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(pronounced [ˈɛdvard ˈrɨdz ˈɕmigwɨ])
before 1922 Edward Rydz, since 1922 Edward
Śmigły-Rydz (help·info) (March 11, 1886 –
December 2, 1941); nom de guerre Śmigły, Tarłowski, Adam
Zawisza) was a Marshal of Poland, Polish political figure, Commander-in-Chief of Poland's armed
forces, and a painter and
poet. After many earlier successes as an army commander during the
Polish-Soviet War, Rydz succeeded Józef
Piłsudski as General Inspector of
the Armed Forces in 1935, following Piłsudski's death. He
served in that capacity during the Invasion of Poland, which marked the
beginning of World War
Edward Rydz was born in the village of Łapszyn near Berezhany, Galicia, Austria-Hungary. He
was the son of a professional NCO in the Austro-Hungarian Army, Tomasz Rydz, and
Maria Babiak. The family endured rather humble circumstances and he
was orphaned at the age of 13 years. He was then raised by his
maternal grandparents and, after their deaths, by the family of Dr.
Uranowicz, the town physician at Brzeżany. After graduating with
distinction at the local Gymnasium Rydz went to Kraków where he completed
studies in philosophy and history of art at the Jagiellonian University. He
then studied to be a painter at the arts academy in
Kraków, and later in Vienna
and Munich. In 1910-1911 he
attended the reserve officers' academy in Vienna, and received
military training at the famous Austrian 4th Infantry Regiment "Deutschmeister" (so called after Archduke Eugene, a cousin of
Emperor Franz Joseph I, who was Grand Master of the
He finished his military education with distinction and was
offered a commission in the Imperial Army, which he declined. In
1912 Rydz was one of the founders of the Polish paramilitary
organisation Riflemen's Association
(Związek Strzelecki). At the same time he completed his
art studies. He was regarded as a very promising talent in
landscape and portrait painting, and praised by his professors and
critics, who foresaw a great future for him.
Edward Rydz-Śmigły, Winter Landscape
(oil on canvas,
Drafted into the Austrian Army in July 1914, Rydz was
transferred in August to the Polish Legions and fought
in World War I in
the famous Polish 1st Brigade of Piłsudski. He took part in many battles
against the Russians in the
region of Southern Vistula,
and rose quickly in rank. By 1916, he was already a full colonel. However he did not
forget his art and exhibited his work at a gallery in Kraków. In
1917, after refusing to swear an oath to the Austrian and German
authorities, the Legions were disbanded, their soldiers interned and Piłsudski
imprisoned in Magdeburg
fortress. By Piłsudski's appointment, Rydz (who escaped prison on
the grounds of bad health) became commander of Polish
Military Organization (POW) and adopted the nom
de guerre Śmigły (Fast or Agile),
which he later added as an integral part to his surname.
In October 1918 Rydz entered the socialist government of Ignacy
Daszyński in Lublin as
Minister of War. Having been promoted to brigadier general (the equivalent one-star
general in the Polish army), he emphasised that he had accepted the
office as a deputee of Piłsudski. It was at this time he began
using the double-barrelled name of Rydz-Śmigły. On November 11,
1918 the Government relinquished all power to Piłsudski, who became
Provisional Head of State. After some hesitation, Piłsudski (who
was displeased by Rydz-Śmigły's cooperation with the socialists -
he himself "having left the streetcar of Socialism at the stop
called Independence") confirmed him as a brigadier.
During the Polish-Soviet War
(1919 – 1921), Rydz commanded Polish armies in several offensives.
Among the victorious engagements, he captured Wilno and Dünaburg. After that, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Latvian armed forces, and liberated Livonia from Red Army oppression.
Subsequently, he completely annihilated the Red Army's 12th
Division and took Kiev. He then
commanded the Central Front of Polish forces during the Battle of Warsaw, known as the
Miracle on the Vistula. In this decisive battle, Polish
commander Józef Piłsudski outwitted the Soviet
commander Mikhail Tukhachevsky.
