Search



ABOUT SSL CERTIFICATES

 
 

The Deluge:
Sons of Poland
By Mike Bennighof, PhD
May 2020

During the summer of 1939, Poland's leaders realized that Germany would soon attack and ordered "secret mobilization," retaining soldiers with the colors after summer maneuvers, men who ordinarily would have been released back to civilian life. Even so, when the Germans attacked on 1 September 1939 they had a superiority in infantry of 1.5:1, in field artillery of 2.8:1, and in both anti-tank guns and tanks of over 5:1.

The Polish high command reacted poorly, and Poland's armies could not maneuver quickly enough to stop the German panzer divisions. Within five weeks, the campaign was over though armed resistance never completely died out in Poland and hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers would carry on the fight in exile. The outnumbered Polish soldiers fought very well in 1939, much better than their British, French, Dutch and Belgian allies would do a few months later despite holding superiority in number of troops, planes and tanks.

The Polish soldiers repeatedly fought the Germans to a standstill at the tactical level in September 1939, and today we have a look at how Polish forces are portrayed in Panzer Grenadier: The Deluge.

Infantry

     

Poland's army went to war on foot; all of the Polish divisions that saw action in 1939 were infantry divisions. A Polish infantry platoon was very large by most armies' standards, with three squads each of 19 men. In addition a mortar squad operated a Polish-designed 46mm light mortar and a headquarters section wielded an anti-tank rifle. The squads were divided into two seven-man rifle teams, with a four-man light machine gun section serving a Browning Automatic Rifle (like many Polish weapons, made in Poland without benefit of license). In game terms the Poles have equal firepower to the Germans: they have more men and are better-organized than the Germans (who have 13 men in each squad without splitting them into teams) but the BAR was not as good a weapon as the outstanding German MG34 light machine gun. Polish riflemen carried the same weapon as their German enemies, the Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle (in the case of the Poles, once again a Polish pirated copy — an entire factory had fallen into Polish hands in 1919 as war reparations).

Polish regulars also had a top secret weapon, the wz.35 "Ur" anti-tank rifle. Kept in sealed containers until mobilization, they had been manufactured under a cover order for the Uruguayan Army (thus the code name) and about 3,500 were available. The rifle was no heavier than a Mauser 98 but its tungsten-core ammunition could penetrate 33mm of armor at 100 meters, making every German tank of the period vulnerable. In game terms, Polish regular infantry receives a less deadly version of the infantry anti-tank weapon rules that account for Panzerfausts and bazookas in other games.

The Polish Army included 11 brigades and one division of National Guard (Obrona Narodowa) troops, and four divisions of lower quality reservists. These units were smaller than the regular companies and platoons, with older French-made machine guns and rifles, and usually wearing French issue uniforms and helmets. They are less capable in game terms also, and usually have lower morale than the Polish regulars. On the opposite end of the scale, the Polish “Highland” and mountain rifle troops are quite good.

Each battalion had a machine gun company of three machine gun platoons plus a mortar section with two 81mm Brandt mortars (Brandt was one of the few foreign manufacturers to enforce a patent within Poland, forcing the Poles to pay license fees on the 81mm weapon and its ammunition). But the Poles merrily pirated the Browning .30 caliber M1917 heavy machine gun, and each platoon had four of them. In practice, battalion commanders usually attached one machine gun platoon to each rifle company.


Mobile Troops

 

The pride of Poland, Polish cavalry brigades had the pick of the army's recruits and carried enormous social prestige and the swagger of an elite force. Polish cavalry had won the 1920 war with the Soviet Union, or so they and the public believed. The Polish Army included 37 horsed cavalry regiments, compared to 90 regular infantry regiments. Polish cavalry received 58 million zlotych in the 1938-39 military budget, or 7.3 percent of the total, compared to 46.3 million for the entire Air Force (5.8 percent).

A Polish cavalry regiment had four squadrons, each of about 120 men, each in turn divided into three troops. Each troop included an anti-tank rifle and a Polish-made Browning Automatic Rifle. Cavalrymen carried a Mauser carbine, and were well-trained in firing from the saddle or quickly dismounting for infantry action — though a huge part of their strength was lost as men were detailed off as horse holders. Though shock action was officially discouraged after 1934, the cavalry trained for it and carried a lance (officially for parade use only, but carried into action by almost all units in 1939) and a saber. A Polish cavalry lance was made of a steel tube just under 10 feet long, with a wicked four-bladed head. Just under the head came a small pennant in the regiment’s colors. Leather straps helped the lancer balance the weapon.

The regiment also had a machine gun squadron with a dozen Polish-made wz.30 copies of the American Browning M1917, divided into three troops. Four of the weapons were carried on light horse-drawn carts known as “taczanka” for firing on the move, the others on pack horses.

Each Polish cavalry brigade included a bicycle squadron of three platoons, and each regiment had a platoon as well. The bicycle platoon was smaller than the infantry platoon, with 42 men divided into two oversized squads like those of the infantry. Considered part of the cavalry, the cyclists had high morale and good mobility, without the need to detail off men to hold their horses.


Support Weapons

   

The Polish wz.31 81mm mortar was the same weapon used by the French, German, United States and many other armies. A modern and very effective weapon, it greatly added to a battalion's firepower. Each battalion was to have four of them, but this plan was still under way when war broke out and most went to war with the earlier standard of two tubes.

