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Ships of Poland

Ships of Poland

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Following World War I, the Second Polish Republic on 28 November 1918, by the order of Józef Piłsudski, commander of the Armed Forces of Poland, founded the modern Polish Navy. The token naval force was placed under the command of Captain Bogumił Nowotny as its first chief. The first ships were acquired from a division of the Imperial German Navy (because of Great Britain's politics, it was very small part, limited to six torpedo boats).

In the 1920s and 1930s the Polish Navy underwent a modernisation program under the leadership of Vice-Admiral Jerzy Świrski (Chief of Naval Staff) and Rear-Admiral Józef Unrug (CO of the Fleet). A number of modern ships were built in France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Despite ambitious plans (including 2 cruisers and 12 destroyers), the budgetary limitations placed on the government by the Great Depression never allowed the navy to expand beyond a small Baltic force. The building of one submarine, ORP Orzeł, was partly funded by a public collection. One of main goals of the Polish Navy was to protect the Polish coast against the Soviet Baltic Fleet, therefore it put emphasis on fast submarines, large and heavily armed destroyers and mine warfare. By September 1939 the Polish Navy consisted of 5 submarines, 4 destroyers, big minelayer and various smaller support vessels and mine-warfare ships. This force was no match for the larger Kriegsmarine, and so a strategy of harassment and indirect engagement was implemented.

The outbreak of World War II caught the Polish Navy in a state of expansion. Lacking numerical superiority, Polish Naval commanders decided to withdraw main surface ships to Great Britain to join the Allied war effort and prevent them from being destroyed in a closed Baltic (the Peking Plan). On August 30, 1939, 3 destroyers (ORP Błyskawica, ORP Grom, and ORP Burza) sailed to the British naval base at Leith in Scotland. They then operated in combination with Royal Navy vessels against Germany. Also two submarines managed to flee from Baltic through the Danish straits to Great Britain during the Polish September Campaign (one of them, ORP Orzeł, made a daring escape from internment in Tallinn, Estonia, and traveled without maps). Three submarines were interned in Sweden, while remaining surface vessels were sunk by German aircraft.

During the war the Polish Navy in exile was supplemented with leased British ships, including two cruisers, seven destroyers, three submarines, and a number of smaller fast-attack vessels. The Polish Navy fought alongside the Allied navies in Norway, the North Sea, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and aided in the escort of Atlantic and Arctic convoys, in which ORP Orkan was lost in 1943. Polish naval vessels played a part in the sinking of the Bismarck, and in the landings in Normandy during D-Day. During the course of the war, one cruiser, four destroyers, one mine layer, one torpedo boat, two submarines and some smaller vessels (gunboats, mine hunters etc.) were sunk; in total, twenty-six ships were lost, mostly in September 1939. In addition to participating in the Bismarck sinking, the Polish Navy sank an enemy destroyer and six other surface ships, two submarines and a number of merchant vessels.

After World War II, on July 7, 1945, the new Soviet-imposed Communist government revived the Polish Navy with headquarters in Gdynia. During Communist times, Poland's Navy experienced a great buildup, including the development of a separate amphibious force of Polish Marines. The Navy also acquired a number of Soviet-made ships, including 2 destroyers, 2 missile destroyers, 13 submarines and 17 missile boats. Among them was a Kilo-class submarine, ORP Orzeł and a modified Kashin-class missile destroyer, (ORP Warszawa). Polish shipyards produced mostly landing craft, minesweepers and auxiliary vessels. The primary role of the Warsaw Pact Polish Navy was to be Baltic Sea control, as well as amphibious operations along the entire Baltic coastline against NATO forces in Denmark and West Germany. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and the fall of Communism ended this stance.