Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Warsaw 1920: Lenin's Failed Conquest of Europe

European history has a habit of forgetting Poland. This is unfortunate, because the Poles have more than once played a crucial role in shaping Europe's fortunes. In 1683, the Polish king Jan III Sobieski checked the Ottoman armies before the gates of Vienna, earning among the Turks the sobriquet “Lion of Lechistan”. And in 1920, as Adam Zamoyski relates in this elegant and fascinating book, it was Poland that checked the westward expansion of Bolshevik Russia.

The two sides were in many respects ill-matched: the Red Army was a determined and experienced fighting force, hardened by a cruel civil war against anti-Bolshevik forces. Russia's manpower reserves dwarfed those of an exhausted post-war Poland ravaged by warfare, malnutrition and epidemic. The Polish army scarcely amounted to a cohesive force, consisting as it did of variously armed contingents that had served with the Germans, the Austrians and the Russians during the first world war, along with a colourful assembly of Lithuanian, Tatar, Cossack, German, Hungarian and Russian auxiliaries, not to mention a squadron of US volunteer pilots led by Major Cedric E Fauntleroy and Captain Merian C Cooper - later famous for co-directing King Kong and flying one of the planes that harass the ape on the Empire State Building.

This looks like an interesting book.

No comments: