Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Polish Thermopylae - battle of Zadworze 17.08.1920

Salvete Omnes.
yesterday  there was the  100th anniversary of the battle of Zadworze (nowadays in Ukraine) known as the Polish Thermopylae.
Captain Roman Abraham, already very well known and capable soldier, organized and commanded the so called Abraham 'detachement'(detachment) in July 1920.
Abraham's unit, part of the Little-Poland Voluntary Army, was a special troop of very brave boys (Lwow Eaglets) and men and one woman (uhlan Janina Lada-Walicka in the photo below with her companions in arms as a part of the 2nd squadron also  called the Death Squadron) from Lwow, fresh from fighting during the Polish-Ukrainian war 1918-19.

The Abraham's Detachment, organized in July,   included only volunteers:
- battalion of infantry, (3 companies), commanded by captain Boleslaw Zajaczkowski,
- machine guns divizion under 1st lieutenant Dawidowicz
-machine guns squadron under 1st lieutenant and poet Tadeusz Nittman/later Krzywda Bogucki
-3 squadrons of cavalry under captain Tadeusz Korab-Krynicki,
-1 machine guns squadron -major Swiecki
-1 artillery battery under 1st lieutenant Karpowicz
- medical unit under second lieutenant Jaklinski
-logistisc and wagon-kitchen unit etc 1st lieutenant Wojcicki*
*according to the volunteer chronicler Pogonowski, Boj of Lwow, 1921.
In total 1300 soldiers and 34 officers.

They went into action in the end of July in the defense of Lwow against the 1st Budionny Konarmia, According to prof. Lech Wyszczelski, Kampania Ukrainska 1920, the Abraham Detachment along with the 54th infantry regiment were withdrawing towards Winniki and Nowosiolki, to achieve the northern defense line of Lwow. Colonel Szemiot, the commander of this part of the Polish front, ordered Zajaczkowski's battalion to command the 222 hill in Zadworze while the 54th regiment moved away towards Winniki. Detachment's cavalry continued screening the front, but left their infantry withdrawing along the railway line in the morning of 17th August.
Masses of enemy cavalry from the 1st Konarmia 6th Cavalry Division etc - perhaps as many as 5000 strong -   had to circle back and retake Zadworze railway line and station.
Pogonowski, based on his contemporaries, stated that the infantry battalion was moving along the railway line in Zadworze towards Lwow, having successfully fought with their Detachment cavalry against the Bolsheviks in Nowosiolki, and was only about 2 km from the protective Barszczowicki forest where defense would have been easier against the cavalry, but during the fighting march along the Zadworze railway  Bolsheviks destroyed the munition wagons of the battalion,  and Polish soldiers faced the inevitable cavalry action along their wings and the final encirclement. 

So on August 17, 1920 for about 11 hours the 330 men strong battalion with their machine guns under overall command of captain Zajaczkowski fought  thousands of Bolshevik cavalrymen.
Eventually inspire of the heroic fighting and wonders of martial feats the 318 Polish infantrymen perished in this last stand fight.
In the rage that overtook many Bolsheviks upon the end of fighting they quartered with sabres the bodies of the Polish soldiers, and this barbaric act made their identification difficult by the loved ones. 
Some of the accounts of this battle were given by the railway's guard who was inside the Zadworze railway guard shack and some of the survivors who were fortunately rescued by the armored Polish train, this powerful armored train was too late to help the fallen heroes.
Historians do not know how many Bolsheviks died this day.
The stubborn defense by this volunteer unit, and other volunteer units around Lwow, must have led to the abandonment by 1st Konarmia plans to capture and loot Lwow.
They marched north and soon met their Nemesis near Komarow - there will be another post about this battle, I hope

so in post-1920 Polish Republic this heroic battle of Zadworze became celebrated as Polish Thermopyle - and it was the Communist authorities in post-1945 Poland that suppressed and erased the memory of Zadworze in Polish collective memory. Perhaps the horrors of the Nazi and Soviet occupation of Poland helped to forget the glories of Polish Nation military victories and sacrifices of 1918-20.
Nowadays, the battle of Zadworze is very little known, but the tradition of celebrating the place - where a tall kurgan stands.

Nota bene on September 18, 1920 the City of Lwow buried, with much somber celebration aka pompa funebris, the bodies of 7 heroes of Zadworze:
Zajaczkowski, Obertynski, Demetr, Hanak, Marynowski, Gromnicki,Szarek, and their remains were buried in holly ground of  the famous Lwow Lyczakowski cemetery.

Salvete Omnes,

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