1939-era Polish cavalry

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gebhk
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by gebhk »

Polish motorised cavalry/infantry platoon
There is a fair amount of consensus nowadays on organisation.

Platoon HQ
CO - porucznik/podporucznik with pistol
Batman
2 observers/runners

Sharpshooter section
NCO
2 sharpshooters*

3x Rifle squad each with
Squad leader (NCO)
BAR team leader
BAR gunner (BAR + pistol)
2 BAR ammunition numbers
3 (10 Cav Brig) or 5 (WAMB) riflemen

The platoon's 'rear echelon' consisted of:
Platoon second in command (NCO)
CO's motorcycle with sidecar and driver
2 trucks with driver and assistant driver each
The platoon second in command was predominantly responsible for organising the platoon's 'rear' functions in combat (ie ensuring the vehicles were in the right place at the right time, organising ammunition supply, organising the collection of wounded and their expediting to the rear etc). He was also, of course, expected to take over from the CO should the latter become hors de combat.
The vehicle crews were, in principle, expected to stay with their vehicles and only fight if the vehicles were attacked directly.

* It is not clear whether the sharpshooters were planned to be equipped with two anti-tank rifles or one each A/T rifle and sniper rifle. In the event no sniper rifles were available in 1939 and supply of A/T rifles was erratic. It would appear that WAMB got their allocation by and large. The 10 Cav Brig eventually got theirs a week or so into the campaign but only at the rate of 2 per squadron. That being said, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that retreating infantrymen on their last legs were very happy to swap heavy weapons such as BARs and A/T rifles for ordinary carbines. In this way units of the WAMB and 10 Cav Brig probably had way more such items than TOEs entitled them to.....

Nick Worthington
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by Nick Worthington »

gebhk:

Thanks for the information - I'll be updating my units. Always happy to get improved information. FWIW: I only posted the link as an example of what had been on offer prior to this thread. No personal investment in them myself🙂

NickW

gebhk
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by gebhk »

Thanks for that, Nick. I always worry about offending people when writing this sort of thing. Glad to be of help and encouraged by what you said, I'll press on with the mounted chaps. Oh noooo, they groaned…..

Errhile gives an accurate description of the Polish cavalry platoon. I would only add a few comments
• Organisation, field uniform, equipment and tactical doctrine were the same regardless of whether the regiment was one of uhlans, mounted rifles or light horse. The names were purely historical. However, one could certainly argue for elite status for the three light horse regiments.
• Wachmistrz does, off course, translate into the German Wachtmeister (master of the watch), a traditional rank name for a sergeant specific to the cavalry. I am pretty sure therefore that in English he’s a boring old sergeant, but would be delighted to be proved wrong.
• Koniowodny literally translates as ‘horse leader’ which perfectly captures the role. However, it’s a bit of a mouthful in English, so I would suggest ‘groom’.
• Although not authorised a personal weapon in the TOEs, the BAR gunners of some regiments were given pistols as a back-up weapon.
• While it is quite correct that all the cavalrymen were equipped with sabres, it was the horses that carried them not the cavalrymen (that’s just in case someone decides to try to have a sabre charge on foot!).
• One of the grooms of the second rifle section was trained as a farrier.
• One of the grooms of the third rifle section was supposed to be trained as a combat medic. He was of little use with the horses in combat, so was often swopped with one of the riflemen (all cavalrymen were trained to act as grooms).

Gaming-wise I would suggest the cavalry should be treated like any other mounted troops and motorcycle troops are the obvious choice for rules. Yes, you can charge the enemy on horseback but that was, in 1939, as useful and as frequently employed a tactic as charging on motorbikes. Something to be done if caught mounted on the hop – ie a manoeuvre to get you into a position where you could dismount and start fighting ‘properly’ as quickly as possible.

