moja polska zbrojna
Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Charge of Dragon

Redeployment of troops over a distance of several hundred kilometers, two river crossings on the way, and finally a joint defense operation on the eastern flank – this is the scenario of the Polish army’s most important exercise in years. It included 20,000 troops from ten NATO states.

The Dragon 2024 exercise was like a colorful and dynamic act of a grand spectacle. A spectacle Europe has not seen since the end of the Cold War. Over 90,000 soldiers from all NATO states, plus hundreds of IFVs, ships and aircraft, are taking part in the Steadfast Defender maneuvers, ongoing since January. They began with redeployment of US and Canadian troops across the Atlantic, followed by a series of exercises on the old continent, during which NATO simulates an extensive defense operation. Most of the activities have obviously been located in Central and Eastern Europe, and Dragon occupied a special place on the long list of undertakings. One of the reasons was that Polish forces played the most important role in it, being the army that is presumed to be one of the key elements in providing security to the eastern flank.

River Jump

REKLAMA

They set off at the end of February – tanks, armored carriers, missile launchers, simply put: all types of equipment at the disposal of the 11th Armored Cavalry Division. In accordance with the scenario, it was the main participant of Dragon. First, the Black Division was to redeploy its subunits to the eastern flank, which is roughly a distance of almost 900 km. On top of that, the Polish troops had to align their forces with the allies already during the transfer. The 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade, for instance, was reinforced with subunits from France and Germany, and the 17th Mechanized Division with Slovenian troops. Apart from Polish Leopards, the French Leclerc and the American Abrams tanks also made their way towards the eastern border; along with Rosomaks – armored vehicles from Germany (Boxer) and Slovenia (Svarun).

They marched along two routes – the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade followed the northern route to reach the training ground in Bemowo Piskie. Wheeled vehicles moved on public roads, and tanks were carried on rail platforms from Świętoszów. The passage itself was divided into two very different phases. The first phase ended in Pomerania, in the town of Korzeniewo, where the troops crossed the Vistula river. It was quite a challenge, particularly at the turn of winter and spring, when the current is brisk, the water level high, and the river at that point is 300 meters wide. “This is exactly what we have planned for the exercising troops – a challenge,” emphasized in an interview with journalists MajGen (Pil) Cezary Wiśniewski, Deputy General Commander of the Polish Armed Forces.

The crossing lasted a total of three days, and due to the cooperation between engineering troops from several countries, almost 3,000 troops and 1,000 pieces of various types of equipment were transported to the other side of the river. “We moved around 50 vehicles per hour,” said during the exercise BrigGen Piotr Fajkowski, Commander of the 11th Armored Cavalry Division. “This time we used ferries, not bridges. The latter are more efficient, but easier to detect and destroy,” he added.

While the troops of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade were crossing the Vistula river, the subunits of the 17th Mechanized Brigade along with a unit of the 74th Infantry Regiment from Slovenian Maribor were facing high waters of the San river. Earlier, they had covered several hundred kilometers from Międzyrzecz to the training ground in Nowa Dęba. They had been preparing for this undertaking for several long weeks, which is emphasized by the Commander of the 17th Mechanized Brigade, BrigGen Sławomir Kocanowski. “We had to carry out comprehensive service and check the equipment. In the middle of February, that is two weeks before the beginning of the maneuvers, my troops also trained river crossing, testing the tightness of the vehicles in lake Buszno near Trzemeszno Lubuskie. Water tests were conducted on Rosomak armored vehicles, which weigh almost 23 tons,” enumerates the officer. Later, almost 200 vehicles and 700 soldiers made their way towards the eastern border. The vehicles took the southern route, moving on national roads, expressways and highways.

In Nowa Dęba, the troops conducted company fire control exercises during the day and at night, using combat ammunition. “Our task was to destroy targets located at various distances, using different types of armament,” explains Lt Jakub Wieland, Commander of the 4th Company of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion. Fire was opened by Rosomak armored vehicles, Rak self-propelled mortars and Langusta launchers, among others. However, it was merely a prelude to the events that took place several days later. After a brief stop at Nowa Dęba, the column crossed a floating bridge built on San, and headed north along the eastern border. The training ground was almost in sight. Meanwhile, the troops moving along the northern route were about to face the most difficult part of their march.

Long Way Through the Woods

Gravel and forest roads, only rarely turning into narrow asphalt ones. Mud, ruts and potholes, canals and small rivers which at times had to be forded, all stretching for over 300km. This is the Królewiecka route leading from the vicinity of Kwidzyn to Orzysz. Mapping it out took several months and required close cooperation between the military and many civilian institutions. “We began preparations in June 2023,” admits Adam Pietrzak, a spokesperson for the Regional Directorate of State Forests in Olsztyn. “There was a lot of work, as the section running through our area is about 200 km long and crosses several forest inspectorates. We had to remove piles of wood lying along the route, adjust the logging schedules, and even cut down individual trees. On top of that, we had to designate parking places for vehicles,” enumerates Pietrzak. It was a new experience both for the involved forest workers and for some of the troops. “In the previous years, together with my subordinates, I did have a chance to cover the Hannibal route, connecting Świętoszów with Drawsko Pomorskie, but this was the first time we operated in a completely different part of Poland and in a much larger grouping,” admits LtCol Michał Fabiszewski, Commander of the 1st Tank Battalion of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade.

