Prostki 1656 [Bitwa pod Prostkami]

The battle of Prostki took place during the Second Northern War and was a decisive victory of Polish-Lithuanian forces numbering 10,000 men (mostly regular cavalry) supported by 2,000 Tatars and led by hetman Wincenty Gosiewski over a Swedish-Brandenburg army of 6,500 regulars (nearly half of them infantry) reinforced by 800 Lithuanian-Polish cavalry of prince Boguslav Radziwill and led by prince Georg Friedrich von Waldeck. The battle was portrayed in the Polish movie “Potop” from 1974.

Wincenty Korwin Gosiewski

After the retreat of combined Swedish-Brandenburg armies from Warsaw in 1656, the Polish commanded decided to spare no expense in attacking the territories of Ducal (Polish) Prussia, which despite being a Polish fief had allied itself with the Swedish King.  One of the objectives during this campaign was to completely destroy Prussian territory to force Frederick Wilhelm’s mindset in co-operating with the Swedish invader.  A victorious battle against a combined Swedish-Brandenburg-Prussian army conducted under the command of Field Hetman of Lithuania, ‘Wincenty Gosiewski’, during the Prussian campaign in the time of the Swedish-Muscovite Deluge on Poland in 1654-1660. The Polish-Lithuanian army was composed of Lithuanian units, Crown units (Poles), pospolite ruszenie (general levy) and tartars. The whole army was counted at about 12-13,000 men, most of it cavalry including about 2,000 tartars. Enemy forces under the Swedish General Waldeck were counted at much lower; 2,500 cavalry, 1,000 Prussian infantry (general levy) and 6 artillery pieces, as well as about 800 cavalry under the command of the traitor, Boguslaw Radziwill. Other Swedish commanders in the area heard of the approach of the Polish-Lithuanian army, (namely General Walenrodt and Colonel Josiass Waldeck), who would supply an additional 2,000+ infantry. Total forces were then were around 5,500 men, the bulk of which was Brandenburg infantry.

Gosikewski arrived at Prostek on the right bank of the river Elk and decided to immediately attack the Brandenburg forces, after which he would completely destroy any more advancing formations. He also sent the tartars for a preliminary confrontation with the forces of Wallenrod.

The Lithuanian units used the old trick of ‘feinting retreat’ (which worked so well at Kircholm, and by the tartars so many hundreds of years ago), against the Prussian infantry, which fell for this maneuver and moved across the river to the right side of the bank. Gosiewski’s army surrounded the Prussian infantry, attacked, and their formations broke. Much of the infantry was forced back into the river, either drowning or being killed however a few units together with some artillery pieces managed to escape back to the other side of the bank. The Lithuanians and Tartars immediately charged after them capturing their base of operations very quickly. After this, together with some Tartars then moved to attack the 800 cavalry under Radzwill, which they managed to attack from behind and flanks. Most of his cavalry was killed, only a few successfully retreated the rest were captured, including Prince Radziwill himself. The battle ended at 2pm with a successful attack on the formations of General Waldeck which were almost completely defeated. The rest of the army moved to attack the retreating infantry formations of Wallenrodt which was exhausted by a long march when retreating being continuously attacked by Tartar units.

Total Swedish-Brandenburg losses in this battle amounted to about 5,000 men (over 75% of the entire army), whilst Polish-Lithuanian army losses amounted to no more than around 200-250 dead. The defeat was so great that the population of Ducal Prussia demanded that Frederick Wilhelm sign a treaty with the Poles immediately, however it never came to that.  Whilst this was a great victory, proving that the Polish-Lithuanian army was again a competent force, though victories continued to be on/off affairs, it would be an uphill battle to ride the enemy from the country which had entrenched itself so completely.



War of the Polish Succession, (1733–1738)

Painting of Polish soldiers by J. Ch. Mock, “Kampament wojsk polskich i saskich pod Wilanowem w 1732 r.”, Muzeum Wojska Polskiego w Warszawie.

Europe after the 1738 Treaty of Vienna, which concluded the war.

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Stanislaus I Leszczynski (backed by France, Spain, and Sardinia) vs. Augustus III (backed by Russia and Austria)

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Poland, Rhineland, Italy, and Austria

DECLARATION: October 10, 1733

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Succession to the Polish throne following the death of Augustus II

OUTCOME: After an Austrian victory in the decisive Battle of Bitonio, the supporters of Stanislaus yielded to the supporters of Augustus III, who became king of Poland. In addition, the war led to a redistribution of Italian territories and inflated Russia’s influence over Poland.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: In Poland-pro-Hapsburg forces: 30,000 Russians, 10,000 Saxons; pro-Stanislaus forces: large but unknown number of Poles and a small French reinforcement of 1,950. In the Rhineland-no estimates for the large French invasion force or the overall Hapsburg resistance. In Italy-40,000 Spanish and 30,000 French-Sardinian troops; 50,000-60,000 Hapsburg forces. CASUALTIES: At least 50,000 Frenchmen killed or wounded overall and more than 30,000 Austrians. Overall figures for other belligerents were not tabulated, although the Spanish lost 3,000 men at Bitonto alone. TREATIES: Treaty of Vienna, November 18, 1738.

On 1 February 1733 Augustus II died of alcohol poisoning in Warsaw. His last words were: ‘My whole life has been one un—interrupted sin. God have mercy on me.’ He had hoped to ensure the succession of his son Augustus to the Polish throne, but this seemed unlikely since Stanisław Leszczyński, whose daughter had married Louis XV of France, was expected to stand for election and to win easily. Russia, Prussia and Austria signed an agreement to throw their combined strength behind the young Saxon, who had already promised to cede Livonia to Russia if elected.

The 13,000 who assembled for the election voted unanimously for Leszczyński, who had travelled to Warsaw incognito. In Paris Voltaire composed an ode of joy, but Russian troops were already on the move. On 5 October 20,000 of them assembled 1,000 szlachta outside Warsaw and forced them to elect Augustus of Saxony. Five days later France declared war on Austria and started the War of the Polish Succession. King Stanisław’s supporters gathered in confederations all over the country and the city of Gdańsk raised a sizeable army on his behalf. Two years of sporadic fighting ensued, but France made peace, having got what she wanted from Austria in Italy. Stanisław was given the Duchy of Lorraine as a consolation prize by his son-in-law, and Augustus III ascended the Polish throne.

The Commonwealth had effectively ceased being a sovereign state in 1718 with the imposition of the Russian ‘protectorate’. It had also virtually ceased to function as a political organism. The Sejm was not summoned between 1703 and 1710, the years of the Northern War, which meant that no legislation was passed and no state taxes could be levied. When the Sejm did sit again, it was hardly more effective. Of the eighteen sessions called under Augustus II, ten were broken up by the use of the veto. The King had tried to impose stronger government, but his policies were poorly thought out. He had an unfortunate conviction that a show of strength by the Saxon army was a necessary prelude to any change, and this had the effect of provoking resistance even in those who would otherwise have agreed with him. In the last years of his reign he did manage to gain the support of a group of magnates and szlachta, but their programme for reform was cut short by his death in 1733.

His son Augustus, Poland’s new monarch, was obese and indolent: he would spend his days cutting out bits of paper with a pair of scissors or else sitting by the window taking potshots at stray dogs with a pistol. He also drank like a fish. Augustus III reigned for thirty years. He spent only twenty-four months of that time in Poland, feeling more at home in Saxony. Yet he was not as unpopular with the szlachta as might have been expected—he never made the slightest attempt to curtail their prerogatives and increase his own. Only one Sejm completed its session under his rule, the army dwindled to half its theoretical size, and all visible signs of nationwide administration disappeared.


When Poland’s King Augustus II (1670-1733) died on February 1, 1733, Austria and Russia supported the succession of his son Frederick Augustus (1696-1763), elector of Saxony, to the throne. Most Poles, and certainly the major Polish nobles, preferred Stanislaus I Leszczynski (1677-1766), who, as the father-in-law of Louis XV (1710-74), had the backing of both France and Spain. In fact, Stanislaus had been the Poles’ king once already for a brief five years after the Swedes, back in 1704, helped to depose Augustus in the Second (or Great) NORTHERN WAR-temporarily as it turned out. In any case, the Polish sejm (Diet, or parliament), consisting of some 12,000 delegates, on September 12 elected Stanislaus king.

This the Hapsburgs’ ally, Russia, could not abide, and quickly dispatched an army 30,000 strong toward Warsaw. With the approach of the Russians, both Stanislaus and most of the Diet’s delegates fled, the king, pursued by Russian and Saxon troops, to Danzig. Meanwhile, the Russians occupied the city and forced a rump parliament of some 3,000 to declare Frederick Augustus as Poland’s new king, Augustus III, on October 5, 1733.

In response to the mobilization of the Russian army, France had formed anti-Hapsburg alliances with Sardinia on September 26 and Spain on November 7. They declared war on Austria on October 10. With some dispatch, Don Carlos (1716-88), the Spanish infante (heir apparent), led a Spanish army of 40,000 across Tuscany and the Papal States to Naples, defeated the Austrians at Bitonto on May 25, 1734, conquered Sicily, and was crowned king of Naples and Sicily (25 years later, he would become Spain’s Charles III). The French war, however, did not proceed so smoothly. After overrunning Lorraine when they invaded the Rhineland, the French were effectively checked in southern Germany by the Hapsburg forces; the French-Sardinian forces invading Lombardy could not manage to take Mantua, and the small French contingent sent by sea to relieve the Russian siege of Danzig failed miserably.

Danzig fell in June 1734, but by then Stanislaus had escaped to Prussia. Although the Poles organized the Confederation of Dzikow in November 1734 to support his cause, they were no match for the Russians and Augustus. Worse for the Poles, the Spaniards and the Sardinians fell to bickering, fracturing the Italian campaign of 1735. Worried that the British and the Dutch might join the fighting as Hapsburg allies, the French made a hasty, halfbaked peace with Austria on October 3, 1735, which was followed by the definitive Treaty of Vienna on November 18, 1738. Don Carlos was allowed to retain Naples and Sicily but he had to give the Hapsburgs both Parma and Piacenza, which he had inherited in 1731, and to renounce his claims to Tuscany. Stanislaus renounced the Polish throne and was compensated for this with the dukedom of Lorraine. Augustus III was recognized as the rightful Polish king.

Siege of Danzig (1734)

The Siege of Danzig was the Russian encirclement (February 22 – June 30, 1734) and capture of the Polish city of Danzig (Gdańsk) during the War of Polish Succession. This was the first time that France and Russia had met as foes in the field.

The Polish king Stanislas Leszczynski had fled after the Russian capture of Warsaw, and after failing to find support in Poland. Stanisław entrenched with his partisans (including the Primate and the French and Swedish ministers) to await the relief that had been promised by France. On February 22, 1734, a Russian army of 20,000 under Peter Lacy, after proclaiming August III the Saxon at Warsaw, proceeded to besiege Danzig.

On March 17, 1734, Marshal Münnich superseded Peter Lacy, and on May 20 the long-expected French fleet appeared, consisting of three ships of the line and two frigates, including the 60-gun Fleuron and the 46-gun Gloire. The fleet went on to disembark 2,400 men on Westerplatte. A week later, this force attempted to storm the Russian entrenchments, but failing to do so, and following the arrival of a Russian fleet under admiral Thomas Gordon on June 1, was finally compelled to surrender. The Russian fleet, consisting of the 100-gun ship Peter I and II and the 32-gun frigates Russia and Mitau had had a previous encounter with the French ships, in which the Mitau was captured. Danzig capitulated unconditionally on June 30, after sustaining a siege of 135 days, which cost the Russians 8,000 men. Danzig had suffered considerable damage and had to pay reparations.

Disguised as a peasant, Stanisław had contrived to escape two days before. He reappeared at Königsberg, whence he issued a manifesto to his partisans which resulted in the formation of a confederation on his behalf, and the dispatch of a Polish envoy to Paris to urge France to invade Saxony with at least 40,000 men. In the Ukraine, Count Nicholas Potocki hoped to support Stanisław by joining up with a force of some 50,000 guerillas operating in the countryside around Danzig. However they were ultimately scattered by the Russians.

Russian Navy

While Russian seafarers had been discovering new lands, Russia’s seamen had been asserting the power of Russian ships of the line in the Baltic. In 1734 the fleet assisted Russian land forces in the siege of Danzig, where a claimant to the Polish throne, Stanislav Leshchinsky, supported by King Louis XV of France, had been in hiding. In opposition to the French, Russian Empress Anna ordered that August III be made King of Poland. The French delayed arming their fleet and were able to dispatch only three ships of the line and two frigates. In May of 1734 a total of eighteen hundred French soldiers disembarked near Danzig while their ships lay at anchor nearby, awaiting reinforcements.

The Russian fleet left Kronstadt on May 15 under Admiral Thomas Gordon, who had his flag on the 100-gun ship Peter I and II. For reconnaissance the admiral sent out the 32-gun frigates Russia and Mitau. Ten days later the frigate Mitau, commanded by Captain Pyotr Defremery, was taken unawares by the French 60-gun Fleuron and 46-gun Gloire. At the insistence of the French, Cap-tain Defremery came on board the Fleuron and was then arrested. The Russian frigate Mitau, left without its captain, was seized. Admiral Gordon, meanwhile, arrived at Danzig with the fleet on 1 June. Having failed to repulse the reinforcements, the French surrendered on 13 June. Leshchinsky escaped from Danzig, the town was occupied by Russian troops and the French gave up their frigate the Brilliant. The dispute over the Polish throne ended in favour of August III.

Further reading: Norman Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland, 2 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982); O. Halecki (with additional material by A. Polonsky and Thaddeus V. Grommada), A History of Poland, new ed. (New York: Dorset Press, 1992); W. F. Reddaway, et al., eds., The Cambridge History of Poland, 2 vols. (reprint, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1971).

Luftwaffe Air War Poland 1939

In the war that began on 1 September 1939 air power played a crucial role from the start. The Germans considered a massive opening attack on Warsaw, but bad weather forced them to attack alternative targets. The Luftwaffe’s most important contribution in the Polish campaign lay in quickly gaining air superiority; the Poles were skilled opponents, but they possessed obsolete aircraft which were no match for those of the Germans.

