Customer Reviews


25 Reviews
5 star:
 (9)
4 star:
 (12)
3 star:
 (3)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superbly Concise Description of this Important Campaign
This is a superbly written little book that provides a concise history of the 1920 campaign that resulted in the defeat of Soviet forces by the newly formed Polish Army. Books describing military campaigns can often be tedious but Zamoyski overcomes this by writing with such elan that you find yourself rushing through the book. Thumbnail sketches are provided of the main...
Published on 21 Jun 2008 by Dr. R. Brandon

versus
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A reasonable introduction but not Zamoyski's best
I read this book for 2 reasons: firstly, because I had always been fascinated by this episode in Europe's fragmentation after WW1, ever since reading the chapter on it in JFC Fuller's Decisive Battles series whilst still at school (and for once his description of the battle as `decisive' is accurate here- the result of this battle really did change history). More...
Published on 25 Jun 2012 by Jasper Tamespeke


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superbly Concise Description of this Important Campaign, 21 Jun 2008
By 
Dr. R. Brandon (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a superbly written little book that provides a concise history of the 1920 campaign that resulted in the defeat of Soviet forces by the newly formed Polish Army. Books describing military campaigns can often be tedious but Zamoyski overcomes this by writing with such elan that you find yourself rushing through the book. Thumbnail sketches are provided of the main protagonists including Pilsudski, Sikorski, and the Russians Tukhachevsky and Budionny as well as many other players including a young, and insubordinate political officer, Stalin. Other, more detailed tomes are available, (Norman Davies, 'White Eagle Red Star', 1972) but for the reader who is seeking a brief description of this most important of battles Zamoyski has done an excellent job. A number of good black and white photographs and campaign maps are provided in the text.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short and to the point, 4 April 2008
By 
SC (North East Britain) - See all my reviews
Having recently reread Norman Davies' account of the Polish Soviet war I was pleased to see that this book had been released. It is not the book that Davies' is, and does not really offer anything new, and Zamoyski more or less concedes this point himself. He has set out to offer an accessible and readable account of this overlooked and important conflict, which still echoes through those countries today. This he has achieved. If the book feels unsatifyingly short, it is probably only to Eastern Europe bores such as myself. To people coming fresh to the subject and the region it a quick and informative read which i would recommend.

Zamoyski is to be commended for bringing his status, hard won from fuller tomes on more popular subjects, to bear on this fascinating 'brawl', its origins, myths,conduct and consequences.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please read more history books, 11 April 2008
By 
J. Tomaas (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I could not help but become incensed when I read Y. Mann's review of this book above. I suggest Mr. Y. Mann of NY that you go and read some more books on Eastern Europe and Poland from the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries, pre-world war I and WW2. You can start with God's Playground by Norman Davies and amongst others continue to For Your Freedom and Ours by Olson and Cloud. Quote "The idea here, apparently, is that it is OK for the Poles to take lands that belonged to them over a century ago before Poland was partitioned" well then according to you the very creation of a free Polish state was wrong. The Poles had offered the Whites help against the Bolsheviks in an agreement of a free Poland but the Whites refused to acknowledge that a Poland even existed, the same was true of the Bolsheviks, and it would be foolish to think that Communism would just sit by and allow a free state to exist right under their noses, such as 1939 and the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Quote " Bottom line is that the Red Army responded to a Polish threat. If there was no Polish threat there is no evidence one can point to which would undoubtedly show that the Red Army would have been used to spread the Revolution, especially considering the position Russia/Soviet Union found itself in after a bloody civil war.", the Red Army was well lead and organised for that period of time, just having beaten the Whites, what Poland did was pre-empt an attack that would no doubt be coming, the fact is a free Poland was always a threat to Communism I quote Stalin "Poland is about as suitable for communism as trying to put a saddle on a donkey". If you read Polish history Poland prides itself on being a country that never invaded and oppressed its neighbours, only a hardened Communist would believe that Bolshevism was liberation. The Polish invasion did not help the Bolshevik cause, Poland ensured freedom for the region for the next 20 years. Quote "their 'armies' at times were the furthest thing from what we picture in our minds as 'armies'" what did you depict any WW1 army to look like? WW1 western front was mainly fought by trench and artillery, on the eastern front a mixture heavily based on cavalry, the west and eastern fronts were just as motley as each other, I suggest more reading on this subject also. Only a communist can believe that Poland was the aggressor in this war, Poland has been fighting defensive conflicts in the interest of independence and "the Golden liberty" that was Poland from oppressors for centuries, again please read more about this subject...
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


