The 75th Anniversary of the defence of Cowes and East Cowes by the Polish Destroyer ORP Błyskawica will be celebrated on the Isle of Wight between 4th and 7th May 2017.
A wonderful programme of events has been organised by Cowes Events in association with the Friends of the ORP Błyskawica Society and Island Concerts Limited.
There will be several exhibitions, talks, live music, walks and more, all culminating in a day of dedications and commemorations.
See what takes your fancy
The long list of events can be found on our listings site, Events OnTheWight.
There is something for everyone here, including a Gala piano recital by Eva Maria Doroszkowska – granddaughter of Capt Francki, Commander of the ORP Błyskawica – so have a look through the listings and see what takes your fancy.
The musical concerts are likely to be popular, so we’d recommend booking now to avoid disappointment.
History of the ORP Blyskawica
As part of the celebrations, writer, Anthony Churchill, has put together this fascinating piece laying out the history of ORP Blyskawica.
In 1935 J S Whites’ of Cowes yard won, against stiff international competition, an order from the Polish Navy for a new class of destroyer, the ‘Grom’ Class. The ORP Grom and the ORP Blyskawica were built (in English they would be HMS Thunder and HMS Lightning).
At an astonishing 41.5 knots, they were the fastest destroyers afloat. When war came in 1939, the ORP Blyskawica sank the first U-Boat, and later escorted the Queen Mary when she was a troop ship bringing US forces to Britain.
Return to Cowes
In 1940, the ORP Grom was sunk during an attack off Norway. During the war, the ORP Blyskawica returned to Cowes for refit and in the spring of 1942 she was back, anchored with a gangway to the shore at West Cowes, just upstream from the chain ferry, facing north.
Hitler had declared he would re-write the tourist maps of Britain and began attacks on so called ‘soft targets’, where homes as well as factories could be destroyed – Norwich and Exeter were already two victims of these ‘Baedeker’ raids.
On 28th April 1942, six bombers made a hit-and-run sortie on Cowes and nearly sank the ORP Blyskawica – one bomb fell to seaward, and another bomb exploded in the mud between the ship and the shore, destroying the jetty, throwing the gangway over the ship which carried away her mast.
Photo reconnaissance planes were seen. Certain that this was the precursor to a full attack, Capt Francki, the ship’s commanding officer, against Admiralty orders whilst the ship was in a decommissioned state and in port, ordered munitions from Portsmouth to repel a possible attack. The town’s defences were not strong.
4th May 1942
Capt Francki was determined to mount as much defence as she could. True to expectation on the night of the 4th May 1942 160 bombers (according to the Island’s history book) arrived off Cowes at 11pm. After lighting the sea and land with parachute flares, the enemy came in near sea level. Smoke screens tried to hide the towns.
Ack-ack guns were few and struggled to aim low. Six Free French ‘Chasseurs’ (MTB sized convoy protectors) up river tried to help and fired their small calibre guns. The brunt of the defence lay with the Polish sailors.
Guns fired without pause
The planes came from the Solent and the ORP Blyskawica’s main armament drove the attackers up higher so reducing the accuracy of the raids. The ORP Blyskawica’s anti-aircraft guns fired without pause.
Hands were scalded and gun barrels grew so hot that seawater was gathered in buckets to be thrown on the barrels to cool them down. A second wave of planes arrived at 3.45am the next morning, the guns still fired throughout the raids. By daylight damage to the town could be assessed.
Both towns saved
Over 70 people had died and all of Cowes and East Cowes firmly believe that except for the fierce resistance of the Polish sailors, the damage to lives, property and factories would have been far greater.
The towns had been saved by these and other men from near destruction.
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