Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chapter 8 - Battle And Retreat: Part 3 - Retreat from Lodz

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Possibly this crossed German phone transmission by Korzybski, finally alerted the Russian Northern Command and Stavka to the nature and extent of the German invasion. To the north, the Russian First Army under Rennenkampf, which had defended Plock, retreated and took up defensive positions in the direction of Warsaw. The capital of Russian Poland seemed safe for now but Lodz became the main target of the German Ninth Army’s southwest advance. The Russians did manage to keep Lodz from falling at once. In a masterful defensive move, the Russian Second and Fifth Armies—positioned miles west and southwest of the city as the main force for a planned invasion of Germany—beat the Germans to the city. By November 17, 1914—within two days of the order to fall back—the Russian forces had formed a defensive ring around the western, northern and eastern borders of Lodz. The Germans could no longer just march in, but Lodz was now under siege.
By Department of Military Art and Engineering, at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Front, 1914 - The Battle of Lodz
Korzybski—his unit having set up temporary headquarters there—had arrived a few days earlier. To the west and north, the main forces of the German Ninth Army commanded by General Mackensen stood outside the Russian defensive ring. And to the east, that ring protected the city from an isolated German force under General Scheffer (including a reserve corp, a cavalry division, and a guard division) that had managed to slip through a gap in the Russian line during the retreat from the north. Scheffer’s forces presented a problem. They were postioned to block the escape route towards Warsaw if the Russians decided to abandon the city. It seemed like the Russians were surrounded.

By November 21, the Germans were shelling the city. The Russians were returning the fire and hoping Rennenkampf's First Army would come down to take care of Scheffer's eastern divisions. Perhaps the Russians might have even been able to defeat the Germans if the First Army had arrived en masse to reinforce the besieged Russian armies. Instead, Rennenkampf sent down a much smaller relief force, which was only able to convince Scheffer to retreat to the northwest, where he eventually joined the rest of the German Ninth Army. Scheffer did lose half of his men in the process but he also captured 16,000 Russian soldiers and 64 artillery pieces. Nonetheless, the Russians now had a more or less unobstructed path of retreat out of Lodz.

By December 6, Russian forces had lost 100,000 men. City hospitals overflowed with casualties. Winter had set in and some Russian soldiers had no boots. They were running short of rifles, ammunition, and artillery shells as well. The Germans had already begun to enter the city. The time for retreat had come. Korzybski managed to find a rickety, straw-filled horse-cart with a flimsy harness and a worn-out rope, along with a few broken-down horses to pull it. With Zurowski, and a duty sergeant—who technically outranked Korzybski but to whom Korzybski gave orders—Korzybski loaded bundles of intelligence documents onto the cart. On the straw, along with these papers, he had placed a five-gallon glass bottle of gasoline which he planned to shatter with his sword and put a match to, if there was any threat of getting captured. The valuable information about Terechoff’s intelligence operations could not be allowed to fall into German hands.

Colonel Terechoff, who had gone to say goodbye to a girlfriend, put Korzybski in charge. However, he deliberately didn’t tell Alfred exactly where they were headed. This turned out to show a certain wisdom on Terechoff’s part. While Alfred and Zorowski stood guard by the wagon waiting for the Colonel, a man in the uniform of a Russian Siberian infantry captain came from across the street. He walked up to Korzybski, who saluted him. The friendly Siberian captain told him not to bother with the military formalities. “I lost my regiment and as you are of the General Staff, please tell me where is your staff going?” Korzybski replied, “I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know. I am waiting orders.” The captain said, “I’m sorry”, saluted, and returned to the other side of the street. Zorowski went up to Alfred and told him he'd been talking with a German spy. In a flash, Korzybski realized this was probably right. The captain didn’t wear his uniform quite correctly. His Russian sounded somehow foreign. He hadn’t stayed with the Russians but walked back in the direction from where the Germans were entering the city. Alfred immediately called for the military police, who arrested the ‘Siberian captain’. (4)

When Terechoff returned, he, Korzybski, and his other men made their way along with the other Russian forces leaving Lodz. The retreating troops headed northeast, towards Warsaw, with some artillery and infantry staying behind to cover their withdrawal. Meanwhile German artillery did its best to impede their progress. Members of Korzybski’s unit either rode on horseback or rode along on the horse-drawn wagon filled with intelligence documents. 

