The Second Commonwealth: a timeline

I thought that doing the description for the map I had prepared for today would be an afterthought and would cover a page or so at most. But I found myself cutting lots of stuff out in order to finish in a reasonable time. I decided that there would be enough material for a short thread of its own instead of filling the map thread with walls of text. I expect that there'll be 10 or so segments of a similar size to the one below.
Last edited:
Joseph Piłsudski must have been somewhat satisfied by the results of the Battle of Warsaw and subsequent campaign in the east. But to him this was still a bittersweet victory. The immediate threat posed by the Red Army may have been removed for the forseeable future. But he had failed to achieve either of the two major objectives towards which he had been working in the past years. The first of these was the slightly utopian goal of reuniting Poland with a large multinational Lithuanian state reminescent of the old Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The second was to ensure the existence of a separate Ukrainian state outside Moscow's control. Belarusian indifference and Lithuanian hostility made the first goal nonsensical and military weakness made the latter impossible. And as a result the Bolsheviks remained in control of an area with such population and resources which would in the long run translate into strength that Poland could not hope to match.

But in this timeline one event concerning Ukraine and another concerning Lithuania go differently than in our own...

The "successsful" failure

By late 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire was in a state of collapse. The war may have ended but the point of no return had already been passed. The majority of the Empire's population who were neither Austrian nor Hungarian had no intention of remaining and Vienna and Budapest retained very little ability to stop them from joining their nationalities' nation-states elswhere or forming new ones. It was clear that even the areas which Austria and Hungary considered to be core national territories were in danger of being lost. This awareness would make them focus the meagre forces which remained at their disposal solely on trying to hold to as many of these regions as possible over the coming turbulent period. The regions of their former empire which the leaders in those captials regarded as less important were essentially left to their fate.

One of these areas was Galicia. The region had been annexed by Austria in 1772 following the first partition of Poland in order to "compensate" Austria for the simultaneous growth of Prussia and Russia. But this annexation was not a natural state of affairs. There were no significant German or Hungarian populations living there. And the region was separated from the rest of the Austrian Empire by a mountain range obstructing economic development. This state of affairs would mean that Galicia would remain a largely underdeveloped periphery until 1918. And that it was probably the area which Vienna and Budapest now cared for the least.

The western part of Galicia was ethnically almost entirely Polish and associated itself with the nucleus of the Polish state forming around Warsaw nearly automatically. But the east was more complex. Ukrainians made up a majority of the region's population. But unlike West Galicia their numerical advantage was not overwhelming. Insofar as the conflicting results of various censuses can be interpreted it seems that no more than 2/3 of East Galicia's population was actually Ukrainian. The rest were mostly Poles but there was also a Jewish minority of about 10%. And so it was no surprise that when the West Ukrainian People's Republic formed after the departure of the Austrian armies and administration its claim to large areas was contested by Poland. Much of the Polish leadership would have ideally liked to annex the entirety of eastern Galicia. But this was easier said than done. Since none of Poland's future borders were presently defined Galicia was just one of a number of pressing issues which all required attention. Another factor was the Entente which was concerned by the Russian Revolution. Britain and France hoped that the various states which had formed in the wake of the withdrawal of the Central Powers' armies might be organized into a joint anti-Bolshevik front and set out to try to mediate a number of conflicts. For the Polish-Ukrainian conflict the Entente's suggestion was to establish a border slightly eastwards of the city of Lvov and leave the eastern half of East Galicia to Ukraine. The Poles were ready to accept a solution on these lines. [1]

The West Ukrainian leadership for their part had hoped to quickly occupy the entire region up to the River San and indeed accomplished most of its goal. But their lack of experience led to a number of avoidable mistakes.[2] Chief among them was the failure to secure Lvov which was the region's capital. As in most cities in East Galicia at the time it was inhabited mainly by Poles but also by a substantial Jewish minority. The Ukrainian presence in the city at the time probably did not exceed 10% of the population. The villages between Lvov and the River San were mostly inhabited by Ukraininans but they formed less of a majority than elsewhere. The region's numerous Poles of course desired it to become part of Poland and took up their own weapons to oppose the Ukrainians. Due to the West Ukrainians' aforementioned mistakes the city of Lvov and the railway joining it with western Galicia very quickly fell under Polish control. In December the strong Polish defense of Lvov and the railway and their slow advance to the south and east caused the Ukrainian leadership to decide that the San border would be very difficult to achieve. After a heated discussion they also agreed to enter negotiations using the Entente proposal as a basis[3].

The Treaty of Lvov was eventually signed in January 1919 and was one of the few cases when the Entente managed to successfully influence events east of Germany in that period. Its signing would free Poland and West Ukraine to focus their efforts on consolidation - and on their remaining claims.

[1] Everything is OTL up to this point.
[2] This is the actual PoD. The second important PoD will come later but it will not be a direct consequence of this one.
[3] In our timeline they refused. This would prove to be a mistake as the Poles' military advantage would become so obvious that Warsaw decided that a total victory and annexation of all of Galicia was now possible.
Last edited:
A permanent temporary arrangement

1919 and 1920 were a period of many limited conflicts across central and eastern Europe. The Entente were able to directly influence Germany on account of occupying many of its vital territories. But their control did not extend eastwards. East of Germany the warring states as well as a number of new ones went to war amongst themselves over their undefined boundaries. In the words of Churchill "the wars of the giants were over. Now the wars of the midgets had begun." Sometimes the Entente were ready to promise such support to their favoured parties that their opponents would accept the Entente's final verdict as was the case with Hungary. In other cases the Entente powers were unwilling to do even that. But contrary to the popular view every govrrnment did not immediately begin fighting everyone else within reach using all available weapons and financial reserves without pausing to consider if the handful of ruined villages there were fighting for was even worth owning in the first place. Fortunately this was not always the case.

As Austrian forces withdrew Czech and Polish organizations and units emerged to take official control over the areas in which they lived. Fortunately for the two countries the areas where their respective peoples lived were for the most part clearly divided by a mountain range. In the three small areas where there could be any doubt the populations self-determined more or less successfully and provisional agreements were reached fairly easily. Those regions were Spisz and Orawa which used to be part of Hungary but had a mixed Polish and Slovak population. The third was the region of Teschen or Cieszyn as it would now be known. Most of it (including the city from which it derived its name) was inhabited by Poles but the westernmost part had a Czech majority.

Part of the reason why things went so well was that the ethnic border could be easily defined in almost all cases. It was slightly harder in the mountain areas of the Polish-Slovak border but the decision there was made easier by the fact that these were poor agricultural regions of little strategic value. Only Cieszyn was relatively valuable. Several valuable mines and other industrial facilities were clustered near it and a strategically significant railway from Czechia to Slovakia passed through it. Perhaps more importantly neither state had any radical designs against the other. Each of them recognized the independence of the other and accepted the other's existence.

But even this seemingly simple situation could have gone worse. While Warsaw did not wish to pick a fight it would have asked for more if it had seemed realistic. And Prague had an eye on the valuable Cieszyn. In fact at one point a plan was drawn up in Prague to unilaterally occupy the area.[1] But while the politicians in Prague were still considering their options Poland and Ukraine signed the Treaty of Lvov rather sooner than the Czechs had expected. This meant that any attack on Cieszyn could no longer be a minor affair as the bulk of the Polish Army was now free to counter-attack. The invasion plan which is in any case not thought to have been seriously considered was therefore quietly abandoned.[2] It would only became public knowledge in the 1950s by which point it had become interesting only to historians and excited no one.

Since both sides had more urgent matters to deal with the provisional demarcation would be formalized in 1919 with only trivial changes demonstrating that nothing is more permanent than a temporary arrangement. The question of the railway was somewhat problematic but in the end it was agreed that Poland would allow Czechoslovak traffic easy access to it until a new railway across Czech territory bypassing Cieszyn to which Poland would contribute could be constructed. This would be one of the rare examples where a postwar border was determined entirely peacefully by both parties without even resorting to outside mediation. Unfortunately Poland and Czechoslovakia both had other borders upon which no peaceful agreement could possibly be reached...

[1] Up to this point this is OTL.
[2] it our timeline it was carried out at the end of January 1919. With so much of the Polish Army engaged in East Galicia at the time it was a fairly safe gamble that Poland would not react with great force. Following Poland's protests the Entente approved the plan to determine the future of the area in a plebiscite. The ethnic makeup of the region at the time suggests that most of the votes would have probably gone to Poland. But before the plebiscite could take place Poland found itself in the most dangerous point of its war against the Red Army in the summer of 1920. In its desperation to obtain military aid from the Entente Poland agreed to a number of concessions. One of these involved recognizing Czechoslovakia's ownership of the disputed area west of the Olza River (hence the name "Zaolzie" or "trans-Olza") including the western half of Cieszyn which lay upon that river. This gave Polish-Czechoslovak resentments a focal point and would be an obstacle towards future attempts to mend relations. This led to 1938 when the situations were reversed and it was now Poland which exploited Czechoslovakia's peril to reclaim the disputed area.
Last edited:
This post is in fact a recap of events in our timeline. It turned out to be much longer than the divergent part. But it seemed useful to provide context.

