POLISH NAVY

(POLSKA MARYNARKA WOJENNA)

in SCOTLAND

 

The Polish Navy which fought alongside the Royal Navy was one of a number of the Allied Navies - e.g. the Free French Navy, the Dutch Navy and the Norwegian Navy that had connections with Scotland during the Second World War.

 

Contents

September 1939-The Polish Navy Goes to War

Arrival of the Polish Navy in Scotland

Anglo-Polish Naval Agreement

The Phoney War

Polish Naval Losses and Replacements in the Early Campaigns

Battle of the Atlantic

The Role of Poland's Merchant Fleet

Expansion of the Polish Navy

Organization of the Polish Navy

List of Combat Operations of the Polish Navy

Royal Navy's Tribute to the Polish Navy

Women in the Service of the Polish Navy

Strength, Casualties and other Statistics

Post-War Operations

The Impact of Yalta

Polish Navy Ranks

Polish Navy Memorial in Scotland

Polish Navy Day 10th February

Links

Printed Materials (in English)

Sources

 


(1) September 1939-The Polish Navy Goes to War

 

At the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Polish Navy consisted of 4 destroyers, 5 submarines, 1 mine-layer and 6 modern mine sweepers, as well as several auxiliary and training ships. A number of these ships were lost in the Baltic to enemy air action and 3 submarines were interned in Sweden, unable to reach Britain.


(2) Arrival of the Polish Navy in Scotland

 

By prior agreement contingents of the Polish Navy were to make their way to Britain. This agreement in March 1939 concerned military co-operation between Britain and Poland and in particular the Polish Navy, was entered into before Britain declared war on Germany. Orders were drawn up in August 1939 for 3 Polish destroyers to make their way to Britain. This decision had been taken to enable the ships to operate in other waters in case the bases were captured by the enemy.

On 1st September 1939, after leaving Gdynia on the Baltic on the 30th August, the destroyers OORP (Ships of the Republic of Poland) Blyskawica (Lightning), Grom (Thunder) and Burza (Tempest) sailed into the Firth of Forth and were escorted into Leith. They were to form the Polish Destroyer Squadron. Leith was the first of a number of Scottish ports, such as Rosyth, Greenock, Port Glasgow, Ardrossan, Gourock, Dundee, the naval base at Scapa Flow and others that were to see Polish ships. The Squadron operated initially from Plymouth (clandestine operations off southern Ireland and escort duties) and then moved to Harwich for duties in the North Sea.

 

The Polish Navy for the first time in its history was now fighting in two seas, the North Sea and the Baltic.

 

Two submarines later joined the Polish naval force. The submarine ORP Wilk (Wolf) reached Rosyth on the 20th September 1939, its commander Boguslaw Krawczyk, being the first Polish Navy officer to receive the DSO. The Wilk and Orzel (Eagle) after refitting were assigned to the 2nd Submarine Flotilla based at Rosyth. The Orzel became well known to the British public on account of its daring escape from the port of Tallin in Esthonia, which Churchill described as 'epic'.


(3) Anglo-Polish Naval Agreement of November 1939

 

On the 18 November 1939 an Anglo-Polish Naval Agreement was signed. It agreed that the Polish Naval Detachment was to be commanded by Polish officers, its ships manned by Polish crews with Polish uniforms and rank distinctions and subject to Polish regulation, but subordinated to the operational control of the British Admiralty. The ships were sovereign Polish territory.


(4) The Phoney War

 

The period of October 1939 to early April 1940 was described as the time of the "phoney war" (Sitzkrieg). For the small Polish Naval Detachment fighting at the side of the Royal Navy this was hardly true as it was very much in action during this time. Indeed the Polish Navy can claim that it fought from the first to the last day of the War.


(5) Polish Naval Losses and Replacements in the Early Campaigns

 

The German invasion of Denmark and Norway involved all the Polish ships operating out of British ports. The early summer of 1940 perhaps marked the lowest fortunes of the Polish Navy when one of its two submarines was lost, one of its three destroyers sunk while two further ships were in for repair. Additionally there were severe losses in its merchant fleet - the liners Pilsudski and Chrobry.

