Friday, May 15, 2020

"The war that saved Europe from Communism"

From Unherd, January 7:

A century ago only the Polish army stood between Bolsheviks and a severely weakened Europe 
Edgar Vincent is one of those politicians who has slipped from public consciousness almost completely. Once a prominent businessman, an MP and British Ambassador to Germany, he was elevated to the peerage in 1914 as 1st Viscount D’Abernon, a title that died with him when he passed away in 1941.

In one regard, however, Vincent did leave a legacy. His memoir of one of the salient periods of his career — his time as a British Envoy to Warsaw in 1920 — made the grand claim that the fight for the Polish capital that summer was one of the most important battles in world history; alongside Marathon, Blenheim and Hastings. Yet, the Battle of Warsaw — like much of Polish history — is almost unknown to English-speaking audiences.

The year 1920 was one of chaotic flux across much of Europe. The baleful effects of the industrialised slaughter of the First World War were still being felt, and in central and eastern Europe states newly emerged from the collapse of the German, Austrian and Russian empires struggled to unify and assert themselves. As Winston Churchill pithily summarised: “The war of giants has ended, the wars of the pygmies begin.”

Poland provided perhaps the most pressing example. Reappearing on the map in 1918 after a 123-year absence, during which time it had been partitioned by its larger neighbours, Poland filled something of a central European void, in the process fighting a number of squabbles and conflicts in attempting to define its frontiers.

The most serious of these was the Polish-Soviet War, which had begun in the early spring of 1919, when Polish forces had engaged those of Lenin’s Red Army in what is now Belarus. The conflict that followed was no pygmy sideshow — it would last for more than 18 months, range over hundreds of miles and cost the lives of more than 100,000 men.

So it was that Polish and Soviet forces engaged that spring. What followed was a curious conflict, far removed from the static, industrialised warfare that had recently drawn to a close in the west of Europe. Here, across the vast expanses of what is now Belarus and Ukraine, where roads and infrastructure were sparse, more traditional — and more mobile — methods of war prevailed. Armoured trains played a role, but cavalry was king. Poland’s Uhlans and the Bolshevik Konarmia — the Red Cavalry, which would become synonymous with a proto-Blitzkrieg of brutal ideologically-charged warfare — took centre stage in campaigns that ebbed and flowed across the landscape, ranging from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, to the very gates of Warsaw.

By the summer of 1920, however, the war appeared to be nearing its end. Polish forces were in headlong retreat, driven westward by the numerical superiority of their enemy. They had already lost the cities of Lwów, Brest-Litowsk and Zamość, and were now in danger of losing the capital itself.

Poland’s new-found independence, it seemed, was about to be snuffed out after less than two years.
But, in the middle of August, a desperate Polish counterattack to the east of Warsaw drove northward into the overextended Soviet flank, finally halting the Red Army’s advance in a ten-day engagement, at the cost of around 20,000 lives....MORE 
We last looked at these events in 2015's "An Apology To the Financial Times' Izabella Kaminska".