ORP Błyskawica defended the towns of Cowes and East Cowes, Isle of Wight

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The photograph in the header above shows the Polish destroyer ORP Błyskawica. Dated 1938, before the defence of Cowes. Courtesy of NAC. National Digital Archives of Poland.

Note: ORP in Polish stands for Okręt Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej. In English: Ship of the Republic of Poland.

You can read this article in Polish via Google Translate.

80th anniversary of ORP Błyskawica’s defence of Cowes

The 80th anniversary of the destroyer ORP Błyskawica’s defence of Cowes and East Cowes was commemorated from 4th to 8th May 2022 in the towns of Cowes and East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. This historic event is organised every year by the Friends of the ORP Błyskawica. Concert pianist Eva Maria Doroszkowska, Captain Francki’s granddaughter, was in Cowes as part of the celebrations, where she gave a recital on the 5th of May.

Francki Place in Cowes

In 2004 a memorial plaque commemorating Captain Francki was unveiled in Francki Place by his daughter Janina Doroszkowska.

Photographs of ORP Błyskawica

ORP Błyskawica with ORP Burza and ORP Grom in the background

ORP Błyskawica with sister destroyers ORP Grom and ORP Burza in the background

ORP Błyskawica at Southampton Docks

ORP Błyskawica at Southampton Docks

ORP Błyskawica at Southampton Docks

ORP Błyskawica at Southampton Docks

ORP Błyskawica at Nauta Dock in GdyniaORP Błyskawica at Nauta Dock in Gdynia

ORP Błyskawica at Nauta Dock in Gdynia

Image attributions: Photo 1. Polish Wikipedia. Photo 2 and 3. NAC. National Digital Archives of Poland. Photo 4. Polish Wikipedia. All 4 photographs have Creative Commons licenses.

The Peking Plan – The Polish Navy evacuates destroyers to the safety of Great Britain

In March 1939, when the Polish and British governments realised that war with Germany was imminent, The Peking Plan was launched in collaboration with the governments of the two countries. This plan aimed to protect the Polish battle fleet by evacuating it from the Baltic Sea to Great Britain.

On 30th August 1939 the battleships Grom, Błyskawica and Burza set sail from the Polish port of Gdynia and reached the safety of the Scottish port of Leith on 1st September 1939, on the day that Germany invaded Poland.

The first photograph of the above group of images shows ORP Błyskawica and her sister ships Burza and Grom, during their evacuation to Great Britain under The Peking Plan.

The Luftwaffe attacks on Cowes and East Cowes

On the night of 4th to 5th May 1942, the Polish destroyer Błyskawica was undergoing a refit at the J. Samuel White shipyard, where she had been launched in 1936. Its captain, Wojciech Francki, had disobeyed Royal Navy orders stating that no munitions were to be present on board.

On the eve of the 4th of May, the Luftwaffe started to attack the towns of Cowes and East Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

The Luftwaffe unleashed a range of weaponry, including parachute flares, high explosive bombs, and incendiary bombs, as well as machine gun fire.

Isle of Wight map
Isle of Wight map

The associated map is a derivative work. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cowes Blitz and the destroyer ORP Błyskawica in defence of Cowes

The Błyskawica immediately came to the defence of Cowes and East Cowes. Her crew used smoke canisters to shield the towns from the planes. Firing from her large calibre guns meant that the Luftwaffe had to increase altitude, thus reducing the accuracy of their bombing.

Meanwhile, Free French naval troops stationed at Marvin’s Yard further south down the river opened fire with smaller calibre guns. While many bombs hit the towns, a substantial number landed in marsh fields alongside.

This initial attacks went on for two hours, with the Błyskawica’s guns firing the entire time. The ship’s guns became so hot that the crew had to resort to throwing buckets of water over them from the River Medina, to cool them down.

As soon as the bombers had left, search and rescue operations began in the towns seriously bombed regions. At approximately 2 am on the night of the 5th of May, another wave of German planes arrived, bombarding the town for a further two hours, this time with armour-piercing bombs. Emergency services from all over the island rushed to help as the day broke. Blyskawica’s crew joined them, working as firemen and diggers supporting local rescue teams.

It has been acknowledged, that without the support of the Błyskawica, the loss of life and damage to the towns would have been far worse.

The ORP Błyskawica, is permanently docked at the Naval Museum in Gdynia, Poland, where it is a premier tourist attraction.

YouTube videos about ORP Błyskawica

National Victory Day in Poland. Dated 2020

News agency report from 1965 by Polska Kronika Filmowa. In Polish.

Just two out of many events during the ORP Błyskawica commemorations in 2022

References and links

Friends of the ORP Błyskawica Society. Website. Facebook PageSee live commemoration events for 2023.

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