Polish I Corps in Russia
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Polish I Corps in Russia (Polish: I Korpus Polski w Rosji) was a Polish military formation formed in Belarus, in August 1917 in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917, from soldiers of Polish origin serving in the Russian Army. Its goal was to defend Poles inhabiting parts of Poland under Russian partitions and support the formation of independent Poland.
The corps was formed at the initiative of the Chief Polish Military Committee (Naczelny Polski Komitet Wojskowy), a Polish faction in the revolutionary and split Russian Empire military. It was commanded by general Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki, and numbered about 29,000 soldiers. In the chaotic period at the end of World War I on the Eastern Front, the Polish I Corps fought against the Bolshevik Red Army, cooperated with the German Ober Ost forces in taking Minsk, and after acknowledging the Regency Council in May 1918, it surrendered to the German forces in Babruysk. The soldiers were given safe passage to Warsaw, where they became part of the newly created Polish Army.
In the immediate aftermath of the February Revolution, the Russian Provisional Government's obvious weakness, its half-hearted declaration of the right of nations to self-determination and Germany's promises of autonomy in occupied Poland stirred up long suppressed nationalist feelings among ethnic Poles living within the Russian Empire since the partitions of Poland. Roughly 700,000 of them were serving in the Russian military by 1917 and they began forming a Polish army to fight for a "united and free Poland" with the assent of the Provisional Government and general Lavr Kornilov of the Russian Army. In August, the newly formed Chief Polish Military Committee (Naczelny Polski Komitet Wojskowy), a Polish faction in the revolutionary and split Russian Empire, led by Władysław Raczkiewicz, appointed Dowbor-Muśnicki Commissar of the Petrograd Military District and on August 23 (Old Style) he was appointed commander of the newly formed Polish 1st Corps in Russia, being formed in Russia as part of the Entente forces, serving under the Russian Provisional Government in exchange for its support for some form of Polish autonomy or independence.
The reorganization process was complicated by the October Revolution of 1917, which brought Bolsheviks to power, but Dowbor-Muśnicki was able to take advantage of the new government's weakness and general anarchy to form 3 divisions in Belarus by January 1918. At that time the I Corps numbered almost 30,000 men, although the number would fall to 23,500 over the coming months.
At first, after the fall of the Provisional Government, Dowbor-Muśnicki declared that his corps is neutral towards the Russian factions, and its intent is to join the Entente forces. Soon, however, it became apparent that this was an unreasonable plan, as the Entente forces in the area were weak, and out of two dominant forces — the Central Powers' German Ober-Ost forces, and Russian Bolsheviks - it was the Bolsheviks which were more hostile towards the Polish forces.
On 25 January [O.S. 12 January] 1918, Dowbor-Muśnicki refused an order by the Soviet government to disband the Corps, which quickly led to clashes with the newly formed Red Army and Red Latvian riflemen under Ioakim Vatsetis. After sporadic fighting in late January, on January 31 Dowbor-Muśnicki's Corps had to retreat to Bobruisk and Slutsk, where he was surrounded by German Ober-Ost forces. After the temporary breakdown of the Brest-Litovsk peace negotiations on February 10, the Corps also received a status of auxiliary unit from the Germans and joined the German offensive against the Bolsheviks on February 18, taking Minsk. After the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, which gave all of Poland and Belarus to Germany, Dowbor-Muśnicki's corps remained in Belarus for 3 months, regrouping and performing police duties under German occupation authorities. In May 1918, Dowbor-Muśnicki after acknowledging the Regency Council was forced to sign an agreement with Germans, which no longer considered armed Polish presence in that area useful, that led to the disarmament and effective dissolution of the Corps by July 1918, at which point he and many of his men moved to Poland. The agreement, while criticized by some, nonetheless preserved the core of the Polish military, which proved decisive later that year during the formation of the Polish Army. Soldiers who remained in Russia mostly joined the Polish II Corps in Russia (primarily the 4th Rifle Division).
The corps was divided into
- 3 (rifle) infantry divisions (1st, 2nd and 3rd)
They can be further divided into:
- 3 rifle regiments
- 3 artillery brigades, including a mortar regiment and a heavy artillery regiment
- 3 cavalry regiments (1st 'Krechowiecki', 2nd and 3rd)
- engineering regiment
- support regiments
- 4th Rifle Division (Poland)
- 5th Rifle Division (Poland)
- Polish Legions in World War I
- Polish II Corps in Russia (formed in Bessarabia) and Polish III Corps in Russia (formed in Ukraine)
- Blue Army (Poland)
- Battle of Bobruysk (1918)
- (in Polish) Nie tylko korpusy… Inne polskie formacje zbrojne w Rosji 1918–1920
- (in Polish) Polskie formacje wojskowe podczas I wojny światowej (a short paragraph confirming the most important facts)
- (in Polish) Korpusy Polskie at WIEM Encyklopedia
- (in Polish) Andrzej Pomian, Niepodleglosc, Przeglad Polski (14 listopada 2003)