STRATUS/ MUSHROOM MODEL PUBLICATIONS
Green Series 4107, Invincible Black Brigade: Polish 10th Cavalry Brigade 1939. By Jerzy Majka, with illustrations by Thierry Vallet. Soft covers, A4-size, 120 pages. Contains 250 B&W photographs, 10 pages of color plates, two pages of color insignia, one map, one organization chart, one Order-of-Battle chart and bibliography. ISBN 978-83-61421-25-2.
On the heels of the end of the Great War in Europe (1914-1918), the Polish Republic was re-established after more than 12 decades of being divided between Czarist Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A brief, but titanic struggle with the newly-created Revolutionary Soviet Union, which was defeated at the gates of Warsaw (likely keeping the Bolshevik hoards from ending up on the English Channel), left the infant republic struggling for its very survival. Due to the nature of this war horse-cavalry was widely used; terrain and tactics favored mobility. Indeed one of the first mechanized, combined-arms deep-penetration offensives in history was initiated by the Poles, with their little-known dash to Kiev.
On the eve of the Second World War, the Poles were struggling to mechanize their armed forces. As in most western armies, some bureaucratic inertia had to be overcome, but Polands real Achilles Heel was their dire lack of funds and an extremely limited (but relatively competent) industrial base. It was within this background that the Poles created their only real completely mechanized unit, the 10.Brygada Kawalerii (10th Cavalry Brigade), early in 1937. Often referred to as Czarna Brygada, or the Black Brigade (after their signature long black leather coats), the unit created an enviable reputation in the September campaign of 1939, under their legendary commander, Stanislaw Maczek.
The text provides a relatively detailed look at the conception and formation of the Black Brigade, as well as its less-than-satisfactory performance during its first field exercises. Its performance issues were quickly identified. They consisted of the fact any thing new will always be problematic in its employment; the cohesion of the unit was degraded due to its subordinate units being spread too far apart in garrisons; and, there were equipment shortages. In addition its inexperienced officers and other ranks were less than inspired by the brigades original commander.
When Maczek took over command of the Brigade, the effectiveness of the brigade began to reach a high standard. Frankly, they had to, what with war looming ever-closer. In the prelude to the 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany and then the Soviet Union, the Brigade was involved in the annexation of ethnic Polish lands when Germany dismembered Czechoslovakia in 1938. Although there was a good case for the return of these lands, the opportunistic actions the Polish government in this regard, in collusion with Hitlers Germany, did the nations reputation, as well as that of the Brigade, little credit. A very modest amount of combat was seen, but on the whole, the incident was almost completely bloodless.
When Germany poured across the borders in the early hours of September 1, 1939, the brigade was stationed near Krakow. Not fully supplied or equipped, the brigade nevertheless gave a good account of itself against such vastly superior German units as 2.Panzer-Division and 4.leichte-Division; in particular, the latter formation would remember their rough treatment by the Poles. However, by September 18 (after the Soviets acted on their secret agreement with the Nazis and invaded from the east), the diminished and bloodied, but still intact brigade, now near the Hungarian border, was ordered to cross over and present themselves for internment. Sympathetic Hungarian officials eventually let the majority of the brigades personnel slip away to fight another day, first in France in 1940 and later in NW Europe in 1944-45. In the latter campaign, the brigade was the cadre of the famous Polish 1st Armored Division. This never-defeated unit saw the Nazi scourge eradicated in the spring of 1945, but its surviving veterans did not see their beloved Poland emerge as a free nation until nearly 50 years later.
The text ends with internment in Hungary, leaving scope for a follow-up in this series. The text is ably supported by one map, an organization chart, an Order-of-Battle chart and a bibliography for those who wish to delve further into the subject.
The photographic content of the book is in one word, outstanding. It includes a good number of unit-specific images created during its various field exercises and training routines. Other images depict its service in the annexation of ethnic Polish lands in 1938, while there are even images taken of the brigade during the 1939 campaign. The latter are limited in number and of necessity include German-made images depicting the units vehicles after the fighting ceased. There are many studio portraits of the brigades leaders, which lend a personal touch to their saga. There are also a large number of generic images of vehicles, weapons and AFVs that served with the brigade. On the whole, the captions are informative and often quite extensive. Photo reproduction, on glossy, coated paper, can be considered to be excellent, depending of course on the condition of the archival images.
Two pages of color photographs depict the various museum-held battle flags (standards) of the brigade and its constituent units, although most are reproductions. In addition enameled regimental badges are depicted, while some color drawings depict unit pennants, which were usually seen on the collars of uniforms. The color plates depict a total of 15 AFVs and support vehicles. These include the following: Sokol motorcycle, variations of the Polski-Fiat 508 light truck/heavy car, Krupp L2H42 truck (early variation of the well-known Protze), Czech Praga RV truck, Polski-Fiat 621L truck, PZInz. Wz.34 half-track truck; TKS (two types), TKS-D, TKD and TK-3 tankettes; and C2P artillery tractor. The final two plates depict the British-built Vickers E light tanks in its single- and twin-turret guises. These are all competently-rendered and accurately-depict the typical Polish three-tone camouflage system in use during the era. Very little in the way of markings are seen because, other than registration plates on the wheeled vehicles, none were used at the time.
Combining all of these elements makes for a well-represented and concise depiction of this unit at a critical point in Polands history. Students of the 1939 campaign, who probably know more of the German side of the story, should add this book to their libraries, simply for the sake of balance. Modelers will find much of interest although the available kits of these AFVs, from Mirage, are not up to todays standards. Thats a pity, since with some investigation this period in AFV history will be found to be quite interesting.
Frank V. De Sisto
Stratus/ Mushroom Model Publications books are available in North America from Casemate Publishing at: www.casematepublishing.com.
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