In World War II, submarine duty proved among the most deadly lines of work. Roughly 28000 German sailors died on U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, from a total force of 40000. 3500 Americans died on submarines, the highest percentage of any service arm during the war. C. Kenneth Ruiz, an American sailor, volunteered for submarine duty after serving on the cruiser Vincennes and seeing his shipmates permanently disabled after the Battle of Savo Island; he reasoned that submarines left almost no wounded. Shortly before the end of the war the Imperial Japanese Navy took the dangers inherent in the silent service a step farther, deploying miniature suicide submarines designed around the Type 94 torpedo. Submarines of all navies accounted for the destruction of almost 5000 ships of over 20 million tonnes. These losses included three battleships and over a dozen aircraft carriers. Over a thousand submarines were lost in action.
Given these statistics, the chances that the story of a ship in the most deadly line of work from the country with the highest casualty rate of war would end well were pretty low.
Orzel returned to Rosyth on April 18, 1940. After a short rest she undertook another patrol, then received a brief refit. Resistance in Norway continued through April and May, with Polish and French troops recapturing Narvik from the Germans on May 28. German offensive operations began in earnest on May 10, however, and the ensuing disaster in France made the Allied position in Norway untenable. The last British troops would leave Norway on June 2, a day before the evacuation at Dunkirk.
On May 23, 1940, ORP Orzel left Rosyth for a patrol near the Danish Straits. A message radioed to Orzel on June 1 was not confirmed as received by the crew. Similar message sent over the next week received nothing but silence. On June 8, Orzel was described as missing in action. On June 11, her status was changed to Lost in Action. As there is no German record of her destruction, she most likely perished in a minefield. It’s possible that Orzel was destroyed in a British minefield that had been laid after she left for her last patrol. A new German minefield had also been laid in her area of patrol. Her final fate remains unknown, and the wreck has not been found. Given that the North Sea is littered with the wrecks of lost submarines, it’s unlikely that any final determination of her loss will ever be made.
Orzel’s sister, Sep, had also escaped the German invasion of Poland. She attacked a German ship without success, and was severely damaged by a counter-attack. Instead of making for Estonia, Sep pulled into a Swedish port, where she was interned for the remainder of the war. At the end of the war, Sep was turned over to the new Communist government of Poland, and used as a training vessel until scrapped in 1969.