Most western schools don’t mention the significance of 15 August 1920, but an event happened that day that is significant in the history of the west and for Europe–the Battle of Warsaw.
Following Poland’s re-emergence as a nation in 1918 after 123 years of partition, the Soviet Union was intent on spreading the Bolshevik revolution to western Europe. Germany was particularly ripe for this, suffering greatly from the after-effects of World War I. But one country stood in the Red Army’s way, Poland.
Having pushed through a great swath of Poland, by August 12, the Red Army was at the gates of Warsaw. Far superior in number and armament, the final push for Warsaw began and the battle raged for three days. Finally, on August 15th, the Poles prevailed and held their ground. But this was not the end of the Battle, nor of the famed “Miracle on the Vistual.” Poised to the south, Poland’s Marshall Józef Piłsudski himself had command of Polish troops, poised to cut the back door and supply lines of the Red Army.
Starting on August 16, the Polish Army advanced on the rear of the unsuspecting Red Army, and over the next 10 days succeeded in totally defeating and routing the far superior Red Army. It was a total victory for Poland.
Why is this battle one of the most important battles ever fought in Europe? Because it stopped the Red Army, intent on fomenting communist revolution in the rest of Europe. The Soviet Union had to settle for peace, and uneasy peace that lasted nearly 20 years.
Why did the Poles win against such a superior force? Having not had a country for 123 years, the Poles has fierce nationalism on their side. The Red Army was full of conscripts who had no “skin in the game,” and was handicapped by politics–Soviet Commissars had the last say in military matters, not the military. Also, the Poles had for several years broken the codes used by the Red Army, and knew all their plans in advance. The victory for Poland was total and complete, and set Poland’s eastern border until the outbreak of World War II.
But Stalin had his final revenge. After the Soviets split Poland with Germany in 1939, the Soviets imprisoned many, many military officers, many veterans of the 192o war, and then executed them, well over 20,000 officers and other intelligentsia, in what is today known as the Katyń Massacre–killed by a bullet to the back of the head, and buried in mass graves in the Katyń forest (and other locations). Stalin had his revenge. But, nearly 5o years later, Poland took the lead in bringing about the downfall of Communism, and today is a free country, the envy of many nations.
The Battle of Warsaw, a great Polish victory, celebrated today, 15 August, for the events that happened 100 years ago, saving Europe from Communism. A page in history that few in the west know about and appreciate. But now you know the rest of the story.