Battle of Warsaw, 1920

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Mikhail Tukhachevsky versus Jozef Pilsudski: A Soviet army under Tukhachevsky tries to break the defensive lines of a Polish army under Pilsudski. Can Pilsudski’s risky master plan save the capital? Also known as the Miracle at the Vistula. .

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Significance

Desperate, fearful men fought on both sides in this forgotten struggle for Eastern Europe. The prospect of what would happen if either side suffered defeat was well-known in all ranks. But as Davies writes in his history of the Polish-Soviet War, the Battle of Warsaw was not the decisive engagement:

The Battle of Warsaw did not end the Polish-Soviet War. It was not a Waterloo or a Sedan which at a stroke could overturn an empire of initiate immediate peace. It still left Poland in grave peril, estranged from her Allies and at war with a giant neighbour. It did not destroy Soviet Russia. Its immediate effect was to sting the Bolshevik leadership into mobilizing their immensely superior resources for a second attempt . . . Russia could afford to lose a battle; Poland could not afford to lose the campaign. In the long run, the exploitation of victory would be more decisive than the victory itself. (1972: 226)

The decisive campaign would follow, beginning with the Battle of Kamarow (or Zamosc Ring) in which the Soviet 1. Cavalry Army was virtually destroyed, and culminating with the large-scale Battle of the Niemen.
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Analysis
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Tactically, the battle seems simple: Tukhachevsky and Yegorov did not cooperate and therefore a wide – literal – rift developed between their two army groups which Pilsudski exploited to roll up the Soviet line from the south. Logistically, the battle is very complicated; Pilsudski was able to organize his logistics satisfactorily enough to actually launch his decisive offensive while Tukhachevsky was not. Western historians cringe at the thought of what would have happened had the Soviet horde been a more organized horde and launched its decisive offensive before Pilsudski.
warsaw preview 1 Notes
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The battle was relatively easy to animate compared with other massive, modern battles such as Mukden. As is typically the case, I spent more time determining the strength and casualties of each side. One issue was the fact that my animation featured only the northern half of a wider strategic campaign and so I was forced to do my own arithmetic. Fuller’s Decisive Battles of the Western World was specific as to the size of formations so I only had to subtract the formations not shown in the animation. I was therefore confronted with a casualty figure that exceeded the total number of Soviet soldiers involved. Szymczak put forward the most reasonable casualty figures in “Polish Soviet War: Battle of Warsaw” but these include the wider Warsaw campaign which I was not animating. Nonetheless, I converted these numbers to a percentage and arrived at the figures you see in the animation. Are they exact? Absolutely not. However, they serve their purpose.

This is another animation that while upgrading over six years later I was really dissatisfied with. I wish that I had access to Davies’ excellent work on the Polish-Soviet War when I first animated the battle to add all the important detail that brings a battle to life. This animation just seems flat to me. I hope you can either still enjoy the animation and learn something, or that you can recognize that most of my other animations are much better.

– Jonathan Webb
Works Consulted
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Davies, Norman. White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War, 1919-1920. London: MacDonald, 1972.
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Dupuy, Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 BC to the Present, Fourth Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Fuller, J.F.C. The Decisive Battles of the Western World Vol. 3. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956.

Goodenough, Simon. Tactical Genius in Battle. Oxford: Phodian Press, 1979.

Szymczak, Robert. “Polish-Soviet War: Battle of Warsaw.” History Net. http://www.historynet.com/polish-soviet-war-battle-of-warsaw.htm (accessed Nov. 15, 2008).

Watt, Richard M. Bitter Glory: Poland and its Fate 1918-1939. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982.

Images
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Jozef Pilsudski: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B3zef_Pi%C5%82sudski

Map of Eastern Europe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish%E2%80%93Soviet_War

Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections

Mikhail Tukhachevsky: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mikhail_Tukhachevsky

Polish soldiers: http://www.palha.info/20thinf.html

Soviet soldiers: http://www.firstworldwar.com/photos/troops.htm

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If you enjoyed the Battle of Warsaw 1920 battle animation, you may also enjoy these other battle animations:

Battle of Praga 1794, another battle in which a Russian army assaulted the Polish capital:

praga preview 1

Battle of the Marne 1914, another battle in which an army exploited a gap in the center of the enemy line:

marne preview 1

Battle of Grunwald 1410, another battle fought in modern day Poland:

grunwald preview 1

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Readers Comments (9)

  1. Russians have this inane ability of REPEATEDLY sabotaging each other at the expense of Russian Troops in the field.

    GEN Samsonov PUBLICALLY ATTACKED GEN Rennenkampf for not coming to his rescue at MUKDEN 1905. Their ‘hate fest’ for each other was gleefully noted by GEN Hindenberg who bet the farm that GEN Rennenkampf would not do anything to help his arch enemy which was a major factor as to why 2D army was surrounded and destroyed at the battle of Tannenberg (Allenstein).

