March on Inowroclaw

The insurgents formulated their plans to expand the uprising in the direction of Inowrocław. A force of 100 men – led by Second Lieutenant Pawel Cyms, set off from Gniezo on 1 January 1919. They were joined by a force of 50 local volunteers, led by Władysław Wlekliński, with Cyms retaining overall command.

After briefly stopping at Mogilno they moved on to Strzelno where they clashed with the Germans stationed there, driving them off, with the insurgents then taking control of the town. Here, the insurgents received further reinforcements from the local population.

On the night of 2/3 January, the uprising experience more success with the town of Kruszwica liberating itself and disarming local German units. The town of Wronowy was also cleared of Germans and by 5 January, the whole area was under Polish control, with the insurgent forces now concentrated in Kruszwica.

The following day, Polish reinforcement arrived the 1st Battalion of the 31st Infantry Regiment from Włocławek, commanded by Captain Michał Zabdyr: 370 men organised into two infantry companies, one machine gun platoon and a communication and medical team. Zabdyr had acted on his own initiative in bringing his forces, stirred into patriotic action by the outbreak (and success) of the uprising.

March on Inowrocław, 1-6 January 1919.

Orders to halt

Meanwhile, Pawel Cyms was ordered by the Supreme People’s Council to cease any hostilities due to ongoing negotiations with the Germans. This unpopular directive was ultimately ignored by the insurgents who instead elected to march on Inowrocław on 5th January.

Waiting for them was the German 140th Infantry Regiment, commanded by a Major Grollmann. It was dug in and prepared for a Polish assault – expecting it in fact, due to a German negotiator being taken prisoner by Cyms rather than being allowed to return.

Polish Plans

Cyms now commanded a force of approximately 900 insurgents, brave and willing to fight but irregularly equipped and low on ammunition – some with less than 20 bullets. Nonetheless, they planned to seize the railway station - to prevent any German retreat or attempt to reinforce them - capture the barracks, and then the entire city. Success for the Poles was far from guaranteed – they were going against official instructions and facing a well-prepared enemy - but German reconnaissance was lacking which helped their chances of success.

Polish order of battle

Cyms organised his forces as follows:

Group I: Commanded by Captain Michał Zabdyr.


  • 1st Company of the 31 Infantry regiment– 120 insurgents
  • Witkowo unit: Commander: Stanisław Połczyński, 50 insurgents
  • Miłosław unit: Commander: Stanisław Pluciński, 30 insurgents
  • Kruszwica company: Commander Ignacy Nowak, 120 insurgents
  • Strzelno company: Commander Stefan Różnowicz, 100 insurgents

420 soldiers in total, armed with rifles, shotguns and 2 heavy machine guns.

Their orders were to attack from the south of Inowroclaw, capture the artillery barracks, eastern outskirts of city, the city centre itself and finally the infantry barracks.

Group II: Commanded by Second Lieutenant Paweł Cyms.


  • 2nd Company of the 31 Infantry Regiment - 120 insurgents
  • Gniezno-Września Company: Commander: Mieczysław Słabęcki,90 insurgents
  • Trzemeszno unit: Commander: Władysław Wlekliński, 50 insurgents
  • Młyny unit: Commander: Józef Owczarski, 90 insurgents
  • Mogilno unit: Commander: Stanisław Roloff, 50 insurgents

400 soldiers in total, armed with rifles, 3 heavy machine guns and 3 light machine guns.

They were ordered to focus on the salt works area in the west of the city, capture the railway station and then link up with 300 insurgents from Mogilno (Commander: Izydor Włodarek) and Barcin (Comander: Aleksander Jakubowski), and attack the barracks of the 140th Infantry regiment.

Additionally, a Polish cavalry unit commanded by Stanisław Chełmicki, was dispatched to Jaksice to destroy the railway lines located there.

Activities of insurgent units in Inowrocław, 5 January 1919

The Polish assault

At 4 in the morning of 5 January, the Polish insurgents advanced, quickly gaining control of the downtown area and attempting to assault the barracks of the 140th infantry regiment and the post office building. The Germans responded with accurate gunfire which repelled the insurgent’s attack. Elsewhere, the railway station had been captured as planned but the Germans counterattacked quickly recapturing it, capturing several insurgents, and forcing the rest of them back.  