The default method of combat was dismounted, with one in three men (the grooms) left with the horses. This would give you:
• Hq of officer and foot messenger (who also acted as observer as appropriate)
• 3x 4-man rifle team
• 1x BAR team of team leader, gunner and ammunition number
• Mounted rear echelon of the sergeant mounted with the mounted messenger (for maintaining communication with the dismounted group and running messages to the rear) and 9 grooms holding 2 horses each (one a pack horse of the BAR section). This group could move as rapidly and over every terrain that could be achieved by the mounted-up platoon.

While, in theory, higher numbers could be dismounted (and this was all practiced in peacetime) it was rarely if ever practiced in combat. For the simple reason that if you dismounted 3/4 of the men, the horse group would be reduced to half speed over open terrain only while a 5/6 dismount would immobilise it completely. This negated the main advantage of being cavalry for the sake of 2-4 extra rifles in the platoon which was neither here nor there. However, since wargamers rarely care what happens next (unless the game is part of a campaign), this should be a permissible option – perhaps as part of supports.

Contrarius
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by Contrarius »

'Groom' doesn't really work as a translation for koniowodny. It has overtones of 'stable-lad' or knightly servant/page (ignoring its more popular modern usage as partner to a bride). I believe the correct English equivalent is 'horse-holder' - with or without the hyphen.

gebhk
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by gebhk »

The idea of treating the squadron as a platoon is an excellent one in my opinion. It would bring it more in line with other units and allows you to do what was frequently done in practice.

Dismounted you have:
• HQ of CO (rotmistrz = captain) and bugler (NCO) + a BAR section of 3 men (as in the line platoon).
• 3 ‘sections’ consisting of 17 men as detailed in the platoon organisation above. The platoon officers would be senior leaders and the NCO squad leaders would be ‘junior leaders’.

You now have a reasonably sized and equipped unit which can be modified in line with common practice as follows:
• The skeletal squadron HQ on wartime footing was found to be unsatisfactory (especially compared to the relatively generous peacetime allocation) and was usually boosted in various ways. Personnel was either syphoned off from the line platoons or was taken from surplus base personnel. I would suggest 5 extra men dismounted plus 3 grooms would be a sensible maximum, forming the command staff section. Options could be:
 Command staff leader – usually a junior officer cadet. If one was not present, this role would fall on the bugler (or senior bugler if there were 2 – see below)
 1-3 observers equipped with a pair of binoculars and a signalling pistol between them.
 2nd bugler (enlisted)
 Pennon carrier
 Anti-tank rifleman
 All these chaps could be used as runners when necessary
 The number of grooms should be adjusted according to the number of men in the section.
• The anti-tank riflemen can be withdrawn from the platoons and combined (possibly with the squadron BAR section) to form an anti-tank section. Incidentally the wz 35 was a single operator weapon, I'm not sure where the idea of the a-historical 2-man teams came from originally but it seems to appear in many sets of rules.....
• The platoon medics could be combined into a medical team of medic plus 2 stretcher bearers (with improvised stretcher). Some experiments were carried out in peacetime with hammocks slung between two horses and such like for the evacuation of the wounded. There is little or no evidence that anything like that was put into wartime practice, but wouldn’t it make a cracking model?
Last edited by gebhk on Tue Oct 02, 2018 3:48 am, edited 4 times in total.

gebhk
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by gebhk »

Contrarius - point well taken. However, fact is there is no English equivalent other than the literal 'horse leader'. I'm afraid, 'horse-holder' doesn't really cut the mustard for me because that implies a static role - ie with the holder dismounted or at best, say in the German manner, slowly steering three beasts whilst mounted on a fourth. The Polish 'trojka' (triple) was fully expected to manoeuvre in exactly the same way as if all the horses were mounted including jumping over obstacles and what have you :o .

As I said 'groom' was only a suggestion to make it less of a mouthful, not least because being a groom (ie looking after the horses) was part of the koniowodny's role when the squadron was dismounted. For this reason for example, unlike the rest of his colleagues, he was equipped with a collapsible water bucket and he was expected to groom, water, feed, assist in reshoeing and generally maintain the horses ready for action when the rest of his mates were getting stuck in with rifle and bayonet. I'm not sure that 'groom' has any knightly connections - perhaps you are thinking of squires?

