Polish–Lithuanian War

Polish–Lithuanian War

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Polish-Lithuanian War

caption=Polish cavalry parade in Sejny.
date=September 1 - October 7, 1920
place=near Suwałki, Poland
result=Polish victory
combatant1=flagicon|Poland Poland
combatant2=flagicon|Lithuania|1918 Lithuania
commander1=flagicon|Poland Adam Nieniewski
commander2=flagicon|Lithuania|1918 Silvestras Žukauskas
strength2=ca. 8,000 men
name=Establishment of Second Polish Republic
battles=Greater Poland (1918-19) - Ukraine (1918-19) - Against Soviets (1919-21) - Czechoslovakia (1919) - Sejny (1919) - Upper Silesia (1919–1921) - Lithuania (1920)

The Polish-Lithuanian War was an armed conflict between Lithuania and Poland, lasting from August 1920 to October 7, 1920, in the aftermath of World War I, not long after both countries had regained their independence. It was part of a wider conflict over disputed territorial control of the cities of Vilnius ( _pl. Wilno), Suwałki and Augustów. The conflict was claimed by Poland to be a victory, however within two days of signing a cease fire or agreement to halt the hostilities with Lithuania, Poland reneged on this temporary agreement before it formally took in force (the cease fire was to be started at October the 10th, Polish action started at October the 8th)atacked Lithuania and created the Republic of Central Lithuania.

While in Lithuanian historiography the conflict is considered a separate war or treated in the context of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence, in other historical traditions (including Polish and Soviet) it is almost always treated as part of the Polish-Soviet Warde icon cite book | author =Ferdinand Seibt | coauthors = | title =Handbuch der europäischen Geschichte | year =1987 | editor = | pages =1072-1073 | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Union Verlag | location =Friedrichstadt | id =ISBN 3129075402 | url =http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC00285221&id=LekfAAAAMAAJ&q=Sejny+1920&dq=Sejny+1920&pgis=1 | format = | accessdate = ] pl icon cite book | author =Piotr Krzysztof Marszałek | coauthors = | title =Rada Obrony Panstwa z 1920 roku: studium prawnohistoryczne | year = | editor = | pages = | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Wrocław University | location =Wrocław | id =ISBN 8322912145 | url = | format = | accessdate = ] pl icon cite book | author =Mieczysław Wrzosek | coauthors =Grzegorz Łukomski, Bogusław Polak | title =Wojna polsko-bolszewicka, 1919-1920: działania bojowe - kalendarium | year =1990 | editor = | pages =136-142 | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Wyższa Szkoła Inżynierska | location =Koszalin | id =ISSN 0239-7129| url =http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC28149920&id=GJUdAAAAMAAJ&q=Sejny+1920&dq=Sejny+1920&pgis=1 | format = | accessdate = ] pl icon cite book | author =Piotr Łossowski | coauthors = | title =Stosunki polsko-litewskie w latach 1918-1920 | year =1966 | editor = | pages = | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Książka i Wiedza | location =Warsaw | id = | url = | format = | accessdate = ] pl icon cite book | author =Piotr Łossowski | coauthors =Historical Institute of the Warsaw University (corporate author) | title =Litwa | year =2001 | editor = | pages = | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Trio | location =Warsaw | id =ISBN 8385660593 | url = | format = | accessdate = ] pl icon cite book | author =various authors | coauthors =Andrzej Koryn | title =Wojna polsko-sowiecka 1920 roku: przebieg walk i tło międzynarodowe | year =1991 | editor = | pages =45-51 | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Wydawn. Instytutu Historii PAN | location =Warsaw | id =ISBN 8300034870 | url =http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN8300034870&id=waEdAAAAMAAJ&q=Sejny+1920&dq=Sejny+1920&pgis=1 | format = | accessdate = ] .

Before the war: 1919 - summer 1920

Following the start of the Polish-Soviet war in 1919 the majority of Lithuanian territory was soon occupied by the Red Army which defeated and pushed back Polish and Lithuanian self-defence units, but shortly afterwards the Soviets were forced to retreat by the Polish Army. In 1919, April 19, Polish army captured Vilnius.

