About one battle and a certain proclamation that prepared independence

Brigadier Jozef Pilsudski (seated centre) in the company of officers of the 1st Brigade of the Polish Legions in Volhynia in March 1916. Visible are: Colonel Edward Rydz-Śmigły (on the right), Lieutenant Bolesław Wieniawa-Długoszowski, Major Michał Żymierski (standing second from the left in the background). Photo: NAC/Jozef Pilsudski Institute

Germany's organisational attractiveness was itself to lure Central European countries, which in their own interest should be subject to German influence and control. On countries such as Poland - independent, of course - Germany would by various methods impose barriers to development in order to be its market and hinterland.

In the late spring of 1916, the Russian army launched its last offensive to turn the tide of the war, which Russia was losing. On a three hundred kilometre front from Polesie to Bukovina, the Tsar's state amassed a powerful force and struck westwards in a bid to regain the lost lands of the Congress Kingdom.

Poles endured

Three brigades of the Legions took up position in Volhynia between the villages of Kostiuchnowka and Optow, with the First and Third Brigades in the front line and the Second Brigade in reserve. The Polish Legionnaires were part of a larger grouping of the Austro-Hungarian Army and had Hungarian units on both wings. The legions numbered over seven thousand infantry and eight hundred lancers, and had forty guns at their disposal. Opposing them was a corps of thirty thousand Russian troops with one hundred and twenty guns.

On 4 July 1916, the shelling of Polish and Hungarian positions began at dawn. After several hours of artillery preparation, whose effectiveness was assured by observation of the battlefield from Russian balloons, a series of attacks followed. The Poles endured; before nightfall, the Hungarians withdrew from the right wing and the Legions were in danger of being encircled. It was repulsed in night attacks on the Russian infantry.

The next day, after a massive shelling, the Russians launched further attacks. Confident that their fire would break down the Polish defences, they brought cavalry onto the battlefield, something one does not do against an enemy dug in and capable of dense fire. The cavalry paid dearly for this error of Russian command. The attack collapsed in the face of huge losses. The infantry also suffered; the field in front of the Polish lines was densely covered with enemy corpses. However, after the collapse of the Hungarian defence on the Polish left wing, the threat of encirclement once again hung over the Legions.

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– Krzysztof Zwoliński
– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski