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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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