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Text Box: Hallerís Tanks

THE POLISH 1ST TANK REGIMENT

By:  Witold J. Lawrynowicz
 April 30, 1999
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Part II: Polish 1st Tank Regiment

Origins

An order of the Polish Army in France issued on March 15, 1919 formed the 1st Polish Tank Regiment (1er Regiment des Char Blindes Polonais) and this date is regarded as the beginning of the Polish Armored Forces. The 1st Tank Regiment was formed on the base of the French 505th Tank Regiment (505 Regiment des Char Blindes) with mixed Franco - Polish cadres. Major Joules Mare, commander of the 505th Regiment, also became a commander of the Polish unit. Formation of the 1st Regiment began in Martigny-les-Bains in department of Vosges on March 22nd, 1919. On March 28th the first volunteers started to arrive. The enlisted men originated from Polish nationals, POWs from German and Austro-Hungarian armies, and also from Polish American and French volunteers.

(*Webmaster's Note - I found this excellent article about Renault Tanks of the First World War on the webpage of Witold J. Lawrynowicz. There are references to the Polish Army in France and to General Haller, so I have included excerpts of the applicable references to the Haller's Army website. My sincerest thanks to Mr. Lawrynowicz, whose site may be viewed at http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Opera/2211/renaulteng.html)

The 2nd Company of the 1st Battalion was the first unit engaged in the fighting. The 2nd company, with 24 tanks, departed from Lodz on August 19th, 1919, and supported action of the 58th Infantry Regiment of the 14th Wielkopolska Division, against the Bolshevik forces defending Bobrujsk (Bobruysk). Unit was instrumental in breaching the Russian lines and opening way for the infantry attack. On August 28th, 1919 tanks accompanied by the infantry columns entered Bobrujsk to the enthusiastic welcome of the local population. The company was fighting under French Capt. J. Dufour and all officers in the unit were French. After successful action, the tanks were transferred by train north, where the 2nd Company aided the 1st Legion Infantry Division in the storm of the forts of Dyneburg (Dvinsk). Mjr. J. Mare has directed this action personally, sometimes leading his tanks on foot.

Most of the French personnel departed back to France after their subsequent return to Warsaw, though French officers remained as advisers. The 1st Tank Regiment did not take part in fighting until the spring of 1920.



The 2nd Tank Battalion


During the spring of 1920 the southern wing of the Polish Army advanced deep into Ukraine and captured Kiev. Operation was undertaken in the hope of establishing a friendly, independent Ukrainian state on the eastern border of Poland. The 1st Tank Regiment units were kept in reserve during this drive. In May of 1920, the 1st Tank Battalion (1st and 2nd Companies) was stationed in Wilno (Vilno) and 2nd Tank Battalion (3rd and 4th Companies) in Kiev. Stationed in Kiev 3rd Company was employed for reconnaissance and patrol duties on the eastern bank of the Dnieper river. Red Army launched their counter-offensive in the Ukraine in May breaking through Polish defenses after a bitter five day battle. Budienny's 1st Cavalry Army, operating behind Polish lines after penetration of the front, precipitated Polish retreat from Kiev and Ukraine. The 2nd Tank Battalion got a dangerous task of acting as a rear guard to cover retreating infantry units and civilians fleeing the Bolsheviks.

The 3rd Company was evacuated to the Koziatyn railway center where it joined local garrison.

The 4th Company was used to strengthen the defenses around the town of Rowno. The detached II platoon, lead by Lt. Bronislaw Rafalski, covered the retreat of the 3rd Infantry Division on the road Korzec - Rowno. Fighting for Rowno lasted all day on July 5th until dusk when the general retreat order was issued. Tanks again were ordered to cover the evacuation. Fighting in the surrounding fields continued into the night. The 4th Company retreated without orders to an already abandoned railway station and loaded their tanks on flatcars. Although most of the tanks of the 4th Company were damaged, only one was lost during the fighting in Rowno.

The 3rd Company returned to the southern front from Lodz with a full complement of tanks on August 1st, 1920. Its first task was to support the 12th Infantry Division in defense of the western bank of the Seret river. Later the tanks were transported to Lwow (Lvov) to help in the defence of the city against approaching Budienny's 1st Cavalry Army.



The 1st Tank Battalion


The 1st Tank Battalion, stationed in Wilno (Vilno) in the northern part of the front, was engulfed by July 4th, 1920 Tukhachevsky's offensive. It was moved by rail to Grodno where the 2nd Company entered the garrison of the city and the 1st Company remained on the flatcars. On July 19th, Grodno was attacked by the III Cavalry Corps led by Ghai-Khan and weak Polish forces were soon overwhelmed. Gen. Mokrzecki, commanding the defense of Grodno, gave the order to the 2nd Company to counterattack.

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Battle of Dyneburg- August 30, 1919

Battle of Grodno- July 19, 1920

For the rest of the campaign both companies of the 1st Tank Battalion took part in a series of rear guard actions designed to cover withdrawal of infantry units.

