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|© Michal Derela, 2015||Updated: 8. 7. 2016 - minor|
Part I: development, production, description
Part II: service & evaluation
|An attacking 7TP platoon during exercises at Błędów Desert W.|
This is the second part of the article about Polish 7TP light tank, devoted to its service and evaluation, including a comparison with other tanks of 1939.
Note: W marks external links to Wikipedia articles.
|7TP of the 3rd Armoured Bttn (crews with old helmets).|
|7TP tanks testing Czechoslovak anti-tank obstacles in Zaolzie. The tank is equipped with radio and carries peacetime company markings (a wisent in a circle).|
According to plans, a peacetime armoured battalion should have 60 7TP tanks: 49 fit for mobilization and 11 training ones. Armoured battalions were quite big units of a mixed structure, and in case of war they were to mobilize smaller standardized units, with different names and numbers (a light tank battalion - batalion czołgów lekkich, instead of an armoured battalion - batalion pancerny). In case of the 7TP, a wartime light tank battalion should have 49 tanks in three companies of 16, and a commander's tank.
First unit to receive 7TP tanks was the 3rd Armoured Battalion in Warsaw - they were twin-turret tanks, from September 1935. Complete single-turret tanks appeared from mid-1938. In September 1938, two companies (32 tanks 7TP) were included into "Śląsk" Operational Group, formed to regain Czech province of Zaolzie W, inhabited by Polish majority and seized by Czechoslovakia by force after World War I. The tanks were subordinated to the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade. Taking advantage of shameful Munich Agreement W, Polish forces took Zaolzie without fighting, and the Operational Group was disbanded in December 1938. Before that, 7TP tanks took part in a parade in regained Cieszyn W on 2 October 1938.
7TP tanks were also given, in a small number, to the 10th Armoured Battalion, which was a training and experimental unit of the CWBrPanc (Armoured Weapons' Training Centre) in Modlin W. Then, from late 1938, new production single-turret tanks equipped also the 2nd Armoured Battalion in Żurawica W near Przemyśl.
According to J. Magnuski, just before World War II, on 15 August 1939, the 2nd Armoured Battalion in Żurawica had 47 single-turret and 10 twin-turret 7TP tanks, and the 3rd Armoured Battalion in Warsaw had 49 single-turret and 7 twin-turret ones. The 10th Armoured Battalion in Modlin had 10 training tanks (including at least one single-turret prototype Smok). Apart from these tanks, one experimental tank with CT1D engine was in the BBT BP (Armoured Weapons' Technical Research Bureau). Further 11 tanks were on last stadium of completion in PZInż works. Generally, only single-turret tanks were meant for combat in mobilized units. It is not clear, if the 2nd Armoured Battalion mobilized a light tank battalion with 47 single-turret and 2 twin-turret tanks, or with a reduced number of single-turret tanks only, or if it had 49 single-turret tanks. It is noteworthy, that according to R. Szubański, it entered action with 47 operable tanks.
|7TP in peacetime units on 15 August 1939|
(training / mobilization)
|2nd Armoured Battalion (Żurawica)||single-turret||26||21||-||47|
|3rd Armoured Battalion (Warsaw)||single-turret||26||23||-||49|
|twin-turret||-||-||7 (incl. prototype)||7|
|10th Armoured Battalion (Modlin)||single-turret||-||-||2 (incl. prototype)||2|
|Note: This table is quoted after J. Magnuski and P. Rozdżestwieński, but it is not clear, if a breakdown on single- and twin-turret tanks is based upon documents. There is an open question of an additional single-turret tank with CT1D engine in the BBT BP, which would seem to increase a total number to a level above a number of produced tanks (adding 11 tanks completed in September 1939) - maybe it was counted in the 10th Battalion?|
The 7TP was not exported to any country, although in 1937-1939 several countries were interested in buying them for evaluation: Sweden, Bulgaria, Estonia, the Netherlands, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Greece, reportedly also Republican Spain. However, due to a priority of the Polish Army and low production rate, the Polish General Staff did not accept export by the war's outbreak.
During the war, 7TP tanks were used in the 1st and the 2nd Light Tank Battalions, and also in two improvised Warsaw Defence HQ Light Tank Companies (the 2nd - 11 twin-turret tanks, and the 5th - 11 single-turret tanks of the newest production).