Luftwaffe bombers struck particularly at cities and transportation links, which thoroughly disrupted the Polish mobilization. A small number of Luftwaffe aircraft directly supported the drive of the German panzer forces which completely broke the Polish army apart in the first week of the campaign. Close air-support strikes were mostly successful; however, one Wehrmacht battalion, bombed for several hours by the Luftwaffe, suggested that courts martial might be in order.

Attempts were made to intercept German Dornier Do 17 reconnaissance aircraft which violated Polish airspace from the spring of 1939. Fighter units were ordered in July 1939 to establish fighter posts (‘ambushes’) along the routes of the reconnaissance aircraft flights. 1 Pulk Lotniczy organised posts along the border with East Prussia, a total of 2 sections. Dywizjon III/I used airfields near Bialystok and Grodno, and Dywizjon IV/1 near Suwalki. Aircraft of 2 Pulk organised posts at Wieluri, Czltstochowa and Zawiercie along the Western border. Aircraft of 4 Pulk provided posts near Bydgoszcz, while 3 and 5 Pulk maintained aircraft at readiness at their permanent airfields. During July the aircraft were scrambled many times to intercept and visual contact was sometimes established with German aircraft, but due to the high altitude at which the Dorniers operated, and their superior speed with respect to the P11c fighters, none was ever shot down, and at the end of July these posts were abandoned. Also at the same time Soviet reconnaissance aircraft violated Polish airspace, but there is no written record of any contact with Polish interceptors.

In the early hours of 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, spearheaded by a total of almost 2,000 Luftwaffe aircraft, nearly half of which were bombers. By 27 September the Polish campaign was concluded. It had apparently proved the ‘invincibility’ of the Luftwaffe, which had completely overwhelmed the poorer-armed and less modern Polish Air Force, had given copy-book support to the German ground forces, and had clearly been the supreme factor in such a quick victory. Yet the cost had not been light. Against fierce but hopeless opposition in the air and from the ground, the Luftwaffe had lost at least 750 men and nearly 300 aircraft, with a further 279 aircraft counted as overall strength losses due to serious damage. The Polish Air Force, with less than 800 aircraft on 1 September, had sustained a loss of 333 aircraft in action. Considering that the gross strength of the Luftwaffe at the end of August 1939 was hardly more than 4,000 aircraft of all types – perhaps only half of which could be truly regarded as first line ‘attack’ machines – the loss rate during some three weeks of the Polish campaign, against ill-prepared and inferior opposition in the context of aircraft, gave serious pause in the minds of the more perceptive Luftwaffe heads of staff. Replacement of such casualties quickly was virtually impossible; such resources were simply not available immediately. With France and the Low Countries already designated as ‘next’ on Hitler’s agenda for conquest, the querulous doubts in many Luftwaffe chiefs’ minds prior to the Polish venture now assumed a level of deep concern.

This concern was exacerbated by the knowledge that Germany now had Britain and France as declared enemies. Only men like Göring or other Hitler-sycophants could believe that the Luftwaffe was fully prepared for any long-term aerial assault or struggle; the force was still in its adolescence, and had been built on the narrow platform of tactical air power. Its aircraft were too standardised in role to be capable of undertaking every possible task that would present itself during any sustained aerial conflict. The quality of its air and ground crews was never in question; all were peacetime-trained and thoroughly professional, while among the Staffeln and staffs was a hard core of combat-tested veterans of both the Spanish Civil War and the Poland campaign. Its aircraft presented a mixed picture. The standard fighter was the angular Messerschmitt Bf 109, on a par or clearly superior to almost any other fighter in the world in 1939. Its stablemate Bf 110 two-seat Zerstörer (‘destroyer’) was the apple of Göring’s eye for the moment, but within a year would demonstrate forcibly its unsuitability for the ‘escort fighter’ role imposed upon its unfortunate crews. Of the frontline bombers, the already notorious crooked-wing Junkers Ju 87 dive-bomber was basking in the limelight of apparently deserved fame for its large contribution to recent operations, yet it too would reveal its feet of clay when faced with determined fighter opposition in the months ahead. Of the other bombers the porcine Heinkel He 111 and slender Dornier Do 17 predominated, both twin-engined, medium-range designs of relatively mediocre performance, and poorly armed for self-defence. Only the emerging Junkers Ju 88 offered slight hope of improved bomber performance, although even this excellent design was not intended for long range operations. The one great omission from the Luftwaffe’s offensive air strength was a truly heavy, long range bomber. The only design projected for filling this gap was the troublesome Heinkel He 177, which was conceived in 1938 but did not commence operations until August 1942.

Notwithstanding the eventual failure of many of the 1939 Luftwaffe’s operational aircraft types, the contemporary morale of the German air crews and their upper echelon staffs was very high. The rapidity with which Poland had been vanquished appeared to suggest that the Blitzkrieg tactical war was a sure-fire key to victory, an opinion echoed in the staff rooms of many of the Allied services of the period. If there were doubts about the future efficacy of the Luftwaffe they existed mainly in the minds of individual senior officers and strategists; no such gloomy thoughts pervaded the ranks of the firstline Staffeln. The high casualty rate against relatively ‘soft’ air opposition during the Polish Blitzkrieg was mostly attributed to inexperience on the part of younger air crews, a modicum of sheer bad luck, or simply the exigencies of war. There lingered no lack of confidence in men or machines. If there were any queries among the Luftwaffe crews these pertained to how they might fare against the French air force and, especially, the British Royal Air Force when the inevitable first clashes occurred over the Western Front. Led or commanded by veterans who had fought the Allies in the air during the 1914–18 war, all the young Luftwaffe crews had been trained and inculcated with the fighting traditions created by the now-legendary names in German aviation annals. Inbred in that tradition was an almost unconscious respect for the fighting qualities of the Engländer – would they now acquit themselves against the contemporary generation of RAF fliers with the same courage and honour as their forebears …?

Operational Method

Thus far the war has been, in the air, a strange one. It has been strange in several ways. People had expected the Blitzkrieg to break in full fury in the west, but as yet no thunderbolt has fallen there. Poland felt its impact and crumpled under the stroke, though conditions there seemed, prima facie, unfavorable for the successful conduct of a lightning war. The course of the conflict has not, in fact, followed the book. There have been a number of surprises. In the operations at sea, for example, it was confidently expected that aircraft, not the submarine, would be the chief danger to maritime commerce. The airplane, we were told, would harry and dragoon belligerent and neutral shipping in the narrow waters into which the busy lanes of ocean traffic converge. Actually, the air arm has not been particularly effective at sea, though British aircraft have taken a hand with some success in hunting the submarine. That, however, had been foreseen.

Certainly the achievements of the German air force in Poland fulfilled the expectations of the most sanguine adherents of the blue sky school. In conjunction with the mechanized ground forces it dominated the situation from the first. The lists were set for a tourney between the old order of warfare and the new. Germany’s strength lay in her possession of the most modern instruments of mechanical destruction. Poland was, in comparison, a nineteenth century Power. Her cavalry was her pride. One could imagine her gallant horsemen galloping with Jeb Stuart or Sheridan in Virginia. Indeed, her great masses of cavalry might have thundered their way to victory in the still more appropriate setting of the medieval era. As it was, they were a sheer anachronism. Confronted by armored cars and tanks, hammered by high explosive from the air, they were only flesh for the slaughter. The twentieth century won all along the line. The Polish defeat was a tragedy, but an inevitable one.

German intelligence had estimated the front-line strength of the Polish air force at some 900 aircraft. In fact on 1 September the figure was nearer 300, made up of 36 P37 `Los’ twin-engined medium bombers, 118 single-engined `Karas’ P23 light reconnaissance bombers and 159 fighters of the PZL P11c and P7 types. Light gull-winged monoplanes, with open cockpits and fixed undercarriages, they had been an advanced design in the early 1930s but were now hopelessly outclassed by the Luftwaffe’s modern aircraft. Neither the PZL P11c nor the P7 could get high enough to intercept the high-flying Do17 reconnaissance aircraft.

On the opening day of hostilities, however, the German attack came in at low level, aiming to knock out the Polish air force on the ground. The Luftwaffe failed to achieve its objective as during the last days of peace the Polish air force had dispersed its aircraft to a number of secret airfields. On the morning of September 1 not one Polish squadron remained at its pre-war base. As a result only 28 obsolete or unserviceable machines were destroyed at Rakowice air base.

At first the methods by which she won it were, apart from the fact that the aggression itself was utterly unjustified, fair enough in themselves. Herr Hitler had announced to the Reichstag on September 1 that he would not war against women and children. He was speaking, it will be noted, less than four weeks before the time when women and children were to be slaughtered and mutilated in Warsaw. “I have ordered my air force,” he said, “to restrict itself to attacks on military objectives.” Replying to President Roosevelt’s appeal that civilian populations be spared the horrors of air bombardment, he defined his attitude to this question in terms which, coming from another, would have presaged the waging of a humane and chivalrous war: ” . . . that it is a humanitarian principle to refrain from the bombing of non-military objectives under all circumstances in connection with military operations, corresponds completely with my own point of view and has been advocated by me before. I, therefore, unconditionally endorse the proposal that the governments taking part in the hostilities now in progress make public a declaration in this sense. For my own part, I already gave notice in my Reichstag speech of today that the German air force had received the order to restrict its operations to military objectives.”

That the German air force did confine itself more or less to military objectives in the opening phase of the war is supported by a certain amount of independent evidence. Mr. H. C. Greene, the correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, reported in that journal from Cernaŭti on September 10 that military objectives such as bridges, roads, railways and aerodromes had been aimed at almost exclusively, though terrible losses had fallen on the civil population as a result of the attacks. On September 6, Mr. Butler, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, stated in reply to a question in the House of Commons that the information in the British Government’s possession showed that the German bombing attacks had in general been directed against objectives serving a military purpose and not indiscriminately against the civil population; but he also was careful to add that the latter had at the same time suffered heavy casualties. Soon, however, evidence began to accumulate that other than military objectives were being attacked and that, in fact, methods of terrorization were being adopted by the German Luftwaffe.

It is true that one must always accept with caution reports from belligerent sources concerning excesses or outrages committed by the enemy. There is inevitably an element of propaganda in such reports. Further, newspaper correspondents on the spot are apt to be impressed by what is told them and are not in a position usually to know or state the other side of the case. Some of the Polish announcements were certainly examples of exaggeration, excusable, no doubt, but still unreliable. For instance, a communiqué of September 2 stated that individual farms and farmers had been bombed — a somewhat improbable occurrence. On the other hand, it is even more improbable that the reports from many quarters about the ruthlessness of the German air force were entirely devoid of foundation. We have, in fact, unbiased evidence sufficient to convict without any need for dependence on ex parte testimony.

Unquestionably, there were numerous instances of bombing objectives which by no possibility could be termed military. Among them was that of the village of Tomaszow, which was the victim of “a particularly vicious bombing” according to a message to the Times of September 11 from its special correspondent on the Polish frontier. Other instances were attested by Dr. Oskar Zsolnay, a Hungarian official trade delegate who had been in Lwów and who described in a Budapest paper a large number of bombing raids on that city, nearly all of them directed against non-military objectives. Some of the most important evidence was supplied by the American Ambassador to Poland, Mr. Biddle, who on September 8 furnished the State Department with particulars of cases in which non-military targets had been attacked: they included his own villa, more than ten miles outside Warsaw, a sanatorium, a refugee train, a hospital train and a hut for Girl Guides. “It is also evident,” he added, “that the German bombers are releasing the bombs they carry even when they are in doubt as to the identity of their objectives.” Again, on September 13, Mr. Biddle reported that the village to which he had then moved and which was, he said, “a defenseless open village” had been attacked by German bombers. On September 20 the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Information said in the House that reports from the British Ambassador to Poland supported the evidence of Mr. Biddle on the bombing of open towns.

One may perhaps feel some hesitation in accepting without reservation the statement in the Polish communiqué of September 15 that the bombardment of open towns by German aircraft had “assumed the character of a systematic destruction of all built-up areas or cities without any connection with military operations,” but there can be no reasonable doubt about the fact that a great number of non-military objectives were bombed. Beyond question many villages were deliberately attacked and a number of them destroyed. In Warsaw itself the Belvedere and Lazienki Palaces, the Seym (Parliament) building, the Soviet and Rumanian Embassies, the Latvian Legation, a number of churches and some hospitals had been wholly or partly demolished from the air even before the intensive bombardment from air and ground began on September 25. The final state of the city was still more tragic. The correspondent of a Danish newspaper who visited it after the surrender reported that scarcely a house was undamaged and in several districts, especially the suburb of Praga, not one house was left standing. The devastation was due in part to artillery fire, but the bombs of the aircraft contributed very materially. Inevitably the losses suffered by the civil population were heavy in the extreme. It is perfectly clear that if the Germans did in fact attempt to bomb only military objectives, they failed in that attempt most lamentably. The more likely explanation is that no such attempt was made. The city was bombed indiscriminately, subjected, in fact, to a display of Nazi Schrecklichkeit. The destruction was intended as an object lesson. “I should like the gentlemen of London to see what a city looks like when it has been through what Warsaw suffered,” said the German wireless announcer on October 4. “These gentlemen ought to see what might happen in their own country if they persist in their mad warmongering.”

The fiction that only military objectives were bombed was kept up in the German reports. A communiqué issued by the High Command on September 25 stated: “Important military objectives in Warsaw were successfully attacked in power-dives by German aircraft.” It is a sufficient commentary upon this to record that when Warsaw asked for an armistice on September 27, 16,000 soldiers and 20,000 civilians lay wounded in the hospitals. There is little doubt, indeed, that Warsaw was subjected to a bombardment, from ground and air, of which the purpose was psychological, or more bluntly, to terrorize. That particular type of bombardment is nothing new in the practice of German arms. It was tried on many occasions in the Franco-German War of 1870-71. At Strasbourg, for instance, the civilian quarters of the city were shelled by siege batteries in order to “induce the inhabitants to compel the governor to surrender the fortress.” The effect was simply to stiffen the determination of the garrison and the inhabitants to resist.

