The story of the “Orzel” Polish submarine
Social fund raising and submarine construction agreement
In the interwar period the question of the expansion and modernization of the Polish navy fleet became an indisputable necessity. Numerous expansion plans prepared by the Polish authorities were in most cases unrealistic, and for execution of even those less unrealistic there was simply lack of money. In this situation, a nationwide money collection for the purchase of a modern naval unit was the only chance to strengthen the possession of the Polish fleet.
The signal to its start came out of military circles when one of the officers in 1923 cast a call for creating a foundation to raise funds for the construction of a submarine in the “Polish Armed Forces” magazine. Shortly thereafter the Central Committee of the Submarine Foundation was established. Corps districts formed local committees, and committees in individual garrisons. The main purpose of the collection was the voluntary taxation of officers and sub-officers with an amount equal to 0.5% of their total monthly allowance, which was to continue until the budget needed to order the submarine was collected. In mid-1927, the Foundation’s Central Committee gathered an amount of 200 thousand zlotys, supplemented with the funds from the sale of commemorative coins struck by jeweler Wabia-Wabiński. In the following year, in order to give it a more massive character, a new foundation statute was established and it was given a new name, henceforth functioning as the Submarine Fund Committee. In 1929, a “noble duel” between the representatives of the Polish Army and the Navy was launched in the “Polish Armed Forces” magazine, aimed at collecting the highest amount of money for a submarine.
Soon the action of money collection found its repercussion practically in all layers of Polish society. Even small amounts were collected by scouts, rail men, workers, and faithful in the churches. The activity of General Mariusz Zaruski within the National Fleet Committee is worth mentioning here as well as the activity of the Łódź Submarine Construction Committee in 1930, operating under the name of “Reply to Treviranus”. Signal for the appointment of the second of the aforementioned committees came from the Board of the Polish Veterans Association, during a protest rally organized in Łódź against the German invasions in Poland, which were represented by the then Minister of the Reich, Gottfried Treviranus.
Initially spontaneous submarine fundraising operations became a more organized action when the Maritime and Colonial League took it over on March 10, 1932. Within it the National Fleet Fund was born, renamed at the end of 1933 to the Maritime Defense Fund.
This fund took over the money collected from the contributions for the construction of warships, obtained from the society as part of activities conducted by the Maritime and Colonial League by the Naval Command and from the “Reply to Treviranus” collection. The fund did not include the contributions collected within the military collections, which have retained their distinctiveness.
On June 21, 1935, the state of the Defense Fund counted about PLN 2.9 million zloty in cash and securities. After adding the sum of PLN 2.1 million zloty collected in the military circles, the total sum of funds amounted to 5 million zloty. The total amount was transferred to the Polish government for the construction of the submarine.
Construction of a submarine
The first step to order a submarine was to prepare the request for offer. It was prepared by the Navy Service Technicians: Commander Lieutenant engineer Stanisław Kamieński and engineer Alexander Potyrała. According to the tactical and technical assumptions developed by the officers of the Naval Shipbuilding Department, these would be classic submarines with torpedo armor, slightly larger than submarines of “Wolf” kind. Due to the fact that the construction of a submarine based on domestic industry was not at stake, it was decided to entrust the construction of this submarine with a foreign shipyard. Shipyards in the US, Italy, United Kingdom, Sweden, France and the Netherlands were considered. The offers of French shipyards were finally omitted. They disproved earlier when a representative of one of them reported false technical data of the ship, which led to the cancellation of the tender for the construction of submarines for Poland in 1933. After considering all submitted offers, it was decided to reject an Italian and American offer, given the considerable remoteness of these shipyards from Poland. Resignation from the British offer was due to high construction costs, while the Swedish offer was dropped due to lack of experience of Swedish shipyards in the construction of large submarines.
The best offer was given by the Netherlands and Dutch Shipyard Union. Their offer included the construction of two submarines, the first in Vlissingen and the second in Rotterdam. The cost of the first vessel was to be covered by the Maritime Defense Fund, while the cost of the second vessel was to be charged to the Polish state budget. After preparation of the draft contract and technical specifications of the ship done together with representatives of the respective services by the head of the Naval Shipbuilding Department, lieutenant commander Stanisław Kamieński and his deputy engineer Aleksander Potyrała, Polish-Dutch negotiations continued for several weeks. During the negotiations, the Dutch side agreed that about 85% of the cost of construction, armaments and equipment of two submarines, estimated at around PLN 21 million, were to be covered by Polish agricultural products (mainly brewery barley), which Poland had to export to the Netherlands as compensation.
