||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (May 2012)|
ORP Błyskawica, modern view
|Laid down:||September 1935|
|Launched:||October 1, 1936|
|Commissioned:||November 25, 1937|
|Decommissioned:||May 1, 1976|
|Virtuti Militari, 4th Class|
|Class & 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 is a Grom-class destroyer which served in the Polish Navy during World War II and is the only ship of the Polish Navy awarded the Virtuti Militari medal. It is preserved as a museum ship in Gdynia, the oldest preserved destroyer in the world.
She was the second of two Grom-class destroyers, built for the Polish Navy by J. Samuel White, Cowes in 1935–37. The name means Lightning. The two Groms were some of the most heavily armed and fastest destroyers on the seas during 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.
The Groms were amongst the fastest and heaviest armed destroyers when 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 2,144 long tons (2,178 t) standard and 3,383 long tons (3,437 t) full load. Four 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 suplied 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 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 crew 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 success, 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 4 inch anti-aircraft gun. In December 1941, Błyskawica was rearmed, with the 120 mm guns replaced by four twin 4 inch Mk XVI anti-aircraft 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, the 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. Although the three destroyers were sighted by German warships, including the cruiser Königsberg on 30 and 31 August, but with hostilities not yet commenced, the Polish destroyers were 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, possibly the first combat between the Allied and the German navies.
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 Franco-British 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 four-inch (102 mm) anti-aircraft 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 May 4–5, 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 was built and, on the night of the raid, fired repeated rounds at the German bombers from outside the harbour, her guns becoming so hot they had to be doused with water. Extra ammunition had to be ferried over from Portsmouth. This forced the bombers to stay high, making it hard for them to target properly. The ship also laid down a smokescreen hiding Cowes from sight. The town and the shipyard were badly damaged, it is generally thought 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 has approved the idea of having the Błyskawica return to Cowes in 2012 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the event and 75 years since the ship's commissioning.
In March 1943 Błyskawica replaced HMS Lightning, which sunk by E-boats on 12 March 1943, in Cruiser Force Q based in 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 eighty-three convoys. In combat she damaged three U-boats, helped sinking other ships and shot down at least four aircraft.
After the war, she returned to Poland. Since 1 May 1976, she has served as a museum ship in Gdynia, replacing Burza. In July 2006, Błyskawica was "twinned" with the Canadian destroyer HMCS Haida in a ceremony in Gdynia. Both ships served in the 10th Destroyer Flotilla during World War II. The ceremony was attended by former crew members of both ships and the general public. A similar ceremony took place in Canada with HMCS Haida in 2007. In November 2007 she was awarded the International Maritime Heritage Award of the World Ship Trust.
- Friedman 2009, p. 35.
- Gardiner and Chesneau 1980, p. 349.
- 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. 2007-12-17. Retrieved 2013-04-06.
- 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. Vol. 1 (No. 4): pp. 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to ORP Błyskawica.|
- ORP Blyskawica timeline, photos and a video of her in action
- Cowes street named after Commander of ORP Blyskawica