Friday, January 14, 2022

The Line Holds

(Source)
Jan sat at the bottom of the trench, exhausted. They had finally reached their defensive positions near the town of Pszczyna after a long march struggling against occasional small groups of refugees heading in the opposite direction and intermittent strafing attacks. It did seem, Jan thought, that the German efforts in the air were focused elsewhere and that the strafing of his unit was incidental.

It was getting on towards noon and Jan began to wonder where the German Army was, they could hear artillery and small arms fire in the distance to the north and south, but nothing to the west, where they expected the Germans to approach from, as Jan pondered that fact, he heard a shout which sent a shiver up his back.

"Tanks!"


Oberfeldwebel Wolfram Müller was trying to stay low in the hatch of his Panzerkampfwagen II ausf. C¹, they were all worried about getting hit by small arms fire while moving towards the Polish lines. His 5th Panzer Division was off to a slow start after the infantry and artillery ahead of them had signaled back that Polish resistance was rather light.

He turned to his left when he saw his company commander signaling. Somewhat chagrined he stood up in his hatch, Oberleutnant Krauss wanted his tank commanders up in their hatches so they had a full 360 degree view of the battlefield. Of course, now they were exposed to small arms fire, he almost hoped that the Poles would open fire, see if Krauss stayed upright then!


Elżbieta turned to look at the shopkeeper as she hung up the telephone, "Thank you Mrs. Gniewek. How much do I owe you?"

Mrs. Gniewek huffed and said, "Nothing Elżbieta, save your money for the trip to Warszawa. When do you leave?"

"I have to be at the train station in ..."

Before she could complete the sentence, both women heard a strange whistling noise overhead and the sound of aircraft engines. Both dropped to the floor as a string of German bombs landed some two blocks away.

Mrs. Gniewek helped Elżbieta to her feet, "Are you all right?"

"Yes ma'am, I guess I better go, before the Germans cut the railroad to the capital. Stay safe!"

Elżbieta wondered if anyone would survive this war, she had seen dead people in the streets near Jan's apartment. The Germans seemed intent on destroying her world!


Müller heard the crack of a Polish anti-tank gun and ducked involuntarily. He heard his driver shout out, "Krauss' tank has been hit!"

Gefreiter Will Hoffmeister looked back to his front, he had seen Krauss' tank lurch to one side, then roll into a ditch. Smoke was coming from the hatches. As he maneuvered his tank around a shell hole, Müller kicked his right shoulder, obediently he steered the tank to the right without question. Müller then yelled down at him, "Polish trenches ahead, maneuver as you see fit, I'll be on the gun!"

The 2 cm cannon in the small turret began to bark as Willi maneuvered. "We're in the shit now!" he yelled back at the radioman.

Panzerschütze Fritz Weber grimaced, only Willi would find this exciting. He was terrified and was trying hard to keep his ear to the company radio net. While he couldn't transmit, he could hear the officers with transmitters barking orders. All Hell seemed to be breaking loose.


Jan watched as the German tanks, at least three of them on fire, tried to maneuver. As they did so, Polish artillery began landing among them. After two more of the German tanks were hit, the others began to fall back.

Jan saw two Germans in black uniforms climbing from a disabled tank, they were trying to pull a third man out of the disabled machine. A Polish machine gun just down the line from Jan opened fire. Jan watched in dismay as the three Germans were knocked over like targets at a shooting gallery.

Plutonowy Szymon Jagoda slapped Jan's helmet as he yelled, "Fire at them Kołodziej, kill them, they will kill you if you let them. Kill all of the bastards!"

Jan could see no one to shoot at, then he saw one of the black-uniformed Germans limping towards the rear, perhaps a hundred meters away. Carefully Jan lined the man up in his sights as he had been taught, then squeezed the trigger of his Kbk wz.29.²

Jan saw the man stagger, then fall to his knees.

"Oh dear God, did I just kill a man?" Jan moaned aloud.

A burst of machine gun fire knocked the dying German tanker to the ground as Jan Kołodziej began to vomit into the trench.

