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Edward Rydz-Śmigły (born March 11 1886 in Łapszyn near Brzeżany , Tarnopol Voivodship - died December 2 1941 in Warsaw), codenames Śmigły, Tarłowski, Adam Zawisza. Politician, Marshal of Poland, (since 11 November 1936) and Commander-in-Chief during the Second World War, Polish September Campaign of 1939. He is buried at the Powązki cemetery in Warsaw.
Rydz-Śmigły was born in Galicia in rather humble circumstances as son of a professional NCO of Austrian-Hungarian Army Tomasz Rydz and Maria Babiak and was orphaned at the age of 13 years. After both his parents` early deaths he was raised by his maternal grandparents and, after their demise, by the family of Dr Uranowicz, the Town Physician at Brzeżany. After having graduated with distinction at the local Gymnasium (High School) Rydz went to Cracow where he completed studies in Philosophy and History of Art at Jagiellonian University. Afterwards he studied to be a painter at Arts Academy (Akademia Sztuk Pieknych ) in Cracow, later in Vienna and Munich. In 1910-1911 he attended reserve officers academy in Vienna and received military training at the famous Austrian 4th Regiment "Deutschmeister" (so called after Archduke Eugene, a cousin of Emperor Francis Joseph I, who was Grand Master of the Teutonic Order). He finished his military education with distinction and was offered a commission in the Imperial Army, which he did not accept. In 1912 Rydz was one of the organizers of the Polish paramilitary organization Riflemen’s Association (Związek Strzelecki). At the same time he completed his art studies: he was regarded as a very promising talent in landscape and portrait painting and praised by his professors and critics, who foresaw a great future for him.
Drafted into the Austrian army in July of 1914, Rydz was transferred in August to Polish Legions and fought in the famous Polish 1st Brigade of Pilsudski. He partook in many battles against the Russians in the region of Southern Vistula and rose quickly in military grades: in 1916 he was alreday a full Colonel. He did not however forget the art and exhibited some of his works at a gallery in Cracow. In 1917, after refusal of oath to the Austrian and German authorities, the Legions were disbanded, their soldiers interned and Pilsudski put into prison in Magdeburg fortress. By Pilsudski`s appointment Rydz, who escaped a prison term by reasons of bad health, became commander of Polish Military Organization POW and in October 1918 entered the Socialist Government of Ignacy Daszyński in Lublin as Minister of War, having been promoted to the rank of Brigadier (One-Star-General in the Polish system, Rydz emphasized that he had accepted the office as a deputee of Pilsudski). As such he began using the double name of Rydz-Śmigły. On 11th November 1918 the Government relinquished all power to Pilsudski, who became Provisional Head of State. After some hesitation Pilsudski (who was displeased by Rydz´ cooperation with the Socialists, himself "having left the streetcar of Socialism at the stop called Independence") confirmed him as a Brigadier.
During the Polish-Bolshevik War of the years (1919 - 1921), Rydz commanded Polish Armies in several offensives. Among other victorious engagements, he captured Vilna and Dünaburg. After that he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Latvian armed forces and liberated Livonia from Red Army oppression. Subsequently he achieved complete annihilation of the 12th Division of the Red Army and took Kiev. Afterwards he commanded the Central Front of Polish forces during the famous Batle of Warsaw, known as the Miracle at Vistula. In this decisive battle, Polish commander Piłsduski outwitted the Soviet commander Mikhail Tukhachevsky. Rydz-Śmigły's Central Front held against the Soviet attack and later blocked off the escape routes for the defeated Soviet 4th and 15th Armies and 3rd Cavalry Corps of Soviet general Gay Dimitrievich Gay, which had to seek an unglorious escape to East Prussia, where they were interned by the Germans.
