At the outbreak of the First World War Polish emigration society in France was in a state of internal decay. Most young people with a national conscious participated in the Sokol movement or focused on the Polish Rifle Assiciations, who in Galicia the most influence. After the outbreak of the war both these groups were hit by the patriotic elation engulfing the French society. In this atmosphere was on July 31, 1914 appointed the Komitetu Wolontariuszów Polskich, the Polish Volunteer Committee, which took the side of France and had as its supreme goal the recruitment of volunteers to fight against Germany. At the head of the Committee was the editor in exile of the weekly "Polonia", Waclaw Gąsiorowski.
The recruitment campaign was undertaken with the consent of the French military authorities around August 20, and the was the Centre was the editorial office of the above mentioned weekly. Within a few days, a company of recruits was raised and it was transported to Bayonne on August 25. The volunteers trained there came to be called bajończykami – the Bayonnes. After completion of the accelerated training course, they were included as the 2nd company. with about 180 men, in the C battalion of the 1. Foreign Legion Regiment. Its officers were French, while Poles served in lower ranks.
From the rest of the volunteers, capable of military service, was formed a second sub-unit which was sent to Rueil near Paris; why they were called the rueilczykami. After the training, they were scattered among different subunits of the 3. Foreign Legion Regiment, which put them in a difficult situation. The officer corps did not understand their
motives for undertaking military service and sometimes treated them as mercenaries
In late autumn 1914 the Polish Bayonne volunteers, commanded by Major Osmond, were already at the front. The Rueilezycy, who mainly were of German or Austrian nationality, and for this reason for a long time not trusted, were part of the Foreign Legion garrison in Rueil. From the garrison they were sent to the front only after the intervention of George Clemenceau, acting as tmember of the War Commission in the French National Assembly
Both groups of Polish volunteers (bajończycy and rueilczycy), were decimated at the front, and on the June 1915 they ceased to exist. Their parttaking also contributed to a negative stance from Russia, who did not want the Polish cause to become internationalized. Twelve of the most sacrificial bajończyków expressed willingness to serve in the Polish units formed by the Russian army., and on August 22, 1915 they sailed from Brest to Arkhangelsk
THE POLISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1917 - 1919
Again in spring 1917 started the matter of forming a Polish Army on the side of the Entente. It occurred by the circumstances on the overthrow of the tsarist regime, when Georgy Yevgenyevich, Prince Lvov, and his Provisional Government took power in Russia. This government was favorably disposed towards the Polish question, which embolded
Further a strong supporter of forming a Polish army in France was Waclaw Gąsiorowski. This case also involved in Erasmus Piltz, leader of the Stronnictwa Polityki Realnej, the Real Politics Party. In their actions, Roman Dmowski was not part, who did not want to start any military and organizational affairs without proper political guarantees from the Western powers on the future of the Polish nation
The plan of forming a Polish troops in France was concluded behind the scene through meetings between the French Government and the Russian agent Colonel Count Paweł Ignatieff, who worked in the French General Staff as a representative of the Russian General Staff. An important role was also played by Lieutenant Colonel Adam Mokiejewski, acting formally as a French officer, but in fact behaving rather ambiguously. France, which worked on the creation of an independent Polish state and sought to shape it as their ally, was well knowing about the German balancing procedures by the formation of a Polish Army, organized as the Polska Siła Zbrojna. Whereas Russia depended primarily on France to counter the German plans.
June 4, 1917. President Raymond Poincare published a decree on forming the Polish Army in France.
Established in time of war it was initially included as a part of the French Army, but it should fight under the Polish colour. The French Government committed itself to the entire cost of training and equipment. Organizer of the Polish Army in France was the French-Polish Military Mission, established on May 20, 1917.Leader of this organization was 1917-1918 the French General of the Reserve Louis Archinard, and as head of staff was appointed Adam Mokiejewski.
From the beginning there were basic difficulties on raising the force, as the possibilities for recruiting men in France were extremely limited; the numbers of volunteers were estimated to 2,000. Into account were also taken other sources, particularly the potential of the Polish communities overseas, but its was not easy. To raise a Polish Army in France were needed agreements with allied powers on the question of enlisting Poles within their territories for own purposes.
