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  © Michal Derela, 2009-2019 Updated: 09. 08. 2019
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Polish tankettes TK-3 and TKS

Part VI: Foreign service


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 --- Part VI: Foreign service of TK/TKS --- Part VII: Auxiliary equipment --- TKS gallery


Estonia and export trials
Germany
Hungary
Croatia
USSR
Gallery
A freshly captured TKS, with hand painted German 1939-style recognition crosses.

This page is devoted to a foreign service of the Polish tankettes TK (TK-3) and TKS. Although their only foreign customer was Estonia, but many captured tankettes were used by the Germans during World War II, and in lesser numbers by their allies. For their development, production, technical description, specifications and modeling - see Part I and Part II.

The photographs come from different sources, mostly private collections, taken by anonymous German soldiers. They are published in an educational and research purpose only. Quality of many photos is mediocre, but they are mostly unique ones. We are still looking for new photos, or existing ones in a better quality!


Estonia

On 6 November 1934, a platoon of six tankettes TKS with two auxiliary trailers was ordered by Estonia, as a result of a promotional visit of the Polish tankette platoon in August 1934 (a price was 300.654 zloty for the tankettes, 313.774 zloty with parts and equipment). The vehicles were delivered in early 1935. In addition, the Poles presented one motorcycle (presumably CWS M-111 Sokół 1000 sidecar). In spite of their limited combat value, they were the only modern Estonian tanks in the second part of 1930s. They were painted in Polish early camouflage, consisting of patches of light blue-gray, yellowish sand and olive green, separated with thin black stripes (described in detail in Part II). They were next seized by the Soviets incorporating Estonia.

A similar promotional visit in Romania in September 1934, of a whole TKS company and a platoon of TK-3 and FT tanks as railway draisines, did not bring any effect. The TK-3 was also displayed in February 1933 in Yugoslavia, but in spite of advanced negotiations to sell six tankettes, Yugoslavia did not buy them[note 1]. The contract with Estonia was the only case of export of Polish-built vehicles before the war.

The demonstration of Polish TKS in Estonia, 1934. On the left, CWS M-111 (Sokół 1000) motorcycle.Estonian TKS on parade, 24 February 1937.
Polish TKS in Estonia - on the right there is the Estonian chief of staff, Gen. Reek, on the left - Col. Spałek (Polish). Note Estonian tank helmet.
Another photo of the Polish tankette (it has Estonian crew and it is surrounded by the Estonian and Latvian officers).
Estonian TKS tankette, no. 158.The tankettes were unable to cross ditches over 1.1 m width...
The Polish TKS platoon in Estonia (Polish truck Polski Fiat PF-621L is on the right).
In a background, Estonian Crossley M1927/28 armoured cars (superficially similar to Polish wz.29 Ursus cars).

Spain

During the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish Republican government was interested in buying 80 tankettes, but a deal was not made due to Poland's official policy of non-intervention, supported by the League of Nations. There was some Polish intelligence information from 1937 claiming, that the Republicans possessed a party of Polish tankettes, but it is almost certainly just a rumour (adding to a fact, that there is no trace of a deal concerning tankettes, it is unlikely, that they would not have been noticed by the Spanish Civil War researchers so far). In spite of the non-intervention policy, Poland unofficially delivered some weapons to the Republican side during the conflict, among others a party of obsolete FT tanks, guns and small arms. On the other hand, it delivered obsolete fighter aircraft PWS-10 to Franco.


On both photos: freshly-captured TKS with provisional hand-applied recognition markings (additionally WH for Wehrmacht). Upper photo probably shows a tankette of the Warsaw Armoured-Motorized Brigade's reconnaissance unit, lost in Lipsko on 8. 09. 1939.

