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The Blue Army (Polish: Błękitna Armia), or Haller's Army, was the Polish army formed in France in the latter stages of World War I. The names come from the troops' French blue uniforms and the army's commander, General Józef Haller de Hallenburg.

General Józef Haller before his troops

The army was created in June 1917 as part of Polish units allied with the Entente. After the Great War, the army was transferred to Poland, where it took part in renascent Poland's eastern conflicts. During the Polish-Ukrainian War, the Blue Army helped break the stalemate in Poland's favor. During the Polish-Bolshevik War, the Blue Army played a critical role in Poland's successful defense against Soviet forces.

During the fighting on the Ukrainian front, individual soldiers of the Blue Army were involved in antisemitic violence,[1][2] where political Jewish organizations found themselves sharing ideological platforms with Bolshevik Russia, as well as communist elements in Western Ukraine, and post war revolutionary Germany.[3]


Western Front

U.S. recruitment poster for Polish Army in France

Blue Army soldier

The first units were formed after the signing of a 1917 alliance by French President Raymond Poincaré and the Polish statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski. A majority of recruits were either Poles serving in the French army, or former prisoners of war from the German and Austro-Hungarian imperial armies (approximately 35,000 men). An additional 23,000 were Polish Americans. Other Poles flocked to the army from all over the world as well — these units included recruits from the former Russian Expeditionary Force in France and the Polish diaspora in Brazil (more than 300 men).

The army was initially under French political control and under the military command of General Louis Archinard. However, on February 23, 1918, political sovereignty was granted to the Polish National Committee and soon other Polish units were formed, most notably the 4th and 5th Rifle Divisions in Russia. On September 28 Russia formally signed an agreement with the Entente that accepted the Polish units in France as the only, independent, allied and co-belligerent Polish army. On October 4, 1918 the National Committee appointed General Józef Haller de Hallenburg as overall commander.

The first unit to enter combat on the Western Front was the 1st Rifle Regiment (1 pułk strzelców), fighting from July 1918 in Champagne and the Vosges mountains. By October the entire 1st Rifle Division joined the fight in the area of Rambervillers and Raon-l'Étape.

Transfer to Poland

The army continued to gather new recruits after the end of The Great War on November 11, 1918, many of them ethnic Poles who had been conscripted into the Austrian army and later taken prisoner by the Allies. By early 1919 it numbered 68,500 men, fully equipped by the French government. After being denied permission by the German government to enter Poland via the Baltic port city of Danzig (Gdańsk), transport was arranged via train. Between April and June of that year the units were transported together intact to a reborn Poland across Germany in sealed train cars. Weapons were secured in separate cars and kept under guard to appease German concerns about a foreign army traversing its territory. Immediately after its arrival the divisions were integrated into the overall Polish Army and transported to the fronts of the Polish-Ukrainian War, then being fought over control of eastern Galicia.

The perilous journey from France, through revolutionary Germany, into Poland, in the spring of 1919 has been documented by those who lived through it:

Captain Stanislaw I. Nastal

Preparations for the departure lasted for some time. The question of transit became a difficult and complicated problem. Finally after a long wait a decision was made and officially agreed upon between the Allies and Germany.

The first transports with the Blue Army set out in the first half of April 1919. Train after train tore along though Germany to the homeland, to Poland.[4]

Major Stefan Wyczolkowski

On 15 April 1919 the regiment began its trip to Poland from the Bayon railroad station in four transports, via Mainz, Erfurt, Leipzig, Kalisz, and Warsaw, and arrived in Poland, where it was quartered in individual battalions; in Chełm 1st Battalion, supernumerary company and command of the regiment; 3rd Battalion in Kowel; and the 2nd Battalion in Wlodzimierz.[5]

Major Stanislaw Bobrowski

On 13 April 1919 the regiment set out across Germany for Poland, to reinforce other units of the Polish army being created in the homeland amid battle, shielding with their youthful breasts the resurrected Poland.[6]

Major Jerzy Dabrowski

Finally on 18 April 1919 the regiment’s first transport set out for Poland. On 23 April 1919 the leading divisions of the 3rd Regiment of Polish Riflemen set foot on Polish soil, now free thanks to their own efforts.[7]

