Battle of Lemberg (1918)
|Battle of Lemberg (Lwów)|
|Part of Polish-Ukrainian War|
Fights for the Lychakiv Cemetery on a painting by Wojciech Kossak
|West Ukrainian People's Republic||Republic of Poland|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Dmytro Vitovsky, Hnat Stefaniv||Czesław Mączyński|
The Battle of Lemberg (Lviv, Lwów) (in Polish historiography called the Defense of Lwów) took place from November 1918 to May 1919 and was a six-month long conflict in what is modern-day Ukraine. The battle was fought between attacking forces of the West Ukrainian People's Republic and the local Polish civilian population, assisted later by regular Polish Army forces for the control over the city of Lviv (Lwów, Lemberg), in what was then eastern part of Galicia and now is western part of Ukraine. The battle sparked the Polish-Ukrainian War, ultimately won by Poland.
The modern city of Lviv was called Lviv by the Ukrainians, Lwów by the Poles, and Lemberg by the Austrians and is the largest city in the historical region of eastern Galicia. According to the Austrian census of 1910, which listed religion and language, 51% of the city's population were Roman Catholics, 28% Jews, and 19% belonged to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Linguistically, 86% of the city's population used the Polish language and 11% preferred the Ukrainian language. However, of the 44 administrative divisions of the eastern half of the Austrian province Galicia, Lviv was the only one in which Poles made up a majority of the population. In eastern Galicia, Ukrainians made up approximately 65% of the population, while Poles made up 22% of the population and were numerically superior in the cities. As a part of the Austrian partition of Poland, Lemberg became center of Polish culture and scholarship, as well as Polish and Ukrainian political activity.
Due to the intervention of Archduke Wilhelm of Austria, a Habsburg who adopted a Ukrainian identity and who considered himself a Ukrainian patriot, in October 1918 two regiments consisting of mostly Ukrainian troops were brought into the city, so that most of the Austrian troops stationed in Lviv were ethnic Ukrainians. At the same time, most of Polish units in Austro-Hungarian service were sent to other fronts in order to avoid conflict between the two groups. In addition, the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen were stationed in Bukovina and were supposed to join the Ukrainian troops in the city. The Ukrainian National Rada (a council consisting of all Ukrainian representatives from both houses of the Austrian parliament and from the provincial diets in Galicia and Bukovina) had planned to declare the West Ukrainian People's Republic on November 3, 1918 but moved the date forward to November 1 due to reports that the Polish liquidation committee was to transfer from Kraków to Lviv.
Between 3:30 and 4:00 A.M. on November 1, 1918 Ukrainian soldiers occupied Lviv's public utilities and military objectives, raised Ukrainian flags throughout the city and proclaimed the birth of the new Ukrainian state. The Austrian governor was interned and handed over power to the vice-director of the governorship, Volodymyr Detsykevych, who in turn recognized the supreme authority of the Ukrainian National Rada. The Austrian military commander called on his subordinates to recognize the Rada as well. Colonel Dmytro Vitovsky became commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian forces in Lviv, which numbered 60 officers and 1,200 soldiers. Lviv was proclaimed the capital of the West Ukrainian People's Republic, which claimed sovereignty over Eastern Galicia, the Carpathians up to the village of Komańcza in the west (Komancza Republic), Carpathian Ruthenia and northern Bukovina. However, a large part of the claimed territory, including the city of Lviv, was also considered Polish by many of the local residents. While the Ukrainian residents enthusiastically supported the proclamation and the city's significant Jewish minority remained mostly neutral towards the Ukrainian proclamation, the Polish residents, constituting the majority of Lviv's inhabitants, were shocked to find themselves in a proclaimed Ukrainian state.
The Polish forces, initially numbering only about 200 people under Zdzisław Tatar-Trześniowski, organized a small pocket of resistance in a school on the western outskirts of the city, where a group of veterans of the Polish Military Organization put up a fight armed with 64 outdated rifles. After the initial clashes, the defenders were joined by hundreds of volunteers, mostly Scouts, students and youngsters. More than 1000 people joined the Polish ranks on the first day of the war. This enabled the Poles to retake some of the western parts of the city, while most of the city centre remained in Ukrainian hands.
