The Great Belarusian Military Commanders and Engineers

vitautas.gif (59168 bytes)Vitaut the Great (Vitautas, Witold, Vitovt) 

- the Great Prince of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania he had stopped the invasion to Europe of Timur (Tamerlan) from Asia heading a big Army of Belarusians, Lithuanians and knights from all of Christian Europe in 1399 in the battle at Vorskla-river (in modern Ukraine). Later together with Polish King Yahajla (his brother) he had led the united army of 100, 000 warriors, which included representatives of all the East European peoples, to the victory in the famous Battle of Grunwald. The battle which took place on July, 15, 1410, near Grunwald (Prussia at the time, now in Northern Poland) was hard and severe and the crusaders were utterly defeated by the united troops. After this battle, the Great Lithuanian Principality - Belarusian state at the time - expanded its borders to the Baltic Sea and became the most powerful state in Eastern Europe. It occupied large territories from the Baltic to the Black Sea, having many neighboring states as vassals. The Moscow prince Wassily was Vitaut's grandson, and the princes of Tver and Ryazan called him their master. In addition, the Czechs wanted to grant him their crown; in response to which Vitaut sent his nephew to be a regent in Prague. Vitaut's reign and several decades after it are considered to be the period of the highest flourishing of Belarus and Belarusian culture. The Belarusian language was the state language of the Great Lithuanian Principality; all documents, laws, charts, and other official documents were issued in Old Belarusian; it was used also as an official language in some neighboring states like Moldavia. The statehood in Lithuania was also one of the most liberal in Eastern Europe. The Principality had a parliament consisting of two chambers - Soym and Rada, which replaced the vecha. Vitaut has established Belarusian National symbol "Pahonia" as the symbol of the Grand Duche of Lithuania.

Links to Vitaut the Great:

Notes from the History of Belarus by Jauhen Reshatau
Belarusian state symbol "Pahonia" - "Chase"
Culture.PL: Grunwald Days
Songs About Litwins from the Eldest Times to the year of 1434  in Belarusian

vitautas.gif (59168 bytes)Ladyslau Yahajla (Ladislaus Jagiello, king of Poland as Ladislaus II) 

- Ladyslau Yahajla, grand duke of Lithuania. His role in Belarusian history is quite dubious. Continuing the tradition of early Lithuanian princes (Mindouh , Hedymin), who traded their native pagan Lithuania for Orthodox Christian Slavic Duchy, just to return to their native lands as conquerors and enforcers of the foreign Slavic language and Christian culture,  Grand Duke of Lithuania Ladyslau Yahajla traded the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and his Orthodox Christian religion to Polish Corona and Catholic fate to become king of Poland as Ladislaus II (in 1386) when he married Queen Jadwiga. His catholic wife pursued him into opening the campaign of Catholic conversion in Belarus. We can't state that he started a tradition of betrayal in Belarusian nobility, but he certainly was a bright example of switching sides. Oh well, what else can you expect from Yahajla, who came to power by traitorously killing his uncle Kejstut in 1381 and imprisoning his brother Vitaut. Vitaut (who had never betrayed Belarusians and died as the Grand Duke of Lithuania) escaped and ever since they were in bitter argument and rivalry with each other. Yahajla and Vitaut only made peace once to defeat crusaders in the Battle of Grunwald (1410).

Links to The King Yahajla:

Marriage of Yadwiga and Yahajla
Jagiello from Encyclopedia,com
Culture.PL: Grunwald Days
Songs About Litwins from the Eldest Times to the year of 1434  in Belarusian
Die Schlacht bei Grunwald

Mikalaj Radzivil Chorny (The Black) 

He was born in February 4, 1515. The Radzivills by that time were already quite influential in the state, and it is thanks to Mikalaj Chorny that the Radzivills joined the European political elite, became one of the richest magnate clan of the GDL.

In 1558 the Moscow tsar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) assaulted the Livonian Order of crusaders, the Lithuanian neighbors. The Great Prince Zhyhimont August decided to help the crusaders on the condition of joining it to Lithuania. The 20-year Livonian war started. At first Ivan's army of 280,000 warriors occupied eastern Belarus devastating it all through; it took Polacak in 1563. But in 1564 general Mikalai Radzivill defeated the Moscow army; and other Lithuanian generals also won victories in 1568. Ivan the Terrible had to sign the truce, according to which, however, Polacak and eastern Livonia remained under Moscow's power

Radzivill Chorny headed the delegation of the GDL during negotiations of 1563-1564 concerning the union with the Polish kingdom defending the preservation of   relatively large independence for the GDL. The position of Mikalaj Radzivill influenced to a large extent further political relations between the GDL and Poland in the framework of the federal state - Rzecz Paspalita. 

Mikalaj Radzivill can be rightfully named one of the most prominent figure of the Renaissance epoch of the GDL. It is pity that he did not live long -- Mikalaj Radzivill died in May 29, 1565.

Links to Mikalaj Radzivil Chorny:

Brest-on-line page on Mikalaj Radzivil
"Famous Names of Fatherland" ("Slavutyia Imiony Bac'kaushchyny" - collection of stories. Issue 1. Composed by U. Hilep and others, Chief Ed. A. Hryckevich - Minsk, BFK, 200. ISBN 985-6523-07-0

stefan_batory.gif (58808 bytes)Scyapan Batory (Stefan Batory) 

- duke of Transylvania since 1571, became king of Poland in 1576 when he married princess Anna Jagiellonka. Scyapan Batory was always conducting politics against the enemies of Transylvania - Austro-Hungarian Habsburgs and Turkey. Batory has led wars against Muscovy of Ivan IV in 1578-1582, which had 3 successful battles: Polacak (1579), Velikie Luki (1580) and Pskov (1581). Scyapan Batory stayed in Hrodna Castle and has built a giant Farny Cathedral there with a place near altar where he wanted to be buried. But he died in Hrodna before the cathedral was completed and was buried in Krakau (Krakow).

