Dating back to 1920, Polish Naval Aviation isn’t quite as old as its air force and army cousins but is also part of this year’s centenary celebrations. In the September issue of AFM, Bartek Bera and Filip Modrzejewski take a closer look at this relatively little-known element of the Polish military.
Polish Naval Aviation is the responsibility of the Brygada Lotnictwa Marynarki Wojennej (BLMW, Naval Aviation Brigade), which was established in the mid-1990s. After a series of structural and equipment changes, the BLMW performs its tasks from two numbered naval aviation bases and one additional airfield.
Before 1939, a naval aviation squadron based in Puck was steadily expanded, but its development was interrupted by World War Two. During that conflict, No 304 (Polish) Bomber Squadron – flying Wellingtons – was transferred from RAF Bomber Command to Coastal Command, becoming the only Polish Naval Aviation unit in Allied ranks.
After the war, Polish Naval Aviation regiments and squadrons were created at three locations: Gdynia, Siemirowice and Darłowo. For almost 50 years, equipment and organisation changed, but assets remained under Marynarka Wojenna (Polish Navy) control.
But the structure of the Siły Zbrojne Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej (Polish Armed Forces) was altered radically in 2014. The commands of the constituent armed services were replaced with a consolidated command and various inspectorates. The BLMW now reports directly to the General Commander, who directs it through the Air Force Inspectorate. The advantages and disadvantages have been widely discussed, but some members of the current government have suggested their willingness to modify the structure again and to return, at least partly, to separate commands.
The two naval aviation bases under the BLMW are headquartered in Gdynia. The 43. Baza Lotnictwa Morskiego (43. BLM, 43rd Maritime Aviation Base) is located in Babie Doły (a suburb of Gdynia) that previously hosted navy MiG-21bis fighters. It’s now home to W-3 search and rescue (SAR) helicopters, Mi-2 trainers, a small number of An-28/Bryza transports and SH-2G Seasprites.
The second base, the 44. BLM, has a slightly more complicated structure, as it operates from two locations: Siemirowice (home of ‘Kaszubska’ Grupa Lotnicza, air group) and Darłowo (‘Darłowo’ Grupa Lotnicza). Siemirowice houses Bryza maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft (developed from the An-28 transport), while Mi-14 helicopters (in PŁ and PŁ/R versions), SAR-configured W-3s and a small number of Mi-2s operate from Darłowo.
The most important mission for naval aviation in the Baltic Sea is anti-submarine warfare (ASW), a huge challenge due to the shallow waters and the topography and physical make-up of the seabed. Another combat task is reconnaissance and target indication for warships and the navy’s missile unit, equipped with the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile (NSM) with a range of 124 miles (200km). Some of the Bryzas are adapted to assist in ecological monitoring of the Polish economic zone. However, the BLMW’s most visible work is its 24-hour SAR duty and related rescue operations in the Baltic zone of responsibility – an area of 11,583 sq miles (30,000km2). Unlike many other countries, all SAR duties in Poland (both on land and at sea) are performed by the military. There are currently two sites with 24-hour alert detachments: Gdynia and Darłowo.