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Light battle cruiser “Dragon”
Light battle cruiser “Dragon” was the first battle ship of this
class, operated by the Polish navy. She was built in the years 1917-
1918 by the shipyard Scott’s Shipbuilding & Engineering Company
Limited of Greenock for the British Royal Navy, as a prototype
of the series of eight type ”D” light battle cruisers. These eight
battle cruisers also included ORP [in Polish: Okręt Rzeczpospolitej
Polskiej – Ship of the Republic of Poland] “Conrad”, the second
Polish ship of this class.
During her service in the Royal Navy, the then HMS “Dragon” sailed almost all the seas and oceans. In the final year of World War I, the ship took part in patrols in the North Sea. The outbreak of World War II found the ship in Great Britain. Between the outbreak of war and the transfer to the Polish Navy, the ship was involved in military operations in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and from the end of 1941 until return to the British Isles – in operations in the Far East.
Taken over by the Polish Navy on 15 January 1943, in Birkenhead, her official name was changed to ORP “Dragon” only on 17 May. Initially suggested names “Lvov” and “Westerplatte” were not accepted, and eventually the original English name of the ship, with rich tradition, remained. At the same time this name was a reference to the galleon “Dragon” [in Polish: “Smok”] – the first ship built for Poland in Elbląg in the years 1570-1572.
On completion of overhaul, retrofit and rearming as well as selection of the crew in autumn of 1943, the training of ORP “Dragon” crew began. On 20 February 1944 the cruiser sailed on her first combat mission under the Polish battle ensign, in the Norwegian Sea as part of the Convoy JW 57 distant covering force, sailing to Murmansk and then – Convoy RA-57, returning from there. At the beginning of March the ship returned to Scapa Flow and later, as part of British 10th Cruiser Squadron, she began preparations to support planned allied troops landing in Normandy.
The task of the 10th Cruiser Squadron was artillery support of allied troops landing and overpowering of the German defence of the French coast. Between 6 June and 8 July 1944, ORP “Dragon” guarded the left wing of the landing troops, bombing German reinforcements and coastal artillery batteries near Caen as well as columns of German troops, moving along the coast. On 8 July 1944, approximately at 5.00 a.m., the ship was hit by a “Neger” miniature submarine [the so-called human or one-man torpedo] and badly damaged. As a result of the explosion, 37 crew members were killed and 14 other wounded. Damage to ORP “Dragon” was extensive, however the original intention was to salvage the ship. Eventually an economically justified decision was taken to set the ship on the sea bed near the “Sword” beach in Normandy. The wreck of the ship was used as part of the breakwater of the “Mulberry” artificial harbour. A few months later the majority of the crew salvaged from “Dragon” commenced service on the “Conrad” light cruiser.
The ship’s commanders were: between 15 January 1943 and 12 January 1944 - Captain Eugeniusz Pławski and between 12 January 1944 and 15 July 1944 - Commander Stanisław Dzienisiewicz.
The dimensions, speed, firepower and weaponry of ORP “Dragon” in 1944 were the following: displacement 4,850 t, dimensions: 143,65 x 14,10 x 5,33 m, propulsion: two 40,000 HP turbine sets, max. speed 29 knots, range 6,700 nm at 10 knots and 1,400 nm at 29 knots, weaponry: five 152-millimeter marine guns, a 102-millimeter double-mount universal gun, two 40-millimeter quadruple-mount anti-aircraft guns as well as three double-mount and four single-mount 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, armour at ship’s waterline was 38-76 mm thick and ship’s deck 25 mm thick. Ship’s crew consisted of 30 officers as well as 430 non-commissioned officers and sailors.