Winston Churchill described it as “the greatest adventure story to come out of the war”. Yet the final chapter of the saga of the Orzel, a Polish submarine, is still a mystery which has intrigued millions of Poles and successive Warsaw governments.
The Orzel (Eagle) was lost without trace with 54 crew aboard somewhere in the North Sea in the early summer of 1940. She had been taking part in a wartime patrol for the Royal Navy, and disappeared only months after completing one of the most daring and extraordinary maritime escapes on record.
In September 1939, without charts and with most of its weapons removed, the Orzel fled from Estonia – hundreds of nautical miles through the Nazi and Soviet controlled Baltic – to Britain, where she took part in the campaign against the German invasion of Norway.
Poland’s latest drive to find the lost submarine will be launched next month, just as a new feature film and a television series about its exploits are being made to mark the 75th anniversary of the Orzel’s disappearance.
Early in May, the Chieftain, a bright red, British-crewed 80ft fishing boat, will set out from Whitby harbour in Yorkshire, with a team of Polish divers equipped with underwater search machines.
Tomasz Stachura, of the Polish diving concern Santi, which is leading the hunt for the submarine, told The Independent on Sunday: “The Orzel saga has become the stuff of Hollywood; there is huge interest in finding out just what happened to the submarine. For me, it has almost become an obsession.