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The Polish War, sometimes referred to as the Cook Coast War, was a war in North-East Australia between New South Wales and the Duchy of Warsaw that lasted from 1911 until 1915. The war began over the New South Welsh settlements of Rockhampton and Mackay that were apparently encroaching on Polish possessions in Cape York and the Northern Cook Coast. After five years of bloodshed, compounded by the use of modern weaponry and transportation, the Poles won a decisive victory. The war resulted in the New South Welsh border being pushed back to Moreton Bay, and Rockhampton and Mackay being ceded to Warsaw.
Leadup to War
The Duchy of Warsaw began colonisation in Oceania in 1850, with a colony in New Caledonia. Colonisation of Mainland Australis began in 1855, with the establishment of New Krakow (OTL Cooktown). By 1875, all of Cape York was under Polish control.
New South Wales had been gradually creeping its borders up the Cook Coast for the second half of the nineteenth century, establishing settlements as far north as Mackay and Rockhampton. In 1909, General John Monash was appointed as commander of the Cook Coast area, consisting of all the NS Welsh forces north of Cunningham. In 1910, NSW founded Bowen, their northernmost outpost. Garrisoning of the outpost, as well as the stationing of a naval squadron there, gave the Poles reason to assume the New South Welsh were threatening their holdings in Cape York. The Poles sent an ultimatum to the NS Welsh; demilitarise Bowen by the 1st of May, or war would be declared. The NS Welsh, determined not to have their policy dictated to them by some Poles, actually increased their garrison in Bowen. On the 1st of May, 1911, Warsaw troops from New Lodz crossed the border and marched southward towards Bowen.
Course of the War
Bowen held out against the Poles for some months, but it eventually fell to the Poles in August. The navalsquadron stationed there escaped before the enemy, evacuating some of the NS Welsh garrison. The Poles continued in their drive south, with their eyes on Mackay.
In July, New South Welsh Brigadier William Holmes led troops garrisoning Mackay inland, north through the Great Dividing Range in what became known as "The Long March". In September, his force attacked the unsuspecting Poles in New Lodz from the North, winning a promising victory and occupying the town (First Battle of New Lodz). However, in enemy territory, and with supplies running low, his force was annihilated by Polish reinforcements later that month, Brigadier Holmes falling with his troops.
In September, Polish forces besieged Mackay, but with most of their garrison attacking New Lodz, the undermanned fort-town had to surrender.
The Poles continued their advance South, but were met by NS Welsh troops near Donaldsonton (OTL Gladstone). The NS Welsh beat the Poles in the Battle of Donaldsonton, and "dug in"; digging a complex system of trenches and bastions. The Poles followed suit, and the conflict entered its first period of trench warfare. From October 1911, the two sides faced each other in trenches sometimes only thirty metres apart. Each side tried futile attempts to push the other back until the Poles managed to break through the line in December 1912.
They swept south, taking small towns until they reached Rockhampton. Since the war began, the city of Rockhampton had been fortified, entrenched and heavily garrisoned and supplied. General Berbecki had not expected the City to have such strong protection, hoping it might easily be taken. After a few fruitless attempts at a head-on assault, Berbecki ordered the city besieged. Due to the success of the navy, the defenders of the city were kept supplied and reinforced by supply ships from Cunningham and troop from New Zealand, led by Brigadier Alexander Godley.
The city held out against the Polish from January 1913 until February of the following year. During those eleven months, Rockhampton was a source of high morale for the New South Welsh population. However, the city could not hold out forever. Troops of the Duchy of Warsaw breached the city's defences on the 6th of February, 1914 and the city fell within the day. Seventy percent of the defending force were killed on that day, including General John Monash. The remaining thirty percent, under Brig. Godley, had been hastily evacuated to Bundaberg.
Once there, Godley took command of the troops in Bundaberg and Maryborough and in late February 1914, led them to victory against the Poles in the Battle of the Kolan. He then ordered a defensive trench network to be dug just north of the Kolan River. The Poles again dug themselves in, and the war again slipped into the well known horror of trench warfare.