Poland did not recognize Lithuania, as one of dominant Polish politicians of that era, Józef Piłsudski, hoped to revive the old Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (see Międzymorze federation).http://books.google.com/books?id=fecMC0LXU-sC&pg=PA7&as_brr=3&sig=ACfU3U36vWeW-lf6zet0VSTTCW43cwq-sQ] Poland did not intend to make any territorial concessions. It justified its actions not only as part of a military campaign against the Soviets but also as the right of self-determination of local Poles (the disputed city of Vilnius (Wilno), for example, had an ethnic breakdown of 49% Poles, 49% Jews and 2% Lithuanians; however the percentage of Lithuanians was much higher in the surrounding countyside).Eidintas, 71-72] pl icon Piotr Łossowski, "Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918-1920" (The Polish-Lithuanian Conflict, 1918–1920), Warsaw, Książka i Wiedza, 1995, ISBN 8305127699, pp. 11.] ru icon [http://demoscope.ru/weekly/ssp/rus_lan_97.php?reg=32 Demoscope] .] pl icon cite book|author= Michał Eustachy Brensztejn|year=1919 |title=Spisy ludności m. Wilna za okupacji niemieckiej od. 1 listopada 1915 r. |publisher=Biblioteka Delegacji Rad Polskich Litwy i Białej Rusi, Warsaw |id= ] Michael MacQueen, "The Context of Mass Destruction: Agents and Prerequisites of the Holocaust in Lithuania", Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 12, Number 1, pp. 27-48, 1998, [http://hgs.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/12/1/27] ] Lithuanians however claimed Vilnius as their historical capital and refused to recognize the Polish claim, at the same time objecting to any federation with Poland, desiring an independent Lithuanian state. The Lithuanian government in Kaunas saw the Polish presence in Vilnius as occupation. In addition to the Vilnius region, the nearby Suvalkai (Suwałki) region was also disputed. Polish–Lithuanian relations were not immediately hostile, but grew worse as each side refused to compromise.

At first, both Poles and Lithuanians cooperated against the Soviets, but soon the cooperation gave wave to increasing hostility.pl icon cite book | author =Piotr Łossowski | coauthors = | title =Stosunki polsko-litewskie w latach 1918-1920 | year =1966 | editor = | pages = p.47 | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Książka i Wiedza | location =Warsaw | id = | url = | format = | accessdate = ] Although Lithuania was neutral in the early stages of the Polish-Soviet war, due to Polish army's forcing its way further to Lithuania, the encounters with Polish army started. [Vilenas Vadapalas. "Lietuvos Respublikos suverenitetas Vilniaus kraštui [The Lithuania's sovereignty to the Vilnius region] " in "Lietuvos rytai; straipsnių rinkinys [The east of Lithuania; the collection of articles". Vilnius 1993. ISBN 9986-09-002-4] The first clashes between Polish and Lithuanian soldiers occurred on April 26 and May 8 near Vievis. [Lescius, 252] Through there was no formal state of war and few casualties, by July, newspapers reported increasing clashes between Poles and Lithuanians, primarily around the towns of Merkinė (Merecz) and Širvintos (Szyrwinty).pl icon cite book | author =Piotr Łossowski | coauthors = | title =Stosunki polsko-litewskie w latach 1918-1920 | year =1966 | editor = | pages = p.48 | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Książka i Wiedza | location =Warsaw | id = | url = | format = | accessdate = ] Lithuania tried to avoid direct military conflict and submitted its cases for mediation to the Conference of Ambassadors. Polish side joined the negotiations.pl icon cite book | author =Piotr Łossowski | coauthors = | title =Stosunki polsko-litewskie w latach 1918-1920 | year =1966 | editor = | pages = p.49 | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Książka i Wiedza | location =Warsaw | id = | url = | format = | accessdate = ] Both sides submitted demarcation lines which would require the other side to withdraw, and both sides rejected their proposals. It drew two demarcation lines: fist on June 18, 1919 and second, known as Foch Line, on July 26, 1919. The first line - of 18 June - was based on military situation on the ground rather than ethnic composition. The June 18 line was more favorable to the Lithuania and would require the Polish forces to retread up to 35km; Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected it - and even Lithuanians were not content with it (as it left Vilnius and Grodno under Polish control).pl icon cite book | author =Piotr Łossowski | coauthors = | title =Stosunki polsko-litewskie w latach 1918-1920 | year =1966 | editor = | pages = p.50 | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Książka i Wiedza | location =Warsaw | id = | url = | format = | accessdate = ] Foch Line assigned all territory east of VarėnaDaugavpils railroad to Poland, and was more accepting of the ethnic composition. [Vad, 364] pl icon cite book | author =Piotr Łossowski | coauthors = | title =Stosunki polsko-litewskie w latach 1918-1920 | year =1966 | editor = | pages = p.51 | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher =Książka i Wiedza | location =Warsaw | id = | url = | format = | accessdate = ] Again, however, the Polish troops found themselves bypassing the Foch line by many kilometers, and Polish government was not willing to withdraw them. Again, also, the Lithuanian government was displeased as it did not receive the territories it expected. Further, in the Vilnius region the Polish troops still advanced, pushing the Bolshevicks eastward, and in the Suvalkai/Suwałki region, the still-present German administration did not support the implementation of the demarcation line.

