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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bolt Action - First To Fight… Last to Fight

Hey guys, Uncle Mal is back to talk about he used a historical perspective when creating his unique Polish army. 

As my friends know, I am absolutely crazy for polish militaria. I have toured Poland and almost camped in the Museum of the Polish Army, in Warsaw. But as I have been told “it is not a problem until it inhibits your ability to function on a day to day basis” and I am going to hold on to that.

We all know that the Poles were the first to come to blows with Nazi Germany.  We have the idea that the Polish army was backward and we embrace the image of the Polish Cavalry charging the German tanks (a myth both the Germans and Poles have propagated), this was not actually the case.  The Polish Army was an advanced, modern army and had embraced the idea of “motorized” warfare.

The Poles had two Motorised Brigades; The 10th Motorised and the Warsaw Armoured-Motorised Brigade. Not only had the poles had learned the lessons of the Western Front in WW1, but also from the Polish-Soviet  War (1919-1921), which was a more fluid conflict that WW1 in the west had ever been. Both sides of that conflict had strong cavalry traditions, and so used armoured cars and even French FT-17 tanks in a manner that would have made Guderian proud. The Poles absorbed these lessons and were on their way to developing an army that would have had more in common with the Germany military doctrine than any other nation in Europe.

Sadly for the Poles, their country was a young one, with a primarily agrarian economy and a GDP approximately 1/10th that of Germany. This meant that the production of tanks and more modern planes was delayed, in favour of simply getting uniforms, guns and boots to the infantrymen. So, for all the forward thinking, for all the plans, Poland was unprepared for war in September 1939. In fact, some of those very same FT-17s were fielded in the defense of Warsaw a second time, with very differing result.

The rest is history.

But the Polish resistance to the Germans didn’t end there – in fact the Poles fought against the Germans all through the war, right up until the taking of Berlin and VE Day.

Soldiers of the 10th Motorised escaped Poland, through Romania and then made their way to France and formed units in the French army. Some even fought in Norway Campaign. When France fell, they escaped to England, joining the Allied Forces. The Poles joined the British 8th Army, fighting in the Middle East and Italy. Polish Soldiers were instrumental in the taking of Monte Casino. The Poles then went on to play a vital role in the Normandy Campaign, as the Polish 1st Armoured Division, equipped by the English and Americans. And there was also a significant contribution by the Polish pilots and sailors who escaped to England. Also, let’s not forget the heroes who stayed to fight and participated in the partisan actions and the Warsaw Uprising.

And when Berlin fell, approximately 10% of the invading force was Polish. Yes, Polish, not Russian. As we gamers are mostly from countries that had a stake in the war in Western Europe, we tend not to know what happened in the east as well.

So to what I really want to draw your attention, is the Poles who took up arms in the East and helped bring down the Nazi invaders and to reconquer their homeland. This was the Ludowe Wojsko Polskie (LWP) or the People’s Polish Army .

In Soviet Russia, the people had paid a great price in turning back the Nazi tide and needed more men to fill the ranks. To this end, polish soldiers that were held in prisoner of war camps and polish refugees who had fled the Nazi’s (including Jews) were given the opportunity to be part of the Soviet army talking back eastern Europe. Not surprisingly, they enlisted in droves.

The LWP 1stPolish Army was formed in 1944 and was organized as follows;
Organization as of May 1, 1945
·       1st Infantry Division (Tadeusz Kościuszko)
·       2nd Infantry Division (Jan Henryk Dąbrowski)
·       3rd Infantry Division (Romuald Traugutt)
·       4th Infantry Division (Jan Kiliński)
·       6th Infantry Division
·       1st Armoured Brigade (Heroes of Westerplatte) - often detached and operating independently
·       1st Cavalry Brigade
·       1st Army Artillery Brigade (Józef Bem)
·       2nd Howitzer Artillery Brigade
·       3rd Army Artillery Brigade
·       5th Heavy Artillery Brigade
·       1st Anti-aircraft Artillery Division
·       4th Antitank Artillery Brigade
·       1st Sapper Brigade
·       2nd Sapper Brigade
·       1st Mortar Brigade (attached from High Command Reserve)
The 1stPolish Army was supported by its own air arm of the Red Army Air Force.
·       1st Fighter Regiment "Warszawa", (equipped with Yak-1 and Yak-9 aircraft)
·       2nd Night Bomber Regiment "Kraków" (flying Polikarpov Po-2 aircraft)
·       3rd Assault Regiment (flying Ilyushin Il-2 aircraft)

  The LWP was formed under special conditions. While the Soviets encouraged regional ethnic identity in their armies, the Poles were given unheard of latitude and consideration. Most visibly was issuing of the distinct square topped cap of the Polish national army, the rogatywka.

Another consideration given was that these units did not feature any “red star” insignia and instead the traditional “Piast Eagle” of Poland was used was used on caps and was even painted in white on helmets. And while soviet units carried the red soviet flag, with hammer and sickle, into battle, the polish units were issued with traditional style Polish regimental colours.

The army was not entirely Polish, however. Yes, the rank and file soldiers were, but there was virtually no officer corps remaining. The Soviets had gone to great lengths to exterminate Poland’s officer class, as was evidenced by the massacre of almost 10,000 military officers at Katyn. Some pro Soviet officers had survived, but the overwhelming majority had been killed, unbeknownst to the common soldier. Some NCOs were raised up to be junior officers and other polish communists were inserted into the officer’s roles. This had the effect of Polish commanders at the lower level, and Russians at the higher ranks. Overall 40% of the officers were Russians, the rest were Poles. Political commissars were present in greater than average numbers, as the Soviet’s never entirely trusted the loyalty of their Polish comrades.

