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|© Michał Derela, 1998-2018||Updated: 15. 12. 2018 - modernized, improved text and photographs|
Armoured car wz. 29 on a parade in Warsaw,|
11 November 1936.
Armoured car wz. 29, commonly known as the Ursus for its chassis type, was the heavier type of Polish armoured car from the interwar period, used in only one out of 11 reconnaissance armoured units. Despite being obsolete by September 1939, a handful of these cars acted in combat surprisingly well, serving in the 11th Armoured Unit of the Mazowiecka Cavalry Brigade.
Note: W marks external links to Wikipedia articles.
In early 1929, Polish Main Staff, being not quite satisfied with newest halftrack armoured car wz. 28, ordered to develop a new armoured car for the Cavalry. The new car was designed in Military Engineering Research Institute (Wojskowy Instytut Badań Inżynierii, WIBI) by a team directed by Lt. Rudolf GundlachW, who became later known as the inventor of a reversible tank periscope (popularized to all the world as Vickers Tank Periscope MkIVW).
|The armoured car wz.29 prototype, with early rejected turret, with both machinegun mountings opposite to a gun. Note also minor differences in hatches. The car has old four-colour camouflage, used in 1928-32, consisting of patches of dark green, dark brown, greyish sand and blue-gray.|
The design was fairly typical for the 1920s. It had a rear-drive only, a crew of four and was armed with 37 mm Puteaux low-velocity gun and 2 to 3 machineguns, mounted in Polish-designed ball mountings. It was influenced by some features of WWI-era British/Russian Austin armoured cars (second rear driver post) and French cars White TBC / White-Laffly (a turret with two weapons in opposite sides). An arrangement of armament helped avoid problems with turret balance, and was a bit better, than in the French car (weapons were placed at angle of 120° to each other instead of 180°), but it made difficult shooting both weapons at one target alternately anyway (the first vehicle with real coaxial weapons was Vickers Mk.E Type B tank, some other early designs utilized two independent weapons in forward turret part). Initially, wz.29 cars had also the third weapon in the turret – an anti-aircraft machine gun, but they proved ineffective and were quickly dismounted (it was hard to track fast and low flying targets with a weapon in ball mounting). Tests of the prototype revealed, that despite car's advantages, like relatively strong armament, sufficient armour and rear driver post, making driving backwards easier, it had faults, like low speed and manoeuvrability. Usage of truck chassis was typical in armoured cars of that time and simplified constructing and maintenance, but a consequence was lack of all-wheel drive, which resulted in lack of off-road driving capability. Moreover, the engine was old pre-WWI design and had low power output and high fuel consumption. In spite of quite big silhouette, there was not much room inside, due to high chassis frame (height of a crew compartment was only up to 1.1 m – 3.6 ft). Both weapons and their arrangement quickly became obsolete. It all caused, that the design could not be called a modern one at a time of entering service. Evaluating the design further from today's point of view, the second driver post was good idea, but the car's speed was limited to reverse gear then, so it could be useful for backing up only, and not for driving longer distances (the car had no reversing mechanism for all gears). Also rear-facing machine gun post with a dedicated crewman did not seem to have much practical use, and it might have been more useful in front plate, before the commander's seat (it should be noted however, that rear-facing only machine gun was also used in Italian modern AB 41 armoured carW, while bow mounted MGs weren't very common in armoured cars at that time). Other obvious drawback was a lack of radio (its eventual fitting was impossible without screening of the engine's ignition, although one car was tested with the radio). On the other hand, it is interesting to compare relatively straightforward Ursus armoured car with its overcomplicated Czechoslovak counterpart from the same period – the OA vz.27W, which was over five times more expensive (25,000 USD), heavier, had no cannon armament, weaker armour, and effective 4x2 drive as well (in spite of being fitted with two driving axles).
|Early photo of the wz.29 car - note early tires, lack of camouflage and a headlight. The weapons are swapped in the turret.|
Because of these facts, probably only 10 cars were ordered. They were manufactured on Ursus chassis by the CWS firm in Warsaw (Central Car Workshops, later a part of PZInż national concern), and the whole series was completed by July 1931. A single car costed some 36,000 złotyW without armament (4045 USD). The number of wz.29 cars built is not sure, though. According to Janusz Magnuski , 10 cars is the most probable number (plus an iron prototype), but in some earlier publications a number of 13 cars can be found (according to the source : 8 cars fit to combat and 5 fit to training in July 1939). The official report from 1934 counted 10 cars, anyway. Only some of their initial military registration numbers are known: 6608, 6628, 6753 and 6755.
