Friday, August 7, 2020

The Charge of The Winged Hussars

Tanks of the 1st Polish Armored Division
(Source)

Former Obergrenadier Jan Kołodziej, formerly of the Deutsches Heer, involuntary as that had been, now went by the nom de guerre Paweł Kowalski. That had been his best friend's name when they were kids. As the Americans were probably carrying Jan Kołodziej as a deserter, he thought the name change was wise. He had been recruited from a POW cage to act as an interpreter for the Americans. After his capture, he had been shipped off to England in an American uniform, with no insignia, and treated rather badly by the men who were supposed to take care of him. The third time one of them had called him a "stupid Polack," he had punched the man, hard enough to break his jaw and knock him out. In the barracks where they were keeping him, he had found some civilian clothes, changed into them, then ran for it. He had had enough of the Yanks.

He had found money in the trousers pocket of his "borrowed" clothing and thought to stop at a pub, he hadn't had a beer since Normandy. He hadn't had a good beer since 1939, before the war. While in the pub he noticed a number of men in British uniforms who were speaking Polish. Taking a chance he went over to them and offered to buy a round, instant camaraderie! They were from the 1st Polish Armoured Regiment, 1 Pułk Pancerny in Polish. The next day he had papers in his new name, and a third uniform since the war began.

He was now a Private, a Szeregowiec in Polish, in the 1st Armoured Regiment of the Polish 1st Armoured Division. He was a bow gunner in a Sherman V commanded by Sierzant (Sergeant) Tobiasz Jasinski.
Emblem of the 1st Armoured Division inspired by the helmet and wings of Polish hussars.

The gunner was Plutonowy (Senior Corporal) Marian Kaczmarek (Paweł, for that is the name he had grown used to in the Polish military, noted that plutonowy was virtually the same rank he himself had had in the German Army). Kaczmarek's number two, the loader in Jasinski's tank was Kapral (Corporal) Jakub Wiśniewski. Completing the crew was one Starszy Szeregowiec (Senior Private/Lance Corporal) Bogumir Zielinski, a very humorless man but an incredible driver. The man could make that Sherman dance!

The Advance of the Canadians and Poles
(Source)

The tank wasn't dancing at the moment. His squadron was driving hard to the southeast, headed towards the village of Cauvicourt, the church spire of which he could just make out through the dust of the tanks ahead. He was sitting up in his hatch, as they all were, as the day was hot and the inside of their steel beast was sweltering.

Approach to Cauvicourt
(Source)

The column began to deploy into an echelon right formation just before they crested the slight rise to their front. As there was a lot of open space to their right, Paweł recognized the wisdom of that formation from his time in the German Army. Jasinski's tank was the number two tank in their troop, number three was a Sherman VC, the one with the 17-pounder cannon.

Echelon right formation
(Source)

As they crested the rise, Paweł saw a muzzle flash to his right front, an instant later the number one tank was hit. It exploded spectacularly, flipping the turret end over end for a number of meters. Paweł quickly buttoned up just before Jasinski ordered the whole crew to do so.

Instinctively Paweł fired a burst from his machine gun in the direction of where he had seen the muzzle flash. Jasinski's turret moved quickly in that direction.

"Target, Panzer IV, 500 yards! Fire!!"

The gun barked and Wiśniewski quickly cleared the gun's breech and began to load another round of armor piercing. The next thing Wiśniewski heard was Jasinski yelling for high explosive. They had killed the German tank with their first round. There was no need for a second.

"Target, infantry just to the right of the church, 150 meters! Load HE."

"HE loaded!" Wiśniewski sang out.

"Fire!!"

Église¹ Saint-Germain de Cauvicourt
(Source)

At that moment German artillery and mortar fire began to impact the crossroads where they were engaging the Germans from. Without a word from Jasinski, Zielinski drove the tank quickly off the road and into the field to their right. Jasinski never ceased to marvel at how Zielinski anticipated his commands. The entire troop was moving in that direction and were now in a line abreast formation, minus their number one of course.

The rest of the day was a blur for Paweł, he couldn't see much from his position but on a couple of occasions he had had the satisfaction of firing at his former colleagues in the German Army. But for the most part it was limited vision, lots of dust coming in through the hatch rim, which he had kept partially open, and heat. It was very hot inside the buttoned up Sherman.