Poland and the Treaty of Versailles

The National Democrats were the natural candidates to represent Poland at the Paris Peace Conference. Its members and most notably its most prominent member Roman Dmowski had spent years trying to farther the Polish cause among the Entente by political activity and through the organization of the free Polish armed forces which fought alongside the remaining Entente armies on the western front. It does credit to the governments in Warsaw at the time that despite their political differences they realized that they had no negotiators of comparable skill or influence and left the National Democrats to argue for Poland's interests at the Peace Conference.

A natural consequence was that the demands which the National Democrats presented at the Conference reflected the views which their movement had been developing for a generation. In their view the restored Poland of the twentieth century had to be a unitary nation-state of the modern type. A return to the ancient pre-partition borders of 1772 would therefore be undesireable. To the National Democrats any regions inhabited mostly by Poles which lay outside those limits were to be claimed. And conversely huge territories in the east which Poland-Lithuania had held ought to be abandoned as impossible to assimilate into the Polish nation. At least not without causing severe internal unrest which would make the state's democratic system and social progress impossible.

Besides some small and insignificant border areas almost the entirety of Poland's pre-1772 territories which had over time been taken by Prussia remained mostly inhabited by Poles. Prussia and then Germany had expended considerable effort in attempts to Germanize Prussia's Poles. This policy was less than successful. A number of settlers were brought in and since administrative posts were made available primarily to ethnic Germans the administrative class of the eastern provinces of Prussia fully identified with it. But in the long term this was to no avail. Despite policies of Germanization the majority of the local population could not be induced to become German or to identify with Germany and the number of settlers and administrators was not enough to turn the tide. In the German Empire's last elections of the early twentieth century most of the Posen Province as well as much of the West Prussian province and even parts of the Silesian Province voted for the Polish Party. [1]

The one truly significant exception was the city of Danzig (or Gdańsk as it had once been known) whose population at the dawn of the twentieth century was almost entirely German. Had it been located differently the Poles might have actually withdrawn their claims. But it lay directly on the mouth of the River Vistula and was directly adjescent to the only "penninsula" of the ethnically Polish territories which reached to the Baltic Sea. Geography dictated that this city would be the reunited Poland's natural outlet to the Baltic. And indeed no other Baltic location was viable. The National Democrats recognized that the city's Germans had a strong and well-established national identity which unlike that of the Ukrainians or Belarusians was not expected to vanish. But they expected that the reunification of Poland would cause an economic boom in the city which would attract hundreds of thousands of people from the rest of Poland thus altering the ethnic makeup of the city in Poland's favor.

Prussia contained two other areas where most of the population spoke Polish. The first of these was the valuable industrial region of Upper Silesia. Despite not having been part of a Polish state for over half a millennium the area's farmers still retained their language. The end of the nineteenth century actually saw a sort of national renaissance in the region. By 1919 it had spread across at least half of Upper Silesia. The second was Masuria or the southern 1/4 of East Prussia. The population living there was mostly descended from Polish settlers who had arrived in what had then been the Duchy of Prussia. While they eventually came to adopt the Germans' protestant faith they retained their ancestral language. No national renaissance had occurred there by 1919 but the Upper Silesian example would suggest that this need not be a permanent state of affairs. In any case the National Democrats also claimed both those areas for Poland.

The rest of East Prussia was not claimed on account of its overwhelmingly German population. Dmowski proposed that the region should be detatched from Germany and made into an independent republic in an almost charming display of 19th century thinking which ignored the "obvious" solutions more in the style of the bloody 20th century such as the expulsion or eradication of the local population.

The three great Entente powers may have had a strong common interest in defeating Germany. But it did not take long for it to become clear that their views of what should actually be done with it were very divergent. France's primary objective was the simplest. Its primary goal was to ensure security against any future attack by Germany through weakening it and building alliances against it. All its other actions proceded from this. Britain's objectives were more nuanced. Britain certainly did not desire a German resurgence but when viewed from across the English Channel Germany seemed much less of a threat to London than to Paris. This naturally led Britain to give a higher priority to other objectives and to the realization that an excessively weakened Germany would be less able to pay the considerable war reparations which London was hoping for. This realization would lead Britain to actually oppose France in certain matters. The distant America had even less direct interest in any specific solution in Europe as long as it conformed with America's more general plans for the postwar world. The history of the demarcation of the new border of Poland would showcase those conflicts.

In this case granting considerable German territories to Poland co-incided with the goals of America and France and these two powers ended up overruling most of Britain's efforts to keep the most productive disputed areas from being ceded. As of the spring of 1919 a consensus was finally emerging among the Entente. The negotiations concerning the Polish-German border were converging upon a solution under which most of the German territories which had been part of Poland in 1772 would be granted to Poland without a plebiscite. Some border areas were to remain German without a plebiscite. Danzig was to be made a free city. Plebiscites would be held in Masuria and Upper Silesia. [2]

[1] A comparison of the results of the German Empire's last prewar election (a - map from Wikipedia) and the area which Poland was ultimately awarded in the Treaty of Versailles (b - also from Wikipedia) show that the much-maligned Treaty did a decent job at awarding Poland the territories whose inhabitants culturally and politically identified with Poland.



[2] The sum of Poland's demands against Germany was almost identical to the border eventually formed plus Danzig and the entirety of the two plebiscite zones. Below is another map from Wikipedia which shows the situation following the Treaty of Versailles. The plebiscite zones in Silesia and Masuria are marked as "Area for plebiscite". Note the undefined border between Poland and that which would emerge from the collapse of the Russian Empire.


[3] Up to this point everything in this post was as in our timeline.
Last edited:
Poland and the Treaty of Versailles (continued)

The broad strokes of the Entente's agreements even survived the disruption of the spring of 1919[1] when President Wilson's health failed him. The years of overwork which the American President had subjected himself to finally caught up with him and caused him to suffer a non-fatal but temporarily debilitating stroke. Prior to this point the negotiations had been converging upon the idea of granting most of what Poland had owned before 1772 to Poland without a plebiscite with Danzig as a free city and plebiscites in Silesia and Masuria. Without Wilson the emphasis on self-determination on the American side decreased. Concerning Upper Silesia the Entente switched to the idea of partitioning it first along the Oder and ultimately to granting Poland only a small but valuable part of the far eastern portion of the region. The Masurian plebiscite was canceled entirely. Danzig which would now be known as Gdansk would become part of Poland but as a highly autonomus area with the League of Nations taking part in the administration in order to safeguard the German population of the city and nearby villages.[2]

[1] Up to this point everything is as in our timeline. Except for Woodrow Wilson overworking himself more causing his stroke to come several months earlier than it might otherwise have happened.

[2]This was the case in our timeline as of 1919. In our timeline Poland did not receive Danzig and therefore proceeded to build the small village of Gdynia into a large seaport entirely from scratch. This ambitious undertaking actually succeeded and by 1939 the port at Gdynia had become the largest one on the Baltic Sea in terms of volume of cargo handled. But in a timeline where it was never built such a project might have been considered unrealistic at the time.

I had only decided to change the western border of Poland on the original map because it seemed odd to me for this line which was demarcated after the first point of divergence to still turn out the same. That divergence will not significantly affect the rest of the timeline because it only spans a few years. But since I'm already going into the details behind the map here I can as well produce an explanation for this.
Last edited:
This is the last post which recaps OTL to provide context and set the stage for what's to come. I had to cover some things very briefly to get the main points across without making this post too huge. After this one things will start diverging hard.

The Legacy of the Commonwealth

The Entente's concern with the revolution in Russia had caused them to mandate that Germany temporary keep its troops in much of the area in the east which they had occupied in 1918. But this was not permanent and in the beginning of 1919 they would withdraw completely. In the north they abandoned the various paramilitaries which represented the German upper classes of what would become Latvia and Estonia to fight a doomed battle against the Latvian and Estonian majorities inhabiting those areas. In the south they left a fragile and unpopular Ukraininan state governed from Kiev whose area would eventually become one of the main battlegrounds of the Russian Civil War. The central part of the vast occupied area was for the most part left in a state of near anarchy.

That large area bounded roughly by the rivers Neman, Dnepr, Dvina and Pripet in the west, east, north and south respectively had once constituted the heartland of the old Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Liteuvan[] people who lived by the river Neman had first taken control over this area in the middle ages displacing the weakening Mongols. They then proceeded to capture most of Ukraine and even the westernmost areas of what is now Russia proper creating one of Europe's largest states. But despite its size this truly grand Duchy was not in the long term strong enough to fend off all external threats. The most pressing danger was to the Liteuvan heartland by the lower Neman which was threatened by the German states forming there. This provided the impetus for the alliance and dynastic union with Poland which would last for two centuries. For that period the union was still not as close as it would eventually become. But in the sixteenth century a series of wars made it clear that Lithuania was no longer a peer to the rising Muscovy. This caused Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund II to decide that if Lithuania were to survive in a recognizable form it would have to enter into a closer union with Poland. This goal was eventually accomplished in the Union of Lublin of 1569 which formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The resulting Lithuania was considerably smaller than the Grand Duchy had once been having lost considerable areas in the east to Muscovy and with its remaining portion of Ukraine transferred to Poland. But it would retain these boundaries and a certain degree of autonomy for over two more centuries.

All these events had taken place long before the rise of modern nationalism in the nineteenth century. In the days of the Commonwealth the only politically active class were the nobility[1]. Lithuania's nobles for the most part found the new political culture which they encountered by the Commonwealth very attractive. The literary and musical culture transmitted from Poland was also well received. This led to a gradual polonization of the Lithuanian nobility who eventually came to see Lithuanian-ness as a regional sub-identity of the wider Commonwealth. Since by the time the nobility (who in Poland-Lithuania constituted about 10% of the population) were the only people whose political opinions mattered it can be said that by the political standards of the time the Grand Duchy of Lithuania became ethnically Polish. Such a view of course ignored the peasantry who made up the overwhelming majority of the area's population. Perhaps if Poland-Lithuania had survived longer this polonization would have reached the peasantry as well. But the annexation of the entire territory of the Grand Duchy by Russia at the turn of the nineteenth century prevented such developments from continuing. And so the arrival of modern nationalism in Lithuania would create an interesting and confusing situation.

The most notable consequence of the nationalistic wave was the emergence of modern Liteuvan nationalism. While the nobility of the areas lying near the lower Neman and Vilia rivers had largely adopted the Polish language and customs the peasants had retained the old language of the medieval conquerors of the area. And while much of the nobility (and the rising intelligentsia which largely descended from it) continued to see ties with Poland as something natural the new Liteuvan nationalists took a different view. In their view the Poles had effectively "stolen" their nation's elites by assimilating them. It may have been a voluntary process but this only made the pervasive Polish culture even more dangerous. In their view any continued association with Poland would be an existential threat to their very identity. The struggle between the emerging Polish and Lithuanian nationalisms was farther exacerbrated by territorial disputes.

Much like those traditionally-minded Poles who considered the former Lithuania in its entirety to be for all intents and purposes a part of Poland the new Liteuvan nationalists were also living in the past. This was made most obvious by the Vilna dispute. Vilna was the old capital of Lithuania and at one point it and the surrounding areas had been ethnically Liteuvan. But in the days of the Commonwealth cultural Polonization and the arrival of Polish settlers had effectively polonized a large strip of territory stretching from the old ethnic core of Poland to the northeast. It included cities like Białystok, Suwałki, Grodno and most significantly Vilna itself. By 1914 the number of ethnic Lithuanians in Vilna and its surroundings was only several per cent of the total population. But like the Greeks who claimed the mostly Turkish constantinople and coastline of Asia Minor the Liteuvan nationalists would eventually demand Vilna once their nation-state finally formed.

The Belarusians and Jews for the most part remained politically passive. The Jews were developing their own version of nationalism focusing on establishing a Jewish state preferably in Palestine. This made them largely indifferent to the political struggles of the central europeans. Whatever country would eventually come to own a Jew's town or village it would certainly not be a Jewish state. This of course led to accusations of indifference and even treason exacerbrated by the fact that marxism with its promise of an end to ethnic disputes gained some popularity among the Jews.

The Belarusians for their part remained politically passive. But just because modern nationalism had not yet taken hold among them did not mean that it could not do so eventually.

This confused ethnic situation existed in 1914. Following their offensives of 1915 the Germans occupied the western parts of the old Grand Duchy of Lithuania bringing it under miltiary administration. It took some time before the fate of this area (the so-called Ober-Ost) would be decided but eventually the occupying Germans would begin to lay the foundations for a semi-colony in the form of a Liteuvan nation state. At the time they did not trouble themselves with the area farther to the east. The anticipated cession of the areas which they already controlled by 1915 from Russia would already have represented a huge cession by the standards of the nineteenth century. As late as the first round of the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk Germany did not ask for the transfer of any significant areas east of Vilna and Riga to their control. It was only the Bolshevik's decision to continue the war despite their considerable weakness that led to Germany's opportunistic occupation of the reminder of the Neman-Dnepr-Dvina-Pripet quadrilateral. But the Germans themselves had no clear idea what to do with that territory and with their defeat on the western front several months later they lost all interest in the subject. As a result they made no significant efforts to organize any local government in the area before their withdrawal in 1919.

The resulting vacuum was at first filled by a number of minor organizations. Some of these were purely local affairs with no interest in the outside world. Others proclaimed some sort of association with an external body (in this case Poland) but never made contact with it. Several communes formed which claimed a loose association with the Bolsheviks. The Polish militias which took control of Vilna claimed association with Poland but its geographical isolation from the areas under control of Poland proper and the general difficulties in communication made this theoretical. The Belarusian People's Republic which formed in Minsk proclaimed itself to be the government of a large state stretching from Smolensk and Homel to Vilna and Bialystok even though it gained virtually no popular support. In the absence of any notable state in that area its fate would therefore be determined by those outside forces with the will and power to intervene.

The powers which were at this time convening in Paris pointedly avoided any sort of territorial decisions[3]. In practice the Entente would just the situation which had emerged by itself with quite limited involvement from their part. The Liteuvan state in the northwest was strong enough to establish itself as a force of some importance on its own territory but was unable to secure Vilna. Latvia in the north and Ukraine in the south were so embroiled in their own conflicts that they had no attention to spare. This left Poland and Revolutionary Russia as the main forces which would determine the area's future.

At this point it was not clear how Poland would act if given the opportunity. Poland's national movement (the National Democrats) were nationalists of the modern type. In their view the rebuilt Poland was to be a unitary nation-state. In their view territories containing minorities could be incorporated but only if they were thought to be easy to assimilate without the need for radical antidemocratic methods which would undermine the state in the long term. In practise this means that they opted for Poland ethnic boundary in the north (with Latvia and Lithuania although the latter was treated as a possible client state its nationalism being considered too advanced to make assimilation convenient) west (with Germany) and south (with Czechoslovakia). The Ukrainian- and Belarusian-speaking areas just east of ethnic Poland were considered absorbable due to the low level of national consciousness especially among the Belarusians and due to the presence of an influential Polish minority. The National Democrats claimed territory as far east as Minsk but without deciding if they wished to include the city itself or not. Farther annexations in the east would be a mistake in their view since they would increase the number of Ukrainians and Belarusians within Poland too greatly. Because of the size and influence of their movement it seemed reasonable to expect that they would get their way [5].

If not for the presence of Joseph Piłsudski. He had no political movements or think tanks backing him that could hope to match those of the National Democrats. But as the head of state he was Poland's most influential individual. He had no major caveats about the National Democrats' plans for the west. But his views on the future of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania differed wildly from those of his opponents. Instead of having a Polish nation-state cutting off those parts of the former Poland-Lithuania which were deemed too troublesome to keep he envisioned the restoration of an updated version of the old Poland-Lithuania. He was no doubt ready to see it modernized and updated. But any arrangements would need to conform with the general principle of restoring a Lithuanian entity rougly within its 1772 borders and united with Poland. To the National Democrats this was an outdated and utopian (and possibly even harmful) idea. Of course Pilsudski himself was in principle ready to entertain the restoration of Poland as an ethnic nation-state. But to him it would be a last resort to be entertained only if his grander plans failed[5].

The Bolsheviks' view was fairly simple. All of the former Grand Duchy was to become part of a communist world state. The administrative boundaries within that state were a matter of secondary concern. Interestingly the idea that Lithuania should remain a single unit was present among them as well. They proposed to administer most of the area as a Lithuanian-Belorussian People's Republic which would be known as the "Litbel"[6].

As 1918 ended the Red Army began its march west. Soon afterwards Polish forces freed from their struggle against Ukraine began to move east. In the last days of 1918 the Red Army reached Vilna and ejected the Polish militia from the city marking the first conflict between Polish-aligned forces and the Red Army. In another month the area vacated by the Germans had mostly come under the control of the Red Army with the Polish Army having occupied the small reminder. The revolutionary ambitions of Moscow made its objectives entirely incompatible with those of Warsaw. The inevitable clashes between the Polish and Red Armies started in Febuary 1919.

The war between the Poles and Bolsheviks had begun.

[1] This post recaps events in our timeline but from the perspective of the alternate one. It therefore uses some alternate designations.

[2] Past circumastances had reduced royal power to the point where the Commonwealth effectively emerged as what was more or less a democratic constitutional monarchy. By modern standards it would certainly be considered flawed. Full civic rights only applied to the nobility who constituted about 10% of the state's population. And while the so-called Pacta Conventa which the newly elected King would have to abide by were only a primitive predecessor to modern constitutions they severely limited his power. But by the standards of the time this constituted a liberal revolution. The urban and mercantile classes had been sidelined and their roled had been largely taken by the large numbers of Jews fleeing persecution elsewhere in Europe. The nobility found it very convenient that the Jews took on the role which would otherwise be dominated by native merchants since unlike them the Jewish communities were isolationist and lacked political ambitions. The peasantry at the time had virtually nothing to say in politics. The near elimination of the other classes and estates besides the nobility granted that class an influence over their country's affairs unseen elsewhere.

