Borkowo : Umpire's Briefing

Once the whole Soviet division turns up the Poles effectively have no chance, so the Soviet player should not be given reinforcements until it is clear that his attack is beaten, if it is beaten. The arrival of the second brigade is a useful way of ending the scenario if it is heading to a stalemate. I would anticipate the reserve artillery being sent first.

It is important that the players follow their orders and press the enemy: the mindset of both parties at this time was extremely offensive, at least from a strategic viewpoint. The Soviet player should not be allowed sit still on the assumption that the rest of his division will come to his aid – it might never come. Once the Polish player sees that he is out-numbered it seems quite reasonable to expect him to adopt a more defensive posture, if he wants (not that this is necessarily an advantage).


The players start with the historical maps of the area, and should be fed the accurate topographical one only as they arrive to observe in person.

The whole area here is particularly flat, except where it dips into a river or stream. If you calculate the "slopes" you will see that even these are hardly steep, mostly being less than 2%. I made a point of driving through this area when I was in Poland. See the terrain notes that I wrote.

The Wkra River at Borkowo is 50 metres wide in a basically dry valley. It is slow, shallow and sandy bottomed. Therefore it is easily crossed everywhere by cavalry, is not a major obstacle to infantry and can even be forded by artillery if care is taken in choosing the correct spot. The bridge at Borkowo is wooden and can be easily destroyed.

On the map:

Historical Notes

General Sikorski had been ordered to attack with all his forces on 14 August, but the reorganisation of his forces left them both unequipped for the task and in the wrong positions. Nevertheless he issued the order of the day cited in the Polish briefing (and a less broadly published one threatening dire retribution on any officers who did not do their duty) and ordered those units in suitable position to attack around midday. The results were not uniformly good, as he states in his book:

"Without waiting for the arrival of the 18th IB, Colonel Rumsza started to attack at the prescribed time; he directed one Siberian regiment from Zawady towards Nowe Miasto and the other from Borkowo towards Nasielsk. The excessive confidence shown by separating the columns, and the delay of the units which were to co-operate with the Siberian Brigade were regrettable. The result was not long in coming. The Russians riposted with an energetic counter-attack, which initially the Siberian Brigade was able to hold off. Its 1st Regiment threw back the Russian units which attacked the Borkowo bridgehead, while the 2nd Regiment even crossed the Wkra at Zawady.

But at 1800 the entire Soviet 11th Division concentrically attacked the positions of the 1st Regiment on the left bank of the Wkra. This regiment suffered heavy losses, particularly in officers and NCOs; it was not able to continue the unequal fight and that night evacuated its bridgehead. Its retirement delivered Borkowo to the Soviet 11th Division which took from us a battery and numerous prisoners. Zawady fell in its turn. The Siberian Brigade, one regiment beaten and the other gravely weakened, had to retire on Wrony–Josefowo."

According to Sikorski's book, the Siberian Brigade in mid-August had somewhere in the vicinity of 47 officers, 2,850 bayonets, 190 sabres, 23 MGs, 8 field guns. Because recruitment was taking place at such a rapid rate these figures may be slightly too high: but if they reflect the strength after the abortive attacks of the 15th they may be too low. In any case they will be good enough for our purposes.

The Soviet strengths are even more dubious. Kakurin and Melikov quote the Soviet 11th Rifle Division as having 5,639 infantry, 200 cavalry, 6, 656 "total" combatants, 12,187 "eaters"; 127 MGs, 17 guns and 2,977 horses on 1 August. Sikorski has a footnote in his book about these figures: "This work is too optimistic in the matter of 'effectives' of rationaires. The Bolshevik divisions on our front never reached such a high ratio of combatants to rationaires. On the contrary, the proportion of combatants to rationaires was less satisfactory in the Soviet Army than in the Polish Army."; Since this acts to diminish the overall Polish victory, by making it clear that there were far less Soviet soldiers than the bare numbers tend to suggest, I give his note some credence. Oddly, Tukhachevski's work on the campaign quotes the 11th RD as only having 2,211 rifles and 35 sabres at the end of May, but somehow reaching 5,411 rifles and 207 sabres by 4 July. In any event a large number of men in most of the Soviet units were dispatched to gather supplies and to guard their extended supply line.

My decision to give the Soviets only two brigades is essentially arbitrary – although not uncommon practice at the time. Another possibility is that they had the official three brigades but each only had two regiments, which gives the same number of battalions but slightly more flexibility for the Soviet player, especially in a Kriegspiel game. If you favour much higher tactical factors for the Poles than the Soviets, then the Soviets can be given two of these smaller brigades to help cancel this. I'm not sure how a unit can over double in size during a long campaign other than by taking in a whole bunch of recruits so I have plumped for a couple of large but quite green brigades. Alternatively the Soviets might be represented by a smaller more experienced set of units, with the recruits perhaps deemed to be mainly guarding the rear.

It seems, since the decisive attack at Borkowo did not occur until 1800, that the Soviet reinforcements took quite some time to reach the battlefield. I have assumed that they were expecting an attack on Nasielsk from further south, as had been ordered by Sikorski, but by mid-afternoon they would suspect that none was coming. In fact it did come late in the day from the 18th Infantry Brigade, forcing the Soviets to redeploy to defend from the south. Fighting went on into the night, which prevented a follow-up of the beaten Siberian Brigade.

Perhaps also it took some time for the Soviets to contact their Army HQ to clear a redeployment – communications were a major problem for the Soviet Armies in this area, and divisions often completely lost contact with higher levels. The Poles seem to have had good communication between HQs but like most armies of the Pygmy Wars nothing at lower levels other than riders on a good horse.

Neither side can expect any outside assistance, and the Soviets can't even really expect timely knowledge of what is happening on the rest of the front because of their communication difficulties. The Soviet 16th Rifle Division was in Nowe Miasto, so it and the other Siberian regiment was kept busy and neither had any chance of coming to the aid of their fellows. The Poles in Modlin spent the day organising a division out of various component parts (hence their lateness to attack Nasielsk as ordered). The Soviets to the south (the 5th RD) seem to have been heading, slowly, for Modlin.

During this war both sides transported their infantry on locally requisitioned carts as much as possible, though I have no way of knowing if the units at Borkowo did so. In a game this might not make much difference in speed but it would greatly reduce the fatigue on the men, at the cost of making all transport have to go by road. The carts would have to cross major water features at road crossings.

The railway line is of no particular value. The Poles had smashed their lines as they retreated, denying the Soviets effective use in this area (in any case, I believe the Soviet armoured trains used another gauge). The Poles main armour and air assets were either in the south or guarding Warsaw – Sikorski had some armoured cars and trains but not, as far as I know, in this area.