Cold War Polish Infantry

As mentioned in my recent article on SKOT armoured personnel carriers, earlier this year I picked up a load of 15mm Polish Cold War infantry by a Polish company called Oddzial Osmy.  At the time, these were only available in the UK from Fighting 15s, though he was selling off his stock, so they are now available from Magister Millitum.

This small range includes six packs:

Pack 1 has six riflemen armed with AKM rifles.

Pack 2 has six men with mixed weapons: an RPG-7 gunner & associated ammo-carrier (armed with AKM), a PKM machine-gunner & ammo-carrier (AKM), a rifle-grenadier armed with an AKM with a Wz. 1974 Pallad under-barrel 40mm grenade-launcher and an NCO armed with AKM.

Pack 3 has two pistol-armed officers and a sniper armed with a Dragunov sniper rifle.

Pack 4 has six SA-7 ‘Grail’ MANPADS gunners in two poses.

Pack 5 has two AT-3 ‘Sagger’ ATGM teams, consisting of two missile units, two prone missile operators and two prone riflemen.

Pack 6 has three PKMS general purpose MG teams, each of two prone figures and a tripod-mounted PKMS.

So while this might only be a very small range of figures, everything you need to create a Cold War Polish infantry platoon or company is there and if you want to create a battalion, the only things missing are mortars (which in any case can be off-table in a game).    It might be nice to have some more packs to increase pose variation or expand options such as AT-4 ‘Spigot’, AT-7 ‘Saxhorn’, mortars and artillery forward observers, but beggars can’t be choosers and this is a hugely welcome range of models!

I should also add that the sculpting on these figures is truly superb!  The level of detail and accuracy simply cannot be faulted and in terms of size, they fit in perfectly with offerings by Team Yankee, QRF and the other main 15mm Cold War ranges.

One slightly surprising feature is that these models are cast in a strange, hard and very lightweight metal alloy and not the customary lead/tin alloy!  Aluminium or zinc, perhaps?  This does make them VERY difficult to clean up, as the metal is simply too hard for a scalpel to scrape off flash and mould-lines, so it was time for me to break out the snips and files!  Thankfully, the casting is very clean and mould-lines are blessedly rare.  The only other models I’ve encountered cast in such a hard metal were a long-forgotten range of fantasy figures called Thunderbolt Mountain Miniatures (anyone here remember those?  They did exquisite tournament knight sets… Anyway, I digress…).  This means that the weapons are tough and resistant to bending, but probably rather more brittle than with lead-based metals (I haven’t tested this theory yet).

Painting Your Poles

The Polish People’s Army wore a distinctly different uniform to that of their Soviet or East German neighbours and allies (which is what makes this range so useful!).  The field uniform was distinctly baggy, with large cargo pockets on the thighs – more Western in style than Soviet.  The uniform colour was a distinctly bluish grey-green, being considerably less khaki than Soviet uniforms, as can be clearly seen below in this photo of a tug-of-war match between Polish and Soviet soldiers:For the main Polish uniform colour, I use the same colour that I use for my Cold War West Germans and Canadians, namely Humbrol 116 (US Dark Green), highlighted with roughly a 2:1 mix of Humbrol 116 and white.  Humbrol 116 is the colour used for the dark green component of 1980s US MERDC vehicle camouflage.  A winter combat jacket in the same colour, with brown faux-fur collar (and a matching brown ushanka faux-fur hat with brass Polish eagle badge) was also issued.

Polish camouflage jacket issued to some units

During the 1980s a camouflage jacket was also issued to some units, starting with the 6th Airborne Division.  This was again a grey-green, with a very subtle dappled pattern (reminiscent of reptilian skin) in very dark green.  To be honest, the effect is so subtle that at this scale, it would just look the same!

Helmets were a very dark green, being painted on the front with the communist version of the traditional Polish eagle standing on a crescent-shaped shield (minus the royal trappings of pre-communist Poland).  While these were originally stencilled on with white paint, they quickly faded and got rubbed down to near-invisibility, so can be left off or painted in more muted tones.  However, I opted to paint the helmet-eagles in pure white in order to artificially ccentuate their ‘Polishness’.  It’s not accurate, but it does look rather good (see the officer here on the right)…  In any case, Polish helmets were normally covered in the field with scrim-netting and the modeller has done a superb job of modelling the scrim, which really pops out with a light khaki dry-brush.

Polish webbing equipment was normally olive drab, fading to light khaki.  I’ve used Humbrol 86 (Olive Green) with a Humbrol 83 (Ochre) highlight.

Lastly, while black boots were worn for barrack/parade dress, brown leather boots were worn in the field.

Polish Small Unit Organisation

At the higher levels, the Polish People’s Army was organised very much along standard Soviet lines, with Fronts, Armies, Divisions and Regiments.  However, at low-level the Poles ploughed their own tactical furrow and there were some distinct differences in organisation and equipment.

Polish mechanised infantry sections were initially 10-12 men strong (sources disagree) and were mounted either in a SKOT 8-wheeled APC or a TOPAS tracked APC.  When the distinctly more cramped BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle (known to the Poles as the BWP-1) began replacing TOPAS during the 1970s, the section strength was reduced to seven men, though SKOT sections appear to have been unchanged.

There were three sections to a platoon and like the Soviets, the platoon commander and platoon sergeant would have no specific platoon HQ vehicle; they would ride with one of the sections.

