Polish Armor 1939 – TK Tankette Series

TK Tankette Series
Small / Light Reconnaissance Tank

In 1928, British Vickers-Armstrong company produced two-man Vickers Carden-Loyd Mark VI and its design attracted great attention.  In mid 1929, Poland purchased single Mark VI tankette and it was tested on June 20th of 1929 at Rembertow near Warsaw.  On June 29th of 1929, after extensive tests 10 more tankettes along with 5 trailers and spare parts were ordered.  Ordered equipment arrived in September of 1929 and large scale tests took place. Afterwards it was decided thattankettes have potential and can be use to motorize cavalry units and as a reconnaissance vehicles.  Licence was purchased and domestic development of this design began by modifying the British design. The main problem with British tankettes was their suspension, which exhausted crews after long travel. Polish designers first modified one or two of original British tankettes by improving and strenghtening the suspension. Following the modifications, it was decided not to produce modified version of British tankette but to continue the development of domestic design based on it.

In late 1929, prototype TK-1 (also known as Tek 1001 and TK wz.30) was produced and was followed by a similar prototype vehicle – TK-2. TK-1 and TK-2 were open at the top and were armed with single 7.92mm wz.25 or wz.30 machine gun (to be used against both ground and air targets). They had their armor protection ranging from 3-7mm. Both were very similar with the minor differences in mechanical layout (location of the drive train and air intakes along with suspensions), while TK-1 was powered by Ford Type A and TK-2 by Ford Type T engine. Both were tested in the Summer of 1930, in Modlin (near Warsaw), although full-scale production was not started further development was to be continued.


TK-3 tankette.

In 1930, based on experiences with TK-1 and TK-2, heavier and improved variant TK-3 was produced at Ursus near Warsawand was ready for tests in March of 1931.  After tests, on July 14th of 1931, TK-3 was accepted into service with the Polish Army.  It was to enter production in late 1931.  From 1931/32 to 1933/34, some 300 TK-3 were produced by Panstwowe Zaklady Inzynierii (National Engineering Works) at Ursus near Warsaw. TK-3 was powered by a Ford Type A engine and was the first all-Polish tracked armored vehicle. The crew of two was housed in lightly armored (3-8mm) superstructure. TK-3 was armed with 7.92mm wz.25 machine gun, which was operated by the commander. In 1931, special tracked trailer was produced to be towed by TK-3 tankette.  In addition, various other (armored and unarmored) trailers (single or twin axle) were produced to carry ammunition, supplies, fuel, radio equipment and even soldiers.

TK on Ursus chassis.
TK on Ursus chassis.

TK tankette placed on Ursus truck chassis – Autotransport.

Very interesting conversion was made in 1931, in order to transport TK-3 tankette by using modified Ursus truck chassis – Autotransport. The tankette was driven onto the wheeled chassis, the tracks removed and a chain drive was taken from the tankette drive sprocket to the rear axle of the trailer. The combined vehicles were steered by the tankette’s driver from within the tankette. Small number was produced and distributed among units equipped with TK-3 and then with TKS tankettes. Also similar conversion was made to allow TK tankettes to travel by rail.

Between 1931 and 1933, attempts were also made to replace the original 7.92mm machine gun with heavier 13.2mm Hotchkiss machine gun but they never left the drawing boards.  At the same, the need for tankettes with special anti-tank armament (13.2-20mm) started the development of such tankette.  In 1938, single TK-3 was rearmed with 20mm Solothurn and then Polish 20mm wz.38 (FK model A) cannon, but it was decided to only rearm TKS vehicles.  By September of 1939, TK-3 tankettes were very used up and badly needed repairs but instead of being used for training as planned, all were used in combat.


TKS tankette.

