The collapse of Imperial Russia during World War I altered the map of central Europe drastically. Poland had been under Russian control for over a century following the Partitions of Poland in 1772. The Polish had attempted to break away on numerous occasions but failed to achieve independence. With the Russian Revolution in 1917 and subsequent Russian Civil War, Poland saw its chance for independence and seized the opportunity. Achieving victory, Poland formed the Second Polish Republic and carved out territory to encompass the newly formed Poland. The Soviets in Russia did not recognize the new Polish Republic and ignited the Polish-Soviet War. The Poles were victorious in their campaign but remained threatened by their communist neighbors to the east.
On 23 August 1939, the future of Poland was imperiled by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Looking to expand east, Nazi Germany pushed for the agreement with the Soviet Union to divide and conquer the Polish state. War erupted on 1 September with the German blitzkrieg into Poland. Despite the heroism of the Polish armed forces, the Nazi war machine overwhelmed the outdated and outnumbered Poles. On 17 September, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. Surrounded, the Polish government was forced into exile as the nation was conquered by the Nazi and Soviet regimes.
The Free Polish forces fought the remainder of World War II from exile, supporting the British Commonwealth. After the war, the exiled Polish government was unable to retake their seat in Warsaw. The Soviets installed a communist puppet government in Poland, the Polish People’s Republic, which remained an integral part of the Warsaw Pact until 1989 when the communist regime collapsed, and the Polish Republic was reinstated as the legitimate government of Poland. With the end of communism in Eastern Europe, Poland joined NATO IN 1999.
Today Poland is an important player in Eastern European politics and has supported the US in its Global War on Terror. Polish troops served alongside American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. With a resurgent Russia threatening Eastern Europe once again, the Polish military will remain a key part of preserving liberty in Europe.
Look for more information regarding the history of the Polish-Soviet War in the current Strategy & Tactics issue #296 with the article “The Kiev Operation: 1920” and join the conversation on Facebook!