chief, the main body of the Polish forces was concentrated on the left bank of the Bug and ready to accept a new decisive battle. Consequently, he considered it as more advisable to interrupt the mass attack of our north groupment toward the west, and to attack with the mass of his forces the left wing of the principal hostile groupment, in order to definitely crush the Polish Army before it could arrive upon the Vistula.
From the intelligence from the Western Front, the situation presented itself in an entirely different way. The principal groupment of the Polish Army was still on the exist of our principal attack. Forces present are indicated in Table IV.
Under these conditions, the natural and normal objective was to try to crush the enemy groupment of the north, and it was the more natural since this maneuver required fewer complicated movements and less loss of time than any other. Above all, besides, it was absolutely certain the displacement to the south of our attack mass would have ended in a blow in the air, caused a loss of time and led the entire mass of our forces in the direction in which the march on Warsaw would have been most difficult. Consequently, the Commander of the Front, continued the missions assigned to the army and followed up his offensive.
Today, since we know what took place then on the Polish side, we can state with complete certainty that the Commander of the Western Front had sensed things correctly in his operations.
On August 6th at the session of the Council of War in Warsaw, it was decided to elude the pursuit by our units, and after having withdrawn the main body of their forces behind the Vistula, to pass to the counter-offensive. Evidently, it would have been much more suitable for us to have fought a decisive battle before reaching the Vistula; but the enemy withdrew It was necessary to prepare ourselves to confront the most difficult, the heaviest, and the most dangerous of operations; to fight a battle against all the Polish forces supported by a river wide, rapid, and difficult to cross.
Our Armies of the North, as a result of combats of average intensity advanced without interruption. As for the XVI Army and the Group of Mozyrz, they easily continued their offensive, losing contact with the enemy in spots.
An order of August 3d directed the Armies to reach, on August 8th, the line Przasnysz (Pjasnych)-Makow-Wyszkow-Parczew This order was executed.
Our prolonged success, and the continuous retreat of "the Polish Army had definitely destroyed its fitness for combat. They were no longer the troops with whom we had been at grips in July of that same year. The complete demoralization, the absolute lack of confidence in the possibility of success had undermined the moral force of the leaders as much as it had of the mass of the soldiers. Sometimes they withdrew without any reason. The rears were crowded with deserters. There was no punishment capable of reestablishing order and discipline. To all that, were added bitter class hatreds.
As a result of the application of mobilization to all the Polish Bourgeois and intellectuals, the workers centers were suppressed, but the revolt continued to raise its head among them.
Assisted by the French General Staff, supplied in arms and provisions of all kinds coming from France, Poland, after its complete defeat put itself feverishly to work to recreate its combat forces. At that time, the Polish Army did not have its definite structure; but on the other hand, its organization proceeded at full speed. The divisions of the second line, formed of regiments numbered 101 and above, made their appearance on our front one after the other. At the end there even appeared the organization except for their youth and their lack of training, had sufficient military qualities, for they were recruited chiefly from among the Bourgeois and intellectual elements, who, realizing that their fate was at stake, displayed a great deal of decision and energy. An a word, in the rears, behind the Vistula, they worked intensively on the preparation of new forces.
page 27 is missing.
on their mobilization and on their incorporation. They were all rapidly assembled and sent in the important directions. They reinforced the entrenchments of Warsaw. They built a fortified line from Modlin to Warsaw and a little further to the south. They assembled there troops drawn from all parts. If, at the time of our battles on the Niemen and the Szczara, the balance of strength inclined in our favor, the present situation was completely changed. The West Front contained scarcely 40,000 rifles in ranks, while the Polish forces according to the information then, amounted to 70,000 men, but in reality they were even stronger.
Realizing perfectly that its situation was in a bad way, the Polish Command - and it must be considered that it was not without the participation of the French General Staff - took, on August 6th, a bold and logical decision, that of slipping away from our pursuit masses, and of proceeding to a complete regrouping of its forces over the entire Polish Front. Seeing that the fate of Poland was going to be decided on the Vistula, the Polish Command sent all its forces there. From the direction of Lwow, they recalled almost all of their Polish Units. They left there only detachments of Ukranian partisans of the Army of General Pawlenko and the remains of the VI Army which, according to Polish sources did not exceed the strength of one Cavalry Division. Nevertheless, it must be imagined that there also remained over there some Infantry. The whole of that feeble group received the mission of protecting the oil region. All the rest was moved by railway to the north. The Polish Command risked the loss of Galicia, but it had hopes of winning the general battle and thus saving the Bourgeois Poland. That is why the entire army was concentrated on the Vistula.
