An Aerial Reconnaissance of the Cold War Royal Canadian Navy

Using Google Earth imagery to document warships, the one problem is, you can never go back. Before about the year 2000, there are very few captures. This means the warship types documented in our pages overwhelming represent ship classes in service from the late 1970s (leaving service in the early 2000s) up to today.

HMCS Mackenzie Sep. 1962 (cropped), a fine example of the St. Laurent class and their derivatives, up to twenty units which served from the mid-1950s to the 1990s, with none preserved. Credit: Department of National Defence CN-6516/ Library and Archives Canada

Wouldn’t it be nice if older aerial imagery of naval ports could be incorporated into our database? Well, for our home fleet, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), we were able to do just that. In the Fall of 2022, as the World blundered out of Pandemic closures, the Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) deployed to the offices of the National Air Photo Library, at Natural Resources Canada. We have been updating our list with these unique views. We look forward to continuing the research.

Where the aerial mapping magic happens: Ottawa’s Booth St. National Air Photo Library, a federalist pile roughly contemporary with the early Cold War fleet.

Wading through photo reconnaissance flight lines and a challenging database, we called up aerials from Esquimalt, BC, and Halifax, NS, from the 1960s and early 1970s. What we found was a target-rich environment of Cold War fleet units on Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The RCN Pacific Command fleet at Esquimalt BC on a sunny 12 April 1965. This view was captured by an aircraft of 408 RCAF Squadron at roughly 2,500 feet. Here we see three modern destroyer escorts, three Prestonian class escorts, HMCS Grilse (submarine) and a variety of auxiliaries. Credit: National Air Photo Library VRR2634 photo 1047 NRCAN. Crown Copyright.

The RCN of the early postwar era continued to be oriented to Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). The aerial mapping flights caught views of St. Laurent class and follow-on Destroyer Escorts, including some of the newer upgrades with helicopter flight decks or ASROC anti-submarine mortars replacing a Limbo ASW launcher.

A 1966 view of one of the RCN’s sleek 1950s designed Destroyer Escorts, at Esquimalt, showing both Limbo Anti-submarine mortars in uncovered wells aft, a 3″/50 caliber turret forward, and a 3″/70 caliber turret in the bows.

Older Prestonian-class ocean escorts, based on wartime River class frigate hulls, were economical conversions. To complement these surface combatants, we also have a view of both former USN submarines HMCS Grilse, a Balao class diesel-electric attack boat and veteran of World War 2 that had served six war patrols in the Pacific War, and HMCS Rainbow, a similar Tench class. Before the acquisition of new Oberon class boats, these two old boats –Rainbow succeeding Grilse– kept the submarine service afloat. Other long-gone RCN units we added range from Cape Class fleet maintenance ships (having posted about the last of these), HMCS Provider replenishment ship, HMCS Labrador icebreaker, and the list goes on down to the little Bird Class patrol boats.

A remarkable view of Baddeck R-103 experimental hydrofoil at the Government Wharf, Dartmouth June 1964. National Air Photo Library NRCAN VRR2647 photo 779 Crown Copyright.

We encourage you to visit the pages to see these views of a vanished era in Canadian naval history. It all adds up to a more robust documentation of the post-Second World War Canadian Navy: 18 new views that help add 10 new classes of RCN ships. We hope to continue to expand our listings to include new sources of aerial or satellite imagery.

This little fellow may help bridge the gap in capability until we can procure our fleet of aerial maritime reconnaissance drones. [Edited] Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-R01996,_Brieftaube_mit_Fotokamera.jpg: o.Ang.derivative work: Hans Adler, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE , via Wikimedia Commons

B-871 Alrosa – Big-Tailed Kilo

B-871, a Kilo class submarine, has an interesting history. This continues our series of unusual Soviet/Russian submarines. Following on from many classes of Soviet attack boats, the Kilo design (NATO designation for these) was a leap forward in capability, with the first boat commissioned in 1980. Kilos had a very different overall hull shape from earlier diesel-electric boats, such as the Tango and Foxtrot classes. With the same armament of six 533mm torpedo tubes and naval mines, they were smaller and harder to detect than Tangos, and were clad in the same sound-absorbing anechoic rubber tiles. More than forty original Project 877 Paltus (the Russian designation) boats were built at five shipyards. Several units were exported to India, China, Iran, Romania, Poland, and Myanmar. Thirty more boats of the “Improved Kilo” or Project 636 Varshavyanka class have also joined the fleets of Russia, Algeria, China, and Vietnam, with more updated boats still under construction.

The Iranian Navy’s second Russian-built Kilo class attack submarine en route delivery, 1993. NARA: USN Official 330-CFD-DN-SC-94-00800

B-871, built at Gorky shipyard, transited the Volga and Don River/canal systems to its new homeport of Sevastopol, the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF), to be commissioned Dec. 1990. It has spent most of its career in Sevastopol, and has now served three navies: The Navy of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Navy, and the Russian Navy.

Upon the dissolution of the USSR, in late December 1991, the crew in Sevastopol voted to join the newly-independent Ukraine, in a process we described in our post on the Ukrainian Navy: The Only Easy Day was Never. This new attack boat would have been one of the most able of a small force of mostly abysmal submarines handed over to Ukraine. It would have been a good running mate to the other functional boat, the older foxtrot class submarine Zaporizhzhia.

Zaporizhya UA-01 Foxtrot class submarine, ca. 2012. Credit: Credit: Pavlo1 at Ukrainian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Russian official version of this is different, with a crew uprising reported as suppressed immediately and no acknowledgement of Ukrainian Naval service. The submarine was frequently non-operational during the mid-1990s, as the Ukrainian Navy did not have the inventory of parts or the spare batteries to safely operate the sub.

B-871 was back in Russian service by 1997. According to the contemporary edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, it was extensively modified during 1998. It was fitted with an enormous pump-jet propulsor in place of the usual screw, and received the unique Russian designation of Project 877V. At the time, this was cutting-edge technology for a Russian military submarine. Western powers, such as Britain, had built pump-jet propelled submarines. Adapting the proven Kilo design was a sensible way to trial the technology. Sometime during the early millennium the sub was named “Alrosa,” reflecting its’ sponsorship by this group of diamond-mining corporations.

B-871 Alrosa showing the enormous pump-jet propulsor aft, which is the distinctive feature of this kilo class boat. Credit: Mike1979 Russia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By the 2010s, after years of uneventful service, Alrosa was supposed to have left Sevastopol to join the Baltic Fleet (though the boat should be close to retirement). The BSF was to upgrade to all improved Kilo type boats. This has not happened, and the current Russian War in Ukraine ensures the boat will not leave the Black Sea. Alrosa was in very lengthy refit which had just finished when Russia invaded Ukraine. The refit also has reportedly involved an enormous upgrade to the lethality of the submarine – launch tubes to be able to operate Kalibr cruise missiles.

All “Foched up” with No Place to Go? The Troubled Tow of the Aircraft Carrier São Paulo/Foch

The crew of the Dutch deep-sea tug ALP Centre must be thoroughly tired of their latest charge, the 60-year old French aircraft carrier Foch, which served a second career in the Marinha do Brasil (Brazilian Navy) as the NAe São Paulo. Towing decommissioned carriers is always a demanding task. But the tow of this 870-foot long/270 m, 33,000-ton hulk started in controversy, which snowballed into a SNAFU of impressive proportions off the coast of Africa. Now back in Brazilian waters, and tethered to what some groups describe as a contaminated, environmental “time-bomb,” the crew must feel that they have been well and truly “Foched” this time.

NAe SAO PAULO A-12 (foreground) in formation with USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76, 2004 near San Diego. NARA: 330-CFD-DN-SD-05-02977 PH1 John Lill.

The ALP Centre, one of a fleet of eight similar ships, was supposed to deliver the giant hulk to the shipbreakers at Aliaga, Turkey. Commencing towing operations, it left the carrier’s longtime home port of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 4 August, 2022 on a planned 6,000 mile/ 9,650 km journey.

ALP Centre, Tug / Anchor Handling Vessel, showing enormous tow apparatus aft of the deckhouse. Nieuwe Waterweg, Netherlands, 2016. Credit: kees torn, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even as the tug and its charge left port, forces were mobilizing to halt this delivery. A court injunction attempted to prevent the former flagship from leaving Brazilian waters. The story is fairly complicated, but there is concern that the old carrier is riddled with asbestos, PCBs, and other contaminants, and that the hull may still be irradiated from the ship’s presence at the 1966 series of nuclear tests in French Polynesia. The Turkish shipbreaking corporation that now owns the carrier also reportedly did not file the right documents inventorying hazardous waste, and the hulk’s maritime insurance may also have lapsed. Groups in Brazil, Turkey, and across the Mediterranean are protesting that this is a violation of several international agreements restricting transboundary shipments of hazardous materials, notably the Basel and Barcelona Conventions.

Later that month, the tug was nearing the coast of West Africa, when, on 26 August, the Turkish government announced the carrier was barred from its waters, for the time being, and that the vessel should have returned from international waters to Brazil, based on the injunction. The federal Brazilian agency that had approved the shipment, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), had to order an immediate return. The ALP Centre was moving North through the Canary Islands and approaching the Straits of Gibraltar, seeking to enter the Mediterranean Sea. It also seemed unlikely that they would be permitted to transit the territorial waters of Spain, Morocco, or Great Britain at the Straits. The tug slowly turned back 8 September.

The course initially set would have taken the pair all the way back to Rio. At the end of September, the tug turned North near the remote Ilha Martin Vaz islands. We were able to locate the pair with some effort a few days later, with the tow line stretching about 1200 meters / 0.75 of a mile between the ships.

ALP Centre towing São Paulo North towards Suape, with about 250 km left to go, 4 Oct. 2004.

The new destination was Suape Port, near Recife, Pernambuco State, Brazil, 1,850 kilometers / 1,150 miles NNW of Rio. For a time it was also escorted North by the Brazilian Navy’s Amazonas class corvette NPAoC Apa (P-121). ALP Centre arrived off the port 4 October.

A Google Earth rendering of an Amazonas class corvette docked at Ilha de Mocanguê, Rio de Janeiro.

As we have illustrated elsewhere, the process of dismantling the World’s largest warships is often full of protests, conflict, drama, and bankruptcies. Still, this botched transit is eerily similar to what occurred seventeen years ago when French authorities attempted to dispose of Foch’s sistership, Clemenceau.

