Crew of hero ship honoured in Canada for lifesaving role in WWII
Honouring the crew of the ORP Ślązak, a commemorative plaque has been unveiled in gratitude of the role they played in saving 85 Canadian soldiers during WWII.
Placed in the town of Dieppe in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, the memorial was unveiled on Sunday, some 80-years after the ORP Ślązak sprung into action off the northern coast of France.
Commanded by Romuald Nałęcz-Tymiński, the Polish destroyer was at sea to support the ill-fated Dieppe Raid on Normandy.
Taking place on August 19th, 1942, the Allied operation was hatched largely to test the German defences, destroy the port’s facilities and gather intelligence. Through this, top brass hoped to learn enough to plan a proper landing in the future.
Simultaneously, this test of capability was to serve as a morale boosting exercise whilst also demonstrating to the Soviet Union the Allied appetite for reopening the Western Front. However, whilst valuable lessons were indeed learned, they came at an appalling cost: the raid was a catastrophe.
Over 6,000 infantry troops were involved, the majority of which were Canadian. Meeting heavy fire on landing, 916 Canadians were killed and 1,946 taken prisoner. Only a few made it into the town itself.
Regarded as one of Canada’s most notorious military tragedies, the losses would have been higher had it not been for the ORP Ślązak. One of 237 vessels supporting the operation, the destroyer spent 22-hours in action, 15 of which were in direct combat with the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe. From the coast, the ship faced further fire from German batteries.
Keeping his cool, Nałęcz-Tymiński ordered his crew to save as many Canadians as they could that had been trapped on the beach.
Speaking at the unveiling, Dr. Karol Polejowski of the IPN (Institute of National Remembrance) said: “by accepting Canadian soldiers on board the ORP Ślązak, Cmdr. Romuald Nałęcz-Tymiński endangered his ship and the lives of his crew… But the honour of the Polish officer required an attempt to save his comrades-in-arms whenever there was a chance.”
Continuing, Polejowski added: “Let this plaque be a signpost for future generations of Poles and Canadians. Let it be a symbol of our friendship today, at a time when we are allies in NATO and Canadian soldiers in Poland are supporting us in helping Ukrainian refugees.”
For his courage, Romuald Nałęcz-Tymiński was awarded the British Distinguished Service Cross. Post-war, Nałęcz-Tymiński chose a life of exile rather than returning to Communist Poland. Serving in the British merchant navy, and even as an officer in the Pakistani navy, he eventually emigrated to Canada in 1980.
Twenty-years later, he was appointed to the honorary rank of Rear Admiral by the Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Passing away in 2003, his ashes were interred in Gdynia’s Naval Cemetery.
Sunday’s ceremony came as part of a wider memorial project undertaken by the IPN to raise awareness of the long-lasting military bond shared between both nations.
As part of his schedule, Dr Polejowski also visited the cemetery at Niagara-on-the-Lake to pay his respects to those that volunteered to train at the Tadeusz Kościuszko Camp between 1917 and 1919 before crossing the Atlantic to fight under General Józef Haller. Despite never having set foot on Polish soil before, these ancestral Poles answered the call to duty to battle for their country – over 20,000 joined up, among them 200 Canadians with no discernible connection to Poland.
Moreover, the last few days also saw the opening of the latest chapter of the ‘Trails of Hope – The Odyssey of Freedom’ exhibition. Recalling moments of joint cooperation, together soldiers from Canada and Poland helped breach the Gustav Line in Italy.
In the northern theatre, the Polish 1st Armoured Division fought as part of the 2nd Canadian Corps from Normandy all the way through to Germany. Often coming to the aid of each other, August 21st, meanwhile, marked the anniversary of the 4th Canadian Infantry Division linking up with Polish troops who had found themselves cut off on Mont Ormel during the Battle of the Falaise Pocket.