ORP Gryf (Griffin): Large minelayer, built in France and commissioned in 1936.
After WW I (1914-1918) Poland regained its independence and became known as the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939).
On 28 November 1918, Jozef Pilsudski, commander of the Armed Forces of Poland, instigated the creation of the modern Polish Navy.
In the 1920s and 1930s, under the leadership of Vice-Admiral Jerzy Swirski (Chief of Naval Staff) and Rear Admiral Jozef Unrug (Commanding Officer of the Fleet), the Polish Navy undertook a modernisation program. Poland had a relatively short seaboard on the Baltic coast but, as it had no major seaports, it was decided to build ports at Gdynia and Hel. It was felt that the navy was necessary to protect this Polish coast from the Soviet Baltic Fleet. A number of ships were built for the Polish Navy in Britain, France and the Netherlands. However, a lack of funds due in part to the Great Depression (1930-1936) hindered further development of the navy at this time.
By the beginning of WW II Poland had amassed a small number of ships, consisting of four destroyers, five submarines, six minesweepers and a number of auxiliary vessels, but nothing that would be capable of taking on the might of the Kriegsmarine (1935-1945), the navy of Nazi Germany.
In March 1939, an agreement, Operation Peking, was reached between Britain and Poland for military and naval co-operation. Under this agreement the Polish Navy was to sail three of its destroyers, ORP Blyskawica (Lightning), ORP Grom (Thunderclap) and ORP Burza (Storm), to Britain to enable them to operate outside the Baltic and also prevent their destruction in Baltic waters. Poland’s five submarines, ORP Orzel, ORP Sep, ORP Zbik, ORP Wilk and ORP Rys remained in the Baltic to defend the Polish coast together with the Minelayer ORP Gryf and the destroyer ORP Wicher.
The three Polish destroyers that were to be evacuated to Britain left Gdynia on 30 August 1939 and arrived in Scotland on 1 September 1939. They sailed into the Firth of Forth and were escorted to Leith, the first of a number of Scottish ports that would accommodate the Polish Navy. The Allied Navy now comprised the Polish, the Free French, the Dutch and Norwegian Navies, which were all attached to the Royal Navy.
On 18 November 1939 the Anglo-Polish Naval Agreement was signed. This stated that the Polish Navy would fight alongside the British Royal Navy, be subordinated to the operational control of the British Admiralty, but that the Polish Navy detachment would be commanded by Polish Officers, manned by Polish crews, retain Polish uniforms and rank distinctions, and the Polish ships would remain Polish Sovereign Territory.
The Polish Navy, while working with the Royal Navy, fought from the first day of WW II until the very last. It covered 1,213,000 nautical miles and escorted 787 convoys. It carried out 1,162 combat patrols and operations, and sunk approximately 100,000 tons of enemy shipping, including two U-boats and 39 transports. It also shot down 20 aircraft. 404 Polish sailors lost their lives.
In 1939 Polish Navy sailors had numbered only 1,000 but this number rose to 3,000 in 1944 and, by 1945, at the end of the war, had risen to 4,000.
In July 1944 Polish servicewomen, referred to as 'mewki' which translates as ‘little seagulls’, came under Polish Admiralty command and started to provide shore-based administrative, technical and mechanical support. This freed up more men for combat assignments.
The Polish Navy was involved in the following actions during WW II.
The Battle of Gdansk Bay: 1 September 1939.
Operation Worek: Early September 1939.
The Battle of the Atlantic: 3 September 1939 - 8 May 1945.
The Battles of Narvik: April- June 1940.
Dunkirk Evacuation (Operation Dynamo): 27 May - 4 June 1940.
Sinking of the Bismarck: 26-27 May 1941.
Operation Halberd: 27 September 1941. Allied convoy from Gibraltar to Malta.
Raid on the Lofoten Islands, Norway: 26 - 27 September 1941. Operation Anklet.
Operation Harpoon: 12 - 15 June 1942. Battle of Pantelleria. Allied convoy sent to supply Malta .
Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee). 19 August 1942.
Allied Invasion of Sicily(Operation Husky): 9 July - 17 August 1943.
Italian Campaign: 10 July 1943 - 2 May 1945. (Operation Husky)
D-Day - The Normandy Landings (Operation Overlord). 6 June 1944.
