Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sabres in Hand

On September 1st 1939, A Polish cavalry regiment spotted some Germans loitering in a clearing near Krojanty. The 18th Pomeranian Uhlans launched a charge at these invaders. The infantry regiment was caught off guard and quickly over run, before breaking, leaving the Polish cavalry in charge of the battlefield. Shortly afterwards a group of German Armoured cars appeared. The Uhlans immediately, and very sensibly fled, trying to break contact, but took heavy casualties during their flight. The next day an Italian war correspondent was brought to the battlefield (presumably after a clean-up of the remains of the German infantry regiment), the Germans advanced the lies that the Poles had tried to charge tanks. The Italian then published the story as an eyewitness account, and the myth of the Polish Cavalry charge against armour was born and lives on to this day.
Polish Uhlan. That's not a lance on his back either, but an anti-tank rifle.
However, the Poles weren't stupid enough to mount futile cavalry charges. At the Battle of Mokra on the same date the German 4th Panzer Division ran into the 21st Uhlans, who fought as infantry, and their 37mm anti-tank guns and anti-tank rifles gave the German armour a kicking, knocking out around fifty tanks. The Polish cavalry arm consisted of some 10% of the deployable army of the time, with about 38 regiments of cavalry. Many of these Poles would escape to the USSR, and when the Red Army formed its Polish units, cavalry formations were created as well. In the Red Army the cavalry was used more as dragoons (Equivalent to motorised infantry in more modern armies). The Polish cavalrymen were very unhappy with the horses they were given in the Red Army, seeing the horses as tiny little things, indeed one cavalry man would later state they looked like "Jesus astride a donkey!" due to the size of the mounts. After crossing into Poland, the cavalrymen were able to obtain proper mounts for themselves.

On the 1st of March 1945, as the Soviets pushed into Pomerania, the 2nd Polish Infantry Division found themselves facing the third line defences of the Germans around Borujsko. Ahead of them they could see an anti-tank ditch, and some hints of trenches. There were bunkers with machine guns as well. Manning these was the battle hardened 163 Infantry Division. What the attackers could not see was the heavily camouflaged positions, which each contained a couple of men and a stack of Panzerfausts. These littered the approach to the German front line and were described as being laid out in a chessboard like pattern. Borujsko itself sits on a low hill, and the ground around it is wet and boggy.
After an opening bombardment, that included air strikes, lasting around thirty minutes the first Polish attack was launched. Supported by four T-34/85's, with SU-85's in over-watch, the Infantry were soon pinned and two of the tanks had been destroyed. The Poles aborted their attack and fell back to re-organise and try again later. Another component of the plan was the 1st Independent Cavalry Brigade. This formation was to follow the attack in, and when the Germans broke, they were to exploit the opening. A new infantry regiment was cycled in to launch the attack, with fourteen T-34/85's, each with tank infantry riders on the back. Again, five SU-85s were to provide over-watch cover. This attack started at 1500 and was a total disaster. Over the next forty-five minutes the Polish forces tried three times to close with the German defences, and each time they were repulsed with heavy casualties. Most of the tanks had fallen prey to the Panzerfausts, and were burning away, creating a thick layer of smoke to the front of the German positions.

Suddenly, over the battlefield a single red signal rocket burst. The two lead squadrons of cavalry had worked their way forward using dead ground, now using his own initiative one of the junior commanders had yelled "Lancers! Sabres in Hand!" and signalled the charge. The two squadrons raced forward, seemingly to their doom, flowing past smashed burning tanks, and pinned infantry, who lying there would glance up as the horses thundered by.
Polish Cavalry in the late war. Picture is reportedly taken in Borujsko.
 The thick smoke thrown off from the tanks blocked all visibility from the German trench lines, and what could a man armed with a Panzerfaust do against a horse? The anti-tank ditch provided no protection either, as the horses simply leapt over them, as they did the German trenches. Any German who was found was cut down by sabre thrust. The Germans began to break and flee the charging cavalry. After breaking through the cavalry mustered at a nearby wooded area, dismounted, and leaving their horses under guard returned as infantry to attack any German strong points from behind. This coincided with a renewed attack, with extra armour from the front. By 1700 Borujsko was firmly in Polish hands.