Polish volunteer death squad in Lviv
100 years ago, on July 23, 1920, the Lvov operation began: the offensive of the Soviet South-Western Front with the aim of defeating the Lviv grouping of the Polish army and liberating Western Ukraine.
To Lviv! The mistake of the Soviet high command
After the success in the Rivne operation (Battle of Rovno), the troops of the Southwestern Front (SWF) under the command of Yegorov were instructed to support the offensive of Tukhachevsky’s Western Front in the Brest-Lublin direction. However, the overall success of the Southwestern and Western Fronts led to an overestimation of their forces and an underestimation of the enemy. From the reports of the command of the Western Front, it appeared that the Polish North-Eastern Front was completely defeated, the road to Warsaw was open. On July 22, 1920, Commander-in-Chief Kamenev issued a directive to the Western Front to occupy the Polish capital no later than August 12. Moscow was convinced that Tukhachevsky’s armies in August themselves, without the help of the South-Western Front, would break the enemy’s resistance on the Vistula and take Warsaw. However, this assessment was erroneous, the Polish army was not defeated, quickly recovered from defeat and, with the help of the Entente, strengthened its combat capabilities.
In the face of an overly optimistic view of the situation on the Polish front and hopes for a quick victory, the Soviet high command revised its original plans. The reasonable idea of concentrating the forces of two fronts in the Warsaw direction was abandoned. It was decided to strike two blows: on Lvov and Warsaw. On July 22, the Revolutionary Military Council of the Southwestern Front (Stalin, Berzin) proposed to the commander-in-chief to transfer the direction of the main attack from Brest to Lvov, that is, to attack Galicia. The commander of the South-Western Front Yegorov believed that it was important to liberate the capital of Galicia and, after the capture of Lvov, to support the Western Front with a blow to the rear of Warsaw. Also, such an operation could fend off a possible action by Romania on the side of Poland. A member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the South-Western Front Stalin believed that it was more important to return Volhynia and Galicia to Russia, which had been inhabited by Russians since ancient times, than to go to Warsaw.
On July 23, 1920, Commander-in-Chief Kamenev approved the plan for the Lvov operation. Voskanov’s 12th Army, having put up a screen on Brest, was given the task of advancing on Kholm, Vladimir-Volynsky; 1st Cavalry Army of Budyonny – to Lviv and Rava-Russkaya with the subsequent capture of crossings across the river. San; Molkochanov’s 14th Army – to Tarnopol, Peremyashlyany and Nikolaev. As a result, the troops of the South-Western Front no longer contributed to the offensive of the Western Front, but solved an independent task of defeating the enemy’s Lvov grouping and liberating Galicia. The shock groups of the two fronts operated at a great distance from each other, which contradicted the real situation at the front.
Soviet troops numbered over 56 thousand bayonets and sabers. They were opposed by the Polish South-Eastern Front under the command of General Rydz-Smigla (2nd, 3rd and 6th armies) and Petliura’s Ukrainian People’s Army, about 53 thousand soldiers in total. That is, the forces were approximately equal. At the same time, the main Polish forces were concentrated on the Lviv direction.
Meanwhile, Polish resistance grew steadily. To expand social support to the government on July 15, the Seimas approved the principles of agrarian reform. Polish propaganda mobilized the people to fight the “Bolshevik invasion.” On June 24, a national defense government was formed with the involvement of the main political forces. On July 25, the military mission of the Entente arrived in Poland, and military aid began to arrive. Warsaw began negotiations with Moscow on an armistice, but not with the aim of peace, but to gain time. The Polish high command, led by Pilsudski, was preparing a counteroffensive. To restore order in the army, emergency and field courts were introduced. The Polish army was now at war at its main bases, which improved its supply, and the Red Army was further and further removed from the rear. Railways, stations, bridges, warehouses, etc., were destroyed by the Poles during the retreat, the supply of reinforcements, ammunition and provisions for the Soviet troops was very difficult. During the preceding battles, the red units suffered losses, were exhausted, and needed replenishment and rest.
Battle of Brody and Berestechko
On July 23, 1920, the Red Army launched an offensive in the Kovel, Lviv and Tarnopil directions. Parts of the 12th Army crossed the Styr and Stokhod rivers and successfully advanced on Kovel. Having broken through the enemy’s defenses, on July 26, Budyonny’s army took Brody. By July 28, the Budennovites crossed the river on a wide front. Styr, took Busk and went to the river. Boog. On the southern flank, the 14th army broke the enemy’s resistance on the river. Zbruch and on the 26th took Tarnopol (now Ternopil), launching an offensive on Nikolaev.
To prevent the Russians from breaking through to Lvov, the Polish command organized a counteroffensive. The Poles took advantage of the favorable moment: Budyonny’s army pulled ahead, the troops of the 12th and 14th armies developed the offensive more slowly, and the flanks of the 1st Cavalry Army were open. The Polish command planned to encircle and destroy the main forces of Budyonny’s army. From the north-west, a counterattack was made by the shock group of the 2nd Army – units of the 1st and 6th infantry divisions and the cavalry group of General Savitsky (2 cavalry divisions, 1 cavalry brigade, 2 cavalry regiments). A strike group of the 6th Army – units of the 18th Infantry Division and one infantry brigade – attacked from the southwest.
