This page covers the brilliant operation of motorized forces, which was the Polish raid on Kovel (now in Ukraine), during Polish-Soviet war in 1920. Below are the extracts of an article by Capt. E. Hinterhoff of the Polish Army in "The Royal Tank Corps Journal" (nr. 82, April 1932), quoted after: Jan Tarczyński, K. Barbarski, A. Jońca, "Pojazdy w Wojsku Polskim - Polish Army Vehicles - 1918-1939"; Ajaks; Pruszkow 1995.
Original style has been retained. The comments in [square brackets] are added by us.
In the history of the Polish-Soviet-Russian war of 1920, which ended in the crushing defeat of the Bolsheviks, there is recorded a raid by armoured cars, crowned with an enormous success. The raid was effected with the help of a very primitive force i.e., passenger Fords converted into armoured Fords, at a period when the doctrine of independent use of armoured forces was still in its infancy, and it may be considered worthy of a golden page in the military history.
After the victorious battle of Warsaw in the middle of August, 1920, popularly called "The Miracle of the Vistula" and won by the Polish Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Pilsudski, through his briliant manoeuvre from the line of the river Wieprz, the northern front became the point from which the Polish army started its pursuit after the retreating Bolshevik forces. In the first days of September a short interruption in operations took place for the purpose of reorganising the forces for strategic pursuit.
At the same time, on the south front, an action was conducted against Budienny [Semyon Budyonny, the famous commander of Soviet 1st Mounted Army - Konarmya] on the line of the rivers Bug and Zgnila Lipa. After the defeat of Budienny's army and the advance by the 3rd Army under General [Władysław] Sikorski to the line of the river Bug, decisive action was taken by the Commander-in-Chief, and the 3rd and 6th Armies constituting the southern front were pushed eastwards.
The following plan of action was decided upon: the group of General [Stanisław] Haller, consisting of two divisions of infantry and one corps of cavalry, had the task of capturing Luck [now: Lut'sk, Ukraine] by a swift attack pushing the enemy in the direction of Sarny (region of the Polesie marshes). This action was to be synchronal with General Krajewski's offensive on Kovel; his group consisted of two infantry divisions and a volunteer group under General Bulak-Balachowicz. General Krajewski's objective was the immobilisation of the 12th Soviet Army, which was just beginning the re-grouping of its forces preparatory to an offensive in the western direction intended for the 12th September.
In view of the operations extending over large areas, and in order to take by surprise the enemy who were preparing for an offensive, the Commander-in-Chief resolved upon an armoured force raid. Another object of the raid was the seizing at Kovel of undamaged wide-gauge railway rolling-stock, enabling rapid action along the Russian railway lines. In order to bring the raid nearer to its base of action the Commander-in-Chief ordered the 4th Army to lead an attack on the 9th September with its left flank on Malorita - Mokrany [now in Belarus] and to break through the 12th and 4th Soviet Armies, a manoeuvre which resulted in the capture of Mokrany on the 11th September.
To perform the raid on the 10th September, a group was formed in Wlodawa under the command of Major Bochenek (...). This group consisted of one column of armoured cars (in which were 8 armoured Fords, 2 armoured White's, and 1 Packard) and of four columns of motor lorries; the total amounting to 54 motors; it further consisted of 2 infantry battalions from the 7th Infantry Division, and 2 batteries of field artillery drawn by motor lorries.
[Correction: there were only seven armoured cars Ford FT-B (Tf-c) (nos. 101-104, 106-108 – one had been damaged before), armed with one machine gun, and two semi-armoured White's (nos. 112, 113), armed with four machine guns each. The gun-armed Packard no. 114 did not take part due to broken down engine]
The group received orders to raid Kovel by way of Wlodawa - Mokrany, a distance of 160 km (in direct line from the line of the Bug [river] to Kovel, the distance being 70 km).
The attack of the armoured group on Kovel was to be synchronal with the frontal attack from the Bug line of the 7th and 18th Infantry Divisions (the group of General Krajewski). The commander of the 12th Soviet Army, in spite of the fact that contact with the 4th Soviet Army had been broken through the Polish attack in the region of Malorita - Mokrany, considered the Polish action in that direction purely a demonstration; he decided to make for the weakest point, which in his opinion lay in the north west, and in this direction he threw his last reserves - one infantry division - thus completely neglecting the Brzesc [now Brest on the Bug, Belarus] - Kovel road.
The coming of the motor group over this very same Brzesc - Kovel road took the Bolsheviks unawares, and in this element of surprise lay one of the conditions of success. The surprise was, moreover, effected by a very sudden change of direction by the motor-group. The original direction of Wlodawa - Kobryn had threatened only Kobryn, while it placed the group at an even greater distance from Kowel. On the 11th September at 10 a.m. the group set off on the road leading to Mokrany, by way of Malorita.
