Did Polish Calvary charge German Panzers with lances?

Discussions on all aspects of Poland during the Second Polish Republic and the Second World War. Hosted by Peter K
User avatar
sylvieK4
Member
Posts: 3089
Joined: 13 Mar 2002 17:29

Post by sylvieK4 » 26 Apr 2004 13:32

Quote of Polynikes:
What amazes me is that the Poles actually still formed cavalry formations...if the horse was used as a means of transport because Poland was too poor to equip its army with trucks then fair enough


As far as cavalry being inferior to German technology,etc., don't forget that the Germans used horse troops during the Second World War, as well. (See the book, Soldat by Siegfried Knappe, and Mark Yerger's own: Riding East

http://www.angelraybooks.com/books/schiff/0013sc.htm
Image

Waffen SS Cavalry. From: http://www.angelfire.com/sk3/geruniform ... equip.html

Image


On the use of cavalry by the Poles (vs. infantry, not armor), here is an excerpt from an article written by Kamil Dziewanowski. During the war, Dziewanowski served as a junior officer with a Polish cavalry unit that saw action in Sept. 1939. These are some of his recollections illustrating the use of cavalry at that time. The quotes are from http://www.polishnews.com/fulltext/hist ... ory4.shtml

It was almost 6a.m. when the patrols suddenly reported to the brigadier a startling piece of intelligence: a battalion of enemy infantry was marching along the highway between Rypno and Fastow.
Our sentries did not see any patrols, but reported that a column of transport trucks was moving parallel with the infantry. What an unexpected chance!

The brigade commander was hard put for a decision. We were hidden in the woods about a mile and a half from the enemy. The condition for a surprise attack seemed ideal. It was now or never. On the other hand the risk was great. An attack by the entire brigade was bound to betray our purpose.

Moreover, the firepower of a German infantry battalion was superior to that of our brigade. They seemed to have no armor but our patrols might have been mistaken.

After a few moments of hesitation our commander made up his mind. He stopped his brigade and reversed the direction of our march. We briskly crossed the strip of woods separating us from the enemy. Our three regiments assembled at the edge of the woods. ....

Since we stood on higher ground, we saw plainly what went on the highway. What a magnificent sight! A long sprent of troops wound its way lazily through a cloud of dust, while the motor transport swiftly flowed by the slowly marching infantry.

The brigadier's command came fast: "The 1st Lancer regiment and the 3rd Light Horse regiment prepare for a charge. The 2nd Lancer regiment will be in reserve. The brigade's heavy machine-gun squadrons will get together and support the charge with their massed fire.

The antitank squadron will screen the brigade from the west against a possible tank attack. The German's armor might be in the vicinity. Meanwhile, the engineering squadron is to take advantage of the charge to reach the bridge and the railway track as quickly as possible and blow them up."

The regimental commanders promptly carried out their respective orders. The squadron pushed ahead to the edge of the forest, while the engineering squadron left us to do their job. We could watch it marching off at a brisk trot.

Meanwhile, the squadrons stretched out in attack formation on the open field beyond the forest. The command "Trot, march" rang out. The enemy had not yet seen us, and the rising sun promised a clear day. The picture of the regiment emerging from the woods was so enchanting that it seemed unreal. What a perfect model for a battle painter! Where is our Vernet or Gericault! First we proceeded at a slow trot. The Germans still marched on, apparently unconcerned. Then suddenly our heavy machine-guns, hidden in the woods, gave tongue with a well-timed salvo. It went straight into the enemy column.
The great adventure was on!

The command "Draw sabres, gallop, march!" flew down the lines. Reins were gripped tighter. The riders bent forward in the saddles and they rushed forward like a mad whirlwind.

Meanwhile, the surprised serpent of enemy infantry on the highway stopped. Soon the road became a scene of wild confusion. There were shouts, confused orders, and chance shots. We, however, continued our gallop. Fortunately, the first German shots went over our heads. We were then about 1500 feet from the highway and saw that under fire of our heavy machine-guns the Germans were becoming a frantic mob. Some enemy armored cars stopped, while others tried to ram their way through the confusion. Some of the enemy soldiers made a desperate attempt to make a stand in the ditch by the roadside. Other sought cover behind the transport wagons.

Suddenly the fire from machine-guns began to score hits in our ranks. The van of the column, which had been nearing Rypno, seem to have mastered its panic; soon its fire began to tell. The first casualties fell from horses. We were then so close that we could see vague outlines of men in the cloud of dust. Suddenly our machine-guns ceased firing. They had to do it to avoid hitting us. Meanwhile, within a few seconds we reached the highway.

