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Combat Gallery Sunday: The Cold War artwork of Pavel Pavlinov and Andrey Babanovsky

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Cold War artwork of Pavel Pavlinov and Andrey Babanovsky

Admiral of the fleet of the Soviet Union Sergei Georgiyevich Gorshkov, accomplished, especially considering what the Soviets had to work with, an impressive feat. Gorshkov gave his life to the Red Banner Fleet, joining at age 17 in 1927. By WWII, he was in the Black Sea and rose to command a destroyer squadron after much heavy contact with the Axis forces in the landlocked body of water increasingly owned by the Germans. He received the Order of the Red Banner twice for his wartime exploits.

Recognised as cut from a different cloth than the typical party functionaries, by just age 46 he was given command of the entire Soviet Navy by Nikita Khrushchev and spent the next 30 years building the largest fleet in either Asia or Europe and the second largest (only outclassed by the USN) in the world– seizing that cherished spot from the British Royal Navy who only begrudgingly relinquished their own first place title holder to the Americans a generation before. Had there been no Gorshkov, it could be argued there would have been no Tom Clancy and the Soviets would have been content with only a minor naval force, a role Russia had basically always fulfilled.

At the high water mark of the Red Banner Fleet’s power in 1973 came this chapbook of postcard drawings entitled, “Modern ships of the USSR Navy” by Pavel Pavlinov and Andrey Babanovsky. Sure, it was Soviet propaganda of the most obvious, but it froze a moment in time and presented it in its best light– regardless of the fact that a lot of the ships were poorly manned by conscripts simply glad to not be in the Army, officered by professional mariners that lacked the fundamental foundation of an NCO corps they could depend on, and suffered from often suicidal nuclear engineering plants and moody weapon and sensor packages.

But, you have to admit: they look pretty!

Note the Foxtrot diesel boat on the cover. The Project 641 subs were among the most numerous in the Red Fleet

Sverdlov cruiser Mikhail Kutuzov. These all-gun cruisers were obsolete when completed, but the Russians carried them on their Navy list throughout the Cold War. Packed with 1940s-era electronics, they could always serve as a flagship post-Atomic exchange/EMP!

Operating in the polar cap

Looks to be a Kresta-class cruiser

The Soviets were serious when it came to amphibious light tanks and landing vehicles, fielding the PT-76, PTS, and BTR series vehicles along with lots of Polnocny-class and Alligator-class LSTs to truck them ashore. While not capable of large-scale landings, this capability still gave Baltic and Black Sea-based NATO allies heartburn

Moskova-class helicopter carrier Leningrad. The three 17,000-ton Moskovas, the first Soviet helicopter carriers, could tote almost two dozen Ka-25 or Mi-8 aircraft and were seen as big medicine to help curb the NATO hunter-killer threat in SSBN Bastion areas.

The Soviets built 32 Gus- and 20 Aist-class LCAC’s, the former, shown above, capable of carrying 25 troops, while the latter were capable of carrying 200 troops or 4 light tanks. They would later be carried in the carried by the Ivan Rogov-class dock landing ship, the first Soviet LSDs, which were under construction at the time the book came out.

Osa class fast attack boat. Those big SS-N-2 Styx missiles had been proved in combat just a few years before. Egyptian Komar-class missile boats used the Styx to splash the WWII-vintage Israel Navy destroyer Eilat during the Six Day War in October 1967

Beriev Be-12 Mail flying boat seaplane

As for Gorshkov, he only stepped down from commanding his fleet at age 75, reluctantly handing the reins to Adm. Vladimir Chernavin, who, less than a half-decade later, preside over the force’s break-up and spiraling demise which was to endure for two decades.

Thank you for your work, Mr. Pavlinov and Babanovsky

The echos of the Ipatiev House, 100 years later

The last sitting Russian Imperial family of the House of Romanov–Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei– as well as four members of their still faithful suite– were ushered to the basement of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg on the night of 16-17 July 1918.

Told they were to be moved to a more secure location as the White Russian Army of Adm Kolchak and his allied Czech Legion were just miles to the East and coming fast, something far worse occurred and a squad of Cheka men armed with a peculiar collection of handguns from around the world soon filled the room to carry out one of the most barbaric regicides in modern history– which was appropriate for a Civil War that left more than 1.5 million dead and the old Russian Empire shattered into a dozen jagged pieces.

The head of the squad, Jacob Yurovsky, used a Colt M1911 SN 71905 from a 1914 U.S. Army contract, while his eager assistant, Peter Ermakov, used a Mauser C96 in 7.63mm.


