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Ships of Poland

Ships of Poland

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Political enthusiasm for a fully fledged Polish Navy had always been tepid; a relatively short coastline and access to the Atlantic restricted by its Scandinavian neighbors led the Polish leadership to relegate what little naval assets Poland had to river and coastal defence. The first attempt at a proper navy, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Navy, achieved great success against Sweden in the Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629), but was completely destroyed by Denmark in 1637. No serious attempts at rebuilding the navy were made throughout the rest of the Commonwealth's existence, and its dissolution at the Partitions of Poland in the late 18th century meant that any hopes of doing so had all but vanished. It was Józef Piłsudski, then-Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, who founded what is now known as the modern Polish Navy on 28 November 1918, nearly three centuries after its destruction. Once again, her primary purpose was to protect the Polish coastline against various threats, with an emphasis on fast submarines, powerful destroyers, and judicious use of mines. However, the Great Depression limited the Polish Navy's major combat vessels to a mere 4 destroyers, 5 submarines, and the minelayer ORP Gryf at the onset of World War II.

Initially deciding on a strategy of harassment and indirect engagement, Polish naval command realized that the small, mostly landlocked Baltic Sea was well within range of the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe, and that any ship would be quickly found and sent to the bottom if they were to remain there. Thus on 29 August 1939, the Peking Plan was executed with assistance from the Royal Navy, evacuating the destroyers stationed in the Baltic — ORP Burza, ORP Błyskawica and ORP Grom — to the naval base at Leith, Scotland, just 3 days before the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of war. Initially seen as "abandoning" their country, the operation was a wise decision by the Polish naval command, preserving the destroyers to allow them to take part in the defense of Norway, Operation Dynamo, the Battle of the Atlantic, and dozens of escort and convoy missions. Moreover, supplemented by ships from the Royal Navy, the Polish Navy in exile as a whole also participated in major engagements such as the sinking of Bismarck, Operation Jubilee, and Operation Overlord. On the other hand, ORP Gryf and ORP Wicher, who had remained behind in the Baltic Sea, were sunk within the first three days of the war.

Poland's years as a Warsaw Pact country did not diminish her need for a naval presence in the Baltic Sea, and that remained the focus of her navy for a half century following the close of World War II. Joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on 29 March 1999 forced a change in that mindset; the Polish Navy of the 21st century has re-focused on greater levels of international cooperation and sea-going patrols in cooperation with her new NATO partners, developing a specialization in sub-surface combat.


VII Błyskawica  Doubloons