At one point he had heard Jasinski screaming about "Tigers," and then heard his commander yell out "Cholera!²" Their number four tank had been hit and Paweł could see the crew jumping from their disabled vehicle, two of them were machine gunned by German infantry. Though he returned fire in the direction of the Germans, he had no idea if he had hit anything.

Bruised and battered, his troop, two tanks remaining, had halted on a hill (which Paweł later learned was Hill 111). Though the regiment had taken heavy casualties, they had broken the German defenses. It had been a long day, tomorrow promised to be longer still...

From the After Action Report of the 1 Pułk Pancerny³ -
The regiment distinguished itself in the battle for Renemesnil on 9 August 1944. Around 1200hrs, it received heavy artillery and mortar fire in the neighbourhood of the church. Between 1220 and 1255hrs, the Regiment reached the western outskirts of Cauvicourt. In area 84 (S Renemesnil), Tiger tanks appeared with very effective supporting artillery fire. Attacking, the Regiment took Hill 84 by about 1600hrs, but was stopped on the south slope by very fierce anti-tank defences. At 1300hrs, the Commanding Officer of the Regiment decided to attack Hill 111 (along the axis 84 Chein Hausse). Second Squadron of the Regiment captured the hill. The enemy had put up a very heavy fire of mortars, artillery and anti-tank guns. The 1st Armoured Regiment had broken the German defences by the Laison River and reached Hill 111. In this operation, the Regiment suffered heavy losses: 3 officers killed (including the 2 in command) and 10 other ranks; 4 officers wounded and 11 other ranks; 1 officer missing and 7 other ranks. During the action on Hill 111, the 1st Armoured Regiment freed from the Germans about 100 Canadian soldiers who had been without food and ammunition for 2 days. Captured German prisoners confessed that the attack had demoralized the German infantry garrison. (Source)

Unit Flash of the 1st Polish Armoured Regiment
located on the left rear and right front of its vehicles.

(Source)
Tanks of the 1st Armoured Regiment of the 1st Polish Armoured Division
(Source)

The Poles were ready to drive the Germans back to Germany. But the rest of the army seemed to have developed a case of the "slows4" as an earlier American leader might have said.

The Germans were defeated, but they could still escape the trap. What was Field Marshal Montgomery waiting for?




¹ Church
² Damnation in Polish.
³ 1st Armoured Regiment
4 Abraham Lincoln referring to George McClellan

52 comments:

  1. Hmmmm....Firefly seems to be the only one oriented port in that column......hmmm.....

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    1. I wonder why. Especially seeing how the turret crew is all outside the vehicle.

      An interesting detail.

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    2. Simple. The rest of the column is made of regular gunned Shermans, of which the guns are shorter than the 17pdr in the VC. Look at the spacing of the tanks, they're nearly nose to tail, so for the VC to maintain the same spacing requires rotating the turret. Nobody wants a bent gun after all.

      Looks like they're stopped while some meeting is going on, maybe in prep to moving out.

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  2. "himself had had in the German" is the double had necessary? Had is past tense, had had is double past tense!! Leta Fae Arnold would have told me to tighten that up... (English 101)

    Man, I'd heard about guys that never quit fighting.... Want to bet that Jan joins the French Foreign Legion after the war? He would learn lots of German songs there in the late 40's-50's...

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    1. "had had" is not double past tense, it is the "past perfect" tense, as in "The director told me he had had a meeting with the president." A better explanation is here. Using the past perfect isn't heard much in spoken English, you seldom see it in written English either, but it is correct in this usage. Or so I'm told.

      Wouldn't surprise me if Jan joined the Legion, especially with Poland falling to the Communists. Might be an idea for another book there, I'll have to bone up on the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. (A lot of Germans in the Legion at that time, including former Waffen SS.)

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    2. I will withdraw my point of order. And thank you for the grammar lesson. I have gotten rusty.... Leta Fae Arnold was the best English prof I ever met. She explained clearly and succinctly the difference between spoken, written, and legal/scientific English. Looking at the calendar, that was over 30 years ago now.... wow....

      For me, had had hits my ears like a grassburr in a bath towel... I avoid it if at all possible.