As a result of preliminary talks on 29 January 1936, the signing of a contract for the construction of two torpedo ships took place in Hague. On behalf of the Polish Government, the contract was signed by the Head of Naval Administration, Rear Admiral Jerzy Świrski, and on behalf of the Union of Dutch Shipyards by Eng. H.C Wesseling. The project was supervised by the Dutch Nederlandsche Veerenigde Scheepsbouw Bureaux in Hague. The first lead designer was engineer Dae, followed by a Polish engineer Kazimierz Leski. According to plans, the ship was to be equipped with 12 550 mm caliber torpedo launchers (four fixed in the bow and aft and four reversible pairs mounted in front and behind the platform), a 105 mm Boforsa gun, a 40 mm double anti-aircraft gun mounted in a watertight pan and a double anti-aircraft gun 13.2 mm Hotchkiss machine gun. The vessel’s surface velocity was estimated at 20 knots and the underwater one at 9 knots. The range was 7,000 nautical miles, with a maximum immersion limit of 80 meters. In addition to the exceptionally strong unit armament, it is noteworthy that the torpedo launcher could be changed from 550 mm to 533 mm. In addition, a number of pioneering construction solutions were used on the ship, which included the transfer of frames to the outer side of the strong body, resulting in more interior space and welding of the steel kiosk elements, which greatly strengthened its durability. The anti-aircraft gun was automatically retracted during the ascent, while the periscopes and hatches were started by the use of hydraulic cylinders, thus reducing their failure rate and significantly facilitating their operation. In mid-1936, the Polish Ship Construction Supervisory Board headed by the Lieutenant Commander engineer Seweryn Bukowski went to Hague. The team of the committee was supplemented by naval captain engineer Michał Niemirski, lieutenant navy engineer Józef Minkiewicz, (from mid-1937 also lieutenant navy engineer Jan Strupczewski) and Józef Wtorkowski. The initial work of the design office lasted about six months and when they finished they began to build the ship by laying the keel and installing watertight bulkheads. The main suppliers of components and equipment for the construction of ships were in addition to the Netherlands Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, France, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
On January 15, 1938, the ship was baptized and launched. A delegation consisting of a number of people representing the FOM Board and the Main Board of the Maritime and Colonial League, the Navy and the press came from Poland to the launching ceremony of the submarine. In addition, Dr. Wacław Babinski, the Honorary and Minister, arrived from Hague as a representative of the Government of the Republic of Poland. The submarine was baptized by Father Hoffman, a Dutch-Polish activist priest, and the wife of General Kazimierz Sosnkowski was chosen for the godmother of the ship. By the command of the military minister, the unit was given the name “Orzel”, which was to symbolize the fighting power and at the same time the amount of social endeavor by which the ship was built. Works on the “Orzel” were proceeding smoothly and already in the summer of the same year a series of sea trials were conducted. After their successful completion on February 2, 1939 in Vlissingen an official transfer of the ship took place and the solemn elevation of the Polish flag of war took place. The ORP “Orzel” left Vlissingen and traveled to Gdynia, arriving there on February 7, 1939. Three days later official greeting of the unit in Gdynia took place, where a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the kiosk of the Polish submarine, informing that it had been purchased from social contributions.
Upon arriving in Gdynia, the “Orzel” with its twin ship “Vulture” became part of the submarine squadron, becoming its newest and most powerful units. The command of the ship was taken over by the Commander Lieutenant Henryk Kłoczkowski, while his crew of six officers and fifty four sub-officers and sailors was supplemented at the expense of the personnel of other ships in the squadron. Another half-year was spent by the ORP “Orzel” on patrol cruises and on observation of German units.
The Polish campaign
On September 1, 1939, at 05.00 in the morning, the commander of the submarine squadron transferred an order from Hel for the submarines including the ORP “Orzel” to move to their sectors under the previously prepared plan called “a Sack”. The plan defined the composition of the forces to be used for its execution and required attacking German units in the surveillance sectors. Its main purpose was to secure the Polish coast against a possible German naval descent. The “Orzel” sector was established in the Puck Bay and limited from the east with a line connecting the lighthouse in Jastarnia and Neufahrwasser buoy on the Gdańsk roadstead. Battery charging was to take place in the western part of the Puck Bay. The sector designated for the “Orzel” was bounded on two sides by the coast, and from the third with a shallow Puck Lagoon, which depth did not exceed 40 m and did not correspond to its operational characteristics. The Fleet Command wore the intention of holding the “Orzel” in the deception and using it in case of large enemy units appearing there.
The ORP “Orzel” left the port in Gdynia on 1 September at 06.35. After taking the assigned position, she spent the whole day on periscope observation during which the presence of enemy planes was noted, and movements of Polish Navy units were observed. During the next day, the “Orzel” witnessed the bombing of Gdynia and the Hel Peninsula. The naval activity of the ship on September 3 1939 has two scenarios. According to the commander of the ship, due to fatigue of the crew, at 02.00 am he decided to position the ship at the bottom, at a depth of 15-16 m. At 06.00 am the ship resumed patrol and moved alongside the shore towards the head of Hel peninsula. For the rest of the day she patrolled the eastern border of the sector and returned to Jastarnia overnight to charge the batteries. According to the second scenario, the “Orzel” was submerged and patrolled the sector in the early morning, after which the commander directed the ship to Jastarnia, where for no apparent reason he spent most of the day at the bottom, emerging at dusk. She then went to Jastarnia. At 22.00 pm information was exchanged with ORP “Wolf” command during the direct meeting of the ships.
