Having been ordered to hold the area, Colonel Mastelarz decided to take the regiment’s 1st and 2nd
Squadrons through the forest and attempt to attack the German infantry positions from the rear. That evening, Mastelarz’s two cavalry squadrons surprised a German infantry battalion in an open area.
Ordinarily, after cavalrymen had arrived at a battle area, they would dismount and use their rifles and
other weapons to engage the enemy. However, in this case, Mastelarz had the advantage of both surprise and mobility, so he ordered a mounted saber attack against the German infantry.
The 1st and 2nd Squadrons, a force of about 250, charged out of the forest across an open area and into the
German formation. With only a few casualties, the Poles quickly gained the advantage during the close-in fighting, and the Germans started falling back.
Just when it looked like the Poles were going to win the skirmish, several German armored cars equipped
with machine guns and automatic cannon appeared and opened fire on the Polish cavalry who then broke off the attack and retreated from the battle scene. Losses to the Polish squadrons were about 20 killed,
including Colonel Mastelarz, and an unknown number, probably about 60, wounded or captured. This was the first cavalry charge of World War II.
A MYTH IS BORN. Two days later, General Heinz Guderian,
commander of the 19th Corps, of which the German 20th Motorized Division was a part, wrote that, “…we succeeded in totally encircling the enemy on our front in the wooded country north of Schwetz and
west of Graudenz. The Polish Pomorska Cavalry Brigade, in ignorance of the nature of our tanks, had charged them with swords and lances and had suffered tremendous losses.”
The incident was not unlike other reported occasions where Polish cavalry, rather than surrendering,
attempted to break through the encircling German forces giving Guderian’s troops the impression that the Poles were attacking the tanks rather than trying to dash between them.
Afterwards, German military officials brought war correspondents William L Shirer and Indro Montanelli to
the scene, and told them that the carnage they saw before them was the result of Polish cavalry attacking German tanks. Neither reporter witnessed the actual battle, so they could only report what they were told
and the aftermath that they saw. From this, and the report of General Guderian, came the myth of the Polish Cavalry charge against German tanks that was to endure to this very day.
Shirer mentioned his experience in his 1941, “Berlin Diary.” Then, in his 1959 book, “The
Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich,” he wrote: “Horses against tanks! The cavalryman’s long lance against the tank’s long canon! Brave and valiant and foolhardy though they were, the Poles
were simply overwhelmed by the German onslaught.”
References to the legendary charge occurred repeatedly since then in books, magazines,
and so-called documentaries that included staged scenes of Polish cavalry charging German tanks. As recently as 2007, a World War II Magazine Special Collector’s Edition article entitled
“Blitzkrieg” contained a photograph of the Pomorska Cavalry Brigade on maneuvers, taken before the war began. It was captioned: “The Pomorska Cavalry Brigade gallops to the front wielding
sabers and lances like their medieval forebears.”