Anyways, I'm not that stuck on the term, having swung from one t'other over the years, so long as everyone knows what we are talking about :). Nowadays he would be, of course, called a Horse Operative or Horse Manager.

Contrarius
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by Contrarius »

Koniowodny = Horse Operative? Who are you kidding – today he would be an Equine Resources Coordinator!

Sticking to my guns on this one. The accepted term in the military literature is horseholder. It's been around for centuries. Clear and unambiguous.
Last edited by Contrarius on Tue Nov 06, 2018 11:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Contrarius
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by Contrarius »

Still waiting for the First-to-Fight 1/72 Polish cavalry. Have great hopes these will be available by Xmas 2018. Apparently coming in two boxes, one mounted and one dismounted.

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Arlequín
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by Arlequín »

In British cavalry regiments each officer had a groom, as well as a batman. Otherwise they don't appear in the War Establishment.

The man who led a pack horse was termed a pack leader and was mounted himself, which I believe is the same role as the koniowodny in the Polish cavalry?

In the sabre sections there was no specific horseholder post, although one man in four (i.e. two men per section) were to be detailed to be one. Each man in a section was taught to perform the role.

Like other cavalry elsewhere, part of the training was for a cavalryman to be able to ride his own horse at speed, while leading the three horses of his comrades, round an obstacle course featuring pole slaloms, ditches and jumps. Like 'tent pegging' it was a competitive training game.

They could only actually physically lead two horses (left and right), the fourth horse had to be tethered to the right-hand horse's saddle.

gebhk
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Re: 1939-era Polish cavalry

Post by gebhk »

In British cavalry regiments each officer had a groom, as well as a batman
In the Polish army such a person would be termed 'luzak'. literally 'relief' but also 'spare' or 'replacement'. This presumably not only because he was expected to hold/ride his officer's horse when not needed as transportation (ie relieve him of the riding) but also because, if he was mounted himself, was expected to give up his horse, if his officers horse was shot-out from under the officer. There were foot and mounted luzacy and they were to be found in all arms other than the motorised ones and were only allocated to senior officers. This was not a universal rule, however. For example an infantry company commander's batman would double as a groom, while an artillery observation officer would toss his reins to the nearest scout in his team with a cheerful "hold onto that my man, while I go forward on foot to have a look-see'. In battalion and higher units, there were often 'staff grooms' who served more than one officer. The Polish army was very happy to re-invent the wheel every time it designed a TOE, so do not look for hard and fast rules in it's organisation!

The man who led a pack horse was termed a pack leader and was mounted himself, which I believe is the same role as the koniowodny in the Polish cavalry?
In the Polish cavalry (and other arms with horses) the term koniowodny covers both British terms of horseholder and pack leader. In the Polish cavalry, more often than not, a 'pack leader' (koniowodny konia jucznego) would also be given another horse to lead when the unit dismounted for action.

Like other cavalry elsewhere, part of the training was for a cavalryman to be able to ride his own horse at speed, while leading the three horses of his comrades, round an obstacle course featuring pole slaloms, ditches and jumps. Like 'tent pegging' it was a competitive training game.
I have no doubt that this was possible in the 'gymnasium'. The Polish cavalry also trained all its men to manoeuvre with 3 or more additional horses. However it was found that in field practice, normal rate of manoeuvre could only be maintained while leading at most two additional horses. Adding a third meant significant reduction in speed and terrain crossability, while with four or more extra horses, progress could only be achieved at a slow pace on foot and only if the nags proved co-operative. As a result, it was considered that adding 2-3 men armed with carbines to the platoon firing line, did not justify the loss of manoeuvrability and the risk of losing the horses altogether. Consequently the Poles stayed with the 'triple' organisation and I can recall no examples of greater ratios of dismount than 2:3 from the 1939 campaign. No doubt they did occur in extreme circumstances, but I would suggest this was very much the exception rather than the rule.

Bestest
K

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