However, despite initial German successes, they had no received reinforcements – the Poles had managed to sever the railway connection between Złotniki and Jaksice as planned, and realising no help was coming, Major Grollman entered into negotiations with the insurgents.

By noon, the fighting had stopped, with the Germans still in possession of the railway station and barracks. Additional Polish reinforcements arrived – 500 insurgents from Mogilno, Barcin and Pakość – and with these additional numbers, the Poles were able to increasingly surround and block the German positions, blunting any attempt at German counterattacks and further reducing the possibility of any reinforcements reaching them.

The negotiations initially struck an agreement between the Poles and Germans to split the city into an eastern Polish part and western German part, but Pawel Cyms cancelled this and instead organised a formal ceasefire and allowed the Germans to instead leave the city with their weapons. On 6 January 1919 the city was officially declared liberated.


The Poles suffered 47 dead and 120 wounded – with 6 civilians also killed during the conflict. The Germans fared better – suffering only 14 dead but sacrificed much of their equipment which the Poles gladly collected – several machine guns, 1550 rifles and revolvers, 4 cars, 3000 uniform kits and a large stock of ammunition and hand grenades.

Although the Poles displayed their usual bravery and determination and struck a blow to the Germans, the assault itself did not fit in with the overall Polish strategic aims at the time.

Insurgents bodies being collected at the Polish-German border.


With the hindsight of history, it is interesting to assess the actions of Cyms and his officers. One the one hand, there was the flagrant ignoring of Polish orders while on the other, the bold and aggressive actions which led to victory. Polish losses were high – particularly when put into the context of the uprising itself, where casualties were generally lower – but were they justified given the outcome?

The Supreme People’s Council were focussed on the bigger picture – the uprising across the whole of the region – whereas Cyms was acting at a localised level. It is unsurprising therefore, that their aims may not have aligned with each other’s.

Furthermore, Cym’s aggressive actions proved popular amongst the Poles. As a commander he made some errors during the fighting: Not committing his 31st Infantry Regiment who were held in reserve; rather than directing operations from a central command post, he instead led a strike group which prevented him from maintaining control of their entire operation. The decision was made to attack the Germans despite the Poles being ill-equipped for such a task, with a lack of ammunition being a major issue.

Yet Cym’s also displayed courage and aggression – a willingness to take the fight to the enemy, despite conditions not being ideal. In the end, it was the attitude of the Poles which won through in the end, along with facing an enemy who – although on paper better prepared and equipped for the battle – displayed less enthusiasm for fully committing to it.

A group of insurgents from Inowrocław.

State Archives in Bydgoszcz

Overall, the liberation of Inowrocław can be judged as a success for the Polish insurgents, as much due to their ability to overcome any shortcomings, as it was for the result of the battle.

Further reading


Institute of National Remembrance Maps – source materials:

1) Cartography*:

Atlas ziem polskich, tom I, Wielkie Księstwo Poznańskie, Zygmunt Światopełk Słupski, Poznań 1911.

Wielkie Księstwo Poznańskie, 1 300 000, pod red. Józefa Górskiego, Poznań 1919.

Posen, 1 : 10 000, Pharus, Berlin 1911.

Plan miasta Poznania, 1 : 15 000, pod kier. Eugeniusza Romera, Lwów 1922.

Mapa Szczegółowa Polski, 1 : 25 000, WIG, Warszawa 1920 – 1929.

Mapa Taktyczna Polski, 1 : 100 000, WIG, Warszawa 1924 – 1939.

Messtischblatt, 1 : 25 000, Königlich Preussische Landesaufnahme, Berlin 1889 – 1919.

2) Bibliography**:

Powstanie Wielkopolskie 1919, Bogusław Polak, Warszawa 2015.

Śladami Powstania Wielkopolskiego, Paweł Anders., Poznań 2008.

Encyklopedia Powstania Wielkopolskiego, pod red. Janusza Karwata i Marka Rezlera, Poznań 2018.

Ziemia gnieźnieńska w Powstaniu Wielkopolskim 1918/1919, Janusz Karwat, Poznań 2018.

Bój o Szubin, Włodzimierz Lewandowski, Aleksander Załęski, Poznań 1937.

Gemeindelexikon fur die Regierungsbezirke Allenstein, Danzig, Marienwerder, Posen, Bromberg und Oppeln, Verlag des Koniglichen Statistischen Landesamts, Berlin 1912.