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For All Nails #188: The Second Republic

by Johnny Pez

From Europe is Burning: A History of the Bloody Eighties
by Zelda Carmichael (London: 1974)

. . . As the shattered remnants of General Ignatieff's army withdrew to the east, there were celebrations throughout the newly-proclaimed Second Republic. Count Puslowski's name gained a place alongside those of past heroes such as Casimir Pulaski and Jan Sobieski. In Warsaw, the government of President Sienkiewicz named Puslowski Marshal of the Republic.

The results in the Germanic Confederation were more ominous. Agitation increased among the Kingdom of Prussia's Polish inhabitants, particularly in Posen, and with order breaking down throughout Europe, King William decided that the time had come for action. Led by the Prussian delegation, the National Diet on 22 July 1881 authorised the withdrawal of General von Moltke's army from France and its transfer east to assist the Russians in putting down the Polish insurrection.

A second German army was mobilised under General Otto von Bismark, and on 1 September the two armies crossed the frontier into the Polish Republic. Von Bismark entered from South Prussia and advanced upon Warsaw from the west, while von Moltke's French War veterans advanced up the east bank of the Vistula from East Prussia. Marshal Puslowski was forced to abandon his drive to the east in order to deal with von Moltke, while a volunteer force was hastily raised in Warsaw to hold the city against von Bismark.

The Warsaw volunteers under General Wojciehowicz met von Bismark's troops on the city's western outskirts on 8 September. After sharp fighting, von Bismark halted his advance and proceeded to lay siege to the Polish capital, surrounding the western half of the city with earthworks and fortified Weber gun emplacements by the end of the month. Von Moltke, meanwhile, had divided his own army, sending one division south to join von Bismark's siege of Warsaw, while moving east with the remainder of his forces to engage Puslowski.

The two eastern armies met at Bialystok on 7 October -- ironically, less than thirty miles north of the site of Puslowski's triumph over Ignatieff. Von Moltke skillfully fended off several charges by Puslowski's cavalry and carried out a slow, careful withdrawal from the battlefield. An attempt by Puslowski to maneuver past von Moltke's right flank on the 10th was blocked, as was a similar attempt on his left two days later. It soon became clear to Puslowski that von Moltke's strategy was one of delay. By keeping himself between Puslowski and Warsaw, von Moltke would prevent the Marshal from lifting von Bismark's siege. All through the rest of October and into November, Puslowski used every stratagem he could devise in an attempt to get past von Moltke, all in vain. The German commander continued his slow withdrawal west, while von Bismark tightened the siege of Warsaw and the capital's food supplies dwindled.

Puslowski knew that his fate, and that of the Second Republic, were sealed when, on 20 November, he received word that Ignatieff had been reinforced by a second army under General Sergei Primakoff, and that the Russians were expected to resume their offensive after the New year. Primakoff's advance from Minsk in fact did not commence until 28 January 1882, but by then the Poles were in dire straits. Puslowski's advance had halted fifty miles from Warsaw, and the starving city was in the grip of an influenza epidemic. As the Russians drew near, Puslowski made one final effort on 2 March to break through von Moltke's lines, but he was unsuccessful. Von Moltke countered with a surprise offensive on the 4th which drove Puslowski's battered troops back into the advancing Russians. In three days of desperate fighting the Polish army was annihilated.

News of the destruction of Puslowski's army had scarcely reached Warsaw when von Bismark launched his own all-out assault on the beleaguered city. In two days the attackers had breached the weakened defences, and von Bismark's troops poured into the city on 12 March, subjecting it to a brutal sack.

There were calls in both the Prussian and National Diets for the annexation of western Poland, but King William wisely chose to ignore them. Prussia's Polish minority was already larger than he liked, and he had no wish to increase it. Furthermore, any annexation would inevitably involve the Germanic Confederation in conflict with the Russian Empire, and William already had more than enough troubles to deal with as it was. The Habsburg monarchy had been overthrown in Vienna six days before the fall of Warsaw, and William had already determined to restore it. By the end of April the last German troops had withdrawn back into Prussia, and the Russian army had resumed control over Poland, with the Tsar's secret police close behind...

Proceed to FAN #189: (Can't Get No) Satisfaction.

Proceed to January 1974: Trent's Fighting Airmobiles.

Proceed to Poland: The Third Republic.

Return to For All Nails.