Polish Forces in USA
United States, already participating in the war and busy organizing its own army in a forced pace, preferred to keep its Poles for its own ranks. The Poles themselves wanted to serve in their own military formations and their organizations (Sokol and Rifle Associations) had long worked on the necessary arrangements, consisting mainly in building military cadres. First, 23 officers were educated in the Canadian officers' school in Toronto. The next stage was the training in its own training camp in Cambridge Springs, supplemented later by a Canadian college at Camp Borden. However, the US government was in opposition the idea of raising a hundred thousand man strong "Polish Army”, the so-called Kosciuszko Army, put forward April 4, 1917 by Ignacy Paderewski
The objections from the administration of President Thomas Woodrow Wilson relating to recruitment to the Polish Army in France were overcome only in the fall of 1917. An important role in this regard was played by the Wydziału Narodowego, represented in the Polish-American community by supporters of the pro-government coalition. It contributed to the official French mission, working in the United States under the guidance of the Minister Plenipotentiary, Henry Franklin Bouillon. In the United States started a wide-ranging recruitment campaign. Recruited volunteers were sent to the camp at Niagara-on the-Lake in Canada, from where the trained men were sent to France. The first group of Polish volunteers from the United States found itself in France December 26, 1917.
In matters relating to the forming of a Polish Army in France the Polish pro-coalition political environment in Western Europe were somewhat reserved. It was decided to appoint Dmowski as spokes-person. A significant change on the subject first came with his appointment on 15 August 1917 from the Polish National Committee (KNP), who wanted be the representative of Polish national interests. This objective was achieved and resulted in statements from the coalition countries, on September 20 from the French Government, on October 15 from the British and 30 October from the Italian. First then the KNP started the military organization.
Already, before the pro-koalition political parties in Poland had strengthened their position, existed in France in Sille le Guillaume the first Polish military camp. Further volunteers were sent to camps in Laval, Mayenne, Lessay, Plouaret, Domfront, Le Mans, Potigny-Ussy, Erigne, Vitre, Pontrieux, Quintin, Sens, Alençon, Burgundy, St. Sauveur le Vicomte, La Haye du Puitis, Periers, Couville, Goulances Namers and Launion
After the arrival of the first volunteers from across the Atlantic, Lieutenant Colonel Jasieński, seconded from the French army on 10 January 1918, took command to organize the unit. That date dates the 1 pułku strzelców 1 Rifle (Infantry? Fransk titel?) Regiment.
At the end of February, 10 000 volunteers were already in the ranks of the Polish Army in France and the formation of new units continued, all being incorporated in the 1. Polish Rifle Division. It was commanded by General Ecocharde, soon replaced by General Vidalon.
June 22, 1918 at the front in Champagne the Polish troops took their oath and were solemnly
prsented their colours funded by the French cities: Paris, Verdun, Belfort and Nancy. 1 Rifle Regiment was already involved in the fightings and so progressed, albeit slowly, the process of raising an independent Polish Army in France. The important condition of being used in the fightings as a whole division, received Dmowski in mid-August 1918, which documented the presence of the Poles in the war on the side of the Coalition countries
By sea from Murmansk arrived on July 13, 1918i n France General Józef Haller, radiant in the glory obtained at the fightings Rarańczą and Kaniow. He has been presented to the French government by the Polish National Committee as a candidate for the post of Commander in Chief of the Polish Army. Consent for this proposal was preceded by the agreement of 28 September 1918, which KNP has concluded with the French Government. The signed agreement, then recognized by the other countries of the Coalition, had a fundamental nature and was of great importance for the Polish cause. It concerned the units of the Polish Army in France and all Polish troops, who fought on the side of the Coalition. All these formations were supposed to be "one and only independent army, allied and belligerent under a single sole Polish command".
Recognition of the Polish Army in France by the the members of the Coalition as an ally and the Polish armed forces as co-fighters brought Poland on to the level of independent states and made the Polish state a part in the peace conference.
