Mamert Stankiewicz on board M/S Piłsudski
January 22, 1889|
|Died||November 26, 1939
|Service/branch||Imperial Russian Navy
|Years of service||1900-1939|
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
Distinguished Service Cross (United Kingdom)
|Other work||writer of maritime history|
Mamert Stankiewicz (January 22, 1889 – November 26, 1939) was a Polish naval officer of the merchant marine, the commander of Lwów, SS Polonia and finally the ocean liner MS Piłsudski. During the opening months of World War II he was salvaged from one of the latter ship's boats and died of hypothermia. Stankiewicz's life was immortalized by Karol Olgierd Borchardt, whose series of books on Stankiewicz became a best-seller among Polish maritime books.
Stankiewicz was born in Mitau in Courland, then part of the Russian Empire (now Jelgava in Latvia) to a Polish aristocratic family that was exiled to Russia after their involvement in the January Uprising against the Czar. He graduated from the Naval Cadet Corps in St. Petersburg and joined the Russian Imperial Navy. During World War I he was initially a navigation officer on board the Russian armoured cruiser Riurik, the flagship of the Baltic Fleet. A successful officer, he was made Chief of Staff of the Baltic Fleet during the first battles in the Gulf of Riga, after which he also briefly served as a commanding officer of one of the obsolete battleships.
Dispatched by the Imperial court to the United States, in 1918 he became a naval attache in the Russian consulate in Pittsburgh. However, the following year he returned to Russia and joined the riverine flotilla in Siberia during the Russian Civil War. Arrested by the Cheka, he was imprisoned in Irkutsk and then in a prison camp in Krasnoyarsk. Following the Peace of Riga ending the Polish-Bolshevik War Stankiewicz was a subject of a prisoner of war exchange and was allowed to settle in Poland. Verified in the rank of lieutenant-commander (komandor podporucznik), Stankiewicz joined the newly formed Polish Navy and became a commander of the Navigation Department of the Naval School of Tczew, the first maritime school in Polish history. Soon afterwards he also started his career as a lecturer of navigation and astronomy at the Maritime Officers' School in Toruń.
In 1923 he returned to the high seas as one of the officers on board Lwów, a barque serving as a school ship during her voyage to Brazil. The following year he became the commanding officer of that ship and held that post until 1926, when he left the Polish Navy and joined the merchant marine as a commander of numerous cargo ships and a ship pilot at the Maritime Authority in Gdynia. One of the most experienced captains in the Polish Merchant Marine, in 1931 he became the commanding officer of the prestigious, yet obsolete ocean liners SS Pułaski and SS Polonia. About that time he also became a member of the team supervising the design and construction of a modern ocean liner, the MS Piłsudski.
When she was completed in 1935, Stankiewicz became her first commanding officer. The ship, being the most modern ship in the Polish merchant marine and among the most luxurious European ocean liners, made numerous voyages from Poland and Constanţa in Romania to Palestine, Brazil, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States. M/S Piłsudski commenced her last voyage as an ocean liner on a Gdynia – Copenhagen – Halifax – New York City route on August 11, 1939. However, she was caught on the high seas by the outbreak of the Polish Defensive War and World War II. She was then commandeered by the Polish Navy, renamed ORP Piłsudski and moved to a shipyard in northern England, where she was turned into an troopship.
However, on November 26, 1939, during her maiden voyage in the new role, the Australia-bound ORP Piłsudski was struck by two explosions and sank not far from Newcastle and Kingston-upon-Hull. Mamert Stankiewicz was the last to leave the ship as he wanted to ensure that all of Piłsudski's crew were safe in lifeboats. However, the captain himself lacked a lifeboat and spent an hour or so in ice-cold waters. He was finally rescued by a British ship, but died of hypothermia soon afterwards. He was buried with full military honours in Hartlepool near Middlesbrough. He was posthumously awarded with the Virtuti Militari, the highest Polish military decoration (being the only merchant fleet captain so decorated), and the British Distinguished Service Cross. In 1962 the general cargo vessel MS Kapitan M. Stankiewicz was named after him. His elder brother Jan (known as 'the Bull'), was also a captain of Polish Merchant Marine. His younger brother Roman was the officer of Polish Navy, in the rank of commander, who led in "Blyskawica" the three Polish destroyers on their way from Poland to Britain in Aug. '39. Roman Stankiewicz died ecxactly a year after Mamert, on the 26th of Nov '40 in the Polish/French patrol vessel "Medoc".
Already during his lifetime Stankiewicz became known to his crew as Znaczy Kapitan, which could be roughly translated as 'It means' Captain, a nickname coined after Stankiewicz's habit of starting almost every sentence with the word znaczy (alternatively it may be translated as You mean, but the expression is the third-person neuter singular form of "to mean"). The nickname also became the title of Karol Olgierd Borchardt's first book on Stankiewicz. However, this nickname has never been revealed to public, it is most probable that Stankiewicz has never got to know it.
- Karol Olgierd Borchardt (2005). Znaczy kapitan (in Polish). Gdynia: Miniatura. p. 377. ISBN 83-89915-01-4.
- Mamert Stankiewicz (1997). Z floty carskiej do polskiej (in Polish). Warsaw: Iskry. p. 350. ISBN 83-207-1554-7.
- Karol Olgierd Borchardt (2005). Krazownik spod Somosierry (in Polish). Gdynia: Oficyna wydawnicza Miniatura.
- Karol Olgierd Borchardt (2005). Kolebka nawigatorow (in Polish). Gdynia: Oficyna wydawnicza Miniatura.
- Karol Olgierd Borchardt (2005). Szaman morski (in Polish). Gdynia: Oficyna wydawnicza Miniatura.
- Karol Olgierd Borchardt (2005). Pod czerwona roza: i opowiadania zebrane (in Polish). Gdynia: Oficyna wydawnicza Miniatura.