The section below is a short summary of their combat track, mainly from a fundamental work by R. Szubański. However, it was based mostly on posterior personal accounts and memoires, often contradictory, hence some information might be not precise (a course of the campaign caused, that official wartime reports were mostly lost). This subject needs further research, which is becoming difficult due to lack of witnesses. Nevertheless, such attempts have been carried in past 20 years by groups of enthusiasts, using more widely German sources, archival research and country exploration. Hundreds of German photographs have been also revealed thanks to the web. As a result, some information here was corrected according to newest articles by M. Zimny. This section might be enhanced in the future, and a gallery of destroyed and captured tanks might be made.
|7TP tank in September 1939, from unknown battalion. A typical peasant wagon in a foreground.|
|Abandoned 7TP in September 1939 (early series tank suggests the 1st Light Tank Battalion).|
The 1st Light Tank Battalion was mobilized already on 23 August 1939, by the 3rd Armoured Battalion in Warsaw. The commander was Maj. Adam Kubin. It was assigned to Reserve Army "Prusy" (Armia Odwodowa "Prusy"). At the war's outbreak on 1 September 1939, the battalion stationed in Inowrocław W (in Polish Corridor W), but it was soon transported by rail southwards to central Poland. From 3 September, the tanks patrolled from Końskie W, on a next day - to the west from Opoczno W, without combat encounters. Unfortunately, in spite of such possibility, it was not decided to use the battalion in a battle W of Piotrków on 5 September, where it could slow down German advance on a main operational direction. On 6 September it was moved west to Sulejów W. Patrolling in a direction of Piotrków, the 1st platoon of the 2nd company had a skirmish with elements of the 1st Panzer Division near Przygłów, with some crewmen injured. The Germans expected an attack from Sulejów that day, but by the evening the battalion was withdrawn east, as a part of Reserve Army's general withdrawal. On 7 September the battalion was subordinated to the 13th Infantry Division, and a platoon secured its crossing of the Pilica W in Inowłódz W, firing at German columns.
The battalion was withdrawn further east, and on 8 September it was split to support different units (what is considered an error by historians). Single platoons of the 1st Company supported units of the 13th Infantry Division, defending the Drzewiczka small river line near Odrzywół W, and the 2nd Company was a reserve. In combat with the 13th Motorized Division supported by the tank company of the 13th Panzer Regiment (1st Leichte Division), tanks of the 1st platoon destroyed three German tanks (PzKpfw II or 35(t)), losing two own. After an arrival of the 2nd Company, seven enemy tanks were destroyed for a loss of three. The Germans subsequently changed direction of advance, what helped in withdrawal of further Polish units. That day the 3rd Company defended Drzewica W town against enemy patrols, destroying at least one enemy's AFV and repelling others. Due to general strategic situation, Polish units were next ordered to withdraw to eastern bank of the Vistula W. Unfortunately, during withdrawal the battalion finally dispersed to separate pieces, and at least five tanks were left during march, due to inability of maintenance. Also the commander Maj. Kubin left the unit, reportedly to search for fuel (its supply was difficult, and during withdrawal the tanks often ran on kerosene collected in villages).
|Burned 7TP, probably from the 1st Battalion (according to a photo caption, it was taken near Radom).|
|7TP tanks captured after a battle of Tomaszów Lubelski.|
The 2nd Company of Cpt. M. Górski, still counting some 14 tanks, protected a withdrawal of the 13th Infantry Division. Seven tanks supported a battalion from the 44th Infantry Regiment (13th ID), which attacked and re-captured Głowaczów W town on 10 September. Four tanks were bogged on swampy meadows and afterwards abandoned, but three entered the town, carrying infantry on decks. Two German tanks were destroyed there (PzKpfw IV from 3/11 Rgt of the 1nd Leichte Division, although it is not clear, if they fell a victim of Polish tanks), and at least two were repelled. The Poles also destroyed several cars, and liberated numerous POWs. During further withdrawal that day, the three remaining tanks had to be destroyed due to lack of fuel (according to a villager's account, at least one tank was gradually stripped by blacksmiths for making agricultural tools, what was surely not an exceptional situation). According to new research, other German unit took abandoned Głowaczów again in the afternoon, but they were quickly repelled the same day by next Polish unit, supported by two other 7TP. These tanks were also abandoned on the next day near Ryczywół, reportedly after a skirmish with some ten German tanks. The rest of the 2nd Company's tanks did not make it behind the Vistula either.
A fate of the 1st Company of Cpt. A. Sikorski is not precisely known - probably one platoon with commander (around six tanks) supported Polish units from 19th ID and 29th ID trying to break through north of Ryczywół W, and tanks were abandoned around 12 September, when fording of the Vistula appeared impossible (according to some accounts, they were sunk in the Vistula on 11 September). In older publications, fates of both companies were swapped.
