Military History

FINDING KUJAWIAK

From June 1940 to November 1942 the air forces of Italy and Germany—the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe, respectively—repeatedly bombed Allied forces on the strategically important island of Malta, south of Sicily in the central Mediterranean, while Axis ships sought to choke off Allied shipping to the British colony. The ultimate aim was to either bomb Malta’s defenders into submission or weaken their defenses in preparation for an amphibious invasion. The Allies fought heroically (and, ultimately, successfully) to prevent an Axis takeover. But the cost in lives and materiel was great. Just after midnight on June 16, 1942, the Polish destroyer escort ORP Kujawiak (L-72) hit a mine while conducting a rescue operation near the port of Valetta, the Maltese capital. Despite valiant damage-control efforts, the crew was unable to close up the huge hole blown through the ship’s port side, and the warship sank to the bottom of the sea. There the vessel would lie undisturbed for decades. More than 70 years would pass before the wartime story of Kujawiak came to light.

In the winter of 2014 professional scuba diver and history enthusiast Peter Wytykowski attended a workshop in Toledo, Ohio. There he met Chris Kraska, whose father, Jan Kraska, was aboard the night the ship sank. Fascinated by the younger Kraska’s account of his father’s service in the Polish navy and the tragic events of the ship’s sinking, Wytykowski resolved to locate the shipwreck. He enlisted the assistance of Timmy Gambin, a professor of maritime archaeology at the University of Malta, began.

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