THE POLISH AUXILIARY CORPS
translated from “Zarys Dziejów Wojskowości Polskiej (1864-1939)”, Wojskowy Instytut Historyczny, Redaktor Piotr Stawecki, Warsawa 1990. p.176-183
The uprising in the Polish Auxiliary Corps was caused by military and political factors in the insubordinate legion formations to the promises given by the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg monarchy.
It was started by the silence of the Central Powers on the Polish question, which gave rise to a growing bitterness among the legionnaires, who felt not rewarded nor benefiting for their dedication. The demands for a solution on the Polish question brought forward by the Colonels Council, established February 14, 1916 in the legion units and having among its members officers like Belina-Prazmowski, Berbecki, Brzoza-Brzezina, Galica, Haller, Januszajtis, Minkiewicz, Norwid-Neugebauer, Roja, Sosnkowski, Rydz-Śmigły and Żymierski, all men close to Pilsudski, found understanding even in the staunchly minded NKN.
(The NKN - Naczelny Komitet Narodowy – The Supreme National Committee 1914-1917 was a quasi-government for the Galician Poles in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Formed on 16 August 1914, it replaced the Komisja Tymczasowa Skonfederowanych Stronnictw Niepodległościowych and the Centralny Komitet Narodowy, and had the support of Polish conservatives and National Democrats. Over time it lost much of its early support, especially due to its strong pro-Austrian stance. It was eventually replaced by the Regency Council in 1917.)
The Colonels Council strongly demanded the Legions being "Legionizacji", ie. the Austrian officers being removed from the legion formations and the formations to be recognized as "the Polish Army fighting and dying for Polish independence".
Pilsudski put the case even more clearly.
On July 4, 1916 he withdrew all his followers from the Military Commission of NKN and on July 29 he sent his own resignation, which he obtained after a long delay.
The decision to set up a Polish Auxiliary Corps had been made by Emperor Franz Joseph at the request of the High Command of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The formal document confirming it was a decree by the Emperor of September 20, 1916. It was going to transform the existing Legion formations into two corps. The decision of the Emperor was the Austrian concession to the Polish cause and aimed to defuse the tense situation in the legion formations. News of renaming of the Polish Legions, as the Polish Auxiliary Corps, did not match the aspirations for independence, which had awoken in the Polish society and did not make much of an impression, even if the loyal NKN accepted it with enthusiasm.
The reason to set up the Polish Auxiliary Corps was the internal re-organization of the Legion, made in accordance with the order from the Polish Legion Headquarters No. 105/3 of 29 September 1916,
The new infantry regiments were commanded by Colonel Edward Rydz-Śmigły and Colonel Leon Berbecki and reinforced from the dissolved battalions or taken from the not fully completed 7. Infantry Regiment.
In addition to the infantry brigades, the Legion Headquarters included the 1. Lancers (Major Belina-Prażmowski), 2. Lancers (Major Ostoja-Zagorski) and 1. Artillery Regiment (Major Brzozy-Brzeziny) together with the relevant subunits and ancillary services under its command.
General Stanislaw Puchalski still kept the overall command.
Functioning as Chief of Staff (after the removal of Captain Zagorski in the spring of 1916, caused by his conflict with Pilsudski) was Captain (rotmistrz) Philip Lubicz-Kochanski.
The reorganization of the Legion took place in a tense atmosphere, caused by the news of the accepted resignation of Pilsudski, while the men from the Kingdom called for their release and the Galicians asked to be transferred to the Austro-Hungarian Army. Soon the various groups of the legion wanted soldier's and officers' delegates to form councils. Many of their members supported the legionnaires to put down their weapons, not satisfied with the concessions reflected in the name of Polish Auxiliary Corps.
All this was secretly inspired by Pilsudski, but interpreted by the Command of the Polish Legions as a sign of exhaustion caused by battle fatique.
The Legions formations were withdrawn from the front, moved back to Baranowicz and so behind the German section of the Eastern Front.
During their stay in Baranovichi the spiritual dilemmas of the Legionnaires deepened. Evidence of this was the suicide of the outstanding legion officer, Major Albin Fleszar, Commander of the 7. Battalion in I Brigade.
The growing ideological crisis was first interrupted by the proclamation of November by the Emperors of Germany and Austria.
When this occurred, Pilsudski called on the men to stay in the ranks and also agreed to become member of the announced Provisional State Council, conceived as the representative body for Polish society in the former Congress Poland.
To the head of issues, following the act of 5 November 1916, was the problem of a Polish Army.
However, it was resolved without the participation of the Poles.
