Friday, 15 August 2014

Remembering Poland's army 1919-1939

As well as the modern fighting equipment on show today, there was a splendidly rich array of Polish military hardware from the times of the Bolshevik war of 1920 (the deciding victory in the Battle of Warsaw being celebrated today), and from the September campaign of 1939. The large number of tanks, tankettes, armoured cars, trucks, cars and motorbikes from that era left the crowds in no doubt that before the outbreak of WWII, Poland was no technologically backward nation. There was not enough of the hardware to keep out the Nazi hordes, but it was not missing. Armoured fighting vehicles, trucks and motorcycles were designed and manufactured by state-owned PZInż (Państwowe Zakłady Inżynieryjne - 'state engineering works') in Ursus. What was missing was better government policy.

Below: the 7TP ('seven-tonne Polish tank), a development of the British Vickers 6-ton tank. In production from 1935-39, better armed and armoured than the Panzer Is and Panzer IIs that were the mainstay of the Wehrmacht's armoured forces in the September campaign. It was also the first European tank equipped with a diesel engine - a far less flammable fuel than petrol. Sadly, there were too few of them in 1939 - a mere 108 examples equipped with the 37mm Bofors cannon, and a further 40 or so armed with a pair of machine guns.

Below: a pair of TKS tankettes. Armed with nothing more than a light machine gun, they were no match for the German Panzer IIs, although 575 TK-series tankettes were built, forming the bulk of Poland's armoured forces in September 1939. The tankettes were developed from the British Carden-Loyd tankette.

Below: a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun, licence-produced in Poland towed by a C2P artillery tractor, itself based on the TKS tankette. Poland had over 350 40mm anti-aircraft guns - not enough to protect the Polish army against the scourge of the Stuka dive-bomber.

Below: an Ursus A truck towing a light anti-tank gun, one of two taking part in today's parade. The Ursus A dated back to 1928-31.

Below: a pair of Ursus wz. 34 light armoured cars. Around 90 of these were built between 1934 and 1938,

Below: a CWS limousine from the mid-1920s. CWS (Centralny Warsztat Samochodowy - 'central car workshop' was nationalised in 1928 and restructured as PZInż.

Below: some amazing history. This French-built Renault FT-17 saw action with the Polish army against the Bolsheviks in 1920, where it was captured by the Red Army, and along with three other FT tanks, was presented to the Emir of Afghanistan by the Soviets in 1923. This tank and its history was recently rediscovered; when its history was learned, the Polish government engaged in high-level diplomacy to have it returned. It was finally presented to the Polish ambassador in Kabul by the Afghan defence minister in 2012, taken to Bagram airforce base, then returned to Poland and restored to working condition. Note the tail skid to help crossing trenches. Poland still had over 100 of these in its army in 1939.

Apart from the restored FT-17, there were another two replica tanks, built for the Jerzy Hoffman film Battle of Warsaw 1920. What struck me was the three tanks moved off is how they would suddenly jerk to the left then be corrected to their forward direction. "The best tank of the first war, the worst of the second..."

Below: a Polski Fiat 508 Łazik, a field car based on the licence-built civilian version of the Fiat 508 Balila. The Polish army had around 1,500 of these in service in 1939.

Below: the Polish Sokół 1000 motorbike. Also built in Ursus by PZInż. Very similar to pre-war Harley-Davidsons in appearance.

Below: a Sokół 600 with sidecar accompanies the Sokół 1000. The 600 was a single-cylinder design.

The parade passes, the crowd moves on. Memories of Polish triumphs and disasters on the battlefield - which had the most profound impact on the way the country evolved - are embedded deep in the national psyche, and events such as this maintain that tradition.

This time two years ago:
Dworzec Zachodni ('West Wailway Shtation') before the remont

This time four years ago:
90 years ago today - Bolsheviks stopped at the gates of Warsaw

This time five years ago:

This time seven years ago:
Armed forces day parade in Warsaw


Unknown said...

I'm following your blog from Tasmania.

A photo of 1920s tank regiment including my Dziadek

Wilkbury said...

thanks for the relation and the nice pictures.
The Sokol on your pictures without sidecar is Sokół 1000 (M111). It just has a V-twin engine. On the last picture - on the left is Sokol 600 and on the right Sokol 1000. It is easy to distinguish Sokols at first glance by its front supension - Sokol 100 had Castle type fork and Sokol 600 had Webb type fork.

All the best!

Michael Dembinski said...

@ meika

Thanks - excellent photo!

@ Wilkbury

Duly noted and corrected. Indeed, looking at the second photo in close-up, the rear cylinder is evident! Thanks for point out the mistake.

Unknown said...

Naprawdę świetnie napisane. Pozdrawiam.

Unknown said...

Super artykuł. Pozdrawiam serdecznie.