|Tanks of the 1st Polish Armored Division|
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|
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|
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|
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.
|Église¹ Saint-Germain de Cauvicourt|
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.
|Tanks of the 1st Armoured Regiment of the 1st Polish Armoured Division|
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?
² Damnation in Polish.
³ 1st Armoured Regiment
4 Abraham Lincoln referring to George McClellan