Friday, 18 August 2017

Stanislaw Maczek - Part 4 - The Black Brigade and The Polish Campaign (1939)

...and so we come to it. Finally! After three rather voluminous posts the Second World War begins. Maczek, our erstwhile hero is married with a family, has participated in a horrendous political faux pas with the occupation of Teschen late in 1938 and has brought the 10th Motorised Cavalry Brigade up to a state of readiness.

Now it’s time to follow his steps through war ravaged Poland as his world collapses around his ears.

German troops removing a border barrier as they cross the border into Poland 1.IX.1939

War descended brutally on Poland from the sky, the sea and the land on 1st September 1939. Long expected, it nevertheless struck Poland like a proverbial thunderbolt. A report soon received from the British Military Attaché revealed that the Germans were not however, having it all their own way. He reported that initial stiff Polish resistance had already upset the German military timetable. The Heer hoped to get their timetable back on track based on a total operational time and material expense of only three weeks.  Losses on both sides were a lot heavier than expected, whilst the German military expressed disappointment over the results of their strategic bombing raids. A report referenced in the Prime Ministers Papers, held in the Kew archives, also stated that German civilian and military morale was low (I doubt this personally. It smacks of Chamberlainesque blind optimism) which was of some concern to the German General Staff. It would appear that German planning was not as seamless as many imagine the German invasion of Poland to have been.

Lord Halifax
Despite the tooth and nail defence that the Polish military was putting up, the British government, following the Anglo-Polish staff conversations during the summer of 1939, was fully aware that it was highly unlikely that the Polish armed forces could stave off a total collapse for more than 6 months without significant outside assistance and that in itself was optimistic. It had been lamented by Sir Bernard Pares to Lord Halifax, that it would have been far more beneficial to have secured an agreement for aid from the Soviet Union, before Britain gave its pledge to help Poland in the case of war. This would most likely have stuck in the collective Polish craw as Russian help always seemed to be conditional, which of course was the Polish experience. It had been noted by the British General Staff, as a result of the Anglo-Polish staff discussions that they seemed less hostile towards the Soviets than they had been historically.  However, there was still an urgent need to impress on the Poles that the Soviet Union was really the only realistic source of quick military aid in a war against Germany. According to a note that passed between Hankey and Lord Halifax on 12th September 1939, the British government was already writing the Poles off as having no chance against Germany.  A note in the margin states 'defeatist' although it is not clear as to whether this refers to British opinions of Poland or Polish opinions on their war with Germany or indeed even Halifax's opinion of Hankeys written piece.

The Conservative Cabinet of 1939. Lord Halifax on the far left and Leslie
Hore-Belisha, minister for war to the right of Churchill
The second meeting of the British War Cabinet confirmed that Poland was taking everything that Germany could throw at it but that assistance should be rendered as soon as possible. Already, the shortcomings of the British guarantee were being exposed. It was considered that only the Royal Air Force was in a position to render any assistance at all, whilst attacking Germany over land should be left to the French. In April 1939 the British Minister for War, Leslie Hore-Belisha informed the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain that the British armed forces were dangerously short on manpower at a time when almost every other European state was mobilising.

General Edmund Ironside
Within days of Poland’s invasion, the War Cabinet considered the possibility of Polish resistance being broken completely with a long period of stalemate across Western Europe being the result. However, at this time the new Chief of the General Staff, General Edmund Ironside reported that the concentration of a full 32 German divisions that swept into Southern Poland from the Slovakian lands had come as a complete surprise although the Poles were aware of a build up. His personal view was that Poland would fold completely within a few weeks. The Poles were equally surprised because they had considered Slovakia a neutral state, so such a large, aggressive and developed attack coming out of Slovakia took the rug out from under them completely.

Ironside, as early as July 1939, had entertained serious reservations about Poland’s ability to resist invasion. He was impressed with the Polish soldier but was left despondent at Polish defence plans. The lack of military professionalism in the Polish army was quite clear to a professionally trained soldier. The British Military Mission were of the opinion that the Poles grossly overestimated their own abilities to resist invasion and drastically underestimated the military capabilities of their coming opponents. The Mission identified serious material shortages in the Polish army, a direct result of Pilsudski's neglect of the Polish home war industries, meaning that even with an army as well trained as they were; there was only enough material in country to wage war for three months. By way of summary, a complete Polish collapse was predicted by the British Military Mission (although it did not foresee the Soviet back dooring) and as reported to the War Cabinet, not only did the Polish military err in their estimations of their own strengths and that of their enemies, but also made the catastrophically short sighted assumption that the under developed transport infrastructure of Eastern Europe would prove a hindrance to German motorised forces, thereby handing the advantage to the Polish cavalry. Consequently, the Poles had made few defensive plans and as such it could be said that the Polish army was admirably prepared to fight the war of 1918 only.

So, where did this leave Maczek at the opening of hostilities?

Colonel Maczek as he appeared at the opening of hostilities in 1939

August 31st

By August in the Beskides the harvest was complete. Cereals from the fields were stored sheathed in barns. Threshing of the corn on local grounds had already begun with waste hay from the second thresh being deposited in dumps.

A panorama of Krakow looking towards the Wawel in 1939
Maczek and the 10th Motorised Cavalry Brigade were moved to the Krakow military district, as part of Armia Krakow under the command of General Szylling. Maczek’s area of operation was designated as being in the direction of Pszczyna, Bielsko, Zawiercie and Katowice with the defined objective of reconnaissance, linking up with the area divisional commanders; Generals Boruta, Mond and Sadowski.

At the outbreak of the war, Maczek was a Colonel reported as being a tough and uncompromising leader, similar in many ways to Germany's master of mobile operations, Heinz Guderian. Maczek’s 10th Cavalry Brigade (soon to be dubbed by their German opponents 'The Black Brigade' on account of the black leather coats that officers, NCO's and motorcycle mounted troops wore), would fight a series of delaying actions as a part of Army Krakow's Independent
General Antoni Szylling
Operational Group Boruta, never allowing the Germans to gain the advantage through sheer weight of numbers. The 10BK’s own history records that "the soldiers proved splendid fighters, without a trace of any 'Armour Panic', especially the tank units, whose 37mm anti-tank guns confirmed the hopes that we had placed in them. In the course of the day the enemy lost about 30 tanks. The 2nd of September had an excellent influence on the morale of the Brigade."

As a matter of interest, the possible error in the Poles’ recitation of their own organisation should be highlighted here. The only artillery/guns in the tank units were 47mm short QF guns that were mounted in the Vickers E type B turrets, while the 37mm Bofors wz.36 anti-tank guns were in either their own Anti-Tank Battalion or individual platoons attached to the Reconnaissance battalion and motorised cavalry regiments but nowhere else in the brigade. The error may also be one of original translation as I don't believe anybody put any great hope in the QF 47mm cannon carried by the Vickers E whilst the Bofors 37mm wz36 anti tank gun had impressed a lot of people before the war and as such would fit the overall meaning of the translation better.

Heinz Guderian, Hitlers genius of
armoured warfare
It was Guderian who defined the requirements for a decisive tank action. These requirements being suitable terrain, surprise and a mass attack in the necessary breadth and depth. None of these elements were available to the Germans and Slovaks in their attack through the Tatras and in fact, were so categorically absent that it may have been better to just plough over the passes with the 1st Mountain division. Heavy tanks were hardly used in Poland, the closest examples being the PzKpfw IV (even that doesn’t really qualify) and the Soviet T-28, which was actually categorised as a medium tank. There were no tank armies, no massive armour concentrations and no great sweeping tank battles. When the German General Staff reviewed the campaign, they were far more concerned with the quality of the horses used and with the quality of the MG34 machine gun, which frequently jammed in the dust and mud of the driest September on record in Poland.

Major Kazimierz Zmudzinski. 16 dam.
On the evening of August 31st the 10th Motorised Cavalry Brigade officers were still celebrating their assignation to the 10BK. Colonel Stanislaw Maczek was present with Major Kazimierz Zmudzinski, commanding officer of the 16th Motorised Artillery Battalion (16 dam) and with some pressing Lieutenant-Colonel Francisek Skibinski, the 2iC and Chief of Staff of the 10BK amongst others.

Colonel Maczek explained to Major Kazimierz Zmudzinski that “Mobilisation does not necessarily mean war. Even if the war was to begin tomorrow and even if it did the Brigade was Armii Krakow’s reserve and therefore unlikely to be put into the field for at least a couple of days.

Zmudzinski went to some length to reassure Maczek of his feelings, explaining that there was really no need to be afraid of war because if you were to be killed tomorrow or the day after then you would never have to regret anything that you didn’t eat or drink until the end of your life”. His fate would lend a sad irony to these words.

Skibinski recounts that they returned to Trzaska’s house (an officer previously in command of 10BK) in the Wola Justowka in the south of Krakow where they were staying. Quite late he fell asleep, slept like a log and slept well. At 5am on 1st September he was awoken by the phone ringing. The officer on duty reported that “Germans have crossed the border. It’s War!”

The campaign trail for the Black Brigade took them across the entirety of southern Poland and then south across the border of Hungary but in the month that they were engaged they never lost an engagement and never let the Nazi's overcome them. This is one Polish campaign that is worthy of a close look:

The campaign trail of the 10th Motorised Cavalry Brigade 1.IX.39 to 19.IX.39

1st September

The Luftwaffe filling the skies above southern Poland

Over Skomielna Biala waves of black aircraft were seen passing over from the earliest hours and artillery fire was heard from the direction of Orawa.

German motorised infantry cross the border with Poland
The first situation reports received by Armii Krakow’s staff from its subordinate units in the area detailed that “… Jablonka and Orawa are burning from artillery fire. On the Babia Gora the smoke covers everything…” From the Podhale’s operational area, Colonel Gladyk of the 1st Mountain Brigade reported that “… the entire Orawa valley is full of hundreds of tanks, armoured and transport vehicles, which are racing towards Spytkowice and Dunajec. Do not mistake me, 1st KOP will act in the manner of Leonidas himself, but pay attention to your wing and your rear…”

The attack of the Germans and Slovaks from independent Slovakia came as no surprise to the Poles as they were aware of the build-up of forces across the border from the middle of august, but the weight of the blow certainly shook them to the core.

The shock was so great that by 08:00 on 1st September, without waiting for an agreement to come from Warsaw, General Szylling threw his only real reserve, the 10BK, into the cauldron that was boiling in the Beskides.

Lt.Col. Wojciech Wojcik of 1st KOP
Whilst the Brigade was en-route to their assembly areas, Maczek overtook his troops and made his way as fast as was humanly possible to Skomielna Biala where the staff team of Colonel Wojcik’s 1st KOP was situated. 1st KOP staff were found working in the Rectory with the Church Tower being chosen as the observation post.