One Ursus chassis was completed as unarmed propaganda car, similar to armoured cars, fitted with a loudspeaker in a turret. It had number 6814. Its hull was significantly enlarged, especially in rear part; likely built of regular steel plates instead of armour. It was also distinguished by grills in engine hood sides and front, instead of hatches (more in part II). Earlier publications speculated, that it might have been a police vehicle, but it was revealed, that it was used to play music during military parades in the 5th Armoured Battalion in Kraków. It is usually treated as a variant of the wz.29 car, but it is possible, that it was built upon ordinary longer truck chassis, and only made similar to the armoured car.
A successor – wz.31 armoured car upon Saurer 6x4 chassis was designed (a drawing), but the project was cancelled. The car wz.31 copied the Ursus layout, offering greater speed and only slightly better off-road characteristics, for bigger silhouette, the same obsolete armament, and much bigger price.
It is noteworthy, that the turret designed for the armoured car wz.29, known as Ursus type turret, found much wider usage. Such turret was used in at least one armoured locomotive series Ti3 of the armoured train Nr. 51 ("I Marszałek"), as an observation and command turret, most likely unarmed. In a modified variant armed with 37mm gun in a rectangular mount and possibly one MG, they were used on some Polish river craft: three gunboats Z class, single heavy armed craft ORP "Nieuchwytny", four light armed craft LKU 16-19, five light armed craft LKU 25-29 and three river minesweepers T 1-3 (apparently they had no slanted plated with an anti-aircraft mounting).
|A platoon of cars wz.29 in 1935(?), wearing an early camouflage. The platoon commander's vehicle has number 6628. A triangle on a front plate means the second platoon.|
|Wz. 29 cars in early camouflage in August 1934.|
|Wz. 29 car in late 1930s, in wartime-like appearance.|
|Ursus destroyed on September 3, 1939 near Chojnowo.|
|Abandoned Ursus in a village, identified as Rudka (now in Zwierzyniec).|
The first three-car wz. 29 platoon was used during the Cavalry manoeuvres in summer of 1931 (along with 10 tankettes Carden-Loyd MkVI and 15 newest tankettes TK-3). During the 1930s, Polish armoured formations were reorganized several times, and Ursus cars were deployed in turn in Lwów (Lviv), from 1931 in Żurawica (2nd Armoured Regiment), from 1934 in Poznań for a short time, then in Bydgoszcz (8th Armoured Battalion). Finally, since early 1936, all 10 cars wz.29 were found in Armoured Units Training Centre (CWBrPanc) in Modlin, north of Warsaw. They were used for training there, in the 11th experimental Armoured Battalion (batalion pancerny - not to confuse those big, peacetime units with later wartime mobilized battalion-size armoured units).
In late August 1939, during a mobilization, 8 cars were included into the newly formed 11th Armoured Unit (dywizjon pancerny), assigned to Mazowiecka (Masovian) Cavalry Brigade of the Army "Modlin", as its reconnaissance unit. Seven cars formed unit's armoured car squadron with two troops, the eighth car was the unit's commander's, who was Maj. Stefan Majewski. The armoured car squadron commander was Lt. Mirosław Jarociński, armoured car troops' commanders were Lt. Michał Nahorski (first troop) and WO Stefan Wojcieszak (second troop) (see a map for an initial deployment).
Just from the first day of the war with Germany, armoured cars and tankettes of the 11th Armoured Unit were intensively used for reconnaissance and patrolling, bringing information about the enemy. Soon their main task became delay actions and securing a withdrawal of Polish units from predominating and encircling enemy. In several cases they supported Polish attacks. The combat track of these few obsolete machines was, surprisingly, relatively successful, mostly due to their cannon armament. Here are main episodes of the combat track of the 11th Unit's armoured car squadron:
On 1 September 1939, at the war outbreak, two armoured car troops were assigned to outposts of Mazowiecka Brigade, before defence lines, by the border with East Prussia. From the first hours, the 2nd troop was firing at advancing Germans from road ambushes. In the evening, it laid an ambush near Krzynowłoga Mała villageW, and destroyed all three German light armoured cars from a reconnaissance unit of the 12th Infantry Division. Two Ursuses were damaged and WO Wojcieszak was hurt in a head, but continued combat service.