Rydz-Śmigły's Central Front held against the Soviet attack, and later
blocked the escape routes for the defeated 4th and 15th Armies and
the 3rd Cavalry Corps of Soviet General Gayk Bzhishkyan, which had to fly
ungloriously to East
Prussia, where they were interned by the Germans.
Man in the State
After the 1919-21 war he was appointed the Inspector-General of
the Polish Army in the Vilna district and later in Warsaw. In 1926,
during Piłsudski's coup d'état (the May Coup), he took the Marshal's side and sent
troops from Wilno to reinforce anti-government troops in Warsaw.
Piłsudski never forgot this fidelity and in 1929 Rydz was appointed
as the Marshal's deputy on all matters concerning the East. On May
13, 1935, following Piłsudski's death, Rydz was nominated by the
president and the government of Poland to serve in the capacity of
the Inspector-General of the Polish Armed
Forces (the highest Polish military office). This was done in
accordance with Piłsudski's wishes. Piłsudski's death saw his
followers (the Sanacja), divide themselves into three main
factions: those supporting President Ignacy
Mościcki as Piłsudski's successor, those supporting Rydz, and
those supporting prime minister Walery Sławek. With a view to eliminating
Slawek from the game, Mościcki concuded a power-sharing agreement
with Rydz-Śmigły, which saw Slawek marginalised as a serious
political player by the end of the year. As a result of this
agreement, Rydz-Śmigły was to become the de facto leader of Poland,
until the outbreak of the war, whilst Mościcki remained influential
through continuing in the highest office of president. From 1935,
Rydz saw himself rapidly elevated in rank and position. On the 15
July 1936 he was officially awarded the title of "Second Man in the
State after the President", by the Polish prime minister. On
November 10, he was promoted to the rank of Marshal of Poland.
Rydz's image as Piłsudski's anointed successor was popularized by
Zjednoczenia Narodowego movement, but alienated many of
Piłsudski's supporters, offended by what they saw as Rydz's acts of
General Rydz-Śmigły (wearing cape
and French General Maurice Gamelin
(left), Warsaw, August
The period of Rydz's rule, 1935-39, was often referred to as "a
dictatorship without a dictator". Rydz lacked the moral authority
of Piłsudski, and the piłsudskites were bitterly divided after
1935. The ruling regime was divided between the Mościski faction
(known as the 'president's men' or the 'castle group'), made up
mainly of civilians, and Rydz's group, known as the 'Marshal's
Men', made up mostly of old comrades of Piłsudski and professional
officers. Besides these two major groups, were the supporters of
Slawek and other disgruntled piłsudskite groups, which were
deprived of influence following the Rydz-Mościcki pact.
The regime became increasingly authoritarian and conservative. This
was exemplified by the creation of the Obóz
Zjednoczenia Narodowego (Ozon) movement. Ozon never achieved
its goal of developing into a popular mass movement, and
transforming Rydz into "Poland's second great leader" (after
Piłsudski himself). Several of Poland's powerful politicians,
including foreign minister, Józef Beck, and Mościcki himself, made a
point of distancing themselves from this movement.
In March 1939, Hitler occupied Bohemia and Moravia and created the satellite client-state of Slovakia. This encircled Poland with an iron
ring on all sides except the east. Rydz was the only member of the
government who clearly saw the impending danger of a conflict with
Germany. However, time remaining was too short for the creation of
completely new Polish operation plans in the west. During
negotiations in Moscow during
August 1939, Rydz refused all attempts by the Western Powers to
obtain Polish permission for the Red Army to march westward,
stating: "there is no guarantee that the Soviets will really
take active part in the war; furthermore, once having entered
Polish territory, they will never leave it".
