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1926 - May Coup

Military dictatorship in Poland - Marshal Józef Piłsudski carries out a coup d'etat, removing the Polish President and Prime Minister and ushering in a period of military dictatorship

In 1920s Poland, Józef Piłsudski was a bona-fide national hero. He had forged the modern Polish Army during and after World War I and led it to the greatest victory in Polish history when he defeated the Red Army outside Warsaw in 1920. He was an influential figure who wielded significant clout in the politics of the country.


After the adoption of a democratic constitution in 1922 gave his support his friend and newly elected President Gabriel Narutowicz, who was assassinated just two days later. Stanisław Wojciechowski, another of Piłsudski’s old colleagues, was next elected president, and the marshal agreed to serve as chief of the general staff. When a right-wing government assumed power, Piłsudski resigned gradually from the functions he held and in 1923 went into retirement at Sulejówek, near Warsaw, with his wife and two daughters.  

Piłsudski however became disillusioned with the working of the parliamentary system. On May 12, 1926, during a time of political crisis and economic depression, he marched on Warsaw at the head of a few regiments. A brief outbreak of fighting resulted 215 soldiers and 164 civilians killed, and some 900 people wounded.  A strike by socialist railwaymen paralyzed communications and prevented pro-government military reinforcements from reaching Warsaw, and the government, in order to prevent the fighting in Warsaw engulfing the whole country, resigned two days later. 


The parliament elected Piłsudski president of the republic on May 31, but he refused the honour, and another of his old friends, Ignacy Mościcki, was elected instead. In the new government Piłsudski assumed the Ministry of Defense, which he held until his death. During the ensuing years he was the major influence behind the scenes in Poland, especially in the field of foreign policy.

A romantic revolutionary, a great soldier without formal military training, a man of rare audacity and willpower as well as great insight into European politics, Piłsudski was nevertheless poorly equipped to rule a modern state. He left Poland undeveloped economically and with an army that was ready to fight heroically but was doomed because of its composition and inadequate armament.



Further Reading  


Warfare History Network - Dream of the Polish Eagle

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