The interwar period and World War II – time of building and of heroes
Poland, revived in 1918, had to create its naval school system from the very beginning. Its organization and development were dependent not only from the shape and equipment of the Navy and river flotillas, but also from their development programs. From the start, the organization and development of the naval forces in the country required a steady increase of the number of officers – naval specialists. The need for them, especially for junior lieutenants, resulted from the necessity to have a national officer's corps, which would not be influenced by the service in the military forces of the countries which participated in the partitions of Poland. The 10 years naval program, created in 1918 in the Department of Naval Affairs (DSM), as well as the danger posed by the bolshevist Russia (against which the Pińsk Flotilla was to be used) resulted in the organization of the first Course for Officers of the River Flotilla in Toruń in spring of 1920. On the 20th of March 1921 training in the Provisional Instructor Courses (TKI) for the officers of the Polish Navy (PMW) began in Toruń. According to the plans of the DSM, the courses were to basis for the Navy Officers School.
The Navy Officers School, located in Toruń, was founded on the 1st of October 1922 in the place of TKI. Its first Commander was Lieutenant Commander Adam Mohuczy, until then the Commander of the TKI, who also participated in the development of the School after WWII. The first recruitment to the OSMW took place in the summer of 1923, and the graduation took place on the 29th of October 1925 (until 1924 the TKI training was continued at OSMW). It was assumed that the teaching at OSMW would last for 2 years, and the candidates would be sergeants, midshipmen, graduates of midshipmen river schools or petty officers with secondary-level education and 3 years of service in the Polish Navy, including 12 months of service onboard ships.
On the 19th of October 1928 the Navy Officers School became the Navy Midshipmen School (SPMW), in reference to the traditions of military schools of the Kingdom of Poland in the 19th century. Until 1932 both the OSMW and SPMW received direct help of lecturers and instructors from the French Navy, as well as they used the experience of Polish officers who had been studying in France since 1921, which had significant influence on the form of the teaching process and the curriculum. Since mid-1930s the SPMW had three Departments: Naval, Technical and Administration. New curricula (equivalent to semi-college vocational studies) were designed. Attempts to acquire the status of a vocational college were made. The development of the school and increasing problems with accommodation resulted in moving the school from Toruń to Bydgoszcz on the 5th of September 1938. The main task of both the OSMW and the SPMW until 1939 was to create – on the basis of the experience of the former partition-taking countries' navies and of the French Navy – a national program of officers training for the needs of the Polish Navy. In the period between the two World Wars the OSMW and SPMW graduated 255 officers, including 220 in the naval field, 23 of the technical corps and 12 in the administration. The new-formed training system was an unquestionable achievement of the II Republic's Navy. The inclusion of SPMW graduates changed the structure of the officer staff. The professional level of the young officers was good and even. The participation in the war confirmed their high professional skills and their high moral and patriotic values.
As a result of the war activities, on the 12th of September 1939 the SPMW (earlier moved from Bydgoszcz to Pińsk) was dissolved. The midshipmen were appointed to the 2nd Naval Battalion. After the Soviet attack on Poland on the 17th of September 1939, the battalion marched to Włodawa, where they were reorganized into three infantry companies and a machine guns platoon and included into the 182 Reserve Infantry Regiment of the Independent Operational Group “Polesie”. From the 2nd to the 5th of October, during the last battle of the 1939 Defensive War, the midshipmen showed great bravery and fighting skills. After the defeat many of them, escaping from the German imprisonment, escaped to the West. There they fought on Polish Navy ships. Those who remained in the country joined the resistance movement (Home Army), some were murdered in Nazi German death camps and in communist Russia Katyń massacre.
The Polish-British agreement of the 18th of November 1939, which referred to the founding of the Polish Naval Department in Great Britain, was the basis for the start of naval schooling on emigration. Following the decree of the head of the Polish Navy Directory (KMW) Rear-Admiral Józef Świrski, on the 23rd of November the Naval Midshipmen School was founded and located on board of the ship ORP Gdynia (formerly s/s Kościuszko, moored in the port of Plymouth). Lieutenant Commander Ludwik Ziembicki was appointed the Commander of the School. On the 8th of December 1939 ORP Gdynia was visited by King George VI. In the same month the SPMW was visited by Rear-Admiral Józef Świrski, in February by the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, in May by the Duchess of Kent and in September by the President of the Republic Władysław Raczkiewicz. These visits were undoubtedly important events in the history of the SPMW in Britain and a proof of an interest in the training of qualified staff for the Polish Navy. On the second anniversary of Great Britain joining the war (on the 3rd of September 1941) the first SPMW graduation ceremony took place. In the beginning of 1942 the School was put under command of the Naval Command ,,South'' in Plymouth and an introductory course for the candidates for the Technical Department of the SPMW started. A year later, due to great shortage in the officer staff, the Supreme Commander General Kazimierz Sosnkowski eliminated the categorization of officers into active and reserve duty (which had been maintained only for administrative purposes) and announced the conditions for appointment to the first officer grade. On this basis the Head of the KMW founded the Naval Reserve Midshipmen School (SPRMW) on the 17th of September 1943. All the didactic and administrative duties were carried out by the already existing SPMW, which had been moved to the Naval Training Camp in Bickleigh (Devon) on the 1st of September 1943. In winter 1944 the School was moved again, from Bickleigh to a new formed Naval Training Camp on ORP Bałtyk in Okehampton (Devon). Following that, the training process continued. A modified curriculum for the reserve midshipmen of Naval Department of the SPRMW for the year 1945/1946 included a six-week basic training, a three-month introductory period and a nine-month theoretical training plus a three-month seagoing practice (making a total of 16,5 months).
