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PostThe Destroyer ORP *Blyskawica* (John Heelan, -UK, 07/08/12 1:45 am)
JE commented (7 July): "By the by, yesterday in Gdynia (next to Gdansk) we toured the Polish destroyer Blyskawica, which was built by the John Samuel White Company in Cowes (on John Heelan's Isle of Wight) in 1935-'37. On deck of the ship was a plaque of gratitude from the people of Cowes, acknowledging Blyskawica's role in defending it from German air attack on 5 May 1942."
This gratitude is still remembered and celebrated on the Island. The most recent was a couple of months ago--as reported in the Island's newspaper the County Press:
"The heroism of Polish sailors in the defence of Cowes during the Second World War is to be marked with a series of events this weekend.
"The celebration of the 70th anniversary of the defence of Cowes by the Polish destroyer ORP Blyskawica includes a visit by the Polish naval vessel Toron, which is moored off the Isle of Wight.
"Tonight (Friday) the granddaughter of the Blyskawica captain Wojciech Francki, Eva Maria Doroszkowska, will perform a classical piano recital at Northwood House.
"On Saturday, from 10am, the TS Osborne Sea Cadets, will be creating a mile of pennies, a re-enactment of a war-time fundraiser that supported the crew. This time the money will be used to support Cowes Sea Cadets and the ORP Blyskawica museum ship in Poland.
"At 10.45am tomorrow there will be a wreath laying at Kingston Cemetery in East Cowes followed by Polish and Morris dancing in East Cowes Town Square at 12.30pm.
"At 7.30pm the Polish Ave Verum Choir will perform at St Mary's Church, Cowes.
"On Sunday there will be a wreath laying and dedications at Northwood Cemetery at 9am and Francki Place at 10am.
"A further wreath laying and service will be held at Northwood Park War Memorial at 11.30am, moving on to St Mary's Church. A Polish Naval Band will then march to Cowes Parade.
"At 7.30pm a gala variety concert will be held at Cowes Yacht Haven featuring the Exeter Philharmonic Choir and the Polish Naval Band.
"A farewell retreat will be held at 6.30pm at Northwood House."
Given that the original ship is now laid up in retirement, the Polish navy was represented in Cowes celebrations by ORP Toron. There is also a "friends of the ORP Blyskawica Society" on the Island.
Cowes has named an area after the Commander of the ship. A plaque there states:
THIS AREA IS NAMED AFTER
CAPTAIN WOJCIECH FRANCKI PN, DSC.
COMMANDER OF THE POLISH DESTROYER
ORP BLYSKAWICA (LIGHTNING) BUILT IN THE
SHIPYARD OF J.S. WHITE, COWES IN 1936.
ON THE NIGHT OF 4TH/5TH MAY 1942
WHILST O.R.P. BLYSKAWICA WAS IN COWES FOR REPAIRS
CAPTAIN FRANCKI, OF HIS OWN VOLITION, ORDERED HIS SHIP TO
REMAIN ARMED TO DEFEND COWES
IN ANTICIPATION OF AN ENEMY ATTACK.
THE INITIATIVE AND LEADERSHIP OF CAPTAIN FRANCKI
ENABLED THE BRAVE POLISH CREW TO REPEL
THE LUFTWAFFE'S INTENSIVE AERIAL ATTACK THROUGHOUT THE NIGHT
SO THAT THE LOSS TO THIS COMMUNITY
WAS DRAMATICALLY REDUCED.
SUCH FRIENDSHIP AND VALOUR FORMS THAT
INDELIBLE PART OF OUR TOWN'S HISTORY,
EVER TO BE PRAISED,
NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN.
JE comments: I've further learned from ol' Wikipedia that the Blyskawica [Lightning] is the oldest preserved destroyer (note the oxymoron) in the world, which surprised me. Perhaps one of our naval historians could clarify. While many historic battleships have been turned into floating museums, destroyers must be considered more disposable.
Gdynia, just to the north of Gdansk, is a new port city founded in the 1920s, when Gdansk/Danzig had free city status and couldn't be relied upon to serve the Polish military. This explains, for example, why the Naval Academy is located in Gdynia and not the larger Gdansk.
I stupidly didn't bring my camera with me on the Blyskawica tour, but my sister-in-law managed to take this shot as I boarded the gangplank. It was a beautiful summer day in Gdynia. The "7:23" is an error, as my visit was in the early afternoon:
ORP Blyskawica, Gdynia, Poland, 6 July 2012
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