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Soviet Navy

Военно-морской флот СССР

Voenno-morskoj flot SSSR

Flag of the Soviet Navy of the Soviet Union

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The Soviet Navy (Russian: Военно-морской флот СССР, Voenno-morskoj flot SSSR, literally "Military Maritime Fleet of the USSR") is the naval arm of the Soviet Armed Forces. Often referred to as the Red Fleet (Russian: Красный Флот), it is by far the largest navy in the world. The Soviet Navy would have played an instrumental role in a Warsaw Pact war with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), where it would have attempted to prevent naval convoys from bringing reinforcements across the Atlantic Ocean from North America to Western Europe. Such a conflict never occurred, but the Soviet Navy still saw considerable action during the Cold War.

The Soviet Navy is divided into four major fleets: the Soviet Northern Fleet, Soviet Pacific Fleet, Soviet Black Sea Fleet, and Soviet Baltic Fleet; under separate command was the Leningrad Naval Base. The Soviet Caspian Flotilla is a smaller force operating in the land-locked Caspian Sea. The Mediterranean Squadron drew its units from the Black Sea, Baltic, and Northern Fleets; the Indian Ocean Squadron primarily from the Pacific Fleet. Other components included Soviet Naval Aviation, Soviet Naval Infantry (the Soviet equivalent of marines), and Soviet Coastal Artillery.

According to a 1980 Time article citing analysts from RAND Corporation, non-Slavs were generally prohibited from joining elite or strategic positions in the armed forces like the Navy, Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and the Soviet Air Forces because of suspicions of the loyalty of ethnic minorities.

Soviet Navy consists the largest fleet of active supercarriers in the world, the world's most powerful fleet of nuclear-powered guided-missile battlecruisers (Kirov class battlecruisers), the largest fleet of nuclear-powered intercontinental ballistic missile submarines, and operates more than 7,500 aircraft. The Navy are one of the three most important military service branches in the Soviet Armed Forces.


Early history[]

The Soviet Navy was based on a republican naval force formed from the remnants of the Imperial Russian Navy, which had been almost completely destroyed in the Revolution of 1917, the Russian Civil War, and the Kronstadt rebellion. During the revolution, sailors deserted their ships at will and generally neglected their duties. The officers were dispersed (some were killed by the Red Terror, some joined the "White" (anti-communist) armies, and others simply resigned from the Navy) and most of the sailors left their ships. Work stopped in the shipyards, where uncompleted ships deteriorated rapidly.

The Black Sea Fleet fared no better than the Baltic. The Bolshevik revolution entirely disrupted its personnel, with mass murders of officers; the ships were allowed to decay to unserviceability. At the end of April 1918, German troops entered the Crimea and started to advance towards the Sevastopol naval base. The more effective ships were moved from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk where, after an ultimatum from Germany, they were scuttled by Vladimir Lenin's order. The ships remaining in Sevastopol were captured by the Germans and then, after November 1918, by the British. On 1 April 1919, when Red Army forces captured Crimea, the British squadron had to withdraw, but before leaving they damaged all the remaining battleships and sank thirteen new submarines. When a White Army captured Crimea in 1919, it rescued and reconditioned a few units. At the end of the civil war, Wrangel's fleet, a White fleet, moved to Bizerta in French Tunisia, where it was interned.

The first ship of the revolutionary navy could be considered the rebellious Imperial Russian cruiser Aurora, whose crew joined the Bolsheviks. Sailors of the Baltic fleet supplied the fighting force of the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution. Some imperial vessels continued to serve after the revolution, albeit with different names.

The Soviet Navy, established as the "Workers' and Peasants' Red Fleet" (Russian: Рабоче-Крестьянский Красный флот, Raboche-Krest'yansky Krasny Flot or RKKF) by a 1918 decree of the Soviet government, was less than service-ready during the interwar years. As the country's attentions were largely directed internally, the Navy did not have much funding or training. An indicator of its reputation was that the Soviets were not invited to participate with the Washington Naval Treaty, which limited the size and capabilities of the most powerful navies. The greater part of the old fleet was sold by the Soviet government to Germany for scrap. In the Baltic Sea there remained only three much-neglected battleships, two cruisers, some ten destroyers, and a few submarines. Despite this state of affairs, the Baltic Fleet remained a significant naval formation, and the Black Sea Fleet also provided a basis for expansion. There also existed some thirty minor-waterways combat flotillas.