1st KOP regiment was subordinated to Maczek’s command on September 1st. They had resisted and resisted fiercely so far. Maczek was already aware of the value of this regiment, consisting as it did of two separate battalions. 1st Battalion under Colonel Jan Kazanowski and 2nd Battalion under Major Czeslaw Jamki as well as Zakopane’s National Defence Battalion under Major Edward Rotha. The artillery of the regiment was provided for by a single battery of four 65mm wz.06 mountain guns, old French hand me downs from the First World War.

Armoured Train No51 (formerly named Pierwszy Marszalek - The 1st Marshal), which had been assigned to Armia Krakow and stabled at Skawina, was also assigned to assist the 1st Mountain Brigade and was therefore in the area supporting 1st KOP, which was a part of 1st Mountain Brigade. In the morning Captain Leon Cymborski had informed his men of the German invasion and made preparations. By midday the train had set out for Makow Podhalanski to the west of Jordanow.

A Polish border marker in the Southern Karpaty
The weakest link in this collection of assets was the Type IV National Defence Battalion from Zakopane. Their firepower was minimal owing to a lack of heavy machine guns and anti-tank guns and were thus almost defenceless in the face of armoured attacks. The National Guard were also often not issued with complete uniforms, frequently sporting only red and white armbands, just as their future brothers in the Armia Krajowe were to do. Their methods of conveyance were limited to what transport they could requisition from locals and as such in wartime the mobility of these units was extremely limited. They were of limited use to say the least.

Already aware of these limitations, Maczek detailed off an anti-tank platoon from 10BK to head forwards to the front of Skomielna Biala to assist the KOP and National Defence battalions.

On arriving in Skomielna Biala, Colonel Maczek oriented himself to the current situation around Chabowka, just to the south.

The moment of death for a German soldier in Poland
Around the time of Maczek’s arrival, German forces had surrounded Zubrzycy Dolna and the hill line towards Babia Gora, reaching the road leading to Zubrzycy Gornej. The village was captured in the early afternoon of September 1st. The resistance of the KOP and National Defence battalions had been compromised early in the day with the Germans reaching the village of Spytkowice by 09:00. The German attack on the village unfolded and around 11:00, despite the support of the 10BK’s anti-tank platoon, the German armour forced their way into the village pushing out the Polish defenders.

In order to prevent the Germans moving over the highlands too quickly and compromising the defensive positions of the Poles, a 9 gun 37mm wz.36 Bofors anti-tank gun squadron from the 10th Brigades anti-tank gun battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Wieslaw Kiersz was detailed to occupy the western slopes of the Wysoka heights. They were to annihilate any enemy tanks that made an appearance. Kiersz arrived in the assigned area at about noon and found a number of perfect positions for his anti-tank guns.

The rest of the 10th Motorised Cavalry followed Kiersz into the Wysoka-Rabka-Lubien triangle soon after, making their way to their assigned assembly areas.

Favouring the defenders, the Germans for some reason had decided to halt their advance after seizing Spytkowice and reaching the Chabowka area, giving the Poles an opportunity to prepare themselves thoroughly.

German troops following a Panzerjager I

By the afternoon on the 1st September, leading elements of German XXII Corps; the 4th Light Division and 3rd Mountain Division had already conquered Nowy Targ and Czarny Dunajec and although the Pieniazkowic District remained in Polish hands, movement of German armoured columns between Nowy Targ and Chabowka was able to continue unmolested.

Reports started to come in of the destruction of several German tanks which was confirmed by the presence of prisoners. On meeting Colonel Wojcik, Maczek was introduced to a Corporal who had lain in ambush and then jumped onto the rear engine deck of an enemy tank. Pulling out his handgun, he had shot the vehicle commander in his cupola and then threw a hand grenade into the vehicle itself, immobilising it.

Captain Leon Cymborski of PP51 ‘1st Marshal’ also checked in with the staff of 1st KOP and it was agreed that the train should patrol the Osielec – Jordanow area.

PP51 'Pierwszy Marszalek' (1st Marshal) on its way to its designated patrol area

Preliminary intelligence indicated that 2nd Panzer Division, advancing towards Zakopane had a nearly tenfold advantage in tanks and four times in artillery. In order to level the field somewhat, Maczek decided to attempt to hold the mountainous areas between Rabka and Jordanow, concentrating his strength on the heights around the village of Wysoka and on Ludwika Mountain.

Obrona Naradowa uniform plate showing
the older pre 1938 model uniform
The Polish defensive line was divided into two area groups. The Jordanow area included Mount Ludwika and Wysoka and was to be defended by the 24th Uhlans under Lieutenant Colonel Kazimierz Dworak, supported by one of the Brigade’s anti-tank Squadrons along with the depot company of 1st KOP and some of the Obrona Naradowy (National Defence).

The Rabka area was to be commanded by, Lieutenant Colonel Wojciech Wojcik and defended by 1st Battalion 1st KOP, the other anti-tank squadron of the Black Brigade and the Zywiec National Defence Battalion from Sucha Beskidzka. Artillery support was to be provided by the 65mm mountain gun battery.

Arriving a little later than other assets, the 16th Motorised Artillery Battalion was deployed in Naprawa, a small village a little to the east of Jordanow and tasked with providing artillery support to the Jordanow area, whilst the Pioneer battalion was tasked with destroying bridges and creating obstacles to the German advance.

The crew of a Vickers E relaxes next to their tank before battle
The 10th Mounted Rifles Regiment was assembled in Lubnia, whilst the Reconnaissance Battalion was detailed to assemble in Krzeszow along with the command and staff of the 10BK. Each of these two forces was also allocated one platoon of the 121st Vickers E tanks as support if needed.

From the afternoon PP51 ‘1st Marshal’ opened up artillery fire on the Germans assembly areas in Spytkowice and behind at Obidowa assisting the 1st KOP.

Arriving at Wysoka at about 19:00, two squadrons of 24th Uhlans assisted in repelling an evening attack that was already underway by German infantry supported by a 70 tank sledgehammer. The anti-tank squadron assigned to the defence of this area was particularly noteworthy in this action. The Uhlans and KOP counter attacks here forced the retreat of the German troops back to their starting point of Spytkowice in some panic.

German PzKpfw I attack
Owing to the fact that they had surrendered territory to the Germans already, around the village of Spytkowice, Maczek resolved to dish out a measure of payback by launching a night assault on the German assembly areas in order to slow the German advance. Unfortunately, the Gorale (Polish Highlander) guide that they chose was under the impression that racing through the undergrowth and forests and sliding down the mountain sides on his backside was a method of travel that was achievable by troops laden down with extra ammunition and festooned with grenades.

The guide was lost and the night attack failed, it never even happened. However all troops were able to return to their positions around Jordanow in time for the next morning.

2nd September

The second day of the fighting around Wysoka and Ludwika Mountain began before 05:00 with the Germans opening up with an artillery barrage by 48 field artillery pieces of four German Divisions. After a few minutes both hills stood covered by dense smoke, beaten mercilessly with artillery shells. The Polish artillery at Naprawa responded in kind.

Polish 16 dam. Battery 1 in position

Early on 2nd September Armoured Train No.51 had been ordered to move from Skawina to Jordanow Railway station and render assistance to the forces engaged there. The terrain however, made it difficult for the train to lay artillery fire without assistance, so Captain Cymborski contacted the observation post on top of Wysoka Mountain, commanded by Lieutenant Kazimierz Pfaffebhoffen-Chledowski, and requested assistance.

Black Brigade anti-tank guns dug in and waiting
The first German assault was launched against Wysoka and Ludwika Mountain at 07:00 with a mass of 150 - 200 tanks, but was pushed back mainly due to the concentration of artillery fire from Zmudzinski’s 16 dam and ably supported by the tenacious defence delivered by Lieutenant Kierszas’ anti-tank platoon. Following this repulse, the Poles attacked downhill from the Wysoka Heights, supported by an attack launched by 1st KOP from the direction of Skawa where it was stationed, effectively arresting the infantry support that was being given to the German assault.

A second assault was launched at 10:00 by the Germans. It was pressed home so tenaciously, with no less than 200 armoured vehicles and tanks, that before long, the lines of attacker and defender were intermixed, with close range combat becoming general and the Poles, having to resort to the use of Molotov Cocktails and the bayonet to assist them in pushing back the armoured assault.

The dispositions for the battle of Jordanow and Wysoka 1.IX.39 to 3.IX.39
taken from the book 'Boje Polskie 1939 - 1945' 

The presence of German columns about 2 miles south from Jordanow station was reported to PP51 by the observation post. The train immediately opened fire on the advancing German troops as they attempted to eject the Poles from the Wysloka Heights and Ludwik Mountain.

Around noon, the Black Brigade staff were able to take a breath as Dworak reported that “The enemy retreats to Spytkowice…”

Despite repulsing the German assault, Maczek still saw fit to move the Reconnaissance Battalion down to Skawa. This was to assist the KOP in preventing the Germans circumventing the defensive positions on Wysoka and Ludwika Mountains.

German Panzer II and Panzer I advancing towards Wysoka
After a short break the Germans launched their third assault. This time they utilised a more focused and effective artillery preparatory bombardment, having spent the morning spotting where the most effective Polish weapons of the morning were situated, detailing some of the barrage against 16 dam’s positions in Naprawa.

Unfortunately for PP51, the train was also targeted by German artillery, shells exploding all around the wagons, with the result that Captain Cymborski, commanding officer of the train, was injured and had to be removed from the combat zone. Captain Rokossowski took over command and still using the two Forward Artillery Observation posts co-ordinated fire with the requirements of Maczek and his troops. The trains four 75mm’s continued to lay indirectly controlled fire onto the 2nd Panzer Divisions positions throughout the assault using these observation posts.

Despite staunch resistance the outermost positions of the 24th Uhlan’s were overrun with another of the Regiments anti-tank guns being lost to tank fire. More than a dozen German vehicles were destroyed in this final assault on Wysoka. Three of the anti-tank squadrons anti-tank guns were destroyed in this final action, although the gun of Corporal Wincenty Dziechciarz destroyed seven of these German vehicles before he and his crew perished under the fire of three armoured vehicles.

A famous painting of the defence of Wysoka by the Anti Tank Battalion... see a greatcoat anywhere?
Around 16:00 Dworak reported that German tanks had entered Wysoka. Communications were then cut and Lieutenant Pfaffebhoffen-Chledowski’s observation point was destroyed in the assault with Chledowski suffering injuries and losing a hand.

Following the expulsion of the Polish defenders from Wysoka, German artillery fire was relocated onto Jordanow and Naprawa causing numerous fires and much damage.

About this time, the commanding officer of the Polish 16th Motorised Artillery Battalion, Major Kazimierz Zmudzinski was wounded by this artillery fire and was left behind for the Germans as the Black Brigade eventually abandoned the positions around Jordanow. Zmudzinski was evacuated to a military hospital in Vienna where he died of his wounds a month later, adding a hollow credibility to the words spoken to Maczek just before war broke out.