Germany

The Germans captured a majority of the Polish tankettes after the invasion on Poland in 1939; only a fraction was withdrawn to Hungary or seized by the Soviets. Part of the captured tankettes were destroyed ones (often burned), but many were only damaged, broken down or even intact, abandoned from a lack of fuel. Apparently some were pressed into service as auxiliary vehicles in different units at once. Later their usage became more organized and from late 1940 until 1941 the tankettes were repaired in workshops in Łódź (then: Litzmannstadt). Exact numbers of vehicles repaired or used by the Germans are not known and not even estimated (an educated guess would be between 50 and 100 tankettes, or even more)[note 2]. Most numerous model in the German service was TKS, designated: le.PzKpfw TKS(p) (light tank TKS, "p" for Polish). They were used as auxiliary vehicles – mainly light armoured artillery tractors, or for security and anti-partisan duties. A number of TKS were also used by the Luftwaffe for airfield protection. Much rarer in German service were older TK (TK-3), designated: le.PzKpfw TK(p). As light tractors, the tankettes served until the end of the war in some German units, especially in Norway. They could be also found in Finland and France.

Apart from tankettes distributed among different units, a security unit equipped exclusively with the Polish tankettes and 7TP tanks was created in Poland on 12 June 1940 – the Leichte Panzerkompanie Warschau (Warsaw Light Panzer Company), renamed on 3 September 1940 to the Leichte Panzerkompanie Ost (Light Panzer Company East). In February 1941, with ten TKS(p), it was relocated to Radom to train troops. There is no further information about the unit's fate.

Usually the German tankettes had their armament replaced with standard MG-15 or MG-34 7.92 mm machine guns, in original Polish ball mountings (in case of the TKS). In some cases the mounting was removed and replaced with a flat plate with a vision slot and a simple loop-hole. As a standard, they were also fitted with twin uncovered headlights on fenders (which is quite strange, even for rear-area vehicles, because most of German military vehicles had slotted covered headlights in order to make them inconspicuous from the air). The photographs show, that the German tankettes usually did not carry any tools on a front plate (originally there were a shovel and a crowbar).

The German tankettes were repainted in a standard dark gray (Dunkelgrau). After 1943 they could have been camouflaged in a standard German three-colour camouflage (olive green and red brown upon dark yellow base), or rather simply painted dark yellow (Dunkelgelb) overall. In winter, especially in Scandinavia, white camouflage was used. They carried nationality recognition crosses of different sizes, and in different places. First in 1939 they carried full white crosses (often initially provisionally painted by hand), then black and white crosses, according to a change of the German markings in 1940.


The TKS and two TK-3s with German modifications at palace chapel in Guzów near Warsaw. German TKS with new headlights, neat 1939-style recognition cross and an unknown clubs marking.
TKS and TK-3 in the German service, with German MGs. The TK-3 has a spades marking on a rear plate (possibly the TKS on the left has clubs marking?). A selfie with the TK-3 - probably in workshops in Łódź. In a background, 7TP tanks, in a middle apparently a sole tankette chassis (with a bent frame of supporting rolls).

More photographs of tankettes in German service are in a gallery below. Photographs of tankettes with 20 mm cannons are on a separate page (part IV).


Polish tankettes of the 10th Cavalry Brigade right after an evacuation to Hungary, on 19 September 1939. Visible are two TKS with 20 mm cannons (left) and two TKF (right - note a shape of a front suspension connector, different from TK-3).

Hungary

Up to 20 Polish tankettes, among them 4 TKS armed with 20 mm guns, were withdrawn in September 1939 to Hungary, first of all, with the 10th Cavalry Brigade. They were interned there and next taken over by the Hungarian government. Finally, 9 TK-3 and 7 TKS were commissioned by the Hungarian Army (part of TK-3s were actually TKF variant with newer engine and suspension). They were used for training and auxiliary duties. They might have also been used in cyclist battalions, along with Italian Ansaldo 35M, or in combat against Yugoslavian partisans (what would explain a presence of the TKF in Yugoslavia, which, according to some information, was captured from the Hungarians in Serbia). No photos of the Hungarian vehicles are known.

