A TRIBUTE: General Jozef Haller & The Blue Army



About General Haller

The Blue Army


Portrait Gallery

The Riflemen's Assoc.


Campaign Maps

Haller's Army Video

Real Audio Clips

Help Build This Page

About Us

Text Box: Bitter Glory

Excerpts from “Bitter Glory”


By Richard M. Watt


Chapter 2 - War and Peace in Poland


(*Webmater’s note: The entire text of this chapter is not reproduced here. It has been condensed to more closely reflect the content of this webpage. Though paragraphs have been eliminated, what does appear, appears without redact.)


THE HISTORY OF POLAND and the various Polish armies during World War I is awesomely complex. There were usually three or four, sometimes five, "committees," all claiming to be the "authentic" voice of a future independent Poland. There were several Polish Legions, a Polish Army Corps, a Polish Auxiliary Corps, and an underground Polish Military Organization. At one time or another, most of these organizations switched sides and fought against the powers that they had originally supported. In addition, there were sizable Polish contingents in the Russian, German, Austrian and French armies. That it all ended up as well as it did for the cause of a united and independent Poland is in large part due to the fact that the Polish military and political effort was so spread out that some of its forces could not help but be on the winning side.


    The first and most important of the Polish Legions appeared during that opening week in August 1914 when World War I began. Entirely on his own hook and acting as if he were the head of an independent nation, Pilsudski mobilized his Riflemen's Association for service in the field. His tiny army took the name Polish Legion, evoking memories of the Polish Legions of the Napoleonic wars.


    In the late spring of 1917 the Germans announced that the members of the Polish Legions would be required to take an oath of loyalty upon their induction into the new Polish army. Included with this oath was to be a commitment to a "brotherhood-in-arms with the German and Austrian armies."


    Pilsudski decided that he would not permit these troops, whom he still regarded as his own, to make such a pledge. He sent word to his Legionnaires to refuse to take the oath.


    On July 9, 1917, all of those members of the First and Third Brigades of the Polish Legion who were not Austrian citizens were paraded in Warsaw for the administration of the oath. The matter had now become a cause celebre’. The oath was read, and those who refused to accept it were ordered to take two steps forward. More than five thousand of the approximately six thousand Legionnaires stepped forward. And their officers threw down their swords as a sign of refusal. All the Legionnaires who rejected the oath were arrested and marched off into internment. Shortly afterward, on July 22, the German authorities arrested Pilsudski himself and sent him off to a military prison at Magdeburg.


    The cause of Polish independence was now in a most confused state. There now existed at least five more or less official Polish organizations. One was the Supreme National Committee in Krakow, which was oriented toward accommodation with the Central Powers. A second was the Polish National Committee, which had been formed in Warsaw, moved to St. Petersburg, and then abandoned by its principal member Roman Dmowski when he went to London. Dmowski later settled in Paris, where he and a number of prominent Poles established the Polish Information Agency, which claimed to be the official voice of Poland. Eventually, Dmowski's organization changed its name to the Polish National Committee and was recognized by the Western Allies as the authoritative Polish group. In Warsaw, there had been established a Central National Committee, which adopted Pi}sudski's orientation. At the same time the Germans had established the Council of State for the Polish Kingdom, later changing this body into a smaller group known as the Regency Council.


    The situation in the Polish armed forces was equally confused. In Paris, Dmowski's Polish National Committee was helping to raise a Polish army to serve under the French on the Western Front. The First and Third Brigades of the Polish Legion had been disbanded, but Jozef Haller, the commander of the Second Brigade of the Legion, and several thousand of his men had continued in the service of the Central Powers and were now known as the Polish Auxiliary Corps. There were several Polish Legions in the Russian army. In Poland itself there was still another organization--the Polska Organizacja Wojskowa (Polish Military Organization), or P.O.W. Pilsudski had built up this secret paramilitary organization by diverting into it the excess of volunteers for his First Brigade. At the time of Pilsudski's arrest the P.O.W. was a sort of underground army, specializing in intelligence work and totaling some thirty thousand members. They were pledged to the strictest personal loyalty to Pilsudski, who was husbanding them against the day of Polish independence, when they would become the nucleus of the Polish Army. Just before his arrest, Pilsudski had entrusted the command of the P.O.W. to one of his most loyal subordinates--Edward Rydz-Smigly. Rydz-Smigly was to keep the P.O.W. intact, armed, and ready for orders from Pilsudski.


    The Russian revolutions of March and November 1917 demolished several of these miscellaneous Polish armies. Haller and his Second Brigade of the Polish Legion, having lost faith in the promises of the Central Powers, abandoned their positions in the Austrian front and went over to the Russian side. From there they hoped to be transported to serve under the Wester Allies. But before this could be done, the Germans attacked. In a bitter battle with the Germans at Kaniev on the Dnieper River, Haller's brigade was defeated and dispersed. It could not be reassembled in Russia, where the Bolshevik Revolution had just taken place, and Haller's men were regarded as White Guardists. These soldiers made their way back through the German lines to Poland or, like Haller, found refuge at Murmansk with the British interventionary forces. After a while, the British shipped them to France, where they served in the Polish forces that the National Committee had raised.


