"Only the sword now carries any weight in the balance for the destiny of a nation."
This was a war in from 1919-1921 that was caused by the collision between various parties trying to fill the power vacuum left after World War I
. Taking the opportunity given by the collapse of the German and Austrian Empires and the chaos of the Russian Civil War
Poland declared itself independent. However the borders between the new state of Poland and the Soviet Union were unclear, as was the international status of each. Skirmishes started in disputed territory which escalated until the newly formed Polish army commenced an invasion/intervention/consolidation of Poland's territory (depending on how you look at it) into the disputed region
both to improve its own position and to drive the Russians further away from Poland. As the original fighting had started without either government's knowledge, arguably the early phase was more a "collision" then an aggression by either, but in any case both sides were too busy to care much.
When the Polish army outran its supplies it retreated home. There it was in turn invaded by the Russians. The Russians penetrated into Poland spreading fear before them until they reached the gates of Warsaw. There General and Chief of State Józef Piłsudski in the Battle of Warsaw led the Polish Army in a massive flank attack
and destroyed and scattered the Soviet army. This is one of Poland's finest victories
and was to become known as the "Miracle on the Vistula" after a nearby river.
The Battle of Warsaw has been credited with saving Europe from the Bolsheviks, who've been stating their intention to carry the Revolution to the West, especially Germany
. The basis for this claim is the heavily turbulent political climate in Germany and other countries of the region (Hungary had its own failed Red revolution), which might've been tipped to the favour of local Communists if the Red Army appeared on the doorstep. On the other hand, it has also been said that the French and Brits might have been pretty able to take care of themselves. It certainly saved Poland from this fate at that time and allowed it about twenty years of peace.
After the Battle of Warsaw, both parties, greatly desiring time to consolidate their respective new regimes made peace more or less finalizing the location of the Polish-Russian border until World War II
The Polish-Soviet War contains tropes such as:
- Aristocrats Are Evil: What the Soviet Russians said about Poles. Conversely, Poles didn't support remaining Russian tsarist loyalists because the latter were overt that they were planning to recreate Tsarist Russia, Poland included (funnily enough, Soviet propaganda claimed that White general Wrangel was in league with Poland). However, the Russian General Tuchachevsky actually was a nihilist aristocrat who used poison gas against civilians in the Russian Civil War.
- Badass Moustache: Semyon Budionny, who came to prominence during the war, sported an extremely flamboyant version of those. As in, even in comparison to all the others in the war.
- Born in the Wrong Century: Semyon Budionny, who was described as being closer in spirit to a leader of a Cossack warbandnote than modern military commander.
- The Cavalry: The "miracle of the Vistula", which as it happens was done with actual cavalry.
- Large cavalry armies were more like norm than exception, due to the configuration of the land: very flat ground, large distances to be made on horseback due to sparse rail heads, abundant grass for foraging, the vast majority of recruits were countryside people who were accustomed to horses since childhood. Isaac Babel lampshaded it by saying about the Ukrainian leader Makhno: "he could raise an army with mounted riflemen and tachanka machine guns in one hour, and dismount it and hide it throughout farms in another hour, how are people supposed to fight that?"
- The Chessmaster: Lenin, Trotsky, and Pilsudski.
- Church Militant: The Polish Catholic Church. Poles were very devout Catholics as well as being very nationalistic and sometimes you get the impression that it is really Poland that is a Church Militant.
- Slightly averted as Pilsudski, the head of state/dictator/commander-in-chief at this time, was Protestant (he converted from Catholicism in 1899). He proposed a federation of independent states on the Soviet border - unfortunately it didn't succeed. While it is true that he had opposition and Poland was Catholic, it is less black and white.
- The future Pope Pius XI, papal nuncio to Poland, gave services in the trenches outside Warsaw, becoming the first representative of the Vatican to face Christendom's enemies on the battlefield since the Battle of Vienna.
- Crazy Awesome: Adrian Carton de Viart, a Belgian officer of the British Army who came to Poland as a military advisor and stayed for random saber combats with the Cossacks, big game hunting and wars with half of the neighbors.
- Crowning Moment Of Awesome: Battle of Warsaw. As a state-level example of Heroic Resolve, it was dubbed "The Miracle of the Vistula". Ironically, it was also intended as an Embarrassing Nickname for the Polish victory by Piłsudski's enemies.
- Also of note: Battle of Komarów, "the last great cavalry battle of the world", and the fact that Polish radio operators jammed Soviet communications by spamming the aether with The Bible.
- Of course, "Last Great Cavalry Battle" is subjective, and probably subject to spin. A lot of the hype about it (largest cavalry battle in the 20th century, pure cavalry battle, etc) are basically overhyped nationalist chest-thumping. Of course, this does not detract from Polish cavalry gaining revenge for what happened in the Ukraine and effectively knocking the main Soviet cavalry Army out of the war.
