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

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