16 dam's 75mm artillery battery position

Whilst Lieutenant Colonel Dworak’s troops retreated from Wysoka and reached new positions, digging in on the hills surrounding Jordanow, the 16 dam’s artillery observation post on top of the Wysoka heights also evacuated, causing a break in the artillery communications and supporting fire of 16 dam’s guns. Unaware of what was happening, they were ordered to prepare themselves for direct firing, shooting at the enemy over open sites as they were expected to advance up the road from Jordanow to Naprawa.

Maczek consulting with Skibinski and dispatch riders
Maczek, red faced and furious demanded that Skibinski ‘find out why those fuckers in the artillery had stopped firing and demand that they resume immediately’. Maczek then headed into Jordanow itself to assess the situation, there issuing categorical orders that Jordanow and Skawa were to be held until nightfall at all costs.

The loss of the artillery observation post on the top of Wysoka mountain coincided with the loss of a second artillery observation post that Armoured Train No51 was using, so in an attempt to regain a measure of control over where they were laying their artillery barrages the trains commander, Captain Rokossovski, opted to send forwards a draisine platoon to act as spotters for the trains artillery as they fell back to their original positions, managing to bring the pain to another German armoured column as they travelled.

Skibinski, in his report, was scathing concerning the lack of a solid line laid out in the Polish defences because if one moved westwards from the point of contact there was nothing there, whilst to the east 12th Infantry Regiment, a part of the KOP brigade could be found.

Obrona Naradowy (National Defence) launching an attack
The defenders of the Rabka area, under Colonel Wojcik, had an easier start to the day and were able to repel all of the German advances almost as soon as they started. Their task was made more difficult by the destruction of all bridges in the area by Polish Sappers earlier in the day. No major German incursion was achieved. By the end of the day Wojcik’s troops had been replaced by other troops of the KOP, whilst the troops of the 10BK that were present to assist were withdrawn to Skomielna Biala to regroup and reorganise.

After the Germans had occupied Wysoka they made an attempt to rush the positions surrounding Jordanow but at the point of the bayonet the 24th Uhlans held firm and repelled them. Licking their wounds the Germans regrouped a little down the valley at Wysoka village and beyond, this time intending to make a strike to the east of Skawa at Skomielna Biala.

Skomielna Biala as it appeared in 1939
Ironically, Skomielna Biala was also chosen by Maczek as a place in which he could regroup his troops as well as a place from which he could send out patrols to explore a gap which had been potentially identified in the hills around Skawa Dolna, just to the west of Skomielna Biala, which he realised could be held relatively lightly whilst delivering an appreciable level of antagonism to German ideas.

The Germans had now attained an appreciable understanding of the depth of the Polish defences and as night fell they started targeting civilian villages and such like with their artillery, forcing a sudden mass exodus of the civilian populations, choking all of the arterial routes that were available to the Black Brigade for manoeuvre.

Satisfied with having pushed the Poles from the mountain of Wysoka and occupying the now burning village at its foot, as well as having a stiff fight with the Polish tankers at Naprawa along with a single Polish reconnaissance patrol supported by artillery, the Germans decided to draw a close on further combat for the day.

Wysoka burning fiercly after the battle

General Ewald von Kleist
The Polish Highlanders of the KOP were able to retreat and organise their new lines of defence without being compromised during the night. It also came to light that Lieutenant Wasilweski, between the German assaults, had made a successful attack on a German staff car carrying two officers. They had in their possession a briefcase containing documents outlining operational orders, from which the staff were able to ascertain that they were not just scrapping with 2nd Panzer Division, but in fact the entirety of XXII Army Corps under General von Kleist was piling across the border. Uncovering such valuable information gave the Poles small comfort. An additional 200 tanks, several artillery batteries and two motorised cavalry battalions were now to be added to the original estimates of what the Black Brigade were facing.

Contact on the 2nd September finished at dusk with the Polish artillery on the train, taking the opportunity to shell the German armour assembly areas around Wysoka when the train finally departed the area for its new position at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska.

German tanks destroyed at Wysoka
This situation was exacerbated for the Germans in the middle of the night by Polish civilians unscrewing the valves on and exploding two oil tanks, destroying a number of damaged vehicles and killing a number of troops from the 3rd Mountain Division. Sadly in October, this village would pay for its temerity when German troops put 12 of the villagers up against a wall and shot them, followed by burning Wysoka to the ground. Wysoka was awarded the Order of the Grunwald Cross in 1946 in recognition of their bravery at this time. If anybody is interested there is a military monument there now, commemorating this.

The Brigades officers and Traffic Control platoon performed admirably in controlling the mass civilian exodus however and the Black Brigade was able to manoeuvre around the jams the German artillery had created without too much trouble.

A destroyed Panzer II at Wysoka
So far the Polish troops had lived up to their expectations and training. They fought without any sense of inferiority and showed no panic in the face of enemy armour. The Polish anti-tank gunners had fought well giving an excellent account of themselves, in some cases fighting to the death destroying their guns with grenades to prevent them being turned on themselves or else fought until destroyed whilst staving off enemy armoured attacks. Rather than dismaying the Poles as some may have expected, the nature and results of these combats served to invigorate the Poles and boost their morale, stiffening their resolve to defend their country to the death! A commanding officer such as Maczek could not, and would not, ask for more from his troops.

Another one of the Brigades kills at Wysoka. Another PzKpfw II
Skibinski observed that the combats on the 2nd September played a pivotal role in the development of the fighting elan of the 10BK. On its first day of serious combat, despite the Nazi reputation of terror in its method of deploying armour, the Poles had been unafraid and unaffected. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Poles continually fought the German assaults to a standstill. Unfortunately though, by strategic necessity they continued to lose ground.

Maczek himself recalls the 2nd of September as a very painful day for 10BK. Polish casualties had been heavy, not only in manpower but also in the availability of equipment, which the Poles were never completely flush with anyway. Maczek viewed the German casualty rate as some compensation for his losses and the losses of Poland but he, as with most Polish commanders, was painfully aware of the difference in numbers between the German armed forces and the Polish in respect of modern equipment with few advantages being held by the Poles.

On this day, the 2nd September 1939 the Polish 10th Motorised Cavalry Brigade had destroyed around 40 German tanks.

3rd September

The Brigade all found themselves in new positions on the morning of the 3rd with 24th Uhlans, supported by a platoon of TKS tankettes and two platoons of anti-tank guns occupying the western corridor of Jordanow - Tokarnia - Krzeczow. The Uhlans 2nd and 4th Squadrons along with a KOP company took position on the hills between Wysoka and Jordanow and the 1st and 3rd Squadrons were positioned closer to Jordanow, just on its outskirts.

Polish Gorska 65mm Mountain Artillery Battery
The central corridor of Naprawa – Lubien was being held by the 10th Mounted Rifles Regiment, again supported by a platoon of TKS tankettes and two platoons of anti-tank guns whilst the eastern corridor of Rabka – Mszana Dolna was to be held by 1st KOP reinforced by two platoons of anti-tank guns and supported by its own 65mm mountain gun battery.

As the central corridor through Jordanow was considered most critical, the entirety of 16th dam took positions behind the central corridor area with the task of supporting the infantry wherever possible. The Reconnaissance Battalion acted as the Brigades rear-guard whilst the 121st Light Tank Company was positioned at Tenczyn, along the route that Maczek assumed the Brigade would fall back along.

The Sapper Battalion was once again, tasked with destroying any easy routes for German armoured vehicles that could be found along all three corridors.

Maczek’s defensive arrangements had the double aim of pushing back any German assaults made throughout the night and also of determining the numbers and presence of the various German motorised units.

General Mieczyslaw
Early on the 3rd September, it was decided that communications needed to be readdressed with the commander of the Bielsko Operational Group (General Mieczyslaw Boruta-Spiechowicz). Communications had been heavily disrupted throughout the previous day and it was agreed that Maczek himself should coordinate the forthcoming action.

German artillery bombardments that were fired on the Poles in the morning effectively hit empty spaces, targeting as it were the positions that the Poles had been holding on the previous day before withdrawing to their new positions by night.

That day, the command of the 156th infantry regiment that had been moved into the area was ceded to Maczek. As a further measure of trust, another KOP Battalion (formerly a battalion of KOP Wilejka) commanded by Colonel Galadyka, was also placed under him along with some heavy artillery of the 5th Heavy Artillery Regiment that it had been manoeuvring with. This was an encouraging growth in assets for Maczek and the 10BK, indeed this motley collection of military tools was already known as 'Maczek's Group'. He could now start designing more ambitious projects, although in practise, these assets were the reformations of already broken and fleeing troops and only the KOP battalion was in any fit shape to be immediately put on the front line.

PZL 23B 'Karas' squadron preparing to leave on a bombing mission

In the early hours of 3rd September 1939, the 24th Reconnaissance Escadrille, under the command of Lieutenant Alexander Paszkowski and equipped with six PZL 23B ‘Karas’ light bombers, took off from Klimontow airport and headed to the Beskides to provide some much needed support to Maczek and his hard pressed men.

They delivered their payloads onto German vehicle parks in the Podwilka – Orava – Jablonka area. There were not many of these light bombers but the deafening noise of their Skawa bombs certainly made an impression on the hard beset Polish ground troops.

“Below us are mountain peaks covered with dark, almost bluish forests and valleys with a lighter shade, ribbed with clear roads and paths. On the roads we can see armoured vehicles and infantry. However, we are looking for larger groupings of the enemy. We fly at a height of 600m when suddenly, watching, I feel a strong pull on my right hand. Konrad points to something on the ground but it is hard to see through the misty air. Suddenly I see and my emotions and heart of joy pound me hard! There is a road beneath us and a meadow or something next to it, full of cars, tanks and infantry. I make a quick decision. No need to start a bombing run from far away because the Germans would be able to shoot me down. I pull the Karas up and kick to the right. Konrad sends our airmail, six 100kg bombs, which spin through the air and land perfectly in the centre of the German column. I hear an explosive boom from underneath us and feel the percussion wave travel through the air and move my plane. We aimed perfectly… The meadow was covered in white smoke. So perfect! Time to head home, but it’s not an easy task because the enemy’s anti-aircraft guns and rifles having been silent, now spew bullets at us. Rifle bullets pulling long tails of fire go around the plane like fireflies… flying by the dozen… flying by the hundreds, from every hill, from every road crossing each other and the plane as they go, leaving ominous buzzing as they pass.  Every few seconds 10 to 20 rounds of anti-aircraft shells are flying around the plane, these are explosive, the most dangerous weapon for the aviator!”

The remains of Rudkowski's PZL23B 'Karas'
The 24th Reconnaissance Escadrille were not the only aviators to support the men of the Black Brigade however. The 31st Reconnaissance Escadrille of Armii Karpaty, consisting of another six PZL 23B Karas light bombers, took advantage of the Germans grouped along the main road between Nowy Targ and Chabowka destroying a number of them and forcing the delay and dispersal of the column. The flight was however jumped on by the Luftwaffe and one of the flight was shot down over Podwielk by a Messerschmitt Me110, crashing in Orava. Only the pilot, Aleksander Rudkowski survived the crash, with Observer Tadusz Predecki and Gunner Rudolf Widuch both dying through injuries sustained whilst under fire in the air.

