10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade (Poland)

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10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade
Znak pancerny.svg
Active 1939-40
1942-c.1947(?)
1995-
Country Poland
Branch Polish Army
Type Armoured
Size Brigade
Part of 1st Armoured Division (Poland)

The Polish 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade (Polish 10 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej, French 10e Brigade de cavalerie blindée polonaise) was an armoured formation of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. It was organized in France during World War II as part of the Polish Army in France, mostly by the veterans of the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade who managed to escape from Nazi and Soviet occupied Poland. Led by general Stanisław Maczek, it took part in the Battle of France of 1940. It was later recreated in Great Britain as a part of the 1st Armoured Division.

1939-40[edit]

France and Poland had been allies in the leadup to World War II, concluding the Franco-Polish Military Alliance. After Poland was defeated by Germany in 1939, many Polish soldiers went to France to create a new army (the Polish Army in France) to fight the Nazis. These forces were commanded by general Władysław Sikorski, who was also the prime minister of the Polish government in exile. Unfortunately, French generals were not interested in Polish information about the campaign in Poland and German tactics of Blitzkrieg. There was a general belief among the French High Command that the Polish armed forces were incompetent, and they also believed in the impregnability of the Maginot Line. When General Maczek and his veterans tried to create a Polish mechanized division, they were not able to get the equipment necessary for training fast enough, so the new unit grew very slowly.

Everything changed when Germany invaded the Low Countries in 1940, out-flanking the French fortifications. General Maczek's unit suddenly received all the equipment they had asked for, with one condition: they had to go into action immediately. That was impossible, because many Polish soldiers had no idea how to use the new equipment and there was no time for training. General Maczek decided to lead a small force of his best trained men, hoping that the rest of his unit would join them later. That small force was called the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade (10 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej) in honour of the "Black Brigade" from 1939. On June 6, 10th Brigade had one tank battalion, two strong motorized cavalry squadrons, one anti-tank battery and one anti-aircraft battery.

The brigade was attached to the French Fourth Army near Reims, and was ordered to cover its left flank. However, Maczek's unit was much too weak to successfully hold back full German armoured divisions. Polish soldiers managed only to cover one retreating French infantry division by attacking German forces in Champaubert-Montgivroux. Later the brigade had to withdraw with the rest of French troops, and joined the French XXIII Corps. On June 16 the brigade attacked, by night, the town of Montbard over the Burgundy Canal. Maczek's soldiers completely surprised the Germans and took many prisoners.

The 10th Brigade was fighting alone by this time, with the French units on both flanks either routed or in retreat. There were no French forces to exploit that victory, and the decimated Polish unit found itself surrounded and without fuel. On June 18, General Maczek decided to destroy most of his equipment and to withdraw on foot. Later that day he had to split the remnants of his brigade into small groups, so they could pass through enemy lines. Many of Maczek's men, including the general himself, found their way to the United Kingdom, where a Polish armoured unit was recreated, while others joined the Polish and French resistance organizations in France and Belgium.

The 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade was a small formation, but with an excellent fighting spirit. Most of its soldiers managed to get to Great Britain, where the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade was recreated as a part of General Maczek's 1st Armoured Division.

Formation in Britain and Post Cold War[edit]

Leopard 2A4 of the brigade, December 2005

The brigade fought with the 1st Armoured Division in north-west Europe in 1944-45, but was disbanded after the war. However it was reformed in 1995 and later equipped with Leopard 2 tanks purchased from Germany (see pl:10 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej (III RP)). It is now part of the 11th Armoured Cavalry Division headquartered at Żagań.

References[edit]

  • Stanisław Maczek, "Od Podwody do czołga", Lublin-London 1990

Reference: "With the tanks of the 1st Polish Armoured Division" A Tomaszewska (H L Smit and zn, Hengelo, Holland, 1946)