The Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919. Several comments from the perspective of 100 Years.
The Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919 was a Polish national uprising. It is one of the most important events in the history of Greater Poland as well as an element of the patriotic tradition of our region. Apart from military efforts, an organic work played an important role, creating a strong economic basis for the Polish community. The Uprising was prepared in moral terms, it was a natural consequence of persevering patriotic and national work. The residents of Poznań skilfully combined the military capabilities with good management, organizational sense and discipline. At the favourable moment of the international events, the majority of Greater Poland was liberated.
Before the outbreak of the uprising in various units in the Greater Poland territory, there were about 8-9 thousand ready-to-fight volunteers. The largest units of a military-like organisation existed in Poznań.
During the first ten days, the activities of the insurgent units were of the insurgent fight nature. Such fights were spontaneous, at own pace and according to local possibilities. Simple actions had the best outcome. The seizure of power by insurgents in poviat cities meant generally the seizure of the entire poviat. In cases when the Germans took steps to repress the insurgents and threatened the Poles' gains, the volunteers from neighbouring centres helped each other. The concentration of units followed, and the commanders, after the preparation of an ad hoc plan, undertook the offensive actions being somewhat of a rally nature.
The insurgent activities in the first days were characterised by high spontaneity, including deficiencies in command. These deficiencies were partly compensated by the strong will to fight and patriotism of volunteers. Often mistakes made on the battlefield had tragic consequences. Such mistakes ended with the death of the commanders, i.a. Korneliusz Mann, Edmund Krause and Władysław Wiewiórkowski. After several days after the uprising outbreak, a group of commanders emerge, who, despite the low military rank (junior officers and non-commissioned officers), were doing well in the positions provided for senior officers. Such commanders included, i.a.: Paweł Cyms, Tadeusz Fenrych, Bohdan Hulewicz, Andrzej Kopa, Włodzimierz Kowalski, Zygmunt Łakiński, Ignacy Mielżyński, Zdzisław Orłowski, Mieczysław Paluch, Wiktor Pniewski, Stanisław Siuda, Kazimierz Szcześniak, Bernard Śliwiński, Jan Tomaszewski.
On the 8th of January 1919 the offensive actions of local commanders were subordinated to the Poznań Main Command. It coordinated the offensive operations on the northern, western and southern front. The creation of a regular army began. The following commanders have had a significant impact on the success of the uprising and military organisational achievements: Major Stanisław Taczak, General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki and the officer corps. It was Major S. Taczak who created the organisational foundations of the uprising and the front protecting the liberated area. In turn, General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki transformed the insurgent unit into an elite army based on the compulsory conscription. In the middle of January 1919, the insurgent units on the front joined the operation on a wider scale, as a result of which they liberated the whole north-eastern Greater Poland, winning Szubin and Żnin. The Polish defence line was based on the Notec River. The German transport lines leading from Bydgoszcz to the west and south were also broken.
At the beginning of February 1919, the Germans started the offensive on the entire length of the front. The heaviest fights took place on the northern and western front. Some towns changed hands several times. The battle on the western front was very dramatic; the Germans attacked the insurgents on the Międzychód section. The Germans managed to win Babimost and Kargowa. After a few days of tough battles, the German offensive was stopped on the line of Zbąszyń Lakes (19th of February 1919). Despite the decisive advantage of people and equipment, the Germans failed to achieve their goals. There have been many examples of the heroic behaviour of insurgents during bloody battles, for example, at Rynarzew, Nowa Wieś, Wielki Grójec, Szubin.
Thanks to the efforts of Polish diplomacy, the efforts of the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council and the support of France, the Germans were forced to seize their military operations. However, they continued to engage in offensive operations, firing Polish posts with artillery fire and machine guns. To ensure the compliance with the terms of the truce, the coalition directed the Inter-Allied Committee to the Greater Poland.
In the middle of January, the insurgent forces had approximately 15,000 volunteers. By the end of February 1919, the number increased to 28,000. From the Greater Poland formations emerged the strongest army, which in June 1919 had more than 102,000 soldiers, including 70,000 in the first line. The Volunteer People's Guard gathered another 100,000 members.
At the end of January 1919, unified uniforms were introduced, using huge supplies of German uniforms. A distinctive element distinguishing Greater Poland soldiers was a high, four-pointed cap made of light-grey cloth, with a club-shaped loop on the left and white and red ribbons on the collar. The military rank insignias on sleeves and four-pointed caps were also different in the Greater Poland Army.