55 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The shame of our intellectual elite, 25 Feb 2008
By 
T. Burkard (Norwich, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Few people are aware of the humiliating defeat inflicted on the Red Army in 1920. The Polish Army, with virtually no help from the West, destroyed an army several times its own size. Zamoyski demonstrates that the aim of Red Army--one of its leaders was Stalin--was nothing less than the conquest of Europe. Fresh from crushing the White Russian armies, they marched to the banks of the Vistula, and with Germany in turmoil, it looked as though nothing would stop them short of the Rhine. Even though morale began to crumble in the Polish Army, enough units maintained cohesion for Pilsudski to execute a daring flanking manoeuver which utterly routed the Red Army. Amazingly, Pilsudsky was not even a professional soldier, but his plan is recognised as a masterpiece of military planning.

The Poles got little help from the West, as pro-Soviet intellectuals were gaining the ascendency over Churchill and others who supported the White Russians. At the time, this could be understood--the egregious crimes of Lenin and Stalin were still in the future. There is no such excuse for their subsequent silence, which has virtually airbrushed Pilsudky's remarkable feat from the Western consciousness. Europe owes a huge debt to the Poles, who have fought tyrants three times in the last century--and won twice. Zamoysky's book is superb, drawing on first-hand accounts from both sides, and depicting the chaos and confusion of the times with remarkable clarity.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, concise, edifying and enjoyable., 8 Sep 2013
By 
Sebastian Palmer "sebuteo" (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
In this short, well-written and handsome little book Zamoyski reminds us of an intriguing if largely forgotten chapter in European history. With Poland acting as bulwark against the westward spread of Communism, battles that stand as the last 'hurrah' of C19th style cavalry engagements, and a large cast of colourful characters - from the major players like Pilsudski and Tuchachevsky, less well-known to us perhaps, to such giants-in-the-making as a young and insubordinate Stalin and the ever bullish Churchill, who involves Britain in this story, albeit indirectly, by sending troops to support the White Russians - there's plenty of interest in terms of both geopolitical and military manoeuvring.

Like many others I came to this via Zamoyski's splendid 1812, and consequently expectations were high. Unlike some others I was not at all disappointed. This is undoubtedly a much more modest undertaking on the author's part, but he succeeds in his stated aim of introducing a very interesting subject to the general reader admirably. And personally, as much as I enjoy door-stop sized tomes, I think it's excellent to have briefer, pithier alternatives to hand. I took this on a short holiday break and read the whole book whilst away, which was most enjoyable. As Zamoyski proved so well in 1812, he's a superb writer, and his handling of the confusing events of this campaign is a model of clarity and well organised exposition. Several maps and numerous black and white photographs support and enrich Zamoyski's lucid text.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawless, 24 Aug 2013
By 
Samee Zafar (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is the clearest description of a very important early 20th century war - it is written without ambiguity, is extremely well researched, and I found it hard to put down. It is also a short book and it seems that the aim of the writer was to describe the plans, ambitions, personalities, movements, and the battles of this war in just the right number of words rather than composing a tome. A superb book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Battle that Saved Europe from Communism, 24 July 2013
By 
Lance Grundy (Great Britain) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In the summer of 1920 a battle took place in Poland which changed the course of history. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the recently formed Soviet Federative Socialist Republic [forerunner of the USSR], was desperate to export the Bolshevik revolution from Russia to the West. His number one target was Germany, which was broken and demoralised after World War One and seen by the Bolsheviks as ripe for a communist takeover. Once Germany had been conquered by the Red Army, Lenin planned to use the country as a springboard for imposing Bolshevik-style governments on the other nations of Europe. However, to get from Russia to Germany the Red Army first had to cross the newly-independent country of Poland. The Bolsheviks thought Poland would be a pushover and that the Polish capital, Warsaw, would be conquered quickly. The Poles, led by one of their greatest wartime leaders, the one-time bank robber and former socialist Jozef Pilsudski, had other ideas.