During the 1930s, as the industrialization of the Soviet Union proceeded, plans were made to expand the Soviet Navy into one of the most powerful in the world. Approved by the Labour and Defence Council in 1926, the Naval Shipbuilding Program included plans to construct twelve submarines; the first six were to become known as the Dekabrist class submarine. Beginning 4 November 1926, Technical Bureau Nº 4 (formerly the Submarine Department, and still secret), under the leadersip of B.M. Malinin, managed the submarine construction works at the Baltic Shipyard. In subsequent years, 133 submarines were built to designs developed during Malinin's management. Additional developments included the formation of the Pacific Fleet in 1932 and the Northern Fleet in 1933. The forces were to be built around a core of powerful Sovetsky Soyuz class battleships. This building program was only in its initial stages by the time the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union forced its suspension in 1941. But during the Cold War after the war, the battleships were put into operation in the navy together with the largest battlecruisers ever built in the world, Stalingrad class battlecruiser.

The Soviet Navy had some minor action in the Winter War of 1939–1940 on the Baltic Sea, limited mainly to cruisers and battleships fighting artillery duels with Finnish forts.

World War II[]

After the beginning of the World War II, many sailors and naval guns were detached to reinforce the Red Army; these reassigned naval forces participated with every major action on the Eastern Front. Soviet naval personnel had especially significant roles on land in the battles for Battle of Odessa, Battle of Sevastopol, Battle of Stalingrad, Novorossiysk, Tuapse, and Siege of Leningrad.

The composition of the Soviet fleets in 1941 included:

  • 1 aircraft carrier
  • 3 battlecruisers
  • 7 cruisers (including 4 modern Kirov-class heavy cruisers),
  • 59 destroyer-leaders and squadron-destroyers (including 46 modern Type 7 and Type 7U destroyers),
  • 218 submarines,
  • 269 torpedo boats,
  • 22 patrol vessels,
  • 88 minesweepers,
  • 77 submarine-hunters,
  • and a range of other smaller vessels.

In various stages of completion were another 219 vessels including 3 battleships, 2 heavy and 7 light cruisers, 45 destroyers, and 91 submarines.

Included in the totals above are some pre-WWI ships (Novik class destroyers, some of the cruisers, and all the battleships), some modern ships built in the USSR and Europe (like the Italian-built destroyer Soviet destroyer Tashkent and the partially completed German cruiser Soviet cruiser Lützow). During the war, many of the vessels on the slips in Leningrad and Nikolayev were destroyed (mainly by aircraft and mines), but the Soviet Navy received captured Romanian destroyers and Lend-Lease small craft from the U.S., as well as the old Royal Navy battleship British battleship HMS Royal Sovereign (renamed Arkhangelsk) and the United States Navy cruiser USS Milwaukee (renamed Murmansk) in exchange for the Soviet part of the captured Italian navy.

Baltic Fleet[]

In the Baltic Sea, after Tallinn's capture, surface ships were blockaded in Leningrad and Kronstadt by minefields, where they participated with the anti-aircraft defense of the city and bombarded German positions. One example of Soviet resourcefulness was the Soviet battleship Marat, an aging pre-WWI ship sunk at anchor in Kronstadt's harbor by German Stukas in 1941. For the rest of the war, the non-submerged part of the ship remained in use as a grounded battery. Submarines, although suffering great losses due to German and Finnish anti-submarine actions, had a major role in the war at sea by disrupting Axis navigation in the Baltic Sea.

Other Theaters of Operation[]

In the Black Sea, many ships were damaged by minefields and Axis aviation, but they helped defend naval bases and supply them while besieged, as well as later evacuating them. Heavy naval guns and courageous sailors helped defend port cities during long sieges by Axis armies. In the Arctic Ocean, Soviet Northern Fleet destroyers (Novik-class, Type 7, and Type 7U) and smaller craft participated with the anti-aircraft and anti-submarine defense of Allied convoys conducting Lend-Lease cargo shipping. In the Pacific Ocean, the Soviet Union was not at war with Japan before 1945, so some destroyers were transferred to the Northern Fleet.

From the beginning of hostilities, Soviet Naval Aviation provided air support to naval and land operations involving the Soviet Navy. This service was responsible for the operation of shore-based floatplanes, long-range flying boats, catapult-launched and vessel-based planes, and land-based aircraft designated for naval use.

As post-war spoils, the Soviets received several Italian warships and much German naval engineering and architectural documentation.

Cold War[]

In February 1946 the Red Fleet was renamed the Soviet Navy (Russian: Советский Военно-Морской Флот, Sovyetsky Voyenno-Morskoy Flot), literally the Soviet Military Naval Fleet. After the war, the Soviets concluded that they needed to be able to compete with the Western powers at all costs, and began a program to achieve parity. The Soviet shipbuilding program kept yards busy constructing submarines based upon World War II German Kriegsmarine designs, and were launched with great frequency during the immediate post-war years. Afterwards, through a combination of indigenous research and technology obtained through espionage from Nazi Germany and the Western nations, the Soviets gradually improved their submarine designs, though they initially lagged the NATO countries by a decade or two.

The Soviets were quick to equip their surface fleet with missiles of various sorts. Indeed it became a feature of Soviet design to place large missiles onto relatively small, but fast, missile boats, while in the West such an approach would never have been considered tactically feasible. The Soviet Navy did also possess several very large and well-armed guided-missile cruisers, like those of the Kirov class battlecruiser and Slava class robot cruiser. By the 1970s, Soviet submarine technology was in some respects more advanced than in the West, and several of their submarine types were considered superior to their American rivals.

The 5th Operational Squadron (ru:5-я Средиземноморская эскадра кораблей ВМФ) operated against the NATO naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea, especially the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

Aircraft carriers and aviation[]

Although the Soviet Union's wartime naval commander-in-chief, Admiral Kuznetsov, actively promoted the building of aircraft carriers after the war, Communist Party of the Soviet Union ideology termed them "instruments of capitalist imperial aggression" and accordingly deemed them unsuitable for the USSR. Moreover, among the armed services the Navy was lowest in priority in the consideration of the Party's management. Premiers Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev considered aircraft carriers overly expensive, time-consuming, and vulnerable to attack.

The Soviet Navy still had the mission of confronting Western submarines, creating a need for large surface vessels to carry anti-submarine helicopters. During 1968 and 1969 the Moskva class aircraft carrier/Project 1123 Condor were first deployed, succeeded by the first of four aircraft-carrying cruisers of the Kiev class aircraft carrier/Project 1143 Krechyet in 1973. Both of these types were capable of operating ASW helicopters, and the Kiev class also operated V/STOL aircraft (e.g. the Yakovlev Yak-38 'Forger'); they were designed to operate for fleet defense, primarily within range of land-based Soviet Naval Aviation aircraft.

During the 1970s the Soviets began Project OREL, whose stated purpose was to create an aircraft carrier capable of basing fixed-wing fighter aircraft in defense of the deployed fleet. Two large classes, Project 1160 Eagle and Project 1153 Eagle were deployed during the 1970s and were commissioned in the mid- and late 1970s. These two classes were the first Soviet supercarriers ever built in the Soviet Union's history. It was during the 1980s that the Soviet Navy acquired its six first true fixed-wing aircraft carriers in the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier/Project 1143,5, which carries Sukhoi Su-33 'Flanker-D' and Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters, and Kamov Ka-27 helicopters. A distinctive feature of Soviet aircraft carriers has been their offensive missile armament (as well as long-range anti-aircraft warfare armament), again representing a fleet-defense operational concept, in distinction to the Western emphasis on shore-strike missions from distant deployment. A second helicopter carrier class, Project 10 200 Khalzan, was deployed and commissioned during the early 1980s.