1920 saw Vilnius region occupied by the Red Army for the second time, although de jure the territory belonged Dubious|date=March 2008 to Lithuania, which was not recognised internationally. When the Red Army was defeated in the Battle of Warsaw, the Soviets made the decision to hand over the Vilnius region back to Lithuania.

Open conflict: summer of 1920

Early stage

In the end of June 1920, during the Soviet summer offensive towards Warsaw, the Lithuanian authorities started to seek contact with the Soviet authorities. A diplomatic mission sent to Moscow signed an agreement (Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of 1920) on July 12, in which the Soviet Russia allowed the Lithuanian state to seize the territory of the region of Suwałki from the withdrawing Polish forces. Two days later the disputed area of Vilnius was captured by the Red Army and handed over to the Lithuanian government. Following the Lithuanian-Soviet treaty, the demarcation line between Soviet and Lithuanian troops ran north of Augustów (Orany-Merecz river-Augustów line). On July 19 the town of Sejny was seized by Marijampolė Group under maj. Valevičius. After the treaty of peace between Lithuania and Soviet Russia in which Soviet Russia ceded Vilnius region to Lithania, Poland - Lithuanians claimed - de jure had never had right to Vilnius [Vilenas Vadapalas. "Lietuvos Respublikos suverenitetas Vilniaus kraštui [The Lithuania's sovereignty to the Vilnius region] " in "Lietuvos rytai; straipsnių rinkinys [The east of Lithuania; the collection of articles". Vilnius 1993. ISBN 9986-09-002-4] . This two-side treaty was not recognized neither by Poland nor by Belarus National Republic, and Lithuania itself was not yet recognized widely internationally.

On July 29 the Red Army seized Augustów and the following day Lithuanians captured Suwałki. The weak Polish units retreated towards Łomża, where they were surrounded by the Red Army and forced to cross the border with East Prussia, where they were interned.

The Lithuanian authorities started to organize themselves in the regained areas. However, after the Russian defeat in the Battle of Warsaw, the danger of losing them became apparent. The badly beaten Red troops started their withdrawal from the area, and their retreat exposed the area of Augustów, also claimed by Lithuania. Knowing that the Polish Army was occupied with preparations for the Battle of the Niemen River and pursuit after the fleeing Bolsheviks, the Lithuanian authorities decided to create fait accompli by capturing the town of Augustów, which happened on August 26. At the same time envoys were sent to the Polish troops, advising them not to cross the Grabowo-Augustów-Sztabin line, which was planned by the Lithuanians as a new demarcation line between Poland and Lithuania.

Although seizing the territory of Suwałki was crucial in further Polish operations against the Red Army, the Polish Army commanders did not want to engage in yet another armed conflict. The Polish Military Mission to Kaunas, as well as Polish diplomats at the Paris Peace Conference, started to put pressure on the Lithuanian government to return to the "Status quo ante bellum" borders between the two states. The Lithuanian authorities declined, but the Highest Council of the Paris Peace Conference accepted the so-called Foch Line (named after Marechal de France Ferdinand Foch), that was to divide Poland and Lithuania on an ethnic basis. According to that line, both the disputed city of Vilnius and the towns of Suwałki, Augustów and Sejny were to be left on the Polish sideFact|date=May 2007.

Wanting to by-pass the disputed area and outflank the withdrawing Red Army, the commander of the Polish 2nd Army general Edward Rydz-Śmigły (later Marshal of Poland) ordered on August 27 that the Lithuanian forces be pushed out of the disputed area to the other side of the line supported by the Entente. He did not expect any serious opposition,Fact|date=February 2007 but in case the Lithuanian units wanted to put up a fight, they were to be encircled, disarmed and sent home.Fact|date=February 2007 The Cavalry Operational Group under Adam Nieniewski was ordered to secure the area as soon as possible.

