In 1920 Poland’s armed forces stopped the Soviet march to the West defeating the Red Army in the famous Battle of Warsaw which took place over August 13-25.
The war between Poland and Soviet Russia started in February 1919.
In the aftermath of World War I, Poland fought to preserve its newly regained independence, lost in the 1795 partitions of Poland. Poland’s leader, Marshal Józef Piłsudski wanted to expand Polish borders to the east and create a new multinational federation, the Intermarium, which would form a counterbalance to German and Soviet imperialism which was a serious threat at the time.
Soviet Russia’s aspirations were much different, the Soviets wanted to spread communism west, bringing a global revolution. Poland was a physical barrier on the communists’ road to the West, and despite a few successes of the Polish forces, in early 1920 the Soviet Army was moving forward.
Both sides wanted to gain control over the areas of modern-day western Ukraine and Belarus, which were divided in half between the two conflicted states. Alongside Poland fought the Ukrainian People’s Republic, and along Russia, Soviet Ukraine.
Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the commander of the Soviet forces, led 24 divisions formed from four armies. It is estimated that 100,000-140,000 soldiers formed the divisions of the Red Army which marched towards Warsaw.
Red Army at the outskirts of Warsaw on August 13
The Soviets did not manage to enter the capital, the closest spot they reached was the village of Izabelin, just a few kilometers northwest of Warsaw. While the city was surrounded by the Red Army, the Polish forces amassed and prepared for a counterattack.
Poland’s armed forces started their counterattack on August 14 in the northwest, and a day later the Soviet march on Warsaw was halted. The village of Radzymin, to the northeast of Warsaw, was recaptured by the Polish army.
On August 16, the Polish Assault Group led by Marshal Piłsudski marched in the south and managed to split the Soviet fronts, cut off the supply lines and caused chaos within the opposing forces. Soviet forces were consequently pushed back from Polish territory. Eventually the Soviet leadership had no choice but to order a full retreat.
Thousands dead and lost
The number of Soviet casualties is not fully known. Historians estimate the total losses of the Red Army varied between 10,000 and 25,000 dead, 30,000 wounded, and 65,000 captured. Some 30,000-35,000 soldiers were interned by the Polish state.
Meanwhile, Polish forces lost 4,500 soldiers, 22,000 were injured and 10,000 went missing.
One of the results of the battle was a ceasefire between Poland and Soviet Russia, which was agreed in October 1920. The agreement became a foundation for the Riga peace treaty signed between the two countries in March 1921.
The Polish Armed Forces Day is now celebrated on August 15 every year as the commemoration of the Battle of Warsaw.