Sabres and lances went to work fiercely. Some confused German infantrymen pushed off our sabre blows with their rifle butts. Some simply tried to cover their heads with their arms, but our lances reached even those who tried to hide between the wagons.

The wave of our charge crossed the highway and pursued those who sought flight. Stray shots from the thickets kept falling into the mob on the highway, killing the enemy as well as us. The battle on the highway was practically over. The Germans began to surrender in large groups. A squadron of the 2nd Lancer regiment, which so far formed our reserve, was dispatched in pursuit of the fleeing enemy.

We were out of breath and dog-tired, but elated by the dreamed-up victory. Moreover, it was paid for with no great loss of life. The panic-stricken Germans were decidedly poor marksmen. The horses fared the worst; we lost between 30 and 40 of them. We had a score or so of wounded men, but only three were killed. The morning sun was high when our bugler blew assembly. We came up slowly, driving our prisoners ahead of us. We took about 200 men, most of them insane from fright. The villages of Rypno and Fastow were aflame. They belched dense clouds of black smoke, which lazily rose to the morning sky. In withdrawing, the remnants of the German battalion did not miss the chance to set the torch to two innocent villages. Then, suddenly, from the north a sound of an explosion could be heard. In a few minutes there came another, and after a while two more shook the air. This was the signal that our engineers had done their job. The bridge over the Narew and the railway track had been blown up.

M. Kamil DZIEWANOWSKI Is a professor emeritus of Contemporary Russian and East European History at Boston University and Associate of the Russian Research Center at Harvard.



And just for the record, the Polish cavalry was not only issued swords and lances. Note the photos below:

September 18, 1939:
[img]http://pro.corbis.com/images/SF9075.jpg?size=67&uid={7ca50440-a7b8-4ea0-a843-5b5cd7d0fb54}[/img]

[img]http://pro.corbis.com/images/BE027787.jpg?size=67&uid={5234da34-bb8a-4239-9036-1a7d1ac209c5}[/img]

User avatar
sylvieK4
Member
Posts: 3089
Joined: 13 Mar 2002 17:29

Post by sylvieK4 » 26 Apr 2004 13:52

For some reason, the photos I tried to link through Corbis.com were not appearing, so I am trying again, here.

Polish Cavalry, May 1939, September 18, 1939:
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.

User avatar
PolAntek
Member
Posts: 534
Joined: 23 Oct 2002 04:41
Location: The Beautiful West Coast of Canada

Post by PolAntek » 08 May 2004 09:05

Polynikes wrote:The Polish army was just backward.


A statement such as this is typical of the simplistic viewpoint held by many which often lends itself to the unjustified ridicule of the Polish defense. The initial campaign of WWII and the efforts of the Polish military need to be viewed with the correct perspective and consideration of the facts:

1) By direct comparison to the strength and military doctrine of other European military powers of the time, primarily Great Britain, and France, and

2) With an understanding of the Polish economic state and resultant limited ability to devote resources to her military.

It is necessary to recognize that this fledgling republic was in existence for only about 20 years after complete and utter devastation following WWI. It remained an impoverished agriculturally based nation sandwiched between the Soviet Union and Germany - two of Europe’s powers and Poland’s prior partitioning adversaries. The reborn Poland struggled with almost insurmountable social, political, and economic burdens through the 1920’s and into the depression years of the 1930’s.

The primary setback in Poland’s military modernization was financial, not doctrinal. Poland’s entire defense budget from 1935 to 1939 was approximately 10% of the German Luftwaffe’s 1939 budget alone!!! This staggering statistic not often recognized.

Despite this disproportionate expenditure on defense, the Poles fared remarkably well considering the huge disadvantages they faced. This is an interesting study in itself. Almost everything that could have gone wrong for the Poles in September 1939 did go wrong:

- from the pressure they were under from their supposed allies the British and French - who would ultimately abandon them - to delay mobilization (which the Poles did until the pretty well the last minute) for fear of – believe it or not - antagonizing Hitler. Mobilization was nowhere near complete.
- to the sustained ideal weather conditions for an undeclared German attack from the south, the west and the north – a huge border with almost no natural obstacles,
- to the surprise Soviet stab in the back from the east.
- to the brilliant German innovation of Blitzkrieg warfare that rendered all other means of warfare obsolete (on which all of Europe’s other army’s based their military doctrine – not just Poland).

The September 1939 Campaign was not the easy German victory that many erroneously believe:

viewtopic.php?t=30517&highlight=

For some reason the historical spotlight that remains on the Polish defeat and ultimate surrender on October 5, 1939 overshadows Hitler’s swift and even more decisive crushing of the nations to the west in 1940. The German military machine steamrolled over Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and France and faced nowhere near the opposition the Poles mustered. And these nations had the advance knowledge of German “lightning war” tactics with which to prepare. A crucial advantage that the Poles did not have.

