ORP Błyskawica, modern view
|Builder:||J. Samuel White, East Cowes|
|Laid down:||September 1935|
|Launched:||1 October 1936|
|Commissioned:||25 November 1937|
|Decommissioned:||1 May 1976|
|Virtuti Militari, 4th Class|
|Pro Memoria Medal|
|Class and type:||Grom-class destroyer|
|Displacement:||1,975 tons standard|
|Length:||114 m (374 ft 0 in)|
|Beam:||11.3 m (37 ft 1 in)|
|Draft:||3.3 m (10 ft 10 in)|
|Speed:||39 knots (72 km/h; 45 mph)|
ORP Błyskawica (Lightning) is a Grom-class destroyer which served in the Polish Navy during World War II. It is the only Polish Navy ship to have been decorated with the Virtuti Militari, Poland's highest military order for gallantry, and in 2012 was given the Pro Memoria Medal. Błyskawica is preserved as a museum ship in Gdynia and is the oldest preserved destroyer in the world.
She was the second of two Grom (Thunderbolt)-class destroyers built for the Polish Navy by J. Samuel White, of Cowes, in 1935–37. The Grom class were two of the most heavily armed and fastest destroyers in World War II.
Construction and design
In 1934 the British shipbuilder J. Samuel White won a competition to design and build large destroyers for the Polish Navy, beating a proposal from fellow British shipbuilder Swan Hunter. (A design by the French shipyard Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire had been rejected in 1933). An order for two destroyers of the Grom class was placed on 29 March 1935.
At the turn of the 1920s and 1930s, the Naval Directorate (KMW) made efforts to acquire another, after the "Wicher" and "Burza", destroyers. On November 24, 1932, the head of the KMW Rear Admiral Jerzy Świrski obtained, after a personal conversation with Marshal Piłsudski, his oral consent to expand the existing fleet. As a result, in May 1933, a tender for the supply of two destroyers was issued among the French shipyards, and after its fiasco, the next in January 1934 among the Swedish shipyards, also failed in disagreement. During this time, tactical and technical assumptions for the planned ships crystallised, including, among others, the use of the artillery department of the Bofors section, 120 mm, as the main artillery.
At the time of their construction, the Groms were amongst the fastest and most heavily armed destroyers to be built. Błyskawica was 114 metres (374 ft 0 in) long overall and 109 metres (357 ft 7 in) between perpendiculars, with a beam of 11.3 metres (37 ft 1 in) and a draught of 3.1 metres (10 ft 2 in). Displacement was 2,011 long tons (2,043 t) standard and 2,520 long tons (2,560 t) full load. Three 3-drum boilers fed steam to two sets of geared steam turbines which were rated at 54,500 shaft horsepower (40,600 kW), driving two propeller shafts to give a design speed of 39 knots (72 km/h; 45 mph). Main gun armament consisted of seven 120 mm (4.7 in) guns (50 calibre M34/36 guns supplied by Bofors of Sweden) in three twin and one single mounts, with an anti-aircraft armament of two twin Bofors 40 mm guns and eight 13.2 mm machine guns. Six 550 mm (22 in) torpedo tubes were carried, compatible with the French torpedoes used by the preceding Wicher-class destroyers. Anti-submarine armament consisted of two depth charge chutes with 40 depth charges, while rails were fitted to permit up to 44 mines to be carried. The ship's complement consisted of 180 officers and men.
Błyskawica, the second of the two destroyers, was laid down on 1 October 1935 at J. Samuel White's Cowes, Isle of Wight shipyard, and was launched on 1 October 1936. Sea trials were successful, with the ship exceeding the design speed of 39 knots. Błyskawica was commissioned on 1 October 1937.
When Błyskawica and Grom arrived in the United Kingdom in September 1939, it was found that the ships, designed for operations in the sheltered Baltic, were top heavy for operations in the rougher North Atlantic, so the ships were modified to reduce topweight. A searchlight tower on top of the ship's bridge was removed, as was a deck house aft carrying a second searchlight, and the distinctive funnel cap. In addition, the aft set of torpedo tubes was removed to allow fitting of a 76 mm (3 in) anti-aircraft gun. In December 1941, Błyskawica was rearmed, with the 120 mm guns replaced by four twin 102 mm (4 in) Mk XVI dual-purpose guns. The 13.2 mm machine guns were replaced by four Oerlikon 20 mm cannon and the second set of torpedo tubes were reinstated.
Two days before the war, on 30 August 1939, Błyskawica withdrew, along with the destroyers Grom and Burza, from the Baltic Sea to Britain in accordance with the Peking Plan to avoid open conflict with Germany and possible destruction. The three destroyers were sighted by German warships, including the cruiser Königsberg on 30 and 31 August, but hostilities had not yet started, and the Polish destroyers passed by unhindered, reaching Leith in Scotland at 17:30 on 1 September 1939. From then on they acted in tandem with the Royal Navy's Home Fleet. On 7 September 1939, Błyskawica made contact with and attacked a U-boat.
