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Polish cavalry.

Discussions on all aspects of Poland during the Second Polish Republic and the Second World War.
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Postby Eugen Pinak on 17 Nov 2004 14:24

schjertzer wrote:But Mateusz
German Mot. Infantry's recon btln. includes armoured cars!!!!!!!!!!!

Yeap, there were two (or three - can't remember exactly) German A/C which actually broke succesfull Polish charge (Germans were completely surprised). They were hidden in the wood and lancers haven't seen them untill they opened fire. Polish squadrons were literally decimated and commander of 18th Lancers was killed.
IIRC, story of this charge was told to one Italian war correspondent, who "slightly" changed it to make wonderfull sensation of it - "Polish cavalry charging German tanks!" This is how the legend was born.

Best regards,
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Postby Musashi on 03 May 2005 20:52

Polish light tanks and tankettes were the first opponents for the German Panzers. Patriotic but outnumbered Polish tank crews with their mostly outclassed equipment fought bravely and managed to destroy a number of enemy vehicles, while defending their homeland from both Germans and Soviets. Polish Campaign is surrounded by numerous myths such as the destruction of Polish Airforce in the opening hours of the invasion and Polish Cavalry charges against German armored units. Both myths are creations of German and even Italian propaganda and are very far from truth. Polish cavalry was active during the campaign and acted as horse mounted infantry. One of the most successful cavalry charges took place at Krojanty, where elements of 18th Uhlans Regiment attacked and destroyed German infantry battalion only to be counterattacked by German armored unit. Uhlans attempted to withdraw and suffered heavy losses. This event lead to the story of Polish cavalry charges on panzers. Polish Airforce was deployed at numerous airfields and although numerically inferior and partially obsolete was very active during the course of the campaign (e.g. over Warsaw). Polish pilots shot down in combat over 137 enemy planes. Polish cavalry brigades never charged tanks with their sabres or lances as they were equipped with anti-tank weapons such as 37mm Bofors wz.36 (model 1936) anti-tank guns (that could penetrate 26mm armor at 600m at 30 degrees). The cavalry brigades were in the process of being reorganized into motorized brigades.

Source: http://www.achtungpanzer.com/polcamp.htm

The myth of Polish cavalry charges
If a single image dominates the popular perception of the Polish campaign of 1939, it is the scene of Polish cavalry bravely charging the Panzers with their lances. Like many other details of the campaign, it is a myth that was created by German wartime propaganda and perpetuated by sloppy scholarship. Yet such myths have also been embraced by the Poles themselves as symbols of their wartime gallantry, achieving a cultural reconance in spite of their variance with the historical record.
ZALOGA, Steven J. Poland 1939 - The birth of Blitzkrieg. Oxford : Osprey Publishing, 2002.

The story of cavalry charges against Germans tanks has become a wide-spread myth throught the ages. There is, however, no evidence that any major Polish forces ever charged German tanks. If you look into the stories of these events, you will see a pattern of no units, no specific locations, etc. being mentioned. Only the mentioning of the Brave Poles charging with their lances, on horseback.

The root of the myth seems to be, that a group of Axis (some say Italian, some say German) press/propaganda photographers came across a number of Polish cavalrymen, with evidence of them being killed by German tanks. The German propaganda machine used this to the last drop, of course, to show the German superiority.

What actually happened was that a group of Polish cavalry had been surprised by German armoured forces, and had no other choice but to get away fast. Thus, they mounted, and tried to ride away, but naturally with heavy casualties.

It is quite interesting that the German propaganda machine has been so effective that it still sends aftershocks throughout the Internet more than sixty years after the events.

Cavalry and the Polish army
A side note on cavalry: not even during the US Civil War was it normal practice for cavalry to fight mounted. The reason for the cavalry was swift movement, not cavalry charges. The cavalry charges died out more and more, as back-loading and automatic weapons became standard, but even a Civil War 'woolly', with its inacurate rifles, could take out the punch of a cavalry charge.

Besides the Polish, both Russia, France and Germany used cavalry in World War II, as well as just about all the eastern European countries. The US forces didn't give up military cavalry until the late twenties/early thirties, and then still only reluclantly. The German army utilized horses to a very great extent (especially for transport - horses was the key transport method for Germany throuhgout the war), and there was even a mounted SS division.

Furthermore, the Poles (as well as the rest of the world) were perfectly aware of Germanys armoured forces, even though little attention was given to them because of the way tanks were percieved in both Poland, as well as France and England (i.e. primarily as infantry support vehicles).