Already on November 11, 1916, German and Austrian negotiators agreed on separation of the Polish Auxiliary Corps from the Austro-Hungarian Army and to pass the command over to the Germans. As Commander for the planned army was in the draft intended a German, namely the Warsaw Governor-General, Hans von Beseler.
The Legion formations in Baranowicz moved into the Polish Kingdom and were deployed as follows:
Command of the Polish Auxiliary Corps - Colonel Stanislaw Szeptycki - in Warsaw (the earlier Commander of the Corps, General Stanislaw Puchalski, had been dismissed and was followed by Colonel Stanislaw Szeptycki, then commander of the I. Legion Brigade)
1. Legion Infantry Regiment - in Lomza,
2. Infantry Regiment - in Rozan,
II. Brigade Command - in Warsaw
3. Infantry Regiment - in Warsaw,
4. Infantry Regiment - in Modlin,
III. Brigade Command - in Warsaw,
9 Infantry Regiment - in Pultusk,
6 Infantry Regiment - in Deblin,
1. Lancer Regiment - in Ostroleka,
2. Lancers - in Minsk Mazowiecki,
I. Artillery Battalion (dywizjon) - in Gora Kalwari,
II. Artillery Battalion (dywizjon) - in Grajewo,
Howitzer Battalion - in Piotrkow
Sapper units - in Modlin.
Leading the recruiting department was Colonel Władysław Sikorski.
Germanisation of the former Legion formations
Significant changes began to take place in the legion formations.
In the beginning of 1917, these formations, counting 21.066 legionnaires, were put on German etat and supplies. Also the training became based on German regulations. From 6. December 1916, in accordance with orders from the Headquarters of the Polish Auxiliary Corps, started in all legion formations the tradition with the two-finger salute, formerly used only in the I. Legion Brigade.
(It is not quite clear, when the two-fingers salute appeared in Polish military. Some see its origin in Tadeusz Kościuszko's 1794 oath. Others state that it came from the Russian army around 1815 (in the partitioned Poland). At that time, apparently the Tzar's Viceroy in Poland, Grand Duke Constantine, said that Poles salute him with two fingers, while using the other two to hold a stone to throw at him. Another legend attributes the salute to the remembrance of Battle of Olszynka Grochowska in 1831, when a soldier, who lost two fingers in the battle, saluted his superior with a wounded hand. Presumably, it was used the first time in a slightly different form by General Tadeusz Kosciuszko when swearing his oath to liberate Poland from the invasion forces 1794 on the Main Market of Krakow (pic).)
There were also some personnel changes.
As Chief of Staff, after Rtm. Kochanski Lieutenant-Colonel Leon Berbecki was appointed.
Major Stanislaw Burhardt-Bukacki took over as Commander of the 5. Infantry Regiment, and as commander of 3. Infantry Regiment was entrusted Major Vladimir Zagórski after Wladyslaw Sikorski.
January 14, 1917, after the opening ceremony of the Provisional State Council (see photo), was appointed the Executive Board (Wydział Wykonawczy), intended as a substitute for a new government. Here Pilsudski was appointed secretary of military affairs. Also was formed a six-member Military Committee, which was to communicate on military matters with the occupation authorities and maintain contact with the Headquarters of the Polish Legions.
Contrary to expectations, the mandate of the Provisional State Council did not give any influence on the decisions associated with the creation of a Polish Army, caused by circumstances like the negative Polish public attitude on recruiting, shown in the November act of the Emperors, as well as disagreements in the German and Austrian political and military establishments. These disputes were of a fundamental nature on the future of the Polish state and the planned Polish army, although they developed around the seemingly trivial wording of the oath formula, to be applied to the legionnaires.
Significant controversies emerged especially on 26 December 1916, when the High Command of the Austro-Hungarian Army questioned earlier agreements and declared the Polish Auxiliary Corps only would be transferred to General Beseler - after the troops had sworn their oath. German-Austrian divergences relating to the oath formula remained till spring 1917 and the matter of the future Polish Army continued. What was going to happen in the future with the Polish Auxiliary Corps, was still truly imponderable.
The essential decisions regarding the fate of the Corps were made after agreeing on the oath and oath swearing, which took place March 15, 1917.
Less than a month later, on 10 April 1917, a solemn transfer of the formation to General Beseler took place at the Royal Castle in Warsaw .
Secret arrangements, in which were elements the Polish had not been informed on, showed that the Corps would only consist of soldiers from the Kingdom, while the Galicians were later to return under Austrian military authorities.
