Józef Piłsudski

Paramilitary Organisations

In 1904, Piłsudski created the Combat Organization of the Polish Socialist Party aiming at armed resistance against the Russian authorities. In 1908, these paramilitary units were transformed into the “Union for Active Struggle" (Związek Walki Czynnej, or ZWC), led by three of his associates, Władysław Sikorski, Marian Kukiel and Kazimierz Sosnkowski. One of the main purposes of the ZWC was to train officers for a future Polish Army. In 1910, two officially authorized paramilitary organizations were created in the Austrian zone of Poland, one of them in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine), the other one in Kraków, in order to conduct military training. With Austrian approval Piłsudski founded several "sporting clubs", then the Riflemen's Association, which served as front for training a Polish military force. In 1912, Piłsudski (under the battle name, "Mieczysław") became commander-in-chief of a Riflemen's Association (Związek Strzelecki) that by 1914 had grown to 12,000 men. At the outbreak of WWI on 3 August, 1914, Piłsudski formed in Kraków a small military cadre unit, the First Cadre Company, from members of the Riflemen's Association and Polish Rifle Squads. The very day, three days before the official declaration of war between Austria-Hungary and Russia on 6 August, a cavalry unit headed by Władysław Belina-Prażmowski was sent on a reconnaissance mission across the Russian border.

With the outbreak of WWI, the Central Powers (Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany; Kaiser and King Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary; Sultan Mehmed V of the Ottoman Empire; Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria), especially Austria-Hungary, helped Piłsudski raise the Polish Legions to fight against the advancing Russian troops, taking command of their First Brigade. When Piłsudski had laid down his weapons after having fought them back, declaring he had fulfilled his part of the deal, he was imprisoned in Magdeburg as deserter. His return to Poland after the defeat of the Central Powers gave occasion for the proclamation of the independent Second Polish Republic (1918-1939) on November 11, 1918 in Warsaw. Piłsudski became chief of state from 1918 to 1922, a period which for a large part coincided with the Polish-Soviet war (1919-1921), during which Piłsudski’s army fought back another wave of Soviet troops on the Vistula, and during the Battle of Warsaw in 1920. ‘A small French military mission consisting of 600 battle-hardened officers commanded by General Maxime Weygand was dispatched to bolster the defense of Warsaw,'1 and assisted in eventually defeating the Soviet troops. In February 1921, Piłsudski travelled to Paris, where during negotiations with French President Alexandre Millerand the foundations for the Franco-Polish Military Alliance were established, which would be signed later that year. Poland's eastern border was fixed about 250 km east of the Curzon Line during the Riga Peace Treaty shortly after, on 18 March 1921. After General Stanisław Szeptycki proposed that the military should be more closely supervised by civilian authorities, on 28 June 1923, Piłsudski laid down his political offices. In 1925, after several governments had resigned in short order and the political scene was becoming increasingly chaotic, in May 1926, Piłsudski returned to power with a coup d’état, and became prime minister from 1926-1928, and shortly again from August to December 1930.

  • 1. Levy, The Intermarium, 66.