Saturday, 1 September 2012

The sinking of Polish minelayer ORP Gryf


The ORP Gryf was built at the French shipyard Chantiers et Ateliers A. Normand,  in Le Havre, from 1934,  launched in 1936 and commissioned two years later. The project  was made on Polish specifications, satisfying the request for a minelayer of large size, fast and armed like a destroyer. The vessel was powered by a couple of 6,000-horsepower Sulzer 8SD48 engines, which gave her the ability  to reach 20 knots of speed. The range was considerably good – 9,500 nautical miles (17,600 km) at cruising speed of 14 knots. Displacing 2,200 tons, the Gryf was armed with 6x120mm main guns, 4x40 mm AA Bofors guns and eight mine racks for up to 600 mines.

ORP Gryf under construction

On 1 September 1939, ORP Gryf left the Polish naval base of Gdynia, together with  six minesweepers. The vessels were to be part of Operation Rurka, their task being to lay a minefield at the entrance of the Danzig bay. The small fleet headed for the Hel Peninsula, supported by two gunboats and the destroyer ORP Wicher

Midway along the route, a big formation of Ju-87 Stukas from Lehrgeschwader LG 1 spotted the flotilla. The Ju 87s dived on the ships, selecting the Gryf as their main target. The Polish vessel was damaged by several near misses which jammed the rudder and put out of action the compass and the radio station. In addition to that, 22 seamen were killed, including the commander, Capt. Wiktor Kwiatkowski. The ship’s deputy commander took charge, and fearing for detonation of the 290 naval mines aboard ordered to throw overboard all of them. The minelayer then headed for the Hel peninsula, where it was decided to use her for AA duties in defence of the harbor.


 In the morning of 3 September, ORP Gryf and ORP Wicher, now moured in port, were attacked by two Kriegsmarine destroyers. The Z1 Leberech Mass and the Z9 Wolfgang Zenker, commanded by Rear Admiral Gunther Lutjens, which approached Hel harbor at full speed, opening fire at 07:00. Wicher and Gryf answered shortly thereafter. The Gryf was hit twice, but scored a hit on Leberecht Mass. The Z9 Wolfgang Zenker laid a smokescreen and both German vessels left the area.

 Gryf and Wicher entered the floating dock to repair their damages. However, in the following morning the ships were attacked twice by Stukas of 4./Tr. G.186.  The first attack came at 9:00, the minelayer  suffering a hit on the bow and several near misses. During the second attack, 12 Ju 87s armed with SC 250 bombs hit the Gryf again. The Gryf went partially underwater, not sinking only thanks to the low water in port, and started to burn fiercely.

At 16:00 hrs, He-59 seaplanes of Ku.Fl.Gr 506 mounted a third attack, followed by other He 59s of Ku.Fl.Gr 706 at 17:25. At this time, the ORP Gryf was no more than a dummy target and received the coup de grace by Hptm. Stein of 3./Ku.Fl.Gr 706, burning for two entire days.

For the first time in modern warfare, fleet vessels had to defend themselves against enemy aircaft, and succumbed to them. Two stern 120 mm gun turrets  were dismounted and used ashore as land artillery. One of the turrets is now displayed at the Museum of the Polish Navy, in Gdynia.


In November 1939, the victorious Germans raised the wreckage and took it to a beach near Jastamia, where ORP Gryf had the sad fate of being used as an artillery practice target. The vessel saw the same fate when the war finished, as the Polish Air Force used it in the same role for some years. In 1957 it was raised a second time, and finally scrapped. 
Gryf's 120mm Bofos gun on display

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