Lt. Wincenty Skarzynski

Weeks passed. April 1919 arrived – then plans were changed: it was decided irrevocably to transport our army to Gdańsk instead by trains, through Germany. Many officers came from Poland, among them Major Gorecki, to coordinate technical details with General Haller.[8]

After World War I

Polish FT-17 tanks during Battle of Daugavpils

Haller's Army changed the balance of power in Galicia and in Volhynia, and its arrival allowed the Poles to repel the Ukrainians and establish a demarcation line at the river Zbruch on May 14, 1919. Haller's army was well equipped by the Western allies and partially staffed with experienced French officers specifically in order to fight against the Bolsheviks and not the forces of the Western Ukrainian People's Republic. Despite this obligation, the Poles dispatched Haller's army against the Ukrainians rather than the Bolsheviks in order to break the stalemate in eastern Galicia. The allies sent several telegrams ordering the Poles to halt their offensive as using of the French-equipped army against the Ukrainian specifically contradicted the conditions of the French help, but these were ignored[9] with Poles claiming that "all Ukrainians were Bolsheviks or something close to it".[10]

In July 1919 the Army was transferred to the border with Germany in Silesia, where it prepared defences against any possible German invasion.

Haller's well trained and highly motivated troops, as well as their airplanes and excellent FT-17 tanks, formed part of the core of the Polish forces during the ensuing Polish-Bolshevik War.


File:Polish American vets of World War I.jpg

Polish-Americans who had fought in the Army during World War I, living in Detroit, Michigan. Image taken in 1955 and featured in Life Magazine

After the war, the Polish-American volunteers who served within Haller's Army were not recognized as veterans by either the American or Polish governments. This led to friction between the Polish community in the United States and the Polish government, and subsequent refusal by Polish Americans to again help the Polish cause militarily.[11]

The 15th Infantry Rifle Regiment of the Blue Army was the basis for the 49th Hutsul Rifle Regiment of the 11th Infantry Division (Poland).

As with most of the history related to the Polish-Soviet War, information on the Blue Army was censored, distorted and repressed by the Soviet Union during its communist oppression of the 1945–1989 People's Republic of Poland.


Although Poles hold the Blue Army in high regard for its successful effort in stopping the Bolshevik advance into Central Europe and securing Poland's unstable eastern border, many ethnic Ukrainians and Jews generally see its conduct during the war in a negative light.[12]

After their arrival in the east, Haller's troops engaged in acts of violence against the local Jewish population.[2] As a result of such actions, Jews perceived Haller's Army as particularly harmful.[13][14][15] In Częstochowa on 27 May 1919, a soldier by the name of Stanislaw Dziadecki who served in one of the Blue Army's rifle divisions, was shot and wounded while on patrol; a local Jewish tailor, who sympathized with the Bolshevik cause was suspected of committing the attack.[16] Later that day, Haller's troops aided by local Polish civilians conducted a three hour assault on the town's Jewish quarter that left 5 Jews dead and 45 wounded.[17] As the army traveled further east, Haller's soldiers in particular looted Jewish houses, pushed local Jews off moving trains, and with their bayonets cut off the beards of Orthodox Jews; the latter act was referred to by Haller's soldiers as "civilizing" the Jews.[13] Haller's army, along with the Poznań regiments, committed pogroms in Sambir, the area around Lviv, and Grodek Jagiellonski.[18] Among the worst offenders within Haller's army were the 23,000 Polish-American volunteers, who were relatively late in joining the campaign, and thus poorly disciplined. The soldiers and officers who targeted local Jewish, and Ukrainian civilians believed that they were acting in Poland's defense, assuming that the victims were collaborating with their enemies; either the Ukrainian Galician Army, Bolsheviks, or Lithuanians.[19] But, rightly or wrongly many of the civilians targeted were not hostile to the Polish military in any way.[20] It is likely that the cultural shock of finding themselves confronted with a multitude of unfamiliar ethnic, political, and religious groups that inhabited Western Ukraine led to a feeling of vulnerability, that in turn provoked the violent outbursts.[1]