Until the end of May 1919, the Greater Poland Front functioned independently, not being, in operational terms, under the command of the Supreme Command of the Polish Army in Warsaw. In view of the increase in the threat of a German offensive, the Commissariat of the Supreme People's Council proposed the ‘unity of the national army’. On the 30th of May, the chief commander Józef Piłsudski confirmed the operational subordination of the Greater Poland Army. The unification works continued until November that year. From September 1919 to the first days of March 1920 the Greater Poland Front, also known as anti-German, existed as part of the Polish Arm as the operational union.
On the 28th of June, the Treaty of Versailles was signed. The Greater Poland victory had a huge influence on the shape of the Polish western border, because the borderline encompassed the territories dominated by the insurgents. Also, owing to the action of the Polish delegation during the Paris conference and the favour of France, the maximum of what was then possible was achieved. A significant success was granting Poland the non-liberated areas, including Bydgoszcz, Leszno, Rawicz and Zbąszyń.
Organizing and maintaining a 100,000 army required considerable financial resources. In November 1919 the Greater Poland Army in financial terms fell within the competence of the Ministry of Military Affairs. For this purpose, the provisions of Polish banks and companies were used and the society was asked to grant a 5% of the Rebirth of Poland Loan. The results were very successful, as by the end of 1919, the Polish society in Greater Poland subscribed and paid 348 million marks and 12 million roubles, gold and silver worth 26 million marks were deposited. Maintaining the Greater Poland Front cost 74 million marks per month. Long lists of donors were announced in the Poznań newspapers. General Dowbor-Muśnicki particularly appreciated the participation of the society in army formation: I would not have done in Greater Poland half of what was called the ‘good army’ without the help of society.
The social structure of Greater Poland insurgents is interesting and not fully explored. There is only a fragmentary and approximate information for poviats, municipalities and some towns. It has been done by at least a dozen authors, including Andrzej Hanyż (Szamotuły poviat), Andrzej Wieczorek (Gołańcz region), Waldemar Kiełbowski (Czerniejewo region) as well as Ludwik Gomolec and Bogusław Polak extensively but still not fully. An analysis of the published biographies allows, for the most part, the determination of professions carried out by the insurgents in later years. Reading the incomplete biographical information, it can be carefully assumed that in the middle of January 1919 approximately 20-21% of those people were agricultural workers, 18% were industrial workers, approximately 13-15% were craftsmen and merchant, around 5% without any profession (juvenile volunteers), approximately. 1.5-2% were landowners and 1-2% were representatives of the intelligentsia. The largest professional group were sons of farmers and owners of farms (about 36-38%), with sons of peasants being the majority of this group. In this analysis, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between the agricultural workers and industrial workers as well as labourers from craftsmen. Often, they seasonally were changing their profession, they worked in the professions depending on the circumstances in which they found themselves. Only some of the insurgents, especially those belonging to veteran unions, mentioned their profession at the time. It should also be borne in mind that some volunteers, especially sons of farmers and immigrants, did not verify their participation in the uprising in any veteran organisation. Therefore, the actual data may differ from the aforementioned estimates. It should also be noted that several hundred foreigners, mainly prisoners freed from prisoner-of-war camps (e.g. French people, Italians, Russians) and Germans, joined the volunteer formations.
The group of insurgents from Gniezno (over 2800) analysed by the author was dominated by 20-year-old people. Most of them were born in 1896 - 1900. The oldest volunteer at the outbreak of the uprising, Antoni Majewski (5th Gniezno Company) was 69. The youngest, verified volunteers from this sub-region were scout Jan Witkowski born on in 1903 (Witkowo) and fourteen-year-old Jan Zielinski from Gniezno. There are also know the cases when the brothers volunteered for the uprising, for example Michał, Mieczysław, Stefan and Wacław Kunicki from Gniezno; Jan, Józef, Stanisław and Paweł Meller from Luboń; Józef, Kazimierz, Piotr and Stanisław Wojciechowski from Lasek. Dozens of volunteers lived to a great age over 90. For example Stanisław Meller from Luboń, Stanisław Wysocki from Świniary, Stanisław Chełmicki from Gniezno were 99 when deceased. The last deceased insurgent was Jan Rzepa from Wronki (1900-2005).
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