The fronts on the Vistula. World War I and Soviet-Polish War

The position of the parties on the Soviet-Polish front by July 4, 1920

So, let’s move on to the final part of the cycle (see. The East is a responsible business).

Soviet-Polish war

The fighting of the Red Army against the White Poles occupies a special place: after all, during the Soviet-Polish war, a full-fledged large-scale collision took place with an enemy as close as possible to the outside.

Therefore, in the unsuccessful intention to coordinate the actions of the two formations of the Red High Command on the same theater of military operations – two fronts: the Western and the South-Western – one can learn a lot of instructive.

“Even before the start of the Polish campaign, the question was raised about – writes M. Tukhachevsky in his” March for the Vistula “- to unite the western and southwestern fronts under the general command of the front.” He recognizes the correct decision of the commander-in-chief to carry out this “when we reach the meridian Brest-Litovsk,” that is, when Polissya passes, separating both fronts. However, when the fronts entered the aforementioned zone, it turned out “that this unification is almost impossible due to the complete lack of communication; we were able to accomplish this task not soon, not earlier than August 13-14, and the situation already from the end of July insistently demanded the immediate unification of all these troops under a common command. “

The fronts on the Vistula.  World War I and Soviet-Polish War

M. N. Tukhachevsky

From the correspondence and conversations over the direct wire, cited in the work of BM Shaposhnikov “On the Vistula” (pp. 102-103), one can see how the solution to this difficult problem was planned.

“The high command already on July 28, when the troops of the front occupied only Osovets, in a conversation with the south-western front, touches upon this issue, and on August 3, a directive indicates to both fronts: with the crossing of the front by the armies of the r. Narev and the capture of Brest-Litovsk, the time comes to unite in the hands of the command and control of all armies continuing to move to the river. Vistula, that is, the transfer in the coming days of the 12th and 1st cavalry armies from the southwestern front at the disposal of the commander. ”

B. M. Shaposhnikov
On August 6, the transfer of the 14th Army to the command zap was planned.

To this, the Western Front, by telegram of August 7, reported to the commander-in-chief that: “The transfer of three armies of the southwestern front to the front simultaneously from the operational side represents only benefits, but poses many difficulties on the part of organizing the rear and communications.” Due to the overload of the headquarters of the Western Front with work and the lack of personnel, the Western Front asked: 1) to leave the bases in place, 2) to leave the armies with their spare parts, 3) to leave the armies with their communications equipment and to establish an operational point for the Western Front at the field headquarters of the Southwestern Front , 4) mandatory assistance from the Southwestern Front along the supply line. “Satisfaction of the above four points will make it possible to immediately admit all three armies to the front, and this, in view of the complete unification of actions, will make the nature of the operation more successful and decisive.”

In response to this telegram, the main command answered the Western Front on August 8: “The transfer of the armies of the southern front operating on the Polish front to your command has already been decided. All the terms of transfer that you set out in relation to supplies, communications, etc., of course, will be respected. I believe that the direct command of each of these three armies by you personally will completely overload you with work, why it is necessary in the south-western sector to have not only an operational point, but also full operational control of the group. ” Then the front was asked to find a candidate for this group.

Commander of the troops of the Southwestern Front A.I. Yegorov
The consequence of the given orders and negotiations was the transfer from 12 o’clock on August 14 to the subordination of the Western Front of the 12th and Cavalry armies and the establishment in Kiev of an operational point for the Western Front, headed by the chief of staff of this front.

The transformation did not go further. But even if it did come true, the commander of the Western Front would have six units under his command – with the strongest consolidation there (on the left flank), where the least important events took place. Meanwhile, by this time, three groups of red troops were formed, operating against the White Poles:

1) a shock group of 3 armies: 4th, 15th and 3rd, with a common task under the directive “to finally smash the enemy, force the river. Vistula, throw it to the west ”;

2) a central group from the 10th Army, covering the main communications, and from the Mozyr group with the task of supporting the main attack, and

3) a left-flank group of 3 armies: 1st Cavalry, 12th and 14th, providing the entire operation from the south (if there is a possibility of movement of the first two armies to the north in order to stop the counter-attack of the Poles).

Organizationally, none of these groups had time to form and a single commander (front) was forced to directly command seven separate (relatively small, from 20 to 20.5 thousand people each) formations near the Vistula, being in Minsk at a distance of 350 – 400 km. from the battle line.

