Polish Thermopylae

Dear fellow countryman living in Emigration, maybe you have already forgotten the Polish language, maybe nobody wanted to teach you … and maybe you didn’t want to know the history of your fathers and grandparents Homeland. Find a moment and read about those steadfasts who gave their lives to make YOU A FREE MAN!


The Polish Thermopylae is a name used to refer to several battles in Polish history. The Polish Thermopylae is a reference to the Battle of Thermopylae, where a Spartan force showed great courage despite being greatly outnumbered by the enemy.

Famous last stands dubbed „the Polish Thermopylae”:

Battle of Hodow (1694) – a battle between the Polish and Tartar armies. The hussars contributed to the victory of the Polish army despite being vastly outnumbered (around 40 000 Tartars against 400 Poles).

Battle of Wegrów (3 February 1863) – this battle was part of the January Uprising (Polish: powstanie styczniowe) and it inspired Auguste Barbier, a French poet, to write a poem entitled “Atak pod Węgrowem” (The Charge at Węgrów), in which he compared the attack of the Polish scythemen troops on Russian cannon to the heroic deeds of the ancient Spartiates. The comparison soon became popular in Europe, leading to a wave of popular support for the Polish cause. Barbier was not the only poet to compare the Poles to Spartans; similar references are contained in poems such as “Vanitas” (by Cyprian Kamil Norwid) or “Bój pod Węgrowem” (Maria Konopnicka).

Battle of Zadwórze (17 August 1920) – part of the Polish-Sowiet War, during which a Polish army battalion consisting of the Lwów Eaglets (Polish: Orlęta Lwowskie) barred the way to Lwów preventing an advance of the 1st Cavalry Army commanded by Semyon Budyonny 318 of the 330 soldiers were killed, and some were taken prisoner. Captain Bolesław Zajączkowski, the battalion’s commander, committed suicide together with several of his soldiers, and was later nicknamed the ‘POLISH Leonidas’. The bodies of five identified officers were buried at the Cemetery of the Defenders of Lwow. The remaining ones were buried in a kurgan on the battlefield. The kurgan bears a memorial plaque which reads: “To the Lwów Eaglets, who fell protecting the entire borderland on 17 August of 1920.”

Battle of Dytiatyn was one of battles of the Polish-Sowiet War of 1919-1921 also referred to as the Polish Thermopylae (together with Battle of Zadwórze and Battle of Wizna. It took place on 16 September 1920 between units of the 8th Polish Field Artillery Regiment from Płock and the 8th Mounted Red Cossack Division of the Red Army near the village of Dytiatyn (now in Ukraine, northwest of Halicz). Battle is one of Polish Thermopylae. The Poles defended themselves on a grassy hill 383 m (1,257 ft) above sea level but after they ran out of ammunition they were massacred by some 3,500 Soviet mounted troops.

 The ‚Red Cossacks’ murdered 97 Poles and an additional number of wounded Poles were killed after the battle. Among the dead was the commandant of the regiment Colonel Władysław Domański. Altogether on that day some 240 Poles died. The 8th Mounted Red Cossack Division of the Red Army was destroyed a few days later near Tarnopol.  In the interbellum period, Polish military authorities established a cemetery and a monument to the massacred soldiers. It was completely destroyed after the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939.

Władysław Raginis - Wikipedia

Battle of Wizna (7–10 September 1939) – a battle fought during the September Campaign (Polish: Kampania Wrześniowa). These were 720 Polish soldiers under the command of Władysław Raginis who took a famous last stand against 42,200 German soldiers with 350 tanks, 457 mortars, cannon, grenade launchers and 600 Luftwaffe aircraft;

The ratio roughly works out to one Polish soldier per sixty Germans and one aircraft. Only a few Polish soldiers were taken into captivity, the rest were killed fighting to the end; the commanding officer kept his oath to die rather than surrender. When his soldiers ran out of ammunition, Raginis ordered his remaining men to surrender while he remained at the command post and committed suicide by detonating a hand grenade.

Lyrics for heroes

Baptized in fire
Forty to one

So silent before the storm
Awaiting command
A few has been chosen to stand
As one outnumbered by far
The orders from high command
Fight back, hold your ground!

In early September it came
A war unknown to the world
No army may enter that land
That is protected by polish hand
Unless you are forty to one
Your force will soon be undone

Baptized in fire
Forty to one
Spirit of Spartans
Death and glory
Soldiers of Poland
Second to none
Wrath of the Wehrmacht – brought to a halt

The 8th of September it starts
The rage of the REICH
A barrage of mortars and guns
Stand past, the bunkers will hold
The captain has pledged his life
I’ll face my fate here!
The sound of artillery strike
So fierce
The thunder of guns

So come, bring on all that you’ve got

They hadn’t reckoned on the heroic Captain Raginis and his equally heroic men
If that’s not a matter of huge Polish Pride then nothing is.

In Awe and Admiration
Rod Collins



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