Saturday, 30 January 2016

Flames of War: Polish wz.29 Ursus armoured cars

Despite having more than a few armoured cars already in my Polish army, I didn't have the one model of armoured car that the Poles had that I REALLY liked, and that was the wz.29 Ursus!

This had to be rectified! As my dear mother opted NOT to buy me these little beauties for Christmas I decided to step up to the plate and secure them for myself!

I bought them from True North miniatures as is where the majority of my infantry has come from. Unfortunately, unlike their infantry which are better than Battlefronts Polish piechoty by a country mile, sadly the quality of their vehicles leaves a LOT to be desired! These models required a lot of work to be made presentable!

So, the Ursus then?

It was the heaviest of the pre war Polish armoured car designs and was used in only one of eleven reconnaissance armoured units. Despite being considered obsolete in 1939, a clutch of these vehicles that was assigned to the 11th armoured unit of the Mazowiecka Cavalry Brigade performed surprisingly well in combat.

In early 1929 (hence the wz.29 designation) the Polish High Command being entirely unenthused with the wz.28 armoured cars placed an order for a new development of armoured cars for allocation to the Cavalry Brigades. The new vehicle was designed in Wojskowy Instytut Badan Inzynierii (Military Engineers Research Institute) by a team led by Lt. Rudolf Gundlach (who would later gain notice for his development of the reversible tank periscope sold worldwide by the UK company Vickers as the Vickers Tank Periscope MkIV).

It was decided to use a modified and strengthened commercial chassis of the 2ton Ursus A truck which had been built under license in Warsaw since 1925 from Italy. The first prototype  was built of mild iron, was completed and tested in June 1929. During trials changes were applied mostly to the turret. The car was accepted in November 1929 with an army designation samochod pancerny wzor 29 (abbreviated to wz.29) although it commonly because known as the Ursus or the CWS.

The design was a typical design for the twenties, it had rear wheel drive, a crew of four, armed with a Puteaux 37mm low velocity gun and another 2-3 machine guns.

The arrangement of the turret weaponry by placing them at 120degrees to each other diminished the turret weight balance problems but made it difficult to target a single target with both weapon types at the same time.

Initially the armoured cars also had a machine gun placed in the turret for anti aircraft use but were proven to be ineffective and were removed in the '30's. Tracking a fast moving aeroplane with a turret mounted machine gun in a ball mount proved practically impossible to be of any use.

Tests of the prototype revealed, that despite the advantages of the car such as a relatively strong armament, sufficient armour and a rear drivers position making reverse driving easier it was found that the car actually had low speed and manoeuvrability. Usage of a truck chassis was pretty standard in this era making construction and maintenance easier. One of the results of using a truck chassis however was a lack of all wheel drive, resulting in a poor off road profile. Despite having quite a large silhouette there wasn't actually much room internally. Both weapons and arrangement quickly became obsolete.

Because of these facts only 10 of these vehicles were eventually ordered with the whole series being completed by 1931

Technical Specifications:
Main Armament was the French 37mm wz.18 Puteaux L/21 low velocity gun. In spite of its WW1 origin, it was a simple and reliable design that still proved to be quite accurate. 96 rounds were stowed, in 24-round boxes. The gun was mounted in a Polish designed universal ball mounting with a  1.5x telescopic site aimed using a shoulder butt. Amour penetration was poor but was sufficient to fight contemporary armoured vehicles at close ranges. HE rounds had a range of about a mile and a half and 10 rounds could be fired per minute.

Secondary Armament was provided by a couple of French 7.92mm wz.25 Hotchkiss machine guns in universal ball mountings. One was placed in the turrets left rear facing at 120deg to the main gun and the second was placed on the rear plate of the car manned by a rear gunner. The car carried 4032 rounds (16 belts of 252 rounds each) and had telescopic sites.

Armour was provided  by riveted rolled face hardened steel plates of Cr-Ni steep constructed in a series of slopes and measured between 4-10mm thick. This was proof against small arms fire at all ranges and anti tank rifles firing from over 300m

September 1939: 
From the first day of the war the armoured cars and tankettes of the 11th armoured unit were used intensively for reconnaissance and patrolling bringing information back to brigade headquarters of enemy movements. Before long their reconnaissance remit transmuted into delaying actions and securing the retreat of Polish units from enemy encirclements. In several cases they supported attacks on enemy positions as well.