But like the phoenix the Polish Navy was to re-emerge. Losses in ships were made good by transferring mainly British ships, for example, HMS Garland became the ORP Garland (the Poles retaining the tradition of this old Royal Navy name). Other warships came from the French Navy whose crews had abandoned their ships in British waters - two patrol vessels, the Medoc and Pomerol and two submarine chasers ("Ch.11" and "Ch.12"). Twelve ex-Belgian trawlers (numbered "P1" to "P12") based at Dartmouth were also turned over to the Polish Navy for anti-invasion patrols. The French destroyer Ouragan, towed from Brest, was also loaned to the Polish Navy though it spent most of the period under Polish command undergoing repairs.


(6) Battle of the Atlantic

 

By October 1940 the Polish destroyers moved to their new base at Greenock and from there participated in the hard fought Battle of the Atlantic. During this battle the Polish destroyers Piorun (Thunderbolt, formerly HMS Nerissa), Blyskawica, Orkan (Hurricane), Burza and Garland served as escorts for trans-Atlantic convoys. A plaque on a Polish monument at Prestwick in Ayrshire commemorates those who died in the Battle of the Atlantic and they are remembered to this day by former sailors of the Polish Navy.


(7) The Role of Poland's Merchant Fleet

The Polish Merchant Fleet had also been successful in removing itself from Baltic waters in 1939, some 38 vessels having escaped. These ships were integrated into the Allied Merchant Pool. The Polish ships were able to bring young naval trainees to the West who provided a valuable manpower resource throughout the War.

 

Polish merchant ships:

 

  • carried Allied troops to Norway
  • evacuated British and Polish troops from France in 1940
  • took children to the safety of America
  • brought American and Canadian troops to Britain
  • carried valuable cargoes to Murmansk and Africa
  • participated in large scale landings of the Allies - in North Africa, Salerno, the invasion of Normandy and the south of France
  • In all some 54 vessels with a total tonnage of 188,000 tons carried nearly 5 million tons of valuable war supplies.

 

Numbers of these ships called in at Scottish ports.

11 ships were lost including 3 liners.


(8) Expansion of the Polish Navy

 

Losses were made good by using mainly ex-British ships to replace wartime losses and also to effect an expansion of the Polish Navy, including a cruiser, the first the Polish Navy ever possessed. A total of 2 cruisers, 6 destroyers, 3 submarines and 8 Motor Torpedo Boats were transferred to the Polish Navy during the War. During the War Polish ships found themselves seconded to RN units, e.g. the submarine ORP Sokol (Falcon) was at one time seconded to the RN's 9th Submarine Flotilla based in Dundee.


(9) Organization of the Polish Navy

 

The chief of the Polish Navy was Vice-Admiral Jerzy Swirski whose headquarters was in London. In the UK administration of the Polish Navy was divided into two Commands - 'North' and 'South'. The 'North' Command was based in Greenock and 'South' at Plymouth. Also based in Scotland was Holding Station 'Glasgow' which in 1944 moved to Bowling Camp, near Glasgow.


(10) List of Combat Operations of the Polish Navy

 

The Polish Navy participated in many famous actions during the war and some of her ships were to become well known to the British public. The Polish Navy took part in major naval operations, such as:

 

  • Narvik
  • Dunkirk
  • the hunt for the Bismarck
  • Lofoten Islands
  • Tobruk
  • Murmansk convoys
  • Dieppe landings
  • landings at Anzio
  • landings in the Azores
  • Battle of the Atlantic
  • Dodecanese
  • landings in North Africa
  • landings in Normandy
  • actions in the Mediterranean
  • North Sea
  • the English Channel
  • the Baltic

(11) The Royal Navy's Tribute to the Polish Navy

 

Of Poland's naval service in the Second World War, the British First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound said in 1942 when decorating some Polish submariners.