The following day the Group started its advance towards Augustów in two columns from the area of Białystok. At the same time the 1st Infantry Regiment of the Polish 1st Legions Infantry Division took the Lithuanian defenders of the town by surprise and disarmed a company of the Lithuanian 10th Infantry Regiment, securing the city. Also the Nieniewski's forces were not opposed and the Lithuanian forces withdrew northwards when asked by the Polish officers. In the evening of August 30, a recce squadron of the so-called Piasecki's Cavalry Brigade under Zygmunt Piasecki reached the city of Suwałki and asked the Lithuanian forces to withdraw. The following day in the morning colonel Nieniewski entered the city, together with the his staff, 7th Uhlans Regiment and two battalions of the 41st Suwałki Infantry Regiment.

At the same time in the area of the village of Giby, between the Gieret and Pomorze lakes and south of Sejny, a well dug-in company of Lithuanian infantry, reinforced with three machine guns, refused to withdraw and responded with fire. Unwilling to spill the blood of his men, the Polish commander asked a member of the French Military Mission to Poland general Manneville to mediate and, after a short conference, the Lithuanians withdrew. On August 31 the town of Sejny was finally captured by the 16th Uhlans Regiment. The withdrawing Lithuanian forces were allowed to by-pass the town and the Foch Line was manned from both sides. To avoid conflicts with the Lithuanian forces, the Polish commander refused to send further patrols and reconnaissance squads were ordered not to reach the demarcation line.

On September 1, 1920, the Suwałki-based provisional governing body ("Rada Ludowa Okręgu Suwalskiego" - "Popular Council of the Suwałki Area") was reestablished and all the courts and facilities closed down by the Lithuanian authorities were reopened. Until the authorities chosen in the 1919 elections were able to return, the cities and villages were to be governed by provisional starosts.

Lithuanian offensive

The area of Suwałki, lost in the effect of the Polish withdrawal, was regained with negligible losses on both sides. The Polish diplomats in Paris and Kaunas tried to reach an agreement with the Lithuanians on the recognition of the Foch Line as the future Polish-Lithuanian border. However, the Entente planned to leave the city of Vilnius on the Polish side, while the Lithuanian state saw it as its capital. The future of Central Lithuania was no clear and the Lithuanian authorities decided to use the area of Suwałki as a trading card in negotiations with the Poles and the French. On September 2, 1920, a Lithuanian offensive towards the recently-lost towns of Suwałki and Augustów started.

The Augustavas Operation, as it was nick-named by the Lithuanian commanders, was carried over by forces of the Lithuanian 2nd Infantry Division, some 7000 soldiers altogether, with a 120-strong cavalry detachment, 100 machine guns and 12 pieces of artillery. The assault was planned along three main lines: Kalvarija-Suwałki, Sejny-Giby-Augustów and Lipsk-Augustów. Its purpose was to strike a wedge between the Polish troops and cut out the Polish units of Nieniewski's group from the rest of Polish Army fighting in the Battle of the Niemen River further southwards.

After a series of skirmishes in the area of the villages of Żubryn, Kleszczówek and Gulbieniszki, the Lithuanian assault towards Kalwaria was repelled and driven northwards. However, the south-eastern front was broken in the area of Sztabin and Kolnica and by September 4 the Lithuanian army reached the outskirts of Augustów. Also the assault towards Sejny, a town located only some two kilometres from the Foch Line, was successful. By noon of September 2 near Berżniki the first skirmish was reported. A commander of Polish cavalry reconnaissance troop operating in the area was confident that the Lithuanian unit he encountered simply lost its way and approached it. However, his unit was quickly surrounded and disarmed. Soon afterwards a general assault on Sejny started. After several hours of heavy artillery barrage and fights on the outskirts of the town, it was repelled with negligible losses on both sides. Commander of the defending Polish 16th Uhlans Regiment, major Skrzyński, was confident that the fight around the city was a misunderstanding, so he asked for a cease fire. After conferring with the Lithuanian officers, these asked Kaunas for confirmation of their orders. After it was given, the Poles decided they were outnumbered and left the city towards Krasnopol and Krasne without further opposition. In the fights for the city Poles lost 3 cavalrymen killed, several soldiers wounded and 8 POWs. The Lithuanian losses are unknown, except for 21 prisoners taken by the withdrawing Polish cavalry.