[3] It is a common miscocneption that the Curzon Line as it was drawn up in 1919 was meant to be the final eastern border of Poland instead of the boundary between what would definitely be Poland and entirely undefined areas. This line was instead meant only as the eastern limit of those areas of the former Russian Empire which were definitely to become Poland's without deciding if Poland was to annex any areas to the east. The territory east of the Curzon Line was purposefully left undefined to be decided upon later once the Russian Civil War resolved itself. A second misconception is that Curzon's original Line extended into Galicia. The line was meant to apply only to the former Russian Empire. The extension of the Line into Galicia was made later.

[4] Our timeline's Second Republic of Poland came very close to achieving the nationalists' dream borders. The Free City and the parts of the plebiscite regions which remained with Germany were just about all that was missing. They did claim Minsk in the 1919 negotiations in Paris but apparently didn't feel attached to it. This was demonstrated by the fact that in our timeline the Polish delegation to the postwar negotiations with the Bolsheviks at Riga declined the city even though they apparently could have received it. The claim to Minsk may have been just a typical negotiation tactic in which one demands more than one truly wants in order to make withdrawing the claim to an unwanted item seem like a concession.


This is a nice old map by @Magnificate showing an alternate Poland with an eastern border being more or less what Piłsudski would have viewed as a minimum satisfactory version.

[6] The Litbel was a real thing. According to Wikipedia its borders were supposed to be the blue line. The other borders on this map are the ones which eventually formed in our timeline.
Last edited:
Yes this looks good also in the title you should include that it is a timeline, that will make more people click on it
A post-apocalyptic war

Whenever a period of relative stability and plenty comes around the people fortunate enough to experience it usually find it easy to believe that their prosperity is built upon strong foundations. In such conditions it seems easy to find evidence that the future will undoubtedly bring continued steady progress. Take the late Russian Empire. In 1914 Russia may have been the most backwards of the great powers. But even so it was experiencing prosperity and growth unlike anything its peoples had ever experienced in the past. The recent agricultural reforms were on the way towards improving agriculture and one might have expected that the famines of the 1890s would be the last ones. He could have pointed to the educational reforms which were on the way towards raising the rate of literacy. One could have pointed out the country's very rapid industrialization.[1] Of course the average Russian would have been aware that a war was possible. But based on the experience of the last century it would have seemed reasonable to assume that the coming European war would last several months and end with the transfer of several border provinces from the loser to the victor. But even if Russia would lose then surely things would still return to normal without any great disruption.

Hardly anyone anticipated what would really happen. Instead of lasting months the war lasted years. Its casualties would be counted not in the tens of thousands but in the millions. And the Russian Empire did not just lose and cede some unruly border areas. The Tsardom itself fell to a revolution. The unstable new government managed to stop the first attempted coup but not the second one. And that second revolution did not just overturn a system of government. For all its weakness the previous government still maintained authority over all of the former Empire which had not been occupied by Germany. The Communists did not achieve this and it would only be several years before the last rebels and war-lords would finally be subdued. Statistics from the period can give an idea as to just how much those events disrupted everyday life. Agricultural production dropped to the point where widespread famines reappeared. Industrial production dropped by at least ninety percent. The Spanish flu pandemic swept the country as did many other diseases raising the death toll still farther. Instead of a single firm government there emerged a number of new authorities of every sort from nation-states to revolutionary or anarchist revolutions to war lords.

But grim as they are the above statistics might not be the most disturbing aspect of the situation. In the face of such a catastrophe it might have been reasonable to expect that the various authorities which emerged in the lands of the shattered Russian Empire would their efforts on peaceful reconstruction and co-operation. Instead they went to war with each other. And as if to underline the dark irony of the situation it would be the self-proclaimed utopianists and progressives who would be the most ambitious and aggressive.

The wars between those authorities would be so complex that historians rarely even designate them by a collective name. And even the component conflicts are challenging enough. Take for example the conflict which is known as the Intermarian-Bolshevik War. The name itself is a hopeless anachronism. At the time when the conflict between Warsaw and Moscow began no entity called "Intermarium" existed only in the minds of a relatively small number of individuals in Warsaw. There was just the Republic of Poland. In Febuary 1919 the authorities which would become its Intermarian associates were indifferent if not hostile to it and to each other. Two of them had just finished fighting a war and signed a peace which many on both sides viewed to be merely an unsatisfactory and temporary armstice[2]. The word Intermarium only entered official usage quite a bit later. And by that time the World State had already been proclaimed by the Bolshevik movement (which at never point called its state a Bolshevik one). The difficulty of just naming this conflict shows how complex it actually was.

The war began at the peak of the Bolshevik offensives of the winter of 1918/19. At this time it might have seemed that the Bolsheviks had ensured a firm hold over almost the entire former Russian Empire. But the post-apocalyptic warfare in the ruins of the old empires had a completely different character which military leaders would have to learn to adapt to. In 1914 the clashing armies numbered in the millions and were supported by all the infrastructure that the prosperity of the Belle Epoque could provide for. A major advance by definiton meant breaking through firm defenses. The very masses of military units were so great that any advance would sooner or later run into firm opposition which could only be reduced through exhausting frontal assults. A great advance would almost by definition mean that enormous casualties had been inflicted on the enemy.

But in the new post-apocalyptic conditions the resources to support such warfare simply did not exist. As the size of armies fighting upon any individual front decreased almost by an order of magnitude it was no longer possible to man a front nearly as fully as before. And with the almost total cessation of industrial production across the Russian Empire static warfare and the establishment of strong points was barely possible. Under these conditions war once again became a matter of rapid maneouvers by small forces with only limited mechanical support. Heavier artillery was rare. Airplanes and armored vehicles would be almost totally absent. These smaller and less mechanized armies still required logistical support but since fewer resources were now required to support a force which could make a difference living off the land became a semi-viable option in some cases to the detriment of the local civilians. Under such conditions a force which five years ago would have been insignificant could now lead to a major breakthrough and advance for hundreds of kilometres in a matter of weeks. And the same factors which made those movements (surreal to many commanders used to the static warfare which had dominated in recent years) possible made their hold on any new conquests weak and vulnerable to equally rapid counter-attacks. On many occasions a seemingly unstoppable advance for hundreds of kilometres might suddenly be reversed and pushed right back to its starting point. In Febuary 1919 it might have seemed that the Red Army was right on track towards capturing Poland and continuing on into Germany to support the revolution which seemed to be brewing there as well. But the optimism of Lenin and Trotsky would soon prove to be misplaced.

The ease with which the revolution had expanded had given the Bolsheviks a false sense of strength. It is true that they acknowledged the anti-communist "White" Russian units forming at the edges of the former empire to be at least a potential threat. And so their consolidation and counterattacks which were all the more effective due to a certain amount of support by the Entente powers was somewhat expected. But it seems that the Politbiuro regarded Poland as a pushover and a mere stepping stone on the way towards Germany where (as they expected) the fate of Europe would truly be decided. Based on their experiences in Russia it seemed to them that the very approach of the Red Army would be enough to cause the Polish proletariat to revolt[3]. At worst it seemed that the Polish proletariat would be merely indifferent. Any ideas of halting the advance would have therefore seemed defeatist and absurd. This misunderstanding of the Poles' mentality would cost them dearly because the memories of generations of misrule by foreign powers had produced an entirely different mentality in the Polish proletariat than in the Russian. Much of Polish society was not going to submit to foreign rule again without a struggle. And since the Polish nation at the time numbered some 20 million individuals (most of whom had already been included by the boundaries of their reborn state) the result was a sizeable body of men ready to fight for their country against an enemy whom they viewed as just another incarnation of the resented Russian Empire.

And the Polish leadership itself did not passively wait for the attack to come. While the various Polish factions disagreed on just how far east they should go or what the future of the eastern lands should be they were in agreement that eastward expansion was very desireable. The ethnically Polish Vilna region at the very least was something that both of them desired. The beginning of 1919 saw a Polish advance eastwards which was slower than that of the Red Army and a gathering of forces in preparation for a stronger push in the near future.

So was this post-apocalyptic war inevitable? It may be that the Entente could have mediated some sort of peace had they been willing to do so. A convincing show of determination would not have caused the Politbiuro to abandon its ultimate goal of world revolution but it might have convinced them to halt the westward advance indefinitely. And the Poles were not willing to openly defy the Entente's wishes. But the Entente lacked this determination and effectively allowed the issue to resolve itself. Under such circumstances the Bolsheviks' revolutionary objectives made peace impossible by definition.

Since both sides were pushing in each others' direction the two armies soon made contact along the entire front and the first true battles began. In this stage of the war it was the Poles who had the clear advantage. As the Polish Army grew and was freed from operating on other fronts[4] they gained a numerical advantage. Logistics favoured them. And the enemy had no advantages such as superior command or strategic surprise that could have offset their weaknesses. In view of this the result of the first battles which took place in the late winter was hardly surprising. The battles at Grodno and Kobryn would end in clear Polish victories and considerable losses to the Red Army whose commanders were surprised by the opposition they encountered. And the Poles had no intention of stopping at that. In early spring they launched the main eastward offensive and succeeded in doing so before the Red Army could properly recover from its losses and prepare for a strong resistance. The Spring Offensive would therefore be a resounding success and by the time it ran out of steam in June the Poles captured not just Vilna but Minsk and Pinsk as well and had in some places reached the Berezina and Dvina Rivers. To make matters worse for the Bolsheviks they found themselves facing counterattacks on other fronts as the White armies consolidated in Siberia and Crimea and began their own advances in the direction of Moscow. The Polish Army thus got the opportunity to consolidate its gains and strengthen its miltiary and logistic strength west of the Berezina. This was the first great sudden reversal in the Intermarian-Bolshevik War. But it would not be the last.