On 3 September one car was lost in a skirmish with Panzerspähtrupp "Poetschke" from SS Reconnaissance Unit of "Kempf" Armoured Division near Chojnowo villageW (between PrzasnyszW and GruduskW), when a troop was sent to make contact with Polish 8th Infantry Division. Later that day, all the armoured car squadron supported the 11th Uhlan (lancer) Regiment, repelling attacks of the 3rd battalion of SS "Deutschland" motorized regiment from this division in a forest near Przasnysz.
4 September, the 1st troop supported the 7th Uhlan Regiment in a skirmish of Szczuki villageW (near Przasnysz). Polish cars destroyed two tanks PzKpfw I of a platoon, trying to go round Polish ulans' positions. Around 3 pm, Lt. Nahorski destroyed enemy staff car with a gun shot, capturing maps and documents (unfortunately, the intelligence materials were misinterpreted and led to wrong decisions in following days).
On 7 September, Ursus cars, supporting the attack of the 7th Uhlan Regiment at Długosiodło villageW (near Ostrów Mazowiecka), destroyed another two enemy armoured cars from the 1st Cavalry Brigade. The unit went to the Brigade reserve for a few days then.
On 12 September, the armoured unit was moving to join its cavalry brigade. In the morning, it incorporated two lighter armoured cars wz.34, separated from the 61st Armoured Unit. After 9 am, behind a small town of SeroczynW (south-east of Warsaw), towards ŁomnicaW, the 1st armoured car troop, moving in a vanguard, encountered a vanguard unit of Kampfgruppe "Steiner", detached from "Kempf" Armoured Division. The German unit consisted of a motorcycle company, with an armoured car troop, 4 AT guns and 4 infantry guns. In a short skirmish, two enemy armoured cars were destroyed, but one Ursus was also lost (hit by an AT gun), and the Polish unit withdrew to the town. Soon the enemy deployed its forces, and entered Seroczyn, rejecting the Poles behind the Świder river.
In the second stage of the meeting engagement, Maj. Majewski formed a group of his armoured unit, all loose soldiers gathered nearby, an artillery battery found in a forest without horses, and also newly arrived 62nd independent reconnaissance tank company (TKS tankettes). The Polish launched an attack across the river, but it failed. Armoured cars attacked straight through the bridge, but the first Ursus that crossed the bridge was hit by an AT gun, while the tankettes on the right wing stuck on boggy meadows. Then, main Kampfgruppe forces, with tanks from the 6th company of the 7th Panzer Regiment, supported by artillery, forced weaker Polish unit to withdraw towards GarwolinW around 13 pm. Polish losses in all that engagement were two wz.29 cars, one (or two) wz.34 cars, and several tankettes. The Germans suffered some losses as well, and their advance towards the Vistula was halted for some time (enabling a cavalry group of Gen. Władysław AndersW to withdraw through a gap).
In the evening, the 11th Armoured Unit, moving towards Dęblin, had a skirmish with a reconnaissance unit of the 1st Infantry Division, on a crossroad near Gończyce villageW. The Germans were rejected, but the Poles lost the commanders' wz.34 armoured car, which was put on a fire (the crew bailed out). The Unit still had two Ursus troops then (possibly with 5 cars).
At last, weakened armoured unit joined units of the Army "Lublin" in Lublin (and the armoured core of the Polish concentration there - Warsaw Armoured-Motorized Brigade - WBP-M). Unfortunately, last armoured cars had to be destroyed on 16 September near ZwierzyniecW (south of Zamość), because they could not move farther through sandy and rough forest roads to the south-east of Lublin (reportedly they were sinking in sand up to their axles. The second thing was, that Polish tanks needed all the fuel left for the last battle of Tomaszów LubelskiW on 18 September).
Some cars wz.29 were possibly repaired by the Germans and could have been used by German police in an occupied Poland, but there is no such evidence.