Operation Deadlight – Scuttling of German U- boats near the end of the war.
Vessels of the Polish Navy at the beginning of WW II
These two surface ships were not evacuated to Britain during Operation Peking. At the beginning of the German Invasion, both these ships saw action in the Baltic, laying mines across the entrance of Gdansk Bay, to prevent the Germans landing on the Polish Coast. On 3 September 1939, ORP Gryf and ORP Wicher were damaged by German Bombers in the Hel Peninsula and as a result were both partially sunk.
ORP Orzel (Eagle) and ORP Sep (Vulture): Built in the Netherlands and commissioned in 1939.
ORP Wilk (Wolf) and ORP Rys (Lynx): Built in France and commissioned in 1931.
These submarines were also tasked with the defense of the Polish coastline in Gdansk Bay, Operation Worek, at the beginning of the German Invasion. After having sustained damage in action in Gdansk Bay, ORP Rys, Orp Sep and ORP Zbik withdrew to neutral Sweden where they remained until the end of the war. ORP Orzel also damaged, made her way to neutral Tallinn, Estonia where the Germans did their utmost to prevent her from leaving. However despite all the odds the crew managed to escape with the submarine and miraculously managed to sail to Scotland. Click the link to read about the amazing Orzel Incident. After a refit, ORP Orzel was assigned to the Royal Navy’s 2nd Submarine Flotilla. ORP Orzel was declared missing, presumed sunk in 1940 but the exact date is not clear. There are two possible dates recorded; 25 May 1940 and 8 June 1940.
ORP Grom (Thunderclap) and ORP Blyskawica (Lightning): Destroyers, both built in the UK and commissioned in 1937.
OPR Burza provided support for British forces off Norway in April 1940 and in the English Channel in May 1940 when ORP Burza rescued nearly 200 soldiers from the waters around Dunkirk, Operation Dynamo. She incurred serious damage that required substantial repairs. After the repairs she carried out escort and convoy duties. In 1944 OPR Burza became a training ship and, in 1945, a submarine tender for Polish submariners. In 1946 she was transferred to the Royal Navy but was returned to Gdynia, Poland in 1951. In 1960 she became a museum ship but was scrapped in 1977.
ORP Grom was deployed in the Norwegian Campaign where she aggressively bombarded German troops in the Narvik area. She also acted as a supply ship for HMS Enterprise. In May 1940 ORP Grom was attacked by a German bomber. Her torpedo launcher was hit, causing catastrophic damage and she sank.
ORP Blyskawica took part in the Battles of Narvik, April-June 1940, shelling German positions and shooting down two German aircraft. In May1940 she was involved in Operation Dynamo, the Franco-British evacuation from Dunkirk, where she towed a stricken Royal Navy destroyer away from the quay, action which earned the captain both Polish and British decorations. In May 1942 she also defended the Isle of Wight against a Luftwaffe attack. A society still exists on the Isle of Wight commemorating the ORP Blyskawica’s action. She was involved in numerous convoy and patrol duties and also escort duty for troop transport. She is known to have damaged U-boats and shot down German aircraft in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. At the end of the war she helped with the scuttling of over 100 German U-boats in Operation Deadlight. Blyskawica is now preserved as a museum ship in the Port of Gdynia, Poland.
Other vessels used by the Polish Navy during World War II
During the war several ships were temporarily transferred to the Polish Navy to increase its size and to replace losses.
After the Yalta conference 1945
'1945 Yalta Conference foreshadows the Cold War.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin meet to discuss the Allied war effort against Germany and Japan and to try and settle some nagging diplomatic issues. While a number of important agreements were reached at the conference, tensions over European issues—particularly the fate of Poland—foreshadowed the crumbling of the Grand Alliance that had developed between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union during World War II and hinted at the Cold War to come.
Meeting in the city of Yalta in the Russian Crimean from February 4 to 11, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin each arrived with their own agendas for the conference. For Stalin, postwar economic assistance for Russia, and U.S. and British recognition of a Soviet sphere of influence in eastern Europe were the main objectives. Churchill had the protection of the British Empire foremost in his mind, but also wanted to clarify the postwar status of Germany. Roosevelt’s goals included consensus on the establishment of the United Nations and gaining Soviet agreement to enter the war against Japan once Hitler had been defeated. None of them left Yalta completely satisfied. There was no definite determination of financial aid for Russia. Many issues pertaining to Germany were deferred for further discussion. As for the United Nations, Stalin wanted all 16 Soviet republics represented in the General Assembly but settled for three (the Soviet Union as a whole, Belorussia, and Ukraine). However, the Soviets did agree to join in the war against Japan 90 days after Hitler’s Germany was defeated.