After fighting on two fronts against both German and Soviet forces the Poles had held on for twice as long as had been expected. The Poles had inflicted more damage to the Germans than the combined British and French forces were to do in 1940. The German losses in the September Campaign attest to the ferocity with which the Poles defended their homeland: 50,000 Germans killed, 697 planes downed, and 993 tanks and armoured cars destroyed. Hardly a pushover.

Jacky Kingsley
Member
Posts: 323
Joined: 29 Jun 2002 23:55
Location: West Sussex, England

Post by Jacky Kingsley » 10 May 2004 17:22

In his memoirs Heinz Guderian mentions his unit clashed with cavalry and he is complimentary about their courage: in contrast to Hitler's opinion but he did write his book after the war.

Jacky

User avatar
Liluh
Member
Posts: 403
Joined: 11 May 2004 15:49
Location: Poland

Pfft

Post by Liluh » 11 May 2004 18:02

PolAntek is completely right.

I can`t imagine how can one consider a situiation when cavarly men with sabres and lances charged tanks is true. If it happened, it was an accidental and unplanned meeting.

We have to remember that several german brigades or divisions broke through the lines, even quicker and further than any of the retreating polish frontline troops. In the chaos of war , with pretty bad communication within the polish army and some german forces strolling nearby it was rather simple to jump out of the woods right into some cruising panzer division. Nevertheless that`s just a theoretical deliberation. All documented charges of polish cavarly were summoned in other posts. None of it mentions Uhlans thinking german tanks are made of paper - that`s just plain ridicullous.
Most of you believing in that, makes wrong assumptions. Someone brings wehrmacht soldier seeing cavarly men charging with sabres - officers, or those leading charges were often holding sabres or lances, clearly from practicall reasons as it was easier to follow the leader who was holding his sabre up.
On other hand, charging an enemy infartry from close distance using sabres and lances made a lot of sense. Remember that both polish and germans used mainly manually reloaded rifles. That can`t be much efficient if you`re charging on a horse, neither it would be of much help when you`re trying to defend yourself from charging horsemen. On the contrary, cavarly was just an elite mounted type of infartry. Every squardon was equipped with light anti-tank guns like Bofors gun. Cavarly could move swiftly and still remain unnoticed. Giving the 'infartry over all' military doctrine of that time, cavarly was simply the best choice (remember that most European armies of that time, except German, were based on infartry).

My grand, grand father was a cavarly man. He fought in 1920 war with Bolscheviks. He never made it to his regiment when the war broke up. He end up taking part in defending Warsaw. That would be as a comment for the fact that polish army didn`t bring its mobilization to the end.

User avatar
PolAntek
Member
Posts: 534
Joined: 23 Oct 2002 04:41
Location: The Beautiful West Coast of Canada

Re: Pfft

Post by PolAntek » 14 May 2004 05:19

Liluh wrote:We have to remember that several german brigades or divisions broke through the lines, even quicker and further than any of the retreating polish frontline troops. In the chaos of war , with pretty bad communication within the polish army and some german forces strolling nearby it was rather simple to jump out of the woods right into some cruising panzer division. Nevertheless that`s just a theoretical deliberation.


Absolutely correct. Your "theoretical" scenario is actually not too far off in describing the actual events of Colonel Mastelarz's Sept. 1 surprise counter attack on a German infantry unit. As you know, the charge unexpectedly encountered the motorized component of the division. As noted previously in the thread, this is often thought to be originating event of the whole Polish Cavalry charging Panzers myth.

User avatar
Liluh
Member
Posts: 403
Joined: 11 May 2004 15:49
Location: Poland

Re: Pfft

Post by Liluh » 14 May 2004 11:27

PolAntek wrote:
Absolutely correct. Your "theoretical" scenario is actually not too far off in describing the actual events of Colonel Mastelarz's Sept. 1 surprise counter attack on a German infantry unit. As you know, the charge unexpectedly encountered the motorized component of the division. As noted previously in the thread, this is often thought to be originating event of the whole Polish Cavalry charging Panzers myth.


Actually, the original event was like this. Poles moving slowly through the woods notice german inf. resting in the field. As germans look totally relaxed an unaware, commander takes a group of cavarlymen and they decide to charge. So they do and wipe out whole inf. unit with sabres. If anyone will ask, why sabres, try doing similiar damage with a big, manually reloaded rifle why riding a horse in gallop. Anyway, when they finished and stopped for some rest armoured transporters and cars came, propably inf. backup and started to shoot with machine guns. Polish cavarly leader had been killed straight away, togheter with some other cavarly men before they even managed to jump on the horses and get back to the unit hidding in forest. Tough luck.