The Królewiecka route was crossed by a total of over 70 vehicles. The column included Polish Leopard and K2, French Leclerc and American Abrams tanks, American M2 Bradley IFVs, as well as evacuation vehicles. “We travelled for a total of four days. Tanks moved with the speed of 20-30 km per hour on narrow, often boggy roads. The drivers had to maintain concentration for long hours, but an even greater burden was placed on the logisticians,” admits LtCol Fabiszewski. Every evening, the column stopped in predetermined towns. There, the vehicles were refueled, and the mechanics, if necessary, fixed minor defects. Later, the vehicles were parked at an appropriately camouflaged parking place, and the soldiers, after putting out sentries, went to rest for the night at a school or a village community center.

It was also quite a challenge to properly lay out the route itself. We had to, for example, avoid bridges with insufficient bearing capacity. It was not an easy task, as the lightest tank in the column weighed 55 tons. “There were two places along the route where the vehicles had to ford streams,” recalls the commander of the 1st Tank Battalion. The troops covering the Królewiecka route also had to cooperate closely with the specialists of the 5th Traffic Control Company, who made sure that column's passage through intersections with national or provincial routes was collision-free. All this was successfully accomplished. “Of course, there were some minor complications, but it is normal considering the scale of the undertaking,” says LtCol Fabiszewski. The French troops, for example, had to tow one of their Leclerc tanks for several dozen kilometers. Fortunately, they managed to reach Bemowo Piskie, where the defect was removed and the tank could return to operation.

NATO Set

Bemowo Piskie was the place where the fourth and the most important phase of the exercise was conducted. Soldiers from ten NATO states carried out a simulated defense operation, during which NATO subunits had to stop an enemy attack and push the adversary away from their positions. Armored and mechanized troops, artillery and anti-aircraft troops, supported from the air, cooperated on the training ground. Among other things, the soldiers conducted day and night firing. “Fire was opened by four types of tanks from various states: Leopards from Poland and Spain, Polish and American Abrams, our K2s. Everything required close coordination and synchronization,” explains Col Marcin Jarek, Head of the Exercise Department at the Land Forces Inspectorate of the Polish Armed Forces General Command. It was a demanding task, especially since the Polish Abrams and K2 crews were making their debut at such an extensive exercise. However, as Col Jarek emphasizes, the crews did well, both during the passage along the Królewiecka route and the later exercises on the training ground.

While still in Bemowo Piskie, BrigGen Piotr Fajkowski emphasized that the main challenge for him is to synchronize communication systems. “They all need to be integrated into a single network. That way, when I pick up the phone, I can give an order to all my subordinates, no matter what radio stations or computer systems they use,” he said. Communication was a key issue also at lower levels. “We simplified the procedures to the maximum. We made sure that the commands in English were short and put in simple words, in order to avoid any misunderstandings. Individual tasks were also broken down into clear stages,” points out LtCol Fabiszewski. He supports his words with the example of his battalion cooperating with a French mechanized infantry company: “First, Leopards took their positions, and only then did the French drive into their places,” explains the officer.

Ultimately, the assumptions made in the scenario were successfully executed. “For us, the icing on the cake was taking part in a test commissioned by the General Command. The crew of one of our Leopards fired an accurate shot at a distance of 4,100 meters, thus setting a record of Poland. Of course, it is not about records, but about checking the capabilities of equipment and the skills of soldiers. Nevertheless, the achievement is very gratifying. We took the lucky target to Świętoszów with us, as a souvenir,” admits LtCol Fabiszewski.

Drawing Conclusions

Col Jarek has no doubt that the level of interoperability of NATO forces is high, which was clearly proved during Dragon. “We can conduct defense operations without lengthy preparations,” he stresses. BrigGen Gunnar Brügner of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, who was a guest at the exercise, spoke in a similar tone, while putting Dragon in a wider context. “We have been preparing for Steadfast Defender for three years. When two years ago a full-scale war broke out in Ukraine, it only confirmed that we were moving in the right direction.” And although the scenario of the maneuvers, as he says, does not simply replicate what the Ukrainian army is facing, NATO is closely watching the situation in Ukraine. “The conclusion is that we are ready and we adapt to the changing situation every day,” emphasized Gen Brügner.

“I have to admit that Dragon 2024 kept me awake at night,” summarizes LtGen Marek Sokołowski, temporarily acting as General Commander of the Polish Armed Forces. Although I had faith in my subordinates, I was aware of the scale of the exercise and the risks associated with it. The amount of engaged forces, the variety of equipment, international environment – all that made the exercise a major logistical and organizational challenge. It makes me all the more happy and proud that we lived up to the task and did a great job. The goals were achieved,” emphasizes the general.

This year’s most demanding test has already been passed by the Polish army. Several other exercises have also already taken place as part of Steadfast Defender 2024, among them Trojan Footprint in Romania, Greece and Georgia, Crystal Arrow in Latvia and Nordic Response in Norway (see page 91 for more). However, there are still many to come. The Immediate Response exercise should soon start in Sweden, Spring Storm in Estonia, and Swift Response in the Baltic States and once again in Poland.

Łukasz Zalesiński Cooperation: Magdalena Kowalska-Sendek, Magdalena Miernicka

autor zdjęć: Monika Dwulatek, Krzysztof Gumul, Leszek Kujawski, Michał Wajnchold

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