It was over the issue of the postwar status of Poland, however, that the animosity and mistrust between the United States and the Soviet Union that would characterize the Cold War were most readily apparent. Soviet troops were already in control of Poland, a pro-communist provisional government had already been established, and Stalin was adamant that Russia’s interests in that nation be recognized. The United States and Great Britain believed that the London-based noncommunist Polish government-in-exile was most representative of the Polish people. The final agreement merely declared that a “more broadly based” government should be established in Poland. Free elections to determine Poland’s future were called for sometime in the future. Many U.S. officials were disgusted with the agreement, which they believed condemned Poland to a communist future. Roosevelt, however, felt that he could do no more at the moment, since the Soviet army was occupying Poland.
As the Cold War became a reality in the years that followed the Yalta Conference, many critics of Roosevelt’s foreign policy accused him of “selling out” at the meeting and naively letting Stalin have his way. It seems doubtful, however, that Roosevelt had much choice. He was able to secure Russian participation in the war against Japan (Russia declared war on Japan on August 8, 1945), established the basic principles of the United Nations, and did as much as possible to settle the Poland issue. With World War II still raging, his primary interest was in maintaining the Grand Alliance. He believed that troublesome political issues could be postponed and solved after the war. Unfortunately, Roosevelt never got that chance—almost exactly two months after the end of the conference, Roosevelt suffered a stroke and died.'
Yalta Conference foreshadows the Cold War
Author: History.com Staff
Website Name: History.com
Year Published: 2009
Title: Yalta Conference foreshadows the Cold War
Access Date: December 07, 2016
After the war many of the naval personnel did not wish to return to a Soviet-controlled Poland, where a communist puppet government had been installed. Disillusioned and disappointed they chose to settle in Scotland where they maintained the traditions of the Polish Navy.
There are memorials dedicated to the Polish Navy in Glasgow, Prestwick, Liverpool and Plymouth and in several Scottish/Polish cemeteries. A new plaque was put up in central London at 51, New Cavendish Street, Marylebone, which was the building that had been used as the headquarters of the Polish Navy during WW II. The date on the plaque, 28 November 2013, was the 95th anniversary of the birth of the modern Polish Navy .
Polish Ship Saved An English Town. In May 1942, the Polish destroyer Błyskawica was instrumental in saving the towns of Cowes and East Cowes, on England's south coast, from serious damage during a huge German air raid.
Mewki/ Little Seagulls (women in the Navy)
Polish Women's Auxiliary Service
ORP Wicher (Gale): Destroyer and the flagship of the Polish Navy. Built in France and commissioned in 1928.
OPR Burza (Storm): Destroyer, built in France, commissioned in 1932.
ORP Krakowiak: A destroyer, formerly HMS Silverton. Built in UK, launched 1940 but unused by Royal Navy due to lack of experienced crew. She was leased to the Polish Navy 20 April 1941. She took part in convoy escorts in the North Atlantic and the North Sea and contributed to the Raid on Lofoten. In 1943 she was moved to the Mediterranean, taking part in the Allied Invasion of Sicily and later the Dodecanese Campaign. On 28 September 1946 Krakowiak was returned to the Royal Navy.
ORP Orkan (Hurricane): A destroyer, formerly HMS Myrmidon. Completed by the Royal Navy November 1942 and transferred to the Polish Navy in December 1942. She served in the Arctic and, in 1943, performed escort duties to Russia and later in the North Atlantic. In July 1943 she sailed to Gibraltar to collect the body of Polish Supreme Chief General Wladyslaw Sikorski and brought it back to the UK. On 8 October 1943 Orkan was sunk by a German U-boat in the Barents Sea. 179 lost their lives and 44 survived.
ORP Jastrzab (Hawk): A submarine formerly, USS S-25. Built in the USA. In 1941 she was transferred to the Royal Navy. ORP Jastrzab was then loaned to the Polish Navy 1941-1942. On 2 May 1942 she was lost to friendly fire whilst on convoy duty to Murmansk.
