The 7,869grt Polonia was built in 1910 by Barclay, Curle & Co. at Whiteinch as the Kursk for Russian East Asiatic SS Co. In 1920 she moved to Danish East Asiatic Co. as Polonia and joined Gdynia-America Line in 1930. On 5th March 1939 she arrived at Savona to be broken up. One of Gdynia-America Line’s earlier ships.

As I begin this article, Poland once more finds itself on a geopolitical fault line, perched precariously in lands that have been disputed by, and/or arbitrarily sub-divided between ’Great Powers’ for much of the past two hundred and fifty years.

This article is about two ships which in name and deed exemplified the spirit and stoicism of the country they represented. In an era when passenger ships showcased a nation’s artistic, cultural and scientific capability, the Gdynia-America Line’s flagships more than fulfilled that mandate. Piłsudski’s career would be cut tragically short in that dreadful autumn of 1939, but Batory would go on to be the very embodiment of the ‘Ship of State’, reflecting the seismic political and cultural transition experienced by her homeland in both its pre and post war incarnations.

That Poland had a transatlantic steamship company at all was an achievement. The Second Polish Republic was formed under the auspices of The Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, securing land previously held by Germany, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian empire (the First Republic is something of a misnomer, referring to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which emerged from the longstanding Kingdom of Poland and held sway over one of the most populace and culturally diverse territories in Europe from 1569 to 1795). The new post First World War republic was a fragile assemblage and the national boundaries were only consolidated after a series of conflicts with neighbouring Ukraine, the Weimar Republic, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and most significantly the Soviet Union.


Access to the sea had been one of the pre-requisites of Poland’s ultimate support for the allied cause and one of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points (which constituted the United States’ wartime objectives). The negotiated solution was a thin strip of land, referred to as the Polish corridor, separating the main body of Germany’s new Weimar Republic from its satellite East Prussian province. The only significant deep water harbour facility in the corridor was the nominally ‘Free City’ of Danzig, but its population was 98% German speaking and its political alignment decidedly Teutonic. Simmering discontent reached a peak during the Polish-Soviet War of 1919 to 1920, when dockworkers went on strike and refused to unload armaments bound for the Polish Army. Riled and concerned by this deteriorating situation the Polish authorities’ radical solution was to build its own port facility. The location chosen was the then small fishing community of Gdynia, just 10 miles to the north of Danzig. Despite setbacks and funding problems, the project, inaugurated in the winter of 1920 and masterminded by Poland’s Finance Minister Eugeiusz Kwaitkowski, was an ambitious success. In August 1923 the first major ocean-going vessel called at the port, which was trans-shipping in the region of 10,000 tons of cargo annually. By 1929 the port was handling a remarkable 2.9 million tons of cargo. Within a year of that Poland had established a transoceanic passenger shipping company.

The new national carrier emerged through a combination of political willpower and commercial expediency. The United States introduced the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 (which was consolidated by the Immigration Act of 1924), drastically reducing the number of America bound migrants from Europe. Amongst the shipping company’s most significantly affected was the Baltic America Line, formerly the Russian American Line, which embarked a sizeable number of Polish passengers at Danzig. Baltic America was actually a subsidiary of Det Østasiatiske Kompagni, the famous Danish based East Asiatic Company and already suffering from the convulsions of the Russian revolution and the ensuing civil war.

The 6,598grt Kościuszko was built in 1915 by Barclay, Curle & Co. at Whiteinch as the Tsaritsa for Russian East Asiatic SS Co. In 1920 she also moved to the Danish East Asiatic Co. and was renamed Lituania. She became Kościuszko in 1930. In 1946 she became Empire Helford of the British Government and on 2nd May 1950 she arrived at Blyth to be broken up by Hughes Bolckow Shipbreaking Co. One of Gdynia-America Line’s earlier ships

By 1930 East Asiatic were looking to divest themselves of the loss making Baltic America Line, just as the government in Warsaw was considering entering the transatlantic fray. A company Polskie Transatlantyckie Towarzystwo Okrętowe or PTTO was formed, jointly owned by East Asiatic and the Polish government, which would operate under the trading name of Gdynia-America Line. The new venture inherited three small ships, the Polonia, Estonia (renamed Pulaski) and Lithuania (renamed Kościuszko) which had originally been built for the Russian American Line as Kursk, Czar and Czaritza between 1910 and 1915.


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