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|The FT-B with its designer Tadeusz Tański – note a small size.|
|A sideview with a retouched background (note different camouflage patterns).|
|A newspaper photograph of the armoured Ford (visible is a number - unfortunately, undecipherable).|
|Ford FT-B cross-section according to designer's plans. (they had no headlight mounted, though). |
The armoured car Ford, also known as FT-B, model 1920 or Ford Tf-C, was the first armoured vehicle constructed and built in series in Poland. It was designed by civil engineer Tadeusz Tański, working in automobile section of Ministry of Military Affairs, on his own initiative in June 1920. At that moment, Poland was at war with the Soviet Russia, and the Soviet army had just launched a major offensive in Ukraine, repelling Polish and allied Ukrainian armies and soon threatening Warsaw. The 1st Cavalry Army (Konarmia) of Semyon Budyonny broke through the front, and a need of armoured cars to counter fast cavalry moves became apparent. The Polish Army had 120 Renault FT tanks then (constituting the fourth biggest armoured power in the world at that time), but these slow tanks were poorly suited to manoeuvre operations. On the other hand, Poland had few armoured cars, all coming from war booties, dispersed through frontline units.
The new car utilised a well-known Ford model T chassis, and its armoured body was made of steel infantry trench shields, left by the Germans in Modlin fortress after World War I. The result was a tiny armoured car, with a crew of two, armed with one machinegun in a rotating turret. The design was accepted by the authorities at once, on 12 June 1920, and the prototype was completed in two weeks in late June. Trials came out well, and a series was ordered. Armoured Fords were built under a supervision of Tański in Gerlach & Pulst tool factory in Warsaw, which had been building wagons for armoured trains before. A total number of 16 cars were made[note 1].
The issue of the car's name is not clear, and meanings of both FT-B and Tf-C designations have not been explained so far. On designer's blueprints the car is described as Typ "B. Ford", so the FT-B might actually be an abbreviation of Ford T type B (it has not been noticed in publications so far and this is our theory, first published here in 2019). However, while FT-B designation could be found in some prewar sources, the usage of the latter one was accidental at best and was popularized only in the 1990s, while its origin is not known[note 2]. It is noteworthy, that in known official military documents and most prewar publications these cars are described just as "Ford armoured cars", and they had no other formal military designation.
Their advantages were: good speed, manoeuvrability, and, thanks to Ford T simple construction, ease of maintenance and repair. At times, they were repaired under fire. The engine could run on low quality fuel and oil. Basic Ford T cars were quite well known and most widepsread cars in Poland after World War I, due to military surplus acquistions. The armour was sufficient against rifle balls (according to the commander of the 1st Column, none of his cars had the armour pierced). Some drawback was a wooden floor, vulnerable to grenades, though. Tires and wooden wheel spokes were shot through at times, however it had no serious consequences. Due to their lightness, they could cross weak bridges and poor roads. In spite of armour weight, their off-road capabilities were quite good, although they obviously did better on paved roads, and engines tended to overheat after longer riding on sandy or rough roads. The 1st Column's commander praised their silent drive and inconspicuous, small silhouettes, what helped to surprise the enemy in villages at night. And, of course, they were very small targets, and easier to hide – contemporary Soviet cars, like Austin-Putilov, were almost twice as big (a sketch from prewar publications). Ease of turning back compensated for a lack of rear driving post.
On the other hand, the cars were extremely cramped inside, and did not offer a minimal comfort for their crews. A driver had to cringe on his post, while in combat. A narrow and low turret was not comfortable either, and a gunner had to squat or kneel. Due to half-improvised production conditions, there were no roller bearings available for turret rings, and rotating of the turret demanded some force to negotiate a friction. A field of observation with closed hatches was also limited, especially at night. Despite being strengthened, a chassis was overloaded – especially rear springs and axles. Rear springs demanded replacement after several weeks, and rear axles sometimes broke. Also a reliability of utilized German 7.92 mm Maxim 05/15 machine guns was criticized, especially when an ammunition belt, running from a case on a floor, was twisted. However, the advantages were predominating, and the design was overally regarded as successful. According to the 1st Column's commander, Ford armoured cars with supporting vehicles were "brilliantly invented weapon for the type of combat that had been fought so far and in the area where the action was fought initially, especially during the Bolshevik attack on Warsaw". He only expressed, that their usage could be limited in the East, where there are less paved roads, especially when autumn rains turn dirt roads to mud.
