Only in Poznan you can see a unique collection of historic tanks, cannons and self-propelled guns.
“When I was asked to answer the call, at first I thought that someone was calling to see our collection,” recalls Lieutenant Colonel Tomasz Ogrodniczuk, curator of the Armored Weapons Museum in Poznań. However, soon he understood he had been wrong.
“Do you have T-54 and T-55 tanks in there?,” he heard the question on the phone.
“Yes, we do...”
“Could you make it work?”
“Well, that won’t be easy, but it is definitnly possible.”
“We need them in a movie.”
Tank Team on Set
“The lady I spoke to did not want to reveal the details at all because she was bound by an NDA. She just said it was a Steven Spielberg movie, and then she added that the main role would be played by an actor known from ‘Private Ryan.’ She didn’t mention the name of Tom Hanks, but it was obvious to us,” says Lieutenant Colonel Ogrodniczuk. Soon he and his associates were to learn that the movie image would tell the story of an American lawyer who, during the Cold War, embarked to Berlin to negotiate the exchange of a Soviet spy for Gary Powers, an American pilot. The title changed a couple of times, but eventually the authors opted for “Bridge of Spies.” Wrocław has been cast on the set as the capital of the GDR, and that was where Spielberg needed Poznan tanks.
Work on restoring them to full fitness started in full swing and lasted until the last day before the shooting started. Already in Wrocław, the enthusiasts associated with the museum were dressed up in GDR uniforms and waited for the signal. “Spielberg wasn’t sure if we could operate tanks among the extras. So, I stood in front of one of the vehicles and gave a sign. My friend Witek Marcińczyk moved forward and gently stopped the tank so that the armor touched me at the height of the belt,” recalls the head of the armored outpost. Already after the shooting was finished, when the Poznan team was taking commemorative photos with Steven Spielberg, the director took out his camera and asked for one for himself. “This is my team,” he said Today, the tanks, which were used on the set of the “Bridge of Spies,” stand in one of the halls of the new MBP headquarters in Golęcin.
“Please pay attention to the T-55 tower,” points out Piotr Kaźmierczak, a museum employee, who guides us around the exhibition. “The autograph was signed by Janusz Kamiński on one side and by Spielberg on the other. It’s the only tank like this in the world!”
There are many such unique, exceptional and surely brilliant exhibits here. The carefully gathered collection consists of about 70 vehicles – tanks, self-propelled guns, armored transporters. The history of the collection dates back to the first half of the 1960s and is associated with the Officer School of Armored Forces in Poznań. Its soldiers started to collect the armor they needed to conduct their classes. At that time, various types of vehicles were collected, as well as parts and cross-sections of tank components and armored guns.
Then the collection gradually grew – the out-of-service equipment was taken over and placed in the hangar on the school grounds. Among the first exhibits, there was a Soviet tank T-34 and an armored cannon Su-85. “I took over the care of the collection in 1997, it included 18 vehicles. Today we have about 70 of them,” says the branch manager.
The exhibition is located in the Land Forces Training Centre, which was set up in the place of the school. However, access to the collections was difficult because anyone entering the military area had to obtain a pass. In order to change this, the Armored Weapons Museum was established as a branch of the Polish Army Museum in 2015. That’s when they started looking for a new headquarters. In Golęcin, there was a hangar with an area of about 750 m2, and still it could not accommodate all the historic wagons. “We were looking for a place where all the equipment could fit and where there would be enough space to present driving vehicles as we have a few dozen of them in our collection,” explains Lieutenant Colonel Ogrodniczuk. It turned out that near Poznań Ławica Airport there is a post-military area with several buildings – the property of the Military Property Agency branch. Once they housed garages for cars, then warehouses, and recently they were vacant.
The buildings had to be rebuilt, renovated, insulated and fitted with appropriate installations. The total cost of the investment related to the adaptation of the property to the needs of the museum amounted to over PLN 21.5 million gross. In December 2018, museum exhibits were moved to the new premises. “We organized transport either in the morning or late in the evening to avoid confusion on the road. The biggest problem, however, was to pull the vehicles out of the hangar as they were very tightly positioned,” says the branch manager.