    Fast forward six years later to the Battle of Warsaw 1920. Your article did not do justice to the ‘lost cause’ the Poles were in. Gen Pilsudski had no reserves, had no ammo left and morale was at an all time low. GEN Pilsudski’s decision to throw a ‘hail mary’ pass and assult up the middle was mocked at my Marshall Tukhachevsky, GEN Weygran (FR Attachee), the Polish GEN Staff and field Commanders. Prior to sending up the order, GEN Pilsudski submitted his letter of resignation and remarked “What I do is madness–sheer madness”.

    So who lost the battle of (communist) Tours? Budyunne and Stalin who decided to pillage an obscure village than provide reserve support. The gambit worked and Western Europe was saved (until 1945-1989). Marshall Tukhachevsky never forgave Stalin for the screw up and Stalin never forgave Tukhachevsky for the his screw-up. Payback came in 1938 when Stalin had Tukhavchesky arrested and shot and appointed his drinking buddy Budyunne as Southern Front Commander. What was Budyunne’s comment during the Great Purge. I have nothing to worry about—Comrad Stalin only kills smart people!!!

  2. The victory of reactionary Rightist, imperialist forces here over the Soviet workers’ state, long before developments like this major defeat weakened it (this counter-attack *was* taken in response to imperialist aggression, after all — and it was carried thru with the express aim of linking up with the revolutionists in Germany and in the West) — and which led directly to the degeneration known as stalinism — is not something to crow over and be proud of. i.e.: the article should be a little more objective. Fair and balanced, even. If this is possible here.

  3. Vlad, sorry mate, but you seem to be a little uneducated about what Bolshevism really was.

    See the Bolshevik invasion of Georgia in 1921 for details, and the mass killings, deportations and oppressions of Georgians that followed, all under Lenin one might add.

    Lenin was no better than Stalin, and many contemporaries of both stated that Stalin was “soft” in comparison.

    Bolshevism was always going to end in the horrors of the GULAG, I suggest you read Solzhenitsyn for details, or talk to people who survived the system, like my wifes relatives.

    As for the Russian assault being a counter attack, more Russophile BS. The Poles were attempting to liberate predominantly Polish populations from the barbaric yoke of Russian imperialism.

    God bless the Poles for saving Europe from a system that killed even more people than Nazism (Lenin killed more people than Hitler BTW), Russian bolshevism was responsible for 61,000,000 deaths 1917-1991.

  4. Vlad and Andrew bring up an interesting question here: which battles’ results should we be “proud” of?

    In the case of Warsaw, I felt I provided an objective account which left the above question up the viewer. I did specify that the war began when Poland attacked the Soviet Union but mentioned that the battle is also know as the “Miracle of the Vistula,” a phrase with strong connotations.

    To answer the question I have put into words above, I find it difficult to favour any factions throughout history even if they fought against a Soviet system which was, as Andrew mentioned, responsible for a great number of deaths. However, if we begin to examine each factions’ history closely, some peculiar issues arise. For example, are we to view the German victory over Belgium in 1914 as saving the Congo from a murderous system? Between 1880-1920, Belgian actions were responsible for the deaths of 10-13 million Congolese, overshadowing in numerical terms the Nazi genocide in Europe years later. How are we to view the American Revolutionary War fought between the United States and Britain? Are we to cheer for the United States, eventually responsible for the Native American genocide which, “in terms of the sheer numbers killed, the Native American Genocide exceeds that of the Holocaust” (Cesarini, 2004: 381); or do we cheer for Britain, the greatest and arguably most destructive imperialist power of all time?

    History is not a simple thing to confront. If there is a deeper goal of this site and the field of military history, it is to remind us that systems and ideas were founded on (and often maintained by) the results of violence, not moral validity.

  5. First off, very nice job on the visuals and oratory. The battle of Warsaw or the miricle on the Vistula has always been a fascinating historic battle. Top 10 in my opinion.

    The Russians really had them by the balls, the western world and Europe openly took the side of the Poles in the hopes they could stop the Westward Russian advances and the spread of Communism.

    If the Russian commanders could have stopped thinking of thier own personal glory and fame from a victory which had not yet been achieved and actually captured Warsaw, the inter War years in Europe may have been very differnt.

    I have always found this particular battle of strategic Historical importance
    that i wrote my own article to pay it homage.

