How Józef Piłsudski and Poland saved Europe from a Soviet invasion in 1920.
Updated: Aug 15, 2021
On August 16, 1920, the Polish Army, led by Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, launched its counter attack against the Red Army, which resulted in the annihilation of the Soviet forces occupying Poland, and saved Poland and Europe from a Communist invasion. This stunning and decisive victory that Pilsudski and the Polish army achieved, which would be later known as "The miracle on the Vistula" (after the Vistula river running through Warsaw), radically changed the outcome of the Polish - Russian war of 1920, and the fate of Europe for years to come. In 1918 Poland regained its independence for the first time after 123 years of partition and occupation. But only two years later, that independence was being threatened again by the invasion of the Red Army into Polish territory.
Lenin and Trotsky.
The reason for the Soviet invasion of Poland was that both Lenin and Trotsky believed that by destroying Poland, they would create a red bridge to Europe - particularly Germany - which was ripe at those years for a Communist revolution. The supreme commander of the Red Army, General Mikhail Tukhachevsky stated : "To the West! Over the corpse of White Poland lies the road to worldwide conflagration! Onward to Berlin, over the corpse of Poland!" Germany at that time was disarmed, bankrupt, defeated, without an army and with millions of German Communists who were just waiting for the Red Army to show up to help them start their own Communist revolution. The Red Army wouldn't even had to attack Germany, just show up and Germany would be theirs. Once Soviet Russia secured Germany, the possibility of projecting the Communist revolution all accross Europe, a pan European Communist revolution, and of a Soviet Europe, would become a very real scenario. However in order to reach Germany and then the whole of Europe, Lenin and Trotsky first needed to destroy Poland, and so they sent almost a miillion Red Army soldiers to invade and crush Poland.
Soviet cavalry 1920.
During the war, the seemingly invincible Red Army sweeped through Poland pushing the Polish army all the way back to Warsaw. The newly reinstated Polish state faced Soviet Russia and its Red Army alone and unaided by any other country in the west. Poland's Ukrainian allies that helped Poland during the initial stages of the war deserted it once Kyiv fell to the Bolsheviks. The UK sent strong moral support and the French sent some “observers”, one of whom was Charles de Gaul, that did absolutly nothing but complain. Czechoslovakia actually used the fact that the Polish state was fighting for its life to invade Poland and occupy the Polish region of Cieszyn. Poland would regain that region in 1938, following the collapse of Czechoslovakia which was caused by the western sponsored Munich agreements which resulted in the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. The only European country to offer and send any substantial help to Poland during the war was Hungary, by supplying the Polish army with badly needed weapons and ammunitions. Realizing that Poland was left alone to its fate, and that if the war continued in its present form, the Red army would overwhelm the Polish Army and crush it completely, the Polish commander and Chief, Marshal Józef Pilsudski, decided that desperate times call for desperate measures.
Marshal Jozef Pilsudski reviewing Polish troops 1920. He ordered that elite units should be pulled back from the front line and reorganized as an offensive force that was meant to be used as a counter attack in a last desperate attempt to tilt the scales of the war.
However, the Polish army's counter attack plan, which was drafted by General Tadeusz Rozwadowski, the Polish Army Chief of the General Staff, and by Marshal Pilsudski, fell into the Russian hands days before it was to be executed. Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the commander of the Red Army, thought it was some sort of a trick that the Poles were trying to play on him in order to distract him and make him divert forces from the battle on Warsaw in order to cover his eastern flank. Tukhachevsky never thought that Pilsudski would be actually crazy enough to even try such an insane and desperate maneuver and risk everything, the whole war, on one do-or-die final maneuver. But Pilsudski did, and the Polish counter attack caught the Red Army completely off guard, smashed through the lightly guarded eastern flank, and continued to annihilate the Red army divisions that were besieging Warsaw and drove the rest of the Soviet forces all the way back to Russia.
Polish soldiers with capture Red Army banners. Basically Poland won the war with this one swift and daring maneuver, a war that until that moment looked to be a decisive Russian victory. That's why the Polish victory was called “the miracle on the Vistula”, it was a miracle, but if it wasn't for Józef Pilsudski's inspired leadership and his conviction that all had to be risked if victory was to be achieved, then the "miracle" would have never had the chance to manifest. The fact that Pilsudski and the Polish army not only stopped but effectively annihilated the advancing Red Army, made Lenin change his mind and scrub out any future plans he had on trying to take over Europe and turning it into a Communist dictatorship, as was his original intention. The whole course of European history, and in fact that of world History might have looked very different if Poland, Józef Pilsudski and the Polish army had failed to stop the Red Army's invasion into Poland and subsequently into Europe. Bibliography : Peter Hetherington, " Unvanquished: Joseph Pilsudski, Resurrected Poland, and the Struggle for Eastern Europe." Norman Davies, "White Eagle, Red Star". Richard M. Watt, "Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate, 1918-1939 ". Adam Zamoyski, "Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe."