Operation Peking

The looming threat

As war approached in Europe, the Polish Navy realised the German Navy – the ‘Kreigsmarine’ – , met would have a significant numerical advantage over them in the Baltic Sea – the main, if not only, area in which the two navies were likely to clash. And with the Baltic Sea also being within the range of the bombers of the German Airforce – the ‘Luftwaffe’ – it was apparent that something needed to be done to ensure the Polish ships did not end up sunk or severely damaged.

That something was the ‘Peking Plan’ – the removal of the Polish Destroyer Division – ‘Dywizjon Kontrtorpedowców’ – from the Baltic Sea completely and sending it to the comparative safety of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the plan had to be enacted before hostilities commenced as attempting to move the boats once fighting had begun would be a much riskier proposition.

Lieutenant-General Adrian Carton de Wiart

Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz

The plan is agreed

Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton De Wiart, representing the British Government and Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz, commander-in-chief of the Polish Forces, met to discuss the plan on 24 August 1939. Although initially against the idea, Śmigły-Rydz was eventually won around, and he agreed to the ships being relocated and out of harm’s way.

An additional advantage to the Peking Plan was how it could support Polish contingencies for a Romanian Bridgehead. In the event of the German invasion and Polish forces being unable to repel it, they were to fall back to the southeast of the country, close to the area that bordered Romania. Here they could organise and hold out, supplied, and supported by the French and British. The Polish ships could assist in this operation if they had already relocated to the UK.

By 26 August, hostilities breaking out between German and Poland looked increasingly inevitable. With the signing of the Anglo-Polish alliance the day before, the Commander of the Polish Fleet, Counter Admiral Józef Unrug authorised the operation with the orders being dispatched to the ship’s captains in sealed envelopes.


ORP Błyskawica, photographed after the war.


ORP Burza

ORP Grom, sunk on 4 May 1940 in the Rombaken fjord, near Narvik

“Peking, Peking, Peking”

Three days later, the fleet received the signal “Peking, Peking, Peking: Execute Peking” from Śmigły-Rydz and at 12:55, the ships received flag or radio signals from the communication tower at Oksywie confirming. After the captains each opened their envelopes, the fleet departed at 14:15. It consisted of three destroyers:


  • Błyskawica, commanded by Komandor porucznik Włodzimierz Kodrębski,
  • Burza, commanded by Komandor podporucznik Stanisław Nahorski.
  • Grom, commanded by Komandor porucznik Aleksander Hulewicz.

Komandor porucznik Roman Stankiewicz was in overall command of the fleet.


The destroyers made it through the Baltic without any interference from the Germans – even passing the German light cruiser Königsberg and an accompanying destroyer – as hostilities had not yet started.

However, realising they were being tracked by German reconnaissance aircraft, the destroyers changed direction and headed towards Norway in an effort to throw off their trackers during the night, before changing direction again and heading towards the UK. They reached the North Sea on 1 September, where they learned about the outbreak of hostilities with the German shelling of Westerplatte.

At 12:58, they liaised with the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Wanderer and Wallace before then docking at Leith, Scotland at 17:37.

Polish destroyers during the Peking Plan. Photograph taken from the deck of the Błyskawica with the  Grom and Burza in shot.


The Peking Plan was not universally popular in Poland as for many, the idea of some of their best ships departing just as war seemed likely to start, seemed counterproductive, disloyal or even cowardly.

Ultimately though, it proved to be the correct decision. The three Polish destroyers served alongside the Royal Navy throughout the war with only the ORP Grom failing to make it to the end, being sunk on 4 May 1940 in the Rombaken fjord, Narvik, during the Norwegian campaign). In contrast, those Polish ships which remained in the Baltic once war had broken out were ll sunk of captured by the Germans. The two largest Polish ships remaining in the Baltic – the Wicher and Gryf – were both sunk after only a couple of days fighting, on the 3rd of September 1939.

Although they had failed to stop the Peking Plan and allowed three Polish destroyers to escape, it did allow the Germans to free up the three light-cruisers who had been tasked with confronting them – the Nürnberg, Köln and Leipzig, and these were recalled from the Baltic Sea for other duties.

Anti-Aircraft crew on the ORP in 1940.