    Too the creator of this website i hope you find it as interesting as i have found yours.

    http://www.greatmilitarybattles.com/html/battle_of_warsaw.html

  6. Interesting comments all around. I tend to agree that the Bolshevik workers paradise was built on millions of Russian and other nationalities’ bones. Those regimes were so popular they had to build walls around them to keep westerners from streaming across the border by the millions to enjoy the benefits.
    Gerald’s point about the west supporting the Poles is incredibly incorrect. The Germans were openly hostile, workers in Danzig refused to unload ships with good meant for Poland and British labor wouldn’t load ships bound for Poland. Llyod George was openly critical and hostile towards Poland. The French government provided the initial Polish arms (they had no inherent arms production capabilities) only sent “advisors” during the conflict.

  7. The forgotten hero July 3, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

    Can you pls. upload an animation of stalingrad battle. i want know that despite continous losses both before and in the war, they turned out to win.

  8. The Forgotten Hero: The Stalingrad battle is one of absolute favourites and will hopefully be animated at some point in the future. The battle itself is a huge undertaking, on par with the resources (time and effort) required to complete two comparable battles currently in production planning: Moscow 1941 and the Ardennes 1944. So I’d love to animate it, but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to in the future.

  9. Marcin F. Michalski April 12, 2013 @ 9:56 am

    One notic, about battle of Warsaw.

    To the 1920 period of war, polish historians define the scale of those “battles” as strategic.

    To be more specific; the actions that took place in scale of the Front in the year of 1920, were classified as strategic operations or battles.

    In the middle of 1920; two soviet fronts; West [Tuchaczewski] and South West [Jegorow], were operate at two strategic directions:
    Tuchaczeski West Front: Minsk-Wilno-Warszawa-Berlin,
    Jegorow South West: Lwow-Krakow-Budapesz-Wieden.

    And the two strategic battles involving those forces, were named:
    -Battle of Warsaw,
    -Battle of Lwow.

    In smaller scale, both in region and strength – we have battles at army level and they were called: battles in operational scale.
    For instance in strategic Battle of Warsaw we have these operational battles, involving polish:
    -4th Army at Bug river,
    -1st Army at Narew river and at the foreground of Warsaw,
    -5th Army at Wkra rvier,
    -battles that were involving armies of the Middle Front, in which they were conducted massive strike under the command of the Marshal Pi?susdski and his chef-of-staff gen. Rozwadowski against the Tuchaczeski West Front.

    And one more thing.

    On 14 February 1920, RSFRS Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Georgi Chicherin, formulated a clear directive on the upcoming Polish-Soviet decisive conflict.
    This note [like many others] have been declassified in the early 90s, [XX century], and published in the source publication:
    -Polsko-sowietskaja wojna 1919-1920 (Ranieje nie opublikowanyje dokumienty i materia?y), cz. 1, Moskwa 1994.

    “If there will be war, it is absolutely necessary that the whole blame for it exhalation, fell to the Polish government. This is necessary, to interact in a certain way on the psychic of undecided elements in Poland, as well as on our society.”
    [w:]Chicherin G., Ibidem., p. 46.

    Chicherin therefore knew, that the war cannot be avoided. On the same day in the letter prepared for Leon Trotsky, Krystian Rakowski and Joseph Stalin, Chicherin concluded that; “is no longer the politicians, but the military should decide where you will start the decisive offensive against the Polish neighbour: on the Smolensk land or Ukraine.”
    [In:] Zapiska G.W.Cziczerina dla narkoma Trockiego, tow. Rakowskiego (kopia dla narkoma Stalina), 14 II 1920 – Ibidem., s.47-48.

    The words “that politicians…, but the military… decide” indirectly refer to the Szaposznikow report which was attached to the information of Supreme Commander (G?awkom) Kamenev for chairman of the Workers Defense RSFRS of 27 January 1920 [In:] Rossijskij G?awnyj Wojennyj Archiw, fond 104 – Dowodzenie Armiami Frontu Zachodniego, op. 15 uzupe?niaj?cy – odtajniony 11 XI 1992, d. 58, k. 6-13.

    The paper was quite accurately quote in the work of Karkurin and Melikov, confirming that this text became adopted on March 10 at a meeting of the Supreme Commander Sergei Kamenev and commander of the Western Front in Smolensk, Vladimir Gittis [after him was Tuchaczewski] – offensive plan in Belarus.
    Kakurin and Melikov, summarize the main points presented in the Szaposznikow plan, like:
    -strength and direction of the expected actions, but they skip overall strategic assumptions.

    If you want. I can go further to details on the Szaposznikow report.

    Salut!
    Marcin

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