Did Polish Calvary charge German Panzers with lances?

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by alkankizil@tr.net » 15 Sep 2010 17:54

Polish cavalry is not to be belittled and made to appear stupid which would be unfair. This was German propaganda at the time which maintained that the Poles were attacking German tanks with sabres, thinking that they were made of cardboard..! ( In fact the Polish Army itself had about 600 light tanks, some of them type 7TP with Bofors 37 mm AT guns. They were the earliest operational tanks with diesel engines.)

In the Thirties the Polish Cavalry were trained to be as largely mounted infantry and were expected to ride from the rear to the battle line, dismount, and fight on foot like normal infantry. They were intended to serve as lightning reserves that could be rushed from crisis to crisis in a rapidly developing conflict. Once on the battlefront they would have a defensive holding mission until the infantry and other arms could counterattack. The Soviet-Polish War of 1920 showed that the mobility provided by horses allowed troops to cover wide regions without being tied to transportation network of roads, railroads and rivers. This lack of infrastructure was prevalent in Poland, Eastern Europe and Russia in those days and to some extent even today: large areas of trackless forests and swamps.

In the Summer of 1939 Polish Army included 40 cavalry regiments, 3 of them had been mechanised but the other 37 remained horsed and were grouped into 11 brigades. Each regiment had 37mm Bofors anti tank guns, excellent Polish UR1935 antitank rifles, machine guns and anti aircraft sections. A cavalry brigade had in addition an organic 75mm field artillery regiment, tankettes and armoured cars. In all 6000 to 7000 combattants depending on the number of regiments, 4 or 3. So they had much more than sabres to fight with ..!

Contrary to popular belief and Nazi myth, Polish Cavalry was able to charge German mechanized units and make a difference. On the first day of the war, September 1, the German 4th Panzer Division met the Polish Wolynska Cavalry Brigade head on about 100 miles south of Warsaw and lost more than 50 tanks in the exchange.

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by bf109 emil » 17 Sep 2010 09:13

Contrary to popular belief and Nazi myth, Polish Cavalry was able to charge German mechanized units and make a difference. On the first day of the war, September 1, the German 4th Panzer Division met the Polish Wolynska Cavalry Brigade head on about 100 miles south of Warsaw and lost more than 50 tanks in the exchange.
this also sounds like a popular Polish myth and assumes the German Panzers by your description where lost directly and as a consequence to actions by Polish Calvary and Polish calvary alone which simply is not true! Was their not an armored train involved which did the destruction to the Panzers and not by the Polish calvary?

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by Peter K » 17 Sep 2010 10:34

Armoured train was not involved in combats against tanks, it just bombarded one German infantry battalion:
(...) HQ of Schtz.Rgt.12 is in Rebielice, I. Btl. in Rebielice, II. Btl. in Opatow. Schtz.Rgt.12 is ordered to keep up with the tanks and advance towards Miedzno. (...) I./Schtz.Rgt.12 supported by 2./AR.103 crosses the brook at Rebielice against light enemy resistance and advances through the forest north of Mokra I. Around 3:00 PM I./Schtz.Rgt.12 encounters a enemy armoured train and cavalry at the railway line and has to retreat. (...)
But also Polish armoured train was slightly damaged during that combat - it was hit by 4 projectiles.

This is the only time when participation of armoured train is mentioned in German description of the battle.

So no, the armoured train did not do any destruction to the Panzers, it didn't have such an opportunity.

Btw - armoured train "Smialy" was armed with 2 howitzers cal. 100mm and 2 guns cal. 75mm.

Here you've got examples of causes of German losses in the battle of Mokra. For example 2 DAK (2nd Horse Artillery Battalion) equipped with 16 guns cal. 75mm type 02/26 in 4 batteries is credited with the following achievements:

75mm type 02/26 gun:

Image Image

- 8.00 AM - 2nd and 3rd batteries bombarded a column of ca. 25 tanks - German casualties 3 tanks.
- repulsing the German attack against 21st uhlan regiment (combats until 9:30 AM) - 4 tanks knocked out by 2nd battery, later 5 of the withdrawing Panzers were knocked out by fire of all batteries (total 9).
- after 11:00 AM fire of 2nd and 3rd batteries knocks out 2 tanks out of 6 spotted.
- around Midday a major assault of 100 Panzers is repulsed, in the 1st phase of this assault 2nd and 3rd batteries. eliminate "many tanks", in the 2nd phase 1st battery eliminates 13 tanks, in total the entire 2 DAK was credited with eliminating approximately 30 tanks during the repelling of this assault by Polish units. *
- German assault which started at 3:00 PM - 1st battery destroyed 1 tank and damaged 2 more.

So all in all 2 DAK was credited with ca. 47 kills in the battle, including damaged to various extend.

Source: Piotr Zarzycki, "2 Dywizjon Artylerii Konnej", Ajaks, 2000, ISBN 83-88773-02-X.

Polish horse artillery (artyleria konna) during pre-war maneuveres:



* Some sources say that just one gun from 3rd battery eliminated 14 of them:

http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... 8#p1451148
Leonard Żłób - corporal (3 battery of 2. horse artillery Abt.) - 14 victories (tanks) by direct fire from 75mm type 02/26 field cannon - in the combat between buildings of Mokra II and Mokra III - during the German attack in strength of over 80 tanks which beginned around 12:00. Leonard Żłób was awarded with Virtuti Militari for this combat.
Piotr Zarzycki in his book doesn't confirm such a huge achievement of just this one soldiers. He says that during that combat (in the buildings of Mokra II and Mokra III) all other soldiers who participated in it were killed, Leonard Żłób was the only one from the crew of his gun who survived and that's why all kills were credited to just him.

Moreover, some sources say that he served in Anti-Tank platoon of 21st Uhlan Rgt., not in 2 DAK.

