Małopolska: great battles

Reconstruction of the Battle of Gorlice. Marching soldiers in World War I uniforms.
The centuries-long history of Małopolska, rich in numerous events, was also the scene of often bloody and destructive military operations, such as uprisings, partitions, wars and battles. Which of these events are most memorable and have left their mark on our region?

It takes one to know… a Highlander, or the Battle of the Dunajec River and the defence of Stary Sącz

They came from the distant Asian steppes, bringing death and destruction. They showed no fear or mercy. They appeared suddenly and disappeared suddenly. In the 13th century, the Mongols invaded Poland three times. While the first time in 1240, and the second time, at the turn of 1259 and 1260, the Mongol invasion moved through our country, encountering no significant resistance. At the turn of 1287 and 1288, the third invasion ended in their defeat. They were driven out, among others, from Podhale, where the highlanders gave them a tough fight. The cities also bravely defended themselves. After the unsuccessful siege of Kraków by the southern Mongol army, its leader Nogay ordered the troops to regroup and start operations in the area of Kraków and the Sieradz lands. At the same time, two columns of Mongol forces advanced southwards. The bigger and stronger force reached Stary Sącz, where it suffered a severe defeat. The second column moved towards Podhale. It is known that the unit attacking Podhale ravaged Podoliniec. According to folk legend, in the Kościeliska Valley area, the outlet of which is located a few kilometres from the beginning of Czarny Dunajec, a Tatar troop clashed with citizens-in-arms consisting of local highlanders. The Mongols also had no luck near Stary Sacz. The city was well prepared for the defence, gathering ample food supplies and reinforcing the defence with local knights and peasants. The siege of Stary Sacz was prolonged and did not bring any tangible results. In the meantime, Leszek the Black's expedition to Hungary brought results, where the Prince of Kraków managed to get help from the Hungarian king. The Hungarians, supported by Polish forces, completely surprised the Mongolian army besieging Stary Sącz and inflicted a devastating defeat on them. The Mongolian army's defeat was the last episode during the third Mongolian invasion of Poland. At the end of January 1288, after an unsuccessful expedition and without any military success, Nogai's army withdrew from Małopolska to Red Ruthenia. 


•    The Kościeliska Valley
•    Stary Sącz and the Monastery of Saint Clares

Racławice. Scythes upright and beat a Moskal!

On 1 April 1794, Tadeusz Kościuszko, for a week the Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces fighting with Russia for the independence of the Republic of Poland, set off from Kraków in the direction of Warsaw. Following the route to Działoszyce, he encountered a column of the enemy army of General Aleksander Tormasov. The Poles and Russians faced each other near Racławice Hills on 4 April 1794. At about 3 p.m., two Russian columns started to attack. General Tormasov hoped that General Denisov would arrive in time from Lublin with reinforcements during the battle. At first, the attack was successful for the Russians, and the Polish cavalry was crushed. However, after being dispersed, it returned to the battlefield. Then, a fierce artillery duel took place in the centre of the battle. The fire of the Polish guns stopped the advance of the Russian infantry. It was then that Kościuszko decided to use Kosynierzy - peasant troops armed with scythes mounted on stakes - against the enemy forces. The Russian artillery was surprised by this extraordinary unit and its unusual weaponry, making Polish operations easier. Enemy guns were taken over by the Małopolska peasants, among whom Wojciech Bartosz stood out, who was later named Głowacki by Kościuszko. The Polish army defeated the Russians in the Battle of Racławice. The victory provided confidence in a successful resolution to the Uprising and demonstrated the capabilities of the poorly armed peasant masses. The skirmish went down in history as the first battle won by the Kościuszko Uprising. Between 1926 and 1934, a 13-metre-high mound to Kosciuszko was erected on the battlefield to commemorate the battle and its commander. In 1994, a monument was erected to Bartosz Głowacki, a legendary peasant hero from Racławice, who distinguished himself with particular courage when attacking the Russian artillery. The Racławice battlefield was declared a monument of history in 2004. The Racławice victory has become a theme for Polish artists. The most famous and best known is "Kościuszko pod Racławicami" (Kościuszko at Racławice) (1888) by Jan Matejko and "Panorama Racławicka" (The Racławice Panorama), 114 x 15 metres in size, painted in 1893-94 by Jan Styka and Wojciech Kossak. Józef Chełmoński, Wojciech Kossak, Aleksander Orłowski and Michal Stachowicz, among others, also devoted their paintings to the "Racławice" theme. 