Exactly the same tactics were employed at Warsaw nearly seventy years later, and the same effect was produced; the morale of the city was unbroken, for it was lack of ammunition and supplies, not loss of courage, which finally made surrender inevitable. Methods of frightfulness defeat their aims when used against a determined people. Herr Hitler announced in his speech on September 19 that the British blockade might force him to make use of a “weapon by which we [Germany] cannot be attacked.” The fresh resort to Schrecklichkeit here foreshadowed, whether it referred to the poison gas or to bacteriological warfare or merely to massed attack from the air on cities, will not effect its object. On that point there can be no doubt whatever.

The major role which the German air force played in the conquest of Poland is no proof that it will achieve similar successes in the west. Poland was, in comparison with Germany, very weak in the air. That her air force, was able to resist as well as it did testifies to the gallantry of its personnel. It is the more regrettable that its achievements were magnified by some absurd propaganda. The statement in a communiqué of September 3 that 64 German machines were brought down on that day for the loss of 11 Polish machines was entirely unbelievable. The announcement a little later that Berlin had been bombed was no less unconvincing. There is no escape from the conclusion, on the known facts, that Poland was wholly outclassed in the air.

Soviet Operations in Eastern Poland

The Soviet operations in eastern Poland had been anticipated in the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Stalin’s delay in attacking Poland was in part due to uncertainty over the reaction of the Western Allies, the unexpectedly rapid pace of the German advance, the distraction of military operations in the Far East and the time needed to mobilise the Red Army. Besides the dramatic events in Poland, Stalin was preoccupied with the undeclared war between the Soviet Union and Japan, which culminated in the decisive Soviet victory at Khalkin Gol in September 1939. An armistice was signed with Japan on 15 September, and Soviet intelligence correctly reported that German formations were already operating east of the proposed Soviet-German demarcation line. As a result, Stalin was forced to act sooner than planned.

The decapitation of the Soviet officer corps by the purges of 1937 and 1938 hindered a major military operation of this scale. The Red Army general staff estimated it needed several weeks to fully mobilise. The German advance had proceeded much more quickly than the Soviets had anticipated, forcing a hasty commitment of the ill-prepared Red Army to secure the spoils of the treaty agreement. The Red Army had expected the German operation to be an updated version of the First World War pattern: a series of border clashes until both sides mobilised and deployed their main forces for decisive battle. They had overlooked the possibility that Germany would strike from a fully mobilised posture against their smaller and only partially mobilised opponent. The planning was already well in place as the Red Army general staff had prepared plans in 1938 for intervention under various scenarios during the Munich crisis.

The Red Army was organised into two fronts and deployed no less than 25 rifle divisions, 16 cavalry divisions and 12 tank brigades with a total strength of 466,516 troops. The Red Army’s tank forces sent into Poland actually exceeded the number of tanks and armoured vehicles of the Germans and Poles combined, amounting to 3,739 tanks and 380 armoured cars. The Red Air Force was also committed in strength, totalling about 2,000 combat aircraft. Fighters, consisting mainly of I-16 and I-15bis, made up about 60 per cent of the attacking force, along with medium bombers such as the SB accounting for another 30 per cent of the force. The remainder of the combat elements were army co-operation types like the R-5 biplane.

Polish defences had been stripped bare in the east. Normally the border was guarded by the Border Defence Corps (KOP) with about 18 battalions and 12,000 troops along the Soviet frontier. These forces were little more than light infantry with very little in the way of artillery support. Furthermore, many of the units had been ordered westward as reinforcements, leaving only a token force behind. The force ratio was ludicrously one-sided, roughly one Polish battalion per Soviet corps.

Red Army mobilisation was chaotic at best. Due to the upcoming harvest, it was difficult to fill out the units with their usual supply of war-mobilisation trucks from the civilian sector. As a result, Soviet formations, even tank brigades, seldom had even half of their table-of-organisation in support vehicles. There was also a shortage of spare parts for most types of vehicle including tanks. Although the Red Army order of Battle presents the picture of a conventionally organised force, in fact, the Soviet formations were often deployed in a haphazard fashion, loosely configured as regional groups. Indeed, there are substantial disparities in the historical records about which units participated and under which command, due to the haste under which the operation was prepared. As a result of their belated and haphazard mobilisation and the almost non-existent opposition they faced, the Red Army relied on its cavalry and armoured forces to sweep rapidly into Poland. Horse-mechanised groups were created with tank brigades supporting cavalry divisions.

There was considerable confusion on the Polish side when news of the Soviet invasion first began to filter through. At first there was some hope that the Soviets might be intervening to aid Poland, a delusion that was quickly exposed when word arrived of armed clashes. Nevertheless, the high command on the evening of 17/18 September ordered that the KOP and other units along the frontier were not to engage Soviet forces except in self-defence or if the Soviets interfered with their movement to the Romanian bridgehead. However, the order was not widely received. Instead the commander of the KOP, Brigadier-General W. Orlik-Ruckemann, ordered his troops to fight. Skirmishes between the KOP and Red Army units took place all along the frontier, especially near several of the major cities such as Wilno and Grodno, and along the fortified zone in the Sarny region. The heaviest fighting, not surprisingly, took place in Galicia in south-eastern Poland, since regular Polish army units were gravitating towards this sector near the Romanian frontier.

Galicia was one of the few areas where there was any significant aerial combat between the Polish air force and the Red Air Force. This occurred mostly on the first day of the Soviet invasion, as the surviving Polish air force units had been ordered to escape into Romania. Surviving Polish fighters had been subordinated to the Pursuit Brigade, which was headquartered near Buczacz to the south-east of Lwow. During the first contacts on 17 September, Polish fighters downed an R-5 and two SB bombers, and damaged three further Soviet aircraft. The following day the Pursuit Brigade was evacuated to Romania taking with it 35 PZL P. 11 and eight PZL P. 7 fighters; the last remnants of the combat elements of the Polish air force. A number of Soviet aircraft were lost in subsequent fighting, mostly to ground fire. According to recently declassified records, only five aircrew were killed during the fighting, attesting to the relatively small scale of Soviet air losses in this short campaign.

Poland’s Agony

In spring 1787 Catherine the Great of Russia set off on an imperial progress through her southern dominions. As she drifted down the Dnieper greeted by crowds of subjects lined up along the banks by her minister Prince Potemkin, King Stanisław Augustus left Warsaw to greet her on the Polish stretch of the river. On 6 May the imperial galley tied up at Kaniów, and the King came aboard. With the formal greetings over, the two monarchs, who had last met as lovers nearly thirty years before, retired for a tête-à-tête.

They emerged after only half an hour, and the assembled courtiers and diplomats sensed all was not well. The Empress entertained the King lavishly, but declined to go ashore for a ball he had arranged in her honour. Stanisław Augustus was mortified, and not just because his feelings were hurt. He had come to Kaniów to propose an alliance in Russia’s forthcoming war against Turkey. The Commonwealth would contribute a substantial army and at the same time fend off potential belligerent moves by Prussia and Sweden, in return for which it would acquire Moldavia and a Black Sea port. Apart from permitting the Commonwealth to raise and test an army, participation in such a war would have eased the tensions building up in Warsaw and strengthened the King’s position. Catherine’s rejection of the plan left him without a policy at a critical moment and played into the hands of his opponents.

While the King had bowed to the conditions imposed by Russia after the partition in 1772, many had refused to reconcile themselves to this state of affairs and his seemingly docile acceptance of it. By the late 1780s there was a growing feeling, particularly among the younger generations brought up on Rousseau’s pre-Romantic ideas on the rights of nations, that the time had come to shrug off the protection and the restrictions imposed by Russia, which stood in the way of almost any attempt at reform or modern—isation. A group of magnates, including some members of the Familia, Ignacy Potocki, Stanisław Małachowski, Michał Kazimierz Ogiński, Stanisław Potocki and malcontents such as Karol Radziwiłł, who called themselves ‘Patriots’, began to stir up opposition to the King’s collaborationist policy.

Those who had believed in anarchy as a blessed state had seen their argument demolished by the partition. As they looked around, at states such as Russia and Prussia which expended two-thirds of their revenue on the army and appeared more and more to be driven by a philosophy of military success (even their monarchs wore uniform), most felt that Poland’s only hope of survival lay in abandoning the glorious liberties of the Commonwealth and turning it into an efficient modern state with an adequate army.

Prussia, which had just entered into an alliance with England and Holland aimed at checking Russian expansion, made it clear that the Commonwealth could count on military support were it to sever its connection with St Petersburg. With Russia engaged in wars against Turkey and Sweden, and with Prussia making friendly overtures to Poland and striking hostile attitudes at Russia and Austria, it looked as though the menacing concert of the Commonwealth’s neighbours had fallen into discord.

The Sejm which assembled in 1788 under the marshalcy of Stanisław Małachowski, which would be known as the Great Sejm, was dominated by the Patriots. It promptly voted an increase in the army, which was placed under the control of a Sejm commission. The conduct of foreign policy was vested in another such commission. In January 1789 the Sejm abolished the Permanent Council which had been ruling the country since 1775 and prolonged its own session indefinitely. In March it imposed a tax on income from land of 10 per cent for the szlachta and 20 for the Church, the first direct taxation ever to have been imposed on either.

The Patriots encountered little opposition. The King’s supporters were in disarray. Conservative and pro-Russian members were intimidated by events, which had taken on an ominous significance in the light of the revolution which broke out in France in the summer of 1789. On the night of 25 November 1789 Warsaw was illuminated for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the coronation of Stanisław Augustus, which many feared might act as a provocation to the mob. While the rabble in the streets confined itself to abusive lampoons, a real revolution was being prepared in other quarters. In September 1789 the Sejm had appointed a commission under Ignacy Potocki to prepare a new constitution for the Commonwealth.

Debate on the question of reform had grown progressively more radical and was now dominated by two political thinkers of substance, Stanisław Staszic and Hugo Kołłątaj. Staszic (1755-1826) was a priest of plebeian origin who had been befriended by Józef Wybicki and promoted by Andrzej Zamoyski. He had travelled through Germany to Paris, where he became a friend of Buffon, whose Histoire Naturelle he translated and published in Poland, and thence to Rome, where he lost his faith. On his return to Poland he devoted himself to political writing. Later, in 1800, he would found the Society of Friends of Learning with a fortune he had built up in business, and in 1815 publish a seminal work on the geological formation of the Carpathian Mountains, while working on a verse translation of the Iliad.

Staszic was a republican who believed in the sovereignty of the Sejm, but realised that a nation surrounded by despotic states must have a strong executive, and he therefore argued for a hereditary monarchy. He saw the nation as a ‘moral entity’ consisting of all the citizens of the Commonwealth, whether they were szlachta or peasants, townspeople or Jews, and believed that all citizens should subject their individual will to its greater good.

Hugo Kołłątaj (1750-1812) was of a very different stamp. He had studied at the Jagiellon University and in Italy, where he became a priest, and subsequently worked on the Commission for National Education. He showed his organisational skills when he was given the task of reforming the Jagiellon University, whose Rector he became in 1782.

As the Great Sejm convened, he formed a political pressure group known as ‘the Forge’ with the aim of promoting reform of the whole system, or a ‘gentle revolution’, as he put it. In A Few Anonymous Letters to Stanisław Małachowski (1788) he addressed the Marshal and the assembling Sejm. ‘What then is Poland?’ he taunted them. ‘It is a poor, useless machine which cannot be worked by one man alone, which will not be worked by all men together, and which can be stopped by a single person.’ Like Staszic, he demanded a strong hereditary monarchy, the supremacy of the Sejm and the extension of the franchise. It was he who composed the memorandum presented to the King by the representatives of 141 towns, dressed in black like the États Généraux in Paris the previous year and led by Jan Dekert, on 2 December 1789. A commission was set up to devise a system of representation for the towns, and several hundred tradesmen were ennobled.

As soon as he realised the strength of the movement behind the Patriots, Stanisław Augustus shifted his position and began to work with them. He invited Ignacy Potocki, Kołłątaj and Małachowski to join him in drawing up a new constitution. They worked in secret, with the King’s secretary Scipione Piattoli editing the drafts. When the final draft was ready a wider group of reformists was invited to discuss it before the final wording was agreed.

Their project entailed the abolition of so many traditional rights and liberties that it was bound to encounter fierce opposition in the Sejm. They therefore prepared what amounted to a parliamentary coup. The support of the people of Warsaw was assured by a municipal law of 18 April 1791 giving seats in the Sejm to twenty-two representatives of major towns. Another law passed at the same time disenfranchised landless szlachta.

A date was chosen when many deputies and senators would still be on their way back to the capital after the Easter recess, and as a result, on 3 May 1791 only 182 deputies were present in the chamber, a hundred of them in on the secret. Outside, purposely mustered crowds surrounded the Royal Castle expectantly. The proposed constitution was passed overwhelmingly, after which the King was carried shoulder-high by the populace to the church of St John, where the Te Deum was sung.

The document which became law on 3 May 1791 was a pragmatic compromise between the republicanism of Potocki, the radicalism of Kołłątaj and the English-style constitutional monarch ism of the King. The opening clauses were purposely anodyne. Catholicism was enshrined as the religion of state, although every citizen was free to practise another without prejudice; the szlachta was declared to be the backbone of the nation; the peasantry was piously acknowledged as its lifeblood; all the privileges bestowed by Piast and Jagiellon kings remained inviolate. Hidden deeper in the thicket of print lay the substance. The throne was to be dynastically elective as it was under the Jagiellons, and since Stanisław Augustus had no legitimate children, Frederick Augustus of Saxony was designated as the founder of the new dynasty. The Sejm became the chief legislative and executive power in the Commonwealth, and voting was to be conducted by strict majority. Both the veto and the right of confederation were abolished. The government of the country was vested in the king and a royal council to be known as the Guardians of the National Laws. This was to include the Primate of Poland, five ministers and two secretaries, all appointed by the king for a period of two years. The king could direct policy, but no act of his was valid without the signature of at least one of the ministers, and they were answerable directly to the Sejm.

The constitution was hardly revolutionary in itself: it was the commissions and other organs it set up which were to carry through the real reforms. Under the slogan ‘The King with the People, the People with the King’, and aided by a barrage of propaganda emanating from Kołłątaj and his assistants there set to their work transforming the country. An economic constitution was to cover property relationships, the protection of labour, investment, the establishment of a national bank and the issue of a paper currency. Kołłątaj began work on plans to turn all labour-rents into money rents for the peasants, while the King and Piattoli began discussions with the elders of the Jewish community with a view to emancipating and integrating it.