Clemenceau at Brest in 2008, in between scrapping voyages. Credit: Moreau.henri [CC BY-SA]

The decommissioned Clemenceau had been sold in 2005 to an Indian company to be dismantled at the massive shipbreaking operation at Alang. The Indian Government had concerns about hazardous materials onboard. Protests erupted around the early 2006 voyage from Toulon, France, to India. Greenpeace and anti-asbestos groups raised concerns about discrepancies in the total amount of tons of asbestos removed in earlier decontamination efforts. The tow was briefly halted by Egyptian authorities, concerned about it transiting the Suez Canal. It was also boarded by activists. After all this, denied entry to Indian waters, while it was in the Arabian Gulf, France’s State Council ordered the ship back. It returned to Brest by rounding Africa. Despite similar community fears of an impending environmental or public health catastrophe, Clemenceau was safely scrapped 2009-2010 near Hartlepool, UK, by the specialized firm Able UK. However, the outcry about the ship’s asbestos appears to have been justified, as hundreds of tons of asbestos was indeed remediated during the dismantling.

Now, three months in to this tow, ALP Centre is waiting for permission to enter the port, and a pilot to guide it in. It is tracking slowly through enormous loops and figure-eights, just barely making headway outside the breakwater. The crew are keeping the tow of their enormous and troublesome charge, São Paulo/Foch, manageable.

We are awaiting details of the next disposal plan. Suape is a busy port, with large shipyards, repair facilities and berths that could probably host the dismantlement of the old flagship. If the fate of Clemenceau is the precedent, safe dismantlement will be a costly process requiring a specialized workforce.

The Dossier:

The two Clemenceau-class carriers, at 869-feet / 264.9 m long with a full displacement of 32,800 tons, were an impressive entry for France into postwar carrier construction. They had modern aviation facilities and the design supported a new generation of jet aircraft. They were named for famous civilian and military leaders of the Third Republic, important to France’s efforts during the First World War: Georges Clemenceau and Marshal Ferdinand Foch. Starting in 1961, the ships replaced smaller and well-used carriers which had formerly served in the wartime Royal Navy. Foch joined “Clem” in 1963. The sisters were the staple of Cold War French naval aviation, and participated in a series of military actions in former French colonies, along with routine participation in NATO maritime groups. During the 1990s, they continued to be on hand to support Peacekeeping operations, while Clemenceau participated in the First Gulf War. For the submarine movie enthusiasts who seem to be some of our frequent visitors, we’d like to point out Foch’s cameo appearance in the 1995 movie Crimson Tide, standing in for a US carrier.

Foch R-99 during Exercise Dragon Hammer 1992 NARA: 330-CFD-DN-ST-92-08605 PHC Jack C. Bahm

Nearing the millennium, the carriers were showing their age and a new and nuclear-powered flagship, Charles de Gaulle, had supplanted them. Clemenceau left service in 1997, and was laid up at Brest. Foch soldiered on until 2000, and was then sold to Brazil.

Charles de Gaulle on multinational exercises in the Indian Ocean May 2019 US Navy Official 5390681 SA Leonard Adams

For Brazil, the old carrier helped keep the fixed-wing naval aviation program afloat (literally), as the much older NAeL Minas Gerais, Brazil’s veteran carrier, had exceeded the limits of its 1942 Light Fleet Carrier design, and was worn-out.

This remarkable view shows the former NAeL Minas Gerais in May, 2004, immediately before she was run up on the beach at Alang, India, for scrapping. This earlier scrapping effort seems to have not raised the same types of concerns.

Unfortunately, the newly-commissioned NAe São Paulo suffered from maintenance issues almost from the outset, and its air complement of AF1 Skyhawk fighter jets was frequently grounded ashore. This limited regular training. The ship also suffered two major shipboard fires, which further limited flight training and operations and generally kept it under repairs for an unreasonable amount of time.

Some of the air complement of AF1 Skyhawk fighter jets, with an Argentine S2 Turbo Tracker about to take off. (Brazil had agreed to assist the Argentine Navy’s air arm, who since the 1990s have not had a carrier) and AF1 Skyhawks. TurboCredit: Rob Schleiffert, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By 2016, the Navy had had enough, and the British helicopter landing ship HMS Ocean (only 20 years old by comparison) was transferred in 2018 and commissioned as the new flagship PHM Atlântico.

PHM Atlântico A-140 2018. Marinha do Brasil / CC BY-SA

After decommissioning, São Paulo followed a pretty conventional trajectory for retired carriers: some groups tried to save it as a museum ship; the costs of maintaining the out-of-service ship added up; scrapping became the preferred option. In March 2021 the carrier was sold to Sök Denizcilik, a leading scrapping firm based at Aliaga, Turkey. Environmental groups and also communities in Turkey near Aliaga denounced the plan and have expressed the fear that scrapping the old ship would cause an environmental catastrophe.

The Vessels of the 2022 Government of Canada archeological expedition to HM Ships Erebus and Terror National Historic Site

What a cast of characters, what a mise en scène! Since arriving off King William Island, Nunavut, in late August, 2022, the Parks Canada Research Vessel David Thompson has remained near the famous Sir John Franklin expedition shipwrecks longer than previous seasons. What amazing discoveries must the Underwater Archeology Team (UAT) be making at these incredible mid-19th Century exploration ships right now?! Will the dive team working from David Thompson or the specialized dive barge, Qiniqtiryuaq, uncover new information about the last days of this ill-fated effort to locate the Northwest Passage?

Composite Google Earth image, with RV David Thompson superimposed from below GE capture, and sonar images of wrecks of HM ships Erebus and Terror modified from Parks Canada images. Date and location of all ships indicated is only an approximation.

There has not yet been any official reporting about the 2022 Parks Canada work. It is a safe bet that the balance of research is focusing on the fragile or “dynamic” site: HMS Erebus (discovered by Parks during the Sep. 2014 search in Wilmot and Crampton Bay, after years of searches which followed up on Inuit oral history of a wreck in this area).* In the long 165-years that Erebus remained unlocated, there must have been decades where the wreck, in the frigid waters of Wilmot and Crampton Bay, would have appeared almost untouched by time’s passage. Unfortunately, her condition has worsened in the last years, as ice or ocean swells take their toll on upper surfaces, such as the weather deck and supporting structures. The wreck is only in about 11 M of water. There is real urgency to conduct a thorough survey.

HMS Terror is located about 60 km North, somewhere in the aptly named Terror Bay (discovered Sep. 2016 by the Arctic Research Foundation’s ship Martin Bergmann, following up on a tip from Gjoa Haven resident and Canadian Ranger Sammy Kogvik). The seabed is about 24 M deep, and the wreck’s depth and location seem to be working to better shelter it. We hope at some point that the team are able to shift the archeological exploration to Terror. Previous Remote Operated Vehicle surveys of the interior have shown a wealth of artifacts requiring further study.

The ships (and shipwrecks) of the 2022 Franklin Fleet:

RV David Thompson (2017) LOA 95’ / 29m TDISP 228 tons. Originally Canadian Coast Guard Fisheries Patrol vessel CCGS Arrow Post (1992-2016) before transfer to Parks Canada. Now equipped with up to two Rigid Inflatable Boats and a hydraulic crane. RV David Thompson made a brief transit back through the Simpson Strait to Gjoa Haven 7 September, but appears to have returned to the vicinity of Erebus the next day.

RV David Thompson, a day after her return to the Coast Guard station at Prescott, ON. 1 November 2022, after a busy archeology season at the Franklin wrecks and elsewhere. Credit
RV David Thompson during the 2019 expedition to the wreck sites. Credi: Kerry Raymond, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Parks Canada Dive Barge “Qiniqtiryuaq” (2017) approximately 50’X 30’ / 15.3 X 9.3 m displacement unknown. Fitted with three 20’ converted sea containers with a tool shop/archeological lab, a meeting space, a decompression chamber. During 2018 the barge received a powerful hydraulic crane.

CCGS Pierre Radisson Icebreaker (1977) LOA 323’ / 98.3 m TDISP 8,200 tons Arctic class 3 breaker. Early in its career, this was the base of operations of Dr. Joseph B. MacInnis’s 1981 search effort for the Beechey Island wreck Breadalbane, supply ship to the 1853 Franklin search effort. This year it assisted or escorted RV David Thompson on the journey to Gjoa Haven. It can help to replenish and refuel the Parks Canada vessels, be called upon to ensure the security of the sites, and be involved in towing the dive barge.

CCGS Pierre Radisson (at right) refuels HMCS Moncton during the Sep. 2015 Operation QIMMIQ in Nunavut. Credit: Department of National Defence (Corporal Felicia Ogunniya) SW2015-0226-1306

CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier (1986) LOA 262’ / 83M TDISP 4,600 tons Arctic Class 2 Light Icebreaker and tender. This ship is a veteran of previous Franklin Expedition search efforts and Parks Canada archeology efforts. During the 2019 season, Laurier contributed anchors to help tether the barge Qiniqtiryuaq above Erebus. Based on recent marine traffic information (2022/09/20), and the onset of colder weather off King William Island, we believe the Laurier is helping to conclude the dive season. CCGS Pierre Radisson has moved on to Hudson’s Bay. Laurier’s last positions showed it stationary near Ambush Rock after having moved westward from Gjoa Haven through the Simpson Strait and Storis Passage, towards the vicinity of the Erebus site. The ship appears to be accompanied by an 8m, 15 ton light Coast Guard Boat which may be ferrying supplies back from the actual wreck site to the Laurier.

CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier (left) and HMCS Moncton in search of HMS Terror as part of Operation QIMMIQ on September 2, 2015. Credit: Department of National Defence (Photo: Corporal Felicia Ogunniya) SW2015-0226-980

HMS Erebus (1826-ca.1849) Hecla class bomb vessel extensively modified for polar expeditions. For the 1845 expedition to locate the Northwest Passage, the massively reinforced vessel was fitted with an auxiliary method of propulsion (steam railroad engine) and a retractable screw. Lead ship of expedition, carrying Sir John Franklin, officer commanding and Erebus’s captain, James Fitzjames. LOA ca. 120’ / 36.6 m davits on transom to stem knee, sparred length unknown TDISP 370 tons

The Franklin expedition ships, HMS Erebus and Terror, setting out with fanfare in late May 1845 from Greenhithe. This was originally published for the 24 May 1845 edition of the Illustrated London News. (Via wikimedia commons) The two ships, from separate classes of bomb vessels, were virtually indistinguishable after many updates for polar expeditions.
Credit: Parks Canada, Crown Copyright.

HMS Terror (1813-ca.1849) Vesuvius class bomb vessel extensively modified for polar expeditions. War of 1812 veteran. For the 1845 expedition to locate the Northwest Passage, the massively reinforced vessel was fitted with an auxiliary method of propulsion (steam railroad locomotive) and a retractable screw. Commanded by Captain Francis Crozier, second-in-command of expedition. LOA ca. 120’ / 36.6 m davits on transom to stem knee, sparred length unknown. TDISP 320 tons

A sonar image of the HMS Terror wreck, ca. 2017. credit: Parks Canada, Crown Copyright.
credit: Parks Canada, Crown Copyright.

