ORZEL: THE LEGEND OF WWII

Part 1: OPERATION WOREK

On 10 February 1939 a crowd of many thousands welcomed Poland's new submarine Orzel, when she arrived at her home port of Gdynia, from the Dutch shipyard "de Schelde" at Vlissingen. Orzel had been designed by Polish engineers and was equipped with 20 torpedoes, and capable of making 20 knots. She was one of the best and most modern submarines of the time, and was now ready to defend the short Polish coast.

The clouds of war were near in August 1939. The Germans were ready to attack Poland at sea, with one old battleship, three light cruisers, 11 destroyers, four escort vessels, more than 30 minesweepers and trawlers, all armed with depth charges, ten U-boats and many sub-chasers. Poland had only five submarines, one destroyer, one minelayer and several smaller vessels. Three destroyers had earlier left for England to be saved and used there.

On 1 September 1939 the war started. All the Polish submarines except Orzel departed from their bases for war patrols and were ready to participate in Operation Worek, the Polish plan for the defence of Poland at sea. Orzel's crew was awaiting the arrival of her commander, Kmdr. ppor. Henryk Kloczkowski. At 37 years of age, "Klocz" was the most experienced Polish submariner. He was strict, and highly regarded by the crew. Everyone respected him.

Kpt. mar. (Executive officer) Jan Grudzinski was irritated by the commander's delay in arriving. He was used to military discipline and was always fastidious. He was 32 years old, and did not have much experience in submarines. (He had only been on Orzel for three months). For some unknown reason Kloczkowski did not trust him, or even like him. The crew was aware of that, and as they admired and respected "Klocz", they felt the same about Grudzinski, who knew that he was in a difficult position. But Grudzinski had a strong character and always tried to do his best. As he was shy, he was nicknamed "Panienka".

Finally Kloczkowski arrived half an hour late, and Orzel was ready to leave. At 06.35 hours Orzel left her home base of Gdynia with 63 men. Orzel 's orders in Operation Worek were to patrol in the Gulf of Gdansk. This was definitely the most hazardous area of all, because German aircraft could find easily a submarine there. On the other hand, the 4x152mm, 4x105mm, and 10x75mm guns of the coastal battery in Hel (Heliodor Laskowski), and the 2x100mm guns in Oksywie (Canet ) would provide a certain amount of cover in part of that area. It was unlikely, therefore, that any German ships - at least the destroyers - would patrol inside the Gulf of Gdansk for fear of the Polish coastal battery.

On the first day of war Orzel did not find any target for her torpedoes. She had a "quiet" day, unlike the other Polish submarines which engaged German ships, mostly destroyers and minesweepers. On 2 September a radio message was sent from the base at Hel to Orzel to inform her that the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein would leave from Gdansk the same day, and Orzel was to torpedo it. Orzel did not receive that message, but in any case the information that the battleship would leave turned out to be incorrect.At 0447 hours on 1 September, Schleswig-Holstein had fired the opening shots of World War II at the Polish fortress on Westerplatte.

At 19:50 hours, Orzel was on the surface, and saw the Polish motor boat M-9, which informed her that the minelayer Gryf and some minesweepers had been damaged in German air attacks. Later the same night Orzel saw two German destroyers coming from the port of Pilawa, heading towards Hel. They were the Leberecht Maass and Max Schultz and were involved in the first naval battle of WWII with the Polish destroyer Wicher, the minelayer Gryf and the Polish coastal battery. The German ships were damaged - one of them very seriously, and withdrew from the battle. Orzel did not look for the two German destroyers. "Klocz" may have been afraid of air attacks, since around 140 German aircraft were patrolling near Gdansk, over both land and sea.

In the afternoon of 3 September, despite being at a depth of 28 meters, Orzel was seen by an aircraft. Depth charges were dropped, but they did not cause any damage to the submarine. At 22:00 hours Orzel met another Polish submarine, Wilk. Klockowski had a brief discussion with the Wilk's commander about the future of the war, and after that conversation "Klocz" sounded pessimistic and strange to his Executive Officer, Jan Grudzinski.

The next day at 09:50 hours, German aircraft again attacked Orzel without success. She lay on the seabed until 15:00 hours, when "Klocz" decided to surface, even although it was still daylight. The rest of the officers thought this a risky idea. At 15.05, while Orzel was at periscope depth, she was spotted by German aircraft, which dropped ten depth charges, and radioed for ships to come to the area. An hour later, German sub-chasers tried to locate Orzel, and attacked her twice before night without success, since Orzel went deeper to avoid the explosions.