In an effort to curb the abuses, General Józef Haller himself issued a proclamation demanding that his soldiers stop cutting off beards of Orthodox Jews,[21] and complained about the violent antisemitism of the Polish-American soldiers to the American envoy Hugh S. Gibson.[22] Also, in due course the individual soldiers involved in confirmed acts of antisemitism did receive punishment for their abusive actions. To counter the claims of alleged antisemitism that were being reported by the press; Polish Government officials, supported by their French allies, and the United States envoy to Poland Hugh S. Gibson, claimed that many of the alleged antisemitic tracts attributed to the Blue Army were in fact a product of willful disinformation based purely on hearsay and confabulation emanating from Russian and German government sources, in an effort to discredit the new Polish Government, and in the process weaken the much needed Allied support for the new Polish State. .[2] In cases when Polish sources couldn't deny the existence of anti-Jewish violence, they complained that Jews charged too much for food during food shortages, or claimed that the violence was "food riots" rather than pogroms, or blamed "German agents" for the violence.[17]

The Blue Army was mistakenly accused of committing the Lviv Pogrom of 1918. Historian William W. Hagen stated that after helping to capture Lviv, some army units together with Polish civilians, engaged in three days of violence against the Jewish and Ukrainian inhabitants of the city, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths .[23] But the army's participation in the pogrom is highly disputed, and according to the Cambridge History of Poland, when the Lviv Pogrom actually took place the Blue Army was still in France fighting on the Western Front. Also, it has been documented that the first units did not reach Poland until the spring of 1919, nearly five months after the actual pogrom had happened.[24] The Kronika Polski lists April 14th, 1919 as the start of the first transports form France to Poland,[25] and historian Kay Lundgreen-Nielsen stated that the first units of the army did not leave France until April 15th, 1919, its departure having been delayed by opposition from Britain and the United States.[26] Thus, requiring a special protocol before the Blue Army was allowed to return home to Poland.[27]

Despite examples of antisemitic behavior exhibited by some troops within the ranks of the Blue Army,[13][14][28] many Polish Jews enlisted and fought within its ranks. Some even received a commission and took up leadership positions. Jews serving in the Blue Army's 43rd Regiment of Eastern Frontier Riflemen were listed as combat fatalities, and historian Edward Goldstein has identified approximately 5% of the unit's battle casualties as having a Jewish background.[28]

From the Ukrainian perspective the army's arrival was a significant factor that that led to the eventual demise of the independent West Ukrainian People's Republic, and its ultimate incorporation into the new Second Polish Republic, thus crushing the local Ukrainian population's aspiration of an independent state of their own.[citation needed]

Order of battle

  • I Polish Corps
    • 1st Rifle Division
    • 2nd Rifle Division
    • 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment
  • II Polish Corps - formed in Russia
  • III Polish Corps
    • 3rd Rifle Division
    • 6th Rifle Division
    • 3rd Heavy Artillery Regiment
  • Independent Units
    • 7th Rifle Division
    • Training Division - cadre
    • 1st Tank Regiment

See also


  • M. B. Biskupski, "Canada and the Creation of a Polish Army, 1914-1918," Polish Review (1999) 44#3 pp 339–380
  • Joseph T. Hapak, "Selective service and Polish Army recruitment during World War I," Journal of American Ethnic History (1991) 10#4 pp 38–60[29]
  • Paul Valasek, Haller's Polish Army in France, Chicago, 2006