* We most likely won’t hear for months about this season’s work, or a reported April or May site visit (which would have involved an ice camp over either wreck site)

**The precise location of the Franklin ships has not been released, and the general vicinity of each site is protected and not accessible to the public.

New views of the fleet of the ROC / Taiwan

Separated from mainland China by 80 miles of water, the Republic of China (Taiwan) has been in a difficult strategic position for 70 years. The communist regime of the People’s Republic of China represents the existential threat to Taiwan, which is the last remaining bastion of pre-1949 “Nationalist” Chinese government. For Taiwan, maintaining a strong navy –the Republic of China Navy (ROCN)–is one important safeguard of national survival. For views of the various warship types, consult our updated pages.

The Chinese People’s Republic Army Navy carrier Shandong SW of Taiwan, provocatively transiting the Straits on 2022-03-17. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2022] processed by Sentinel Hub

The fleet of their foe, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), used to be a small collection of inadequate vessels, whose duty was to enforce a coastal presence and support in a limited way the enormous land forces. Jokes about the only threat to Taiwan being from a “million man swim” are no longer relevant, as the PLAN is rapidly expanding in the range of warship types it deploys, the overall number of units, and the range of missions they can perform. The construction of amphibious assault and landing ships may be particularly alarming for Taiwanese military planners.

Taiwan has traditionally purchased or received as military aid decommissioned US Navy Ships. Major examples of these include the refurbished Kidd or “Ayatollah” class destroyers (an upgraded variant of the Spruance Class), and Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates. The dock landing ship USS Pensacola LSD-38, after a 28-year USN career, now serves as the ROCS Hsu Hay.* Two Newport class Tank Landing Ships also continue to serve in the ROCN.

Profile view of Kidd class destroyers ROCS Kee Lung DDG-1801 and Ma Kong DDG-1805 at Zhongzheng Naval Base, 2013. Credit: 2013. Credit:玄史生, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

Up until the early 2000s the ROCN destroyer force still consisted of veteran USN ships. Destroyers of the Gearing, Allen M. Sumner, and Fletcher classes all served incredibly long second careers.

There are still some active relics of the wartime US Navy. USN Tank Landing Ships that participated in some of the great amphibious landings of the Second World War still serve, 75 years later, in Taiwan.

ROCS Kao Hsiung LCC-1, Command and Control Ship and test ship, formerly USS LST-735/Dukes County, with service in the Pacific War and during the Korean War. This view is before the fitting of a large phased radar tower, Zhongzheng Naval Base, ca 2013. Credit: 玄史生, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Credit:
This active LST the ROCS Zhong Jian, in her previous service as USS LST-716, landed US GIs at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, in the Pacific War, 75 years ago!

Perhaps more remarkable is the veteran boats serving in the submarine fleet. Former US attack boats of the Balao and Tench classes are likely the oldest operational submarines in the World. The USS Cutlass SS-478 conducted a war patrol against Japan just as the War was ending in the Pacific, while the USS Tusk SS-426 was commissioned in early 1946. Both were upgraded to the GUPPY II standard during their long USN careers and then transferred to Taiwan in 1973. Now, they continue to serve alongside “modern” variants of the Dutch Zwaardvis class.

ROCS Hai Shih SS-791 during open to the pubic at Keelung, Sep. 2019. Credit: Solomon203, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The ROCN has also broadened its procurement of surface combatants. During the 1990s, modified French-designed La Fayette class frigates joined the fleet.

ROCS Wu Chang FFG-1207, 2013. Credit: 玄史生, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The indigenous shipbuilding industry has supplied increasingly capable ships from missile boats and corvettes to large replenishment / resupply vessels. The ROCS Tuo Chiang is an exciting development for the ROCN – an innovative catamaran design for a heavily-armed missile corvette.

ROCS PGG-618 model. Credit: Solomon203, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy our newly expanded pages for the interesting fleet of the ROCN, with sharper satellite imagery added that has enabled us to incorporate smaller ships into the listing, including a new page for mine warfare ships. One old sweeper, ROCS Yung Yang MSO-1306, formerly the USS Implicit, served during the Vietnam conflict and had been the last wooden-hulled warship in the active USN fleet.

ROCS Yung Ku M-1308, served in the USN as USS Gallant, sistership to the still-serving ROCS Yung Yang. CREDIT: ROC Navy via wikimedia commons.

* The ROCS Hsu Hay succeeded two USN Casa Grande class Dock Landing Ships. ROCS Chung Cheng served in the ROCN from 1985-2012, after very long USN service. It was reportedly originally bought from the scrapyard!

A Balance of Doom – Ballistic Missile Submarines in 2022

K-549 KnyazVladimir 2019. Credit: [modified]

This post totals up the number of currently operational ballistic missile submarines and their submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) tubes.* These boats are mostly equipped with nuclear-armed missiles with Multiple Independently targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV). Missile boats or “boomers” are a premier strategic deterrence – as opposed to land-based stationary missile sites, they are difficult to target in any first strike and so present a potent retaliatory threat. Follow the links to see other submarines.

NATO Allies – 464 MIRV SLBM tubes:

United States Navy – 14X24 Ohio class SSBN LOA 560′ / 170.7 m TDISP 18,750 tons submerged

Royal Navy – 4X16 Vanguard class SSBN LOA 492′ / 150 m TDISP 15,900 tons

French Navy – 4X16 Triomphant Class SSBN LOA 453′ / 138.1 m TDISP 14,350 tons submerged

Russia – 192 MIRV SLBM tubes:

5X16 Borei Class / Project 955 SSBN LOA 557′ / 169.8 m TDISP 24,000 tons submerged

6X16 Delta IV Classes / Project 667BDRM Delfin 1X16 Delta III / Project 667BDR Calmar SSBN LOA 520′ / 158.5 m TDISP 18,200 tons submerged

China – 72 MIRV SLBM tubes:

6X12 Type 094 / 094A (NATO: Jin class) SSBN LOA 443’/ 135 m TDISP 11,ooo tons submerged

India – 24 SLBM tubes

2X12 Arihant class SSBN LOA 364′ / 110.9 m TDISP 6,000 tons. Currently armed with short or intermediate-range missiles that do not break down into MIRVs.

North Korea 1 or 2 short-ranged SLBM tubes

1X1 OR 1X2 Simpo / Gorae class SSB (Ballistic missile conventionally powered submarine) (1 active) LOA ca. 225′ / 68.6 m TDISP 1,600 tons submerged (estimate). SLBM missiles, based on observed tests are short-ranged and do not break down into MIRVs.

*At any given time, several of these boats will be undergoing dockyard work. This list does not include submarines reported to be test beds, such as the last Russian Typhoon class, Dmitriy Donskoy, or the Chinese Type 032/Qing class.

Russian Black Sea Fleet – 2022 War Losses

A brief visual survey of Russian 2022 Black Sea Fleet warship losses – reality vs. false reporting

Adapted from official Ukraine 2022 postage stamp, designed by Boris Groh. via wikimedia commons.

The war losses the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) has suffered during the 2022 Invasion of Ukraine are historically significant. At the time of writing, they are the most severe losses sustained by a major naval service since the 1982 Falklands War.* In the Black Sea’s confined area of operations, the loss of a few major units is significant. Since the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits are closed to warships from warring navies, Russia can’t reinforce the BSF with the numerous units now present in the Mediterranean or elsewhere.** The rest of its navy- the third largest by most measurements-is effectively sidelined.***

For information about the Ukrainian Navy units lost during both the 2014 Russian Annexation of Crimea and now the 2022 Russian Invasion, please see our recent post . We also have more detailed ship listings for Ukraine and Russia. All satellite imagery below shows actual units of the BSF, home-ported at the main naval ports of Sevastopol or Novorossiysk. This post was updated as of January 2023.

The 2022 BSF casualties: 5-6 vessels, ca. 16,230 tons destroyed; 3-4 vessels, 12,800 tons damaged:

Moskva, Slava class/project 1164 Atlant missile cruiser (1983-14 April 2022). LOA 612’/186.5m TDISP 11,500 tons. Formerly the Soviet Navy’s Slava, built at Mykolaiv. Slava and the other units of the class were updates to a series of missile cruisers armed with so-called “carrier killing” anti-ship missiles. They were intended as an economical alternative to the massive nuclear-powered Kirov class. Slava, renamed Moskva after the Soviet collapse, served as the longtime flagship of the Black Sea Fleet. It was engaged in blockading the Southern Naval Base of the Ukrainian Navy at Lake Donuzlav, during the 2014 Annexation of Crimea. At the beginning of the Russian Invasion of 2022, it conspicuously participated in the attack/seizure of Snake Island on 24 February 2022. Extensively damaged by two Ukrainian Neptune Anti-ship missiles 13 April 2022, it sank the next day while efforts were underway to tow it back to Sevastopol. This is the first flagship of a major fleet lost since the Second World War, and the largest warship lost in combat since at least the Admiral Belgrano (Argentinian Navy), a veteran former USN cruiser which was sunk during the 1982 Falklands War. During late April, the Kommuna, the elderly salvage vessel, was sent to the wreck to recover equipment or human remains.

Soviet guided missile cruiser Slava underway in the Mediterranean Sea. [detail of], 1986. Credit NARA, USN official 330-CFD-DN-SC-86-03642 (PH1 Paul D. Goodrich)

Moskva cruiser sevastopol 2016

Admiral Makarov, Admiral Grigorovich class Frigate (2017). LOA 409’/124.7m TDISP 4,000 tons. Reportedly this frigate, the BSF flagship after the destruction of Moskva, was damaged during the 29 October 2022 attack by USVs and UAVs (surface and air drones). Earlier reports of damage sustained on 6 May 2022 appear to have not been accurate.

Admiral Makarov, Saint Petersburg, 2018 © Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons

Admiral Grigorovich Sevastopol 2018-2

Saratov BDK-65 pennant 150 Alligator class/ Project 1171 Tapir Landing Ship (1966-24 March 2022). LOA 370’/112.8m TDISP 4,600 tons. Sunk at the port of Berdiansk, when hit by a tactical ballistic missile. Later it appeared to have been raised and salvaged, transported to Kerch. Two Ropucha II class landing ships escaped the harbour with some damage.

Saratov exercise БДК_Саратов
Saratov landing an infantry fighting vehicle on exercises, Oct. 2021. Credit:, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Alligator class landing ship Sevastopol 2020

Caesar Kunikov (1986) and Novocherkassk (1987), Ropucha II / Project 775M class landing ships (one or both damaged 24 March 2022 when Saratov was destroyed.) LOA 369’/112.5m TDISP 4,000 tons. Though at least one ship had a fire on its foredeck, and both had sailors killed during the Ukrainian attack on occupied Berdiansk, the extent of the damage to either ship is unclear. When they fled the burning port facilities, one ship circled, seemingly out of control and “Bismarcking” South of the port.

