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Mysteries of naval encounter on August the 10th 2008

Why Georgian guided missile boats did not fire the missiles?
On the night of August 8, 2008 "Duty Group" of the Black Sea Fleet left Sevastopol and set a course for Abkhazian coast. This squadron consisted of major landing craft Cesar Kunikov of project 775 with a company of marines on board and small missile submarine chaser Mirazh. On the move they were joined by major landing craft Saratov from Novorossisk.

Small missile submarine chaser Mairazh


Soon the first naval encounter between Russian and Georgian Navies in history took place. This encounter was described by a broadcaster Arkadi Mamontov one of the creators of well-known television program Special Reporter. Somehow although not mentioning how he managed to “find out unknown details of the encounter".

Here I have to give an extensive quote.

“That happened in the evening of August the 10th. The first naval encounter between Russian and Georgian Navies. On the third day after Saakashvili ordered the bombardment of sleepy Tskhinvali. But the details of that fight are not known to a general public… That day early in the morning a squadron of Black Sea Fleet left Novorossisk and headed for Sukhumi (Abkhazia). There were 500 peacekeepers along with fighting equipment and munition on board of two major landing crafts. The forces were redeployed to Abkhazia in order to ensure safety of local population and prevent aggression of the Georgian Army against this republic. The landing crafts were guarded by two escort ships including small missile boat Mirazh.

Simultaneously five high-speed Georgian motor boats left the port of Poti at set on intercept course. Their objective was to attack and sink our ships. The tactics of this operation was worked out by American military experts – small-size high speed boats armed with powerful anti-ship missiles were to perform blazing missile attack against large landing craft and retreat quickly. If nothing went wrong the result would have been stunning. In other words hundreds of dead marines, burnt down ship and victorious statements of Saakashvili like “We have prevented the armed intervention" or "The Russian Navy is impotent". But everything turned out just other way round. Vesti managed to collect detailed information from the participants of that encounter:

18:39. Russian radar intelligence spotted several fast moving water-borne targets headed for our squadron.

18:40. Enemy boats reached the critical distance. Then the order is given from command ship Cesar Kunikov to open cautionary fire. One of the ships fired a water-to-air missile (Osa – author’s note) that hits the water between Georgian boats. This hit did not stop them. The boats increased speed in attempt to reach the so called “dead zone” where the missile armament is useless. Then the small missile ship Mirazh was given an order to fire for effect. Distance to target was 35 kilometers. Missile arming and calculation was a matter of minutes. Naval encounters are always fast moving.

18:41. Mirazh commanding officer gave an order – Fire! Georgian boats had an advantage of speed and the Russians had a better reaction. The first missile started its travel to the target. In several seconds it was followed by the second. Time of arrival to Georgian boat Tbilisi was mere 1 minute 20 seconds. The distance between the opponents was about 25 kilometers.

The first missile hit the engine room of Tbilisi. In a moment another report – the second one scored a hit into the conning room. For 30 seconds the radar screen of our ship showed a flash that means hard kill accompanied by massive thermal emission.

18:50. The captain of Mirazh gave a command to change the position. The ship at a high speed went shoreward, made a turn and again set an attack course. The radar showed only 4 targets. One of them was heading in with our ship. Mirazh opened fire from Osa air defense missile system.

At that moment the distance shrank to 15 kilometers. The first missile hit the broadside of Georgian boat, that immediately smothered, reduced speed and attempted to evade from the line of fire. The rest of Georgian ships disengaged from action by making a quick back turn. As our seamen later noted that maneuver was carried out perfectly. Mirazh did not chase the shoot down enemy as there was no order to finish it.

At 19:28 after sweeping of the surrounding space Mirazh took its place in the line of our ships heading for Sukhumi. Extract from the report to flagship: Out of five targets one is destroyed, one damaged, three disengaged from action. Missiles used: anti-ship - two, water-to-air – one. Negative personnel causality. Ship not damaged.”

There were no official comments to the report of Arkadi Mamontov. Therefore Internet forums swelled with discussions.

Why Georgian guided missile boats did not fire the missiles? The enemy indeed could have fired 16 of such missiles at a time and sink all our ships. Why the Georgians did not open fire on Mirazh even after it approached to the distance of 13 kilometers (range capability of Osa missiles) with definitely unfriendly intentions. Why Mirazh did not use AK-176 gun mount with similar range capability as Osa and a firing rate of 90 rounds per minute?


The author of this article have tried to reconstruct August encounter in the Black Sea using the information from Internet and several independent naval historians.

