Tuesday 26 April 2016

Glorious Poland

[What's the opposite of a footnote? A headnote? In which case this is a headnote to mention a brief "first impressions" review of BBB by Paul Le Long for Lone Warrior, the journal of the Solo Wargamers Association. Paul will be doing a full review when he has had a chance to actually play some games.]

OK, onward to Poland.
Bad news: I had to go without any gaming last week.
Good news: that's because I was in Warsaw, a lovely city with very nice people and hearty central european food and drink (sauerkraut! dumplings! vodka!), and with a smashing Polish Army Museum that has free admission on Saturdays.

A trophy from Warsaw: my ticket to the army museum. Worth every zloty and more.

For me, and I think for a lot of my fellow British wargamers, the word "Poland" conjures up a romanticized glorious military history, with the Poles often being gallant underdogs of the kind we Brits love: winged hussars, Napoleon's Polish lancers, the 1939 campaign, the Warsaw Uprising, and the exploits of Polish forces on several fronts in WWII.

So I was very excited to visit the war museum, and very fabulous it was. Amazing exhibits.

What did surprise us was that there seemed to be a gap from the early 1700s to 1861. Nothing about the Vistula Legion or the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and all the fighting that Poles did for Napoleon. Nothing about the November Uprising of 1830-1831. These are listed on the website as having permanent exhibits but we didn't see them. Maybe we missed a hall?

Mind you, we were already overwhelmed by what there was.
Masses of swords and armour and other items from the 10th & 11th centuries and early Middle Ages.
Polearms - obviously! - of various types: halberds, bills, etc.
Ornate falconets and culverins and suchlike C16 and C17 cannon.
Organ guns!
A full-sized winged hussar, feathers and leopard-skin and all.
Lots of C17 armour including intricate scale-mail.
A C17 revolving-chamber repeating musket? (That's what it looked like to me.)

Big exhibit about the 1863 January Uprising, with original insurgents' uniforms and equipment, and an 1867 Reffye mitrailleuse (not sure how that got there).
A Dreyse needle-pistol.

Lots about WWI and the Polish Legions that fought on both sides in the French, Russian, German and Austrian armies. Some unusual kit: an Italian Villar-Perosa double-barreled LMG; bayonet-wirecutter attachments; German AT rifle; Luger with buttstock and snail-drum magazine.

Quite a bit on the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. My favourite was the uniform of a soldier from the balloon corps. Nothing special about the uniform, it's just that balloons are cool.

As you'd expect, a really impressive hall about 1939, another about the Warsaw Uprising, and another about the rest of WWII. Too many things to take in, really.
Bofors 37mm AT and a 75mm field gun.
Examples of all the infantry weapons, including a BAR on an AA mount, and a Polish Mors SMG.
Fragment of a shot-down Los bomber.
Weapons made in Warsaw for the Uprising: SMGs, bomb-launchers of different kinds (mortar, catapult, spring-loaded), a flamethrower.
Ingenious single-nail caltrops.
Goliath remote-controlled demolition tank.
MP28 and Lanchester SMGs.
Miniature Soviet uniform for the small boy who was the regimental mascot (over 400,000 Poles served on the Eastern Front).
A dagger given to Mussolini by Argentina.

Outside the museum is a tank and aircraft park. T-34, IS-2, Grizzly (Sherman); lots of Warsaw Pact kit; Pe-2, Tu-2, Yak-9, IL-2, IL-10; Su-22, MiG-29; Hetzer, Hanomag; naval/coastal artillery including a twin Bofors mount from the ORP Gryf minelayer sunk at Hel in 1939. 75 and 76mm field guns, 25pdr, 5.5", Soviet 280mm gun. British 60pdr supplied to Russia, captured by Poles in 1921? Shell from Dora railgun (80cm). Shell from Karl mortar used against Warsaw uprising.

The only real disappointment (Napoleonic era apart) was that the war museum didn't have a decent bookshop. I was hoping to come home laden with trophies. Fortunately in the art bookshop in the national gallery next door, I found "A Painted History of Poland": a gorgeous book of 48 paintings - mostly military-themed - of major events in Polish history, each of which is accompanied by detailed historical background, maps and illos. I am learning about stuff such as the killing of St Stanislaus (the Polish equivalent of the murder of Thomas a Becket) and the Chicken War ...

Anyway I have come away from a happy week in Warsaw with a very favourable impression of Poland. I hope I can visit again and explore further afield next time.