- Head, Michael
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1993 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The last of the six monitors, Krakow was commanded by an artillery captain, Kpt. Jerzy Wojciechowski. On September 17 it covered the transit of a KOP Border Guard Brigade to the south east. On the 20th Krakow was back in Pinsk as the Russian tanks arrived and escorted a small convoy through to the Krolewski Canal and Pina. But the railway bridge at Janow had been blown up and they could go no further. The ship had to be sunk, they could go no further.
The Soviets salvaged five monitors, two gunboats, 18 armed cutters and 35 steamships from the Polish rivers. These they put into service in time to be caught up in the German invasion of Russia in 1941. River monitors were an obsolete type before the war even began. Aircraft and the rapid firing A/T gun had finished them.
The Polish government surrendered formally on September 27, with 66,000 dead, 200,000 wounded and 700,000 prisoners.
On Friday, October 6, 1939, General Kleeberg surrendered the last Polish army in the Lublin region. Trapped between the might of Germany and Russia, there could be no other outcome.
The surrender left only the submarine ORZEL in the Baltic. After a lucky escape from a Stuka dive-bomber on the 6th, ORZEL entered the Estonian port of Revel on the 15th at 1.03a.m. The request was to land the sick captain and to repair engines. The submarine was admitted for 24 hours just as was allowed by international convention and was docked behind the gunboat LAINE.
In Revel the ORZEL could not continue the escape as the German tanker THALATTA sailed and therefore they had to wait a full 24 hours before sailing after a merchant ship. The Estonians did not want a German ship sunk on their doorstep. Suddenly, in this extra time, the Estonians caved in to German and Russian pressure and interned the submarine. Quickly officials boarded the submarine and took all navigational documents, sea charts, munitions, breech-blocks and almost all the torpedoes. The Poles managed to destroy most of their secret documents.
The problem was the remaining six torpedoes in the aft tubes, which had to be removed by a crane. This meant the submarine had to be turned round, which was done, but the off loading was put off until Monday after the Poles found a way of damaging the unloading equipment. The ORZEL was left facing the way of escape.
Lt. Cdr. Grudzinski was not one to let things just happen. Soon after dark some sailors slipped into the water and began sawing through the mooring cables. At 3.00 a.m. on the night of 17/18 September the Estonian guards were overpowered, a sailor used a hatchet to cut through a phone cable and power lead to the searchlight and the ORZEL got underway. Almost immediately the submarine ran aground on a sand bar. The Estonians awoke to what was happening and fired machine guns, but the ORZEL reversed off the sand-bar with her engines running at full power and creating so much smoke that it blacked out a good deal of the harbour assisting in the escape. Once clear of the port the Estonian 15 cm. battery on Naissar Island opened fire, but the water was now deep enough and Grudzinski dived. The submarine stayed on the bottom all the next day while Estonian and Soviet destroyers tried to find it.
Late on the 18th Grudzinski got under way again but instead of heading for Britain he went searching for a target for his torpedoes. On the night of 20/21 September the ORZEL surfaced near the Ostergarn lighthouse east of Gottland and the two Estonian guards were put into a boat. They were given provisions, money for their return, and a note in English to their commanding officer to say they had been captured and had no part in the escape. The Soviet press had been claiming they had been murdered, but they were not embarrassed.
On board, Lt. Mokrski, the navigating officer, found a book listing all the navigational beacons and signal positions. From this he constructed quite a satisfactory chart of the lower Baltic. The time had definitely come to attempt an escape.
On Sunday, October 8, ORZEL surfaced with a Swedish flag pinned on a bed sheet and the name of the vessel removed and sailed up the Ore Sound close to Trelleborg. A land based searchlight came and stayed just in front of the submarine. They had no choice but to carry on. Suddenly they went aground. All the crew except three were ordered on deck in life jackets. The engines were revved up and slowly the submarine pushed itself over the obstacle. Towards midnight they saw the lights of Copenhagen and then they spent the day on the bottom.