The rest of casualties were inflicted by AT guns 37mm, AT rifles 7,92mm, hand grenades and other means of combat.

For example the following number of kills / victories was credited to:
Jan Suski - corporal (AT platoon of 2. horse rifle regiment) - 8 (tanks and AFVs) by direct fire of 37mm type 36 AT gun - during the combat near the railway near Mokra II (while repulsing the attack which started around 15:00).
It should be added that Suski was the commander, but his aimer was older riflemen Julian Zienkiewicz.
Jan Kawiak - uhlan (AT platoon of 12. uhlan regiment) - few victories (tanks) by 37mm type 36 AT gun - during the combat at the forest clearing near the railway, while fighting with attacking German tanks from his well-hidden position under the railway viaduct. Immediately after succesfully repulsing the German attack he was promoted by lieutenant colonel Kuczek to the rank of older uhlan (in Polish: starszy ułan).
Uhlan Regiment = Pułk Ułanów (PUŁ).
Horse Rifle Regiment = Pułk Strzelców Konnych (PSK).

Another episode from the battle - about that German assault that started around Midday:
(...) The main assault of over 80 tanks is directed against the gap between the forests, defended by manpower of 4th squadron [of 21st uhlan rgt.] and majority of regimental means of fire. Tanks also appeared from the direction of Rebielice, but their pressure when compared to the main assault was lighter. (...) Reserve 2nd Lt. Marcin Morawski from 4th squadron [of 21st uhlan rgt.] immobilized with use of anti-tank rifle and hand grenades two tanks, and when a third one drived up to his post, he jumped on it with Vis pistol in his hand and fired at the manhole. Also reserve engineer Jerzy Jełowicki distinguished himself there. Tanks, attacking at top speed, overrun positions of Anti-Tank guns, dishing one of them into the ground, killing almost the entire crew, and despite the bravery of defenders - keep advancing further. Part of them advance towards Mokra II, but vast majority advance along the southern edge of Mokra III. Soon Mokra III stands up in flames from incendiary projectiles. Smoke and dust veil the view, dazzle the defenders, and in the middle of this hell on earth tanks rage in the forest clearing, spreading death.

Situation becomes dangerous. Wedge of tanks attacks positions of 2nd and 3rd batteries [of 2 DAK] which repulse the attack with direct fire. Since now the main burden of combats is placed on the shoulders of 2 DAK. Its batteries, deployed in a "hedgehog" defence, fire towards steel carcasses from the nearest distance. (...)


Sources:

Apoloniusz Zawilski, "Bitwy polskiego Września", Kraków, 2009
Stanisław Pokorny, "Czołgi pod Mokrą", Warszawa, 1980

March of Polish Horse Artillery (Marsz Artylerii Konnej):



==========================================================

In total on 01.09.1939 the brigade repulsed 5 enemy tank and infantry-tank assaults (the last one was around 5:00 PM but was repulsed very easily: one tank was knocked out and this wreck blocked the road for other tanks) and many smaller attacks of enemy AFVs (including reconnaissance), infantry, as well as artillery barrages, etc.

The advance of 4. Panzer-Division on 1 September was halted, but at the cost of huge human losses

- 216 dead or missing soldiers and NCOs, 5 dead or missing officers = 221
- 270 wounded soldiers and NCOs, 22 wounded officers = 292
Total: 513 men (however, some sources these are losses for both days - 1 and 2 September)

The heaviest casualties in manpower were suffered by 2 DAK, 21 PUŁ and 12 PUŁ.

But equipment losses on the Polish side were much smaller than German:

- 4 (out of 13) TKS tankettes lost
- 5 (out of 16) 75mm type 02/26 lost
- 4 Bofors 37mm anti-tank guns lost
- over a dozen machine guns lost

Germans apart from huge tank losses also lost one Henschel Hs 123 shot down by Polish cavalry:

Photos of German tanks knocked out in the battle of Mokra and photo of shot down Henschel Hs 123

In the night the brigade retreated to new defensive positions 8 km to the west, in the forest near Ostrowy. On 02.09.1939 German Panzer-Division once again started its assaults against defensive positions of the brigade, but this time German pressure was not that strong because participation of Panzers in those assaults was much smaller than day before, which was caused by huge casualties of the previous day. This time German infantry and artillery played major role. But all German assaults were once again repulsed and the brigade once again held its positions.

In the night from 2nd to 3rd September the brigade detached from the enemy, and the Germans were not chasing it because they were too exhausted. On 03.09.1939 they received an order to march south and then follow the advance of 1. Panzer-Division which was much more successful than 4. Panzer-Division during those first two days of war and already managed to capture bridgeheads across the Wathe river near Gidle and Plawno:
Mapa2.jpg
For 2 days a Polish cavalry brigade successfully resisted a strengthened German Panzer Division.

Fragment of German description of the battle of Ostrowy on 02.09.1939 against Wolynska Brigade:
(...) The I./SR 12 launched its charge through the coverless ground counting on with a double support; on one hand the fire of the AR 103 and on the other hand the 6. /SR 12 (reserve of the regiment) reinforced by light armored vehicles (panzerspähwagen) 8x8 of AA 7. The assigned objective was taken by 18:00 hours. The 6. Company, which had reached its objective advancing through the forest, had suffered heavy losses (10 KIA and 20 WIA). (...)
German light armoured car from AA 7 knocked out in the battle of Ostrowy on 02.09.1939:
Ostrowy1.jpg
Ostrowy2.jpg
Polish Anti-Tank ammunition calibre 75mm from 1939:

http://amunicja.nazwa.pl/rp/index.php?k=art_75

ImageImage
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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by bf109 emil » 23 Sep 2010 07:52

Domen121 wrote:Armoured train was not involved in combats against tanks, it just bombarded one German infantry battalion:
(...) HQ of Schtz.Rgt.12 is in Rebielice, I. Btl. in Rebielice, II. Btl. in Opatow. Schtz.Rgt.12 is ordered to keep up with the tanks and advance towards Miedzno. (...) I./Schtz.Rgt.12 supported by 2./AR.103 crosses the brook at Rebielice against light enemy resistance and advances through the forest north of Mokra I. Around 3:00 PM I./Schtz.Rgt.12 encounters a enemy armoured train and cavalry at the railway line and has to retreat. (...)
But also Polish armoured train was slightly damaged during that combat - it was hit by 4 projectiles.

