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ORP Orzeł (1938)
Submarine ORP Orzeł entering the naval base at Hel peninsula, 1930s
ORP Orzeł entering the Hel peninsula naval base, 1930s
Career (Poland) Naval Ensign of Poland
Name: ORP Orzeł
Namesake: Eagle
Owner: Polish Navy
Operator: Polish Navy
Laid down: 14 August 1936
Launched: 15 January 1938
Commissioned: 2 February 1939
Decommissioned: 11 June 1940
Fate: missing, presumably sunk
General characteristics
Displacement: 1,110, surfaced
1,473, submerged
Length: 84.00 m (275 ft 7 in)
Beam: 6.7 m (22 ft 0 in)
Draft: 4.17 m (13 ft 8 in)
Speed: 19.4 knots (35.9 km/h; 22.3 mph), surfaced
9.0 knots (17 km/h/10 mph), submerged
Complement: 60
Armament: 1 × Bofors wz.25 105 mm (4.1 in) gun
1 × double Bofors wz.36 40 mm (1.6 in) AA gun
1 × Hotchkiss 13.2 mm (0.52 in) HMG
12 × 533 mm (21.0 in) / 550 mm (22 in) torpedo launchers (4 aft, 4 rudder, 4 waist)
20 torpedoes

ORP Orzeł was the lead ship of her class of submarines serving in the Polish Navy during World War II. Her name means Eagle in Polish. The boat is best known for the Orzeł incident, her escape from internment in neutral Estonia during the early stages of the Second World War.


Orzeł was laid down 14 August 1936 at the Dutch shipyard De Schelde, as the Job No. 205; launched on 15 January 1938, and commissioned on 2 February 1939. She was a modern design (designed by the joint venture of Polish and Dutch engineers), albeit quite large for the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea.[citation needed]

World War II

Orzeł incident

At the beginning of the invasion of Poland Orzeł had been deployed on patrol in a designated strategic zone of the Baltic Sea. Due to the German invasion, Orzeł was unable to return to the Polish naval bases at Hel near the major port city of Gdynia.

Orzel's crew decided to head to Tallinn, Estonia as a result of an unidentified illness from which their captain, Lieutenant-Commander Henryk Kłoczkowski, had been suffering since September 8. ORP Orzeł reached Tallinn on 14 September 1939 and on 15 September the captain was forced to leave the submarine to undergo hospital treatment. Under the Hague Convention of 1907, section XIII, Article 12,[1] "belligerent ships" could enter a neutral port but were forbidden from remaining there for "more than twenty-four hours." At the insistence of Germany, the Estonian military authorities boarded the ship, interned the crew, confiscated all the navigation aids and maps, and commenced removing all her armaments. However, only fifteen of her twenty torpedoes were removed before the hoist cable parted; this was because it had been secretly sabotaged by her new commander, former chief officer, Lieutenant Jan Grudzinski.

The crew of Orzeł conspired together to carry out a daring escape. Around midnight on 18 September, the submarine's Estonian guards were overpowered, the mooring lines were cut, and Orzeł got under way. The alarm was raised, and her conning tower was peppered by machine-gun fire. Running half-submerged, Orzeł ran aground on a bar at the harbour mouth, where artillery fire damaged her wireless equipment. Grudzinski managed to get the boat off the bar by blowing her tanks, and she proceeded out of the Gulf of Finland, intending to sail for a British port, the crew having heard a radio report that the Polish submarine Wilk had been welcomed in Britain.

Orzel escaped from Tallinn with two Estonian guards on board as hostages. The Estonian and German press covering the Orzeł incident declared the two captured guards missing at sea. Grudzinski set them ashore in Sweden, providing them with clothing, money, and food for their safe return to homeland. The Polish crew believed that those returning from the underworld "deserve to travel first class only". The escape of the submarine Orzeł was used by the Soviet Union and Germany to challenge Estonian neutrality.


Orzeł in the United Kingdom

Submarine Orzeł 1939 Profile.svg

The stone commemorating the "Orzeł incident" and the escape of the submarine Orzeł in 1939, - in both Polish and Estonian languages, Estonian Maritime Museum, Tallinn

Since Orzeł's navigational charts had all been removed by the Estonian authorities, Captain Grudzinski resolved to stop a German ship and take her charts. However, the only German vessels encountered were warships rather than merchantmen. The submarine's sole remaining navigational aid was a list of lighthouses, and using these as a reference, Orzeł followed a course along the Baltic coast, around Denmark, and out into the North Sea where she came under attack by British as well as German forces, since without her wireless equipment she had no means of identifying herself.

Forty days after she had originally sailed from Gdynia, Orzeł made landfall, off the east coast of Scotland. She lay on the bottom until emergency repairs were made to the radio, then surfaced to transmit a message in English. A Royal Navy destroyer then came out and escorted her into port, much to the surprise of the British who had thought her long since sunk.

Orzeł sank no enemy vessels during her journey from Estonia to Britain, although Soviet authorities blamed her for sinking the Soviet tanker Metallist in Narva Bay on 26 September, the incident being used as a pretext for the Soviet invasion of the Baltic states.[2]

Norwegian Campaign

After a refit, Orzeł was assigned to the Royal Navy's 2nd Submarine Flotilla, and was assigned to patrol missions. Shortly after noon on 8 April 1940 she sank the 5,261 ton clandestine German troop transport Rio de Janeiro off the small harbour village of Lillesand in southern Norway,[3] killing hundreds of German troops intended for the invasion of Norway.[4] Rio de Janeiro was heading to Bergen in order to take part in the initial landings of Operation Weserübung - the invasion of Norway and opening move of the Norwegian Campaign. Two days later Orzeł fired torpedo at a German minesweeper; however, she was forced to dive before the sinking of the German ship could be confirmed.

Orzeł departed on her seventh patrol on 23 May, to the central North Sea. On 1 and 2 June a radio message was transmitted from Rosyth ordering her to alter her patrol area and proceed to the Skagerrak. No radio signals had been received from her since she had sailed, and on 5 June she was ordered to return to base. She never acknowledged reception, and never returned to base. 8 June 1940 was officially accepted as the day of her loss. Although various theories exist regarding her loss, and it is commonly believed that she ran onto a mine in the Skagerrak, the true cause of her loss remains unknown to this day. In July and August 2008 a Polish expedition searched the region of North Sea where she went missing with the hope of finding her final resting place. Wrecks of various other ships have been located, but Orzeł has not been among them and ultimately the fate of the ship remains a mystery. In June 2013 Polish Navy, following reports of a wreck of an unknown submarine found in the North Sea, conducted one more expedition to check whether the ship could be Orzel. The wreck was surveyed and identified as HMS J6. In 2017 another private expedition found a previously unknown wreck which they identified to be most likely HMS Narwhal based on sonar data. On May 23, 2020, the Shipwreck Expeditions Association announced a partnership to search for the wreck in conjunction with the Maritime University of Szczecin with the assistance from the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland and the Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation. The search is currently entering the logistics and preparations phase for the first expedition.

See also


External links

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