On September 4, the “Orzel” suffered continuous attacks from the enemy, resulting in the leakage of ballast tanks. The commander of the vessel, considering the sector in which the ship was as too dangerous, decided not to consult the commanding authority, leave the sector and go to Gotland. The next day, September 5, the crew carried out repair work on damaged ballast tanks. In the morning, on September 6, the ship dipped and ran surveillance along the coast of Gotland. An unarmed “Bergen” or “Bremen” ship was discovered in the evening, which was not attacked due to the previously received order of not attacking non-armored and unassisted ships. In the morning of September 7, the ship immersed and continued the patrolling between Gotland and Estonia. The naval activity of the ship from September 8th to September 12th again has two scenarios in the sources. In later court proceedings, it was found that during that period she was between Gotland and Estonia, while according to the commander she had patrolled in the Brüsterort Cape where she arrived at dawn on September 8.
On September 8, the state of health of the ship’s commander, who had complained about his stomach discomfort since leaving the harbor, had deteriorated so much that it had been decided to inform the command about this issue. The ship was ordered to go to Hel to replace or leave the commander at one of the neutral ports and act under the command of the deputy commander of the ship. On September 13, 1939, due to deteriorating health, the ship’s commander – Henryk Kłoczkowski decided to go to distant Tallinn and descend from the ship.
Holding the ship in Tallinn and escape
On September 14 at 9:30 pm the “Orzel” docked at Tallinn’s roadstead, and the pilot vessel was called to take the ill commander to shore. Approximately at 01.00 am the commandant of the war port, Captain. M. Kövamessthe arrived at the ship. He was informed by Lieutenant Commander Henryk Kłoczkowski about the compressor failure and his illness, with a request for permission to land and go to a hospital. In addition, Lieutenant Commander H. Kłoczkowski requested to give the permission to leave the port by the “Orzel” immediately after removing the reported failure. In response, the commandant of the war port M. Kövamess asked for patience in anticipation of the new guidelines he was to receive from the commander of the Estonian Navy. Half an hour later, senior lieutenant P. Poore arrived at the scene accompanied by 10 armed sailors who attempted to board the “Orzel”, which was by the commander of the Polish ship. At 03.00 am new Estonian officers arrived on board the “Orzel”, asking for the purpose of which the ship had come to Tallinn. Commander, Lieutenant H. Kłoczkowski informed that the cause of the call to Estonian port was his illness and the collapse of the compressor. The Polish crew was informed that, according to the law in force, the submarine’s entry into the Estonian port was only possible in the event of a breakdown or weather conditions that prevented the cruise from continuing. Subsequently, the commander of the Estonian fleet informed that the German merchant vessel Thalatta was stationed at the port of departure as the first one and therefore, according to international law, the “Orzel” would not be able to leave Tallinn sooner than 24 hours after its exit. In the meantime, the sick “Orzel” commander went to the hospital, while the Polish military attaché arrived on board the ship. He stated that “Thalatta” is about to leave Tallinn, and thus the permit for the Polish ship in Tallinn will be extended to 48 hours.
On September 15, an inspection board under the command of Captain Jozannes Santpanka, whose task was to assess the extent of damage of the vessel arrived to the ship. After the inspection on board of the “Orzel”, a senior Estonian navy officer accompanied by armed sailors arrived, informing that the ORP “Orzel” had been interned. The Estonians took the boarding log, navigational charts and the Polish flag from the deck. After disembarking of Polish sailors, the ship was towed into the harbor pool. On the following day, September 16, Estonians began dismantling the ship’s armament, seizing firearms, artillery ammunition, mortars and fourteen torpedoes aboard the ship. Other torpedoes were planned to be unloaded the next day.
On Monday, September 17, just after breakfast, a Polish crew meeting was held where a final decision was made to prepare for an escape from internment in Tallinn. During the meeting, details were discussed and crew received tasks such as overpowering the guards, damaging of torpedo dismantling equipment, disconnection of the lighting system, and interruption of telephone communications. After carrying out the tasks and taking two overpowered guards under the deck of the “Orzel”, the ship departed from the port at night of September 18, accidentally hitting the underwater pier. The Estonians saw the escape, launched an alarm and opened fire towards the “Orzel”, with firearms and coastal artillery division of the Aegna naval fort which fortunately was not harmful to the ship. The ship commanded by Captain Grudzinski immersed and departed from the Estonian port.
After the escape, despite lack of navigational charts and shortages in armaments, Captain Grudzinski decided to stay in the Baltic Sea and continue the fight as long as fuel, eatables and fresh water were available, and then cross the Danish Straits and reach the UK. The navigation remained a problem, mainly due to the loss of maps requisitioned in Tallinn. However, the navigational officer Marian Mokrski managed to make a valuable discovery. He found a current German list of lanterns that was unregistered by Estonians during internment, called “Verzeichniss der Leuchtfeuer und Signalstellen” on the ship. Lieutenant M. Mokrski succeeded to develop a handwritten map called “Map No 1” covering the Baltic Sea, the Danish Straits, the Kattegat and the Skagerrak, basing on information on the characteristics of the lighthouse and lattice sectors and their geographic coordinates.