This is the only time when participation of armoured train is mentioned in German description of the battle.

So no, the armoured train did not do any destruction to the Panzers, it didn't have such an opportunity.

Btw - armoured train "Smialy" was armed with 2 howitzers cal. 100mm and 2 guns cal. 75mm.

Here you've got examples of causes of German losses in the battle of Mokra. For example 2 DAK (2nd Horse Artillery Battalion) equipped with 16 guns cal. 75mm type 02/26 in 4 batteries is credited with the following achievements:

75mm type 02/26 gun:

Image Image

- 8.00 AM - 2nd and 3rd batteries bombarded a column of ca. 25 tanks - German casualties 3 tanks.
- repulsing the German attack against 21st uhlan regiment (combats until 9:30 AM) - 4 tanks knocked out by 2nd battery, later 5 of the withdrawing Panzers were knocked out by fire of all batteries (total 9).
- after 11:00 AM fire of 2nd and 3rd batteries knocks out 2 tanks out of 6 spotted.
- around Midday a major assault of 100 Panzers is repulsed, in the 1st phase of this assault 2nd and 3rd batteries. eliminate "many tanks", in the 2nd phase 1st battery eliminates 13 tanks, in total the entire 2 DAK was credited with eliminating approximately 30 tanks during the repelling of this assault by Polish units. *
- German assault which started at 3:00 PM - 1st battery destroyed 1 tank and damaged 2 more.

So all in all 2 DAK was credited with ca. 47 kills in the battle, including damaged to various extend.

Source: Piotr Zarzycki, "2 Dywizjon Artylerii Konnej", Ajaks, 2000, ISBN 83-88773-02-X.

Polish horse artillery (artyleria konna) during pre-war maneuveres:



* Some sources say that just one gun from 3rd battery eliminated 14 of them:

http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... 8#p1451148
Leonard Żłób - corporal (3 battery of 2. horse artillery Abt.) - 14 victories (tanks) by direct fire from 75mm type 02/26 field cannon - in the combat between buildings of Mokra II and Mokra III - during the German attack in strength of over 80 tanks which beginned around 12:00. Leonard Żłób was awarded with Virtuti Militari for this combat.
Piotr Zarzycki in his book doesn't confirm such a huge achievement of just this one soldiers. He says that during that combat (in the buildings of Mokra II and Mokra III) all other soldiers who participated in it were killed, Leonard Żłób was the only one from the crew of his gun who survived and that's why all kills were credited to just him.

Moreover, some sources say that he served in Anti-Tank platoon of 21st Uhlan Rgt., not in 2 DAK.

The rest of casualties were inflicted by AT guns 37mm, AT rifles 7,92mm, hand grenades and other means of combat.

For example the following number of kills / victories was credited to:
Jan Suski - corporal (AT platoon of 2. horse rifle regiment) - 8 (tanks and AFVs) by direct fire of 37mm type 36 AT gun - during the combat near the railway near Mokra II (while repulsing the attack which started around 15:00).
It should be added that Suski was the commander, but his aimer was older riflemen Julian Zienkiewicz.
Jan Kawiak - uhlan (AT platoon of 12. uhlan regiment) - few victories (tanks) by 37mm type 36 AT gun - during the combat at the forest clearing near the railway, while fighting with attacking German tanks from his well-hidden position under the railway viaduct. Immediately after succesfully repulsing the German attack he was promoted by lieutenant colonel Kuczek to the rank of older uhlan (in Polish: starszy ułan).
Uhlan Regiment = Pułk Ułanów (PUŁ).
Horse Rifle Regiment = Pułk Strzelców Konnych (PSK).

Another episode from the battle - about that German assault that started around Midday:
(...) The main assault of over 80 tanks is directed against the gap between the forests, defended by manpower of 4th squadron [of 21st uhlan rgt.] and majority of regimental means of fire. Tanks also appeared from the direction of Rebielice, but their pressure when compared to the main assault was lighter. (...) Reserve 2nd Lt. Marcin Morawski from 4th squadron [of 21st uhlan rgt.] immobilized with use of anti-tank rifle and hand grenades two tanks, and when a third one drived up to his post, he jumped on it with Vis pistol in his hand and fired at the manhole. Also reserve engineer Jerzy Jełowicki distinguished himself there. Tanks, attacking at top speed, overrun positions of Anti-Tank guns, dishing one of them into the ground, killing almost the entire crew, and despite the bravery of defenders - keep advancing further. Part of them advance towards Mokra II, but vast majority advance along the southern edge of Mokra III. Soon Mokra III stands up in flames from incendiary projectiles. Smoke and dust veil the view, dazzle the defenders, and in the middle of this hell on earth tanks rage in the forest clearing, spreading death.

Situation becomes dangerous. Wedge of tanks attacks positions of 2nd and 3rd batteries [of 2 DAK] which repulse the attack with direct fire. Since now the main burden of combats is placed on the shoulders of 2 DAK. Its batteries, deployed in a "hedgehog" defence, fire towards steel carcasses from the nearest distance. (...)


