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|© Michal Derela, 2007||Updated: 14. 2. 2014 - improved text, added photos|
Part I: Development, history & production --- Part II: Camouflage, description, specifications & modeling
Part III: Service with photo gallery --- Part IV: Tankettes with 20 mm cannons --- Self propelled guns
Part V: Experimental tankettes & special equipment --- Part VI: Foreign service of TK/TKS --- TKS gallery
|A cannon-armed TKS, abandoned in September 1939|
From among some 570 Polish tankettes, only a handful of TKS armed with 20 mm cannons were able to fight against enemy armour during a Polish Campaign in September 1939. Unfortunately, no more than two dozen of these vehicles entered service by the outbreak of World War II. With advantages, like small silhouette and agility, it appeared a successful tank destroyer and one of most valuable Polish armoured vehicles.
Development of Polish tankettes - in Part I; description, specifications and modelling - in Part II. Note: W marks external links to Wikipedia articles.
Just as a production of Polish tankette TK-3 (TK) was starting, it was realized, that the tankette armed with a standard 7.92 mm wz.25 Hotchkiss machine gun can not fight efficiently against any armoured vehicles and is able to fight manpower and soft vehicles only. The British had offered a light self-propelled gun with Vickers 47mm gun as one of Carden-Loyd Mk.VI tankette variants, so the Poles planned to build support tankettes with stronger armament as well. A development of Polish support tankettes went in two ways eventually. There was created a light self-propelled gun TKD with 47mm wz.25 Pocisk infantry gun, but only 4 experimental vehicles were built. On the other hand, there were trials of replacing a machine gun in a standard tankette with a big caliber machine gun or an autocannon. Initially, it was planned to arm TK tankettes with a 13.2 mm wz.25 Hotchkiss machine gun, but its armour penetration appeared too low, while bullets' dispersion was too high, so it was abandoned in a favour of 20 mm cannon.
|Solothurn cannon mounted in TKS (it can be distinguished from the FK-A by a shorter barrel, mounted lower in a smaller mantlet).|
The first cannon tested in a tankette was a Swiss semi-automatic 20 mm Solothurn S18-100, bought in 1935. It was fitted in one TKS tankette, using a provisional mount at first. The tankette was tested on a proving ground in February 1936, then it was fitted with an improved Cardan mount with a hemispherical cover. The evaluation proved, that arming tankettes with cannons was a good idea, but Solothurn S18-100 did not meet all demands, and fired only single shots. Autocannons tested by the Army (on portable mounts), like older model of Oerlikon J LAS (bought in 1931) and Solothurn S5-100 (bought in 1935), were not satisfactory either. Therefore, military authorities decided to search for a new weapon, fit also for aviation, anti-aircraft and anti-tank defence, and design a domestic autocannon at the same time. Oerlikon FFS and Madsen 20 mm autocannons were acquired in 1937 for tests, while several Polish designers started works upon such weapons as well.
|TKS tested with 37 mm wz.18 Puteaux gun in 1936 (hauled by the 7TP tank prototype).|
It should be noted, that about 1936 there was also tested a TKS with a short-barrel French 37mm wz.18 Puteaux (SA-18) semi-automatic gun. The gun was mounted in a standard universal ball mounting in a place of a machine gun (it was used that way also in part of Polish armoured cars). It was a WWI-vintage weapon, best fit to fight machine gun nests, with poor armour penetration capability. There exists a photo from tests, but other details are not known. It seems, that this might have been an interesting stop-gap support vehicle for ordinary tankettes, easy to produce, with basic anti-tank capabilities, but the idea was apparently abandoned (in practice, the wz.18 gun mounted in armoured cars wz.29 appeared quite efficient weapon against light tanks).
|A prototype of model A gun on Oerlikon tripod mounting .|
|An interesting photo of the German-captured TKS with cannon's mantlet removed.|
|One of the 10th Cavalry Brigade's TKS interned in Hungary. Note a protective canvas on cannon's mantlet, and a high muffler, indicating early series TKS. The soldiers are Hungarian and Polish.|
In 1937, Bolesław Jurek of Fabryka Karabinów (FK - Rifle Factory) in Warsaw constructed an automatic cannon Model A, also known in short as the FK-A. The Model A offered slightly better armour penetration, than tested Oerlikon and Madsen cannons, and was evaluated as a better weapon for armoured weapons' needs. As a result, it was accepted under a designation: 20 mm wz. 38 (Pattern 1938) heaviest machine gun (Polish abbreviation: nkm). It was considered an interim weapon for armoured forces and infantry, until newer designs would be ready (first of all, gas-operated model C gun).
