M/S PILSUDSKI Gdynia America Line (GAL) 

This is the story of a Polish Liner which appeared one day in 1939 in the Moray Firth, Scotland, and . . . . 73 years later I got an email from a Mr Mike Riley. So, I have decided to dedicate this page to: Jόzef & Jόzefa Marczewska

Jόzef Marczewska

Jόzef Marczewska was chief engineer on the Pilsudski and his wife Jόzefa Marczewska was the ship's hairdresser. Mike tells me he believes that they both worked and met for the first time on the Pilsudski, during its' voyages between Gdansk/Gdynia and New York.

I am very much indebted to Mr Pieter Graf for the following information on 07/02/2014:

According to your site Mamert Stankiewicz has been the first and only commanding officer of the Pilsudski. In 1938 Zdenko Antoni Knoetgen was her Master. He was making cruises from New York to Bermuda. In March he visited with the Pilsudski Philadelphia. See for instance the BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE of SUNDAY, MARCH 20, 1938, p. 10B

.

 

Under construction.
 

Jόzefa Marczewska

Extract from Mr Riley's email: I just found your web page about the MS Pilsudski from 2002, loved your charming story about the Polish liner in the Moray firth and was thrilled by the interest it sparked. My grandfather, Jozef Marczewski was on board when it was sunk by German magnetiic mines in November 1939. He was pulled out of the sea by his hair and often joked about it. Luckily, only 2 lives were lost. No German U-boats were involved.
 

I have found New York shipping records that confirm he was on board when it left New York only days before on 21st August. Barely 10 days later, the crew's homeland had been invaded by German forces. I was in Gdansk last summer and visited the memorial at Westerplatte, where the opening shots were fired and the Poles carried themselves with great courage. Real history in the making!
 

The wreck lies some 18 miles off the Yorkshire coast and there are some downloadable dive movies of her, taken by English and Polish 'Whale' dive teams. You can Google them. I have also found footage of both the Pilsudski and her sister ship, the Batory, which is very nostalgic indeed.
 

The ship had been commandeered by the Royal Navy and was refurbished as a troop transporter in Newcastle, only to be sunk as it passed Hartlepool 2 months later.
 

My grandfather settled his wife and baby daughter (my mum) in Newcastle and went back to sea as part of the merchant marine and received both the Defence Medal, 1939-45 star, the Atlantic Star and a Free Polish Marine medal.
 

  M/S PILSUDSKI.

M/S Piłsudski (later renamed ORP Piłsudski) was a large ocean liner of the Polish Merchant Marine, named for Józef Piłsudski, Marshal of Poland. She was built in Italy, with part of the payment being shipments of coal from Poland. Launched in 1935, she displaced 14,294 Ton, with a length of 162 metres (531 ft) and a beam of 71 ft. She was propelled by 2 sets of diesel engines driving 2 screws giving a speed of 18 knots.

She first saw service as a liner in September 1935 on the Gdynia to New York route. In 1939, she was taken up for war service, and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. She struck mine (most likely) or was torpedoed (lack of confirmation in German sources) and sunk on 26 November 1939 off of the River Humber during her first wartime voyage. She was the sister ship of Poland's other pre-war ocean liner, the MS Batory. The Pilsudski's first and only commanding officer was Cmdr. Mamert Stankiewicz.

                    

 

  

Ardersier 1939

The Moray Firth in the North East of Scotland is today, home to the oil industry's fabrication yards where some of the world's largest oil platforms have been built. 

The author, Maurice left, with brother Andrew taken in 1938 the year before the Pilsudski arrived.

This story is from a darker period in history when the storm clouds of war were rolling over Europe. In August 1939 I was a young lad in primary school in the village of Ardersier, which lies on the Inner Firth opposite the village of Fortrose. In the middle of the entrance to the Firth lies Fort George, a very large army base which was then the depot of the Seaforth Highlanders. 

One day a beautiful ocean liner appeared in the bay and dropped anchor,  as no ship of this size had ever anchored there before, there was much speculation as to the purpose of its visit. This was the Pilsudski and its position is marked on the map above.

As it was still peacetime and the blackout had not begun the ship was fully lit at the night and made a spectacular sight. My older brother, then aged 16 who at that time was studying at the Royal Military College of Science in London was sent home on leave because of the threat of war. 

Music across the sea

One night I begged him - against strict orders from my parents who were going out for the evening - to take me outside the village to get a better view of the ship. The night was pitch black and not too warm but we lay down in a farmers field so as not to be seen. 

As I had never seen a ship of this size before I gazed at this wonderful sight. The view was awe inspiring to me and as the night was cool and very still air we could suddenly hear

           Photo above Captain Mamert Stankiewicz

the sound of music wafting across the sea possibly, 2 or 3 miles. It must have been the ships orchestra, and  even at that young age, I thought how wonderful to be a musician on board ship and travel the world. 

 My first ship. . . 

Well my dreams did come true,  I later became a ship's musician and bandleader and worked on ships travelling the world. I am sure that lying in a field on a cold night in Scotland gave me that incentive to travel. 

War declared

However back to the month of August, 1939. War was quickly approaching and vehicles were being commandeered. Our local bus company was owned by a colourful character called Alfie Wymess, and the government requested that some of his buses be converted into ambulances. 

My brother, myself and some of the local youngsters were allowed to help remove the seats and, as a bonus we could keep any coins we found. Sixpence was quite a fortune in those days, and a few were found and we all shared.

