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The Soviet Navy ( , literally "Naval Fleet of the USSR") was the naval part of the Soviet Armed Forces. Often referred to as the Red Fleet, the Soviet Navy would have been instrumental in any perceived Warsaw Pact role in an all-out war with NATOmarker when it would have to stop the naval convoys bringing reinforcements over the Atlantic to the Western European theatre. Such a conflict never occurred, but the Soviet Navy still saw considerable action during the Cold War.

The Soviet Navy was divided into four major fleets: Northern Fleetmarker, the Pacific Ocean Fleet, the Black Sea Fleet, the Baltic Fleet, and, as a separate command, the Leningrad Naval Base. The Caspian Flotilla was a semi-independent formation administratively under the Black Sea Fleet command while the Soviet Mediterranean Squadron drew its units from the Black Sea, Baltic, and Northern Fleets and the Soviet Indian Ocean Squadron drew its units dominantly from Pacific Fleet. Other components included the Naval Aviation, Naval Infantry (the Soviet equivalent of marines), and Coastal missile and artillery troops. The Soviet Navy was reformed into the Russian Navy after the Dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.


Early history

The Soviet Navy was formed in 1917 out of the remnants of the Imperial Russian Navy. The old Russian Navy was almost completely destroyed during the Revolution of 1917, the Russian civil war and the Kronstadt rebellion. During the revolution sailors deserted their ships at will, and generally neglected their duties. The officers were dispersed (some were killed in the red terror, some joined white armies and some resigned and left the Navy) and most of the sailors left the ships. Owing to stoppage of the work in the shipyards, uncompleted ships were rapidly becoming scrap iron.

The Black Sea Fleet fared no better than the Baltic. The Bolshevik revolution entirely decomposed its personnel; the ships were allowed to rot and go to ruin. Owing to mass murders of the officers, the personnel was reduced to helpless insignificance. At the end of April 1918, the German troops entered the Crimea and started to advance towards Sevastopolmarker naval base. All of the more effective ships were moved from Sevastopol to Novorossiyskmarker, where after an ultimatum from Germany they were sunk on Lenin's order. Ships remaining in Sevastopol were captured by the Germans and then, after November 1918, by the British. On April 1, 1919, when Red army forces captured the Crimea, the British squadron had to withdraw. Before leaving, the British damaged all the remaining battleships and sunk 13 new submarines. When the White Army captured the Crimea in 1919, it rescued and reconditioned few units. At the end of the civil war, white fleet moved to Bizerta in French Tunisia where it was interned.

Some vessels continued to serve after the October Revolution, albeit under different names. In fact, the first ship of the Soviet Navy could be considered to be the rebellious Imperial Russianmarker cruiser Auroramarker, whose crew joined the Bolsheviks. Sailors of the Baltic fleet were the fighting force of bolsheviks during the October revolution.

The Soviet Navy, established as the "Workers' and Peasants' Red Fleet" (Russian: Рабоче-Крестьянский Красный флот, Raboche-Krest'yansky Krasny Flot or RKKF) by 1918 Decree of the Soviet government, existed in a less than service-ready state during the interwar years. Greater part of old ships was sold by the Soviet government to Germany for breaking-up. In the Baltic, there remained only 3 much neglected battleships, 2 cruisers, some ten destroyers and a few submarines. Despite this state of affairs, the Baltic Fleet remained a significant naval formation, and the Black Sea Fleet also provided a basis for expansion. There also existed some 30 minor waterways combat flotillas. As the country's attentions were largely directed internally, the Navy did not see much in the way of funding or training. A telling indicator of the perceived threat of the Navy was that the Soviets were not invited to participate in the Washington Naval Treaty, which served to limit the size and capabilities of the most powerful navies.

However, in the 1930s, as the industrialization of the Soviet Union proceeded, plans were made to expand the Soviet Navy into one of the most powerful in the world.

Approved by the Labour and Defence Council in 1926, a Naval Shipbuilding Program included plans to construct twelve submarines and the first six were to become known as the Dekabrist class.

Since November 4, 1926, the Technical Bureau No.4 under the leadership of B.M. Malinin was managing the submarine construction works at the Baltic Shipyard. The name Technical Bureau No.4 was given to the former Submarine Department and is still a secret department. In subsequent years, 133 submarines were built to the designs developed under Malinin's leadership.

Additional plans included the formation of the Pacific ocean Fleet in 1932 and the Northern Fleetmarker in 1933. This force was to be built around a core of powerful Sovetsky Soyuz class battleships. This building program was in its initial stages by the time the German invasion in 1941 forced its suspension.

The Winter War in 1939–1940 saw some minor action on the Baltic Seamarker, limited mainly to artillery duels between Finnishmarker forts and Soviet cruisers and battleships.

The Second World War

After the beginning of the Second World War, many sailors and naval guns were sent to help the Red Army and these reassigned naval forces took part in every major action on the Eastern Front. Soviet naval personnel played especially significant land roles in the battles for Odessa, Sevastopolmarker, Stalingradmarker, Novorossiyskmarker, Tuapse, and Leningrad.

