760c.61/–: Telegram

The Minister in Poland (Gibson) to the Secretary of State

27. I feel that I should submit for the Department’s earnest consideration the following statement of the situation in Poland. It leads to the conclusion that unless effective action is taken without loss of time we must be prepared for either: (1) The conclusion of peace between Poland and the Bolsheviks with its inevitable consequences, or (2) the conquest of Poland as a result of a Bolshevik offensive which is expected in late winter or early spring.

The following points appear worthy of consideration:

(1) The Bolsheviks have eliminated one after the other Koltchak, Yudenitch and Denikin, and have concluded a verbal truce with Esthonia. Poland is the only remaining enemy who is formidable from a military point of view.

(2) The Bolsheviks have shown clearly by repeated overtures that they wish to eliminate this remaining front either by peace or by the conquest of Poland.

(3) The recent Bolshevik offer of peace has undoubtedly made an impression here [as is] shown by the open demand of the radical elements probably in understanding with Soviet Government that it be accepted. Bolsheviks who are well informed as to what is going on here can doubtless determine whether they can achieve [omission] by peaceable means or whether they must concentrate their forces on crushing the Poles.

The Chief of State, General Pilsudski, has told me on several occasions that while Poland is in desperate need of peace it would be folly for him to sign any treaty with the Bolshevist radical government as they have repeatedly shown not only their bad faith but the inability of the central authorities to [compel?] the observance of their agreements; that if a treaty were signed he would not be able to withdraw his Army for fear the country would be overrun at any time; that, on the other hand, he could not maintain an army on guard against a possible violation of the treaty as the morale of the troops would not stand up under such questionable policy and hardship without the belief that they were defending an endangered country. As reported in my number 622 however, he seems to have come to the conclusion that he may have no choice in the matter and unless his Army can be strengthened with necessary material I am positive it would be the part of wisdom to negotiate a peaceful [Page 372] agreement rather than be conquered and be obliged to surrender without conditions.

(4) Failing to conclude an early peace, the only alternative left to the Bolshevists and one that doubtless accords with their designs, is to attempt the military conquest of Poland. For the most part the Bolshevists authorities will depend upon [omission] their whole military forces against Poland. Aside from the clear motives for this fact individuals returning from Russia report that during the recent successes against Denikin, the official press spoke repeatedly of the fact that the next great objective was to be the conquest of Poland. Furthermore, there have been various reports of Bolshevik concentration and preparation on the Polish front.

It is too early for us to verify the alleged preparations of the Bolsheviks. It must be remembered that the collapse of Denikin was not definitely assured until the beginning of the year. At that time the forces mobilized against Poland were very small. The railway facilities available to the Bolshevists are so poor that if they began mobilizing on the Polish front at the beginning of today, six weeks would be a minimum for the conclusion of all mobilization equal to the task in view. Of course it is not possible to gauge this time accurately and it might be much longer. General Pilsudski told me this afternoon that he knew definitely that the Bolshevists were pushing their preparations for an attack on the Polish front.

[5] It seems clearly to the interest of the Bolshevists to embark upon this attack as soon as they can be assured of a substantial initial success. They know that discussions are under way in Paris with a view to some Allied support to the Poles. They know that a conference has been called in Helsingfors to agree on concerted action by the states bordering on Bolshevist Russia. They know that the Poland Army is now without adequate equipment, munitions, and support.

A decision to afford material support to Poland may result: (a) In detaining the Bolshevists from attacking [omission], if the decision is immediate and effective in putting in force, (b) in precipitating an attack with the hope of achieving a successful decision before Allied administrative measures could be made effective.

If on the other hand it is decided that no support would compel general acceptance, this would in itself constitute the best possible reason for attacking Poland. In any event we may safely assume that the Bolshevists will be accurately informed as to the measure of support Poland may expect and will govern themselves accordingly.

