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Plan East (Polish: Plan Wschód) was a Polish defensive military plan, created in the 1920s and 1930s in case of war with the Soviet Union. Unlike Plan West (Plan Zachód), it was being prepared during the whole interwar period, as the government of the Second Polish Republic treated the Soviet Union as the greatest potential military threat, which was capable of initiating a full-scale war. However, only a few loose historical documents remain of the original plan today.
Since its establishment following World War I, the Second Polish Republic had been involved in wars and conflicts with almost all of its neighbors (see Polish-Soviet War, Polish-Ukrainian War, Polish-Lithuanian War, Greater Poland Uprising, Silesian Uprisings, Border conflicts between Poland and Czechoslovakia). However, only two of the countries were considered major threats: Germany and the Soviet Union.
In the 1920s and the 1930s, the leaders Poland focused their efforts on countering the potential threat from the east. Fresh were memories of the Polish-Soviet War and the Battle of Warsaw, which saved Poland and the rest of Europe from the spread of Bolshevik Revolution by force.
Since the Polish Army and the government in Warsaw were both certain that war with the Soviets was inevitable, preparations for it were far more advanced than preparation for armed conflict with Germany. It was only after 1935, when anti-Polish propaganda in Germany increased, that the German threat became visible enough for army planners to begin drawing up Plan West. Even in 1939, the number of completed fortifications in the east of Poland vastly outnumbered those in the west.
The interbellum Polish–Soviet borderEdit
Poland's border with the Soviet Union was 1,412 km long. By comparison, the border with Germany, including East Prussia, was more than 20 percent longer, at 1,912 km. Neither border contained any major geographical obstacles, making their defence very difficult.
In the north was a flat, plain land with huge forests (such as Puszcza Nalibocka, the Wilderness of Naliboki). In addition, a major rail route connecting Moscow to Western Europe extended across the northern portion of the country. The area's major conurbation was Wilno, in the northeast of interbellum Poland.
The centre of the country was primarily a huge, sparsely populated-swamp, known as Polesie. Although it had no roads and few rail lines, it had a supreme strategic importance, as its landscape allowed a prolonged, organized defense. Neither Polesie nor the adjacent Volhynia contained any major urban areas.
The south, formerly a portion of the Galicia province of the Austrian Empire, was most highly developed, with a high density of rail lines, a growing amount of industry (such as oil fields in Boryslaw) and the well-developed agriculture of Podolia. Lwów, one of the major cities of interbellum Poland, was located in this area. In addition, the Soviet border was marked by a natural obstacle, the Zbrucz River.
Virtually all Polish industrial and urban centres were in the west and so a long-lasting defense possible, as a Soviet force would have taken up to several weeks to reach Upper Silesia, Warsaw, Kraków or Poznań.
Eastern border conflictsEdit
The Soviet government undermined the validity of the Riga Peace Treaty, which had been signed by Moscow in 1921, from the outset. In the early 1920s the Soviets repeatedly organized guerrilla attacks on Polish settlements close to the border. The most famous one was the attack on Stolpce, which took place on the night of August 3–4, 1924, which prompted the creation of the Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza (Border Protection Corps). Such attacks continued throughout the 1920s but reduced in scale during the 1930s, particularly after the signing of the 1932 Soviet–Polish Non-Aggression Pact.
No copy of the plan has been preserved. All that is known are the basic precepts; restoring the whole plan is impossible. Work on the document was completed on February 4, 1939. The plan was based on the notions of Józef Piłsudski, who, until his death in 1935, was sure that war would arrive from the east. Thus, most army maneuvers and field fortifications were held in the east, and Poland's western border was largely neglected. Some of the fortifications can still be seen in the area around Sarny (see Sarny Fortified Area). Bunkers built by Polish Corps of Engineers in the 1930s were used in late 1940s by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, in their guerilla skirmishes with Red Army.
Polish planners were well aware that the Red Army was in many elements superior to their own. Therefore, the main idea was to organize a so-called "resistance in motion", and to try to split Soviet forces south and north of the vast Polesie swamps. Frontline armies, in the vicinity of the border, were to try to delay the advance of the aggressors and to bleed them, and reserves, located mostly in the areas of Brześć nad Bugiem and Lublin, intended to enter the conflict in later stages.
Structure of Polish ArmyEdit
According to Polish historian Rajmund Szubański, in case of war in the east, the bulk of the Polish Army would be concentrated in the north and the south, with central section of the border left mostly unguarded. Some military historians claim that Polish planners placed too many units close to the border, which would have resulted in their total destruction in the opening days of the conflict. In contrast, the rear positions were inadequately protected..
Seidner outlines the deployment:
- In the extreme northeast, around the rail nexus of Mołodeczno, was Armia Wilno, which possibly had three infantry divisions (1st Legions Infantry Division from Wilno, 19th Infantry Division, also from Wilno, 29th Infantry Division from Grodno), two Cavalry Brigades (Wileńska Cavalry Brigade from Wilno, Suwalska Cavalry Brigade from Suwałki), and the 5th Air Corps from Lida.