The events in Poland were hailed far and wide. Political clubs in Paris voted to make Stanisław Augustus an honorary member. Condorcet and Thomas Paine acclaimed the constitution as a breakthrough, while Edmund Burke called it ‘the most pure’ public good ever bestowed upon mankind. For the same reasons, they alarmed Poland’s neighbours. The Prussian minister Count Hertzberg was convinced that ‘the Poles have given the coup de grace to the Prussian monarchy by voting a constitution much better than the English’, and warned that the Poles would sooner or later regain not only the lands taken from them in the partition, but also Prussia.

The fall of the Bastille in Paris two years before had caused fear in St Petersburg, Potsdam and Vienna, and the fact that what was viewed by their rulers as a second beacon of revolution had ignited in Warsaw induced a state of panic. They felt threatened by the revolutionary presence in their midst, if only because a steady trickle of runaways from all three countries flowed into Poland in search of new freedoms.

A year before the passing of the constitution, in March 1790, Poland had signed a treaty with Prussia, where Frederick II had been succeeded by Frederick William II. The immediate object was to make common war on Austria, from which Poland intended to recapture Galicia (as the Austrians had named their slice of Poland), but it also guaranteed Prussian military support if Poland were attacked by her eastern neighbour. Prussia then demanded that Poland give up Gdańsk, which was already cut off from the rest of the country by a Prussian corridor, in return for which Polish traffic on the Vistula would be granted customs-free passage. England, which was behind the Polish-Prussian alliance, and whose fleet was expected in the Baltic in the autumn, urged Poland to agree, but there was opposition in the Sejm.

In February 1791 the Emperor Joseph II was succeeded by Leopold II, who took a conciliatory line towards Prussia, but the international situation nevertheless remained favourable to Poland. Leopold and his Chancellor Kaunitz both believed that the passing of the constitution, far from being a threat, would probably prevent revolution in Central Europe.

Before the constitution was a year old, however, the inter national situation changed once more. On 9 January 1792 Russia signed the Peace of Jassy with Turkey and began to pull troops back from the southern front. On 14 February, at the first general election since its passing, the sejmiks throughout Poland voted overwhelmingly to endorse the constitution, to the dismay of the disenfranchised landless szlachta and conservatives who mourned the liberties of the Commonwealth, and much to the fury of Catherine, who had paid out fortunes in bribes to persuade them to reject it. In March she began moving her troops towards Poland. At the beginning of the month the Emperor Leopold died and was succeeded by Francis II. In April, revolutionary France went to war against him and Prussia. A few days later, on 27 April, Catherine sought out a number of Polish conservatives such as Seweryn Rzewuski, Feliks Potocki and Ksawery Branicki, who formed a confederation in St Petersburg. It was not proclaimed until 14 May in the border town of Targowica, under the slogan of defence of Polish ‘glorious freedoms’ against the ‘monarchical and democratic revolution of 3 May 1791’. Four days later the confederates crossed the border at the head of, or rather in the baggage of, 97,000 Russian troops.

Tadeusz Kościuszko

Against these veterans of the Turkish wars, the Commonwealth could field only 45,000 untried recruits. Frederick William of Prussia, who had written to Stanisław Augustus in May 1791 professing his ‘eagerness’ to ‘support the liberty and independence of Poland’, refused the appeal for help in June 1792, and the Polish forces went into action on their own. One corps, under the King’s nephew Józef Poniatowski, won a battle at Zieleńce, another under Tadeusz Kościuszko fought a fine rearguard action at Dubienka. But there was no real hope of stemming the Russian advance.

Stanisław Augustus tried to negotiate directly with Catherine, offering to bring Poland back within the Russian hegemony and to cede his throne to her grandson Constantine. Catherine demanded that he join the Confederation of Targowica. The King and his advisers, desperate to find a way out which could guarantee the integrity of the Commonwealth and the survival of the constitution, decided to bend to her will.

This act of humility was of little avail. In November, after the defeat of his armies by the French at Valmy, the King of Prussia demanded areas of Poland as compensation for his efforts to contain Revolutionary France. A second partition was agreed between Russia and Prussia, and signed in Petersburg on 3 January 1793. Catherine helped herself to 250,000 square kilometres, and Frederick William to 58,000. The Commonwealth now consisted of no more than 212,000 square kilometres, with a population of four million. Wielkopolska and most of Małopolska, the ethnic and historic heartlands of Poland, had gone, leaving a strange elongated and uneconomic rump. Even this was to be no more than a buffer state with a puppet king and a Russian garrison.

As with the first partition, Catherine insisted that the arrangement be ratified by the Sejm, to be held at Grodno in Lithuania rather than in the potentially explosive Warsaw. At first Stanisław Augustus refused to cooperate, but he was eventually browbeaten and blackmailed into going, and as he left his capital all hope and will to fight deserted him.

The Russian ambassador carefully selected candidates for the Sejm and used everything from bribery to physical assault in order to ensure their election. But once they had assembled at Grodno, some proved less than cooperative, in spite of the presence of Russian troops in the chamber who would drag out recalcitrant deputies and beat them up. At one stage, a battery of guns was trained on the building. After three months of stubbornness, the Sejm bowed to the inevitable and ratified the treaties.

The King returned to Warsaw. But it was the Russian ambassador that governed and Russian troops who policed the country. There was little possibility for action by patriots and most of them went into voluntary exile, some to Vienna, Italy and Saxony, others to Paris. Kościuszko was hatching a plan for military action based on a French victory against Prussia and Austria. Kołłątaj and Ignacy Potocki were thinking in terms of a national rising by the masses.

Catherine was unconsciously creating the perfect conditions for a revolution. She started by reducing the Polish army to 12,000 and disbanding the rest. Some 30,000 able-bodied fighting men were made redundant, and these patriotic vagrants were drawn to Warsaw, creating the revolutionary mob on which every upheaval depends. The way in which Poland had been carved up virtually precluded what was left from supporting itself. Cities had been cut off from their agricultural hinterland and trading patterns disrupted. Economic activity came to a virtual standstill, and in 1793 the six largest Warsaw banks declared insolvency. The country had to support a 40,000-strong Russian garrison and pay stringent customs dues imposed by Prussia. Thousands of unemployed cluttered Warsaw. The army was the focal point of discontent. When, on 21 February 1794, the Russians ordered a further reduction and the arrest of people suspected of subversive activity, revolution became inevitable.

On 12 March General Madaliński ordered his brigade into the field and marched on Kraków. Émigrés flocked back to Poland, and on 23 March Kościuszko arrived in Kraków. The following day he proclaimed an Act of Insurrection. He assumed dictatorial powers, took command of the armed forces and called on the nation to rise, delegating the conduct of the administration to a Supreme National Council with emergency powers. When the Insurrection was over all power was to be handed back to the Sejm.

From Kraków Kościuszko marched north. At Raclawice on 4 April he defeated a Russian army with a force of 4,000 regulars and 2,000 peasants armed with scythes. On 17 April the Warsaw cobbler Jan Kiliński raised the standard of revolt in the capital. After twenty-four hours of fighting the Russian troops abandoned the city, leaving 4,000 dead on the streets. On the night of 22 April the city of Wilno rose under the leadership of Colonel Jakub Jasiński, a fervent Jacobin, and several of the adherents of the Confederation of Targowica were lynched. But while Jasiński wrote to Kościuszko that he would prefer ‘to hang a hundred people, and save six million’, the dictator would have none of it. There had also been some lynchings in Warsaw, but Kościuszko put a stop to that when he reached the capital.

The Insurrection could hardly arouse optimism in the more settled sections of the population, and there remained uncertainty as to its real political nature. While the King remained in his castle, untouched by the mob and ostensibly recognised by the leaders of the Insurrection, a number of Jacobins waited in the wings to seize control. Kołłątaj, who had taken over the Treasury, implemented a number of revolutionary measures. He introduced graded taxation and issued paper currency as well as silver coinage, underwritten by confiscated Church property. Kościuszko’s proclamation, issued at Polaniec on 7 May, granting freedom and ownership of land to all peasants who came forward to defend the motherland, was a provocation to landowners.

Some magnates declared for the Insurrection and the King donated all his table-silver to the cause, but the majority of the szlachta were cautious, and most made sure their peasants never received the message of the Polaniec manifesto. It was only in the cities that large numbers came forward, and in Warsaw the Jewish community formed up and equipped a special regiment of its own under the command of Colonel Berek Joselewicz, the first Jewish military formation since Biblical times.

Kościuszko, who had marched out to meet the advancing Prussian army under King Frederick William, was outnumbered and defeated at Szczekociny on 6 May. On 15 June the Prussians entered Kraków. In July a combined Russo-Prussian army of 40,000 besieged Warsaw, but Kościuszko used a combination of earthworks and artillery to repel it, and after two months of siege the allies withdrew. Wilno fell to the Russians in mid-August, but a week later the Insurrection broke out in Wielkopolska and a corps under General Dąbrowski set off from Warsaw in support. He defeated a Prussian army near Bydgoszcz, then marched into Prussia.

The situation became hopeless when Austrian forces joined those of Prussia and Russia. Having extracted a pledge of neutrality from Turkey, Catherine ordered Suvorov’s army to move against Poland from the south-east. Kościuszko marched out to head him off, but was isolated from his supporting column and beaten at Maciejowice on 10 October. His defeat would have been no great blow in itself, but he was wounded and captured, along with other Polish generals.

The capture of Kościuszko induced political instability. The need for compromise badly affected the choice of his successor as commander-in-chief, which eventually fell on a Tomasz Wawrzecki. The Russians, who had been intending to retire to winter quarters, now decided to push home their advantage and on 4 November Suvorov attacked Warsaw. He had little difficulty in taking the eastbank suburb of Praga. Only four hundred of the 1,400 defenders survived, while the mainly Jewish population was butchered as a warning to Warsaw itself. The warning carried weight, and the army withdrew, allowing Warsaw to capitulate. On 16 November, Wawrzecki was surrounded and captured, and the Insurrection effectively came to an end.

Russian troops once again entered Warsaw, soon to be relieved by Prussians, as the three powers had decided to divide what was left of Poland between themselves and the capital fell to them. A new treaty of partition was signed in 1795, removing Poland from the map altogether. The King was bundled into a carriage and sent off to Grodno, where he was forced to abdicate, and the foreign diplomats accredited to the Polish court were ordered to leave. The Papal Nuncio, the British minister and the chargés d’affaires of Holland, Sweden and Saxony refused as a protest against the unceremonious liquidation of one of the states of Europe. Their embassies were also crammed with fugitives seeking asylum. It took the three powers more than two years to sort out the mess, and it was not until January 1797 that they were able to agree a treaty finally liquidating the debts of the King and the Commonwealth, after which they signed a protocol binding themselves to excise the name of Poland from all future documents, to remove any reference to it from diplomatic business and to strive by every means for its oblivion.

Mainly out of spite to the memory of his mother, Tsar Paul celebrated Catherine’s death in 1797 by freeing Kościuszko and other Polish prisoners, and inviting the ailing Stanisław Augustus to St Petersburg. Over the next months the Tsar repeatedly discussed with him plans to resurrect the Polish Commonwealth, and when the King died on 12 February 1798 Paul gave him a state funeral, personally leading the mourning.

It was not, however, the cranky behaviour of Paul that ensured the survival of the Polish cause. Stanisław Staszic had written that ‘Even a great nation may fall, but only a contemptible one can be destroyed,’ and the Poles did not see themselves as contemptible. They needed only to brandish the political testament of the dying Commonwealth, the constitution of 3 May, to claim their right to the esteem of other nations.

Fighters Over Poland


During the summer of 1939 the Polish air force found itself dealing with repeated violations of its airspace by photoreconnaissance Do17s of the Luftwaffe, and the experience of the P11c, the principal Polish fighter, was not encouraging. Unable to reach either the speeds or the altitudes of the German intruders, the P11c was clearly obsolescent by this time, and the intruders were able to evade the Polish fighters’ attempted interceptions virtually at will. In preparation for the conflict which by this stage was widely anticipated, the Polish Air Force had been reorganized in the spring, with around a third of the available fighters concentrated around Warsaw and the remainder allocated to the various armies. By the end of August most of the operational aircraft had been dispersed to concealed airfields in preparation for the assault, which duly began before dawn on September 1. Because of heavy fog on the opening day of the war, German plans were changed, with the intended mass attack on Warsaw postponed in preference to raids against airfields and other tactical targets. Flying low to locate the airfields, the bombers of Luftflotte 4, allocated to the advance against Kracow in the south, gave the defending fighters a chance at interception.

Built by the Pánstwowe Zaklady Lotnicze (National Aviation Establishment) and first flying in August 1931, the PZL P.11 was the descendant of a series of clean monoplanes designed by Zygmunt Pulawski, incorporating a unique gull wing that was thickest near the point where four faired steel struts buttressed it from the fuselage sides. When the first PZL P.1 flew on September 26, 1929, it thrust Poland to the forefront of progressive fighter design. In 1933 Poland’s air force, the Lotnictwo Wojskowe, became the first in the world to be fully equipped with all-metal monoplane fighters as the improved P.6 and P.7 equipped its eskadry. When the production P.11c, powered by a 645-horsepower Škoda-built Bristol Mercury VI S2 nine-cylinder radial engine, entered service in early 1935, it still rated as a modern fighter, with a maximum speed of 242 miles per hour at 18,045 feet and a potent armament of four 7.7mm KM Wz 33 machine guns, although its open cockpit and fixed landing gear were soon to become outdated. By 1939 the P.11c was clearly obsolete, and efforts were already under way to develop a successor to replace it within the year. Poland did not have a year, however—on September 1, time ran out as German forces surged over her borders.