The marching order was as follows: advance guard, 3 Ford and 1 White armoured cars, half a battalion of infantry and half a battery of artillery, and, behind the advance guard, 2 Ford armoured cars at a distance of 2 km to act in connecting files with the main force. The main force: 1&1/2 battalions of infantry, 1&1/2 batteries of artillery, supply cars and cisterns, the rearguard consisting of 2 Ford and 1 White armoured cars.
A distance of 65 km. was made in one day, i.e. until evening of the 11th September; during this time it was necessary to stop the whole marching column in order to repair the bridges. At 1 a.m. on the 12th the raiding column resumed its march. At 2 a.m. the first rattle of the machine guns was already heard - the head of the column rushed into the village of Horniki; the armoured cars of the advance guard dashed into the village before the surprised enemy could organise resistance, and 2 guns and some score of prisoners were taken. On reaching the next village, Ratno, the column encountered heavy fire which was silenced by the swift entrance of the advance guard into the village. When abandoning the place the Bolsheviks set a bridge on fire; there was no time to extinguish this fire, and the whole column crossed the burning bridge at top speed. A few minutes after the passage of the last car the bridge came down with a crash.
At Bucyn the enemy tried to stop the advancing column by shelling it from a battery placed on the road in front; fortunately the shells, owing to the nervousness of the gunners, fell far from the armoured cars, and a few minutes later the cars of the advance guard were in the midst of the gunners. After breaking the resistance of the enemy at Bucyn the advance guard made for Kovel with the utmost speed; it rushed into the town and through the streets firing in all directions.
In the meantime the main force was carrying out an artillery engagement with 3 armoured trains [only 2 armoured trains: BP no.72 "Im. N. Rudnyeva" and probably BP no. 82 "Smiert' Direktorii", and a freight train] which had pushed through from the side of Brzesc and Chelm to Kovel; the motor cars which were on the road formed a splendid target for the Bolshevik artillery, and as a result of its fire several cars were damaged and a number of soldiers wounded: batteries of the main force occupied positions from which they made severe damage to one of the Bolshevik armoured trains which with great difficulty managed to reach Kovel [reportedly BP no.72]. The other 2 trains were forced to retreat in a westerly direction under sever fire from the Polish artillery. Towards the end of the artillery engagement against the Bolshevik armoured trains, the commander of the group, Major Bochenek, received the report of the capture of the Kovel railway station by the advance guard and of the enemy's flight. The column of the main force entered the town at 4 p.m.
The effect of the sudden appearance in the streets of Kovel of armoured cars firing on all sides was such that within the space of a few minutes the Bolshevik troops, about 2 infantry divisions, were leaving the town in considerable disorder. The commander of the 12th Soviet Army escaped in a motor car.
There was no time to make an inventory of the prodigious quantity of war material which fell into Polish hands; it was necessary to plan the defence and weigh the possibilities of holding the town should the enemy perceive, as he easily could, with what a small force he had to deal. The infantry, jointly with the artillery, the latter strengthened by the captured Bolshevik guns, occupied positions to the east and west of the town. All night armoured cars patrolled the neighbouring roads. It was only next morning at 10 o'clock that the advance guard of the 7th and 18th Polish Infantry Divisions, which had been fighting the enemy the whole of the preceding day, made their entrace into Kovel. (The autor, who was on the staff of 7th Infantry Division, entered the town with the advance guard and could see the effect of the action of our armoured force.) The Soviet detachments retreating under pressure of the above-mentioned divisions were forced to take an easterly direction from both sides of the city.
Only then was it possible to count the vast spoil fallen into Polish hands: 2 armoured trains [BP no. 39 "Subbotnik" and BP no. 13 "Krasnyi Kavalerist"], several scores of guns , 12 aeroplanes [other sources: 3 aeroplanes and 12 cars], several hundreds of railway carriages loaded with large amount of war material, and, besides, all that the staff archives the 12th Soviet Army contained.
Thus did the briliantly conducted raid on Kowel result not only in bringing immense spoil at a very inconsiderable loss, but it produced a tremendous operational effect which rendered possible the accomplishment of the strategic plan of the Commander-in-Chief, and at the same time it seriously weakened the strength and shook the morale of the 12th Soviet Army.
1. Jan Tarczyński, K. Barbarski, A. Jońca, "Pojazdy w Wojsku Polskim - Polish Army Vehicles - 1918-1939"; Ajaks; Pruszkow 1995.
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