Cesar Kunikov LS БДК_«Новочеркасск»
Novocherkassk Aug. 2010. Credit: Александр Вепрёв, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Ropucha II class LS Sevastopol
The inboard ship appears to be Caesar Kunikov, based on the visible portions of the pennant number.

Ivan Golubets (1973) Natya class / Project 266M minesweeper . LOA 200’/61m TDISP 870 tons. Damaged during unmanned surface drone attack on Sevastopol port, 29 Oct. 2022.Natya class MS Sevastopol 2021

Serna class/Project 11770 landing craft (6 May 2022). LOA 85’/25.7m TDISP 61 tons. Destroyed by a Bayraktar TB-2 drone while offloading supplies at Snake Island.

Serna class Astrakhan «Д-172»_и_«Д-131»
Serna class Landing Craft at Astrakhan, Caspian Sea Flotilla, 2015. Credit:, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Serna class LCs Novorossiysk 2021

Raptor class / Project 03160 Assault Boat (2 or 3 lost 21 March 2022 AND 2 May 2022). LOA 55’/16.9m TDISP 23 tons. Entered service around 2015. One unit destroyed or damaged by a soldier with a rocket launcher at Mariupol on 21 March, two units destroyed 2 May at Snake Island by a Bayraktar TB-2 drone.

Raptor Assault Boat, ca. Credit: Okras, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Raptor Assault Boat Sevastopol 2020

The 2022 NOT LOST – Russian units erroneously reported damaged or destroyed: 3 ships, 5,780 tons tons: 

Vasily Bykov / Project 22160 Large Patrol Boat (2018). LOA 308’/93.9m TDISP 1,500 tons. Involved in the attack / seizure of Snake Island 24 February 2022. Widely reported as destroyed 7 March 2022 by salvos from a Ukrainian truck-mounted rocket system, with supporting video and photo evidence online being all fabricated or depicting other events.

Vasily Bykov-Василий_Быков_368
Vasily Bykov, July 2020. Credit:, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Project 22160 corvettes Novorossiysk 2018

Admiral Essen, Admiral Grigorovich class Frigate (2016). LOA 409’/124.7m TDISP 4,000 tons. Reports about this modern frigate being hit by an anti-ship missile attack on 3 April 2022 either were not accurate or the amount of damage was insignificant, as the ship quickly reemerged in operational status.

Admiral Essen 502._День_ВМФ_РФ_на_Неве_31.07.2016
Admiral Essen, ca. July 2016 Credit: GAlexandrova, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Admiral Grigorovich Sevastopol 2018

Ataman Platov, a Dyugon class /Project 21820 large landing (ca. 2010) craft briefly reported damaged or destroyed 12 May 2022 at Snake Island. LOA 148’/ 45 m TDISP 280 tons.

Dyugon class Michman Lermontov firing MTPU-1 in Baltiysk, 2015. Vadim Grishankin,, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Dyugon LC Makhachkala 2021

*During the Falklands War, the Royal Navy lost two destroyers, two frigates, a landing ship, and a landing craft, which total to around 22,100 tons, not counting the SS Atlantic Conveyor, which was a large merchant ship engaged in military activities.

** The terms of the 1936 Montreux Convention that limits access to the Black Sea are more complicated than this, however, the result is that Russia cannot reinforce its Black Sea Fleet.

***Reports indicate some of the Caspian Sea Flotilla ships have been involved in a limited way, firing Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian targets.

The Soviet Superships of Mykolaiv, Ukraine- A Legacy in Steel

If you grew up during the Cold War, you might well have thought that the warships the Soviet Union was churning out were pretty cool! They were sleek, full of giant sensors and dangerous looking weapons, and they had different design categories than the accepted US and Western war fleets. What was a missile-carrying heavy aviation cruiser? Few knew, but it certainly looked like a scarier carrier!

Soviet 1985 Replenishment at Sea by the fleet oiler Berezina of a Kiev class aviation cruiser, a Kresta II class missile cruiser and a Kashin class destroyer. NARA USN 330-CFD-DN-SN-86-00851

These ships almost all came out of a group of shipyards in the Black Sea, in the (then) Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, at Mykolaiv. The shipyards there went by several names over the years, but it makes sense to combine the products of the Marti, 444 shipyards, the Black Sea shipyards and the 61 Kommunara (named for the 61 Communards) shipyards.

Marshal Ustinov (formerly Admiral Flota Lobov), Slava class cruiser completed at Mykolaiv in 1986, during a 2018 intercept by HMS St. Albans (Photo: LPHOT SEELEY/MOD)

The appearance of these ships often led Western analysts to some pretty dire conclusions about advanced Soviet naval capabilities. An early example of this was the “Sverdlov scare” of the 1950s, where analysts overestimated a new class of cruisers. These were in fact some of the last of a breed of old-style gun cruisers, which were throw-backs to Italian interwar designs. We later heard about the carrier-killing Soviet missile cruisers, with their enormous jet-aircraft-sized missiles. The Slava class with their serried ranks of missile tubes, were the last of those designs. To Western defence analysts, the oddest designs may have been the succession of cruiser/carrier hybrids, which combined aviation facilities, a large flight deck, and the potent anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons and sensors of a large cruiser.

We have assembled a list of these large warships, and encourage our readers to delve further by exploring the links to existing satellite views.* Several of the Mykolaiv-built ships continue to serve, in the Russian, Chinese, and Indian navies.

Kusnetsov class carriers – LOA 1001’ / 305 m TDISP 58,000 tons (2 active, 1 in Russia, 1 sold to China by Ukraine-for scrap) Sevice since 1990. Kuznetsov and Liaoning (China) still the largest Soviet / Russian warships. Liaoning was resurrected from the incomplete hulk Varyag, whose construction was stalled. A modern refinement of this design is China’s Type 002 carrier. The “ski jump” at the bows makes this the first Soviet carrier that was able to operate conventional combat jets. Kuznetsov has been undergoing a lengthy refit with many delays.

Admiral Flata Sovetskogo Soyuza Kusnetsov continuing an interminable refit near Murmask, 2019.
PLAN carrier Liaoning 16 Taiwan Straits, 2018 日本防衛省·統合幕僚監部 [CC BY]

Kiev class / Project 1143 Krechyet carriers – LOA 896′ / 273 m TDISP 45,000 tons (4 units, 1 active as converted Indian aircraft carrier, 1 scrapped, 2 preserved in China) service since 1975. This combined cruiser-like armament in the bows with a large flight deck which could operate helicopters and Vertical Takeoff and Landing VTOL Yak-38 “Forger” jets. The example that was refitted for India was updated with a full carrier deck.

Kiev class Baku, in 1989. NARA: US Navy 330-CFD-DN-SC-90-05958

Moskva class / Project 1123 Kondor helicopter cruisers – LOA 620′ / 189 m TDISP 15,300 tons (both units built Mykolaiv) service 1967-1996. These ships excited particular interest as the first Soviet aircraft carriers, and represented a new direction for Soviet naval policy. Their half-cruiser, half-helicopter carrier design looked particularly modern. In practice, they were not particularly successful ships. Similar designs were the French Jean d’Arc, and the Italian Vittorio Veneto, both also 1960s helicopter/cruisers.

The Soviet helicopter cruiser Moskva, from HMS Walkerton. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source:

Slava class / Project 1164 Atlant missile cruisers – LOA 612′ / 186.4 m TDISP 11,500 tons (All 3 units built at Mykolaiv, 1 other unit remains unfinished) Service from 1982. These so-called “carrier killers” were designed to overcome USN carrier group defences and destroy the supercarriers with massive SS-N-12 Sandbox cruise-missiles. Each Slava holds 16 tubes angled forward. Operating as the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, Moskva was sunk 2022/04/14 after being struck by two Ukrainian R-360 Neptune anti-ship missiles during the Russian War in Ukraine. The other two Russian Slavas, normally each based with the North Sea and Pacific fleets, remain in the Eastern Mediterranean.

A port beam view of the Soviet guided missile cruiser SLAVA (renamed Moskva during the 1990s) underway [detail of], 1986. USN official
Marshal Ustinov visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia with other units, July, 1993, alongside Admiral Kharlamov destroyer. This bow view shows the potent Sandbox missile tubes and bow AK-130 dual 130mm gun. Credit:
Varyag, formerly Chervona Ukrayina, completed 1989, usually based out of the Pacific Fleet.
ex-Ukrayina at Mykolaiv (old Kommunara shipyard). Credit: ПТУ-3 г. Херсон (PTU-3 g. Kherson) · Kherson, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Kara class / Project 1134B Berkut B missile cruisers – LOA 568′ / 173.2 m TDISP 9,700 tons (all 7 units built Mykolaiv) service 1971-2014. The Karas were an improvement on the earlier Kynda and Kresta classes of missile cruisers. Compared to most of the ships on this page, these good-looking ships are conventional! They are virtually the same size as the USN Ticonderoga class. One of the ships we found a view of, Azov, was the first ship fitted with a Vertical Launch System (VLS), for a trial Surface-to-Air /S300F/SA-N-6 missile. See our post “The Last blockship?” about the Ochakov, the last remaining Kara hulk, which was used as a blockship by the Russian against the Ukrainian Navy’s Southern Base, to devastating effect.

Kara Class cruiser Kerch n.d. Kerch was the last in service, and was promptly scrapped near Sevastopol. NARA: 330-CFD-DN-SC-89-01795
Ochakov, decommissioned 2011 but used as a blockship by the Russians during the 2014 Annexation of Crimea, to block up Lake Donuslav. Now lying abandoned near the Russian-seized Southern Naval Base.

Sverdlov class / Project 68bis cruisers – LOA 689′ / 210 m TDISP 16,600 tons (4 units, including museum ship Mikhail Kutuzov at Novorossiysk) service 1952-2000 (Mikhail Kutuzov was in commission much longer until converted to museum ship). This design was a refinement of the earlier Chapeyev class, and were impressive-looking gun cruisers with four triple 6″ / 152 mm gun turrets. They served very long careers and were converted to a number of roles, such as command cruisers. Others received aviation facilities. Unlike many World War Two-era USN cruisers, they proved unable to carry a modern anti-ship missile system.