Written by the award-winning author and historian, Adam Zamoyski, this short, easy-to-read account of the Battle of Warsaw is an excellent introduction to what must be one of the most important, if little-known, battles in history. Zamoyski, who has written extensively about The History of Poland, says that he first became interested in the Battle of Warsaw some years ago when he interviewed many of those who had participated in the conflict for an earlier book. Their experiences, combined with the information subsequently obtained from numerous Soviet and Polish sources, make this book an interesting, if quite short, read. While the author concedes that in such a short book he is only able to provide an "outline of events" and that anyone especially interested in the subject will find his generalisations wanting, there are other, far more detailed books available about the Polish-Soviet War [such as Norman Davies' 1972 account White Eagle, Red Star] for those who wish to study the subject in more depth. Still, by focusing on the military operations and explaining the broader political context in which the fighting occurred, I think Zamoyski largely succeeds in his stated aim of providing the reader with "a succinct overview of what happened and why".

The former American President Woodrow Wilson described the Battle of Warsaw as 'the seventh most important battle in history' and many of the characters involved in the battle such as Lenin, Stalin, Pilsudski, De Gaulle and Trotsky, would go on to play leading roles in the shaping of the twentieth century. Why then is so little known about the battle in the West? According to Zamoyski it's because of "the wholesale acceptance of socialist orthodoxies by Western historians" who, as was so often the case in the twentieth century, took the highly partisan Soviet version of events as read and were reluctant to publicise anything which contradicted their own Marxist worldview. Books like this are sometimes worth reading simply as an antidote to this kind of historical bias but the so-called 'Miracle on the Vistula' is an interesting story in its own right, well told by Zamoyski, which would be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about the forces that shaped the world we live in today.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How Warsaw was saved (and the world too), 2 May 2010
By 
Vittorio De Alfaro (Turin, Italie) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In 1920 Moscow was reasonably safe: the various Denikin, Wrangel etc retiring after the victory of the Reds in the east, north, and in Tzarizin (now Volgograd), meaning that Crimea was ready to be conquered.

General Pilsudski tried to prevent the next move of the Bolshevics: his troops arrived up to Kiev in June. But the Lenin armies were gathering: Pilsudski went back precipitous from Kiev to the Vistula (a very long journey), instantly followed by the Red Armies. In general terms both the Reds and the Poles were in very bad situation, the Soviet Army being the most casually dressed (naked feet were regularly seen).

Not all soviet troops were along the Vistula: the Budionny Army was close to Lvov. This, and the Pole last stand, changed the situation. The Red Army was defeated: the Polish Army won. The scattered remains of the Reds were thrown back.

The writer is perfect in introducing to the military side, what was his aim. The Polish victory prevented, he says, the soviet revolution from spreading to Poland and beyond. A very good book, not too long, all in all.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A reasonable introduction but not Zamoyski's best, 25 Jun 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I read this book for 2 reasons: firstly, because I had always been fascinated by this episode in Europe's fragmentation after WW1, ever since reading the chapter on it in JFC Fuller's Decisive Battles series whilst still at school (and for once his description of the battle as `decisive' is accurate here- the result of this battle really did change history). More importantly, I thought 2 of Zamoyski's earlier books, `The Last King of Poland' and `Moscow 1812' were models of popular history, being entertaining, well argued and well researched, and, not least, extremely well written.

Whilst this is not a bad book, I was a bit disappointed after finishing Warsaw 1920. The treatment is often very superficial, which is I suppose inevitable in a book of 140 pages. I doubt that Zamoyski is capable of writing badly, but I did wonder what this book is for. Zamoyski acknowledges the help of his friend Norman Davies, who has written a more detailed book on this subject. As far as I know this is still considered the standard work in English, and, given that Davies' prose is typically as elegant as Zamoyski's, is no doubt highly readable as well as scholarly. Zamoyski does not claim to have done original research, and also acknowledges that all the essential documents have been widely available for a long time. I suppose the only rationale is that this book is shorter than Davies' and so provides a useful introduction (and I have to concede that until I read this book I was not aware of Davies' effort, even though I have read several of his books).

