Eastern Borderlands (1918-1939)

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Armed Forces, Border Protection Corps

A problem for the Second Polish Republic was also posed by the need to protect the eastern border, inhabited in large part by minorities, and stretching over 1412 km. The border was shared with Soviet Russia, a country which did not renounce its intention to conquer Capitalist Europe, including Poland. Towards that goal Russia supported activists, organizations and movements that were destructive to the Second Polish Republic. The influence of the communist party was particularly strong in the eastern regions and Soviet intelligence services were highly active in their attempts to gather a maximal amount of information on the functioning of government agencies, deliberately exploiting the dissatisfaction of the minorities. These threats were overwhelming the tasks of the Border Guard that had been formed in 1918.

For these reasons, shortly after the cessation of hostilities, a reorganization of the Polish Military and Police forces in the Eastern Borderlands was undertaken. In 1924, a year after the eastern border of the Second Polish Republic was recognized by the Council of Ambassadors, a Border Protection Corps (KOP) was formed, tasked with protecting the eastern regions and border. Even though KOP was composed of regular military units, its peacetime goals included, beyond the protection of the eastern border, protecting the Eastern Borderlands from the activities of Soviet agents, Soviet intelligence, and sabotage groups connected to the minorities. KOP also organized intelligence activities in the Soviet Union, Lithuania and West Prussia. Cooperation with the Second Division of the General Staff of the Polish Army included, among other things that the First Branch of the Second Division reported to the commander of the KOP. This branch was responsible for active intelligence and managed the KOP intelligence stations in Grodno, Wilno, Głębokie, Mołodeczno, Stołpce and Łunieniec.

Seven years after its formation, the KOP, under the command of gen. Jan Kruszewski, included six brigades located as follows: KOP Brigade “Grodno”, KOP Brigade “Wilno” (KOP regiments ” Głębokie” and “Wilejka”), KOP Brigade “Nowogródek” (KOP regiment “Wołożyn”), KOP Brigade “Polesie” (KOP regiment “Sarny”), KOP Brigade “Wołyń”, KOP Brigade “Podole” (KOP regiment “Czortków”). Immediately before WWII, KOP regiment “Snów” and 1 and 2 KOP regiment of the infantry “Karpaty” were formed. This is the KOP structure that functioned during peacetime. During the 1939 mobilization, all these units were formed into four infantry divisions – 33, 35, 36, 38 Infantry Divisions, and three Mountain Brigades – 1,2, 3 Mountain Brigade. Their defensive efforts were to be supported by a chain of reinforced concrete fortifications erected on the eastern border.
Units of the Polish Army were also stationed on the Eastern Borderlands. It is difficult to describe all the changes that took place during the Second Republic of Poland, in the structure and location of the units of the Polish Army, or the KOP, in the Eastern Borderlands. The Corps Circuit Nr. II, commanded from Lublin, included the 13th “Kresowa” Infantry Division with command in Równe, the 27th Infantry Division in Kowle, the “Wołyńska” Cavalry Brigade in Równe, the 12th Anti-aircraft Artillery Unit in Kowle, the 12th Armored Battalion in Łuck, as well as a medical support in the form of a Branch of the Regional Hospital and Infirmary in Kowle, the Regional Hospital in Włodzimierz Wołyński and a hospital in Łuck. In the Corps Circuit Nr. III, commanded from Grodno, there was the famous 1st Infantry Division in Wilno, the 3rd Artillery Group in Grodno, the 7th Armored Battalion in Grodno and the 3rd Military Police Division in Grodno. All these units were supported by a hospital base composed of the 3rd Regional Hospital in Grodno, the Garrison Hospital in Wilno, and the Infirmaries in Lida, Suwałki and Białystok. Among other Corps Circuits located in the Eastern Borderlands were the Command of the Corps Circuit Nr. VI, which was a branch of the Ministry of Military Affairs, located in Lwów, as well as, the Corps Circuit Nr. IX commanded from Brześć-on-Bug.

The Eastern Borderlands were also home to other military units. Among the best known was the Pińsk Fleet, from 1931 known as the River Fleet of the Navy. The Fleet operated in the Pripyat estuary, and was equipped with monitors, gunboats and cutters, all of which took part in the war in 1939. Famous throughout the Second Polish Republic was the Marcin Kątski Military College of the Artillery Reserve in Włodzimierz Wołyński.