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Uhlan of the Second Republic of Poland
In the armed forces of the 2nd Polish Republic cavalry was beside
infantry and artillery one the three main branches of the armed forces. Its beginnings are related to the revival of the Polish State in the
autumn of 1918. First cavalry units were formed from Polish units
fighting at various fronts of the 1st World War. Formally, cavalry was
divided into uhlans, cheveux-legers (as a reference to the tradition
of Polish Legions) and mounted rifle regiments. In 1918–1921 cavalry
actively participated in the fighting for the establishment of the
frontiers of the Polish state. During the Polish-Bolshevik war, it
achieved many victories, e.g. on 31 August 1920 at Komarów, in the
last great cavalry battle in the world’s military history, it defeated the
units of the 1st Cavalry Army under Siemion Budionny.
At the beginning of the 1920s cavalry was divided into independent cavalry units comprising twenty seven uhlans’ regiments, three cheveux–legers’ regiments and ten horse-drawn artillery battalions as well as attached cavalry (supportive of division level units), comprising 10 mounted rifle regiments.
In 1924, the mounted units were reorganised and formally designated as cavalry. The reform resulted in the formation of four cavalry divisions and five independent cavalry brigades. These changes aimed at transforming cavalry into mobile forces able to carry out large-scale operations.
In 1920, in order to provide new units with a cadre, a training centre was set up in Grudziądz, transformed into the Cavalry Training Centre in 1928. The centre consisted of several schools training officers and junior officers for the cavalry corps. It was the biggest military training establishment of this type in Europe. It also included an Olympic Team preparing the alumni and the Centre’s cadre for participation in the most prestigious horse riding competitions – the Olympic Games and international contests. The members of the team gained many laurels and won Olympic medals for Poland in Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. The Centre established the so-called Polish style of horse riding – a horse-riding technique enabling the rider to perfectly control the horse.
Cavalry was among the most often reorganized branches of the armed forces in the 2nd Polish Republic – after numerous changes in 1937 it was finally reduced to 11 brigades, whose names were formed in a unified fashion based on the regions in which they were stationed.
Cavalry consisted of units moving on horseback but fighting as infantry. The horse was only a means of transport – in interwar Poland the automotive industry was just developing and roads were poor. The basic weapon used by a cavalryman was a carbine and a sabre. During ceremonial parades, the uhlans were equipped with lances with pennants in the colours of their units. Although they were trained in lance wielding, it was not envisaged that this weapon would be used in actual combat. The sabre, a weapon that acquired an almost symbolic status for the Polish uhlan, did not have much combat use anymore, either, although works were carried out in order to improve its design. As a result, in 1934 the cavalry was equipped with the world’s last scientifically designed combat sabre, produced in the Ludwików steel works. Apart from personal weapons, cavalry units used machine guns and anti-tank rifles as well as mortars and artillery. They were also supposed to be supported in battle by armoured cars.
Cavalry enjoyed wide popular respect. It was considered to have inherited the traditions of Polish winged hussars – victors from Kircholm, Klushino and Vienna. Military service in cavalry was regarded as prestigious and cavalry officers were the army’s elite.
On the eve of the Second World War cavalry was already obsolete. Therefore a motorisation of its units was started – the first one to be transformed was the 10 Cavalry Brigade, which was put under the command of the commander of the Armoured Force.
In September 1938 Polish uhlans were able to move quickly and efficiently during combat. They fought on foot using rifles and machine guns, and used horses as means of transport. Nevertheless, the campaign saw several charges at German units – e.g. at Krojanty, Wólka Węglowa and Krasnobród.
Museum of the Polish Armed Forces in Warsaw