On our side, the situation resented itself as follows: The units of the Western Front were physically weakened and exhausted, but theirmorale was high and they did not fear the enemy. The latter, two or three times stronger than we, could not sustain our attack; the force of inertia of the offensive, and that of victory operated for us. But if we pass to the consideration of our strategical situation in general, matters present themselves in colors infinitely less rosy. Before the beginning of the campaign of Poland, the problem of liaison between the Western and Southwestern fronts had arisen. At that time, the High Command had considered that unification was premature, and it had intended to effec t it only after it had reached the meridian of Brzesc-Litewski.
As a matter of fact, the marshes of Polesia did not allow a close collaboration of the West and Southwest Fronts. So the above decision was entirely logical. But when, after having debouched on the line indicated, we tried to unify the two fronts, the task was disclosed as almost impracticable, in view of the complete lack of means of signal communications. The West Front could not be connected to the Southwest Front. With the miserable means which we had available, we could not bring that task rapidly to a successful conclusion, in any case not before the 13th or 14th of August, while the situation, from the end of July, absolutely required the immediate assembly of all the troops under one single command. Telegraphic communications of all kinds with the Commander-in-Chief, referred constantly to the same problem and to the means to employ for its solution.
The Commander of the Western Front, counting on the putting at his disposal from one day to the next of the XII and I Armies, well equipped, gave them in advance the mission of moving to the left wing of the main armies of the front, but the matter was delayed a long while and the mission remained in suspense. The forces of the Southwest Front did not cooperate with the principal forces of the West Front; that is evident from the fact that the Southwest Front had a local mission to fulfill, a mission of capital importance, the occupation of the central point of Galicia, the City of Lwow. So all the forces of the Southwest Front marched in that direction, thus making an angle of at least 90 degrees with the forces of the West Front.
The situation presented itself under conditions most unfavorable for the Western Front. In the debouching into the plains of the Vistula, it was left on its own resources, while in front of it were assembled all the forces of the Polish Army. That was made evident in the beginning of our battles on the Vistula. The intelligence of the General Staff contradicted the reports which we had gathered concerning the Polish regrouping; it thought that all the forces which were on the Southwest Front had continued to remain there. There remain traces of this discussion in the telegraphic communications.
The question was still more complicated from the fact that the Southwest Front was facing in two directions, Lwow and on the Crimea, which was serving as a base at that time for the operations of Wrangel. The continuous successes of the West Front no longer allowed us to have the least doubt as to our definite victory. So we had planned on withdrawing from the west and southwest fronts a whole series of divisions to throw them into the Crimea. It sometimes happened that we were compelled to exert ourselves so that those units should not be disturbed.
To sum up, the strategical situation can be defined as follows: The Poles had finished their bold and logical regrouping; they had risked the territory of Galicia and concentrated all their forces against the West Front, the decisive front which its attack was going to unlatch. Our forces, at that supreme moment, were scattered and oriented in different directions. The efforts made by the High Command to regroup the principal mass of the Southwest Front in the direction of Lublin were unfortunately, because of a multitude of unforseen reasons, not crowned with success, and the regrouping remained incompleted.
The French and Polish Authors love to compare the battle of the Vistula to the battle of the Marne. However, these two battles do not have any resemblance. On the other hand, another comparison is brought out with force, it is that of the operations of 1914 in East Prussia. There Rennenkampf had been assigned the mission of taking Krolewiec and had caused his entire Army to advance to the Northwest, while Hindenburg was falling back to the Southeast, toward the flank of General Samaonoff, a thing which permitted him to assemble with impunity all his forces against half the Russian forces, who were counting on the support of their neighbor.
During this time our offensive was being continued without interruption. It was evident that it was not the time for hesitation, nor for rest, but at the point in which matters had arrived, it was necessary to reach a solution by a final attack. On several occasions, instructions were given for that purpose, again accented on August 12th by a directive of the Commander-in- Chief on the necessity of as rapid as possible an occupation of Warsaw. The order of Comrade Trotsky offers exactly that character.
