Girish Mahajan

Polish Thermopylae

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Polish Thermopylae

The Polish Thermopylae is a name used to refer to several battles in Polish history. The Polish Thermopylae is a reference to the Battle of Thermopylae, where a Spartan force showed great courage despite being greatly outnumbered by the enemy.

Famous last stands dubbed "the Polish Thermopylae"

  • Battle of Hodow (1694) – a battle between the Polish and Tartar armies. The hussars contributed to the victory of the Polish army despite being vastly outnumbered (around 40 000 Tartars against 400 Poles).
  • Battle of Węgrów (3 February 1863) – this battle was part of the January Uprising (Polish: powstanie styczniowe) and it inspired Auguste Barbier, a French poet, to write a poem entitled “Atak pod Węgrowem” (The Charge at Węgrów), in which he compared the attack of the Polish scythemen troops on Russian cannon to the heroic deeds of the ancient Spartiates. The comparison soon became popular in Europe, leading to a wave of popular support for the Polish cause. Barbier was not the only poet to compare the Poles to Spartans; similar references are contained in poems such as “Vanitas” (by Cyprian Kamil Norwid) or “Bój pod Węgrowem” (Maria Konopnicka).
  • Battle of Zadwórze (17 August 1920) – part of the Polish-Soviet War, during which a Polish army battalion consisting of the Lwów Eaglets (Polish: Orlęta Lwowskie) barred the way to Lwów preventing an advance of the 1st Cavalry Army commanded by Semyon Budyonny. 318 of the 330 soldiers were killed, and some were taken prisoner. Captain Bolesław Zajączkowski, the battalion's commander, committed suicide together with several of his soldiers, and was later nicknamed the ‘Polish Leonidas’. The bodies of five identified officers were buried at the Cemetery of the Defenders of Lwów. The remaining ones were buried in a kurgan on the battlefield. The kurgan bears a memorial plaque which reads: “To the Lwów Eaglets, who fell protecting the entire borderland on 17 August of 1920.”
  • Battle of Dytiatyn (16 September 1920) – a battle fought during the Polish-Soviet War.
  • Battle of Wizna (7–10 September 1939) – a battle fought during the September Campaign (Polish: Kampania Wrześniowa). These were 720 Polish soldiers under the command of Władysław Raginis who took a famous last stand against 42,200 German soldiers with 350 tanks, 457 mortars, cannon, grenade launchers and 600 Luftwaffe aircraft; the ratio roughly works out to one Polish soldier per sixty Germans and one aircraft. Only a few Polish soldiers were taken into captivity, the rest were killed fighting to the end; the commanding officer kept his oath to die rather than surrender. When his soldiers ran out of ammunition, Raginis ordered his remaining men to surrender while he remained at the command post and committed suicide by detonating a hand grenade.
  • References

    Polish Thermopylae Wikipedia


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