None of cars wz.29 survived the war. A driving mock-up was built in the 2000s, clearly different especially in longer rear part.
|Wz.29 cars on parade in Warsaw in late 1930s. Well visible is rear stowage.|
(photo courtesy by Adam Jońca)
The main armament was French 37mm wz.18 (SA-18) Puteaux L/21 low-velocity gun in the turret. In spite of its WWI-origin, it was a simple, reliable and quite accurate weapon, but its primary purpose was to fight infantry and MG emplacements. 96 rounds were stowed, in 24-round boxes. The gun was mounted in Polish-designed universal ball mounting. It had a 1.5x telescopic sight and was aimed using a shoulder butt. Armour penetration was poor - 12 mm at 0 meters, but it showed enough to fight contemporary light armoured vehicles at close ranges. The range of HE round was about 2.5 km. It could fire up 10 times per minute.
Secondary weapons were French 7.92mm wz. 25 Hotchkiss machine guns in universal ball mountings. One MG was placed in left rear side of the turret, at 120° angle to the gun (it was not possible for the commander to shoot both weapons together). The second MG was in rear hull plate, on the left side, manned by rear gunner. In the beginning of the service, the vehicles also had third, anti-aircraft MG in right upper side of the turret, at 120° to the gun and other MG; but aiming was ineffective and they were dismounted by early 1930s. The photographs suggest, that they were fitted rather in demonstration purpose only. They were not used in 1939 anymore, although it was possible to mount the other MG in anti-aircraft mount and use it, for example, in street fighting. The ammunition for machineguns was 4032 rounds (16 x 252-round belts). Machine guns had telescopic sights.
The armoured body was made of rolled face-hardened steel plates, of Cr-Ni steel. Its shape was somehow sloped. Armour plates were made by Bismarck (later Batory) Ironworks in Hajduki Wielkie (former Bismarckhütte, currently Chorzów). The armour thickness was 4–10 mm:
Armour protected against armour-piercing rifle bullets from above 300 m, and against ordinary rifle bullets and splinters from all distances.
|A blueprint of the wz.29 car (edited, with slight misalignments)|
The body was a frame with bolted armour plates. Access doors was on each side; left door was opening forward, right door - backwards. There were five small windows in combat compartment, covered with hatches (two per each side and one on the left of the front plate). Two bigger windows, protected with hatches with periscopes, were in front and rear walls, before both drivers' posts. Before the crew compartment there was engine compartment, separated by an internal wall. A radiator in front was protected with an armoured hatch, opening upwards (operated from a driver's place). Under this hatch, before the radiator, there was a single Scintilla headlight. Below the hatch there was a hole for a starting crank (the crank was normally fastened to the front plate, to the right of the hatch). Tools: shovel, pickaxe and crowbar were fastened outside the car on the left side, a 5-ton jack (railway-type) and 7-m towing rope were carried on the rear bottom plate, along with two toolboxes. A single rear light was on the left of a rear bottom plate, below a toolbox. The crew compartment was equipped with a ventilator in a middle of the floor, with a box cover.
The turret was octagonal, with the gun in front, the MG on the left side (120° to the gun) and the mounting for an AAMG in the slanted upper right side. In the sides, there were 8 vision slots with bolts. A two-part hatch was in the roof, with a hole for signal flags. The car was not equipped with a radio, the signalling was carried out with color flags.
The crew consisted of four: commander-gunner, driver, rear driver and rear gunner. The driver sat on the right in front. The commander occupied a seat to the left of the driver, or manned turret weapons standing. He could also sit in a turret hatch, on a leather belt. At the rear there were seats of rear driver (on the right) and rear gunner. Rear gunner's seat was lower and there was hollow floor before him to keep legs, protected with a box below.
Chassis - rectangular frame, a suspension on semi-elliptic springs. Tires was initially Overman 895x135mm, from 1934 changed to Polish Stomil tires 32x6" (812x152mm), so-called "baloon" ones, with better off-road characteristics. At the rear there were double wheels. No spare wheel was carried.