ORP Piorun (Lightning): A destroyer, formerly HMS Nerissa. Built in UK and commissioned November 1940 and then transferred to Polish Navy as a replacement for the destroyer ORP Grom. In May 1941, Piorun, with other ships, took part in the search for the German Battleship Bismarck and was involved in her eventual sinking. In 1941 she took part in Operation Halberd, a Malta Convoy, and also in Operation Husky, the Allied Invasion of Sicily. She was returned to the Royal Navy in 1946 and re-commissioned as HMS Noble.
ORP Sokol (Falcon): A submarine formerly HMS Urchin. Built in the UK and transferred to the Polish Navy and commissioned January 1941. ORP Sokol patrolled the Bay of Biscay, escorted numerous convoys in the Mediterranean and took part in the Allied blockades of Naval bases in Naples and Pula. Operating in the Mediterranean out of Malta she is known to have destroyed or damaged 19 ships during the war. She was returned to the Royal Navy on 27 July 1945. All the commanding officers of this ship received the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military decoration, for heroism and courage.
Okret Francuski Ouragan (Hurricane): A French destroyer that, after French Capitulation, was taken to Portsmouth by the British and loaned to the Polish Navy on 17 July 1940. She took part in operations around the British Isles, but after storm damage that required extensive repairs, was returned to the Free French on 30 April 1941.
ORP Zbik (Wildcat): Built in France and commissioned in 1932
‘In October 1939, following a very roundabout journey from occupied Poland, the Commander of the Polish Navy, Vice Admiral Jerzy Swirski (at that time Rear Admiral) arrives in London and, with immediate effect, undertakes to continue the work that was interrupted by the German invasion, of recreating/reconstructing the management of the Navy on foreign soil, based on the co-operation/collaboration of the Navy Officers.’
(Translated from Polish from the book ‘Polska Marynarka Wojenna, a commemorative album published by the Literary Institute in Rome 1947)
ORP Kujawiak: A destroyer, formerly HMS Oakley. Built in UK and commissioned 17 June 1941 and then transferred to the Polish Navy. She took part in convoy escort and patrol duties in the Irish, Norwegian, North Atlantic and Mediterranean Seas but was sunk by a mine on 16 June 1942, close to Malta, whilst taking part in Operation Harpoon.
Admiral G Swirski in conversation with King George VI. He is accompanied by Edward Raczynski, the Polish Ambassador.
ORP Garland: A destroyer, formerly HMS Garland. Built in UK. Commissioned 2 May 1940 when it was loaned to the Polish Navy. Main duties were convoy escorts in the Atlantic. Returned to the Royal Navy in 1946 and then sold to the Netherlands in 1947.
ORP Dragon: A cruiser, formerly HMS Dragon. Built in UK and commissioned 1918. Transferred to Polish Navy in January 1943.
Saw action in Normandy landings as part of Operation Neptune but was irretrievably damaged in July 1944 and subsequently scuttled to create part of an artificial harbour.
ORP Conrad: A cruiser, formerly HMS Danae. Built in the UK and commissioned 1918. Transferred to the Polish Navy in 1944 after the loss of ORP Dragon. Refitted February 1945 and moved to Scapa Flow but needed further repairs. Served as a transport ship carrying Polish Red Cross assistance to Norway and Denmark until the end of 1945. She was returned to the Royal Navy in 1946.
ORP Slazak (Silesian): A destroyer, formerly HMS Bedale. Built in UK and commissioned 17 April 1942 and then transferred to the Polish Navy. She was involved in many escort and patrol convoys. She took part in the Dieppe Raid. At Dieppe she saved 85 Canadian soldiers who found themselves trapped on the beaches. In 1946 she was returned to the Royal Navy.
ORP Dzik (Wild Boar): A submarine formerly HMS P52. Built in the UK she was transferred to the Polish Navy whilst still under construction, to replace the loss of ORP Jastrzab, and was commissioned 12 December 1942. ORP Dzik is known to have destroyed or damaged 18 enemy surface ships as well as taking part in Operation Husky. She and her sister ship ORP Sokol operated in the Mediterranean out of Malta and they were referred to as the ‘Terrible Twins.’ In 1946 she was returned to the Royal Navy.
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