In June of 1933, prototype of up-armored version of TK-3 tankette with thicker armor, designated as STK and eventually as TKS was produced. In February of 1934, production of TKS started, and 390 were produced by Panstwowe Zaklady Inzynierii (National Engineering Works) at Ursus near Warsaw until September of 1939. 20 of 390 TKS produced were manufactured with cast armor. TKS was powered by a license-produced Polski Fiat 122B engine and featured many modifications including strengthened suspension. Its only armament consisted of single 7.92mm wz.25 (late) or wz.30 (early) machine gun and its armor protection ranged from 3-10mm (protection against small caliber AP bullets).

As early as 1936, designers worked on the possibility of rearming TK-3 and TKS tankettes with the Danish Madsen or the Swiss Solothurn 20mm automatic cannon.  During tests, foreign weapons proved inadequate and homemade 20mm automatic cannon was to be produced. In 1938/39, Polish made 20mm FK-A wz.38 L/73.5 automatic cannons (capable of penetrating 40mm at 200m) were ready and the process of rearming some TK-3 and TKS tankettes started. From July to October of 1938, single TK-3 and TKS were converted and rearmed. After tests and further modifications, in January of 1939, prototype TKS armed with 20mm cannon was ready.Vehicles were modified (redesigned front superstructure) and fitted with the automatic cannon mounted in a large ball mount.It was planned to rearm some 100 to 150 TKS tankette until January 30th of 1940. Only small number (some sources state 40) was rearmed before September of 1939 and handed over to 10th Mechanized Brigade , where they were used as commander’s vehicles.  The crew of 2 men, driver and commander operated all of the TK series tankettes.

On September 18th of 1939, during the Bzura Offensive, TKS armed with 20mm cannon commanded by officer cadet Roman Orlik supporting Volhynian Cavalry Brigade destroyed three German PzKpfw 35(t) tanks (including one commanded byLieutenant Victor Hohenlohe – Prinz Von Ratibor) from 11th Panzer Regiment, 6th Panzer Division near Pociecha in Central Poland.

TKS armed with 20mm cannon.
TKS armed with 20mm cannon.

TKS armed with 20mm FK automatic cannon.

As early as 1932, Polish designers planned to improve TK and TKS tankettes by designing new variants such as: TKW, TKD, TKF and TKS-D. TKW was a reconnaissance light tank/tankette. First prototype was ready in 1933 and from 1933 to 1934, 6 TKWs were produced. TKW’s design was similar to British Patrol Tank Mark I, which was based on Vickers Carden-Loyd Mark VI from 1932. TKW was a modified TK-3 tankette with fully rotating turret.  Two turrets existed, "old type" with mantlet for 7.92mm wz.30 machine gun and "universal type" with mantlet for heavier armament up to 20mm.  In 1936, the whole project was cancelled in favour of 4TP (PZInz.140) tank.  The "universal type" turret was eventually used in the development of 4TP (PZInz.140) and PZInz.130 tanks.  TKD was a light gun carrier (light self-propelled gun) and first prototype was produced in May of 1932.  Only 4 vehicles were produced from May to the end of June of 1932.  It was modified TK-3 armed with Polish 47mm wz.25 "Pocisk" ("Bullet") gun. There were also variants armed with the French 37mm Puteaux and British 47mm Vickers gun.  It is reported that TKDs were converted to CP armored tractors for 75mm field gun wz.1897/38 (model 1897/38 – Polish modified French Schneider field gun), while 47mm "Pocisk" guns were sold to China.  TKF was an improved version of TK-3 tankette mounted with Polski Fiat 122B engine. It was armed with a 7.92mm wz.25 machine guns and one 9mm wz.28 anti-aircraft machine gun.  Production was limited from 18 to 22, since TKS incorpotated all the modifications of TKF. TKS-D was a modified and rearmed TKS tankette and two prototypes were produced in April of 1937.  It was a weapon carrier (self propelled gun) armed with Bofors 37mm (wz.36) anti-tank gun. The gun could be dismounted if needed and towed by the vehicle for transport purposes along with fully armored trailer for 80 rounds of ammunition and three crew members.  In 1938, single TKS-D took part in the takeover of Zaolzie from Czechoslovakia serving with 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade.In 1938, the project was cancelled in favour of self-propelled gun PZInz.160, because of the cost. PZInz.160/161 was a project from 1937, but never left the drawing board.  It was to be armed with 37mm gun and two 7.92mm machine guns and operated by four men crew.   Its weight was to be 4.3tons and maximum speed 50km/h.TKW, TKD and TKS-D never reached the production stage and only few prototypes of each were produced.  In 1936, at least single TKS was mounted with 37mm Puteaux SA gun in place of the machine gun for testing purposes, but its further fate is unknown.