The war began when the Poles and their Ukrainian allies attacked the Red Army in the Ukraine in April 1920, whilst the latter was engaged in fighting Denikin's army in the Russian Civil War. Zamoyski concedes that Pilsudski `committed a huge diplomatic blunder' in precipitating the war, but he did so because he realised that a Soviet attack was imminent, & that if Russia was able to mobilise her full potential the Polish Army would be swamped. However, as far as world opinion was concerned this appeared to be an unprovoked attack on the Soviet Union, especially as the Soviets had repudiated the historical partition treaties & recognised all the territory up to the Dneiper as Polish.

This is an event of crucial importance to the interpretation of the conflict, and also to the wider subject of the development of the Soviet Union. Received opinion seems to be that Lenin was bent on exporting revolution as soon as the Civil War in Russia was settled in favour of the Communists. Zamoyski follows this view & on page 13 states that in January 1920 the Politburo resolved to invade Poland within 3 months (with Trotsky & Chicherin demurring). If this is true then Pilsudski was just guilty of poor tactics, rather than of starting a war of aggression. However, Zamoyski only offers references to secondary sources to support his claim (footnote 8), rather than primary evidence. This is disappointing in reference to something so fundamental. I am not a historian, and certainly no expert on this subject, but given that this point drives one's attitude to subsequent events I would like to be sure what the Bolsheviks had resolved to do.

This campaign is fascinating for several reasons, not least the fact that it was so different than the recently ended World War where, albeit to a lesser extent on the Eastern Front than in the West, the war was often static due to the weight of materiel on both sides, and the difficultly of controlling large armies on the battlefield before effective radio communication became available. In the Polish-Soviet War, on the other hand, warfare was very mobile, with relatively small armies covering huge distances, and cavalry made a comeback onto the battlefield, although this was partly because of the Russian innovation of the `tachanka', a heavy machine gun on the back of an open horse drawn buggy. It could gallop up to a line of enemy infantry as an adjunct to the cavalry, & deliver rounds of withering fire as it veered round.

Improvisation generally had to be the order of the day, obviously so for the Poles, who needed to create a new army alongside a new country, but also in the case of the Soviets. As Zamoyski points out, the Bolsheviks were hampered in building a new army by their success in destroying the old one: a pre-condition of their seizure of power in October 1917 was the destruction of the Imperial Russian Army, & the Bolsheviks achieved this by systematically undermining every aspect of military service, inciting mutiny, desertion, and wholesale slaughter of officers. But Trotsky, ever the realist, brushed aside ideological considerations when confronted with the need to win the Civil War, & sought out former Tsarist officers, re-designating them from 'enemies of the people' to 'specialists'. This created problems with existing volunteers, and suspect loyalties, so Trotsky solved this problem by giving each officer a `guardian angel' in the form of a political commissar, both to protect the officer from his troops, and to keep him in line.

Pilsudski's attack on the Soviet Union was not just a diplomatic mistake, but he soon found himself in the situation faced by many other invaders of that vast country- the Russian armies he defeated disappeared & he found himself having to defend ever larger areas of territory. The Poles were repulsed around Kiev in the south, & then the Soviet commander on their Western Front, the 27 year old nihilistic nobleman Mikhail Tukhachevsky, attacked in the north. With the Soviet armies converging on Warsaw it seemed that nothing could stop them defeating Poland and marching into Germany & beyond.

However, the topography of the front in the Soviet-Polish war gave the Poles an advantage, which became more important the further that Tukhachevsky marched into Poland. The Pripet Marshes in the middle of the front meant that movement had to be down 2 corridors, between Warsaw and Smolensk, or between Lublin and Kiev. The Russian armies had to operate independently from their bases at Smolensk & Kharkov, but the Polish armies could be more cohesive, as they had the common base of Warsaw even though they moved apart as they went east. So as they were pushed back towards Warsaw the Poles could cohere more whilst the wings of the Soviet forces found it ever more difficult to work together, although they didn't really want to either. Yegorov & Stalin, responsible for the southern wings of the Red Army moving out of the Ukraine, were guilty of insubordination on a grand scale during the Polish campaign. Although they cannot be blamed for failing to save the day at Warsaw, (Tukhachevsky knew that Yegorov's forces were too far away & didn't take any account of them in his final orders for the battle of Warsaw), both Yegorov & Stalin ignored Kamenev's orders to support the offensive & transfer forces to Tukhachevsy's front. Once Stalin seized power in the Soviet Union, Tukhachevsky was a marked man; he was killed during the purges in 1937 after the usual show trial.

