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With sabres on tanks? Battle of Mokra 68th Anniversary

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  • With sabres on tanks? Battle of Mokra 68th Anniversary

    The Battle of Mokra took place on September 1, 1939 near the village of Mokra, north-west of Częstochowa, Poland. It was one of the first battles of the Invasion of Poland, of the Second World War and one of the few Polish victories of the war.

    Eve of the Battle

    According to the Polish mobilization scheme, the main task of the Łódź Army was to secure the connection between the Kraków Army operating in Silesia and Lesser Poland and the Poznań Army defending Greater Poland. It was also to cover the mobilization of a reserve Prusy Army behind the Polish lines. Because of that, the main purpose of the army was to gain time and offer delaying actions and harsh resistance in order for the mobilization to be accomplished.

    The Polish Volhynian Cavalry Brigade was located north of the town of Kłobuck, along the railway to Częstochowa. Two regiments (19th and 21st Uhlans, as well as 4th battalion of the 84th Infantry Regiment) were entrenched on both ends of a forest surrounding the village of Mokra, to the west of the north-south rail road line. To the east, Colonel Julian Filipowicz placed the reserves of the brigade: 12th Uhlans Regiment, 2nd Mounted Rifles Regiment and 21st Armoured Battalion.

    The main task of the Polish brigade was to keep the connection between the Polish 7th Infantry Division operating to the south and the Polish 30th Infantry Division to the north.


    On September 1, at 0500, the German Tenth Army of Army Group South crossed the Polish border and initiated the invasion of Poland. The German 31st Infantry Division, as well as 1st and 4th Panzer Divisions crossed the border in the operational sector of the Polish Volhynian cavalry brigade. After breaking through small detachments of the Border Guard and National Defence, the German units seized the towns of Krzepice and Starokrzepice, right in front of the main Polish positions. After capturing them, the Germans razed both towns and expelled all inhabitants towards the Polish lines.

    The German units were divided into three separate assault groups. The 1st Panzer Division headed directly towards the town of Kłobuck, held by the Polish 7th Infantry Division, while the 4th Panzer Division was split into northern and southern columns, each trying to outflank the Polish positions around Mokra. At the same time, the Luftwaffe started a heavy bombardment of the Polish positions. All together by the end of the day, German air raids arrived 15 times, with between 9 and 26 bombers each. The aeroplanes used were mostly Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers.

    At 0630 in the morning the motorcycle reconnaissance squads of the 4th Panzer Division made contact with the 12th company of the 84th Infantry Regiment under Stanisław Radajewicz. Soon afterwards the AFVs arrived, supported by infantry and purportedly using civilians as human shields. However, after several shots from the sides, the German tanks lost orientation, which allowed for the civilians to cross the Polish lines with negligible losses. The German assault was renewed shortly afterwards, but was repelled by heavy machine gun fire. Two AFVs retreated, while the majority of the motorcyclists were taken prisoner.

    The 4th Panzer Division then mounted an assault on the Polish 21st Uhlans Regiment, further northwards. After a short artillery barrage and aerial bombardment, the German tanks took the village of Wilkowieck and headed directly for the village of Mokra. However, although the regiment lost many horses and approximately five ammunition cars, the bombs mostly missed the defensive positions and the advancing tanks were welcomed at 150 metres by well-positioned Polish-made 37mm Bofors antitank guns. After two tanks were destroyed the German tanks withdrew at 400 metres and started shelling the Poles with artillery, but after losing an additional two AFVs (one destroyed and one immobilized), the tanks retreated. At the same time the German infantry was left alone on a flat field, right in front of the Polish positions, without any cover. It was forced to retreat by a Polish attack that caused heavy losses and resulted in a number of prisoners being taken by the Poles.

