Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

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Steve
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Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by Steve » 04 Aug 2017 19:04

The man in charge of the Polish army in September 1939 Marshall Edward Smigly-Rydz was a hero from the war against the Bolsheviks. He was undoubtedly brave and intelligent (among his hobbies were painting and poetry) and looked like a hero should look. However, Carlton de Wiart the head of the British Military Mission to Poland thought that Rydz was “never fitted for the responsibilities that were thrust on him”. He also thought that his plan for war against Germany was foolhardy.

On September 7 Rydz left Warsaw heading for Brest Litovsk and from then on increasingly lost control of the army. On the 11th he left Brest Litovsk and on the 15th arrived in Kolomyja. The Soviets invaded on the 17th and Rydz headed for the Romanian border some 60k away. He expected the Romanians to allow him and his ministers to cross Romania and travel on to France. Ordered by Germany not to allow this Rydz was placed under house arrest. He would stay in Romania until December 1940 when he escaped to Hungary.

When Rydz left Poland the army that he commanded was still fighting. Shortly after he arrived in Romania Lt. Colonel Zakrzewski the Polish Military Attaché in Bucharest wrote to General Stachiewicz , Rydz’s Chief of Staff: “Sir, As a soldier who has not lost his sense of honour, I consider the abandonment of a still fighting army by the Commander in Chief and his Chief of Staff to be dishonourable. Dying should not be a privilege accorded only to enlisted men and young officers………”

The question is did Rydz make the right decision in fleeing to Romania or should he have shared the fate of the army he commanded?

A Polish officer named Tadeusz Mostowice was killed fighting to defend the Rumanian bridgehead. Smigly-Rydz in my opinion should have joined him. You would have expected him to understand that after the catastrophe that had occurred under his leadership he could not head the Polish government in exile or command its military forces.

The Zakrzewski quote is taken from: - Between Hitler and Stalin by Archibald L. Patterson p.188

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Re: Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by wm » 04 Aug 2017 21:44

There is no need for Wiart's opinions. It was the opinion of Piłsudski that Rydz would be a mediocre military leader. He was chosen, because the rest was even more mediocre. But as Poland couldn't have been saved even by Napoleon it really didn't matter.
He wasn't any worse than many of the early military leaders, French, British, and especially Soviet - he made some serious mistakes, but the others were good at making serious mistakes too.

The Romanian bridgehead was Polish unsuccessful Dunkirk. It was made unsuccessful by the backstabbing Soviets. As lord Gort Rydz was forced to leave by the advancing enemy (in his case by the Soviets). He didn't abandon anybody he was forced to leave, he had no other choice.

The idea that Rydz (or Lord Gort) should have died firing his rifle as the last defender is frankly idiotic. It wasn't the end, it was just the beginning. The expectations were the Germans were eventually going to get it, and this time to get it good. It absolutely wasn't the right time for harakiris.

Rydz eventually fled from his imprisonment and returned to the occupied Poland, crossing illegally two borders and the Tatras on foot. He actually was a very courageous man.

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Re: Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by Steve » 19 Aug 2017 03:40

It is the norm for a commanding officer to stay with his men till the end and not save himself while his men are still fighting. In 1942 President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to leave his surrounded men at Corregidor and go to Australia. As MacArthur could not disobey an order from his commander he was able to honourably abandon his army. Australian General Gordon Bennett did not surrender with his men at Singapore in 1942 but escaped. The Australian army took the view that he should not have abandoned his men and he never commanded troops in combat again. King Leopold III commander of the Belgium Army decided to stay with his men rather than escape to England.

After the disaster that had befallen Poland Rydz must surely have realised that he had to do the honourable thing and resign. If he thought that he could carry on as head of the army he was delusional. What did he think his role would be in the government and armed forces in exile? If surrender for the head of the army was not an option then he should have died fighting. A good example to follow would have been the last Byzantine emperor. The next best option was to have commanded at the bridgehead and crossed into Rumania only after all those who could do had done. That he later returned to Poland shows I think a realisation that he should never have left.

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Re: Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by GregSingh » 20 Aug 2017 04:11

German propaganda did not miss this one...
Rydz-Smigly.jpg
Nach dem Vorbild seines Freundes Chamberlain
griff der polnische Marschall Rydz-Smigly nach einem
Regenschirm - statt einem Degen - und riß damit aus.
Unmittelbar vor seinem Abschied vergaß er nicht, seinen
Soldaten "Kampf bis zum letzten Mann" zu empfehlen.
Er selber wird in Zukunft - "Silni, zwarci, gotowi!"
- in Rumänien bleiben.

Loosely translated :

Following the example of his friend Chamberlain
The Polish Marshal Rydz-Smigly reached for
an umbrella - instead of a sword - and run away.
Immediately before his departure he did not forget to advise
his soldiers to "fight to the last man".
He himself will be in the future - "Strong, united, ready!"
- will remain in Romania.
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Re: Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by wm » 20 Aug 2017 10:42

The meme that he fled to Romania accompanied by Polish lords, their mistresses, and their designer dogs was pushed incessantly by the Soviets and by the Nazis during the war.