The Germans held several parades and ralleys featuring tanks as early as 1935, (although these were mainly the Pz.Kpfw. I and Pz.Kpfw. IIs), and also used their armoured forces in the invasion of Czekoslovakia and Austria.

The Poles armoured forces mainly consisted of

Vickers 6-ton
7TP tanks (improved 6-ton Vickers, featuring a 37mm gun) &
TK and TKS tankettes (of which some were modified with a long 20mm anti-tank gun).
Additionally, the Poles had about 1,200 37mm anti-tank guns (27 per infantry division and 14 per cavalry division) as well as anti-tank rifles (92 per division). The Polish tanks were in general equal to the German ones, but because of their low numbers and low concentration (the bulk wieght of their tanks were scattered throughout the infantry and cavalry divisions), they had little importance in the outcome of the campaign.

Another point to be made is that the German armoured forces actually suffered some heavy casualties from time to time. For example, the fighting for the Warzaw suburbs was first conducted headed by Panzers. This was the first major attack on cities with tanks, and the outcome was inevitable - a large portion of the German Panzers were knocked out.

Source: http://www.panzerworld.net/fallweiss.html

The most infamous myth is the fantasy that the Polish cavalry charged at German tanks. These units were thought to be the best horsemen in Europe, but were relied upon mainly for their cost-effectiveness, since few vehicles were available. Despite their antiquated means of travel, Polish cavalry were used primarily as heavy infantry for break-outs or surprise attacks. They carried machine guns, 7.92mm anti-tank rifles, and 37mm anti-tank guns which could easily take out German armor. Cavalry charges were not a standard tactic, but on the first day of the war a Polish cavalry regiment discovered a battalion of Germans in a field and led a charge against them. The Germans were caught off guard and suffered severe casualties, but were rescued by the advancing panzers, who opened fire on the exposed cavalry. The Poles fled, but only lost 20 men, including the commanding officer, Colonel Kazimierz Mastelarz. However, when Italian journalists visited the battlefield the following day, the Germans told them that the cavalry had charged against their tanks and were wiped out. This fabrication was put into print and the Nazi propaganda made sure it was widely publicized, and therefore widely believed.

Source: http://www.angelfire.com/ct/ww2europe/1939.html
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Postby Sbf.Koch on 06 May 2005 01:27

May I add that no matter what, Cavalry was hopelessly obsolete by 1939. Even though Cavalry-units of several different armies (including poland's) did have 'some' successes againgst 'some' enemy units, it is simply not true to state that cavalry was effective on any scale larger than local battles (let's say 100-100 men). If this was true, all armies would have used Cavalry a lot more during the war.
For comparison: PzI tanks also had some succes, but you cannot tell me they were anything near effective, even by 1939 standards.
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Postby Musashi on 06 May 2005 19:59

Sbf.Koch wrote:May I add that no matter what, Cavalry was hopelessly obsolete by 1939.

Do you really think that Polish cavalry used as mounted infantry was absolete? If you do, your knowledge is insufficient.
I can tell you there were many engagements where Polish infantry was encircled, but it happened only few times with Polish cavalry. Comparing Polish infantry with cavalry the latter had more AT weapons and heavy machine guns if you would like to consider size of units and less artillery. Polish cavalrymen were real elite of army with tremendous agility. Their service was much longer than in infantry and very tough. There were many successful engagements of cavalry against German tanks during Polish campaign in 1939. The most famous was when Wołyńska Cavalry Brigade supported by an armoured train repelled attack of entire 4th Panzerdivision in Mokra on September 1st.
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Peter K on 13 Dec 2009 13:16

PzI tanks also had some succes, but you cannot tell me they were anything near effective, even by 1939 standards.


They were not effective against enemy tanks, but were effective against enemy "soft targets", like infantry.

2 mobile and armoured heavy machine guns each, in great numbers = destructive firepower and speed of execution.
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Re:

Postby Halibutt on 06 Mar 2010 23:06

Sbf.Koch wrote:May I add that no matter what, Cavalry was hopelessly obsolete by 1939. Even though Cavalry-units of several different armies (including poland's) did have 'some' successes againgst 'some' enemy units, it is simply not true to state that cavalry was effective on any scale larger than local battles (let's say 100-100 men). If this was true, all armies would have used Cavalry a lot more during the war.

