Sunday, January 29, 2012

Polish TKS tankettes

I recently came across Warlord Games Polish vehicles and guns page where upon are TKS Tankettes for only £10 a piece. A bargain I thought since I didn't have any tankettes and immediately ordered two of them. Until that decision, I had never felt any but a passing interest in tankettes and if pressed I would only have been able to name one; the Carden Lloyd. My interest was piqued when I discovered the TK tankettes could be made with a 20mm anti-tank gun and then suddenly a whole range of options presented themselves.

The Poles were big on tankettes, and built 575 of the TK series, which was heavily based on the Carden Lloyd. These included a number of interesting variants, including gun tractors, tankettes with turrets and a tank destroyer armed with a 47mm gun (see photograph directly above). Unfortunately only four of those tank destroyers were made, so I have to make do with my two TKS tank destroyer tankettes. Thats okay though. I am in love with these diminuitive monsters having read up on their history. The Poles had planned four cannon armed units in every squadron (of thirteen tankettes), but production was interupted by the German invasion in 1939 and in the event, only twenty four were in actual service. Only a few cannon armed tankettes saw any action but of these, one really stands out. Officer Cadet Roman Orlik led a two tankette attack against a German panzer formation on 14th September, 1939.

Orlik, who survived the war, later recounted his experience and drew several maps to explain what had taken place. In the first encounter, as shown in the image above, Orlik (who already had three Panzer kills to his credit) and his unit lay in ambush in an orchard. When three German panzers from Panzer-Regiment 11 of the 1st Leichte-Division came into sight, they took them out, firing into the German's flanks. The destroyed tanks were two Panzerkampfwagen 35(t)'s and a Panzerkampfwagen IV. The latter being commanded by a notable German aristocrat named Prinz Victor IV Albrecht von Ratibor, who was killed. The image below shows his tank

I'm actually surprised that a 20mm gun could take out a Panzer IV, but the gun in question, the Nkm wz. 38 FK, had been designed and built by the Poles for exactly this kind of tactic. The TKS being both small and agile, was extremely difficult to see too and the Germans probably never saw the Poles before they'd been defeated. The Nkm wz. 38 FK was an automatic cannon with a five round magazine and I wonder how many hits it took to destroy von Ratibor's tank. The damage seems extensive; the rounds appear to have gone right through.

The next day saw Orlik back in action taking on Panzer-Abteilung 65 of Panzer-Regiment 11. The second map shows how Orlik with only one other tankette from his unit (71. Armoured Dyon of Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade), once again, defeated the 'superior German Panzers' using a series of well placed flanking shots. If you examine the drawing you can see the irony in the German advance, for they turned aside from the Poles, and exposed their weaker side armour. I wonder if they hadn't noticed the tankettes, with their low silhouettes, at all. Of the seven defeated German tanks, six are described as Panzer 35(t)'s. I don't know what the last one was, but it may have been a Panzer III or IV. The Germans lost a total of thirty eight tanks that day, and Panzer-Abteilung 65 was annhilated. Roman Orlik and his tankette went on to break through to Warsaw to help in the defence until Poland surrendered. In just a few days, he'd defeated thrteen Panzers in his tiny TKS and become Poland's first (and possibly only) tank ace of the war. Thats not too shabby for a fighting vehicle hardly bigger than a wheel barrow! Orlik was so cool, I think I might have to incorporate him into an RM game one day!

The image below shows you how small a TKS is next to a Panzer IV.

Top speed: 46 km/h
Range: 200 km on road. 100 km off road.
Crew: 2
Length: 2.58 m without the gun
Width: 1.78 m
Weight: 2.6 t
Power plant: 6 Cyl. Polski Fiat 122b (Petrol)
Armour: 4 - 10 mm.
As you can see in the diagrams below, the crew sat on either side of the engine. It must have been nice and warm when the tankette was running, but very cold when they were laying in ambush. The TKS carried 250 AP rounds for the 20mm gun, which comes to fifty magazines. Its not apparent on the diagrams where they stored them, but I'm guessing they were crammed in everywhere possible. Another important detail not shown is the periscope. The TKS were fitted with the Gundlach periscope which would eventually become the standard tank periscope for all the Allied forces as well as the Germans (who stole the idea once they'd realised how good it was).


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Fascinating post - well done... the film is interesting.... it's much quieter than I was expecting it to be....

moif said...

It makes me wonder why the people back in the 1930's didn't put more AT guns onto tankettes

rozni said...

The tankette looks rather cute, kind of like a "chibi-fied" (cute-ified) Stug III.

rozni said...

I just remembered watching a video on German tank destroyers, they did try to mount an anti-tank gun on a Panzer I chassis and it was just too top heavy.

moif said...

Not good if you come to an abrupt halt I guess!

Palle "Nybyggeren" said...

Good job Orlik, sound defensive tactics and an ideal weapon for defence. I would not like to attack in it though.

I can assure you in SPWWII these little buggers can be a pain as well; almost impossible to spot with your tanks and with a nice gun, I usually screen my advance with Snipers and Scouts sneaking ahead till they find the enemy; use arty to soften him, move infantry up to assault, then move my tanks up to penetrate. But sometimes these little buggers lie in wait well behind the main line of resistance (in fact they usually do).

Thing is, in 1939 the armour of the Pz IV was not that impressive. Nor was its main gun. Pz IIIs actually have better penetration if I remember correctly. Pz IVs just had more potential and when they were later upgraded they became very nice tanks.
Anmyway, it is always nice to see sound tactics.

moif said...

Panzer 3 was an anti armour tank where as Panzer 4 was infantry support iirc.

Either way, these little beauties are going to turn up in RM sooner or later!