A Soviet Sverdlov class light cruiser underway, 1983. NARA USN 330-CFD-DN-ST-84-01596 (PH2 D. Beech)
Sverdlov class cruiser at Vladivostok, undated declassified Hexagon KH-9 imagery (cropped view] from the National Reconnaissance Office, available from an official US report at the NRO website. From other ships present, this appears to be from the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Chapeyev class/ Project 68 cruisers – LOA 659′ / 201 m TDISP 14,100 tons (2 built ca. 1950, after two earlier units had been destroyed while under construction by Nazi Germany) Service 1950-1981. This designed enlarged the Kirov class and updated the armour and the primary guns, to 4 triple 6″ / 152 mm gun turrets that could fire a respectable half-dozen rounds a minute . None were completed by the war’s end.

Cruiser Zheleznjakov (1950). Credit: Svch433, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kirov class / Project 26/26bis cruisers – LOA 628′ / 191.3 m TDISP 9.500 tons (1 original, 1 upgraded, built at Mykolaiv) service 1938-1970. These ships were medium cruisers armed with powerful 7.1 ” / 180 mm guns in three triple turrets. Unfortunately the design had shoe-horned these larger guns in, and they could only fire an abysmal one or two rounds a minute. They were an adapted Italian Navy cruiser design by Ansaldo, and were the first large ships completed in Russia since the 1917 Communist Revolution. These served with distinction during the war.

The Soviet cruiser Voroshilov in Batumi, 1942. Credit: Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

* This is not a complete list, and there were classes of battleships in the early 20th C, Shchuka wartime submarines and smaller ships built here. Some of the important destroyers and frigates include the Kashin, Kanin and Skoryy class destroyers, Riga class frigates. Another interesting class of ships were the Malina class depot/repair ships built to service nuclear-powered submarines.

Update 2022/04 – Shipsearcher goes “METRIC”!

The Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) has fully updated all ca. 380 warship lower-level pages. When we started this site, it was narrowly-focused on large USN warships, and so we went with our own way of thinking: Overall lengths of ships expressed in imperial measurements – feet! Now that there are more than fifty navies documented on here, with the site welcoming visitors from all over the World, it made sense to express all measurements in both metric and imperial – meters, rounded to .1 of a meter, and feet, rounded to the nearest foot. The site currently has 3,053 images of naval vessels that range in length from 36′-1,123′ or 11.0-342.3 m or ex-USS Enterprise CVN-65 to the Canadian sounding vessel Pogo YFL-104. Just for comparison, you could mount Pogo and 30 of her sister ships end-to-end along the flight deck of Enterprise, and still have enough room for a lawn chair to have a seat and just take it all in!

The longest ship on the site is the decommissioned nuclear super-carrier USS Enterprise CVN-65 at 1,123 feet long or 342.3 meters. USN – Retired Carriers
The smallest naval vessel on the site is the Canadian icebreaker HMCS Labrador’s famous sounding vessel, Pogo YFL-104, 36 feet or 11 meters long, which was used to chart portions of the Canadian Arctic, and assist Labrador in comprehensive surveying. Royal Canadian Navy current and retired auxiliaries and other ships.

The Ukrainian Navy’s Fighting Ships – The only easy day was Never.

The losses the Ukrainian Navy has sustained as a result of two occupations make it unique amongst 21st Century navies. The great navies of the World, since 1945, have undergone only gradual transition to more modern and capable classes of warship, with the tragic loss of units and crew being an exceptionally rare occurrence. By contrast, the Navy of Ukraine lost its headquarters, two major bases, and 75% of its fleet during the Russian Annexation of Crimea, 2014. In the current 2022 Russian War, it has already lost many of the remaining units. This post will provide a brief summary of the warships of Ukraine, and what happened to them. For a ship-by-ship accounting of the fleet, please see our newly-released pages.

Soviansk P-190, ex-USCGC Cushing, transferred to Ukraine from the US Coast Guard in 2018 and reported to have been destroyed, with no known survivors, on 3 March 2018. Credit Армія Інформ, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

In the heady days following Ukraine’s Independence Day, 24 August 1991, the new navy was envisioned as a modern, well-rounded regional force, able to project naval presence in the Black Sea, with a mix of frigates, submarines, and corvettes. It was never intended to compete with the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which it had peacefully been created out of. January 1992 negotiations between presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine even agreed to an equitable split of the fleet. The first Ukrainian warship in the modern era was the Petya class light frigate SKR-112, whose crew and senior officer, Captain Mykola Zhybarev, declared their allegiance to the new state on 21 July 1992, before leaving the Russian base at Sevastopol for Odessa, under the real threat of destruction. The transfer of units, assets, and bases was established in a series of international agreements during the mid-1990s. It was a painful and drawn out separation, complicated by Ukraine granting the Russian fleet a lease to continue using facilities on the Crimean Peninsula, including major port facilities at Sevastopol. The terms for the 20-year lease would have expired in 2017.

A line drawing of SKR-112, the first Ukrainian Navy ship in 1992, which left service the next year. Credit: Sergienkod / CC BY-SA (

Like many of the former Soviet Republics, Warsaw Pact countries, and those that had been in the orbit of the USSR, Ukraine inherited a mixed bag of legacy Soviet warships and vessels from the old KGB Border Guard; some units were relatively modern or in decent material condition, but quite a few were worn-out.* Of the four guided missile frigates, two older Krivak II class were beyond all economical repair, and were promptly decommissioned. Of four submarines, only one elderly Foxtrot class submarine had any prospect of joining the fleet. A variety of missile corvettes of the Grisha and Tarantul classes were transferred along with Pauk class patrol boats.

Zaporizhya UA-01 Foxtrot class submarine, ca. 2012. Credit: Credit: Pavlo1 at Ukrainian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some remarkable ships were building at the 61 Communards shipyard at Mykolaiv at the very twilight of the Soviet empire: A Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier, a large depot ship for nuclear submarines, and a Slava-class cruiser.** The transfer of ownership of the gargantuan facility left Ukrainian governments struggling with a way forward for disposing of these white elephants. For a time, work resumed on the massive 610-foot long, 11,500 ton cruiser, which was to have been named Ukrayina. It received a ship’s badge and a crew was even assigned to prepare for entry into service.

Ukrayina’s authorized ship badge for service in the Ukrainian Navy. Credit: Military Symbols and Heraldry Section, General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Other project on the ways at Mykolaiv included what became the flagship, a Krivak III class frigate originally intended to join the other similar ships in KGB/FSB border guard service. A Grisha V class corvette, Ternopil, was eventually completed in 2003.

Hetman Sahaidachny, flagship of the Ukrainian Navy until recently scuttled at Mykolaiv, late February 2022. Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The years after 2000 have been difficult ones for the Ukrainian Navy, as major procurement of new surface units to replace the aging Soviet ships has mostly not advanced, as the navy has been under-funded and had trouble retaining personnel. The relationship with Russia, and most immediately, the Black Sea Fleet, also deteriorated. Vladimir Putin’s regime, during the early 2000s, began stoking the flames of separatism in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and worse still, questioning the very existence of Ukraine as a separate entity. Because of the lease of the port facilities, there was little separation from Russian forces as Putin’s rhetoric ratchetted up.

The February 2014 Annexation of Crimea by Russia was almost the end of an independent Ukrainian Navy. All ships in Sevastopol, Ukraine’s main naval base, were immobilized, blockaded, and seized. The headquarters and the main docking area for the navy was captured, and other ships in Strilets’ka Bay were cut off, blockaded, and eventually also seized. Some senior officers defected to the Russian fleet, and the loyalties of the rank-and-file was also divided. Fortuitously, the flagship, Hetman Sahaidachny, was participating in international anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia, and returned to Odessa, which became the new headquarters.

Seized units at Sevastopol, still interned Aug. 2020, including the Ropucha landing ship Konstantin Olshansky, the submarine Zaporizhya, and the intelligence ship Slavutich.

The Southern Naval Base on Lake Donuzlav was also bottled up, when the Russians sank a retired cruiser, Ochakov (originally built at Mykolaiv), and other small vessels across the narrow entrance to the lake. Despite efforts to escape, this entire force was seized by Crimean separatists.

Southern Naval Base, May 2014, interned Ukrainian ships. From left to right, these are the Grisha class ships Vinnytsia U-206 (returned and seized again 2022), Ternopil U-209 (not returned), Pauk class Khmelnytskyi U-208 (not returned), Minesweepers Chernigov U-311 and Melitopol U-330 (both not returned), Horlivka A-753 Freighter, another Pauk class, a Pozharny class fire boat.

Today, only the rusted hulk of the Ochakov remains near the former base, awaiting scrapping. The loss of both landing ships, the minesweepers, almost the entire force of Grisha corvettes, and the entire facility was a severe blow. Some ships were returned later, but these have mostly consisted of older ships.

The retired Kara class cruiser Ochakov on its side acting as a block ship across the Kerch Straits, early 2014., CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Russians came up with excuses not to return the updated Grisha corvettes, any of the minesweepers, the larger, more modern Ropucha-class landing ship, the single submarine, the intelligence vessels. Some of these remain interned. The landing ship Konstantin Olshansky U-402 appears to have been repainted to Russian Navy colours and given a new pennant number, and may have been used to ferry troops and vehicles to Syria.

Tragically, for the Ukrainian Navy, the Annexation has proven to be only the first costly maneuvers in a sustained Russian effort. During the 2022 Russian invasion/occupation, Russian forces have again seized many of the ships they had already returned to Ukraine after the last seizure. If reports of the aftermath of the Battle of Berdiansk February 28th, 2022, are accurate, many naval units there were captured.

Yuri Olefirenko U-401, a Polnocny-C class landing ship, 2016. This, the last remaining landing ship, was reportedly captured after the Battle of Berdiansk. Credit: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Consider for a moment the bizarre careers of several ships, including the Grisha class Vinnytsia U-206, the landing ship Yuri Olefirenko U-401, and the small minesweeper Henichesk. These vessels all started as units of the navy or border guard of the Soviet Union, before mid-1990s transfer to the Ukrainian Navy. They were then seized during February 2014 in Sevastopol or the Southern Naval Base, before being released to Ukraine, where they served a further 8 years before again being captured by Russian forces in the present War. We hope that Ukraine emerges from this terrible war intact, and that, on the naval side, it is able to ditch the Russian relics and finally receives the kind of agile, light, hard-hitting, missile-equipped forces it needs to protect its sovereignty from the Russian Black Sea Fleet. We also hope that the fleet is able to participate in multi-lateral exercises and operations outside of the Black Sea, bringing the Ukrainian navy in to close interoperability with international allies.

The next Ukrainian Navy? The Turkish Navy’s TCG Burgazada F-513, is an Ada Class Corvette. The Ukrainian Government signed a deal with Turkey to deliver two of these powerful, modern ships in 2023. Current experience indicates Ukraine needs corvettes and lighter ships that can carry a potent armament of anti-ship missiles. In a future conflict, these could help keep Ukraine’s territorial waters a contested space, against the powerful surface combatants and landing ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet Credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Louis Staats, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

*For navies that started out with similar fleets, see Poland, Romania, Vietnam. The most complete list of these types is found under Russia.