On 1st September at the outbreak of the war, two armoured car troops were assigned to the outposts of the Mazowiecka Brygada on the defensive front line on the Prussian borderlands. At the opening of hostilities the 2nd troop was firing upon advancing German troops from ambush positions. In the evening they laid an ambush near Krzynowloga Mala village destroying all three armoured cars of a reconnaissance unit of the 12th Infantry Division. Two of the Ursus' were damaged with Warrant Officer Wojcieszak suffering a head injury although he continued to serve.

On 3rd September one car was lost in a  skirmish with a reconnaissance unit of SS 'Der Fuhrer' regiment of army group Kempf near Chojnow village (between Przasnysz and Grudusk) when a troop was sent to make contact with the nearby 8th Infantry Division. Later that day all of the armoured car squadron supported by the 11th Ulan (Lancer) regiment repelled attacks by the 3rd Battalion of SS 'Deutschland' motorised regiment in a forest near Przasnysz.

On 4th September  the 1st troop supported the 7th Ulan regiment in a skirmish in Szczuki (a village near Przasnysz). The Ursus' destroyed two PzKpfw I's that were part of a platoon attempting to flank the Polish positions. Around 3pm Lt. Nahorski destroyed a German staff car with his main gun, capturing maps and documents.

On 7th September Ursus cars supporting the attacks of the 7th Ulan regiment on the village of Dlugosiodlo (near Ostrow Mazowiecka) destroyed another two enemy armoured cars of Germany's 1st Cavalry Brigade losing one car in the process. The unit was retired to rest after this day.

 On 12th September the unit was moving out to rejoin its brigade when it absorbed two wz.34's of 61st Armoured Unit which had become separated from their parent unit. Just after 09:00 behind the small town of Seroczyn (South East of Warsaw) the 1st Armoured Car Troop, moving in the vanguard encountered the vanguard of Kampfgruppe Steiner, detached from Division Kempf. The German unit consisted of a motorcycle company with an armoured car troop, 4 AT guns and 4 Infantry guns. In a short skirmish two of the enemys armoured cars were destroyed, for the loss of one Ursus which was hit by a German AT gun. The Poles withdrew to the town. The Germans deployed to attack soon after. They fought through the town pushing the Poles out across the Swider river.

In the second stage of this battle Major Majewski formed an ad hoc group comprising all his remaining cars, all of the rogue troops gathered from the surrounding woodland, an artillery battery that was found without its horses and the newly arrived tankettes of the 62nd independent reconnaissance tank company.

The Poles launched their attack across the river. The armoured cars made a rush for the bridge but the first car across was hit by AT gun fire whilst the tankettes on the right wing became bogged down in a  boggy meadow. As the Polish attack stalled the Germans counter attacked with the main forces of the Kampfgruppe supported  by the tanks of the 6th company of the 7th regiment, supported by ample artillery forced the weaker Polish forces to withdraw Garwolin around 13:00 hours.

The Polish lost two Ursus', one (or two) wz34's and a clutch of tankettes in the engagement but caused enough German casualties to enforce a halt, slowing their advance to the Vistula which ironically allowed Anders cavalry to slip through a hole in the net.

That evening the 11th again made contact with the enemy this time with the reconnaissance element of the German 1st Infantry Division ejecting them from a crossroads near the village of Gonczyce but losing the commanders car in the process. 

At last the weakened armoured unit joined Army Lublin teaming up with the Warsaw Armoured Motorised Brigade. Unfortunately the last of the Ursus' had to be destroyed on 16th September as they retreated through the sandy terrain south of Zamosc. The after action reports show that the cars were sinking into the sandy soil past their axles making their continued mobility ineffective. It was decided to save their fuel for the vehicles of the Warsaw Armoured Motorised Brigade for their armoured showdown at Tomaszow Lubleski on 18th September.