For tankette use, a Cardan mount was designed, with a big hemispherical armoured mantlet (the barrel was fixed in the mantlet centrally in a vertical axis, offset to the left from a central point). Rearming of TKS demanded only small changes in armour - a new front plate with a weapon mounting, and a new plate above a gunner, with Gundlach's reversible observation periscopeW offset to left because of a bigger weapon. Small changes had to be made to interior equipment, to accommodate racks for 15 five-round magazines. A notable detail was removing an external anti-aircraft machine gun pivot mast. An appropriate modification of TKS was worked out in February-March 1939. Since the tankettes had screwed armour, the modification could be proceeded in unit workshops, with supplied parts, according to a manual from 22 June 1939. However, in order to save time, it was finally decided, that first batches should be rearmed at PZInż car factory F1 in Ursus, instead of units' workshops and Experimental Workshops of Armoured Weapons' Technical Research Bureau. Rearming of TK-3 demanded more changes, described further.
The military authorities hesitated on how many tankettes should be rearmed, and plans changed several times from 1937, ranging from 1/3 of TK-3 and TKS tankettes to all of them. There were also doubts, if rearming of worn out TK-3s was purposeful at all. At that time, in 1938 and 1939, a production of guns, barrels, ammunition, sights, mantlets, armoured plates and other equipment was only starting, in different factories. The first 10 cannons of 100 ordered were delivered in May 1939, the next 10 in July. New armour plates were made by Baildon Steelworks in July. In early 1939 it was planned to rearm 100 TKS tankettes with the first series cannons, then rest of TKS, then all TKS and TK-3 (about 570), provided, that funding would allow. In May 1939 it was finally decided to rearm 150 tankettes - 80 TKS and 70 TK-3, what was approximately 1/3 of combat-worthy tankettes.
In April 1939 the workshops were ordered to rearm 10 tankettes TKS, and in June - another 14. In August 1939 the order was extended for remaining 56 TKS and 70 TK-3. Apart from the first batch of 24 TKS, it was expected, that next 8 TKS should be ready by 30 August 1939, another 8 TKS and 16 TK-3 by 15 September 1939, and the rest gradually by February 1940. Despite these plans, there were delays with parts. Approximately 55 cannons were produced by the war outbreak, but a number of complete modernization kits was lower (according to some documents, there were manufactured parts to rearm 40 tankettes). Probably only 24 TKS tankettes were rearmed by the war in July-August 1939, it might have been a few less (20?) or more.
Polish military authorities eventually decided to rearm a number of older TK-3 tankettes as well, in order to provide TK-equipped units with cannons without mixing equipment types. In the end of 1938, one TK-3 tankette was experimentally fitted with the FK-A cannon, with addition of a front superstructure on the right side, before the commander-gunner. Its silhouette became similar to the TKS, but it had a longer superstructure, and had no niche before the driver's head. The commander's post was also fitted with Gundlach's reversible periscopeW, what improved his situation awareness (it demanded replacing a front part of a wide common roof hatch with two smaller individual hatches). In January 1939 this conversion was approved, and an appropriate manual was worked out on 14 August 1939. In late August the 1st and 8th Armoured Battalions were ordered to send 4 TK-3 to Ursus works. It was first planned to rearm 16 tankettes TK-3 by 15 September 1939, but there is no evidence so far, that any were rearmed (some publications suggest, that 3 have been completed). The fate of the prototype is not known (the cannon might have been removed from it after testing the conversion), it is not known either, if it was constructed of armoured steel or mild steel (what seems very likely, as for the superstructure at least).
|The prototype of the TK-3 with 20mm FK-A gun (it is often erroneously described as the TKS, especially, that such factory photos of TKS do not exist). The modified tankette retained only one front gear inspection hatch.|
Construction of cannon-armed tankettes was generally the same, as basic models TK and TKS. Specifications were also similar, apart from slightly increased weight and length with a gun.
