POLISH REVOLUTIONARY FORMATIONS (MAY 1917-1920)
The origin of this Polish formations, which sided with the proletarian revolution, is associated with the 17.000 men strong Reserve Regiment of the Polish Rifle Division under General Tadeusz Bylewski.The regiment was deployed in Belgorod, Ukraine. Its revolutionary stance showed up in the spring of 1917. Among its NCOs were chosen reds, when the soldiers committees were elected, and so the reds ended up in the regimental committee. This committee made the soldiers of the Reserve Regiment to resist attempts to recruit them for the I Polish Corps and it also refused to recognize as supreme authorities General Dowbor-Musnicki and Naczpol. When it came to the appointment of their commander of choice, they elected lieutenant Mieczysław Jackiewicz.
The first official announcement of their goals was aimed at the groups of revolutionary Polish armed soldiers in Russia and was an ideological proclamation of 20 August 1917 from the Reserve Rifle Regiment, approved by 35 officers and 16.000 soldiers, printed in 80.000 copies and distributed among the Poles still serving in the Russian Army.
September 29, 1917, the regimental commander took initiative attempting to reformate the regiment and so turned to the Russian Minister of War in the Provisional Government, Colonel Alexander Wierzchow. The initiative did neither find support in the Central Committee of the Association of Military Poles (left) nor in SDKPiL. The SDK PiL.-representatives were convinced that creation of separate national military formations was a manifestation of separatism and so inadmissible.
(SDKPiL or Socjaldemokracja Królestwa Polskiego i Litwy - The Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania - was a Marxist political party founded in 1893. Its original name was the "Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland" (SDKP) and it eventually became part of the Communist Workers Party of Poland.ts).
October 3, 1917, the Reserve Regiment was released from its formal obedience to General Dowbor-Musnicki and instead became subject to the command of the Moscow Military District. It was heavily influenced by the local Soviets of Workers and Soldiers. The pro-Soviet attitude of the regiment was reflected in a statement declaring its support for the Moscow Revolutionary Military Committee.
The declaration was accompanied by efforts to get an allocation of weapons, an attempt which was crowned by success in the second half of November 1917. At the same time the Soviet authorities gave the regiment its official name: "1st Polish Revolutionary Regiment" - „1 Polski Rewolucyjny Pułk".
In late autumn the regiment took part in the fightings against counter-revolutionary troops, but then refused take part in any clashes with the nationalist forces of the Ukrainian Central Council. This led 30 December to the disarmament of the regiment, during which action lieutenant Jackiewicz was killed. The command was then taken over by Henryk Paczkowski.
A significant part of the soldiers of the disarmed regiment went to Moscow, where they made efforts to create new revolutionary Polish military units. On December 23, 1917, this process started in Minsk, Belarus, with the resolutions passed by the participants on a meeting of the Polish Socialist Union. The first raised unit was a Polish Revolutionary Battalion, called the “Minsk Council of Workers and Soldiers” - “Mińskiej Rady Delegatów Robotniczych i Żołnierskich”.
Among the Polish revolutionary units was an artillery detachment formed in Vitebsk. It started out as a unit of Red Guards, established 1 January 1918, on the initiative of Stefan Weychert. The men came especially from the heavy artillery battery in Wysoczanach. Soon the revolutionary unit of Weychert completely disarmed the Dowbor artillery formation and began acting as a Revolutionary Polish Heavy Artillery Battalion, named "1st January" or “Lodtz”. As commander was chosen Stephen Czernicki, a member of the PPS-Left.
From December 1917 to April 1918 the Polish Commissariat (Komisariat Polski) from the People's Commissariat for National Affairs (Ludowym Komisariacie do Spraw Narodowościowych) attempted to create more revolutionary Polish units in the various cities of Russia and from the different Russian armies. They found the 8th Army on the Romanian Front the most opportune. It was decided, the SDKPiL activist Henryk Bitner (code-named „Bicza") would be the best suited for the job, as it was he, who in February 1918 had formed the Polish Red Battery in Mohilov on Dniester. However, his attempts collapsed when the armies of the Central Powers invaded Ukraine.
