We Have Been There Before

 

Oh, my! Who says history is boring? Bolshies, American airmen, King Kong, cavalry champions meet, and Our Lady of Victory resonates again with a victory on the Vistula. This story takes place in the 1920s.

After WWI borders changed, maps were redrawn, and old ambitions were rekindled to retake territory lost in centuries past.

Running towards Kiev.

After WWI Poland had just reemerged as a nation-state after more than a century of nonexistence — its territory carved-up between various European powers

Meanwhile, Russia was wracked by a civil war sparked by Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution. In the country’s west, no clear border divided the land held by Russia and by newly independent Poland.

Polish leader Josef Pilsudski noted the opportunity for a land grab in the east, where “there are doors that open and close, and it depends on who forces them open and how far.”

Taking Kiev was an affront to the Russians, and it was an opportunity to not just retake Kiev, but to take the road to Germany to bring the Socialist Workers’ Paradise to Germany.

Germany was in economic turmoil after World War I and, with the streets seething with unemployed soldiers and political extremists, a communist revolution there looked increasingly possible if Lenin’s cavalry could clatter into German cities to help kick off a violent uprising.

The only thing standing between Russia and Germany was Poland.

On July 3, Red Army troops were told: “In the West the fate of world revolution is being decided. Over the corpse of white Poland lies the road to global conflagration. On our bayonets we will bring happiness and peace to the toiling masses of mankind.”

There is nothing like bayonets that can bring happiness and peace to the toiling masses.

Two cavalry champions meet.

A Polish horseman described watching one tense face-off between Polish and Bolshevik Cossack cavalry:

“A colorfully-dressed rider galloped out of the swarm of Cossacks on a magnificent black horse and, waving his sword above his head shouted: ‘Well, my lords, I’m Cossack Kuzma Kruchkov. Who’ll take me on?’

“At this, a murmur ran along the row of officers standing in front of the first lancers. ‘Raciecki! Yes, Raciecki.’ Captain Raciecki (the best swordsman in the regiment) passed his sword to his left hand to make the sign of the cross with his right and then began to move towards Kruchkov at a walk. Kruchkov sprang towards him at a gallop. Raciecki parried the first cut, aimed at his head, himself slashing fiercely to the right and down, cutting Kruchkov open from the collar to the waist. At this, a howl went up among the Cossacks and the whole lot turned tail as our regiment began to charge.”

The swordsmanship of Captain Raciecki would not be enough to secure a victory.

But despite dashing swordsmanship, the Poles were swiftly driven out of Kyiv by an energized mass of Russian fighters. One Polish soldier summed up the reversal of fortunes: “We ran all the way to Kyiv and we ran all the way back.”

American Airmen and King Kong.

Polish fighters held some advantages — they were able to decode much of the Russians’ secret radio communications and were aided by Polish-American airmen who volunteered for vital reconnaissance flights.

One American pilot who volunteered for the Poles was Merian C. Cooper (right). After Cooper’s plane was shot down he spent several months in Red Army captivity before escaping. He would later return to the United States to co-direct and produce the 1933 hit movie King Kong. It is Cooper himself depicted piloting the plane that finishes off King Kong in the film’s final action sequence.

They volunteered to honor Polish officers that fought the British in the American Revolution.

It never hurts to ask for divine intervention.

On August 15, a Feast Day in the Catholic church, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Poles prayed for divine intervention. Our Lady of Victory has a long history. The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Siege of Vienna, against the Ottoman Turks.

The Russians fought to within 13 kilometers of Warsaw in mid-August, but a daring battle plan and determined resistance from the Poles ended with the attacking army fleeing for their lives with Polish fighters in pursuit. Rumors of divine intervention in the unlikely victory led many to call the battle The Miracle On The Vistula — named for the river that runs through Warsaw.

After 10 days of heavy fighting outside Warsaw, the Poles had killed around 20,000 enemy fighters and captured more than 50,000. The Poles lost less than 5,000 of their own soldiers in the battle.