On 1 September 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland, Śmigły-Rydz was
named Commander-in-Chief of Polish forces. On 7 September, along
with most of the government, he evacuated Warsaw as it came under
attack. Soon afterwards, Polish coordination began to suffer from
communications problems, which impaired Rydz's ability to command
the forces. In Brest (Brześć) on 11 September he
ordered that the Polish capital be defended at all costs. In his
plan, Warsaw and the nearby Modlin Fortress were to become two
redoubt citadels in central Poland, fighting on for months, while
the bulk of Polish forces were to defend the Romanian bridgehead and await the
counterattack promised by Poland's French and British allies.
Unknown to Śmigły-Rydz, the Western Allies had
no such plans and expected Poland's fall. His plan was further
crippled when Soviet forces attacked Poland from the east on 17
September. Realizing that defence against both neighbours was
impossible, Śmigły-Rydz issued orders for Polish forces to retreat
towards Romania and avoid fighting the Soviet aggressors.
After avoiding capture by Soviet and German troops, on September
18, 1939 Śmigły-Rydz, escaped to Romania and was interned. The
Polish government's crossing into Romania prevented Poland from
having to officially surrender, and allowed Polish soldiers to carry on fighting
against Nazi Germany, though Rydz's flight sparked some
controversy, considering his position as supreme commander of the
armed forces. Large numbers of Polish soldiers and airmen escaped
into southern Europe and regrouped in France, and after her
surrender, in Britain.
Śmigły-Rydz, as the Commander-in-Chief of Polish Armed Forces,
took complete responsibility for Poland's military defeat in
September 1939. Rydz was an extremely able Commander on smaller
fronts, but was not an experienced strategist in a great conflict.
In 1922, in an evaluation of Polish generals, Piłsudski had written
about him: "in operational work he displays healthy common
sense and a lot of stubborn energy. I could recommend him to
everybody as a commander of an army, I am however not sure if he
possesses sufficient abilities to function as commander-in-chief in
a war between two states."
During his internment in Romania, Śmigły-Rydz initiated the
creation of the Polish underground.
This was based on officers who were loyal to the memory of
Piłsudski. Still in Romania, on October 27, he relinquished his
function as the Commander-in-Chief and Inspector-General of the
Armed Forces. This role was assumed by Władysław Sikorski, who was serving
in the new Polish
government in exile in France (and after 1940 in the United
Kingdom). Śmigły-Rydz was transferred from the internment camp to
the villa of a former Romanian prime minister in Dragoslavele, from
where he escaped on 10 December 1940 and crossed illegally into
His flight to Hungary and rumours about his planned return to
Poland were a source of considerable displeasure to his rival
Sikorski, now Prime Minister. Sikorski had been in opposition to
Śmigły-Rydz and Piłsudski from the time of the 1926 May Coup.
Sikorski declared in a telegram to General Stefan Grot-Rowecki, leader of the Armia Krajowa (AK)
underground resistance in Poland: "the Polish Government will
regard a sojourn of the Marshal in Poland as a sabotage of
its work in the country. The Marshal must as soon as possible move
to some country of the British Empire". However
Śmigły-Rydz left Hungary on October 25, 1941, and travelling
through Slovakia reached Poland. On October 30, in strict secrecy,
Śmigły came back to Warsaw to participate in the resistance
movement as a common underground soldier, thus voluntarily
suspending his rank as Marshal of Poland. He managed to contact
Grot-Rowecki, but remained incognito. He died suddenly of heart
failure on December 2, 1941, only five weeks after his arrival in
Warsaw. He was buried in Warsaw under his alias "Adam Zawisza".
His tombstone at the Powązki Cemetery bore that name until
1991. A new tombstone was erected by the people of Warsaw in
The Marshal's grave in Warsaw.
Rydz was married to Marta Zaleska, née Thomas, the
couple was childless.
