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A tank with a Polish flag.

Annie Gugliotta

Poland bulks up to defeat history

There’s a story that people sometimes still tell about the Polish military. It’s the one where the cavalry makes a suicidal charge against Nazi tanks in September of 1939 and gets cut to pieces.

Although that version of the Battle of Krojanty isn’t quite true – in reality the Poles did better than it sounds – the romantic version of it, fueled by an overzealous Italian journalist’s account, has stuck for decades. Some see it as a tale of heroism, others as a proverb of recklessness, but in either telling, Poland’s basic problem is the same: They didn’t have enough weapons to fend off the Nazi onslaught.

Eighty years later, Poland is on a mission to ensure that myths of this kind are never created again. The country is in the middle of what its leaders have called an “unprecedented” military build-up that, if successful, would make it the largest land army in the European Union.

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Image released by the Ministry of Defence of Britain shows file video of UK's Challenger 2 tanks.


What We’re Watching: Tank talks for Ukraine, South Africa’s military moves

Much ado about tanks for Ukraine

For months, Ukraine has been asking its NATO friends for modern tanks. Not Soviet-era relics from Poland, not light armored vehicles from the US and France, but heavy mechanized tanks to fight mighty Russia. But so far, only the UK has agreed to supply Kyiv with Challenger 2 tanks, which are 20 years old but the model most used by the British army. Why? The US, the big boss of NATO, has been slow-walking the Ukrainians on their demand for tanks because the Biden administration fears it might push Russia to escalate. Washington is also citing logistical and maintenance costs as part of the reason for not doing so. Germany, meanwhile, won’t send Leopard tanks — or allow other countries to send German-made tanks — until the US makes the first move by sending M1 Abrams tanks. While the Germans and the Americans try to iron out their differences, NATO defense ministers will likely press the issue on Friday when they meet US Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin in Germany. Russia, for its part, has already warned the West that giving Ukraine tanks would be a very bad idea.

Meanwhile, check out our GZERO field piece on how the tankless Ukrainians are making do with Mad Max-style killer dune buggies.

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