Starting with the late 1930s, testers in soviet testing center Kubinka began receive foreign vehicles from all corners of the world to try on for size. The first to come were trophies captured in Spain during the civil war, but the floodgates opened in 1939. The first to come was the Japanese Ha-Go tank, and Polish vehicles came after that. One of them was the TK-S tankette.
On September 17th, 1939, the Red army operation known as the Polish Campaign began. Effectively, this was a reconquering of territories lost during the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921. Colonel P.S. Fotchenkov's 24th Light Tank Brigade was among the attacking units. By 18:00 on September 17th, reconnaissance elements from the brigade reached Ternopol, and tanks burst into Lvov at 2:00 on September 19th. At the same time, the Germans reached the other side of Lvov. In the confusion, a battle between Soviet tanks and German anti-tank guns broke out. The result was two burned out armoured cars and one knocked out BT tank. The Germans lost three anti-tank guns.
Aside from Soviet and German units, at least one Polish unit equipped with tracked armoured vehicles was present in the are: the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade of Stanislaw Maczek. This brigade was the first of its kind in Poland. It met the start of WWII new Krakow, and fought the Germans. After several days, the brigade was recalled and sent to Lwow. It was included in the city's defenses.
After the Red Army began its progress towards Lvov, Maczek received an order to break through towards Hungary and not engage in active combat against the USSR. Soon, a large number of the brigade's soldiers ended up on Hungarian soil. Abandoning their vehicles in Hungary, the Polish soldiers and officers made their way to France, where they fought the Germans in May-June of 1940. After leaving France, the Poles ended up in Great Britain, where they formed the core of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, formed under Maczek's command in February of 1942. By then, he had received the rank of Major General.
On October 5th, the personnel of the 24th Light Tank Brigade began to get settled in their new base of operations. A day later, a unit of 152 men was formed to collect captured vehicles. Among them were 10 Polish TK-S tankettes, although that number seems to include C2P tractors, which were built on the TK-S chassis. A portion of the tankettes were found on the territory of the barracks where the 6th Tank Battalion was quartered (Lvov, Shevchenko Street, south of the Yanov cemetery). Later, one of the garages of the 4th Mechanized Corps was placed here. Other tankettes were captured during a raid on Tomaszew, where a large number of Polish vehicles that were knocked out in the fighting on September 18-20th were collected.
Captured TK-S tankettes were among the most common types of armoured vehicle (along with the TK-3) in the Polish army. As with the Soviet T-27 tankette, its design was based on the British Carden-Loyd Mk.VI. Just like with the Soviet tankette, the Polish design was seriously altered. Effectively, the only part left from the initial Carden-Loyd Mk.VI was the suspension, which was improved by the addition of leaf springs. Everything else in the TK-S was new. The hull was much roomier, the placement of the armament was better, and instead of the weak Fort T engine, the Poles installed the Polski FIAT-122. The result was a modern (for the mid-1930s) and rather mobile design.
However, by the end of the 1930s, the TK-S was already obsolete. Design of an improved small tank, the PZInї (4TP), began, but it was never put into production. 24 TK-S were converted into tank destroyers with 20 mm cannons, but there were no such vehicles among the ones captured by the 24th Light Tank Brigade. These tankettes were present in Tomaszow, and were even used by the Germans, but none fell into the hands of the Soviet trophy squad.
For training purposes
The Polish vehicles were sent to the Scientific Research Institute of Armoured Vehicles (NIIBT) proving grounds in 1940. Judging by the correspondence, the vehicles were not in working order. In total, three TK-S tankettes were delivered to Kubinka, called TK-3 in the correspondence. The description in the write-off act, dated January 14th, 1941, clearly shows that it is not an earlier version of the vehicle. According to it, the serial number of the tankette was 109, and the registration number was 1621, which pegs it as a TK-S from the second production batch of 85 tankettes. This tankette was used for spare parts to restore the other two.
One of them, serial number 128 and registration number 1640, was also from the second batch. It is not known where it went, but it is no longer listed in the proving grounds inventory in April of 1941. The second, serial number 194, registration number 1724, was from the third production batch of 63 vehicles. This tankette was built on July 27th, 1936, and was used by the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade, which is indicated by its insignia on the side. The vehicle also had its own name: Szwadron śmierci, or Death Squadron, named after Polish cavalry units in the war of 1919-1921.
