A brief visual survey of Russian 2022 Black Sea Fleet warship losses – reality vs. hazy reporting
The war losses the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) has suffered during the early 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 Bosphorus 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.
The 2022 losses: 5-6 vessels, ca. 16,230 tons
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.
Saratov BDK-65 pennant 150 Alligator class/ Project 1171 Tapir Landing Ship (1966-24 March 2022). LOA 370’/112.8m TDISP 4,600 tons. Destroyed at the port of Berdiansk, when hit by a tactical ballistic missile. Two Ropucha II class landing ships escaped the harbour with some damage.
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. Total not counted with losses. 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.
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.
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.
The 2022 NOT SO MUCH LOSSES – Russian units erroneously reported damaged or destroyed: 3 ships, 9,500 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.
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 Makarov, Admiral Grigorovich class Frigate (2017). LOA 409’/124.7m TDISP 4,000 tons. Reports about this modern frigate being hit or destroyed by an anti-ship missile attack on 6 May 2022 are also unlikely to be accurate.
UPDATE – POSSIBLY DESTROYED 2022/05/12 Early reports indicate Ataman Platov, a Dyugon class /Project 21820 large landing (ca. 2010) craft may have been also destroyed at Snake Island. LOA 148’/ 45 m TDISP 280 tons.
*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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kara class / Project 1134B Berkut Bmissile 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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
*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.
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.**
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 nzonscreen.com website.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.**
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.
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 the HMS Bounty Organization, based out of Greenport, NY, began with a much-needed massive restoration.
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.***
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.
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.
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.
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 the 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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A while back we posted about reaching the milestone of a thousand shipsearcher warship views, and pointed to some of the most interesting captures and ship stories. We have now found more than 3,000 warships using open satellite imagery, and added these to the Shipsearcher database of pages! We continued our mission to travel the World and the Seven Seas to document 24 more navies, and added a special consolidated page of large or notable naval units from all smaller navies.* During 2021, we welcomed more than 20,000 visitors to our pages, with about 50,000 views.
We created a release history page, so that visitors can see when pages/navies were added to the project, with all pages hyperlinked. We hope to do updates when/if we can. We know for some navies, such as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, the pace of new additions to the fleet has rendered the information dated as soon as it came out! The images below link to the relevant page. It’s a hyperlink-rich environment, folks, so click often and please share!
A project that began as a quick look at active and retired United States Navy carriers has now documented more than 50 World navies, from the largest carriers to museum and sail training ships, down to large patrol boats. We also went back and retrospectively added in pages for submarines into the arrangement of every navy that operates these nefarious boats!
Using the search box can trawl up some interesting results across pages. For example searches for unique ship types such as hydrofoils, museum ships or wrecks will guide you to the relevant pages. Just do a “control F” search in the page to get to the ship. So what are some of the most interesting or odd captures we’ve located since our last round-up post? Check out below, with links to posts and pages, and keep exploring the database!
*As a general – sometimes disregarded -convention, navies with 3 or more frigates, or a mix of a destroyer or submarines, or a powerful force of corvettes or ocean patrol vessels, have their own pages, while notable ships from other navies get added to the “Small Navies – Great Ships” pages.
20 years after her sinking, we feature unique views of HMCS Cape Breton, the Royal Canadian Navy’s Cape class maintenance ship, and the second last of the whole group of 320 wartime Park/Fort class merchant ships built in Canada.
For a history of Park/Fort ships, which are Canadian-built ships designed along the similar lines as the famous US Liberty ships, please see part 1, which profiled the last of these wartime ships in existence, HMS Rame Head, scrapped in 2009. The Shipsearcher staff historian was excited to tell the story of the HMS Rame Head, but he was thrilled when Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) staff stumbled across views of the 2nd last ship, the former HMCS Cape Breton (ARE-100), before it was sunk as an artificial reef.
HMCS Cape Breton was a sister-ship to HMS Rame Head, and 19 other similar Depot, Repair and Maintenance ships built for the Royal Navy. This batch of ships were a variation on the basic Fort or Park merchant ship design, that had been built in many yards in Canada as a vital wartime emergency program. HMS Flamborough Head was completed at North Vancouver’s Burrard shipyards and commissioned on 2 May 1945, a few days before Victory in Europe. The ship was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1952, along with HMS Beachy Head, another Burrard-built sister, that had served a stint in the Dutch Navy.