|TKS tankettes with cannons of the 10th Cavalry Brigade, after crossing Hungarian border. Note protective covers on mantlets and muzzles (it is not known if they were standard). Tankettes have dark rectangles painted next to visors (their purpose is not known - they might be fake visors, but their practical usefulness seems nil). See also a wider scene|
It was first planned to include 5 tankettes with cannons into a tankette squadron or company (of 13 tanks), but eventually in June 1939 it was reduced to 4 (two per a platoon, without a company's commander tank, which less often took part in direct combat). The commanders of peculiar armies wanted cannon-armed tankettes, and an assignment plan of the first series was changing in last weeks before the war, while a conversion process was on the way. There are lacks in documents, and that is why the details of their actual assignment and quantity are not sure. It should be remembered, that before the war Polish armoured weapons were organized in battalions, which were peacetime units only and were to mobilize other units in case of war.
The biggest number of tankettes with cannons - 8 were assigned to the motorized 10th Cavalry Brigade (10.BK) of Colonel Stanisław MaczekW: 4 tankettes in a tank squadron of Brigade's Reconnaissance Unit (TKF-equipped) and 4 in the 101st Reconnaissance Tank Company (TKS-equipped). There are some doubts expressed, if the Brigade had all 8 tankettes, but it seems so[note 1].
Next 8 vehicles were to be given to the second motorized brigade: Warsaw Armoured-Motorized Brigade (WBPM), but since it was under organization at that time, shortly before the war, on 23 August 1939 it was ordered to pass its tankettes to the 1st and the 8th Armoured Battalions. It was planned, that the WBPM would receive new tankettes by 5 September, but most probably it received only four cannon-armed tankettes eventually. Probably two were given to its 11th Reconnaissance Tank Company and two to a Reconnaissance Unit.
Four TKS tankettes with FK-A guns (ex-WBPM ones) were assigned to tankette squadrons of the 71st Armoured Unit of Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade and the 81st Armoured Unit of Pomorska (Pomeranian) Cavalry Brigade. Both units were TK-3-equipped, so a rule of not mixing equipment types was breached. Some accounts claimed, that the 81st Unit had only three tankettes with cannons[note 2].
There is no firm information on last four tankettes of the first series and possible further ones. According to an initial plan from 21 June 1939, after motorized bigades, they were to be given, in order, to Armoured Units nos: 71, 51, 81, 11, 91, 62, 61. However, due to a modified plan, the rest of first batch of 24 tankettes was to be given to the 62nd Armoured Unit of Podolska Cavalry Brigade and the 91st Armoured Unit of Nowogrodzka Cavalry Brigade. Documents suggest, that their mother battalions (4th and 6th) received cannon-armed tankettes in early August, but there is no sign so far, that these two units had them in September 1939. There is a hint, that a gun's mantlet was found north of KielceW, what indicates, that such vehicle(s) might have belonged to the 51st Armoured Unit of Krakowska (Cracow) Cavalry Brigade, fighting in this area (this information is published here for the first time, in 2014 update, thanks to Odkrywca forum participants). Some suggest, that some tankettes could be used in Reconnaissance Tank Companies[note 3].
|A cannon-armed TKS captured by the Germans after a fall of Warsaw (possibly the one of Roman Orlik, from the 71st Armoured Unit)|
|An unidentified abandoned cannon-armed TKS. A purpose of a dark rectangle next to a driver's visor is not clear.|
|TKS tankettes after a battle of Tomaszów Lubelski, first on the right is cannon-armed.|
|Vehicles gathered after a fall of Warsaw - visible are at least two cannon-armed TKS (the one on a photo in the beginning of a chapter is the 4th from right).|
|A burned cannon-armed TKS.|
The cannon-armed tankettes were actively used during the German invasion in September 1939, but there is no specific information available on most of them. Only some actions of the first platoon of the 71st Armoured Unit, of Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade (Poznań Army), fighting in western and central Poland, are relatively well known. On 14 September 1939, its tankettes were supporting an attack of the 7th Mounted Rifle Regiment on BrochówW (on the Bzura river, east of Warsaw), and a cannon-armed tankette immobilized 2 or 3 German tanks of the 4th Panzerdivision, helping the Poles to capture the village. The most famous action was on 18 September near Pociecha in Kampinos ForestW (east of Warsaw), when last three tankettes laid an ambush on a forest crossroads, and a single cannon-armed tankette, manned by Cadet Corporal Edmund Roman Orlik, destroyed a patrol of three German PzKpfw-35(t) tanks of the 11th Panzer Regiment of the 1st Leichte Division, with a flank fire (among killed was prince Victor von Ratibor).