General Beseler in this way aimed to create a Polish Army, but without the Galicians or the Legion parts in the Polish Auxiliary Corps, now led by Colonel Zielinski, considering them essentially only part in the current organizational structure. This situation continued until July 1917, when only the men from the Kingdom were requested to swear the oath to serve under the command of General Beseler.
The problems with the Legion oath led to the dramatic events, commonly described as the Legion Oath Crisis. The oath ceremony itself was prepared for the 9 and 11 July 1917, but ended in failure. Almost all the men of the I Brigade and most of the men of III Brigade refused to submit it. This resulted in severe repressions by the German authorities. On July 22, 1917 they arrested Pilsudski and interned him together with Colonel Sosnkowski in Magdeburg Fortress. A dozen prominent officers, including Rydz-Śmigły, Roja and Galic, were deprived of the right to wear uniform and put at the disposal of Austrian military authorities.
Also the further fate of the legion formations was settled.
Legionaries-from the Kingdom, who refused to swear the oath, were sent to internment camps; officers to Beniaminów near Zegrze, and non-commissioned officers and privates to Szczypiorno near Kalisz.
Those who submitted the oath, passed under the command of General von Beseler.
The rest of the Legionnaires, who were Austrian subjects (Galicians), remained in the Polish Auxiliary Corps, which was to return to the disposal of the Austrian military authorities.
The transfer of the Polish Auxiliary Corps from the Polish Kingdom to Galicia, or more precisely to Przemysl, significantly diminished the oath crisis events happening again in late August and early September 1917.
Shortly after was played in the last act of the drama.
Almost all of the legionnaires, who were Austrian nationals, who after the oath crisis - and in solidarity with the men from the Kingdom - did not want to serve any longer in the legion formations, were sent to the Italian front. Decisions on their behalf, and present during the individual interviews, took the Austrian General von Schilling, whom the Corps was subordinated.
After completion of the interrogation procedures and dispatching thoseto the front, who were opposing the oath, the main part of the Polish Corps, commanded by Colonel Zygmunt Zieliński (promoted 29 November 1917 to the rank of the General and assisted by the new Chief of Staff, Major Adam Nieniewski), formed the II Legion Brigade supplemented with soldiers from the liquidated regiments .
The Brigade, still led by Colonel Joseph Haller, included:
2nd Infantry Regiment - Colonel Michael Żymierski,
3rd Infantry Regiment - Major. Joseph Zajac,
2nd Lancer Regiment - rtm (Captain) Jan Dunin-Brzezinski
and corresponding sub-units and support facilities.
In additions the brigade got an artillery regiment, commanded by Major Włodzimier Zagorski, a staff company, a sapper company, an officers school and a non-commissioned officers school in Siedliska, ancillary facilities and reserve sub-units subordinated Colonel Władysław Sikorski.
Contrary to the assurances of the Austrian authorities, which promised to expand the Corps, it did not happen.
In January 1918, it consisted of 431 officers and over 7.000 non-commissioned officers and men.
The Austrian authorities had great mistrust to the units of the Polish Auxiliary Corps and even if they were moved to the front area, they were not put into the first line, instead it became part of the 7 Austro-Hungarian Army commanded by General Kritka in the Operating Group under General Kossak.
They were deployed in the back area, mainly in the Chernivtsi region, with the II Legion Brigade in Mamajowcach, the artillery regiment in Kocmaniu, auxiliaries and facilities back in Łużanach, the lancer regiment as far away as in the distant Stryj, while the command of reserves was stationed in Bolechowo.
In the ranks were now growing internal tensions, and the ability to persevere, the main feature of the II Brigade soldier, began quickly give way to impulses of rebellion, caused by the approach to the Polish cause by the Central States and the impact of the revolutionary events in Russia.
The fate of the Corps was determined by the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the nationalist Ukrainian People's Republic.
The news of the treaty, concluded February 9, 1918, announcing the transfer of the Chelm Region to the Republic of Ukraine, caused a huge uproar in the Polish society. It caused great irritation and excited everybody, also among the soldiers of the Polish Auxiliary Corps.
During a stormy meeting of II Brigade officers, convened February 13, 1918, the idea came up to make an armed protest and the decision was made to break through the front in order to unite with the Polish military formations formed in Russia.
The action was organized by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Żymierski, with the participation of Major Roman Goreck and Major Jozef Zajac.
Colonel Joseph Haller attended the meeting, participating only passively, but accepted the deciscion.
