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Błyskawica - The Polish Navy Destroyer

ORP “Błyskawica” (Warship of the Republic of Poland “Lightning”) was a vessel in the Navy of the Second Republic of Poland which served during World War II and, following her return home and participation in training activities, became a museum ship. She is a symbol of the continuity of the Polish Navy and its traditions. This famous warship, nowadays open to the public, has the Navy’s signs and symbols on permanent display and provides the public with an opportunity to witness certain elements of the maritime ceremonial and to meet some of the marine corps officers.

“Błyskawica” was built for the Polish Navy in 1935–1937 by the British shipyard of John Samuel White & Company Ltd. Shipbuilders and Engineers in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. The ship was launched on 1 October 1936 and the Polish military flag was hoisted on her on 25 November 1937. On 1 December 1937, she entered, for the very first time, her home port of Gdynia. The design of the vessel was enhanced using Polish technological solutions. Some of the equipment was provided by Poland.

“Błyskawica” joined the Destroyer Division. Before the outbreak of the war, the division (with the exception of “Wicher” (“Gale”) was sent to Great Britain as part of the so-called Operation Peking. During the war, the ship served in the Polish Navy using naval bases in Great Britain. She took part in the Norwegian Campaign, in covering the Dunkirk evacuation, in the Battle of the Atlantic, in landing operations in Northern Africa and Normandy as well as other naval operations. In 1942, she valiantly defended the town of Cowes against a German air raid (the town has an active Friends of the ORP “Błyskawica” Society). She covered the total distance of 146,000 nautical miles, participated in escorting 83 convoys, carried out 108 patrols, contributed to sinking two enemy surface ships, damaged three submarines and shot down four aircraft (possibly even three more). The ship was heavily damaged three times.

In 1947, “Błyskawica” returned to Poland and, having undergone renovation and rearmament, was classified as an anti-aircraft ship. When the last stage of her service was completed, necessary adjustments were introduced and in 1976 the ship replaced the worn-out ORP “Burza” (“Thunderstorm”) – Poland’s first museum ship. The exhibition on board the “Błyskawica” museum, the ship itself being a gigantic showpiece, consists of artillery pieces and underwater weaponry, engine/boiler compartments, fragments of crew accommodation, a radio station and a permanent historical exhibition. Basic tactical and technical data of the ORP “Błyskawica” are as follows: displacement – 2,782 t, length – 113.98 m, beam – 11.3 m, draught – 3.78–4.01 m, turbine rating – 54,000 hp, maximum speed – 42.5 knots. During the ship’s service, her armament underwent modernisation several times. The latest combination of weapons comprised four gun turrets (cal. 100 mm), four twin and two single anti-aircraft guns (cal. 37 mm), a triple torpedo launcher (cal. 533.4), four depth charge throwers and two depth charge projectors. She was in service for over thirty years and was particularly active during wartime. In 1969–76, she was moored in Świnoujście and since 1976 has remained in the port of Gdynia.

On board the ship, various Navy celebrations take place – commissioning ceremonies are held, nomination and awards are handed in, musters are called, farewell ceremonies conducted; conferences and meetings are organised. Each year the ship is visited by tens of thousands of people. In 1985, Friends of the ORP “Błyskawica” Society was established. In 1987, “Błyskawica”, as the only Navy ship so far, was awarded the Golden Cross of the War Order of Virtuti Militari in recognition of her services during World War II and her instrumental role in inspiring patriotic initiatives after her transformation into a museum.

In 2007, the World Ship Trust honoured the vessel for her wartime merits with the International Maritime Heritage Award. In this way “Błyskawica” joined the international fleet of ships that have helped change the course of history.

Walter PATER