Engine: Ursus-2A: petrol, 4-cylinder,
4-stroke, sidevalve, water cooled, 2873 ccm (or 2722 ccm[4,6]), developing 35 HP at 2600 rpm (or at 2000 rpm). Compression ratio: 6.3:1. It was a licensed version of the engine SPA of 1913. The fuel tank was 105 l, placed in the rear part of a chassis frame (or 115 l). Exhaust pipe was on left side, before rear wheels.
Transmission: Dry multi-disc main clutch. Mechanical gearbox: 4 gears forward, 1 reverse. Rear axle driven only. The car had additional backward-driver post, with doubled main steering devices, connected with shafts and wires. Mechanical drum brakes on rear wheels, auxiliary brake on the main shaft. Electric installation was single-wire 12 V.
|Wz. 29 cars in early 1930s. Note different styles of edges of patches.|
Initially, armoured cars wz.29 were probably dark green or olive green. The prototype shown in a beginning of the article was painted in four-colour camouflage introduced in 1928.
Between 1932 and 1936 the cars were painted mostly in a standard three-colour camouflage scheme, popularly known in Poland as the "Japanese-style" one (photo on the right). It consisted of contrasting irregular patches, usually described as bright yellowish sand, dark green and dark brown, separated with thin black stripes. Recent publications however suggest, that the colours might have been dark yellowish sand, olive green and light blue-gray as the lightest colour (more on a page on tankettes). In winter, the cars were painted white. However, photos from 1933-1935 show, that there were also apparently some non-standard airbrushed camouflages tested (a photo in the gallery).
From March 1936, there was a new final standard three-colour low-contrast camouflage scheme introduced for all Polish armoured vehicles, of irregular patches of greyish sand and dark brown over a base colour of olive green (in fact it was brown-green shade). Patches were airbrushed, with soft transitions, their shapes were mainly horizontal. There was not any standard pattern of patches.
The interior was light olive (up to window level) and sand-gray (above window level), although according to an instruction of 1938 it should be all sand-gray. According to this instruction, the chassis was olive-green, but chassis parts, fuel tanks, mufflers, exhaust pipes etc. were painted black.
In 1939, the cars wore no insignia at all. Only before the war, the cars carried tactical marks for training purposes - they were attached light blue-gray disc (the 1st platoon), triangles (the 2nd) or squares (the 3rd). Registration numbers were painted on front plate, until 1937 only.
|Unique 1939 photo of the armoured car wz. 29 in standard camouflage, captured by the Germans and gathered along with other Polish equipment (possibly in Modlin). A gun mounting in the turret is visible. Note, that colours might be distorted (especially olive green). |
(photo: Hugo Jaeger).
|Drawings by Adam Jońca [AJ, 2].|
|Combat weight||4,800 kg|
|Length / without MG||5.49 / 5.15 m (216 / 203 in)|
|Width||1.85 m (72 in)|
|Height||2.48 m (97.4 in)|
|Wheelbase||3.5 m (137.8 in)|
|Ground clearance||35 cm (13.7 in)|
|Max. road speed||35 km/h (22 mph)|
|Road / dirt road range||380 /250 km|
|Power / weight ratio:||7.3 HP/ton|
|Wading depth||35 cm|
|Fuel consumption||36 litres /100 km|
|Here's my old 1/72 scratchbuilt paper model of the armoured car wz. 29 (in old camouflage scheme). Author: Michal Derela.|
- Part (A001-72) - excellent Polish hi quality model of photoetched brass and resin (1999) (see a gallery at producer's page - section: Modele - Kits)
- Wild Hogs' Models (WH 72001) - Polish resin + metal model (2010), mediocre quality, out of production (see a preview here)
- Modell Trans (MT72003) - German resin model, average quality, out of production.
- Fine Scale Factory - FSF (WZ06) - old resin model (producer non existing anymore).
- Ahketon - old metal model, mediocre quality (see it at Patrick Storto's AFV Museum)
- [20mm] SHQ (PT5) - lead crude 20 mm wargamer model
- GPM - Polish producer, short run from early 90s, vacuform + metal, long out of production.
- Armo (35016) - Polish high quality resin model (distributor's page).
- Commander Models (#1-012) - resin model (2013), from photos it seems average quality (see here)
- Commander Series Models (Nr. 1-06) - resin model, out of production (see here)
AJ - photos courtesy of Adam Jońca, from his collection
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Text copyright © Michal Derela.