A main group constituted the 3rd Company, commanded by Cpt. Stefan Kossobudzki, with a platoon from the 1st Company, and a maintenance company, totalling 24 tanks. It crossed the Vistula at Maciejowice (north of Kozienice) on 9 September and was assigned to newly created Army "Lublin", remaining in area: Lublin - Chełm - Krasnystaw. On 14 September, in Piaski Luterskie, it was included into an armoured group of Maj. Stefan Majewski (built around the 11th Armoured Unit). A platoon sent for reconnaissance repelled German armoured cars od the 2nd Panzer Division near Izbica W. On the next day, Maj. Majewski's group joined the Warsaw Armoured-Motorised Brigade (WBP-M) near Janów Lubelski. The Brigade, with other Polish units, tried to break through to Lviv. On a way, on 17 September, 7TP tanks destroyed two German tanks (PzKpfw 38(t) from I/25 Rgt of the 2nd Leichte Division) and repelled others near Józefów W.
The last battle - and the second biggest tank battle in 1939 campaign, was the battle W of Tomaszów Lubelski W. Polish forces tried to break through Tomaszów to get to Lviv. The town and nearby villages, surrounded by forests, were held by the German 11th Motor Rifle Rgt and a tank company of the 33rd Battalion (4th Leichte Div). The first assault took place on 18 September in the morning. 22 tanks 7TP supported the attack of the 3rd Company of the motorized 1st Foot Rifle Regiment, from the south-west of the town. They broke German defence at Pasieki village, but then lost three tanks to AT guns located in a forest. Five AT guns with Krupp tractors were destroyed or captured in a course. The tanks next entered the town, where they reportedly destroyed 6 tanks, 4 armoured cars and 8 trucks (it was the only successful breakthrough to Tomaszów; the Poles also liberated some POWs and captured 40 Germans). However, Polish units had to withdraw from the town to fight elements of the 2nd Panzer Division, attacking Polish right wing from south. During following skirmishes, several tanks were lost on both sides. After dark, the Poles tried a night attack from Krasnobród direction. After fierce fighting, the Polish achieved minimal success, and had to withdraw. Only seven 7TP tanks and one Vickers were left. On 19 September, the Poles attempted the night assault once again, which failed, and only one 7TP survived. The Brigade surrendered on the next day.
|Arguably the most often photographed 7TP from an unidentified battalion (probably near Piotrków). Note two holes in a right side.|
|7TP tank destroyed in Wola Krzysztoporska.|
|7TP from an unidentified battalion, abandoned after an attempt of towing.|
The 2nd Light Tank Battalion was mobilized on 27 August 1939, by the 2nd Armoured Battalion in Żurawica (in some documents it was called the 301st Light Tank Battalion). The commander was Maj. Edmund Karpow. It was assigned to Reserve Army "Prusy" (Armia Odwodowa "Prusy"), like the 1st Battalion. At the war's outbreak on 1 September 1939, the battalion was in transport from Przemyśl and disembarked near Łowicz. Then, despite orders, Gen. Juliusz Rómmel W "took over" the batalion for his Army "Łódź" and assigned it to "Piotrków" Operational Group. On 3 September, counting operable 47 tanks, it was deployed on a defensive position west of Bełchatów W.
On 4 September, two companies were used to counter German advance in south outskirts of Piotrków Trybunalski W (near Wola Krzysztoporska W village). Polish tanks destroyed two armoured cars, then six tanks from the 1st Panzer Division, losing one tank (four own tanks were damaged, one of them was irreperable). On the next day the whole battalion tried to attack German units of the 4th Panzer Division, preparing to advance towards Piotrków in the same area. The 2nd Company encountered and destroyed vehicles of a German motorized infantry column of the I/12 Regiment of the 4th Panzer Division. After fierce fighting near Wola Krzysztoporska, some 15 enemy tanks and armoured cars were destroyed, as well as several trucks, for a loss of 7 tanks from the 2nd Company (five damaged and impossible to be recovered) and possibly some tanks from other companies. It was the biggest tank encounter of the Polish campaign. Polish units had to withdraw due to enemy numerical superiority.