  1. 1.0 1.1 Julia Eichenberg (2010).The Dark Side of Independence: Paramilitary Violence in Ireland and Poland after the First World War Contemporary European history, 19, pp.231-248, Cambridge University Press
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Carole Fink. (2006).Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878-1938. Cambridge University Press, pg. 227
  3. Holly Case, Cornell University (6 September 2011). "Review of Carole Fink, Defending the Rights of Others" (PDF file, direct download 146 KB). H-Diplo Review (at) H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. Cambridge University Press, 2006. p. 4. Retrieved 2013-04-11. 
  4. The Blue Division, Stanislaw I. Nastal, Polish Army Veteran’s Association in America, Cleveland, Ohio 1922[page needed]
  5. Outline of the Wartime History of the 43rd regiment of the Eastern Frontier Riflemen, Major Stefan Wyczolkowski, Warsaw 1928[page needed]
  6. Outline of the Wartime History of the 44th Regiment of Eastern Frontier Riflemen, Major Stanislaw Bobrowski, Warsaw 1929[page needed]
  7. Outline of the Wartime History of the 45th Regiment of Eastern Frontier Infantry Riflemen, Major Jerzy Dabrowski, Warsaw 1928[page needed]
  8. The Polish Army in France in Light of the Facts, Wincenty Skarzynski, Warsaw 1929[page needed]
  9. Watt, R. (1979). Bitter Glory: Poland and its fate 1918-1939. New York: Simon and Schuster. [page needed]
  10. Subtelny, op. cit., p. 370
  11. Martin Conway, José Gotovitch. (2001).Europe in exile: European exile communities in Britain, 1940-1945. Berghahn Books pg. 191
  12. Antony Polonsky. (1990). My brother's keeper?: recent Polish debates on the Holocaust. Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies: Oxford, England. pg. 100.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Pavel Korzec. (1993). Polish-Jewish Relations During World War I. In Hostages of modernization: studies on modern antisemitism, 1870-1933/39, Volume 2 Herbert Strauss, Ed. Walter de Gruyter: pp.1034-1035
  14. 14.0 14.1 Heiko Haumann. (2002). A history of East European Jews Central European University Press, pg. 215
  15. Justyna Wozniakowska. (2002). Master's Thesis, Central European University Nationalism Studios Program CONFRONTING HISTORY, RESHAPING MEMORY: THE DEBATE ABOUT JEDWABNE IN THE POLISH PRESS pg. 22
  16. Marija Wakounig (28 November 2012). From Collective Memories to Intercultural Exchanges. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 196. ISBN 978-3-643-90287-0. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Carole Finke. (2006). Defending the Rights of Others The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878–1938. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pg. 230
  18. Alexander Victor Prusin(2005). Nationalizing a Borderland: War, Ethnicity, and Anti-Jewish Violence in East Galicia, 1914-1920. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, pg. 103. "Two Polish units - Poznań regiments and General Jozef Haller's Army - especially earned the reputation as notorious Jew baiters and staged brutal pogroms in Sambor, the Lwow district, and Grodek Jagiellonski."
  19. Joanna B. Michlic. (2006). Poland's threatening other: the image of the Jew from 1880 to the present . University of Nebraska Press, pg. 117
  20. Feigue Cieplinski. Poles and Jews: The Quest For Self-Determination 1919-1934. Binghampton Journal of History, University of Binghamptom. "The Polish Army, dressed proudly in blue uniforms, also dubbed “Hallerczy Boys” because of the name of its captain, fought valiantly and enlarged Polish territory. Josef Haller, an Austrian by birth and trained in France, had been allowed to form there the Polish army in exile and transfer it to Poland. However, Haller had also augmented his troops along the way with badly trained volunteers. Either by design or accident of war, the “Hallerczy Boys” had killed Jews not involved in the direct hostilities during these maneuvers; their neutrality was to no avail as many were accused of having sided with either the Russian or the Ukrainians"
  21. American Jewish Committee.(1920). American Jewish year book, Volume 22 . Jewish Publication Society of America pg. 250
  23. William W. Hagen. Murder in the East: German-Jewish Liberal Reactions to Anti-Jewish Violence in Poland and Other East European Lands, 1918–1920. Central European History, Volume 34, Number 1, 2001 , pp. 1-30. Page 8.
  24. William Fiddian Reddaway, The Cambridge history of Poland, Volume 2, pg. 477, Cambridge University Press, 1971.
  25. Andrzej Nowak, Kronika Polski, Kluszczynski Publishers, 1998[page needed]
  26. Kay Lundgreen-Nielsen, The Polish problem at the Paris Peace Conference: a study of the policies of the Great Powers and the Poles, 1918-1919, pg. 225, Odense University Press, 1979
  27. Manfred F. Boemeke, Gerald D. Feldman, Elisabeth Gläser, The Treaty of Versailles: a reassessment after 75 years, Volume 1919, pg. 324, Cambridge University Press, 1998
  28. 28.0 28.1 Goldstein, Edward. Jews in Haller's Army. The Galitzianer, the quarterly journal of Gesher Galicia, May 2002. Goldstein states: "Based on the evidence I have considered I conclude that: (1) individual Hallerczyki and probably units of Haller’s Army committed anti-Semitic atrocities while in Poland, and (2) thousands of Jews served in Haller’s Army. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Goldstein" defined multiple times with different content
  29. Stanley R. Pliska, "The 'Polish-American Army' 1917-1921," The Polish Review (1965) 10#1 pp 46-59.

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