A morning fog over northern Poland thwarted the first German air operation, as Obltn. Bruno Dilley led three Junkers Ju 87B-1 Stukas of 3rd Staffel, Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 (3./StG 1) into the air at 0426, flew over the border from East Prussia and at 0434—eleven minutes before Germany formally declared war—attacked selected detonation points in an attempt to prevent the destruction of two railroad bridges on the Vistula River. The German attack failed to achieve its goal and the Poles blew up the bridges, denying German forces in East Prussia an easy entry into Tszew (Dirschau). The “fog of war” also handicapped a follow-up attack on Tszew by Dornier Do 17Z bombers of III Gruppe, Kampfgeschwader 3 (III./KG 3).

Weather conditions were better to the west, allowing Luftflotte 4 to dispatch sixty Heinkel He 111s of KG 4, Ju 87Bs of I./StG 2, and Do 17Es of KG 77 on a series of more effective strikes against Polish air bases near Kraków at about 0530, Rakowice field being the hardest hit. Assigned to escort the Heinkels was a squadron equipped with a new fighter of which Luftwaffe Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring expected great things: the Messerschmitt Me 110C-1 strategic fighter, or Zerstörer.

The Me 110 had evolved from a concept that had been explored during World War I but which was only put into successful practice by the French with their Caudron 11.A3, a twin-engine, three-seat reconnaissance plane employed as an escort fighter in 1918. The strategic fighter idea was revived in 1934 with the development of the Polish PZL P.38 Wilk (Wolf), which inspired a variety of similar twin-engine fighter designs in France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States.

Göring was particularly enthralled by what he dubbed the Kampfzerstörer (battle destroyer), and in 1934 he issued a specification for a heavily armed twin-engine multipurpose fighter capable of escorting bombers, establishing air superiority deep in enemy territory, carrying out ground-attack missions, and intercepting enemy bombers. BFW, Focke-Wulf, and Henschel submitted design proposals; but it was Willy Messerschmitt’s sleek BFW Bf 110, which ignored the bombing requirement to concentrate on speed and cannon armament, that won out over the Fw 57 and the Hs 124. Powered by two Daimler Benz DB 600A engines, the Bf 110V1 was first flown by Rudolf Opitz on May 12, 1936, and attained a speed of 314 miles per hour, but the unreliability of its engines required a change to 680-horsepower Junkers Jumo 210Da engines when the preproduction Bf 110A-0 was completed in August 1937.

Although more sluggish than single-seat fighters, the Bf 110A-0 was fast for a twin-engine plane, and its armament of four nose-mounted 7.9mm MG 17 machine guns and one flexible 7.9mm MG 15 gun aft was considered impressive. Prospective Zerstörer pilots were convinced that tactics could be devised to maximize its strengths and minimize its shortcomings, just as the British had done with the Bristol fighter in 1917. The Bf 110B-1, which entered production in March 1938, was even more promising, with a more aerodynamically refined nose section housing a pair of 20mm MG FF cannon. Later, in 1938, the 1,100-horsepower DB 601A-1 engine was finally certified for installation, and in January 1939 the first Messerschmitt Me 110C-1s, powered by the DB 601A-1s and bearing a new prefix to mark Willy Messerschmitt’s acquisition of BFW, entered service. By September 1, a total of eighty-two Me 110s were operating with I Gruppe (Zerstörer) of Lehrgeschwader (Operational Training Wing) 1 (I(Z)./LG 1) commanded by Maj. Walter Grabmann, and I Gruppe, Zerstörergeschwader 1 (I./ZG 1) under Maj. Joachim-Friedrich Huth, both assigned to Luftflotte 1; and with I./ZG 76 led by Hptmn. Günther Reinecke, attached to Luftflotte 4 along the Polish-Czechoslovakian border.

Intensely trained for their multiple tasks, the Zerstörer pilots, like those flying the Stuka, had been indoctrinated to think of themselves as an elite force. Therefore, the Me 110C-1 crewmen of the 2nd Staffel of ZG 76 were as eager as Göring himself to see their mettle tested as they took off at 0600 hours to escort KG 4’s He 111s. To the Germans’ surprise and disappointment, they encountered no opposition over Kraków.

During the return flight, 2./ZG 76’s Staffelführer, Obltn. Wolfgang Falck, spotted a lone Heinkel He 46 army reconnaissance plane and flew down to offer it protection, only to be fired at by its nervous gunner. Minutes later Falck encountered another plane, which he identified as a PZL P.23 light bomber. “As I tried to gain some height he curved into the sun and as he did I caught a glimpse of red on his wing,” Falck recalled. “As I turned into him I opened fire, but fortunately, my marksmanship was no better than the reconnaissance gunner’s had been, [for] as he banked to get away I saw it was a Stuka. I then realized that what I had thought was a red Polish insignia was actually a red E. I reported this immediately after landing and before long the colored letters on wings of our aircraft were overpainted in black.”

As the Stukas of I./StG 2 were returning from their strike, they passed over Balice airfield just as PZL fighters of the III/2 Dywizjon (121st and 122nd Eskadry), attached to the Army of Kraków, were taking off. By sheer chance one of the Stuka pilots, Ltn. Frank Neubert, found himself in position to get a burst from his wing guns into the leading P.11c’s cockpit, after which he reported that it “suddenly explode[d] in mid-air, bursting apart like a huge fireball—the fragments literally flew around our ears.” Neubert’s Stuka had scored the first air-to-air victory of World War II—and killed the commander of the III/2 Dyon, Kapitan Mieczyslaw Medwecki.

Medwecki’s wingman, Porucznik (Lieutenant) Wladyslaw Gnys of the 121st Eskadra, was more fortunate, managing to evade the bombs and bullets of the oncoming trio of Stukas and get clear of his beleaguered airfield. Minutes later, he encountered two returning Do 17Es of KG 77 over Olkusz and attacked. One went down in the village of Zurada, south of Olkusz, and Gnys was subsequently credited with the first Allied aerial victory of World War II. Shortly afterward, the wreckage of the other Do 17E was also found at Zurada and confirmed as Gnys’s second victory. None of the German bomber crewmen survived.

In spite of the adverse weather that had spoiled its first missions, Luftflotte 1 launched more bombing raids from East Prussia, including a probing attack on Okacie airfield outside Warsaw by sixty He 111Ps of Lehrgeschwader 1, escorted by Me 110Cs of the wing’s Zerstörergruppe, I(Z)./LG 1. As the Heinkels neared their target, the Polish Brygada Poscigowa (Pursuit Brigade), on alert since dawn, was warned of the Germans’ approach by its observation posts, and at 0650 it ordered thirty PZL P.11s and P.7s of the 111th, 112th, 113th, and 114th Eskadry up from their airfields at Zielonka and Poniatów to intercept. Minutes later, the Poles encountered scattered German formations and waded in, with Kapral (Corporal) Andrzej Niewiara and Porucznik Aleksander Gabszewicz sharing in the destruction of the first He 111. Over the next hour, the air battle took the form of numerous individual duels, during which Kapitan Adam Kowalczyk, commander of the IV/I Dyon, downed a Heinkel, and Porucznik Hieronim Dudwal of the 113th Eskadra destroyed another.

The Me 110s pounced on the PZLs, but the Zerstörer pilots found their nimble quarry to be most elusive targets. Podporucznik (Sub-Lieutenant) Jerzy Palusinski of the 111th Eskadra turned the tables on one of the Zerstörer and sent it out of the fight in a damaged state. Its wounded pilot was Maj. Walter Grabmann, a Spanish Civil War veteran of the Legion Condor and now commander of I(Z)./LG 1.

In all, the Poles claimed six He 111s, while the German bombers were credited with four PZLs; their gunners had in fact brought down three. Once again, Göring’s vaunted Zerstörer crews returned to base empty handed. When the Germans sent reconnaissance planes over the area to assess the bombing results at about noon, Porucznik Stefan Okrzeja of the 112th Eskadra caught one of the Do 17s and shot it down over the Warsaw suburbs.

As the weather improved, Luftflotte 1 struck again in even greater force, as two hundred bombers attacked Okecie, Mokotow, Goclaw, and bridges across the Vistula. They were met by thirty P. 11s and P.7s of the Brygada Poscigowa, which claimed two He 111Ps of KG 27, a Do 17, and a Ju 87 before the escorting Me 110Cs of I(Z)./LG 1 descended on them. This time the Zerstörer finally drew blood, claiming five PZLs without loss, and indeed the Poles lost five of their elderly PZL P.7s. One Me 110 victim, Porucznik Feliks Szyszka, reported that the Germans attacked him as he parachuted to earth, putting seventeen bullets in his leg. The Me 110s also damaged the P.11c of Hieronim Dudwal, who landed with the fuselage just aft of the cockpit badly shot-up; two bare metal plates were crudely fixed in place over the damaged area, but the plane was still not fully airworthy when the Germans overran his airfield.

For most of September 1, the Me 109s were confined to a defensive posture, save for a few strafing sorties. For the second bombing mission in the Warsaw area, however, I. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 21 was ordered to take off from its forward field at Arys-Rostken and escort KG 27’s He 111s. The Me 109s rendezvoused with the bombers, only to be fired upon by their gunners. When the Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander), Hptmn. Martin Mettig, tried to fire a recognition flare, it malfunctioned, filling his cockpit with red and white fragments. Mettig, blinded and wounded in the hand and thigh, jettisoned his canopy—which broke off his radio mast—and turned back. Most of Mettig’s pilots saw him head for base, and being unable to communicate with him by radio, they followed him. Only upon landing did they learn what had happened.

Not all of the Gruppe had seen Mettig, however, and those pilots who continued the mission were rewarded by encountering a group of PZL fighters. In the wild dogfight that followed, the Germans claimed four of the P.11cs, including the first victory of an eventual ninety-eight by Ltn. Gustav Rödel. The Poles claimed five Me 109s, including one each credited to Podporuczniki Jerzy Radomski and Jan Borowski of the 113th Eskadra, and one to Kapitan Gustaw Sidorowicz of the 111th. Podpolkovnik (Lieutenant Colonel) Leopold Pamula, already credited with an He 111P and a Ju 87B earlier that day, rammed one of the German fighters and then bailed out safely. Porucznik Gabszewicz was shot down by an Me 109 and, like Szyszka, subsequently claimed that the Germans had fired at him while he parachuted down.

In addition to challenging the waves of German bombers and escorts that would ultimately overwhelm them, PZL pilots took a toll on the army cooperation aircraft which were performing reconnaissance missions for the advancing panzer divisions. Podporucznik Waclaw S. Król of the 121st Eskadra downed a Henschel Hs 126, while Kapral Jan Kremski shared in the destruction of another. After taking off on their second mission of the day to intercept a reported Do 17 formation at 1521 hours, Porucznik Marian Pisarek and Kapral Benedykt Mielczynski of the 141st Eskadra spotted an Hs 126 of 3.(H)/21 (3 Staffel (Heeres), Aufklärungsgruppe 21, or 3rd Squadron Army of Reconnaissance Group 21), attacked it and sent it crashing to earth near Torun. The pilot, Obltn. Friedrich Wimmer, and his observer, Obltn. Siegfried von Heymann, were both wounded. Shortly afterward, two more P.11cs from their sister unit, the 142nd Eskadra, flew over the downed Henschel, and one of the Poles, Porucznik Stanislaw Skalski, later described what occurred when he landed nearby to recover maps and other information from the cockpit:

The pilot, Friedrich Wimmer, was slightly wounded in the leg; his navigator, whose name was von Heymann, had nine bullets in his back and shoulder. I did what I could for them and stayed with them until an ambulance came. The prisoners were transferred to Warsaw. After the Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17 September, they became prisoners of the Russians, but were released at the end of October. When they were interrogated by the highest Luftwaffe authorities, Wimmer told them of my generosity. The Germans, who later learned that I had gone to Britain to fight on, said if I should become their prisoner, I would be honored very highly.

The observer, von Heymann, died in 1988. . . . I tried to get in touch with the pilot for three years. The British air attaché and Luftwaffe archives helped me to contact Colonel Wimmer. I went to Bonn to meet him in March 1990, and the German ace Adolf Galland also came over at that time. In 1993, Polish television went with me, to make a film with Wimmer. Reporters asked why I did it—why I landed and helped the enemy, exposing my fighter and myself to enemy air attack. I was young, stupid and lucky. That is always my answer!

I came back late in the afternoon and I had to land on the road close to a forest—Torun aerodrome had been bombed already. I then gave [General Dywizji Wladyslaw] Bortnowski, commander of the Armia Pomorze, the maps that I had captured from the Hs 126, which gave all the dispositions and attack plans of German divisions in Pomerania. He kissed me and said this was all the information his army needed.

On the following day, Skalski came head on at what he described as a “cannon-armed” Do 17 in a circling formation of nine and shot it down, then claimed a second bomber minutes later. Dorniers were not armed with cannon; but Me 110s were, and Skalski subsequently recalled that the Poles were completely unfamiliar with the Zerstörer—nobody had seen them in action until September 1. Moreover, I/ZG 1 lost a Bf 110B-1, its pilot, Hptmn. Adolf Gebhard Egon Claus-Wendelin, Freiherr von Müllenheim-Rechberg, commander of the 3rd Staffel, being killed, while his radioman, Gefreiter Hans Weng, bailed out and was taken prisoner of war (POW). Skalski’s “double” was the first of four and one shared victories with which he would be officially credited during the Polish campaign. Later, flying with the Royal Air Force, he would bring his total up to 18 1/2, making him the highest-scoring Polish ace of the war.

Although Poland was overrun in three weeks, its air force occasionally put up a magnificent fight, though its efforts were rendered inconsistent by poor communications and coordination. Polish fighters were credited with 129 aerial victories for the loss of 114 planes, and many of the pilots who scored them would fight on in the French Armée de l’Air and the Royal Air Force.

The fall of Poland terminated the career of the PZL P.11c, but only marked the beginning for the Me 110, which, after a further run of success, finally met its nemesis in the form of the Hurricane and Spitfire. Relegated to fighter-bomber and photoreconnaissance duties after the Battle of Britain, the Zerstörer would undergo a remarkably productive revival as a night fighter.

Poland’s main front-line fighter in September 1939 was the PZL P11c. Obsolete in comparison with the German Me109s, it nevertheless gave a good account of itself before Poland fell.