Sources:

Apoloniusz Zawilski, "Bitwy polskiego Września", Kraków, 2009
Stanisław Pokorny, "Czołgi pod Mokrą", Warszawa, 1980

March of Polish Horse Artillery (Marsz Artylerii Konnej):



==========================================================

In total on 01.09.1939 the brigade repulsed 5 enemy tank and infantry-tank assaults (the last one was around 5:00 PM but was repulsed very easily: one tank was knocked out and this wreck blocked the road for other tanks) and many smaller attacks of enemy AFVs (including reconnaissance), infantry, as well as artillery barrages, etc.

The advance of 4. Panzer-Division on 1 September was halted, but at the cost of huge human losses

- 216 dead or missing soldiers and NCOs, 5 dead or missing officers = 221
- 270 wounded soldiers and NCOs, 22 wounded officers = 292
Total: 513 men (however, some sources these are losses for both days - 1 and 2 September)

The heaviest casualties in manpower were suffered by 2 DAK, 21 PUŁ and 12 PUŁ.

But equipment losses on the Polish side were much smaller than German:

- 4 (out of 13) TKS tankettes lost
- 5 (out of 16) 75mm type 02/26 lost
- 4 Bofors 37mm anti-tank guns lost
- over a dozen machine guns lost

Germans apart from huge tank losses also lost one Henschel Hs 123 shot down by Polish cavalry:

Photos of German tanks knocked out in the battle of Mokra and photo of shot down Henschel Hs 123

In the night the brigade retreated to new defensive positions 8 km to the west, in the forest near Ostrowy. On 02.09.1939 German Panzer-Division once again started its assaults against defensive positions of the brigade, but this time German pressure was not that strong because participation of Panzers in those assaults was much smaller than day before, which was caused by huge casualties of the previous day. This time German infantry and artillery played major role. But all German assaults were once again repulsed and the brigade once again held its positions.

In the night from 2nd to 3rd September the brigade detached from the enemy, and the Germans were not chasing it because they were too exhausted. On 03.09.1939 they received an order to march south and then follow the advance of 1. Panzer-Division which was much more successful than 4. Panzer-Division during those first two days of war and already managed to capture bridgeheads across the Wathe river near Gidle and Plawno:
Mapa2.jpg
For 2 days a Polish cavalry brigade successfully resisted a strengthened German Panzer Division.

Fragment of German description of the battle of Ostrowy on 02.09.1939 against Wolynska Brigade:
(...) The I./SR 12 launched its charge through the coverless ground counting on with a double support; on one hand the fire of the AR 103 and on the other hand the 6. /SR 12 (reserve of the regiment) reinforced by light armored vehicles (panzerspähwagen) 8x8 of AA 7. The assigned objective was taken by 18:00 hours. The 6. Company, which had reached its objective advancing through the forest, had suffered heavy losses (10 KIA and 20 WIA). (...)
German light armoured car from AA 7 knocked out in the battle of Ostrowy on 02.09.1939:
Ostrowy1.jpg
Ostrowy2.jpg
Polish Anti-Tank ammunition calibre 75mm from 1939:

http://amunicja.nazwa.pl/rp/index.php?k=art_75

ImageImage
this is all fine and dandy...but did German loses come from Panzers independent action or from a 1937 Polish doctrine for calavary usage stating...

In 1937, the Polish army issued a “Directive on Combat between Cavalry and Armoured Units.” It states that, “In view of the massive development of armoured forces the cavalry will continually face them and must learn to deal with them if they are to fulfill their assignments.” Cavalrymen are instructed to combat tanks by luring them into rough terrain and attacking them with anti-tank guns, horse artillery and anti-tank ammunition for rifles and machine guns.

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by Peter K » 23 Sep 2010 09:06

There were no any "Panzers independent actions".

Panzers cooperated with motorized artillery, recon units, motorized and "normal" infantry, Stukas, etc.

Almost all units of 4. Pz.Div. were involved in combats near Mokra, as well as supporting units because 4. Pz.Div. was also strengthened before the battle by additional units, just like Wolynska Cavalry Brigade:

On 01.09.1939 4. Panzer-Division was strengthened by the following attached units:

Inf.Rgt.12 (from 31. Inf.Div.), I./Art.Rgt.31 (from 31. Inf.Div.), II./Art.Rgt.54, le.Flak-Abt.77, Headquarters and 1./Pi.Btl.62 (+ bridging equipment), 3./Pi.Btl.31, two companies from Strassenbau-Btl.612, one Baukolonne from Bau-Btl.97, 5.(schw.)/MG.Btl.66 (attached to Pz.Abw.Abt.49), Ersatzwehrkreis XIII, 4.(H)/13.

As well support of Stuka bombers at least in the initial stage of the battle.

German losses came mainly from the efficient Anti-Tank direct fire of Polish field (horse) artillery guns calibre 75mm, which were placed on well-masked positions and formed a "hedgehog" style Anti-Tank defence together with AT guns calibre 37mm, AT rifles 7,92mm as well as soldiers with grenades skilfully dug in or hidden.

By the end of the day, after the last failed German assault against Polish positions near the three Mokra villages, panic started among German rear units and supply echelons, we can read in German description of the battle:

Evening of 01.09.1939:
(...) To the right Inf.Rgt.12 reaches the heights south of Wilkowiecko around 18:00 where A.A.7 (securing the right flank at Walenczow) pushed back small enemy forces before. At 18:15 Art.Rgt.103 partly is or goes into position in the area Wilkowiecko. Around 18:15 chaotic messages and withdrawing damaged tanks cause panic among supply troops in Opatow. Just the divisional commander himself can stop the fleeing sodiers after 1 km. At 18:15 Pz.Jg.Abt.49 is ordered to move to Mokra and support the units fighting there. Forces around Mokra are ordered to hold the area for the night. On this day the division was not able to reach the ordered objective.
If it comes to that "cavalry doctrine":
or from a 1937 Polish doctrine for calavary usage stating...