In October 1920, Tański proposed to build further 90 cars of improved model for cavalry brigades, with higher crew compartment and larger rounded turret (see a drawing). In an absence of suitable Polish manufacturers, it was proposed to import armour plates from England. An advantage was low cost of the car, comparing to imported armoured cars (approximately 1/10 of used Peugeot armoured car price, or 1/6 when using imported Ford T chassis – estimated at 638,578 or 971,078 Polish marks respectively). In February 1921 this proposal was considered by the Army, but finally rejected, due to the war's ending. In April 1921, Ford armoured cars were evaluated by a military commission, which concluded eventually, that improving of armour construction is possible, but it would cause more overload to the chassis. As a result, Ford T chassis was found unsuitable for armoured cars.
Tadeusz Tański (1892-1941) was later a designer of Polish modern passenger cars CWS; he was killed in 1941 in Auschwitz concentration camp, as a Pole.
Polish version of the page is slightly extended, so you can use a translator if you want to read more.
|One of rare views of the 1st Armoured Car Column. The first four cars are armoured Fords. |
|A map of operation area, 14-20 August 1920, between Wisła (Vistula) and Wkra rivers, North-West of Warsaw. |
Just as the first cars were produced, they were sent to combat at once. The Soviet army was just approaching Warsaw at that time, and every piece of armour was precious. The first two FT-B's were sent to the front in late July 1920, another four joined the platoon on 4 August 1920. All were assigned to the 8th Cavalry Brigade of the 1st Army, and were operating in the area of Ostrołęka and Pułtusk towns, covering Polish retreat, acting in reconnaissance and harassing Soviet forces. They fought among others at Ostrołęka, Ciechanów, Serock and Dębe in early August. The Soviet armoured forces at that time consisted of armoured cars, mostly MG-armed ones, scattered through big units in small numbers, with few tanks. Ironically, apart from 16 Fords, practically all other Polish armoured cars (over 40) were captured on the Soviet or Western Ukrainian forces in 1919-1920 years. However, contrary to the Soviets, the Polish Army used their armoured cars in several full-scale mobile joint operations.
Last two cars from the first production batch joined the platoon on 14 August 1920 in Płońsk. All eight Fords, with numbers 101 to 108, formed the 1st Light Armoured Car Column then, commanded by Lt. Felicjan Dzięcielewski (1 Kolumna Lekkich Samochodów Pancernych). The second in command was 2nd Lt. Edward Karkoz (later one of TK tankette designers). There were also three semi-armoured trucks: one Packard with 76 mm mountain gun M.1913 (nr. 114, also armoured by Gerlach & Pulst) and two White with open tops and four Maxim wz.08 machine guns each (nr. 112 and 113), and several supporting cars and trucks.
The column was assigned to the 5th Army of Gen. Władysław Sikorski. During the next few days it was employed in combat of the Wkra river, in Płońsk town area (a part of a decisive operation, known as the Warsaw Battle, 14-16 August 1920). On 15 August, the 1st Column was sent to the rear of the Soviet armies, in Góra village and _Drobin area. It acted a whole day with good results, causing a confusion, dispersing smaller units and supplies and fighting with elements of the Soviet 18th Rifle Division. On 16 August the column defended approaches to Płońsk with its machine guns, then it was directed to capture Góra again on the next day. During this action, the car nr. 105 was shot in steering mechanism and disabled, then it was lost, and Lt. Karkoz was injured in a leg, while helping the crew. On 18 and 19 August the Fords supported attacks of the Polish 2nd Cavalry Brigade on Góra, resulting in capturing of the village (Góra passed from hands to hands several times during these days). There is an account as well, that a single car repelled an attack of Soviet cavalry on Góra. On 20 August, during Soviet retreat, the 1st Column made 180-km raid from Płońsk to Bielsk, Sierpc and Bieżuń. After a victory in the combat of the Wkra river (and most important victory in the whole Warsaw Battle), the 5th Army was disbanded in the end of August, and the 1st Column was assigned to the 3rd Army of Gen. Sikorski, which was preparing to launch an offensive.
The most brilliant operation, in which Fords took part, was the raid on Kovel (now in Ukraine) - read the whole article from pre-war military press.
|Poor quality unique photo of the Fords' column. A driver of the first car is driving with his head sticking out from a hatch. The unit's commander or his deputy usually travelled in a passenger car. |
It was the action of a combined group, consisting of the 1st AC Column and two inpromptu motorised infantry battalions of the 26th Infantry Regiment, loaded upon 54 trucks, with two artillery batteries (eight 75 mm guns, drawn by trucks) – a total of about 1000 men. The commander was Maj. Władysław Bochenek. The 1st Column consisted of seven Fords and two semi-armoured White cars by then. As the Polish main offensive from Chełm to Kovel started on 12 September, the "task force" was sent round about on 11 September, coming into action on 12 September at 2 a.m., surprising Soviet units in villages on the way and forcing them to retreat.