Batory has performed many reforms in the army. He had instituted electable infantry (1 soldier was supported by 20 peasants in King's serfdom ), he had established the institution of Cossacks (including famous Cossacks of Zaporojie), who were recognizing power of Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania (Rzeczypospolita) and were obliged to go to battles with in it's army. He had divided cavalry into three functions: heavy-armed hussars, Cossacks and light cavalry.

Links to Scyapan Batory:

"Wiem" Encyclopedia (in Polish): Stefan Batory
Stefan Batory from 1up_info

Raman Sanhushka
(1537 - 1571) 

- Military and state figure of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Had a family Crest of "Pahonya" as a descendent of Grand Duke of GDL Al'herd. By XVI century the family of Sanhushka lost many of its feaudal rights, but stayed a powerful magnate family - a major player in The GDL. They also preserved their Orthodox Christian belief, despite of all the privileges given out in GDL to Catholics in XVc and Protestants in XVIc. .

At the age of 17, after a tragic death of his older brother, Raman Snhushka becomes a head of the family and also a commander of family military division - - Pochat". In 1557 King Of Poland and the GDL Zhyhimont August assigns him to become a major ("vayavoda") of the town of Zhitomir (at the time part of the GDL, today's Ukraine). He immediately develops a plan of fortification of the town to defend it against Crimean Tartars. His first military action was as part of forces led by Gryhory Hadkevich (vayavoida of Kieu). In several battles they fought off Crimean Tartars and took back "yasyr" - Ukrainian youth taken as prisoners, to sell into slavery. Sanhushka was a commander of 200-strong cavalry squadron during the famous Battle near Uly (near Chashniki), in which 10,000 of Belarusian-Lithuanian forces has defeated 30,000 Russian army of duke Peter Shujski. Shujski himself was killed in the battle. Only 5,000 of Russians escaped back to occupied by Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible Belarusian town of Polacak. In 1566 Sanhushka was put in charge of Braclau Vayavodstva (joining the lands of today's Wloclaw and Vinnitsa) for his bravery in military battles. Here's what King Zhyhimont Auhust wrote in a granted to Sanhushka privilege (grant): "Being many times in great battles courageously fought against our enemies, didn't spare health and his own blood spill, did that, which a true and honest knight and duke's family was honorable to do". In the beginning of 1566 Grygory Hadkevich (father in law of Ryhor Sanhushka) was assigned Superior Commander ("Hetman Najvyshejshy:). He assigned Sanhushka to head all Belarusian-Lithuanian military forces (1350 of cavalry and 550 of  infantry men) in Vicebsk area - to hold off assaults of Russians of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Sanhushka made his head quarters in Chashniki. Russians after taking Polacak were tryi8ng to cross Wester Dzvina river and build a fortress in the South. In July of 1657 joint troops of Russian Dukes Abalenski-Serebrianyj and Takmakov as well as Tartar Prince Amurat crossed Western River and under protection of the troops started to build a fortress of Susha on the island of Susha lake. After a thorough  reconnaissance court hetman Sanhushka has attacked the 8,000-men strong Russian-Tartar camp with his army of 2,000 men on the dawn of July 21, 1657. First a Sanhushka's light cavalry attacked and killed 100 Cossacks in a fore post. Then they have broke  through the fence and attacked the camp. Entire Russian Army was defeated, many taken as prisoners, many enslaved Belarusians were taken back. Duke Takmakov staid at the island building the wooden fortress. Sanhushka did not had artillery, so he staged a siege of Russians on the island. Another Muscovy army was sent from Polacak to Susha in September 1657. A 6,000 strong Russian army was lead by Dukes Osip Scherbatyj and Yurij Borotinskij. They were joined by 3,000 Tartar Army of Seit-Murza. They were also carrying a 1.300 horse carriages of provisions for besieged Russians on Susha island. Again using exact reconnaissance Hetman Sanhushka unexpectedly attacked 9,000-strong Rusiian-Tartar army with his now 3,000-strong troops and defeated them fully. Dukes Osip Scherbatyj and Yurij Borotinskij were taken prisoners and captured all provisions. 

On September 21 1568 Hetman Sanhushka has successfully took the fortress of Uly on Western Dzvina, when his recoinassance told him that all Russians in the fortress are having a party and are all drunk.

Sanhushka supported Lublin Union (Unia) of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland in 1569. He saw bigger threat in rising power of Muscovy in the East. In approving a transfer of part of GDL lands (Padlasse - Braclau Vayavodstva) to the Kingdom of Poland from the GDL he had alienated many of the GDL nobility ("shlyahta"). When it came to discussion of signing peace treaty with Muscovy Sanhushka was against it. He was advocating attacking Russia at this time when it was weakened by it war with Sweden and Denmark, as well as attacks by Crimean Tartars.

Sanhushka returned to Polacak area in December of 1569 and on December 25 he took with his troops a castle of Cetchy on the road linking Turoulia and Polacak - both taken by Russians.  He died from fever on May 10, 1971 and was buried in St. Nicholas church in Meltsy (near Valyn') according the family tradition.

The biggest military science contribution of Raman Sanhushka was developing the tactics of irregular war, where an enemy is surprised by attack by a small light cavalry force after good reconnaissance.


Leu Sapeha (Lev Sopega) 1557-1633

Sapeha distinguished himself at 23 by talking to Batory in Latin since Batory was not fluent neither in Polish nor in Old Belarusian. A young man Sapega received a position of secretary of the GDL. At this time the Muscovy tsar Ivan the Terrible has started a war against the GDL. Young Sapega has formed at his own cost a hussar regiment and distinguished himself in the battles at Velikie Luki and during the Pskov siege. In 1548 Leu Sapega is sent as an ambassador to Moscow. Earlier his uncles Mikalaj Sapega (Vayavoda of Vitsebsk) and Andrej (vayavoda of Mensk). Leu Sapega haven't reached tsar Ivan the Terrible. The latter has died. Sapega has signed a 10 year peace treaty. By this treaty Muscovy kept Smalensk, but left Polacak, Vyalizh and Infland. 16 years later Sapega is sent again to Moscow by king Zhygimont. This times he signs a 20 year peace treaty with Boris Godunov.