    The positions of the 19th Uhlans Regiment were attacked at 0800 by an assault group composed of tanks, AFV's, motorcyclists and infantry. The German group, divided into three columns, was advancing towards the village of Rębielice Szlacheckie in order to outflank the 21st Regiment from the north. However, the Germans were apparently unaware of the 19th Regiment's positions. The westernmost group easily captured the village, while the central group was caught in an ambush by the Poles near the forest and had to flee the battlefield. The third group was advancing along the Polish positions in the forest, completely unaware of the Polish forces several hundred metres away. When the Polish machine guns and anti-tank guns opened fire, the group was almost annihilated before it could respond.

    Nevertheless, the Polish northern flank was endangered and the Germans found out its positions. To counter the threat, Col. Filipowicz ordered the 12th Uhlans Regiment under Andrzej Kuczek, until then held in reserve, to strengthen the positions of the 19th Regiment. The newly-arrived units were fresh, yet already battle-hardened in the first skirmishes in the early morning, which seriously helped the Polish morale.


    At 1000 the Germans started an assault of the northern flank, but were repelled from most positions with significant losses on both sides. 15 minutes afterwards the German 4th Panzer Division repeated the attack, this time with artillery support and air cover. The assault was planned in three directions:

    1. Towards the positions of the 19th Regiment and to the north, in order to outflank the brigade
    2. Towards the village of Mokra itself, with approximately 100 tanks and AFVs
    3. Towards the weakened 4th Battalion of the 84th Infantry Regiment

    The northern assault was carried out quickly. Under the cover of heavy fire, the German tanks managed to break into the forest and secured a road leading across the railway line to the village of Izbiska Duże, to the north of the Polish headquarters. At 1030 the Polish 4th squadron of the 19th Regiment was attacked from behind and pushed out of the forest. This threatened the Poles with separation of 19th and 21st Regiments. Colonel Filipowicz ordered the 19th Regiment to withdraw to the other side of the railway, but the way was already occupied by German tanks and the unit was effectively surrounded. However, the Polish defence was reinforced by the arrival of the Armoured train No. 53, which arrived to the battlefield in the very moment the German tanks were crossing the railway line. It stopped in the middle of the German column and opened fire from all guns. The German column was dispersed and retreated with heavy losses, while the 19th Regiment crossed the rail road under cover of the armoured train. Although it suffered heavy losses, it managed to regroup on the other side.

    Simultaneously, an attack on the main positions of the 21st Regiment near the village of Mokra was started. German tanks managed to outflank the 4th squadron of the Regiment from the north, at the same time attacking it frontally. In the result, the Polish defenders were pushed out of the forest and heavy fights for the village itself started. The Germans lost four tanks to the Polish 2nd Artillery Battalion firing from across the rail road, but the 4th battalion was in retreat, fighting for almost every house in the village and suffering heavy losses. Again the day was saved by Armoured train No. 53. It arrived to the area just on time and opened fire from the distance of almost 2.5 km, which was beyond the effective range of German tank guns of the time. Also, the 12th Uhlans Regiment was moved to the area to reinforce the 21st.

    Counter-attack and the "Charge"

    The 21st Armoured Battalion under Maj. Stanisław Gliński, equipped mostly with Polish TKS tankettes was ordered to counter-attack the village, along with the cavalry squadron of Captain Jerzy Hollak. In the clouds of smoke of the burning village, the Polish units accidentally drove right in the middle of a German tank column. Although the Polish tankettes were no match for some of the German tanks and the cavalry was very vulnerable to tank fire, the confusion in German ranks prevented the German commander from responding quickly enough. The Polish units managed to break through the German column with negligible losses and seized the forest to the Northwest of Mokra. This manoeuvre is sometimes referred to as a charge of Polish cavalry on German tanks, although no charge was planned nor executed. Nevertheless, the German tanks again lost orientation and the column withdrew from the village, again leaving it in Polish hands. The tanks withdrew to their initial positions in Wilkowiecko, leaving behind the infantry supporting the failed assault. German losses were high and a large number of German troops were taken prisoner.

