Warships of the Soviet Fleets 1939-1945 Vol 2

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Warships of the Soviet Fleets 1939-1945 Volume 2: Escorts and Smaller Fighting Ships. By Przemyslaw Budzbon, Jan Radziemski and Marek Twardowski. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 2022.

Reviewed by John Mortimer

This is the second volume by the authors in a set of 3 books. Volumes 1 and 3 cover Major Combatants, and Naval Auxiliaries, respectively.

The set of three books have been designed to be read in sequence. Volume 2 does not have the introductory chapters covered in Volume 1 which are important to understanding the challenges and development of the Soviet Fleet from 1917 to 1945. Rather, Volume 2 goes straight into the discussion of the escorts and smaller fighting ships. The book starts at Chapter 11 Escort Ships, which is a follow on from Volume 1. Chapter 11 is divided into several sections, which remain relatively standard throughout the remainder of the book, where relevant.

Escort ships are divided into the following categories: Standard Soviet Built Types; NKVD patrol ships; Lend Lease; War Prizes – Baltic States 1940, Romania 1944 and Manchukuo 1945; Conversions – Sea-going Escorts and mobilised Trawlers, Coastal Escorts, and River Escorts.

Subsequent chapters cover Large Submarine Hunters; Small Submarine Hunters; Patrol Boats; Floating Artillery Batteries; Minelayers; Netlayers; Minesweepers; Minesweeping Boats; and Landing Vessels and Craft. The coverage in these chapters varies considerably mainly influenced by the size of ships being addressed. The detail is greater for the larger ships, covering design, development, construction details, ship specifications, performance and operational history. The text is complemented by extensive photographic coverage showing the ships in various configurations, including several on-board and internal views. The photographs are complemented by excellent line drawings by Jerzy Lewandowski, Tomasz Grotnik and Jaroslaw Dzierzawski.

It should be noted that gunboats and motor torpedo boats are covered in Volume 1, whereas more lightly armed patrol boats and floating artillery batteries are covered in Volume 2. Also, the US Tacoma class patrol frigates, which displace some 2277 tons, and which one might have expected to see in Volume 1 as a Major Combatant, are covered in Volume 2 as an escort ship. Twenty-seven Tacoma class ships were transferred under Lend Lease arrangements by the USA in anticipation of the Soviet Union joining the war in the Pacific, and envisaged their use in the invasion of the Southern Sakhalin and Kuril islands.

The book discusses individual ships and classes in considerable detail, especially for the larger ships and more numerous ship classes. Coverage also includes ships which were planned or partially built, but not completed. There is often a technical discussion of the class design history and the merits or otherwise of individual ships or ship classes. Ship histories for each vessel are detailed, with emphasis on wartime operations.

One of the ships covered in the chapter on Minelayers is the converted former Imperial Royal Yacht of Nicholas II. Her ship’s history is described in the following terms and provides an indication of the level of discussion in the book for larger individual ships:

“…. Laid up from May 1918 to 1932 during which time bore the name 18 Marta, then taken in hand for minelayer conversion, which changed her appearance drastically. The conversion was not an outstanding success as only 320 mines were carried on 6000t displacement and she proved too slow for offensive minelaying (although she reached 14kts in normal operational conditions). During the war she played a key role in Soviet mining operations in the Gulf of Finland and evacuation of Hanko garrison. Following damage to machinery and boilers inflicted 2.11.1941 by a mine exploding on a paravane, she did not go to sea until end of war and was used as a floating battery during the defence of Leningrad….”.

Volume 2 on the Soviet Navy serves to emphasise the different nature of maritime operations undertaken by the Soviets compared to the Allied operations in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, during the Second World War. Soviet naval operations by major fleet units were often constrained by the extensive German and Finland mining campaigns in the Baltic and Black seas, as well as the geographic restraints in these areas. Consequently, and in a policy sense the Soviets used their naval forces not so much in offensive operations, but rather in support of their Army both in coastal areas, as well as the extensive river systems which access parts of the countries hinterland. The Navy was also employed to counter German offensive operations, particularly in the Baltic and Arctic.

The Soviets had very extensive forces in mine warfare and mine countermeasures, which continued into post war years. There was also a strong emphasis on coastal forces for the protection of littoral waters and foiling adversary offensive operations. This emphasis continued into the post war years and beyond. In particular, the post war years saw the development of the Osa, Komar, and Nanuchka class missile armed patrol craft and their successors.

The extent of allied assistance to the Soviet Navy is revealed through the Lend Lease Program, Operation Hula (support for Soviet operations in the Pacific against Japanese forces), and in 1944 the substitution of USA and British ships as wartime reparations to replace Italian tonnage following the defeat of Italy.  These included: one battleship, one cruiser and none destroyers, 27 escort ships, four submarines, 209 motor torpedo boats, 78 large submarine hunters, 60 patrol boats, 181 minesweepers, and 45 landing vessels and craft. While the battleship, cruiser and destroyers were of World War 1 vintage they had received some updates, though they were nevertheless of limited military value. On the other hand, the submarines (British S and U class), escort ships (Tacoma class), large submarine hunters (US B0-2 class), minesweepers (Admirable and YMS class) and landing craft LCI (L) and LCT Mk 6 represented current levels of technology and would have provided the Soviets with insights into current western technology, which was used in Soviet naval development during the Cold War.  Indeed, some of the later vessel types found their way from the USA into European and Asian navies in the post war period, especially the minesweeping, amphibious and patrol craft.

As with the analysis of Major Combatants, in Volume 1, Volume 2 provides further insights into the Soviet and Russian thinking and strategy on escort and coastal forces. Thinking on Soviet naval strategy through to the present day appears to place emphasis on protection of the countries land mass and sea denial of hostile adversary forces, rather than a sea control and force projection strategy. Aside from this, Russia continues emphasise its strategic nuclear deterrent capabilities through its nuclear submarine forces.

This book is extremely valuable in understanding Soviet and Russian thinking on strategy and operations. It has considerable merit because of the depth of research and analysis provided by writers who, because of their Russian language skills, contacts and access to some official papers, were able to provide an accurate, balanced and unique view of the Soviet Navy. The book also provides background and insights to inform an understanding of the nature and purpose of the current Russian Navy. I strongly recommend this book and the three-volume series to all those with an interest in international, naval and maritime affairs. It also has application for those with an interest in global and regional strategic issues.

 

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