As said above, the Polish engineers took the design of the British Carden-Loyd Mk.VI tankette when designing the TK-S, and radically altered its design. It was not surprising that the NIIBT staff studied it thoroughly. However, it had to be repaired first, since it did not arrive in running order. Using another TK-S as a source of parts, it was able to move again, but it was not restored completely. THe technical description, composed during the trials, serves as evidence:
«The hull of the tankette has a bustle in the front right with a mantlet for installation of armament. On this tankette, the armament was absent. According to information received, this type of tankette uses various armaments: Hotchkiss machineguns, large caliber machineguns, and small caliber cannons.
A pintle mount for a light machinegun is attached to the tankette's hull on the right side. To fire at aircraft, the gunner must exit the tankette."
Soviet specialists did not pay any attention to the Gundlach periscope while studying the TK-S and the 7TP. During the study of the tankette, its presence was only remarked upon, and a short description was composed for the report on the 7TP. However, this device was probably the most interesting part of the tankette.
Gundlach's telescopic sight, most famously known as the Vickers Tank Periscope Mk.IV, or just Mk.IV, was the best tank periscope of its time. It provided good visibility and the ability to rapidly swap out a damaged block. The British were the first to copy it, and tank designers in other countries followed suit. The USSR missed it, only catching up in 1943. Interestingly enough, it received its Soviet index, MK-IV, not after its British name, but after the MK-IV tank that it was installed on, the Churchill.
The hull of the Polish tankette did not impress the NIIBT staff. On one hand, it was built from scratch, and was superior to not only the British original, but every other Carden-Loyd Mk.VI variant. Unlike the other tankettes, its crew did not feel like it was driving a sardine can, and the hull was fairly roomy. The commander and the driver had good visibility, and wide hatches made it easy to enter and exit the vehicle. On the other hand, its miniature size still did not allow placement of the engine in a separate compartment, and it had to be placed in the fighting compartment. The fuel tanks were also here, as there was nowhere else to put them.
The armour was increased to 10 mm in the front and 8 mm on the sides, which protected from rifle caliber bullets from a few hundred meters. This kind of armour could still be penetrated with a heavy bullet at point blank range. However, the Poles had no illusions about the armour of these vehicles, and production ceased in the spring of 1937. The steel that the hull was made from also did not interest Soviet specialists.
Unlike the T-27, where the amount of road wheels per side grew to 6, the Polish engineers did not lengthen the contact surface, even though it could have improved stability of the vehicle. However, the suspension still was not a direct copy of the British one. While the British tankette supported the track with a wooden beam, the Polish tankette had four return rollers per side. A central leaf spring carried the bogeys, which improved the crew conditions, especially off-road. The drive sprockets received removable crowns, which made the running gear easier to service. When the sprocket broke on the British tankette, it had to be swapped out. On the Polish tankette, only the crown had to be changed, which was much faster and simpler.
Aside from an inspection of the tankette, it was also put through brief winter trials. The tankette drove for 127 km on the highway, and 18 more on a dirt road. The average movement speed was 21 kph and 12 kph respectively, and fuel expenditure was 48 and 70 L per 100 km. Snowy dirt roads were impassable for the tankette. Trials were discontinued. Even though the tankette was repaired, it was still heavily worn.
The following conclusions were made as a result:
«The TK-S tankette was the main type of reconnaissance tank in the Polish army. The «Death Squadron» insignia on the side indicates that it was used by cavalry units. The tankette was built according to the Carden-Loyd prototype, but has several changes made due to the use of Polish automotive components, which improved the design.
The TK-S tankette is only of academic interest to our tank industry."
