Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
*Warship Wednesday, Sep 4, 2019: The White Lady
*While not a warship, we have covered iconic sail training ships several times in the past due to their interesting, often winding history, and their role in making the men of steel that go on to conn and crew a seagoing nation’s battle lines. This has included the four-masted barque, Abraham Rydberg; the German/American Gorch Fock/Eagle, the Christian Radich out of Norway, Soviet Tovarish, and the Danish East Asiatic Company schoolship and mystery of the sea, København*
With this week being the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland in World War II, it is only fitting that we see here the famed sail training ship Dar Pomorza in about 1930, one of the few flying the Polish flag that escaped destruction during the conflict and went on to serve another four decades.
However, before she was Polish, she flew a different flag.
Built in 1909 by Blohm & Voss (Hull #202) as the full-rigged sail training ship Prinzess Eitel Friedrich, she was originally named for Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Oldenburg. She and her three sisters–Großherzogin Elisabeth, Großherzog Friedrich August, and Schulschiff Deutschland (the latter built in 1927) — were all owned and operated Deutscher Schulschiffverein (DSV), or the German School Ship Association, for the purpose of educating young mariners in association with Norddeutsche Lloyd. These were among the first purpose-built sail training ships. As both the Kaiser and Grand Duke Friedrich August von Oldenburg were patrons, the names of the ships are no-brainers.
Capable of carrying 25 sails with a total sail area of some 1,950 sq. meters, the 305-foot-long vessels looked like flying clouds when they were in the wind.
Commissioned in 1910, Prinzzess Eitel Friedrich sailed on her maiden voyage to Christiansand and Antwerp. Nonetheless, the Germans only got three years of active service from her before the Great War, primarily short summer cruises for officer candidates in European waters and longer winter cruises to the Caribbean Sea and Latin America while the Baltic was iced in.
During the war, the three existing sisters all managed to come through unscathed while conducting limited training evolutions in the Baltic, but by 1919, two the marine training ships were allocated to the victorious Allies as war reparations– causing Schulschiff Deutschland to be constructed in the 1920s.
Grossherzog Friedrich August went to the British, while Prinzess Eitel Friedrich was allocated to the French where she was used as the sail training ship Colbert at the St-Nazaire seaman’s school (Société Anonyme de Navigation Les Navires Écoles Français).
By 1926, the French sold her to British gentleman race car driver and yachtsman Baron (Maurice) de Forest who very soon after looked to rid himself of the giant three-master as it did not fit his needs.
When Poland re-emerged in November 1918 after more than a century of partition by the recently deceased Austrian, German, and Russian Empires, she needed a Navy to defend her thin share of the Baltic. Having to cough up one from scratch, most of her professional officers came from the fleets of the former occupiers– the Polish Navy’s 1939 commander, Counter-Admiral Józef Unrug, was a German U-boat commander during the Great War while the Navy’s chief of staff, Vice-Admiral Jerzy Świrski, was a destroyer commander in the Tsar’s Black Sea Fleet.
Besides a few inherited former German torpedo boats and slow Russian gunboats bought from Finland, the new Navy was able to score the elderly French cruiser D’Entrecasteaux (8,100-tons) for her value in scrap in 1927, renaming her ORP Bałtyk, which became the new force’s flagship. To help train mids for the new navy, the three-masted gaff schooner ORP Iskra was acquired.
With the new Polish state maritime school in Tczew needing a training ship at the same time to replace the circa 1867-built three-master Lwow (former Chinsura), funds were raised through public donations to purchase the laid-up Colbert/ex-Prinzess Eitel Friedrich, which was idle in Western Europe. In July 1929, she was purchased by the purpose formed Pomorski Komitet Floty Narodowej (Pomeranian National Fleet Committee) for £7000 and by the next year was in Polish hands. On her arrival, the Tczew school closed and moved to Gdynia, where it is today known as the Gdynia Maritime University.
Originally to be named Pomorze (Pomerania), she was instead given the name Dar Pomorza (Gift of Pomerania), to honor the society formed to purchase her. She arrived at Gdynia on 19 June 1930 after tow by two Dutch tugs from France to Denmark and a four-month refit at Nakskov, Lolland (the same yard that later built the full-rigged ship Danmark for the Danish Maritime Authority). There, she received a surplus MAN diesel engine that had formerly powered a German U-boat to serve as her “iron topsail.”
The impressive sight of Dar Pomorza, with her white eagle crest and proud Polish ensign, was massive to the country’s spirit.
Known affectionately as the “Białej Damie” (White Lady) or the “Białej Fregata” (White Frigate), Dar Pomorza was the grande dame of the burgeoning new Polish maritime fleets and traveled extensively around the globe until 1939.
This included an epic 352-day circumnavigation of the globe under famed Capt. Konstanty Maciejewicz-Matyjewicz, a former Tsarist submarine commander, in 1934-35 that logged over 21,000 miles, crossed the equator three times and sliced through every meridian. It was the first such event by a Polish-flagged ship.
Then came WWII.
Dar Pomorza was one of the few Polish ships to escape initial destruction in September 1939.