The following days, the Polish forces from Sejny withdrew further southwards, to the area of Nowa Wieś and Wigry lake. At the same time a counter-offensive along the Augustów-Sejny road was prepared. The operation started on September 5 and was a success. The Lithuanian forces advancing from Sejny were scattered and Augustów was secured. Three battalions of Lithuanian infantry were surrounded and almost completely destroyed, while the remaining forces sounded the retreat. The counter-offensive was successful and on September 9 the Polish forces recaptured Sejny. The following day the Lithuanian forces were forced out to the other side of the Foch Line.

The fights continued until September 27, but the Polish lines were kept intact. At the same time diplomatic negotiations were resumed in Suwałki and on October 7, 1920, a cease fire agreement was signed. The Suwałki Agreement was a military agreement which temporarily accepted a modified Foch Line as the basis of future Polish-Lithuanian talks on the border question in Suwałki Region.


The future of the city of Vilnius/Wilno was still unresolved by the Suwałki Agreement and was handled by other measures. Lithuania declined to enter into any negotiations on the status of the Vilnius area, claimed it as its capital city and denied any Polish influence over it whatsoever. The Polish commander Józef Piłsudski ordered his subordinate, General Lucjan Żeligowski, to defect with his 1st Lithuanian-Belarusian Division and capture the city, without formal declaration of war on Lithuania. With Lithuanians unwilling to enter into a federation with Poland, and wishing to avoid a full-out conflict and international condemnation, Józef Piłsudski staged a fake rebellion by Polish army units (under command by gen. Lucjan Żeligowski) in the Vilnius area, which allowed the Polish army to take control of the city in October 9, 1920. Both were ethnic Poles from Vilnius area. Although the Polish side officially did not take part in the conflict between "Kaunas Lithuania" and "Central Lithuania", it provided limited logistic support to the Central Lithuanian units of Żeligowski. [en icon George J. Lerski. Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. 1996, p.309] pl iconcite book |last=Łossowski |first=Piotr |authorlink=Piotr Łossowski |title=Polska-Litwa: Ostatnie sto lat |year=1991 |publisher=Wydawnictwo Oskar |location=Warsaw |pages=110] cite book |last=Čepėnas |first=Pranas |authorlink=Pranas Čepėnas |title=Naujųjų laikų Lietuvos istorija |year=1986 |publisher=Dr. Griniaus fondas |location=Chicago |pages=634] Neither side was able to gain significant advantage, and with the mediation from the League of Nations, ceasefire was signed on November 21 and truce on November 27.Piotr Łossowski, "Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918-1920", p.216-218]

Despite Poland's claim to Vilnius, the League of Nations chose to ask Poland to withdraw. Poland did not comply with the request. Theoretically, British and French troops could have been asked to enforce the League's decision. France, however, did not wish to antagonize Poland, which was seen as a possible ally in a future war against Germany, and Britain was not prepared to act alone. Thus the Poles were able to keep Vilnius, where a provisional government named "Komisja Rządząca Litwy Środkowej" ("Governing Commission of Central Lithuania") was formed. Soon afterwards the parliamentary elections were carried out and the Wilno Diet ("Sejm wileński") has voted on February 20, 1922, for incorporation into Poland as the capital of the Wilno Voivodship.

The League of Nations Conference of Ambassadors accepted the status quo in 1923, yet the Wilno region remained a disputed territory between Poland and Lithuania (the latter state still treated Vilnius as its constitutional capital and the capital of the claimed Vilnius region). Although only a temporary solution, the Lithuanian government declined to sign any political agreements with Poland until forced by the 1938 Polish ultimatum to Lithuania and the document of October 7 remained one of the legal bases of the Polish-Lithuanian border in the area. The Polish-Lithuanian relations begun to normalize after League of Nations negotiations in 1927, but it wasn't until the 1938 ultimatum that Lithuania established normal diplomatic relations with Poland and thus "de facto" accepted the borders of its neighbour (based on the demarcation line running along the Foch Line). This contention worsened Polish-Lithuanian foreign relations for decades to come and was one of the reasons Józef Piłsudski's Międzymorze federation was never formed.

Opposing forces



Further reading

* Senn, Alfred Erich. "The Polish Lithuanian War Scare, 1927." Journal of Central European Affairs 21, no 3 (1961): 267 – 284.
* Senn, Alfred Erich. "Lithuania’s Fight for Independence The Polish Evacuation of Vilnius, July 1920." Baltic Review 23 (1961): 32 – 39.

ee also

* Camps for Polish prisoners and internees in Soviet Union and Lithuania (1919-1921)
* Sejny Uprising
* Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of 1920
* Suvalkai region
* Freedom wars of Lithuania

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