There was no disaster because the "disaster" was in his plan (a slowly retreat to the last stand redoubt somewhere in the Eastern Poland and trying to survive there till the final victory).
The Soviets made that impossible.

Another important goal was to deny the Germans any opportunity for a limited annexation of Polish territory (giving the Allies a reason for restarting negotiations, for another Munich). That unfortunately contributed greatly to the fast defeat.

He didn't leave his army, he was with the army all the time organizing the defense of the Romanian Bridgehead, where the Polish Army was going to be concentrated.
The Soviets cut him off from his army and directly threatened his command post, it all happened very quickly - in a day, so he crossed the border (actually just for a moment he was going to return) and was interned.
He didn't expect that at all, Romania was a Polish ally, even against the Germans - they unexpectedly switched sides under their pressure.

Because he was interned he resigned from his post a month later.
So in fact he didn't flee, didn't leave his army. It was all the Soviets doing, which simultaneously prevented evacuation of the Polish Army to France.

People frequently criticise Śmigły and Beck for this or that, but when asked what could have been done differently there is usually silence. Because there was nothing that could have been done better.
They made mistakes - of the kind which wouldn't change the outcome.
At best it is join the Nazis, attack the USSR together with them, presumably gas the Jews, and switch sides later like Romania, Hungary, Slovakia did.
But Poland wasn't Romania, Hungary or Slovakia and even they didn't plan that, they were forced by events beyond their control.

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Re: Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by RG » 22 Aug 2017 12:46

In case of his escape on 17th of September this decision is indeed disputable, but more shameful is his decision to leave Warsaw on 7th.

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Re: Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by wm » 25 Aug 2017 11:31

Others left Warsaw too. The government, men capable of carrying arms, the police, fire fighters, buses, trucks. All what was needed to re-established defensive lines in Eastern Poland. The USSR promised supplies, Britain was sending ships with planes and other military equipment. The campaign wasn't lost at that point of time, there were no reasons for the authorities to abandon their duties, and join a costly, questionable, and from the military point of view more or less pointless battle.
People shouldn't be sacrificed needlessly - the million or so civilians in Warsaw were defenseless against German artillery and air force - and it wasn't' a strategically important city like Leningrad, Moscow, Stalingrad were. A prolonged defense of the city made no sense, especially one led by the Commander-in-Chief.

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Re: Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by Steve » 27 Aug 2017 02:56

Warsaw on the 7th could have been declared an open city as Paris was in June 1940 and been spared what happened. This of course would have been a huge blow to the morale of an army that was already starting to collapse. Also the capital falling so quickly would have been a humiliation of the first order. If the military leadership was besieged in Warsaw it would have been bad but pulling out was also bad. As the High Command wandered about communication with units still fighting became spasmodic. The campaign had been decided by the 7th and even if the Soviets had not invaded it is not credible that eastern Poland could have been held for more than a few weeks. There was never going to be any Soviet help and the British and French had no intention of sending large amounts of aid.

Colonel Stefan Rowecki who went underground in Warsaw after it surrendered wrote “The Commander in Chief abandoned the borders of Poland. After a hapless and failed campaign, two roads lay before him: to perish together with the fighting elements of his army, or to seek by emigration the continuation of the war. To go into captivity was not the price to pay. History will surely deliver a proper judgement on this decision of the Commander in Chief”

While interned in Romania Rydz wrote “In the brightness of victory, all guilt melts away. In the darkness of defeat, every weakness and error rise to the level of crimes. People look for guilt and call for vengeance for their disappointment and misfortunes.”

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Re: Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by wm » 30 Aug 2017 00:13

Rowecki and the Sikorski's "clique" savagely attacked Śmigły and brutally purged his supporters from the Army and all government positions.
Although Śmigły and his group deserved to be attacked, mostly for their semi-authoritarian rule and military mistakes made during the campaign they went much further and used pure propaganda arguments like that he abandoned the army, cooperated with the Nazis, was responsible for the defeat, i.e. mostly arguments from ignorance and spite.

Śmigły planned a 500,000 soldiers strong Romanian Bridgehead with tanks, artillery and planes. As the usual seasonal bad weather was approaching, which would made roads impassable, it wouldn't be just a few weeks although generally pointless.

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Re: Did Marshal Smigly-Rydz desert his men?

Post by Steve » 31 Aug 2017 03:25

There was a bitter split in the higher echelons of the Polish army which I believe even carried on in exile. Does anyone know which side Anders was on? Sikorski at the start of the war asked twice to be posted to the front. The second time on September 3 was by a personal letter to Rydz who did not reply. Shortly before Rydz and the high command crossed over into Rumania Sikorski met up with them. He asked to join the group as the Romanians had agreed for them to cross. It seemingly took the intervention of the Deputy Chief of Staff Jaklicz to get Rydz to agree to this.

Taken from - Between Hitler and Stalin – The Quick Life and Secret Death of Edward Smigly-Rydz Marshall of Poland by Archibald L Patterson

Pre war planning envisaged a slow Polish pull back into south eastern Poland where they would hang on till the Western allies intervened in some way shape or form. The western allies were planning for a long war and had written Poland off before the war even started

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