After having published an article on the Polish Army and its preparedness to take on Russian land forces in case Vladimir Putin were to initiate WWIII, it’s only logical to examine how well the Polish Navy is equipped to counter would-be Russian maritime aggression. After all, due to its inherent geography, Poland is the country most conveniently located to respond to Russian naval activity in the Baltic Sea. Let’s now take a look at the Polish Navy’s current capabilities.
Brief History of the Polish Navy
The Polish Navy – officially known as the Marynarka Wojenna Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej (“Navy of the Republic of Poland”) – traces its origins back to the year 1568, known back then as the Komisja Morska (“Sea Commission”). The Marynarka’s most significant direct participation in large-scale combat operations took place during WWII, when, according to the Kresy Family Polish WWII History Group, “The Polish Navy, while working with the Royal Navy, fought from the first day of WW II until the very last. It covered 1,213,000 nautical miles and escorted 787 convoys. It carried out 1,162 combat patrols and operations, and sunk approximately 100,000 tons of enemy shipping, including two U-boats and 39 transports. It also shot down 20 aircraft. 404 Polish sailors lost their lives.”
That said, some members of Poland’s naval special operations forces (SOF) unit, the Jednostka Wojskowa Formoza (“Military Unit Formoza”), deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the Global War on Terror, although whether the commandos engaged in direct combat against enemy forces in either one of these theatres of operation is unclear due to the secretive nature of the organization.
During the dark days of Communism and the Warsaw Pact, the Polish Navy was primarily oriented toward coastal defense and Baltic Sea Operations. The collapse of the Soviet Bloc and Poland’s subsequent accession into NATO caused a veritable sea change (if you will) in Poland’s maritime strategic thinking.
Current Organization & Equipment
Nowadays, the strategic mindset of the Marynarka is more broad-based, geared toward integration with multinational naval operations, and accordingly, is undergoing a major modernization phase. Materiel strength and manpower currently sits at 48 ships and a combined 12,000 commissioned officers and enlisted sailors. The breakdown of those 46 ships is as follows: 3 submarines, 2 frigates, 2 corvettes, 3 fast attack missile craft, 21 minesweepers, 5 minelayer-landing ships, 4 salvage ships, 6 auxiliaries, and 2 training ships.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are still some Soviet hand-me-down leftovers in the Polish fleet. Chief among these is the Kilo-class submarine (SSK) ORP Orzel (“Eagle”) (S-291), which was commissioned in 1986. The only other two submarines in the Polish fleet are the Norwegian-built Kobbens-class boats – redubbed the Sokol (Type 207) class in Polish parlances – the ORP Sep (“Vulture”) (S-295) and ORP Bielik (“Bald Eagle”) (S-296), but these are slated for retirement in the near future, which would conceivably leave the Polish Navy with just one submarine! In order to address this shortfall in submersibles, the Polish government decided back in September 2020 to purchase two Södermanland-class subs from the Swedish Navy. As submarine expert Mr. H.I. Sutton reported for Forbes, “These submarine[s] come with Air Independent Power (AIP, aka Air Independent Propulsion), which will itself be a big leap for the Polish submarine force. They can submerge for longer and stay hidden in the difficult submarine environment of the Baltic Sea. And they will be upgraded with new capabilities… The Swedish subs, even though they are also second-hand, will be a step up for the Polish Navy.”
Among the most sophisticated weapons systems upgrades that’re already operational in the Polish fleet are the two U.S,-made Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missiles frigates ORP Generał Kazimierz Pułaski and ORP Generał Tadeusz Kościuszko, which were commissioned in 2000 and 2002 respectively. However, Poland is not content to be wholly dependent on the United States to supply its naval modernization efforts, as is evidenced by its joint venture with the UK’s Babcock International on the Miecznik (Swordfish) frigate procurement program. As noted back in April by Tayfun Ozberk of Naval News:
“PGZ Group (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa) unveiled the first drawing of the Arrowhead-140PL frigate, which is similar to the Royal Navy’s Type 31 frigates but optimized for Polish Navy requirements…[T]he Miecznik frigates will be 138.7 meters long, 19.7 meters wide, and 5.5 meters deep, with a displacement of about 7000 tonnes. The frigates will be able to operate at sea for 30 days without replenishment. The maximum speed will be 28 knots, and the range at 18 knots will be more than 6,000 nautical miles…The frigate’s armament appears to be in line with expectations. 4 quad SSM launchers with RBS-15 mk3/mk4 are mounted at various points on the ship… The illustration also indicates that the new frigates will be armed with a 76-mm gun and a 35- mm gun. The ship will be capable of carrying and launching MU -90 torpedoes against submarine threats.”
Poland’s Navy isn’t content to just modernize her submarine and warship fleet; her naval aviation capability is receiving a boost as well. This is best illustrated by the acquisition of the American-made Kaman SH-2G Super Sea Sprite helicopter. The Marynarka;s Sea Sprites are tasked with the antisubmarine warfare (ASW) mission, which is all the more important given Poland’s aforementioned submarine fleet that is too small to realistically take on a Russian undersea threat.
Ready for the Russians?
As with their Wojska Lądowe (“Land Forces”) brethren, the Polish Navy may be small in number, but given their country’s prior run-ins with Russia, not just during the Cold War and WWII but during the mostly-forgotten (by Western scholars anyway) Russo-Polish War of 1919-1920, there is little if any doubt that these gallant Poles will have the motivation and the discipline necessary to fight back effectively should Russia attempt another invasion. As an added bonus, this time the Poles would (presumably) have the NATO allies to back them up.
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.