Order of the White Eagle,
Commander and Knight of Virtuti Militari, Grand Cross, Grand
Officer and Officer of Order of Polonia Restituta,
four times Cross of the
Valiant, Golden Cross of Merit (Złoty
Krzyż Zasługi), and Cross of Independence with
Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of
Romania, Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown of
Italy, Grand Cross, Grand Officer and Commander of the French
Order of the Legion of Honour, Grand Officer of the
Finnish Order of the
White Rose, Grand Cross of the Order of the White Eagle (Yugoslavia) and
Order of Saint Sava of Yugoslavia, Grand
Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit, Grand Cross of the Japanese
Order of the Rising Sun, Knight
of Latvia's highest military award, Lāčplēsis Military Order, (the Order of the Bearslayer), Pulaski Medal
(USA) and Italian Cross of Military Merit.
Rydz was Honorary Doctor of the Universities of Warsaw and Vilnius (at that time in
Poland) and Warsaw University of
Technology and Honorary Citizen of various Polish cities.
Edward Rydz-Śmigły's reputation after World War II was mixed. In
communist Poland and the Soviet Union, he was
decried for his participation in the Polish-Soviet War
in 1920, and the political repression under his military government
of the late 1930s. In the West, due to the influence of
anti-Piłsudski circles with Władysław Sikorski as their foremost
representative, he was seen as having fled from the battlefield in
1939, with little recognition given to the circumstances of
Poland's defeat by the Germans and Soviets.
Edward Rydz, Old Church in Zakopane
(oil painting, undated).
- On military tactics and theory
- Walka na bagnety (Bayonet Fight), Lwów
- W sprawie polskiej doktryny (Poland's Military
Doctrine), Warsaw 1924;
- Kawaleria w osłonie (Cavalry in protection of
troops), Warsaw 1925;
- Byście o sile nie zapomnieli -Rozkazy, Artykuły, Mowy
(Do not forget the Might - Orders, Articles and Speeches),
- Wojna polsko-niemiecka (The Polish-German
War), Budapest 1941.
- Dążąc do końca swoich dróg (Toward My Path's
End), Paris, 1947; London, 1989.
- Paintings and Graphics
- Illustrations to Piłsudski's book 22 January 1863,
- Contributions to Art Exhibitions in Kraków (1916) and Warsaw
(1917). Most of his paintings are irretrievably lost.
Coat of arms of Ryc
- Cepnik, Kazimierz Wódz Naczelny i Marszałek Polski Edward
Śmigły-Rydz, Życie i Czyny, Lwów, 1937.
- Eckert,Marian. Historia polityczna Polski lat
1918-1939. Warszawa, 1989.
- Jabłonowski, Marek,i Stawecki, Piotr. Następca komendanta.
Edward Śmigły-Rydz. Materiały do biografii. Pułtusk,1998
- Jędruszczak,Hanna, and Tadeusz Jędruszczak. Ostatnie lata
Drugiej Rzeczypospolitej (1935-1939), Warszawa, 1970.
- Kaden-Bandrowski,Juliusz. Piłsudczycy, (The
Piłsudskiites), Oświęcim, 1916;
- Mirowicz, Ryszard. Edward Rydz-Śmigły: działalność wojskowa
i polityczna, Warszawa, 1988.
- Pepłoński,Andrzej Wywiad a dyplomacja II
Rzeczypospolitej, Toruń, 2004.
- Piłsudski,Józef. Pisma zbiorowe, Warszawa: 1937.
- Seidner, Stanley S., "The Camp of National Unity: An Experiment
in Domestic Consolidation," The Polish Review vol. xx, nos. 2-3,
1975, pp. 231–236.
- Seidner,Stanley S., "Reflections from Rumania and Beyond:
Marshal Śmigły-Rydz Rydz in Exile," The Polish Review vol. xxii,
no. 2, 1977, pp. 29–51.
- Seidner, Stanley S. Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz Rydz and the
Defense of Poland, New York, 1978.
- Serwatka, Tomasz. "Edward Rydz-Śmigły," Gazeta:Historia
mało znana,(January) 2007,
- Stachiewicz, Wacław. Wierności dochować żołnierskiej,
- Zaremba, Paweł. Historia Dwudziestolecia 1918 - 1939,
(A History of the Twenty Years, 1918 - 1939), 2 vols., Paris,