A peace treaty was eventually signed between Poland and Russia in early 1921, though many saw this as only a pause in the long struggle between the two countries. Within a few years Adolf Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland offered the Soviet Union the opportunity to capture Polish territory once more.

But the Bolshevik dream of spreading violent communist revolutions to Western Europe was never realized.

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Thanks for the link with the photos.

    Norman Davies, a Welsh-Polish historian, did his doctoral dissertation on the Bolshevik-Polish war back in the late 60s. He went to do research in Poland, but the Soviets for some reason didn’t recognize that war as part of Polish history.  So he changed the title of his dissertation to The British Foreign Policy towards Poland, 1919–20 (according to Wikipedia).  

    I’ve read several of Davies’ books on the history of Poland (and other history), and last month had a chance to be part of the Zoom audience when he gave a talk hosted by the Polish club of the University of Texas at Austin. He didn’t talk about this war in his talk; in fact he changed the originally planned topic to focus on the war in Ukraine.

    At some point I want to get around to reading the published version of his dissertation, White Eagle, Red Star. The Polish–Soviet War 1919–20

     

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Doug Watt:

    It never hurts to ask for divine intervention.

    On August 15th, a Feast Day in the Catholic church, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Poles prayed for divine intervention. Our Lady of Victory has a long history. The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Siege of Vienna, against the Ottoman Turks. 

    God in His infinite mercy saw fit to have the Soviets inherit the Tsarists’ attention to communications security. The Reds weren’t communicating en clair, but they might as well have been.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Percival (View Comment):

    Doug Watt:

    It never hurts to ask for divine intervention.

    On August 15th, a Feast Day in the Catholic church, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Poles prayed for divine intervention. Our Lady of Victory has a long history. The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Siege of Vienna, against the Ottoman Turks.

    God in His infinite mercy saw fit to have the Soviets inherit the Tsarists’ attention to communications security. The Reds weren’t communicating en clair, but they might as well have been.

    The Virtuti Militari is to the Poles what the Medal of Honor is to the US. It is not handed out to lieutenants as an “attaboy.”

    • #3
  4. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Norman Davies, a Welsh-Polish historian, did his doctoral dissertation on the Bolshevik-Polish war back in the late 60s.

    Interesting.  I have Davies’ magnum “Europe” published by Oxford.  The Polish-Soviet war (the appellation used in “Europe”) is covered in less than four pages.  I almost missed it skipping through the chapter on the World Wars.

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    part of the Zoom audience when he gave a talk

    Hmmm.  I would have liked that.  Do you know if it was recorded?

    • #4
  5. Hank Rhody is a different guy altogether Member
    Hank Rhody is a different guy altogether
    @Misthiocracy

    Liam Neeson is a big anti-communist guy?  Good to know.

    • #5
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Norman Davies, a Welsh-Polish historian, did his doctoral dissertation on the Bolshevik-Polish war back in the late 60s.

    Interesting. I have Davies’ magnum “Europe” published by Oxford. The Polish-Soviet war (the appellation used in “Europe”) is covered in less than four pages. I almost missed it skipping through the chapter on the World Wars.

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    part of the Zoom audience when he gave a talk

    Hmmm. I would have liked that. Do you know if it was recorded?

    Yes, it was recorded. 

    It’s listed as “unlisted.”  Maybe that’s why it has only six views and one (1) like, probably mine.  I got to this video through the UT Polish Club’s website.  The Polish Heritage Center in Panna Maria, Texas, gave me the e-mail of the young man who introduces the session, who gave me the necessary info to get in on the zoom session, which I watched while bouncing along the interstate between Kansas City and St Louis (while my wife was kind enough to do the driving).  I think there are a couple of points where Davies was off his game or inconsistent with other things he’s written, but in that setting I didn’t care to ask any questions. 

    I finished listening to Davies’ big Europe book a few weeks ago. 

    • #6
  7. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Yes, it was recorded. 

    Thank you!

    { But may not get to watch for a few days–preoccupied with brand new grandson and last-minute prep for my European vacation next week. }

    • #7
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