The lines did not move from March to July 1914, despite attempts by both sides. The Poles only managed to break through with the use of poison gas, supplied to them by the USA. The gas wreaked havoc on the unsuspecting New South Welsh, forcing them, highly demoralised, back to Bundaberg.
Bundaberg was besieged from July 1914 until the 3rd of January 1915, when Brigadier Godley surrendered the city to the Duchy.
With the fall of Bundaberg, the Poles advanced southwards virtually unchallenged, apart from the Polish victory at the Battle of Maryborough in late January. The Polish army reached Cunningham by the end of January, and lay siege to the city. General William Bridges, the Commander in Chief of the New South Welsh Army, organised the defence of the city. Cunningham held out until late February, but with the Polish Navy blockading Moreton Bay and the public sick of the war, the NS Welsh government sued for peace. President Thomas Denman arrived in Cunningham and signed the Treaty of Cunningham on the 3rd of March.
When Bowen fell to the Poles in August 1911, the naval squadron there managed to escape out to sea. The squadron, commanded by Commodore H. T. Wright, sought refuge amongst the reefs of the Coral Sea.
The Polish squadron in New Lodz was dispatched to intercept and destroy their NS Welsh counterparts. The two
squadrons spent a year giving each other the runaround amongst the atolls of the Coral Sea. On the 15th of May, 1912, the two squadrons met in the Battle of Lihou Reef. The NS Welsh, being the better sailed and gunned of the two, soundly defeated the Poles, taking many of their ships a prizes.
For the next three years, the NS Welsh navy busied itself ferrying troops from New Zealand to besieged cities along the coast and convoying supplies for the army. The Poles, not wanting to risk another defeat, patiently waited in their bases in New Krakow and Port Augustus (in Polish New Guinea). In late December 1914, a Polish a fleet from Warsaw steamed into Polish New Guinea. In January 1915, Kontradmiral Xawery Czerniki, now confident of his superiority in numbers, launched a new offensive, aimed at smashing the NS Welsh navy and leaving the path clear to blockade Cunningham.
In the Battle of the 20th of January, the Polish fleet met the NS Welsh fleet far to the East of New Krakow. The NS Welsh put up a magnificent fight, but against overwhelming opposition, and with most ships on the verge of sinking, Commodore Wright had to surrender.
With no more opposition at sea, the Polish fleet steamed on to Cunningham, blockading the city from supplies and re-inforcements. The blockade led to the final capitulation of NSWelsh forces in March.
The Treaty of Cunningham
The Treaty surrendered all of the NS Welsh settlements north of Cunningham to the Duchy of Warsaw. NSW also had to pay the Duchy massive war reparations, totaling one million shillings. Polish troops were to be stationed in Cunningham until it was repaid.
New South Wales
The treaty caused widespread dissatisfaction amongst the NS Welsh population. The reparations put the government into huge debt, and the polish soldiers in Cunningham were a source of national disgrace.
However, the war, despite being a defeat for NSW, fostered a strong sense of national identity and spirit. The siege of Rockhampton is famous in New South Wales for the level of bravery, courage and mateship that was shown by the defenders of Rockhampton. This "Rocky spirit", as it is called, is commemorated every year on the 6th of February.
Politically, the war created a strong revaunchism movement, embodied in several political parties, the most prominent of which being the Expansionist Party. Even today, the party continues to win seats in the Legistlative Council, as the topic is still close to many New South Welshmen's hearts.
Duchy of Warsaw
In Warsaw, the war was seen as a victory of a monarchy over a threatening republic descended from criminals ad convicts. The military brass commended itself on its good work, and the Duke was pleased with the new bases won in northern Australia. However, the victory did come at a high cost. With almost fifty thousand dead and many wounded, the Polish economy took a sharp downturn. The psychological effects of such a conflict haunted the country for decades.
The international community, especially France, was displeased with the "wonton aggression" of the Duchy. The military officers responsible for the gassing of New South Welsh troops in the Kolan Trenches were tried by an international court and found guilty of war crimes.