Leu Sapega is one of the greatest Belarusian political figures, a renown by his wisdom statesman, lawyer and military commander. He stood at the head of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the times of G.D.L.'s highest cultural blossoming. He was a main editor and publisher of the last version of the Statut of the GDL - the ancient constitution of Belarusians that still challenges the current state of democracy in Belarus. At all times Leu Sapega was a powerful guardian of Belarusian national interests and a stronghold of our independence.

In 1633 a new king of Rzhech Pospolita Ladyslau IV came to Vil'na Leu Sapega as a Marshal of the Great Duchy of Lithuania was meeting him in front of the senators of GDL with a marshal's mace on a horse. He was 80 years old. He died two weeks later.

Links to Leu Sapeha:

Leu Sapeha - our own expanded page - Lithuanian historical site
  Statutes of The Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Kazimir Semianovich 
(1600? - 1651?)

Kazimir Semianovich was a famous in Military Engineer, General of Commonwealth of Poland, Lithuania and Rus' (Rzech Pospolita) Crown Artillery. when he had retired he settled in Netherlands. It is here that he started to work on theory of artillery and rocket science. He had wrote (in Latin) an all encompassing textbook on artillery and rocket science - Artis Magne Artilleriae  - Pars Prima - the standard European reference for artillery until the Napoleonic era, which included the first description of multi-stage rockets. This was a classic book of reference for military engineers and rocket builders for 150 years. It contains the mathematical and physical foundations of artillery as well as basic information on the technology of metals and the chemistry of explosives, units of measure. Semianovich suggests here designs of hand grenades, time bombs, It also contains detailed descriptions of many rocket constructions with rules for the composition of explosives according to rocket size and dimension. Semianovich suggests the use of multi-staged rockets, booster rockets, combination of multi-stage rocket with boosters, rockets stabilized by the addition of delta-wings (for more information see J. Thor, "Siemienowicz's Contribution to the Development of 17th and 18th Century Rockets," in Actes du XIe Congrčs International d'Histoire des Sciences, Vol. 6 (1968), pp. 215-19. In one year after publishing the Artis Magne Artilleriae was translated from Latin into French. It was later translated in German (1676) and English (1729) 

General Semianovich was probably the first human advanced enough to see the ethical ugliness of chemical and biological warfare. Here's what he writes in Grand Art d'Artillerie (1650), (as quoted by Appfel, J. `Les projectiles toxiques en 1650´, Mar. 1929, p.234.)

[...] and most of all, they shall not construct any poisoned globes, nor other sorts of pyrobolic inventions, in which he shall introduce no poison whatsoever, besides which, they shall never employ them for the ruin and destruction of men, because the first inventors of our art thought such actions as unjust among themselves as unworthy of a man of heart and a real soldier.

Links related to Kazimir Semianovich (Kazimierz Siemienowicz):

Artis Magne Artilleriae  - Pars Prima illustrations
Semianovich page at Brown University
Buy first edition of Semianovich Artis Magne Artilleriae  - Pars Prima for only US $6,500
Biography of Semianovich from Society of Belarusian Language (in Belarusian)
"Famous Names of Fatherland" ("Slavutyia Imiony Bac'kaushchyny" - collection of stories. Issue 1. Composed by U. Hilep and others, Chief Ed. A. Hryckevich - Minsk, BFK, 200. ISBN 985-6523-07-0

Tadevush Kasciushka (Thaddeus Kosciuszko) 1746-1817
- A cadet of the Military Academy in Warsaw, an outstanding, educated in France engineer - strategist, a hero of the U.S. War of Independence, the commander-in-chief of the only Polish uprising to be named after its leader - Kosciusko Rising. Teddy Kosciusko is the best example of the international hero fighting for liberty of the oppressed nations in a brave, acceptable way.

Thaddeus Kosciusko came from a family of middle Belarusian gentry, born in February 1746 in Kosava, near Brest, in Western Belarus. In September 2003 American embassy in Belarus has signed a grant to restore a house of his birth in Kosava. He attended the Cadet School and in 1770 left for Paris to continue his studies. There, he became acquainted with the progressive ideology of the French Enlightenment. Poland was undergoing the first partition of 1772 when Kosciusko was in France. In 1776 at the age of 20 Kosciusko left for America and took part in the fight for the freedom of the North American colonies. He soon became General George Washington's chief engineer and strategist, contributing to the decisive American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777.  The following year he directed the construction of several = fortifications for the Continental Army. In 1783 he was granted United States citizenship, a pension, estates, and the rank of brigadier general.

A true son of liberty and democracy, Kosciusko was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States; father of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and designer of the elaborate fortifications of the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point, New York. A good portion of his life was spent in fighting for freedom and independence of his homeland.  During Soviet times, his achievements on behalf of Belarus as well as his contributions in the U.S. revolutionary war were forgotten and neglected. The United States has honored Kosciusko in many ways, including the placement of his statue in La Fayette park across the street from the White House in Washington.

Back in Poland in 1784, Kosciusko helped organize the Polish Army which was enlarged by provisions contained in the statutes of the Four-Year Seym and participated in the 1792 war against Russia. Following the second partition of Poland, by Russia and Prussia, an armed insurrection broke out in Poland in 1794 Kosciusko was appointed commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Kosciusko abolished serfdom, reduced the corvee - or unpaid labor for the lord - and freed peasants who served in the army from this duty. From today's nationalist position it seems he was betraying Belarusian nation. Nothing like that! He fought for multi-national Rzeczpospolita (Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania) and there was enough space there for many nations. After several victorious battles in October, 1794, the Polish forces suffered a defeat at Maciejowice. The uprising was overcome by combined Russian and Prussian forces. He was wounded in battle, and sent to St. Petersburg in a cage all the way from Poland. Chief of Russian forces Alexander Suvorov has ordered that the guard would pee on Kosciuszko all the way To St. Petersburg. There he was imprisoned in the Fortress of Petropavlovsk for two years. On being released from prison in 1796, he continued to fight for a free Poland on the diplomatic front from his refuge in England, and later Switzerland, where he died in 1817. His body was brought to Poland and laid to rest in the royal crypt at Wawel Castle in Krakow.