**The Kuznetsov Aircraft Carrier wound up serving in China, which we explored elsewhere. The other two ships remain uncompleted at Mykolaiv, with the Slava class cruiser having been intended to join the Ukrainian Navy until the idea was shelved in the late 1990s. Some of the later ideas were to complete it for the Russians, to join the other units of the class, or modify it to suit Brazilian needs.

No Longer Bountiful – Part 4 – Bounty’s Sister?

This post will briefly compare the Columbia, a Disneyland sailing ship attraction, with the original HMAV Bounty. Previous posts explored the history of the original HMAV Bounty of 1787, the first replica Bounty , and the 1979 replica.

HMAV Bounty (1979 replica) on the left, and Sailing ship Columbia (1958), Disneyland, at right. Both are similar recreations starting from the same basic 1787 Admiralty plans. Bounty credit: OlyScientist, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons Columbia credit: Patrick Pelletier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bounty had a sistership!? Well, yes and no. One of the most accurate Bounty replicas is not Bounty at all! One of the benefits of Facebook groups about very specific topics is you learn some pretty interesting things. When I shared Part II of these Bounty posts, I learned from a former park employee at Disneyland (Anaheim, CA) that one of the ship attractions, the Columbia sailing ship, was actually based closely on the original Royal Navy dockyard draft of the Bounty.* Park animators receive a detailed booklet about the attractions that lays out this interesting story. Columbia is featured in our sailing warships and replicas page, but we didn’t know how closely these vessels were connected.

During the mid-1950s, Walt Disney asked his team of theme park designers for a new attraction that would be a sailing companion to Mark Twain, the recently completed riverboat, on the Rivers of America lagoon rides. Joe Fowler, his Director of Construction and Maintenance, suggested a recreation of the Columbia Rediviva, the first American ship to circumnavigate the Globe. At the time, it was the second major recreation of a sailing ship in the park, joining the stationary “Chicken of the Sea”/Captain Hook’s pirate ship. Raymond Wallace designed and supervised the building of the replica.**

Mark Twain (1955), Columbia’s running mate on the Rivers of America lagoon rides, Disneyland, ca. 2005. Credit: bobyfume, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The details about the original Columbia Rediviva are a bit vague, but she may have been built in the early 1770s in Massachusetts, and was extensively rebuilt in 1787, right about the time the British Admiralty were rebuilding Bounty for her long journey to Tahiti. At 83.5’ long on deck and about 210 tons burthen, Columbia Rediviva was slightly smaller than the original HMAV Bounty. A model at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, Oregon, shows a vessel that, all things considered, shares many features with Bounty and the 1770s-era converted Whitby collier HM Bark Endeavour, Captain James Cook’s vessel from his first voyage of discovery. The deck layout is similar to the Endeavour, with a small break at the mainmast to make a slightly raised quarterdeck, where the cannon are sited. Her armament seems to have been heavier , with gunports piercing the hull sides along the quarterdeck. In contrast, Bounty had a flush (or continuous) weather deck.

“Columbia in a Squall” by George Davidson, an artist who served on board the Columbia Rediviva, and so would have produced a good likeness of the ship. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The ship, which was not a commissioned US warship, became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the Globe. On a commercial venture that also involved exploration, she was commanded by John Kendrick with Robert Gray as his second. Columbia left Boston with a hold full of trade goods in October 1787. For some of the way she was accompanied by the Lady Washington brig. Like Bounty’s commander, Lt. William Bligh, at least one of Columbia’s crew, Simeon Woodruff, had also served aboard HMS Resolution on Captain Cook’s third voyage of exploration to the Pacific. Columbia rounded Cape Horn on her passage to the Pacific, and was extensively damaged during March 1788. A month later, Captain Bligh would try the same passage in HMAV Bounty, and encounter even worse conditions. Bligh had to opt for the longer eastward passage around the Cape of Good Hope. One important legacy of the 1790-1792 journey is that large areas of the Pacific Northwest of North America are named after her – notably the Columbia River and the region which became the Canadian province of British Columbia. Columbia Rediviva was eventually dismantled in 1806.

Lady Washington, a replica of the ship that accompanied Columbia on the epic journey. Photographed at Morro Bay harbor. Credit: ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

No accurate plans of this historic ship survive, and “Columbia in a Squall” is the only contemporary illustration of the ship. The Disney team located the plans of a similar pint-sized three-masted ship. They settled on adapting the original British Admiralty plans of the HMAV Bounty to represent Columbia Rediviva. Sections of the ship were built at the Los Angeles division of Todd Shipyards, which had also built the Mark Twain riverboat for Disney. In contrast to the Mark Twain, Columbia was a full-sized tall ship with none of the visual shortcuts that help shrink park attractions into usually tight spaces. She dwarfed her surroundings, and was actually several feet larger than Columbia Rediviva! Her length on deck is about 90 feet and the breadth across the deck is 24 feet, matching precisely the original Admiralty plans for HMAV Bounty. In terms of displacement and general dimensions she is the most accurate of all Bounty replicas! Like the New Zealand Bounty replica, she is based on a steel frame and everything under the waterline is also steel. Wood was laid over the steel frames above the waterline. The similarity ended there, as Columbia was given a very flat, barge-like bottom suitable to the shallow lagoon and running along the track. The water of the lagoon is coloured a murky green to camouflage the shallow lagoon, the track, and the shallow hulls. Columbia has two screws, which were powered originally by diesel engines. A Natural gas engine now propels the ship sedately around the lagoon. The Columbia began operations June 14th, 1958–two years before work began on the (much larger) 1960 Bounty replica–and she’s been giving visitors 12-minute rides around the Rivers of America lagoon ever since. For the night displays of Fantasmic!, Columbia is quickly converted to play the role of the Black Pearl, the pirate ship from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Composite view of Columbia at top and Bounty replica (1978) at bottom, from views used under each entry in our database. A 90′ line in yellow, Bounty’s length of deck, has been indicated.

The visible differences between this replica and the original Bounty are fairly minor. The most obvious distinguishing feature is that Columbia lacks the ornamental quarter badges (small bay window-like projections) on either side near the stern. Columbia’s bows also have simpler decorative head rails. Just aft of the projecting catheads that secure the anchors, the ship’s rails on either side are also more built up than Bounty’s. This may be inspired by something about the Columbia Rediviva, and certainly is safer for the hundreds of visitors that daily tread her decks. In contrast to Bounty’s figurehead “Bethia,” a demure lady fully-clothed in riding wear, Columbia, the female personification of the Americas, is depicted as a glowing, goddess-like figure. The Lady Columbia looks downright Bountiful!

Columbia from the bows, 2009. Credit: SolarSurfer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Columbia replica is armed with a few swivel cannon along the rails and four small cannons, which are very similar to Bounty’s four-pounders. Two of these cannons are installed further aft near the taffrail, another difference with Bounty. Inboard, Columbia has her capstan fitted way forwards, near the windlass and the gleaming brass ship’s bell.

Sailing ship Columbia attraction at Disneyland, ca. 1959, with a very similar 5 light stern to Bounty. Credit: Orange County Archives, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Standing on the deck of this ship in the artificial lagoon in Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, park goers are unwittingly getting an accurate feel of the setting for the events of the 1789 Mutiny near Tahiti. Though we ardently hope that the Bounty replica languishing in Thailand will be rebuilt, and that further replicas will slide down the ways, it is nice to know that the Columbia, a very good likeness of the Bounty, has been delighting Disneyland visitors for almost 65 years!

* Messaging with R. Villanueva, Museumships facebook group, 2022/02/05.

**Ray Wallace founded a company that has continued to build many theme park maritime attractions ever since.

Additional Information and great photos of the Columbia can be found in the Inventing Disney blog post ” Walt Disney’s Disneyland Mistake“.

No Longer Bountiful – the careers of three Bounty ships – Part 3- Bounty replica (1979)

This post will briefly explore the career of the second Bounty replica. Two previous posts explored the history of the original HMAV Bounty of 1787, and the first replica Bounty of 1960.

The second replica of HM Armed Vessel Bounty has a colourful history. This little ship was built in New Zealand during 1978-1979 for a film project that didn’t initially materialize. Filmmaker David Lean had planned a massive two-movie project about both the mutiny and the aftermath. This ambitious project aimed at a more accurate depiction of the events, and part of that involved a new replica.

Bounty 1979 NZMM Charles Hawkins
Bounty replica, newly-built, ca. 1979, on sea trials. Credit: New Zealand Maritime Museum Acc. 2021.29.405. Reproduced here with kind permission of family of Clifford W. Hawkins

This new ship had wood cladding over a steel hull and frames. Modern construction methods meant that she could be built at a non-specialized shipyard in New Zealand –Whangarei Engineering Company. She would be built to updated safety standards and would be easier to maintain than a wooden ship. Compared to the traditionally-built 1960 replica, this Bounty was actually a more authentic reconstruction. The overall dimensions were closer to the diminutive size of the 1787 ship, with a deck 98′ long and an overall sparred length around 135′. The hull was 23’ wide. She was 247 tons burthen, which was only slightly larger than the original. Ornamentation at the bows and stern was also less elaborate. Like the other replica, she was fitted with engines. In this case two eight cylinder Kelvin diesel engines gave her the independent propulsion to keep on schedule getting to and from filming locations.

“Bethia” figurehead from this Bounty, ca. 2007 at Sydney. Credit: User:Bukvoed, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

This Bounty, sometimes called Bounty III, can be distinguished from the 1960 replica by her natural wood sides, with a blue band above deck-level near the stern. The deck furniture and inboard details were also left as natural wood. Materials for the construction were sourced from all over the British Commonwealth, including rigging and blocks from England, flax sails from Scotland, and masts made of Canadian Douglas Fir. The steel for the hull came from Australia and the wood on the hull sides was locally-sourced Iroko, a durable wood that gradually darkens with age.

With a steel hull, she had no need for coppering below the waterline – copper sheets protect wood hulls from boring worms (actually a tiny clam) and inhibit marine growth. A copper paint simulated the look. Whereas the 1960 replica was originally rigged with a full 3-masted ship rig, this smaller vessel was set up as a bark, which, in the 18th Century usage, means it had no mizzen topgallant yard or sail on the aft (mizzen) mast. To put it lubberly-like, it was missing the top square sail from the back mast! The building, and the uncertain film status is well-described in the 1981 New Zealand documentary A Fated Ship, available at the website.

