Fighting the U-boats

Allied Navies

Polish Naval forces

The pre-war Polish Navy, was not a big one and not strong enough to defend the Polish coast from a larger Navy like the German Kriegsmarine. The Navy consisted of 4 destroyers (Burza, Grom, Wicher and Blyskawica), the minelayer Gryf, 5 submarines (Orzel, Sep, Zbik, Wilk and Rys) and a number of smaller vessels. 3 destroyers were sent to Britain just before the war, to be saved from German hands. Thus in the Baltic Sea only 2 big surface vessels and 5 submarines stayed behind to defend the Polish coast.

German aircraft sank the Wicher and Gryf and 3 submarines (Zbik, Sep and Rys) were interned in Sweden for the rest of war. The submarine Wilk managed to escape to England. Interesting was the story of submarine Orzel which was interned unfairly in Tallinn by Estonians who acted under pressure from the Germans and the Soviets. Orzel nonetheless managed to dramatically escape and passed successfully German blockades and reached to England with glory. She arrived on the proper day for the British, 14 Oct, 1939, who were shocked from the sinking of Royal Oak by U-47 the day before, and needed a morale boost. Orzel became famous and the symbol of freedom to Poles and many other countries. Orzel later discovered the German invasion of Norway by sinking Rio De Janeiro on 8 April, but was probably lost to a British mine in May/June 1940 and her loss was big and irreplaceable one according to Max Horton.

The Polish submarine Orzel.

The British transferred a few vessels to the Polish Navy thus during the whole war the Polish navy had 9 destroyers, 2 cruisers, 5 submarines and a number of smaller vessels. The Polish Navy suffered the following losses in the war: The cruiser Dragon (ex Br HMS Dragon), 3 destroyers (Grom, Orkan and Kujawiak) and 2 submarines (Orzel and Jastrzab, the latter being sunk by mistake by allied escorts). One vessel, the destroyer Orkan was lost to U-boats.

The Polish Navy did well in the war by sinking 2 U-boats and other warships / merchants, escorting convoys and rescuing sailors. The English historian Tustall is reported to have said in 1944 that the Polish Navy through her small number, the difficulties encountered contributed the most from the other allies in war. After the war many Polish vessels returned to Poland. The destroyer Blyskawica, the first ship that attacked U-boat in war, is now a museum in Gdynia, Poland.

Polish anti-U-boat operations in the war.

30 August 1939, north of Rozewie, southern Baltic
U-31 sighted the Polish destroyer flotilla (destroyer Blyskawica, Burza, Grom) during the transfer from the Polish Baltic ports to England; position radioed; no attack - still before the war.

31/08/39, Skagerrak
U-19 sent to intercept the Polish destroyer flotilla (destroyer Blyskawica, Burza and Grom) during the transfer from the Polish Baltic ports to England; flotilla sighted but no attacks - still before the war.

Sept 39 the Baltic
U-14, U-23 - reported attacks on Polish warships but no hits.

7 Sept, 1939
The Polish destroyer Blyskawica carried out an unsuccessful attack on a German U-boat at 14:30 hours. Apparently the U-boat attacked the destroyer but missed when it turned for a counterattack. The attack was believed to have been successful until after the war. Possibly the first attack on a U-boat in the war. I do not have the U-boat number at this time.

The Polish destroyer Blyskawica, seen here post-war


20 Feb, 1940
The Polish destroyer Burza attacked a German U-boat in position 52N, 02E. Depth charges were dropped on the contact but there is no confirmation of a sinking. The German U-boat U-54 was lost in roughly the same waters but it probably was lost to mining.

19 March, 1940, east off Shetlands
U-9 unsuccessfully attacked the destroyer Blyskawica, premature torpedo detonation

20-21 June, 1940 off the Dutch coast
While the Polish submarine Wilk (Cdr. Borys Karnicki) was charging batteries her watch spotted a German U-boat only 300 meters away at 0025 hours. The commander gave the order to ram the German boat but apparently the Germans at the last moment attempted a dive. Wilk rammed the boat near its deck gun and the hit was severe. Wilk headed home for repairs but was not seriously damaged.

Some state that this ramming story was a cover-story by the commander of Wilk as he perhaps had accidentally hit a mine.

The Polish submarine Wilk

It seems likely that Wilk rammed the U-102 and damaged her seriously and that she was lost shortly afterwards in the Bay of Biscay. Some sources claim this was the Dutch O-13 but Dutch sources say this is impossible.


2 May, 1942
The Polish submarine Jastrzab (Cdr. Boleslaw Romanowski) encountered a submarine, probably a German U-boat while they were both submerged. Before Romanowski could fire his torpedoes the submarine had gone deep. Only a few hours later Jastrzab was mistaken for a German U-boat by allied escorts and was sunk with the loss of 5 men. One of the sad "friendly-fire" incidents of the war.

1 Dec, 1942
The Polish destroyer Burza, while escorting convoy HX-217, spotted and attacked a German U-boat. The destroyer tried to ram it but missed as the boat dived at the last moment. Depth charges were dropped and strange underwater sounds were detected indicating a possible sinking. After the war it was discovered that no German U-boat was lost in this attack.


22-23 Feb, 1943
Convoy ON-166, North Atlantic
U-606 attacked by Polish destroyer Burza and forced to the surface then finished off by the US Coast Guard Cutter USS Campbell.

10-11 March, 1943
The French corvette Aconit 'borrowed' a doctor from the Polish destroyer Burza to cure the survivors of the fierce battle with U-444 and U-432

25 July, 1943, North Atlantic
During the early hours of 25 July 1943, at 02:22, in position 45'47N/10'32W, men on the Polish destroyer Orkan heard cries for help in the cold North Atlantic. During the next half hour 4 officers and 37 sailors who had survived the sinking of the U-459 were rescued by the destroyer.

8 October, 1943
Convoy SC-143, North Atlantic, U-378 sank the Polish destroyer Orkan


18-19 Sept, 1944
the Mediterranean. U-407 located by the Polish destroyer Garland while snorkeling and subsequently sunk by Polish and British destroyers


Operation Deadlight Late 1945
Polish destroyers took part in sinking 10 type XXIII U-boats that had surrendered at the end of World War Two. The Polish destroyer Blyskawica sank the first U-boat during that operation when she disposed of the U-2321.

The Polish destroyer destroyer Piorun was the first from the British destroyer flotilla, that attacked the Bismarck on the famous night of her final battle.

Main compilation by Marcin Jedrzejewski & Milton Varvounis

Allied Navies