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„Orzeł” Submarine

ORP “Orzeł” (Warship of the Republic of Poland “Eagle”) was built with funds raised by the public, whereas its weaponry cost was paid by the Polish Navy. It was developed at N. V. Koninklijke Maatschappij ”de Schelde”, a shipyard in Vlissingen, Holland. The contract was signed in 1936. 15 January 1938 saw the christening and launching of the ship. Jadwiga Sosnowska, wife to general Kazimierz Sosnowski, became the ship’s “godmother”. On 2 February 1939, the Polish warship flag was officially raised and 5 days layer the ship reached the navy port in Gdynia. The first commander of the ship was Lieutenant Commander Henryk Kłoczkowski.

On 1 September 1939, “Orzeł” entered the dispersal area in the Bay of Puck and on 4 September continued to Gotland, where Lieutenant Commander Kłoczkowski went down with an unidentified disease and decided to seek help in Tallinn. The ship reached the roadstead of the Tallinn port on 14 September, and Kłoczkowski was taken to hospital, while the command was taken by Lieutenant Jan Grudziński. On 15 September, he was submitted a decision on the ship’s internment on account of non-compliance of her sojourn with the provisions of the agreement concluded between Scandinavian and Baltic states in 1938. The ship was towed to the port and its disarming began. The crew, however, plotted an escape from Tallinn. On the night of 17 September, the ship left the port and plunged into the waters of the Gulf of Finland. Escape of “Orzeł” triggered a response by Estonia and both empires which were partitioning Poland at that time. The ship was expected to arrive in the Bay of Gdańsk or the shores of Sweden. The pursuit was however futile. Lieutenant Grudziński decided to stay in the Baltic and identify targets for the submarine’s torpedoes, until she runs out of fuel and the supplies of food and fresh water, and then to move to Great Britain. Ensign Marian Mokrski developed a makeshift map of the Baltic and the Danish straits based on a list of lighthouses in the area and his knowledge of the Baltic Sea. The end of regular warfare activities in Poland and the shortage of fresh water made Lieutenant Jan Grudziński decide on leaving the Danish straits, and the ship entered Rosyth on 14 October. The ship completed seven patrol missions from that base. She sank a German ship “Rio de Janeiro”, carrying soldiers and war materials, thus revealing the planned invasion of Norway. “Orzeł” submarine’s last patrol west of the exit of the Skagerrak began on 23 May. On 1 and 2 June, the ship was sent wireless messages to change her patrol area, but never acknowledged their receipt. “Orzeł” was declared missing on 11 June, after the ship’s crew failed to reply to return orders.

6 officers, a junior warrant officer and 53 petty-officers and ratings were lost along with the ship. The reason and location of her sinking remains unknown. She was assumed to have hit German mines on 7 June, but since this is a hypothesis only, the official date of “Orzeł” submarine’s loss is still 8 June 1940, the date of her expected return to base.

Publications about “Orzeł” began to emerge already during the war. The ship was made famous by books and a feature film. A tradition was then developed that wreaths are laid in the area of the ship’s last patrol. Since the names of most famous historic vessels are transferred onto new naval units, the second submarine named “Orzeł” served under the Polish flag in 1962–1983, and since 1986, the Polish Navy operated the third “Orzeł” submarine. The legend of “Orzeł” was reborn in 1993, when a wreck of another ship was found during crude oil search on the continental shelf at the Norwegian shores. An association was then formed seeking to find the wreck of “Orzeł”. The most spectacular, though unsuccessful, expedition was organised in 2008 onboard “Imor”, a sea exploration ship.

Tactical and technical data of the ship: displacement – 1,110/1,473.5 t, dimensions – 84.0 x 6.7 x 4.17 m, weaponry – 12 torpedo launchers and 20 torpedoes, a 105-mm sea artillery gun, a double 40-mm anti-aircraft gun and a coaxial 13.2 mm heavy machine gun. The ship operated two 4740 hp Diesel engines and two electric engines, 1100 hp, reached a maximum speed of 20/9 knots, surface range of 7,000 nautical miles at 10 knots, and underwater range of 100 nautical miles at 5 knots, maximum submerged position of 80 m, had a crew of 6 officers, 54 pettyofficers and ratings.

Walter PATER
Polish Navy Museum