The Polish situation was desperate and it seemed that the army could disintegrate altogether. Trotsky's ruthless use of `barrier troops' or in the Soviet jargon `anti-retreat detachments,' with orders to shoot those in the front line who deserted, or even retreated without orders is well known. However, I did not know that Polish generals ordered military police to machine gun any retreating troops from positions taken behind the front line. Generals Haller & Rozwadowski resorted to such desperate measures because they were so alarmed by the performance in the defence of Warsaw, and they seemed to work as the troops seemed to show a `change of heart' (who wouldn't?) .

This was the cue for Pilsudski's finest hour & the `Miracle on the Vistula'; he had gathered together 5 divisions and counter-attacked in the centre, south of Warsaw, in August. As is usual in the fog of war, both commanders had drawn up their plans based on false assumptions about the other's intentions: Pilsudski believed Tukhachevsky main attack was to be on the Warsaw bridgeheads, whereas the latter believed the main Polish force left was grouped north of Warsaw & intended to attack there. Tukhachevsky had even been given a copy of Pilsudski's orders for the counter-offensive but ignored them as he thought it was a hoax. This was because the dead officer from whom they were retrieved should not have died where he did due to the unit he was part of being expected to be elsewhere.

Notwithstanding Pilsudski's mistakes, the operation was a complete success & the Soviets were routed & driven back behind the new borders. Zamoyski describes the ebb & flow of the battle well but again one would want more detail here. The focus is just on the commanders: what did it feel to fight in this gruesome, ruthless struggle? How did the ordinary soldiers & civilians cope?

The concluding `Aftermath' chapter again feels a bit light. Zamoyski states that it would be idle to speculate about the consequences of a Soviet victory, but then proceeds to do so, mentioning that the states that ended up behind the iron curtain after the Second World War would have done so before `and maybe Germany' as well. I don't think that these `counterfactuals' are idle speculation, they help to remind us that historical events are not inevitable, that contemporaries had choices and outcomes could have been very different. Zamoyski underplays the significance of the battle here; given the anarchy prevailing in Germany at the time and the strength of the Left, it seems quite likely that Germany would also be overrun, & given the exhaustion of the Western Powers, would the invasion have stopped there?

Zamoyski also claims that the prevalence of Jews in the Bolshevik leadership, coupled with the scare given to Western Europe by the war, helped to foster Anti-Semitism between the world wars, particularly in Poland. This is a very large claim for which no evidence is produced or references cited. I'm all in favour of short books, but in many respects this one is too short to give the subject justice, in spite of its many virtues.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars Compact tale about unkown historic event, 14 Mar 2014
By 
Koos "Koos Reitsma" (Groningen, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
WO I ended in 1918, but had an unknown aftermath: The fight between the re-established Poland and the Bolshevik Soviet-Union in 1919 en 1920. Adam Zamoyski tells us in a compact book how it happened, the miracle at the Wiswa-river, the last great cavalry battle on European territory and why it saved Central and Western Europe for communism invasion.

Zamoyski did do his research well and even complains a little bit about his own research. He would had liked to have much more access to objective documents at (former) Soviet Union territory. Sadly, he was not able or not allowed. Therefor already in the introduction chapter Zamoyski explains that most information in this exciting story is based on documents to be found in ‘the west’.

At the end of WO I Polish people were fighting for their own country. As a state is had vanished from European maps due to the historical partitions. The people were eager to get back their own country. The border were about to settled at a congress, the date to be settled. Zamoyski gives us the tale about the first action by the Poles, the reaction by the Soviets, the military actions by the Soviets. Almost it looked like brand new Poland was about to stumble and fall until the late great general and Polish hero Pilsudski saved the day with a brilliant military maneuver at the ‘gates’ of Warsaw. What followed was an historical cavalry battle in nowadays southeast Poland and a run-over by Polish Army for some day, while Soviet government and Lenin at the same time thought the Soviet Army was pushing into Poland. Hence the post WO II Polish borderlines. Hence while Lenin failed to conquest Germany.

This historic tale is not the biggest tale, but surely not an anecdote in European history, although it has been treated like that for decades. It has been an unknown important historical event. Zamoyski has written the story in a very pleasant, informative way. It’s a book that opens your mind and that there is far more to know that you think you know.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Only search this product's reviews