After the end of war hostilities SPRMW did stop the training. It was only after the dissolvement of the Polish Navy in Great Britain on the 1st of December 1946 that SPMW and SPRMW ended their activities. In the presented period 192 were promoted to officers, including 51 active and 48 officers in the Naval Corps, 14 and 10 (respectively) in the Naval and Technical Corps, 13 in the Technical Corps, 20 in the Commissary group and 36 in the Administration group. In the difficult conditions created by the war, SPMW and SPRMW assured the formation of young commanding staff for the Polish Navy operating from British bases.
Unfortunately, many of the midshipmen and promoted officers of the Polish Navy of that period did not survive to see the Free Poland they were fighting for. 27 of the midshipmen of the SPMW were killed in the years 1939-1945 and 62 of the graduates of the SPMW fell in the battle or were murdered in the years 1939-1956 by the Nazi Germans or the communist Russians. Besides, 45 graduates of the Navy Officers Schools were awarded the War Order of Virtuti Militari (the highest military decoration for heroism and courage in the face of enemy at war).
After WWII – reconstruction in a totalitarian state
After WWII naval training revived once again, under totally new conditions imposed by the communist and Soviet domination. At the beginning in the reconstruction of the Polish Navy there were attempts to refer to the pre-war traditions. The continuation was to be assured by officers returning from prisoner-of-war camps or from the West. However, these officers were soon arrested, tortured and sentenced under fake accusations to long-term prison or death. On 24th of July 1945 Lieutenant Commander Adam Mohuczy (arrested in 1949 by Military Intelligence, sentenced under fake accusations, died in prison in 1953) was appointed to prepare the concepts and curricula for the planned Naval Officers School (OSMW). The recruitment for the three-year-long studies was conducted from the 5th to the 9th of July 1946, mainly among petty officers of the Polish military, including the Navy. The majority of students had a grammar school educational background or the so-called little matura (after four years of the gimnazjum, an equivalent of the junior high). The first year-groups of midshipmen were at the same time most politicized and least prepared for studies.
In the year 1947/48 the time of studies was prolonged from 3 to 4 years. Since then, the first year of studies was devoted to compensate for the general level of education of the midshipmen on the level of secondary school and to prepare them, after graduating from the OSMW, to undertake studies at Naval Academies of the Soviet Union. The remaining 3 years were devoted to specialized studies. The arrival of Soviet officers at the OSMW marked the beginning of organizational changes which resulted in copying the structure of the School, the didactic process and also the uniforms from equivalent schools existing in the Soviet Union. In the years 1949-1950 some defined centers and schools, depending from Departments or directly from the OSMW Commander's deputies, formed the so-called cycles (by joining similar teaching subjects). Since the beginning of the OSMW (1946) along with the development of existing facilities, acquired experience and reaching the expected level of teaching, the School was engaged into the creation of new specializations for the staff by organizing supplementary courses in naval training on the level of an officers school for petty officers appointed to officer ranks and additional courses for officers graduated from the School, as well as reserve officers training.
Starting from 1948 there were attempts to create a Naval College, assuming that the School would gradually change into a college with the rights of an Academy, which would take over the duties of preparing the high staff for the Polish Navy. On the 11th of June 1955 the OSMW was reorganized into the Naval College (Wyższa Szkoła Marynarki Wojennej, WSMW). The process of changing the OSMW into WSMW took place in several stages from 1955 to 1959. In this period actually two naval schools (OSMW and WSMW) existed. At the beginning in the WSMW midshipmen were taught at four faculties: Navigation, Communication, Naval Weapons, and Technical. These were 4 year military studies of the first degree. In December 1955 in the Technical Department of the WSMW 4,5-year-long MA studies were introduced. On the 7th of October 1956 the school received the name Bohaterów Westerplatte (Heroes of Westerplatte). In 1957 the faculties in WSMW were replaced by two departments: Deck and Technical. The first diploma examinations for the Deck Department of the WSMW took place in 1959, and the first MA examinations at the Technical Department took place in 1961. In 1960 two Commands on the Deck and the Technical Departments were created, which took control of the midshipmen sections. From that moment, the Department of Teaching was in charge of the teaching process, while the Department of Science and Research organized, directed and secured the College's activity in the field of research.