The Polish Rifle Brigade and the Polish Rifle Division
Further progress in the Polish military and organizational endeavors undertaken in the East depended on the attitude of the Tsarist Russia to the Polish cause. Despite several meetings held with the Russian Council of Ministers, a lack of concrete proposals in this regard was felt. First with the statement of August 1, 1915 by Prime Minister Ivan Goremykin it became more explicit. It announced the formulation of draft laws, granting the Poles after the war the right to a free national life, both cultural and economical. In general, the Goremykin Declaration was looked on with great skepticism by the Polish society and considered a tactical propaganda move, but in some circles it was seen as an official announcement to a future Polish autonomy.
The appropriate initiatives to develop the Polish armed forces in Russia were taken by: General Peter Szymanowski, Colonel Jan Rządkowski and Ritmeister Count Adam Zamoyski. Their initiatives were crowned with partial success and on 24 September 1915 Tsar Nicholas II decided for the establishment of the Polish Rifle Brigade. Responsible for the Poles in Russia became General Szymanowski, who on April 7, 1916, gave the command to General Adam Sławoczyński, who after 27 September 1916 was replaced by General Boleslaw Olszewski. Chief of the Brigade Staff was a Russian, Captain. Žilin.
The Polish Rifle Brigade was formed in Bobrujsk. The Brigade was organized in four battalions of riflemen. Commanders were Colonel John Rządkowski, Colonel Lucjan Zeligowski, Colonel Boleslaw Frej and Colonel Znamierowski.
Assigned to the brigade were also:
an ulan squadron commanded by Lt.-Colonel Władysław Obuch-Woszczatyński,
a company of sappers commanded by Captain Mieczyslaw Wężyk,
a reserve battalion,
a field hospital and
the sanitary unit No. 70.
Contrary to its name, the brigade had not been treated by the superior authorities as a pure Polish military formation. A significant part of the positions were filled by Russians and the official correspondence was conducted in Russian. However, the use of Polish command language was allowed. This fact and the national composition of the ranks were all factors, which gave the formation its Polish character. It was strengthened even more by the reading of Polish books made available from the well-stocked field library.
After completing the formation, which occurred in the spring 1916, the brigade was sent into battle. They stayed on the front line until January 1917, when the decision came to expand the Polish Brigade into a Rifle Division. The expansion possibilities of the Polish military formations occurred with the progress on the Polish question, which was reflected among others in the so-called Christmas Eve Order to the Army and Navy of 1916. As supporter for expanding the Polish formations appeared especially General Alexei Brusilov, Commander of the South-West Front.
The ideas were put into reality with the Order of 24 January 1917 by Stavka (the Russian High Command).
The Polish Rifle Brigade then moved into the Kiev Military District.
Appropriate dispositions to organize the Division began on 8 February 1917.
The command of the new formation, having its headquarters in Kiev, became General Tadeusz Bylewski. First was adressed the complex problem with the excessive dispersal of sub-units: 1st Rifle Regiment and the ingenieur company were in Kiev, the 2nd Rifle Regiment, the hospital and the divisional medical unit were in Boryspol, the 3rd Rifle Regiment was in Poltava, 4th Rifle Regiment was in Bierezan, the lancer squadrons in Czugujew at Kharkov and the reserve regiment in Belgorod.
The division did not get its own artillery, thereby reducing its fighting power. (As the English did not have Indian native artillery units, one has to be careful with the possible rebellious natives! ts) At the peak of the development, ie at the end of June 1917, the Division numbered about 12.000 men of the line with support units and was having about 16.000 men in the regimental reserve. In the next month these impressive figures rapidly dvindled, when soldiers, who started to show revolutionary attitudes, were removed from the ranks of the division. Some of these men were soon to be found again in the Reserve Rifle Regiment, which soon became the most revolutionized of the single units. In the ranks of the front-line units together with sub- and auxiliary support units were left barely 2.500 men. In August the Polish Rifle Division in such an internal state came under the command of General Joseph Dowbor-Musnicki, and began to act both as a Rifle Division and also as the 1st Polish Corps. When then followed a partial supplementing of the ranks, the division had became a completely new formation.