HMCS Cape Breton, and the ship that would later be commissioned as HMCS Cape Scott, were both used alongside at the RCN dockyard, Halifax, providing classroom and repair facilities.
In 1959, Cape Breton was transferred to the West Coast, home-ported at Esquimalt, BC, and was reconfigured to an escort maintenance ship. Both ships by this time had a large flight deck on the stern, which could accommodate a Sikorsky helicopter.
Decommissioned in 1963, to reduce RCN expenditures, from 1964-1993, she served as an alongside maintenance facility. By the early 2000s the ship was being prepared for sinking, docked on the site of Burrard shipyards in North Vancouver, back where she had been built 65 years before. Thirty feet of the stern of the ship was removed. This section, along with one of the ship’s reciprocating engines, was intended to have become part of a maritime museum. A truncated transom was fastened to the now 410′ long hulk, which also had many access holes cut into the hull for divers to use. The old ship was towed out to Snake Island near Nanaimo, BC, and sunk on 20 Oct. 2001. The wreck remains a popular dive site, close to the resting place of the HMCS Saskatchewan. The monument, meanwhile, was first moved near an old shipbuilding shed slightly North of the Burrard pier.
The maritime center never materialized, and eventually the unsightly and exposed stern was dismantled in early 2014, when the cradle it was resting on was judged to be reaching the end of its design life. So went the last of the remaining Fort or Park ships located in Canada.
*The title of both posts was inspired by S.C. Heal’s book A great fleet of ships: The Canadian forts & parks
Enjoy our favourite warship google earth splice errors!
Wunderschiff! We’ve seen enough views of ships, 3,000 and counting, in our many pages, to know when we have encountered a truly excellent google splice error, or other oddity in the space/time continuum! This quick post shares a few of our favourite multi-phasic, time-shifting, perspective-smashing, supership-creating views.
Continuing our theme of strange Soviet subs, we feature the Project 633RV / a modified variant of the NATO-designated Romeo class Diesel-Electric attack submarines. S-49/PZS-50 (Commissioned in 1961) is still in existence, up a bay in Sevastopol.
The major modifications of 1970-1972 to two Romeo boats were the addition of (conspicuous) 650mm tubes above the bows for a test Anti-Submarine Warfare missile system the RPK-7 “Veter”, while 2 of the 533mm torpedo tubes were also modified for RPK-6 “Vodopad” ASW missiles. Both these are NATO-designated SS-N-16 “Stallion.” These could be armed with an Anti-Submarine Warfare torpedo or a nuclear depth charge. The Veter had a range of roughly 100km. S-49 was reportedly decommissioned late 2019, and may become a museum boat.
On the 76th anniversary of her commissioning, we profile the career and end of HMS Rame Head, the last of any version of the vital wartime built Canadian Park and Fort class merchant ships known to exist.
The Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) go to great lengths trying to locate views of the “last” member of whole classes of ships, because it helps us add a broad range of ship types to our listings, and because the staff naval historian feels that locating views of these last ships is a worthwhile “history exercise” HISTEX. Recently, we stumbled across views of what looked like a US Liberty ship being scrapped near Ghent, Belgium. It took some digging, but we eventually traced the story to the last of the Canadian built Park/Fort wartime merchant ships. Today marks the 76th anniversary of her commissioning into the Royal Navy.
During the Second World War’s longest battle, the Battle of the Atlantic, Canada built more than 320 large merchant ships, as one contribution to the Allied war effort against the Axis powers. Every cargo that got through the U-boat-infested waters mattered, and replacing lost merchant ships with Canadian-built hulls helped get new equipment, munitions, and other war supplies to Europe. For a small country with few shipyards, the wartime expansion of naval and merchant shipbuilding capacity, on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts, was spectacular.
Many of these ships originated out of the same basic British “North Sands” design (basically a standard Tramp steamer). The British government, desperately in need of merchant ships, had contracted American yards to build sixty “Ocean ships” in 1940. They were simple to build, with a large amount of cargo space.