Battle of Warsaw


Following the July, 1920 successful offensive in the Byelorussia the Soviet forces marched through Poland with the intention of expanding the Bolshevik revolution to countries of the Western Europe. By early August, 1920, the Red Army was rapidly approaching Warsaw and J. Pilsudski, head of State and Commander-in-Chief, planned a bold offensive action with the aim of splitting two Soviet fronts in the center and encircling their northern flank. This plan was based upon assumption that Warsaw could tie down a significant portion of the Soviet forces and while doing so, survive an onslaught. The Commander-in-Chief issued an order concentrating all tanks for the defence of the capital, but only 38 vehicles were gathered. The remainder were scattered around defending Poland in the south or temporarily out of action undergoing repairs in Lodz. Sixteen of the available 38 came from the 2nd Company, 10 from the recently established 5th Company and 12 from the 4th Company.

The most important developments in which the Renault FT tanks participated during the battle of Warsaw took place around Radzymin, east of the capital. The II platoon 5th company, from the reestablished 3rd Tank Battalion, assisted in a counterattack of 1st Litewsko-Bialoruska Infantry Division at Radzymin. Fighting at Radzymin was prominent in stopping main Soviet thrust to capture Warsaw.

The Polish Army turned to the offensive on the morning of August 16th, 1920. Divisions of gen. E. Rydz - Smigly Operation Group sliced through the weak defenses of the Mozyrska Group and turned north - east in order to encircle the Soviet forces storming Warsaw. By that time three companies with six tank platoons were gathered in Mjr. Nowicki's Armored Group. The task of this new unit was to open communications between capital and Minsk Mazowiecki to the south-east of Warsaw. The advance from Milosna toward Minsk Mazowiecki started on August 17th, with two tank companies attacking, one on either side of the railway tracks. Tanks were assisted by infantry and three armored trains. The enemy was quickly defeated and thrown back.

Armored Group was next assigned to the 18th Infantry Division with the task of cutting off retreating III Cavalry Corps which attempted to avoid encirclement by slipping east along the East Prussian border. Mjr. Nowicki, established a cordon defence between Ciechanow and Mlawa using three armored trains, two tank companies on flat cars as improvised armored trains and one tank company patrolling on the ground. Polish forces were surprised, when the III Cavalry Corps attacked on the foggy morning of August 22nd. Mjr. Nowicki was killed by artillery fire in the armored train "Danuta" and Bolshevik cavalry broke through. Although successful this time, Ghai-Khan was finally pressed against East Prussia and forced to cross the border.

The 2nd Battalion, which did not participate in the Battle of Warsaw, defended Lvov and joined the offensive of the 6th Army in Ukraine. Tanks aided in capturing Zadworze and Sknilow. After completing this task tanks returned to Lvov and did not take part in subsequent fighting. The 1st Tank Regiment was placed in reserve, where it stayed until cessation of hostilities.

During the fighting in Poland, Renault FT tanks were subjected to prolonged mobile operations unlike in the Western Front. The Renault FT 17 tanks were very slow, and best suited for the attacks on prepared positions. Nevertheless, on many occasions, they helped infantry to gain their objectives and ensure successful outcome of the operations during the war of movement in Poland. Placing tanks on flatcars and employing as improvised armored trains was the uniquely Polish innovation. Armored trains were sometimes improvised of tanks with mechanical defects as a fast and simple means of reintroducing them into action. On other occasions it was the only way to combine the firepower with the necessary mobility in pursuit or retreat.

Only 8 tanks of the total number of 120 were permanently lost in combat, mainly because they could not be recovered from the battlefield. This speaks highly of the tank's durability and skills of mechanics who, in primitive conditions, repaired and refitted tanks keeping them operational. However, the short life span of the tank engines necessitated frequent returns to the base in Lodz. These repairs eliminated tanks from the front lines for extended periods of time. Soldiers of the 1st Regiment were awarded 34 Crosses Virtuti Militari, the highest Polish award for bravery on the battle field.

The 1st Tank Regiment was dissolved on August 11th, 1921 and three independent tank battalions were created in its place.

Bibliography

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Periodicals

Armor Magazine
Armored Fighting Vehicles News.
La Revue d'Infanterie
La Revue Militaire Francaise.
Military History
Museum Ordnance. The Magazine for the U. S. Army Ordnance Museum
Nowa Technika Wojskowa
Przeglad Wojskowo-Techniczny
Przeglad Kawalerii i Broni Pancernej
Wiarus

 


The 1st Regiment consisted of five tank companies, each of 24 Renault FT in three platoons. Each platoon received three tanks with 37 mm Puteaux guns and two with 8 mm Hotchkiss machine guns. Each company contained one headquarters tank, five replacement tanks, and three tanks in supply-and-recovery section. The regiment also had an organic workshop and transportation sections. The companies were numbered, in accordance with the numbers of Polish infantry divisions in gen. Haller's Polish Army in France ie.: 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7.

The 1st Regiment was transported by train to Lodz in Poland between June 1st and June 16th, 1919. On the day of departure from France, the 1st Regiment numbered 34 officers and 354 other ranks of French and 11 officers with 442 other ranks of Polish. The process of gradual taking over the unit by the Poles began in October 1919.