(6) While it is true that the Poles have been uniformly successful in their operations against the Bolsheviks, this must not be made [Page 373] the basis for an unduly optimistic view of the situation. It must be remembered too:

In the past the Poles have advanced while the Bolsheviks had serious adversaries elsewhere, are [and were] obliged to employ the bulk of their forces against Koltchak, Yudenitch and Denikin and other enemies.
The Bolsheviks realized clearly that these forces aimed at nothing less than the complete conquest and annihilation of the Soviet Government by military action whereas Poland’s advances would voluntarily be limited to the occupation of certain territories essential to security of Polish soil.
The Bolshevists have heretofore contented themselves with waging a defensive war against Poles who were considered a minor and less dangerous enemy. Now, however, Poland has by elimination become the principal enemy upon whom attention must be concentrated.
The Poles have hitherto fought almost entirely on the offensive and have not had to test their strength and morale in a defensive campaign which under the conditions obtaining here would be manifestly more difficult.

(7) The one hopeful element in the situation is the remarkably good spirit of Army. If this can be maintained by material support it may become the basis of a successful resistance to Bolshevist intention. If it is allowed to deteriorate through lack of equipment the consequences are clear. Its morale weathered the crisis of early November, see my 693 and 724 to American Mission,3 only through an almost miraculous combination of circumstances. Among other things the Bolshevists were forced just at that time to remove practically all their troops from the Poland front to meet Denikin. This enabled the greater part of Polish troops to remain underground or in houses behind the front where they could build fires and keep warm, while the few men taking turn on duty wore outfits of warm clothing and shoes borrowed from the others. We might be fortunate enough to have another experience of this sort but we cannot depend upon it as a system that will be successful against the combination of suffering and discontent in Poland and the onslaught of the Bolshevists from without.

(8) The Polish Army requires at once: (a) clothing, shoes; (b) rolling stock; (c) munitions and (d) food.

At present there is barely enough clothing, including that recently received, to last the men now in service two months. With the beginning of active military operations we may expect a crisis. [Page 374] There is little for the recruits who are to be called at the end of this month and who will be necessary as replacements if any serious fighting occurs.
The rolling stock now in Poland is quite unequal to handle the country’s minimum requirements even when there is no fighting and its inadequacy is bound to have a certain serious effect upon operation[s] which must extend over a 500 mile front.
The equipment, armament and supply of ammunition will suffice only if no large operations occur.
There is a serious food shortage in sight for the spring. A steady food supply is of course an important factor in maintaining the morale of the country against Bolshevik propaganda.

Complete data as to all the needs of the Polish Army are in the possession of Marshal Foch. A few could probably be furnished by our General Staff on the basis of reports made by the military attaché. It is hardly worth while to submit figures on this subject until the question of principle is settled, but it is safe to say that the total requirements of the Army if divided among other great powers would not constitute a serious burden.

(9) Success in a campaign against Poland would leave the Soviet Government triumphant in Eastern Europe and a large part of Asia and would give a fresh impetus to the Bolshevik movement throughout the world.

Reports which I have received from various sources indicate that such a collapse here would be quickly followed by a similar collapse in Czechoslovakia. While the German Austrians appear too exhausted to initiate any movement of a Bolshevik character, it is probable that they would not summon much energy to defeat such a movement if it reached them by way of Bolshevism. That brings us to Italy. What the results would be there and in other above named western countries, the Department is in a position to know.
The Department can also judge how Germany would act in the foregoing eventuality to recover some of her lost power.

(10) The question of an early and redoubtable Bolshevik offensive is one that causes grave apprehension to all who are familiar with the situation here. I have discussed it with our military and naval attaches, my Allied colleagues, with the British and French military missions and with well informed Polish officials. There appears to be no divergence of opinion among them as to essentials although some of them consider the situation as far more hopeless than I have painted it here.

(11) With no reserves of material, no trained replacements and the Polish psychology which goes to the extremes of hopefulness [Page 375] and despair, was indeed what is meant by the fact that Poland is in danger of proud collapse. The Poles throughout have shown willingness to bear the entire burden of furnishing the man power for this struggle and have asked repeatedly nothing more than credit for their equipment. As the financial condition of the country has reached a very low ebb they may be obliged to ask not only credit but the provision of equipment without compensation. As a matter of [self-] interest it would seem much better forbearance [sic] to donate this material support now on our own terms rather than have to give it in larger measure later with the added possibility of being involved in military operations.

  1. Document referred to cannot be identified.
  2. Neither printed.