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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Comrades, this is your captain. It is anhonor to speak to you today, and I am honored to be sailing with you on the maiden voyage of our motherland’s most recent achievement. Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game ofchess against our old adversary — The American Navy. For forty years, your fathers before you and your older brothers played this game and played it well. But today the game is different. We have the advantage.(Captain Marco Ramius – Hunt for Red October)
Introducing Russian Surface Units – Current and Retired. It joins the Soviet / Russian submarines page to document many classes of Russian warships, from the massive Kirov class battlecruisers to new stealth frigates. Among the strangest of naval vessels, near the end of the list, are the Ekranoplans: These are the daughters of the “Caspian Sea Monster.” You will have to visit the page to untangle that shipsearcher statement!
Shipsearcher staff have been busy looking into the inlets around Murmansk and Vladivostok for large Russian submarines. We’ve found some nice satellite captures of boats to share in a new page on Russian submarines.
Many, like the enormous Typhoon Class of Hunt for Red October fame, are resurrected dinosaurs of the Cold War, while some are new and terrifying breeds.
Featured in the page are nuclear boats that have been the subject of media speculation, such as the World’s longest submarine, the special mission heavily modified Oscar II class Belgorod, and the Losharik deep submergence mini-sub. These are some of the biggest and scariest subs active today. We hope you enjoy these views, just remember, in Soviet Russia, submarine submerges YOU!!