Fate of WWII submarine crew which disappeared in 1940 explored in ‘innovative’ new film

Director Jacek Bławut told the Polish Press Agency that the film was a tribute to all navy seamen who fought in WWII, but that he was particularly interested in uncovering the personal stories of the Orzel's crewmen. Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych

The fate of a WWII submarine which disappeared in 1940 has been retold in a new film which focuses on the human story of its crew.

Entitled 'Orzeł. Ostatni Patrol' (Orzeł. The Last Patrol), the film recalls the final days of  the ORP Orzeł, one of the most modern submarines at the time, whose disappearance remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of WWII.

Entitled 'Orzeł. Ostatni Patrol' (Orzeł. The Last Patrol), the film recalls the final days of  the ORP Orzeł, one of the most modern submarines at the time, whose disappearance remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of WWII.Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych

Director Jacek Bławut told the Polish Press Agency that the film was a tribute to all navy seamen who fought in WWII, but that he was particularly interested in uncovering the personal stories of the Orzel's crewmen.

He said: "The story had a secret. Apart from that I wanted to get to know the crew of the submarine.

Getting hold of a book written by one of the submarine’s early crew members, as well as a diary and letters, Bławut said he was able to piece together fragments of their lives.Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych

“Writing the screenplay, for many months I was collecting bit of information about the lives of these people. It's fascinating that I could later be with them during filming, in the screenplay and I became in one moment part of the crew.

“Those people deserve huge respect. they were young. They had their whole lives ahead of them."

The director said: “Writing the screenplay, for many months I was collecting bit of information about the lives of these people.Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych

It's fascinating that I could later be with them during filming, in the screenplay and I became in one moment part of the crew.Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych

Getting hold of a book written by one of the submarine’s early crew members, as well as a diary and letters, Bławut said he was able to piece together fragments of their lives.

He said: “I felt it was a huge discovery. Because if we find out that someone, before going out to sea, had just had a baby daughter, what more could we ask for?

The film also spent a year faithfully recreating the interior of the submarine, which was based on research of existing sources as well as testimonies of navy marines who had sailed on a twin submarine, the ORP Sęp.Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych

“This information has a huge dramatic significance. I managed to find a little something about each one of the crew."

The film also spent a year faithfully recreating the interior of the submarine, which was based on research of existing sources as well as testimonies of navy marines who had sailed on a twin submarine, the ORP Sęp.

It also invested in innovative technologies, amongst them a specially designed and constructed hydraulic platform, which was the first hydraulic platform of its type built in Poland and which allowed the film crew to recreate the behaviour of the submarine when submerging, rising to the surface and during explosions of underwater bombs.Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych

It also invested in innovative technologies, amongst them a specially designed and constructed hydraulic platform, which was the first hydraulic platform of its type built in Poland and which allowed the film crew to recreate the behaviour of the submarine when submerging, rising to the surface and during explosions of underwater bombs.

The Orzeł is best remembered today for the so called 'Orzeł ‘incident' when it made a daring escape from Estonia after being boarded by Estonian troops who proceeded to disarm the vessel by confiscating navigation logs, disabling cannons and confiscating ammunition.

Trapped in the port in Tallinn, the pride of the Polish underwater fleet made an audacious escape under fire, followed by a miraculous journey without navigational aids to Britain in waters infested with German vessels intent on sinking it.Public domain

Finally 14 of the 20 torpedoes were taken. But the crew of the Orzel under the command of captain Jan Grudziński, had no intention of allowing the situation to continue..

Around midnight on 18 September, the submarine's Estonian guards were overpowered, two Estonian guards were taken hostage, mooring lines cut and the Orzeł got under way, making its way out of the Gulf of Finland, intending to sail for a British port.

Under the command of Captain Jan Grudziński, pictured, the crew lured the Estonian guards onboard and overpowered them.Public domain

Once in Britain, Orzeł was assigned to the Royal Navy's 2nd Submarine Flotilla and was assigned to patrol missions. Shortly after noon on 8 April 1940 she sank the clandestine German troopship Rio de Janeiro off the small harbour village of Lillesand in southern Norway, killing hundreds of German troops preparing for the invasion of Norway.

Her last fateful mission was on 23 May 1940, when the Orzeł departed on its seventh patrol in the North Sea. No radio signals had been received since she set sail and when nothing was received on 5th June when she was ordered to return to base, the ship was officially declared lost on 8th June.

The crew of the Orzeł at the beginning of the war.Polish Navy Museum in Gdynia

While the cause of its disappearance is unknown, it is commonly believed Orzeł most likely struck a British or German sea mine in or near the Skagerrak.

Another theory suggests the boat may have been sunk mistakenly by a British aircraft.

Once in Britain, Orzeł was assigned to the Royal Navy's 2nd Submarine Flotilla and was assigned to patrol missions.CAF/PAP

The submarine, whose location also remains unknown, is still the subject of regular expeditions to try to find it.

These include the annual SANTI Odnaleźć Orła (Let's Find the Eagle) expedition, whose members took part in the filming of underwater scenes for the film.

The Orzel’s last fateful mission was on 23 May 1940. No radio signals had been received since she set sail and when nothing was received on 5th June when she was ordered to return to base, the ship was officially declared lost on 8th June.Public domain

The film was premiered in Gdynia at the Polish Film Festival in September, where it received 4 Golden Lions and is now on release in cinemas around the country.

To read more about the Orzel submarine click HERE