Ships hit by U-boats


Polish Steam merchant

Warszawa under her former name Smolensk

Type:Steam merchant
Tonnage2,487 tons
Completed1915 - William Duxford & Sons, Sunderland 
OwnerPolsko-Brytyjskie Towarzystwo Okrêtowe SA (Polbryt), Gdynia 
Date of attack26 Dec 1941Nationality:      Polish
FateSunk by U-559 (Hans Heidtmann)
Position32° 11'N, 24° 44'E - Grid CO 6777
Complement468 (23 dead and 445 survivors).
RouteAlexandria (23 Dec) - Tobruk 
CargoTroops and war material 

Completed in July 1915 as Smolensk for Russian North-West SS Co Ltd and laid up. In May 1916 delivered to T. Wilson, Sons & Co Ltd, Hull and 1917 transferred to Ellermans Wilson Line Ltd, Hull. In April 1929 renamed Warszawa for Polsko-Brytyjskie Towarzystwo Okrêtowe SA (Polbryt), Gdynia. In September 1939, the Warzawa loaded arms for the Polish Army at Le Havre, but could not transport it to Poland before the capitulation. From November 1939 to June 1940, the ship transported 5418 Polish soldiers and refugees in ten voyages from Greece and Jugoslavia to France and Syria. She was then interned by the Vichy French authorities at Beirut, but soon escaped to Haifa and was then used to transport 3520 Polish refugees from Turkey to Palestine in seven voyages. In January 1941, the ship was used to transport Australian troops from Alexandria to Tobruk and then carried war material to Greece and Crete. On 2 Dec 1941, HMS Decoy (H 75) (LtCdr John M. Alliston, RN) and Warszawa were both damaged in a collision in the harbor of Alexandria.

Notes on event

At 14.29 hours on 26 Dec 1941 the Warszawa (Master Tadeusz W. Meissner), leading ship of convoy AT-6, was hit on the starboard side aft by one torpedo from U-559 while steaming on a non-evasive course at 4 knots about 40 miles east of Tobruk. The explosion broke off the stern with the gun platform, killing four crew members and 19 passengers of the 47 crew members, five gunners (the ship was armed with one 3in, one Breda cannon and three Lewis machine guns) and 416 passengers (military personnel, mainly troops of the Libyan Arab Force) aboard. With the rudder and the screw blown away, the ship was completely immobilized and slowly settled by the stern because the aft holds flooded through damaged bulkheads. Two lifeboats and two rafts had been destroyed, but the survivors began to abandon ship in the other seven lifeboats and rafts until HMS Burgonet (Z 33), which was part of the same convoy, went alongside on starboard and took 309 survivors aboard. HMS Peony (K 40) (Cdr Martyn B. Sherwood, DSO, RN) picked up the other survivors from the boats and rafts within an hour and then took the disabled Warszawa in tow at 3 knots, while HMS Avon Vale (L 06) (LtCdr Peter A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) screened the rescue operation. A skeleton crew of 18 men and a female doctor remained aboard as it was assumed that the ship had been mined after the escorts failed to locate the nearby U-559.

The U-boat however waited until dusk, surfaced and left the area at high speed after firing a stern torpedo at the damaged ship at 19.30 hours. The torpedo struck the Warszawa on the starboard side just ahead of the bridge in the #2 hold and caused the ship to sink by the stern with a heavy list to starboard after about 10 minutes in 32°10N/24°32E. The corvette quickly severed the tow line and returned to the ship to pick up the skeleton crew who had abandoned ship in the last lifeboat. All survivors were landed at Tobruk early in the morning on 27 December. The Polish sailors were later brought back to Alexandria by the Belgian motor merchant Prince Baudouin.

On boardWe have details of 25 people who were on board

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