    At the same time, also at 1000, the positions of the 4th Battalion of the 84th Infantry Regiment were attacked by a detachment of German mechanized infantry. After initial clashes the Polish 11th and 12th Companies withdrew deeper into the forest. Colonel Filipowicz ordered the 2nd Mounted Rifles to counter-attack and strengthen the positions between the 21st and 84th regiments. Also the 10th Company managed to charge the enemy and retake the positions lost only a couple of minutes earlier. By 1200 the fighting in the centre and in the south of the Polish positions was over. The fighting in the forest on the northern flank was ended after the 19th Regiment successfully withdrew.

    Final struggles

    At 1215 approximately 100 of German tanks returned to the village of Mokra. The main assault broke the lines of the 4th squadron of the 21st Regiment and the tanks managed to charge the AT artillery nests, destroying two of the guns and breaking through to central part of the village. The houses there were set on fire and the 21st Regiment managed to withdraw to the rail road line, under cover of the smoke. Only isolated pockets of resistance were left in the village itself, which caused much confusion to the Germans.

    The withdrawal of the 21st Regiment allowed the Germans to attack the 12th Regiment and the 2nd Artillery Battalion directly. The losses of the latter unit were high since most of the 75mm field guns were not the best weapon for antitank fire. The 2nd battery lost all three guns and the HMG, while the 5th battery lost two guns. However, the rest of the artillery positions were covered with smoke from the burning houses the Germans had set afire, and were successfully hidden. When a group of tanks unknowingly approached the 1st battery, the Polish guns opened direct fire to the German tanks, destroying 13 of them in a matter of minutes. This allowed for the Poles to hold their positions. Also, the 12th Regiment under Andrzej Kuczek attacked the German tanks from the back, from the previously-retaken forest to the Northwest of the village. Although both sides suffered heavy losses, the Germans withdrew. After the assault ended, the 2nd Artillery Battalion was withdrawn from the battle due to heavy losses and lack of ammunition.

    At 1500, the Germans repeated the frontal assault with heavy artillery fire, tactical air attacks and almost 180 tanks from Wilkowiecko. Simultaneously, side attacks were commenced on the Polish flanks. The frontal assault was directed on the 2nd Squadron of the 12th Regiment (commanded by Stanisław Raczkowski), in the centre of the village. Although the Polish artillery managed to destroy many of them, the German tanks managed to break through again to the village. The 4th squadron under Feliks Pruszyński counter-attacked, but both squadrons were being constantly pressed towards the rail road line. Colonel Filipowicz had no further reserves and the German tanks were nearing the railway crossing, while the Polish cavalry was being pushed back with heavy losses. Soon the regiments lost contact with each other. Because of the smoke, the battle broke down to a series of different skirmishes in the forests, the village and along the rails. All batteries but one of the 2nd Battalion were withdrawn from the battle. This made the situation of the 12th Regiment critical.

    The 2nd Mounted Rifle Regiment, the only unit that was still intact and in contact with the commander of the brigade, was ordered to assault at all cost and reinforce the 12th Regiment and the gap between the cavalry and the 84th Regiment in the south. This helped the Polish defence, but only for a moment. Colonel Filipowicz ordered the Polish tankettes to charge the German tanks in the village. Although the tankettes were not supplied with antitank ammunition, in chaos of the battle they managed to halt the German advance for a moment. After losing one tankette the Poles withdrew, but managed to gain enough time for the armoured trains to return to the area. To the north, on the positions of the 19th Regiment the tanks also managed to break through and started crossing the rail road near Izbiska. When the German tanks crossed the line, both of the armoured trains arrived and attacked them from behind. While the losses in tanks were limited, the panic that started in German units resulted in many tanks being abandoned by their crews, who could not drive the tanks directly through the railway tracks (elevated some two metres above the ground) and the crossing was blocked by burning AFVs. Although both trains suffered some losses and were finally forced to retreat, the panic in German ranks was not stopped. In the smoke some of the German tanks started firing at German positions, while others simply retreated towards the initial position, directly through the German infantry.

