Debunking Polish stereotypes: the cavalry charge against German tanks

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If you want to wind up a Pole of a certain age, there is no more reliable means than quoting the old myth about Polish lancers charging at German panzer divisions in the second world war.

The story feeds a stereotype about Polish men being hopelessly romantic, hopelessly moustachioed idiots who would actually gallop their horses at big steel tanks.

Even this newspaper fell into the trap less than two years ago, when a columnist described the mythical charge as "the most romantic and idiotic act of suicide of modern war". We had to append a speedy correction admitting that we had "repeated a myth of the second world war, fostered by Nazi propagandists".

The most likely origin of the legend is a skirmish at the Pomeranian village of Krojanty on the first day of the German invasion, 1 September 1939. Polish lancers, whose units had still not been motorised, did indeed charge a Wehrmacht infantry battalion but were forced to retreat under heavy machine gun fire. By the time German and Italian war correspondents got there, some tanks had arrived and they joined the dots themselves....

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