Poland was first in the firing line. Early in the morning of September 1 a force of about 120 Heinkel He111s and Dornier Do17s, escorted by Messerschmitt Bf110 fighters, were reported by Polish ground observation posts to be heading for Warsaw. The Luftwaffe had made giant strides since the first German pilots went into action with the Condor Legion in 1936. It now possessed 3652 first-line aircraft comprising 1180 medium twin-engined bombers (mostly He111s and Do17s), 366 Stuka dive bombers, 1179 Me109 and Me110 fighters, 887 reconnaissance aircraft and 40 obsolescent ground-attack Hs123s. Transport was provided by 552 Ju52s, and there were 240 naval aircraft of various types. For the Polish campaign the Luftwaffe deployed 1581 of these aircraft.

German intelligence had estimated the front¬ line strength of the Polish air force at some 900 aircraft. In fact on 1 September the figure was nearer 300, made up of 36 P37 `Los’ twin-engined medium bombers, 118 single-engined `Karas’ P23 light reconnaissance bombers and 159 fighters of the PZL P11c and P7 types. Light gull-winged monoplanes, with open cockpits and fixed undercarriages, they had been an advanced design in the early 1930s but were now hopelessly outclassed by the Luftwaffe’s modern aircraft. Neither the PZL P11c nor the P7 could get high enough to intercept the high-flying Do17 reconnaissance aircraft.

On the opening day of hostilities, however, the German attack came in at low level, aiming to knock out the Polish air force on the ground. The Luftwaffe failed to achieve its objective as during the last days of peace the Polish air force had dispersed its aircraft to a number of secret airfields. On the morning of September 1 not one Polish squadron remained at its pre-war base. As a result only 28 obsolete or unserviceable machines were destroyed at Rakowice air base.

The first air combat of WW2 took place during this action when Captain M Medwecki, commanding officer of III/2 Fighter `Dyon’ was shot down by a Ju87 soon after he took off. Another pilot, Lieutenant W Gnys attacked the Ju87 and later shot down two low-flying Dornier 17s – the first Polish kills. Warsaw too was attacked by Luftwaffe bombers and the first to be shot down, a low-flying He111, was destroyed by Lieutenant A Gabszewicz.

A more spectacular victory occurred later that day during a running air battle above Warsaw. Second Lieutenant Leopold Pamula shot down a He111 and a Ju87 but ran out of ammunition when the fighter escort came down on the P11s. Pamula rammed one Me109 before parachuting to safety. In the same battle Aleksander Gabszewicz had his P11 set on fire and had to bale out. On his way to the ground he was shot at by a fighter, an event experienced by other parachuting Polish pilots as the battles continued.

Despite the inferiority of the Polish fighters, they achieved at least a dozen victories on the first day of WW2, although they lost 10 fighters with another 24 damaged. This gave the Polish pilots some confidence. Even with their outmoded aircraft they seemed able to cope with the Germans. Their pilots found that one good method of attack was to dive head-on where a tail-chase was more or less out of the question. This collision-course tactic unnerved the German bomber pilots and was most effective in breaking up formations and inflicting damage on the Heinkels and Dorniers. The Polish fighter pilots unexpectedly found the twin-engined Me110s more dangerous than the single-engined Me109s. The first German kill of WW2 was in fact scored by a 110 pilot, Hauptmann Schlief, who shot down a P11 on September 1.

By mid-September German pincers from north and south had closed around Warsaw. Then on September 17 the Red Army intervened from the east, destroying the last Polish hopes. Warsaw surrendered on September 27 and the last organized resistance collapsed in the first week of October. Despite the obsolescent equipment of the Polish air force, and its inferiority in numbers, it had inflicted heavy damage on the Luftwaffe, which had lost 285 aircraft with almost the same number so badly damaged as to be virtually noneffective. Polish fighter pilots were officially credited with 126 victories, which indicates modest claiming by them, for Polish anti-aircraft fire claimed less than 90, leaving an unclaimed deficit of some 70 aircraft. The last German aircraft shot down by a Pole in this campaign was claimed on September 17 by Second Lieutenant Tadeusz Koc. The highest-scoring Polish pilot was Second Lieutenant Stanislaw Skalski, with 6 1/2 kills. The highest-scoring German, and Germany’s first `ace’ of WW2, was Hauptmann Hannes Gentzen, who scored seven victories in a Me109D.

A total of 327 aircraft were lost by the Polish Air Force. Of these 260 were due to either direct or indirect enemy action with around 70 in air-to-air fighting; 234 aircrew were either killed or reported missing in action. One of the chief lessons learned by the German bomber force operating over Poland (and as the RAF bombers were soon to discover) was that they were susceptible to fighter attack. The immediate requirement, therefore, was for the bombers to have heavier defensive armament and additional armor protection for their crews.


When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Stanislaw F Skalski was in his early 20s. and a regular Polish Air Force officer, flying PZL fighters with 142 Squadron. On the second day of the war, he destroyed two Dornier 17s, and by the end of the brief Polish campaign was the top-scoring fighter pilot with 6 1/2 victories. He escaped to England, and joined 501 Squadron RAF in the Battle of Britain, scoring four victories. In June 1941 he was made a flight commander in 306 Polish Squadron and shot down five more German aircraft. He received the British DFC, having already won the Polish Silver Cross and Cross of Valor. He then had a spell as an instructor before commanding 317 Squadron in April 1942, winning a bar to his DFC.

In 1943 he led a group of experienced Polish fighter pilots into the Middle East, flying Spitfire IXs attached to 145 RAF Squadron. This ‘Fighting Team’ or ‘Skalski’s Flying Circus’ as it was also called, operated during the final stages of the Tunisian campaign, Skalski adding three more personal kills. He was then given command of 601 Squadron – the first Pole to command an RAF fighter squadron. He received a second bar to his DFC as well as the Polish Gold Cross before returning to England.

As a Wing Commander in April 1944 he commanded 133 (Polish No 2) Fighter Wing, flying Mustangs, raising his score to 19 victories when he forced two FW190s to collide on June 24. He ended the war as a gunnery instructor, decorated additionally with the British DSO. Returning to Poland after the war he was imprisoned by the Russians; and, following his release, drove a taxi in Warsaw.

August the Strong – Saxony 1706

Friedrich Augustus. Elector of Saxony (1694-1733); king of Poland (1697-1704; 1709-1733).

The shattered sanctuary 1706

On 8 January 1706 a Swedish army of between 18,000 and 20,000 men left Blonie. `My soldiers have enjoyed their winter quarters in summer’, declared their enigmatic King, so it was `only right that they should take the field in winter’. Covering nearly 200 miles in 16 days (five being rest-days), by 24 January the Swedes stood on the south bank of the River Niemen opposite Ogilvie’s force in Grodno.

Six days later Augustus left that town at the head of some 5000 Saxon cavalry and Russian dragoons. By 5 February he was in Warsaw, where he waited for a further body of horsemen to join him from the south, which brought his force up to around 8000. With it he intended falling upon the rear of Rehnskjöld’s army of about 12,000, which was quartered west of Poznan’.

To his west, from Silesia, Rehnskjöld anticipated the advance of a considerable `Saxon’ army under the command of LieutenantGeneral Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg (1661-1747). This was Augustus’s `mysterious project’, which had cost him so much money and was designed to procure `great and sure success’ by crushing Rehnskjöld between two armies. After that the victorious Saxons would take Charles too from the rear, while Ogilvie held him at Grodno.

Schulenburg’s force is variously computed as between 16,000 and 22,000 strong, with a cavalry component of 2000-5000. One-third of his infantry was Russian, and other units of the foot were battalions comprising French, Swiss and Bavarian deserters and prisoners of war. According to Stepney, this army consisted mainly `of troops newly raised’.

But there was no victory for Augustus. He was at Kalisz, some four days’ march away, when Schulenburg and Rehnskjöld clashed at Fraustadt (Wschowa), near the Silesian-Polish border, on the morning of 14 February. It was another disaster for our hero, and a bloody one.

Stepney’s account, based upon letters from Silesia, was sent to London on 20 February. He described how the Saxon left wing `began the attack with some success, but their horse being soon routed, the foot suffered extremely, being abandoned in a plain’. The Muscovites `made a valiant defence and orderly retreat’ for over an hour; but finally they were `so warmly plied, that hardly any of the 6000 escaped’, since Rehnskjöld had `resolved to give them no quarter’.

The Saxons `shifted something better by retiring to a village’. The Swedes surrounded it and set it on fire, and seven or eight battalions surrendered there. In all, `the whole body of foot’ was lost with all its baggage and artillery: perhaps 7000 infantry died and 6000 to 8000 became prisoners. However, only 100 of 5000 cavalry and dragoons were slain `upon the spot’; the rest had fled.

Raby sent his own version of events that same day, along with a copy of Rehnskjöld’s letter, to his wife. `Nous n’avons perdu de nos braves Soldats qu’un fort petit nombre’, wrote the Swede of his light losses of 400 dead and 1400 wounded. `Dieu m’a specialement conserve”, he added, `ayant eu un cheval tue’ sous Moy’.

Schulenburg lost more than a horse shot from under him. Raby reported that he was held responsible for the disaster, in `that he would take it upon him to attack the Swedes, when his King was with 6000 men within four days march of him’. The expectation was that `his best fate will be keeping M Patkul company in prison’.

After Fraustadt, Augustus retreated south-eastwards from Kalisz towards Cracow. Peter was `now absolutely disgusted at the repeated misfortunes of his ill-fated ally’, contended Whitworth. Despite `all the money he had given the King (which is near 1,600,000 roubles) he had brought nothing but bad luck’, while Muscovy was `drained of men and money’. The Tsar was `resolved to shut up his purse-strings’.

In the east Charles tried to engage Ogilvie in Grodno, but the weather thwarted him. At the beginning of April the Scot led the remains of an army depleted by privations southwards. By the time Charles could cross the thawing Niemen, Ogilvie had a four-day start. Struggling through the Pripet marshes, the Swedes pursued their foes as far as Pinsk, which they reached on 4 May. There Charles called off the chase, and the Muscovites staggered on to Kiev. Although Peter’s main army was saved, the Russians had `abandoned all Courland and Lithuania with the same precipitation as they took possession’, noted Whitworth.

Charles stayed at Pinsk until early June 1706, both to rest his troops and to harry Augustus’s supporters. Then his army tramped south-westwards to Luck, the capital of Volhynia, a region almost untouched by war. Arriving there in mid-June, the Swedes replenished themselves and their horses from the abundant grain stocks; for their next trek would be lengthy.

Charles `had forborne several times to invade Saxony, when all the reasons both of war and politics should have engaged him to it’ and despite `having destroyed their army and having the country at his mercy’. This was how the Swedish ambassador in Berlin expressed matters to Raby in April. Possibly he was preparing the political groundwork.

Following the allied victory over the French at Ramillies in May 1706, the envoy returned to the issue of removing Augustus as a player. He argued that it was in England’s interest to recognize the puppet Stanislaw instead, since as King of Poland he `could not be able to do anything to disturb the allies’. If Augustus remained upon the throne, then once the Swedes withdrew `he’d begin his old play again, for he was a prince that would not be quiet’. He would revamp `his old project’ of making the Polish throne hereditary `and joining Saxony to it’. Then Augustus would marry his son to Emperor Joseph’s daughter, and if `the Austrian family should be extinct’ in the male line, `by this match his son might pretend to the greatest part of the hereditary country and to be chosen Emperor’. Then, concluded the envoy, Augustus `would be more to be feared than the French King and have as great (at least) a power’.

Whether or not the Swedish sovereign endorsed such political arguments, he had settled by now upon a solution by the sword. On 17 July 1706 Charles marched out of Luck. Having crossed the Bug and the Vistula he teamed up with Rehnskjöld’s force north of Lodz on 16 August. A week later he forded the Warta. Passing full circle through his old base of Rawicz, Charles led his army across the Oder at Steinau (north-west of Breslau) on 2 September, and four days later the Swedes entered Saxony.

`Their march goes straight to Dresden’, hazarded Stepney from Vienna. Eberhardine fled to her father’s, while Augustus’s mother and son left for Magdeburg. The few Saxon troops remaining in the Electorate melted away into Thuringia. The general population, recalling Swedish ravages from the Thirty Years War, were on the move too, with their effects.

`This attempt in Saxony is only to put a speedy end to the war in Poland’, maintained the Swedish envoy in Vienna; Charles had no intention of disturbing the Empire, `provided they do not molest him in his present undertaking’. Stepney hardly anticipated any Imperial interference with the activities of the Swedish King. For `as near as I can perceive, the princes on all sides are in awe of the lion’ and fear that the slightest `remonstrance’ might provoke him `to fall upon them’. Ironically, only Augustus would be molesting the Swedes, and he was desperately trying to avoid just such an outcome.

After Fraustadt, Augustus retreated to Cracow; we know little of what he did there. On 24 April the visiting Plantamour (now in Augustus’s service) told Raby in Berlin that `the King diverts himself very well’. He was `under no apprehensions of the Swedes’, and had more of the Polish nobility with him `than before the unfortunate battle of Schulenburg’s’. He also retained 6000 men in Saxony and at present had no fear of a Swedish invasion of his Electorate.

In late July Whitworth reported that Augustus had retired from Cracow to Hungary. On 18 August the envoy told London that the Elector-King was marching towards Grodno with the Crown Army and 7000 Saxon horse, a `good part whereof, he has insensibly drawn from his Electorate by small troops’ since Fraustadt.

In fact Augustus was currently about 80 miles east of Grodno, in Nowogro’dek. His close adviser (Referendarius) Georg Ernst Pfingsten left that town on 16 August bearing a letter to Charles. This expressed the Saxon’s wish that the two cousins might fully reconcile their differences. Besides this missive, Pfingsten carried a set of principal and subsidiary instructions (Haupt- und Nebeninstruktion) for use at a conference with Swedish representatives. These made clear that the surrender of the Polish crown was only to be agreed to as a last resort, in order to prevent the invasion of Saxony. If the negotiations broke down, Augustus expected the Regency Council to defend the Electorate by all possible means.

Pfingsten only reached Dresden on 1 September; given a Swedish army on the march in western Poland, this was probably not excessive. But it also meant that Augustus’s negotiating position was already shattered. When the Saxon Privy Council met on the morning of 2 September, the Swedes were crossing the Oder and only a few days off from invading Saxony. Moreover, the panic and disorder in the Electorate precluded any possibility of armed resistance.