On the next day, the tankette platoon supported Polish units defending Sieraków village in Puszcza Kampinoska against tanks of the 11th Panzer Regiment and 65th Panzer Abteilung. Orlik carried out short raids from earth pits and back, to the left flank of advancing Germans, and claimed to have immobilized 7 tanks (overally, according to the Polish reports, the Germans lost some 20 tanks in a combat of Sieraków, mostly due to anti-tank and field artillery; exact numbers are not confirmed). The surviving cannon-armed tankette of the 71st Unit got through to Warsaw about 20 September and took part in its defence, this time without success. There is however a controversy, who commanded it during a combat at Brochów and Warsaw defence[note 4]. It can not be excluded, that two cannon-armed tankettes from the 71st Unit came to Warsaw. There are no details known about usage of other cannon-armed tankettes of the 71st Armoured Unit, especially in the first two weeks of the war, when the unit apparently did not encounter enemy tanks. It should be noted, that this unit fought from the first day of World War II, initially in area of LesznoW. On 2 September 1939 it supported Polish troops in a short raid to the German territory, and its tankettes were fighting Grenzwacht units in GeyersdorfW village. From 7 September the unit took part in a battle of the Bzura RiverW, in area around ŁęczycaW, ZdunyW and GłownoW. On 9 September the 71st Unit acquired another cannon-armed TKS found in a railway transport at Jackowice station (probably sent by the 81st Unit for repair). The tankettes of the 2nd platoon were destroyed around 18 September in Kampinos Forest because of lack of fuel (it is not known, if any cannon-armed were among them). Last tankettes of the 1st platoon were kept in working order thanks to a fuel recovered from wrecked German vehicles at that time.
There is not much specific information on actions of cannon-armed tankettes in other units. Tankettes of the 10th Cavalry Brigade contributed to quite successful delay fights of the Brigade in the first days of campaign in Beskid mountainsW in southern Poland, against elements of two armoured divisions (2 PzDiv and 4 LeDiv). The Brigade's tankettes entered combat on 1 September near JordanówW, then in following days they fought among others near DobczyceW, TymbarkW, Nowy Wi¶niczW. Cannon-armed tankettes were certainly responsible for some of armoured vehicles destroyed by the Polish troops, although there is a clear information only on one case, when tankettes of the 101th Company destroyed several tanks during a combat on 9 September near AlbigowaW, where the German advance was stopped. On 15-17 September the tankettes supported Polish attack on Zboiska near LvivW, not fighting against armour however. Four surviving tankettes with cannons were withdrawn to Hungary on 19 September along with the 10th Cavalry Brigade, where they were interned and then seized by the Hungarians.
The Warsaw Armoured-Motorized Brigade fought in a central and eastern Poland. Tankettes of its Recce Tank Squadron suffered heavy losses of 6 (or 7) vehicles in combat near LipskoW on 10 September against German 15th Motorized Regiment, but it is not known whether the cannon-armed ones participated in it. On 13 September tankettes of the Brigade's 11th Company took part in an unsuccessful attack on AnnopolW bridgehead. The cannon-armed tankettes positively took part in the Brigade's last three-day battle of Tomaszów LubelskiW 18-20 September 1939, in which Polish units did not manage to break through a German defence towards Lviv and all armoured vehicles were lost (one tankette commander Stanisław Żak was commended to be awarded a Cross of ValorW).
Tankettes of the 81st Armoured Unit fought in "Pomeranian corridor" in the north, among others near ChojniceW on 1 September, then in Polskie Ł±kiW and SwiecieW on 3 September, when it lost 4 tankettes. One cannon-armed tankette was sent to the rear on 4 September, with a seized engine and probably it was next acquired by the 71st Armoured Unit (although there is no information about its damage). By 6 September, the Unit's vehicles, without a proper maintenance, were in a poor shape, and two last cannon-armed tankettes broke down (the fourth one was destroyed before or the unit had only three). The unit's remains with 6 tankettes were sent to the rear for and reorganization (via Kutno, Warsaw to LutskW). Probably it did not use its cannon-armed tankettes anymore in action (two last repaired TK-3s, MG-armed, fled with the unit to Hungary). A commander of a cannon-armed tankette, Cadet Adam Byrzykowski, was awarded with a Cross of Valor.