After a battle, the battalion split on two parts, withdrawing north-east towards Warsaw. Publications and memoires are however contradictory on how numerous they were. The commander Maj. Karpow gathered around 12 tanks (other accounts: 21-22), mostly from the 1st and 3rd Companies, with their commanders. According to one account (A. Holik), four tanks were destroyed by German AT guns behind Łódź, and 15 tanks reached Łowicz, then after aircraft attacks on a way, 9 tank reached Grodzisk Mazowiecki. The tanks could not made it to Warsaw due to problems with finding fuel, and the commander left for Warsaw in this purpose. On 8 September some eight tanks remained in a forest at Polesie village near Milanówek W, where they were surprised by the German combat group organized around 1/62nd Pionier Bttn of the 4th Panzer Division. Exact course of events is not clear because of contradictory accounts, however, after some combat, all tanks, lacking fuel and ammunition, and shelled by the artillery, were abandoned. Three other tanks departed for Warsaw (reportedly before the combat, on collected fuel), but one was destroyed by the 2/31th AT Abteilung; two others clearly did not make it either. The 1/62nd Pionier Bttn itself reported capturing 10 operable tanks; its losses are unknown (and not mentioned in German reports).
The second group of tanks was gathered around the 2nd Company, commanded by Cpt. Konstanty Hajdenko, with some tanks from other companies, and a maintenance company, counting probably 17-18 tanks[note 1]. The group passed through Warsaw on 7/8 September, and was ordered to withdraw further east. On 11 September they got to Brześć W (now Brest on the Bug), where 14 tanks were repaired. The unit was reorganized as an independent company, commanded by Cpt. Hajdenko, meant to protect C-in-C Main HQ. In this order, it departed for Włodzimierz Wołyński W on 14 September, but did not reach the HQ. On the next day it lost two tanks in a skirmish with elements of the 3rd Panzer Division north of Włodawa W. The company then headed for Kovel W. On 16 September it halted advance of the German 2th company of the 5th Panzer Regiment near Piszcza village, losing one tank. In Kovel on 17 September the company was ordered to withdraw south to Romanian border, but the tanks had been already worn out due to long marches without proper maintenance, so they were burned (that day the Soviet Union invaded Polish eastern territories, according to a treaty with Germany). The troops evacuated themselves on trucks to Hungary.
|A burnt-out 7TP in Warsaw outskirts.|
|Destroyed twin-turret 7TP, probably in Okęcie, Warsaw.|
|Twin-turret 7TP captured by the Germans in Warsaw.|
German advance towards Warsaw caused creation of improvised units, subordinated to Warsaw Defence HQ. Contrary to plans, 11 training twin-turret tanks were eventually used in combat, creating the 2nd Company of Warsaw Defence HQ, commanded by Cpt. Feliks Michałkowski (six were from the Armoured Weapons' Training Center in Modlin and six from the 3rd Armoured Battalion - possibly one remained a reserve, and also the prototype was taken for parts). Next there was created the 5th Company of 11 newest 7TP tanks, undergoing military acceptance trials in Warsaw at that time. It was commanded by Cpt. Stanisław Grąbczewski, who became a leader of Warsaw armoured group (in some publications these companies are numbered 1 and 2, but there were also companies: no. 1 consisting of tankettes, and no. 3 and 4 of motorized AT guns). Crews were formed, among others, from newly trained cadets.
A platoon of the 2nd Company entered action on 7 September, performing a reconnaissance towards Radzymin, Tłuszcz and Łochów. On 9 September both companies helped the infantry to repell assault on Warsaw of the 4th Panzer Division, in street combat in Ochota W district (42 German tanks were lost in total). On next day a platoon of the 5th Company supported Polish counter-attack in Wola district, and one 7TP was damaged. At night of 10/11 September both companies with motorized infantry company were sent for reconnaissance to Wawrzyszew W (northern suburb of Warsaw). A forward platoon of twin-turret 7TP surprised a German platoon from the 36th Panzer Regiment resting on a roadside near a cemetery in Wawrzyszew, with some motorized infantry. After a short combat, three German tanks were captured, and next hauled away (most or all were PzKpfw I; unfortunately, there is no information, if any captured tanks were used by the Polish). According to one account, a fourth tank was destroyed and three trucks were captured. The Poles also re-captured a transport of Polish machine guns with ammunition, and liberated several dozens of POWs. The tanks next patrolled the area, with some skirmishes with infantry (two of them got damages).
