Contrary to popular opinion, a Polish cavalry division did not charge German tanks at Krojanty, September 1st 1939.
I think we’ve all heard the story – a bunch of stalwart nincompoops hurling themselves with reckless abandon towards cold iron oblivion, armed only with stout hearts and mediaeval lances against the most sophisticated fighting force the world had ever seen.
Yes, the cavalry charge at Krojanty – one of the first attacks of the war – has become a legend. But, as is so often the case with these things, the truth is rather different. In actual fact, Polish cavalry charged against German infantry. They met with some success at first, but were subsequently forced to make a hasty retreat out of the range of the German machine-gunners. Italian and German journalists who visited the site of the battle soon after noted the bodies of Polish horses and cavalrymen, and attributed the cause of the destruction to a Panzer division, which had just arrived on the scene. As you can imagine, the Nazi press had a field day with this one, and the charge at Krojanty has since become a symbol for the futility of the struggle against the German tide.
It is sobering to reflect on the fact that Polish forces might as well have charged German tanks, so unable were they to resist the might of the Wehrmacht. Poland capitulated on September 27th and it was subsequently divided up and shared between the Nazis and their new allies the Soviet Union. The rest of Europe would soon follow suit. By 1940 the German army had swept through Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Britain alone remained in opposition. She was saved from certain annihilation by 21 miles of water, a sophisticated RADAR system and, most importantly, by the bravery and skill of a handful of RAF pilots. In the words of Winston Churchill, ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’