EYES to the Solent — a Polish naval vessel is arriving in Cowes today (Thursday). 

Two Isle of Wight towns are preparing to mark the 80th anniversary of the defence of Cowes and East Cowes, by the Polish destroyer, ORP Błyskawica.

Annually, the Friends of the ORP Błyskawica hold a ceremony on Cowes Parade to mark the date of the Second World War blitz, on the evening of May 4-5, 1942.

A host of events are taking place to mark the 80th anniversary.

An exhibition already opened on Saturday, at East Cowes Town Hall, organised by East Cowes Heritage Centre (ECHC).

Isle of Wight County Press:

A scene from at a previous Blyskawica commemorative event in Cowes. Photo: Polish Embassy London.

And yesterday (Wednesday), a Blitz talk and film, Voices of the East Cowes Blitz, was organised by ECHC at the same venue.

Today, between 8am and 10am, Polish naval vessel, ORP Wodnik, will arrive at Cowes Roads.

The Royal Yacht Squadron will greet the Polish warship with a five-gun salute.

The following events are planned today:

  • 2pm: A plaque unveiling in Kings Square (adjacent to Waitrose), East Cowes. 2.30pm: Guided blitz walk from Kings Square to Kingston Cemetery. 4 pm: Memorial service at Kingston Cemetery.
  • 6pm (by invitation): Welcome reception by Brigadier Maurice Sheen, vice lord-lieutenant of the Isle of Wight.
  • 7.30pm: Gala piano recital at the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS) by Eva Maria Doroszkowska, granddaughter of Captain Francki, commander of the ORP Blyskawica on the night of the blitz on Cowes in May 1942. Eva will be performing to commemorate the defence of Cowes and East Cowes.

After the piano recital, the RYS will fire a five-gun salute and the Polish ship will fire white flares to commemorate the anniversary. 

Why are the actions of the Błyskawica crew remembered on the Isle of Wight?

During that night, two waves of Luftwaffe bombers attacked the strategic ports, which were a vital manufacturing area towards the Second World War effort.

The personal tragic losses at that time were significant. ORP Błyskawica, along with her sister ship, ORP Grom, were built in the local shipyards of J. S. White and were the world’s fastest destroyers when launched; Błyskawica achieving 41.5 knots at her peak.

Today Blyskawica lies in the port of Gdynia, Poland, where she’s an immaculately preserved floating museum which has received more than seven million visitors. The ship is the pride of Poland’s maritime history.

The defence of Cowes by Błyskawica was brought about by the ship being in port for re-armament, enabling her to defend our Island towns throughout the night of the raid.