Polish Navy order of battle in 1939

Polish Navy order of battle in 1939

This article details the Order of Battle of the Polish Navy prior to the outbreak of World War II and the Polish Defensive War of 1939. Following World War I, Poland's shoreline was relatively short and included no major seaports. In the 1920s and 1930s, such ports were built in Gdynia and Hel, and the Polish Navy underwent a modernisation program under the leadership of Counter-Admiral Józef Unrug (CO of the Fleet) and Vice-Admiral Jerzy Świrski (Chief of Naval Staff). Ships were acquired from France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, and the Navy was to be able to secure the Polish supply lines in case of a war against the Soviet Union. By September 1939 the Polish Navy consisted of 5 submarines, 4 destroyers, and various support vessels and mine-warfare ships.

This force was no match for the large German Navy, and so a strategy of harassment and indirect engagement was implemented. Lacking numerical superiority, Polish naval commanders decided to execute the Peking Plan, an operation to withdraw most of the naval vessels to British ports, from where the ships were to secure convoys with aid for Poland, either bound for Gdynia or for Constanca in Romania.


Peace-time organization

The Polish Navy was organized into a Warsaw-based Naval Command, subordinate to the Commander in Chief of the Polish forces, and several naval and riverine bases and flotillas. The Navy was commanded by Counter Admiral Józef Unrug and his Chief of Naval Staff Jerzy Świrski. Apart from its own bases, the Navy also commanded the Westerplatte Transit Wharf, an extraterritorial base and depot in the Free City of Danzig, commanded by Henryk Sucharski and Franciszek Dąbrowski. The naval bases included:

The Navy itself was divided onto four flotillas:

  • Destroyer flotilla under Lt. Cmdr. Roman Stankiewicz
  • Submarine flotilla under Ctr-Adm. Adam Mohuczy
  • Pińsk river flotilla under Cmdr. Witold Zajączkowski
  • Vistula river detachment under Lt. Cmdr. Roman Kanafoyski

Finally, under the influence of French maritime traditions the Naval Officers' School in Gdynia (under Capt. Tadeusz Podjazd-Morgenstern) was considered a separate naval base. It used a variety of school ships, including most of the Polish surface vessels.

War-time organization

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, on July 10, 1939 the defence of the Polish Pomerania was reorganized into two separate commands under the leadership of Ctr. Adm. Unrug. The Land Coastal Command (Lądowa Obrona Wybrzeża, also translated as Land Coastal Defence) and Naval Coastal Command (Morska Obrona Wybrzeża, also translated as Naval Coastal Defence) formed the Coastal Defence Group (Grupa Obrony Wybrzeża). They were supported by the Naval Air Squadron (Morski Dywizjon Lotniczy).

Land Coastal Command

The Land Coastal Command (Lądowa Obrona Wybrzeża, LOW), subordinate to the Toruń-based military area command led by Gen. Władysław Bortnowski, was led by Col. Józef Sass-Hoszowski and, since July 23, by Col. Stanisław Dąbek. It was to organize the defence of the Polish seashore, the borders with Nazi Germany and Free City of Danzig, as well as to prepare the defence of the Polish naval bases and the Westerplatte outpost in Danzig.

As it was clear that the Polish defenders of the so-called Polish Corridor would be cut off from the Polish mainland, the defence was organized into several fortified lines that were to shield the naval base of Hel Peninsula and the city of Gdynia from all sides, and moved from Gen. Bortnowski command to that of counter-admiral Józef Unrug. The units included:

  • Wejherowo Independent Detachment (Odział Wydzielony Wejherowo; west of Wejherowo) under Lt. Col. Kazimierz Pruszkowski
    • 1st Marine Rifles Regiment
    • Puck National Defence battalion
  • Redłowo Independent Detachment (Odział Wydzielony Redłowo; south of Gdynia) under Lt. Col. Ignacy Szpunar
    • 2nd Marine Rifles Regiment
    • 1st reserve infantry battalion
  • Kartuzy Independent Detachment (Odział Wydzielony Kartuzy) under Cpt. Marian Mordawski
    • Gdynia II National Defence battalion
    • Kartuzy National Defence battalion
  • Gdynia I National Defence battalion (near Koleczkowo)

Altogether, the forces subordinate to Col. Dąbek numbered ca. 15,000 men.

Separate from the Land Coastal Defence were:

  • the Hel Fortified Area (Rejon Umocniony Hel, ca. 3,000 men) under Ctr. Adm. Włodzimierz Steyer
    • supported by 4th battalion of the Border Defence Corps;
  • Westerplatte garrison (ca. 200 men)

The remainder of the Polish forces, including the improvised units, the mobilized Police, Border Guards, Border Defence Corps and the volunteers, were to defend the outskirts of Gdynia and the Oksywie Heights, while the 4th battalion of the Border Defence Corps was to defend Hel. The anti-air defence was provided by the 1st and 2nd battalion of AA artillery, with 14 75 mm guns wz.22/24 and 14 40 mm wz. 38 guns.

Naval Coastal Command

The Naval Coastal Command (Morska Obrona Wybrzeża, MOW) included all of the Polish naval vessels, as well as the coastal artillery batteries of Hel and Oksywie. Out of the destroyer flotilla, all but one were withdrawn to Great Britain during the Operation Peking. These included ORP Burza under Lt. Cmdr. Stanisław Nahorski, ORP Błyskawica under Lt. Cmdr. Włodzimierz Kodrębski and ORP Grom under Lt. Cmdr. Aleksander Hulewicz.

The only large surface vessels to be left in Poland before the outbreak of hostilities were the heavy minelayer ORP Gryf under Stefan Kwiatkowski (later replaced by Lt. Cmdr. Wiktor Łomidze) and its escort, the destroyer ORP Wicher under Stefan de Walden.

The submarine flotilla was left in Poland with the task of disrupting the enemy movement in the area of the Bay of Gdańsk, as well as to lay mines on the routes from Germany to East Prussian ports in the Operation Worek. Commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Adam Mohuczy, the flotilla included:

  • ORP Wilk under Capt. Bogusław Krawczyk
  • ORP Żbik under Lt. Cmdr. Michał Żebrowski
  • ORP Ryś under Lt. Cmdr. Aleksander Grochowski
  • ORP Sęp under Lt. Cmdr. Władysław Salomon
  • ORP Orzeł under Lt. Cmdr. Henryk Kłoczkowski

Apart of the abovementioned ships, a number of other vessels were left in the Polish naval bases, including several smaller torpedo boats, mine trawlers, minelayers and auxiliary vessels. The Minelayer/Minesweeper Flotilla (Flotylla Minowców) was composed mostly of the so-called birdies (ptaszki, a nickname coined after the fact that all of the Jaskółka class ships were named after a different species of non-raptor birds).

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