The crew of the crashed 'Karas'; Rudkowski, Predecki and Widuch
With the exception of the bombing, by both German and Polish aircrews on the morning of 3rd September it was relatively quiet.

German infantry attacking. Recoloured plate.
The defensive area of 1st KOP under Colonel Wojcik was however brought under the attention of the German 4th Light Division now supported by elements of 1st Mountain Division that had been occupying Chabowka. Being so heavily attacked the 1st KOP now started to fall back under the German assaults and retreating towards Mszana, attempting to arrest their retrograde movement on the line of hills. Unfortunately, by the evening the 4th Light Division had broken through the lines of 1st KOP and now had the potential to exploit this fracture in the Polish defensive front by exiting behind the Polish line and attacking where and when it pleased. A dire fate now hung over the Black Brigade on the night of 3rd/4th September.

German 15cm Heavy howitzer Battery
It was only in the evening that the Germans concentrated their forces to the south of Kasina Wielki. Receiving intelligence reports to this effect, Maczek decided to engage the Germans here and block access to the rear of Armia Krakow.

Making the march through the night was difficult as all of the roads were choked with Polish refugees and their carts. These carts had to routinely be forced off of the road in order to allow passage to the Polish vehicles.

4th September

One of the Vickers E lost in the fighting for Mszana Dolna
Leaving the area of Myslenice with just enough troops to conduct delaying actions if brought under attack, the 24th Uhlans were ordered to assault and recapture the small village of Kasina Wielki.

On the night of 3rd/ 4th September the bulk of the troops were moved to the Brigade’s left wing with the attack, again supported by the 121st Light Tank Company and the 101st Reconnaissance Tank company, being launched in the morning of the 4th.

The Vickers E turret monument
After about two hours fighting, the village of Kasina Wielka was taken without too much resistance being offered by the Germans, repelling elements of the 4th Light Division and 3rd Mountain Division and causing losses of 3 tanks and 2 armoured cars. The hills in between Kasina Wielka and Mszana Dolna were also cleared of Nazi infestation, but German resistance soon stiffened and despite fierce fighting, the road between Mszana and Limanowa remained firmly in German hands. By the end of the day, and under repeated German counter attacks, the 24th Uhlans had been forced to return to their original positions and cost the 121st Light Tank Company (equipped with 16x Vickers E tanks) and 101st Reconnaissance Tank Company (equipped with 13x TKS tankettes) 2 of their tanks and a few tankettes. One of the Vickers wasn't actually lost to enemy action however, it got stuck trying to cross a creek (its turret later becoming a monument in the village of Kasina Wielki). The overall progress made by the German army on 4th September in this area was 0 miles.

By midday on the 4th September, it had been decided that the 10th Motorised and associated troops were to withdraw along the line of the Beskides in order to continue shielding the southern flank of Armia Krakow. Maczek agreed and set about arranging a pair of ambushes for the following day. The first was to occur at Lubien, just north of Maczek’s headquarters in Krzeczow and the second at Sucha Beszkida, situated a little up the western route towards Myslenice.

TKS' moving up the Skomielna road
Supporting the 10th Mounted Rifles, the 121st Light Tank Company , along with the 101st Reconnaissance Tank Company , twice counter attacked the advances of the German infantry of the 2nd Panzer Division attempting to force entry into the Polish positions along the Krzeczow - Skomielna road and through the flank of the 10th Mounted Rifles positions.

The experience of fighting heavy volumes of armour over the last couple of days left a lasting impression on Maczek. He ruminated that a mere 7 anti-tank guns, across a 1 mile front across the Wysoka area, had been able to disable 35-50 armoured vehicles, grinding the Nazi assault to a halt. Meanwhile, employing three to four batteries of artillery against the enemy had disabled over 50% of their firepower and pushed the enemy armour away, which had the effect of paralysing the German momentum. (the German artillery reduction at this scale however may have been the results of coincidental movements on the part of the Germans)

The deployment of every single armoured vehicle from the German 2nd Panzer Division was held up by the resolute action of the 2nd Motorised Artillery Battery (equipped with the Motorised Skoda 100mm wz.14/19 howitzers) firing barrage (even over open sites) with the support of the Brigades anti-tank assets.

During the evening a young female scout serving with the National Defence, stated to her commanding officers that she was willing to be a ‘living torpedo’ (a human bomb) and asked whether the 10th Motorised Brigade would be willing to use her in this way. After some discussion she was dissuaded from this ludicrously rash action, but she became a very valued cook for 10BK keeping morale up by making sure the men were always well fed.

Throughout the night, Polish positions were kept under constant artillery fire by the Germans and in constant contact with German combat patrols. In an effort to distract German attention, Maczek sent out a number of his own combat patrols in an effort to draw German attention away from the withdrawal of the rest of the Brigade.

5th September

General Miecyslaw Boruta-Spiechowicz, issued orders that the 10th Motorised Brigade were to continue shielding the southern wing of Armia Krakow, which was now located just south of the River Vistula (Wisla) and in line with this, was to hold Myslenice through the night of 5th/6th September, at which time responsibility for the defence of the town would be handed over to the 12th Infantry Regiment.

The distractions caused by the Polish combat patrols enabled a respite until 16:00 when the situation began to catch up with the Poles.

German troops taking cover in the fierce streetfighting
The aggressive actions of the 10th Motorised Brigade continued on the 5th September. The 24th Uhlans continued to delay the advances of the Nazi 4th Light Division, whilst the KOP were ordered to withdraw up the Raba valley towards Pcim. At the same time, a force of 10th Mounted Rifles would launch their own attack from Pcim whilst the remaining forces of the Brigade would secure the flanks of the 10th Mounted Rifles, thus enabling their attack by holding a defensive line in the Myslenice-Wisniowa-Skrzydlna triangle.

The 10th Mounted Rifles first attack caved in the vanguard of the 2nd Panzer Division just to the south of Pcim. The attack of the 10th Mounted Rifles was ably supported by KOP Battalion ‘Wilejka’ commanded by Major Kuferski which attacked across the mountains from Trzamynia, but the 2nd Panzer Division were ably supported by elements of the German 3rd Mountain Division, who were moving north along the ridges on both sides of the Raba valley where the Wilejka Battalion were attacking from. The Wilejka battalion was held up by the 3rd Mountain Division and after a stiff fight, eventually pushed back.

Whilst this action was developing however, German troops in other areas of the front were not to remain quiescent. A strong reconnaissance under the mountain of Skrzydlna spotted a potential opening and the Nazis deployed a strong armoured wedge. If this attack was uncontested, it would give access to the rear of the 10th Motorised Brigade and the entirety of Independent Operational Group Boruta, collapsing the entire defensive structure of the Polish forces in the area.

Vickers E type A's surging forwards...
Recognising this, Colonel Maczek dispatched two squadrons of Uhlans, some anti-tank support and the 121st Tank Company under the command of Major Deskura, to block the Germans. By defending the hills and counterattacking each armoured thrust, the Germans were stopped in their tracks but Major Deskura made the decision that he did not have the troops to make an attempt to fold in the German position by executing a flanking manoeuvre.

The 12th Infantry Regiment, occupying Myslenice were now brought into sharp focus by German troops and unfortunately, proved inadequate to the task. The Germans entered Myslenice from the east pushing the 12th Pulk Piechoty before them as they went. With pressure also to their sides, as well as now being cut off from their vehicle pool, the 10th Mounted Rifles were forced to give ground and move back towards Stroza, through side roads along the Raba River in the direction of Dobczyce, suffering heavy casualties before being able to reach their relocated vehicles. 

It was during this retreat that the lines of the Reconnaissance Battalion, shielding the western face of the Brigade was also punctured and one of the battalions TKS-D's was purportedly lost in action as it was covering the movement of the 10th Mounted Rifles through their positions.

A destroyed 37mm Bofors and tractor, caught attempting to run
At the same time, pressure was being put on the rear of the defensive belt as the German 7th Infantry Division launched attacks towards Myslenice from Sulkowice, pushing the defensive positions back. It was under this pressure from both sides that the forces of the entire Operational Group Boruta were threatened by no less than four German Divisions. All of the forces under the command of Maczek struggled tooth and claw to hold onto their positions throughout the evening but as a result of these concentric attacks, the Germans eventually took Pcim pushing out the 10th Mounted Rifles, along with their supporting platoons of KOP, with heavy loss.

The 2nd Panzer Division continued to push towards Dobczyce threatening the capture of Wieliczka, the success of which would mean that the 10th Mounted Rifles would be boxed in from the north, south and west. This was made all the more tenuous by elements of the 4th Light Division managing to bypass the 10th Mounted Rifles to the east.

It was becoming clear that despite the defensive efforts of the Polish forces in this area, the town of Myslenice was becoming untenable and so, General Miecyslaw Boruta-Spiechowicz agreed to a retreat to the west in the direction of Wisnicz and further on to the River Dunajec.

The Brigade heading out of the Karpaty
Threatened with encirclement once more, on top of the renewed German assaults towards Kasina Wielki, Maczek ordered the dispersal of the Brigade with instructions to assemble at Wisnicz the next day. This resulted in the 10th Motorised Brigade leaving behind all of their compatriots that they had struggled against the Germans so hard with and plunging into the unknown on their own.

For Lieutenant Colonel Wojciech Wojcik of the 1st KOP regiment, the tale was grim. After the struggle through the Beskides the 1st KOP were able to find their way to the San River line where, due to the losses suffered during the retreat, his troops were reorganised and amalgamated with other troops of the 1st Mountain Brigade. This newly reformed organisation was included in the 21st Infantry Division led by General Jozef Kustron, which had its back broken in a break out attempt on 16th September resulting in the death of Kustron leading a bayonet charge. Wojcik’s regiment struck out for Terespol and along with other shattered fragments of Operational Group Silesia was eventually run to ground by the Soviets on the 21st September when Wojcik ordered the disbandment of the regiment and gave the order “Every man for himself”. Lt. Col. Wojcik was captured by the Soviets and was sent to the NKVD detention camp in Starobielsk. By 1940, they had already determined that he was rabidly anti-communist and he was subsequently murdered in Kharkov by the NKVD. A grim end to a brave leader of men who deserves to be remembered.

After 5 days of obstinate defence in the mountain passes, the 10th Motorised Brigade under Maczek, was forced to bow to the inevitable and withdraw through Myslenice towards Nowy Wisnicz, just south of Bochnia. The entire operational group under the direction of Maczek, withdrew to the line Niepolomice-Klaj-Bochnia by night, largely unmolested.