A proper development of the Polish Army in France first took place after the end of hostilities. It then was joined by volunteers recruited en masse in POW camps in Italy. The campaigns for volunteers were carried out mainly in the camps Santa Maria Capua Vetero and La Mandria di Chivaso. As a result were formed 8 units more. These were the temporary regiments named: Henryk Dabrowski, Bartosz Glowacki, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Adam Mickiewicz, Francesco Nullo, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Zawisza Czarny and Stefan Czarnecki. Also were set up an artillery regiment, a regiment of sappers and a machine gun formation.
In addition to volunteers from Italy, the United States, a small number of volunteers from the UK and the Netherlands joining the ranks of the Polish Army in France, came also about 300 Poles from Brazil, recruited mainly there by Casimir Warchałowski, editor of the daily „Polak w Brazylii" -"Poles in Brazil" and by the Franch-Polish envoy with the Military Mission, Lieutenant Henry Abczyński. From Shanghai by sea arrived, October 2, 1918, several hundred men recruited by Captain Romuald Kohutnicki.
As a result of a large influx of volunteers and the growing organization, supported by the French authorities, the Polish Army in France was greatly expanded. In mid-March 1919. It included:
I Corps (General Odry), with the 1. Polish Rifle Division (General. Joseph Bernard) and tthe 2. Polish Rifle Division (General Modelona)
III corps, with the 3. Polish Rifle Division (General Petitdemande), 6. Polish Rifle Division (General Champeaux) and 7 Polish Rifle Division (General. Bonin).
The division numbers 4 and 5 were reserved for divisions formed in Russia, intended to form a II corps. Also belonged to the army: training division (school) under General Mandrell, 7 artillery regiments, 3 cavalry regiments, 11 sapper companies, 4 communications companies, 2 railroad companies, 7 air squadrons, a detachment of tanks
and subunits - and of course the necessary number of reserve units in the rear echelons.
The Polish Army in France was sent by rail through Germany and arrived in Poland from April to mid-June 1919 had on the eve of departure 68 433 soldiers, including 22 395 recruited in the United States and about 35 000 recruited from the POW camps in Italy.
The Polish Army in France received its weapons and equipment from French depots. The main weapons were the Lebel rifle M. 1885-1893, the 8 mm Puteaux-Hotchkiss machine gun M. 1914, 8 mm caliber, air-cooled on tripod, loaded with magazines of 25 rounds or linen tape with a capacity of 250 rounds. The disadvantage of this machine-gun was a severe overheating of the barrel after firing several hundred shots, when it was impossible to change the barrel without needing water-cooling.
The artillery was equipped with 75 mm guns M.1897, with improvements to eliminate the recoil of the gun carriages, easy setting of the target and simple to use. The advantage of the was, among others, a theoretical possibility of firing about 30 rounds per minute.
An important element of the Polish Army in France, was the armor. The tank regiment was equipped with 120 Renault type M.17. It weighed 6.5 tons, had a 37 mm cannon or a machine gun, and had a speed of 7.8 km per hour. The crew consisted of two men.
The uniforms for the soldiers were made of same horizontal-blue cloth used in the French army and sewn according to same model.
The training of the soldiers followed French regulations.
In defense was taught defenses with 2-3 trench-lines interconnected by trenches and with strongholds.
In offensive operations the artillery preparations lasting 4-5 hours played an important role, before the infantry tried to approach into assault distance, ranging 150-200 m. This position lasted until nightfall and then was by the tunnels attempted to shorten the assault distance. A competent assault was to begin as a single strike.
The combat trail in France initiated the Bajończycy. Under the command of Major Osmond they participated on 29. November 1914 in the Battle of Sillery. Then they fought at River Aisne and since in April 1915 at Arras, where on 9. May was fought a stubborn battle for Vimy Ridge. During the attack on German positions they suffered heavy losses. The last episode for the bajończyków was a tough battle in Souchez on June 16, 1915.
The Rueilczycy fought as private soldiers in French units.
1. Rifle Regiment of the Polish Army in France participated in military operations from June 1917. It fought, among others, at Reims and Saint-Hilaire-le-Grande.
I Polish Rifle Division first took part in the final fightings from November 1918 and had only a symbolic meaning.
Pictures to follow.