Kosciuszko left most of his money and some of his land to help free blacks in America. Eventually, however, his will was contested by family members, and his wishes were never fulfilled.

The United States showed its regard for their wartime hero by giving his name (which they spelt without a "z") to towns in Mississippi and Texas, a county in Indiana, and an island in Alaska.

"The effusion of friendship and my warmest toward you which not time will alter. Your principles and dispositions were made to be honored, revered and loved. True to a single object, the freedom and happiness of man..." - so wrote the President of the United States Thomas Jefferson to his friend, American and Polish army general Thaddeus Kosciusko.

Links to Tadevush Kasciushka:

Tadevush Kastsyushka at ABM
Thaddeusz Kosciusco National Memorial in Philadelphia, PA, also here in US history pages.
Kasciushka bio on Catholic Encyclopedia (Birthplace is shown wrong).
Mount Kosciushko - Australian highest mountain (2228 meters). See here it's satellite photo.
Kosciuszko Bridge in New York
WWII Royal Air Force Squadron No. 303 (Polish) "Kosciuszko" page
Kosciuszko, Texas
Kosciuszko, Mississippi

Other military commanders of 1794 anti-Russian Empire uprising in Belarus, Lithuania and Poland were:

Mikhail Kleafas Ahinski (Oginsky)

Tamash Vauzhecki

Yakub Yasinski 

- was in charge of uprising forces in the lands of the Grand Ducchy of Lithuania. He had organizaed a government Lithuanian High Council, which managed to last only several months and was disbanded by Russian Army. Yakub Yasinski died defendin Belarusian independence when he was 33 years old.

Kastus' Kalinouski

(February 2, 1838 - March 22, 1864)

- publisher of the clandestine newspaper "Peasant's Truth" and leader of the 1863-64 uprising in Belarus. The conditions of life for Belarusians, Lithuanians and Poles in Russian Empire becomes so bad after 70 years of occupation that during 1861 in Belarus alone, 379 peasant protests were recorded; of these, 125 were quelled by police and military force. The atmosphere was ripe for an uprising.  In Belarus, preparations for this outcome commenced in July 1862, when the first issue of the clandestine newspaper Muzyckaja Prauda (Peasants' truth) appeared.  Behind the publication stood a group of young radicals, of whom Kastus Kalinouski (1838-1864) was the most prominent.  Principal contributor to the publication (seven issues of which were printed), Kalinouski became the leader of the uprising in Belarus when it broke out two months after the Polish insurrection began in January 1863. The uprising lasted until the late summer of 1863. Severe battles were fought throughout Belarus.  But the insurgents were no match for the 120,000-strong Russian elite troops, with whom nearly 260 encounters were fought. Russians won in the majority of cases. The uprising of 1863 provoked harsh punishment of its participants and sympathizers. Russian Governor-General Muraviyov well deserved the nicknames of "hangman" and "russifier".  According to tsarist official sources for Belarus and Lithuania, 128 people were executed and more than 12,000 exiled to Siberia. An ideological by-product of these events was the birth of Belarusian nationalism, of which Kastus Kalinouski is considered to be the founding father.  In his prison cell in Vilna, before being hanged on March 22, 1864, Kalinouski wrote an impassioned plea to his people:  I say to you from beneath the gallows, my People, that only - then will you live happily, when no Muscovite remains over you. 

Links to Kastus' Kalinouski:

Kastus' Kalinouski page at ABM
Bielaruski Knihazbor book series: Kastus' Kalinouski "For Our Freedom"
On-Line Library "Knihi": Belarusian Uprising Publications of Kalinouski Times
Muzhyckaia Pravda

Zygmunt Minejka (Zygmunt Mineyko) 

Was one of the participants of the anti-tsarist uprising of 1863, together with Kastus' Kalinouski.

He was born in 1840 in Balwaniszki and died in Athens, Greece in 1925, and was married to Prozerpina Manaris, the daughter of a high school principal, in Ionina, Greece. He had an extraordinary life and became sort of a family hero, as a result of which many of his descendents were named Zygmunt after him.

In 1858, Zygmunt moved to St. Petersburg. His brother-in-law, Aleksander Tydman was a close relative of the Russian general Franz-Edward Ivanovich Todtleben (1818-1884). Edward Todtleben helped Zygmunt enroll into the best Military Academy in Russia, the commandant of which was the Emperor himself, Aleksander II. Zygmunt received the best military education possible in Russia at that time.

He spent only a few years in this Academy. In St. Petersburg he participates with brother of Kastus' Kalinouski - Baltazar - in collection of illegal student's library, with many books, forbidden by Tsarist censorship.. In Spring of 1861 the news of patriotic manifestations in Poland, Belarus and Lithuania reached studet circles in St. Petersburg. He returned to Lithuania and joined the underground movement against Russia. Together with Kanstancin Yanushevich, brothers Henryk, Piotr, Yakub and Branislau Zavadski, Valeryian Yusevich, Van'kovich's, Cviancicki's form a secret society of "Piantkovich". Soon tsarist gendarmes started arresting young patriots. Zygmunt had to flee the country. He escaped to Italy where he enrolled at the Military School in Genoa (established in 1861 by Garibaldi, who was very supportive of the Polish cause at that time). This school trained Polish volunteers for a future uprising in Poland against occupying Russian, German-Prussian and Austrian Forces. Subsequently, Zygmunt lectured on the subject of war fortifications.