Analog to the Komsomolets
Aside from the TK-S, a C2P (Сiągnik 2-tonowy Polski, 2 ton Polish tractor) arrived at Kubinka. This vehicle was designed at the PZInї (Państwowe Zakłady Inżynierii, National Technical Institute) under the direction of Janusz Lapuszewski. Even though it was based on the TK-S design, the tractor was still radically altered. Aside from a different hull, made from mild steel, the C2P had a longer contact surface due to moving the idlers further back. The characteristics of the Polish tractor were similar to those of the Soviet Komsomolets light artillery tractor, aside from the armour. The purpose was different too: while the Komsomolets was designed to transport the 45 mm anti-tank gun, the Polish vehicle was the transporter fro the 40 mm wz.36 Bofors gun.
Production of the four-man tractor began in 1937. One batch of 196 tractors was produced, the size of the second is unknown. The total number of C2P tractors built can range from 196 to 270 vehicles. The C2P chassis also served as the chassis for the TKS-D tank destroyer, 2 of which were built. Both vehicles ended up in the same 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade, but were lost before it was relocated to Lvov.
Sadly, the serial number of the C2P that arrived at the NIIBT proving grounds was not found. As with the TK-S, the vehicle arrived in nonfunctional condition, and the proving grounds staff had to repair it. In correspondence, it was referred to as «PZInї tractor», since that is what it was called on the registration plate. After restoration, the vehicle was sent to mobility trials, driving for 118 km on the highway and 30 km on a dirt road. The average speed on a highway was 29 km, 26.2 km with a trailer, and 11.6 kph with a trailer on a dirt road. The fuel expenditure was 41, 75, and 102 L per 100 km, respectively. Trials had to be interrupted for the same reason as with the tankette: the vehicle was worn out, and it was impossible to drive in deep snow.
The design of the C2P was similar to that of the tankette. The engine was also placed in the middle of the hull, but now it could fit four crewmen, instead of two. The driver sat to the left, and three passengers sat on the right. The ones in the back sat facing each other. They could travel in relative comfort, since the design of the vehicle included a tarp. However, the vehicle that ended up at the proving grounds didn't have one. Even though the tractor was slightly heavier than the tankette, the average speed was higher, due to the superior design.
Overall, the vehicle did not impress the NIIBT staff, but there was one element that drew attention to itself. Unlike the TK-S, where the final drive was identical to that of the British vehicle, the C2P had a planetary design. It was placed in the front of the vehicle, behind the clutch brakes. This design received a separate mention in the conclusion.
«The PZInї has a notable internally placed planetary final drive. Its placement allows for removal of unnecessary final drive casings, which improved the clearance and off-road performance of the tractor."
The list of vehicles at the NIIBT proving grounds for April of 1941 does not include the «PZInї tractor». The tankette with serial number 128 is also missing. As for tankette #194, it was deemed technically functional, and placed in a museum. This TK-S was one of the few museum exhibits from the «first wave» that survived the Great Patriotic War. In addition, this is the first pre-war Red Army trophy to survive until today.
At the same time, the vehicle on display at Patriot Park is one of the three representatives of the Polish armoured vehicle family that survived to this day in their initial form. Aside from it, a TK-F tankette survived without serious external changes. It was also used by the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade. The tankette was passed by the Hungarians to the Ustaše, and it was later captured by Yugoslavian Partisans. Today, the TK-F is an exhibit at the Kalemegdan fortress museum in Belgrade.
The third preserved vehicle is a C2P tractor. A German trophy, it somehow ended up in Spain, where it served at a vineyard. From there, the C2P was bought to be an exhibit at a museum in Obern, Indiana. The museum went bankrupt several years ago, and all exhibits were auctioned off, ending up all over the world. The C2P, painted in Panzer Gray, was bought by Polish collector Adam Rudnicki. He put the tractor back in order, and now the vehicle delights viewers during historical events in Poland.
Polish collectors and state museums managed to restore a number of tankettes. The aforementioned Adam Rudnicki restored a TK-3, whose casemate had to be built anew. Three TK-S tankettes were found in the same condition (chassis with no casemate), one of which is now in private hands, one in Warsaw, and one in Poznan. A TK-S armed with a 20 mm gun was built up from scrap metal. During restoration of the C2P that arrived from America, Adam Rudnicki restored another tankette from pieces. Another C2P in another collection is waiting for its time.
Translated by Peter Samsonov. Read more interesting tank articles on his blog Tank Archives.
- Russian State Archive of Economics
- Russian State Military Archive