Battle of the Danzig Bay
|Battle of the Danzig Bay|
|Part of Invasion of Poland|
Polish wz. 08/39 contact mine
|Commanders and leaders|
AA units at Hel Peninsula
|33 Junkers Ju 87B|
|Casualties and losses|
|Up to 20 killed and wounded, minor damages||7-10 aircraft destroyed or damaged (mostly from first air attack)|
The Battle of the Danzig Bay (Polish: bitwa w Zatoce Gdańskiej) took place on September 1, 1939, at the beginning of the invasion of Poland, when Polish Navy vessels were attacked by German Luftwaffe aircraft in Gdańsk Bay (then Danzig Bay). It was one of the first incidents in which naval units had to defend themselves against air attack.
Eve of the battle
The Polish Navy of the Second Polish Republic (1919–39) was prepared mostly as means of supporting naval communications with France in case of a war with the Soviet Union. However, after it became apparent that the aggressive side would be Germany, and the entrance to the Baltic Sea would be blocked, three out of four Polish modern destroyers were withdrawn from the Baltic Sea to Great Britain in what was called Operation Peking. The remaining forces, consisting of one large minelayer, one destroyer, five submarines and smaller vessels were to execute two major naval operations, both aimed at disrupting the German naval movement in the area of the Danzig Bay and transit movement between Germany and East Prussia. All submarines were dispatched for their operational zones in the southern Baltic to take part in Operation Worek, an attempt to sink as many German ships as possible.
All the remaining surface vessels were to be dispatched from the naval base in Gdynia to Hel Peninsula, from where they were to start the so-called Operation Rurka. The plan was to lay a naval mine barrier between Hel Peninsula and Danzig to prevent any enemy ship from entering the area.
At dusk ten Polish warships left Gdynia for Hel, located on the other side of the bay. There, the ships were to start the minelaying operation. Among them were the destroyer ORP Wicher, large minelayer Gryf, minelaying minesweepers Jaskółka, Czapla, Żuraw, Czajka, Rybitwa and Mewa and gunboats Komendant Piłsudski and Generał Haller.
While traversing the Danzig Bay, the flotilla was attacked by a group of 33 German warplanes, mostly Junkers Ju 87B Stuka dive bombers. The air raid was mostly unsuccessful and the Polish vessels suffered only minor losses. The backbone of the Polish flotilla, ORP Gryf with over 300 naval mines on board, remained unharmed.
However, soon after the first air raid was repelled, the German bombers returned, around 6 pm. There were no direct hits, but the Polish ships suffered minor damage from close misses and machine gun fire, mainly minelayer ORP Gryf and minesweeper ORP Mewa. The commanding officer of ORP Gryf, Cmdr. Stefan Kwiatkowski was killed by German machine gun fire, and her rudder was jammed. Her executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Wiktor Łomidze feared that her cargo of mines (comprising over 33 tonnes of high explosives) was a danger to the ship and if it was hit by a bomb, it would explode immediately. Because of that, he ordered all the mines to be disposed of in the sea.
After the battle
After successful defence against several consecutive air raids, the Polish flotilla arrived at Hel. However, since ORP Gryf had abandoned all of its mines and was damaged, the Operation Rurka had to be called off. The only destroyer, ORP Wicher, did not receive the orders calling off the operation and went straight to the pre-designed zone of operations to cover the mine-layers. At night, Wicher, commanded by Lt. Cdr. Stefan de Walden, spotted two German destroyers, and later a ship misidentified as a light cruiser, but did not attack, not wanting to uncover the operation.
After return to Hel Peninsula, both major vessels were there deprived of most of equipment and served as anti-aircraft platforms in the Hel naval base.
- (Polish) Jerzy Pertek, Wielkie dni małej floty, Poznań, 1976.