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The Peking Plan[Note 1] (or Operation Peking) was an operation in which three destroyers of the Polish Navy, the Burza ("Storm"), Błyskawica ("Lightning"), and Grom ("Thunder"), were evacuated to the United Kingdom in late August and early September 1939 prior to the outbreak of war. They were ordered to travel to British ports and assist the British Royal Navy in the event of a war with Nazi Germany. The plan was successful and allowed the ships to avoid certain destruction in the German invasion.
The plan was created in order to remove the Destroyer Division (Dywizjon Kontrtorpedowców) of the Polish Navy from the Baltic Sea operation theatre. The Kriegsmarine had a significant numerical advantage over the Polish Navy, and in the event of a war the Polish High Command realized that the ships which remained in the small and mostly landlocked Baltic were likely to be quickly sunk by the Germans. Also, the Danish straits were well within operation range of the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe, so there was little chance for the plan to succeed if implemented after hostilities began.
The British government, on 24 August 1939, through Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton De Wiart, head of the British Military mission made strong representations to Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Forces, to evacuate the most modern elements of the fleet from the Baltic. Although Śmigły-Rydz resisted the idea at first, he finally agreed.
Part of Śmigły-Rydz's reason for doing so was the idea of a Romanian Bridgehead. It was hoped the Polish forces could hold out in the southeast of the country, near the common border with Romania, until relieved by a Franco-British offensive. Munitions and arms could be delivered from the west via Romanian ports and railways. The Polish Navy would then be able to escort the ships delivering the supplies to Romanian ports.
The trip to Edinburgh
As the tensions between Poland and Germany were increasing, the Commander of the Polish Fleet, Counter Admiral Józef Unrug signed the order for the operation on 26 August 1939, a day after the signing of the Polish-British Common Defence Pact; the order was delivered in sealed envelopes to the ships. On 29 August, the fleet received the signal "Peking, Peking, Peking" from the Polish Commander-in-Chief, Marshall Śmigły-Rydz: "Execute Peking". At 1255 hours, the ships received the signal via signal flags or radio from the signal tower at Oksywie, the respective captains of the ships opened the envelopes, and departed at 1415 under the command of Komandor porucznik Roman Stankiewicz. Błyskawica was commanded by Komandor porucznik Włodzimierz Kodrębski, Burza by Komandor podporucznik Stanisław Nahorski and Grom by Komandor porucznik Włodzimierz Hulewicz.
The ships traveled without any problems through the Baltic, entering Øresund after midnight. In the passage they encountered the German light cruiser Königsberg and a destroyer, but as the war had not started yet there was no combat. The Polish ships then passed through the Kattegat and Skagerrak. On 31 August, the ships were spotted and followed by German reconnaissance seaplanes, and the group changed course towards Norway in order to shake off the pursuit during the night, when they returned to their original course towards the UK. The ships entered the North Sea, and at 0925 on 1 September learned about the German invasion of Poland. At 1258, they encountered the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Wanderer and Wallace and received a liaison officer. At 17:37, they docked in Leith, the port of Edinburgh.
The Peking Plan generated controversy in Poland, but it proved to be a wise decision. The ships served alongside the Royal Navy for the remainder of the war, and ORP Burza and ORP Błyskawica survived the war. On the other hand, all the other surface ships of the Polish Navy which remained in the Baltic were engaged and sunk or captured by the Germans forces, starting with the Battle of the Gdańsk Bay on 1 September. The fate of the two largest remaining ships is telling: the fourth Polish destroyer, Wicher and the largest ship of the Polish navy, the heavy minelayer Gryf, were both sunk by the third day of the war, on 3 September.
As for the Germans, in the face of Plan Peking on 30 August, they recalled from the Baltic Sea the tactical unit which had been assigned to engage them — the three light cruisers Nürnberg, Köln and Leipzig, under Vice-Admiral Densch.