As said, the center for formation of revolutionary Polish troops moved to Moscow, whereto arrived the soldiers from the former Reserve Regiment. A proposal was forwarded to establish a Polish Revolutionary Brigade, named after Thaddeus Kosciuszko.
January 10, 1918 even saw the launch of its organization, however it was interrupted by the necessity to use its already formed sub-units for single commitments to the fronts of the revolution. To Kronstadt was sent a 120 man unit under Jan Neumann and to Kharkov a detachment with several hundred cavalrymen under Peter Borewicz. An important obstacle to an effectively working recruitment and unit-establishing organization was the still the negative position in this respect by the SDKPiL.
In spring 1918, the stance of SDKPiL on the formation of revolutionary Polish units had been substantially revised. Soon, it led to the creation of the “Revolutionary Red Regiment of Warsaw”. Its commander was Stefan Zbikowski, the function as Political Commissar had Stanislaw Bobinski and Chief of Staff was Stanisław Dziatkiewicz. The regiment had two battalions of riflemen, and detachments of scouts, machine guns and sappers.
By organizing national Polish troops, started by setting up the Red Regiment of Warsaw, it was intended to create armed units, which later were to become integral parts of a single, united, international Red Army built from scratch. Recruiting volunteers went fairly quickly, and in April 1918 the regiment was able to participate in suppressing the revolt of the Moscow anarchists. Further additions to the ranks of the regiment came with the influx of volunteers from the other Polish formations, mainly from the II Polish Corps, broken at Kaniów. They were recruited in Yaroslavl and Nizhny Novgorod, being detained on their way to Murmansk.
At the same time in Moscow was formed the “Independent Collective Guards Battalion” - “Samodzielną Zbiorczą Drużynę (batalion) Wartowniczą”, made up mostly by former soldiers from Bielgorod, the "biełgorodczyków", and originally intended to serve with the headquarters of the Moscow Military District.
In the summer of 1918 was expanded with the “3rd Polish Revolutionary Regiment Lublin” - “3 Polski Rewolucyjny Pułk Lubelski” and so was proceeded with raising new units, like the Mazowieck Cavalry Regiment, a squadron of lancers in Borysogleb and an infantry detachment in Saratov.
The formation of the revolutionary units was done by voluntary enlisting. Applicants had to sign on as candidates for a six-month period. Despite the harsh conditions of the civil war, Polish units developed quite rapidly and were increasingly involved in the fightings.
In late July and early August 1918 began the organization of the largest Polish revolutionary formation - the Western Rifle Division.
At first it was lead by W. Jerszow, later in 1919 he was replaced by Roman Łągwę.
The division was set up in accordance with the organizational structure of the Red Army and had three brigades:
I Rifle Brigade (I Brygada Strzelców), initially led by Łągwę and later by Wladyslaw Scibor,
Red Revolutionary Warsaw Regiment - and from December 1918 Warsaw Western Division Rifle Regiment - Rewolucyjny Czerwony Pułk Warszawski – Warszawski Pułk Zachodniej Dywizji Strzeleckiej)
3rd Revolutionary Regiment Siedlce - 3 Rewolucyjny Pułk Siedlecki
1st Warsaw Red Hussar Regiment - 1 Warszawski Pułk Czerwonych Huzarów
1st Light Artillery Battalion or Regiment?- I dywizjon artylerii lekkiej
II Rifle Brigade ( II Brygada Strzelców), led by Francis Makowski,
2nd Revolutionary Regiment Lublin - 2 Rewolucyjny Pułk Lubelski
4th Revolutionary Regiment Warsaw - 4 Rewolucyjny Pułk Warszawski
Red Cavalry Regiment Mazowiecki - Mazowiecki Pułk Czerwonych Ułanów
2nd Light Artillery Battalion or Regiment? - II dywizjon artylerii lekkiej
III Rifle Brigade (III Brygada Strzelców), led by Kazimier Majewski and since March 1919 by Dobrowolski.