TKS at Ursus
TKS at Ursus
TK series tankettes on exercises in Volhynia
TK series tankettes on exercises in Volhynia

In 1931, Polish designers decided to use TK’s chassis to build light artillery tractor designated C2T and in April of 1933, after further tests and improvements prototype C2P was produced. C2P was produced from 1937 to 1939 by Panstwowe Zaklady Inzynierii (National Engineering Works). C2P’s design proved to be very successful, reliable, fast and maneuverable vehicle. C2P was used to tow 75mm field gun wz.1897/38 and 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun wz.36. After the Polish Campaign, C2P was used by the Wehrmacht along with other TK series tankettes. In 1942, Germans handed over few (18) remaining TK-3 and TKS tankettes (along with few wz.34 armored cars) to Croatia.


Light artillery tractor C2P

Poland also tried to export the TK series tankettes and in 1934/35, Poland sold (platoon) 6 TKS tankettes to Estonia. Also unsuccessful attempt was made to sell TKS to Romania. Spain was interested in purchasing 80 TKS but the transaction was never finalized due to unknown reasons.  In January 1937, Sweden became interested in purchasing or renting of single TKS for testing purposes along with a purchase of 20 to 60 TKS tankettes, but Polish side was not interested.

In September 1939, TK series tankettes served with Infantry Divisions, Cavalry Brigades and Independent units such as companies (13 tankettes) and platoons attached to larger units. Tankettes were the main equipment of the Polish armored units. They were hopelessly outclassed and were literally "swept aside" by the German Panzers. Even with their outgunned weapons, bravery of Polish TK crews allowed them to destroy some number of enemy vehicles.


Restored TKS on display in Poland.

Today, parts of TKS can seen in the Museum of Polish Armored Forces in Warsaw in Poland, while complete TK-3 (or TKF) can be seen in Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade, Serbia and TKS in the Museum of Armored Forces in Kubinka (near Moscow) in Russia. There was also one damaged example in Axvall, Sweden, but it has been restored in Poland and it is on display at the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw. There is also an almost complete example in Norway.

Model: TK-3 TKS
Weight: 2430kg 2570kg (early)
2650kg (late)
2800kg (20mm)
Crew: 2 men 2 men
Engine: Ford Model A
4-cylinder / 40hp
Polski Fiat 122AC
6-cylinder / 42hp (early)
Polski Fiat 122B
6-cylinder / 46hp (late)
Fuel Capacity: 60 liters 70 liters
Speed: 45-46km/h 40km/h
Range: Road: 200km
Cross-Country: 100km
Road: 180km
Cross-Country: 110km
Lenght: 2.58m 2.56-58m
2.98m (20mm)
Width: 1.78m 1.76-78m
Height: 1.32m 1.32-33m
Armament: 1 x 7.92mm Hotchkiss wz.25 1 x 7.92mm Hotchkiss wz.25 or wz.30
20mm FK-A wz.38 L/73.5
Ammunition: 7.92mm – 1800 rounds 7.92mm wz.25 – 2000 rounds
7.92mm wz.30 – 2400 rounds
20mm – 250 rounds
Armor: Front: 6-8mm
Side: 8mm
Rear: 6-8mm
Top: 4mm
Bottom: 7mm
Front: 6-10mm (early) / 8-10mm (late)
Side: 8mm (early) / 8-10mm (late)
Rear: 6-10mm (early) / 8-10mm (late)
Top: 3-5mm (early) / 3mm (late)
Bottom: 4mm (early) / 5mm (late)

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