National Archive Files Relating to Sinking of ORP Kujawiak

National Archive Files Relating to Sinking of ORP Kujawiak

Background

ORP Kujawiak was a British-built Hunt Class destroyer, transferred to the Polish navy in exile in April 1941. On 16 June 1942, at the end of Operation Harpoon, a supply convoy to Malta, she struck a mine outside Grand Harbour, killing 13 of her crew. She sank before she could be towed to safety.

Two folders with messages related to her sinking have been preserved at the UK’s National Archives in Kew. Based on the cover page, I expect these documents to be scheduled for destruction in 2022, 70 years after her sinking. In order to preserve them, they can be downloaded from my Dropbox by clicking here.

Kujawiak

Survivors of the Polish Navy destroyer ORP Kujawiak, sunk by a mine in the  Operation Harpoon in the Mediterranean, come ashore at Greenock, still  wearing tropical kit, 24 June 1942. (IWM A10363)

Eridge

HMS ERIDGE BROUGHT SAFELY BACK TO HARBOUR. 29 AUGUST 1942, ALEXANDRIA HARBOUR. THE BRITISH HUNT CLASS DESTROYER AS SHE WAS TOWED BACK TO HARBOUR AFTER BEING TORPEDOED BY A GERMAN E-BOAT. (IWM A13534)

HMS Eridge was a sister of ORP Kujawiak. She is shown passing the French battleship Lorraine, which was part of the French fleet in Alexandria harbour. Of note in the picture above is the wrong description. She was hit by a Regia Marina MAS motor-torpedo boat, not a German one. She was so badly damaged that she was never repaired, but used for base duties in Alexandria, and finally scrapped in 1946. The picture shows the arrangement of the main turrets and the central AA 4-barrel Pom-Pom gun quite well.

Lorraine was not active at the time, and had been disarmed. She was a 1910 vintage dreadnought that had been modernized between the wars. In December 1942 the ship joined the Free French forces and was put back into service, providing fire support to amphibious operations in the Mediterranean.

If it were in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it…

The below is from the H.Q. Tobruch Fortress Intelligence Summary No. 10, issued on 1 November 1941.

Own Ground Activity

(b) Patrols

[…]

The Polish Officer missing from a patrol night 30/31 Oct has returned. A full report has not been received. It seems that he posed as a GERMAN, and having previously bandaged his head, hailed a passing lorry and ordered the ITALIAN driver to take him to the hospital. During the day he took cover in a gun pit near the DERNA rd and spent the day observing. At dusk he returned by lorry, this time driven by a LIBYAN, and debussing in the MEDAUUAR, made his way successfully through to our lines. Details of the information gained will be given when available.

The report is contained in the next day’s intel summary No. 11, 2 November 1941, although it appears to me that the officer wasn’t Polish after all, going by the surname.

A report has been received of the activities of 2/Lieut. RUSHILL who, as mentioned in yesterday’s summary, penetrated the ITALIAN lines on the night 30/31 Oct.

Whilst concealed in an arty pit near the DERNA Rd, he noted a considerable amount of movement West to East. He located 4 fd guns at 394433 on the left of the road, and 2 fd guns on the escarpment at about 39504315. He also noticed about 8 tanks dispersed near the escarpment.

The locations are about 10 km NNE of Acroma, within the Axis bypass road perimeter.

 

 

70 years on

70 years ago today WW2 started in Europe with the attack by the Wehrmacht on Poland.  The BBC has written up a fine piece on the rememberance of a Polish veteran of the Westerplatte battle here (let’s not get too fussy regarding that Schleswig-Holstein was not a cruiser, but a pre-Dreadnought battleship (Linienschiff – literally, ‘ship of the line’) of the Deutschland-class).  Mr. Skowron is a year younger than my grandfather, who participated in the invasion of Poland as a Senior Gunner in a counter-battery observation battalion.  Unlike Mr. Skowron, who at the end of the heroic resistance of the Westerplatte garrison was captured by the Germans, many of those Polish soldiers who were captured (and not quickly murdered at Katyn or elsewhere) by the Soviets would be given a chance to fight on the Allied side.  This was a journey that would take many of them to Tobruk, where they distinguished themselves in the break-out following the lifting of the siege on 7 December 41. They were denied a more prominent role in the defeat of Panzergruppe by the abysmal transport situation west of Tobruk, which restricted the ability of 8th Army to sustain forces in the pursuit.  A Polish field regiment supported the reduction of the Fortress Bardia on 31 December/1 January, and some of its forward observers were captured by the garrison.

Eventually, the Polish Carpathian Brigade would grow to  a Polish corps fighting in Italy, and a Polish armoured division fighting in Normandy and North-West Europe. Unfortunately for those Poles who chose to continue the fight, it would take another 44 years after the end of the war before their country was liberated. 

Schleswig-Holstein firing on the Westerplatte, 1939

Schleswig-Holstein firing on the Westerplatte, 1939