- To the other side, this could be the battle of Kiev, where the Russians swiftly defeated the invading Polish army.
- Dirty Communists: What Poles said about Russians.
- Eagle Squadron: The Kosciuszko Squadron, a band of American Volunteers who flew for Poland, named after a Polish volunteer officer in The American Revolution.
- Enemy Mine: Subverted. Many notable figures among the Russian White emigration rooted for their bitter enemies, the Bolsheviks, viewing the war as a yet another installment of the 500-year long Poland vs. Russia struggle. For them, it was Communist Russia - but Russia nonetheless.
- Also played with by Piłsudski, who saw Soviet Russia as an enemy of his primary enemy — that is, Imperial Russia who had claims to Polish territory — and never got into close cooperation with the Whites despite fighting against the Reds.
- Fighting for a Homeland: what Poles started out as, and Petliura's Ukrainians.
- Gambit Pileup: Seriously, the Russian Civil War had almost a dozen sides with various agendas. The Polish-Soviet War itself wasn't as bad, but still had its share.
- Glorious Leader: Piłsudski was a less nasty version of this then some.
- The Horde: How the Red Army was depicted by the Poles. Aside from obvious propaganda, Budionny's Horse Army had at least some features of a Cossack host.
- Improvised Weapon : As odd as it sounds, scythes and pitchforks were often used en masse as makeshift polearms against Russian cavalry (mainly by the countryside militias).
- Somewhat of a traditional weapon of polish peasants ever since the 19th-century uprisings, a straigh-mounted scythe was described by the people who happened to find themselves at the wrong end of it (i.e. Imperial Russia soldiers) as one of the most horrifyingly efficient weapons ever in the skilled peasant hands.
- Modern Major General: Stalin's interference seriously undermined the Soviet war effort and presaged his later bungling against Nazi Germany in World War II, which nearly led to the USSR's destruction.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: The Bolshevik leadership hoped that Polish workers and peasants would rebel against the ruling class and turn to their side in the war. However, Polish propaganda successfully invoked this trope, managing to quell class struggle and unite the country's society under the banner of nationalism.
- Near Villain Victory: Again, by the middle of 1920, Poland had lost over half of its territory, was considerably outnumbered, was on the verge of losing both Lwow and Warsaw, and generally had no fat left to burn while Western shipments were being delayed by the Fifth Column elsewhere and it was even feared that a limited capitulation would be necessary to prevent outright Communist revolution throughout Central Europe. Then the Battle of Warsaw happened.
- From the other side of the barricade, this could be said of the war's beginning period, when the Polish army pulled a Curb-Stomp Battle on the fledgling and still rather rag-tag Red Army and advanced as far as Kiev.
- People's Republic of Tyranny: What Poles said about Russians.
- Poles with Poleaxes: Nearly literally, if you count the Improvised Weapon entry above.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Played with. The Poles started without an army as they hadn't gotten around to forming one. What they did have was lots and lots of soldiers for recent events had left Europe with more soldiers then it knew what to do with. Enough of these were ethnic Poles or Polish sympathizers for the Poles to put together a reasonably proficient army in time to take the field.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: all sides involved committed atrocities. Isaac Babel, as a Russian Jewish correspondent, talked with great pity and sympathy of the way Poles and Russians ravaged the countryside, wantonly killing, and how Jews were furiously hated and hunted by both.
- Reds with Rockets: One of the first wars of the Communist Russia's army, besides the ongoing Russian Civil War.
- Rebel Leader: many on both sides were, once were, or claimed to be this. Notably, Symon Petliura and Semyon Budyonny, two former rebel leaders in the Ukraine, joined separate sides in the war.
- Schizo Tech: radio jamming, machine guns mounted on peasant carts, war scythes, tanks, cavalry sabres and lances, airplanes. Military theorists drew literally contradictory conclusions from this war's experiences.
- Spinoff: This can be considered a spinoff of the Russian Civil War, which itself was a spinoff of World War One. And the spinoff of it was Polish conquest of (then Lithuanian-held) city of Vilnius/Wilno. It raised Unfortunate Implications by fueling a maniacal hatred of Polish aristocracy among Russian Bolsheviks and the atrocities of World War II and of immediate afterwards years were themselves a spinoff of the conflict.
- We Are Struggling Together
- Won the War, Lost the Peace: The Polish government was dominated by the Nationalists, who wanted only as much territory as it could be assimilated into Poland, as opposed to Piłsudski, who wanted as much ground as he could to make it into allied buffer states. So, the Poles took less than the Reds were willing to offer, screwing their Ukrainian allies in the process.
The Polish-Soviet War in fiction :
- Perhaps the most well-known work of fiction set in this era is the Red Cavalry cycle by Russian author Isaac Babel.
- The war has unsurprisingly been also covered by several Polish works, among them the recent 3D film.