Battle of the Danzig Bay

Battle of the Danzig Bay

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of the Danzig Bay


caption=Polish wz. 08/39 contact mine
partof=Invasion of Poland
date=September 1, 1939
place=Danzig Bay, Baltic Sea
result=Indecisive
combatant1=
combatant2=
commander1=
commander2=Unknown
strength1=10 vessels
AA units at Hel Peninsula
strength2=33 Junkers Ju 87B
casualties1=Up to 20 killed and wounded
casualties2=Unknown

A minor battle of the Danzig Bay ( _pl. bitwa w Zatoce Gdańskiej) took place on September 1, 1939, at the beginning of the invasion of Poland, when Polish Navy vessels were attacked by German Luftwaffe aircraft in Gdańsk Bay (then Danzig Bay). It was one of the first incidents in which naval units had to defend itself against air forces.

History

Eve of the battle

The Polish Navy of the Second Polish Republic (1919–39) was prepared mostly as means of supporting naval communications with France in case of a war with the Soviet Union. However, after it became apparent that the aggressive side would be Germany, most of modern Polish vessels were withdrawn from the Baltic Sea in what was called Operation Peking. The remaining forces, consisting of several modern submarines and smaller vessels were to execute two major naval operations, both aimed at disrupting the German naval movement in the area of the Danzig Bay and transit movement between Germany and East Prussia. All submarines were dispatched for their operational zones in the southern Baltic to take part in Operation Worek, an attempt to sink as many German ships as possible.

Battle

All the remaining surface vessels were to be dispatched from the naval base in Gdynia to Hel Peninsula, from where they were to start the so-called Operation Rurka. The plan was to lay an antiship mine barrier between Hel Peninsula and Danzig to prevent any enemy ship from entering the area.

At dusk ten Polish warships left Gdynia for Hel, located on the other side of the bay. There, the ships were to join with a number of torpedo boats and minelayers and start the minelaying operation. Among them were the destroyer ORP "Wicher", mine-layer "Gryf", minesweepers "Jaskółka", "Czapla", "Żuraw", "Czajka", "Rybitwa" and "Mewa" and gunboats "Komendant Piłsudski" and "Generał Haller".

While traversing the Danzig Bay, the flotilla was attacked by a group of 33 German warplanes, mostly Junkers Ju 87B Stuka dive bombers. The air raid was mostly unsuccessful and the Polish vessels suffered only minor losses. The backbone of the Polish flotilla, ORP "Gryf" with over 300 naval mines on board, remained unharmed.

However, soon after the first air raid was repelled, the German bombers returned. This time the losses were also minor and only minesweeper ORP "Mewa" was lightly damaged. However, the commanding officer of ORP "Gryf", Cmdr. Stefan Kwiatkowski was killed by German machine gun fire. His executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Wiktor Łomidze feared that his cargo of antiship mines (comprising over 33 tonnes of high explosives) was a danger to the ship and if it were hit by a bomb, it would explode immediately. Because of that, he ordered all the mines to be disposed of in the sea.

After the battle

After successful defence against several consecutive air raids, the Polish flotilla arrived at Hel. However, since ORP "Gryf" had abandoned all of its mines, the Operation Rurka had to be called off. The only destroyer, ORP "Wicher", did not receive the orders calling off the operation and went straight to the pre-designed zone of operations to support the mine-layers. After waiting there for the whole night, its captain Lt. Cdr. Stefan de Walden encountered three German destroyers and decided to return to Hel Peninsula.

Both major vessels were there deprived of most of equipment and served as antiaircraft platforms in the Hel naval base.

See also

* Polish Navy
* Luftwaffe
* Worek Plan


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