While the military situation in the area had become clear (at least for the time) the political situation was much less so. Since the Entente was unwilling to explicitly recognize Poland's annexation of Vilna the area was put under military administration. As if to make matters as complicated as possible the White Russians were not the only claimants to those areas which the Entente considered. For the most significant parts of the area which the Poles had occupied was also claimed by the Liteuvan government in Kaunas. It might have seemed that if Poland and West Ukraine could somehow resolve their differences a lasting Polish-Liteuvan agreement would have been easy to achieve. After all the two sides were at peace. Unlike the West Ukrainians the Liteuvans entertained no illusions that their small country could meaningfully oppose an undistracted Poland and the Poles were reluctant to openly attack Lithuania for fear of Entente objections. And an ethnic boundary could easily be drawn. But this would not to be. It is easy for us to criticize the illogical behavior which was so common among European nationalists at the time. The Liteuvans' desire to have their cake (an ethnic nation-state) and eat it too (demand very much non-Liteuvan areas like the Vilna region on the basis of historical claims to continuity with a state which had been extremely multi-ethnic) was nothing uncommon at the time. This is not to say that both sides were admant about their maximalist claims and each was potentially ready to make some concessions. The Polish leadership was not entirely opposed to a Lithuanian Vilna but that was only acceptable under the condition that Lithuania would remain in some sort of association with Poland. The Liteuvans insisted on full indepdence but also on posessing Vilna. They did indeed show some flexibility as to how the state could be organized. But while Poland could only have accepted one of these conditions the Kaunas government insisted on both. An impasse had been reached.

In the end this situation would be resolved in a less elegant way. For while the stance of the Kaunas Government could not be changed that government itself could. As Piłsudski and his associates regarded the Kaunas area as part of Poland's sphere of influence Poland's network of spies and paramiltiaries extended there as well. As it became clear that the government in Kaunas would not willingly enter any association with Poland he devised the idea of launching a coup. It was by necessity a somewhat amateurish affair but so too was the newly-established Liteuvan state. It is known that the plot was very close to being discovered[5]. But in the end it just barely succeeded and in June 1919 the government in Kaunas was replaced by a new pro-Polish one. This new government would of course be ready to compromise on one of the Liteuvans' two key demands and the Polish military administration in the northeast was rebranded as part of a Lithuanian state. And at this point the exiled government of the Belarusian Peoples' Republic which had fled from its apartment in Minsk before the Red Army and settled in Kaunas became prominent again as Piłsudski allowed them to return to Minsk in return for a similar agreement. This was not to the liking of nationalists on either side but in the end neither of them were able to overturn the settlement. The Liteuvan nationalists managed to cause some disruption but ultimately failed to topple the new government which proceeded to move to Vilna. The Polish nationalists for their part consoled themselves with the thought that no attempts would be made to compromise the Vilna region's ethnically Polish character. And that the separate authorities in the coalescing federal Lithuania would never be formed into a cohesive state.

With so much opposition it seemed that the formation of this nebulous federal Lithuania was an endeavour with poor chances of success. If some method existed of rewinding history to the end of 1918 or so and running it again it may be reasonable to say that such a state would not have emerged after nine out of each ten of these rewindings. But events do not always follow the most logical and plausible of all possible courses.

The formation of the Lithuanian Federation was definitely helped by the period of relative calm which it experienced in late 1919 and early 1920. For as the summer of 1919 progressed the White Russians under Denikin continued to march northwards in the defense of Moscow. When the Polish-Lithuanian summer offensive of late 1919 began the Bolshevik leadership realized that they were in a very difficult situation. But they were not about to give up. Instead they did what they had done a year before when faced by the German invasion: trade space for time. The struggle with Denikin was an existential one in which each side wished to completely eliminate the other. No truce was possible even for a short time. But this was not true of the conflict with the Poles and Lithuanians. And so the Bolsheviks approached Piłsudski with an offer of withdrawing to the 1772 borders in return for a suspension of the hostilities.

In the light of later events it may seem strange that the Poles accepted. But they had good reasons to do so. The Polish Army of 1919 had developed just about as well as it could have been expected to but there were very real limits to its abilities. There was only so much support that the war-torn Poland could provide for it. And having advanced so far in so short a time it had found itself facing similar logistical issues as the Red Army did half a year before. In fact the summer offensive would probably have been halted at the Dnepr if not repulsed to its starting point if the Bolsheviks had not wished to focus on defeating Denikin. Another factor was the Whites' own inflexibility. Poland actually had sent a mission to Crimea to determine the Whites' attitudes. It was determined that the Whites may have been ready to tolerate an separate Poland but in very limited borders. The existence of Lithuania or Ukraine in any form was inconceiveable. If the Whites made such demands when pushed into a distant corner of the former Empire one may wonder if any scope for negotiation existed. Or even whether they were certain to continue to respect Poland's independence at all once they regained their strength and retook Moscow. There is no certainty if the option of any agreement with the Whites existed.

There are also those who believe that Piłudski's decisions were also based on personal motivations. It should not be forgotten that as a former subject of the Tsar he greatly resented the memory of his regime. And even if the Whites were not explicitly monarchists they certainly wished to restore a Russia with considerable continuity with the old Empire. And while Piłsudski had no great sympathy for any Russian faction it could be that as a former socialist himself he found the Bolsheviks more tolerable than the Whites. If he could have had some way of knowing just how bad Communist Russia would eventually turn out to be he may have perhaps reconsidered. But how could one have guessed that the Communists would actually go through with so many of their ideas regardless of the human cost of their undertakings? In 1919 both factions could well have seemed equally brutal and dangerous to an outside observer.

Regardless of his motivations Piłsudski accepted the offer and a de facto armstice began. This freed the Poles to support the development of the quasi-military government which would eventually evolve into the Lithuanian Federation and allowed the Bolsheviks to deploy additional forces to fight Denikin whose forces had taken Kiev and were advancing on the city of Orel deep in the Russian heartland.

Over time the Lithuanians of all nationalities became aware of the de facto truce. Opinions on the emerging Lithuanian state were of course very variable and only the Polish Lithuanians showed any great enthusiasm for it. But memoirs from the time nevertheless speak of a wave of optimism. For imperfect as many nationalities (the Liteuvans foremost among them) might have found the new situation most of Lithuania's peoples still considered it an improvement over the unlamented Tsardom. And even more importantly they hoped that the fighting had ended at last and that they could now focus on rebuilding the damage caused by five years of war.

They were wrong.

[1] The view that the communists brought Russia out of almost medieval stagnation is a simplistic one probably influenced by communist propaganda which had every interest in portraying the capitalist system as irredeemable. The industrialization and reforms of the last years of the Russian Empire were beginning to bring effects. Perhaps the best proof of this is the fear with which German strategists of the time regarded Russian growth. In 1914 many of them thought that within 5 years Russia's progress would make the Entente unbeatable.

[2] See the first part of this timeline.

[3] The Polish proletariat's failure to do so was a source of disappointment in our timeline when the Red Army approached Warsaw in 1920.

[4] At this point in our timeline much of Poland's army was still fighting against Western Ukraine. In this timeline the conflict is already over allowing Poland to deploy far more men and supplies to the northeastern front than it could in our timeline. The gains of the Polish spring and summer offensives of 1919 are therefore accordingly greater.

[5] And in our timeline it was. The failure of the Lithuanians to discover it is the second significant point of divergence of this timeline. Together with the earlier resoluton of the Polish-Ukrainian war in the first chapter of the timeline these are the two points of divergence which were of interest here. Piłsudski is definitely lucky that both these events turn out more or less the way he wanted. It is definitely much less likely than one or both of these turning out otherwise but in my opinion it is just still within the limits of plausibility.
Last edited:
Meanwhile in Ukraine

By signing the Treaty of Lvov the West Ukrainian People's Republic conceded a large part of its original territory and became restricted to the eastern third of the former Galicia. Romania had also taken the occasion to annex a small piece of territory as well and while the Ukrainians were of course furious about the loss of Colomea they were too weak to object. But at least West Ukraine had survived. And while Lvov was lost there were other Ukrainian lands which were not as well defended.

Just south of Galicia lay the predominantly Ukrainian (or Carpatho-Ruthenian depending on which ethnographer one may ask) region of Transcarpathia. The region had long been part of Hungary but the Hungarian state was receding towards its ethnic core. Hungary's fall to communism and the communist regime's aggression led to a war between it and the Czechoslovak-Ukrainian-Romanian alliance in which Ukraine eventually obtained most of that region.