German armoured columns pursue the Poles...
Despite the huge materiel advantage of the Wehrmacht, who hurled two armoured divisions, four infantry divisions and a cloud of bombers and dive bombers at Maczek’s troops, the Brigade and the additional attached units were able to successfully shield the southern wing of Army Krakow as it executed its own withdrawal further east. Maczek and his chosen men had fought a general action around Jordanow and Wysoka, launched a series of ambushes over 3 days and still managed to withdraw in one piece, slowing the Nazi advance to a mere 4-6 miles a day. By the end of the first week of September, what has since been called the Border Battles were over. The Polish armed front had been shattered and was in flight from the top of Poland to the bottom but still, one formation had its head held high.

Remains of a German column after one of the ambushes
Maczek assessed the performance of his men saying “… we gave everything we could of ourselves. We gave only 20-30km of land, reducing the pace of the Germans to a cherry of not more than five km a day. We did not drop back until the units of the army wing had escaped from the area outside the Myslenice-Dobczyce line. We were still a unit capable of further use… soldiers, anti-tank gunners, artillery gunners and sappers, and those KOP’s; they fought hard and relentlessly, fought with full conviction of their superiority over the Germans!”

6th September

Arriving at the new positions around Nowy Wisnicz on the morning of 6th September, Maczek realised that the German 2nd Armoured Division and 4th Light Division was hot on his heels, so he prepared hasty defences enabling them to push back the Germans temporarily.

Germans assaulting Nowy Wisnicz
Wisnicz was located on a relatively flat area, which enabled the development of armoured attacks but Maczek decided to offer battle here even though they faced odds of 12:1.

A few hours before the Germans arrived on the Polish coat tails, some supplies finally caught up with the Brigade. Plain wooden boxes marked as ‘measuring equipment’ were left in the town for the Brigade. On opening the crates however, there were no tools but instead, a healthy supply, kept in the strictest secrecy by Polish High Command, of Ur wz.35 Anti Materiel Rifles with ammunition.

24th Uhlans wz.35 Ur anti materiel rifle.
These rifles were the best in the world at what they did, utilising a somewhat different operational method than other countries’ anti-tank rifles. All others used hardened Tungsten core ammunition that would puncture straight through thin armour plates, being slowed but still ricocheting around the inside of a vehicle hopefully wounding its crew but the Ur wz.35 used soft lead bullets that were squeezed as they left the barrel, increasing their velocity. Too soft to penetrate hardened steel armour the lead round would squash against the armour with the transference of kinetic energy causing a spall the size of a fist to break away from the inside of the vehicle, which would then ricochet around the inside, shattering as it went. Lethal… and for most German vehicles, lethal up to 300m!

Black Brigade 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns in position
Positions at the front of the town limits were taken by the infantry, now supplied with the Ur and their attached anti-tank platoons with their 37mm wz.36 Bofors. In addition to this, at each of the town’s main arterial entrances, was placed one of the Brigades four 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns subordinated to an anti-tank role with manpower scrapings of drivers, administrative troops and chefs armed and assigned as close protection sections. Anybody who was capable of carrying a weapon was pressed into the defence of Wisnicz.

Any time the German assaults were pressed too close, or even looked close to achieving a breakthrough, the 121st Light Tank Company, performing like the Hussars of old would race forwards to hammer the German spear tips and plug any gaps in the defensive line that may have appeared.

A view of a destroyed German tank that attacked Nowy Wisnicz
The defence of Wisnicz is even more impressive when one realises that the German assaults on the town were developed from three different concurrent directions, simultaneously and continuously throughout the day.

Skibinski, in his memoirs stated that “We did not understand how it all worked out. It was just too beautiful to be true, but it was true and in the future we became indifferent to the miracles that were repeated almost every night”.

The Vickers E lost in Trzciana being inspected by the Nazis

By evening, the Brigade was all but surrounded again and with the concurrent withdrawal of the Polish 6th Infantry Division and the 21st Mountain Division, Maczek was ordered to move his troops back to the Malopolska Army Depot to bring them into line with the rest of the army. Battle was joined before they could move off however and one more of the Vickers E's was lost, this time at the village of Trzciana.

Maczek abandoned the towns of Nowy Wisnicz and Bochnia dispersing the Brigade on the night of 6th/7th September with orders to assemble at Radlow on the river Dunajec. At this time it is estimated that the Brigade had lost almost 40-50% of her establishment equipment and manpower. General Kazimierz Fabryzy of Armia Karpaty, informed Maczek that a new defensive line was being prepared on the San River line and he was to conduct a fighting withdrawal to this position.

8th September

The Brigade heading down the road past abandoned farm carts
By the 8th September, Maczek and his men had reached the area of Mielec to the north east of Bochnia. He received orders to continue moving on to the south west towards Rzeszow, in order to become a constituent part of Army Karpaty and to assist with covering the retreat of the 24th Infantry Division, tasked with moving into new positions that stretched from Debica to Jaroslaw, conveniently bisected by Rzeszow. That’s a defensive line that covered a massive 50 miles! (At this time your average division would be expected to cover a defensive front of between 6-15 miles).

Moving out from Radomysl, the Brigade headed through the Glogow forest on her way to Lancut. Colonel Maczek was finally able to catch up with and re-join the Brigade whilst it was halted in the Glogow Forest. After consulting his staff, he made the decision to occupy Rzeszow immediately and begin delaying actions. He entrusted the task of defending the city of Rzeszow itself to Colonel Dworak and his 24th Uhlans.  They were distributed to cover three possible approaches to the city and were supported by the 101st Reconnaissance Tank Company and the Reconnaissance Battalion.

The crew of one of the Vickers E's
The 121st Light Tank Company with the Brigade’s Vickers E tanks in the rear-guard, finally ran out of fuel and stopped at Przylek between Mielcem and Kolbuszowa. With the Germans already occupying the towns that were allocated to be fuel depots, a short consultation was held with locals and they were directed onwards to Nisko where it was hoped they would be able to secure more fuel.

The 121st Light Tank Company were able to conjure up some fuel by mixing Kerosene with Mentholated Spirits, but initially only enough for a handful of their tanks with only three arriving in Kolbuszowa, and that only after the Brigade had already departed. The commander of Armia Krakow then directed them to move towards Nisko to support the efforts of 6th Infantry Division and help raise their morale. In this way the Black Brigade lost their only real armoured assets.

Maczek was glowing in his praise of these men and their tanks in his memoirs saying "... In my thoughts I am sending warm thanks to this brave company: for saving the day at Naprawa, for outstanding participation in the assault on Kasina, for doubling and tripling their presence on the Brigades eastern flank, for they were supporting the units morale, just by being present; for they did not shirk from the hardest tasks, saying that they have only old training junk!"

To make matters worse, the reconnaissance tank squadron of the Reconnaissance Battalion which had been fighting against the Nazis around Kolbuszowa, was so hard pressed that they were forced to initially withdraw to the east, thereby losing both support and communication with the rest of the Brigade leaving it almost bereft of any type of armoured support at all.

German Fe18 105mm Howitzer being operated in Poland
The attack on Rzeszow by the Germans began on September 8th at about 15:30 as the Germans opened up with an artillery barrage. Whilst the Germans were launching their attack against the 24th Uhlans (costing the 4th Light Division another 6 tanks), the 10th Mounted Rifles, commanded by, Lt Col. Janusz Bokszczanin, had a job of their own to complete. They were positioned to protect access from the North West by protecting the Rudna Wielka-Milocin line which ended up facing south west. 

In short, the 10th Mounted Rifles were supposed to provide supporting fire to the 24th Uhlans who were resolutely holding back the 2nd Panzer Divisions attacks, and then move back to Lancut which was the defensive position allocated to them for the next day, 9th September. The repulse of the German attack by the brigade’s anti-tank guns precipitated a Stuka schwerepunkt against Rzeszow, with the forward positions, the depot and vehicle park in Rzeszow drawing particular attention. An hour later the next German assault was launched. This time though, the panzers were supported by infantry as they piled into the Black Brigade’s positions.

Destroyed PzKpfw I at a crossroads outside Rzeszow
The Germans launched their assault, this time choosing to hit the flank company of the 24th Uhlans. However, caught in a well coordinated crossfire, the Division’s reconnaissance element was all but annihilated before the Germans fell back.

After having assisted in the repulse of this latest German attack, the 10th Mounted Rifles marched out of Rzeszow in good order and after crossing the Wislok they drove onto Lancut, their garrison city.

The successful completion of this withdrawal convinced Maczek of the wisdom of this idea and he resolved to send the rest of the Brigade to Lancut as well. Worried about the Germans attempting to bypass Rzeszow to the south, he ordered the Reconnaissance Squadron to cross the Wislok via Drabianka, situated almost within the suburbs of Rzeszow and quickly head south and then cut east towards Albigowa, a few miles to the south of Lancut, before heading back northwards into Lancut when appropriate. They reached Albigowa (where the Brigade’s southern wing was sheltered) without a problem, leaving only the 24th Uhlans in Rzeszow.

Colonel Dworak with his troops in Rzeszow
In accordance with his orders, Colonel Dworak proceeded to conduct a fighting retreat up the main roads between Rzeszow and Lancut. Maczek had issued orders to offer a defence of the Eastern side of the Wislok river, which essentially ran from east to west just north of the road to Lancut and it was decided that the first blocking position would be at Krasne and the second at Krzemienica, the two positions essentially dividing the distance between Rzeszow and Lancut into equal sections.

The Germans began their pursuit of the 24th Uhlans at 18:00 on 8th September 1939 with the dispatch of an armoured car platoon to reconnoitre where the Poles had retreated to. The stupidity of this plan was hammered into Teutonic skulls with a series of well-placed 37mm anti-tank shells consequently compelling the Nazis to commit an entire infantry battalion, soon to be backed by tanks and artillery. By 22:00 all elements of the 24 Uhlans had fallen back to Krasne and were fiercely resisting when Colonel Dworak ordered the disengagement of one element at a time, to fall back to Krzemienica and prepare for the next action. 5 hours later, the manoeuvre was again successfully completed and the Nazis had once more been halted in their tracks.

9th September

In the meantime, at about 01:00, the 10th Mounted Rifles as a whole had arrived in Lancut. They immediately set about preparing the defences of the town, taking into account that they would be expected to hold the city for the duration of 9th September until the evening at the earliest.

Colonel Bokszczanin. 10.PSK
At this time, Colonel Dworak and his 24th Uhlans withdrew through the 10th Mounted Rifles forward positions and passed through Lancut on their way towards Gluchow Farm on the eastern side of the town. Colonel Bokszczanin, commanding officer of the 10th Mounted Rifles, ordered reconnaissance patrols to determine what distance from Lancut the Germans were and to ensure that they didn’t approach and surprise them.