    In the south the Polish infantry was yet again pushed deeper into the forest, but its lines were not broken. At 1700 that day the battle was over.


    The German 4th Panzer Division was forced back to its initial positions in Opatów and Wilkowiecko, and only the 12th Schützen Regiment managed to reach the rail road crossing at Izbiska. However, upon learning that the German 1st Panzer Division had managed to take Kłobuck, the Polish forces were withdrawn overnight south-eastwards, to the village of Łobodno located north-east of Kłobuck, and then to the second line of defence, some 12 km to the east.


    The losses on both sides were quite high. The Germans lost approximately 800 men (killed, missing, captured or seriously wounded), and between 100 and 160 AFVs (at least 50 of them tanks). The Polish brigade lost 200 killed and 300 wounded, as well as 300 horses and several guns. The 2nd Mounted Artillery Battalion lost almost 30% of men, the 21st Regiment - almost 25%; the 12th Uhlans Regiment that was used as a reserve lost 5 officers and 216 men, both killed and wounded.

    Cavalry Charges and Propaganda

    Apart from countless battles and skirmishes in which the Polish cavalry units used the infantry tactics, there were 16 confirmed cavalry charges during the 1939 war. Contrary to common belief, most of them were successful.

    The first of them, and perhaps the best known, happened on September 1, 1939, during the Battle of Krojanty. During the action, elements of the Polish 18th Uhlans Regiment met a large group of German infantry resting in the woods near the village of Krojanty. Colonel Mastalerz decided to take the enemy by surprise and immediately ordered a cavalry charge, a tactic the Polish cavalry rarely used as their main weapon. The charge was successful and the German infantry unit was dispersed.

    The same day, German war correspondents were brought to the battlefield together with two journalists from Italy. They were shown the battlefield, the corpses of Polish cavalrymen and their horses, alongside German tanks that had arrived at the field of battle only after the engagement. One of the Italian correspondents sent home an article, in which he described the bravery and heroism of Polish soldiers, who charged German tanks with their sabres and lances. Other possible source of the myth is a quote from Heinz Guderian's memoirs, in which he asserted that the Pomeranian Brigade had charged on German tanks with swords and lances. Although such a charge did not happen and there were no tanks used during the combat, the myth was dissipated by German propaganda during the war with staged Polish cavalry charge shown in their 1941 reel called "Geschwader Lützow". In that movie Luftwaffe Avia 534B trainer planes of Czech origin acted as Polish PZL-11 fighters. After the end of World War II the same fraud was again being disseminated by Soviet propaganda as an example of the stupidity of Polish commanders and authorities, who allegedly did not prepare their country for war and instead wasted the blood of their soldiers.

    Polish cavalry 1939.

    At the outbreak of the Polish Defensive War of 1939, the Polish cavalry units were organised in 11 cavalry brigades, each composed of 3 to 4 cavalry regiments with organic artillery, armoured unit and infantry battalion. Two additional brigades had recently been converted to motorized and armoured units, but they retained their cavalry traditions. In addition, every infantry division had an organic cavalry detachment used for reconnaissance.

    In contrast with its traditional role in armed conflicts of the past (even in the Polish-Bolshevik War), the cavalry was no longer seen as a unit capable of breaking through enemy lines. Instead, it was used as a mobile reserve of the Polish armies and was using mostly infantry tactics: the soldiers dismounted before the battle and fought as a standard (yet fast) infantry. Technically speaking, in 1939 Poland had 11 brigades of mounted infantry and no units of cavalry as such.

    Although the cavalrymen retained their sabres, after 1937 the lance was dropped and it was issued to cavalrymen as a weapon of choice only. Instead, the cavalry units were equipped with modern armament, including 75mm guns, tankettes, 37mm AT guns, 40mm AA guns, anti-tank rifles and other pieces of modern weaponry.