The break-through was decided to be in the Rarańczy area. It was chosen as being the smallest distance from the deployment area of the legion units and their knowledge of this area, acquired by legionnaires during the many months of fighting here in the summer of 1915 The project was going to be risky, because secrecy was not possible and the command of the Operations Group of General Kossak had ordered combat alert. Two cavalry units supported by a few infantry units to use against the legion formations were put in place. But the observation zone given to these units turned out to be too large, which gave the Poles a chance of success.
The Legion troops started off at 18.00 on 15 February 1918.
First came 2nd Regiment with an advance-guard, then followed a company of sappers with the supply train of both the 2nd and 3rd regiments. The 3rd Regiment with a rearguard from its 9th Company ended the column.
In Sadogórze, midway on the route, the march was stopped waiting for the artillery, as well as the supply train of the Corps with General Zielinski, who had refused to participate in the action and was kept under guard. After some futile, long minutes of waiting, the march was resumed.
At about 2.30 the units involved in the break-out were at the height of Rarańczy, lying directly in front of the front line.
But here waited the Austrian forces, alerted by informations from the local parish. A little further away were the Polish forces, which it was necessary to reach with weapons in hand.
The job was done masterfully.
The Austrian 53 Infantryregiment was crushed with bayonets and the troops could move towards the trenches.
This was not done, as they by a command from Lieutenant-Colonel Żymierski halted, as he still hoped on the arrival of the artillery.
Prison camp at Marmaros-Sziget
At dawn the legionary units crossed the front, which on the Russian side was completely empty. Here the "Rota" ("The Oath" is an early 20th-century Polish poem by the poet Maria Konopnicka) was sung and the ranks were counted. It turned out, only men from the II Legion Brigade had participated in the successful action. To the Russian side of the front had reached precisely 100 officers and about 1500 non-commissioned officers and men. Each of them was on 12 March 1918 promoted one rank upwards by Colonel Haller, who three days after the Rarańczy affair took over the command from Żymierski.
In the area of Kamieńca Podolia, the command of the II Legion Brigade established contact with the II Polish Corps, formed in Sorokach at Dniestr from Polish soldiers having left the ranks of the Russian Army. 6th March the II Brigade joined the ranks of this Corps, sharing its further fate.
The final of the four-year saga for the legionaries, which began in August 1914 took place during in Marmaros-Sziget on Hungarian territory, where most of the Polish Auxiliary Corps soldiers, who had been unable to take part in the events at Rarańczą, were interned. They were locked up in camps in Huszt, Szaldobosz, Szekleńcze, Dulfalva, Taraczkos, Bustyahaza and Talaborfalva. In these camps behind bars were 175 officers and nearly 3.500 non-commissioned officers and men.
In the initial period the Polish Auxiliary Corps, when stationed near Baranovich, the primary weapon was the "Mannlicher", M. 1888, while other types of guns, mainly the Russian Mosin, M. 1891, were used only by the supply-train, reserves and etape units.
After arriving in the Polish KingdoHeavy "Maxim" machine gun , M.1908
After a lengthy investigation and trial, in which the main accused of treason were Major Roman Gorecki, Chaplain Joseph Panas and Major Vladimir Zagorski, who all had an outstanding defender in the Przemyśl lawyer, Herman Liberman, who distinguished himself. The accused avoided heavy sentences owing to the clear indications of the imminent defeat of the Central Powers.m, all units got the German "Mauser", M. 1898. The units left in the Corps after the oath crisis returned under the command of the Austro-Hungarian Army and were re-armed with Mannlicher rifles.
The fire-power of the Corps was strengthened with machine guns. Each regiment had at least three subunits equipped each with two heavy machine-guns. In the beginning, ie. when stationed in Baranovich, they used the 8 mm "Schwarzlose," M. 1907/1912, water-cooled and with belts containing 100 to 250 rounds.
Upon arrival in the Polish Kingdom the units were rearmed with German "Maxim" M. 1908 machine guns. After having returned to Austrian command they again got their previously used Austrian machine-guns
The equipment in the cavalry units underwent similar changes. The primary weapons of the lancers were sabre and lance. Officers in the front and rear service were equipped with sabre and pistol of either Austrian or German models.
The artillery supporting the infantry operations were equipped with the Austrian 8 cm field gun, while the artillery units supporting the cavalry used Austrian field howitzers M. 1899.
For field training the Polish Auxiliary Corps used their old legion regulations from their rifle formation days, except for the period from December 1916 to July 1917, when the Corps was actually in German service and started training according to German Army regulations. Whether this training had little or much influence on their tactical and fighting principles, is hard to say, as the men never took part in any combat operations, apart from the daring night attack on the Austrian 53. Infantry-regiment at Rarańczą.
pictures to follow