Polish Army

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I thank Tim Hundsdorfer who helped me in translation and added some spice to this article. Visit his page.

Polish infantry

Polish infantry attack


Infantry was backbone of the Polish Army in 1939. Poland's infantry forces consisted of 84 infantry regiments and six mountain infantry regiments. Each regiment included three infantry battalions consisting of three riflemen companies and 1 machine gun company. The principal infantry unit of maneuver was the division. A standard infantry division included three infantry regiments, a light artillery regiment and a heavy artillery battalion ("dywizjon" was the polish name; it had 12 heavy guns), an engineer battalion, a communication company and an anti-aircraft gun battery (Polish forces were insufficiently equipped in antiaircraft weapons). Prior to mobilization, the polish infantry force was 30 divisions. An additional nine reserve divisions were to be mobilized in case of war. In reality, the speed and nature of the German attacks made effective mobilization nearly impossible. The divisions were divided among armies without a corps level organization. Operational groups were improvised by army commanders as groups of divisions, rather than as effective corps groups.

Polish Army owned 1200 Bofors 37mm antitank guns which were used by infantry and cavalry units.

Polish infantry was very well trained, better in fact than the largely green German recruits. In pure infantry vs. infantry combat Poles generally won--thanks to bravery and high morale of their troops. Polish soldiers were, after all, defending their homeland and many already had experienced German occupation before. (Large portions of Poland had been part of Imperial Germany prior to 1914. By 1919, Poland was completely occupied by the Kaisers army.) However, German infantry had better firepower , excellent non-commissioned officer leadership and mobility. Furthermore, many Polish commanders had combat experience of Polish-Russian War (During the 1920s, the Poles and Russians fought a series of border wars, one of which developed into a serious conflict in which Warsaw was nearly captured). Therefore, in 1939, the overall Polish situation was good on tactical level. On operational and strategic level, however, the situation deteriorated. Lack of communication and poor mobility caused Polish infantry division to react to slowly to crises cause by the success of concentrated German armored formations. The decisions made by Main Command took too long and difficulties in communication often made them irrelevant. All of this was dependent on the presumed lessons learned from WWIthat warfare tended to become static and that positions defended by machine guns and artillery generally presented an impregnable defense. It was this mistaken belief that led Polish military planners to plan for a total defense of Polish frontiers, rather than relying on terrain and river barriers. The infantry division had adequate equipment to conduct a frontal defence--German armoured division rarely broke Polish defence in frontal assaults. Its weakness was that it was easily out-maneuvered by motorized units.


Polish cavalry

In 1937 Poles began motorizing some cavalry brigades but this process lasted a long time and met with great resistance from the traditionalists which held power in the Polish army. Further, the Polish cavalry was recognized worldwide as being among the best in the worldby many military analysts of the day THE best. Given this acclaim, it is difficult to make changes. Poland maintained a remarkable cavalry force: 11 brigades. These obsolete formations were the only truly mobile force for the Poles. As it turned out, the brigade was to small unit to match modern combat field tasks. Polish cavalry units were too weakly equipped in artillery, anti-aircraft guns and antitank weapons to prevent armored breakthroughs. Even so, due to very good morale and training Polish cavalry fought some successful battles sometimes defeating even German panzers.

Horse-mobile cavalry machinegun

Polish cavalry force included 38 cavalry regiments of which each consisted with four cavalry squadrons (companies), a heavy machine-gun company and additional units. Cavalry brigade included three or four regiments, horse artillery squadron (company; 12 light guns), anti air battery, engineer company and other units.

Armoured Forces

A unit of Polish armour - motorized brigade.TK reconneisance tanks on the road.

Following France military doctrine of the day (France was the most important Polish ally), Poland formed small, integrated tank units--companies and battalions--and attached them to infantry formations. The only large echelon ones were two armoured/motorized brigades, but these were equipped with only one light tank (Vickers) company and two reconnaissance tank companies (TK tanks). Independent tank units were: two battalions and two companies of 7TP tanks, R-35 tank battalion, 3 companies of R-17. Each cavalry brigade and 18 infantry divisions had reconnaissance tank company.
Polish Army had in numbers:

Polish 7TP tanks

The French R-35 was a fairly effective tank (by comparison), sporting a low-velocity 37mm (1.5 inch) gun. It had a reasonable amount of armour but was woefully slow. The R-17 was a modernization of the WWI vintage FT-17 tank, which proved to be completely inadequate for the WWII battlefield. It was as slow (generally moving no faster than a man could walk) as it was unreliable and it is doubtful that many of those which could start could actually get to combat by September of 1939. It was also under-gunned, sporting either a machine gun or 37mm cannon (Some in French service mounted a 75mm smoke cannon, some in Polish service had 37mm gun). In fact the Germans thought so little of them that they didn't even use captured vehicles in later campaigns as was their practice. The TK series was under-armoured, under-gunned and slow. It is interesting to note that both the Germans and the Poles used a variety of armoured trains. Captured Polish 7TP tanks were painted in German Panzergrau with German crosses and were presented during victory parade in Warsaw in 1939. Finally they were not used in combat but as artillery tractors.


Polish horse artillery unit

To be continued...

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