Because by this time the 10th Motorised Brigade were once again fighting on their own, Colonel Maczek was concerned not only with the 2nd Panzer Division, but also the threat of the German 4th Light Division bypassing the Brigade from either north or south. He was smart enough to realise that by taking Rzeszow as early as possible, he had allowed the Brigade freedom of manoeuvre and in order to both exploit this freedom and prevent the Brigade being flanked by the 4th Light Division, he issued orders to Major Ksawery Swiecicki, the commanding officer of the Brigade’s reconnaissance squadron, to cover the directions of Albigowa-Dylagowka and Albigowa-Husow and ensure that no enemy movements were able to unfold along them and potentially cut off the 10BK from being able to fall back any further.

Maczek sent his pioneers ahead to Dylagowka on the 9th September and the Reconnaissance Battalions Mounted Rifles on to Husow and Handzlowka. These villages were to be held and denied the enemy.

As reported in the regimental chronicle, Colonel Bokszczanin deployed the second squadron, supported with heavy machine guns and anti-tank guns, with instructions to secure access to Lancut from Krzemienica on Hill 251 with orders to ensure the buildings situated near the foot of the hills were covered. The fourth squadron, with heavy machine gun, anti-tank gun and field gun support, was tasked with defending the access to Lancut from the direction of Krasne whilst he placed his 3rd Squadron with heavy machine gun and anti-tank gun support in the Wisniowka valley straddling hill 259 into Lancut from the direction Albigowa-Kraczkowa. He kept his last squadron in reserve to plug any holes that developed.

Lancut Castle as it appeared in 1939 under Count A. Potocki
Whilst Colonel Bokszczanin distributed his troops around Lancut, Maczek and his chums pitched their tent in Lancut castle, situated on the eastern side of the town centre. Count A. Potocki, objected to Maczek occupying the castle and made a strong request that the neutrality of the castle be honoured, but Maczek flatly refused! There was also an eastern projection of the town just south of the castle, in which a selection of remaining heavy machine gun troops and anti-tank guns that had not yet been distributed were placed in defensive positions by Maczek, supplemented by whichever random troops found themselves retreating through Lancut.

The Reconnaissance Battalions Motorcycle Squadron
Major Swiecicki, commanding the Albigowa reconnaissance mission, had placed his command post in a steam mill situated in Albigowa where his squadron was able to keep the Albigowa-Markowa road under close surveillance from hill 257. On first contact with the enemy, Swiecicki withdrew up the road to Lancut at around 16:00.

The Regimental Chronicle notes that "The Germans developed a strong artillery barrage and so began a long and fierce duel, as the Brigade on this day had almost three times the artillery than the normal heavy artillery usually subordinate to it. The German attack on the city collapsed completely with the 4th Light Division losing several motorcycles and armoured vehicles. We also took captives who assumed that the artillery preparation would have broken our positions and on jumping out of cover were taken captive"

German SdKfz 265 Panzerbefelswagen advancing through a Polish town
However, despite the gains made against the German attack on the Western side of Lancut by the 10th Mounted Rifles, there was in fact, a crisis developing on the southern side of Lancut where Swiecicki's Reconnaissance Battalion was attempting to disengage from the 4th Light Division. At around 17:00 the squadron was all but over run by simultaneous attacks from both the west (Kraczkowa) and south, losing the last of the Brigade’s TKS-D's in the process. The squadron was forced to race back to positions on Hill 257 where they rapidly dug in whilst the Germans, now in control of Albigowa, ploughed on towards them forcing Swiecicki to request urgent assistance from Colonel Maczek.

Maczek recognised the precariousness of the Brigade’s position. If the Nazis were left in command of Albigowa, the route to Markowa would remain open to the Germans and therefore the way to Przeworsk also, which would cut off the Brigade completely. Maczek resolved to deliver the assistance requested with the only uncommitted unit that he had remaining; the 101st Reconnaissance Tank Company.

TK3's moving through Albigowa
Using the buildings to screen their movements, the 101st moved to the southern edge of Lancut suddenly unleashing their attack into the German flank along the Lancut - Albigowa road. The attack was a total success; several enemy armoured vehicles being destroyed by the TKS' with 20mm cannons mounted whilst the HMG armed TKS' used their weapons to great effect flushing out hiding Nazis as they swept up the road. 

This resulted in a precipitate German withdrawal back into Albigowa itself which, whilst remaining in Germans hands was also no longer a free and secure route to the east.

During the remainder of the afternoon of the 9th September, Lancut was brought under heavy and accurate artillery fire, hammering the positions of the 10th Mounted Rifles. Before night fell the Germans were even able to bring the eastern side of the town and the road to Przeworsk under accurate fire. The 16th Motorised Artillery Battalion attempted to respond by targeting the German columns moving up the road west of Krzemienica, leading to the dispersal of the column. However, the 16th didn’t have everything their own way and the Battalion suffered heavy losses to German counter battery fire before retreating with the rest of the Brigade.

16 dam. on the move again...

By the end of the day, the northern wing of the Brigade was now in danger as German activity had been spotted here for some time. The activity on the northern area was becoming so pronounced, that Lieutenant Colonel Bokszczanin deemed it necessary to extend his second squadron’s positions in order to overlap the 1st squadron’s positions, thereby providing stronger, mutually supportive defensive fire. This was an area of particular importance to the Brigade. The route across the bridge over the Wislok in Dabrowka, needed to be kept open in case the 10BK was cut off because of German movements through Przeworsk.

Nazi tanks moving up through Albigowa 1939
The Germans were once again held up by the defensive fire, enabling the 10BK to start withdrawing down the road towards Przeworsk, the 10th Mounted Rifles moving through the positions of the 24th Uhlans.

While the last squadron of the 10th Mounted Rifles was heading to their vehicles, they were jumped on by Nazi troops and tanks, with the troops having to resort to the bayonet almost immediately and deliver a savage counterattack. The Reconnaissance Squadron, who had exited Lancut just before the final squadron, was tasked with falling back through Markowa-Gac and by doing so, shield the southern side of the Brigade, which it was able to do successfully. However, by now the situation in Lancut was so confused, that the remaining squadron of 10th Mounted Rifles, in their flight from Lancut, became lost and separated from the Brigade.

San river bridge destroyed in Przeworsk
Maczek was one of the last to leave Lancut as he retreated through the town to the motor pool in Gluchow, guarded by reserve elements of the 10th Mounted Rifles. Whilst this final withdrawal was taking place, the Germans took advantage of the Reconnaissance Squadrons withdrawal to occupy Albigowa securely behind them, as the 10th Motorised Brigade sped off down the road through Przeworsk, crossing the San River and drawing to a halt in the vicinity of Makowisko and Ryszkowa Wola, a mile or so beyond Jaroslaw.

Once again supported by his most excellent subordinates, Maczek had managed to hold back two German divisions, allowing the Armia Krakow time to withdraw further and time to establish their new defensive lines.

10th September

Lieutenant Colonel Jan Wojcik 
The defensive line along the San River was centred around the town of Jaroslaw and should have been prepared for defence by General Waclaw Scaevola-Wieczorkiewicz, the pre-war commanding officer of the 10th Corps Area, which Jaroslaw fell under. However, preparations for the defence of the San line only began on 7th September and owing to the distribution of troops to the forward combat areas, the San line was markedly short on manpower. The area between Przemysl and Rozwadow, a distance of some 60 miles, had only 10 battalions of infantry, one battalion of engineers and a mere 42 artillery pieces available for its defence. The central linchpin of the defensive line, around Jaroslaw between Radymno and Sieniawa, was manned by only four battalions of infantry and 20 artillery pieces under the command of, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Wojcik of the 2nd Legions Infantry Division. These forces were patently insufficient to guard such a lengthy line, made all the worse on account of September 1939 being one of the hottest on record, with the river levels being so low that it was not difficult for armoured units to find places to ford with moderate ease.

Maczek had strong opinions about this sham of a defensive line and in his memoirs recorded that "The San frontline is a fiction! It is no less a mirage than the vision of an oasis in the desert"

A view of Jaroslaw Castle in 1939
Whilst Maczek was settling his troops in for a well-deserved rest, the Germans were not content to sit idle. Major General Hubicki's 4th Light Division and Lieutenant General Veiel's 2nd Panzer Division had already departed from Lancut and were approaching Jaroslaw from the North West. Their intention was to cross the river as quickly as possible, swing north and cut off the retreating Armia Krakow from its route to safety. In the middle of the night of 10th September, 4th Light Division successfully reached Radymno on the San River to the south of Jaroslaw. Having left Rzeszow, they raced through Pruchnik and Zamiechow, crossed the San in the early hours, unopposed and took the defenders totally off guard. Even before battle was joined the Polish were outflanked!

The Germans arrive in Jaroslaw 1939
Unaware of this incursion, Maczek, consulting with Colonel Wojcik made the decision that a defence of the crossing should be attempted in order to retard the German advance. He decided to station the 10th Motorised elements on the east side of the San, allocating a couple of squadrons of the 24th Uhlans and some anti-tank elements to strengthen the defenders that Colonel Wojcik already had, and directing the others to fall back a little further. In his turn, Wojcik stationed the majority of his troops on the western side of the San to provide a warning of the approach of the Germans. The 10th Mounted Rifles, who had been mauled at Lancut, were ordered to fall back still further and take the opportunity to rest up, Major Emil Slacanski ensuring this was completed efficiently.

Around noon, elements of both 2nd Panzer and 4th Light Divisions arrived near Jaroslaw and after a short engagement with the Polish KOP; Colonel Wojcik ordered the majority of his men to withdraw to the eastern side of the San and safety, whilst he remained with a token force to offer a token resistance.

Maczek made the decision to hold the town for a single day in order to offer a safe haven for the slow moving, retreating troops that may have the opportunity to join them. However, he was acutely aware of the danger of being outflanked by the fast moving Germans and he fully intended to complete his orders of joining the army again at Lwow.

German Artillery shelling Jaroslaw
Around 15:00 on the 10th September the Germans once again began their attack, but resolute fire from the defenders repulsed the Germans with some loss. The Germans launched repeated assaults on this day but it was noticed that they were not as aggressive as could be expected. It was reported to Maczek, that information gleaned from German prisoners indicated that German officers had been instructed to avoid general contact with the Black Brigade if at all possible.

As night fell, Colonel Maczek, receiving reports from Swiecicki and his Reconnaissance troops that the Nazis were already spreading eastwards from Radymno through Nienowice, deemed that his defence of the town had been a success but was no longer tenable. Still concerned about being cut off from Army Krakow, he decided that remaining in the town any longer would be an unacceptable risk. Forming a combat vanguard from the 10th Mounted Rifles, the TKS squadron and the 16th Motorised Artillery Battalions 2nd Battery (the 4 x 100mm Howitzers), he ordered his troops to debus and head further east towards the Oleszyce-Lubaczow area as fast as they could. On reaching Jaworow, the 10th Mounted Rifles were to secure the passage through the wooded swamps and hold open the passage to Lwow.

Lieutenant Colonel Wojcik was ordered to hold Jaroslaw for as long as he deemed possible before attempting to follow and re-join 10BK. The Poles blew the bridges and left only a token force in the city whilst the majority of Wojcik's men withdrew under the cover of darkness.