For now the line in front of the town of Pszczyna was holding. As the sun set on this first day of war, every man in the Polish trenches took heart, the Germans had suffered badly and had fallen back. Perhaps Poland had won the war?

No, they had not.



¹ Armored Fighting Vehicle II, Model C (Panzerkampfwagen II ausf. C)
² Abbreviation for the Karabinek wz. 1929, (Carbine Model 1929) the standard Polish infantry rifle in 1939, which was based on a German design.

76 comments:

  1. Dennis from Poland here. I live a short drive from a town named Pszczyna, about 15 miles. Never heard about action there, but I'm not sure how many towns have the same name. It is very possible that the one near us was actually in German territory at the outbreak of the war as it is not very far from Gleiwitz, where the justification for war was staged.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pszczyna is not far from Gliwice, but I checked a few references and the town was in Poland in 1939, though not far from the German border. Which is probably why fighting occurred there at the beginning of the war from 1 to 4 September. The outcome of which forced the retreat of the Kraków Army.

      Glad to have another Pole visiting the blog!

      Delete
    2. Actually, Sarge, I'm as American as you are. Wife is Polish. We've been here since 2007. This blog is one place where I keep up my contact with the US.
      Dennis

      Delete
    3. Ah, makes sense, but fifteen years is rather long, I'll bet you speak a lot of Polish. I'd like to visit Poland one day.

      Delete
    4. Sarge, I would welcome you happily. I don't see many Americans here. Consider our door open if you're floating through. I speak Polish enough to get by. My sons have lived it their whole lives and prefer Polish to English. It is a difficult language because of its different roots.
      Dennis
      P.S. And when you get your book published, I'm in.

      Delete
    5. Someday Dennis, someday.

      In the visit and the book, hopefully the book gets published first!

      Delete
  2. Something I haven't understood is how 2 cm can be a cannon but larger caliber is a rifle or gun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rick - It's more terminology I think than anything else, but as Comrade Misfit says, 2 cm is fairly large. I'm looking at a 20 mm shell casing right now, which stands next to a row of .30-06 casings. The difference is startling. (The former I got from my daughter, The WSO the latter from my Dad's funeral.)

      Delete
    2. Thanks CM, spot on! In the case of ordnance, size matters.

      Delete
    3. Remember, as diameter goes up so does surface area 2(Pi)R. And add to that if you scale a 7.92mm (.313ish inches) you increase the volume by roughlyish 4/3(Pi)Radius(cubed) ish. Somewhat. Ish. Sort of. And because volume increases exponentially-ish, that means mass follows so that 20mm round, if just a scaled up 7.92mm round, is significantly mass-ier.

      Then there's the thing that a 20mm cannon bullet is actually significantly bigger than just a scaled-up rifle round. So even more mass.

      Then toss in the casing, which is, again, not just a scaled-up rifle casing, but usually quite a bit more. And increase in volume means increased powder charge. Anti-tank guns are designed to be very flat-firing, so the rounds are very high velocity.

      High velocity and mass means Force F=MV and Energy E=MV(velocity is squared)ish. And since you're shooting kinetic energy projectiles with great force, well, there you go. Penetration achieved. And then the round, if the crew is unlucky, bounces around the inside of the tank like a .22caliber round inside one's skull. With the people being the brain in this case.

      Or, if it's an automatic cannon, then it's just a really really big machine gun and it's like getting hit by 4-5 .50cal BMG (Browning Heavy Machine Gun) at once per hit. Or more.

      Toss in some explosive filler just for fun and a little .78"/20mm round can really ruin your day. And the people around you as you go splash everywhere.

      And using the rough examples and equations, the French AT gun was a 25mm high velocity. The Germans and Americans was a 37mm, with the American firing a higher velocity round than the German. The British, being British, fired a 2pdr (2 pounder, weight of the bullet, kind of, weird because British) which was 40mm but only fired solid rounds. The Swedes had their Bofors AntiAircraft gun that fired a 40mm High Explosive or solid shot, but they also had 37mm anti-tank guns that were far easier to conceal, which they sold to just about everyone (both guns).