On the night of September 21, the commander of the “Orzel”, decided to disembark the abducted Estonian sailors at the coasts of Gotland. They were provided with food, money needed to return to the country, and a letter containing explanations about their abduction, addressed to the Estonian commander.
Being in the vicinity of Gotland, the “Orzel” encountered a German armed ship, heading for Libiawa. Leading the ship to combat position, in order to attack the enemy the “Orzel” unexpectedly settled in shallow bottom. While attempting to descend from it, she was attacked by an incoming German seaplane. Fortunately, the “Orzel” at the last moment managed to leave the shallow, simultaneously preventing the plane’s attack. At the time when the Polish ship was evading an air attack, the German ship had departed.
With time passing, the “Orzel” crew grew more and more tired and lacking in fresh water. In addition, the overall condition of the ship was unsatisfactory. The directional steering was defective, the speed of the ship was reduced due to the damage of the screws and the oil reserves were also considerably reduced. In this situation, on October 7 1939 Captain Grudzinski decided to move from the Baltic Sea through Kattegat to Great Britain.
This decision was in line with the guidelines issued by the Fleet Command on September 14, 1939. Its content was as follows: “Harm as many enemies as possible. After exhausting all means go to England. Remind the radio station in Rosyth on a 138 kilocyclical wave and report 30 nautical miles to Ost on May Island at Firth of Forth. Report the decision “. On the way to England Lieutenant Mokrski prepared new maps of the route called the “map of the passage” and the “orientation sketch”.
After passing through the Sund, the “Orzel” guarded by the Swedish and German fleet, past the isthmus between Helsingor and Hsinglesborg and went out into the Kattegat waters. Then on October 11 she reached Cape Skagen and entered Skagerrak waters. For the next 24 hours, she led a patrol in hope of encountering enemy units, and on October 12 she began its final voyage, the passage through the North Sea to the United Kingdom. A failure of the ship’s radio station, which prevented the radio contact with England was however a serious problem of the Polish crew. The lack of contact resulted in unawareness of the deployment of English homesteads, as well as the threat of attack by allied ships, as it was not possible to report a successful escape and an intention to arrive at the British port. On October 14, a radio failure was resolved and a message was sent to the Scottish Firth of Forth off the coast. Due to the lack of a cipher the radiogram was given in open text. One of the English coastal radio stations received this signal and handed it to the relevant Royal Navy unit.
Service in the UK
After a 43-day stay at the sea, on October 14, 1939 the “Orzel” arrived to the UK coast, entering the port of Rosyth, accompanied by the British destroyer called “Valorous”. On the same day, the”Orzel” was visited by Polish officer Henryk Kamiński, serving on another Polish submarine – ORP “Wolf”, who after overpassing the Strait of Denmark and Kattegat waters less than three weeks earlier also found shelter in the Scottish port. On October 12, 1939, the “Wolf” was diverted to Scapa Flow, where she left the Royal Navy’s base two days later with the intention of going to Dundee. After leaving the base, the commander of the “Wolf” was asked to disembark and temporarily transfer to a British destroyer escorting one of his officers. This officer was to be equipped with the Polish flag and his task was to assist the British in greeting an unspecified Polish newcomer to the UK. The commander of the “Wolf” assigned this task to Lieutenant Henryk Kamiński, who aboard a British destroyer and went to the May Island and then to the Scottish port of Rosyth. After the Polish officer landed on the spot, it turned out that this mysterious unit was the Polish submarine “Orzel”. Arrival of a Polish ship to Great Britain increased the number of Polish units there to five. Apart from the aforementioned “Wolf”there were three Polish destroyers: “Lightning”, “Storm” and “Thunder”, which were withdrawn to the United Kingdom on the basis of a plan and command of the Rear Admiral Unrug, called “Beijing” plan since September 1 1939.
On October 21, 1939, the Chief of Naval Command expressed the highest appreciation in the Daily Order No. 2a for Jan Grudzinski, the commanding officer of the ORP ”Orzel” for all actions taken and praised the officers and crew of the “Orzel”. The order was delivered on board the “Orzel” five days later by Lieutenant Commander Tadeusz Stoklasa, a marine attaché in London, who first came to Rosyth and then to Dundee to visit Polish submarines coming to Britain – the “Orzel” and the ” Wolf. ” Upon arriving at the “Orzel”, he held a conversation with the officers, during which he was to present the Polish Navy situation at that time and its new role and importance in the newly emerging circumstances. During discussions, issues related to the needs of crews and ships which were to facilitate their smooth functioning were also discussed. Then a briefing was held with the entire crew of the “Orzel”, where Captain Jan Grudzinski read out the delivered orders of praise of Rear Admiral Świrski. Commander Lieutenant Stoklasa presented the crew with the general situation of the Polish Navy, while encouraging them to pursue further combat operations.