On 12 September all tanks supported Polish troops attacking Okęcie W airfield and Służewiec W horse racing circuit. In several skirmishes seven tanks (mostly twin-turret) out of 21 used were lost, and Cpt. F.Michałkowski was injured and taken as a prisoner. According to reports, one "medium" tank was captured, and there were destroyed, among others, several cars and a liaison aircraft Fi 156 Storch (tail crushed by a twin-turret 7TP). After an unsuccessful Okęcie raid, both companies were joined into one. On 15 September a platoon patrolling near Babice W met tanks of the 4th Panzer Division and captured one of them with a crew. One 7TP was however destroyed by friendly fire (on an ignited mine, before a barricade; the crew survived). On 18 September the company supported Polish troops in Wola district, trying to make contact with remaining units of Army "Poznań" coming to Warsaw. A twin-turret platoon of Lt. Sempoliński helped to capture Nowy Chrzanów (west of Warsaw), but most of Lt. Kraskowski's platoon (single-turret) was destroyed by tanks PzKpfw 35(t) of the 1st Leichte Division at Wolska street. The tanks were kept mainly as a reserve afterwards, and were used to support troop repelling the German assault near Warszawa Zachodnia (Western railway station) on 26 September. 7TP tanks were finally halted by artillery, and only six tanks were left after this action. On the next day, besieged Warsaw surrendered.
Apart from these combat units, few remaining twin-turet tanks from Żurawica were gathered in Reserve Centre 3 (OZ 3) of armoured weapons, and were abandoned or destroyed on withdrawal routes in eastern Poland (mostly between Przemyśl and Lviv).
This section might be enhanced in the future if there is an interest.
Captured 7TP tanks were used by the Germans, but they were not adopted as a standard frontline equipment. There may be found an information, that they were used in 4th Company of the 1st Regiment, 1st Panzer Division during French campaign in 1940, but it does not seem confirmed. Photos indicate, that several tanks, marked with provisional white crosses, were impressed into service in capturing units at once, but it is not known, if they were actually used for combat purposes, or as a kind of a trophy ("Beute"). Later PzKpfw 7TP(p) tanks were seen marked with regular German black crosses of newer pattern, and often with modifications, most notably four spare roadwheel sets on a rear plate (it would have been a welcome modification in Polish service, when they often suffered from worn-out rubber bands, and carried only two spare wheels on fenders). They were used for auxiliary occupation duties in Poland, among others in Leichte Panzer Kompanie "Warschau" (1940-41), then for anti-partisan duties in Polizei Panzer Kompanie "Mitte" in Lithuania and Belarus (1941-43). At least one tank was apparently found in 1944 in France. Several tanks, with turrets removed, were used as tractors - often with a crane fixed to the rear.
|German-captured 7TP with a plethora of hand-painted swastikas, and a standard Balkenkreuz on a niche's hatch. It is not clear, if this tank was operable, or just marked as a booty.||Destroyed 7TP. Noteworthy is an open niche (with missing hatch), turret hatch with a reversible periscope, and a base for receiver aerial. A white cross, surely painted by the Germans, suggests, that the tank was pushed aside when it became useless...||Two 7TP tanks with provisional German crosses (different on both vehicles), apparently in Poland in 1939.||7TP in German service, captured apparently by US troops in France. Note regular late crosses and an additional headlight.|
A couple of 7TP tanks were seized by the Soviets on Polish eastern territories, and were next thoroughly evaluated in Kubinka proving ground.
No tanks survived the war, however in the current century there was one 7TP tank reconstructed, using parts of several tanks, found in a ground or in villages.
|Two radio-equipped 7TP on a parade in Cieszyn, 2 October 1938.|
|7TP tanks from the 3rd Armoured Battalion before the war.|
|An abandoned 7TP tank, showing its engine and radiators.|
Despite single-turret 7TP was a brand new tank in 1939, long development caused, that the design could not be regarded modern as a whole. However, for a standard of 1939 year, it was still an adequate battle tank, capable to fight any opponent, including newest medium tanks like PzKpfw III Ausf. E and T-28. It possessed several modern features – first of all, a two-man turret, with a commander free of duty of aiming the gun, and equipped with a reversible periscope for all-around observation, which later made a career throughout the world. Apart from his primary duties (commanding the tank, watching unit's commander, and target searching), the tank's commander only had to load the gun (some publications erroneously claim, that the commander was also a gunner, but it contradicts with Polish military regulation and documents). As for its armament, the 37 mm anti-tank gun was a world's standard at that time, and Bofors gun was among the best, offering even slightly better penetration, than German 3.7 cm KwK of PzKpfw III. An usage of a water-cooled coaxial machine gun was not typical for tanks and demanded an armoured cover for a water radiator, but wz.30 machine gun was a reliable design, belt-fed, with a high practical rate of fire (a re-chambered Browning copy).