5th Revolutionary Regiment Vilnius - 5 Rewolucyjny Pułk Wileński
6th Revolutionary Regiment Grodno - 6 Rewolucyjny Pułk Grodzieński
1st Warsaw Red Hussar Regiment - 1 Warszawski Pułk Czerwonych Huzarów
3rd Field Artillery Battalion or Regiment?- III dywizjon artylerii
with following sub-units:
a mounted scout unit,
a communications battalion - batalion łączności,
an engineer battalion,
a car pool,
an air squadron with 3 planes,
a field hospital,
a medical unit,
a veterinary unit.
There seem to be some conflicting informations on the organization,
see for instance http://www.forumowisko.pl/topic/151485-polacy-zolnierze-swiata/
Etape points were in Vilnius and Minsk.
The highest political authority of the division was the Revolutionary Military Council (Rada Wojskowo-Rewolucyjna), which included Samuel Łazowert. Since November 1918 entered also Stefan Brodowski - a high ranking member of SDKPiL coming from the Central Executive Committee of the SDKPiL group in Russia, and Adam Kaczorowski (Slawinski), a member from the Bolshevik Party. The tasks associated with enlisting volunteers were done through the Enlisting Department, which was led by Romuald Muklewiczow, who was appointed on 14 January 1919 by the Revolutionary Military Council. In all 30 offices were set up to organize the recruiting activities in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuaen and Belarus.
Also separate revolutionary units existed, which were not linked organizationally to the Western Rifle Division, such as:
Red Revolutionary Poles, in Irkutsk (Polska Rota Rewolucyjna w Irkucku)
Polish Combined Detachment, in Usman, (Polski Oddział Zbiorczy w Usmaniu)
Polish Unit of Railway Guards, in Petrozavodsk in Karelien, (Polski Oddział Straży Kolejowej w Petrozawodsku)
Polish Unit of Railway Guards, in Voronezh, (Polski Oddział Straży Kolejowej w Woroneżu)
The Polish Battalion "Joseph Mirecki", in Orel (Batalion Polski im. Józefa Mireckiego w Orle)
Polish Battalion, in Odessa (Drużyna Polska w Odessie).
And two regiments, off-shots from the Red Warsaw Regiment:
2nd Polish Revolutionary Regiment of Krakow, (2 Polski Rewolucyjny Pułk Krakowski) comanded by Captain Gendygery
3rd Polish Revolutionary Regiment, called the Poznan, (3 Polskiego Rewolucyjnego Pułku, zwanego poznańskim), comanded by Warrant Officer Boleslaw Pilecki.
(I am sure more red Polish units can be found with a little research in Russia.)
Historians have failed to determine exactly, how many Poles participated in the defense of the October Revolution. There are those, who claim that their total number reaches 100.000. That observation is based on available source material, but can not be confirmed.
Weapons and equipment
The Polish revolutionary military units in the field used the same weapons, equipment and uniforms as the Red Army. And encountered all the same difficulties, as the Soviet armed forces experienced. The primary weapon was the Mosin, M.1891, caliber 7.62 mm. The fire power was intensified by the use of of the Maxim heavy machine gun, caliber 7.62 mm, on circular Sokolov base. The cavalrymen were also armed with lances and swords, and the commanders and political commissars used the Nagant, M.1895 revolver with cylinder, caliber 7.62 mm.
The artillery units had Russian guns. The Heavy Artillery Battalion, "1st January" was equipped with 150 mm howitzers, while division and brigade artillery in the Western Rifle Division had light guns ( 76 mm). The equipment was mainly of Russian production, although a lot of equipment was captured and naturally surplus originating from the Entente Powers.