So far as relates to the Western Front, it strikes the eye that the main body of the enemy forces had been assembled against our principal groupment in the region Ciechnow-Modlin-Warsaw. According to our calculation the enemy was numerically reinforced and had 70,000 rifles and sabres. In other directions, his forces were very much weaker; only the Group of Mozyrz had struck enroute a rather strong resistance of the "White" Polish units.
The left wing, that is to say, the Group of the Southwest Front, was always a matter of anxiety for the West Front. While waiting for the putting at the disposal of the West Front of the Cavalry Army and for the establishment of liaison with it, the plan was formed of creating a powerful center in the direction of Lublin by concentrating in that region the main bodies of the XII and I Armies (Sketch No. 12).
As has been said above, the situation was such that it was necessary to act with rapidity and energy. Besides, the forces of the West Front did not exceed 40,000 rifles and sabers. We had then to attack an enemy twice as strong as we who was besides supported on a powerful obstacle,the Bistula. It was evident that by gaining a partial victory, by the crushing in the beginning of one of the sectors of the Polish front, we would be able to win the decisive battle.
In the choice of the direction for the main attack it was necessary to consider not only its tactical proprieties for the battle, but also the essential directions, vital for the enemy. A central attack in the direction of Warsaw was beyond our strength. There remained the crushing of one wing, the right or the left. In debouching on the enemy left wing, we threatened by that very act its communication with Dantzig. Considering that the German Revolutionary movement had interrupted the normal transportation of arms and munitions from France into Poland, and that the communications with Dantzig constituted an extremely important artery, that maneuver would not only bring us on the flank of the principal Polish Groupment, but also would threaten the principal line of communication of the enemy. Another advantage of that direction was that our units, for the execution of that attack, would not have to proceed to important preparatory regrouping, a thing which permitted us to gain time and besides did not compel us to change our line of communications. The latter went from Vilna and from Lida to the southwest.
The disadvantage of the direction of attack indicated above was that the units who executed the enveloping movement would to some extent turn their backs to the frontier of East Prussia, a thing which diminished considerably, in case of defeat, the freedom of our movements and even offered some danger.
The attack on the right wing of the principal Polish grouping imposed in reality on the armies on the West Front, the task of breaking the entire strategic Polish Front, a thing which, in addition to the real difficulties resulting from the superiority of the hostile forces, was aggravated by the necessity of forcing the Vistula at that same point. In addition that attack required complicated regrouping of our forces and the changing of our line of communication through Kleszczele (Klechtchele) and Brezesc. It was evident that the enemy, considerably reinforced, would not allow us to proceed with such a manipulation with impunity.
The attack in two g4oups was impossible for us, in view of our numerical weakness. It was then necessary to decide to make the attack against the left wing, covering ourselves in the direction of Deblin, and counting on the intervention of the southwest front in the direction of Lubin, at the moment of the operation. On August 8, the Commander of the Front issued the order to attack the Polish forces and to force the Vistula; the date fixed was August 14 (Sketch No. 12). The main attack was to take place in the region north of Warsaw. The IV Army covering itself in the direction of Torun (Torough-Thorn), was to force the Vistula with the main body of its forces in the region of Plock: the XV Army was to force the stream in the direction of Lowicz: the III Army in the region of Wyszogrod-Modlin; the XVI Army, covering itself in the direction of Garwolin, was to force the Vistula with the main body of its forces to the north of Warsaw. The Group of Mozyrz was to continue its advance in order to force the Vistula in the region of Deblin.
On the request of the West Front, it was reinforced by the 58th Division of Chasseurs belonging to the XII Army of the Southwest Front. Boundaries of the zones of action; Between the IV and XV Armies, Makow, Ojrzyn (Oijyn), Plosk, Piatek; between the XV and III Armies, Brok, Nasielak, Wyszogrod, Sochaczew (Sokhatchew); between the III and XVI Armies, Miedzna, Modlin, Blonie; between the XVI Army and the Group of Mozyrz, Brzesc, confluent of the Wieprz; between the west and southwest fronts, the Commander-in-Chief fixed the boundary Wlodawa-Pulawy.