11th September

The Germans driving through Radymno
Around 05:00 on 11th September, the Germans resumed their assault against Radymno with a heavy artillery barrage. Obviously, since most of the Polish forces were already miles away, the losses this time around were negligible with only a single battalion remaining behind to provide some manner of obstacle to the Nazis. Around noon, the panzers rolled into the suburbs only to discover that even the token defensive battalion under Captain Matheis, had also withdrawn.

Sadly, it did not take long for the Nazis to begin their reign of terror, immediately shooting 10 civilians out of hand and imprisoning many others without cause or due process. The Jews of the town were duly driven out. As it happens, the first inmates of Auschwitz were resistance members from Jaroslaw.

A PzKpfw IV passes a trophy TKS
Moving up towards Oleszyce, the Germans were able to maintain constant pressure on 10BK who used the night time hours to withdraw from contact. The Germans would find them dug in and ready to fight again at the rising of the sun. Maczek and 10BK would set these resistance lines as they fell back through the areas of Niemirowa and Jaworow on 12th September.

12th September

Fatigue was now becoming a serious issue for the troops of the Black Brigade responsible for driving the vehicles. Almost two straight weeks of serious fighting by day and flight by night was taking its toll. Over-tired drivers were now falling asleep at the wheel and accidents were starting to become commonplace.

The area around Niemirowa and Jaworow was riddled with swamps and marshes and Maczek correctly ascertained that this would limit the German troops’ ability to manoeuvre around the Polish blocking positions that could be set up.

German panzers advancing past troops
Constant pressure from the Germans resulted in more German armoured vehicles being lost, but pressure was so great, that the defensive lines of the 10th Mounted Rifles around Jaworow were eventually breached and the Lwow defences threatened directly. The decision was taken to divert the 10BK to a safer route into the defensive lines and Maczek was directed to move north east towards Zolkiew. Major Sepynski, of the 10th Mounted Rifles was told to remain behind as a rear-guard with two squadrons of Mounted Rifles and some anti-tank guns.

Travelling a further 20 miles to the east, 10BK passed through the Janow Forest to the west of Lwow.

General Wladyslaw Langner
On arriving at Janow, Maczek made a phone call from the Post Office to the powers that be in Lwow. He was ordered to report to the Corps Command of District No VI within Lwow when he arrived at Zolkiew in order to discuss the road ahead. At this meeting, he was also to meet with General Langner who was in charge of the defence of the city of Lwow itself. By phone, Maczek familiarised Langner with the current situation as far as was possible and Langner gave Maczek the responsibility for covering the city’s northern and north-western approaches, indicating that he should soon be able to expect the support of 11th Infantry Division, 24th Infantry Division and 38th Reserve Infantry Division, all attempting to break through to Lwow from Przemysl.

Major Emil Slatynski
Before leaving Janow, Maczek deposited a small battle group of 10 sections of the 10th Mounted Rifles with anti-tank assets under the command of Major Emil Slatynski to give the pursuing Germans a bloody nose. Further blocking positions were set up by the 2nd Squadron of the 24th Uhlans reinforced with a HMG platoon, an anti-tank platoon and a reconnaissance motorcycle patrol left in Dobrosin under the command of Lieutenant Wladyslaw Rakowski, to secure the Brigades flanks from the direction of Rawa Ruska and finally the 4th squadron of 24th Uhlans under Captain Wiktor Zarembinski, strengthened by an HMG platoon, a single AT gun and a motorcycle reconnaissance patrol was left in Krechow, before the remainder of the Brigade carried on towards Zolkiew.

The security groups manning the blocking positions at both Dobrosin and Krechow conducted some small scale, but effective combats against the German pursuers over the next couple of days.

At this time, Maczek was of the opinion that he had suffered losses of almost 60% in men and as much as 70% in materiel. However, the morale of the Brigade was still resolute. These losses also include the squadrons that had been separated from the Brigade during its headlong flight from Lancut, only managing to catch up with the Brigade again on 13th September, by taking the rather circuitous route around the north through Bilgoraj, Tomoszow Lubelski (where in a little over 3 days later the largest armoured battle of the campaign would start, lasting almost two weeks and resulting in the complete destruction of both Armia Lublin and Armia Krakow), Belz and Mosty Wielkie before finally catching up with 10BK at Zolkiew itself.

General Kazimierz Sosnkowski 1936
By this time, Polish defensive plans and preassigned structures had been shattered or abandoned as pointlessly ineffective, leaving newly allocated commanders to pick up what pieces they could and try to cobble some sort of defensive strategy together. General Kazimierz Sosnkowski was one such individual who, following the inability of Armia Krakow to link up with Armia Malopolska (owing to the Germans 8th Panzer Corps driving a wedge between them), was allocated to command the entire Southern Front by Marshal Rydz-Smigley, who was busy scooting out of harm’s way with his staff; essentially abandoning his armies to a communications black out!

Sosnkowski was a very capable, professional officer and on landing in Przemysl, he immediately took control of the situation and started to allocate and distribute what assets he could collect, which was a seriously motley bunch! Holding a discussion with Maczek on the 11th September, he informed him that he intended to allocate the 21st Tank Division (which comprised 50 or so of the High Command Reserve of French built R-35 tanks) to the 10BK in order for Maczek to effect a breakthrough from Lwow to Przemysl.  Maczek objected, citing the fact that his men urgently needed the opportunity to rest and eat as well as attempt to replace damaged and lost equipment and ammunition. Sosnkowski finally agreed to Maczek’s requests, especially because the 21st Tank Battalion never showed up, having been ordered by Rydz-Smigley to head for the 'Romanian Bridgehead' instead! (Nice of him!)

The northern suburbs of Lwow being shelled by the Germans
Maczek was directed to take up positions to the north and north-west of Lwow at Zolkiew itself where he would meet with Sosnkowski, who was intending bringing in reinforcements from the direction of Przemysl and its surrounding area. These orders were also repeated to Lwow’s defence commander, General Wladyslaw Langner, at a staff meeting in the Corp Command Area on the evening of the 12th September. Agreeing to this, Langner allocated further a collection of separated units in order to strengthen the positions of the Black Brigade.

13th September

Without going into too many details concerning the wider issues of the retreat from the San and the battle of Lwow, the 10BK was assumed to be able to rest for almost two days (the 14th and 15th September) in its new positions unmolested, whilst Sosnkowski attempted to hurry the 11th, 24th and 28th Infantry Divisions back to Lwow from their shattered lines on the San. The Germans were in constant contact with these fleeing troops, whose morale was sinking fast. The Germans did not have it all their own way however, with the German 7th Infantry Division receiving a seriously bloody nose outside Przemysl, served up by 11th Infantry
The remains of the SS Standarte 'Germania' logistics column
Divisions rear-guard, a mere two battalions of the 58th Infantry Regiment... and of course, an entire battalion of the SS Germania Regiment was annihilated in a night attack by the 49th Hutsul Rifles (Highlanders of course!) delivering a silent bayonet charge through the woods, with the officers requisitioning all ammunition off of their men just in case anybody resorted to a rifle shot!(?!?!?!? EPIC!). There are many more tales like this but that’s for another time and place...

In the meantime, the Black Brigade for the first time in a fortnight was able to recuperate. Individual units of the Brigade were stationed in positions in Zolkiew itself whilst others were distributed in a chain through the neighbouring towns of Kulikov, Sopot, Smerek, Jaryczow and Stary, across the entire north-western face of the defensive line.

German PzKpfw I conducting reconnaissance around the marshes
The 24th Uhlans positions in Dobrosin and Krechow conducted ambushes on the 13th with the 2nd Squadron destroying a German wireless reconnaissance vehicle and capturing its crew of four men, as well as a further 2 reconnaissance motorcycles and a Pioneer truck with equipment and nine men.

These prisoners were taken to the Brigade HQ at Soposzyn just outside Zolkiew and interrogated, whilst all of the Brigade troops were withdrawn from their blocking positions which were handed over to elements of Group Zolkiew.

Gebirgsjager marching towards Lwow
Many units, retreating to Lwow from the fighting on the San line were overrun and lost to the Germans; especially when the positions around Kolbuszowa collapsed on the 9th as the Germans piled in on an unsuspecting 2nd line battalion attempting to organise itself, resulting in chaos, which the advancing Germans took full advantage of long after the Black Brigade had passed on.

Divisional assets that were on their way in towards Lwow to join up with 10BK, were overrun at the towns of Krechowo and Dobrosin by the fast moving forward elements of the Black Brigades ‘old friend’ the German 4th Light Division soon after responsibility for the positions were handed over to Group Zolkiew.

Group Zolkiew, commanded by Colonel Iwanowski, was technically a conglomerate of shattered formations that had been scraped together into a 'march brigade' and on the 13th September was subordinated to the command of Colonel Maczek along with his own brigade.

Group Zolkiew comprised the following elements:
  • March Battalion of 53rd Infantry Regiment under Major Eugeniusz Kubicz
  • March Battalion of 40th Infantry Regiment under Captain Jan Niedzielski
  • 1st Battalion of 53rd Infantry Regiment under Captain Bronislaw Wolny
  • One MG Squadron from Kresowa Cavalry Brigades Depot Replacements
  • Several foot squadrons formed from Kresowa Cavalry Brigades Depot Replacements
  • A Scratch Battalion of waifs and strays under Lieutenant Colonel Adam Radomyski
  • Two March Cavalry Squadrons of 12th Uhlans and 14th Uhlans, one squadron of 6th Mounted Rifles Regiment and one HMG platoon on Taczankas of 12th Uhlans all collected as a Reconnaissance unit under Captain Jozef Murasik
  • March Battalion of Wilenska Cavalry Brigade comprising three march squadrons and one troop of 75mm field guns
  • One independent troop of artillery (one 75mm and two 100mm)
  • Two pioneer platoons (one foot and one mounted)
  • A Scratch Battalion formed in the Border Guard Training Centre in Rawa Ruska 
  • The cyclist company of 11th Infantry Division under Lieutenant Roman Mazurek

It should go without saying that not all of these elements were used together but a lot of them were instead distributed in tactical areas in order to block the German advances. The artillery was all retained in order to support those troops fighting around Lwow, however.
The Black Brigade reach Lwow
On the evening of 13th September, the Brigade’s staff, headquartered at Zolkiew, began to receive reports from the city that the Germans had taken Zboisk just to the north of the Lwow suburbs and its surrounding hills. This small village and range of hills towered over northern Lwow, dominating the roads that led directly into the heart of the city. 

This alarming piece of news meant that the Brigade was now effectively cut off from the Polish positions within the city by German armed forces who were advancing eastwards from the San. Maczek was left with no other choice and so made a determination to repulse the Germans from these positions as early as possible.