The Hungarians assigned to them numbers from 1H-381 - 1H-399 range (in brackets, Polish registration numbers):


Croatia

A number of the TK-3 and possibly TKS were given (or sold) by the Germans to the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), where they were used by the army and Ustashe units for anti-partisan duties in Yugoslavia. According to some sources, in late 1941 or early 1942 (May 1942), at least 16 tankettes were given to NDH Army, with numbers HV-2505 to 2520. Reportedly it also got four incomplete ones. They were known locally as "Ursus" tanks, for their manufacturer (former Ursus works). Moreover, several (at least two) TK-3 tankettes were used by the Black Legion ofthe Ustashe. Several tankettes were destroyed by the partisans. It is not clear, if Croatia used any TKS tankettes (the Germans might have kept newer vehicles, besides a single type was easier to maintain, especially with more popular Ford engines of the TK-3). It might be noted, that in some publications, a photo of German TKS in two-colour camouflage with sharp edges is wrongly regarded as Croatian vehicles (see in a gallery at a bottom of the page).
One TKF tankette survived in the military museum in Belgrad (probably captured on the Hungarians).

TK-3 tankette in Croatian service TK-3 tankette in Croatian service
Croatian TK-3, probably armed with some LMGs. On sides there are nationality red and white chequerboards. The ones with a skull emblem are Ustashe ones.
TK-3 tankette in Croatian service TK-3 tankette in Croatian service

Poor but interesting photo: it might be the TKS in the Soviet service, captured by the Germans along with Soviet T-27 tankettes. On the left background there seems to be another TKS.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union seized a number of the Polish tankettes, when it invaded Polish eastern territories on 17 September 1939, but details and numbers are not known. Some Russian authors estimate a number of all captured Polish vehicles at above 30 [note 3] - the tankettes should be at least a half of them. The Soviets also took the Estonian tankettes. According to some sources, the tankettes were used for training in newly-formed mechanized corpses in Soviet western territories (for example, in the 12th Mechanized Corps there were reported 6 TKS and 17 tanks Vickers or 7TP)[7]. Some of them and ex-Estonian vehicles took part in combat in summer of 1941 – possibly among others in improvised units defending Kiev.
One TKS is preserved at Kubinka armour museum.



Gallery of tankettes in German service

Two photographs of the German TKS named "Floh" (flea), with 1939 markings. It was probably seized by some armoured unit as a booty (an interesting comparison of size with PzKpfw IV).
Interesting rear view of two TKS with provisional markings (as it is seen, the Germans still used a horse transport as well).Two TK-3s with German headlights in Rzeszów. Machine guns seem to be original Hotchkiss wz.25.
The TKS tankettes of the Light Panzer Company East.The TKS tankettes of the Light Panzer Company East, 1940.
German TKS of the Light Panzer Company East on a victory anniversary parade in Warsaw on 6 October 1940. The German machine guns are visible. Note tank numbers and a size of recognition crosses. See also another photograph.
The TK-3 with interesting prominent crosses. A lunch break by the TKS in an unknown motor park.
Two photos of TKS in the German service - apparently after the invasion on the USSR, since there are probably captured Soviet trucks of GAZ-AA family on both photos, and a captured British Morris truck (CS 8?) on the right photo. The tankette on the left photo has a German machine gun. On the right photo, a triangle above the roof is a Polish signal flag, unusual for the German usage (note also, that a shovel is not an original one). A noteworthy individual detail is a horseshoe. Note also uncovered headlights.
The TKS of the Luftwaffe as a tractor for 37 mm Pak-35/36, in 1943/1944 in Norway. It could not offer much comfort for gun crew. Click for a wider scene. The German TKS in Norway. Note a simple loop-hole for a gun, and an original searchlight.
← the TKS in Norway - most probably this is a leading vehicle of a column on a photo above (other two vehicles were Scout and Bren Carriers). Some five soldiers ride on top of this tiny vehicle. Note slotted headlights.

