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Józef Piłsudski with Supreme Command of Polish Military Organisation in 1917

Polish Military Organisation, PMO (Polish language: Polska Organizacja Wojskowa , POW) was a secret military organization created by Józef Piłsudski in August 1914, and officially named in November 1914, during World War I. Its tasks were to gather intelligence and sabotage the enemies of the Polish people. It was used by Piłsudski to create a body independent from his cautious Austro-Hungarian supporters, and it was an important, if somewhat lesser known, counterpart to the Polish Legions. Its targets included the Russian Empire in the early phase of the war, and the German Empire later. Its membership rose from a few hundred members in 1914 to over 30,000 in 1918.


Intelligence and training

The Polish Military Organization (PMO) can be traced to formations of August 1914 or even earlier, but it was officially founded in November 1914, as a merger of two previously-existing youth para-military organisations: the Drużyny Strzeleckie and the Związek Strzelecki. Active in the Russian-held Kingdom of Poland, the PMO served as the intelligence and sabotage arm of Piłsudski's Polish Legions. In fact, many members of the illegal and secret PMO were at the same time soldiers of the Austrian-backed Polish Legions. The PMO was commanded militarily by Piłsudski himself, while the political command was a secret "A" Convent headed by Jędrzej Moraczewski.

Initially active only in Central Poland, with time the PMO units were formed in all parts of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including modern day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. It was mainly preoccupied with intelligence and sabotage, as well as military training of its members and acquisition of arms from various armies fighting on Polish soil. The PMO members were seen as the core of the future Polish Army after Poland regains her independence. After most of Poland became occupied by the Central Powers in 1915, the PMO became semi-legal and unofficially supported by the German army, which saw it as a useful source of information on Russia and a useful reservoir of skilled officers. However, in July 1917, after the Oath Crisis in the Polish Legions and the arrest of Piłsudski, the PMO returned to the underground and started covert operations against German and Austrian garrisons and supply lines. In place of Piłsudski, who was sent to a German prison in the fortress in Magdeburg, the commander of the PMO became his friend, Edward Rydz-Śmigły, also future Marshal of Poland.

Sabotage and open fight

With the collapse of the Central Powers during the final stages of the Great War, the PMO command decided to take an active part in the war and the organisation went out in the open. In October and November 1918 the revolutions in Germany and Austria-Hungary made the Ober Ost army collapse. The German units were struck by mass desertions of soldiers who simply left their posts and headed for their homes. The main tasks of the PMO during this period was to disarm the withdrawing soldiers and escort them to Germany. The campaign was successful and gave the new-born Polish state a large quantity of arms and military equipment. By mid-November, most of garrisons in Galicia surrendered to PMO members and the region became controlled by Poland. The PMO members continued the disarming actions in the former Congress Kingdom as well. Finally, the PMO was the core of Polish defences of the city of Lwów in the Battle of Lwów against the attacking forces of the West Ukrainian People's Republic (roughly 400 members in the initial phase of the struggle). In December 1918, the members of the PMO were all conscripted into the newly-reborn Polish Army.

Later struggles

Contrary to the rest of units, the PMO in the Ukraine (most notably the areas controlled by both the Western Ukrainian government and the areas controlled by the Kiev-based Directorate and Hetmanate) remained active after the Polish withdrawal from Kiev in July 1920. In February 1918, a similar organisation was formed in the German-held Greater Poland. It was modelled after the original PMO and maintained contacts with her predecessor. It assumed the name of Polish Military Organisation of the Prussian Partition and its main aim was to liberate the region and attach it to Poland. The members of the PMO became the core of the Greater Polish Army during the Greater Poland Uprising of 1918-1919. After the uprising succeeded, the PMO members were also drafted into the Polish Army, together with other military units fighting in the Uprising. In February 1919 the PMO was also formed in Upper Silesia. It had similar tasks to its Greater Polish counterpart and became the core of the Silesian Uprisings of 1919-1921. Afterwards the members of the PMO members were either demobilised or integrated into the Polish Army or the Polish Intelligence Services.

Vs. Lithuania

In Lithuania, the PMO was organizing a secret plot to overthrow the legal government of Lithuania and replace it with one more friendly towards Poland. The plot was planned to occur in August 1919, but it was uncovered by the Lithuanian State Security Department, and mass arrests followed, thus eliminating the possibility of a coup d'état.[1][2] From the documents stolen in POW headquoters safe in Vilnius and given to Prime Minister of Lithuania Augustinas Voldemaras it is clear, that this plot was directed by Józef Piłsudski himself.[3] A PMO-led uprising did occur in the Sejny region, at the time controlled by Lithuanian forces, and led to Polish forces gaining control of that disputed territory.

Influence in Soviet Union

Although the PMO was disbanded in 1921, Soviet authorities claimed that it continued to exist; during the Great Purge of 1936-38,[4] and as early as 1933,[5] many people of Polish nationality were charged with membership in it, which was illegal, see Genocide of Poles in the Soviet Union (1937–1938) for the circumstances, and NKVD Order No. 00485 in particular.


See also

  • Polish Military Organization of the Upper Silesia


  1. Juozas, Rainys (1936). P.O.W. : (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa) Lietuvoje. Kaunas: Spaudos fondas. p. 184. 
  2. Julius, Būtėnas; Mečys Mackevičius (1995). Mykolas Sleževičius: advokatas ir politikas. Vilnius: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla. p. 263. ISBN 9986-413-31-1. 
  3. Lesčius, Vytautas (2004). Lietuvos kariuomenė nepriklausomybės kovose 1918-1920. Vilnius: Vilnius University, Generolo Jono Žemaičio Lietuvos karo akademija. p. 269. ISBN 9955-423-23-4. 
  4. Wojciech Materski, Katyn: A Crime Without Punishment (Yale University Press, 2007: ISBN 0-300-10851-6), p. 417.
  5. Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (Cornell University Press, 2001: ISBN 0-8014-8677-7), p. 328.

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