Polish-built Ukrainian warship engaging the Russians

Ukrainian landing craft, with its former tactical designation U401, during an exercise involving the use of the WM-18A launcher, in 2013.

Photo. Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

The story turns in circles. Recently, an interesting video clip was released. If real, it shows a Ukrainian landing ship built in Poland for the Navy of the USSR, attacking Russian positions on the coast.

Recently, we described the bravest of Ukrainian military units that received honors in 2022 or were named after patrons. Yuriy Olefirenko (Юрій Олефіренко) could have been found among them. He was awarded the award “For bravery and courage” (“За мужність та відвагу”), by President Volodymyr Zelensky, on the basis of Decree 434/2022, issued on June 23, 2022. At the time, no one not know what the grounds for this distinction were. After the publication of the aforementioned music video, it can be assumed that the depicted engagements and others have become the basis for this award.

In the 1960s, the Polish shipyard Westerplatte Heroes Northern in Gdansk (currently known as Remontowa Shipbuilding SA), started a series of manufacturing medium-sized landing craft for the USSR and Polish navies. They were built in Gdansk until 1973, in series as follows:

  • 15 – Project 770D;
  • 4 – Project 770M;
  • 4 – Project 770T;
  • 23 – Project 770MA;
  • 19 – Project 771;
  • 17 – Project 771A;
  • 8 – Project 773;
  • 1 landing ship Project 776 operation command ship.

23 of these warships were commissioned into the Polish Navy (projects 770, 771, 776), while the rest were received by the USSR. Many ships made for the USSR were later received by other friendly nations.

Medium landing ship L 401 Yuriy Olefirenko, built at the Northern Shipyard in Gdańsk.

Photo. Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

Landing ship L 401 Yuriy Olefirenko.

Photo. Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

When manufacturing ended in Gdansk, manufacturing for export was started at the Polish Navy shipyard in Gdynia. 17 other ships were built there:

  • 4 – Project 773I – for India;
  • 4 – Project 773IM – for India;
  • 4 – Project 773K – for Iraq;
  • 4 – Project 773KL – for Libya;
  • 1 – Project NS-717 – for Yemen.

A total of 108 landing ships were built in Poland, meaning it is one of the longest series of landing ships built since World War II. Since the Northern Shipyard (Stocznia Północna) was the main manufacturing entity, the ships were given the NATO codename Polnocny class.

In the early 1990s, the rest of the Polnocny-class landing ships were decommissioned in the USSR. When the Black Sea Fleet was split between Ukraine and Russia, only two Project 773 ships remained there – SDK-82 and SDK-137. Based on the memorandum concluded on May 28, 1997, the SDK-82 was transferred to the Russian Navy, while the SDK-137 was received by the Ukrainians.

SDK-137 was built in Gdansk, with shipyard designation 773/2. The keel was laid down on April 21, 1970 and she was launched on December 31, 1970. She was finally handed over to the USSR Navy on May 31, 1971, following a captive trial program and sea ​​trials, preceding the conclusion of the deed of delivery. After the Soviet flag was hoisted there, the ship was always part of the Black Sea Fleet. The designation SDK-137 was secret – the tactical numbers it carried changed frequently: 365, 378, 369, 366, 370.

After being taken over by Ukraine, it was given the name Kirovohrad (Кіровоград) and the designation U 401. It became part of the 5th Surface Ship Brigade. Initially, all ships of the Ukrainian Navy were given tactical designations beginning with the letter U, for quick identification. In 2018, the system was replaced by a system similar to the designations used by many countries. The number has been changed to L401. The ship had also been renamed. Following a presidential decree no. 290/2016, issued on July 3, 2006, the ship was called Yuriy Olefirenko (Юрій Олефіренко). Commander Yuriy Olefirenko first served in the Soviet Army, then in the Ukrainian Army. Between 2014 and 2015, he commanded the 73rd Special Operations Center of the Ukrainian Navy. It was declared KIA on January 16, 2015, during an operation taking place in occupied Donetsk. He used his own body to separate his soldiers from mortar shell fragmentation.

Despite its advanced age, the ship built in Poland is still in operation in 2022, participating in yet another phase of the Russian-Ukrainian war. The featured video clip shows salvos of 140mm unguided rockets, launched from the L401. All ships of projects 770, 771 and 773 built in Gdansk received 2 rocket launchers WM-18 or WM-18A, also designed in Poland. These launchers were designed to provide rocket artillery support to landing units.

Ukrainian landing ship L 401 Yuriy Olefirenko, WM-18A launchers clearly visible.

Photo. Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

Landing ship L 401 Yuriy Olefirenko.

Photo. Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

The new system, designed specifically for Polnocny-class ships was designed between the 1950s and 1960s. The M-14-OF HE rockets came directly from the Soviet BM-14 system. The WM-18 launcher (Naval Launcher, 18 rockets) was designed at the Military Institute of Armament Technology. The WM-18/WM-18A launchers were later manufactured at the facilities of HSW and WSK Warszawa-II. The reloading process was performed manually, with the participation of electric carriers, bringing 3 rockets at once. After manually loading the launcher, the rocket crew of 2 sailors moved to the launcher room below the main deck to aim it. One of the sailors took care of the elevation, while the other took care of the bearing of the target. The WM-18 launcher’s open command post, with a view, is located on the open deck above the second level of the superstructure. Ammunition storage was spacious enough to accommodate up to 180 M-14-OF rockets, enough for five full launcher launches.

Technical sheet of the WM-18A launcher:

  • Quantity of barrels: 18
  • Round fuze type: M-14-OF (HE)
  • Rocket caliber: 140.4 mm
  • Barrel length: 1370mm
  • Maximum range: 9,810m
  • Maximum rocket speed: 400 m/s
  • Rocket length: 1085 mm
  • projectile weight: 39.6 kg
  • Dry launcher weight: 1,475 kg
  • Max. elevation angle: + 60°
  • Min. elevation angle: – 15°

Combat operations involving a Polish-built 51-year-old medium landing ship at Stocznia Polnocna in Gdansk, including rocket launching involving launchers manufactured at HSW provide good evidence for ship designers, shipbuilders and practitioners. Polish industry. But above all, it is a true expression of the bravery of Ukrainian sailors.

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