    During the campaign, the brigades were distributed among the Polish armies and served as mobile reserves. In this role, the Polish cavalry proved itself a successful measure in filling the gaps in the front and covering the withdrawal of friendly units. Polish cavalry units took part in most of the battles of 1939 and on several occasions proved to be the elite of the Polish Army,

    - Your Highness, the enemy is so numerous... they outnumber your army.
    - My friend, first I beat 'em then I'll count 'em
    (Polish King Jan III Sobieski during his campaigns)

    Historia Wojskowa Portal Historyczno-Wojskowy

  • #2
    German panzer-soldier Hartie Effenberg about battle of Mokra :
    "We had crossed Polish border at noon ,at third or forth line.(...) .Everything around us was burning ,smoking destroyed tanks from morning's assault,ruins of houses.(...) Two tanks blown up,just in front of us.Noone escaped from that tanks,everyone were been killed.The tank behind us also was burning and we had to slow down to bypass it.That was enough to be hit from the flank by ATG.I remember the flash and flames growing inside our tank.My commander Scheele was carrying me to the turret and was immediately killed after he climb out the tank."
    Guerrero contra marxismo


    • #3
      Lancer reenactment.

      Hello there. My name's Bill Weston and I'm new to this forum. I came across it whilst doing initial research for my Polish Lancer living history/reenactment project next year. I read your account of the battle of Mokra and would like to know more about the group(s) who are in the pictures supplied. Are any of then contactable via e-mail, or a website ? And if so could you post me their links ?

      Cheers in advance Westy38.

      p.s. my wargaming poison of choice is Tac Skirmish Arc of Fire and Rapid Fire II.


      • #4
        10 Pułk Ułanów

        15 Pułk Ułanów Poznańskich

        5 Pułk Ułanów Zasławskich

        7 Pułk Strzelców Konnych Wielkopolskich

        Kawaleria II RP

        Kawaleria Polska

        Małopolski Klub Rekreacji i Turystyki Konnej imienia 21 pułku ułanów Nadwiślańskich

        Nowy Przegląd Kawaleryjski

        Sekcja Kawalerii Ochotniczej im. 3 Pułku Szwoleżerów Mazowieckich

        Stowarzyszenie Miłośników Kawalerii 1 Pułk Ułanów Krechowieckich

        Stowarzyszenie Szwadron Niepołomice w barwach 8 Pułku Ułanów Księcia Józefa Poniatowskiego

        Stowarzyszenie Ułanów Grochowskich im. gen. Józefa Dwernickiego

        Szwadron Jazdy RP

        And many others...
        as you see cavalry traditions are very popular in Poland.
        Unfortunetely all these sites are in Polish, but for email try on "Kontakt".

        Pułk = Regiment
        Ułan = Lancer

        Regards Bill
        Last edited by [email protected]; 05 Dec 07, 18:47.
        - Your Highness, the enemy is so numerous... they outnumber your army.
        - My friend, first I beat 'em then I'll count 'em
        (Polish King Jan III Sobieski during his campaigns)

        Historia Wojskowa Portal Historyczno-Wojskowy


        • #5
          Good lord !! This lot'll keep me out of mischief for a while. Thanks for the assist on this on. I'll keep you posted on how the project develops.


          • #6
            Glad to help.
            Why this formation Bill?
            - Your Highness, the enemy is so numerous... they outnumber your army.
            - My friend, first I beat 'em then I'll count 'em
            (Polish King Jan III Sobieski during his campaigns)

            Historia Wojskowa Portal Historyczno-Wojskowy


            • #7
              It is worth noting that the current issue of ACG magazine has a feature on the myth of Polish lancers charging German armor by Jacek Lubecki. Explains a lot of the reasons for the myths and what really happened.

              "Did Polish Lancers Really Charge German Panzers? : The Truth about World War II's greatest myth."

              Still, an excellent post!
              Our forefathers died to give us freedom, not free stuff.

              I write books about zombies as E.E. Isherwood. Check me out at


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