Scenario Preview, Part Six
By Mike Bennighof, PhD
Poland went to war in September 1939 with a very clear doctrine for opposing enemy armored formations. Unfortunately, only one of the mechanized cavalry brigades intended for this task was ready for combat when the Germans invaded, and it lacked most of its tank component. Even so, the Black Brigade’s exploits against the Germans became a Polish military legend, so we devoted a full chapter to just the first few days.
All of these scenarios are completely new, and I find this the most interesting chapter in Panzer Grenadier: The Deluge with some of its best scenarios. Let’s have a look at them.
The Black Brigade
The Polish Army experimented with motor-mechanized units during the Polish-Soviet War, and continued the efforts afterwards in the Przemysl garrison. Budgets went to horses rather than vehicles in the years that followed, and while the cavalry waxed strong the infant motorized forces remained in the cradle.
That changed in 1937, as part of the general restructuring of Polish cavalry. The cavalry divisions were dissolved, as were most of the old, small two-regiment cavalry brigades (identified by numbers) that had formed their component units. Larger and more capable brigades (identified by names) with three or four regiments took their place, with a proportionately greater allotment of artillery, anti-tank and other supporting arms.
One brigade remained on the old standard. The 10th Cavalry Brigade, part of the 4th Cavalry Division, was selected as the Polish Army’s first mechanized unit. It would begin with two battalion-sized “regiments” of truck-mounted infantry, converted from horsed cavalry units.
Over the next two years, Polish officers offered many different suggestions for the brigade’s composition. The mission would be to oppose enemy - meaning German or Soviet - armored formations, and so it would need a strong anti-tank component. The army staff appears to have favored a mix of two tank and four motorized infantry battalions, with plans to raise three more similar formations.
That didn’t come to pass, and what armored strength the brigade possessed was only attached for field exercises. Component units came from five different mobilization districts. Col. Stanislaw Maczek, appointed to command in late October 1938, exercised his brigade as much as possible and worked to build morale by obtaining special uniforms: black leather trenchcoats for his officers and NCO’s and many enlisted men, black berets in place of the forage caps worn by other formations, and old-style Austro-Hungarian “coal-scuttle” helmets, of course painted black.
The brigade went to war only slightly stronger than in 1937, with its two motorized cavalry regiments, recon and anti-tank squadrons, a motorized engineer battalion, a motorized anti-aircraft battery and a motorized artillery squadron slated for eight 75mm field guns and four 100mm howitzers; the howitzers never arrived. Instead of the expected 1st Light Tank Battalion with 7TP tanks the brigade received the 121st Light Tank Company with sixteen far less capable Vickers Type B tanks, and the 101st Recon Tank Company with thirteen TKS tankettes of several different models.
By September 1939, the 10th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade was still the only large mobile unit in the Polish Army. Assigned as the mobile reserve for Army Krakow, the army command immediately dispatched it to fulfill its mission of stopping German panzer divisions. The legend of the Black Brigade began on the afternoon of the war’s first day.
Clash at Jordanow
1 September 1939
Poland had just started to mechanize her armed forces when war broke out; a logical progression from her centuries-long dependence on cavalry. When the panzer divisions crossed into Poland, the 10th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade (one of the Polish Army’s two large mechanized formations) promptly rolled to the frontier to aid local militia already engaging the invaders.
The National Guard troops put up fanatical resistance until the mechanized cavalry arrived in the nick of time, and managed to restore the Polish lines. By noon the German attack had been blunted, with the help of an armored train bearing the only effective Polish artillery in the sector. German losses included more than 30 tanks, but they were not dismayed by this first setback and would be back the next day.
We actually had a scenario in the old White Eagles sort of based on this action, but after consulting Polish sources I decided that the materials I’d used the first time around weren’t very accurate. The Polish National Guardsmen have to hang on against the panzers until the cavalry arrives; when that happens, the cavalry has to out-maneuver the panzers - it’s not going to blunt their advance by sheer force.
Dark of Night
1-2 September 1939
Col. Stanislaw Maczek of the 10th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade did not believe he could remain passively on the defense. The German 2nd Panzer Division vastly outnumbered his force in every category. To disrupt the pending German attack, Maczek ordered a night assault with a battalion detached from the 6th Infantry Division and two squadrons of dismounted motorized cavalry.
