As with the Polish airmen who fought during the Battle of Britain, Polish infantry and armoured units during the Second World War proved to be extremely proficient fighters and would earn the respect of their enemies. With troops fighting their way across Europe in the wake of the German invasion of their homeland at the start of the Second World War, it would be four long years before they would return to Europe and help to finally defeat their enemy. The well trained 1st Polish Armoured Division arrived on the Normandy beachheads at the beginning of August 1944, they would be pressed into service during the savage fighting around Falaise, With significant German units trapped by a massive Allied onslaught, the troops of the 1st Polish Armoured Division were asked to close the pocket, containing the concentrated German attempts to break out. In 48 hours of savage fighting, the unit repelled multiple German breakout attempts, inflicting heavy casualties and destroying large numbers of tanks and armoured vehicles in the process. Despite facing incessant assaults and running low on ammunition, the Polish troops held firm and were eventually relieved, but not before earning the admiration of General Montgomery and all their Allied comrades.
Proud fighters, Polish troops would happily describe how they were ‘fighting for the freedom of all nations, but would only give their lives for Poland’. Following rest and refitting, the 1st Polish Armoured Division pursued the retreating Germans along the French coast, through Belgium and into Holland, liberating many towns as they went. The fighting moved into Germany during the spring of 1945, with the division famously taking the naval town of Wilhelmshaven, where Polish General Stanislaw Maczek accepted the surrender of this significant prize.
As a Cromwell Mk.VI operated by the 1st Polish Armoured Division, this tank displays the famous winged helmet adopted by the unit, something enemy forces would come to fear, following their combat introduction during the battles of Normandy.
These two new 1/35th scale kit versions of the Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII, Cromwell Mk.IV (A1373) and Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII, Cromwell Mk.VI (A1374) are now advancing ominously towards their early 2021 release date and will certainly be popular additions to this growing range of WWII armour kits – we will have fully decorated samples to show you next!
Even though the new British A27M Cromwell Tank would not make its combat introduction until the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the speed and mobility of this excellent new tank would soon earn it an enviable reputation amongst Allied troops, who came to rely on the support they provided. The majority of Cromwell Tanks were armed with the standard 75mm ROQF gun, however, the less numerous Mk.VI variant would provide specialist infantry close support with its 95mm Howitzer and were consequently never too far away from the action. Firing a high explosive hollow charge shell, the tank was used to overcome fortified positions, such as concrete bunkers and pillboxes which stood in the way of the infantry’s advance and could even lay smoke-screens if required.
With its distinctively short barrel, the Mk.VI also featured a large counterweight on its main armament, which was necessary in helping to balance the gun. Approximately 340 of these specialist tanks were eventually produced, which would prove to be extremely effective as Allied ground units pushed German forces back towards their homeland. Despite their impressive speed, the Cromwells were no match for the firepower of the German heavy tanks and would have to rely on speed and stealth for their battlefield survival.
An army unit made up of expatriate Czechoslovak troops equipped and under the command of the British Army, the 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade landed in Normandy during August 1944 and would be handed the essential task of containing and weakening the beleaguered German garrison occupying the port town of Dunkirk. Allowing the Allies to concentrate on operations across wider Normandy without fear of a German breakout, the Czech unit would actually be involved in heavy fighting, as both sides repelled enemy advances, before launching their own counter offensives. The brigade were equipped mainly with Sherman and Cromwell tanks, including a number of the specialist Cromwell Mk.VI variants with their 95mm Mk.I Howitzers, tanks which were ideally suited to dislodging particularly stubborn areas of enemy troop resistance. A real asset to troops fighting these aggressive skirmishes, often at close quarters, the support nature of these tanks dictated that they would never be found too far from the action, with their legendary speed allowing them to confuse and outflank the enemy.
Without doubt, the most impressive attributes of the Cromwell were within its hull, all of which endowed the tank with excellent battlefield performance. The powerful Meteor engine combined with the tried and trusted Christie suspension allowed the Cromwell to travel at speeds in excess of 40mph on roads and not much slower than this when operating cross-country. It also had a much lower profile than the Sherman and possessed an impressive turret traverse rate which outclassed most of its opponents on the battlefield – adopting a shoot and scoot approach to armoured engagements, the Cromwell was an effective addition to the Allied inventory, especially when they eventually had Wehrmacht units on the run.