Consequently, against the right wing of the principal Polish Group we were throwing not less than 14 Divisions of Chasseurs and the 3d Cavalry Corps. Considering the high morale of our troops, we had an absolute right to count on victory in that direction.
** (No doubt typographical error. Should be left, L.L. P.)
The very extensive flank movement executed by our armies merits attention Such a movement was supported by powerful bases. If the enemy should counter-attack us on the right bank of the Vistula, our north group was strongly concentrated and ready to envelop him, if on the other hand,m the "White" Polish forces were incapable of facing us in the open country and withdrew behind the Vistula, it was absolutely necessary, in order to force that extraordinary difficult obstacle under the best conditions, to approach it on a wide front. The scarcity of material, of Pontoon equipment in particular, forced us to that maneuver.
On August 6, two days before that decision, the Poles, at their General Headquarters decided on the following plan of operations (Sketch No. 12);
In the direction of Lublin they left only units of Ukranian partisans and the mounted Polish Group of a strength of a Division and a half. All the other forces were moved toward the Vistula and distributed among the five armies.
Against our right wing was concentrated the V Army, comprising three divisions of Infantry, one Brigade of Infantry, a large number of frontier units and various new units, to a total of 29,000 rifles and sabres. Region of operation: Modlin- Makow. Mission: To prevent any new offensive of the Bolsheviks beyond the Bug and the Narew.
The I Army composed of four divisions of Infantry, one Brigade of Infantry and a large number of volunteer units and improvised organizations, was concentrated on the Warsaw Bridgehead; Strength, 40,000 rifles and sabres. The II Army, composed of two Infantry Divisions and various small detachments, defended the sector of the Vistula to the south of Warsaw as far as Deblin; strength, 16,000 rifles. The IV Army composed of three Divisions of Infantry, was concentrated in the region to the southwest of Wieprz, in order to attack in flank our assaulting forces. Concentration of the IV Army, composed of three Divisions of Infantry and one Brigade of Cavalry, operating in the direction of Lublin. These two armies contained 22,000 rifles.
If one considers this grouping of the "White" Polish forces, he must recognize that it was entirely logical, taking into consideration the circumstances and the situation.
Nevertheless it seems that, although it did obtain for the Poles a complete victory, they had assembled too few forces in the decisive direction (that of Lublin). Without all the faults committed on our side and if the covering in that direction had been better assured, that disposition would not only have been incapable of undertaking active operations, but it could have scarcely failed to have been destroyed (Sketch No. 13).
So then, in the sector of our IV, and XV and III Armies, which contained 12 Divisions of Infantry and 2 Divisions of Cavalry, the Poles were able to scarcely oppose 3 1/2 Divisions of Infantry, at full strength it is true, and some weaker detachments. We were perfectly able to deal the enemy a crushing blow by uncovering his left flank and his communications. The XVI Army made a frontal attack on the most powerful Polish Group and compelled it to remain fixed during the entire duration of the operations. On the other hand, our left wing was poorly favored with respect to forces. To the two divisions of the Group of Mozyrz and to the three divisions of the III Army operating in the direction of Lublin, the Poles opposed six Infantry Divisions at full strength and thus had numerical superiority in that direction. If we had succeeded in concentrating in time in the direction of Lublin the units of the Cavalry Army, these forces joined to our local grouping would have been threatening for the "White" Polish detachments. In that case the Poles would not only have been unable to think of launching an attack from the region Dublin-Lublin,, but they would have also found themselves in a critical situation and they would certainly have been thrown back to the west bank of the Vistula. That shows clearly that we could and that we should have decided upon an offensive beyond the Vistula, and that attack had the greatest chances of success if there had not been committed on our side errors in our strategic concentration.
The V Army could not execute its mission. It was repulsed by a vigorous attack by our armies of the north and was compelled to fall back on the west bank of the Vistula. The XVI Army was fighting battles in the direction of Warsaw. During that time, at the point of connection between the IV and XV Army, which had started for Ciechnow after the launching of the offensive, was unexpectedly attacked by weak enemy detachments who had infiltrated between the IV and XV Armies; consequently,that staff had to get away with speed and had to flee to the west to meet up with its division. That incident broke the liaison between the General Staff of the Front and that of the IV Army and this liaison was not reestablished up to the time of our retreat, an evident consequence of our absolute lack of means of strategic signal communications.