      And then... if someone's firing a bigger but slow round, like found on the early German Mk IVs, you get lots of explody goodness and shrapnel effect, which totally sucks. That roughly 3" diameter gun fires a slow but heeeaaaavy solid round or a slow but really exlody high explosive round.

      And that's enough of this topic... maybe.

      Delete
    4. Oh but you do go on ...

      (Good stuff, really!)

      Delete
    5. The difference between a gun and a howitzer is determined by the length of the barrel expressed in multiples of the bore diameter. Old Guns

      Delete
    6. I was speaking of ancient artillery. That's a good modern explanation.

      Delete
    7. Guns go Ka-booooom-zing. Howitzers go Ka-boooom-bloop.

      Delete
    8. I have always thought it interesting, that the Germans used 2cm autocannon, while we used 20mm, and the Kriegsmarine used 12.7 cm guns, the IJN 127mm, and the USN used 5 inch guns.

      Delete
    9. Just different terminologies, and those Kriegsmarine guns, that's 12,7 cm. Yup, commas, not periods.

      Delete
    10. I just find the different choices of wording interesting.

      Delete
    11. Different languages, different cultures ...

      Delete
  3. I'm enjoying the new story.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Amazingly I spent a good bit of time in Pszczyna when I lived in Bielsko-Biala in 1992-93. Really nice castle in Pszczyna, went to a big party there one night.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool, it is only 20 kilometers or so between those two towns.

      From the photos I've seen, that castle is impressive.

      Delete
    2. Jak sie masz, Pan Ryszard. I live in Kozy. Been here teaching English since 2008. What did you do in Bielsko back then?

      Delete
    3. Wow, that's not far from Pszczyna!

      Delete
    4. Lots of things. :)

      Taught contract law and ethics at a small private college that sprung after the end of communism. Made lifelong friends. Got married. Learned that people everywhere are people, most good, a few bad, all like love and fear something. Got over my mad at world after too many years as a prosecutor.

      Learned a lot about communism they do not teach in USofA. 4 colors of house paint only? Really? Mostly crap tools in any store. Great people. Great, really great bread. Great beer, miss Zywiec but not as good after they got bought by a multi-national. Trains! I love trains. Misplaced a good friend and his wife - who spoke no Polish, they were visiting - in the train station in Katowice and found them on the platform in Bielsko. Learned that McDonalds fries - when you have not had them for 16 months - can taste pretty good.

      Miss the place, best 20 months of my life. May retire there when I hang up the job. Bielsko has a neat little airport, the grilled trout in Wisla is likely still great and there is a still a hostel with good beer on top of Mt. Szyndzielna.

      RAS

      Delete
    5. My experience as well, people are people, no matter where you are.

      Delete
  5. (Note to self: Remember that Sarge is writing. Do not, I repeat do not get attached to the characters...)

    ""Fire at them Kołodziej, kill them, they will kill you if you let them. Kill all of the bastards!"" - This is war. "Politics by other means" as Von Clausewitz put it, in its most fundamental form. I say that finding myself in the position of Jan, hating the fact that all of this is ever necessary yet acknowledging that in point of fact it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try to view war from the point of view of those who actually have to fight it, face to face. Not the generals and politicians far to the rear. It makes a big difference!

      Delete
  6. Not that I have any concerns about killing these German soldiers, Jan did for a moment, despite it being, as the police say, "a good shooting," I do wonder where the line is that Jan might have thought he crossed. It was touched upon in saving Private Ryan, but it came back to bite them hard.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do believe Lex touched upon that once. Killing is a line that, once you've crossed it, things aren't ever the same again.