To the north and east lay the Ukrainian parts of the former Russian Empire. The Ukrainian state installed there by the German Empire was a weak one and scarcely could control its own territories let alone defend them. In late 1918 and early 1919 it was reduced by Bolshevik and White incursions to some parts of Volhynia and Podolia and had become so weak that it effectively ceased to exist as a state. The last act of the government which by now excerised very little control outside the town where it resided was to merge with West Ukraine forming the Ukrainian People's Republic or simply Ukraine. The West Ukrainians themselves struggled to establish control but in time they succeeded. And by the end of 1919 there were hopeful signs that the effort at nation-building was going well. The state apparatus was slowly rebuilt and the Ukrainian Army became a fairly cohesive force. And perhaps more importantly the Ukrainians themselves began to recognize the legitimacy of this new state.

This was made easier by the fact that the Russians were almost entirely focused on fighting each other. For all its progress the Ukrainian Army was considerably weaker than (say) the Polish one and not yet in a position to harm a force as strong as Denikin's White Russia or to try to threaten it to gain Kiev. But it was strong enough that Denikin never found it expedient to make an attack of his own. He instead focused all his energies on the march on Moscow.

The Moscow Offensive started well. The Bolsheviks were defeated in battle after battle and Denikin's army steadily advanced from Kiev to Chernigov and Kharkov and then to Kursk which lay near the core of Russia itself. Denikin's rapid advance made his logistical situation increasingly perilous and he knew it. But the conflict was so urgent and so existential that a halt could not be accepted. However difficult the northward advance might have been it was the only option.

The Battle of Orel ended in yet another White victory. But this time it was a pyrrhic one. The Bolsheviks were eventually repulsed but the city was only taken after a long and costly battle. It would be a severely depleted White Army that would resume the northward advance towards Kaluga. Denikin was well aware of this weakness but he also knew that he had made great progress. Kaluga was the last major city on the road to Moscow and if he managed to take it the White Army could be said to be about to march on the revolutionary center itself. The Bolsheviks would naturally scramble to concentrate all possible forces there and the Red Army forces at Moscow would greatly outnumber the attacking Whites. But Denikin hoped that by this point the psychological factors would come into play and compensate for his military weakness. Being on the verge of defeat and having witnessed an inexorable White advance it seemed possible that the Red Army might collapse entirely. Despite the losses at Kaluga victory still seemed possible.

But while Denikin could not readily replenish his forces Lenin could. The truce with Poland and Lithuania allowed him to strip his western front nearly to the bone. Together with reserves redeployed from the north these fresh forces attacked the advancing Whites halfway between Orel and Kaluga. And this time their numerical and logistical advantages were such that they won a decisive victory and immediately pressed onwards to the south. Despite his military skill Denikin no longer had the strength to resist. The remnants of his army were forced to abandon their gains as fast as they had captured them. By early 1920 the Whites were once again confined to Crimea and the extreme south of Ukraine where they finally succeeded in halting the Red Army. But the strength of the White remnant now taken over by general Wrangel could no longer compare with the might of the Red Army.

This placed Ukraine in a dangerous position. It would have been foolish to believe that with the two great threats they had faced defeated or (temporarily) neutralized the Bolsheviks could once again contemplate farther expansion. And a small and weak nation-state which might lay claim to one of the most productive parts of their domain had the most reasons to fear. It was clear to its leadership that Ukraine was in dire need of ally. But where to find one? The Entente was unwilling to seriously involve itself. Czechoslovakia and Hungary did not consider Russia of any color to be a real threat. Romania was friendly but noncommittal. And so despite the unsatisfactory results of the previous year's war the Ukrainian People's Republic would approach Poland. It was true that the country which held central Galicia was not a perfect ally. But at least it was there. As long as Ukraine accepted the border Poland was perfectly ready to accept Ukrainian independence in theory and in fact[1]. And it was even willing to endorse Ukraine's ambitions of taking Kiev. This was the origin of the Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian alliance.

As 1920 began the Allies and the Bolsheviks both began planning a new war against each other. Neither side had quite made the final decision to fight but half-hearted negotiations failed to produce results. Both sides may have been exhausted. But both were dissatisfied with the status quo. Now that the Whites had been all but eliminated the Bolsheviks felt more confident about focusing on Poland (for all their undeniable development over the past year the Lithuanian and Ukrainian armies had only a fraction of the Polish Army's strength). And Piłsudski thought that Ukraine would need to reach at least to the Dnepr for Moscow's overwhelming advantage against Poland to be reduced. As 1920 began it started to become clear that the negotiations were going nowhere. Despite the carnage and devastation of the recent years each side felt so distrustful of the other's intentions and sufficiently confident in their own power to risk another round.

It was only a question of who would strike first.

[1] Piłsudski was clear that he did not view Ukraine to be a suitable candidate for a federal partner the way Lithuania was. It was just too large and propping it up all the time would have been impossible. The objective of our timeline's Kiev Offensive of 1920 was not to annex Kiev but to provide Petlura's government with an opportunity to build a functional state and army which could serve as an ally. A long-term Polish occupation of Ukraine was considered to be too exhausting to even contemplate. Ukraine would of course be reliant on Polish aid and no doubt some suitable economic concessions would have been sought from it. But direct control over Ukraine or a full federation with it does not seem to have been Piłsudski's goal.
Round 2: the offensives of 1920

The seemingly inevitable end of the Allied-Bolshevik suspension of hostilities came in the last days of April 1920[1]. It seems that the Bolshevik leadership was planning to launch its westward offensive against the Allies just after a final offensive against the Whites which was expected to be finished sometime in May. If that is true it was only narrowly pre-empted.

The Allied offensives had two major objectives. The first of these entailed the capture of the strategically vital Smolensk and its surroundings by units of the Polish Army. (The Lithuanian units were not considered to be as strong and would only have token involvement in the planned capture of the city). Meanwhile the Ukrainian Army and the second half of the Polish Army were to advance into central Ukraine with the simple objective of driving the Red Army across the River Dnepr and capturing Kiev and hopefully a decently-sized area in the east. A small offensive from Homiel in what was now southeastern Lithuania was meant to support this effort but due to logistical constraints and the deployment of the best forces to the Smolensk and Kiev offensives it could only have had a secondary role. It was anticipated that by the end of June the Allies would be firmly established in Smolensk and deep in Ukraine to the east of the lower Dnepr. And having approximately reached the line which had once marked the farthest extent of Poland-Lithuania's ancient borders three centuries before it would be possible for them to dictate a victor's peace after which Warsaw and Moscow would again become approximate peers after over two centuries of the latter's clear superiority.

Whether Piłsudski had any plans concerning Russia itself is unclear. He had no sympathy for either the Whites or the Reds but some believe that he also considered installing some more palatable Russian faction in Moscow. Whatever his intentions may or may not have been we can say with certainty that such a move could only have been contemplated if both the Kiev and Moscow operations had ended in decisive Allied victories. But Piłsudski underestimated the Red Army.

The offensive into central Ukraine was fairly successful. Two unplanned but welcome factors contributed to the Allies' victories in the region. The imposition of communist rule had been highly unpopular among the farmers of southwestern Ukraine and the Bolsheviks had not yet managed to properly establish control over the area and neutralize the various paramilitary organizations which had formed there. Once news of the Allied offensive became known rebel activity intensified[2]. The rebels would sabotage the Bolsheviks' transport lines and provide the Allies with valuable intelligence which doubtlessly contributed to their successful drive towards Odessa. The second factor was Romania's decision to become involved as a co-belligerent. While Romania did not openly co-operate with the Allies and halted after capturing a relatively small area on the eastern bank of the Dniester this nevertheless accelerated the Red Army's withdrawal from the region. Most significant of all was the Allied capture of Kiev in late May. But the attempts to advance farther east would be halted near Chernykhiv and before Poltava. The failure to capture more Ukraininan territories to the east of the Dnepr was partly because the planned attack from Homiel had been anticipated and prepared for. Even as the Allies advanced upon Kiev from the west their forces operating out of the southeastern corner of Lithuania were quickly repulsed and eventually pushed back to the Dnepr.

But while events in the south were going well the campaign in the north was less than successful. In hindsight it is easy to see that many of the same factors which had led to the sorry failure of the Bolshevik march towards Poland (and Germany) in 1919 now worked in the Red Army's favour. The Polish Army was now much stronger than it had been a year before. But supporting any kind of offensive across such a distance was a challenge. And not being fools the Bolsheviks had anticipated the possibility of an attack on Smolensk and had made every effort to prepare for it. The Red Army's morale also came into play. For the present Allied attacks were aimed not at the former Russian Empire's periphery but against the key cities of Smolensk and Kiev. This caused many Russians (including former Whites[3]) to join the Red Army.

The Smolensk Campaign would therefore be remembered as one of Piłsudski's greatest errors. Indeed the dispute as to who was to blame for the sorry affair continues to inflame historical debate to this day. Some place the blame on the shoulders of Piłsudski's protege Edward Rydz-Śmigły who had devised and commanded the attack. Others believe that the attack was planned about as well it could have been with the limited forces and resources at Rydz-Śmigły's disposal and that the blame for ordering an impossible attack lay with the Commander-in-chief who was of course Piłsudski. Regardless of who was or was not to blame the attack was certainly a failure. The Poles were soon forced to retreat with heavy casualties and a major offensive by the Red Army commanded by General Tukhachevsky was launched almost at once. An attack from the north against a particularly demoralized Belarusian unit led to the capture of Vitebsk and in early June the Poles had begun to withdraw all their forces towards the Berezina where they hoped to establish a new defensive line.