The TKS with a loop-hole replacing a ball mounting. In spite of a very combat setting, the tankette has uncovered headlights. The crewman in a hatch seems to be wearing Luftwaffe uniform →
Below: two TKS of the Luftwaffe, in Finland.
Right: a TKS in a forest, possibly in an anti-partisan action.
An interesting conversion of the TK-3 to a light tractor role, with a simple windshield replacing an armoured superstructure. An unusual employment of the TKS, as a basis of a training mock-up of a T-34 tank, 5 November 1943 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv, released under cc-by-sa 3.0 licence, source: Bild 183-J08362).
A nice view of a fast moving TKS - a landscape suggests Norway. A soldier is standing on a rear armour apparently. The German TKS examined by the US soldier near Bitsch in France, 17 March 1945. The tankette is apparently repainted dark yellow overall [source: 3]
The German-captured TKS with provisional markings in September 1939, in Ruda Pabianicka (now a part of Łódź). This was a radio-equipped tankette from a Polish armoured train (note an additional box on a fender), still wearing Polish older camouflage pattern, with colours separated by lines. Behind it an Instandsetzungspanzer I maintenance vehicle.
Three TKS in an unusual two-colour camouflage with sharp edges, with original Hotchkiss wz.25 machine guns, and German headlights. The photo is sometimes described as Croatian tanks, but in fact they are German tankettes, used for filming of a propaganda movie "Heimkehr" in mid-1941 in Chorzele town in Poland. Note a soldier in a Polish wz.31 helmet behind. Unfortunately, the tankettes seem to have been edited out of the final movie version. It seems little probable, that the tankettes had restored Polish machine guns and received a camouflage (not resembling Polish one, anyway) specially for filming purpose, yet at that point they should not use these weapons anymore, and such camo was not typical for German use either...
Examples of camouflage and modifications of the German TKS, basing on photographs - courtesy of Thierry Vallet.
Copyright © Thierry Vallet - Kameleon Profils

Other examples of the German usage are in Part IV: Tankettes with 20 mm cannons.


Other parts:


Notes:

1. In spite of advanced negotiations, Yugoslavia declined from buying Polish tankettes due to budgetary problems, and better credit conditions offered by the Czechoslovak Škoda, promoting Š-I (MU-1) prototype tankette. Yugoslavia eventually changed demands and bought bigger cannon-armed Š-Id (T-32) vehicles in 1936 from Škoda.
2. The workshops in Łódź in November 1940 alone repaired 3 TK and 9 TKS, while 100 TKS and C2P tractors (presumably also TK) were stored at that moment. On 5 April 1941 it reported, that 55 TKS tankettes are ready for conversion into light artillery tractors [2,6].
3. Janusz Magnuski estimated a number of the tankettes captured by the Soviets at about 50, what is undoubtedly an exaggeration. Russian author Maxim Kolomiets estimates a number of all captured armoured vehicles at about 15, while other Russian authors estimate a total number of vehicles at over 30[7], what might be closest to a truth (most of these would be undoubtedly tankettes).

Main sources:

1. Janusz Magnuski: Karaluchy przeciw panzerom; Pelta; Warsaw 1995
2. Hubert Michalski: Tankietki TK/TKS i czołgi lekkie 7TP w służbie niemieckiej, "Militaria XX wieku" nr 3(24)/2008
3. Werner Regenberg: Captured Tanks in German service. Small Tanks and Armored Tractors, Schiffer Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0-7643-0573-5.
4. Biro Adam, Eder Miklos, Sarhidai Gyula: A Magyar Kiralyi Honvedseg kulfoldi gyartasu pancelos harcjarmuvei 1920-1945; Petit Military, Budapest, 2006.
5. Wojciech Mazur: Zagraniczne wizyty broni pancernej II Rzeczypospolitej, "Poligon" nr 2/2011
6. Thomas L.Jentz, Werner Regenberg: Beute-Panzerkampfwagen. Czech, Polish and French tanks captured from 1939 to 1940, Panzer Tracts 19-1, 2007
7. Vyacheslav Shpakovskiy, Sergey Sanyeev: Bronyetehnika i tankovye voyska Polshi 1919-1939, "Tankomaster" nr. 6/2005.

Update history:

09. 08. 2019 - identified place of one photograph
03. 04. 2019 - page modernized, supplemented information, added 9 German and Croatian photos
21. 04. 2010 - supplemented Soviet service, added a photo
01. 09. 2009 - supplemented Soviet service
08. 07. 2009 - added color profiles


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Text copyright to Michal Derela © 2009.