Manoeuvrability and speed of 7TP tank were adequate and roughly comparable with most world's tanks of that date (with exception of fast tanks), although maximum speed of German tanks was slightly higher (up to 40 km/h). Mounting a Diesel engine was a progressive step, despite it complicated supplying with fuel, since petrol was more popular at that time and used by all other Polish military vehicles, except for C7P tractors on the same chassis. On the other hand, Diesel engine could run on kerosene, which was, paradoxically, easier to be found in villages. During tests of prototypes it was noted, that because of the engine used, it negotiated obstacles more easily, than Vickers tank, and there was no need to change gears often. The other thing was, that the chosen engine was far from optimal. First of all it was too heavy, what caused an overload on a rear set of bogies (4540 kg on forward set vs 5325 kg on rear set), and quicker wear of wheels. Often were problems with rubber rims of wheels, especially during faster ride, or towing. Apart from this, there are no reports on particular teething problems with serial tanks, possibly thanks to its long development. Along with a new engine, the tank had a new transmission, with a dry multi-disc clutch, which was very favourably evaluated by the Soviets. Also a suspension was strengthened and significantly improved. Despite suspension units were similar to original design, a closer examination reveals an added lever below leaf springs, joining a body of the suspension unit with a two-wheel bogie, decreasing forces acting against springs, especially during turns. Loose end of springs slid upon the lever, acting as a kind of a shock absorber.
Other improvement over Vickers Mark E was an armour of increased thickness and better quality (cemented plates instead of homogenous). On the other hand, its thickness was still inadequate and did not protect against any anti-tank guns on practical ranges. It should be remembered however, that a basic design of Vickers Mark E originated from late 1920s, and of the 7TP - from 1933, while only from mid-1930s specialized anti-tank guns became common. Armour thickness in the 7TP improved only marginally, and its shape remained the same, far from optimal, with many vertical surfaces, and thinner driver's hatch creating a weak spot in front. The armour protection may be regarded as the weakest side of 7TP. Polish military were aware of these inherited limitations and from mid-30s the 7TP was regarded as an interim tank only. However, works upon newer designs were slow (10TP and 14TP), and 7TP remained the only tank available, what resulted in new orders and works upon a strengthened 7TP (so-called 9TP).
All in all, September 1939 campaign showed, that the 7TP had roughly even chances of winning in a duel with any cannon-armed German tank (not counting PzKpfw I for obvious reasons), and results of tank vs tank skirmishes depended on non technical factors mostly, like surprise, numerical superiority, commanding skills and training of individual crews. Unfortunately, part of Polish crews were formed from reserve troops, who were not familiar with these tanks. On the other hand, German troops had little experience by then, and often did not expect to encounter any armoured vehicles. A significant factor surely was more widespread usage of radio communication in German tanks and army in general. Exact data will be probably never known, but it seems, that despite these factors, 7TP tanks knocked out slightly more armoured fighting vehicles, than in an opposite direction (it should be remembered, that most German armoured cars were armed with 20 mm guns, equally dangerous for light tanks). Relatively many 7TP tanks fell victims of towed AT guns, what became a general rule later in the war (Polish AT guns were as well responsible for most German losses, however they were less numerous and horse-drawn). Most important factor was connected with Blitzkrieg doctrine, what was independent from a value of the tank itself. As a result of general German superiority and speed of advance, Polish units had to withdraw, what led to a difficulty of proper maintenance, repairs, and supplying with fuel, and therefore, high march losses. Also, on contrary to German ones, Polish immobilized tanks usually could not be recovered from battlefields and rehauled (other thing was, that there were no special tank transporters in Polish Army, only tracked tractors).
|One of many PzKpfw II tanks destroyed during the Polish campaign, probably by 37 mm guns. Note a white cross overpainted with mud.|
In comparison with German PzKpfw II, which was its most numerous opponent, 7TP was theoretically a better tank, although in real battlefield its advantage was marginal (and was counterbalanced by non-technical factors). Armour of both tanks was comparably weak (14.5 mm homogenous armour all around in PzKpfw II – the 7TP had marginally better armour, save the driver's hatch and rear part). Only lessons from the Polish campaign spurred the Germans to add an extra armour onto their most numerous tank, before the French campaign. PzKpfw II could be a prey from longer distance, however its automatic 20 mm cannon was as well deadly to relatively thin 7TP frontal armour on most common close distances up to 500 m, especially that it could fire in series. Side armour was vulnerable even from longer distances. It should be however remembered, that 20 mm rounds had less impact, than 37 mm ones, and in some cases 7TP tanks got away with penetrated armour (and/or injured crews). Some advantage of PzKpfw II was its lower profile, and higher maximum speed (40 km/h), thanks to a stronger engine. Main disadvantage of PzKpfw II seemed an one-man turret, in which a commander had to command the tank and aim and operate guns, without means of all-around observation other than side flaps (only after the French campaign PzKpfw IIs were fitted with the commander's cupola). The third crewman of PzKpfw II only operated a radio and loaded the gun with clips (a presence of radio in all tanks was a clear advantage over 7TP, however not connected with its design, but with financial reasons). Older PzKpfw I tanks, still used in a big quantity, could be a match for 7TP only in very favourable conditions (judging from their experience against T-26 in Spain, their machine guns could do some harm from a point-blank distance only, using wolfram-cored ammunition SmK(H), although it is not known if they would penetrate a frontal armour of 7TP at all).
