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Things you never knew about the Wielkopolska Uprising

Let us explore some lesser known facts about the Wielkopolska Uprising. What made it so extraordinary?

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The train Danuta

Residents of Poznań and Wielkopolska speak with pride of the victorious Wielkopolska Uprising but do they really know what happened, the names of the heroes, the reasons it broke out and, lastly, the political and historical consequences of this beautiful triumph? Especially for the readers of IKS, we present here a subjective selection of curiosities and titbits from the Wielkopolska Uprising.

The forgotten Andrzejewski

On 26 December, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, an outstanding composer and diplomat who fought for independent Poland, paid a visit to Poznań. He delivered an electrifying speech to the people of Poznań from the balcony of the Bazar. Immediately thereafter, he retired to his bed, overcome by flu-like symptoms. On the following day, the Germans took to the streets of Poznań in a show of strength, taking down Polish and Allied flags. There was tension in the air. Around 5pm, people clashed on the former Berlinerstrasse and Ritterstrasse (currently ul. 27 Grudnia and ul. Franciszka Ratajczaka).

In response to a few shots from the Police Headquarters in the direction of the Bazar, Poles fired back at the police building. Although no one stormed the headquarters, two Poles, Franciszek Ratajczak and Antoni Andrzejewski, sustained injuries during the shootout. Both died on the same day becoming the first casualties among the insurgents. Ratajczak is the one remembered and honoured, with a street in Poznań and a school in Kościan named after him. He was also memorialised with a monument in Śniaty near Grodzisk Wielkopolski, where he was born. Meanwhile, hardly anyone ever remembers Andrzejewski...

A load of cash

The Germans surrendered the Police HQ without a fight, after negotiations with the insurgents. On the same day, Poles achieved another huge accomplishment. 50 insurgent fighters, who had just arrived from Kórnik, were sent to the Central Station. There, a Kórnik unit under the command of Serg. Antoni Serwatkiewicz disarmed a 600-person strong German infantry battalion dispatched from Gniezno, capturing 37 machine guns and the battalion's cash fund of 180 000 Deutsche marks. On the following day, the insurgents took the Citadel, Fort Grolman, and the ul. Wielkie Garbary arsenal, also without a fight. In the process, they got their hands on weapons and communications equipment.

Cannons and flour

On 30 December, Poles captured the barracks of the 6th Grenadier Regiment in the Jeżyce District. The Germans surrendered 12 heavy machine guns and marched off to Wola railway station, where they boarded a train and left Poznań. On the same day, the Poles daringly seized a German military rail transport train at Luboń station. Master Corporal Bartosz of the 3rd Security Guard Company stopped the train, capturing six 15 mm canons and fifteen carriage-loads of flour. There were many more "lucky strikes" of this kind during the Wielkopolska Uprising.

Aviation spoils

On 6 February, the insurgents captured Ławica airport and the Zeppelin Hangar in the Winiary District. In both, the Germans gathered dozens of combat-ready aeroplanes as well as hundreds of aircraft of various types dismantled into parts. While the hangar contained no dirigibles, the Poles seized two Parseval-Siegsfels hot-air reconnaissance balloons. The booty included Albatross CI and Rumpler CVII reconnaissance aircraft, LVG CV reconnaissance-bombers, an Albatross DIII, Halberstadts CLII and CLV, and Fokker EV fighters. They also captured and, surprisingly, purchased Fokker DVII fighters. The purchases were delivered by the Germans themselves, who would fly into Polish-controlled territory, collect their cash payment and return home by train on tickets received from the insurgents. Poles acquired some 20 Fokkers in this manner. A formation of Fokker DVIIs dating back to that year is scheduled to fly over Poznań on 27 December, hopefully in fair weather.

Spirits and gas

During the insurgency, Stefan Chosłowski, the commander of the Śrem Battalion, got himself into a lot of trouble. He commanded the insurgents in fighting at Łomnica. When he arrived at the scene on the evening of 17 January, his first order of the day was to issue a certain amount of spirits to the troops from a damaged distillery which happened to be controlled by a fiscal officer from Nowy Tomyśl. The consequences for Chosłowski turned out to be severe as the tax authorities would follow him for years to collect the tax due on the spirits distributed to the soldiers.

On several occasions during the Wielkopolska Uprising, the Germans used warfare gas against the Poles. The gas was an effective and formidable weapon, provided it was used correctly. The insurgents were very lucky to get away with only a few casualties. It appeared that demoralised and combat-fatigued Germans caused more harm with the gas to themselves than they did to their enemy.

The armoured Poznańczyk and... Danuta

Armoured trains were deployed by both sides in the Wielkopolska Uprising. They commonly comprised an armoured steam engine and several carriages fitted with heavy cannons and a dozen plus machine guns. The crew included a foray unit capable of jumping out of the carriages and making a rapid assault on enemy infantry. The Germans had several such trains near Leszno and Rawicz, Babimost and Kargowa, as well as Szubin and Rynarzewo. The best way to stop an attacking armoured train was to blow up the tracks. Wielkopolska insurgents succeeded in doing just that in various parts of the region.

Poles themselves used an armoured train in the fight for Ostrów Wielkopolski and Krotoszyn. The Poznańczyk train was sent to support Wielkopolska insurgents from... Warsaw! Interestingly, one of Poznańczyk's carriages was found and identified a few years ago and is now one of the most valuable exhibits in Poznań's Armoury and Weapons Museum.

Officially, military operations in the Wielkopolska Uprising ended with the conclusion of the Armistice of Trier on 16 February 1919. A ceasefire clause was inserted into the document signed by Germany and the Entente states.

However, even after 16 February, fighting continued near Rynarzewo on the northern front, where, on 17 February, insurgent units from Gniezno and Poznań captured an armoured train (Panzerzug 22) manned by 400 Germans. 29 insurgents died in the operation. The train, called Danuta in honour of the wife of one of the perished soldiers, would serve the Polish Army for many years, until 1939.

In the border region, skirmishes between the Poles and the Germans continued until June 1919, when Wielkopolska was finally incorporated into the revived Polish state by the Treaty of Versailles.

The Wielkopolska Uprising insurgents also actually included Maksymilian Ciężki and Antoni Palluth, who were subsequently instrumental in breaking the German Enigma code, and who had organised a cryptology course in Poznań during the Uprising. 

Szymon Mazur

translation: Krzysztof Kotkowski

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