ORP Błyskawica and HMCS Haida
ORP Błyskawica (“Lightning”, a Polish ship) is one of the few Second World War-era Destroyers that lives on today with minimal alterations. Together with HMCS Haida, another preserved destroyer, they served during that critical period of mid-1944 as part of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla. The 10th was responsible for defending Allied forces from German surface warships before, during, and after the D-Day landings.
The Flotilla’s most famous action was the Battle of Ushant on the night of June 8/9, 1944, when they encountered four Kriegsmarine warships: three destroyers and a large torpedo boat. Split into two divisions, Haida was part of the more experienced group while Błyskawica led the greener division. In the confusion of battle, Błyskawica’s force lost track of the German forces after successfully delivering some damage, while Haida and her division managed to sink one and force aground another.
Błyskawica also played key roles in the earlier part of the war, when she carried out dozens of convoy escorts and sinking a number of U-boats. But her other claim to fame is the defence of the town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight. In May 1942, the Luftwaffe carried out a number of bombing raids on the Isle, where Błyskawica was undergoing a refit. Despite Admiralty refusal to keep her stocked with ammunition, her captain nonetheless ensured stocks were maintained. This proved prescient, as she was the only major asset in place capable of threatening the Luftwaffe aircraft – her guns fired for two hours straight, running so hot that water had to be drawn from the river to keep them cool. She is credited with keeping the German aircraft at high altitude, drastically reducing their accuracy and damage to Cowes.
Despite being half a world apart (Gdynia and Hamilton), the shared heritage and histories of Poland’s Błyskawica and Canada’s Haida have made them into “twinned” ships, a status made official in 2006 and permanently memorialized in plaques at both sites.
Main photo: The aforementioned plaque that memorializes the “twinned” ships, Poland’s Błyskawica and Canada’s Haida (Credit: Tim Choi).