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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Continuing on from the article in last month’s edition of Sea Breezes, this Polish museum is dedicated to the history of the Polish Navy.

Situated close by the shoreline in the city and port of Gdynia on Poland’s Baltic shoreline, this museum houses an impressive collection of over 20,000 items including a broad selection of weaponry as used by the Polish Navy, such as swords, pistols and naval artillery, also many larger items situated outdoors, including a one-man submersible the conning tower of a soviet designed submarine, missiles, torpedoes and naval aircraft.

The most impressive item of the collection being the destroyer that was referred to above, the ORP Błyskawica, which reads as ‘Lightning’ in English, that served throughout the Second World War as part of the Allied naval forces based in the United Kingdom.

ORP Błyskawica
In view of its impressive war-time history, a lot of care has gone into maintaining and restoring this destroyer which was built and completed in Britain in 1937. The Błyskawica was ordered as one of two destroyers of what was known as the Grom class for the Polish Navy from the fi rm of J. Samuel White of Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The ORP Grom (Thunder) was the first destroyer to be completed, although her career was short: she was sunk by aircraft off the coast of Narvik in 1940. Construction of Błyskawica commenced in 1935 and the Polish Navy’s specifi cation called for speed and an impressive fighting performance and defensive capability that stood this destroyer in good stead through a number of engagements during the Second World War.

A set of four drum boilers supplied steam power to two sets of geared steam turbines that could achieve 54,500hp / 40,600Kw, to power two propeller shafts that could provide a top speed of 39 knots.

Original armaments comprised seven 4.7” / 120mm guns and an array of Swedish Bofors guns, M34 and M36 .50 calibre guns and twin 40mm anti-aircraft guns, and eight 13.2mm machine guns. Six 550mm torpedo tubes were fi tted and provision was made for two depth charge chutes and storage for 40 depth charges to be discharged, and 44 mines were also carried on board. The ship’s complement of 180 offi cers and men gained an opportunity to strike back at Nazi Germany after Poland was invaded on 1 September 1939 by alluding capture and sailing the Błyskawica to the United Kingdom on 30 August, two days before the German invasion nearby at Westerplatte, which began the Second World War.

After arriving at the Royal Navy docks in Leith, Scotland on 1 September 1939 to join the British Home Fleet, the captain of the Błyskawica wasted no time in putting to sea once more, and on 7 September, an attack was made on a German U-boat although the outcome does not seem to have caused its destruction. Certain modifications were required as this destroyer had been designed for the calmer operating conditions of the Baltic, and she was considered to be too top heavy for operations in the stormier North Atlantic. Adaptations included removing a deck house as well as a searchlight tower; a 4” gun replaced the aft torpedo tubes; the 120mm guns were replaced by 4” anti-aircraft guns, and the 13.2mm machine guns were removed to be replaced by four 20mm Oerlikon cannons; and a decision was taken to the reinstall the aft set of torpedo tubes.

Displayed within the museum grounds, the Batory fast naval patrol boat was designed by Aleksander Potyrala and she was built in the Modlin riverside shipyard in 1932, the Batory originally served in the dual role of a coast guard, customs and maritime police vessel by patrolling the waters of the Baltic off the Gdynia coast until immediately before the Second World War, when she was requisitioned by the Polish Navy on 31 August 1931 on the day before the war started.

Speed was an asset that the Navy felt it could make good use of, and the Batory had already gained a well respected reputation for speed, with engines so powerful, her wake unsettled many other vessels when she left port in a hurry in order to outrun any motor boats that smugglers were operating out in the Bay of Gdańsk. Following the German attack on the Polish Army at the mouth of the Gdańsk port where they were based, and also in the free city itself, the Batory was sent across the Bay of Gdańsk to defend the village and its garrison in the area of Hel against aerial attack. Hel is a village situated at the end of a long peninsula directly opposite the city on the far side of the Bay Of Gdańsk.

On 1 October 1939, under the command of Captain Jerzy Milisiewicz and a crew of 15, Batory slipped away from the shore under the cover of a bank of fog and successfully eluded the German Navy blockade to escape across the Baltic to Klintehamm on Gotland in Sweden, where she was interned together with the sailing ship Dar Pomoroza and three Polish submarines at Vaxholm, where all of these vessels remained until 25 October 1945, when they made a return voyage to Poland.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - October 2015 Issue
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