In 1937, the Polish army issued a “Directive on Combat between Cavalry and Armoured Units.” It states that, “In view of the massive development of armoured forces the cavalry will continually face them and must learn to deal with them if they are to fulfill their assignments.” Cavalrymen are instructed to combat tanks by luring them into rough terrain and attacking them with anti-tank guns, horse artillery and anti-tank ammunition for rifles and machine guns.
Not the "doctrine for cavalry usage" is stating this, but one of our forum users. I haven't seen this document so I don't know. But there was another cavalry manual issued to units in 1938 - so I guess if we want to know how cavalry was instructed to fight against tanks in 1939, we should check the latest manual - i.e. the manual from 1938.

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by alkankizil@tr.net » 23 Sep 2010 16:26

I hope the following will help to clarify the issue regarding the Directive of 1937.
alkankizil+


Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
by Alexander Zakrzewski


At 2:00 P.M. on September 1st, 1939, Colonel Kazimierz Mastelarz, commander of the 18th Regiment of the Pomorska Cavalry Brigade, spotted a badly exposed battalion of German infantry in the woods near the Polish village of Krojanty. He hurriedly assembled his troopers for a sabre charge and fell upon on the unsuspecting enemy, easily overrunning them. For the Colonel, the short but brief action must have seemed a fortuitous start to the war for he and his men. Their first encounter with Hitler’s vaunted Wehrmacht had proven a tactical success at negligible cost. However, his victory would prove short lived. Before the Poles could reorganize, a column of German tanks and motorized troops appeared from around a bend and unleashed a devastating hail of fire. Some twenty troopers, including the Colonel himself were killed before the Poles could turn their horses and retreat, abandoning the recently won field to the advancing Germans. The next day, Italian war correspondents were brought to the scene and told that the Polish cavalrymen had charged the German tanks.

It was in this way that one of the most enduring myths of the Second World War, and the defining image of the September Campaign, was born. The German General Heinz Guderian wrote in his memoirs that “The Polish Pomorska Cavalry Brigade, in ignorance of the nature of our tanks, had charged them with swords and lances and suffered tremendous losses.”[1] Winston Churchill wrote that the Poles “charged valiantly against the swarming tanks and armoured cars, but could not harm them with their swords and lances.”[2] Even today, some seventy years later, the myth remains widely believed even in military circles. A 2005 submission to the Canadian Army Journal, written by a Major in the Canadian Army recounts how Polish troopers “with little more than courage and lances” were “slaughtered” when they charged German armoured cars and tanks.[3] How is it that such a blatant historical inaccuracy can perpetuate to this day? The answer lies in the various contexts through which the myth has been interpreted and disseminated. That is to say, that while the image of a Polish cavalryman charging a tank has been used to denigrate the Poles and the interwar Polish state, so too has it served as an important national symbol of self-sacrifice and romantic tradition. However, before delving into the myth’s different interpretations, it is important to clarify the role of cavalry in the pre-war Polish Army and its use in the September Campaign.

The Polish Cavalry was the last to constitute a strategically autonomous military arm. The 70,000 men that comprised the Polish Army’s eleven brigades of cavalry represented not only about ten percent its total strength but also its elite. Distinguished by their elegant boots and well-tailored uniforms, cavalrymen were typically recruited from the landowning and educated classes and shared a profound sense of loyalty to their regiments and tradition. During the 1930’s tactics and organization were updated in response to the changing face of modern warfare. The lance was dropped as a weapon in 1934 and though cavalrymen were issued sabres, mounted charges were discouraged in favour of attacks on foot. In fact ninety percent of Polish cavalry engagements during the 1939 campaign were fought dismounted.[4] The horseman’s primary advantage was thought to lie not in the charge but in his mobility and capacity to respond in accordance with any situation. Nor were any illusions held as to the realities regarding combat between cavalry and tanks. In 1937, the Polish army issued a “Directive on Combat between Cavalry and Armoured Units.” It states that, “In view of the massive development of armoured forces the cavalry will continually face them and must learn to deal with them if they are to fulfill their assignments.”[5] Cavalrymen are instructed to combat tanks by luring them into rough terrain and attacking them with anti-tank guns, horse artillery and anti-tank ammunition for rifles and machine guns. Nowhere does it say that cavalrymen should attack tanks mounted, let alone with sabre or lance.

However, no amount of capability and morale on the part of its officers and men could alter the fact that the Polish Cavalry was essentially a relic of a bygone age of warfare. As one British observer wrote, “I remember spending a day with a Polish cavalry regiment at their headquarters outside Warsaw, and one saw the most marvellous demonstrations of horsemanship. But somehow I knew enough about military affairs to realize how sad that was. This was an old-fashioned army.”[6] The invaluable role played by cavalry during the Russo-Polish War of 1920 led to a mistaken confidence among military leaders as to the value of cavalry in battle. Many felt that the tank was overrated as a weapon, difficult to manoeuvre and liable to break down in rough terrain. Moreover, fodder for a horse was easier to procure than the enormous amounts of petrol required to power tanks. While there were individuals such as Władysław Sikorski, who recognized the importance of rapid mechanization, there were other considerations. The dictator of Poland, Marshal Józef Piłsudski, was widely recognized as the “founder and father of the Polish Army” and insisted on retaining the final say on all military matters. As the Marshal grew old and ill it became impossible to draw his attention to fundamental problems in doctrine and armament.[7] There was also the question of Poland’s limited financial resources and industrial productive capacity. In 1939, the cost of equipping an entire armoured division exceeded the total annual budget for the entire Polish Army. Despite the fact that Poland spent a sizeable portion of its domestic product on the military, its defence expenditure between 1935 and 1939 sadly amounted to only one thirtieth that of Germany’s.[8]