Now the collection is located in four spacious pavilions, each of an area of 750 m2. Initially, the opening of the institution was planned for the end of 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Wielkopolska Uprising. However, the deadline had to be postponed due to such circumstances as further construction work. The investors managed to raise money for roofing the area between the buildings. Thanks to this, the facility will have twice as much exhibition space as originally planned.
Every exhibit that can be seen in the newly opened museum has an interesting history. An example is an improvised armored train that stands on the track next to the exhibition halls. At the end of December 1918, the authorities of the reborn Poland sent a hastily formed, improvised armored train No. 11, later called “Poznańczyk,” to help the insurgents of Wielkopolska region. Its crew took part in the seizure of Ostrów Wielkopolski and fights for Krotoszyn. The original assault wagon survived on one of the Poznań sidings. It was included in the museum collection, underwent renovation and became an impulse to restore the insurgent storehouse. The Polish Association of Railway Lovers from Skierniewice handed over the 1913 locomotive to Poznań. Ryszard Zamyślony, President of the Nasycalnia Podkładów Sleeper Preserving Plant from Krotoszyn, donated two platforms. “The train will be expanded and equipped as much as possible,” explains Piotr Kaźmierczak. The exhibit reminds that at the beginning of the 20th century the armored weapon consisted of a kind of trinity: trains, cars and tanks, which began to enter the army in large numbers during the First World War.
There is another vehicle in the museum’s collection also called “Poznańczyk.” “Sometimes we call him “The Blue,” and the mischievous compare him to a toilet to a ToiToi toilet. All because of the color and shape of the towers where the shooters were sitting. On the battlefield, however, he was a really dangerous opponent,” says Kaźmierczak, pointing to an Austin-Putilov standing in the corner of the hall. The car was built in Russia during the First World War. “Its crew consisted of five people and had at their disposal two Maxim machine guns and... two drivers,” explains the guide. The first one drove the wagon to the battlefield. There he was rotated 180 degrees and moved backwards to attack. Then the second driver joined the action. “It’s in case the battle takes a bad turn. The vehicle did not have to waste any time turning around. Just the first driver at the command of the commander was pushing the gas to the limit and moving forward, in the direction opposite to the direction of attack,” says Piotr Kaźmierczak.
In May 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik war, soldiers of the 55th Infantry Regiment captured one of these wagons. It was renamed “Poznańczyk” (its original name was “Stenka Razin”) and served in the Polish army until the mid-1920s. The one standing in the Poznań museum is not the original. It was reconstructed by Waldemar Banaszyński, an entrepreneur and a private collector from Wolsztyn.
Rudy 102 and The Others
Near the “Poznańczyk” stands a Polish TKS tankette, sometimes called a little tank [czołżek]. These vehicles have been manufactured since the mid-thirties and used in the defense war of 1939. “Fast, maneuverable, and at the same time low, so difficult to hit, armed with machine guns of 20mm caliber, means actually a small anti-tank cannon, able to shoot with automatic fire. The TKSs were an extremely dangerous enemy of every German tank. Unfortunately, in September 1939 we had too few of them,” says Piotr Kaźmierczak.
During the war the tankette was taken over by the Germans and served at the military airport in Norway. It was later used by a local farmer. The Poznań museum was visited seven years ago, thanks to the help of Bogusław Winid, then Poland’s ambassador to NATO, and Stefan Czmura, Poland’s ambassador to Norway. The vehicle was taken care of by Arthur Zys and his team, called armored magicians. This entrepreneur from Wielkopolska has been cooperating with the museum for many years and has already given a second life to many exhibits.
Meanwhile, TKS is just a foretaste of what we will see next. There are tanks and powerful self-propelled guns standing there: the destroyer of Hetzer tanks in Dunkelgelb camouflage, and next to it the British tank A27L Centaur. Such machines were used, among others, by Polish armored troops who fought in Western Europe during World War II.
The biggest emotions of the visitors will probably be caused by another vehicle – the legendary “Rudy 102.” “This T-34-85 was produced during World War II. The Germans destroyed it during the Soviet attack on Krzesiny. At the end of the forties of the last century, the then commander of the Officer School of Armored Weapons decided to bring him to the university as a didactic aid,” says Kaźmierczak. Part of the armor was dismantled so that the future tankers could see the inside of the car. This is how the original trainer was created.