      Delete
  7. Sarge, if you want I can research campaign trail of any Polish unit in 1939 so you can make Jan follow a historical battles. If you want historical weapons details as well. Poles for example used 37mm at guns design by Bofors. at rifles wz35 were also fielded. For standard rifles ironically german Mauser were used, with both model 1898 and locally developed wz29 carbine. Machine guns were wz30 hmg based on Browning m1917 but chambered in 7,92 and wz28 based on BAR.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Information on the Kraków Army, specifically the Polish 6th Infantry Division (Jan's unit) would be awesome. Also information on the Łódź Army, as that's the force von Lüttwitz's unit is attacking.

      Contact me at oldafsarge AT gmail DOT com.

      Thanks Paweł! (Any weapons information is also much appreciated, English sources seem rather spotty.)

      Delete
    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mokra most famous enaggement in the start of war for the Army Łódź
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%81%C3%B3d%C5%BA_Army general info on the army itself
      https://www.quartermastersection.com/polish/companies/968/PolishInfantry this little gem gives you idea of polish infantry company TOE
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kraków_Army general info on Kraków Army indeed there was action at Psczyna on sept 2nd!
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6th_Infantry_Division_(Poland) and 6 th infantry division info

      Delete
    3. Zaloga, S.J., 2002, Poland 1939, Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., ISBN 9781841764085 probably best book in the west concerning the campaign overall

      Delete
    4. Paweł #1 - Yup, I have all of those.

      Delete
    5. Paweł #2 - The Osprey books are excellent.

      Delete
    6. some forgotten weapons vids on polish weapons of 1939:
      https://youtu.be/ME0EbkI34Uw
      https://youtu.be/Gin39VbpKWQ
      https://youtu.be/Lg0DEb93bgc

      Delete
    7. https://youtu.be/mSH9VvQAvog and one more

      Delete
  8. I was taught (by WW2 vet parents, Navy Mom, Army Father, who argued about it) that large guns are mounted and large cannons are carried. This did not help nearly as much as it seems. Mounted? On what? Carried? By what? Rifles had rifling in their barrels, or somewhere. I remember asking if there were firearms that spun the barrel to spin the bullet, Dad said no, Mom just stared at me, and then said nothing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All I know about artillery is that there are guns, howitzers, and gun-howitzers. It's a usage thing. In the old days those were all known as cannon, pre-ACW, mostly smooth bore. Now some tank cannons are smoothbore. (FWIW, guns are direct fire, howitzers are indirect fire and gun-howitzers can do both. Then you have the guns designed for the Zumwalt-class, they fire a missile which is shot from the tube like a gun round. It can be all so confusing!)

      Delete
    2. The Big Badger Boat carried nine Rifles 16"/50 caliber MK7 MOD 0. So rifles can get quite large!

      Delete
    3. If the bore is rifled, it's a rifle.

      Delete
  9. New story! Great! I like it. Don't know nothin' about this part of the war, so I'm anxious to find out.
    Be sure to refurbish your "Z" key more often now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I've noticed that "Z" is a popular character in Polish!

      Delete
  10. I like it. Very much so. The early years, as weapons and tactics seemed to exponentially grow, are fascinating, as a bystander, to watch.

    Poor doomed Poles. Ignored by their allies, shafted by the surrounding powers, but still go down swinging.

    Are you possibly going to have some of their little tankettes have some fun against the German horde?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Poor doomed Poles"

      Yet where are those who invaded Poland? Seems to me that every nation that has invaded Poland, even maybe conquered her, has been tossed onto the ash heap of history, but Poland remains.

      Delete
    2. Beans - Count on seeing some Polish tankettes.

      Delete
    3. Joe - The Russian bear is still there, just further away these days.

      For now.

      Delete
    4. True. But the Empire is gone. The Reich is gone. The Soviet Union is gone.

      That we have a new Russian Bear seems irrelevant. If it tries to swallow Poland it might succeed, but eventually it will die and Poland will still be with us.

      An amazingly resilient people, those "poor doomed Poles."

      Delete
    5. Yes, Poland lives, mostly through the efforts of her people. We need to keep an eye on the East, don't want a recurrence of what happened there before. Ever.

