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! 

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