This book, written in 1972, is the definitive history of the background and events of the Polish-Soviet Russian War of 1919-20. The book gives a good review of the build-up to hostilities, and in particular the thinking in the camps of the main protagonists Lenin and Marshal Pilsudski of Poland, that led first to the attack upon the Ukraine by Poland and then the subsequent invasion of Poland by the Soviet Armies. Lenin nurtured dreams of inciting a communist revolution in proletarian Germany whilst the newly re-formed Polish nation had dreams of a group of sympathetic independent non-Bolshevik states being re-created in the Borders region of Byelorussia and the Ukraine. Davies deals well with the incompetent and ignorant posturing of the Entente led by Lloyd George and President Millerand but is less convincing on the activities of Stalin and his cronies in the Southern Armies compared to more recent volumes on the same subject. (Zamoyski, 'Warsaw 1920', 2008). Whilst the research is excellent the book is somewhat academic in feel and this results in a lack of three dimensional characterisation and pace. This publication is for the serious student of Polish history who wants detail and for whom these shortcomings would not be an issue. The final chapter 'Repercussions' is now dated (Pimlico 2003 Edition) and still refers to a communist Poland. The publisher has also let down this renowned author by producing this edition on poor quality paper.
I first found out about the Battle of Warsaw when reading JFC Fuller's brilliant "The Conduct of War: 1769-1961" over 15 years ago. Fuller referred to the battle as being one of the decisive battles of the Western World and how the Poles stopped the Red Army invading western Europe. I had been intrigued ever since, and found out more when I read Norman Davies' book. He describes in detail how the war started from a series of border skirmishes and escalated into a full-scale conflagration, with the Poles invading the Ukraine, then the Russians invading Poland in return; before being routed on the Vistula. Davies also discusses the aftermath of the war and how the Poles success in 1920 was ultimately to contribute to their disaster of 1939. The unusual nature of the war - it was the last European war in which cavalry played a dominant role - is also well described. For those interested in this forgotten but highly important piece of history, this book is definately recommended.
This book is a fascinating account of a little known episode of European history which was to have wide unforeseen repercussions. The book is scholarly in that all facts a referenced and supported, but in my opinion it is also highly readable. Davies enlivens the narrative with eye witness accounts, which bring the brutalities and sometimes absurdities of the battlefield home to the reader. The wild and diverse characters of the participants are also brought vividly to life, such as the indomitable loner Pi³sudski, or the suave and inspired Soviet commander Tukhachevsky.
Although it is a highly balanced account it is difficult not to become very engaged with Poland's struggle to keep hold of her first chance of independence since the 1790's, and feel the tension from point when Poland was riding high after its annexation of Kiev, to the dark days when Warsaw was threatened, to the great counter stroke that threw the overstretched Soviet forces back over the border. These events were no less dramatic in that they were also the occasion of the last great cavalry battles ever fought, between Budyonny's First Red Cavalry and the Polish Ulans.
Another great strength of the book is as a myth buster. I had read that the "Miracle of the Vistula", when Soviet forces were thrown back from the gates of Warsaw, was the work of the French General Weygand. In reality he was frozen out by the Polish staff after having a bad reception from Pi³sudski, and was credited with "saving" Poland by the British and French premiers, who were trying to cover their own reputations after the surprise of Poland's victory.
The book ends on a more melancholy note reflecting that it was published in the 1970's, when Poland was still under the heel of their old foe, the Russians. It is shown how the war may have affected the Soviet regime, as well as reflecting that militarily, many of the wrong lessons were learned, which contributed to Poland's ignominious defeat in 1939. Perhaps this book is ripe for a new addition with an introduction that takes into account Poland's improved fortunes and the warming relations with Russia.
This book is about one of those wars that you regularly hear referred to but rarely see any details about.
The war is, of course, most often referred to in the context of the Second World War, mainly because a lot of the major players in that war, De-Gaulle, Stalin, Churchill, Sikorski were also involved. Stalins views on Poland were certainly heavily influenced in this war and you start to understand why the Soviets were so anti Poland and firm on changing the Polish borders at the end of WW2 after reading this.
But this book is also about the chaos and shock that followed WW1. In many ways Europe was more completely shattered by the first than the second world war, and this book captures the atmosphere of that period very well.
Davies prose is at the same time trenchant and informative, which make this book a very entertaining read. You could pick this book and enjoy it even if you have no interest in this particular period of history.
It is my favourite book. Fascinating story where took a part Lenin, Stalin, Pilsudski, Charles de Gaulle, Lloyd George, Bevin, Churchill and almost every key person form XX century European history. It is like criminal story: at the begining brothers of two enemies colaborate in the same plot, at the end they leading enemy countries in cruel war.