The Canadian government quickly agreed to build similar ships, and set to the task in 1941. Some were built with rivetted hulls (North Sands ships), many were welded (Canadian and Victory ships). At 442’ overall and about 14,400 tons displacement, these vessels were not built for grace or speed.** The ships retained for Canada’s merchant fleet were given names of famous Canadian parks, while the ships destined for the British were named after forts.
HMS Rame Head was a member of the 21 ship “Beachey Head” class, which was a naval modification of the basic Fort/Park merchant ships. They were built as depot, maintenance and repair ships for the Royal Navy. The hull was launched in late November 1944 from North Vancouver Shipyards, Vancouver, BC, and Rame Head was commissioned 18 August, 1945, days after the War ended in the Pacific.
During the postwar era, she was updated several times. Starting out as an escort maintenance ship, she then served as an accommodation ship from 1972. She is most remembered for her time attached to the the naval establishment HMS Excellent, at Whale Island, near Portsmouth, berthed in the same location later occupied by HMS Bristol. She then spent many years laid up near Fareham, and was occasionally used by the Special Boat Service for assault training. With the 2001 sinking of the former HMCS Cape Breton (a very similar ex-RN repair ship originally named HMS Flamborough Head) to make a reef, Rame Head became the last Fort/Park class merchant ship in existence. By contrast, there are still three of the more numerous US-built Liberty ships (2 of which are museums), and one slightly larger Victory ship.
In early 2009, following a whole program of scrapping of retired Royal Navy ships, Rame Head was sold off to the Galloo shipbreaking group (Van Heyghen Recycling). The old hull was towed to Ghent, Belgium. A report by the Ministry of Defence outlines the major steps and challenges encountered during the dismantling of this old ship – more asbestos and more concrete ballast had to be carefully removed than was originally estimated. The report notes that only one group had put forward a proposal to save the ship. Dismantling proceeded swiftly. So went the last of the great and vital fleet of wartime Park and Fort ships.
*The title of this post was inspired by S.C. Heal’s book A great fleet of ships: The Canadian forts & parks
**The same British J.L. Thompson & Sons design would later be used for the Liberty ships.
We located new views of the Soviet naval ekranoplan MD-160, the only completed Lun-class Ekranoplan, on the beach South of Derbent, Republic of Dagestan, and have added these to our listing of these very unusual craft!
Towed down the coast from its long-term outside storage at Kaspiysk in late July, 2020, this 242-foot long “Caspian Sea Monster” is intended to join the collection of the giant Patriot Park museum/reanactment center.* It grounded accidentally and became stuck on the beach in the surf, and was feared to have been significantly damaged. However, recent efforts in December succeeded in moving it inland, out of harm’s way. MD-160 is a Lun-class “ground-effect” or “wing-in-ground” vehicle. It was a development of the 302-foot long KM, the largest aerial vehicle of its time (new entry for this beastly craft in the listing). Soviet Ekranoplans were designed at the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau, and mostly the product of visionary designs by hydrofoil expert Rostislav Alexeyev.
MD-160 entered service in 1987 and was retired sometime during the late 1990s. Unlike the KM, and smaller ekranoplans, it was armed with six enormous p-270 Moskit anti-ship cruise missiles, mounted in pairs of tubes staggered along the dorsal surfaces of the fuselage. Guidance systems for these were found in bulges in the nose and just at the leading edge of the massive tail section. It had stubby wings with a wingspan of 144-feet. Eight Kuznetsov NK-87 turbojet engines, mounted in pods of four jets on each side of the cockpit, powered this strange craft.
While researching MD-160, we heard for the first time about a “sister-plan.” There exists a second, unfinished variant named Spasatel (Russian for “Rescuer”), whose design was modified, removing the anti-ship missile tubes. It was intended to serve as an ambulance transport or Search and Rescue craft…maybe a hospital ekranoplan!
Left unfinished upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, It was stored in a shed near the shipyards at Nizhny Novgorod, until moved outside around 2014. there is some interest in resuming the project! The view above shows all the major pieces are stacked on the fuselage. For more views of ekranoplans, please check out our Russian Navy – Ekranoplans listing page.
* The original KM was called the “Caspian Sea Monster” by Western observers, so these Lun class ekranoplans may more accurately be the daughters of the Caspian Sea Monster.