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The Wojsko Polskie, military of Poland.

Historically, the geography and politics of Eastern Europe resulted in ways of warfare much different than in the West. Most notable among Polish military uniquities is the peculiar brand of Hussars, which traded being light cavalry for wings strapped to the back. From the late medieval to The Partitions Polish army was composed predominantly of cavalry that was usually formed of nobles and their retainers (and thus resembling medieval army model which became obsolete in Europe somewhere around mid-17th century). The noble cavalry wasn't the only tool of a Commonwealth general -- due to the diversity of fighting styles preferred by its enemies, there was a need for variety, and his host could include commoner infantry, all manner of Western-style mercenaries, and Tatar or Cossack auxiliaries, and little known as it is, Poland had its artillery developed very well. But the general model resulted in very well-trained but unruly and poorly organized forces.

The loss of independence in the late XVIII Century (between 1795 and 1918 Poland was divided between Russia, Prussia/Germany and Austria/Austro-Hungarian Empire) didn't exactly turn Poles into pacifists, either. This period saw the infatuation with Sinister Scythe in several uprisings, and Poles (and with them, once more, the Polish cavalry which shone on many battlefields of the time) were amongst the most loyal allies of Napoleon Bonaparte.

After regaining independence in 1918, Polish Army faced the task to integrate organization, tactics and equipment from the three different armies. This proved quite a task, but after several years their army was well unified and organized. Contrary to popular belief, Polish pre-war army was not obsolete (on the contrary, it quickly adapted most modern technologies) but was underfunded and military industry was no match for the industry of other countries. The whole "charging at tanks" story is totally false. While the Poles still used horses in war (as did the Germans), and still had mounted cavalry, the horses were, at best, used as a fast and cheap method of transport for squads who would then dismount and fight on foot. Mounted recon troops were also common.

The Polish military were "The First to Fight" in World War Two, playing a major role in the Battle of Britain and having their own version of La Résistance (counting as much as a million people, several hundred thousands at once at its peak). They also gave a great deal of Intelligence support having some of the best field agents in Europe, and cryptographers who were Good with Numbers (they actually broke the merchant Enigma and thus greatly contributed to the joint effort of breaking the military one). It is worth noting that the large part of Polish La Résistance consisted of soldiers and officers (many of them veterans of First World War) who decided not to surrender and continue to fight as partisans. Polish troops that have succesfully withdrawn from occupied territory were later formed into many units fighting along their Allies, usually British. Among the best known is 1st Independent Parachute Brigade (Market-Garden), Polish Independent Highland Brigade (Narvik Campaign), Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade (Siege of Tobruk), 1st Armored Division (Falaise pocket) and Polish II Corps (Italian Campaign).

During the communism years, the Soviet way of doing things was imposed on Warsaw Pact member Poland. Since the end of communism, Poland is now moving to NATO standards. It has just abolished conscription and is moving towards the professionalisation.

Still has a lot of Soviet-built equipment, but is rapidly acquiring American stuff (which the Americans are happy to sell rather than send to junkyard). Recently, Poland agreed to host part of the US missile shield (a move that has angered Russia). It has one Soviet-built destroyer, patrol boats and two US-built Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, and has bought a number of F-16 fighters. Personal weapons (assault rifles, pistols) and most land vehicles are of Polish design though.

Poland made quite a fuss over President Bush administration's idea of anti-missile shield. The Polish reasoning was that American force on Polish soil would ensure the Americans would be more likely to move in case anybody threatens Poland. Seeing what happened to Poland throughout 20th Century, it's at least understandable. Polish Armed Forces served in Iraq (where the Polish elite commando unit, GROM, did a nice job at securing Iraqi oil rigs early during the war) and still serve in Afghanistan, in the province of Ghazni.

The Cub Scout salute originates from the Polish one.

Some minor facts:

  • In case you're curious: Poles weren't exactly known for their use of poleaxes ("Poles with polearms" would be more appropriate title), but they had their share of them. They were used mostly by the commoner infantry, often Russian-style as support for their muskets.
  • The "Charging Tanks on Horseback" thing has a true core; there actually was a little skirmish in which Polish Lancers charged German recon infantrymen before being dispersed by armoured cars (not tanks). Not only was this skirmish a "success" in a way (it achieved what it should - delaying the German advance), but also was the legend of tank-charging cavalry invented by Polish propagandists, of all people - to raise the own population's morale.
  • The winged hussars are commonly depicted with two huge wings on their backs, curving above their heads. In reality, the little actual evidence that survived all the wars suggests that they had a single straight wing, presumably mounted on the saddle. The common image most likely comes from the later times, when hussars were no longer used on the battlefield, and with the hamtastic culture of the time (and Nostalgia Filter), they devolved into a parade unit. Still, the leopard skins seem to have been a real thing.

Poland's military in fiction:

  • Whenever someone has to charge tanks on horseback.
    • Andrzej Wajda's 1959 film Lotna helped to reinforce this image, even though the scene was meant to be symbolic.
  • Winged hussars tend to appear in period pieces and similar stories, perhaps at least in part due to their general badassitude and eye-candyness.
  • Polish airmen appear in Battle of Britain.
    • Lot of.
  • UN peacekeeper with Polish distinctions is seen for a second or two in action flick Peacemaker.
  • They appear in A Bridge Too Far aiding the main protagonists. Watch to witness Gene Hackman speaking Polish.
  • And they get a whole campaign in Call of Duty 3.
  • The hero of The Polish Officer by Alan Furst was a Polish military cartographer turned spy.
  • The Polish lancers of Napoleon's Imperial Guard can be seen in Sergey Bondarchuk's movie Waterloo out of all proportion to their actual numbers and importance in the 1815 campaign (the countercharge against the British dragoons charge that broke the Scots Greys was actually done by French line lancers). Still, they were a badass elite unit, especially famous for their death-or-glory charge at Somosierra in 1808.
  • A new war with Sweden (Gustavus Adolphus tried to invade Poland once before, in the 1620's) features heavily in the 1635 volumes of 1632. Notably the Polish army is the only major military power in the series able to effectively fight off the Swedish king and his American allies.
  • Leo Frankowski's Cross-Time Engineer saga features a Polish Air Force officer from 1990 transported back through time to the 13th Century, where he decides that it's time for backwards Poland to conquer the world.
  • Introduction to Gear Krieg game features Polish cavalry fighting invading Germans in September 1939 while playing with charging tanks with lances fallacy.
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