7 October 1884|
Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany
28 February 1973|
|Allegiance|| German Empire
Second Polish Republic
|| Kaiserliche Marine
|Years of service||from 1907|
|Rank||Vice Admiral (Wiceadmirał)|
|Commands held||SM UB-25, SM UC-11 and SM UC-28
C-i-C of the Polish Navy
|Battles/wars||World War I, Polish-Soviet War, Invasion of Poland (1939)|
Józef Unrug (German: Joseph von Unruh; 6 October 1884 – 28 February 1973) was a Prussian-born Pole and Polish vice admiral who helped reestablish Poland's navy after World War I. During the opening stages of World War II, he served as the Polish Navy's commander-in-chief.
Józef Michał Hubert Unrug was born in Brandenburg an der Havel into a Polish family of German descent. He was the son of Tadeusz Unrug, a Generalmajor in the Prussian Army. After graduating from the gymnasium in Dresden, Unrug completed naval college in 1907 and began his service in the German Navy. During World War I he commanded a U-boat, and was promoted to command a submarine flotilla.
In 1919, after Poland regained independence, Unrug left Germany and volunteered for the Polish Army. Soon afterwards, he was transferred to the nascent Polish Navy, where he served as chief of the Hydrographic Division and then as commanding officer of a submarine flotilla. One of the most skilled officers in the Polish Navy, Unrug was quickly promoted to Rear Admiral. Overcoming his limitations in the Polish language, he became Admiral of the Fleet of the Polish Navy in 1925.
During the 1939 invasion of Poland, Unrug executed his plan of strategically withdrawing the Polish Navy's major vessels to the United Kingdom ("Operation Peking"). At the same time, he got all Polish submersibles to lay naval mines in the Bay of Gdańsk ("Plan Worek"). Following that operation, these vessels either escaped to the United Kingdom or sought refuge in neutral countries.
Despite having effectively given up control of Poland's naval vessels, Admiral Unrug remained in command of multiple military units, which he tasked with protecting the Polish Corridor from German attacks. On 1 October 1939, however, after both Warsaw and Modlin had capitulated, Admiral Unrug decided that further defence of the isolated Hel Peninsula was pointless, and the following day all units under his command capitulated.
Admiral Unrug spent the rest of World War II in various German POW camps, including Fort Srebrna Góra, Oflag II-C in Woldenberg, Oflag XVIII-C in Spittal, Stalag X-B in Sandbostel, Oflag IV-C (Colditz Castle), and finally Oflag VII-A Murnau. In Oflag VII-A Murnau, Admiral Unrug was the highest-ranking officer and commander of the Polish soldiers interned there as prisoners of war. The Germans treated Admiral Unrug with great respect, on account of him having previously been a German officer, by bringing former Imperial German Navy friends to visit him with the intention of making him switch sides. Admiral Unrug responded by refusing to speak German, saying that he had forgotten that language in September 1939. To the irritation of the Germans, Admiral Unrug would always insist on having a translator present or communicating in French, when speaking with the Germans, even though he was a native German speaker. Admiral Unrug's spirit and unbowed attitude proved to be an inspiration to his fellow prisoners.
After Poland was taken over by the Soviet Union in 1945, Admiral Unrug went to the United Kingdom, where he served in the Polish Army in the West and took part in its demobilisation. After the Allies withdrew support from the Polish government, Admiral Unrug remained in exile, in the United Kingdom, and then moved to France. He died there on 28 February 1973 in a Polish Veterans Hospital in Lailly-en-Val near Beaugency, at the age of 88. On 5 March 1973, he was buried in the chapel of the Branicki family palace in Montrėsor. In 1976, a stone tablet commemorating Admiral Unrug was unveiled in Oksywie.
Honours and awards
- Gold Cross of the Virtuti Militari
- Polonia Restituta, Commanders' Cross
- Gold Cross of Merits with Swords
- Gold Cross of Merit
- Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)
- Iron Cross, First and Second Classes (German Empire)
- Order of Dannebrog (Denmark)
- Order of the White Elephant (Siam)
- Royal Order of the Sword (Sweden)
- "Pomink historii: Srebrna Góra – Twierdza Srebrnogórska, nowożytna warownia górska z XVIII wieku" (in Polish). Nid.pl. 2013-04-18. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
- Kazimierz Sławiński: Wspomnienie o kontradmirale, "Morze" Monthly, 9/1973, p.17
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