This tactical incident was very quickly repaired. The XV Army sent to the point of connection its Reserve Division, which rapidly retrieved the situation, and the offensive could be resumed. Nevertheless, as it appeared later, that event was not the result of pure chance. The Polish Army, repulsed behind the Vistula, received orders to pass to the attack and began an attack over all the front of the XV and III Armies.
Our offensive had already lasted five weeks. For five weeks, we had tried to discover the active forces of the enemy and to definitely destroy them in a decisive attack. For five weeks, the "White" Polish Armies, had invariably slipped away from the decisive conflict, thanks to the dispersion of their units, and it was only on the Vistula that the Poles, reinforced by new units, decided to give battle. We did not know in advance where we would meet the main resistance; would it be on the Vistula or beyond it? But what we knew well, was that we would meet the main body of the enemy forces somewhere and that we would crush them in the final encounter. And it was now the enemy himself who was facilitating our task. The V Army, the weakest numerically and morally was to pass to the attack of our XV and III Armies, while on its uncovered flank were advancing, threatening, the freshest and the best trained divisions of our IV Army. The Commander of the Front was beside himself with joy. The XV and III Armies received orders to answer the attack of their opponent by a vigorous counter-attack over the entire front and throw him back behind the Wkra (Sketch No. 14).
The loss of the enemy V Army seemed inevitable. Its destruction would have produced the gravest results for all the remainder of war operations. But the Poles played in luck. Our IV Army, under orders of its new Commander who had lost all liaison with the Headquarters of the Front, did not make an exact estimate of the situation. Not receiving any orders from the front, he organized in the region of Raciaz-Drobin, a sort of poorly arranged half-security and distributed his units in the sector Wloclawek-Plock. The enemy V Army was saved and without suffering with its four divisions of Chasseurs and its 2 divisions of Cavalry, it continued to march against our III and XV Armies. Such an absolutely monstrous and unbelievable situation permitted the Poles not only to stop the offensive of the III And XV Armies, but also to drive them back toward the east, step by step.
During that time, the XVI Army, thanks to a powerful attack, was sweeping away the Polish units and was drawing near the points of crossing of the Vistula, when a counter-attack of those same units compelled it to fall back. It resumed the attack and then began battles with varying success for each side, but without decisive results.
On the left flank, the XVI Army debouched without fighting on the Vistula; the right wing of the Group of Mozyrz also reached the river without meeting any obstacles. On the other hand, in the direction of Parczew, that group fought battles without result.
On August 13, the XIII Army was finally put under orders of the Commander of the Front.
The High Command, taking into consideration the necessity of supporting the left wing of the West Front sent on August 11th at 3:00 a.m. to the southwest front a directive on the subject of an indispensable regrouping of its forces, and of the sending, without the least delay, of the Cavalry Army in the direction of Zamsc-Hrubieszow. A simple calculation of time and space shows that this order of the High Command was perfectly feasible, before the Polish Group of the South passed to the attack. Even if its execution were a little slow, the assaulting Polish units would have been exposed to a complete disaster; for they would have received on their rear the shock of our victorious Cavalry Army.
However, taking into consideration the existing situation in Galacia where the successive groups, sent up until then, had been directed on Lwow, the execution of that order was hindered. On August 12th the Commander-in-Chief, in a telegraphic communication let it be known that he did not understand that delay in the execution of his directive and he repeated it. When they finally proceeded to execute it, it was almost too late, But the worst of it was that our victorious Cavalry Army was entangled, during those days in the stubborn combats against Lwow and lost uselessly its time and its strength against the fortified positions of that place in a struggle against Infantry, Cavalry, and powerful Aviation Squadrons. These battles entirely absorbed the attention of the Cavalry Army, which began its regrouping so late that it was unable to make its action felt in the direction of Lublin.