It should be noted however, that Poland was by no means the only combatant country in 1939 to retain a place for cavalry in its military doctrines. Throughout the 1930’s the British Army, encouraged by the Minister of War Duff Cooper, maintained what one writer described as a “mystical” attachment to the horse.[9] Such sentiments were echoed in the United States by General John Knowles Herr who, as late as 1939 was urging the strengthening of the cavalry and its tactical importance in the next war. In June of 1941, the Red Army had thirty divisions of cavalry in the field and Soviet cavalrymen played an important role throughout the war, not least of which was spearheading the encirclement of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Even the German Wehrmacht, the leader in mechanized warfare, depended on horses for some eighty percent of its mobility during the invasion of Poland.[10] Five divisions of cavalry accompanied the German Army into the Soviet Union in June of 1941 and as the war progressed and the logistical and geographic realities of fighting a war in Russia became apparent, both the German Army and the Waffen S.S. significantly expanded their cavalry units.

Close examination of the performance of Polish Cavalry in September of 1939 reveals a combat record markedly different than that of horsemen suicidally charging tanks. Throughout the campaign the cavalry repeatedly proved itself to be the elite of the Polish Army by maintaining its discipline and resolve in the face of a situation that was untenable from the start. In fact, the morning of the encounter at Krojanty, the commander of the German 20th Motorized Division asked for permission to withdraw in the face of “intense cavalry pressure.”[11] That same day at the village of Mokra, the Wołyńska Cavalry Brigade, entrenched in excellent positions, repulsed repeated attacks by the German 4th Panzer Division. The Podolska Cavalry Brigade even managed to slip behind German lines and briefly invade East Prussia, where it caused considerable confusion and consternation.[12] Reluctant praise for Polish Cavalry can even be found among the recollections of the invading Germans. Guderian writes:

***During the night the nervousness on the first day of the battle made itself felt more than once. Shortly after midnight the 2nd (Motorised) Division informed me that they were being compelled to withdraw by Polish cavalry. I was speechless for a moment; when I regained the use of my voice I asked the divisional commander if he had ever heard of Pomeranian grenadiers being broken by hostile cavalry. He replied that he had not and now assured me that he could hold his positions. I decided all the same that I must visit this division the next morning.[13]

It should be noted that cavalry units fighting around Kock in central Poland did not surrender until October 6th, while some elements of the Podolska Brigade even managed to avoid surrender altogether and escape into Hungary.

The German victory over Poland in 1939 was the Werhmacht’s first major military success since the First World War. While the Poles fought valiantly, inflicting over 50,000 casualties in four weeks, German victory was never in doubt. The Soviet Union’s September 17th invasion, coupled with blatant inaction on the part of the British and French, all but ensured Poland’s swift collapse. For German propaganda, the image of Polish horsemen naively charging tanks served to highlight the technological and intellectual superiority of the new German Armed Forces and was disseminated widely. Hans J. Massaquoi, a thirteen year old resident of Hamburg at the time of the German invasion, recounts in his memoirs how newsreels presented the image of horsemen charging tanks as “one big Polish joke.”[14] Among the most famous depictions was that in the 1941 propaganda film “Kampfgeschwader Lützow” (Fighting Squadron Lützow). In order to heighten the film’s realism, filmmakers enlisted the help of the German army in filming what was said to be genuine battlefield footage of the September Campaign.[15] In one sequence a column of German armoured vehicles is suddenly attacked by Polish horsemen who charge at them uphill with sabres drawn. The German vehicles promptly turn to face their attackers who are quickly put to flight leaving behind them a field covered in dead bodies and riderless horses.

Following the Second World War, Poland fit awkwardly into official Western and Soviet historiographies. As a result, the September Campaign remained largely unexplored and various inaccuracies were left uncorrected. The staged footage found in Kampfgeschwader Lützow has even appeared in documentaries as authentic battlefield footage.[16] As historian Norman Davies states, for many Russians and Westerners, the image of foolhardy Polish horsemen charging tanks has been easier to accept than the, “unworthy parts played by their own governments in 1939.”[17] Nazi apologists and sympathizers have also seized upon the myth as a means of slandering the interwar Polish state and its people. In his bestselling work Hitler’s War, disgraced historian and convicted Holocaust denier, David Irving uses the myth to do just that. Irving depicts interwar Poland as a backward and aggressive state that goaded Germany into war. He describes the Poles as being a barbaric people that viciously persecuted German minorities and planned their own invasion of Germany. He writes that the Polish countryside was in 1939, “tangled and unkempt, as though from prehistoric times.” Given these facts it is no surprise that Polish horsemen “convinced that German tanks were only tinplate dummies” would attack them with their lances.[18]

It would be inaccurate however, to state that interpretations of the myth have been universally negative. One of the undeniable reasons it persists to this day is its value as a symbol of selfless courage and sacrifice. Certainly one cannot help but be reminded of French General Pierre Bosquet’s famous words upon witnessing the Charge of the Light Brigade, “C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas la guerre.” In his 1959 novel The Tin Drum, the first instalment in his epic “Danzig Trilogy”, Gunther Grass depicts the cavalryman as the Don Quixote (Pan Kichot) of Poland. Riding to certain death, the cavalryman is seen as a beautiful anachronism typical of a lost age of Polish romanticism. “Oh, so brilliantly galloping!” he writes, “Ye noble Poles on horseback, these are no steel tanks, they are mere windmills or sheep, I summon you to kiss the lady’s hand.”[19] Another such depiction is found in the 1959 Polish film “Lotna”. Due to political reasons, films about the 1939 Campaign were not favoured during the communist era and “Lotna” is one of the few important exceptions. Directed by legendary filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, the film garnered considerable controversy due to its surreal depiction of Polish cavalry attacking German tanks. At one point a Polish Uhlan even strikes in vain at the barrel of a tank with his sabre. While many Polish critics and audiences felt the film to be derisive of the country’s military traditions, Wajda was completely aware of the historical facts. His father had been a cavalry officer during the war and he made a point of using veterans of the September Campaign as consultants.[20] The cavalry’s foolhardy charge against German tanks is not meant to be taken as historical fact but rather as emblematic of an era and tradition in Polish history that after 1939 was gone forever, destroyed by the new wars of technology.