The composition of the Soviet fleets in 1941 included:
  • 3 battleships
  • 7 cruisers (including 4 modern Kirov-class cruisers)
  • 59 destroyer-leaders and squadron-destroyers (including 46 modern Type 7 destroyers and Type 7U destroyers)
  • 218 submarines
  • 269 torpedo boats
  • 22 patrol vessels
  • 88 minesweepers
  • 77 submarine hunters and a range of other smaller vessels
In various stages of completion were another 219 vessels including 3 battleships, 2 heavy and 7 light cruisers, 45 destroyers, and 91 submarines.

The above also included some pre-WWI ships (Novik-class destroyers, some Cruisers, all Battleships), some modern ships built in Soviet Union and Europe (like the Italian-built destroyer Tashkent or partially completed German cruiser Lützow). During the war, many of the vessels on the slips in Leningradmarker and Nikolayev were destroyed (mainly by aircraft and mines), but the Soviet Navy also received captured Romanian destroyers and lend-lease small craft from the U.S., as well as an old RN battleship HMS Royal Sovereign named Arkhangelsk and US navy cruiser Milwaukee named Murmansk given in exchange for the Soviet part of the captured Italian navy.

In the Baltic Sea, after Tallinn's capture, surface ships were blockaded in Leningrad - Kronstadtmarker by minefields, where they took part in anti-aircraft defense of the city and bombardment of German positions. One example of Soviet resourcefulness was the battleship Marat, an aging pre-WWI ship sunk at anchor in Kronstadt's harbor by German Stukas in 1941. For the rest of the war, the non-submerged part of the ship remained in use as a grounded battery. Submarines, although suffering heavy losses due to German-Finnish antisubmarine actions, played a major role in the war at sea by disrupting Axis navigation in the Baltic.

In the Black Sea, many ships were damaged by minefields and Axis aviation, but they helped defend naval bases and supply them under siege, as well as later evacuating them. Heavy naval guns and courageous sailors helped defend naval cities long after they were besieged by Axis armies.

In the Arctic, Soviet Northern Fleet destroyers (Novik-class, Type 7, Type 7U) and smaller craft participated in the anti-aircraft and anti-submarine defense of Allied convoys conducting lend-lease cargo shipping.

In the Pacific, the Soviet Union was not at war with Japan before 1945, so some destroyers were transferred to the Northern Fleet.

As post war spoils, the Soviets received several Italian warships and much German naval engineering and architectural documentation.

Soviet navy enlisted personnel stand at attention (1982).

Cold War

In February 1946, the military branch assumed a new name of the Soviet Naval Fleet ( )After the war, the Soviets concluded that they needed to be able to compete with the West at all costs. They embarked upon a program to match the West. The Soviet shipbuilding program kept yards busy constructing submarines based upon World War II German Kriegsmarine designs, and were launched with great frequency in the immediate post-war years. Afterwards, through a combination of indigenous research and technology obtained through espionage from Nazi Germany and the Western nations, the Soviets gradually improved their submarine designs, though they initially and typically lagged a generation behind NATO countries.

The Soviets quickly caught up with their Western counterparts. The Soviets were quick to equip their surface fleet with missiles of various sorts. In fact, it became a hallmark of Soviet design to place very large missiles onto relatively small, and fast, missile boats. By contrast, in the West, such a move would never have been considered tactically feasible. Nevertheless the Soviet Navy also possessed several very large guided missile cruisers with awesome firepower, such as those of the Kirov class and the Slava class cruisers. By the 1970s, Soviet submarine technology was in many ways ahead of Western technology, and several of their submarine types were considered superior to their American rivals.

Carriers and aviation

The Soviet Navy generally placed less importance on aircraft carriers than their American rivals, perhaps due to the vast geographical stretch and coastline of the USSR. Ideologically, aircraft carriers were viewed as symbols of capitalist aggression and, therefore, unacceptable for the Soviet Union. However, it was felt that a force of some form was needed that carried aircraft.

In 1968 and 1969 the Soviet Moskva class helicopter carriers appeared, followed by the first of four aircraft carriers of the Kiev class in 1973. Both of these classes were capable of operating ASW helicopters and the Kiev class operated V/STOL aircraft (eg. the Yak-38 'Forger'), and were designed to operate for fleet defense primarily within range of land-based Soviet Naval Aviation aircraft.

In the 1970s the Soviets undertook Project OREL with the stated purpose of creating a carrier capable of competing against American equivalents. However, the project was canceled while still on the drawing board when strategic priorities shifted once more.

In the 1980s the Soviet Navy acquired its first true aircraft carrier, Tbilisimarker (subsequently renamed Admiral Kuznetsovmarker). The Kuznetsov carries Sukhoi Su-33 'Flanker-D', MiG-29, and Ka-27 fighter and helicopters aircraft. A distinctive feature of Soviet carriers has been their offensive missile armament (as well as a long-range AAW suite), reflecting a fleet defense operational concept rather than on distant deployment shore strike missions common to Western carrier operations. A second hull (pre-commissioning name Varyag) was under construction when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Construction stopped and it was sold incomplete to China by Ukraine.
Following the launch of the second Kuznetsov class hull, the Soviet Navy barely began the construction of an improved carrier design, Ulyanovsk which was to have been slightly larger than the Kuznetsov class and nuclear-powered. Construction was terminated and the on ways start was scrapped.