Although numerically superior, well-equipped and battle-hardened, Vitovskyi's soldiers were mostly villagers and were unaccustomed to city fighting. Furthermore, the elite Ukrainian Sich Riflemen had difficulty breaking into the city from Bukovina due to the intense resistance of Poles in the suburb of Klepariv. Although their enemies were ill-equipped and mostly untrained, they had the advantage of good knowledge of the city, which proved vital in the early days of the defence. In the following day the forces of the defenders reached roughly 6,000 men and women, more than 1400 of them gymnasium students and youngsters. Because of their heroism and mass participation in the fights, they are commonly referred to as Lwów Eaglets. The Polish defenders also included a significant component of petty criminals, who, nevertheless, were valued for their heroism. On November 3 a few units of the Sich Riflemen broke through and entered the city, and command over the Ukrainian forces was transferred to Col. Hnat Stefaniv. However, a Polish assault on the Main Train Station succeeded and the Poles managed to capture two Ukrainian supply trains, largely negating the Ukrainian superiority in arms and munitions. By November 5 the Ukrainians were pushed out of the western part of the town, yet the Polish assault on the city centre was repulsed and both sides reached a stalemate. With insufficient personnel to man a regular front line, the front was stable only in the centre, while in other areas only the most important buildings were defended.
On November 11, 1918, Poland declared her independence and the following day the first units of the regular forces of the Polish Army under Maj. Wacław Stachiewicz entered Przemyśl, only some 70 kilometres away from Lviv. Believing this move to be part of the preparations to break through the Ukrainian siege, Col. Stefaniv prepared a general offensive on the Polish-held western parts of the city. However, despite the heavy fighting that raged between November 13 and November 15, the Polish defence held out and the Ukrainians were repelled. An armistice was signed on November 18.
After two weeks of heavy fighting within the city, a Polish detachment consisting of 140 officers, 1,228 soldiers, and 8 artillery guns under the command of Lt. Colonel Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski of the renascent Polish Army, broke through the Ukrainian siege and arrived at the city. On November 21 the siege was broken and the Ukrainians were repelled from the Lychakiv Cemetery, one of the most important areas of the city. The remaining Ukrainian forces withdrew during the following night, although they continued to surround Lviv from three sides.
"Lwów Pogrom" and riots
Chaos during the Polish take-over of the city culminated in a two-day-long riot, in which mostly Polish criminals and soldiers started pillaging the city; over the course of the riots, approximately 340 civilians, 2/3 of them Ukrainians and the rest Jews, were murdered. The Jews were accused of cooperating with Ukrainians, and it was claimed that approximately 150 Jews were murdered and 500 Jewish shops and businesses were ransacked in reprisal, although the Morgenthau commission reported only 64 Jewish deaths. The Jewish deaths were overstated in some initial reports in the western press and the incident has come to be known as the "Lwów pogrom". After establishing order within the city, Polish authorities punished a number of people accused of participation in riots.
Ukrainian siege And Polish victory
However, heavy fighting for other cities claimed by both Poles and Ukrainians continued, and the battle for Lviv lasted until May 1919. After their withdrawal in November, Ukrainian forces had laid siege to the city, surrounding it on three sides. The only link between Polish forces in the city and central Poland was the railway line from Przemyśl. Due to its crucial importance for defenders, constant fighting for control of this line was waged, at times including the usage of armored trains.
In Lviv itself, Ukrainians started an artillery bombardment of the city on December 22, preceding the first general offensive, commenced December 27. This assault, and the following one from February 1919, were unsuccessful and Polish forces continued to hold the city. On February 24, 1919, a short-lived armistice was signed, based on the strong demand of the Entente's representatives, who arrived in February, in a futile attempt to reconcile the belligerents and bring them to an agreement.
Fighting began again on March 1, 1919. Positional skirmishes between entrenched sides lasted until May 1919, when a general Polish offensive on the Eastern-Galician front forced the Ukrainians, endangered with the risk of encirclement, to pull back from their positions around the city and thus ended the six-month-long battle for the control over Lviv.
The Polish-Ukrainian fight for Lviv is sometimes referred to as "the last civilized conflict" by Polish historians. Because both sides were too weak to create regular front lines and lacked heavy weapons, the civilian casualties were low and did not exceed 400. Also, both sides tried to avoid destroying the city's facilities and the most important buildings were declared de-militarized zones. Among them were the hospitals, the water works, gas plant and the energy plant. Local ceasefire agreements were signed on a daily basis and there were even numerous situations where both Polish and Ukrainian soldiers played football or partied during cease fires. In his memoirs, Polish Lieutenant (later Colonel) Bolesław Szwarcenberg-Czerny noted that during one of the ceasefires Lieutenant Levsky, the Ukrainian commander of an outpost fighting with his unit, got so drunk with the Poles that he overslept and woke up late after the latest ceasefire had ended. Immediately another ceasefire was signed to allow the Ukrainian officer to return to his unit.
Because of that, the losses on both sides were small. The Poles lost 439 men and women, 120 of them gymnasium pupils, such as Antoni Petrykiewicz and Jerzy Bitschan, and 76 Lviv University students. Most of them were interred in the Cemetery of the Defenders of Lwów.
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- (in Polish) Czesław Mączyński Boje Lwowskie