Overall, there were 200,000 Polish soldiers within the Soviet forces in the last two years of the war, with the 1st Polish Army playing a large role in the retaking of Warsaw and Gdansk (Danzig), the Oder Offensive and the battle For Berlin.
In playing Bolt Action, I have chosen to model units from the 1st Polish Army. Not only does this unit have that distinct polish look, it also is well placed historically to be part of the best of the late war German/Soviet match ups. These last few years of the war let us play with all the tasty late war equipment. The Poles were not marginalized when it came to matters of resupply and they were well stocked with up to date equipment and the 1st Armoured Brigade, along with older vehicles includes large numbers of T-34s, of both the 76 & 85 varieties, and even some IS-2s. Again, you can see that the white Piast Eagle has replaced the Red Star.

The infantry uniform is exactly the same as other Red Army infantry of the period. Predominantly the average soldier was outfit in the M-1935/41 tunic (gymnasterka), which is the common mid-war kind with the “turned down” collar and subdued shoulder boards. While some soldiers were resupplied with the more modern M-43 tunic, with the short standing collar and more prominent shoulder boards, the M-1935/41 predominated.  This makes things very easy for the modeler as most companies produce figures with the M-35 tunic, which makes sense as it can represent pretty well any period of the war.

There is often the question as to what colour uniforms of the Red Army were. Simply, the answer is -Yes! What do I mean? I mean yes, they had a colour. Think of it… a whole nation geared towards war production…. Thousands of factories producing millions of uniforms… all using whatever fabric and dye they could get their hands on. And this doesn’t even consider issues of colour fixing and field wear and tear. So, if you have a preference, paint what you want to. All  khakis, buffs, browns and greens were used somewhere.

Personally, I prefer the slightly yellowy tan that appears in many versions of the summer uniform – just like these re-enactors above. My painting technique is simplicity itself. I have base coated the army in the Army Painter spray “Desert Yellow” and then picked out strapping, belts and bags in various contrasting browns and khakis…. Various wood tones on the gun furniture, gunmetal for the barrel…. Pick put the hands and faces in flesh… blacken the boots etc… After painting the block colours, I did go back and paint the odd pair of pants or tunic a different colour, just to break up the uniformity a bit. It isn’t really that noticible, but it works for me. Now for the dipping.

I have used the Army Painter strong tone, or GW Devlin Mud or Vallejo sepia tone ink. The all work very well, though I prefer the Army Painter dip. It looks great and gives the mini an extra protective shell. I brush the stuff on, instead of literally dipping it. It gives me a bit more control over what gets shadow and is much more economical.

When the dip or ink or wash has dried, I seal it with a spray on matt varnish. I prefer Testor’s Dullcote, but the Army painter Anti-Shine also works very well. Once all that has dried, I give it all a pretty heavy dry brush in GW Bleached Bone, or Vallejo Iraqui sand. And done.

OK, there is something about the heads… two issues…. Faces and hats. Now, firstly, the faces. I used to pay a lot of attention to doing faces, giving them stubble and painting eyes. There are just too many in a Russian horde to do that, so I only put big effort into the more prominent models, like team weapon crews (not even all of them) and officers.  Life is too short and I am getting old and blind.

Now the hats. The 1st Polish Army did wear the standard steel helmet types (SSH-39&40), that were universal during the late war. The only difference is that the Poles painted a white Piast Eagle on the front of the helmet. It may not have helped with staying hidden but it was a strong statement of national identity when they otherwise would have looked like any other member of the red army. The common field cap or “flat cap” (pilotka) was also worn by the Poles but with these, the standard Red Star was removed and replaced by a Piast Eagle badge.

The greatest challenge I faced was finding heads with the very Polish rogatywka cap (square top) and in the correct scale. Luckily there is someone who made them and that is Studio Siberia ( They do a great range of Polish-Russian War miniatures and have extra heads. Just make sure you get the shorter version of the cap. Back in the 1920s, the cap was stiffened and sat a bit higher and featured more “bling”.

As for the models, the rest was easy. I grabbed a box of Plastic Soldier Company Russians and a box of Warlord Games Russians and then it was just a matter of performing some swift decapitations and swapping heads. I know Plastic Soldier get a bit of a bad reputation, but they are mostly one or two piece minis and there is some variety in the poses. When you need to churn out a hundred of these things and tou want to do it cheaply, these are your best option. But having said that, I couldn’t help myself and I had to have a bunch of Warlord’s in there to give some variation and lift the quality a tad.

And as for the armour that I have in support, I have chosen to use the pea green version of tank paint that was common. I know that almost any green is appropriate, but I had just done 5 US Shermans in dark olive drab, so I wanted to do something on the other end of the scale. The decals are Toro brand and they do a couple of sheets of decals for Polish armour in the Red Army. I would like to add that the quality of the decals are great. (
Anyhow, in a world of some excellent soviet forces being put on the table, it has been very satisfying to field something a little different. I hope I have not bored you by beating you around the head with history and that you enjoy this interpretation of a standard Soviet army force.

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