He left a couple of years later in order to join the Polish uprising (1863). He took part in the first battle, led by Marian Langewicz in Galicia, near the village of Grochowiska, on 18 March 1863. Although they won the battle against the Russians, the campaign failed, and Zygmunt escaped through Prussia, to Lithuania. He organized and led a partisan group of 28 young militants. In the first battle, nearby the village of Rosoliszki, about 65 kilometers from Ashmiany, they lost against the Russian regular troops, with only one fatal casualty - Polonski. Zygmunt managed to escape again, and found shelter under a forest ranger's roof. The ranger however betrayed him. The Russian police captured him and imprisoned in Wilno, and a court marshal sentenced him to death by hanging. Zygmunt's mother Cecylia, begged the Empress of Russia to change the verdict, in this she had the support of Todtleben. However, the Empress rejected her pleas. At that, Cecylia bribed generals Wiesielecki and Murawjew with 9,000.00 rubles (at that time, an enormous sum), and generals reduced the sentence to 12 years hard labour in the mines of Siberia.

All prisoners had to walk thousands of kilometers to Siberia. On the way, Zygmunt met French prisoners, similarly sentenced for their part in the support of the Polish uprising of 1863. Russians sent them to work in mines as well and Zygmunt met them nearby the city of Perm. He memorized all their names, in the hope that one day he maybe able to pass this information to the French authorities.

Whilst on this journey between Tobolsk and Tomsk, his close friend Strumillo died of Typhus. Strumillo's sentence was much lighter than Zygmunt's. Russians sent him there only for the settlement. Because Strumillo resembled Zygmunt in age and appearance, Zygmunt successfully switched identity. He ended up in Tomsk almost a free person. There he started up his own business making fur hats, pillows, and artificial flowers. The business was so successful that before long he had contracts to decorate the houses of the richest families in town! Soon he saved enough money to finance his escape. He bought a wagon and horses, the necessary food supplies, and together with two friends dr. Okinczyc and Waszkiewicz escaped through Moscow and St. Petersburg back to Western Europe. The escape was full of strange adventures, sufficient to qualify a separate novel. Whilst in St. Petersburg, police secret agent Plaksin helped him on the final lap to Western Europe.

Zygmunt left St. Petersburg on an English ship under the name of count von Mebert. Initially, he spent a few months in Holland. Later, he moved to Paris where found his way to the Emperor Napoleon III and passed the list of the imprisoned French freedom fighters working in Siberia. When Alexander II of Russia visited France in 1868, Napoleon III brought up the subject of the French prisoners in Siberia. The Emperor of Russia could not deny the list of specific names. He promised to free them. Shortly Russians liberated all the French prisoners and they met Zygmunt whom they had never forgotten. As a reward, the French government let Zygmunt study for free in the best Military Academy. He graduated with a degree in civil engineering and as a result, he had no problems making an honest living. He specialized in the construction of bridges, roads and rail roads.

Eventually he went to Turkey and then he moved to Greece where he spent the rest of his life. He helped Greece in the wars against Turkey in 1896, 1897 and 1912. For example, he prepared the plans for capturing the city of Janina from the enemy. In the 1912 war, these plans were crucial in achieving a victory. King Konstantin (1868-1923) decorated Zygmunt with the highest medals for his service to the country (1917 and 1922). He also worked in the Greek government administration. He was a manager of engineering department of Greek army. The Greek Parliament in 1910 conferred an honorary citizenship on him. He deposited his memoirs and articles in the Library of Jagielonian University.

Zygmunt was also a prominent Freemason. A Loge called Vox Ukrainia, belonging to the Grand Orient du Russie initiated him. Later he became a member of the Grand Orient de France, of the Grand Orient d’Italie and of the Loges Panhellenion and Pythagoras of the Grande Loge de Grece, where he was extremely active. He also belonged to the Supreme Counsel of Greece of the Masonic Old and Accepted Scottish Rites. When he died, thousands of Masons came to his funeral in Athens.


Pilsudski.JPG (9375 bytes)Marshall Yazep Pilsudski (Józef Klemens Pilsudski Josef Pilsudski) 

(Dec. 5 1867- 12th May 1935)

Yazep Pilsudski was born on December 5th 1867 in a family of Litwin (Belarusian) nobility at Zulow some 60 kilometers to the North of Vilna (Wilno, Vilnius) just three years after the end of the failed 1863 Kalinouski uprising against the Russians. It was the sad aftermath of the uprising which was to shape his early years. His father Jozef Wincenty Pilsudski came from an old and well known family in the region. His mother, Maria Bilevich came from an equally well known and quite wealthy family bring a dowry of several estates.

In 1886 a “Terrorist Faction of National Will” laid plans to force the Tsarist regime to introduce reform by instigating a wave of terrorist actions to be carried out by small groups of revolutionaries acting independently. Young Pilsudski was one of them. On March 13th 1887 five of the conspirators were arrested by chance. As the conspiracy unravelled 15 arrests were made including the two Pilsudski brothers. They were imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St.Petersburg. Lenin’s brother was sentenced to death, Bronislaw Pilsudski was sentenced to 15 years hard labour and Jozef eventually faced 5 years in Siberia.

On April 20th 1892 he started his journey home arriving back in Vilna on July 1st where he was inevitably increasingly drawn into Socialist circles in the city. The Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna – PPS) was formed in Warsaw in 1893. Pilsudski joined the “Lithuanian Section” of PPS and began to write for Przedswit (Pre-Dawn) which was actually issued in London.

When the WWI has broke out Pilsudski was fighting on the side of Austrians in Polish troops. He was then taken a prisoner by Russians, escaped, fought for Germans. When Russian and German socialist revolutions broke out Pilsudski has arrived to Warsaw and used the moment of weakness of Poland's usual enemies to gain freedom for Poland.