- South of Armia Wilno was Armia Baranowicze, with probably four infantry divisions (9th Infantry Division from Siedlce, 20th Infantry Division from Baranowicze, 18th Infantry Division from Łomża, and 28th Infantry Division from Warszawa), two cavalry brigades (Nowogródzka Cavalry Brigade from Baranowicze, Podlaska Cavalry Brigade from Białystok) and the 4th Air Corps from Toruń.
- In the centre was Armia Polesie (also called Independent Operational Group Polesie). It was possibly composed of three infantry divisions (8th Infantry Division from Modlin, 27th Infantry Division from Kowel, 30th Infantry Division from Kobryń), one cavalry brigade (Mazowiecka Cavalry Brigade from Warszawa), Riverine Flotilla of the Polish Navy and the 3rd Air Corps from Poznań.
- Further south was Armia Wołyń, with three infantry divisions (2nd Legions Infantry Division from Kielce, 3rd Legions Infantry Division from Zamość, 13th Infantry Division from Równe), one cavalry brigade (Wołyńska Cavalry Brigade from Równe) and the 2nd Air Corps from Kraków.
- In the extreme south was Armia Podole, with five infantry divisions (5th Infantry Division from Lwów, 11th Infantry Division from Stanisławów, 12th Infantry Division from Tarnopol, 22nd Infantry Division from Przemyśl, 24th Infantry Division from Jarosław), two cavalry brigades (Podolska Cavalry Brigade from Stanisławów, Kresowa Cavalry Brigade from Brody) and the 6th Air Corps from Lwów.
Apart from those units were all the armies' Border-Area Defence Corps units and garrisons of the main cities.
- Behind Armia Wilno and Armia Baranowicze was Armia Lida, with three infantry divisions.
- Behind Armia Podole and Armia Wołyń was Armia Lwów, with two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade (5th Krakowska BK from Kraków).
- Far behind the frontlines, around the city of Brzesc, was the main reserve, with probably six IDs, two cavalry brigades (7th Wielkopolska BK from Poznań, 8th Pomorska BK from Bydgoszcz), an armoured brigade and the 1st Warsaw Air Corps.
Red Army and along Polish borderEdit
In the mid-1930s, the Soviet government started an immense armament program, which resulted in a rapid increase in the number of units. The number of tanks and airplanes along the Polish border grew significantly, and the Soviets enjoyed superiority in all elements. Polish planners anticipated that the Soviets had three times as many soldiers as their own army. The Soviets' superiority in tanks and airplanes was not estimated, but the disproportion was immense. In August 1939, along the Polish border were likely as many as 173 Red Army infantry divisions (see Soviet order of battle for invasion of Poland in 1939).
Invasion of PolandEdit
On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland. Consequently, Plan East became void. On September 17, with a free hand because of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviets broke the Soviet–Polish Non-Aggression Pact and invaded Poland. The Red Army met little resistance, as the Polish Army was concentrated in the West, fighting the Germans. Thus, the Soviets quickly managed to occupy Polish Kresy.
- Stanley S.Seidner, Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz Rydz and the Defense of Poland, New York, 1978, chs. 1-2.
- According to the British historian A.J.P. Taylor, the Polish-Soviet War "largely determined the course of European history for the next twenty years or more.... Unavowedly and almost unconsciously, Soviet leaders abandoned the cause of international revolution." It would be twenty years before the Bolsheviks would send their armies abroad to 'make revolution'.
Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-508105-6, Google Print, p.106
According to American sociologist Alexander Gella, "the Polish victory had gained twenty years of independence not only for Poland, but at least for an entire central part of Europe.
Aleksander Gella, Development of Class Structure in Eastern Europe: Poland and Her Southern Neighbors, SUNY Press, 1988, ISBN 0-88706-833-2, Google Print, p. 23
- Stanley S.Seidner, Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz Rydz and the Defense of Poland, New York, 1978, 105-106.
- Stanley S.Seidner, Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz Rydz and the Defense of Poland, New York, 1978, 108.
- Stanley S.Seidner, Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz Rydz and the Defense of Poland, New York, 1978, ch. 2.
- Stanley S.Seidner, Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz Rydz and the Defense of Poland, New York, 1978, chs. 1
- Stanley S.Seidner, Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz Rydz and the Defense of Poland, New York, 1978, 108-109.
- Stanley S.Seidner, Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz Rydz and the Defense of Poland, New York, 1978, appendices.
- (in Polish) Plan operacyjny "Wschód" discussed on a University of Warsaw forum
- (in Polish) POLSKI PLAN OBRONNY ZACHÓD
- (in Ukrainian) Polish interbellum fortifications in Ukraine - present day photos