Removing the wedge

Due to the failure of the Polish attack at the First Battle of Szubin, a ‘wedge’ of German forces remained in a strong position in the Żnin and Łabiszyn area and had the potential to cause further problems for the Poles. To counter this, the Poles prepared a counter-offensive in the north-eastern region or Greater Poland.

Lieutenant Mieczysław Paluch, head of staff of the Northern Front, created a plan which was authorised by Lieutenant Colonel Grudzielski and by Central Command. Its aims were to seize Żnin, Szubin, Łabiszyn and Złotniki Kujawskie, which would then eliminate the German threat in this area and prevent Wągrowiec, Gniezno and Inoworcław from being captured.

Żnin in the early 1900's.


Assault on Żnin

The capture of Żnin was the first stage of this operation, with the hope being an attack here would divert German forces to this area to defend it and leave the other objectives weakened and more vulnerable to capture by the insurgents.

The following units were allocated for the seizure of Żnin:

The Eastern Group, commanded by Marceli Cieślicki, composed of the following units:

  • Żnin-Gniezno unit, commanded by Marceli Cieślicki,
  • Mogilno unit, commanded by Stanisław Roloff,
  • A cavalry unit from Gniezno

In total there were 332 soldiers, and their focus was the town of Podgórzyn, which lies south-east of Żnin.


The Western Group was commanded by Jan Tomaszewski, and composed of:

  • A unit from Poznań, commanded by Józef Bogacki,
  • A unit from Juncewo, commanded by Stefan Kubiak),
  • Two units of volunteers from the Żnin region, commanded by Stefan Adamski and Wojciech Anioła.

This total force consisted of 737 soldiers and their target was Sarbinowo, west of Żnin.


Facing them were 300 German soldiers, armed with 6 light and 6 heavy machine guns as well as a couple of mortars and a single artillery piece. They were commanded by a Second Lieutenant Eckert.

Military action at Żnin, 11 January 1919.

Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919

The assault

On 11 January 1919, both Polish groups set off towards the German positions. Cieślicki, leading the Eastern group, divided his group into four parts and deploying them at the Żnin-Rydlewo crossroads, the railway track east of Rydlewo, to the northwest of the school in Podgórzyn, and at the edge of Góra. Once in place, the insurgents launched their attack but despite fierce fighting which inflicted casualties on the German defenders, they were unable to capture the town.

The Western group led by Tomaszewski, split into three groups which attacked along the Sarbinowo–Żnin road and the Żnin–Wieś–Żnin section, and moving north to secure the railway line to Bydgoszcz. However, this groups attempt to dislodge the Germans failed although on the night of the 11/12 January, the Germans – realising they were cut off with no reinforcements arriving, chose to withdraw.

With the Germans gone, the insurgents were able to capture Żnin, which had thus far in previous battles, had cost them 42 dead and 100 wounded.

Polish machine gun position on the Northern Front.

State Archives in Bydgoszcz


As with previous battles, it seems as much of a case of the Germans losing than the insurgents winning. As ever, the Poles displayed bravery and determination - a willingness to seek out and engage with the Germans, despite often lacking in training, experience and organisation. For their part, the Germans once again find themselves forced to withdraw - as much to do with their overall strategic situation leaving them exposed - rather than any direct failings on the battlefield.

On this occasion, the Polish objective was achieved via the encircling of the German positions rather than solely their attempts to dislodge them with direct assault.

Further reading



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.