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    3. It sounds better in my head than on the page, but leaving out one of the "hads" renders it awkward, to me at any rate.

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    4. Reads fine to me, but I am old fashioned, having been raised that potatoe is spelled like Dan Quayle said it was.

      Wouldn't surprise me if Jan ends up like Rafał Gan-Ganowicz.

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    5. There's an interesting character!

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    6. Past perfect, ah yes, past perfect. An action begun in the past and continuing on. It is an import tense in many languages, New Testament Greek, as an example. Or so I'm told by those in the know. As your reference said, better written than spoken. Gotta love it.

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    7. The things I remember from high school, but a lot of it is from reading people far more talented than me!

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  3. I love that emblem. Good writing as always and thanks for sharing.

    One of my secret "It would be fun but never going to happen" would be to ride in a tank.

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    1. Come down to Uvalde, TX for a visit. They'll let you shoot one!

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    2. Toirdhealbheach Beucail - I share your desire to ride in a tank.

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    3. STxAR - Really? That would be cool.

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    4. I also desire to ride in a tank, but there's a maximum diameter for the hatches, so... Maybe an armed APC so I can get in through the big rear door.

      Or a US Tank Destroyer with the open turret.

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    5. Drive a tank, shoot the main gun and one of the machine guns. Pricey, but damn I'm tempted, sorely.

      Might be worth a trip to Uvalde!

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    6. You and me Beans, in the tracked troop carrier. We could be armed, anyway.

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    7. It's a tank for me, troop carrier just wouldn't cut it. A halftrack would definitely work if I couldn't do the tank thing.

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    8. Oh, maybe a Merkava or a Bradley would work for me.

      That website is cool, until I got to all the misspellings. Dudes, you charge huge bucks to shoot and scoot. Hire a proof reader.

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  4. Will we eventually find out how Pawel Kowalski wound up on board the SEAVIEW?

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    1. Uh, no. (So it's possible I pulled that name from my subconscious...)

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    2. That was a time when the guy favored by misfortune had a name. It was always Kowalski this, Kowalski that.

      Now the guy doesn't have a name. Beware of the cameo character without a name, he's not long for this world.

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    3. Another question for Scott, I remember the Kowalski character from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, (great show by the way). But I don't remember him having the first name of Paweł. FWIW, I've known many Kowalskis in my day.

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    4. I don't think he had a first name. I was just being silly.

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  5. Nice. Poles have always been hard fighters. Love the unit patch too. They haven't ever forgotten.

    Was fighting with an actual Pole one year at an SCA wars. The man actually got bug-eyed beserk when he saw someone playing an Ottoman, before calming down due realizing that someone was playing. (there, that's a politically correct way of saying what I meant - ottoman...) Seems his family history was full of fighting Ottomans and Russkies and such. He said it was ingrained in his DNA. I didn't doubt him. And, yes, complete winged hussar outfit, modified for SCA requirements (he took the wings off during most fighting, was very impressive, massive plumage dontchaknow.)

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    1. Beautiful plumage...

      As he was a Pole I gather he wasn't "pining for the fjords."

      Yup, I had to go there, you mentioned plumage.

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    2. I did lob someone a huge softball intentionally.

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    3. You are so transparent. 🤣

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  6. Ottoman, something you put your feet on, in both cases.

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  7. Hey AFSarge;

    You covered that one well, makes you wonder what happened to the Polish First Armored after the War how were they treated by the Polish communist? or did they stay in Exile or join the French Foreign Legion, and Speaking of Legion, I do know that the German part of the Legion had a collective memory that only went back as far back as May 1945. And I have a Polish Joke for you...A Polish man found a lamp in a bazaar and rubbed it and a genie popped out and the Genie commented "Master I grant you 3 wishes...and the Pole thought for a moment and said, "I want the Golden Horde to come from the East and Ravish my homeland." the Genie raised an eyebrow and said "yes Master" and granted the Wish" and soon you could the horseman of the Khan doing their thing....after it was over and the horsemen left and everything was quiet. the Genie asked "Master you now have your 2nd wish" the Pole though for a moment and said.."I want the Golden Horde to Ravish and sack my homeland again" The Genie 2nd eyebrow climbed up on his forehead and he said "I will grant your wish" Soon the horses of the Great Khan appear and there is fires, destructions and waste where there was none before and the horseman leave. The Genie is trembling at this time and he looks at the Pole with fear in his eyes "Your 3rd wish Master?" The Pole thinks for a moment, I again Want the great golden Horde from the east to come and sack my homeland". The Genie looks at the Pole with astonishment and blurts "Why do such a thing? and the Pole replies in a matter of factly "To come to my homeland, the Golden Horde must ride through and return through Russia".