White Poles
In the White Poles, out of seven originally independent armies, 3 army groups were formed by the time of the Warsaw operation: 1) the Northern Front as part of the 5th, 1st, 2nd armies; 2) the Central Army Group from the 4th and 3rd armies and 3) the southern front from the 6th and Ukrainian armies.

For a counterattack against the Reds advancing on Warsaw, direct command over the strike group – the central group of armies – was taken by the commander-in-chief and chief of state, Yu. Pilsudski, who arrived at Veprz from Warsaw (where the commander-in-chief’s headquarters remained).

Yu. Pilsudski and commander-3 (then commander of the South-Eastern Front) Rydz-Smigly

By the time of the Warsaw operation, the White Poles in a decisive place (on the Vistula and near Warsaw) concentrated the efforts of all their higher echelons (up to and including the head of state), while the red command made the solution of the most important task of the entire war dependent on the skill of the command of the Western Front to manage 7 subordinates units on an exorbitantly wide front.

Conclusions to the whole cycle

Let’s summarize some of the results.

So, during the First World War and the Soviet-Polish wars, the difficulty of managing a significant number (more than five) of large military formations directly subordinate to the corresponding command was fully confirmed – both in Germany, and in France, and on the Russian fronts. Also, considerable difficulties arose when there were only two subordinate army groups (fronts) in one theater of operations.

The initial organization of the associations turned out to be insufficient: depending on the strategic situation, reorganization was required.

A temporary grouping of armies with the subordination of 2 – 3 operational formations to the commander of one of these armies, while the latter retained direct control of its army, was unproductive as a system. The schemes proved to be better, when at the head of the formations (army groups, front), there was a person freed from the direct leadership of one of the formations included in the group (front).

Operational subordination alone, even if formally and complete, in many cases turned out to be insufficient. It turned out to be dangerous to subordinate one army commander to another, previously considered equal to the first (Kluk and Bülov, Rennenkampf and Zhilinsky).

It turned out that it was necessary to reckon with the authority of the person placed at the head of the army group (front). Moreover, the degree of subordination of units assigned to an army group to the person who should lead this group during the war should have been clearly defined (preferably in the pre-war period).

The subordination of the troops of one border district to another, neighboring (as was the case with Rennenkampf in 1914), caused only harm to the case.

The reasonable degree of closeness of the command authority to the controlled troops was also of great importance.

It was also quite reasonable that the commander-in-chief, in fateful moments, could stand at the head of a group of forces that was decisive and responsible for the task (Pilsudski near Warsaw). The Russian Supreme Commander-in-Chief in the First World War on several occasions could also lead associations in such important areas – for example, in East Prussia at the beginning of the war or at the head of the Evertian armies of the Western Front in 1916 during the Brusilov breakthrough. The Red High Command in the Warsaw operation could also, without a doubt, turn success in favor of Soviet weapons, leaving the command of the Western Front with a shock group of the 3rd, 4th and 15th armies, and himself at the head of the left-flank group of 1 Cavalry, 14th and 12th armies (at least from August 11, when the contents of the Polish order, which revealed the essence of the Polish maneuver, became known; then there would have been no need to complain about either the 1st Cavalry or the 4th army).

When forming new operational-strategic formations during the war, an interesting method turned out to be often used in the First World War in France. There were reserve headquarters there. Such a reserve headquarters of the army (Pétain) helped to replace at once the entire Verdun headquarters, which turned out to be untenable (headed by the chief of the region, General Er – at the first attack of the Germans on Verdun). In a formidable atmosphere, this team immediately got involved in the business – as a pre-debugged mechanism. When using the reserve headquarters, they avoided shuffling the necessary people in the hottest moments of combat operations. But, at the same time, the system of reserve headquarters required preliminary study and organization.

The importance of the headquarters service is so great and responsible that some of the costs of its more perfect organization paid off with undoubted benefit during the war – both when creating new, urgently needed strategic formations, and in cases of extremely frequent, exhausted headquarters, and sometimes their general illness (for example, continuous dysentery of the headquarters of the German 3rd Army, led by the army commander in one of the battles of the First World War).

We tried in the most general terms to consider the issue of organizing operational-strategic formations in 1914 – 1920, to see some trends and features. Of course, it is very interesting to highlight the activities of A. Mackensen’s headquarters, which was deployed on all fronts in order to solve shock tasks, the work of E. Falkenhain’s headquarters in Romania, see the experience of the allies, and in the Civil War – the experience of forming groups of V. I. Shorin and M. V. Frunze, the right-bank group of the 13th Army, the formation of the Southern Front, etc. All this will (hopefully) be the topic of our future work.

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