02 November 2023

Genesis and beginnings

The events that took place in November 1918, which brought about the restoration of independence to the Republic of Poland, initiated a long process of fighting for the borders of our country. The existence of Poland on the world map depended on possessing a numerous, well-trained, and equipped army. The situation of the Polish Army in the early years of independence was very difficult. It consisted of soldiers who had previously served in the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Russian armies, Józef Piłsudski's Polish Legions, General Józef Haller's Blue Army, and other formations. Trained under different regulations, they used various weapons with different calibers such as German "Mausers," Austrian "Mannlichers," Russian "Mosins," French "Lebels," British "Enfields," and so on. Difficulties in obtaining suitable ammunition and spare parts for rifles and revolvers became very challenging, especially during the fights against the Bolsheviks, whose defeat was made possible through the tremendous sacrifice of the society and the dedication of the army, whose potential was reinforced with weapons and ammunition purchased by the Polish authorities in France. In 1922, when the battles for the borders of the Republic of Poland had definitively ended, the military and civilian authorities began the process of standardizing the army's armament.

Despite immense destruction and the country's very poor economic situation, the concept of equipping soldiers with weapons purchased from other countries was rejected. Instead, the decision was made to painstakingly build the Polish arms industry from scratch. The task of carrying out this operation was entrusted to the Central Directorate of Military Workshops, established in April of that year. Simultaneously, it was decided that the facilities producing weapons for the army would not be scattered throughout the country but concentrated in the so-called "triangle of security," an area that was out of reach for both German and Soviet aircraft. Its western border was defined by the railway line from Dęblin through Radom to Kielce, then along the Nida and Dunajec rivers to Nowy Sącz, Jasło, Sanok, and Przemyśl, and finally along the San and Vistula rivers back to Dęblin. Soon after, the Ministry of Military Affairs established a special commission whose task was to identify areas for the construction of new industrial plants.

The members of the commission, conducting inspections of various towns, arrived in Radom in May 1922. The city was characterized by excellent transportation connections, had a power plant, large railway workshops, several private metalworking and foundry plants, as well as numerous craft workshops in the metal industry. Another significant factor was the presence of vocational schools capable of training skilled workers for the industry. The attention of the commission members quickly focused on the "Mariackie" estate, located in the southwestern part of the city and under the control of the State Treasury. Despite its small area (approximately 6 hectares), the estate had an excellent location, adjacent to the railway line. Considering all these factors, the commission recommended Radom as one of the cities where a large arms factory should be established. After the location was approved, two ministerial officials were sent to the city in December 1922 to oversee the construction of the new facility, temporarily referred to as the State Rifle and Mortar Factory in Radom.

They were engineer Andrzej Dowkontt (a technologist originally from Petersburg with vast experience in creating a number of large industrial plants in the former Russian Empire) and Lieutenant Colonel Jan Siczek (who participated in the transfer of German armament factories in Gdańsk to the Polish authorities). Over the next few months, they supervised extensive construction works for the factory, already officially referred to as the State Arms Factory in Radom in official correspondence. These works included land surveying, concluding various agreements related to property matters, and establishing cooperation with the management of Polish State Railways and the local authorities in Radom. The entire investment area covered several hectares, located between Młodzianowska, Mariacka, and the railway tracks. It is worth emphasizing that the plan included not only the construction of factory buildings but also a residential complex for the staff. Construction of the first buildings began on the "Mariackie" estate in March 1923. In an impressive pace, various facilities were built, including a power plant, water tower, forge, joinery, and bathhouse.

They were soon supplemented by the main building, boiler house and polishing room, bed frame processing building, and a shooting range. The factory management also constructed a large firewater reservoir, a special drainage channel (which involved deepening and regulating the Mleczna riverbed), and established new streets: Dowkontta, Słoneczna, and Szkolna, as well as financed the widening of Monopolowa and Bernardyńska streets. At the same time, construction of a residential complex was underway, including houses for engineers, foremen, and workers, with varying standards of equipment. Each of them had 3 or 4 floors, with walls made of bricks, concrete stairs with terracotta flooring, and rooms heated by tiled stoves. The standard also included sewage, gas heating, and electric lighting in the apartments. In Radom, which was populated by modern tenement houses and low-standard wooden buildings, these were undoubtedly the most modern residential buildings. Almost immediately after the first factory facilities were put into use, they began to be filled with machines.

Most of them came from the German factory "Herman Knoppe Werke" in Gdańsk, which was previously involved in the production of "Mauser" rifles model 98, with which the German army was equipped. After repairs, removal of minor defects, cleaning, and laborious arrangement in individual halls, the Radom factory had 900 machines of various purposes in 1926. Their proper utilization was only possible due to the expertise of the assembled staff. In that year, it consisted of 800 people – half of whom were Radom locals, and the other half were newcomers from other cities such as Ostrowiec Kielecki, Starachowice, Warsaw, and Lublin. They were experienced workers in the metal industry, capable of passing on their knowledge to younger apprentices. Dr. Sebastian Piątkowski

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