As Second Man in the State
After 1919-1921 war he became the General Inspector of the Polish Army district in Vilna and later in Warsaw. In 1926, during Pilsudski`s coup d´état (the May Coup), he took the Marshal`s side and sent troops from Vilna to reinforce anti-government troops in Warsaw. This fidelity was never forgotten and in 1929 Rydz was appointed as the Marshal`s deputy on all matters concerning the East. On May 13th, 1935, in accordance with the last wishes of Józef Piłsudski, Rydz was nominated by the president and the government of Poland to serve in the capacity of the General Inspector of the Polish Armed Forces and on November 10, 1936 he was elevated to the rank of Marshal of Poland. As such he reversed his name and called himself from now on Śmigły-Rydz. He was now one of the most powerful persons in Poland and was awarded the title of "Second Person in the State after the President". The government became increasingly authoritarian and conservative, though Rydz-Śmigły's power was balanced by the more moderate Ignacy Mościcki, who remained as President. For a time being Rydz sought an alliance with the liberal Peasants`Party (PSL), after being rejected by them he turned to the extreme Right Wing. After 1938 he reconciled himself with the President, but the ruling clique was henceforth divided into "The President`s Men", or "Castle Group", most of them civilians, and "The Marshal`s Men", who were mostly old companions of Pilsudski and professional officers.
Beginning with March 1939, when Hitler occupied Bohemia and Moravia and created his satellite state of Slovakia, encircling Poland with an iron ring from all sides but the East, Rydz was the only representative of the Government who clearly saw the danger of a conflict with Germany. However, the time remaining was too short for a creation of completely new Polish operation plans in the West. During the negotiations in Moscow in August 1939 Rydz` representative declined all attempts of the Western Powers to obtain a Polish permission for the Soviet Army to march to the West, quoting the Marshal: "there is no guarantee that the Soviets will really take active part in the war; furthermore, once having entered Polish territory, they will never leave it".
On 1 September 1939 when Germans invaded Poland, he was nominated the Commander-in-Chief of Polish forces. On 7th September he, along with most of the government, evacuated Warsaw, which soon came under German attack. Soon afterwards the Polish coordination begun to suffer from communications problems, which impeded his ability to command the forces. In Brest (Brześć) on 11 September he issued an order to defend Polish capital of Warsaw at all costs. In his plans, Warsaw and the nearby Modlin Fortress were to became the two fortress in the center of Poland, fighting for months, while the bulk of Polish forces were to defend the Romanian bridgehead and await relief counterattack promised by the French and British Allies. Unknown to Rydz-Śmigły, the Western Allies had no plans for such an action and expected Poland's fall. His plan was further crippled when Soviet forces attacked Poland from the east on 17th September. Seeing that defence against both neighbours was impossible, Rydz-Śmigły issued an order for Polish forces to reatred towards Romania and avoid fighting with the Soviet agressors.
On September 18, 1939 Rydz-Śmigły, after avoiding capture by the Soviet and Nazi troops, crossed the Romanian borders and was interned. Rydz-Śmigły and the Polish government’s crossing of the Romanian border saved Poland from surrender and allowed Polish soldiers to carry on their fight against Germany in France and then in England.
The Last Years
Rydz-Śmigły, as the Commander-In-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, took the complete responsibility for Poland’s military defeat in the September 1939. There were no excuses for this honourable Polish officer, even though Poland was attacked from both sides by the two most powerful armies (Germany and Soviet Union). On the other hand one cannot deny that Rydz, an extremely able Commander on smaller fronts, was not an experienced strategist in a great conflict of two nations. Piłsudski wrote about him in 1922, in an evaluation of Polish generals: "in operational work he displays healthy common sense and a lot of stubborn energy. I could recommend him to everybody as a commander of an army, I am however not sure if he possesses sufficient abilities to function as Commander-in-Chief in a war between two States".
During his internment in Romania, Rydz-Śmigły initiated creation of a Polish underground military organization, based on officers who were loyal to the memory of Piłsudski. On October 27, while in Romanian interment, he relinquished his function as the Commander-in-Chief and General Inspector of the Armed Forces, which were taken up by Władysław Sikorski, serving in the new Polish government in exile in France (later in United Kingdom). Rydz-Śmigły was transferred from the internment camp to the villa of former Romanian prime minister in Dragoslavele, from where he escaped on 10th December 1940 to Hungary. After having illegally crossed the Hungaro-Romanian border, during his subsequent stay in Hungary he gave it the name of The Fighting Poland Movement – Obóz Polski Walczącej (the organization was officially created in 1942, after his death).