As the armies in the north were hurrying back to the Berezina before they could be outflanked Piłsudski was overseeing a new offensive east of Kiev. It is not clear why he did not at first react to the news coming from the north. It may be that Rydz-Śmigły had tried to conceal the magnitude of the defeat. But it is also possible that the audacious Piłsudski had hoped to quickly advance northward to force the Red Army to redeploy forces to meet him effectively nullifying their victory at Smolensk. But if that was his plan it was too ambitious. In any case the northward offensive was decisively halted near Chernigov and the Allies would subsequently struggle to merely hold its limited gains in the area. The Allies' only unambiguous success in June was the continued advance to the southeast in the direction of the bend of the Dnepr. This was partly because the Whites under Wrangel had begun to launch their own counterattacks out of the Crimea and the Odessa area was becoming increasingly valuable. The Red Army would make a stand near the bend of the dnepr to the west of the city then called Ekaterinoslav. It is debated whether their defense of the area was a genuine attempt to turn the tide or just a holding action meant to allow an orderly withdrawal beyond the Dnepr. If it had been the second case it was a definite success. The Red Army had ceded some more land but managed to evacuate the Odessa area effectively and to hold up the logistically stretched Allied advance without any major casualties. In July the Allies would finally establish their line across the Dnepr. But by then it was clear that any farther advance was out of the question. In fact the Red Army's successful holding actions against Wrangel's forces were the only reason that the Allies had achieved that to begin with.

In July the Allied situation in the north would deteriorate still farther. The withdrawal to the Berezina had been successful and for a time it seemed that the Red Army would be successfully held along that river. But after several attempts Tukhachevsky successfully conducted a pincer attack which crossed the Berezina to the north and south of Borisov surrounding and capturing the city. Since it had been a significant logistical hub its loss did not just mean the breaking of the seemingly defensible frontline but also the loss of considerable equipment and supplies. The battle of the Berezina was one of the bloodiest of the entire war and while the Red Army's casualties were much higher the crossing of the Berezina put the Allies' entire northern front into disarray. What had hitherto been a methodical and well-organized defense turned into a retreat along a wide section of the front. And this time there had been no victories on the southern front to compensate for this.

Three months into the war the results were ambiguous and indecisive. In Ukraine the Allies had won a major victory and achieved most of their objectives. The front along the Dnepr and east of Kiev had held and seemed stable. But in the north they had not just failed to conquer their objective but had been thrown far back to the west. But redeploying considerable forces from the south seemed unacceptable. Even with things the way they were it took all the Allies' available strength to hold the parts of Ukraine under their control. Redeploying troops from the strained southern front could greatly increase the danger of a defeat similar to the one which happened in the north. As long as western Lithuania still held redeploying major forces to the north did not seem worth it if it were to mean a retreat in the south. The fall of Minsk also caused a subtle but potentially very consequential change in the public opinion in Kaunas. The efforts at building Lithuania into a state of its own were just about tolerated by the population and the Entente were beginning to show signs of accepting such an arrangement. But one more defeat now had the potential to cancel all those careful efforts out[4]. If things went badly this gamble could have meant the collapse and fall of Lithuania and a direct threat to the core of Poland.[5]

The decisive moments of the campaign of 1920 were approaching.

[1] Due to the two divergences (the shorter Polish-Ukrainian war and the successful coup in Lithuania) the Allies have a few advantages which Poland and Ukraine did not enjoy in OTL. Taken alone none of these is really significant but together they give a significant boost. The most important of these are:
-The Allies have Liteuvan forces on their side. They aren't very numerous or well equipped and their morale is questionable. But they are still there together with the Liteuvan territories which provide the allies with food and logistical support.
-In the north the Allied armies are deployed on the eastern bank of the Dnepr instead of the western bank of the Berezina. It's just about their logistical limit but they have still established logistical links across Belarus. The Red Army's counterattack will start from a point considerably farther to the east than its summer offensive of OTL's 1920 did.
-This timeline's Ukraine is stronger and more cohesive than Petlura's forces were in our timeline. It also has a somewhat better reputation which might help it in its nation-building and recruitment in any parts of central Ukraine which the Allies might capture

[2] There was similar unrest in our timeline in 1920 but due to their failure to approach the centres of the unrest this ultimately did not mean much to the Allies.

[3] As in OTL

[4] This arrangement is slightly similar to a proposal from our timeline which formed in different circumstances which is known as the Hymans Plan. That plan was formulated in 1921 an attempt to resolve the Polish-Lithuanian dispute by creating a loose confederation between Poland and Lithuania. The Entente were open to the idea of a Polish-Lithuanian union and a number of European politicians actually viewed it as something natural. While the Lithuanians of our timeline would of course not finally endorse it they actually went so far as to consider it a preliminary basis for negotiations showing that a limited readiness to consider a union existed among Lithuanian politicians as well.

[5] The effects of the many minor advantages listed before are now seen. Instead of falling back both in the north and in the south as in our timeline there is still a severe crisis in the north but the southern section of the front is just about holding out although its situation is precarious.
Last edited:
The Grand Finale

The fall of Minsk seemed to confirm that the back of the Allied war effort in the north had been broken. But this was not the case. Rydz-Śmigły might have failed to win the Battle of Smolensk and to hold the Berezina. But he had achieved one notable success. Throughout those ordeals most of the Allied armies had been preserved and in early August Rydz-Śmigły (in consultation with Piłsudski who would soon shift his entire attention to the northern front) had managed to organize the successful re-grouping of the Allied forces at Vilna and Nowogródek. This risky move was completed just on time and by the middle of August the Allies once again had a fairly cohesive frontline. It was now fesible to defend Vilna with a force comparable to the units of the Red Army which were approaching the Lithuanian capital.

The authorship of the subsequent Allied plans has been hotly debated. It is true that Rydz-Śmigły would directly command the operation which would finally halt Tukhachevsky's seemingly inexorable advance. But while he was involved in the details of the organization of the Vilya Counterattack and would later claim to have devised it this was almost certainly not the case. While insufficient data exists to confirm it but it appears that the author of the concept of focusing on a flanking attack from the south rather than a simpler maneouver was in fact General Rozwadowski. But Piłsudski's detractors cannot completely deny his role. For as the commander in chief he was by necessity the one to decide which of the many proposed plans was to be endorsed.

Although the plan was a clever one it was not foolproof. And it might still have failed and resulted in the defeat of the crucial forces making the counterattack if not for two entirely separate factors. The first one was the Allied codebreakers' successful breaking of the enemy codes. By contrast the second factor was psychological. After having advanced five hundred kilometres in as many weeks Mikhail Tukhachevsky quite simply began to feel overconfident. He did not anticipate the possibility of a counterattack on the scale which he in fact encountered. Perhaps it was the closeness and importance of Vilna that led him to take the risk and to ignore the first reports of the counterattack on his left flank.

But despite that moment of weakness Tukhachevsky was on the whole a competent commander. He soon realized that continuing the attack on Vilna could result in the encirclement and destruction of his army which was precisely what the Allies had hoped for. But while they had denied him Vilna he would deny them total victory. Despite his best efforts several tens of thousands of men could not escape and left much valuable equipment behind. But while he found himself forced to retreat beyond the Berezina he had managed to preserve the core of his strength just as the Poles had done in their own retreat. The Allied gamble had paid off and the crisis on the northern front had been mitigated. But the Allied forces were still far west of where they had stood in May. The northern campaign had not been decided.[1]

But although the Battle of Vilna was easily the most famous one of the entire war it was not the largest nor was it probably even the decisive one. That dubious honor goes to the series of battles fought to the east of Kiev. Had Kiev not been a major logistical hub and had the Ukrainian government not made at least some progress in winning over the population the Allies would have failed. But as it was they managed to deploy the men and supplies necessary to fight the Red Army on equal terms. From July to the beginning of September both sides would attempt to launch several offensives to break the stalemate. But unlike so many other campaigns of the post-Revolutionary wars neither side succeeded in turning the tide. A number of bloodly battles were fought but at no point could any side capitalize on that victory before the other managed to gather such reserves as to prevent any meaningful advance to be made. The most static front of the war was also the bloodiest one.

Even as Bolshevik forces once again retreated from Minsk beyond the Berezina and back towards the Dnepr preparations were made for a new offensive meant to end that stalemate. If the Red Army could managed to break the stalemate and turn the fighting on the southern front into a mobile war the Allies would find themselves in a difficult situation. By this time it had become clear in Moscow that a total victory (the conquest of Warsaw which would finally enable the Red Army to push into Germany) no longer seemed realistic. But obtaining a peace involving the elimination of capitalist Ukraine seemed to be a realistic goal. Perhaps it might have even been achieved under different circumstances. But as it was the focus on the gathering of sufficient forces east of Kiev allowed another factor to gain prominence again.