As Musashi pointed out, you're thinking of 18th century cavalry while Polish units were 20th century "cavalry" (read: mounted infantry). They used horses for transport mostly pretty much the same way late-war American divisions used trucks for transport, but barely ever rode them straight into battle.

And believe it or not horse transport was common and widespread in all contemporary armies of Central Europe. Even as late as 1945 both Germany and the Soviets relied heavily on horse transport. And why nobody transformed their infantry divisions into cavalry divisions? Because cavalry was much, much more expensive. Not only did it require more training and supplies, but most of all it's cost of operation was very high during peacetime. You can easily store infantry equipment in a supply dump and demobilise all soldiers, calling them back should you need them. However, in the case of cavalry it's not that simple, as the horses need to be taken care of - and need to be there at all times, at least most of them were part of the standing army and not private horses mobilised for the war. So, all in all, it's all about money.

One of the reasons why cavalry was not "hopelessly obsolete" as you put it is fuel and supplies: Central and Eastern Europe in late 1930s was only beginning to enter the motorised world. There were not enough drivers, not enough filling stations, not enough oil reserves. My friends' grandpa who was a tank commander in 1939 recalled he got separated from his unit and his tank ran out of fuel. As there was no filling station in the vicinity, he and his driver had to wait for a local pharmacist to prepare gasoline for their tank using his home laboratory :) OTOH horses needed no fuel and you could find forage for them in every village or on every field.
Cheers
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Harro on 22 Mar 2010 13:54

From Der Zweite Weltkrieg by author Janusz Piekalkiewicz:

Gegen Mittag stößt die deutsche 20. mot. Division (Generalleutnant Wiktorin) in Richtung Chojnice vor. Kurz nach 14.00 Uhr entbrennen schwere Kämpfe zwischen den deutschen Vorhuten und dem 18. Ulanenregiment (Oberst Mastalerz) der Kavalleriebrigade »Pomorska« (Brigadegeneral Grzmot-Skotnicki) entlang der Eisenbahnlinie Chojnice-Naklo. Um der Infanterie den Rückzug zu ermöglichen, setzen jetzt die Ulanen zum Gegenstoß an. Sie formieren sich in loser Gliederung in einem Waldstück nahe Krojanty.

Als am späten Nachmittag die 1.Schwadron des 18. Ulanenregiments den Flügel der deutschen Kolonnen erreicht, erteilt der Regimentschef, Oberst Mastalerz, den Befehl zum Angriff. Gegen 17.00 Uhr gibt Major Malecki der Kavallerie mit erhobenem Säbel das Zeichen zur Attacke, der ersten Reiterattacke des Zweiten Weltkrieges.
Bereits im Wald werden die Kavalleristen von den deutschen Vorhuten mit MG-Feuer belegt. Jetzt galoppieren die Reiter - den schweren Reitersäbel vorgestreckt, an die Hälse der Pferde gepreßt - so schnell es geht über das freie, ungedeckte Gelände. Die ersten Verwundeten und Toten stürzen zu Boden. Nachdem sich auch die 2.Schwadron der Attacke angeschlossen hat, rasen insgesamt 250 Mann in einer breiten Reiterwelle über das offene Feld. Die überraschten deutschen Infanteristen versuchen, durch Flucht zu entkommen.

Plötzlich, in einer Kurve der Chaussee nach Chojnice, rollen, von den Ulanen zuerst nicht bemerkt, ihnen deutsche Panzer und motorisierte Einheiten entgegen. Noch ehe es gelingt, die rasenden Pferde zu wenden, bricht ein Geschoßhagel los. Die getroffenen Pferde stürzen, andere gehen durch und schleifen die toten und verwundeten Reiter mit. Einzelne Ulanengruppen hetzen in völliger Auflösung über das Feld, dazwischen galoppieren reiterlose Pferde. Auch der die Attacke führende Rittmeister Swiesciak fällt, und der sofort mit einigen Ulanen zu Hilfe kommende Regimentschef Mastalerz findet ebenfalls den Tod. In wenigen Minuten verliert das Regiment die Hälfte seiner Reiter.

