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Underwater secrets of the "aircraft carriers killers"

Forty years ago a submarine K-43 (project 670) was commissioned for the Soviet Northern Fleet. She gave a start for the series of the second generation of nuclear-propelled submarines and yet at the stage of design they were referred as "aircraft carriers killers”.


Not only the Navy celebrated this remarkable event but an inland city of Nizhniy Novgorod as well Krasnoye Sormovo plant in particular. This was that very place that had been giving birth to subsurface ships designated to challenge the American “floating airfields”.

They were seen but unreachable

The exact day is known when the aircraft carriers era spread over the oceans. It occurred on April 18, 1942. A bombing strike was conducted over Tokyo that day by the American B-52 bombers. The Japanese were taken aback. Where these aircrafts did came from? Next day the US president Roosevelt took a liberty to joke "Our bombers took off from a dreamland named Shangry La".

But the Japanese air scouts soon tracked down this “dreamland” which took the form of the aircraft carrier Hornet stationed five hundred miles off Japan. Later the aircraft carriers would save South Korea from the armored spearheads of Northern Korea's army. Floating army garrisons and air-bases would prove to be an ideal tool for fighting local conflicts.

The Soviet government, read the Navy Command, had been considering the aircraft carriers as the weapon of aggression then always neglected them in the naval doctrines. These ocean-going mastodons were also considered as the easy targets for the aircrafts. It proved to be wrong. Escort of ships accompanying an aircraft carrier at sea was able to keep the air, sea and underwater space under control for many miles around. Thus the penetration of this escort was simply impossible with the available at that time anti-ship weapon.

The States were not going to abandon construction of the aircraft carriers and kept on launching them. In the years of cold war we could have witnessed massed air strike from the enemy that was considered imaginary. Several times the world was at edge of disaster. Nobody had the idea of where this well-armed armada would sail next time. And the main concern was how to stop it. The Soviet naval strategians apparently picked up the only correct weapon for that time namely submarines equipped with the winged missiles. Many countries were sceptical enough about this type of weapon consider it as inefficient. This race of missiles they have lost to the Soviets and the gap is still obvious nowadays.

Design bureaus of V.Chelomey and G.Beriev were ready to cover the demand in winged missiles. Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev recalled in his memoirs "Chelomey literally filled us up with the new proposals: global missiles, intercontinental missiles, ship-to-ground missiles and ground-to-sea missiles... At one of the meetings Chelomey as a true traveling salesman that fetches shoes and beads from his bag unfolded his missiles designs before our eyes”.

In a hot competition Chelomey succeeded to persuade the Navy command into favor of his Ď-5 winged missile. While the trials one of the French magazines placed a cut-away view of the secret missile at a color plate and acknowledged it as a perfect weapon. It was a real surprise for the Soviet “secret-keepers” but Vladimir Nikolaevich Chelomey was pleased with the high estimation of the work done by his design bureau.

The first start of the winged missile on November 22nd, 1957 was successful.

During the trials a score of winged missile shots was made. The results were considered as satisfactory and in 1959 Ď-5 missile passed into service. The only problem was the lack of submarines to place these missiles. The solution was found in equipping the operational submarines with missile containers. The experts of NATO immediately gave them a nickname “long cans”.

The American authors of The Red Tide Garry Wair and Walter Boin claiming to have a description of a true history of the submarine force of the USSR and Russia hypothesize “Apparently the “long cans” have demonstrated not the best performance that led shortly to the withdrawal from operational status. All these submarines created a great deal of noise due to the water vortexes around the launching tubes”.

But that was not the only deficiency of the submarine-giants. Admiral V.Kasatonov in his recollections speaks his inside freely regarding the experiments with the winged missiles “What was the value of our submarines having them quickly equipped with missile containers? They were called whatever anyone liked: devilfish, abracadabra and so on and so forth! Such missile weapon had plenty cases of malfunction, the only way to shoot them was from the surface with a dead calm in addition. This can not be called combat readiness".

These submarines could have become aircraft carriers killers by chance only or by lying in wait for them leaving a base. To catch up with an escaping giant was impossible for the submarines. Speed difference was 10 knots per hour. The aircraft carriers stayed invulnerable although the weapon against them was at hand. They were seen but unreachable.

Uncomfortable oceans

By late fifties an image of a submarine – aircraft carrier killer was already quite set. On May 9, 1960 the USSR minister of defense R.Ya. Malinovski signed a request for proposal for top level specifications of a middle size submarine with a nuclear power plant and torpedo/rocket armament. It was provided to equip the submarine with winged missile system Ametist which was under development in Chelomey’s design bureau.

The question came up, where to build the boats and the main thing is who to entrust with the design. Ship-building yards of Severodvinsk and Komsomolsk-on-Amur at the moment were overloaded with the construction of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine cruisers. This was top list priority program of the USSR and nobody would dare to infringe it.

It was decided to design and construct the subs in the city of Gorkiy. Krasnoe Sormovo plant had been building series of diesel-driven submarines already. The plant had a group of young engineers working on submarines finishing. This very group was assigned to develop the new work-piece. It was ciphered as Skate and the future boat would be attributed to project 670. She was the first nuclear-propelled submarine to be built at the plant.

The key problem for the designers became the observance of those strict rules dictated by the terms of submarine transportation through the inland waterways. This should have been taken into account. Thus the young engineers limiting their creative urges forced out approvals from the customer for the unconventional technical solutions which were in conflict with The Rules for Submarine Design. And they ultimately succeeded.

The winged missiles fitted well in submarine’s hull. They were placed in eight leaning cells in the fore body of the pressure hull structure. Missiles start could be carried out from the underwater at the speed of the submarine up to five knots and sea disturbance of 5 grade intensity.

Specially for the submarines of this series a high power nuclear reactor was designed. The developers provided for safety precautions for running the reactor and envisaged for several options of blocking protection. The submarine was equipped with Kerch sonar system that should have "heard" an aircraft carrier at the distance of several tens of miles.

Finally everything was agreed, approved and detailed drawings were delivered to the plant from the design bureau. On May 9, 1964 the type submarine of the new project was laid down. She was having a building number 701, the tactical one was K-43. With the same number she was commissioned for the Northern Fleet in November 1967.

The American carrier forces can also mark that day. Forty years ago the giant “floating air-fields" suddenly found themselves uncomfortable in the oceans. In a period of five years Krasnoe Sormovo plant equipped the Soviet navy with 11 submarines of Skate class. They participated in all major ocean exercises and of course they had been noticed by the NATO experts who named them Charlie.

The home bases in the north not frequently witnessed the new missile carrying subs. The 6th American Fleet has become very active in the Mediterranean at that time. In order to check its activities the Skates were redeployed to this theater. Their presence of course caused a quite reasoned concern of the American naval command, realizing the lack of weapon they could match against the Soviet subs.

The Pacific Fleet has gradually become a permanent station for the Skates. The station where reached by unique routs. They sailed under ice of the northern seas or high endurance trips through the southern. All the Skates were attached to the 10th division of the 2nd submarine flotilla. The Indian Ocean has become the main theater for the subs.

Here are the memoirs of K-352 submarine commander, later Admiral, Yu.Sysuev “Our main task while on duty in the Indian Ocean was the tracking of the American carriers. The usual practice for the Americans was to keep one carrier in the area with a second one to appear in case of an emergency. We had to keep track of them permanently and maintain level readiness to perform a missile strike if ordered… That is why our task force was deployed in the Indian Ocean and stayed there on the permanent basis. In the event of hostilities the American combat vessels were to be spotted, targeted and destroyed».

A submarine… for lease

The type submarine Ę-43 succeeded to visit the place of her birth once again. Before the trip to the Far East she was sent to Krasnoe Sormovo plant for refit that followed by 16-day long run to the Far East under the ice of the Arctic Ocean. Surfaced in the Bering Strait she was replenished from a supply ship and started long haul cruise lasted for three months.

Upon return to the new base, sub's commander surprised flotilla’s command reporting no material failures. The crew was awarded with government decorations and the plant received a commendation for the quality repair of the boat.

January 5, 1988 marked a distinctive date in the biography of Soromovo’s A-sub. That day the Soviet flag sled from the flag staff at the conning tower and seconds later the flag of India was beating in the wind. The removed veil form the red plate at her conning tower revealed the new name for the audience Chakra and her number S-71.

But that was not a sale to a new owner. The boat was… leased. This is how the things were done in the post-perestroika times. India dreamt of coming over the neighbors China and Pakistan both at sea and land. India was making plans to construct nuclear submarines as well. Although huge sums had been invested into the submarine building program the outcome was much to be desired. The alternative of foreign assistance became obvious. Then Indira Gandy the Indian government executive addressed the “big friend” USSR with a request to provide a nuclear submarine for the purposes of naval personnel training. And the request was granted.

In the vicinity of Vladivostok training-oriented center was established for the specialists from the Indian Navy. For five years in a row K-43 served as a classroom for them. Two crews of the Indian sailors showed themselves as dedicated students curiously poking in every hole they were allowed. Servicing of nuclear reactor was taken away from them however. The submarine sailed to India with 30 Soviet officers and warrant officers on board. They had to live away from home for three long years.

A very tough schedule had expected the nuclear sub in India. She took part in all major exercises imposing surprise and concerns of foreign military experts. Spending the third of her time while in the lists of the Indian navy in the long haul cruises Chakra managed to disrupt the balance in the Indian Ocean. Pakistan was even forced to purchase some frigates from the US in order to maintain tracking the boat. The Indians liked to lease the cub so much that tried to persuade the USSR to prolong the lease. But the Soviet government was under the pressure from other sides with the lack of much friendship between the current Soviet leader and the USA. Therefore India’s proposal was rejected.

Chakra had a great influence upon the organization of naval staff of a friendly nation. Eight officers that had served at the submarine became admirals. Many of those dedicated students occupy key positions in the Indian navy up to now. India presently is as close to the creation of own nuclear submarine as never before. The resemblance of her to one of our nuclear submarines is yet to be seen.

March 1, 1991 Chakra transformed into Ę-43 again. But she was left to serve in the home waters for just over a year. Excluded from the Navy lists she was laid up in Krasheninnikov bay. It should be noted that she was the fourth to leave the fleet out of eleven her sister ships. Carrier killers played their part. The opponents were afraid of them hence they made the country that had been sending them out to sea respected by others.

Source: www.glavred.info