Bounty replica near the National Maritime Museum, Sydney. Credit: User: Bukvoed, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

After years of on-again-off-again discussions about the films, and enquiries about selling her, the ship did finally get her chance to serve in her intended role, in the 1983 Dino De Laurentiis-produced Hollywood film “The Bounty.” It was an adaptation of the original project. This blockbuster starred Anthony Hopkins as Lt. Bligh and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian. Following a brief lay-up, she was refitted in Vancouver, Canada, and attended Expo 86 there. A highlight was her participation in the 1988 First Fleet Reenactment. After a Royal Inspection by Queen Elizabeth, Bounty and six other ships set sail from Portsmouth, UK, to retrace the route that the first fleet of ships bearing colonists had taken, two centuries before, to Australia.

Bounty in the midst of the fanfare surrounding the arrival of the First Fleet Reenactment ships, Sydney Harbour on Australia Day, 26 January 1988. Credit: Australian Overseas Information Service, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

Years later, Bounty was based out of Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia, and docked near the National Maritime Museum. This hardy little replica took visitors on tourist excursions. Bounty could be chartered for events, and continued appearing in various film and television projects. She was often located within sight of the very similar replica of the HM Bark Endeavour (1993). Both vessels, small bark-rigged converted British merchant ships from the same general period, have very similar paint schemes. The similarities have resulted in several archives and wikimedia contributors frequently confusing these ships.

Bounty replica Sydney 2007Bounty has a flush deck and a more elaborate bow, with headrails and the figurehead. At the stern, Bounty has projecting lights at the quarter badge (“bay windows”).  Endeavour is a bigger, tubbier, higher-set vessel with a stern raised far enough out of the water that she has room for stern-chaser gunports beneath the stern lights. During Cook’s famous voyages of exploration, the British Admiralty were not yet consistently coppering the hulls of their warships, so the Endeavour replica also has a distinctive band of white anti-fouling paint just visible around the waterline.

NOT BOUNTY! The Endeavour replica, Whitehaven Harbour, 2004 Credit: Peter Eckersley / Endeavour, Whitehaven harbour

ANMM-Bounty-6 stern
The stern of the Bounty, with a few differences from both the Endeavour replica and the 1960 Bounty replica, including the open rails at the taffrail. Bounty in 2007 was berthed near the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney. Credit: User:Bukvoed, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

In 2007 Bounty was sold to HKR International, and wound up as a mostly stationary attraction at the Discovery Bay resort in Hong Kong. There, she was also called “Chi Ming”, a rough Chinese equivalent to Bounty. Her new port of registry appeared just above the stern lights. Five years after the 2012 sinking of the other Bounty replica, this ship, reportedly in poor condition, was decommissioned and sold to a Thai firm.

Bounty replica (1978) and Hong Kong cityscape, April 2009 [cropped]. Credit Mstyslav Chernov, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Since late 2017 she has been berthed at a dock South of Bangkok.* The mizzen mast has been removed due to rot, and the ship is languishing. We hope this will not be the end for this Bounty. This is not the end of our Bounty posts. We are working on at least one more, and it may surprise readers!

We take Bounty with us where we go! We started making this Revell 1/110 scale Bounty model in early 2022. It is painted to represent the colours of the 1979 replica. Credit:

*When we began these Bounty posts, the information about Bounty’s current location was found on this replica’s facebook appreciation group. Since then, wikipedia has been updated with this information. Here is a view of her current berth.Bounty II replica near Bangkok 2019-02

No Longer Bountiful – the careers of three Bounty ships – Part 2- Bounty replica (1960)

This post will briefly explore the career of the first Bounty replica. The last post explored the history of the original HMAV Bounty of 1787, and the next post will focus on the later 1978 replica.

Bounty sailing into Halifax, NS, during the early 1990s. Credit:

The first major replica of HM Armed Vessel Bounty, of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame, had a remarkable career in her own right.* Her story could readily form the basis of a theatrical production or a motion picture. This new Bounty was completed in 1960, at Smith and Rhuland shipyard, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Smith and Rhuland are one of the last examples of the shipyards that made Atlantic Canada one of the most prolific centers of wooden shipbuilding from the 1850s to the 1870s.

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Bounty being launched at Smith and Rhuland shipyard, Lunenburg, NS, 1959. Credit: Nova Scotia Archives, [N. S. Bureau of Information]
This shipyard had built famous schooners such as Bluenose, and would go on to build stunning replicas, such as the Bluenose II, and HMS Rose/Surprise. Bounty’s design and construction was funded by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, for their blockbuster Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard (as Fletcher Christian and Lt. Bligh, respectively). After trials, the ship left for filming in Tahiti, with a working crew of Nova Scotians, who would spend more than a year far from home. The film would debut to mixed reviews in 1962.

HMS Bounty replica LOC credit
The Bounty replica as part of the collection of the Bounty Tall Ship Foundation, Fall River, Massachusetts. Highsmith, C. M., photographer. [Between 1980 and 2006] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
This replica had taken 8 months to complete and, to help filming on board, was much larger than the original ship; the movie ship was at least 30 feet longer, with a total sparred length of 180′, a 120′ long weather deck, and a breadth (maximum hull width) of 31.5′. All this gave the ship 200 tons of added weight. 400,000 board feet of wood –mostly oak and Douglas fir– went into construction. Bounty could be propelled by its auxiliary engines, but was a fully-functioning wooden-hulled sailing vessel that could hoist a massive spread of canvas on her three masts. The main mast soared to 111 feet above the water.

Bounty’s considerable rig, looking forward from the deck, taken at Halifax, NS during the early 1990s. Credit:

This Bounty wore a distinctive livery of a broad black wale above the waterline, and dark blue sides, with yellow strakes running above the wale and at the level of the weather (upper) deck, and yellow ornamentation at the stern and at the headrails behind the figurehead.

Bounty’s figurehead, retained from merchant service was “Bethia,” the demure English lady in riding attire. Credit:

The deck fittings and inboard machinery, such as gangways, hatches, the capstan and windlass, were painted white, while the ship’s gunwales above the deck were a bright red colour traditionally used inboard on warships of the Royal Navy.

Photographs taken during Bounty’s visit to Halifax show inboard details as we saw them during the early 1990s: The ship’s binnacle and wheel, The 1/2 pound swivel cannon at the port bows, and the replica 4-pounders . Credit:

During filming, this replica was originally intended to have been burned, like the original, at Pitcairn Island. Marlon Brando insisted he would not finish his scenes, unless the ship was saved from destruction. A large model was destroyed instead. In 1986 the ship passed to the ownership of movie mogul Ted Turner, and continued making promotional tours and appearing in television and film productions. From the mid-1960s until the late 1980s, Bounty was captained by Hugh Boyd, the first of two long-service Bounty captains.**

Bounty into st. petersburg pc5638
Bounty sailing into the Bay at St. Petersburg, FL, to moor at near the Municipal Pier, n.d. Florida Memory PC-5638

Turner donated the ship in 1993 to the Fall River Chamber Foundation, Massachusetts. The resulting Tall Ship Bounty Foundation operated her until 2001. A highlight of this era was Bounty’s involvement in training US Navy crews for USS Constitution’s restoration as a sailing warship. Bounty’s crew helped train USN personnel in sail handling and other duties involved in operating a fully-rigged ship, even as the USS Constitution was rebuilt and strengthened. When the two-hundred-year-old ship raised its sails and began to gather way for the first time in more than a Century, 21 July 1997, it was in part because of the support of Bounty and her crew. Bounty’s captain, Robin Walbridge, had also taken time away from Bounty to advise Constitution’s crew, and was a guest captain at the sailing.

USS Constitution sets sail 21 July 1997 after a historic rebuild. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 2nd Class Todd Stevens., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Another notable event from this period were the false reports of her sinking in early Oct. 1998. Bounty encountered trouble while on the way to Charleston, SC. Reports of a malfunctioning pump and some flooding requiring Coast Guard assistance escalated to the point that the Tall Ship Bounty Foundation had to reassure the public that the media had been mistaken. Unfortunately, this event was symptomatic of Bounty’s worsening physical condition in the late 1990s. The 2001 sale of the leaky ship to HMS Bounty Organization, based out of Greenport, NY, began with a much-needed massive restoration.

Bounty’s headrails, bows, and figurehead “Bethia”, seen while visiting Halifax. Credit:

The vessel spent its summers, for more than three decades, at St. Petersburg, Florida, where Bounty ran excursions, and was a notable local attraction. The ship and crew worked themselves  into the fabric of community life. For our shipsearcher project, it has been extraordinarily difficult to locate satellite imagery of the ship. The only satellite view we have ever located has Bounty at the old municipal pier off St. Petersburg.***

Bounty replica st. Petersburg FL 2005Bounty replica st. Petersburg FL 2005detail

In addition to the occasional film work, most years her enthusiastic crew maintained a busy schedule, visiting ports-of-call and participating in tall ships events, dockside sail training programs, and heritage programming. Her classic paint scheme was revised in the early 2000s, for filming of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. She played the Edinburgh Trader, a merchant ship later destroyed by a kraken. Once again, a large model stood in for the replica! Bounty now featured dark green sides over the black wale, and the deck fittings received a muted sand tone.

This April 2012 view in St. Augustine, FL shows Bounty with the green and black hull and copper-coloured paint having replaced the sheathing. Credit: Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Financing Bounty’s operation was a constant struggle,  because of the steep costs of safely maintaining a traditionally-built, elaborately-rigged wooden sailing ship. Repair and refit work at Boothbay shipyard in Maine and elsewhere could begin to look like complete rebuilds. Around 2003 a major refit saw her original copper bottom-cladding removed and replaced by anti-fouling paint on the wooden underbody. Some of the work was geared at upgrading Bounty’s equipment to meet specifications for certification as a Sailing School Vessel (SSV), which would have allowed her to embark passengers and trainees in addition to crew. During the 2006-2007 Boothbay restoration of Bounty, large steel plates were added over the hawse holes, where modern anchors were prominently mounted there. This removed some of the decorative cheek pieces around the bows. This and the paint job made the vessel look less and less like the instantly recognizable movie ship, and gave her bows a more “apple-cheeked” working-ship appearance.

Bounty at Tall Ships, Halifax, 2012. Credit: gLangille from Canada, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The tragedy that struck this Bounty in 2012 was deeply troubling.  As Hurricane Sandy bore down on New London, Connecticut, on the 25th October, Capt. Walbridge made a decision to leave port, get some sea room between the ship and the storm, and try to skirt around the worst of the weather to the East of the developing system.  The ship was due to resume its usual winter activities around Florida. He was a veteran skipper, with decades of sailing experience – most of which was on Bounty. He led a dedicated but inexperienced crew. They supported his decision to put to sea, rather than risk damage to Bounty in port. Despite multiple warnings urging all civilian craft to head for a safe anchorage, Walbridge took the small 52-year old wooden ship and his crew of 15 out .****

By the 27th, the vessel was being battered by violent seas. The unusual motion was making several crew members wretchedly sick, and Bounty was taking on water, with one generator out and the newly-installed electric pumps of the dewatering system struggling to keep pace. Worse still, two other hydraulic pumps and a gasoline-powered portable pump all could not be brought online. Suffering bouts of seasickness, the engineer could barely attend to his machinery, and crew members were nursing a number of injuries. Around 11:00 PM on the 28th of October, the situation rapidly deteriorated, with Walbridge emailing his organization that he did not know if Bounty could stay afloat until an orderly evacuation could be performed after daybreak . Weather conditions were too dire to evacuate from Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters. Early on the 29th of October, the exhausted crew had lost the battle to keep Bounty under any kind of control, the pumps were not functioning and the vessel’s electricity was disabled. Bounty was flooding fast.