His flight to Hungary and rumours about his planned return to Poland were a source of considerable displeasure of his adversary Sikorski, now the Prime Minister. Sikorski, who was in opposition to Rydz-Śmigły and Piłsudski from the time of the May Coup of 1926, and who was refused any military assignment by Rydz-Śmigły in September 1939, now declared in a telegram to Stefan Grot-Rowecki, leader of Armia Krajowa underground resistance in Poland: "the Polish Government will regard a sojourn of the Marshal in Poland as a sabotage of its work in the country. The Marshal must as soon as possible move to some country of the British Empire". However Rydz-Śmigły left Hungary on October 25, 1941, and through Slovakia reached Poland. On October 30, in strict secrecy, Śmigły came back to Warsaw to participate in the resistance movement as a common underground soldier, thus voluntarily stripping himself of his rank of Marshal of Poland. He contacted General Stefan Grot-Rowecki, leader of the Resistance, but could not partake in any armed combat against the Germans, as he suddenly died of heart failure only 5 weeks after his arrival in Warsaw. He was buried in Warsaw under his conspiratorial name "Adam Zawisza". His grave on the Powązki Cemetery carried that name until 1991.
Order of the White Eagle, Commander and Knight of Virtuti Militari, Grand Cross, Grand Officer and Officer of Order of Polonia Restituta, four times Cross of the Valiant , Golden Cross of Merit (Złoty Krzyż Zasługi), and Cross of Independence with Swords.
Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania ,Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown of Italy , Grand Cross, Grand Officer and Commander of the French Order of the Legion of Honour, Grand Officer of the Finnish Order of the White Rose, Grand Cross of the Order of the White Eagle (Yugoslavia) and Order of Saint Sava of Yugoslavia, Grand Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit , Grand Cross of the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun,Knight of Latvia`s highest military award, the Order of the Bearslayer , Pulaski Medal (USA), Italian Cross of Military Merit .
Rydz was Honorary Doctor of the Universities of Warsaw and Vilna and Warsaw Polytechnic and Honorary Citizen of various Polish cities.
Edward Rydz-Śmigły's reputation after World War II was mixed. In communist Poland and the Soviet Union, he was decried for his participation in the Polish-Soviet War in 1920, and the political repression under the military government of the late 1930s. In the West, due to the influence of anti-Pilsudski circles with Władysław Sikorski as their foremost representative, he was seen as having fled from the battlefield in 1939, with little recognition given to the circumstances of Poland's defeat by the Nazis and Soviets. Today, after 1990, Rydz-Śmigły has been regaining his rightful place in the Polish national consciousness, as a patriot who sacrificed his life to the service of his nation and one of the tragic heroes of Poland`s history.
Military Tactics and Theory
- Walka na bagnety (Bayonet Fight), Lwów 1914;
- W sprawie polskiej doktryny (Poland`s Military Doctrine), Warsaw 1924;
- Kawaleria w osłonie (Cavalry as protecting troups), Warsaw 1925;
- Byście o sile nie zapomnieli -Rozkazy, Artykuły, Mowy (Do not forget the Might - Orders, Articles and Speeches), Warsaw 1936;
- Wojna polsko-niemiecka (The Polish-German War), Budapest 1941.
- Dążąc do końca swoich dróg (Seeking the end of the ways), Paris 1947 and London 1989.
Paintings and Graphics
- Illustrations to Pilsudski´s book 22nd January, 1863, Lwów 1920;
- Contributions to Art Exhibitions in Cracow (1916) and Warsaw (1917). Most of his paintings are irretrievably lost.
Books about Rydz-Smigły
- Kazimierz Cepnik, Wódz Naczelny i Marszałek Polski Edward Smigły-Rydz, Życie i Czyny (Poland`s Commander-in-Chief and Marshal Edward Smigły-Rydz, His Life and Deeds), Lwów 1937;
- Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski, Piłsudczycy, (The Men of Pilsudski), Oświęcim 1916;
- Paweł Zaremba, Historia Dwudziestolecia 1918 - 1939, (History of the Twenty Years 1918 - 1939), 2 vols., Paris 1967.
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