On 11th November 1918 the Regency Council appointed Pilsudski Commander-in-Chief of Polish forces and asked him to form a Government. On 13th November the Regency Council was dissolved and handed over to Pilsudski its “duties and responsibility toward the Polish people”. Pilsudski was now the dictator of Poland and would remain so for 98 days until 20th February 1919 when he handed power to the Seym.

On April 19th 1919 Polish Cavalry entered Vilna amidst heavy fighting with the Bolsheviks. On April 21st Pilsudski entered the city on horseback. For Pilsudski this was one of the great highlights of his life as his beloved Vilna was liberated of more than 100 years of Russian occupation. Pilsudski pledged that, in the Jagiellonian tradition (see Yahajla above), there should be a free election and local Lithuanian autonomy. On October 22-23, 1919, after Polish Army has kicked Bolsheviks out of Minsk, Yazep Pilsudski issued declaration calling for formation of a Belarusian National Army. Pilsudski signed in 1921 Riga Treaty with Bolshevick Russia splitting Belarus into two parts - Polish and Soviet. In October of the same year his Marshall Zheligovskuy took Vilna and surrounding lands and proclaimed it "Middle Lithuania", in the opposition to Kouna interpretation of "Lithuania".

In 1926 democratic government of Poland was suspended by a military coup d'stat that made Jozef Pilsudzki virtual dictator again. He had started a "sanation" regime.

In December 1927 Pilsudski attended a session of the Council of the League of Nations in order to try and resolve Polish-Lithuanian differences. Pilsudski famously demanded of the Lithuanian Leader Woldemaras “Is it war or peace?” receiving the reply ”peace!” In reality, despite his best endeavors, normal relations were only re-established between the two countries in the March of 1937 - two years after his death. His idea of "Litwo" never befitted Samogytians.

Pilsudski died on 12th May 1935. The Polish Government declared a six-week period of mourning. He was eventually burried in Wawel, with Kasciushka and Batory.

President of Poland Moscicki declared on his funeral day:

”The spirits of the kings are gaining a worthy comrade in their eternal sleep. No crown adorns his temple, his hand holds no scepter. But he was king of our hearts and ruler of our will. Through half a century of his life’s toil, he took into his possession heart after heart, soul after soul, until he drew the whole of Poland under the purple of his royal spirit. With the boldness of his thought, the courage of his purpose, the power of his deeds, he freed enslaved hands of their handcuffs, molded a sword for the weaponless, carved boundaries with it and wreathed the flags of our regiments in glory… He gave Poland freedom, boundaries, power and respect…”

Virtual Library of Polish Culture on Josef Pilsudski. (in Polish)
Josef Pilsudski Institute of America
Pilsudski page in UK

Eliayahu Golomb 


Is considered the founder of Israel Defense Forces. Leader of the Jewish defense effort in Palestine and chief architect of the Haganah, the secret military organization for defense of the yishuv between 1920 and 1948.

Eliyahu Golomb came to Erez Israel, then under the Turks, from his home in Volkovysk, Belarus in 1909 at the age of 16. He first organized agricultural training courses and worked in Kibbutz Deganyah Alef. When World War I broke out in 1914 Golomb opposed the enlistment of Jews as officers in the Turkish Army and instead insisted on the creation of an independent Jewish defense force. In 1918 he became a founder of the Jewish Legion which he hoped would form the basis of a permanent official Jewish militia. After his demobilization he became a member of the committee entrusted with organizing the Haganah and in 1920 was active in sending aid to the defenders of the northern outpost of Tel Hai.

Golomb opposed the view that defense should depend on a small elite, and instead insisted that it was the concern of the Jewish population at large. In 1922 he was sent abroad to purchase weapons for the Haganah and until 1924 organized pioneering youth in Europe. During the Arab riots of 1936--39 Golomb was one of the initiators of the field units (pelugot sadeh) that confronted Arab terrorists in combat.

He supported active defense and retaliation bu t opposed reprisals on the general Arab population. Although supporting Jewish enlistment in the British Army during World War II and the parachuting of Jewish agents into Nazi-occupied Europe, Golomb never forgot the necessity for the removal of the British mandatory power from Erez Israel. He became a founder of the Palmah, the commando arm of the Haganah and foundation of the Israel Defense Forces, and trained many of its future commanders.

Eliayahu Golomb was instrumental in the development of Jewish self-defense forces. He claimed that the Jewish masses must be mobilized into fighting units capable of defending Zionist goals. Golomb was a founding member of the Haganah and served on its Command Council. He travelled extensively, purchasing arms for Haganah fighters. The organization and financing of "illegal" immigration in the late 1930's was in large part directed by Golomb.

Golomb saw the Haganah as an integral part of the Zionist Movement, and thus objected to the existence of more radical defense organizations, such as the Irgun Tzeva'i Le'umi. He strongly disagreed with those who supported indiscriminate attacks against Arabs. At the same time, he did advocate active confrontation with Arab aggressors. Along with Berl Katznelson, Golomb spent much time working with Vladimir Jabotinsky of the Revisionist party trying to unify defense efforts among Jews. Golomb's home was later converted into a museum of the Haganah. The museum, Beit Eliayahu, is located in Tel Aviv.


Marshall Georgy Konstantnovich Zhukov 


Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov was born into a peasant family in Strelkovka, Kaluga Province near Moscow, Russia. He was then apprenticed to work in Moscow. In 1915 Zhukov was conscripted into the army of the Russian Empire, where he served in a dragoon regiment as a private. During WWI Zhukov received an order of the St George Cross twice. He was promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officer for his bravery in battle. 

After Russian Revolution in 1917 Zhukov joined the Bolshevik Party where his background of poverty became an asset. After recovering from typhus he fought in the Russian Civil War (1918 - 1920). Oddly enough he was fighting against Pilsudski, who was adamant anti-communist.

