Waves of German fighter bombers began a devastating attack on Cowes and her sister town of East Cowes at just before 11pm on May 4, 1942. The planes used a variety of weapons in their assault on the town, with parachute flares, high explosives and incendiaries all raining down from the skies, augmented by machine gun fire..
The following day, it was discovered that some 200 tons of explosives had been dropped on the shipyards and the towns that night, resulting in widespread damage. Over 70 people lost their lives and many more were injured.
The casualties and damage to the twin towns would have been far worse, had it not been for the prompt actions of the Polish destroyer, ORP Blyskawica, moored in the Medina. The Blyskawica (meaning ‘lightning’) became a floating anti-aircraft base in her defence of the towns. Her crew lit smoke canisters in an attempt to obscure the town from its attackers, and she was able to use her guns to force the Lutwaffe to fly higher, affecting the accuracy of its bombing. The ship’s guns became so overheated that the crew resorted to passing up buckets of river water in an attempt to cool them down, and the hands of some sailors were permanently deformed from the heat. The actions of the Captain and his crew were effective, and many of the bombs failed to reach their targets, falling harmlessly onto nearby marshland.
Friends of the ORP Blyskawica Society gathered at Cowes bandstand on Cowes Esplanade on Sunday to commemorate the actions of the Polish destroyer in 1942, and the loss of her sister ship, Grom, in Narvik, Norway, on May 4, 1940.
Present at the event were Robert Seely MP, the Mayor of Cowes, Paul Fuller and the Mayor of East Cowes, Peter Lloyd. Bob Seely told the IW Observer: “It is really important we remember the contribution of the wartime allies, especially our Polish allies.”
A number of Polish dignitaries also attended the event, including Polish Consul, Radoslaw Gromski, and the present day captain of the Blyskawica, currently moored in Gydynia, Commander Walter Jarosz. Commander Jarosz said: “The Polish navy represents continuity, tradition and fortitude. All three qualities are to be found in the history of the Blyskawica.”
Chairman of the Blyskawica society, Krzysztof Magier, said: “We are very grateful to the people of Cowes and East Cowes for keeping the memory of the Blyskawica alive.”
Two Polish war WW2 veterans, currently resident on the Island, attended the event: Major Otton Hulacki, who saw action at Monte Cassino in Italy, and Vincent Kopinski. Vincent Kopinski had an interesting war record, having first been conscripted into the Wehrmacht. On being captured by the Americans, he redeemed himself by changing sides, serving with the Polish army in the Netherlands in the closing stages of the war.
Mr. Kopinski described his wartime experience to the IW Observer, saying: “One day you are with the devil, the next you are fighting against him.”