At the moment when four or six Georgian crafts were spotted our ships had been cruising off the coast of Abkhazia i.e. within its 12-mile marginal waters or at their edge. The objective of the Georgians is still unclear. They really could intend to deliver the missile hit on the Russian ships but most likely they planned to storm ashore or shell Abkhazian coast and were not aware of the proximity of Russian squadron.

From the distance of 38 kilometers Cesar Kunikov made a “cautionary” salvo from A-215 missile launcher (naval variant of Grad) with 122 mm long distance missiles. Missiles did not hit home and that was quite natural (the system is designated for shore area coverage). The Georgian boats did not stop and continued on the head-on course. It was quite possible they had not yet spotted the Russian ships and decided the volley was performed by Abkhazians form the shore or some fishing seine boat (both Georgians and Abkhazians installed Grad launchers onto commercial ships since 1992).

In about 10-15 minutes Mirazh (project 1234.1) fired two P-120 Malachite missiles at Georgian crafts. At that moment the distance between the adversaries was about 20-24 kilometers (the minimum firing range of Malachite missile is about 20 kilometers and maximum 110-120 kilometers).

The reasons why not to fire Malachite from the start and not Grad that is designated for other targets are not clear.

One of Malachites might hit home but most likely missed. The second one missed for sure. P-120 anti-ship missile is equipped with two seeker heads: radar and infra-red (heat) homers. Before launch the heads activation mode is to be switched on in other words the heads activate immediately or time-lagged depending of firing range. I assume the wrong mode was activated by Mirazh crew and the missile homers simply did not lock on Georgian boats (either one P-120 or both).

Both missiles (or only one) continued on the free hunting course. At the range limit the homers locked on target. The target appeared to be Moldavian motor vessel Lotos moving from Eisk to Poti with 1475 tons of wheat on board. At that time the vessel was 30 miles to the north-west from the Georgian port of Poti and 25 miles off the coast.

One of the missiles missed the bulk-carrier (the crew might have only seemed to see the missile). But the fragments of the second missile that exploded 50-100 meters to portside at the height of 20-30 meters inflicted minor damage to ship's upper structure. No one of the crew was injured. The vessel still could make way and in some time it left the combat zone and successfully made to Kerch. The fragments of the missile were pictured at the deck of the bulk-carrier. It should be noted that Moldova has neither Navy nor commercial fleet as it has no access to the sea. But at the same time the republic provides “a cheap flag” that is being used by 215 vessels of different origin.

But why Malachite missile with powerful warhead did not sink Lotos? According to the notes from Internet the missile was close to the range limit and its radar homer locked on the bulk-carrier from the distance of 30 kilometers. But Malachite’s solid rocket motor was already spent and the missile could not maneuver. Eventually it exploded due to action of contact-radar or self-destruct fuse.

After Malachite missiles launch the Russian ships opened fire at the Georgians with water-to-air Osa missiles. Up to ten missiles were fired. It should be noted that during the last quarter of the 20th century Osa missiles were subjected to constant upgrading for using against anti-ship missiles traveling at the height of 5-25 meters above the water. It is interesting that yet in 1973 during confrontation of the Soviet and US Navies in the Mediterranean Sea the first to hit the US ships were planned to be Osa and Volna missiles. Although their warheads are incomparably smaller than of anti-ship missiles their response time is 5-10 times shorter.

Osa missiles sunk from one to three Georgian ships. The rest disengaged from action and turned south-east probably heading for Poti.

But according to Internet Mirazh was set under fire from Georgian coastal batteries and was hit at least once. To my mind the fire could be opened by both Georgians and Abkhazians (the latter could mistake Mirazh for Georgian ship). Both parties have in arsenal of coastal defense 100 mm antiaircraft guns KC-19 controlled by SON-4 radar. The firing range of these guns is about 19 kilometers.

After the encounter Mirazh headed for Novorossisk first and then to Sevastopol. The welcomers there witnessed the superstructure to one side is newly painted.

Anyway the commanding officer of small missile ship Mirazh captain of the 3rd rank Ivan Dubik was awarded the Order of Valor.

In his interview to one of Moscow newspapers Ivan Dubik told the following: "There were five Georgian boats: two guided missile boats and three patrol ones. At a high speed they attempted to attack us. We warned the Georgians but they continued with the attack. All 60 hands of our crew worked as one unit and we fired a volley. One of Georgian ships sunk immediately”. “I’m not authorized to name the distance the ship was hit from", said Ivan Dubnik in a soldier-like manner, “But the rest four immediately turned back and retreated”.

But even this testimony of the participant of the first naval encounter of the Russian navy in the 21st century is not answering numerous questions of both the professional researchers and historians.

Source: www.ng.ru, author: Alexander Borisovich Shirokorad, Historian
Translation: RusNavy.com