Georgy Konstaninovich Zhukov has served as a military commander in Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic for 17 years (1922-1939). He is shown in the photo left as commander of a regiment (1923). It is in Belarus he had formed and matured as high military commander. Zhukov respected Belarusian culture, spoke fluent Belarusian language and was known to command troops in Belarusian. His respect to different ethnic cultures was also exhibited in his position against anti-Semitism in Soviet Army (also here).  Zhukov was commander of a regiment, and in 1930 of a brigade. In early 30-ies Zhukov commanded 4th Leningrad's Red-Banner cavalry division named after Voroshilov stationed in Belarusian Military Region (BVO). He was a keen proponent of the new theory of armored warfare and was noted for his detailed planning, tough discipline and strictness. Unlike Marshall Tuhachevsky and many other military commanders of Red Army, Zhukov survived Joseph Stalin purges of 1937. The photo of Zhukov on the right is dated 1938. In 1939 he was transferred to Moscow and then immediately to Far East where he commanded a group of Soviet troops that defeated Japanese invasion at Halhin-Gol

On June 22 1941 Belarus and USSR was attacked by Hitler Germany. Zhukov becomes a member of General Headquarters of Red on June 26, 1941. He delivers a first victory over Germans in the battle of El'nia as a head of Reserve Front in 1941. Zhukov becomes a high commander of Western Front in October 1941 - August 1942 - the front on the line of main German attack. He was in charge of the defense of Leningrad and Moscow. In August 1942 he becomes 1st Vice-Commissar of the People's Commissariat of Defense. Zhukov has coordinated all the main decisive battles with Nazi Germans in Soviet Union: breakthrough of Leningrad blockade, Battle of Moscow in 1942, the biggest in human history Kursk Arch tank battle, he was in command of the main battle of thje WWII - Battle of Stalingrad - which has truly decided an outcome of the war, Battle for Dnieper. It is Zhukov, who commanded the 1st and 2nd Byelorussian Fronts liberating Belarus from Nazi in the summer of 1944 (Operation "Bagration"). Later Zhukov was in charge of Wisla-Oder strategic offensive initiative and capturing Berlin. Marshall Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov was in charge of the official capitulation of Germany ceremony on May 8, 1945. Marshall Zhukov on a white horse was was in charge of the WWII Victory Military Parade in Moscow commanded burning captured Nazi Military Flags on the Red Square (see photo below). 

Marshall Zhukov was so popular in Soviet Union that Stalin perceived him as a threat and demoted Zhukov in 1947  to command Odessa military region (thousand of kilometers from Moscow). Zhukov has supported a revolt against Stalinist Communist party headed by Molotov and chief of secret police (NKVD) Lavrenty Beria. While he was instrumental in bringing Khrushchev to power he disagreed with massive de-mobilization of Army (11 million military men was cut to 4 million in Soviet Army by Khruschov). And so around 1960 Marshall Zhukov has become a forbidden figure in USSR. At the end of his life Zhukov was rehabilitated and published a famous book "Vospominaniia i Razmyshleniia" ("Memoirs and Thoughts"). Everything about Marshall Zhukov is popular in Belarus. He stayed in the memory of common folks in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and many other former Soviet Union countries as a just and strong leader, a beloved true people's hero. Today portraits of Lenin, Stalin and Zhukov appear in the demonstrations of the retirees nostalgic of the USSR grandeur. Zhukov's image was somewhat hyped and some of the information that we discover about Zhukov today sounds more realistic and sometimes even disturbing. Take, for example this quote of Marshall Zhukov to General Eisenhower (1945): "If we come to a minefield, our infantry attacks exactly as it were not there." One must remember the human price of Zhukov's victories - millions of Soviet solders have died. Nevertheless one could only be horrified with what could happen if we lost to Nazi all the battles that were won under Marshall Zhukov command.

Zhukov's bio at
Zhukov At the Oder: The Decisive Battle for Berlin - Book by Tony Le Tissier
Marshall Zhukov. Pages of biography - video
Memoirs of Zhukov's daughter about father.
Marshall Zhukov military rewards

Pavel Sukhoi 

(1895 - 1975) 
A famous Belarusian airplane engineer, presiding for many years Sukhoi Design Bureau in Moscow, Russia. Here's some biographical data from an excellent site:

Links related to Pavel Sukhoi and the planes of Sukhoi Design Bureau: - German Sukhoj page. Great images.
Su-25 "Frogfoot" bomber
Su-27 images at Fly MiG or Sukhoj in Moscow
Su-37 "Terminator" - a derivative of the Su-27 'Flanker', the Su-37 is a super-maneuverable thrust vectoring fighter.
Su-47 "Berkut" - Russian next generation Sukhoi fighter.
Sukhoi T4-MS Russian next generation Sukhoi Strategic Bomber - Russian portal to Sukhoi fighters

Barys Shapashnik 

(1902-1985 ) 

a Belarusian automobile designer, first director of MAZ car factory, a long time head of military special vehicle design bureau of MAZ (later MZKT). Boris Lvovich Shapashnik.was born into a Jewish family in Belarusian town of Pinsk. Boris graduated from MVTU (Moscow Higher Technical School), Russia's leading technical University in 1929 with a diploma in engineering. In the summer of 1928 Boris was accepted to the Moscow plant AMO (Moscow Auto Works) and later to the new ZIS (Stalin Auto Works) plant where he become a designer and a division head. He designed the ZIS-32 truck and in 1939 he became the chief designer of the plant. War did not give him a chance to develop accumulated experience and he was occupied by the completely prosaic matter - the modernization of ZIS-5v trucks for mass production. From 1942 he was chief designer of UAZ (Ulyanovsk Auto Works), where ZIS was relocated during the war. In 1949 Shapashnik was appointed the chief of the design bureau at newly built MAZ Auto Works in Minsk, where he headed the design of career dump trucks MAZ-525 and MAZ-530. After this Shapashnik headed MAZ Special Design Bureau (Military) with the mission of creating self-propelled chassis for rockets. He began to work on a multi-wheel formula with independent suspension of all wheels. Shapashnik developed the ideas and placed them into chassis (MAZ-535, MAZ-537 and others) that were put in production and received high evaluations by the military. Their chief designer received high evaluation, too. In 1968 the State Prize was awarded to B.L.Shapashnik for the creation of the tractor-trailer family.

