The Soviet Red Army is forced to turn away from Warsaw (August 16, 1920) - History Key

The Soviet Red Army is forced to turn away from Warsaw (August 16, 1920)

The Polish-Soviet War led to the establishment of new borders between the two new states that emerged after WWI: The Soviet Russia and the Second Republic of Poland.

This armed conflict was, on one hand, the result of Poland’s attempts to reoccupy the territories that had been under Poland’s control at the end of the 18th century. On the other hand, the Soviets tried to recover the territories that had been part of the Russian Empire.

Volunteers of Polish Army 1920 Polish-Soviet War
Volunteers of Polish Army 1920 Polish-Soviet War © Marjan Dąbrowski/ Image Source: Wikipedia

Accidental War

The interesting fact is that both of the states declared themselves victorious at the end of the battles. The Polish managed to defend their country while the Soviets bragged with the rejection of the Polish troops under Operation Kiev, which was seen as part of the foreign intervention in the Russian Civil War.

Polish troops in Kiev
Polish troops in Kiev © Image Source: Wikipedia

The borders between Poland and Soviet Russia were not established “properly” by the Treaty of Versailles. Even more, the areas were disturbed by the Russian Revolution, the Russian Civil War, the withdrawal of the Germans from the Eastern Front (WWI) and the attempts by Ukraine and Belarus to gain their independence.

The Polish-Soviet War broke out accidentally rather than planned. In the chaos of the first months of 1919, it is unlikely that someone from Bolshevik Russia or the new Poland would have consciously planned a war with the neighbours. Poland, which was one of the main battlefields during WWI, was politically unstable and already had some conflicts with Germany and Czechoslovakia. Russia was particularly concerned with the intervention of the Western Powers in their civil war.

American troops in Vladivostok during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War (August 1918)
American troops in Vladivostok during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War (August 1918) © dodmedia.osd.mil/Image Source: Wikipedia

This “state of mind” was about to change when Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the Russian Communist government, gained an optimistic mood due to the victories of the Red Army in the battles against the anti-communists and their western allies. Lenin saw Poland as a bridge for the Red Army in order to link the communist world with the western civilization and to support the communist movement. Lenin’s vision was a communist world.

Battle of Warsaw

The Soviets never expected a significant resistance from the Polish. Although the first conflicts took place in February 1919, it would take about a year from both sides until they realize they were engaged in a war.

Polish-Soviet war. Polish defences with a machine gun position near Miłosna, in the village of Janki, August 1920.
Polish-Soviet war. Polish defences with a machine gun position near Miłosna, in the village of Janki, August 1920. © Image Source: Wikipedia

One of the most bloodiest and intense battle of the Polish-Soviet War was the Battle of Warsaw which is also the final battle of the war. It started on August 12 and ended on August 25, 1920. The Red Army forces, under the command of Mikhail Tukhachevsky headed towards the Polish capital. On August 16, 1920, the Polish forces led by Jozef Pilsudski counterattacked the Soviet troops from the south, forcing them to withdraw towards East. It is estimated that the Bolsheviks lost 10,000 soldiers, 10,000 were injured and 66,000 were taken prisoners. The Polish lost only 4,500 soldiers and 22,000 were injured.

Polish volunteers from Lwów, serving in the army's 2nd Death's Squadron c.1920
Polish volunteers from Lwów, serving in the army’s 2nd Death’s Squadron c.1920 © Image Source: Wikipedia

Before the miracle, both the Bolsheviks and most foreign experts considered Poland defeated. The unexpected and astonishing win near Warsaw destroyed the Bolshevik forces and in the next months, a series of new Polish victories secured the country’s independence and its borders.

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