A sad end for these warhorses! 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Flames of War: Polish 21st Light Tank Battalion

Because of the limitations of Poland's industrial capabilities in the inter war years, their patent trampling redesign of the Vickers E tank; the Polish 7TP could not be produced in enough numbers to allow Poland to keep pace with their more aggressive neighbours (The rolled steel of the 7TP's turret had to be farmed out to Bofors in Sweden to produce and they had their own limitations) they were forced to look abroad to fulfil their armour clad desires!

Because of this Poland approached England and France to purchase tanks from them to equip their growing armoured arm.

To put it bluntly England had nothing that the Poles deemed good enough other than the Matilda II but British High Command refused to let these gems out of the country.

When the military mission visited France however they were deeply impressed with the French Somua S-35, widely regarded as the best medium tank of the interwar period. Poland requested 100 of them plus machine tools and a licence to build more in Poland.

Europe knew war was coming though and the French High Command also refused to allow these prized vehicles to be siphoned off to an Eastern nation before their own armed forces and had their fill of them (which they did not achieve before their rather comprehensive collapse of May 1940... and of course there was plenty of evidence as to how the Poles treated international patents.

The military mission began to consider other options and whilst generally considered unsuitable for the job based on previous trials of the Hotchkiss H-39 and the Renault R-35 they decided that as a stopgap solution to their problem they would have to do.

Whilst the 3 H-39s previously trialled in Poland, were retained in the Brigades structure, 100 R-35's were ordered. Less capable and under armed for their purpose the French nonetheless softened the blow of the S-35 order refusal by diverting the first batch of 50 from their own armoured forces to the Poles.

The R-35's arrived in the summer of 1939 and the Poles didn't even have the time to repaint them before the war broke out, let alone train the crews to become operationally familiar with their machines and how to repair them.

The R-35's were held as a high command asset and took little part in the fighting before the fronts collapsed. The brigade was ordered to withdraw to the Romanian bridgehead with orders to defend it so friendly forces could cross to safety.

When the Soviet Union invaded on 17th September the Battalion was split with 34 of the tanks actually withdrawing into Romania whilst the remaining tanks formed a half company and joined Task Force 'Dubno' and took part in running battles with both Germans and Soviets before all tanks were eventually lost.

A whole company of the 21st Light Tank Battalion
The organisation of the 21st Light Tank Battalion was a little different from the normal armoured structures of the Polish army and each company had four platoons of only 3 vehicles each, as well as a command tank and a recovery vehicle (which I have yet to sculpt!)

A Renault R-35

A Renault R-35

A Hotchkiss H-39

A Hotchkiss H-39

...and there we have it! A whole new armoured force to field against the Socialist Scum! :D

Monday, 18 January 2016

Flames of War: Polish Piechoty Engineer Platoon

In Flames of War Engineers can be used to destroy bridges or build field emplacements, as well as being able to take the role of infantryman where necessary.

In September 1939 Poland had engineers and pioneers embedded with the regimental and brigade structures of the army theoretically allowing all forces to have elements at their disposal that would facilitate in the parental organisations manoeuvrability as well as being able to clear mine fields or destroy enemy hard points.

With the habitual headlong retreat that Polish forces suffered in 1939 it was a rare event that Polish engineers were able to play to their strengths at anything other than destroying bridges and frustrating Nazi advances.

There are no miniature manufactures in the world that produce Polish Engineer miniatures in 15mm so I had to cast my eyes about for a workable parallels.

Firstly was the issue of finding their transport vehicles. The Czech Praga RV six wheeled trucks. After much searching I managed to find a single manufacturer of these trucks and that was QRF Miniatures in their German range.

The trucks needed an enormous amount of cleanup and nothing seemed to fit together properly BUT once the paint jobs were applied they passed muster!

The miniatures were another matter however! With a lack of Polish engineering options I needed to find an army whose uniform was a passable parallel to the Polish 1936 uniform. Not as easy as one may first imagine! The Italians were an option although nobody made Italian engineers either. Finally I settled on Peter Pigs US Marine and Army Engineers. The main difference in their uniforms was the  height of the puttees with the Marine ones climbing to half way up the calf, whereas the Infantry engineers has their trousers descending to their boots.