 

"Last night I asked my Chief of Staff to give me a list of all Polish warships fighting alongside the Royal Navy. I was shocked to learn how few they are because in all despatches of naval operations and major engagements I almost always find a name of a Polish ship that distinguished itself."


(12) Women in the Service of the Polish Navy

 

Polish servicewomen in the Navy came under Polish Admiralty control in July 1944. These Polish volunteers (Polish nickname 'seagulls') began to release men for combat assignments.


(13) Strength, Casualties and other Statistics

 

The personnel strength of the Polish ships in British waters in 1939 was less than 1,000, but by the end of the war was over 4,000 strong. Some 404 men were lost in action and 5 warships sunk. The greatest loss of life occurred in the sinking of the ORP Orkan. Four Polish midshipmen were among the casualties of HMS Hood when it blew up.

 

The Polish Navy while operating with the Royal Navy:

 

  • sailed a total of 1,213,000 nautical miles
  • escorted 787 convoys
  • carried out 1,162 combat patrols
  • sank 2 U-Boats and 11 probably damaged
  • sank 39 transports
  • shot down 20 aircraft

(14) Post-War Operations

 

After the war in Europe Polish warships participated in mercy missions, for example, delivering Red Cross packets to the Poles liberated from German labour camps. In August 1945 the ORP Blyskawica, which fought the longest of any Allied ship, was based at Rosyth. At the end of the war she took part in 'Operation Deadlight' - the sinking of captured enemy U-boats before being handed back in May 1946, via the British, to the Communist authorities in Poland. Today, the "Blyskawica" is a ship museum at Gdynia on the Baltic in Poland.

Other ships of the Polish Navy were handed back to the British in July and September 1946. On the 24th September 1946 at Rosyth, the flag of the destroyer ORP Garland was hauled down for the last time.


(15) The Impact of Yalta

 

The prevailing political situation at the end of the war was full of bitter disillusionment and tragic disappointment for the Poles.

Vice-Admiral Jerzy Swirski, C-in-C of the Polish Navy addressed all men of the Polish Navy in an Order of the Day of the 28th September 1946 on the occasion of the handing back of the ships of the Polish Navy.

 

"...Thus we come to the end of the glorious pages of the history of our Navy, the armed forces of Poland on the high seas. But we remain, the Navy's personnel deprived of our Motherland and of our Ships. The glorious part played by our Navy and the proud memory of our Ships - which for us constitute a part of our Country and our homes - will for ever remain in our hearts."

After reviewing the war record of the Navy's ships he paid tribute to all those who lost their lives in the service of their country and to all those who fulfilled their duties. He ended, "In the war we were the first to stand at the side of our British Allies and it was with complete confidence that we gave all our moral and material help. We fulfilled our duties faithfully, as allies to the very end. The personnel of the British Navy, who were our trusty comrades and on whom we could always rely in all operations and circumstances, are witnesses to this. But the battles and hardships have not given us the results which we expected from this war. Our Country continues to remain in a political situation which prevents the majority of us from returning to Poland.

We shall shortly cease to be a Navy, however, the knowledge of the complete fulfilment of our duties towards Poland as well as towards our Allies brightens the bitterness of our reality. We are not the debtors, as will be seen when the Allies close their accounts.

Continuing to be united by a strong ideological tie - we, the naval family will continue to live and work for Poland, believing that in the end we shall regain our Country and that the majority of us will offer their services to the navy in a free Poland. At present, we are temporarily living through the end of our naval activity. May the good God take care of us all and may He spare us suffering and disillusion and may He lead us back to a free Poland. Long live Poland!"

 

Unable or unwilling to return to a Soviet dominated Poland numbers of navy personnel settled in Scotland. To this day they keep alive the traditions of the Polish Navy and the Sea. Polish independence was restored in December 1990.

 


(16) Polish Navy Ranks and their equivalent RN rank

Polish rank

Abbrev

RN equivalent

marynarz

mar.