There was another important event during the visit. One of the six copies of a document prepared on October 23, 1939, called “Declaration of the officers of the ORP “Orzel” regarding the internment of the ship in the port of Tallinn in Estonia” on 14.IX.1939, caused by the cowardice of Commander Lieutenant Henryk Kłoczkowski “signed by all five officers serving on the ORP Orzel” was given to the visiting guest. The copy was then delivered by the Polish attaché to the Chief of Naval Administration. The remaining copies were distributed between the officers of the “Orzel” and “Wolf”, and one copy was sent to the Polish embassy in London. The contents of the statement in twelve points described the circumstances of the internment of the ship in Tallinn and the common position of its authors, blaming the loss of the fully-prepared battleship to the commander Lieutenant Kłoczkowski. The statement later served as the basis for the officers’ interviews in April 1940, which in 1942 was used to bring Kłoczkowski to the criminal trial. The rightness of the statements contained in the statement of allegations was shared by the officer of the submarine “Wolf” Boleslaw Romanowski. Other NCOs, who were not part of the last cruise of the Polish submarine and did not lose their life on board had an opposite opinion however. They argued that the content of the accusations was untrue and that Lieutenant Commander H. Kłoczkowski was not guilty of the charges alleged against him. At this point it is worth mentioning that Kłoczkowski was able to reach Britain only in 1942, where he was immediately brought before the Polish Maritime Military Court. The allegations against him were based on the testimonies of his former subordinates, all of whom, with the exception of Lieutenant Stanislaw Pierzchlewski, perished on “Orzel”. Prior to the final sentence issued by the Naval Military Court Kłoczkowski acquainted with the protocol of the hearing. His remarks were written down in the order of July 8, 1942, however, the head of the court Colonel Auditor Tadeusz Jaskólski did not take the claims of the accused to rectify the minutes of the trial into account, because in his opinion, they did not find justification in the actual content of Kloczkowskis testimony. Although with the decision of the Naval Military Court Kloczkowski was sentenced to four years of imprisonment and expulsion from the Navy, including a loss of military rank, and a permanent inability to re-enter the navy, the sentence of imprisonment was not enforced. The reason for this was the fact that the crime was committed before the conclusion of a Polish-British agreement regulating the execution of judgments awarded by the Polish courts.
On October 30, 1939, the “Orzel” was planned to be moved from Rosyth to Dundee where it was to be placed in one of the two dry docks at Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd. The main purpose of placing the “Orzel” in the said dry dock was to establish the size of damage and its possible removal. Due to the fact that the “Wolf” was supposed to stay in the shipyard for a week or more to perform minor repairs, there was an opportunity for officers and crew of both Polish ships to spend time together. Officers from the “Orzel” and “Wolf” were placed at the expense of the Admiralty at Mather’s Hotel, while the crew at Sailor’s Home.
During the repair of the “Orzel” in the Scottish shipyard, it turned out that the propeller shafts were bent, the two feathers of the right screw were half broken, at the left screw one feather was completely broken and the other damaged. Directional steering was bent and severely damaged. The beak and the keel of the ship in the bow section were also damaged. In addition, the ship had a shot kiosk and some leaks in ballasts and tanks, but the despite all that renovation was not too serious. Actually, the lack of locks for 105 mm caliber guns and 40 mm anti-aircraft guns and their ammunition including 125 shots for the first gun and 1200 shots for the second gun were more problematic. In order to restore the combat capability of the ship, attempts were made to complete the missing armament.
On November 7, Lieutenant Colonel T. Stoklasa applied for decoration of the officers and the crew of ORP “Orzel” and ORP “Wolf” appointed by the commanders of both submarines to the Head of The Polish Navy. The commander of “Wolf” applied for decorations for all officers and crew members, while the commander of “Orzel” indicated all officers and only sixteen crew members in his request. On November 10, after signing by the Chief of Naval Administration applications were submitted to the Minister of Military Affairs for approval.
According to the information provided in applications the Virtuti Militari Silver Cross of Class V was intended to be awarded to Captain Jan Grudziński for the whole of the ORP” Orzel “operation, which involved the release of the Tallinn ship, the most difficult-to-navigate conditions without a map of Danish straits guarded by the enemy and possibly mined, Skagerrak operations and successful arrival of the ship to England, thus enabling him to continue to participate in the war”
The officers, same as above-mentioned sixteen crew members were supposed to be decorated with the Crosses of the Brave, in recognition of organizing and escaping internment in Tallinn. On November 17, 1939, General Sikorski, accompanied by his adjutants, Lieutenant Commander Stoklasa, and Rear Admiral Jerzy Świrski, arrived in Dundee, where he delivered a speech during which there was an unexpected incident that had adversely affected Admiral Swirski. The commanders and officers from both Polish submarines, accusing the Admiral of being too quick to evacuate from Poland during the ongoing war, did not give him a hand to greet. The situation was unpleasant enough to happen in the company of the General and put Swirski in a very embarrassing and awkward situation. Despite General Sikorski repeatedly asking to change their behavior, the officers remained unchanged in their decision. After the speech, the general decorated Captain Grudzinski with the “Cross of Virtuti Militari class V”, and the “Orzel” officers and crew members with the Cross of the Brave.