On July 29, Polish troops launched an offensive on Brody. In the course of stubborn battles, the 1st Cavalry Army, in order to avoid encirclement, was forced to withdraw to the east and went on the defensive. On August 3, the Poles recaptured Brody and the Radziwills. On August 5, the 1st Cavalry Army retreated in the direction of Kremenets. Part of Budyonny’s army was withdrawn to the reserve. The Budyonnovites suffered heavy losses, but escaped the “boiler”. Meanwhile, the Western Front took Brest-Litovsk on August 2, and the 12th Army of the South-Western Front took Kovel on August 4. The 14th Army on the southern flank also developed an offensive, reached the r. Strypa. The Polish high command abandoned the development of an offensive near Brody in order to strengthen its forces in the Warsaw direction. Part of the Polish troops from the Lviv direction began to be transferred to the area of Warsaw and Lublin. At the same time, the Polish command reorganized its troops on the southern flank. The South-Eastern Front was abolished, and on August 6, General Ivashkevich’s Southern Front (the 6th Army and the Ukrainian army), the Rydz-Smigly Middle Front (the 3rd and 4th armies) were established.
Dispute about the transfer of troops to the north. Battle for Lviv
At this time, the Soviet high command, taking into account the growing problems in the Warsaw direction, the weak support of the southern wing of Tukhachevsky’s troops, nevertheless decided to strengthen the Western Front with the troops of the South-Western Front. On August 6, the main command suggested that the SWF withdraw Budyonny’s army to the reserve and, after restoration, send it to the Lublin direction. On August 11, the commander-in-chief gave instructions to withdraw the 1st Cavalry Army from the battle for Lvov and send it to the Zamoć region, the 12th Army aimed at Lublin. For technical reasons, the headquarters of the Southwestern Front deciphered this instruction only on August 13. On August 12, Budyonny’s troops resumed their offensive against Lviv, on the 14th, during stubborn battles, they again took Brody, on the 15th – Busk. But on the banks of the Western Bug, the Budennovites met strong resistance from the enemy.
On August 13, the main command issued a new order to turn the armies of the SWF to the northwest. On the basis of the directive of the commander-in-chief, an order was prepared by the commander of the SWF. He met stubborn resistance from Stalin, who considered it inexpedient to deploy the main shock group of the front in the midst of a battle. A member of the RVS refused to sign the order. Nevertheless, the order was approved by another member of the Revolutionary Military Council – Berzin. On August 14, the 1st Cavalry and the 12th armies were transferred to the Western Front. On August 15 and 17, Tukhachevsky ordered Budyonny’s army to move to the Vladimir-Volynsky area.
It is clear that in the conditions of the outbreak of the battle for Lvov, when the command of the South-Western Front and the 1st Cavalry Army expected to take the capital of Galicia from day to day, the instructions of the commander-in-chief and Tukhachevsky, in fact, were sabotaged. Having broken through the defenses of the Polish army on the western bank of the Bug, on August 17, the Budennovites began an assault on Lvov. However, Soviet troops encountered fierce resistance from a strong enemy grouping: 3 infantry and 1 cavalry divisions, Lviv militia. Polish troops relied on the Lviv fortified area. The Soviet cavalry in this area could not use their advantages. On August 19, the 4th and 6th Cavalry Divisions of Budyonny were several kilometers from the city. The reconnaissance units reached the outskirts of Lviv. However, the resistance of the Polish troops only intensified. In the course of stubborn battles, units of the 1st Cavalry Army suffered heavy losses, especially the 6th Division.
On August 20, Budyonny received a categorical order from the chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic, Trotsky, to withdraw troops from battle. The 1st Cavalry Army stopped the offensive and on August 21 began to move on Zamoć. The task of capturing Lvov was assigned to the 14th Army (two rifle divisions – 60th and 41st). But the 14th Army did not have the strength and resources to carry out such an operation. Soon the Soviet troops went on the defensive, then withdrew to the east.
It is worth noting that the direction of Budyonny’s army to the Warsaw direction was clearly late. The armies of the SWF had to be aimed at the northwest at the very beginning of the Warsaw operation. Firstly, Budyonny’s troops were already drained of blood and exhausted by battles in the Lviv direction. The weakened red cavalry could not deliver a powerful blow to the enemy. Secondly, the Poles have already organized a defense and prepared a counteroffensive, and Tukhachevsky’s armies suffered heavy losses. As a result, Budyonny’s divisions did not take Lvov and could not help in the northern direction.
Thus, the Lvov operation was incomplete. After stubborn and bloody battles, Soviet troops were never able to take Lvov and defeat the Polish group. This is due to the mistakes of the Soviet command, which overestimated its previous successes and strengths and underestimated the enemy. The command of the front’s troops was unsatisfactory, as was the interaction of the two fronts. The 1st Cavalry Army was bound by the battles for Brody and Lvov (in an unfavorable terrain for the actions of large masses of cavalry). At the same time, the delay and losses of Budyonny’s army in the Lvov direction had a negative impact on the Western Front’s offensive against Warsaw.
Command of the Southwestern Front. Egorov and Stalin