Charles was in possession of Augustus’s letter on 4 September, two days before he crossed the Saxon frontier. His answer would come better from the sword of an occupying power, than the pen of a negotiator. Therefore, it was not until 12 September that the Swedes consented to receive Pfingsten and the Geheimrat Anton Albrecht Baron von Imhoff at Charles’s temporary headquarters in Bischofswerda, about 20 miles east of Dresden. This proved to be the one and only `negotiating’ session.

The Saxon plenipotentiaries received their powers from the Privy Council and not from Augustus. It made little difference to the Swedish terms. Their first and unalterable condition remained Augustus’s renunciation of the Polish crown, and his recognition of Stanislaw as the legitimate King of Poland. All attempts by the Saxons to evade this point shattered against the rock of Charles’s obstinacy.

The Saxons endeavoured to obtain a Swedish withdrawal from the Electorate as a quid pro quo for accepting Augustus’s abdication. They argued that Saxony could not sustain such a large force, particularly the numerous Swedish cavalry, and generously suggested Brandenburg as a more congenial site (`dort gebe es fette Quartiere’). However, they were foiled here as well. As a Swedish diplomat phrased it, occupation of the Electorate would be the very means whereby `Saxony should be put out of condition for the future to assist King Augustus with men and money’. Occupation would also increase pressure upon Dresden to ratify and execute the peace treaty.

Once Pfingsten and Imhoff had conceded abdication and occupation, they capitulated down the line: on Patkul’s handover, the release of the Sobieskis and abrogation of Augustus’s treaties with the Tsar. Satisfied with the results, Charles removed his brooding presence from Bischofswerda the next day, and on 15 September he crossed the Elbe at Meissen. Six days later he reached the castle of Altranstädt, situated a few miles west of Leipzig, where he would maintain his headquarters throughout the Swedish occupation.

On 24 September 1706 the two Saxon plenipotentiaries arrived there. Together with Piper and Cederhielm for Sweden, and two shadowy representatives of King Stanislaw I of Poland, they signed the 22 articles of the Treaty of Altranstädt. For the moment its provisions were academic, since strict secrecy had successfully shrouded the negotiations.

Charles had not wanted any publicity to interfere with his subjugation of Saxony. Nor had Augustus courted it, since his position was far more precarious. He had ostensibly made peace with his Swedish cousin and voided all treaties with his ally Peter. Yet currently, he was surrounded by thousands of Russian cavalry, who under his leadership were aiming to destroy a Swedish army.

Fraustadt-Grodno Massacres (1706)

This refers to the Swedish massacre of probably over 8,000 soldiers of the Saxon army and supplementary Russian troops allied with Augustus II Wettin during and after the Battle of Fraustadt (present-day Wschowa) on February 13, 1706. Simultaneously, the Swedish army enforced a blockade of the distant city of Grodno during January-March 1706, where about 23,000 Russian troops were left without assistance, and in effect, suffered some 17,000 casualties in the city and during its evacuation.

The Battle of Fraustadt was one of the greatest Swedish victories of the Great Northern War, which opened the road to Saxony to Charles XII and even resulted in the short-lived abdication of the King of Poland Augustus II. At Fraustadt, the Swedish forces of Karl Gustaf Rehnskjöld were outnumbered by the Saxon-Russian troops of Johann Matthias von Schulenburg by two to one (three to one in infantry). The Saxon troops were, in fact, composed of French, Bavarian, Swiss, and Saxon soldiers. Deployed between two villages, the allied army was believed by the commanders to be impregnable to a cavalry attack. Yet, the Swedish horsemen attacked both flanks and, having beaten them, pressed on the centrally deployed troops, massacring them. Of roughly 18,000 Saxon-Russian troops, over 8,000 were killed. Historians cannot agree as to whether several hundred Russians were killed in cold blood after the battle.

About one month prior to the Battle of Fraustadt, in the distant city of Grodno (today in Belaurus), the Swedish forces managed to cut all supply lines to the Russian garrison in the city. The Russian troops numbering about 23,000 men, under the command of a Scottish general Fd. Mar. George Ogilvy and Gen. Nikita Ivanovich Repnin were left without provisions, assistance, and the necessary cavalry to either break through or withhold the blockade. The Polish-Lithuanian king, Augustus II left the area, heading for central Poland, taking with him all cavalry (even the Russian dragoons). In effect, about 8,000 Russian soldiers died of famine and disease, before Oglivy decided to evacuate the city on March 22. Historians claim, that another 9,000 were killed during the retreat.

Further Reading Frost, Robert I. The Northern Wars. War, State and Society in Northeastern Europe 1558-1721. New York: Longman, 2000.

Prince Jozef Anton Poniatowski, (1763-1813)

Prince Jozef Poniatowski was a nephew of the last king of Poland-Lithuania. Born into an affluent family, he was raised to be a soldier. He spent a large part of his life fighting for Poland: first against the Russians in the war of 1792-1794, then as one of Napoleon’s generals, and finally as a Marshal of the French Empire. As the head of the Polish force of the Duchy of Warsaw, Poniatowski served throughout the campaign in Russia in 1812 and stood by Napoleon until his death at the Battle of Leipzig the following year.

Poniatowski was born on 7 May 1763 in Vienna to Andrzej Poniatowski, a general in the Austrian Army, and Teresa Kinsky, a descendant of an old Czech family. On the election to the Polish-Lithuanian throne of Jozef’s uncle Stanissaw August, Jozef and the other members of his family received a princely title. A year later his father received the hereditary title of a Czech prince from the Austrian empress, Maria Theresa. After the loss of his father, young Jozef enjoyed the patronage and assistance of his crowned uncle in Poland, who wished to raise his nephew to be a true Pole.

In February 1780 Jozef joined the Austrian Army with the rank of second lieutenant of the 2nd Regiment of Carabiniers of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. His exceptional talents for military service and his hard work led to rapid advancement. In 1784, already holding the rank of major, he was sent to Galicia to organize a Polish uhlan (lancer) regiment, of which he served as commander for the next two years. In 1786 Poniatowski transferred to the elite light cavalry regiment at Moravia that bore the name of the Emperor Joseph II, and of which Poniatowski was appointed lieutenant colonel.

In January 1788 the Emperor appointed Poniatowski as his personal aide-de-camp during the war against Turkey; at this time Poniatowski was wounded. By year’s end Poniatowski was asked to come to Poland to join the newly formed units of the enlarged Polish army. He arrived in Warsaw in August 1789 and on 3 October was nominated a major general. In January 1790 he was appointed commander of the Royal Foot Guard, though he served only briefly in this capacity, for in the spring he took over command of the Bracsaw and Kijew divisions based in Tulczyn, which constituted a quarter of the Polish Army.

On 3 May 1791 the Polish parliament adopted the first Polish Constitution, a circumstance which resulted in the Russo-Polish War the following year, when Russian forces crossed the Polish border seeking to back the Targowica Confederation (a legal, self-proclaimed political faction opposed to the monarch and other state institutions), established by a group of Polish magnates opposing the new constitution. The Polish army was no match for the Russian forces and therefore could do little more than simply slow their advance. Poniatowski suffered a defeat at the Battle of Boruszkowce, only to win the next one at Zieleuce, for which he became the first recipient of the Polish Order Virtuti Militari. When the king of Poland joined the Targowica Confederation in July 1792, Poniatowski resigned and left the army for Warsaw. In August of the same year Poniatowski left Poland for Saxony and Vienna. In July 1793 he left Vienna under pressure from the Russian ambassador and went to Brussels.

The following year, in May, he returned to Poland to join the Polish insurgent troops, under the command of Tadeusz Ko$ciuszko (Thaddeus Kosciusko), who were fighting against Russian forces. While the fortunes of each side shifted throughout the war, the ultimate outcome of the insurrection could be but one, given the disproportionate strength of the Russian army as compared to the numbers fielded by the Polish insurgents. After the collapse of the uprising and the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, Poniatowski once more went to Vienna.

His biographers refer to the ensuing twelve years as a lost time. After the defeat of the Prussian army at the battles of Jena and Auerstädt (14 October 1806), the Prussian king Frederick William III asked Poniatowski, after the departure of Prussian troops from the king’s Polish territories, to organize a citizens’ militia in Warsaw (part of Prussian Poland). Poniatowski willingly accepted, stressing that the formation would serve the people of Warsaw, not the Prussian authorities. On 28 November 1806 Poniatowski welcomed the Grand Duke of Cleves and Berg, Marshal Joachim Murat, on his entering Warsaw with a French corps. On 6 December Poniatowski decided to serve Poland on the side of the French emperor. Ten days later he was ordered to begin recruiting men for a Warsaw Legion.

On 5 January 1807 Poniatowski presented Napoleon with a “memorandum” suggesting that Napoleon form a Polish state consisting of the Prussian and Russian occupied territories. Just before the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw as a result of the Treaty of Tilsit of 7 July, Poniatowski was honored with the French Legion of Honor by Napoleon; he was then nominated the minister of war on 7 October. After the departure of Marshal Louis Davout from the duchy in September 1808, Poniatowski became head of the newly formed Polish forces there.

As a commander in chief and organizer of the duchy’s army, Poniatowski ensured that the newly raised troops were well equipped and respected in society. He paid special attention to the soldiers’ uniforms, which became some of the most colorful in Europe. According to the constitution of the duchy, the army was to number 30,000 men, a figure that was attained very rapidly. Shortly thereafter, however, because of financial problems arising out of the considerable sums expended in feeding, arming, and equipping the army, some regiments were sent for service in Danzig (Gdansk), Silesia, Prussian forts in Pomerania, and even as far as Spain. There were 15,500 soldiers stationed in the duchy itself.

It was this army, which in 1809, as a French ally in the War of the Fifth Coalition, fought against the 30,000- strong Austrian army of Archduke Ferdinand, who crossed the border of the duchy in April. Poniatowski, whose troops were not strong enough to directly face Ferdinand’s army, decided to leave Warsaw undefended and march south toward Austrian Galicia, which fell under his control. Meanwhile the outcome of the war was decided on other battlefields. As a result of the Battle of Wagram, the Austrians sued for peace and concluded the Treaty of Schönbrunn (14 October), which applied to the Duchy of Warsaw as well. By its terms the Duchy of Warsaw gained the old capital of Poland-Krakow-and enlarged its territory by 50 percent. Poniatowski himself was praised for his part in the campaign.

From 1810 Poniatowski worked toward the enlargement of the army of the duchy and the strengthening of the country’s fortifications. In the end the duchy’s military forces exceeded 60,000 men. For Napoleon’s Russian campaign in 1812, the Duchy of Warsaw supplied almost 100,000 men. These constituted the regular regiments of the Duchy of Warsaw and the National Guard. Most of these troops were scattered in various multinational regiments of the Grande Armée. Poniatowski himself commanded the 36,000-strong all-Polish V Corps, which formed the right wing of the army.

Napoleon and Poniatowski before the burning city of Smolensk

On 17 August Poniatowski’s troops took part in the Battle of Smolensk (by which time only about 15,000 of his men remained), on 4-5 September in the action at Szewrdin, and two days later at the Battle of Borodino. By the time V Corps reached Moscow, Poniatowski’s command had been reduced to a mere 5,500 men. During the retreat Poniatowski served in the rear guard, protecting the remnants of the Grande Armée. Wounded on 29 October, however, he did not take part in the end of the campaign.

On 13 December Poniatowski returned to Warsaw and started to rebuild his corps. He faced a daunting task, for only 380 Polish soldiers returned from the campaign. With the Russian army approaching Warsaw, Poniatowski left for Krakow, where he continued to raise new recruits. Concerned that the Austrians would join the Russians and Prussians, Poniatowski left Krakow on 7 May 1813 and with barely 17,000 men marched toward Silesia. Three months later, on 10 August, he stopped an Austrian army from marching toward Saxony-the main theater of operations during the campaign of 1813 in Germany.

Death of Poniatowski. Painting by January Suchodolski.

Poniatowski and his troops fought at the decisive Battle of Leipzig on 16-19 October. After the first day of the action Napoleon created him a Marshal of the Empire for deeds performed on the battlefield. Three days later, covering the retreat of Napoleon’s army, Poniatowski drowned when attempting to cross the Elster. Five days later his body was recovered from the muddy river, and in 1814 he was buried in Warsaw. Three years later his body was transferred to the Royal Cathedral on Wawel Hill in Krakow.

References and further reading Askenazy, Szymon. 1905. Ksiaze Jozef Poniatowski 1763-1813. Warsaw: Gebethner and Wolff. Chandler, David, ed. 1987. Napoleon’s Marshals. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Delderfield, R. F. 2004. The March of the Twenty-Six. London: Leo Cooper. Macdonnell, A. G. 1996. Napoleon and His Marshals. London: Prion. Skowronek, Jerzy. 1984. Ksiaze Jozef Poniatowski. Warsaw: Ossolineum. Young, Peter. 1973a. Napoleon’s Marshals. London: Osprey. —. 1973b. Napoleon’s Marshals. New York: Hippocrene.

The Military Genius of Tadeusz Kosciuszko

His American and Polish Campaigns

Born in 1746, in 1765 Kosciuszko enters the charter class of the Knight’s School, the Polish Military Academy founded by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski. He graduates in 1766 as a chorazy (an Ensign or First Lieutenant) and stays on as an instructor. In 1769 he leaves for France and further military studies. Returning to Poland only for a short time in 1774-5, he sails from France for the Americas in the summer of 1776.

In America, a new social experiment is being attempted: the revolution of the British Colonies against the most potent nation on earth. It is a revolt which is being fought more on principle than passion. In Kosciuszko’s decision to join the fight for colonial independence, national pride was not an issue, rather the principle of freedom was. (The willingness to join the fight for colonial independence was not unlike that of more recent memory when in our own time people of all nationalities fought in the Spanish Civil War.)


In Philadelphia, Kosciuszko seeks a commission from the Continental Congress. He is armed with a letter of recommendation from Prince Czartoryski to Washington’s second-in-command, General Charles Lee. Although the Continental Congress is the only authority in the Colonies, it is in a financial quandary and its leadership is most precarious. Decisions are not easily made. Fortuitously for Kosciuszko, however, the Congress fears that the British fleet might attack the port of Philadelphia and so it begins to seek an engineer who could help construct fortifications for the port’s defense. Thus Tadeusz Kosciuszko receives a commission as a Lt. Colonel and is assigned to the task.