Around 3:00 AM the crew gathered at the navigation shack, as the tween’ decks flooded beneath them.  They discussed abandoning Bounty and taking to the two large rafts. Walbridge, now injured, was struggling with the enormity of the disaster. He asked crewmembers when it had all gone so wrong. By now they were wearing cumbersome immersion suits. The crew retreated to the weatherdeck to prepare the rafts. At 4:26 AM, Bounty’s bows dove under, and she pitched on to her starboard beam ends, throwing the evacuation into complete chaos. Crew members had to scramble into the cold water in darkness. Some were hit by objects or entangled in rigging. They struggled to get clear as the ship’s masts rose out of the water and crashed back down. The Chief Mate had communicated with an orbiting Coast Guard C-130 Hercules. Soon, another C-130 and two Jayhawks were on route.

HMS Bounty sinking SE of Hatteras, NC, 29 October, 2012, taken from an MH-60 US Coast Guard helicopter. Credit: United States Coast Guard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski

Arriving on scene two hours later, at daybreak, helicopter crews were confronted with something that looked like a scene from Robinson Crusoe: An antique wooden ship was dying. They succeeded in rescuing 14 crew, in incredibly difficult conditions. Rescuers could not locate Walbridge or deck hand Claudene Christian. Christian’s body was recovered hours later. The last sighting of Bounty was from the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Elm around 7:00 PM, when she was about 120 miles SE of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, drifting mostly submerged, with masts still above the surface. She sank in about 14,000 feet of water. Despite an extensive search, Bounty’s captain was never found.

The eventual Coast Guard investigation found fault with the captain’s decision to put to sea in the face of storm-warnings. Bounty also departed from the planned course, and the Coast Guard heard about the worsening situation on the ship mostly via second-hand information from the shore offices of HMS Bounty Organization. The National Transportation Safety Board official report concluded that the decision to put to sea was reckless, and that basic safety precautions, including ensuring the vessel was well maintained with functioning safety appliances, were absent.

Bountysunset pc5637
Bounty under sail at sunset – St. Petersburg, Florida n.d. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 3 Feb. 2022.<;.

This replica lasted decades longer than the original ship. Though gone, she lives on in the memories of those, like us, who had a chance to see this amazing ship, on her visits up and down the Eastern Seaboard, Atlantic Canada, and at many ports-of-call around the World. Recently, there has been revived interest in building another North American or even Canadian replica. As we will see in the third and final instalment of our Bounty trilogy, there are other, more economical options available for building a Bounty.

We take Bounty with us where we go! We started making this Airfix Bounty model in the late 1990s, when we believed Bounty’s colours to have been like the 1960 replica we had visited in Halifax. Twenty-five years later, we are again working on it.

*for the 1935 movie, filming was done using either a converted schooner or a barge. A converted barge that played HMS Pandora sank soon after.

**Bounty’s longtime captain, Hugh Boyd, outlasted his beloved ship, passing away in late January, 2022. Boyd was originally from Dartmouth, NS, and was on the crew that went out to Tahiti.

***We were quite certain this was Bounty, and then confirmed it using the archived schedule of Bounty from 2005/12 available at the wayback machine, a good resource for information about this Bounty.

****this account is based closely on the detailed timeline provided in the US Coast Guard investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board report, both linked to above.

No Longer Bountiful – the careers of three Bounty ships – Part 1 – HM Armed Vessel Bounty (1787)

The first of a three part post on the original Bounty, of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame, and both full-size sailing replicas of this famous little ship.

This post will briefly explore the career of the original HMAV Bounty. Upcoming posts will focus on the full-scale Bounty replicas built in 1960 and 1978 for feature films.

The history of the Bounty’s mission and her crew has been popularized, interpreted, reinterpreted, and fictionalized in countless ways since the original late-18th Century events. The shipsearcher naval historian would like to focus on the ill-fated ship at the center of this drama. Bounty had been completed in 1784 at Kingston-upon-Hull as the merchant ship “Bethia.” Acquired by the Royal Navy as His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty in 1787, this small, gem-like full-rigged ship was 91 feet along the weather deck, with a breadth of 24.4 feet and was 220 tons burthen. Bounty received modifications to transport breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies, in a scheme to grow cheaper food to feed slaves – the ugly truth of the vessel’s purpose. Below the waterline, the ship’s hull was coppered, to help prevent marine growth which could slow the ship and eventually eat away at the wood. Lieutenant William Bligh, who had experience as sailing master on Captain Cook’s final exploration mission, commanded the expedition.

Bounty plans 1787 RMG
Bounty Deck and general arrangement plans, 1787, showing the location of the breadfruit planters in the expanded “garden” which replaced the Great Cabin at the stern, and other major features. © Crown copyright. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The ship had bluff bows, and a pleasing sheer (forward and aft rise to the decks). Bounty’s design was very similar to the Whitby colliers used on Captain Cook’s expeditions. She was slightly smaller than HM Bark Endeavour, from his first expedition. She also had a flush (continuous) weather deck, compared to Endeavour’s raised forecastle and quarterdeck. Forward, the head rails led to a figurehead of a woman with a riding hat (fully clothed – a rarity!), retained from her civilian service. Restrained decorative elements included badge-style quarter lights (looking very much like small bay windows) and 5 lights spanning the stern transom. The Admiralty installed an armament of four 4-pounder cannon and ten 1/2 pound swivel guns, which could be mounted atop posts sited along the gunwales.

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A modern interpretation of Bounty for exhibition, which generally shows a simply adorned ship, with natural hull-sides, a broad black lower wale, and light blue on the solid bulwarks along the level of the weather deck, Credit: Royal Museums Greenwich

After a journey of 10 months, Bounty made landfall in Tahiti in October, 1788. The 44-man crew got down to the business of harvesting breadfruit trees, to install in special planters fitted in the great cabin aft. Relations between the islanders and the crew complicated the vessels eventual departure, and on 28 April 1789 half of the crew, led by Fletcher Christian, Bligh’s trusted sailing master, mutinied and cast Bligh and the loyal crew members adrift in the ship’s 23′ long launch.

A large scale model of Bounty’s launch, rigged for sailing. Lt. Bligh and his remaining crew undertook an incredible 3,600 nautical mile-journey in this boat. Credit: Royal Museums Greenwich. SLR2992.

Bligh and almost all his crew survived an incredible open boat journey. Some of the mutineers, and a few crew who could not be accommodated in the launch, returned to Tahiti, while Christian and others pushed on in Bounty in search of a Pacific sanctuary safe from the long reach of the Admiralty. After being stripped of useful gear the ship was burned and sunk off Pitcairn Island in January 1790.

Bounty mutiny painting
The mutineers turning Lt. Bligh and part of the Officers and Crew adrift from His Majesty’s Ship the Bounty [ 29 April 1789] by Evans and Dodd. Bligh had insisted Bounty be equipped with a larger 23′ launch, which ended up serving him in good stead when he and crew loyal to him were cast adrift. Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. PAH9205
These events, the later efforts to bring the mutineers to Royal Navy justice, and the remaining lives of Bounty crew members in the South Pacific, lived on in the public imagination, and formed the basis of non-fiction, fictionalized dramatizations, plays and parodies. In the new medium of film, movies of the events were made as early as 1917. A 1935 movie starring Charles Laughton as Bligh and Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian won accolades, and is still considered one of the best interpretations. That movie used a converted schooner for filming. A quarter-century later, Hollywood executives from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer were looking for a more accurate replica for their grand movie project. Our next post will pick up the story by exploring the first full-sized sailing replica.

From Cold Warrior to the Last Blockship? The strange retirement of the cruiser Ochakov.

It’s odd to think of a Cold War missile cruiser ending up a blockship in the 21st Century, but this is exactly what happened to the Kara / Project 1134B missile cruiser Ochakov near its long-time Black Sea naval base, Sevastopol. At 570-feet long, and 9,700 tons displacement, these “large anti-submarine warships” (in Soviet classification) were almost exactly the same size as the USN Ticonderoga class missile cruisers. They were built in nearby Mykolaiv, a center of Soviet Russian shipbuilding now located within the borders of Ukraine. Ochakov had a long career, serving from 1973-2011. The ship had been inactive at Sevastopol since modernization was halted in 2000.

Ochakov “in her prime” taken from a USN aircraft Feb. 1982. USN photo DN-ST-82-04655, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The retired ship is infamous, though, for something that happened after her active life. Ochakov was repurposed by the Russian forces to to seal Ukrainian ships in Lake Donuzlav during the March 2014 early stages of the Russo-Ukrainian War. A naval task force of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which included the larger Slava class missile cruiser Moskva, towed Ochakov early on the 6th of March to a location just astride the narrow Donuzlav Pass, where the vessel was purposefully sunk. Ochakov came to rest partially-submerged on its port side in shallow water. For those unfamiliar with the term, a blockship is any ship, naval or civilian, deliberately sunk to block a river, channel, canal, strait, fjord, or entrance to a port, for either defensive or offensive purposes.

Ochakov soon after sinking in March 2014 at the Donuzlav Pass. Credit:, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The hostile act of bottling up the Lake with the Ochakov hulk and two other small ships had strategic consequences: it led directly to the surrender of the Ukranian Navy’s Southern Naval Base whose dozen warships could not escape to other naval facilities in the Black Sea.

Wikipedia currently reports Ochakov was raised in late 2014 and towed back to Inkerman, near Sevastopol, to be dismantled. Satellite imagery clearly shows that the ship never left the Lake.

As it awaits dismantlement, Ochakov is the last unit of its class in existence. The other Kara in Sevastopol, Kerch, served until damaged by a fire in 2014. Kerch was scrapped in late 2020. This is probably where the confusion came from. For other information we have about this and two other Kara class cruisers, see the Russian current and retired cruisers listing.

Ochakov in Donuzlav, two years after it was used as a blockship nearby by Russian forces. It is now several kilometers up the Lake from the Pass, resting near other rusting hulks. Credit: Mitte27, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons