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The Formation of the Soviet Navy: Introduction

Based on the articles by -
V.N. KRASNOV – Candidate of Naval Science, Captain
E.A. SHITIKOV – Candidate of Technical Science, winner of the State Prize, Vice-Admiral

The Civil War followed by foreign intervention brought Russia immense misfortune and disaster. Our fleet found itself in a terrible, miserable state having lost 416 ships, 174 of which were warships and 242 auxiliary. The equipment of the ships survived was run-down and worn-out to the highest degree. “In the course of the Revolution and Civil War, especially hard blows fell to our Navy’s lot…All in all, it meant that we did not have any Navy at all”,- wrote Ì.V. Frunze, then-Deputy Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council. What was urgently needed was to take immediate measures to restore the Navy in order to protect the new Soviet republic’s extensive and lengthy maritime boundaries. For this very purpose a set of Government and Communist Party resolutions was issued right after the end of the Civil War.

First of all, ports and shipbuilding facilities restoration and reconstruction began which paved the way to extensive renewal and repairs of the ships and vessels in 1922. Within a relatively short period of time, shipbuilders and sailors managed to repair and put back into service a large number of warships. By 1924, there were already two battleships, cruiser (the Aurora), eight destroyers, ten submarines and other ships in the Baltic Sea Fleet. The Black Sea Fleet had a cruiser, two destroyers, two submarines and twelve other vessels. The Caspian Sea Flotilla and Amur Flotilla were being restored. Gross displacement of the fleet was steadily increasing every year: in 1923 – 82 000 t, in 1924 – 90 000 t, in 1925 – 116 000 t, in 1926 – 139 000 t.

A recovery of country’s economy and industrialization produced favorable conditions for a more balanced revival and formation of the fleet. Six-year (1926-1932) and five-year (1929-1933) shipbuilding programs were introduced, while in July, 1933, a resolution “Naval Shipbuilding Program for 1933-1938” was issued by Labour and Defence Council. These three programs actually laid the foundations for future Soviet Navy.

The Navy’s role and place in the system of USSR Armed Forces were determined at the meeting of the Revolutionary Military Council in May, 1928. The Navy’s main task was to assist land troops and act in close cooperation with the Army in its seaside operations, coast and bases protection as well as to operate at sea lines of communication. Naval shipbuilding was focused, first and foremost, on light surface and underwater ships construction, fortification of coastal and mine defence and coast-based naval aircraft which lied within the range of country’s economic capacities and potential.

64 million rubles were allocated for the fleet reconstruction in the first budget year (1926-1927). The following years saw a continuous increase in naval shipbuilding and ship-repairing financing.

As a result of the large-scale reconstruction works, the cruiser Comintern (former “Memory of Mercury”) was put back into service in the Black Sea Fleet; cruisers Admiral Lazarev (new name Beautiful Ukraine), Admiral Nakhimov (the Krasny Caucasus) and Svetlana (the Profintern, later the Krasny Crimea), which was laid back in 1913, were finally finished. All the ships reinforced the Black Sea Fleet. The Krasny Caucasus differed significantly from the two other cruisers, first of all, in terms of its armament. Instead of fifteen standard 130-mm guns, it had four new 180-mm long-range guns made during the Soviet period.

Three battleships Marat (former Petropavlovsk), October Revolution (former Gangut) and Commune of Paris (former Sebastopol) underwent thorough modernization. Their power installations were re-equipped for full oil heating. Anti-aircraft artillery and armor plating/protection were markedly modified and reinforced. Anti-mine system was improved. New fire control devices were installed. Navigation devices and gears, signal communication and surveillance system were up-graded.

After major repairs and modernization of 1916-1928, the Baltic Sea Fleet received ten and the Black Sea Fleet three destroyers of Novik type.

The construction of new surface ships began with torpedo-boats. The project of the first prototype boat Pervenets (The First One) was designed by Design group from Central Aerohydrodynamics Institute headed by A.N. Tupolev. The boat was presented to the fleet for trial operation in July 1927. In the course of further trials, poor boat navigability was detected and insufficient torpedo armament was pointed out (only one 450-mm-caliber torpedo).

Serial Tupolev boats of Sh-4 type were armed with two channel dropping-gears, their navigability was substantially improved. By 1932, the fleet received 56 such boats.

Dural G-5 (GANT-5) with displacement of about 18 t was the main type of torpedo boats used in the Soviet Navy. It was armed with two 533-mm-caliber torpedoes and was capable of picking up speed of up to 52 knots. By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the fleet had 269 torpedo boats, mainly of G-5 type. The guard-ship of Uragan type of project 2 was designed by a group of constructors and designers headed by V.A. Nikitin. The lead ship was put into service in September 1931. Its displacement was 600 t, speed 25 knots. Its armament consisted of two 102-mm and two 45-mm guns, one triple 450-mm torpedo-tube. A quite modern two-shaft echelon boiler-and-turbine installation was used as ship’s main propulsion engines.

One of the ship’s main defects was the lack of hydroacoustic submarine sweep devices and sub-search sonars. Before the war, 18 guard-ships of different projects were built and put into service.

Between 1932 and 1935, a group of designers headed by V.A. Nikitin designed a new destroyer of Gnevny (“Furious”) type of Project 7. While designing this ship, the specialists partly adopted Italian construction technique and experience which became possible owing to Soviet designers establishing business contacts with the firm Ansaldo. The destroyer Mistralle, designed by this firm, was the closest prototype of the “seven”.

The lead destroyer Gnevny (“Furious”) was laid down in Leningrad on November 27th, 1935, and was put into service with the Navy in October 1938. Large-scale production of destroyers of this type began.

Unfortunately, just like guard-ships, destroyers lacked both active hydroacoustic submarine sweep devices and anti-aircraft weapon.

The high appraisal of their navigability and hull structural strength given by state Commission during the delivery trials and acceptance testing of Gnevny and the other serial ships was not actually proved to be adequate after they were put into operation. It quite often happened in the Northern Fleet that the destroyer Gnevny would break its forecastle in stormy weather, while the destroyer Sokrushitelny (“Crushing/Smashing”) sank as a result of stern break-away at all. The old Russian ships were much more seaworthy in bad weather conditions.

While the Gnevny was under construction, in 1937, an event happened in the British Navy that actually influenced the whole construction process of the “seven”. Having run into a mine off the Spanish coast, the British torpedo-boat destroyer Hunter blew up. Its power installation was installed on the same linear principle as that of the Gnevny. The destructive, annihilating criticism leveled against the project 7 evoked a wide response and eventually reached the Soviet leaders’ ears which resulted in another wave of repressions aimed at the prominent and talented Russian shipbuilders, first and foremost, those who were responsible for the ship design. Urgently and quickly a new, revised and improved project of the ship - 7U – was elaborated under the direct leadership of Chief designer O.F. Yacob.

In the new project an echelon power installation arrangement was introduced, each of the two echelons had two boilers and one turbine. Thanks to the fourth boiler (the “seven” had only three such boilers”), boiler steam capacity was enhanced and capacity of each turbogear aggregate increased by 27 000 horse-power. The ship’s silhouette also changed: the second smokestack appeared and a 45-mm gun was added to its artillery armament.

The launching of the lead ship Storozhevoy (“Guard-ship”) of Project 70 took place in October 1938; it was put into service in 1940.

Design of the flotilla leader, ships of type “Leningrad” Project 1, began before the development of the destroyer Gnevny. It can be explained by the fact that the destroyers “Noviki” needed being supported by a larger ship when launching group torpedo attacks. The Leningrad’s chief designer was V.A. Nikitin. Laid in Leningrad on November 5th, 1932, this ship was put into service with the Navy on December 5th, 1936. With the displacement of 2693 tons, the flotilla leader’s armament consisted of five 130-mm, two 76-mm and five 45-mm guns and had two four-tube torpedo-tubes. The leader had a record speed of 43 knots which was secured by a three-shaft steam-turbine installation with three main turbogear aggregates of total capacity of about 67 000 horse-power.

Flotilla leaders of Project 38 were a bit different than the Leningrad. In all, 6 ships of both projects were built: two in Leningrad, two in Nickolayev and two in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Designed and built in Italy by USSR request, the leader Tashkent was armed with Soviet-made guns. Its main artillery consisted of six 130-mm guns.

The Soviet flotilla leaders’ principal drawbacks were general and local hull strength in rough sea conditions as well as poor space-flooding characteristics which resulted from the hull configuration chosen by the designers who were pursuing maximum speed.

The scope and scale of anti-mine ships construction and quality of countermine devices in the Soviet Navy fell short of the superb mine weapon which was used by the enemy from the very first days of the Great Patriotic War. Mine-sweepers construction was not even on the provided for in the five-year and six-year shipbuilding programs, though their design and development started as early as 1930. The preliminary design was worked out by Scientific and Technical section headed by Y.A. Shimansky.

G.M. Verkaso was the chief designer of the mine-sweeper of Tral type Project 3. While designing it, field and operating experience of the pre-revolution mine-sweeper of Kluyz type was taken into account. Laid down in the autumn of 1933 in Sebastopol, the lead ship Tral was put into service with the Black Sea Fleet in the summer of 1936. Its displacement was 476 tons, diesel full speed did not exceed 18 knots. The ship’s main armament was Schulz sweeps, kite and paravane trawl. In the course of the mine-sweepers construction, modifications and technical changes were introduced into Project 3 meant to improve the ship’s performance characteristics. All these led to new Projects 53, 58, 53 U. By mid-1941, 40 mine-sweepers were built but still it was not enough for the Navy to be able to counteract mine danger. What is more, the mine-sweepers built were not capable of non-contact/influence mines sweeping. Designing and construction of entirely new influence mine-sweepers was urgently needed.

The Soviet River flotillas, first and foremost the Dnepr and Amur Flotillas, were equipped with monitors. Specially for the Dnepr flotilla, the first monitor Udarny with displacement of 252 tons was built at the Kiev Shipyards in 1934. Its artillery consisted of two 130-mm and two 45-mm guns. In 1936, the flotilla was reinforced with six new monitors of Zheleznyakov type. Each of them was armed with two 102-mm guns in the rotating turret and three 45-mm guns.

The Amur flotilla received more powerful monitors such as Khasan, Perekop, Sivash of Project 1190 which were built at the shipbuilding factory Red Sormovo (were completed in Khabarovsk). They were put into operation during the Great Patriotic War. The fleets had gunboats as well.

While implementing the first State Shipbuilding programs, the main focus was placed on submarines construction.

The USSR submarine construction began with keel-laying of six large torpedo submarines of Decabrist type 1 series in 1927. They were designed by a group of designers headed by B.M. Malinin. These torpedo submarines were put into service in 1930-1931. These were twill-hull submarines of all-riveted construction. Their pressure hulls were divided into seven watertight compartments. There were six torpedo tubes in the bow and two – in the stern.

The follow-ups of the Russian Crab designed by M.P. Naletov were underwater minelayers of Leninist type II series which were constructed by Malinin’s group. With the displacement of 1025/1321 tons, these side-tank six-compartment submarines could take on board 14 to 28 mines which were placed in the two internal tubes inside the pressure hull. Their torpedo armament included 12 torpedoes (six in the bow tubes and six in the reserve ones). The armament was the same as that of Decabrist. The main drawback of submarines of Leninist type (“L”) was too long dive time (up to 3 min) and surfacing time.

Underwater minelayers of II series were followed by seven-compartment submarines of XI and XII series of same purpose with improved performance characteristics and armament.

Medium-size submarines of Schuka type (“Sch”) and small subs of Malyutka type (“M”) were most widely-used in the underwater forces. Before the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Navy had accordingly 77 and 78 such subs.

The lead “Schuka” (“Sch-301”) was sent to the fleet in October 1933. Apart from Chief designer B.M. Malinin, K.I. Ruberovsky and S.A. Bazilevsky took part in its designing. This submarine was side-tank and all-riveted. Its pressure hull had six compartments. Submarine displacement was 572/692 tons. Surface speed did not exceed 12,5 knots, submerged speed was 6 knots. There were 4 torpedo-tubes in its bow and two tubes in the stern. Total torpedo reserve – 10 items. Its armament included two 45-mm guns. Maximum diving depth was 90 meters. The State commission that conducted compulsory delivery trials and acceptance tests revealed a number of defects the most serous of which were the following: poor torpedo-loading device design, high mechanism noisiness, insufficient habitability. At the same time, they pointed out high seaworthiness parameters of the Schuka, simplicity and structural strength as well as its mechanisms reliability.

Later on, up to 1938, they continued to build submarines of Sch type of V series in three versions and X series. Engineering design of torpedo-loading devices was modified and upgraded. Owing to new diesels installation, their surface speed was considerably increased and mechanism noisiness slightly reduced, while in submarines of X series a high-pressure air blow system was provided for. Emergency blow time was reduced three times.

The project of small submarine of “M” type VI series was work out following the designer A.N. Asafov’s initiative and under his direst leadership. Its displacement was 157/197 tons: at that, its full surface speed reached 13 knots and submerged – 7 knots. This sub was single-hull, four-compartment and single-shaft. It was armed with two bow torpedo-tubes without any reserve torpedoes. Its armament consisted of one 45-mm guns placed forward of the deckhouse.

The lead submarine Malyutka was laid down in Nickolayev in late August of 1932 and was put into service with the Pacific Ocean Fleet in April 1934. The whole VI series consisted of 30 subs. Using special bays and platforms, these small submarines were transported from Nickolayev to their permanent basing sites.

A special place in the Soviet underwater shipbuilding belongs to the fleet-type submarine of Pravda type IV series designed by A.N. Asafanov in 1930-1931. It was supposed that having powerful artillery of two 100-mm and one 45-mm guns, this sub would be able to take part in naval battles and, acting together with surface ships, attack enemy ships. The twill-hull Pravda’s displacement was 931/1685 tons with full surface speed of 20 knots and speed submerged of about 10 knots. The submarine had six torpedo-tubes (four in the bow and two in the stern); its surface endurance totaled 5535 miles. For the first time in shipbuilding history, externally framed structure of the pressure hull was used.

The ship, however, was not that efficient in terms of its surface operation. Its high margin of buoyancy (77% of normal displacement) significantly increased diving time. In addition, some of its systems and devices were reported unreliable. Naval Command made a decision to limit construction to just three submarines of VI series, namely, the Pravda (Truth), the Zvezda (Star) and the Iskra (Spark) (P-1, P-2, P-3). All of them were put into service in 1936. Submarines of “S” type IX and IX-bis series were thought medium-size. The prototype of these submarines was the German sub E-1 which Soviet designers happened to examine during the first naval-technical cooperation between the USSR and Germany in the 1930s. V.N. Peregudov and V.F. Kritskiy were the designers of this sub’s Soviet version. Its pressure hull was riveted, while the non-pressure hull – weld-fabricated. With displacement of 840/1000 tons, this seven-compartment submarine had four bow torpedo-tubes and two stern torpedo-tubes. Its armament consisted of one 100-mm and one 45-mm gun.

The lead sub S-1 and the second C-2 IX series were put into service with the fleet in September 1936. The State Commission pointed to its high combat and maneuver characteristics as well as its navigability. Crash dive took as little as 45-60 seconds. Full surface speed totaled some 20 knots, while cruising speed reached 9 knots. The submarine was able to cover 8800 miles on surface. Sea endurance was up to 30 days.

Serial submarines of “S” type IX-bis series were significantly modified, updated and equipped with modern communication facilities and navigation devices, two periscopes and hydrophone station. New eight-cylinder four-stroke supercharged D-2 diesels were installed into these submarines.

During 1933-1937, the Soviet industry provided the Soviet Navy with 25 surface ships, 137 submarines and 137 motor torpedo-boats. Over the period from 1934 to 1938, the number of naval airplanes increased from 255 to 1433 items, coastal defence guns – from 364 to 896. Unfortunately, seaplanes heavily predominated in the Soviet naval aviation (as of 1937, seaplanes accounted for 40%). At the same time, rapid development of aviation and constant air-attack threat required an increased number of fighters with the fleet as well as reinforced anti-aircraft armament of both ships and coastal defence.

Despite serious economic difficulties faced by the USSR during the first decade under the Soviet rule, the country still did its best to organize marine scientific expeditions in the interests of national economy and country’s defensive capacity.