There are known photos of at least 11 cannon-armed TKS destroyed or abandoned in 1939, and 4 withdrawn to Hungary, what constitutes a majority of vehicles. Unfortunately, their identification is usually impossible. It was mentioned above, that such tankettes probably were in the 51st Armoured Unit of Krakowska Cavalry Brigade, fighting in southern Poland. Probably to this unit belonged a widely photographed vehicle, described at times as on Kielce - Skarżysko-KamiennaW road (see in a gallery below).
Tankettes with cannons were also used in the motor-armoured group of Warsaw Defence HQ. It was believed so far, that it had one such tankette (from the 71st Armoured Unit), but lately there was revealed a photo of a surrendered equipment, showing two such tankettes (this information is published here probably for the first time, in 2014 update). An origin of the other one is not known; it might have came from the 71st Armoured Unit as well.
Apart from four cannon-armed tankettes of the 10th Cavalry Brigade withdrawn to Hungary, the rest were destroyed or abandoned due to damage or technical reasons during the campaign, and were seized by the Germans. There exist several photos of cannon-armed tankettes with German modifications, notably headlights on fenders. Details of their German service are not known, although it apparently concerned no more, than a couple vehicles (Polish tankettes were generally used by them to auxiliary and security duties only, where cannons were less useful). The Hungarians impressed 7 TKS in total into service, but Hungarian sources don't mention cannons as tankettes' armament.
The cannon-armed tankettes were the only ones able to fight enemy tanks in 1939. Combining a small size, making them difficult to spot, with agility and firepower, they were efficient tank destroyers, as for standards of a beginning of the war at least. Their bullets could pierce an armour of almost all German and Soviet tanks of that time, including, in favourable conditions, newest models of PzKpfw-III and IV. Their combat value was however limited by weak armour, vulnerable to all anti-tank weapons. There occurred some problems with ammunition supplies, though one account says about using captured German ammunition (it is not clear, if it is a reliable source, and if they were interchangeable - the Polish ammunition, despite generally modelled after "long" Solothurn ammunition 20x138 mm, used by the Germans, had longer case 140 mm).
As combat experience showed, rearming of tankettes was the right step. Unfortunately, in spite of early awareness of their value, the program started too late, what resulted in a small quantity of rearmed vehicles. On the other hand, thanks to efforts, a handful of tankettes appeared just about time. It is noteworthy, that Polish tankettes were the only anti-tank vehicles of their kind at that time - only the Italians mounted 20 mm Solothurn guns in tankettes, but it was after 1940. The other thing is, that only in Poland and Italy cheap turretless tankettes became a basis of armoured forces. There should be mentioned a Czechoslovak export vehicle Skoda S-Id, armed with 37 mm gun, and French Renault AMR-35 ZT-3 with 25 mm gun, but they were bigger and were in fact self-propelled guns.
|Up and below: a series of photos of an abandoned trackless TKS with a cannon, described as Kielce - Skarżysko-Kamienna road, what suggests the 51st Armoured Unit. Noteworthy is a periscope position, visible on an upper photo.|
Upper left photo - from a collection of Krzysztof Kuryłowicz.
|//   Additional photos||/ (below)|
|Below: a cannon-armed TKS in Tarnawatka, on Zamosc - Tomaszów Lubelski road (we have identified a probable place here). The tankette probably belonged to the WBP-M brigade, although it is not sure. On the first photo the vehicle seems to be still burning. Later its gun was removed and it was pushed aside (another photo).|
| Left: a cannon-armed TKS transported by the Germans after its capture on Sd.Ah. 115 trailer.|
Right: a cannon-armed TKS, hauled by C4P halftrack tractor after a surrender of Warsaw (along with C2P tractor) - the same, as the first one under section "Combat use".
|Up and below: canon-armed tankette(s?) in German service, with German headlights on fenders. They also seem to be overpainted in an uniform Panzergrau color. Peculiar is a lack of nationality markings (possibly they were used by some security formation).|
On a left upper photo, there are tankette trailers in a background visible (they seem to be French ones).
|TKS with 20 mm cannon, courtesy by Thierry Vallet|
See also profiles of TKS with 20 mm cannon by P. Sembrat from .