The limited disposable forces were something all involved in the Russian Civil War had to take into account, also the interventionists and even the parties in the Polish-Soviet conflict. That meant tackling new tactical situations. Tactical manoeuvres regained their importance. Solid defence lines, like the continuous lines of trenches of WWI in the West, once again were turned into chains of fortified points. Reserves got an increased role, as they could be used for deep, hard strikes, to work around the enemy defences and for flanking movements.
This kind of fighting became more or less perfected by all the the participants, and was also practised by the 1st Polish Revolutionary Regiment of Belgorod. Together with other revolutionary Soviet formations the regiment participated in the fightings against the troops of Colonel Manakin. (Colonel W.K. Manakin was commander of the so-called Peoples Army under Ataman Peter N. Krasnov in the Saratov area. ts) It fought 8 December 1917 at Tomarówką and 19 December same year at the town Krapiwnoje.
In mid-January 1918, the Revolutionary Polish Battalion, organized in Minsk, took part in military actions against the Ukrainian nationalists, fighting in the Gomel region near Kiev
In January 1918, the 120-man strong detachment "Nejman" participated in the defence of Kronstadt, originally it was part of the "Tadeusz Kosciuszko" Brigade, which shortly after was disbanded. From same brigade was also separated the Borewicz cavalry and sent to Kharkov to participate in the actions against Ukrainian nationalists around Kiev.
The first military action of the 1st Red Revolutionary Regiment "Warsaw" took place during the liquidation of the counter-revolutionary Anarchist rebellion in Moscow (April 1918). The Combined Battalion "Victor Filanowicz", detailed from the Warsaw Regiment, participated in 20 days of heavy street fightings against counter-revolutionary forces during the uprising in Yaroslavl, caused by the PSR (Socialist-Revolutionary Party - in Russian Партия социалистов-революционеров - ПСР. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist-Revolutionary_Party).
At the same time the two cavalry squadrons commanded by Peter Borewicz, detailed from the Mazowiecki Ulan Regiment, was directed to Kazan.
In the first days of August, 1918, the whole “Regiment Warsaw” was sent to the Southern Front to fight against the White Volunteer Army.
After arriving to the front at Tambow the 1st Revolutionary Red Regiment "Warsaw" was amalgamated into the I Polish Rifle Brigade.
Until the end of September 1918, the brigade participated in the fightings, but not yet as an united formation. The amalgamation of did not take place until early October, when the Brigade was assigned a 20-km section of the Southern Balaszow front. From here the Brigade went on to Makaszew at Nikolaevsk. Fierce fighting took place at those positions, among others at Kupawą, Serbin and Krasnoye and the brigade suffered heavy losses. Just from 9 to 29 December 1918 they amounted to about 800 killed and wounded, frozen or missing without a trace. At the end of January 1919 the I Rifle Brigade was withdrawn from the Southern front, sent to Belarus and merged with the other parts of the Western Rifle Division.
Since February 1919 the Western Rifle Division participated in occupying territories in Belarus, earlier having been occupied by the German army. During this operation it came to armed conflicts with the Polish Army, who had advanced into the area around the city of Most at Niemen. The confrontations with the Polish forces started with skirmishing and in spring 1919 went over to heavy clashes, starting April 16 with the very hard fightings about Lida, which repeatedly changed from side to side.
In May 1919 the Western Rifle Division participated in the military activities and retreat of the Red Army in the Belarus areas. It held a section on the front Pierszoj near Minsk to Kleck on the River Lan.
Particularly fierce battles were waged in the region Baranovich and in the outskirts of Minsk.
June 9, 1919 the Division was renamed as the 52th Rifle Division of the Red Army and ceased to exist as a Polish national formation.
More details about the Red Poles can for example be found on:
It has not been possible to find any photos of red Polish units, but perhaps it will be possible somewhere in Russia, even if Stalin purged most of his Polish inhabitants in 1938.