The vehicle in this condition was seen by the members of the crew who shot the series “Czterej pancerni i pies” (Four Tank-Men and a Dog) and decided that it was priceless for them. They abandoned the construction of dummies in which they filmed scenes from inside the tank. From the ninth episode until the end of the series, the current MBP exhibit was used as the film set. As Kaźmierczak says, the filmmakers discreetly omitted certain details. For example, the fact that the transmission in the Soviet vehicle was so stubborn that the soldiers had to support themselves with a five-kilometer hammer....
In subsequent halls, allied wagons were placed next to Soviet and German ones, second and newer ones, acquired from the Polish army, brought from abroad, and even land taken away. Just like the powerful StuG IV cannon on the chassis of a medium tank Panzer – a true legend of the Poznan collection. When in January 1945 its crew was escaping from the Red Army, ice broke under a vehicle on the river and StuG rested at the bottom of Rgilewka near Grzegorzew Wielkopolski.
In the following years the wreck was slowly sinking into the mule. The stories about the German tank, which went down to the bottom, reached the enthusiasts gathered around the Poznań museum. They decided to bring it out. It was only after the third approach that the car was finally sent to the Military Automotive Works in Poznań, where it was thoroughly renovated. Although the Germans produced about 600 such StuGs in total, only this one has survived to our times in a complete state.
An interesting exhibit is also the SU-76M self-propelled gun. Such equipment was used by soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Polish Army. “This copy is unique,” Sławomir Matecki, the senior caretaker of the exhibition, joins the conversation and interrupts the armoring of the IS-2 tank for a moment. “When Poles were given the vehicles, Soviet politicians ordered to decorate them with various slogans warming them up to fight. This one has one on its barrel, too,” explains Matecki and lights a tiny flashlight. The beam of light from the green camouflage of the armor reveals darker outlines of letters by a tone. The Cyrillic alphabet is called “Katyn’s Revenge.” The Soviet propaganda tried with all its might to convince everyone that the Germans were responsible for the murder of Polish officers, and now the time has come to repay them for it....
Meanwhile, Matecki goes back to the IS. Here’s the real giant! The Soviet heavy tank, named after Joseph Stalin, is equipped with a 122mm gun and weighs 46t. “Such tanks were used for assaults to break the enemy’s line,” explains Matecki. They may have aroused respect, but... had a few weak points. Inside them there was relatively little ammunition, deprived of the advantage of rapid firing, and the viewfinder located exactly at the eye level of the operator-mechanic made it possible for the sniper to fly from the right shot.
In place of the viewfinder, there is a hard armor curved so as to ricochet smaller caliber missiles. This shape resembles a bit the mouth of a fish, hence the common name of a tank. The Russians called him “pike,” which means “pike.” The tanks had a modern construction, a streamlined tower, a huge thickness of armor and 122-millimetre cannons. But they were still not very maneuverable, not very fast, and the crew had a supply of less than 30 bullets. “After the war, the Soviets sent two such vehicles to our army. We were supposed to try them out to see if they would suit our needs. However, the generals came to the conclusion that they did not, but they were often sent to military parades,” says the guide.
War in T-34
There are more of such unique exhibits in the museum and they will play a leading role in the exhibition. However, the facility is also preparing modern multimedia. In the multimedia kiosks you will be able to learn more about the construction of some vehicles, learn about the history of StuG extraction, understand the phenomenon of Polish tankettes or see the interior of the American M88 technical safety car on the screen. “Another attraction will be the T-34 tank, equipped with computers, seats and goggles. After they are put on, visitors will be taken to the battlefield, where they will fight with the enemy forces,” explains Witold Różyński, the guardian of the exhibition in the first pavilion.
More information about the history of T-34 will also be available through the use of video mapping technology. Visualizations will be displayed on the body of the vehicle showing the various constructions, their principles of operation and history. There will also be a café and a shop waiting for visitors, where they will be able to buy models of selected exhibits and take part of the armored history home,” adds Piotr Sroka, senior specialist from the museum.
LtCol Tomasz Ogrodniczuk, curator of the Armored Weapons Museum in Poznań: “The lady I spoke to did not want to reveal the details at all because she was bound by an NDA. She just said it was a Steven Spielberg movie, and then she added that the main role would be played by an actor known from ‘Private Ryan.’ She didn’t mention the name of Tom Hanks, but it was obvious to us.”
autor zdjęć: Anna Dąbrowska