Most common Soviet tank at that time was a "step brother" of 7TP, the T-26, which was also a descendant of Vickers Mark E licence. The most serious improvement was an addition of a two-men turret of own design, armed with a 45 mm anti-tank gun, which was much more effective against soft targets, than 37 mm Bofors gun, and slightly better against armour. The Soviets only slightly increased armour to 15 mm cemented plates, or 20 mm of less resistant homogenous plates in later series, so the 7TP had marginally thicker armour (without much practical difference though). They also kept an original engine, only uprated a bit in later series, which did not compensate for a weight increase (late T-26 M1939, weighing 10.25 t, were even heavier, than 7TP). Both tanks enjoyed an advantage of two-men turret, although in T-26 the commander had to aim the gun, and the second crewman was a loader. Part of T-26s had an additional rear machine gun in a turret niche, but it does not seem much useful. Roughly a half of T-26s were fitted with a radio, what was undoubtedly a better ratio, although its quality was probably worse. The commander had a panoramic periscope gunsight for all around observation, and some tanks had additional TPK Goertz panoramic sight for a loader, but they were more complicated and less practical, than Gundlach reversible periscope, which enabled a quick situation overview, with both eyes in addition. The Soviets themselves evaluated a captured 7TP as the most interesting and modern of all Vickers Mk E derivates in existence. However, T-26 was produced in roughly ten times bigger number, and a gun-armed variant was available as soon, as in 1933.
Because of similarity of both tanks, and evaluation of 7TP at Kubinka ground, it is worth to give a detailed comparison of construction features. So, the Soviets were especially impressed by a main multi-disc clutch, better and more reliable, than Vickers / T-26 single-disc clutch. Track links of the 7TP were wider and lighter (268 mm and 2.85 kg vs 260 mm and 3.03 kg). A significant improvement was in suspension sets: in Vickers and T-26 one of bogies was attached directly to quarter-elliptic springs, while in 7TP it was attached to a special lever, sprung by these springs, but not connected with them. It allowed to decrease forces acting against springs, especially during turns (in connection with it, 7TP had 13-leaf springs comparing to 15-leaf ones). According to tests, frontal armour of the 7TP protected against 12.7 mm AP bullets from 100 m.
|Ex-Czechoslovak LTM-35 knocked-out by Polish 37 mm AT guns or 7TP tanks. As the photo shows, white crosses were excellent aiming points.|
Czechoslovak equivalents of the 7TP were LT vz.35 and more modern LT vz.38, taken over by the Germans as PzKpfw 35(t) and 38(t) (initially LTM 35 and 38). The former also had a blocked bogie rocker arm suspension with four bogies on each side, inspired clearly by Vickers Mark E, although not copied from it. Both tanks were somewhat heavier and had better armour (up to 25 mm in front), although it could have been penetrated by 37 mm Bofors gun on practical distances. It is worth to note, that a strengthened 7TP was to carry even thicker armour. Both Czechoslovak tanks were armed with own designs of long-barrel Skoda 37 mm anti-tank guns, which were roughly comparable with Bofors gun (Skoda A3 of LT vz.35 was a bit inferior). An advantage was an additional bow machine gun in Czechoslovak tanks, and a standard radio. A major disadvantage of original Czechoslovak tanks were single-man turrets, with a commander overloaded with duties, which included target searching, loading, aiming and operating the gun (the third crewman sat in the hull and operated the BMG and radio). The Germans improved this situation, adding a loader to the turret as the fourth crewman, though an assignment of duties in 7TP was more rational (apart from his primary duties, the commander only had to load the gun). In Czechoslovak tanks the commander also had worse means of observation - a cuppola with four fixed periscopes. Czechoslovak tanks had stronger petrol engines, but a maximum speed of LT vz.35 was similar. A flaw of LT vz.35 appeared unreliable pneumatic steering system, and general teething problems with delivered tanks, which had to be modified afterwards. On the other hand, a development of LT vz.35 started at about the same time, as 7TP (1934), but took much quicker, and Czechoslovakia was able to purchase 298 of them by 1938. The LT vz.38, developed by 1939, was more modern design, with further development perspectives. In spite of superficial similarity of both neighbour countries, re-born in 1918, it should be remembered, that being an important industrial part of Austro-Hungarian empire, Czechoslovakia was wealthier and had much better developed machine and arms industry, while Poland additionally suffered wars in 1919-1921 period.