In early May 1940, Błyskawica took part in the Norwegian Campaign, shelling German positions and downing two Luftwaffe aircraft. Her sister ship Grom was bombed and sunk during the campaign. Later that month, she took part in covering Operation Dynamo, the successful British led evacuation from Dunkirk.
During the rest of the war, Błyskawica took part in convoy and patrol duties, engaging both U-boats and the Luftwaffe in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. In 1941 her 120 mm guns were replaced with British 102 mm (4 in) dual-purpose guns. The ship was also given escort duties for troop transports, notably RMS Queen Mary, being one of the few ships that could keep up with the liner.
On the night of 4–5 May 1942, Błyskawica was instrumental in defending the Isle of Wight town of Cowes from an air raid by 160 German bombers. The ship was undergoing an emergency refit at the J. Samuel White yard where she had been built and, on the night of the raid, fired repeated rounds at the German bombers from outside the harbour; her guns became so hot they had to be doused with water from the River Medina. Extra ammunition had to be ferried over from Portsmouth. This forced the bombers to stay high, making it difficult for them to target properly. The ship also laid down a smokescreen hiding Cowes from sight. The town and the shipyard were badly damaged, but it is generally considered that without this defensive action, it would have been far worse. In 2002 the crew's courage was honoured by a local commemoration lasting several days to mark the 60th anniversary of the event. In 2004 an area of Cowes was named Francki Place in honour of the ship's commander. The Isle of Wight Council approved the idea of having Błyskawica return to Cowes in 2012 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the event and the 75th anniversary of the ship's commissioning. There were large celebrations commemorating the 70th anniversary of Cowes's defence in 2012 lasting several days and attended by Polish warship ORP Toruń. Another large event to commemorate Blyskawica's 75th anniversary was organised by Friends of the ORP Błyskawica Society in May 2017, the Polish Navy Minelayer ORP Gniezno arrived at the port to take part in the celebrations.
In March 1943 Błyskawica replaced HMS Lightning, which was sunk by E-boats on 12 March 1943, in Cruiser Force Q based at Bône, North Africa. On 8 June 1944, Błyskawica took part in the Battle of Ushant against Kriegsmarine destroyers.
During the war, she logged 146,000 nautical miles (270,000 km) and escorted 83 convoys. In combat she damaged three U-boats, helped sink other ships, and shot down at least four aircraft.
In July 2006 the preserved Canadian destroyer HMCS Haida was "twinned" with Błyskawica in a ceremony in Gdynia, Poland. Both ships served in the 10th Destroyer Flotilla during the Second World War. The ceremony was attended by former crew members of both ships and the general public. The ship was visited in 2009 by Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and on 29 June 2010, at Government House in Nova Scotia, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, presented to representatives of HMCS Haida the World Ship Trust Certificate.
- Friedman 2009, p. 35.
- Gardiner and Chesneau 1980, p. 349.
- . Poszukując nowych niszczycieli: Przedwojenne przetargi na polskie niszczyciele. „Morza, Statki i Okręty”. 4/2000. s. 46–53.
- Whitley 2000, p. 219.
- Kolesnick 1977, p. 5.
- Kolesnick 1977, p.3.
- Whitley 2000, pp. 219–220.
- Kolesnik 1977, p. 6.
- Whitley 2000, p. 220.
- Rohwer and Hümmelchen 1992, p. 1.
- Kolesnik 1977, pp. 3–4.
- "'Heroic' Warship set for 2012 reunion". Isle of Wight County Press. Newsquest. 17 December 2007. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- "World War Two Isle of Wight bombing remembered 75 years on". BBC News. 4 May 2017.
- Government of Canada. "2010 Royal Tour > Itinerary for 2010 Royal Tour of Canada". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 21 June 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
- Friedman, Norman (2009). British Destroyers: From Earliest Days to the Second World War. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84832-049-9.
- Gardiner, Robert; Chesneau, Roger, eds. (1980). Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships 1922–1946. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-146-7.
- Kolesnik, Eugene (1977). "Thunder and Lightning: The Polish Destroyers Blyskawica and Grom". Warship. 1 (4): 2–11. ISBN 0-85177-132-7.
- Rohwer, Jürgen; Hümmelchen, Gerhard (1992). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939–1945. London: Greenhill Books. ISBN 1-85367-117-7.
- Whitley, M.J. (2000). Destroyers of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. London: Cassell & Co. ISBN 1-85409-521-8.
- ORP Blyskawica timeline, photos and a video of her in action.
- Cowes street named after Commander of ORP Blyskawica.
- ORP Blyskawica 1939 crew list.