Then, on September 1st. when were all merrily removing seats, Dodo Mc Bean the local baker boy arrived on his tricycle and said, "The war has started, the Germans have marched into Poland" nobody believed him. Then he said, "If you don't believe me, come and have a look, the Polish Liner has just sailed". 

Pilsudski sails

By the time we ran the fifty yards to the seafront all that could be seen of the ship was the masts, funnels and top decks towering above the ramparts of Fort George. That was the last time I saw the ship.

Rumours were rife as to its fate, such as the ship was heading for Poland and was sunk in the Baltic with the loss of all on board. Despite many inquiries I never found the truth until the 5th. December, 2001 and I am very much indebted to Peter in Toronto, Canada whom I contacted through the Internet for solving the mystery. It is not the happiest of endings but not quite such a large loss of life as first suspected.

  The Pilsudski's fate

When  WW II broke out and Poland fell to the Germans in September 1939, the M/S PILSUDSKI  with its Polish crew, was commandeered by the British for military use. 

Two months later, M/S PILSUDSKI was destroyed by German  mines. The two magnetic mines exploded just under her hull at 4.36am on Nov. 25, 1939. 

The ship was sinking for four hours. The entire crew was rescued with the exception of two... one, a mechanic and captain Mamert Stankiewicz lost their lives. The grave site for M/S PILSUDSKI is located off the English coast at: 53, 49, 3 North -  0, 34, 1 East opposite the Humber. Further links below

http://www.bsac14.org.uk/pilsudski.htm

http://www.wrecksite.eu/   

http://www.old-merseytimes.co.uk/pilsudski.htmlwreck.aspx?576

 

However there are discrepancies as to the method of the ship's sinking. 

The Lloyd's War Losses-WWII has the following details:

26 November 1939

M.V. PILSUDSKI - Polish flag - 14,294 gross tons
From the Tyne bound for Australia in ballast. Sunk by submarine by 53 deg. 15 min. North and 0 deg. 30 min. East. 10 lost.

                            

I would be delighted to hear from any passengers who were on board at the time the ship lay at anchor in the Moray Firth, Scotland.

  mr.mo15@bigpond.com

Who was Pilsudski? 

A very good friend, of Polish decent, Tod Poremski, who lives in Wisconsin, USA sent me the following information:  Marshal Josef Pilsudski was commander of the Polish military in the years immediately after the formation of modern Poland following World War 1. In 1920, Paderowski, best known as a pianist and composer, was the president of Poland, and Pilsudski was the general who defeated the Russian army in the battle of Warsaw. 

They took over 100,000 prisoners and ended Lenin's plan to incorporate Poland into the Communist Soviet Union. When he died in the mid nineteen thirties, he was buried at Wavel castle next to Kosciusko (Australia's highest mountain is named after Kosciusko). However, not only are there discrepancies as to the method of the ship's sinking. 

Just after this page was established I was contacted by a Web surfer who had seen this page and told me that Pilsudski was buried in Rasu Cemetery, Vilnius, Lithuania and sure enough there was a photograph to prove it.

At this stage the plot was beginning to thicken until a Mr David Conway of London contacted me and solved the mystery by telling me both versions were correct. How could this be you may ask? Well, his body was buried at Wavel, Poland and his heart in Rasu, Lithuania or visa versa!  

I was delighted to receive the following feedback

14-09-2002  E-mail from: Szymon Sokół in Poland .

 

I happened to find your page while looking for data on Captain Mamert Stankiewicz.

I would like to confirm the fact that Marshall Jozef Pilsudski was buried in Krakow, at the Wawel castle, in a crypt under the Tower of Silver Bells, next to the kings of Poland and other national heroes -

I live in Krakow and I have seen Pilsudski's grave several times. His heart has been buried in his mother's tomb at Rossa Cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Undoubtedly, Pilsudski was the greatest Polish leader of 20th century.
If you are interested, more information about him (in English) is available on the net, for example here: Link now disconnected.



Regards,

Szymon Sokół, Cracow, Poland.
   

02-09-2002 E-mail from: Mrs Doris McComb

 

Hello from Canada

 I read with great interest your page regarding the ship Pilsudski.  While my grandmother did not sail on that fateful voyage (anchoring in Scotland), she sailed one week earlier on the Batory.  She was visiting her brother in New York at the time (1939) and her brother insisted she stay a bit longer and go home to Poland (and her four children) on the Pilsudski.

 
As fate would have it, she, on the insistence of my grandfather, left on the Batory, but sent all of her belongings and gifts on the Pilsudski.  The story goes that the ship including all passengers were commandeered by the British and that most if not all passengers stayed in Scotland for the war's duration.  It seems that the Batory was the last passenger ship to reach the Polish seaport of Gdynia.  All we know for sure is that my grandmothers belongings and gifts were lost.

Doris McComb, Manitoba, Canada 

05-09-2002 Mrs McComb writes further:

"The reason I have interest in the Pilsudski is because of the book I am writing.  The book chronicles my grandmother's life, with a "little poet justice" thrown in.

My family lived in West Prussia and we are of German descent. I first started writing the stories (there are nine chapters) some twenty years ago.

With the help of my mother (she has a great memory; my grandmother passed away in 1997), I managed to complete my first draft in May of this year".

I wish Mr McComb ever success with her book and no doubt it will make very interesting reading. 

 

28-06-2002   From: Cllr Mike Oborski, Consul of the Republic of Poland, for the West Midlands U.K.

I was interested by your piece on Ms Pilsudski. I actually have an ashtray from the ship. With regards to the man after whom the ship was named you can find out more about him at: site inactive

  

although the site is still under construction.
Regards,
Mike   

Return to HOMEPAGE