On the eve of World War II Poland could call upon several hundred tanks, and for their day many were modern and very effective. All were light, for this was before the true emergence of the heavier tanks later in the war, but unfortunately Poland was one of many countries that invested in tankettes, small two-man vehicles armed only with a machine gun and provided with thin armour that only protected against small arms fire. These were considered perfectly adequate as close support for infantry, which was the role the Poles saw the tank fulfilling, but they had no anti-armour ability, and when the German invasion came in September 1939, the well-trained Polish tank crews found themselves out-classed by their opponents both in equipment and tactics. In the fast-moving days of the invasion, many Polish tanks were simply abandoned for lack of fuel when contact was lost with their logistics, but ultimately Poland had far too few tanks to match the Germans.
As Poland was overrun in 1939, some tank crews escaped to fight on in France and, later still, alongside the British Army. The French and British provided their own uniforms, but all the figures in this set wear typical Polish dress, so although the set title is vague, these figures are in fact depicting the independent Polish forces as they appeared in 1939. As such they are entirely accurate, with most wearing the usual one-piece campaign overalls with twin pockets on the breast and slash side pockets on the trousers, plus a separate belt, and boots. Sources speak of very thin anklets too, but these are not apparent on these figures. However, photos from the time also show little sign of such items, so this seems to cause no problems with accuracy. Two of the poses (last man in rows one and three) wear a coat, which was worn by officers and NCOs, so this too is mostly correct, although the back of this garment has not been correctly done on either figure. As so often at this period, the main difference between nationalities was in the helmet, and most of these miniatures wear the standard Polish tanker’s helmet, which was closely modelled on the M1935 used by the French. Basically it was an Adrian helmet with the usual crest plus a neck guard and leather strip across the brow, and all the examples here have been very nicely done. Two of the poses (the man carrying the cans and the officer) wear a beret instead, which was more likely if out of action, but this is a bit more problematic. The beret is described as being pulled square over the head, with the cap badge in the middle, but both these figures have it pulled somewhat to the right and with the cap badge over the left eye, in the British fashion, which was not regulation in 1939, though it is a small point.
All the figures are equipped with a pistol holster on the right hip (along with its lanyard), and all are also sporting a gasmask case of the correct design, with slightly pointed flap. Despite many later illustrations to the contrary, we understand that the pistol holster was usually (i.e. by regulation) placed on the left hip, and the gasmask case on the right, not as shown on these figures. The last figure in the top row is different in that he has his gasmask case on his chest, although the regulations stated that it should be used whilst still on the hip, not as modelled here in the British manner. We were pleased to see several of the men with goggles, although as none seem to be in combat none are actually wearing them, but several are wearing the standard gauntlets with the very long cuff, which is also great to see. There is no other kit here, which is fine for tank crew that are not in action, and where having minimal kit means there is less to snag on the inside of the vehicle, but we would have liked to see a little more on the last figure in the final row, who makes a good standing observer. Since he wears riding breeches (as well as a coat), we take him to be an officer, but he lacks any cases for binoculars or maps, which we would have preferred to see.
For these men the weapon was the tank or armoured car of course, but there is only one personal weapon on display in this set. That is the pistol held by the first man in the top row, and this was something of a surprise, because the standard issue was the Vis 35, but the sculpting of this weapon, which is beautifully detailed and clear, makes it plain that this is not that weapon. Perhaps some crew took their own personal choice of pistol, and this could also be a signalling pistol rather than a weapon as such, but we would have preferred the standard issue to be modelled – again a small point.
Choice of pose is always more of a problem with AFV crew, since when actually in action they are (hopefully) obscured from view anyway, so as usual these figures are mostly in more relaxed mood, well away from the action. There is a range of poses doing different things, and there are some real beauties amongst them. The man firing his pistol is not one of them, however, since the pistol was a weapon of self-defence, and if he finds himself outside his vehicle then it is far more likely he would seek to escape rather than engage in a firefight with whoever had disabled his tank, using nothing but a small pistol. If he holds a flare gun then the pose perhaps makes more sense, although we are not entirely convinced by this theory. The third figure in our top row initially looks like a man saluting, but he is not using the traditional two-fingered Polish salute, so must instead merely be adjusting his helmet or something. Given the vulnerability of tank crew once outside their vehicle, the surrendering man makes perfect sense, and we liked the second man in row two, who is relaxing and perhaps enjoying a smoke? The two man handling fuel cans are superb – some of the best crew figures we have seen – very natural and of course performing a task vital to keep the tanks rolling, even if they are only decanting drinking water ready for a brew up! The three seated figures are eating from a mess tin, drinking from a flask and just pointing. Lovely, relaxed figures all, equally at home in the cab or perched on the bonnet of a vehicle. The poses we have skipped are all perfectly fine, useful but unremarkable, so no problems with any pose here.
The sculpting is a joy. Great detail everywhere, and a particularly good rendition of the rather baggy overalls most are wearing. Even the cans carried in the second row are perfectly done, with every detail showing, despite being a very complex shape and difficult to reach by the mould. The poses are not at all flat, as lively as they need to be, and very natural in appearance. Most of the seams are also completely clean and free of flash, but there are exceptions, and these are pretty enormous. In a few places there is a very large amount of flash (see figures one in row two, and figures three and four in the last row), so clearly something went wrong there, but as most are completely clean it will not take long to remove all the unwanted plastic from these fine figures and make them ready for action.
There is one other blemish in this set, and it is with the cans in the second row. These are termed jerry cans in several languages, and as we have said they are beautifully reproduced here, making them easy to identify. The jerry can design is a modern classic, and millions of such items are still made and used today, a testament to their perfection. The design was developed in Germany during the 1930s, and was something of a secret, being stockpiled for the coming of war. Other nations used simple, rectangular containers for fuel, water etc., and while these were often meant to be disposable, they nonetheless often leaked and were difficult to use. In 1939 the Poles used 50 litre square cans, which were better than those of some countries, but mainly a tank would be refuelled via a hand pump from a 200 litre drum, so this activity should have been portrayed here. You could argue that these are captures of course, but this is a very flimsy justification for their presence in this set, since they would have been exceptionally rare at best, so certainly a glaring mistake, which is a great pity, as the poses themselves are lovely.
The overall impression of this set is it is beautiful to look at, excellently posed and with largely accurate uniforms. The issues with the arrangement of kit items is a problem, and is probably down to these errors being repeated in multiple recent books in English on the subject, which are possibly based on photographs of the exception rather than the rule. This has cost the set an accuracy point, as has the presence of German jerry cans, but as miniatures we cannot find anything not to like here (once the bits of flash are removed of course). The Poles, and then the rest of Europe, were to be taught a very harsh lesson on the use of armour in battle in 1939, but that does not lessen the skill and courage of those that worked to save their country from foreign aggressors, and this set will richly decorate any display of Polish tanks during that terrible campaign.