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 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.

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: Mil.ru, 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: Mil.ru, 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: http://www.kremlin.ru, 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, Mil.ru, 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: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120032

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: Warsearcher.com
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 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.

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: http://www.mil.gov.ua/news/2014/03/06/rosijski-vijskovi-zatopili-korabel-bilya-vhodu-v-ozero-donuzlav-z-metoyu-perekrittya-farvateru-i-blokuvannya-korabliv-vms-zbrojnih-sil-ukraini/, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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