•    Racławice and the battlefield
•    the Kościuszko Uprising Route 
•    Kraków, Market Square, a plaque commemorating the oath that Tadeusz Kościuszko took before the Battle of Racławice
•    Kościuszko Mound and the Tadeusz Kościuszko Museum

Not once was Kraków... saved. The Battle of the Kaim Hill

A symbol of the bloody battles of 1914 around Kraków became the obelisk on Kaim Hill, where the field defence position of the Kraków Fortress was located. In the winter of 1914, the heaviest battles were fought between Wieliczka and Bieżanów, with Kaim Hill being crucial to the strategy. Also involved in the fighting were Fort Rajsko Kosocice, Prokocim and even a heavy artillery battery on Kościuszko Mound. On 6 December 1914, the heaviest fighting of the offensive of the Russian army, trying to conquer Kraków, took place. After a successful counterattack which ended in a bayonet battle, the Austrian army won. In the assault on Kaim Hill, 900 Austrian soldiers were killed, with 2,000 on the Russian side, including many Poles fighting on both sides. The victorious battle for the Hill pushed back the Russians and began the later eastern offensive. The monument located on the Hill commemorates the repulsion of the Russian offensive by the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War on 6 December 1914. It was unveiled on the first anniversary of the events of 6 December 1915. It has the form of an obelisk and was designed by Henryk Nitra. On its eastern wall, there is a Hungarian royal crown in a laurel wreath, on the southern wall - the coat of arms of the Habsburgs, and under it is a plaque with the inscription: "Here the Russian army troops were repulsed furthest on 6 December 1914". The monument on Kaim Hill is said to have been set up where a fallen soldier of the tsarist army was found. It was thought to be the closest place to the Main Square that the Russian soldiers reached. 


•    Kraków. The Kraków Stronghold Route 
•    Kraków. The obelisk on Kaim Hill 

The Battle of Gorlice. The largest operation on the eastern front of World War I

The Battle of Gorlice was the largest battle of World War I fought on the Eastern Front. Austro-Hungarian and German armies clashed with Russian forces. Poles fought on both sides against each other. By the end of November 1914, the Russian army occupied almost all of Galicia, and the Austrians began to suffer defeats. The Russians launched an offensive towards Kraków. The march of the mighty Russian forces towards Vienna and Budapest was only stopped after the Battle of Kraków, fought in November. In mid-January 1915, the front, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Carpathian Mountains, practically came to a standstill, and the so-called positional war began. The Austrians realised that they alone could not stop and defeat the Russians. In the face of a weakening army, an independent attack had little chance of success. Therefore, the command of the Austro-Hungarian military asked the Germans to reinforce the attacking forces. That was the general background of the Battle of Gorlice. In mid-April 1915, the allies decided to strike together against the Russians. The heaviest fighting took place on 2 May 1915. Within 3 days, the defensive lines of the Russians were broken, and their armies retreated along the entire length of the 150 km long front. On 15 May, the attacking troops of the Central Powers reached the San River; on 3 June, Przemyśl was captured, and on 22 June, Lviv. During the Gorlice operation, there were many bloody battles and skirmishes between the fighting sides. Historians estimate that the Battle of Gorlice claimed about 200,000 victims - killed and wounded. During the fighting, the surrounding towns, cities and villages were destroyed, including churches, Orthodox churches, houses and industrial plants. The town of Gorlice was turned into heaps of rubble. After the Battle, only 10 per cent of houses in the town were inhabitable. The number of inhabitants decreased from 7 to 2 thousand. The Russian war machine was stopped in the Gorlice region, and the victory of the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary achieved in the Battle was a breakthrough and a decisive moment on the Eastern Front. Alongside the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Marne, the Battle of Gorlice is considered the most important of the Great War. Numerous soldiers' cemeteries, beautiful in their architecture, scattered around the Gorlice and Tarnów lands, remind us of this dramatic time. 