In addition to the fatal relationship with the Navy commanders, the atmosphere on the “Orzel” itself also greatly deteriorated. Among the crew there appeared a stronger split, which was launched already earlier in the course of the September campaign. The application of Captain Grudzinski with requests for decorations for only a part of the crew caused quarrels with officers from the “Wolf”. These officers were going to present their entire crew to honor with decorations because of all its members participating in the events of the Great Britain. The officers of the “Orzel” believed that the decorations of their crew should only be obtained by those who took active participation in the preparation and escape of internment in Estonia and the move to Great Britain.
On December 1, 1939, the refurbishment of the “Orzel” was completed, and after leaving the docks she left Dundee and passed to Rosyth harbor.
A week later, information on the arrival of Polish ships in the United Kingdom was made public. The Polish submarine achievements had been broadcasted by the media of the whole world. The BBC radio station devoted all its broadcasts to the achievements of the Polish Navy. The European and North American press published a series of interviews with the commander and officers of the “Orzel”, posting a number of photographs of the crew and their ship in their columns. An additional factor causing the influx of journalists to Rosyth was the fact that Captain Grudzinski was given the high honor of the British Distinguished Service Order on December 11, 1939.
The British Admiralty originally planned to have the Polish warships the “Wolf” and “Orzel” stationed in Portsmouth, primarily due to the fact that there were more comfortable crew quarters on land. However, both the fact of establishing good relations and cooperation with the local authorities in Rosyth, and the fact that both of the ships enjoyed high command and military personnel base caused the ships to remain in Rosyth. They were assigned to the Second Submarine Flotilla, under the command of Captain W.D. Stephens.
The base ship of the flotilla was HMS “Forth” c- a vessel with a displacement of 14,000 tons, well equipped and capable of providing all technical support and crew comfort.
The “Orzel” began combat operations on December 29, 1939. On that day she went out to sea to escort a convoy consisting of 4 ships from the Scottish port of Methill to Bergen, Norway. For this purpose, she met with four destroyers to construct security forces for the convoy. During the escorting operations, the “Orzel” was supposed to be above the surface, the immersion was only permitted when encountering the enemy’s surface forces, which could be targets for the Polish submarine torpedos. The cruise was not abounding in many events, the only noteworthy fact was the unintended detachment from the convoy of two ships. After two hours, they were found by a convoy and joined the others. On January 1, 1940, the convoy arrived in Bergen, where it was dissolved. Few hours later a new convoy was built, comprising 35 units to reach the UK coast. Just like before, ORP “Orzel” became a part of the security forces of the convoy. On December 4 the convoy reached the coast of England.
The first independent patrol of the “Orzel” took place on January 18, 1940. Before leaving the port, the command of the Second Submarine Flotilla informed the captain of the Polish submarine about the deployment of British submarines and their expected dislocation. On January 19, the “Orzel” was to observe the Norwegian Skudesnes fjord. Upon receipt of the radio message she went to a position with coordinates: 58º27 ‘N; 04º45’E, from which she continued to observe the fjord on January 21st. During this day, a number of remote undetected submarine outbreaks were recorded. On the next day, January 22, the”Orzel” received another order to return to the original position, where she remained until January 26. During this period, further unidentified submarine outbreaks were recorded and 3 Norwegian seaplanes were noticed. During the entire patrol period, in spite of bad weather conditions (sea condition from 2-5, wind 4-8, snowstorms), there were altogether more than 20 merchant ships cruising close to the shores of Norway. On January 27, the “Orzel” was heading back to the base, where, mistakenly, as a result of the fog, instead of Firth of Forth, she entered a slightly more North positioned Firth of Tay Bay and crossed the region where a month earlier a defensive British minefield was supposed to be settled. Fortunately for the Polish ship it was laid finally with one month delay. On January 27, the “Orzel” ended the patrol and returned to Rosyth base.
The “Orzel” began its second self-standing patrol on February 10, 1940. After leaving the base, she continued the sea crossing with the task of taking a patrol position with coordinates 57º15’N and 06º30’E. During the move to a designated position, on 11-12 of February, the eavesdropping operators recorded several distant unidentified underwater explosions. On February 12 at 23.59 the “Orzel” and two British submarines received news about the German freighter “Anhalt” and “Preussen” mine disposer leaving the port of Hantsholm. The next day at 00.58 am the “Orzel” was ordered to move around positions 56º38’N and 07º55’E and start looking for enemy units. Less than three hours later, the “Orzel” reached the designated position, where she remained until the evening, because she was ordered to move to the E1 area. On February 16th, the “Orzel” was ordered to pass at full speed ascent to Fosing Fiord and seize a new position she had taken the following day. During the observation, several commercial vessels were sighted near the coast of Norway, 3 of which were identified as Danish. Observation of the situation in the fjord ceased, because the new order required the ship to return to the E1. The next day, the “Orzel” left the designated area and headed to the base. The patrol ended at 9.00 am on February 23, when the “Orzel” entered the base at Rosyth.