With a little trimming of the helmets a passable wz.1936 pattern helmet could be replicated and where the packs were concerned they looks identical to Polish ones so long as you are OK not having the bedroll or the mess tin strapped to the pack outside.

Now comes the question of mine clearance! In September 1939 Poland had already developed a 'mine detector' BUT it was developed with the intention of searching out and clearing of unexploded ordnance on artillery ranges. It was not, therefore, being utilised in the role it would come to own. Poland was clearing mines through other means... i.e a MkI eyeball and MkI knife. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to paint up some mine detectors though as they provided some good poses that I hadn't already got into the army and they also serve as an easily identifiable figure by which you can identify this unit.

The other miniature in the US Army Sappers, Pioneers and Engineers pack that can easily be shoe horned into your Piechoty force is the sapper that is carrying the satchel charge. With the same trimming to the helmet as then mine detector got he becomes easily the most passable version of a US solder in Polish service!

So there we have it! A Polish Field Engineers platoon of two sections each carried in a Praga RV truck with the platoon command also carried in a Praga RV and an Engineers truck which will be removed should any field positions or bridges be destroyed or created!

Onwards and Upwards!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Flames of War: Polish Tatra T-18 Draisines.

So... its been a while since my last blog post (that seems to be a continuing theme with my blog these days... I seem to spend a lot more time painting than actually photographing what Im doing or working on...) and I thought its about time I do a big photo session and share with you all the assets that I have finally finished for my Polish Piechoty army.

I have now painted just about every asset that any Polish Flames of War Piechoty player would need with the exception of mountain troops (which are some of the next on the hit list but probably only for when I get into my 10th BK)

So, without wasting any more time I thought I would share some of what Ive been working on.

We will begin with the Czech built Tatra T-18 Draisines sculpted by the inestimable Dave Schmid of Armaments in Miniature!

So, what, I hear you ask, is a Draisine? A draisine is a light auxiliary rail vehicle that is crewed by service personnel and equipped to maintain railways. In the interwar years the European central powers realised that being able to scout along rail routes was far more beneficial than allowing serious armoured assets (such as the armoured trains) to ride rough shod (so to speak) over any given stretch of railway lines that had been mined.

Why would I need one for my Flames of War army? Well because they are just cool! They bring a whole new level of pointless to an army that struggled to put anything competitive on the field of battle and I was just begging for something to support my Armoured Train!

Poland opted to purchase the T-18 Draisine from the Ringhoffer-Tatra works in 1925 because of an initiative of the Polish armys Tatra Division. 6 models of the T-18 were purchased in September '25 straight from the drawing board and were delivered in November of the same year.

They were sent to the armoured trains training battalion in Joblonna near Warsaw where it was found that the engines were too weak, they had a low mobility evaluation and very slow acceleration. Still, that didn't stop the Poles ordering another 9!

There were plans to strengthen the profiles of the Tatra's (as they were coined) by providing them with the same turrets that the wz29 Ursus armoured cars had (as well as three of the Armoured Train tenders including PP51 Pierwszy Marszalek, PP52 Pilsudski and PP53 Smialy), however this was not completed before the war broke out as they were already considered obsolete and by which time their replacement by R and TK draisines was already underway

These draisines were used by both Polish Armoured Train divisions in the 1930's and variously carried numbers and/ or names at different times. These were removed however and in 1936 were repainted in the standard Polish 3 colour camouflage patterns with irregular big patches of grey sand and dark brown on an olive green base. In 1939 these draisines carried no markings apart from Polish State Railways (PKP) eagle on each side door.

In 1939 they were only used with armoured train PP15 (Smierc) and PP13 (General Sosnkowski) each of which had a platoon of two Tatras (although PP13 also had a couple of R draisines as well)

One of PP15's draisines was destroyed by anti tank guns near Nasielsk on 5th September, The rest were apparently abandoned, possibly in a damaged condition.

It is possible that the two remaining draisines were included in the training trains assets of 1st Armoured Train Unit which was bombed and abandoned in a big rail jam near Siedlce on 10th September 1939!

Oh yeah.... and the Polish Tatra T-18 draisines were armed with a single Hotchkiss wz.25 machine gun and not the two vickers machine guns I have managed to equip mine with! FAIL!