Polish Armor 1939 – Improvised Armored Car Kubus


Improvised Armored Car
"Kubus"

Kubus - Front Left View
Kubus - Front Left View

The improvised armored car "Kubus" was build by Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa – AK) "Krybar" unit from the Powisle district of Warsaw. Its main role was to be used as a personnel carrier for "desant" assault like attacks on German strongpoints in the city. It was build by "Krybar" with help of workers of the city’s main powerplant and the inhabitants of the Powisle district. The entire construction took only 13 days to complete during the Warsaw Uprising and was done under extremely heavy conditions. The decision to build "Kubus" was made by commanders of "Krybar" unit as well as defenders of the powerplant. The main reason was that powerplant as well as the Powisle district was under constant German fire coming and being directed from the Warsaw University complex. This caused heavy casualties and severed the communication with the Srodmiescie (city center) district. The main task of "Kubus" was to take part in the capture of the Warsaw University complex.

The people directly behind the construction of "Kubus" were Captain "Krybar" (Cyprian Odorkiewicz), commander of the "Krybar" Group and Captain "Cubryna" (engineer Stanislaw Skibniewski) commander of the powerplant. Construction began on August 10th of 1944, when Junior-Lieutenant "Kaczka" (engineer Edmund Frydrych) following previous arrangement made on August 3rd acquired 3ton Chevrolet model 157 truck. The truck was produced before the war in Warsaw under license by "Lilpop, Rau and Lowenstein" S.A and during the war was mounted with wood burning gas generator. "Kaczka" acquired the car as well as materials (such as steel plates, welding machine and metal frame elements) from the powerplant. The construction itself took place in "Stach" (Stanislaw Kwiatkowski) workshop on the corner of Tamka and Topiel Streets. In the workshop, "Kaczka" with employees roughly designed the armored car with a fully rotating turret mounting a machine gun. On August 8th, "Kaczka" was replaced by the order of Captain "Krybar" and Junior-Lieutenant "Jan" (engineer Walerian Bielecki) took over. "Jan" was informed that the armored car was to be completed in 10 to 12 days according to the supplied specifications. The professional workers employed to construct the car came from the powerplant. Shortly after, "Globus" (Jozef Fernik) became the chief engineer and construction began on August 10th after additional needed materials were acquired and work team completed.

"Jan" in his design work consulted mechanics as well as Manual for Renault tank from 1921, where the importance of armor protection was stressed. Construction and shape of the vehicle was largely a result of available materials, especially steel plates. During the construction, shortages of steel plates and welding equipment occurred. Plates and equipment were brought from all parts of the Home Army controlled parts of Warsaw. The main source for plates was the safe making shop as well as destroyed German police armored car (unknown type – mostlikely captured Russian or French armored car). In addition, the German bombardment of the powerplant increased based on the suspicion of something being produced there. First plates were mounted on the vehicle on August 15th. Same day, "Kubus" the wife of "Globus", who was a doctor was killed during an escape from a burning house, while his 7-years-old son was badly wounded. This sad event resulted in this improvised armored car being named after "Globus" wife – "Kubus".

Kubus - Front View
Kubus - Front View

Meanwhile, first tests of steel plates took place by firing at it from a distance of 30 to 40cm at 90 degrees angle. The steel plates were 5 to 6mm thick and were easily penetrated by gunfire. To increase the protection additional plates were mounted 6cm apart, creating the outer and inner shell. This offered protection against small firearms, but anti-tank rifle round was able to penetrate both shells. The plates removed from a German armored car were 6mm thick and offered much better protection. All the outer shell armor plates were sloped to increase protection even more. Following tests set of tactical and technical regulations was set based on the element of surprise achieved during the attack. They included:

 

  • Main function of "Kubus" was take 8 to 12 soldiers to the Warsaw University complex, where it was to protect them during the attack on the bunker near the gate. In case of a failure, it was to evacuate them and retreat.
  • "Kubus" offered complete protection against small arms, rifle and machine gun fire, because of its sloped armor.
  • Hand grenades were not dangerous to "Kubus", while on the move because of the sloped armor.
  • The main dangers to "Kubus" were enemy armor vehicles and anti-tank weapons.

