A Fake More Famous than the Real Thing
The 14TP is a little known Polish tank project of the late 1930s. While the information regarding it is vague and no photos have survived, some pieces of information about the project remain. The 14TP was based on the previous 10TP, but with more frontal armor, without the ability to run on its wheels alone and with a different engine.
However, the image most widely associated with the 14TP on the internet looks nothing like the lighter and better-known 10TP. It is the ‘Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39.’
A sketch of the Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39, as presented in an article written by Janus Magnuski – Nowa Technika Wojskowa nr 6/1996
A Historical Fake?
The Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39 was first published by Janus Magnuski, a Polish historian, in his articles in the Nowa Technika Wojskowa 6/1996 and the Poligon 1/2009 magazines.
According to Magnuski, after the war, the sketch of a tank named the “Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39” (“Polish Tank T-39”) was found in the documents of the Abwehr (Nazi German intelligence service). According to Magnuski, this tank looked like a cruiser-medium tank with a Christie-like suspension, similar to the 10TP, it was assumed that this was the German interpretation of the 14TP, based on whatever intelligence the Germans could get about it before or after the invasion.
While this story is plausible, no evidence was offered to support it and the original document, if it existed, has not emerged.
A ‘what-if’ drawing showing a Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39 in action – Source: User bartekd on the odkrywca.pl forum
The Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39 bears little resemblance to the 10TP, on which the real 14TP project was based. While it is often used to represent the 14TP, it most certainly bears no relationship to the real thing.
Of course, intelligence services are not infallible, and it possible that the T-39 was based on very poor-quality information obtained by the German agents in Polish territory. Alternatively, it is also widely postulated that this was a deliberate fabrication deliberately planted by the Poles in order to fool the Germans.
It is also possible that the Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39 is a more recent fabrication, produced by Magnuski or supplied to him by somebody else. Until the original document will be found, it is hard to tell.
The Design of the Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39
The feature that brings the Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39 closest to the 10TP and 14TP is its Christie-like suspension. The T-39 has five large rubberized road wheels on each side, which also supported the track return. In the case of the real vehicles, each wheel would have been connected to a large coil spring sandwiched between two layers of armor.
‘What-if’ illustration of the Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39, presented as the real 14TP – Source: WW2 Drawings, illustrated by V.Bourguignon.
The Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39, as shown in the outline from Magnuski, was significantly longer than the 10TP, with one more road wheel. Most of the lengthening seems to have gone to the engine bay. This partially relates to the real 14TP, which was meant to have a more powerful engine.
The front part of the lower hull extends significantly in front of the superstructure, a feature that is common to frontal transmission vehicles.
The rather large turret is mounted centrally in the vehicle, between the rear engine compartment and the front driver compartment. It does not resemble any Polish turret in use at that time. The front of the turret has a very pronounced curvature.
It is noteworthy that the Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39, as shown, does not have any machine-gun visible, either in the turret or in the hull.
The Fake Document
Since the appearance of the Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39 in the 1996 article by Magnuski, a document has appeared and widely circulated on the internet, often purported to be the original Abwehr document from which the T-39 project was ‘discovered’ by Magnuski.
However, a careful look reveals several problems with this document. First off, it is extremely clean, both in its writing and in its preservation. While this does not necessarily mean it is fake, it is a warning sign.
It must be noted that a large part of the original Abwehr documents was methodically destroyed during the war, to prevent their capture by the enemy.
Furthermore, the German used in the document is full of grammar and phrasing mistakes. Whoever produced it was clearly not a native speaker, especially not one writing official intelligence documents!
The drawing in the document also perfectly matches the T-39 drawing widely available on the internet. This might mean that Mister Januski was very thorough in reproducing it or that whoever produced this document used the image available online.
Another interesting thing to note is that German documents did not feature drawings in them. The drawings were usually attached as annexes, and not present along with the text.
The ‘Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39’ is not the 14TP. However, it has become widely mistaken for the real 14TP. Many websites and magazines, when writing about the little-known 14TP, use this fake tank to illustrate their pieces, often omitting to make any distinction between the two.
Also, some people have tried using the ‘Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39’ to spin the 14TP into a far more advanced vehicle than it was, one that would be on par or superior to anything else of the time. New information, however, indicates it was not such a super-vehicle.
It is possible that Magnuski indeed saw the ‘Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39’ in a German document, but until such a document appears, it should be treated with care. There is also no source where this ‘document’ was found or by whom or even when.
The supposed document showing the Polnischer Panzerkampfwagen T-39. It is almost assuredly a fake
Another illustration of the 14TP, done by DevianArt user “Escodrion” Bernard Baker
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Polish forum thread discussing various designs, including the 14TP
Poligon magazine 2010/1