The Battle of Warsaw, August 13-16, 1920

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Nov 9, 2005
The advance of the Red army 1920.
Until the spring of 1920, Poland was pushing or at least holding the Bolsheviks back. By the summer of 1920 however, the Bolsheviks began to gain strength as they were winning their civil war in Russia. By the summer of 1920, the Bolsheviks were advancing into Poland. It indeed looked as if Poland would be totally defeated. Fearing a total Bolshevik victory, the Western Allies (most notably France) begged Pilsudski to accept peace with Lenin, thereby granting Russia much territory (the Curzon Line). Pilsudski refused, and the Red Army approached Warsaw by August. Peace overtures made by Lenin were not sincere. Lenin felt that he had already won the war and would soon be able to continue the Bolshevik Revolution westward. Pilsudski knew that Lenin could not be trusted.

The Battle of Warsaw, 1920.
Between the 13th and 16th of August, 1920, a battle raged in and around Warsaw between Polish and Bolshevik forces. At stake was the future of Poland as well as the future of Europe. Red Army commanders made a tactical error when a large part of their force diverted north of Warsaw in order to cut Polish supply lines from the Baltic Sea. Pilsudski had set a trap and sprung it, taking full advantage of the Russian error. The result was the diverted Red Army force itself became cut off from their supply line, and the remaining Red Army force was decimated. General Wladyslaw Sikorski commanded a force (including some French tanks) that defended the city of Warsaw. This turn in the tide was regarded by many as a miracle, and became known as the "Miracle on the Wistula". So badly defeated was the Red Army, that it began a general retreat on all fronts. The Polish forces pursued the retreating Red Army, defeating them again at the Niemen River in September. Sikorski had chased the Red army with some armour, showing that tanks could play a role in rapid advances on the battlefield (a lesson that Heinz Guderian used later, during WW II). On October 12, 1920, an Armistice was signed, ending the fighting.

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Battle Of Warsaw


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The intelligence service in the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920.

On August 12, the media reported the discovery of sensational documents on the role of Polish intelligence in the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920, but historians are in dispute as to whether the decryption of Red Army ciphers by Polish cryptographers had a decisive impact on the outcome of that war.
The daily 'Gazeta Wyborcza' reported that in a book about to be published in late August, Dr. Grzegorz Nowik, a historian from the Military Historical Research Office, who discovered documents at the Central Military Archive (CAW), argues that Polish cryptographers, notably the mathematician and linguist Jan Kowalewski, had cracked the Soviet military codes in September 1919 due to which the Polish High Command was kept posted on Red Army intentions on a running basis. This facilitated the victorious Polish counter-offensive, known in Poland as 'the miracle on the Vistula'.

Historians, asked by PAP, are agreed that the documents unearthed by Dr. Nowik – several thousand deciphered Soviet telegrams – shed new light on the war.

Dr. Jan S. Ciechanowski of the Institute of National Remembrance, says that historians had known about this aspect for at least forty years but could not take it up because up to the late 1990s, these materials were held at the Ministry of the Interior archives which were closed to researchers.

"To the best of my knowledge, the first mention of the Soviet ciphers having been cracked appeared in Jan Kowalewski's obituary written by Gen. Tadeusz Pełczyński in 1965." says Ciechanowski. Subsequently, several references to Kowalewski appeared both in émigré publications and at home, notably in the Polish Biographical Dictionary.

According to Prof. Paweł Wieczorkiewicz, Dr. Nowik's discovery means that the history of the campaign of 1920 has to be re-written. "The significance of this work is comparable to earlier works that revealed that the Poles cracked the 'Enigma' code." he emphasizes and adds that these documents make it clear that the decisive battle, known as 'the miracle on the Vistula' was based on Marshal Piłsudski's informed decisions.

According to Wieczorkiewicz, this does not diminish Piłasudski's role as commander-in-chief. "The biggest skill of a commander is to identify enemy plans. Given the balance of forces, the information supplied by intelligence was decisive" – he stresses.

Prof. Andrzej Garlicki of Warsaw University argues that Nowik's findings do not change the picture of that war in a significant way. "It's one thing to crack a code, and another how it was utilized by the Polish command" – he says.

Garlicki points out that "The fact that Polish cryptographers cracked the code does not mean that intelligence reports reached Piłsudski promptly…" pointing to the account of Gen. Wacław Jędrzejewicz (an intelligence officer at the time), who suggested that our leaders did not know about the concentration of Soviet forces to the north, in the spring of 1920."
davparlr said:
I have heard that the Poles were also instrumental in deciphering the German code in WWII.

They were the guys who made the first Enigma machines. Wild how it got done, the dude who thought it up did it just by hearing how the German system worked. He made a machine based on that information. It is possible he had a look at the commercial version of the same thing, but the "Bombe", as it was called, was made based on concept.

Same thing happened with one of the Japanese codes (Purple, I think) and the similarity to a phone switch board.

Definitely guys who thought way, way, way out of the box.

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