So wird die Legende geboren, polnische Kavallerie gehe mit dem Säbel gegen deutsche Panzer vor. Es gibt jedoch den ganzen Feldzug hindurch keine bewußt gerittene Attacke der polnischen Kavallerie gegen Panzer. Werden sie jedoch von Panzern angegriffen, dann ist ihre einzige Überlebenschance, in einem halsbrecherischen Manöver auf die Panzer zuzureiten, um so schnell wie möglich an ihnen vorbeizukommen.
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Igor Igor on 24 Mar 2010 11:00

My Great Uncle was a Kozak Cavalryman in the Polish army . He was Ukrainian serving in the army when the Germans invaded. He was based in Kolomiya. He was killed in Battle. He only had sword and horse, so I am assuming he died engaging enemy. I have a photo if anybody is interested. birojek@hotmail.com
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Musashi on 24 Mar 2010 16:01

Igor Igor wrote:My Great Uncle was a Kozak Cavalryman in the Polish army . He was Ukrainian serving in the army when the Germans invaded. He was based in Kolomiya. He was killed in Battle. He only had sword and horse, so I am assuming he died engaging enemy. I have a photo if anybody is interested. birojek@hotmail.com

There were not Cossack cavalrymen in the Polish Army before WWII. They were uhlans, light horsemen and mounted riflemen. The last Cossack cavalrymen were drafted into the Polish Army in 17 or 18 century. I think you can post your great-uncle's photo here and we can see which regiment he belonged to if we see his uniform. He could have had interesting badges, patches, etc.
BTW,
Your great-uncle, apart from the sabre, must have had a carbine as all Polish pre-war cavalrymen were equipped with carbines.

Kind regards,
Krzysiek
Last edited by Musashi on 24 Mar 2010 16:41, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Halibutt on 24 Mar 2010 16:23

Musashi wrote:
Igor Igor wrote:My Great Uncle was a Kozak Cavalryman in the Polish army . He was Ukrainian serving in the army when the Germans invaded. He was based in Kolomiya. He was killed in Battle. He only had sword and horse, so I am assuming he died engaging enemy. I have a photo if anybody is interested. birojek@hotmail.com

There were not Cossack cavalrymen in the Polish Army before WWII. They were uhlans, light horsemen and mounted riflemen. The last Cossack cavalrymen were drafted into the Polish Army in 17 or 18 century. I think you can post your great-uncle's photo here and we can see which regiment he belonged to if we see his uniform. He could have had interesting badges, patches, etc.
BTW,
Your great-uncle, apart from the sabre, must have had a carbine as every Polish pre-war cavalrymen were equipped with carbines.
Well, he might have been "Cossack" as in "Ukrainian ancestry", but that's a different story. :)
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Igor Igor on 25 Mar 2010 10:42

Thanks for responding to my posts. I don't have complete information as my grandmother refuses to speak about war, but I don't know how to post a picture on the site. Further research indicates he could have been part of 49th Hutsul rifle regiment??? I will show photo and maybe you can assist. My family was from the Kolomiya region of Ukraine at outbreak of war. At that time Poland controlled Galicia. mY email is birojek@hotmail.com and I will reply with photo. If oyu can contribute knowledge to this site and for me it would be greatly appreciated for family history. His name is Ivan Hrechinyuk
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Halibutt on 25 Mar 2010 11:02

Igor Igor wrote:Thanks for responding to my posts. I don't have complete information as my grandmother refuses to speak about war, but I don't know how to post a picture on the site. Further research indicates he could have been part of 49th Hutsul rifle regiment??? I will show photo and maybe you can assist. My family was from the Kolomiya region of Ukraine at outbreak of war. At that time Poland controlled Galicia. mY email is birojek@hotmail.com and I will reply with photo. If oyu can contribute knowledge to this site and for me it would be greatly appreciated for family history. His name is Ivan Hrechinyuk
Either this or one of the Podhale Rifle regiments (21st and 22nd Infantry Divisions). Anyway, here you go: one of the most comprehensive articles on Hutsul Rifles out there. It's in Polish, but there's lots of pics and if you speak Ukrainian you'll have no problem with it. Besides, what Google Translate is for :)
Cheers
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Musashi on 25 Mar 2010 12:58

We could help you, the problem is, this uniform is very far from being Polish. It's typical Ukrainian and it does not give me any clues about your great-grandfather's military service in the Polish Army :|
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Delwin on 25 Mar 2010 17:59

I would not call it a military uniform at all - at least in the Polish army in WWII. It looks more like some WWI uniforms or even non-military clothing.
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Re: Polish cavalry.

Postby Peter K on 25 Mar 2010 18:16

It looks a bit like non-military clothing of the Hutsuls:

viewtopic.php?f=39&t=4743&start=495#p1304545
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