Another sea departure took place on March 5, 1940. According to the command the”Orzel” left Rosyth around 19.30 pm and went to the area marked with the symbol E1. Between March 7 and early hours on March 10, a number of fishing vessels were observed on the patrol line, and several tens far off unidentified underwater explosions were registered. On March 10, “Orzel” was ordered to approach the Danish coast to find and intercept the German ship “Helene Russ”. The next day after midnight, the “Orzel” encountered two unidentified vessels about six miles apart. In order to recognize them, the ship began to approach them, however, due to poor visibility and the need to leave the course of one of the ships in fear of the ship’s ram, the maneuver was abandoned. This resulted in loss of contact with detected units. The information obtained later make it likely that these ships were the “Helene Russ” and an escort destroyer ship.
A moment later, a third ship was noticed, with which contact was also lost due to poor visibility because of fog. Only at 09.06 am another unit was located. The “Orzel”, being immersed, noticed through the periscope a suspicious vessel sailing without a flag. In order to check the ship, which was supposed to determine his nationality and detect any contraband she carried, the Polish ship emerged slowly to the surface and the commander together with the signaler climbed to the navigation platform. Through the binoculars they noticed panic on the deck and obvious preparations to leave the ship. It was then signaled that the officer with the ship’s books checked on board the submarine. A few minutes later, the motor boat arrived with a merchant navy officer, who, after a short exchange of statements with the Polish commander and presenting the required documents, to his great surprise and uncontrollable joy, realized that he had been detained by a Polish ship and not as he expected a German one. The inspected ship occurred to be a Danish unit which was carrying a load of eggs and bacon from Denmark to England. Because the documents proved to be impeccable, and the cargo did not raise suspicion, it was decided to release the ship and allow it to continue the cruise. The “Orzel” continued the patrol, but persistent bad weather prevented him from continuing his search for the “Helene Russ” so she returned to the E1 patrol area. On March 13th, “Orzel” was directed to a new position, where she set off on the way back the next day. On March 17, the “Orzel” docked at the base.
The next sea departure was scheduled for April 3, 1940. This time patrol activities were to take place in the area of Skagerrak, to which she was scheduled to arrive on April 4. On April 8 at 9:45 am, near the entrance to the Oslo Fjord the “Orzel” sailing at a periscope depth, sighted a “suspicious” merchant ship sailing south. The British Admiralty had instructed the commanders of their submarines to stop and revise the neutral ships entering the Southern course and all German ships, although the torpedoing of even the latter ones was allowed only after a warning, so the commander of the “Orzel” decided to stop and control of the ship. In making this decision, the fact that the observed unit sailed without a flag played its role. Having approached the ship and positioning at a distance which allowed reading its name through periscope, which was “Rio de Janeiro”, the clumsy overpainted name of the ship’s native port, Hamburg, was also noted. After 10 minutes, the ship emerged about 1,200 meters from “Rio de Janeiro”, commanding with the international flag code for the ship to stop, take the documents, and board the “Orzel”. The ship stopped, however, the signal to immediately drop the lifeboat and the captain to arrive were ignored. In this situation, the commander of the “Orzel” commanded a salvage fire from the machine gun on the side of the ship.
It turned out to be so effective that the lifeboat was dropped from the encountered unit. The fact that the crew of the boat paddled very sluggishly and receiving radio signal transmission in an incomprehensible code forced the commander of the Polish submarine to give further signals. The first one ordered to leave the ship within 15 minutes, the other one sent 10 minutes later, reported that after 5 minutes a torpedo would be fired in the direction of “Rio de Janeiro”. In the meantime, the Norwegian units were approaching from the mainland. The lack of response to the signals sent was a prerequisite for the decision to fire the torpedo. At 11:45 am the torpedo left the launcher and after a minute and a half hit the midship of “Rio de Janeiro”. The hit ship collapsed to the right side, and from his deck men started jumping into the water. Exactly 5 minutes later, a Norwegian plane was observed on the horizon. After noticing the plane, the “Orzel” immersed and the commander decided to make a second torpedo attack from the opposite side, giving the crew time to drop the lifeboats. In the meantime, a Norwegian coastal ship arrived to rescue the survivors. At 12:15 pm Captain J. Grudzinski decided to fire another torpedo that exploded in the mid ship area, just under the chimney, causing the ship to break in half and sink. After performing the attack, the “Orzel” entered deeper into the fjord. When at 4 pm the “Orzel” returned to the place of the “Rio de Janeiro” torpedo area, a large number of dead men wearing life jackets and green uniforms without any signatures were noticed floating in the sea. At 16:10 an order was received to move to a new position. In the report, later on it was noted that, in the meantime allied and neutral radio reported that the ship not only it had men on board, but also artillery and ammunition along with small tanks. In fact, a transport vessel of 5 261 gross tons was one of 45 vessels destined for the invasion of neutral Norway by Bergen’s port of destination. On April 9 at 01:20 am an order was issued to move to the area near Laurvik. During the next day, communication operators registered surrounding submarine outbreaks, three enemy patrol boats with troopers, and a large number of planes were noticed. After some time, the commander of the “Orzel” decided to attack one of the patrols, firing 2 torpedoes in its direction. After a few minutes, about 90 meters behind the attacked ship, an explosion was observed. For unexplained reasons the patrol boat was not hit.
