Battle of Kostiuchnówka

Battle of Kostiuchnówka

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Kostiuchnówka

caption=Polish Legionnaires at Kostiuchnowka
partof=Brusilov Offensive of the (First World War)
date=4–6 July 1916
place=Kostiuchnówka (Kostyukhnivka)
combatant2=flag|Russian Empire
commander1=Józef Piłsudski
strength2=13,000 or more

The Battle of Kostiuchnówka took place from 4 to 6 July 1916, near Kostiuchnówka (Kostyukhnivka) village and the Styr River, in the Volhynia region (modern Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire). It was a major clash between the Russian Army and the Polish Legions (part of the Austro-Hungarian Army) in the opening phase of the Brusilov Offensive.

Polish forces, numbering between 5,500–7,300, faced Russian forces numbering over half of the XVLI Corps of 26,000. The Polish forces were eventually forced to retreat, but delayed the Russians long enough for the other Austro-Hungarian units in the area to retreat in an organized manner. Polish casualties were approximately 2,000 fatalities and wounded.


In World War I, the partitioners of Poland fought each other, with the German Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire aligned against the Russian Empire. Polish Legions in Austro-Hungary were created by Józef Piłsudski in order to exploit these divisions, serving as one of his primary tools for restoring Polish independence.Bohdan Urbankowski - "Józef Piłsudski: marzyciel i strateg", Wydawnictwo ALFA, Warsaw, 1997, ISBN 83-7001-914-5, p. 155-165 (rozdział IV Legiony, podrozdział I 'Dzieje idei') (Polish)]

The Polish Legions first arrived in the vicinity of Kostiuchnówka during the advance of the Central Powers in the summer/autumn of 1915, taking Kostiuchnówka on 27 September 1915."Bitwa...", p.5] That autumn they experienced heavy fighting, with each side trying to take control of the region; Polish forces held Kostiuchnówka, and due to their successes in defending their positions, several landmarks in the Kostiuchnówka region became known as "Polish" (called such by Polish as well as by allied German-speaking troops): a key hill overlooking the area became the Polish Hill (Polish: "Polska Góra"), a nearby forest – the Polish Forest ("Polski Lasek"), a nearby bridge over the Garbach – the Polish Bridge ("Polski Mostek"), and the key fortified trench line – Piłsudski's Redoubt ("Reduta Piłsudskiego"). During late autumn, winter and spring no one saw any major moves by either sides, but this changed drastically with the launching of the Brusilov Offensive in June 1916.

Opposing forces

Facing major Russian offensive, II Brigade of the Polish Legions was deployed out of Kostiuchnówka, at Gruziatyn and Hołzula."Bitwa...", p.6] The I Brigade held the lines advancing down the Polish Hill, Kostiuchnówka village; the III Brigade, positioned to its left, held the lines near the Optowa village; the Piłsudski's Redoubt was the most advanced Polish position, just about convert|50|m|ft|0 facing head on the most advanced Russian redoubt, called the "Eagle's Nest". Further down the Polish Hill the Hungarian 128st Honvédség Brigade took positions on the Polish right flank, the Hungarian 11th Cavalry Division on left flank. Two fall-back lines were drawn beyond the first line of defense: one drawn through the Polish Forest and the Engineer's Forest, and the second one through the villages of Nowe Kukle, Nowy Jastków, Legionowo (where Polish HQ was located) and Nowa Rarańcza. The Polish Legions at Kostiuchnówka numbered from 5,500Polish Ministry of Defence] to 7,300 (6,500 infantry and 800 cavalry), with forty-nine machine guns, fifteen mortars and twenty-six artillery units. The Russian forces, composed of the most part of the XLVI Corps (primarily the 110th and 77nd Infantry Division), numbered 23,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry and were backed up by a larger artillery force consisting of 120 units.

The battle

Starting on 6 June, a major Russian push was directed on Kostiuchnówka, with the aim of taking the position and advancing towards Kovel. With Polish legionnaires staying put and holding the ground, more Russian reinforcements were thrown in, while the battle of Kostiuchnówka had become one of the major struggles in the area during WWI. Polish forces launched a counterattack, pushing back the Russians – who had not expected such a bold move – on the night of 8 and 9 June.

The major Russian push came on 4 July, after a major artillery pre-emptive assault."Bitwa...", p.7] The advancing Russian infantry, numbering around 10,000, faced about 1,000 Polish troops in the front lines (the rest were held in reserve), but the Russians were stopped by heavy machine gun fire and forced to retreat. The Hungarian forces at Polish Hill were pushed back, however, and the Russians advancing on the Poles' right flank, threatened to take the high ground of the area."Bitwa...", p.8] A counterattack by the Poles was not successful; as the Hungarian units were retreating, the Polish forces sustained very heavy losses and had to fall back either to the remaining part of the first defense line or, in the area of Polish Hill, to the second line. Another Polish counterattack, launched during the night of 4 to 5 July, was also beaten back. Throughout the day, the Russian offensive managed to push the Polish forces farther back; although the Poles managed to temporarily retake Polish Hill, lack of support from the Hungarian forces once again tipped the battle towards the Russians, and even German reinforcements – deployed after Piłsudski sent a report to the army's headquarters about the possibility of a Russian breakthrough – failed to turn the tide away."Bitwa...", p.10] Eventually, on 6 July, the Russian offensive forced the Central Powers' armies to retreat along the entire frontline; Polish forces were among the last to retreat, having sustained approximately ~2,000 casualties during the battle.


Brusilov's offensive had been stopped only in August 1916, with reinforcements from the Western Front. Despite being forced to retreat, the performance of the Polish forces impressed Austro-Hungarian and German commanders, and contributed to their decision to recreate some form of Polish statehood in order to boost the recruitment of Polish troops."Bitwa...", p.12] Their limited concessions, however, did not satisfy Piłsudski; in the aftermath of the Oath Crisis, he was arrested and the Legions disbanded.

Józef Piłsudski, leader of the Legions and future dictator of Poland, took part in the battle, and his presence there became a theme of a painting by Leopold Gottlieb, then also a soldier of the Legions, as well as of a canvas by Stefan Gerwatowski. During the Second Polish Republic, several monuments and a mound were raised nearby to commemorate the battle. A 16 m mound with a stone obelisk and a museum with two additional obelisks were raised during the years 1928–1933;Sobczak] a military cemetery was also built. They fell into disrepair during the rule of the Soviet Union (which often purposefully tried to erase traces of Polish history – the mound was for example lowered by 10 m). In recent years restoration work has taken place through various Polish-Ukrainian projects, with notable projects carried out by Polish boy scouts.

The battle is considered the largest and most vicious of those involving the Polish Legions in World War I.



*pl icon "Bitwa pod Kostiuchnówką", Zwycięstwa Oręża Polskiego Nr 16. Rzeczpospolita and Mówią Wieki. Various authors and editors. 17 June 2006
*pl icon [ 90. rocznica bitwy pod Kostiuchnówką] 90th anniversary of the battle on the pages of Polish Ministry of Defence
*pl icon Jerzy Sobczak, [ Kopce na ziemiach kresowych] , Magazyn Wileński 2003/3

Further reading

*pl icon Stanisław Czerep, "Kostiuchnówka 1916", Bellona, Warszawa, 1994, ISBN 8311082979
*pl icon "Szlakiem Józefa Piłsudskiego 1914-1939", Warszawa, nakł. Spółki Wydawniczej "Ra", 1939 (reported to have several photos from the battle of Kostiuchnówka)

External links

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