Ordinary Seaman

starszy marynarz

st.mar.

Able-Bodied Seaman

mat

mat

Leading Seaman

starszy mat

st.mat

Senior Leading Seaman

bosmanmat

bosmanmat

Petty Officer 2nd Class

bosman

bosman

Petty Officer 1st Class

starszy bosman

st.bosman

Chief Petty Officer

chorazy marynarki

chor.mar.

Warrant Officer

podporucznik marynarki

ppor.mar.

Sub-Lieutenant

porucznik marynarki

por.mar

Lieutenant

kapitan marynarki

kpt.mat

Lieutenant Commander

komandor-podporucznik

kdr.ppor

Commander

komandor-porucznik

kdr.por

No equivalent RN rank

komandor

kdr.

Captain RN

no equivalent Polish rank

-

Commodore

kontr-admiral

-

Rear-Admiral

wice-admiral

-

Vice-Admiral

admiral

-

Admiral

no equivalent Polish rank

-

Admiral of the Fleet


(17) Polish Navy Day 10th February

 

This date commemorates Poland's symbolic re-unification with the Baltic Sea on 10th February 1920.


(18) Polish Navy Memorials in Scotland

 

Glasgow - Polish Cemetery in Dalbeth Road, Glasgow - Memorial to sailors who died after the war.

 

Scottish Cemeteries - There are a number of cemeteries in Scotland where the CWGC have erected headstones to Polish Navy casualties who died in service of Poland. Cardonald Cemetery in Glasgow, St Kentigern's in Glasgow, the Western Necropolis in Dundee, Corstorphine Hill in Edinburgh and Wellshill Cemetery in Perth contain most of the Navy war graves.

 

Prestwick - RAFA 'Stonegarth' - A Polish memorial to the sailors of the Polish Navy.

 


(19) Web Sites about the Polish Navy During World War Two and the Modern Polish Navy

 

There are a number of web sites which feature the Polish Navy. These include sites which contain technical data about the Polish Navy and a much broader history of the Polish Navy from its inception in 1918 up to the present day.

A search for web pages referring to the 'Polish Navy' and its actions during the Second World War and to the modern Polish Navy can easily be found using a search engine such as www.google.com.

Google

In April 2001 over 2,000 web sites were listed using the search terms 'Polish Navy". Eight years later this had increased to 20,000. Off course, not all the sites listed will be relevant and any search needs to be narrowed to locate references to the Polish Navy during WWII.

Some Polish Navy web sites have useful links to other relevant sites. Searches could also focus on individual ships such as for example, the ORP Orkan or ORP Blyskawica, etc.

 

For researchers who can read Polish there are a number of Polish web sites dedicated to the Polish Navy.

 

A number of web sites are devoted to the Royal Navy and these are worth checking for references to the Polish Navy during WWII.

 

For actions involving the Polish Navy and German U-Boats refer to the undernoted site.

U-boat Net - The U-boat War 1939-1945 Information on actions with Polish Naval ships


(20) Printed Materials (in English) - A small selection

 

Peszke, Michael Alfred. The Polish Navy in the Second World War, A Historical Sketch, Polish Naval Association, London, 1989

Peszke, Michael Alfred. Battle for Warsaw 1939-1944. East European Monographs, Boulder USA, 1995.

Roskill, Stephen. The War at Sea 1939-1945 (3 volumes) London (Official British history). Contains some references to the Polish Navy.

 

The Polish Navy was involved in many operations and references to its ships and actions are likely to be contained in other English language histories. For those who can read Polish there are a number of texts in the Polish language concerning the history of the Polish Navy.


(21) Primary Sources

 

The National Archives, Kew England, Kew, England

Polish Museum and General Sikorski Institute, London, England


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Copyright R M Ostrycharz 2001

last modified 11 March 2009

polish navy.html

 

For any comments please send mail to: robert@ostrycharz.free-online.co.uk