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    1. How very Polish.

      I think I need to follow up on the 1st Polish Armoured Division. When this story is over, of course.

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  8. It's been a while since I've said this but it bears repeating: I very much enjoy this series.

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  9. I was just thinking about it and I'm not certain that some these are the past perfect tense (Yah! I really loved Latin and I was brought up by Hungarian who spoke perfect, idiomatic New York English with an accent that could be slathered on soft white bread), some of these are phrases (American) that need the word "have", not as an auxiliary or helper verb, but as a part of the expression.
    “ He had had enough of the Yanks.”
    He’d had enough of the Yanks.
    had enough of = couldn’t stomach any more of

    “…he himself had had in the German Army). “
    he himself ‘d had in the German Army).
    he himself had held in the German Army).


    “…he had had the satisfaction of…”
    he’d had the satisfaction of
    he'd truly enjoyed

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    1. Ah English, so many ways to say the same thing.

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  10. Most of soldiers of Polish Armed Forces in the West stayed in exile after WW2. Some went mercenary or Foreign Legion, most blended into Western europe or North America. After 1956 when communism went less heavy-handed, few returned to Poland. Poor souls who did it immediately after war ended up in prisons or worse.
    Regarding losses, higher than average were inflicted because troops tended to go extra mile - sometimes literally - to exact revenge on Germans. But it paid off big time in coming days which I am sure will be described on this site...
    Polish tankers took directly cavalry traditions, down to some units names (even today there are Armored Cavalry units).
    Hence the insignia... US Armored Cavalry troopers definitely know the way of thinking and feeling.

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    1. We're not done with the Poles in this story yet, not by a long shot.

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  11. Sabaton has a couple of music videos which are worth watching; The music is repetitive and not worth listening to twice..
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWkrQQly6xU

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  12. (Don McCollor)...(A little aside digression). Poles are stubborn and tough. One Pole that you would not have wanted to tangle with was Corporal Wojtek of the Polish II Corps in Italy...

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  13. I am learning a lot about WW2 reading these Sarge - and I thought I was reasonably proficient. I am enjoying your current views of famous roads and places in Normandy. Knew about the Polish RAF Squadron; didn't know they were at Normandy too. Talk about a country that has been dumped on over the centuries...

    You have to admire Eisenhower for keeping the allies - chiefly Britain and the U.S. - placated. That would be a good subject - how much was politics involved in giving command assignments?

    Would Patton have gone on to Berlin (and if so would he have left the infantry behind?) If we had gone instead of the Russians to Berlin would it have been as terrible a battle? Most German units wanted to surrender to the Amis or the British for obvious reasons.


    On the tanks - I have a bit of claustrophobia - I like an easy way out and setting down in bowels of the turret isn't easy. Same with Subs.

    I don't see how they do it.

    What do you think of Montgomery as a commander? Certainly from North Africa he got the job done after Waverly but after that?

    I mentioned this before but there is an interesting YouTube video on the "Black Baron" - Michael Wittmann, killed at Normandy. Didn't realize they didn't find him until the 80s in a field and while the narrator went on about his many achievements - particularly on the Eastern Front, he reminded us at the end that he was a rabid Nazi.

    But there was a mini controversary as to who finally got him and it was pretty much settled in the documentary using forensics.

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    1. I am still up in the air over Montgomery as a commander. He had his talents but he also had his faults. From all I've read he was a very difficult man, i.e. he had a crappy personality.

      I am very familiar with Michael Wittmann and don't care to read or hear anymore about the man. He was a Nazi and as to who killed him, who cares? We won the war, individual scores and accolades are for the newspapers back home. The Nazis were big on creating heroes to keep peoples' minds off the rest of what was going on.

      Most soldiers just want to get it over with, at the end of the day, if you're still alive, that's what matters. Not how many enemy you've killed.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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