Throughout June and July the Red Army had successfully held southern Ukraine east of the Dnepr defeating incursions from Crimea and ensuring that no Allied crossing of the Dnepr could be viable. But in August a particularly determined White push succeeded in advancing a considerable distance to the north. To make matters worse Wrangel had a better understanding of his weak position than Denikin had and had indicated a certain willingness to co-operate with the Allies including Ukraine. It was the ambiguous but not entirely dismissive comments from Warsaw which would make the Bolsheviks reconsider their objectives. While they were ready to spill rivers of Russian blood to attain world conquest they were only willing to do it when that goal looked realistic.

The Bolsheviks still had some strong cards to play. They had halted the Allied offensive in the north and were still in posession of a sizable chunk of Lithuania. In Ukraine they had shown that they could fight the Allies on equal terms. And they intended to use their negotiating power to finalize at least the one of their objectives which was most pressing. The Allied-Bolshevik armstice would see the frontline in central Ukraine become the eventual border. This was less than the Allies had hoped to achieve but nevertheless represented a gain. In the north the Bolsheviks were to gradually withdraw back to the 1772 Lithuanian border. But this would come at a price. For in order to obtain those terms the Allies would formally recognize the Bolsheviks as the sole legal government of Russia. This of course meant the disavowal of any and all assistance to the Whites and the recognition of the Bolshevik conquest of southeastern Ukraine and Crimea.

This move would later be widely criticized. Not only did it annoy the Entente but it also put an effective end to the Russian Civil War. To the historians who believe that at that point a chance still existed to prevent the Bolshevik domination of Russia this was a catastrophe. But on the other hand the former Russian Empire had been at war for six years. Whether the Allied populations would have supported a long period of continued fighting is less than certain. And others point out that a victorious White Russia might have in the long run turned out to be little better than the Reds.

But whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter the years of war had finally ended. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which just ten years ago had seemed a historical memory as dead as the Roman Empire had been restored. Together with Ukraine the Allies (who would later form the core of the Intermarian Pact) had demonstrated that they were a force to be reckoned with. It seemed to many that this epilogue to the war to end all wars was finally over and that the world was ready for a new and more peaceful age.

And for twenty entire years the average European may well have thought that this new age had arrived...

[1] Yes the Battle of Vilna is largely a copy of the OTL Battle of Warsaw. But the conditions were also rather similar. In both cases the Red Army could not have advanced so far and so quickly and still properly consolidated its advance. A very similar set of commanders was present here and in the analogous battle of our timeline. And it seems resonable to assume that following comparable victories as in our timeline Tukhachevsky would be similarly overconfident to the point of carelessness. Note that in our timeline the Battle of Warsaw did not suddenly cripple the Red Army. It would be the subsequent Polish counteroffensive and the Battle of the Neman which would decisively break the Bolshevik front and force the Red Army to retreat beyond Minsk once again.
Last edited:
And here are the 1921 international borders suprimposed over the OTL ones. (The Commonwealth is considered a confederation and so Poland and Lithuania are marked as separate entities. Ukraine is entirely outside the confederal framework although it has close military and economic ties strengthened by the existence of a pro-Polish lobby in the form of the relatively wealthy and influential Polish minority). The wikipedia map did not show all of south Ukraine. Beyond the edge of the map the Ukrainian border continues along the Dnepr. Ukraine has Odessa but does not have Crimea.

The thick blue line represents the frontline at the beginning of the campaigns of 1920. The thin blue line represents the frontline as it existed at the same time in our timeline.


  • 1921.png
    470.6 KB · Views: 135
Last edited:
Those of you who got through the walls of text can now enjoy the maps. For full immersion you can also check out the original versions (which include a handful of oddities since the PoD predates the grammatical reforms of the 1930s).


It was anticipated that not all of the new Lithuania's inhabitants would be content with the new state of affairs. Perhaps the most vexing issue (whose realization would give rise to the very concept of Lithuanization as a conscious effort of promoting an ecompassing Lithuanian identity with precedence over the ethnic or national identities of the nations constituting it) was the fact that despite being descended from the same people who had created the first incarnation of the Lithuanian state and even given it its name it was the Liteuvans who were the most hostile to it. That they showed any tolerance for the new state of affairs at all may have been partly due to the decent rate of economic growth in that decade. The growth was largely made possible by the fact that Poland-Lithuania was a common market which also shared close economic ties with Ukraine. Thus the territories of central Poland and Ukraine and Lithuania continued to function as part of the same economic unit as they had in 1914 which made it a bit easier to handle the shock of the war and its aftermath. Had that fairly large area from Gdansk to Odessa and from Minsk to Krakow been farther subdivided it might have caused the individual components to fare much worse. The and the successful agrarian reform in the Kaunas District improved the life of the average Liteuvan farmer and the fact that this had been allowed to happen despite the influence of the Polonized nobility seemed to be a sign that this new union was not entirely intolerable. And despite the influence of various groups of interest supported by Poland the architecture of the Lithuanian Federation granted the Kaunas District sufficient room for democratic self-governance to limit the popularity of the most radical separatists. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the Lithuanian police (supported by Polish intelligence) would actively restrain radical separatism. But this also made it difficult to estimate the scale of discontent.

Perhaps the relative prosperity of the post-war period and the active suppression of separatism might have won the Liteuvans over fairly quickly if not for the fact that Poland was often able to cause Lithuania to adopt policies which disproportionately favored it. A patronizing attitude common to politicians of stronger and wealthier countries would make it difficult for a number of politicians in Warsaw to truly understand the situation which led to unnecessary disputes. The Commonwealth's future would largely depend on those politicians' ability to restrain themselves and show sufficient respect for Lithuania's economic interests. As long as Piłsudski remained influential he could be expected to use his influence to limit any such efforts. But neither was he immortal nor did he hold any permanent official post.

The situation became more complex with the emergence and growth of the Liteuvan Realist movement. It had been long known that Poland's National Democrats did not consider the Kaunas area to be an integral part of Poland. As long as mainstream Liteuvan nationalists called for the formation of a Liteuvan state with a capital in the predominantly Polish Vilna the dispute between Polish and Liteuvan nationalists was intractable. But the new Lithuanian Realist movement which gained popularity in the aftermath of the depression was more prepared to renounce Vilna if only the entire territory which presently formed the Kaunas District could secede and have complete freedom in Liteuvanizing the population. If the National Democrats could somehow weaken Piłsudski's behind-the-scenes influence and the Realists could manage to fully displace the other Liteuvan movements the grounds could actually emerge for an almost amicable divorce of the Lithuanian peoples whom Piłsudski had made it his life's work to join. At that time the National Democrats were skeptical of the idea of assimilating an ethnically non-Polish region the size of the Minsk District despite its lack of strong nationalistic sentiments in the majority of the population the area might under such conditions be expected to have been spun off as a separate Belarusian Republic finishing the destruction of Lithuania. Towards the end of this life this possibility was one of Piłsudski's main concerns.

Lithuanization appeared to be somewhat more successful in the Minsk District. Unlike the Liteuvans the East Slavic Lithuanians or Litovins had no strong separatist sentiments. This is not to say that they shared the view of the average Litvin (or Polish Lithuanian) that the Commonwealth represented a return to the right and proper state of affairs. But they were closer to being a blank slate. This was particularly true in one aspect. The Tsarist educational reforms initiated at the dawn of the century had not had enough time to take hold properly and as of 1920 the vast majority of the population were illiterate. Poland would exploit this to influence the situation in its own favor. And so standard Belarusian would be written in the Latin script as opposed to the Cyrillic script used by the remaining East Slavs. And in a number of aspects it would eventually turn out to be suspiciously closer to the Polish language than the dialects which people actually spoke were. But peoples' minds are notoriously difficult to properly control. Whether this and other efforts at building a Lithuanian identity among the Minsk Distric's Litovins would succeed remained entirely unclear.

And then there was the fourth major people of Lithuania: the Jews. The average politically involved Jew was at best rather indifferent to the new state. It was definitely an improvement over Tsarist Russia but Jewish nationalism mostly embraced the Zionist movement of forming a Jewish state. Lithuania was obviously not one. A second obstacle to the Lithuanization of Jews was of an economic nature. Until the late 19th century society had been largely static. But as modernity arrived it was accompanied by a wave of villagers seeking social advancement in the new conditions. Due to the specific conditions which had formed in the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a number of financial and artisanal professions had been dominated by Jews. The mass influx of non-Jewish competition caused national and class conflicts to merge into one. To the Gentiles it was Jews who had monopolized entire avenues of life and kept doing whatever they could to keep the Gentiles down and continue to exploit them. To the Jews the intensifying competition was definite proof of the eternal hatered which all Gentiles bore them. It was a dispute without an easy solution.

And yet despite all this Lithuania would continue to exist relatively peacefully. Germany was demilitarized. The World State had been (temporarily) discouraged from expansion. And Poland's nationalists found the economic union and the separation of the Vilna District into a culturally Polish region to constitute a situation acceptable enough to keep from rocking the boat and trying to dissolve the Union. At least not for now.
Last edited: