Polish WWII Weapons Part 1

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1

The region of central Europe known today as Poland has attracted settlers since the 5th century AD. Its flat plains, fertile farmland, forests and shallow, slow-flowing rivers made it a natural route of travel and trade between eastern and western Europe.

Through its history, Avars, Huns, Goths, Mongols, Lithuanians, Teutonic knights, Tatars, Cossacks, Swedes, Russians, Austrians, Hungarians, Germans and Soviets have ridden and marched across Poland causing much misery for the Polish people. That the Polish culture, language and national identity have survived speaks volumes for the tenacity of the Polish people.

Between 1772 and 1792, Poland was divided between the German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. During WWI, all three armies had Polish units in their armed forces, but in the aftermath of the war, a new Polish state was formed from the three disintegrating empires.

In 1919, Poland attempted to integrate part of Ukraine into its new state, which led to a conflict with not only the Bolsheviks in Russia, but also with Ukrainian nationalists who were fighting the Bolsheviks. The resulting Russo-Polish War (1919–1920) would have seen the Reds victorious, except for massive French military aid that turned the Soviets back. It was obvious that, despite their patriotic fervor, the new Wojska Lądowe (Polish Land Forces) were inadequately trained and armed.


Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
After WWI, France supplied the Polish army with numbers of the Fusil d’Infanterie Modéle 1886/93 (Lebel).

Polish soldiers were armed with a mind-boggling assortment of modern and obsolete small arms scavenged in the aftermath of the Great War, supplied by their new allies, received as war reparations, and bought on the world market. Rifles included the Russian vintovka obr. 1891g (Mosin-Nagant), French Fusil d’Infanterie Modéles 1886/93 (Lebel), 1907/15 and 1916 (Berthiers), German Infanteriegewehr 98 and Karabiner 98AZ (Mausers), Japanese Type 30 and 38 (Arisakas) and Austrian Repetier-Gewehr M.88-90 and M.95 (Mannlichers). There was even a smattering of old Long Lee-Enfields supplied by the British government in the name of anti-Bolshevism.


It goes without saying that standardization of small arms and local production of military equipment was given the highest priority.


Polish Rifles

In 1927, the Polish government formed the Państwowe Wytwórnie Uzbrojenia (PWU, State Armament Factories) and installed rifle manufacturing machinery from the German arsenal in Danzig, supplied as war reparations, in a new facility in the city of Radom known as Państwowa Wytwórnia Broni.

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
Except for the differently shaped stacking rod near the muzzle, the Radom-produced Karabinek wzor 98 was a copy of the German Karabiner 98AZ. (Courtesy Hermann Historical Auctions, Munich)

KARABINEK WZOR 91-98-26
Caliber: Naboj Mausera Kal. 7,9mm wzor S
Overall length: 39.4 in.
Barrel length: 23.6 in.
Weight (unloaded): 8.2 pounds
Magazine: Five rounds, charger loaded
Sights: Front: Inverted V blade
Rear: V notch adj. by tangent from 300 to 2000 meters
Bayonet: Knife style with 12 in. blade 

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
Polish soldiers armed with the Karabinek wzor 98.

At first, Polish issue Mausers, the Karabin (rifle) wzor 98 and Karabinek (carbine) wzor 98, were copies of the aforementioned German Infanteriegewehr 98 and Karabiner 98AZ, and were assembled from German and some locally made parts. Production of new a Mauser short rifle—the Karabin wzor 29—began at Radom in 1929.


Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
Karabin wzor 29s issued to mounted troops had turned-down bolt handles. (courtesy Hermann Historica Auctions, Munich)

KARABIN WZOR 29
Caliber: Naboj Mausera Kal. 7,9mm wzor S
Overall length: 43 in.
Barrel length: 24 in.
Weight (unloaded): 8.8 pounds
Magazine: Five rounds, charger loaded
Sights: Front: Inverted V blade
Rear: V notch adj. by tangent from 300 to 2000 meters
Bayonet: Knife style with 12 in. blade 

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
Polish soldiers equipped with the Karabin wzor 29.

The Karabin wzor 29 was similar to the Mauser rifles being produced by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium (Fusil Modéle 1924) and Zbrojovka Brno in Czechoslovakia (Krátká Puška vz. 24) and was of a length making it suitable for both infantry and mounted troops. Rifles issued to infantry units had straight bolt handles, while those used by the cavalry usually had bent bolt handles.

The Naboj Mausera Kal. 7,9mm wzor S was identical to the German 7,9mm Patrone S, with a rimless, bottle-necked case measuring 57mm in length with a 154-gr. FMJ Spitzer bullet traveling at approximately 2900 fps.


In November 1918, General Józef Piłsudski, a former general of the Austro-Hungarian army, became Poland’s first Chief of State, an office he would hold until 1922. He commanded Polish forces in the aforementioned Russo-Polish War and in several border conflicts with Germany and Czechoslovakia.

The 1920s were a turbulent time for Poland. Social conflicts between the old aristocracy and the workers and peasants, acerbated by hyperinflation and unemployment, boiled over into strikes and riots. On May 12, 1926, a coup led by Piłsudski took control of the government, and he was “elected” president by the Sejm, Poland’s parliament. Over the next decade, Piłsudski would serve as Poland’s president, prime minister, General Inspector of the Armed Forces and Minister of Military Affairs. In reality, he was the country’s de facto benevolent dictator. Ongoing tensions with Germany and the USSR led to Poland allying itself closely with France.

In the early 1920s, the Poles began converting numbers of ex-Russian vintovka obr. 1891g into a more, dare we say, modern rifle. Known originally as the Karabinek wzor 91-98-23, the conversions were assembled between 1924 and 1927, at the Centralna Składnica Broni of Warsaw and ARMA Ltd. of Lwów.

Approximately 77,000 rifles were modified by shortening the barrel to 24 inches; re-chambering and re-boring the barrels for the Naboj Mausera Kal. 7,9mm wzor S; shortening the stock forearm; modifying the bolt heads for the rimless cartridge, recalibrating the sights; modifying the magazine to accept the new cartridge; modifying the charger guards to accept Mauser-type chargers; and installing sling swivels.

In 1925, the design was modified with the addition of a bayonet mounting bar to allow the use of a knife bayonet, and was re-designated the Karabinek wz. 91/98/25. A year later, the design was further modified with a two-piece ejector/interrupter, and this final version was
approved as the Karabinek wzor 91/98/26.

Between 1936 and 1938, a Polish engineer, Józef Maroszek, who had designed the Polish army’s Karabin przeciwpancerny wzór 35 (Anti Tank Rifle Model 35), developed a semiautomatic infantry rifle. A gas-operated design, it used a tilting bolt system similar to that of the Browning Automatic Rifle. It was equipped with a detachable 10-round magazine, which, like many contemporary semiauto rifle designs, was loaded with five-round chargers.

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
The Karabin samopowtarzalny wzór 38M was a semiautomatic rifle designed in Poland but too late to see service during the war.

KARABIN SAMOPOWTARZALNY WZÓR 38M
Caliber: Naboj Mausera Kal. 7,9mm wzor S
Overall length: 44.6 in.
Barrel length: 24.6 in.
Weight (unloaded): 9.9 pounds
Magazine: Ten rounds, charger-loaded
Sights: Front: Inverted V blade
Rear: V notch adj. by tangent from 300 to 2000 meters
Bayonet: Knife style with 12 in. blade 

It was entered in trials in 1937, and was approved as the Karabin samopowtarzalny wzór 38M (Self-repeating Rifle Model 38M). Initial manufacture took place at Zbrojownia Nr. 2 (Arsenal No.2) in Warsaw, but it appears that only about 150 rifles were completed before the Germans and Russians invaded in 1939.

Reportedly, while evacuating the arsenal, Mr. Maroszek himself used one of these rifles to shoot at a German dive-bomber, which is the only confirmed combat use of the rifle in history. The remainder of the rifles were lost in the confusion of the German and Russian invasions.

Almost a third of the population of Poland was made up of German, Russian, Ukrainian, Belarus, Czech and Jewish minorities. These ethnic groups had little say in the government, but the turmoil caused by them gave Poland’s German and Russian neighbors excuses to meddle in Polish affairs to “protect” them.

On August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the USSR signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of neutrality between the two nations. It also recognized each nation’s sphere of power, which just happened to include a partition of Poland.

Polish Handguns

As was the case with rifles, the post-1918 Polish army was equipped with a bewildering variety of pistols and revolvers. While the “official” sidearm was the ex-Russian 7,62mm Revol’ver Sistemy Nagana obr. 1895g (M1895 Nagant revolver), thousands of German, Austrian, Hungarian, Belgian, French and Spanish revolvers, and pistols of various types, models and calibers were also in service.

By the late 1920s, the army’s Nagant revolvers were rapidly approaching the end of their serviceable life. The Polish army, however, which was dominated the cavalry, felt the revolver was more suitable for mounted use and were in general opposed to the introduction of semiauto pistols.

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
Between 1930 and 1937, the Polish government produced the Rewolwer Ng30 at Pan´stwowa Wytwórnia Broni. (Francis Kennedy photo)

REWOLWER NG 30
Caliber: Naboj rewolwerowych Syst. Nagana kal. 7,62mm
Overall length: 10.5 in.
Barrel length: 4.5 in.
Weight (unloaded): 29 oz.
Capacity: Seven rounds
Sights: Front: Blade
Rear: Notch in topstrap
Grips: Checkered wood 

To provide new handguns, the Polish government purchased machinery for manufacturing the unique gas-seal Nagant revolver from the Belgian company that had originally developed it for the Russians, Fabrique d’Armes Nagant Freres. The machinery was installed at the Państwowa Wytwórnia Broni and production of the Rewolwer Ng 30 began in 1930, with approximately 20,000 being manufactured by 1936.

In 1929, the Polish government began negotiating with the Czech company of Česká Zbrojovká (CZ) for a license to manufacture that firm’s Armádní Pistole ráže 9mm vzor 24 at Radom. This semiauto pistol used a complicated rotating barrel locking and fired the 9mm Browning Short (.380 ACP) cartridge and after trials it was decided that it was overly complicated and underpowered.

As an alternative to the Czech pistol, Radom’s technical director, Andrzej Dowkontt, and one of his engineers, Piotr Wilniewczyc, undertook the development of a semiauto pistol chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. 

Their design was based largely upon the tried-and-proven Browning 1911 pistol, although it contained several unique “improvements” meant to simplify production and satisfy the demands of the influential officers of the Polish army’s mounted wing.

After trials and series of modifications, the pistol was adopted as the VIS Pistolet wojskowy wzor 1935 (note: “VIS” is Latin for “power”)—possibly to differentiate the new pistol from the rather lackluster 7,62mm Nagant revolver, so a literal translation might be “Powerful Semiautomatic Pistol Model of 1935.”

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
The standard pistol of the pre-1939 Polish army was the VIS Pistolet wojskowy wzor 1935, better known as the “Radom.”

VIS PISTOLET WOJSKOWY WZOR 1935
Caliber: Nabój pistoletowe syst. “Parabellum” kal. 9 m/m
Overall length: 8.3 in.
Barrel length: 4.5 in., 6 grooves, rt. hand twist
Weight (unloaded): 37 oz.
Magazine: 8 round, single column box
Sights: Front: Blade
Rear: V notch
Grips: Black/brown plastic or wood 

The pistol resembled the Model 1911 with the same style grip safety, slide stop lever, magazine release and grip safety, but replaced the 1911’s articulating barrel link with a cammed lug on the bottom of the barrel, did away with the barrel bushing, and used a captive spring on a full-length guide rod in the recoil system. 

When pushed down, a lever on the slide retracted the firing pin and tripped the sear, allowing the hammer to fall against the frame. The take-down catch—which is located in the same position as the 1911’s thumb safety—was used to lock the slide back for disassembly

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
Members of the Armia Krajowa armed with wzor 1935 pistols during the Warsaw Uprising.

The VIS wzor 1935 was chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, known in Polish service as the nabój pistoletowe syst. “Parabellum” kal. 9 m/m, and consisted of a tapered, rimless case 19mm long whose 124-gr. FMJ bullet was propelled to 1150 fps.

Polish Submachine Guns

According to Polish writer Leszek Erenfeicht, the pre-war Polish army showed only limited interest in submachine guns. Small numbers of the Erma EMP, M1921 Thompson, Bergmann MP28 and Finnish KP-31 Suomi were obtained for trial purposes, and a few of them were issued to the police and Presidential Guard.

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
While the Karabinek automatyczny wzor 39 Mors was adopted by the Polish Army, none were manufactured before the German and Soviet invasions.

In the late 1930s, a pair of engineers, the aforementioned, Piotr Wilniewczyc and Jan Skrzypinski, entered a 9mm submachine gun in army trials, with dismal results.The Państwowa Fabryka Karabinów (State Rifle Factory) in Warsaw took over development and numerous versions being produced in an attempt to satisfy the army’s myriad requirements. The final version was approved for service as the Karabinek automatyczny wzor 39 Mors, although the German and Russian invasions put a stop to any production.