Notes: Sources: History:
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1. There are some doubts in publications, if the 10th Cavalry Brigade received its all 8 cannon tankettes, or only 4, without clear documents on the subject (see also note 2 below). However, a peacetime 2nd Armoured Battalion received 8 tankettes before the war and was ordered to give them to the 10th Cavalry Brigade during a mobilization. The fact, that 4 tankettes with cannons survived to be evacuated to Hungary, suggests, that there were initially more of them, considering inevitable losses.
2. Marian Żebrowski in "Zarys historii polskiej broni pancernej"  wrote, that the 81st Armoured Unit had only 3 TKS with cannons (and also that the 101st Reconnaissance Tank Company and Reconnaissance Unit of the 10th Cavalry Brigade had only 2 cannon-armed tankettes each). However, this is not a definite source, basing on partial accounts. Its mother 8th Battalion should receive all 4 tankettes from the WBPM.
3. Krzysztof M. Gaj ("Czołg rozpoznawczy TK-S" ) suggests, that 4 cannon-armed TKS were in the 71st Independent Reconnaissance Tank Company and 3 cannon-armed TK-3(!) in the 81st Independent Reconnaissance Tank Company.
4. According to a series of articles written by Janusz Magnuski, published in 1978-1979, Cadet Corporal (plutonowy podchoraży) Edmund Roman Orlik claimed to have commanded the cannon-armed tankette during skirmishes at Brochów (14.9.1939), Pociecha (18.9), Sieraków (19.9) and Warsaw defence. He claimed also, that he got ammunition from German vehicles, and his tankete was the only one to get through to Warsaw. Unfortunately, his accounts weren't published in original form, but were a basis for Magnuski's dramatized narration. In 1979 there was however published a letter by Corporal Roman Nawrocki, in which he claimed, that he had commanded that tankette at Brochów (immobilizing 2 tanks) and in Warsaw defence, and that Orlik had commanded MG-armed tankette at Brochów and both drove their tankettes to Warsaw. Nawrocki had no knowledge on actions on 18-19.9.1939, because he was assigned to artillery column then (with his tankette?). On the other hand, some tankette with a gun was sure present in an ambush at Pociecha on 18.9.1939. Both accounts are contradictory as for a combat at Brochów, and Nawrocki's account look more probable here (especially, that it came second, and Magnuski only mentioned about this combat). However, even if Orlik commanded an ordinary tankette at Brochów, it is possible, that he was next given his "own" gun-armed tankette, and that they both drove gun-armed tankettes to Warsaw (Nawrocki did not write clearly, how was armed the tankette, which Orlik had driven to Warsaw). According to Magnuski's early articles, a driver of Orlik's tankette at Pociecha was Kazimierz Nowakowski. Nowakowski's account is unfortunately not known in details to us (it is probably archived in Sikorski Museum in London), but he generally confirmed, that the tankettes destroyed three tanks in a forest near Pociecha (his role in his write is not known). It might be noted, that also other participant, Corporal Władysław Tritt pretended to command the gun-armed tankette and destroy German tanks at Pociecha.
1. Janusz Magnuski, "Karaluchy przeciw panzerom"; Pelta; Warsaw 1995
2. Leszek Komuda, "Przeciwpancerne tankietki" in: "Militaria" Year 1 Nr. 3 and Nr.
4. Leszek Komuda, Norbert Baczyk, "Niszczyciel czołgów po polsku" in: "Nowa Technika Wojskowa" special issue 6 (3/2009).
5. Rajmund Szubański, "Polska broń pancerna w 1939 roku"; Warszawa 2004
6. Mirosław Zientarzewski, "Przeciwpancerne tekaesy" in: "Militaria i Fakty" 2/2006.
7. Marian Żebrowski, "Zarys historii polskiej broni pancernej", London 1971
8. Krzysztof M. Gaj, "Czołg rozpoznawczy TK-S", Warszawa 2013
Photo source not indicated - mostly assorted photographs taken by German soldiers, or Polish official pre-war photographs.
Text copyright to Michał Derela © 2007-2014.
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All photos and pictures remain the property of their owners. They are published in non-commercial educational and research purpose.