    With the war drawing to a close, the question of what was to be done with Poland became an important one to the Allies. Clearly, it was a matter that had to be resolved soon. In the early years of the war the matter of Polish independence had been treated very gingerly by France and Great Britain. Although unofficially sympathetic, they could not make statements regarding a people who were subjects of Imperial Russia, one of the Allied Powers. But the Bolshevik Revolution put an end to this awkward problem. The French, who viewed the Poles as a barrier against the westward spread of Bolshevism, became particularly anxious to declare Allied support for a free Poland. The British were considerably less enthusiastic, but in time they found that their hand was forced by the man who had become the world's most powerful statesman.


     On January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress to announce the war aims of the United States. These aims, which were set forth in fourteen numbered paragraphs and thus instantly became known as the "Fourteen Points," consisted of several rather general statements of intention  coupled with a number of very specific promises. The Thirteenth Point promised that "an independent Polish State should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant."


    The Fourteen Points were, of course, an enormous success. There is no question but that Woodrow Wilson was a master of English prose, and the simple clarity of the Fourteen Points at once attracted worldwide notice. The Fourteen Points were translated and publicized in practically every language as an example of the exalted objectives for which the United States was fighting. They were irresistible. The Allied governments found themselves with no option but to express concurrence--although in somewhat guarded terms on several of the objectives. But there was no equivocation about Polish independence. The French (enthusiastically) and the British (less enthusiastically) supported this goal.


    Woodrow Wilson's support of a free Polish nation was not unexpected--certainly not by the Poles, who had worked long and hard for presidential favor.


    In 1915 the Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski had gone to the United States for the double purpose of raising funds for Polish war relief and winning support for Polish independence. It is hard to conceive of a person better suited for these tasks. Paderewski was then fifty-five years old. He came from a family that had for several generations struggled for the cause of a free Poland. His grandfather had been exiled for anti-Russian agitation. As a boy, Paderewski had displayed a love for music. His parents, although not wealthy, arranged for him to study the piano under a series of well-known teachers. The teachers were not particularly impressed with this pupil. They regarded him as apt but not gifted. Paderewski compensated for this lack of youthful genius by enormously hard work. In his early twenties he went to Vienna and found a few students to give lessons to while he studied with the great pianist Theodor Leschetizky. After giving well-received recitals, he moved to Paris, where he became even more successful, and then he went on to London, where after initial setbacks his success was even greater. By the time that he was thirty he had captured Europe. Paderewski's phenomenal rise to fame was not dependent exclusively on his abilities as a pianist and composer. Without exception, contemporary descriptions of Paderewski emphasize his personal charm.


    By the turn of the century, Paderewski was wealthy and famous. He was also a caricaturist's delight. He had a mane of curly red hair, which later turned white, on which a little black hat seemed to float. He was a flaming patriot, totally committed to the cause of Polish independence. Paderewski spoke English fluently, and his familiarity with the language was one reason for his going to the United States

soon after the beginning of World War I.


    In championing the cause of Polish independence in the United States, Paderewski was, of course, tilling a fertile field. There were more than a million Polish immigrants in the United States and three million second- or third-generation Polish-Americans. Their networks of organization--principally the Polish Roman Catholic Union and the Polish National Alliance--were extensive and vigorous. Paderewski, who eventually was recognized by Dmowski as the American representative of Dmowski's Polish National Committee, proved a superb propagandist. He virtually abandoned his musical career, except for Polish War Relief benefit recitals, and threw himself into the campaign for an independent Poland. Paderewski made more than three hundred speeches in the United States. He raised enormous sums of money; indeed, he almost single-handedly financed Dmowski's Polish National Committee, and in Chicago he helped establish a recruiting organization that eventually sent twenty thousand Polish-Americans to France to join the Polish army being raised there. But most importantly, Paderewski was successful in developing a close relationship with Woodrow Wilson's friend and confidential adviser, Colonel Edward M. House, who found Paderewski enormously impressive. If this charming, distinguished, and rational man represented the cause of free Poland, then it must be a cause worth supporting. Colonel House relayed Paderewski's arguments for Polish independence. House reported Paderewski's admiration, bordering upon reverence, for Wilson--particularly for Wilson's long-standing interest in the "self-determination" of peoples and their freedom to associate themselves into democratic governments on the basis of nationality.


    All this had had its effect on Wilson. As early as January 1917, Wilson had told the Senate that "I take it for granted... that statesmen everywhere are agreed that there should be a united, independent and autonomous Poland." This was indeed taking a very great deal for granted, because at that time the world's statesmen certainly had not so agreed. Nonetheless, the pressure of Wilson's Fourteen Points soon brought America's allies into line. On June 3, 1918, the prime ministers of Great Britain, France and Italy jointly declared that "the creation of a united and independent Poland with free access to the sea constitutes one of the conditions of a solid and just peace."