On its way, the Polish group had to cross a burning bridge at full speed in one village and charge on the Soviet artillery emplacements in another. Before Kovel, the Polish group fought against two armoured trains - but the "motorised" artillery made them retreat to the town. At that time, the vanguard units already entered Kovel, capturing the railway station, while the main Soviet forces of the 12th Army were fighting to the west of the town, against Polish advancing infantry of the 7th and the 18th divisions. Finally, after 160-km raid (95 km on the enemy's ground), the main forces of Polish motorised group entered Kovel at 4 p.m., making Soviet 12th Army's staff and other forces retreat. The effect of the raid was a capture of the big railway junction with a mass of war material. The Polish motorised group had held the town, until the main force arrived next morning. Three Ford armoured cars got damaged during the raid.
In October the 1st Column was withdrawn to the rear. Its actions, and merits of Eng. Tański, were mentioned in the dispatch No.100 of 21 December 1920 by Polish chief of Main Staff Gen. Tadeusz Rozwadowski.
|Ford FT-B in the 1920s in the CWS workshops (probably no. 3832). Note a nationality sign.|
In August and September 1920 last 8 cars were built. There are known numbers: 170, 172, 174, 3832, 4233, 4436, 5021, 5127 and 5233, but four-digit ones were probably later numbers (J. Magnuski suspected, that there might have been built 9 cars[1,4], raising a total number to 17, and such version is widespread in publications afterwards, but most probably he was simply suggested by a number of known car numbers - while pre-war publications mentioned 16 cars). At least some of them were used in combat, probably in the 2nd Light Armoured Car Column, but there is not much known about this unit. It probably operated in the northern part of the front. Probably two cars belonged to the 3rd Armoured Car Platoon in a cavalry group of Col. Nieniewski, fighting in Białystok and Suwałki area, which had two "light armoured cars". After being subordinated to mountain division they were fighting at Waliły village (near Białystok) against Lithuanian forces, losing one light armoured car (presumably Ford) and one heavy car of uknown type.
Twelve cars survived the war. In 1920s, eight of them served in the 3rd Armoured Car Battalion in Warsaw. One was used in Cavalry Training Centre in Grudziądz. Their withdrawal started in 1926. In late 1920s most were gathered in the 1st Tank Regiment in Poznań – in 1930 there were three of them. The last car, no. 5021, was reported in 1931 as incapable of service. According to uncertain information, it existed until 1939 in the 3rd Armoured Battalion, as an exhibit, then its trace was lost.
No original Ford armoured cars have survived. In 2007, a replica of the Ford FT-B was built in Poland, using an original chassis.
|Tadeusz Tański by the FT-B - visible is a machine gun.|
The armament was one water-cooled machine gun 7.92 mm Maxim in a revolving turret: wz.08/15 (German LMG 05/15) or, according to publications, optionally wz.05/s (Russian, converted to 7.92 mm by the Germans). The commander of the 1st Column however mentioned only wz.08/15 as an armament; only this weapon is seen on plans as well. The machine gun had 1250 rounds. The crew should also have 25 hand grenades.
The armour thickness was 8 mm (vertical plates), made of trench shields. In publications there is an information, that upper plates were 3 mm of armour, however according to the commission report from April 1921, upper plates were not armoured, made of ordinary 2 mm steel sheet. The bottom was unarmoured – made of wooden planks. There was also used armoured cover on the machine gun radiator. The armour was protecting against AP rifle bullets from 300 m, and against regular rifle bullets from all distances. Armour weight was about 590 kg. The armoured body could have been removed in one piece, and was supported on a frame in eight points.
|Original Ford T chassis |
The car had the Ford Model T chassis, slightly modified in Poland. It had a rectangular steel frame and suspension on semi-elliptic transversal springs. The rear axle were additionally strengthened with stringers. A position of a fuel tank was changed from transversal (under a driver's seat) to longitudinal, next to the driver. The wheels were wooden, tire dimension was 30x3.5". The tires could be ordinary pneumatic ones, or filled with a bulletproof porous pulp inside ("gusmatic"). Brakes were on rear wheels only.
Engine: Ford 22.5 HP, 2900 ccm, petrol, 4-cylinder inline,
4-stroke, water-cooled, started with a crank.
Transmission: a planetary gearbox with two forward gears and one reverse. The rear axle was driven.
