The Polish Navy serves in the Norwegian campaign and the Dunkirk evacuation. Losses include 2 submarines, 1 destroyer and 2 merchant ships. The destroyer fleet is moved to Greenock, Scotland for convoy escort in the Battle of the Atlantic. Polish Navy officers, captured in 1939, are executed by the NKVD in Katyń.

Józef Dąbkowski

Captain, Merchant Navy See Wall of Names

The Narvik Campaign, 14th May 1940.

Jozef Dabkowski

Master Józef Dąbkowski, the Polish Merchant Navy

Polish troopship carrier MS Chrobry is sunk on 15th May 1940 during the Narvik campaign.

The Norwegian Campaign

MS Chrobry was used as a troopship carrier during the allied retreat from Norway in the area around Narvik. On 14th May 1940 she sailed from Tjeldsundet transporting 1,000 British troops to Bodø. Just before midnight German dive bombers attacked the ship three times in the middle of the Vestfjorden, setting the ship on fire, exploding ammunition, and killing several men. Destroyer escort HMS Wolverine took off 700 survivors from the ship, while the other escort HMS Stork stood on guard and drove off other German aircraft, then took off the remaining survivors. The abandoned Chrobry was scuttled by aircraft from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal on 16th May.

“On the 14th May 1940 M/S Chrobry sailed with the British troops to Bodo-Norway. About 23:45 when I was sleeping fully dressed I was woken up by the navigating officer Z CHEŁMINSKI and informed about air attack.

I put on a lifejacket, helmet, grabbed my camera and ran to the bridge where the Captain and the other officers were and was informed that the ship had got bombed and she is on fire.

Prompt action: on the sun-deck around the hold No3. and the offcers’ cabins with some crew members we were trying to put out the fire with fire hoses, but there was no water in the pipe-lines. Using the fire extinguishers was like the use of a syringe against a huge fire and it was hopeless in this situation.

The order was given – abandondon ship: – directing soldiers and bringing the wounded to the lifeboats on the same level as the sun deck on the star board side.

When close to hold No3. I heard a call, shout or scream just as if from overboard the ship on the port side. Searching I found a man’s head sticking out from the first class cabin window and calling for help. I jumped into a life boat on level with the sun deck and the crew members lowered the boat with me in it to the window level. I pull out the man to the boat and I saw there was left no-one in the cabin. The crewmen lifted “the British Admiral” up to the deck. As I saw (and well remember) a British sailor- a signalman came from the bridge, put the lifejacket on the Admiral and took him.

After this, the crew and I directed the people to the lower deck of Chrobry to HMS Wolverine as she came alongside on the starboard side.

When checking and looking for people on various parts of the ship I came to the fore deck close to hold No1. where the ship’s captain Cpt. DEYCZAKOWSKI who just had come out from the crew’s accommodation after checking it.

I informed him what was going on board the ship and that nearly all the people went onto the HMS Wolverine.  He noticed that on the starboard side over-board, two soldiers were holding onto a rope hanging over the water. Just then one of the Chrobry’s lifeboats came to pick them up.

The Captain told me to go now to HMS Wolverine. I left him and decided to on the port side promenade deck. Looking through the portholes of the third class dining rooms I saw that there was no one. On the way I found a wounded soldier and later wandering on the deck a young ship’s steward from the officer’s mess JAN PIETRZAK, who helped me to bring the wounded soldier to the aft of the ship.

I noticed that HMS Wolverine had left. From the aft deck, where we had our 4 inch gun, I was sending S.O.S. by torch to HMS Wolverine – no reply.

We dropped overboard the raft on the starboard side where hold No5. was Jan Pietrzak went down, I lowered the wounded soldier on a rope to the raft and climbing down the hanging cargo net I noticed that a boat from HMS Wolverine was coming to pick us up and deliver us to her ship, where I met M/S Chrobry’s saved crew…

As I remember we lost ten men from the Polish crew on M/S Chrobry on the 15th May 1940.

The last information I got was that M/S Chrobry was still burning and floating before being put down by a torpedo from a British plane.”

Master Józef Dąbkowski recalling the sinking of M/S Chrobry, Australia 1995.


Pictures

Survivor Testimony