Note: for a more detailed history of the wzor 39 Mors, I recommend Mr. Erenfeicht’s article at www.forgottenweapons.com/submachine-guns/wz-39-mors/

Polish Light Machine Guns

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
1939. Polish anti-aircraft crew armed with Berthier carbines and an ex-Russian obr. 1910g Maxim machine gun.

The early Polish army was equipped with a variety of light machine guns left over from WWI. Among these were the German MG08/15 (Maxim), the French Fusil Mitrailleur Modéle 1915 (Chauchat), British Mark I Lewis and ex-Russian Madsens.

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
The standard Polish light machine gun at the outbreak of WWII was the 7,9 mm Re˛czny karabin maszynowy Browning wzor 1928. (courtesy James D. Julia Auctioneers, Fairfield, ME, www.jamesdjulia.com)

7,9 MM RE˛ CZNY KARABIN MASZYNOWY BROWNING WZOR 1928
Caliber: Naboj Mausera Kal. 7,9mm wzor S
Overall length: 44 in.
Barrel length: 24 in.
Weight (unloaded): 13 pounds
Magazine: 20 rd. detachable box
Sights: Front: Inverted V blade
Rear: V notch adj. by tangent from 300 to 2000 meters
ROF: 600 rpm 

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
Polish soldiers equipped with the 7,9 mm Re˛ czny karabin maszynowy Browning wzor 1928.

In 1923, trials were announced for a new light machine gun, and among those obtained were several U.S. M1918 Browning Automatic Rifles. Testing proved the superiority of the Browning, and in 1927, a version of the Browning made by the Belgian firm Fabrique Nationale was chosen as the 7,9 mm Ręczny karabin maszynowy Browning wzor 1928 (hand-held machine gun Browning Model 1928—better known as the rkm Browning wz. 28).

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
A pair of Polish soldiers equipped with a the 7,9 mm Re˛ czny karabin maszynowy Browning wzor 1928 and a Karabin przeciwpancerny wzór 35 (anti-tank rifle).

The wzor 1928 differed from the U.S. version in that it had a finned barrel, pistol grip, different style bipod, sights, stock and forearm, and was chambered for the Naboj Mausera Kal. 7,9mm wzor S.

An order for 10,000 guns was placed with FN and a license obtained to manufacture them at the arsenal in Radom. Local production began in 1930, and approximately 13,000 guns were built before the German and Soviet invasions halted production.

On Sept. 1, using a series of manufactured border incidents as an excuse, the Wehrmacht invaded Poland, and German armored columns drove deep into the country, repeatedly defeating Polish attempts to stop them.

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
Weapons surrendered by the defenders of Warsaw after the German conquest of the city.

On Sept. 17, the Red Army invaded Poland from the East. The Polish army forces, who were poorly supplied with artillery and armored vehicles, were stretched thin by a two-front war. While Polish resistance was stiff, they were eventually overwhelmed by the blitzkrieg tactics of the Germans and “stab in the back” by the Soviets.8 After a sixteen-day siege on the capital, the defenders of Warsaw capitulated on Sept. 29, while the remaining Polish units laid down their arms on Oct. 2, 1939.

Germany and the USSR divided Poland between themselves and both were equally hostile to the existence of a sovereign Polish state, Polish culture and the Polish people, aiming to first reduce them to servitude and then eradicate them by persecution, genocide and colonization.

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
Poland’s highly vaunted cavalry proved that lances were useless against German tanks.

The Polish government never surrendered to the German/Soviet occupiers. They fled the country, first to France and later Great Britain, where they established the Rząd Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej na uchodźstwie (Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile) and continued to exert a great degree of influence over resistance groups in their country.

As they did in many of the occupied countries, the Germans continued production of arms at Radom, which they renamed Waffenfabrik Steyr, Werk Radom. They captured large numbers of Karabin wzor 29, rkm Browning wzor 28 and Pistolet wzor 1935, and being they used standard Wehrmacht ammunition, they were taken directly into service without modification and received the Fremden Gerät designations 7,9mm Gewehr 298(p), 7,9mm Maschinengewehr 154(p) and 9mm Pistole 35(p).

Polish WWII Weapons Part 1
German soldiers armed with captured 7,9mm Maschinengewehre 154(p).

In Part II of this report we will examine the creation of the Free Polish forces in France, the USSR and Great Britain in addition to the armed resistance to the Nazi occupation by the Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army).

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