Traffic soon became a major problem. Many officers seemed to have disappeared. None of the officers on the road, including his Colonel, were—in Alfred's opinion—taking command as needed to direct traffic, e.g., "Keep  that traffic clear, move that wagon to the side, wait for that cavalry group to pass the intersection, etc.” In fact, Korzybski’s Colonel seemed to lose his head. As Alfred described it later:
he was here dumb Dora, doing nothing. And the mess was going on, blocking the traffic. So I poked him in the ribs quite hard with my sword, with the handle of my sword because he wouldn't listen otherwise. I said, "Order that, so, so, etc." He looked at me with enormous surprise but he obeyed and he barked orders. (5)

After they started to move again, Terechoff rode ahead leaving Alfred in charge of getting to their new headquarters. And now traffic management became a life-threatening issue. Melting snow and the trampling of men, horses, and wagons on the dirt roads leading out of Lodz had turned the retreat into a muddy mess. German artillery provided the 'musical' accompaniment of a loud and deadly percussion. The traffic had stopped again and Korzybski went up ahead to investigate the source of the tie-up. An artillery shell had landed on the road, making a large, impassable hole. There were no officers to be found. Korzybski—sword in one hand, pistol in the other—took command and began yelling orders at the unfamiliar men around him, telling them to fill the hole with anything they could find, e.g., pieces of wood from broken wagons, sacks of food, boxes of ammunition, etc. Some of the men looked at him and asked “Who are you?” He replied, “Never mind—obey. Never mind who am I." The hole got filled and they once more began to move. (6)

Soon enough they reached another impasse. A three-inch field artillery piece had gotten stuck in the half-frozen mud in the middle of the narrow road. The line of traffic once again came to a stop. With marshes on either side, they couldn’t go around. The three-inch gun, though one of the smallest and lightest of artillery pieces, was normally pulled by a team of horses. The men trying to move it somehow couldn’t get the horses attached and lined up properly to dislodge it. Then a group of six men, including Korzybski, attempted to lift it out of the mud enough to shift it from the road and into the marsh. Working at odds with one another, they couldn't coordinate themselves sufficiently to budge it. With all their straining and sweating, nothing useful was happening. Out of desperation, Korzybski motioned the men aside. With an enormous effort, he dislodged the gun from the mud by himself and tipped it into the marsh. In the process, he felt his “inside[s] got busted.” Indeed, he had severely herniated himself—an injury he never fully recovered from. But he had done what needed to get done at the time. The column of men, horses and wagons once more flowed. Korzybski rested by the side of the road and waited for his men and their cart of precious documents to come by.(7)

WWI Footage of Men lifting w/ pole & pushing artillery stuck in mud, 
horses pull up road, men run after
(go to 4:30 minute mark on video)

Korzybski now had to join up with Terechoff at the new General Staff headquarters. He had learned the destination and decided to switch to side roads, some even worse than the main one they had already traversed. Sometimes they passed close to German troops. Alfred decided it might be safer to go through some villages where the Germans had already passed. But these had been set afire by the Germans and he worried about sparks igniting his document-laden cart with its straw and gasoline. He and his dozen-or-so men took more side roads. They ended up in a forest with a deep, sandy path. The tired horses had more and more trouble pulling and then could pull no more.

As luck would have it, they saw ahead of them a large brewery wagon pulled by a team of big, strong-looking horses. They decided to requisition it—which they did with as much official flourish as they could muster—giving the brewery driver their broken-down wagon and tired horses in exchange. After they transferred their documents and before they drove away, Korzybski handed the driver a hastily-written note to the German General Mackensen, kindly requesting that he pay the bill for the hijacked beer-wagon. They proceeded with no further problems. Korzybski described their reception at Russian headquarters:

...finally we arrived at headquarters, I would say, in state, with that big, big beer wagon; big, big, heavy, well-fed horses—beautiful harnesses and what not; and my documents intact. So when I reported [to Colonel Terechoff]…that everything is safely back, he accepted my report and said, “Well, you were pretty long coming.” He didn’t thank me. I didn’t have a chance to tell him what hell I went through before I arrived, and I just made [an] ordinary report…[Colonel Terechoff] just cocked his head, looked at me and said, “Korzybski, next time you poke me in the ribs with your sword, please don’t do it so hard.” I smiled and I [said], “Yes, sir.” (8)

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
4. Korzybski 1947, pp. 100-102. 

5. Ibid. p. 115.

6. Ibid., p. 111. 

7. Ibid. pp. 111–112. 

8. Ibid., p. 115. See Norman Stone’s book The Eastern Front: 1914–1917 for the history of the WWI Eastern Front battles and, in particular, for important details about the battles of Plock and Lodz which Korzybski participated in.

Part 2      Part 4 >      


Tomasz Stasiak said...

Before the WW2 a travel from Lodz to Warsaw by train lasted one hour and a half. Now it takes two hours and a half. It illustrates a terrible progress that Poland has made since that time. You could call it a time-b*L*inding. ;)

Tomasz Stasiak said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gerald said...

War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.