The body was made of armoured trench plates, mounted to a frame. It had one small rearward-opening hatch on each side. There was also a two-part hatch above the driver (it helped to drive in non-combat conditions). The radiator was protected with armoured doors. A spare wheel was carried inside, along a rear hull plate. Peculiar cars might differ in armour details. Cars had no headlights initially, later they were fitted with a single headlight before the driver's front plate.
The turret was pentagon shaped, narrowing in front, with a small hatch in an upper plate.
The crew consisted of two: driver and commander-gunner.
|Newsreel frames showing the Ford FT-B in 1920 (from 1935 film "Sztandar wolności" – The freedom banner)|
The cars were painted in a camouflage pattern of four colours, probably: yellowish, dark brown, grey and olive-green. The patches were separated with thin black stripes.
In 1920 the cars had no nationality signs. The Polish nationality sign introduced in mid-1920s was the white and red shield, with slant division line; painted on the side.
Reportedly some of the cars had their own names, like: "Osa" (Wasp), "Bąk" (Gadfly), "Mucha" (Fly), "Komar" (Gnat), but it is not clear, since when they were painted.
The drawing on the right and the title drawing - source  (by Janusz Magnuski(?)).
|Weight||1160 kg (empty?)|
or 1350 kg (combat?)[note 3]
|Length||3.25 m (128 in)|
|Width||1.55 m (61 in)|
|Height||1.73 m (68 in)|
|Ground clearance||0.23 m (9 in)|
|Max. road speed||50 km/h (31 mph)|
|Range||up to 250 km|
|Turn radius||4.1 m|
Links to Scalemates site
- RPM 72100 - "Ford Tfc" (initial release: "Ford Tc") - nice tiny injection kit of Polish producer (2000), little details. See a preview at "On the way!" site
Note: the muffler should be attached to the right side, contrary to a plan.
- Toga (260) - "Ford Tfc" - a rebox of RPM kit (with more interesting boxart in our opinion)
- Greenminiatures GM72005-WG - "Ford Tf-b mod. 1920" - simplified resin 3d-print model for wargaming (2019) (completely confused name).
- ToRo Model 48018 - "Ford Tf-c" - resin conversion kit (designed for Ford T ambulance)
- RPM 35012 - "Ford Tfc" (initial release: "Ford Tc") - mediocre quality injection kit of Polish producer (2000), little details, no interior.
- Tankomaster T-07 - "Ford T" - incorrect name. Rare resin Russian kit from early 1990s.
1. A total number of cars is not sure, since a production of the second series is not well documented. A number of 16 cars (including 8 of the second series) was published in prewar article by L. Żyrkiewicz  and in 1988 article . Newer publications, starting from 1990 Magnuski's book , write about 8 or 9 cars of the second series (16 or 17 in total) - however a number of 16 cars is more credible, and it is not known, if a number of 9 cars of the second series has any factual basis (Magnuski might have been suggested by nine researched vehicle numbers, but part of them evidently come from later period).
2. We have found prewar usage of a designation "Ford Tf-C" (with capital C) only in L. Żyrkiewicz's book about armoured cars from 1928 , however in other places in his book and in his articles he called them just Fords (among others ). This designation was evidently popularized only by J. Magnuski in early 1990s [1,2] (quoted in "Ford Tfc" form). His claim, that these vehicles were "known as armoured Ford Tfc", was doubtless wrong, because prewar documents and literature indicate, that they were known as a rule just as Fords, and usage of specific designations was exception. From the two known designations, FT-B seems better documented. Other modern authors have been apparently repeating Tfc designation after Magnuski, without deeper own research (some authors write a form "Tf-c" ).
3. Unfortunately, people writing about Ford armoured car did not pay much attention, if the weight was measured of empty vehicle, fully equipped vehicle, or fully crewed and equipped vehicle (combat weight). "Combat weight" 1160 kg according to some prewar description is given in , similarly "overall weight" 1175 kg is given in one of Eng. Tański's reports and "weight ca. 1100 kg" in Polish military commission's report from 1921. It may be assumed, that the latter was a weight without a crew. In 1928 article , L. Żyrkiewicz quoted "combat weight circa 1350 kg (1200) kg" (it is not clear how to understand it - possibly with and without the crew), and in his book he quoted "weight circa 1400 kg, including 590 kg armour" . Also newer publications state "weight ca. 1350 kg" [3,4]. It should be remembered, that peculiar cars might have had slightly different weight.
You can mail me with question or comments - corrections or photographs are welcome.
All the photographs and pictures remain the property of their owners and are published in non-commercial educational and research purpose. The photographs presumably are in public domain due to their age.
Text copyright to Michal Derela © 1998-2021.