The dispositions for the battle of Zboisk 15.IX.39 to 17.IX.39 also taken from 'Boje Polskie 1939 - 1945'

14th September

German Command Post on Hill 324
Collecting the 10th Mounted Rifles who were resting at Kulikov, he set off to assault Zboisk. The cavalry piled into the small town, routing the Germans who were busy making the place their own, but were unfortunately brought to a halt at the foot of the hills dominating Zboisk to the west, and most especially Hill 324, which was the position’s key defensive bastion and more importantly, one which provided a perfect jumping off point for a Nazi assault into the heart of Lwow. The assaults by the 10th Mounted Rifles were pushed home hard, but the entrenched Germans resisted so fiercely that the 10th made no further ground and were brought to an abrupt halt suffering heavy casualties.

Under such pressing circumstances, Maczek opted to maintain the assault, this time by night, allocating one additional squadron of the 24th Uhlans to the attempt, supported by an attached infantry platoon and one of his motorised artillery batteries. Lieutenant Moszchenski was detailed to lead the attack.

15th September

Captain Ludwik Stankiewicz, 10BK Operational Officer
at his observation position in Grzybowice during the battle
for Lwow
At 02:00 on the night of 15th September, the attack was launched achieving complete surprise, again throwing the Nazis out of the town, but once again they could not wrest control of the hills away from the occupying Germans. The Black Brigade, by this point had lost a further 50-60 men killed and wounded as they wrangled furiously with the Germans before Lieutenant Moszchenski was able to realise who it was they were up against. They were facing the elite 99th Mountain Rangers Regiment of the German 1st Mountain Division which went some way to explaining why the Poles were having such a hard time.

16th September

Brigade officers having a moments respite during the battle
Maczek made the decision to renew the attack again, committing further assets to the attempt, on 16th September. He reinforced the 10th Mounted Rifles with the 'Zolkiew' bicycle company and an anti-tank squadron that joined the attack on Zboisk and Hill 324. The 24th Uhlans were reinforced with an anti-tank squadron coming from Grzybowice, along the Michalowszczyzna Ridge, in order to attack the German positions on the hill to the north, whilst the newly arrived Cavalry Reconnaissance Regiment led by Jozef Murasik, was to launch an assault on the same hill from behind.

Murasik crossed the German lines through the Brzuchowice Forest, with the whole operation being ably supported by the full weight of the three artillery batteries under Maczek and his remaining 15 TKS tankettes. The fighting continued to sweep back and forth, with the Germans once again temporarily regaining control of Zboisk, even though their lack of anti-tank guns led to them sustaining considerable losses. Again being pushed out of the town of Zboisk, the German Gebirgsjager managed to retain control of the strategic hill top positions. The Poles had nonetheless cut them off from their supply routes and as a result of this, German transport aircraft had to make the attempt to resupply their ammunition, foodstuffs and medical provisions by air. Even though the Germans attempted to do this from a low height, much of it missed its intended recipients and the Poles were able to collect much of this stuff for their own use.

Gebirsgjager preparing to launch a counter attack (Im not
convinced that the identification of this shot is correct though)
Through the course of the fighting as the day wore on, the Black Brigade was able to retake and retain Zboisk and the Michalowszczyzna Ridge, but the losses were extremely heavy with the 24th Uhlans alone losing 8 officers and over 100 men. The 10th Mounted Rifles were also severely affected losing many men, including their commanding officer Lt Col. Janusz Bokszczanin and his adjutant Maj. Ostrzycki, who, both critically injured, had to be removed from the battlefield under fire and transported to a hospital in Dublana playing no further part in the campaign. Command of the 10th Mounted Rifles was passed to Major Emil Slacski, who was ordered to remove a portion of his troops to Melechow whilst leaving a rear-guard at Zboisk.

The hills of Lwow under German artillery fire
Recognising the critical nature of the position being fought over, Maczek knew that victory here may very well mean victory in the entire defence of the city and as such, he resolved to attack one more time. From prisoners captured in the previous two assaults, he learnt that the conditions the 99th Mountain Rangers had to suffer were tragic. Low on ammunition, lacking food and having suffered huge losses in the previous two assaults, Maczek realised it was now or never and resolved to commit absolutely everything he had.

German Heavy Artillery Battery
Due to the small successes achieved so far in the battle for the hills, Maczek decided to withdraw his squadron of 24th Uhlans and assault two minor hilltops with the elements of the 10th Mounted Rifles that were already engaged, in order to use these two ridges as the starting point for the attack the next day. The first attack, starting at 22:00 was hammered by enemy fire and collapsed, whilst the left wing squadron were forced to pull back with heavy losses, including losses to the heavy machine gun squadron. The Cavalry Reconnaissance Regiment under Murasik, along with the bicycle squadron and the 10th Mounted Rifles, finally carried the first line of hills behind Zboisk although they sustained heavy casualties in the process. In the aftermath of this fighting, the resistance of the Germans weakened considerably which led to a petering out of the combat. The rest of the night was punctuated by sporadic sparring between pickets, inevitably disrupting communications.

17th September

Gebirgsjager LMG position at Zboisk
The third and final assault on the hill top positions surrounding Zboisk was launched at 05:00 on 17th September using absolutely everything that could be pulled together, with the exception of a small detachment left in Zolkiew to guard against the flanking movement of the 2nd Panzer Division. Once again, the Cavalry Reconnaissance Regiment led by Murasik hit the Germans in the rear, further exacerbating the chaos in the German ranks. Finally, after an 11 hour struggle forced up to the point of bayonet fighting, at 16:00 on 17th September, Hill 324 fell.

To the last man!
Wlodarkiewicz gives the following account: “Gebirgsjagers were defending themselves literally to the last man. During the entire day [Polish] wounded were being transported to the hospital in Dublany. In the afternoon German resistance considerably weakened, a number of MG positions, resistance nests of infantry and observation points of artillery were destroyed. Over the battlefield a German observation plane, which was guiding enemy artillery fire, was still flying. Around 16:00 Hill 324 west from Zboiska was finally captured. Over fifty dead Gebirgsjager, abandoned equipment and weapons, i.e. 3x MG’s could be found on the slopes. Colonel Maczek evaluated, that the position had been defended by two battalions from 98th & 99th Gebirgsjager Regiments with support of light artillery and two battalions of heavy artillery.”

Losses were huge however. In three days of fighting, the Brigade had lost over 300 men killed, wounded or missing, but they had achieved their aims and sealed the route into Lwow from the north.

German casualties being patched up...


Almost immediately after securing the hills at such a heavy cost, orders came down to Maczek from General Langners headquarters.  Maczek was to withdraw the 24th Uhlans and the 10th Mounted Rifles from Zboisk and head back to Lwow. Being so close to the Germans when they started this retrograde movement, they were almost immediately pounced on by fresh German forces who maintained a strong pressure on the retreating Poles, making their movement extremely difficult.

Barely won, and occupied in spite of significant losses, within 24 hours Zboisk and Hill 324 were once again firmly in the hands of the Germans.

The remains of a TKS at the abandoned Black Brigade positions
after the fall of Lwow. This must be at least a week later as the
twin turreted tank is a 7TP dw. and none were present when the
Brigade were present in the defence of the city.
Having moved into the Jaryczowa Region around Lwow, Maczek was invited to attend a military council in the evening with his staff, where General Langner informed him that the Soviet Union had, as had been feared for so many years, stabbed Poland in the back and was flooding over the eastern borders. He handed orders to Maczek that he was, without delay, to gather his troops and immediately head south from Lwow, cross the Dneister river and head for the Halicz area and the so called Romanian Bridgehead.

18th September

Maczek and his war weary troops set off just before midnight on the 17th September, travelling through Kurowice and Przemyslany, reaching Halicz just before dawn on the 18th September. There they were met by the Supreme Commands liaison officer, who directed them onwards to Stanislawow, where they would be met by Lieutenant Colonel Ludwik Rudka.

Rudka was responsible for directing all of the escaping military assets out of Poland and into either Romania or Hungary. On meeting Maczek, he passed the command of the brigade over to General Waclaw Stachiewicz, who was the Chief of the General Staff.

General Waclaw Stachiewicz
A word should be said here about Stachiewicz. He was a military theorist, a career soldier and quite an accomplished author. He was also however, the architect of both Plan Z and Plan W, as well as being responsible for the mobilisation of the country’s armed forces. There is nothing that can redeem him from believing Plan Z to be of any use, but there are a few mitigating circumstances that I hope may rehabilitate his name to a small degree. Part of the reason for the catastrophic Polish collapse in the first 5 days of September, was that the armed forces never achieved their fully mobilised status. When Poland had previously attempted to mobilise her forces in response to German provocation, the mobilisation was going exactly according to Stachiewicz's plans until British and French foot stamping persuaded the Poles to demobilise again. He was never again given the chance to rehabilitate his reputation as he was, on the petty insistence of Sikorski, repeatedly interned and when finally gaining his freedom, was left without a post in the military at all. He retired to Canada, stripped of his citizenship by the Soviets and suffered the blame for the collapse of Poland. He spent the rest of his life publishing books on the military. A very sad life.

However, he all but saved the Black Brigade because instead of insisting they push on to the Romanian Bridgehead, he ordered Maczek to gather all of his troops and cross the border into Hungary thus facilitating the eventual formation of the Polish 1st Armoured Division in the United Kingdom.

The Black Brigade cross the border.
The Black Brigade units, on the evening of the 18th September crossed the Tatar Pass near Tatarow one at a time, gathering near the border until early on the morning of the 19th September the Black Brigade crossed into Hungary as a single compact formation with heads held high! In battle order, with flags displayed, led by their remaining tankettes headed by Colonel Stanislaw Maczek himself.

Despite three weeks of continual combat, attack and counterattack, retreat and assault the Black Brigade still quite conspicuously, retained its fighting élan and its corps d’esprit. It is unclear how many troops were actually able to cross the border but Maczek estimated that as little as 100 officers and in the region of 2000 soldiers made it, although in his 1961 memoirs he made the estimate at about 1500 troops. Major Franciszek Skibinski, the ever diligent recorder of the Black Brigade, had the opinion that the Black Brigade crossed the border with about 60% of its strength remaining.

The remaining TK3's and 20mm armed TKS' of the Brigade awaiting internment

Black Brigade troops with Hungarian Honved trooper present
As the border was crossed, a brigade of the Hungarian army was sent to Bregszasz to meet the refugees, who believed initially that they would have no problem immediately moving on to France. However, after negotiations with the commanders of the 7th Honved Brigade, representatives of the Polish embassy in Budapest and the ranking Polish officer in the city, General Boleslaw Jatelinick, Colonel Maczek agreed to disarm his troops and have them interned in accordance with international law. At the same time, he received quiet assurances that the Hungarian authorities would not oppose the passage of Polish soldiers onwards to France.

Brigade assets that have been surrendered to the Hungarians
Despite much further wrangling, including French set conditions that Polish officers were only to be released from internment due to a personal summons to France, Colonel Stanislaw Maczek received his summons, duly departed Hungary and arrived in France on the 23rd October 1939.

Ready to start the fight again....