The Polish units attacked separately, alerting the Germans and allowing them to drive off the attackers with minimal losses. The Poles came away with valuable intelligence, including prisoners and the 2nd Panzer Division’s code books. Polish civilians had more success, lighting gasoline storage tanks aflame resulting in an explosion that killed a number of Germans and destroyed several tanks. The Germans returned in October to burn the village of Wysoka and massacre its inhabitants.
Most of the battles in the September Campaign took place during the day; the Germans just didn’t have the logistics of war down yet and the Poles usually needed the darkness to hide their retreats from German air attack. This is a Polish surprise raid under cover of night, in which the Poles on foot are just trying to sow mayhem.
Panzers at Dawn
2 September 1939
Thwarted on the first day of the war by the timely arrival of the Black Brigade, Rudolf Veiel sent his 2nd Panzer Division forward as the sun rose, with his tanks leading the way. The Poles had been busy during the night, and despite their failed spoiling attack they had managed to prepare a stout defensive line where they awaited the enemy.
Veiel began the assault with a powerful artillery bombardment that failed to suppress the Polish anti-tank guns. Next the Germans led with their tanks, and the Polish gunners fought their pieces fanatically, waiting until the Germans had approached to close range before opening fire. The Germans launched repeated attacks but the Poles held with the help of counter-attacks of their own.
A frontal assault spearheaded by tanks; unfortunately for the Germans, they’re Panzer I tankettes and Panzer II light tanks. Those 37mm anti-tank guns might not be much good against a T34 but they’re hell on a Panzer I and the Poles have the morale of winged hussars.
2 September 1939
Multiple German attacks through the morning drove back the Polish line and threatened to break through. Just before noon, Veiel committed his infantry reserve which pressed into the defenses at the seam between the two Polish motorized cavalry regiments. This represented the greatest threat to the Polish position so far, and brigade commander Stanislaw Maczek committed his armored reserve, built around the 16 Vickers light tanks of Lt. Stanislaw Raczkowski’s 121st Light Tank Company, to restore the situation.
The sudden appearance of Polish tanks restored the situation and prevented a German breakthrough. That didn’t stop the Germans from renewing their attacks, and the Black Brigade could not continue to hold off the much larger panzer division for long. By nightfall Maczek had ordered a retreat from the Jordanow position.
A Polish tank attack! The tanks aren’t very good, but they’re still better than what the Germans have, and the Poles don’t have to do a whole lot to win the scenario: just drive the Germans back from their gains, and let the infantry re-occupy the high ground.
3 September 1939
The German 4th Light Division, organized less than a year previously from the Austrian Federal Army’s “Fast Division,” had fewer tanks than the other German mechanized divisions and a reputation for being much less efficient. Its commander, the Austrian Maj. Gen. Dr. Alfred Ritter von Hubicki, sought to make up for both with a night assault - a rarity in this campaign - against the Polish border guard regiment blocking his advance. The attack had some success, until the cavalry arrived.
The Polish cavalry drove back the Germans and restored the border guards’ position. The 4th Light Division had begun the campaign with just 57 tanks, all of them light Panzer I and Panzer II models, and had nothing to match the armor and firepower of the Polish Vickers B tanks - probably the only time this this could ever possibly be true. The Poles repelled a German counter-attack in the afternoon, and withdrew at nightfall after a large-scale German artillery bombardment.
The Germans have a lot of artillery and they have tanks, but the Poles have better tanks and more of them and better morale. It’s a big scenario with a lot of troops involved; I wanted The Deluge to include more large battles.
4 September 1939
Army Krakow’s command added several small motorized units to Maczek’s command and tasked him with continuing to delay the advancing German panzers. This could best be achieved, Maczek believed, by continuing to act aggressively. If the Black Brigade allowed itself to be pinned down for long in positional warfare, it would be destroyed by superior German firepower as so many foot-dependent formations had already discovered.
The Polish mechanized cavalry held off the German recon units for much of the morning, but the arrival of a German mountain battalion on their flank unhinged their position. Now facing elements of four different German divisions, 10th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade conducted a fighting retreat but suffered heavy losses before it could disengage from all of its enemies.
This is an odd scenario, with the Poles needing to delay the Germans but needing to account for a flanking force of mountain troops. They’ll have to time their action just right; the mountaineers have to march on foot but that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous.
And that’s all for Chapter Six. Next time, we look at Chapters Seven and Eight.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published countless books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.
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