The notion that Polish cavalry charged German tanks in September of 1939, while utterly false, has found a seemingly permanent place in the annals of military history. While some will always use the myth to illustrate recklessness and ineptitude in battle, others will see it as a timeless act of martial valour. One thing that remains certain however is that the myth will not be laid to rest any time in the near future. The September Campaign, while largely forgotten in the West, remains in Eastern Europe one of the war’s most controversial chapters. This past summer, prior to the seventieth anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, the Russian Defence Ministry officially accused Poland of being responsible for the Second World War by refusing to give in to German demands. The accusation was made following the establishment of the “Committee for the Counteraction against Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia.” Established by the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, the Committee seeks to undermine such “distortions of the historical record” like that of the 1939 Katyn Massacre in which 22,000 Polish officers were summarily executed. So long as major historical events are being deliberately negated rather than re-examined, it is highly unlikely that such seemingly insignificant questions as whether or not Polish horsemen charged German tanks will ever be unequivocally answered.
* * *

Show Footnotes and Bibliography


Footnotes

[1]. Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader (London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1952), 72.

[2]. Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War and Epilogue on the Years 1945-1957 (London: Cassell, 1959), 168.

[3]. Tod Strickland, “Cavalry Charging Panzers: An Evaluation of Leadership Doctrine in the Canadian Army,” The Canadian Army Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 39.

[4]. Steven Zaloga, The Polish Army 1939-45 (London: Osprey Publishing, 1982), 9.

[5]. Steve Zaloga, The Polish Campaign, 1939 (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1985), 38.

[6]. Nicholas Bethell, The War Hitler Won: September 1939 (London: The Penguin Press, 1972, 99.

[7]. Richard M. Watt, Bitter Glory: Poland and its Fate, 1918-1939 (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1998, 44.

[8]. Steven Zaloga, Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2002), 22.

[9]. Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930's (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), 420.

[10]. Christopher Ailsby, Waffen-S.S.: Hitler's Black Guard at War (London: Brown Books Limited, 1997), 23.

[11]. Zaloga, Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg, 42

[12]. Bethell, 30.

[13]. Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader (New York: Da Capo Press, 2001), 71.

[14]. Hans J. Massaquoi, Destined to Witness (New York: Perennial, 1999), 141.

[15]. Jo Fox, Film Propaganda in Britain and Nazi Germany: World War II Cinema (New York: Berg, 2007), 100.

[16]. Zaloga, Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg, 92.

[17]. Norman Davies, God's Playground Volume II: 1795 to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 325. 009 Alexander Zakrzewski.

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bf109 emil
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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by bf109 emil » 24 Sep 2010 09:26

I hope the following will help to clarify the issue regarding the Directive of 1937.
alkankizil+
not at all as you posted the directive of 1937 was...
or from a 1937 Polish doctrine for calavary usage stating...

In 1937, the Polish army issued a “Directive on Combat between Cavalry and Armoured Units.” It states that, “In view of the massive development of armoured forces the cavalry will continually face them and must learn to deal with them if they are to fulfill their assignments.” Cavalrymen are instructed to combat tanks by luring them into rough terrain and attacking them with anti-tank guns, horse artillery and anti-tank ammunition for rifles and machine guns.
Now when did or in what battle did this directive ever take part?
Not the "doctrine for cavalry usage" is stating this, but one of our forum users. I haven't seen this document so I don't know. But there was another cavalry manual issued to units in 1938 - so I guess if we want to know how cavalry was instructed to fight against tanks in 1939, we should check the latest manual - i.e. the manual from 1938.
is there a source or link showing this?? if so please post, and thank you

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by alkankizil@tr.net » 24 Sep 2010 09:38

Pls see Ref 5 of the above

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by bf109 emil » 24 Sep 2010 09:58

alkankizil@tr.net wrote:Pls see Ref 5 of the above
and in Steve Zaloga, The Polish Campaign, 1939 (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1985), 38. in which you refer to directive of 1937 and Polish Calvary now used to lure Panzers into traps, etc...is their any reference in his book of the Polish Calvary actually following this directive or attempting to follow Polish Calvary orders in dealing with Panzers?

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by Peter K » 24 Sep 2010 18:53

Cavalrymen are instructed to combat tanks by luring them into rough terrain and attacking them with anti-tank guns, horse artillery and anti-tank ammunition for rifles and machine guns.
and Polish Calvary now used to lure Panzers into traps, etc...is their any reference in his book of the Polish Calvary actually following this directive or attempting to follow Polish Calvary orders in dealing with Panzers?
I think the battle of Sawin (September 18 - September 19) is a good example of such tactics.