Kosciuszko relishes the opportunity to employ in real terms the lessons of his military training. But the fortification of the port of Philadelphia is by no means all that compels the Congress to require the services of a military engineer.

A look at the Colonies at the time shows a land bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and criss-crossed by many rivers, navigable ones at that, and many connecting lakes. These waterways can be used by the British to deliver supplies and arms directly from England unencumbered. British troops can travel up and down the Hudson River-Lake Champlain complex from New York City to Montreal and vice-versa. Control of this route is especially critical, since it can split the land forces of the upstart Colonies in two. How desperate the Continental Congress must be to rely upon a young, untested foreign officer who does not yet know the terrain involved.

Kosciuszko quickly plans the defenses of Philadelphia. He builds Fort Mercer as the main fortification and erects palisades in the water to canalize the English ship movement to areas near either shore where they can be bombarded from the banks. He knows the value of being able to deliver withering fire from covering barricades irrespective of the terrain involved. The feared attack does not occur. Kosciuszko’s work is greatly admired.

Fort Ticonderoga

Kosciuszko’s reputation being established, he is next sent to prepare the defenses of Fort Ticonderoga, situated right at the neck of Lake Champlain-Hudson River access route. Should the British control this route then their forces in Montreal and in New York City can support each other. Fort Ticonderoga is a vital blocking point to their movements up and down this waterway. The local topography is such that Sugar Loaf Hill overlooks the Fort. Kosciuszko immediately tells the commanding general to man the hill with artillery. He is countermanded by the fort commander who considered placement of heavy guns there as unattainable because of the terrain.

The British under Burgoyne reach the Fort; a few days later a British battery appears on the Hill, vindicating Kosciuszko’s judgment. The American position becomes untenable.

The Battle of Saratoga

The Colonial garrison is forced to retreat south towards Albany. The new American general, General Gates, asks Kosciuszko to make a new defensive line at a place of his choosing. Kosciuszko selects Bemis Heights on the Hudson River, a most formidable position on the high ground, slightly south of Saratoga. Time an again Burgoyne attacks unsuccessfully. Heartened, General Gates selects Gen. Benedict Arnold to attack the British barricades redoubt. The Americans take a redoubt which overlooks the British position. Burgoyne now must retreat or surrender. He surrenders on October 17, 1777. This action marks the first victory for the Upstart rebels over the British. It convinces France to enter the war on the side of the Colonies.

Kosciuszko’s and the Continental Army’s success makes him ponder, for here a citizen army defeated a highly trained professional army. Could this be done elsewhere, particularly in his beloved Poland too?

Fortification of West Point

Kosciuszko’s next major assignment is the fortification of West Point. another developing blocking position. His defenses are brilliant. Located on imposing sheer cliffs, they give a commanding view of the water and interlocking artillery fire. David C. Arney, Head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the United States Military Academy at West Point, looking down from the location of the Kosciuszko monument at West Point, has written of Kosciuszko’s work on the fortification of West Point in the following terms:

Kosciuszko overlooks the river at its critical point, where ships have to negotiate a sharp turn to pass up river. Kosciuszko’s background of strong geometric mathematics skills and military training at the Warsaw Military Academy gave him the tools to become an expert at designing and building fortifications. That’s exactly what Washington had him do for the headquarters at West Point. The fortification was so strong it could never be breached without complete knowledge of its structure. Giving that structure to the enemy British forces was what Benedict Arnold did to earn the label of “traitor”.

As part of the fortification, Kosciuszko has an enormous chain constructed to span the width of the Hudson. It is designed to remain submerged and un-observable to unwary ships. At the right moment, it can be raised above the water, stranding the ship and making it a sitting duck for the American batteries. British ships never try to sail past West Point but Kosciuszko’s already enormous credentials are further enhanced. While at West Point, Kosciuszko is given a gift, a black slave, Agrippa Hull, to be his personal body servant. He promptly releases the man, but Agrippa stays on to serve him. Kosciuszko serves in the Continental Army for a further three years, moving throughout the enormous southern campaign. No longer a staff officer, he actually commands troops and is involved in hand to hand fighting. On one occasion, four bullets tear his clothing, but none came in contact with his flesh. He also sees many slaves, which reinforced his thinking about the dignity of the common man. Following Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown and the eventual and complete American success, Kosciuszko is promoted on July 15, 1784, much after the war, to Brigadier General. He is also awarded the order of Cincinnatus by General George Washington.

How do Colonial leaders regard Kosciuszko? When General Gates, the original hero of Saratoga is receiving accolades from a visiting doctor, he says:

    “Stop, Doctor, let us be honest. In war, as in medicine, natural causes not under our control do much. In my case, the great tacticians of the campaign were hills and forests, which a young Polish engineer was skillful enough to select for my encampments.”

Likewise, George Washington writes:

    “while I am on this subject, I would like to take the liberty to mention that I have been informed that the engineer in the Northern Army (Kosieski, I think his name is) is a gentleman of science and merit. From the character I have had of him he is deserving of notice.”

From his good friend Thomas Jefferson he receives the following accolade

    “He is as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known and of that liberty which is to go to all and not to the few or rich alone.”

An apt summary of the impact of Kosciuszko’s sojourn in America is given in the following passage by Miecislaus Haiman in his book Kosciuszko in the American Revolution (The Kosciuszko Foundation, New York, 1975, 198 pp.):

    “The American Revolution ultimately shaped Kosciuszko’s character. It deepened and widened his thoughts. It taught him the practical meaning of these ideas which were inborn in him and which he tried to fathom in theory in his youth. He was returning to Poland with an important military experience, but, above all, with a new political and social vision. His American experiences became the foundation of his future role in Poland which so strongly involved all her subsequent history.”

Return to Poland

After eight years in America, Kosciuszko returns to Poland in July 1784. Here he had observed a society where, except for black people, everyone in the population was free. As a young man in France he had been exposed to discussions of liberty for everyone and had read the writings of French philosophers. In the Poland he returns to, power rests in the hands of about 10% of the population, the szlachta and the magnaci, that is the noble estate, while the bulk of the population are peasant serfs. These are obliged to work so many days a week. in the fields of the owner of the estate to which they are attached and from whom they receive a plot of land for their own use. Kosciuszko, who himself returns to his family estate at Seichowicze, cuts the obligations of the serfs on that estate by half.

He seeks a commission in the Polish Army but it is only in 1789, five years after his return, that the King, Stanislaw August Poniatowski commissions him as a Major General. He is given an assignment under Prince Jozef Poniatowski, the King’s nephew.

The Battle of Dubienka

On May 3, 1791, the Polish Sejm, or parliament, enacts a new constitution. Its liberal characteristics prompt some magnates, formally convened at Targowice, to request Catherine the Great of Russia to intervene so as to bring about the suspension of the new constitution. As the Russians advance into Poland from the east, Kosciuszko is assigned to the defense of the part of Poland that lies between the Rivers Wisla and Bug. His valiant efforts lead to his being awarded the Virtuti Militari cross. As Prince Poniatowski consolidates his forces towards Warsaw, Kosciuszko fights a rear-guard action. At Dubienka he faces a superior Russian force of 20,000 to his 5,000. He establishes an extremely comfortable defensive position between the River Bug and the Austrian border, anchoring his line at either end in the built up area of a village, each an obstacle which channels the attacking military force to a place where it cannot act as a unit and can be dealt with piecemeal: in front of him he had a bog, a swamp. He wins the professional admiration of the Russian, General Kochowski, who faces him. On July 18, 1792, the Russians ford the Bug and mount repeated frontal attacks which are repulsed. Then they infringe Austrian sovereignty and attack from the rear forcing the Poles to disengage and retreat. Quickly, the Russian general orders the burial of their 4,000 dead in the hope of concealing their number. The Polish losses are only 90 dead. Kosciuszko continues to fight a rear-guard action as he retreats towards Warsaw.

On July 25, word reaches him that the King, fearing senseless slaughter in the face of the numerically superior Russian forces, has agreed to accede to the demands of the Targowice Confederation and to capitulate to the Russians. On July 30, Kosciuszko, like many of his counterparts, decides to tender his resignation. Though he is promoted to the rank of major general and is called to an audience with the King, he declines the request of the King to continue to serve, leaves Poland and journeys to Leipzig.

The Kosciuszko Uprising

On 23 November, 1793, the Second Partition of Poland is promulgated. Poland now loses an additional 42% of its territory through annexation by Russia and Prussia. This leaves only 29% of the pre 1773 state nominally in Polish hands. Even this area is under the de facto occupation by Russian troops. The Poles seethe and plan an uprising. Messages are sent to Italy, to where Kosciuszko has traveled, telling him everything is ready for the uprising and asking him to take leadership. He tells the delegation he will accept but on one condition. Za szlachte tylko nie bede sie bic. (“For the landed gentry alone I will not fight.”). Why was Kosciuszko chosen? The landed gentry was divided and it would have been difficult to find another leader, even Prince Jozef Poniatowski, who would be trusted. Kosciuszko was the ideal person, he had the experience, and his ideals inspire.

Let me digress. Upon his return to Poland from the States, Kosciuszko felt that what Poland needed was to organize a citizen’s army drawn from all the estates and modeled after that of the United States. He worked out a plan and submitted it to the King. It envisaged a Standing Regular Army, a Standing Active Reserve, and a Local Militia, very much like the current National Guard. It also envisaged a General Mobilization whereby every one between the ages of 18 and 55 would be called to arms. All these people would be fully trained. Though the King did not adopt the plan, fearing that the Militia could easily be transformed into the private armies of the various magnates, the plan does give insight into Kosciuszko’s thinking. So does the oath he takes in Krakow on the Rynek Glowny on March 24:

    “I, Tadeusz Kosciuszko swear in the sight of God and the entire Nation that I will not use the authority and power vested in me for private subjugation but only in the defense of the integrity of the Nation’s borders, the recovery of its sovereignty and the granting of universal freedom, so help me God and His Son’s innocent Sacrifice.”

For all his authority and power as leader of the insurrection, he finds himself in a difficult economic, political and social situation: the Polish armed forces amount to no more than 12-13,000 soldiers, while the Russians have 21,000 troops stationed in what is left of Poland. The peasants, to whom he offers relief from their obligations to the landed gentry, flock to his banners. What kind of weapons can they be equipped with to allow them to fight with a standard military force?. The genius of Kosciuszko is evident in the solution: the kosa, or scythe. Though its blade is normally mounted at a 90 degree angle to its handle, it is a very simple operation to mount it so that it takes the form of a pike or long sharp bayonet. All one has to do is to heat one end of it, straighten it up and put it back on the handle. Moreover, those who carried it know how to use it for they have handled it from the time they were old enough to go into the fields. This is Kosciuszko’s secret weapon.

The Battle of Raclawice

Kosciuszko’s objective is to reach Warsaw. In ten days he has assembled a force of approximately 4,000 regular troops, 2,000 Kosinierzy, or scythe-bearers and 12 cannons. On April 4, his way is blocked a short distance at Krakow, at Raclawice, by a superior Russian force under General Tormasow who initiates the attack. But the tactics improvised by Kosciuszko are unlike any the Russians have experienced. The regular military procedure at the time was to assemble the forces in very tight musket formations, shoulder to shoulder and several rows deep, facing the enemy. In this manner the formation would put out a high volume fire and continue to do so without pause as those who had fired their musket fell behind to reload and the next row stepped forward to fire. Kosciuszko, however, has learned in America unconventional warfare, where one fires from behind a tree, from a ravine or from behind a rock, in other words, where one takes advantage of natural features of the landscape. Now he stealthily moves the Kosinierzy up a gully to within 200 to 300 yards of the Russian cannons. Then, leading the charge, he has them cover the remaining distance at the double on a narrow front. They thus get to the standing Russian formation without suffering many casualties and they capture the cannons. In military terms it was only a tactical victory, but for the Polish people it was also a great moral, social and political one.

One of the Kosinierzy, Wojciech Bartos, personally captured a cannon. To mark his valor, Kosciuszko elevates him to the rank of chorazy and gives him a new name, that of Wojciech Glowacki. He also decrees that the land he tilled would be his in perpetuity and that he would be free of obligations to his former landowner. As an additional mark of his appreciation for the valor of the Kosinierzy, he dons the sukmana, or peasant russet frock coat. On April 17, there is an uprising in Warsaw and on the 24 in Wilno.

The Battle of Maciejowice

The ebb and flow of the uprising continues through September when on the 15th, Kosciuszko receives notice of a new threat in the form of a fresh Russian force some 12-13,000 strong moving across the Wolyn between the Bug and Wisla Rivers. Concerned that the 14,000 strong force under General Fersen will link up with it, he plans to attack Fersen before the latter is able to accomplish the link up. He decides to assume command personally and to this end rides out from Warsaw to Maciejowice, covering the 120 km distance in 11 hours, changing horses repeatedly. Looking the situation over, he develops a battle plan which calls for him to be joined by a force under General Poninski some 40 km away. He sends an order to Poni�ski to join him, but the messenger carrying the order is captured by the Russians. Kosciuszko realizes what has happened and a second messenger is dispatched who makes it through, but a delay of about six hours has occurred. Aware of this Fersen. attacks. It is the 10th of October. Though Kosciuszko had the high ground, he had only 7,000 troops to Fersen’s 12,000. At the back of his position runs a swampy river, but the Russians move across it, attack Kosciuszko’s right wing and crush it. Part of the Polish cavalry quits the field while Kosciuszko entreats with them to regroup. They run into a Kossak patrol and in a brief skirmish, Kosciuszko falls off his horse, is wounded and then severely cut on the head. With that event the Kosciuszko insurrection generally comes to an end. Taken prisoner, Kosciuszko is supposed to have said as he regains consciousness, “jam Kosciuszko wody” meaning “I am Kosciuszko, give me water.” The Russians propagandize that instead he has said Finis Poloniae, the Latin for “Poland is finished,” Poles counter with Jeszcze Polska nie zginela or “Poland has not yet been lost,” words destined to become the first verse of Poland’s National Anthem.