By Mike Bennighof, PhD
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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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 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.