ORP Kujawiak (L72 )
Like HMS Olympus, ORP Kujawiak was struck by a mine off the coast of Valetta in
1942. The crew, who were part of the Polish Navy, were conducting a rescue mission while
escorting allied convoys carrying supplies to Malta.
ORP Kujawiak was originally a British Hunt Type II destroyer built as HMS Oakley,
measuring 85m in length and weighing more than 1000 tonnes. The British Royal Navy
handed her over to the Polish Navy in May 1941, and she was renamed ORP Kujawiak. A
year later she was sent to the Mediterranean to escort a series of tankers and freighters
who were defenceless against the aerial bombings of the Axis warplanes. This was a perilous
task for all involved as the Maltese islands were one of the most heavily bombed regions in
the world between 1940 and 1942.
On 14 June 1942 the armed convoy, known as Operation Harpoon, left Gibraltar and
were almost immediately attacked by Italian submarines and torpedo planes. Three ships
and one escort were destroyed, but ORP Kujawiak bravely defended the convoy and
succeeded in shooting down four Axis planes. As the convey were entering the port of
Valetta the next day, another ship, HMS Badsworth, struck a mine. ORP Kujawiak attempted
a dangerous rescue mission and ended up hitting a mine herself. The Polish destroyer was
lost, along with the lives of 13 brave Polish servicemen.
After extensive research, the team of Polish Shipwreck Expedition Association with
the support of University of Malta were able to locate the wreck in September 2014, lying at
a depth of 97m on her port side with her stern pointing north. Diving took place over three
seasons. The ship was found to be in excellent condition, with the hull still in tact and the
bow in near perfect condition including the twin 102 millimetre guns. Only the ship’s stern is
in a bad state, as it buckled when she first hit the ground.
Warnings: Delicate and protected marine flora. War Grave. Unexplored Ordinance.