During the first day of that battle Gruppe "Ehlermann" from 3. Panzer-Division, consisting of:

- II./S.R.3;
- 6./P.L.R. (Schtz.Kp.);
- one Kp. from Pi.Btl.39.;
- 6./Pz.Rgt.6;
- one platoon from P.J.A.39.;
- one battery from A.R.75

In total these units had an authorized strength of:

- ca. 23 tanks,
- ca. 1593 soldiers (minus casualties since 01.09.1939),
- 110 MG (including tank MG),
- 6 AT guns 3,7cm,
- 12 mortars 5cm,
- 6 mortars 8cm,
- 2 infantry guns 7,5cm,
- 4 howitzers 10,5cm
- 243 cars and trucks
- 88 motorcycles
- 17 trailers

Was fighting for entire day against the "collective cavalry regiment" of ppłk. Szostak, consisting of:

- 3 cavalry squadrons from 13th uhlan regiment (part of Wilenska Brigade),
- one cavalry squadron from 4th uhlan regiment (part of Wilenska Brigade)

Authorized strength of which (4 cavalry line squadrons) should be:

- ca. 448 soldiers,
- 380 carbines 7,92mm,
- 52 pistols 9mm,
- 16 LMG,
- 12 AT rifles 7,92mm,
- 392 sabres

But of course their strength on 18.09.1939 had to be (much ?) smaller because of casualties.

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by bf109 emil » 29 Sep 2010 03:42

Domen121 wrote:
Cavalrymen are instructed to combat tanks by luring them into rough terrain and attacking them with anti-tank guns, horse artillery and anti-tank ammunition for rifles and machine guns.
and Polish Calvary now used to lure Panzers into traps, etc...is their any reference in his book of the Polish Calvary actually following this directive or attempting to follow Polish Calvary orders in dealing with Panzers?
I think the battle of Sawin (September 18 - September 19) is a good example of such tactics.

During the first day of that battle Gruppe "Ehlermann" from 3. Panzer-Division, consisting of:

- II./S.R.3;
- 6./P.L.R. (Schtz.Kp.);
- one Kp. from Pi.Btl.39.;
- 6./Pz.Rgt.6;
- one platoon from P.J.A.39.;
- one battery from A.R.75

In total these units had an authorized strength of:

- ca. 23 tanks,
- ca. 1593 soldiers (minus casualties since 01.09.1939),
- 110 MG (including tank MG),
- 6 AT guns 3,7cm,
- 12 mortars 5cm,
- 6 mortars 8cm,
- 2 infantry guns 7,5cm,
- 4 howitzers 10,5cm
- 243 cars and trucks
- 88 motorcycles
- 17 trailers

Was fighting for entire day against the "collective cavalry regiment" of ppłk. Szostak, consisting of:

- 3 cavalry squadrons from 13th uhlan regiment (part of Wilenska Brigade),
- one cavalry squadron from 4th uhlan regiment (part of Wilenska Brigade)

Authorized strength of which (4 cavalry line squadrons) should be:

- ca. 448 soldiers,
- 380 carbines 7,92mm,
- 52 pistols 9mm,
- 16 LMG,
- 12 AT rifles 7,92mm,
- 392 sabres

But of course their strength on 18.09.1939 had to be (much ?) smaller because of casualties.
yes, but was this a typical battle which included Polish Calvary or was the 1937 Doctrine used and taken into effect as to use the Polish Calvary, i.e. mounted troops, and did they follow said doctrine and lure the Panzer, i.e. allow themselves to be followed, chased etc. and thus force the pursuing Panzer to fall into a trap???

IMHO I find it hard to believe or find evidence that Polish Calvary followed this set forth doctrine and as such this never came into play...

In 1937, the Polish army issued a “Directive on Combat between Cavalry and Armoured Units.” It states that, “In view of the massive development of armoured forces the cavalry will continually face them and must learn to deal with them if they are to fulfill their assignments.” Cavalrymen are instructed to combat tanks by luring them into rough terrain and attacking them with anti-tank guns, horse artillery and anti-tank ammunition for rifles and machine guns.

and to look at this order further, if and had it been followed the Calvary will continually face them (i.e. the Panzers) IMHO means facing them head on, would it not, and if so could it not likely be scene by Panzer forces as Polish Calvary attacking them as set forth in their own doctrine prior to trying to lure them away :idea: :idea: :|

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by Halibutt » 29 Sep 2010 10:52

You're looking for a hole in the whole, as we say here. If there's anything like a typical 1939 cavalry battle, I'd say it's this.

The infantry is defending some position (preferably a forest or a hill) against a combined forces attack. Enemy infantry is pinned down, but the tanks carry on with the plan and finally push out the Polish infantry or at least threaten it. At that time the Polish CO orders his cavalry reserves to move in. The cavalry either attack the assaulting tanks from the sides with their AT guns and AT rifles (especially if the tanks drove straight into harsh terrain, as in the case of Battle of Mokra for instance), while the cavalrymen armed with rifles attack the pinned down infantry laying in the field in front of the Polish positions.

But no, attacking tanks head-on was a no-no. Unless in defence, but that's another case.

BTW, I remember one of the memoirs mentioning an officer who under heavy enemy tank assault noticed that a large group of German tanks crossed the Polish lines, crossed an elevated railway track and drove straight into dense bushes. So he grabbed an AT rifle team and went on a safari, pointing targets to the team and running from one tank to another. :)
Cheers

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by bf109 emil » 02 Oct 2010 08:46

But no, attacking tanks head-on was a no-no. Unless in defence, but that's another case.
please enlighten me on these Polish calvary attacking tans head-on as a defensive tactic...I'd like to hear this other case!

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by Peter K » 02 Oct 2010 09:32

"(...) crews of AT guns fought to the last, until being overrun by tanks (...)" - this is head-on.

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Re: Polisch kavallerie attacking tanks?

Post by Halibutt » 18 Jan 2011 10:50

bf109 emil wrote:
But no, attacking tanks head-on was a no-no. Unless in defence, but that's another case.
please enlighten me on these Polish calvary attacking tans head-on as a defensive tactic...I'd like to hear this other case!
If a tank is charging at you, it is most likely driving with its' frontal armour facing you. I never heard of any tanks driving sideways. And if you're on defence with your AT gun, you're less mobile than the tank and often cannot chose whether to fire at it from the front or from the side. You fire at the only side that is visible to you. That's what I meant.
Cheers

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