      Delete
    6. https://warisboring.com/how-a-lone-polish-cadet-rampaged-through-german-panzers-using-the-puniest-tankette-imaginable/ speaking of tankettes...
      also, empires rise and fall but nations endure...
      regarding Russian bear nowadays, lets just say that it makes me VERY worried. Ukraine crisis and all
      OTOH having some NATO allies here on the ground is more reassuring than distant Anglo-French armies of 1939
      US forces are on the rotational basis here, and other NATO countries send contingents as well
      Danes lately sent frigate and some F-16s to the Baltics for example

      Delete
    7. Paweł - I just read that first entry today, pretty amazing.

      The Ukraine business could turn bad any day, not good.

      Delete
  11. Another good episode.

    Having "secret weapons" is not always an advantage. The Wz.35 anti-tank rifle Pawel mentioned is a good example. It was pretty much "secret" so that while a large number were made, they were stored in sealed crates and only a few troops knew they existed, or had any training at all on how to use them. Theoretically, there were to be three of these in each infantry company with a two man team (gunner and assistant/spotter/cover fire guy), but a fair number did actually get issued and saw combat.

    These were big honking 22 pound bolt action rifles with a bipod, somewhat similar to the WW1 German TuF 18 "T-Gewehr" Mauser Anti-Tank rifle which was in an abusive 13.2 x 97mm caliber. The Polish rifle used a unique 7.9 x 107mm cartridge which achieved an incredible muzzle velocity of 4,180 feet per second, which was effective against all the early German tanks (PzKpfw I, II, III, IV), even thoughthe bullet was a lead core, not hardened steel. The captured Wz 35 anti-tank rifles were taken into German service as the PzB 35(p), and some were passed along for use by the Italians and Finland as well.

    Not nearly as well known as the T-Gewehr or Boyes AntiTank rifles, the Polish Wz.35 actuallly seems to have been somewhat effective.

    The sneaky Krauts were also players in the smallbore high velocity anti-tank rifle game, with 7.9 x 94mm cartridges achieving 3,969 feet per second, but with hardened steel cores. They had the PanzerBuesche 38 and PzB 39 rifles in service and saw action in Poland.

    Man portable anti-tank guns were only marginally useful early in the war, and quickly outmatched by advances in armored vehicles.
    John Blackshoe

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah yes, the old AT rifles, very useful in the early days, not so much later on.

      Delete
    2. Good anti-material rifles and also good for sniping at a longer range. And some usefulness in breaking tracks on armored vehicles.

      But basically a species of gun on a dead limb of the evolutionary ladder. Until the Barrett Boys brought back heavy anti-material rifles.

      Delete
    3. there is such thing as too much secrecy!
      Soviets used PTRD and PTRS in 14,5mm to good effect as they could penetrate up to 40mm
      until tigers anbd panthers arrived, any german tank caught with flank shot was at risk

      Delete
    4. As armor got better, guns had to get better too.

      Delete
  12. Very happy to see your Muse kicked you into action. Are you on a first name basis?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I call her "Ma'am." (Might be her first name, I dunno. 😉)

      Delete
  13. Thanks for the story, quickly to become a "must" readread!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  14. One of the books at Fort Riley elementary school when I was in 6th grade was a photo essay book of such things, It went into graphic detail about how the Army removed the remains from tanks like that. It was needful to recover the remains and sometimes the tank could br reused. The description is something that has stuck with me for 50 years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Floor hatches were highly recommended in those situations. But first one has to get to the floor hatch.

      Delete
    2. Not pretty inside a knocked out tank.

      Delete
    3. Car and truck crashes can wind up one thinking, " Thank God I am a deputy, and not Fire/EMS ". Especially big truck, little car ones. We will not think about the 13 year old who unsuccessfully tried to beat The Empire Builder to a crossing, on his ten speed.

      Delete
    4. Humans versus high speed metal objects, the human never wins.

      Delete
  15. Germans did lose about 900 armored vehicles in the 39 campaign alone, but only 200+ were labelled as total loss
    so they must have done extenive ops of such type...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. German casualties were fairly heavy in Poland, a little known fact in the West.

      Delete

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

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.