The butcher’s list in that month included:
-Bałtyk, abandoned and captured by the Germans
-The destroyer-sized minelayer ORP Gryf, lost on the third day of the war as was the French-built destroyer ORP Wicher
-All six Jaskółka-class minesweepers, each sunk or captured
-The old Russian gunboats ORP Generał Haller and ORP Komendant Pilsudski, sunk
-The former German torpedo boat ORP Mazur, sent to the bottom
-The entire Pinsk riverine flotilla of more than a dozen monitors and gunboats, scuttled or likewise captured
Dar Pomorza, along with other key maritime assets, were saved by design.
Adm. Unrug (who spent the rest of the war in German POW camps) crafted his “Peking Plan” that sent the new destroyers ORP Burza, ORP Błyskawica, and ORP Grom to British waters in late August 1939, where they formed a new Free Polish Navy under the escaped Chief of Staff VADM Świrski after Warsaw fell.
Likewise, the wily former Great War U-boat skipper sent his five submarines abroad after their initial war patrol under his Worek Plan with orders to sail to England if possible, and otherwise to be interned in a neutral Swedish port. ORP Wilk made it to England as did ORP Orzeł (after a narrow escape from Estonia) while ORP Sęp, ORP Ryś, and ORP Żbik sailed for Sweden. The training ship ORP Iskra, on a Med cruise, sailed for Casablanca and spent the war as an MTB tender in Gibraltar.
Under the command of Capt. Konstanty “Cat” Kowalski, Dar Pomorza sortied from her Polish homeport in late August 1939 and made Stockholm, where the ship was interned. Not to be kept from the war, Cat left the White Lady with seven volunteers commanded by the ship’s radioman and subsequently bugged out for England with the rest of her crew and 149 cadets, destined for Polish-flagged freighters and Free Polish naval ships. Once there, he reformed the Polish merchant school in Southampton where its trained replacement sailors for the Gdynia-America Shipping Lines who sailed with Allied cargoes under the Polish flag during the conflict.
Polish merchant ships carried more than 5 million tons of cargo during the war and were part of every campaign in the ETO from Dunkirk to the liberation of Denmark. Meanwhile, former cadets from Iskra and Dar Pomorza filtered out not only through the Polish vessels but also the Royal Navy proper—four such students went down with HMS Hood in 1941.
Once the war was over, Dar Pomorza sailed for home in October 1945, arriving there with a scratch crew.
As for Cat, eschewing a return to Soviet-occupied Poland, he elected to emigrate to the U.S. and became a merchant mariner there. He was not alone. VADM Świrski, the former Tsarist officer who led the Free Polish Navy, did not return to Poland and remained in London exile until his death. Unrug, the fleet’s 1939 boss, likewise settled in France after his liberation from Oflag VII-A Murnau by the U.S. 12th Armored Division in 1945.
Other flag officers were not so lucky. Polish RADM Xawery Czernicki, another former Tsarist naval captain and engineer who had supervised the construction of the Gdynia naval base, was captured by the Soviets in 1939 and was among the 22,000 slaughtered Polish officers in the so-called Katyn Massacre in early 1940.
Regardless of the country’s location behind the Iron Curtain, Dar Pomorza remained Poland’s ambassador, taking part in regular merchant training cruises around Europe beginning again in 1946. Notably, Capt. Konstanty Matyjewicz-Maciejewicz, her former skipper during her round-the-world cruise, was head of the merchant marine academy at the time, having survived the war under occupation despite some rough handling from the Gestapo.
In 1972’s Operation Sail, the Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Races, she was the first Eastern Bloc windjammer to participate in an international sail event and she became a regular at such outings over the next decade.
This included being one of the top 16 tall ships to sail into the New York City leg of OpSail 1976 to celebrate the Bicentennial.
In 1980, she won the Cutty Sark Trophy in OpSail80
While not an active warship per se, she was carried in Poland’s entry in Jane’s for decades.
Finally, on 4 July 1982, Dar Pomorza was retired from active service. In her 52 years of service to Poland, she covered more than 500,000 miles under sail on 102 training cruises and educated 13,384 students.
She has been maintained as a floating exhibit and national treasure by the National Maritime Museum in Gdansk since 1983, typically visited by more than 100,000 every year.
She is extensively remembered in maritime art and postcards.
…And has repeatedly been represented on Polish postage stamps and coins throughout the Republic’s 20th Century history.
A lucky ship, having survived both world wars as well as the Cold War, all three of Dar Pomorza‘s German-built sisters are intact as well. The former Grossherzog Friedrich August was handed over to the Norwegians as a war trophy in 1945 and is currently the privately-owned training vessel Statsraad Lehmkuhl. Schulschiff Deutschland, commissioned in 1927, is a museum ship in Bremen. Finally, the former Großherzogin Elisabeth, handed over to France as a war reparation in 1946, has been the French-flagged tall ship Duchesse Anne ever since.
Displacement: 1561 tons gross, 2,500 full
Length with bowsprit: 305 feet
Length, between perpendiculars: 240 feet
Rig: 25 sails, 2,100 sq. m, full-rigged including royals, topgallant, double topsail
Auxiliary engine: 430 HP MAN, 6-cyl diesel, installed 1929
Speed under sail: max 17 kts.
Complement: 190: 8 officers, 32 petty officers/primary crew, 150~ cadets
1934-35 Circumnavigation: 104: Commandant, 10 officers including doctor and chaplain, 4 instructors, 20 crew members, 11 2nd year students, and 58 1st year candidates
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