User avatar
PolAntek
Member
Posts: 534
Joined: 23 Oct 2002 04:41
Location: The Beautiful West Coast of Canada

Post by PolAntek » 14 May 2004 19:55

Cześć Liluh,

Many thanks for the additional clarification.

…and welcome to the forum. We all look forward to your contribution.

Best Regards,

Antoni

User avatar
Liluh
Member
Posts: 403
Joined: 11 May 2004 15:49
Location: Poland

Post by Liluh » 14 May 2004 20:29

PolAntek wrote:Cześć Liluh,

Many thanks for the additional clarification.

…and welcome to the forum. We all look forward to your contribution.

Best Regards,

Antoni


Thanks Antek ;-)

I`m trying to post in the topics about which I have some knowledge but whenever I post the discussion stops rolling ;-))

Cheers,

User avatar
PolAntek
Member
Posts: 534
Joined: 23 Oct 2002 04:41
Location: The Beautiful West Coast of Canada

Post by PolAntek » 14 May 2004 22:37

Liluh wrote:I`m trying to post in the topics about which I have some knowledge but whenever I post the discussion stops rolling ;-))


Heh heh :D , I know what you mean. The same has happened to me more often than I care to admit!

The topic of the mythical Cavalry charges against mechanized forces (as though this was either a standard practice derived from Polish military doctine, or from sheer stupidity) and the Warsaw uprising in the parallel thread have been discussed on this forum several times. Although, as with many topics concerning the Poles in WWII, very typically much misinformation and outright ignorance of the facts remains. It is a frustrating condition. I am happy to have you join the few Poles here to help set the record straight.

Pozdrowienia z Kanady,

Antoni

User avatar
Christoph Awender
Forum Staff
Posts: 6667
Joined: 10 Mar 2002 17:22
Location: Austria

Post by Christoph Awender » 15 May 2004 17:27

Well I don´t know why you want desperately "defend the pride" of polish cavalry men. Nobody said that they attacked out of stupidity or anything similar. Fact is that clashes between cavalry and armoured vehicles happened...... why does it matter why???? Anyone who has just a little knowledge about warfare will know that it was either by surprise or any other desperate situation which caused a clash.


\Christoph

User avatar
Musashi
Member
Posts: 4656
Joined: 13 Dec 2002 15:07
Location: Coventry, West Midlands, the UK [it's one big roundabout]

Post by Musashi » 15 May 2004 20:58

We have no doubt about it. However our point is the Polish cavalrymen have not attacked the tanks with sabres or lances.

User avatar
bryson109
Member
Posts: 1899
Joined: 03 May 2004 18:08
Location: Canada

Post by bryson109 » 16 May 2004 01:48

It is very interesting to read all about how that myth got started.
And how presistant it is even my History proff. in University said it happened.

User avatar
PolAntek
Member
Posts: 534
Joined: 23 Oct 2002 04:41
Location: The Beautiful West Coast of Canada

Post by PolAntek » 16 May 2004 23:35

Christoph Awender wrote: Nobody said that they attacked out of stupidity or anything similar…Anyone who has just a little knowledge about warfare will know that it was either by surprise or any other desperate situation which caused a clash.


Christoph, you are among the enlightened view. Actually, I have found that many hold this view and ridicule the Poles for having “attacked out of stupidity”. Perhaps being a person of Polish ancestry has made me more sensitive to, and aware of, the prevalent ignorance regarding this aspect of WWII history.

There is no doubt that at least one isolated clash of this sort happened. However, this incident has taken on a life of its own and now remains etched as a symbol of Polish military incompetence. That such a virtually insignificant event has gained such prominence is unfortunate.

The Poles made many very vital and important contributions to the Allied war effort. Sadly, most are ignored. But mention WWII and Poland and inevitably the same image of a Polish lancer charging a German panzer comes to mind.

The new post preceding this one (by bryson109) hints at this very thing.

User avatar
Jeabgrow
Member
Posts: 39
Joined: 04 May 2004 05:44
Location: Little Rock

Post by Jeabgrow » 24 May 2004 05:13

I don't know the Polish calvary's intentions, but I doubt that they lacked the audacity to attempt such an attack. Poland was definantly not a pushover considering the cirucmstances. They got 2 timed by Germany and Russia and still fought it out, even after their occupation. The Polish actions in the war are underappreciated. The Warsaw uprising and the heroic actions of the Polish Armies attached to other allied groups, proves that they were brave enough to charge tanks with calvary. I know the Russians charged tanks with calvary but they were on a diffrent level.

Jeab

Return to “Poland 1919-1945”