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Poland Table of Contents


Postwar Consolidation

The noncommunist Home Army officially disbanded in January 1945, and the course of the war left the eastern front armies in control of all Polish territory. In the immediate postwar era, the army took second place to Poland's new internal security forces in purging political opponents and consolidating communist power. This purging process lasted until the formation of the Polish United Workers' Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza--PZPR) in 1948 (see Consolidation of Communist Power , ch. 1).

Unlike other important institutions, the army did not suffer wholesale purges of its noncommunist elements in the immediate postwar period. Communists controlled the top ranks and leadership positions, however, and political commissars installed in military units taught communist party principles to regular soldiers and ensured their loyalty to the party. Many wartime political officers played a significant role in the indoctrination process and based glittering civilian careers on their contributions to the building of the communist state.

In the late 1940s, the main roles of the military were resettlement of Poland's newly acquired western territory, helping in economic reconstruction, and waging a three-year civil war against former Home Army supporters, Ukrainian nationalists, and various outlaw bands in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Some 70,000 people were arrested by internal security and military authorities in the repression of civil uprisings between 1945 and 1948. In 1981 General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who later would head the last communist government, cited the threat that such uprisings would recur in his rationale for imposing martial law in Poland.

The sociological composition of Poland's army changed dramatically after World War II. The interwar officer corps had come mostly from the gentry and professional classes. By 1949, however, only 29 percent of Polish officers had begun service before the war, and peasants and workers were favored highly in postwar officer training programs. From 1948 through 1953, in keeping with Stalin's intrusive totalitarian influence throughout Eastern Europe, the PZPR and the Soviet Army exercised increasing influence in Polish military affairs. Soviet officers headed the Polish General Staff, all service branches, and all military districts during this period. A Soviet general, Konstantin Rokossovskii, served as minister of defense of Poland between 1949 and 1956. His first assignment was to purge the Polish armed forces of remaining prewar personnel who were considered ideologically unreliable. Accordingly, between 1950 and 1955, many faithful communist officers were imprisoned or executed. In 1949, as the Cold War set in, the Polish People's Army (as it was renamed after World War II) went on a war footing, conscription was reinstituted, and preparations were made to operate as part of the Soviet army in a future European land war.

The ravages of World War II somewhat eroded society's faith in the Polish military's ability to defend the country. Postwar politicization caused a further decline in the military's stature and a parallel decline in military morale and organization. Soviet army officers in close cooperation with the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti--KGB) occupied all key commands until 1956. This command structure bypassed Polish communist authorities often and openly in making military policy.

Data as of October 1992