Kloczkowski informed Grudzinski that Orzel should change her patrol area, and head north, as the Gulf was not the best area to operate with so many German aircraft about. Grudzinski said that he would inform the base about that change, but Kloczkowski prevented him from doing so, saying that he had not ordered such a message to be sent, but had merely ordered the patrol area to be changed.

Grudzinski left, suspicious, from the commander's room and informed Por. Mar (Lieutenant) Andrzej Piasecki about the situation. Piasecki was an experienced officer, and was nicknamed "Pablo". He was surprised that "Klocz" should order a change of patrol area without either informing, or seeking permission from HQ. Besides Wilk and Rys were operating to the north, and Orzel's unannounced and unplanned appearance there would be likely to cause confusion. "Klocz" wanted to patrol off Gotland, and find a ship to attack there.

On 6 September Orzel was on her way to Gotland. Kmdr Mohuczy of the Polish naval forces in Hel was worried that no messages had been received from Orzel. He sent a radio message that day ordering "Klocz" to change his patrol area to the west side of Gdansk, but Orzel was already on her way to Gotland and did not reply to the message.

On the seventh day of the war, Orzel was near Gotland, after escaping en route from a German minefield. It was a frightening experience, especially when, on two occasions, the mooring cables of mines grazed along the side of the submarine.

The next day Kloczkowski complained of feeling unwell and Grudzinski went to his cabin to find out what was wrong. Kloczkowski said that he was very seriously ill, but Grudzinski, did not believe him. He explained the situation to Piasecki who wondered how "Klocz" could suddenly have become seriously ill? Grudzinski said that the commander was probably afraid of war.

For the next two days Grudzinski urged "Klocz" to allow him to inform the base about his situation but Kloczkowski would not allow Panienka to take over command of Orzel. In the circumstances, that was against the regulations. In the meantime, Orzel did not encounter any enemy, or even neutral ships. Finally, on 10 September Kloczkowski gave permission to communicate with the base. There had been no contact with the submarine for six days, and those at Hel had feared Orzel must have been lost. On being informed about the situation, a reply was transmitted to Orzel: "Either leave the captain in a neutral port, and allow the executive officer to take over, or return to Hel for a replacement commander. You decide".

Kloczkowski heard that order and went to his room without saying anything. The days were passing uneventfully. Nothing was seen at sea, and the crew began to show signs of stress and fatigue, as their commander was behaving strangely. Orzel was far away from the German naval ships patrolling near Gdansk, but on 12 September Grudzinski saw a ship through the periscope. He identified it as the German merchant ship Bremen, and called Kloczkowski to the periscope to see it. Grudzinski suggested that they should surface and examine the ship's papers, as required by international law.

"Klocz" disagreed, and told Grudzinski that he was wrong. He said the ship was the Norwegian Bergen, then returned to his cabin. Grudzinski was disappointed by his commander's attitude, and could not understand why the Commander did not want to attack a lone German ship, or even check it first, according to international law, and concluded that "Klocz" did not want to fight. He thought that Kloczkowski was probably afraid that sinking the ship would bring German ships to the area, but he should expect that, as after all they had gone to Gotland to find targets, and sink them - not to ignore them. In fact neither Bremen nor Bergen were in the Baltic Sea at that time. The ship they saw was probably the German training ship Bremse.

Klocz did not say anything regarding what should happen about his situation. Orzel's hydraulic system broke down, and a decision should be made about what course of action to take. On the 13th "Klocz" called his officers and told them he was feeling worse. He said that the best thing for him would be to be left in a neutral port. The officers wanted "Klocz" to be left on a Swedish island, and Grudzinski to take command. Kloczkowski disagreed with that, and repeated his demand to be taken to a neutral port. The 22-year-old Navigator, Ppor. Mar Marian Mokrski, an excited "kid", brought the charts and showed "Klocz" the nearest ports. These were in Sweden and Latvia. The Commander said he would consider which port he would chose to be left in.

Later Kloczkowski ordered Grudzinski to head for Tallinn! Everybody was surprised by that decision, since Tallinn was not a port that Polish submarine command would have in mind, as Estonia, although neutral, had a friendly relationship with Germany, but "Klocz" wanted to go there. Piasecki assumed that Kloczkowski must have a personal connection there, and without further ado, Orzel headed for Tallinn.

Part 2: OPERATION WOREK