After the attack, ‘Orzel’ plunged and descended from the fire position. Another order ‘Orzel’ received on April 12. It commanded the ship’s transition to a position with coordinates: 58º40 ‘N and 11º00’E and observation of the tactical situation in the area. After taking the position, a German passenger ship was sighted, so the ‘Orzel’s’ commander decided to execute a torpedo attack. At the moment, when the submarine was in a fire position and ready to fire a torpedo, the target unexpectedly changed course, thus preventing the attack from being fired. A moment later, the ‘Orzel’ was surprised by a series of bombs dropped by a German airplane that probably spotted the periscope footprints and tilted torpedo tubes in the submerged submarine.
In order to avoid hits, the commander of the ‘Orzel’ commanded to increase immersion, and after a while ordered to descend much deeper. The reason for this maneuver was the appearance of enemy surface units that docked on the ‘Orzel’ 21 submarine bombs set on various strains of explosions. Being at great depth created a new danger, namely that there was a leak near the right propulsion shaft, and the ship began to take on water.
Under occurred circumstances, the only way to prevent leakage or reduce the amount of water and its entering was to reduce the depth of immersion. Therefore, at around 2 p.m., the ‘Orzel’ went to a place where the depth was 60m and lay down at the bottom. After a dozen or so hours of immersion, the commander decided to resurface and only the night gave the crew a few hours of respite. With the arrival of the day, the ‘Orzel’ was detected by a group of German ships that, in co-operation with the torpedo boats, carried out in less than eight hours several unsuccessful attacks, dropping 20 deep sea bombs.
After breaking away from the enemy at 10 p.m. ‘Orzel’ emerged to the surface. Four hours later, she received an order to take a new position. During the transition to it ‘Orzel’ was detected by a German torpedo boat and thus forced to immerse. The German torpedo boat teamed up with two others to set up a “hunt” for the ‘Orzel’. In pursuit of a series of further attacks the torpedo boats dropped 50 deep-sea bombs.
The almost day-long underwater cannonade ended at night when the ‘Orzel’ managed to leave the dangerous area. On April 15, Captain Grudzinski was ordered to take the ship to Sector C9, located near Skagerrak. Upon its completion, underwater detonations were registered, caused by the activities of the enemy’s surface units that were unable to contact the submarine, randomly dropped the deep-sea bombs. The next day, the ‘Orzel’ received the order to return to the base, where she arrived at noon on April 18.
The fifth independent cruise naval vessel commenced on April 28, 1940. This time the British Admiralty sent the ‘Orzel’ to the Norwegian coast at the height of Stavanger. After two days of the cruise ‘Orzel’ arrived at the indicated position of patrol, after which she was ordered to go to the Jaederens area. During the transition to the new area, a large number of floating and anchored sea mines were observed.
On May 3, the commander of the ‘Orzel’ was ordered to conduct reconnaissance in the area to the north of the parallel 59 °. At midday, May 4 a group of German trawlers was sighted, heading north, which was likely to trawl previously sighted floating mines. In the evening, the ‘Orzel’ was supposed to take a position of the patrol with coordinates 58º00’N and 06º30’E, in accordance with the order sent to her.
Another order – received on May 8, ordered the ship to move to a new position and conduct reconnaissance in the area. After taking up the position, the next day the floating mines were noticed and the sound of unidentified underwater explosions heard. The presence of a German armed trawler was also found. In the evening, ‘Orzel’ was ordered to complete the patrol and return to Rosyth. On the return to the base she was surprised by a German plane unexpectedly coming from the fog. Unable to submerge due to too late notice of the aircraft, the commander of the ‘Orzel’ ordered to shoot it and then using the aircraft withdrawal made an emergency immersion. After a while, the plane returned and made a bomb attack on the disappearing ship. Fortunately, none of the two bombs dropped did damage the Polish vessel. On May 11, the ‘Orzel’ entered the base at Rosyth ending the patrol.
‘Orzel’ came out on her last patrol on May 23, 1940, around 11p.m., heading for the northern part of the area marked “A3” in which she was to keep surveillance. Probably ‘Orzel’ reached the indicated sector the next day after midnight and was to remain there until June 1. On that day, at 15:06, an order was sent, according to which the ship was to move to the adjacent area marked “A1” after sunset. Entry into the area was scheduled for the next day, June 2.
On June 2 at 10:02 the British Admiralty sent another order, according to which the ‘Orzel’ was to leave the “A1” area and start the patrol in the geographical position of 57º00’N, 06º00’E. The transition was to be carried out to exit to the position with the coordinates: 57º00 ‘N and 04º10’E on June 3 at 09:00 and then go to the position with coordinates 57º00’ N and 05º00’E, provided that, once it has been reached, the further passage shall be continued in immersion. The designated position the naval vessel was to take place on June 4. Another order prompted her take over the surveillance line from the British submarine HMS “Trident”, which was north from “E1″area.
On June 5, at 16:05, an order was sent according to which, on June 6 at 22:00, the ship was about to descend from its current patrolling position and return to Rosyth. It was planned that she would enter the base on June 8 before midday. Due to the fact that the ship did not enter the base at the scheduled time at 12:12 an order was issued ordering to give the current position of the ship. The request was left unanswered so on June 10, the ship was deemed lost.