There are other general works on the Russian Revolution but this seems to be the definitive account in English on this topic.
The text reads well, there are good maps and the scholarship seems very good. Whereas most Soviet and Polish accounts are likely to be overly biased, the author of this account seems to give a fair hearing to all factions. His own claims are well backed up.
The book strikes a good balance between popular and academic history, it's fairly rigorous but not dry, it keeps "human interest" anecdotes to a minimum, ensuring we don't lose the big picture, concentrating on political and military history.
Maps are plentiful and quite good, there are some good photographs. I would have found appendices containing a chronology, biographical details and organisational details useful but there's always a trade off with space.
Brilliant scholarship in two very difficult languages! A priceless insight into the early leaders of the Bolshevik movement. I could count on one hand the number of top Reds mentioned in the book still around by WWII. I now know that the intelligentsia (but no less blodthirsty) within the Bolsheviks were annihilated by the gurriers in the movement - Stalin, Budyonny, Voroshilov and Timoshenko. Set around the same time of the Irish War of Indpendence, you realise just how screwed up Europe was in the late 1910s and early 1920s when you see that Ukrainian nationalists where fighting the Poles, the Reds and the Whites, oh and the Anarchists and Peasants, at the same time; or that Estonian nationalists were fighting Estonian and Russian Reds, Whites, and Germans at the same time. Even in Belarus, 12,000 nationalist (can you call them even that?) militiamen roamed the marshlands fighting all comers. Bored? Join a bunch of partisans or Reds or whatever... Calvarymen pillaging etc., Think of Doctor Zhivago without the romance. Gripping stuff, it had me running to Wikipedia every two pages. In fact, I've just donated 75 to Wiki on the back of the amount of info they had on the main caracters in White Eagle, Red Star. Fair play to Wiki, to have articles on punters like Edward Rydz-mig³y or Symon Petliura or Gayk Bzhishkyan... Well, they're the kind of characters that pop up in this masterpiece. The military tactics stuff bored me, but as a historical tool, this is as good as it gets. The October Revolution was a world-changing event, and the Polish-Soviet War the first attempt to export it. Had it succeeded then, before Stalin grabbed power and while genuine ideologists like Trostky, Kameneev, Frunze, Zinoviev, Bukharin et al were still around who knows... Obviously they were savages, but who wasn't in 1920? Europe was a violent place, and Russia more so than most. Also, reminders of a world that we will never see again are frequent: 90% of the population of Pinsk, now in Belarus, was Jewish. L'viv was a Polish city - with plenty of Jews too - surrounded by Ukrainians. Vilnius ditto, except Lithuanians surrounded it. Pi³sudski, the Polish generalissimo and Dzier¿yñski, the head of the Cheka were both from Vilnius and had even been at the same school. Yet here they are fighting against each other. Finally, the photos are brilliant. I loved the one of Karl Radek and the Red POWs. Norman Davies deserves a prize for his contribution to Europe.
Although this book was first written in 1972, it remains the most accessible, if not the only, English language monograph on the Polish-Soviet War. Norman Davies provides several reasons why the outcome of this war was important. Firstly, in marked an end to the ideal of an international communist movement in favour of Russian-based communism, the increased importance of those like Stalin with wholly Russian experience and the decline of Trotsky and other internationalist communists. Secondly, it allowed Poland to think it could resist its more powerful neighbours, with disastrous consequences in 1939, and gave the Polish army the prestige to create a military dictatorship in the late 1920s and 1930s. Thirdly, it ended the pretensions of the western Entente powers, led by Lloyd George, to dictate a post-war settlement in Eastern Europe. Finally, it stimulated a number of military theorists, Tukhachevsky in Russia, Sikorski in Poland and de Gaulle who liaised with the Poles, to promote the mobile offensive over static defence. Ironically, their ideas were most enthusiastically adopted in Germany, which used them to defeat Poland and France and, initially, Russia.
This is a well written and generally impartial narrative account that covers the political background to the war, the main campaigns, the peace negotiations and the war’s aftermath. Davies sets out to provide a summary, discussion and clarification of the war, and he does this very well. He also corrects a number of common errors (that the war was engineered by the Entente powers or that the Polish victory was largely the work of General Weygand), replacing these misconceptions with more credible analyses. Davies does not neglect the human side to the conflict: he quotes several passages from Isaak Babel’s account of his time with the Red Cavalry, including the poignant last words of the book.
The only drawback is that Davies wrote over 40 years ago during the Cold War, when the main Soviet sources were incomplete and badly edited. He makes it clear that this is not a definitive history, and it is difficult to know how any material that has become available since 1972 would have affected his conclusions.
It arrived on time and to the right place. As far as books go it is readable. What more can I say... I might love or hate it, but that's only my opinion and should not reflect at all on the book or the author. .