Polish Legions

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Polish Legions


voluntary Polish military units created under the auspices of foreign armies during the 18th to 20th centuries for the purpose of struggling to reestablish the independence of Poland.

The legions were first created in Italy in 1797 according to an agreement concluded on Jan. 9, 1797, by a Polish general in exile, J. H. Dabrowski, and the government of the Republic of Lombardy, which was formed during Bonaparte’s Italian Campaign of 1796–97. They were made up of Polish émigrés and prisoners from the Austrian Army. Two legions with three battalions and one artillery battalion each were formed. After the Treaty of Campo Formio of 1797 the legions were retained as an auxiliary corps in the army of the Cisalpine Republic. In 1798 they participated in the abolition of the Church State (the Papal Region) and the actions against Naples. In 1799, during France’s war against the Second Coalition (1798–1802), France assumed the expense of the maintenance of the Polish Legions, and in 1799–1800 they took part in military operations in Italy against Russo-Austrian troops (the first legion at Trebbia and in other battles and the second legion in the defense of Mantua). In addition to Dąbrowski’s Italian legions (9,000 men), in 1799 the Danubian Legion of General K. Kniaziewicz (about 6,000 men) was formed. In 1799–1800 it operated successfully in southern Germany.

After the Treaty of Lunéville of 1801, France reorganized the Polish legions as three half-brigades and one uhlan regiment. Shortly thereafter, the second and third half-brigades were sent to the island of Santo Domingo and used to suppress the anti-French rebellion of the Negro population; they lost two-thirds of their complement in battle and from disease. The first half-brigade and the uhlan regiment remained in Italy and in 1805–07 participated in France’s war against the Third and Fourth coalitions. During the war against Prussia (1806–07), Napoleon created two northern legions (8,000 men) under the command of Generals J. Zajączek and G. Wołodkiewicz. In all, about 35,-000 men passed through the Polish legions in the period 1797–1807. Some of these made up the skeleton of the Polish Army of the duchy of Warsaw (1807–14), and some remained in French service (about 8,000 men), in what was called the Polish-Italian Legion.

On Mar. 29, 1848, during the period of revolutionary upsurge in Europe, a Polish legion (about 500 men) was formed in Rome on the initiative of the Polish poet A. Mickiewicz. It participated in the liberation war of the Italian people against Austrian rule. In 1848 two more Polish legions were established in Hungary under the command of Generals J. Wysocki and J. Bem. These legions fought in the Hungarian Revolutionary Army; after the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848–49 they went to Turkey.

During World War I (1914–18) the idea of creating Polish legions was proposed by Polish bourgeois nationalists led by J. Piłsudski; they were counting on the partial resolution of the Polish question with the aid of the central powers. Recruitment for the Polish legions under the auspices of the Austro-Hungarian Army was announced on Aug. 16, 1914. The formation of two legions was begun—the Eastern (L’vov) and Western (Kraków) legions. On Sept. 21, 1914, after the occupation of eastern Galicia by Russian forces, the Eastern Legion, influenced by pro-Russian Polish political groupings, dissolved itself. In place of the Western Legion, three brigades of legionnaires (5,000–6,000 men each) were formed. In 1914–16 they saw combat in Galicia, the Western Carpathians, and Volhynia as part of the Austro-Hungarian Army, and in 1917 and early 1918 they were disbanded.

Polish legions were also established within the Russian Empire. In October 1914 the Puławy and Lublin legions were formed. They saw combat in the vicinity of Radom and in the Poles’e. In March 1915 the legions were turned into state militia troops, which in October 1915 were re-formed as the Brigade of Polish Riflemen, which became the nucleus of General J. Polish Corps, formed in 1917.

M. VZHOSEK [14–729–1 ]

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Broniewski joined the antitsarist Polish legions in 1915, and later, when Poland's independence was restored, he enlisted in the new national army and fought in the Russo-Polish War of 1919-20.

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