War breaks out

With the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and Poland on 1 September 1939, fighting broke out in several different regions.

Polish soldiers advanced east towards a Railway crossroads 7 kilometres from Chojnice, where an intense battle with a German armoured train was taking place, while elsewhere, German attackers battered the outnumbered Polish defenders at Westerplatte.

German Forces

Colonel Hans Gollnick, commander of German 76th Infantry Regiment 

Lieutenant General Mauritz Von Wiktorin, commander 20th Motorised Division 

General Heinz Guderian, commander XIX Panzer Corps 

In this region, the German 76th Infantry Regiment under the command of Colonel Hans Gollnick and the 20th Motorised Division led by Lieutenant General Mauritz Von Wiktorin were advancing. All told, there was around 850 German armoured vehicles involved and about 30 artillery pieces. They were operating on the left flank of XIX Panzer Corps which was commanded by the German tank supremo General Heinz Guderian, a highly talented German officer who would go on to gain much prominence during the Battle of France.

With such a powerful force at their disposal, it is unsurprising that the Germans managed to break through the Polish lines – forcing the Polish Border Guards to retreat towards a defence line at Brda. In order to try and give the Border Guards time to redeploy properly, the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment were tasked with delaying the advancing Germans.

Polish cavalryman in 1938, carrying an anti-tank rifle.



Uhlans were essentially heavily armed cavalry which, in previous centuries had ridden into battle armed with lances and sabres. With the advent of more modern warfare though, the outdated weaponry had been replaced with various artillery pieces – 37mm anti-tank, 40mm anti-aircraft or even 75mm artillery pieces – all towed into battle via the horses they rode.

Many of the Uhlans also carried - slung over their shoulders - the Wz. 35 anti-tank rifle: A hefty, rifle shaped weaponry which could be utilised by a single individual and – as the name suggests – could prove effective against armoured cars or light tanks. And at this stage of the war, the Germans were mainly using Panzer I and Panzer II light tanks.

Polish Cavalry in 1939, with anti-tank guns.


So, although on they operated on horseback, they were significantly different – both in their role and how they were equipped - from the more traditional depiction of a cavalry. The Second World War was the last time they operated in horseback, with subsequent Uhlan formations converting to armoured vehicles.

Map detailing the Charge at Krojanty.

Lonio17 Wikipedia

The battle

As the Uhlans advanced, they spotted a contingent of German infantry resting in a clearing near Tuchola Forest, close to the crossroads of Chojnie-Runowo Pomorskie line.  Sensing an opportunity, the Uhlan commander, Colonel Kazimierz Mastalerz ordered the commander of his 1st squadron, Eugeniusz Świeściak, to take his 250 Uhlans and charge straight at the Germans, whilst he kept the rest of his force (which included some TKS/TK3 tankettes) in reserve.

The alarmed Germans, presumably shocked to suddenly see 250 Uhlans thundering towards them, broke and fled, surrendering the position to the Poles. However, the Germans were quick to respond, sending armoured reconnaissance vehicles forward which lumbered out of the forest and started spraying the Polish positions with machine gun fire – mainly from MG34 and 20mm machine guns.

Colonel Kazimierz Mastalerz, commander of the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment


Eugeniusz Świeściak, commander of the 1st Squadron,  18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment


Uhlans are at their most effective charging full speed towards an exposed enemy. They are less effective when trying to hold relatively exposed ground against armoured vehicles, especially when they lack the time to properly consolidate the position. And in this situation, the quick and violent German response was key, forcing the Uhlans to withdraw and try and seek cover behind a nearby hillock.

Polish cavalry at Krojanty.


The Polish sacrifice

Both Świeściak and Mastalerz were killed in the skirmish, the latter when trying to save the former and about a third of the Polish force was left dead or wounded. However, they had succeeded in delaying the German advance and bought time for the Polish 1st Rifle battalion and the National Defence battalion to withdraw from the nearby battle of Chojnice.

Furthermore, the brave actions of the Polish Uhlans had left an impression on the Germans, causing them to proceed with more caution, with the powerful 20th Motorised Infantry Division even contemplating retreating. It took several hours for the Germans to reorganise and an intervention from Guderian himself to steady German nerves and get their plans back on track. As he stated in his memoirs, upon investigating the aftermath of the Polish charge, he found his soldiers:

"…wearing helmets, preparing an anti-tank gun for a possible Polish cavalry attack,"

 And he also noted that eventually:

"…the panic of the first day of war was overcome quickly".

Polish Cavalry during manoeuvres  in late 1930's.



The Polish charge only involved around 250 Uhlans, and yet they managed seriously alarm and discombobulate an entire infantry division. This was an impressive and noteworthy achievement, even if it did come at great cost. The following day, the 18th Pomeranian Uhlans Regiment was decorated by Gen. Stanisław Grzmot-Skotnicki with the Virtuti Militari medal – awarded for showing bravery in combat.

The imaginary charge

Shortly after the battle had come to a close, German and Italian war correspondents were escorted to the battlefield and shown the corpses of the fallen Polish Uhlans, along with some German tanks which had arrived after the battle had concluded.

The Italian journalist Indro Montanelli, sent a dispatch home recounting the bravery of the Polish soldiers, describing them as having charged the German tanks with sabres and lances.

A painting depicting the imaginary charge in a suitably dramatic manner.


Spreading the myth

And so a myth was born (as the German tanks were not even present during the battle and the Polish Uhlans were armed with modern weaponry) which quickly spread – with the help of German propaganda, with publications such as the Die Wehrmacht suggesting – only a couple of weeks later on the 13th - that the Poles had seriously underestimated the Germans.

After the Second World War, the Soviet Union continued to peddle the lie – suggesting the imaginary charge was down to polish stupidity! Even as late as the 1990’s was the myth still being taught in some schools.

A Hitler Youth magazine from 1939 recounts the imaginary charge.


Polish monument at the site of the battle.

Spetsedisa Wikipedia