During this time, the XII Army intercepted an order addressed to the III Polish Army, from which it was clearly evident that the Poles were preparing themselves to take the offensive against our left flank in the region of Wieprz. Parenthetically, that order did not seem authentic to the General Staff, as is evident from a telegraphic communication according to which all the units mentioned in that order had not been thrown against us, but were continuing to operate on the Southwest Front. Unfortunately, the order was indeed authentic. The XVI Army continued its unsuccessful attacks to the north of Warsaw. The situation was such that it was indispensable to reinforce our left wing, and at the same time to give the XVI Army the possibility of beginning operations in the directions less reinforced by the enemy. Consequently, the Commander of the Front issued, on August 14, an order which directed the XVI Army to look for points of crossing to the south of Warsaw and to send a Division of Chasseurs in front line reserve into the region of Lukow (Sketch No. 15) a thing which was immediately undertaken.
While they were proceeding with these regroupings the Polish Army passed to the offensive. The Group of Mozyrz was easily crushed and dispersed, and fell back in disorder. The XVI Army began to feel the effects of the flank attack, which became the more evident because just at that moment they were in process of changing their dispositions and because the Divisions had lost all liaison with the Army Commander, which resulted from too great a distance of the Headquarters from the line of comb at. That situation became critical for us, especially in view of the fact that the Cavalry Army was stubbornly continuing to operate in the direction of Lublin.
Unfortunately, the Commander of the Front was not informed of the Polish offensive, until August 18, by telephone communication with the Commander of the XVI Army. The latter had learned of it only on the 17th. The Group of Mozyrz did not send any report of what had taken place.
The Commander of the XVI Army, in reporting by telegraph about the situation, stated that he considered a retreat necessary, with a view to reorganization, but he did not consider the offensive of the Polish "White" forces as serious and he foresaw the possibility of stopping it. However, the comparison of the information which we had on the enemy and on that offensive debouching from behind the Wieprz, compelled us to consider the situation otherwise. Th4 commander of the Front immediately issued an order which entirely change the missions of the Armies of the Front ( Sketch No. 16).
On our left flank, the situation became threatening. On our right flank, as a result of the incomprehensibility of the operations of the IV Army, it was absolutely impossible to finish with the enemy who was attacking; on the contrary, the IV Army, in venturing toward Wloclawek, had condemned itself in advance to an extremely critical situation.
This order said in substance; The IV Army with all its forces is to concentrate itself by August 20th, a fixed limit, in the region of Ciechanow-Przasnysz-Makow, assisting enroute the XV Army. A telegram from the General Staff of the West Front specified if the support given to the XV Army delayed its movement, it was to give up that support, its purpose being to concentrate itself in the indicated region and on containing the enemy and of covering the concentration of the Reserves of the IV Army was to fall back behind the Liviec, and the Group of Mozyrz was to cover the left wing of the XVI Army. The XII Army received orders to pass to the attack for the purpose of holding the enemy who had debouched from the Wieprz; the 21st Division of the III Army and one Division of the XVI Army were to move by forced marches into the region Drohiczyn-Janow in front line reserve.
It was evident that the time lost had made us miss an opportunity to inflict a disaster upon our adversary and that we had ourselves fallen into a critical situation; a retreat was necessary
Knowing the character of the combats and of the operations on our fronts to be disconnected and widely extended, the Commander of the Front did not deceive himself as to our possibilities of resistance and as to the probable necessity of beating a retreat as far as the line Grodno-Brzesc. There we would find it possible to incorporate the 60,000 men of the i possible to incorporate the 60,000 men of the reinforcements which were already in process of transportation or of marching toward the Reserve Battalions of our armies. There we would be able to rest, to reorganize and to pass again to the offensive. But the necessary condition was first, to extricate our armies in good condition from that situation. So the isolation of the IV Army caused us some anxiety; consequently, the final date of its retreat was determined for it.
But our misfortune did not end there. The lack of means of signal communications and the backward and forward movements of the IV Army in the corridor of Dantzig evidently prevented the Commander of the IV Army from receiving at the proper time the order given. To complete the misfortune, the Commander of the IV Army, separated from the Headquarters of the Front and from the neighboring armies and consequently not having any idea of the general situation on the front, considered the latter in an extremely favorable light and the retreat as altogether inopportune.