But meanwhile the caliber, length, and mass of rockets grew and machines of increased load capacity were required for them: not tractors, but carriers. Thus the family of four-axis MAZ-543 with two parallel cabs came into existence. It is possible to consider this as one of the bureau's greatest successes. Shaposhnik received the order and the title of Hero of Socialist Labor in 1973 and in 1976 was awarded the Lenin Prize. 

In the picture above you can see MAZ-543 with SKAD rocket. These systems went into production in the mid-1960's and they still are in good working condition because of their highest quality Shapashnik-designed trucks. Below are pictures of Belarusian stamps, depicting (left) MAZ-543m with "Rubezh" system and (right) MAZ-543m with "Smerch" system. 

Further designs created by Shapashnik were constructed on the modular principle. Thus appeared the machines of the 547 series with six and seven axes, as customers required. Further developments of the concept were placed into the MAZ-543. His merit was in the fact that such self-propelled chassis were produced in series and that heavy weapons were mounted on them. At Shapashnik's design bureau were born the most interesting experimental machines, such as MAZ-7907 with the 1200 horsepower gas turbo engine and electro-transmission with 24 motor-wheels! 

Many of his designs and the present work of his design bureau found use in peaceful applications as well. You may see it on the two stamps below. On the left is MAZ-74131 70-ton trailer and on the right is MAZ-8007 chassis with excavator EO-4540.


Barys L. Shapashnik article in JewishGen Newsletter by Vitaly Charny.  All of the above information was digested from this thorough and extensive article
MZKT - Minski Zavod Kaliosnyh Tiahachou (Minsk Wheeled Tractor Works) - a special military division of MAZ headed many years by B.L. Shapashnik. When one of MZKT tractors was photographed in 1997 by US satellite in China a scandal broke out. I've heard that Chinese have actually reverse engineered MZKT tractor. Only after that they have presented MZKT guys with a choice - either earn money and assist in construction of the plant in China or stay completely away, while Chinese would manufacture MZKT clone anyway. From what I understand reading the news later on - MZKT decided to assist China in construction of the plant, that would manufacture the tracks similar to MZKT. 
MAZ - Minski Autamabil'ny Zavod (Minsk Auto Works) - the proud of Belarusians, which was headed by B.L. Shapashnik. 

Barys Uladzimiravich Kit (Boris Kit) 

(4/6/1910 ) 

a Belarusian by nationality, famous American mathematician and rocket scientist, he was in charge of mathematical support of communications systems for American mission to the Moon which created a satellite broadband communications system (48kbs), transmitting live video from the Moon around the World in July 1969.

Barys Kit was born on April 6, 1910 in St. Petersburg, Russia, the son of an employee at the Post & Telegraph Department, who was Belarusian in origin. In 1918, the family moved to Belarus, to the village of Aharodniki - which was his father's home town (now the town of Karelichi, Hrodna Region). Kit studied at the local Polish school there and later at the Navahrudak Belarusian High School, where he graduated in 1928. In 1944, Boris Kit together with his family moved to Germany, first to Offenbach-Lindau in Bavaria, then to Munich. Because he was teaching in Belarusian school during German occupation - he was labeled a Nazi collaborator by Stalinists and had to leave Belarus in 1944. 

    For three years he worked as a teacher of mathematics at the Munich Ukrainian National School. In addition, he studied medicine at Munich University (1945-1948). In late 1948, Kit moved to the small town of South River in the USA, where he worked in the pharmaceutical industry. During this time he actively helped those fellow-Belarusians who happened to be living away from their homeland. For 25 years he worked in the U.S. space research program. In 1950, Kit settled in Los Angeles, where he worked as a chemist in various companies. 

    As a mathematician & systems analyst, Barys Kit took part in projects aimed at the development of inter-continental rocket systems. He participated in pioneering research & development work for the first American inter-continental, strategic rocket system NAVAHO at the North American Aviation, Inc. (presently Rockwell International Corporation). 

Barys Kit is the author of the first "Rocket Propellant Handbook", published by McMillan in 1960. The book became famous and was read throughout the World. It received many positive reviews and is referenced in rocket science publications even today. From 1963 Kit worked at the Astronautics Bureau of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation. It was the time when American astronauts were being prepared to fly to the Moon. 

Barys Kit was the corporation president's adviser, and he worked on the mathematical team supporting the success of American missions to the Moon. Looking at that certificate today, it's rather difficult to believe that it all worked 25 years ago, without current day wideband digital techniques, microprocessors to compress color video to a portion of 48 kilobits, or milli-micron wafer devices to do it with. ITT's own corporate brochures carried the achievement of the first wideband data circuit across the Atlantic as an ITT "first" for a number of years.

Barys Kit has always remained a conscious Belarusian. "Everything I did in my life - I did for my homeland and its fame" - he said once.

Barys Kit bio on A Belarus Miscellany
Barys Kit bio from Belarusian State Archives
Kosmas Belarusa: Zhytstsiapis Barysa Uladzimiravicha Kita, asvetnika, vuchonaha, patryiota
Camelot on the Moon
- the history of communications system supporting American mission to the Moon
Kit, Boris & Evered, Douglas S., Rocket Propellant Handbook, Forward by Theodore von Karman, (Shows Chemistry, History of Manufacturing, Good Fuel and Bad - Ammonium Perchlorate/Plastic Still will get you to Mars),  New York: The Macmillan Co., 1960, Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 59-9949.

Other Relevant Pages of the Virtual Guide to Belarus

Belarusian Statehood 
History of Belarus

Back to Belarusian Castles and Knighthood page

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