In part to fill the role of aircraft carriers, the Soviet Navy deployed large numbers of strategic bombers in a maritime role, as part of Aviatsiya Voenno-Morskogo Flota (AV-MF, or Naval Aviation). Strategic bombers such as the Tupolev Tu-16 'Badger' and Tu-22M 'Backfire' were deployed with high-speed anti-shipping missiles. The primary role of these aircraft was the interception of NATOmarker supply convoys traveling the sea lines of communication between Europe and North America, and thus countering Operation REFORGER.


In some respects, including speed and reactor technology Soviet submarines were, and remain, some of the world's best . In addition to their relatively high speeds and deep operating depths they were difficult ASW targets because of their multiple compartments, large reserve buoyancy, and especially their double-hull design.

Their primary shortcomings were insufficient noise damping (American boats were quieter) and sonar technology. It is in the area of acoustics as well as production methods the Soviets had sought the West's submarine-related technology. It is in acoustics that the long-active Walker spy ring may have made a major contribution to Soviet knowledge.

The Soviets possessed numerous purpose-built guided missile submarines, such as the Oscar class, as well as many ballistic missile submarines and attack submarines. The Soviet navy's Typhoon class boats are the world's largest submarines. The Soviet attack submarine force was, like the rest of the navy, geared towards the interception of NATO convoys, but also targeted American aircraft carrier battle group.

Over the years, Soviet submarines suffered a number of accidents, most notably on several nuclear boats. The most famous incidents include the Yankee class K-219marker, and the Mike Class Komsomoletsmarker, both lost to fire; and the far more menacing nuclear reactor leak on the Hotel class K-19 narrowly averted by her captain. Inadequate nuclear safety, poor damage control and quality control issues during construction (particularly on earlier submarines) were typical causes for accidents. On several occasions there were alleged collisions with American submarines. This however has not been confirmed officially by the United States Navy, which maintains a policy of secrecy regarding nuclear incidents.

Because of its "safety in numbers" philosophy, the Soviet Navy continued to operate many first-generation missile submarines, built in the early 1960s, until the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Transition and the future

Soviet Naval Bases in 1984
After the dissolution of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Navy, like other branches of Armed Forces, eventually lost some of its units to former Soviet Republics, and was left bereft of funding. The Black Sea Fleet, in particular, spent several years in limbo before an agreement was reached in 1997 ceding some of its ships to Ukrainemarker. The resulting lack of naval presence, particularly in the Western Pacific, is blamed as one factor contributing to the rise of piracy since the 1990s.

Heads of the Soviet Naval Forces

Commanders of Naval Forces of Respublika ("KoMorSi")

Commander-in-Chief's Assistant for Naval Affairs (since August 27, 1921)
Chiefs of Naval Forces of U.S.S.R. ("NaMorSi") (since January 1, 1924)

People's Commissars for U.S.S.R. Navy ("NarKom VMF") (since 1938)

Commanders-in-Chief of the U.S.S.R. Navy ("GlavKom VMF") (since 1943)
  • Admiral of the Fleet Nikolai Gerasimovich Kuznetsov (to January, 1947),
  • Admiral Ivan Stepanovich Yumashev (January 17, 1947 — July, 1951),
  • Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Nikolai Gerasimovich Kuznetsov (July 20, 1951 — January 5, 1956), second term,
  • Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergey Georgyevich Gorshkov (January 5, 1956 — December 8, 1985). Considered the officer most responsible for reforming the Soviet Navy
  • Admiral of the Fleet Vladimir Nikolayevich Chernavin (December 8, 1985 — December, 1991; CIS Navy through August, 1992)

See also


  1. Periods of Activities (1926–1941), Online (Accessed 5/24/2008), SOE CDB ME "Rubin", Russia, Saint-Petersburg
  2. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922-1946
  3. reference
  4. Красный Флот (Советский Военно-Морской Флот)1943-1955 гг
  5. J.E. Moore, 'The Modern Soviet Navy', in: Soviet War Power, ed. R. Bonds (Corgi 1982)
  6. " The Self-Designing High-Reliability Organization: Aircraft Carrier Flight Operations at Sea." Rochlin, G. I.; La Porte, T. R.; Roberts, K. H. Footnote 39. Naval War College Review. Autumn, 1987, Vol. LI, No. 3.
  7. Norman Polmar, Guide to the Soviet Navy, Fourth Edition (1986), United States Naval Institute, Annapolis Maryland, ISBN 0-87021-240-0
  8. Modern High Seas Piracy. Countryman & McDaniel. Accessed August 3, 2007.
  9. Military ranks were abolished in 1918—1935.
  10. It is a naval rank since 1935.
  11. Fleet's Flag-officer of 2nd Rank since January 1938, Admiral (June, 1940), Admiral of the Fleet (February, 1944), Rear Admiral (1948), Admiral of the Fleet (1953), Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union (March, 1955), Vice-Admiral (February, 1956), Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union (1988, posthumous).


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