On August 19, being by chance put in communication with the Commander of the Front by telegraph, he expressed to him his views, but received the catagoric confirmation of the order given. That the IV Army, having lost so much time was finally unable to complete the mission prescribed by the date fixed, is understood of itself. That circumstance added to the disorganization of the Group of Mozyrz which had reached its peak, and to the boldness which the enemy had learned in our school and which caused him to attack with a surprising speed, condemned the IV Army in advance to almost certain loss. A single hope still remained, that of seeing the enemy stop of his own accord, even if only for a very brief period, in order to organize his rear,or at least to slow up the speed of his offensive. But that was not what happened. On August 20, the enemy drove back the XVI Army in disorder, took in flank the XXI and XV Armies successively, defeated them and occupied the line. Przasnyrz-Makow-Ostrow-Bielek-Brzesc (Sketch No. 17). At that moment, the IV Army was just beginning its march on Przyasnysz and was in the region of Ciechanow. On August 22, the enemy having debouched on the line Ostrolenka-Lomza-Bialystock, the IV Army was only approaching the first point. The XV and III Armies made every effort to stop the enemy attack and to permit the IV Army to cross the Narrow corridor lying between the Narew and the frontier of East Prussia. But that task was impracticable. The III and XV Armies, as the result of unequal battles, in a situation extremely critical, lost a large part of their forces, and were no longer able to give assistance to the IV Army. The greater part of that Army was pushed up against the frontier of East Prussia and was compelled to cross into German territory.
Thus finished our magnificent operation which caused to tremble European Capital, which did not breathe freely until after its conclusion.
The Poles,who had put into their offensive all the energy which remained in them, lost their breath and were not able to develop their success. Our units reached, in the most lamentable condition, the line Grodno-Wolkowysk, and from there rejoined their armies. The work of organization hummed gain. Reinforcements were poured into the remaining units, and at the end of two or three weeks the forces at the front were reestablished, a reestablishment however, entirely relative. The newly arrived reinforcements were neither equipped nor supplied with shoes, in spits of the severe weather of the autumn..
A new offensive could not be considered before the receipt of equipment. Besides, without an offensive, it is difficult to speak of the military value of the troops. If the enemy had passed to the offensive before us, there is not the least doubt that we would have been defeated. Nevertheless, the morale of the troops was good. The failure of our operation caused them to desire a new offensive. We had every opportunity to bring back fortune to our colors. The whole thing was to know who would be ready first, who would attack before the other. Unfortunately, the economic situation of the republic did not allow us to accomplish our task. The Poles passed to the offensive first, and the continuation of our retreat became inevitable.
The Cavalry Army, which had finlly arrived in the direction of Lublin, was ordered by the High Command to carry out a deep raid on Zamosc, but it was too late.
The necessary conclusion to be drawn from our campaign of 1920 is that its loss was due not to politics but to strategy. Politics had placed the Red rmy in front of a difficult task, dangerous and audacious, but does that mean that it was poorly planned? There is no great work which does not require boldness and decision. And if one compares the revolution of October with our esterior socialistic offensive, he must conclude that the task in October was a much bolder and a much more hazardous one. The Red Front was able to accomplish the mission which was assigned it, but it did not accomplish it. The essential cause for our defeat was the insufficient preparation of the troop commanders for their duties. Technical means were lacking chiefly because they had not been the subject of sufficient attention. Furthermore, the lack of preparation of a few of our great leaders did not permit us to remedy on the spot the deficiencies of the technical command. At the moment of the decisive attack, the almost right angled disposition of the main body of the forces of the West and Southwest Fronts occasioned the failure of the operation just at the moment in which the West Front was engaged in the offensive on the Vistula. The badly coordinated operations of the IV Army snatched the victory out of our hands and in the final analysis occasioned our disaster.
The worker class of Western Europe, at the news of the Red Offensive, had been shaken by a revolutionary thrill. The appeals to national feeling which the Polish Bourgeois made were unable to conceal the reality of the class warfare which was being waged. That feeling embraced at the same time the Proletariat and the Bourgeois of Europe, and the revolutionary shudder was shaking the world. There is not the least doubt that if we had succeeded in breaking, in the hands of the Polish Bourgeois, its Army of Bourgeois and of Noblemen, a revolution of the workers class in Poland would have been an accomplished fact, and the conflagration would not have stopped at the frontiers of Poland. Like a furious torrent, it would have invaded all of Western Europe. The Red Army will not forget that experience of the revolution taken abroad, and if ever the European Bourgeois involves us in new combats, the Red Army will succeed in crushing it and in supporting and spreading revolution in Europe.