89 Books about Poland | Polish War Graves in Britain
On 1 September 1939 the Polish submarine Orzel (Eagle) lay in the Polish Baltic port of Gdynia. On that day Nazi Germany invaded Poland and the port at Gdynia was bombed by the Luftwaffe. Orzel slipped her moorings and sailed out into the Gulf of Danzig. German ships and aircraft constantly patrolled the sea looking for her.
The Captain of the Orzel, Commander Kloczkowski, fell seriously ill and in mid September the Orzel anchored in the harbour at Tallinn in neutral Estonia. The Captain was admitted to hospital and the Estonian authorities gave them 24 hours in port to carry out repairs.
Lieutenant-Commander Jan Grudzinski took command of Orzel and was informed by the Estonians that their departure would be delayed by six hours in order to allow a German merchant ship to leave port. Later Orzel was boarded by an armed detachment and told that the Estonian government had decided to intern the submarine. They were trapped. On the next morning the Estonians started to disarm Orzel removing most of her torpedoes, ammunition and charts. The only thought of the Polish crew was how to escape.
Escape from Tallinn
At 2am the Polish crew disabled two guards and took them prisoner. A Polish sailor sabotaged the electric cable to the docks which put the lights out. The hawsers attaching the submarine to the dock were cut and Orzel started to move. Machine guns opened fire and Orzel left the harbour under a hail of bullets. They headed for Sweden and released the two Estonian guards onto the island of Gotland.
For four weeks Orzel searched for enemy shipping to use her remaining torpedoes upon. They found nothing bigger than small patrol ships. Water and fuel supplies began to run low. They decided to leave the Baltic and head to Britain. The sea routes out of the Baltic were heavily patrolled by German ships. Their attempts to break out in daylight failed but they succeeded in alluding the searching vessels at night. In the North Sea, on their second day out from Skagerak, Orzel signalled the British Admiralty, telling them their position and that they awaited further orders. A British destroyer intercepted them and escorted them to a British port.
Orzel Sees Action
In early April 1940 the Orzel leaves Britain for her designated sector off the Norwegian coast. On 8th April a ship is detected in their periscope. It is a German liner, the Rio de Janeiro. Orzel surfaces and hoists flags to signal that the ship should stop. The Rio de Janeiro increases speed and heads towards Norwegian territorial waters. Orzel machine guns the ship and she stops. A new signal is hoisted:
Abandon ship immediately. Intend to fire torpedo in five minutes' time. (p. 65)
Orzel fires her torpedo and the Rio de Janeiro is hit. She keels over to starboard and a column of smoke rises from her. A second torpedo sends her to the bottom. In the evening on British radio the Orzel crew hear the following announcement.
At noon today, a British submarine on patrol torpedoed and sank off Lillesand on the south coast of Norway the German supply ship Rio de Janeiro of 6,800 tons. The Rio de Janeiro, a Hamburg liner, had on board about 400 sliders and war material... (p. 79)
The Norwegians' announce that at 23.00 they will observe a black out over the entire country. On 9 April 1940 Nazi Germany attacks and invades Norway.
Attacks Against Orzel
On 11 April 1940 Orzel spots a German liner and a transport vessel. She readies her torpedoes for firing.
Boom! boom! boom! boom! Four terrific explosions interrupt the Captain's orders. All lights go out for a moment, then come on again. Everybody feels a very great shock. (p. 100)
German planes had dropped depth charges on Orzel. The firing of the torpedoes is abandoned and the submarine dives. German patrol vessels search for them and drop depth charges. The submarine shakes from the nearby explosions. In the evening Orzel returns to periscope depth. The current has swept them into a fiord. The next day German patrol vessels approach their position and again launch depth charges. German planes join the hunt. Orzel is submerged at over 200 feet. More depth charges explode and the submarine rocks. In the evening they return to periscope depth and find the current has taken them almost to the entrance to the fiord. They start their engines and head out to sea.
On the next day, 13 April, they receive orders to move to another sector. Through the periscope they now see the coastline of Denmark rather than Norway. Three trawlers are seen two or three miles away. They head straight for Orzel and launch depth charges. Orzel submerges beneath the sea. The trawlers continue to depth charge unceasingly. Explosions shake the submarine. After 20 hours submerged the air in the submarine is dreadful. On the 16th of April there are no depth charges and they proceed on the surface. They have orders to return to Britain. On the 18th they see the coast of Britain and return to a safe harbour.
Orzel returned to sea again but on 11 June 1940 the Polish Admiralty in London issued the following statement.
Owing to lack of information, and being long overdue, the Polish submarine Orzel is presumed lost. (p. 146)
- The hunt for Orzel: Search resumes for heroic Polish submarine, lost in the North Sea during World War Two, The Independent (UK) 5 April 2015