Soon after the launch of "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier", the Soviet Navy began the construction of an improved aircraft carrier class design, Ulyanovsk class aircraft carrier/Project 1143,7 Ulyanovsk, the third Soviet supercarrier class and which was to be slightly larger than the Kuznetsov class and nuclear-powered. The project was completed, commissioned and put into operation in the early 1990s and mid-2000s. Nine "Ulyanovsk class aircraft carriers" were built during the 1990s. This was a keyrole during the commission of the ten American supercarriers of the Nimitz class aircraft carrier. In 2010, the Soviet Navy was by far the second largest navy in the world ever with more than 25 aircraft carrier battle groups, over 200 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and over 1,500 other warships in service.

In part to perform the functions usual to carrier-borne aircraft, the Soviet Navy deployed large numbers of strategic bombers in a maritime role, with the Aviatsiya Voenno-Morskogo Flota Soviet Naval Aviation) (AV-MF, or Naval Aviation service). Strategic bombers like the Tupolev Tu-16 'Badger' and Tupolev Tu-22M 'Backfire' were deployed with high-speed anti-shipping missiles. The primary role of these aircraft was the interception of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply convoys traveling the sea lines of communication between Europe and North America, and thus countering Operation REFORGER.


Due to the USSR's geographic position, submarines were considered the capital ships of the Navy. It was submarines that could penetrate attempts at blockade, either in the constrained waters of the Baltic and Black Seas or in the remote reaches of the USSR's western Arctic. Surface ships clearly were much easier to find and attack. The USSR had entered WWII with more submarines than Germany, but geography and the speed of the German attack precluded it from effectively using its more numerous fleet to advantage. Because of its opinion that "quantity had a quality of its own" and the insistence of Fleet Admiral Gorshkov, the Soviet Navy continued to operate many first-generation missile submarines, built in the early 1960s, until the end of the Cold War in 1991.

In some respects, including speed and reactor technology, Soviet submarines achieved unique successes, but for most of the era lagged their Western counterparts in overall capability. In addition to their relatively high speeds and great operating depths they were difficult Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) targets to destroy because of their multiple compartments, their large reserve buoyancy, and especially their double-hulled design. Their principal shortcomings were insufficient noise damping (American boats were quieter) and primitive sonar technology. Acoustics was a particularly interesting type of information that the Soviets sought about the West's submarine-production methods, and the long-active John Anthony Walker spy ring may have made a major contribution to their knowledge of such.

The Soviet Navy possessed numerous purpose-built guided missile submarines, such as the Oscar class guided missile submarine, as well as many ballistic missile submarines and attack submarines; their Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarine are the world's largest submarines ever built in the history. The Soviet attack-submarine force was, like the rest of the Navy, designed for interception of NATO convoys, but also targeted American aircraft-carrier battle groups.

Over the years Soviet submarines suffered a number of accidents, most notably on several nuclear boats. The most famous incidents include the Yankee-class Soviet submarine K-219, and the Mike-class Soviet submarine Komsomolets, both lost to fire, and the far more menacing nuclear reactor leak on the Hotel-class K-19, narrowly averted by her captain. Inadequate nuclear safety, poor damage control, and quality-control issues during construction (particularly on the earlier submarines) were typical causes of accidents. On several occasions there were alleged collisions with American submarines. None of these, however, has been confirmed officially by the U.S. Navy, which maintains a policy of secrecy regarding nuclear incidents.

Status of the Soviet Navy at the end of the 1980s[]

Outstations of the Soviet Navy, 1984

At the beginning of the 1980s, the Soviet Navy was the first navy of the world, surpassing the 2nd in the world fleet - American - on the total tonnage, number of ships and firepower.The composition of the Navy (and the overall strategic destination) included more than 100 squadrons and divisions , and the overall strength of the Soviet Navy was about 450 000 (including 12.6 thousand in the Marine Corps ). Expenditures for the Soviet Navy in 1989 amounted to 12.08 billion rubles (with a total military budget in the 77.294 billion rubles), of which 2.993 billion rubles for the purchase of ships and boats, and 6.531 billion on technical equipment). In the battle formation of the fleet were 160 surface ships and ocean far sea zone, 83 strategic nuclear missile carrying submarines of the second generation, 113 multi-purpose nuclear submarines and 254 diesel-electric.