It was by no means an adversary, but it is interesting to compare 7TP with its another cousin, the Finnish variant of Vickers Mk E, because of similarity of these tanks. Finnish tanks were late export model of Vickers Mk E, utilizing Mk F hull with lengthened combat compartment, so they were also an evolution of a main family line. According to Soviet tests, their hull armour was of homogenous plates up to 17.5 mm, so it was similar to 7TP, only of worse quality. The Finns armed their tanks with the same 37 mm Bofors gun in a very similar Bofors-designed mounting (it had a different air-cooled machinegun, albeit in a similar cylinder cover). Their two-man turrets were probably original British ones, although fitted with a rear niche, what made them similar to 7TP turret. Not that advanced were means of observation (two non-reversible periscopes on turret's roof), and gun sights were only provisional. An interesting Finnish improvement was an addition of a bow mounted 9 mm Suomi SMG, operated by an additional fourth crewman. The engine remained the same air-cooled 90 HP, as in earlier Mk E, but tanks received wider tracks (290 mm vs 268 mm in 7TP). After Winter War, Finnish tanks were rearmed with Soviet 45 mm guns from T-26 tanks (and renamed T-26E).
1. A number of 2nd Light Tank Battalion tanks gathered in Cpt. Hajdenko's group after a battle of Piotrków is not clear - according to his account it was 17 tanks, and 5 joined later (on Skierniewice - Warsaw path). According to a commander of maintenance company, it was 18 tanks and 6 hauled "of the maintenance company" (?) (it isn't known what he meant by tanks of the maintenance company, and this number was given before alleged joining of 5 tanks). On the other hand, the Battalion's tactical officer Cpt. Słupski claimed that it gathered 13 tanks (along with all that joined on a way). R. Szubański in his book wrote about 22 tanks, with four hauled, but he added, that during further withdrawal, five towed tanks had to be left near Babsk on 7 September.
1. Janusz Magnuski, Czołg lekki 7TP, "Militaria" Vol.1 No.5, 1996
2. Janusz Magnuski, Produkcja czołgów 7TP, 1935-1939 r., "Nowa Technika Wojskowa" nr 12/1996
3. Rajmund Szubański, Polska broń pancerna w 1939 roku; Warsaw 2004
4. Karol Rudy, O czołgu polskim raz jeszcze, "Poligon" nr 1/2010
5. Karol Rudy, 7TP - nowoczesny czy nie? [7TP - modern or not?], "Poligon" nr 6/2011
6. Karol Rudy, Czołg 7TP - na miarę skromnych możliwości, "Technika Wojskowa Historia" nr 5/2013
7. Janusz Magnuski, Rajmund Szubański, Janusz Ledwoch, 7TP vol.II, Wydawnictwo Militaria, Warszawa 2009
8. Andrzej Wszendyrówny, Marcin Wodejko: Czołg 7TP w dokumentach Centralnego Archiwum Wojskowego, "Do Broni" nr 1/2009
9. Leszek Komuda, Polski czołg lekki 7TP, Typy Broni i Uzbrojenia No.21, Warsaw, 1973
10. Paweł Rozdżestwieński, Czołg lekki 7TP, Wielki Leksykon Uzbrojenia Wrzesień 1939, No.1, Warsaw, 2012
11. Mariusz Zimny, Udział 1 Batalionu Czołgów Lekkich w walkach o Głowaczów 10 września 1939, Rocznik Archiwalno-Historyczny CAW
12. Mariusz Zimny, Zniszczenie części 2 Batalionu Czołgów Lekkich pod dowództwem kpt. Józefa Rejmana we wrześniu 1939 w relacjach uczestników walk , Rocznik Archiwalno-Historyczny CAW
13. Relacje o działaniach czołgów 7TP w kampanii wrześniowej, Rocznik Archiwalno-Historyczny CAW
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