The standard Polish anti-tank gun was the wz.36 37mm, a Polish-made version of the Swedish Bofors gun. This weapon had better penetration and range than the Germans' similar Rheinmetall-Borsig 37mm gun, but not enough of a difference to show up in game terms. The Poles were well-supplied with the weapons — about 1,200 of them, enough to give nine to each infantry regiment plus hold a reserve. They claimed between 120 and 150 German tanks during the September Campaign.

Polish units were comparatively well-equipped with anti-aircraft guns as well, fielding about 300 Bofors 40mm guns, with most of them made in Poland. They were very effective against low-flying aircraft and used by many nations throughout the war, and potentially deadly against the tanks of 1939.

Artillery

 

As in other Eastern European armies, the French-made Schneider 75mm Model 1897, the Soixante-Quinze, formed the backbone of the Polish artillery. A Polish regular infantry division had two battalions of 75mm guns, one of 100mm Skoda howitzers, and one small mixed heavy artillery battalion with three 105mm guns and three 155mm howitzers. In addition, each regiment had a section of two 75mm guns for use as infantry guns. That gave a Polish division 48 artillery pieces, 36 of them lightweight 75mm guns, against 74 in a German division, including 36 105mm howitzers and 18 150mm guns.

But the differences went far deeper than number and caliber of weapons. Polish batteries for the most part lacked radios, relying on telephone lines to communicate with their forward observers. If the batteries or observer moved, or if the land lines were cut by German artillery fire or just plain accidents, the guns would fall silent.

As with other weapons, Poland went much farther than other smaller powers in providing for its own needs. The Skoda howitzers were built in Poland under license, as was the 105mm howitzer, the Schneider Model 29. The only modern artillery piece issued in large numbers which was not built in Poland was the Schneider 155mm Model 17.

Armor

     

Poland’s drive for a self-sufficient military-industrial complex extended to armored vehicles as well, though this effort required even more indistrial sophistication. In 1928, the Poles acquired an example of the British-made Vickers Carden-Lloyd 2-ton tankette, a two-man armored vehicle armed with a machine gun. It seemed perfect for the infantry support role, and the Poles ordered copies from the state-run PZI arsenal. In keeping with a view toward intellectual property that would be right at home in some modern circles, the Poles did not bother to seek or pay a license and over 300 TKS tankettes and 300 more improved TK-3 versions rolled off the production line.

In 1931 Poland bought 50 of the widely exported Vickers Type E — 38 with a single turret and 47mm gun, and a dozen with twin turrets each housing a machine gun. The Poles liked their new British machines, and of course made plans to produce an improved, license-free version at home. Their “seven-ton tank” or 7TP, manufactured at PZI, had a diesel engine (a pirated Polish-made copy of the Swiss Saurer engine) to make fires less likely and improve fuel efficiency. It was not quite as fast as the Vickers. Placed in production in 1934, the first 40 models built had twin machine-gun turrets despite universal opinion that the gun-armed Vickers was the much superior tank. However, no Polish firm could roll armored plate into the shapes needed for a proper turret. After desperate attempts, the Poles finally struck a deal with the Swedish firm of Bofors for turrets complete with a high-velocity 37mm gun. This tank went into production in 1937, and a new version with a better turret and welded armor replaced it in on the assembly in 1939.

By the time war erupted, Poland had 95 of these 7TPjw, their most effective tanks, with production limited by Bofors’ inability to provide more turrets and Polish industry’s inability to copy the technology. The machine-gun versions (known as 7TPdw) could not be re-armed with the more modern weapon, despite an urgent desire for this improvement. The Poles knew they needed a more effective main battle tank, and they needed more of them than their own factories could produce.

In 1936, France extended a large credit for modernizing the Polish forces, and Poland laid out an ambitious program to expand the army. The Poles greatly admired and wanted to acquire France’s best tank, the Somua S35 cavalry tank. With good armor protection, speed and a 47mm gun, the S35 was probably the world's best tank at the time. The Polish military commission asked for 100 of them, plus machine tools and a license to make more of them at PZI.

The French were unwilling to trust Polish attitudes toward license payments and desired every S35 for their own forces, and so offered instead the smaller, less capable Renault R35 light tank. Though disappointed, the Poles saw no alternative and ordered 100 of them in April, 1939. To soften the blow of rejection, the French diverted 50 of them from orders for their own forces and these arrived in the summer of 1939 to be formed into the 21st Light Tank Battalion.

The Poles had obtained a sample of the American Christie T3, and just as the Soviet Union copied it for their BT series of fast tanks, so did the Poles attempt to use it as the basis of their own 10TP fast tank. Only one prototype had been built in 1939, as the same problem of turret production that limited the expansion of PZI's 7TP output plagued this project as well. The one prototype carried a Bofors turret from a 7TP, but the production version was to have a 47mm gun — if a turret could be made. The 10TP, powered by a copied (of course) American-made La France gasoline engine, was much faster than other Polish vehicles, making 31 miles per hour, but much slower than the Soviet versions.

Don’t wait to put The Deluge on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else, at a better price than anyone else!

Sign up for our newsletter right here. Your info will never be sold or transferred; we'll just use it to update you on new games and new offers.

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 over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold approves of this message.