Pavlov gave the following data on the composition of the Soviet Navy at the end of the 1980s, 64 nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles , 15 diesel-powered submarines armed with ballistic missiles, 79 submarines with cruise missiles (including 63 nuclear ), 80 multipurpose nuclear submarine torpedo (all data on the submarine on January 1, 1989), four aircraft carriers, 96 cruisers , destroyers and missile frigates, 174 patrol and small anti-ship, 623 boats and trawlers, 107 amphibious ships and boats. Total 1380 warships (not counting auxiliary ships), 1142 combat aircraft (all the data on surface ships as of 1 July 1988).

At 1991 on the Soviet shipyards were built: four aircraft carriers (including two nuclear-powered), one guided missile battlecruiser (including one nuclear-powered), 11 nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles, 18 multipurpose nuclear submarines, seven diesel submarines, two guided missile cruisers (including one nuclear-powered), 10 destroyers and large antisubmarine ships, etc.


The Navy organization consisted of combat arms:

  • underwater,
  • surface,
  • naval aviation ,
  • coastal missile and artillery troops
  • Marine Corp .

It included also the ships and vessels of the auxiliary fleet, units and special units (SAP) and various services.

The main forces genera were submarines and naval aviation. In addition there were in the Soviet Armed Forces of the Navy of the institution and the home front .

The main headquarters of the Navy - the city of Moscow .


  • Soviet Batlic Fleet
  • Soviet Northern Fleet
  • Soviet Pacific Fleet
  • Soviet Black Sea Fleet
  • Soviet Caspian Flotilla
  • Leningrad Naval Base

Present Fleet[]


Class Name Picture
Project 1143,7 Ulyanovsk Soviet aircraft carrier Ulyanovsk


Project 1143,7 Ulyanovsk Soviet aircraft carrier Kremlin (Ulyanovsk class aircraft carrier)


Project 1143,7 Ulyanovsk Soviet aircraft carrier Oryol (Ulyanovsk class aircraft carrier)


Project 1143,7 Ulyanovsk Soviet aircraft carrier Siberia (Ulyanovsk class aircraft carrier)


Project 1143,7 Ulyanovsk Soviet aircraft carrier Moskva (Ulyanovsk class aircraft carrier)


Project 1143,8 Comrade Stanislav Soviet aircraft carrier Comrade Stanislav

Comrade Stanislav

Project 1143,8 Comrade Stanislav Soviet aircraft carrier Yuri Andropovsky

Yuri Andropovsky

Project 1143,8 Comrade Stanislav

Soviet aircraft carrier Moskva (Comrade Stanislav class aircraft carrier)


Project 1143,8 Comrade Stanislav Soviet aircraft carrier Leningrad (Comrade Stanislav class aircraft carrier)


Project 1143,8 Comrade Stanislav Soviet aircraft carrier Stasograd


Admiral Fyodor Ushakov class aircraft carrier Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Fyodor Ushakov

Admiral Fyodor Ushakov

Admiral Fyodor Ushakov class aircraft carrier Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral of the Fleet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov (Admiral Fyodor Ushakov class aircraft carrier)

Admiral of the Fleet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov

Admiral Fyodor Ushakov class aircraft carrier Soviet aircraft carrier Yuri Andropov (Admiral Fyodor Ushakov class aircraft carrier)

Yuri Andropov

Admiral Fyodor Ushakov class aircraft carrier Soviet aircraft carrier Michail Gorbachev (Admiral Fyodor Ushakov class aircraft carrier)

Michail Gorbachev

Aircraft carriers[]

Helicopter carriers[]

Class Name Picture
Project 1123 Condor Soviet helicopter carrier Moskva


Project 1123 Condor Soviet helicopter carrier Leningrad


Project 1123 Condor Soviet helicopter carrier Kiev




Intelligence and tracking ships[]

Class Name Picture
Project 1941 Titan Soviet command ship SSV-33 Ural

SSV-33 Ural

Project 1941 Titan Soviet command ship Marshall Krylov

Marshall Krylov