Poland's Fantasy Fleet
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
We take suggestions for our Golden Journals, and a while back William Minsinger asked about the maximum fleet plan discussed in our Daily Content look at the Polish Navy in our Second World War at Sea: Sea of Iron game.
Poland had built a small fleet of modern ships based on a quartet of large, very fast destroyers. But the Polish admirals wanted more – a great deal more. And so we’ve provided these ships of the Polish fantasy fleet in the Summer Solstice 2015 Golden Journal, available free to members of the Gold Club.
From a strategic standpoint, the Polish fleet plans actually made good sense. The Poles believed they would face a major war by the 1940’s, and that their most likely opponent would be the Soviet Union. In such a war, they could probably count on the British and French to provide material support, at least as long as they Poles could pay for it in hard currency, but it seemed doubtful that the West would commit its own naval forces to secure delivery. Nazi hostility to Communist ideology could be counted on the keep Germany neutral, but the Germans were unlikely to allow overland shipments of arms and ammunition.
In that military-political environment, the one considered most likely to actually occur, a powerful Polish fleet would be not only desirable, but necessary. The problem lay not in a lack of strategic direction, but in a lack of industrial and financial resources. Poland could not afford to purchase the fleet it needed, nor could she build it herself. But that did not stop the Poles from dreaming, nor should it stop us from playing. Here’s a look at the Polish fantasy fleet.
After the First World War, Poland demanded part of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian fleets as reparations, and on the ground that Polish taxes had helped pay for the ships. They got nothing, apparently in part because their French allies hoped to sell them some aged warships – perhaps even part of their cut of the High Seas Fleet.
The more modern German warships were scuttled at Scapa Flow in June 1919, while the Russian battleships eventually fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks, who were not interested in handing them over. The Poles did seek an old French armored cruiser for use as a training ship, and eventually acquired an ancient protected cruiser suitable for stationary training, but nothing more.
The battleship Wielkopolska (“Great Poland”) is a former German dreadnought of the Helgoland class, the most modern battleships not lost at Scapa Flow. She’s been converted to oil fuel, for the sake of her training mission, but like the training ships of other navies she’s had several boilers removed to provide additional accommodation space, reducing her speed. She still carriers her dozen 12-inch guns, and has been fitted with examples of all the anti-aircraft guns used in the Polish fleet.
The first new ships the Poles sought were a trio of French-built light cruisers, plus destroyers, submarines and supporting craft. This “maximum program” as devised by Admiral Kazimierez Porebski also had a corresponding “minimum program.” After Marshal Josef Pilsudski overthrew the elected civilian government in May 1926, the French became less willing to guarantee Polish credit with their shipyards, and the minimum program became the basis for new Polish ship orders.
Had the Poles built cruisers in 1926, they would have been modified sister ships to the French Duguay-Trouin. They carry eight 6-inch guns, torpedoes, and a fairly light anti-aircraft armament, and have almost no armor protection. No names were ever assigned; we’ve named them after General Jozef Haller, legendary commander of the “Blue Army” and founder of the Polish Navy, and Pilsudski, who hated the idea of a Polish Navy but whose political influence at the time was unchallenged.
The Polish Navy’s French connection soured in the early 1930’s, with the Poles unhappy with the cost overruns and poor construction of the large minelayer Gryf. Poland looked to Dutch yards for new submarines, and also discussed construction of larger warships there. With the death of Pilsudski in 1935, the Polish Navy’s political outlook seemed much brighter.
In 1936, Polish newspapers reported that a new “maximum program” had been drafted, calling for two 25,000-ton battle cruisers and two heavy cruisers to be built in Dutch yards. Later reports added more details, that the program also included a seaplane-carrying cruiser, a dozen destroyers plus submarines and smaller craft. Poland’s Navy Minister, Vice Admiral Jerzy Swirski, acknowledged after the war that the plan was crafted for the benefit of the League of Nations Disarmament Conference then still struggling along in Geneva, so that Poland could bargain away her mighty paper fleet.
That doesn’t stop us from creating that fleet. The two battle cruisers as shown in our variant are very similar to the Dutch battle cruiser proposed for the Royal Netherlands Navy’s 1939 fleet program, with heavier secondary armament but retaining the Dutch emphasis on anti-aircraft defense – a prudent step for a ship operating in the narrow Baltic Sea. These powerful ships would have proven a match for the German Scharnhorst or Soviet Projekt 69 types. Our two ships are named for two of Poland’s greatest warrior-kings.
The heavy cruisers are a Dutch design variant, sketched but never built, based originally on the German Admiral Hipper design, which the Dutch admired but considered under-armed for its size (much larger than the so-called “Treaty cruisers” of other nations). The Polish ships presented here carry ten 8-inch guns, plus torpedoes and that heavy Dutch anti-aircraft suite. These two ships are named for Poland’s greatest cities.
The aircraft-carrying cruiser would have been a copy of the Swedish Gotland, a ship admired by just about every navy except Sweden’s. In Polish service she would have carried a more effective seaplane than the aging Hawker Ospreys operated by the Swedes, probably the Cant Z.506 (check out the new drawing very closely). Our version is named for Poland’s greatest victory, the 1410 Battle of Tannenberg (Grunwaldem in Polish).
Finally, the Polish program included a dozen more destroyers of the Grom class, four of which are already present in Sea of Iron (the two that actually saw service, and the two under construction at Gdynia when the Germans overran Poland). These British-designed boats are big, powerful and very fast – equal to any destroyers in the world at the time of their design. A Polish fleet with 16 of these wolves of the sea is a force with which to reckon.
And that’s the Polish fantasy fleet, from the Golden Journal Summer Solstice 2015 edition, which also includes some scenarios for its use.
Put these Poles on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get them!
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold is afraid of bicycles.