 

The main entrance to the armored car was to be located in the rear 50 degrees sloped plate. The hatch was to open up. Additional double escape hatch was located in the floor. Also double hatch was mounted on the roof. Finally the main entrance hatch was eliminated due to technical problems and escape hatch became the main and only way in and out during action. Additional problem was to protect the tires from the enemy fire. This was done by mounting plates over tires using bolts so that they could be easily removed when needed. Tires were also protected by hanging skirts. Also, driving and visibility was a problem since only narrow 10 by 30cm long vision port was made in the outer shell, while slightly larger 10 by 40cm in the inner shell. Also openings were made in side plates and were used for observation and as a pistol ports. Construction took place until early hours of August 23rd of 1944, the day of the attack on the University complex. "Kubus" was driven by "Anastazja" (Sergeant Fijalkowski), who did not have a chance to drive it before due to the secrecy surrounding the construction. "Kubus" left the workshop for the first time going straight into action. Its crew consisted of 12 men including the driver. Vehicle was armed with Soviet 7.62mm DP Model 1928 machine gun and flamethrower as well as weapons carried by the rest of the crew. "Kubus" along with captured German Sd.Kfz.251 Ausf D "Jas" (later known as "Szary Wilk") semi-tracked medium personnel carrier formed the Armored Platoon of the Motorized Column "Wydra". The platoon was commanded by "Szary Wilk" (Andrzej Dewicz). The unit was based at the Conservatory Garden in Powisle.

Kubus - Rear View
Kubus - Rear View

Around 4:00am, platoon was on the move towards their target. After the main gate was damaged using homemade explosives, "Jas" rammed what was left of it driving into the complex followed by "Kubus". Once inside, crews of both vehicles attacked the bunker near the gate, while advancing deeper into the complex. Lacking the expected reinforcements and heavy German resistance, both crews were forced to retreat, while losing their commander "Szary Wilk". Following action, Sd.Kfz.251 was renamed "Szary Wilk" in the memory of a fallen commander. Upon retreat, "Kubus" engine failed to start, while the crew found it extremely hard to evacuate wounded using the hatch in the floor. Situation became even more dangerous when Germans brought into the action an anti-tank gun and tanks. After few minutes, before any shots were fired by the Germans, "Kubus" finally started with the wounded safe inside it. On they way back, "Kubus" hit a streetlight, while going full speed bending the plate protecting the tire and causing it to cut the tire. Leaning to left "Kubus" managed to return to safety. Attack proved to be a success, having an effect on both Polish and German morale. It also forced Germans to believe that Polish units in the Powisle district were much stronger and better equipped than expected.

Following the action, "Kubus" was returned to the workshop, where it was modified. Driver’s visor port was enlarged and mounted with 8cm thick armor glass found in a captured Sd.Kfz.251 "Szary Wilk". Machine gun (or PIAT) shield was mounted on top of the roof, in front of the gunner’s double hatch. It was also decided to use "Kubus" as a "desant" assault vehicle, while "Szary Wilk" was to support and protect the infantry.

Kubus - Side Views
Kubus - Side Views

On September 2nd of 1944, "Kubus" took part in a third attempt to capture the Warsaw University complex. It was to support soldiers from "Krybar" during their attack on the side gate. "Kubus" entered action little past 4:00pm, providing fire support to the attacking unit. German defenders were numerous and their fire forced Polish unit to take cover. "Kubus" attempted to ram the gate and barbwire obstacles, but German fire and shrapnel punctured its tires, causing it to retreat. Lacking maneuverability and leaning to the right, "Kubus" retreated driving in reverse. Entire action involving both "Kubus" and "Szary Wilk" proved to be a failure in face of a stubborn German defense.

Following the action, "Krybar" began to be overcome by the superior German forces and planned to retreat into Srodmiescie district. It was proposed to move "Kubus" to Srodmiescie, but it proved to be risky due to the fact that two street barricades had to be taken apart. "Aspira" (Waclaw Jastrzebowski), who was in charge of platoon and training of crews decided that "Kubus" should not fall into German hands and that it was to be burned. On September 6th of 1944, the day when "Krybar" evacuated Powisle, "Kubus" was immobilized by removal of starter and alternator and left parked in the Conservatory Garden in Powisle.

Kubus - Replica
Kubus - Replica

After the "liberation" of Warsaw by the Red Army and Polish People’s Army on January 17th of 1945, "Kubus" was found where it was left by "Krybar" on September 6th of 1944. It was then moved to the Muzeum Wojska Polskiego (Museum of the Polish Army) in Warsaw, where after few years it was renovated by "Globus" himself. "Kubus" was renovated again recently and is on display near the entrance to the museum. In mid 2004, replica was completed and put on display at the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego (The Warsaw Uprising Museum) in Warsaw. Since then, it has also been used in some war remembrance celebrations in Warsaw.


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