•    Gorlice and the Battle of Gorlice 

Heroic defenders of the bridge. The Battle of Radłów in 1939

In the first days of September 1939, fierce fighting against the German invaders took place on the territory of the Radłów municipality. On 7 and 8 September, one of the biggest battles of the September campaign on the territory of Małopolska took place - the Battle of Radłów and the Battle for the Bridge in Biskupice Radłowskie. They aimed to delay the German army's march and allow as many retreating Polish troops as possible to cross the bridge in Biskupice Radłowskie. Crowds of civilians fleeing eastwards from the war conflagration were also drawn across the bridge. First, on 7 September, the heroic defence of the Radłów primary school took place. On that day, after fierce fighting, the Germans captured the town. A handful of Polish soldiers belonging to General J. Kustronia's 21st Division barricaded themselves in the local school building. When numerous attempts to capture the facility failed and the call to surrender remained unanswered, the Nazis, using flamethrowers, set fire to the school, together with its defenders. 

On the following day, the warfare moved to Biskupice Radłowskie, where fierce battles for the bridge over the Dunajec River occurred. Biskupice Radłowsie paid a considerable price, as the village was 80 per cent destroyed. The bridge over the Dunajec River was also destroyed. According to historians' estimates, 243 Polish soldiers died in the Battle for the Dunajec crossing, and around 700 were wounded. On the other hand, the Wehrmacht losses are estimated at over 100 dead soldiers. A monument was built on the site of the destroyed bridge to commemorate the soldiers killed in that Battle. Every year, Radłów also pays tribute to those who died defending their homeland during a spectacular re-enactment of the event.


•    Radłów. Monument to the defenders of the school 

Like David and Goliath. The Battle of Jordanów in 1939

On 1 September 1939, a German panzer group of the 14th Army advanced from Slovakia through the Tatra Mountains towards Chabówka and Nowy Targ. The defence forces could not hold the designated positions on this section for long. And at the moment of a breakthrough, the Germans could come out to the rear of the Army "Kraków" commanded by General Antoni Szyling. Due to this dangerous situation, the 10th Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Colonel Stanisław Maczek, received orders to close the direction towards Jordanów and Rabka. On 2 September, heavy fighting for the hills south of Jordanów began. After a fierce struggle for Wysoka, the Poles managed to repulse the German attack. However, the Germans had a crushing advantage in artillery and armoured weapons, which contributed to the final capture of Wysoka within the next several hours. The glaring disproportion of the forces and means available to both sides underlines the Poles' heroic attitude. The Germans were outnumbered and had better quality equipment at their disposal, but the Poles skilfully exploited the difficult conditions of the terrain, facing the enemy in a seemingly hopeless situation. It must be emphasised that the goal of the 10th Brigade was not to repel the offensive of the Wehrmacht forces but rather to slow it and stop the momentum of an attack that could have threatened Kraków from the south. The Battle of Jordanów was ultimately lost, and the Germans advanced towards Myślenice, entering the town on the night of 5-6 September. However, the defenders managed to inflict significant losses on the enemy, resulting from the commitment and sacrifice of the anti-tank forces and Polish tank men. What is more, the offensive was halted. In the meantime, the Army "Kraków" withdrew to the east and avoided encirclement. During the Jordan operation, the Germans retaliated in a bestial manner against the inhabitants of Wysoka. After repulsing the attack, the German quartermaster and repair troops occupied the village of Wysoka. At night, the villagers unscrewed the valves on two fuel tanks, and a fire ensued. Tanks damaged in battle the previous day were blown up, and the resting soldiers were killed. In retaliation, in October 1939, the Germans shot several inhabitants and completely burnt down the village of Wysoka. The village was awarded the Order of the Grunwald Cross for its heroism in 1946. A monument and a military cemetery were erected on the sites of the battles.


  • Jordanów, Market Square. A monument to the Battle of Jordanów

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