The Polish Eagle-ORP Orzel

The two submarines of the Orzel (Eagle) class were designed and constructed in the Netherlands. Originally four boats were planned but only two were approved. They were orderedPoland as part of an effort to create a navy strong enough to defend the nation`s 90-mile northern coastline.

The Dutch had built some very good submarines in the inter-war years and it was thus not surprising that the Poles turned to them to build this new class. The design was similar to that of the Dutch Navy`sO-19 class, which was building at the same time. They were of double-hull design.

On September 8, 1939 Orzel left the Gulf of Danzig for the open Baltic. The captain, Commander Kloczkowski, fell seriously ill; typhus was suspected. Grudzinski, his executive officer, took over. Four days later, on the 12th, the Nazi advance forced the evacuation of Gdynia, and its naval base. Next, mechanical problems befell the submarine. Finally, repair needs and the captain`s worsening condition forced Orzel to seek a neutral port, Tallinn, capital of Estonia.
Overtly friendly, the Estonians escorted Orzel into the port`s naval facilities. Kloczkowski was taken away in an ambulance. Repairs on the submarine began.

More influenced by pressure from the then-allied Nazis and Soviets than by international law, the Estonians informed Grudzinski that his command was to be interned. While the Polish officers objected and argued, soldiers boarded the submarine to disarm her. With 14 torpedoes removed, six remained in the stern tubes on September 17, Grudzinski engineered a breakdown of the hoisting machinery.

Tense with anticipation, the sailors made preparations for their breakout. Midnight, the time selected, came. But so did an Estonian officer on an unexpected visit. Any suspicions he may have harbored were allayed. Nearly three hours late, Grudzinski gave the nod to overpower the two onboard guards, and Orzel fled. She lay on the seabed throughout the 18th, and that evening Grudzinski decided it was safe to set a southwesterly course for the Swedish island of Gotland. There the overpowered guards could be released before the boat went on toward the Polish coast.

returned to a war that had worsened for Poland. The Soviet Union had followed Germany`s invasion with one of its own. Grudzinski, relying on improvised navigational aids, pursued a lonely mission in the northern sea even after Poland`s last major army units collapsed on October 3, 1939. Influenced by a radio report that the Polish submarine Wilk had been welcomed by the British, and determined to avoid internment, the crewmen all agreed to go on fighting Germany at Britain`s side.

Once back in fighting trim, Orzel was assigned to the Royal Navy`s 2nd Submarine Flotilla in time to contest Germany`s invasion of Norway. On April 3, 1940, the first ships of Weserübung(`Weser Exercise`, the invasion of Denmark and Norway) left their German ports.
Weserübungcalled for unescorted merchant ships disguised as normal shipping to sail ahead of the faster warships so as to be in position when the invasion of Norwegian harbors came early on the 9th. One of those merchantmen was the tall-funneled, black-hulled Rio de Janeiro, originally a liner carrying passengers traveling between Europe and Latin America.

On the morning of April 8, the paths of Orzel and Rio de Janeiroconverged in the Skagerrak just off Norway`s southern town of Lillesand. Grudzinski ordered the submarine, which had been cruising at periscope depth, to the surface to challenge the merchant ship. Instead of heaving stop as the Polish captain instructed, the German transport increased speed and turned shoreward attempting to reach neutral water. When a demand flashed from Orzel to abandon ship, and no visible reaction came from Rio de Janeiro, Grudzinski ordered a torpedo fired. It missed. With the second, Orzel became the first Polish warship to make a successful torpedo attack in the war. The submarine submerged to circle the listing Rio de Janeiro. When the steamer showed no sign of sinking, Grudzinski let loose a third torpedo. It exploded against the transport`s side, andsent her to the bottom.

Sometime during the first week of June 1940, the Polish submarine simply disappeared. Although the cause never was determined, it is believed that Commander Grudzinski and his five officers and 49 crewmen fell victim to a mine in the Skagerrak.

and her crew were among the first during the conflict to show, against overwhelming odds, that while the Nazis could conquer a country, they could not conquer the spirit and determination of its people.

Specifications, ORP Orzel,Orzel class:
Orzel an ocean-going patrol submarines, and her sister submarine Sep, had a welded double hull construction. Pressure hull divided into five watertight compartments, frames on the outside of the pressure hull allowing for more space inside. All hatches, ballast tank vents, steering, diving planes, periscopes, etc. operated hydraulically (a novelty before the war). Polish submariners had a very good opinion of the two subs, the quality of workmanship was considered to be very good.
Built by De Schelde, Vlissingen, The Netherlands, launched on January 15, 1938 and commissioned in the Polish Navy on February 2, 1939

Displacement (srf/sub tons): 1,100/1,474
Dimensions (L*B*D meter): 84.0*6.7*4.17
Propulsion: 2*2,370hp Sulzer 6QD42, 6 cylinder diesel engines, 2*550hp Brown-Boveri electric motors, 100 battery cells, 2 shafts
Speed (srf/sub knots): 20/9
Range (srf/sub n/miles@knots): 7,000@10/100@5
Diving depth (meter): 100
Complement: 6 officers 54 enlisted
Torpedo: 4*21.7" bow torpedo tubes, 4*21.7" stern torpedo tubes, 4*21.7" amidships external in a French-type rotating mount in the upper casing. Tubes fitted with liners to take 21" torpedoes, total of 20 torpedoes (including 8 reloads)
Mines: in many books it is written these boats were mine laying submarines, but they were not.
Armament: 1*105mm/41 Bofors main deck gun in a turn able turret, 1*2*40mm/43 wz.37 Bofors AA gun, retractable in a vertical watertight well in the after part of the conning tower.

Back to History Index

Image Country Year Description
Poland 1941 Submarine ORP Orzel
Poland 1944 Submarine ORP Orzel, over print commemorating the capture of Monte Cassino by Polish military forces,18.V.1944
Poland 1970 Submarine ORP Orzel
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