The standard Polish infantry rifle was the 7.62mm AKM, which was an improved version of the legendary AK-47 and was manufactured locally in Poland.  However, unlike the Soviets and most Warsaw Pact armies, the Poles took the decision during the 1960s to stick with a belt-fed light machine gun (namely the Soviet 7.62mm PKM) as the core of section firepower.  The Soviets and most Warsaw Pact armies switched to the magazine-fed RPK light support weapon (a heavy-barrelled version of the AKM) at this time, though the Soviets did mass some PKMs together as a Machine Gun Platoon in each Motor Rifle Company.

In order to further increase platoon firepower, the third section in each Polish infantry platoon was issued with a Stepanov tripod mount for its PKM machine gun.  The combination of the PKM and tripod was designated as the PKMS.  The platoon’s single Dragunov sniper rifle would also issued to a rifleman of the platoon’s third section in lieu of his AKM and as such, the third section would become the platoon’s base of fire.

In order to increase the platoon’s firepower even further, every section had a single RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher.  They would also be well-stocked with a variety of Polish-designed rifle grenades for both high explosive and anti-tank work.  Some of these required a special carbine (based on the AKM) to launch them, though improved versions could simply be fired from a standard AKM.  The Pallad 40mm under-barrel grenade launcher was also coming into widespread service during the 1980s and at least one man in each section was normally equipped with one of these.  There was also a stand-alone 40mm grenade launcher called the Pallad-D which was light enough to be carried as a secondary weapon (one source describes Polish platoon commanders as having these and West German platoon commanders were frequently armed with a very similar weapon).

The rifle grenades partially made up for the lack of a suitable light anti-tank weapon (LAW) such as the Soviet RPG-18, which was widely used by the Soviets and by other Warsaw Pact allies such as East Germany.  Poland and Bulgaria collaborated on their own LAW design, with the intention of producing a weapon that minimised back-blast and could therefore be used from within buildings.  However, Bulgaria pulled out of the project and the resultant weapon, the RPG-76 Komar  proved to be distinctly underwhelming, seeing only very limited service with the Polish People’s Army.

A Polish Mechanised Company organised for ‘Battlefront: First Echelon’.

A Polish mechanised infantry company had three such platoons and a small company HQ, mounted in a single vehicle.  The company HQ also included three SA-7 ‘Grail’ (9K32 Strela-2) MANPADS.  The SA-7 was a somewhat decrepit and inadequate weapon, but the Polish Army didn’t manage to replace it before the end of the Cold War.  Some units also managed to acquire an AT-7 ‘Saxhorn’ (9K115 Metis) ATGM, though these remained very rare in Polish service.  Where units had them, there would typically be one per company HQ and they would not be issued to units equipped with BWP infantry fighting vehicles, as the BWP had its own integral ATGMs.

A Polish Mechanised Infantry Battalion organised for ‘Battlefront: First Echelon’ (minus mortar platoon) – 3x Companies, plus HQ and Anti-Tank Platoon.

A Polish Mechanised Infantry Battalion normally had three Mechanised Infantry Companies and a Mortar Platoon equipped with 6-8 82mm or 120mm mortars (or a mixture of both – sources vary).  SKOT and TOPAS-equipped battalions also had an anti-Tank Platoon equipped with 6x AT-3 ‘Sagger’ (9M14 Malyutka) or AT-4 ‘Spigot’ (9K111 Fagot) ATGMs.  Some units also had an Automatic Grenade Launcher Platoon, equipped with AGS-17 Plamya, though these remained rare in Polish service.

Each Mechanised Infantry Regiment had three such battalions, plus a Tank Company and other combat support elements.  However, some sources suggest that there was a move toward removing the Battalion layer of command and instead having large battalions designated as Regiments.  This certainly occurred in the 6th Airborne and 7th Marine Divisions, where Regiments were downsized during the late 1970s, with each being reorganised as 5x Infantry Companies reporting directly to Regimental HQ (plus an Amphibious Tank Company in the case of the Marine Regiments). It isn’t clear if the Polish Mechanised Infantry Regiments and Tank Regiments were also reorganised in this manner, so more research is required!

Now to get them into a game…

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Cold War, Painted Units, Warsaw Pact Armies. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cold War Polish Infantry

  1. Looks good. I do rather like some of the ‘road less travelled’ Cold War outfits. It also obviates the ‘super -weapon’ aspect. I shall have to finish up my second tier Soviets to face off my Danes.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers! Yes, my primary reason for getting them was to face my Danes. I’d seen the figures a few years ago, but they weren’t really a viable option until BPM produced the SKOTs. I could have used BMPs, but then they’d be just another Soviet clone.

  2. Pete S says:

    Great post- never knew that about the Polish use of PKMs and tripods.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Pete. Yes, I discovered that by accident while looking up the reason for Poles always being photographed carting PKMs round the place. Ironically, the Tem Yankee chaps included PKMs in their East Germany infantry packs, though it wasn’t really a weapon that they used outside of border police units and static defences. The Soviets certainly used PKMs in their Motor Rifle MG Platoons, but didn’t make much use of Tripods.

  3. jemima_fawr says:

    By a spooky coincidence, Flames of War/Team Yankee have just announced the forthcoming release of Polish and Czechoslovakian models. However, this seems to be limited to OT-64A APCs (SKOT-2A), RM-70 multiple rocket launchers and DANA self-propelled 152mm guns. No mention of infantry models or any SKOT variants beyond the SKOT-2A.

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