Yurovsky’s Colt 1911 and Browning 1900

Other guns used in the execution included two Browning semi-autos in .25ACP and .32ACP, at least one more C96, several Nagant M1895 7.65mm revolvers, and an old S&W .44 top-break. While the revolvers were standard Russian military arms and the Colt likley made it into the country in 1917 during the brief alliance between the Provisional Government in Petrograd and Washington, the Mausers and Brownings were readily available on the commercial market in Russia before the war.

Many of the guns, given relic status after the event by the Communists, are still in Russian museums today.

Those Russki parades….

Tsar Vlad has certainly kept the magic alive in Red Square. See the 70~ minute long May Day Parade from yesterday below as seen on Soviet Russian state TV.

The opening is good, especially the inner workings of the Spasskaya Tower’s big clock. Then cue the Guards regiment (in rebooted Tsarist uniforms marching with spotless SKS rifles complete with blonde wood stocks) and Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu propped on an immaculate Lada open-topped limo that looks like it came from Brezhnev’s motor pool.

You can skip Putin’s speech from about the 13:00 to 23:00 mark and pick up with the Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii played by the assembled Army bands complete with artillery percussion by a saluting battery of 122mm guns and the march is on.

Various ground units file past from all branches of the Russki military and, in an increasing departure from the old Cold War days of drab uniforms and helmets, more are wearing traditional 19th century Imperial Army style uniforms complete with St. George ribbons and cockades that include old monarchist Romanov elements. Out with the Commies, in with the Cossacks if you will.

Hardware on display in the hands of the beaming frontoviks include now downright vintage wood stocked AK-74s, polymer-stocked AK-74Ms, and, here and there, the new series AK-12 rifles. At the 39:00 mark, special operations troops in their distinctive telnyashka striped t-shirts are carrying suppressed VSS rifles and almost comically large load bearing vests that are sure to have all the airsofters swooning. A few seconds later are AKs swagged out with red dots and GP-34 30mm grenade launchers– Moscow’s version of the M203 bloop tube. You can bet some of these grinning little green men have been vacationing in the Donbass and Syria lately.

At about the 47 minute mark comes the heavy stuff, lead by a WWII-era T-34/85 tank, the backbone of the Red Army during the war, flanked by machine-gun-armed ATV outriders and flying a giant Hammer and Sickle flag, officially retired by Russia in 1991. Then comes a NATO recognition book worth of Russian armor ranging from the new T-14 Armata main battle tank and more pedestrian T-72s to a big 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV 152mm self-propelled howitzer. Drones on flatbeds, armored personnel carriers and the Russian version of the MRAP tag along sandwiched by engineering and air defense vehicles, S-400 missiles and tactical rocket systems.

Here is the Russian cheat sheet for the vehicles:

Then comes the air support at the 59:00 mark, lead by some big Red Dawn looking Mi-24 Hinds and Ka-52 Alligator gunships coming in low over the Kremlin. Tom Clancy fans will dig on the Tu-22M3 Backfire and Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers followed by a mix of tactical aircraft including Su-34s, Su-24s, MiG-31s, and Mig-29s. Three lumbering Tu-95MC Bear bombers with their distinctive contra-rotating propellers make an appearance as does an acrobatic team of six camouflaged Su-25 Frogfoot strike aircraft, Russia’s equivalent of the A-10.

The air cheat sheet:

The program ends with a combined drill team getting their SKS and Prussian borrowed goose-step on as the band takes it home.

Also, Steven Segal makes an appearance at the 1:07 mark.

The Russians never throw anything away

You know the 100th anniversary this month of the “glorious Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army” would showcase a bunch of vintage Soviet hardware, still in remarkable condition. The Russian Ministry of Defense has been releasing a bunch of images a military parade in Severomorsk in honor of the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Red Army.

Severomorsk is a small town in the frozen Kola Peninsula near the main base of the Red Banner Northern Fleet, and, according to Izvestia, the state-run news organ, those participating were active soldiers and sailors from the local base’s units marching on the orders of one Admiral Nikolai Evmenov and not a group of reenactors. Makes you wonder what is in storage elsewhere in the Motherland!

More in my column at

The Tsar’s Pearl Harbor, 114 years ago

While negotiating a tense crisis that had grown over a decade of increasingly close Russian involvement in Manchuria and Korea (see Sino-Japanese War in 1894 and Boxer Rebellion in 1900), a Japanese force under Adm. Togo conducted a pre-emptive strike on the Russian fleet at anchor in Port Arthur– without a declaration of war.

Print shows Japanese battleships bombarding Russian battleships in a surprise naval assault on the Russian fleet at Lüshun (Port Arthur); includes cameo portraits, possibly of Admiral Tōgō (left), for the Japanese, and for the Russians (right), Yevgeny Ivanovich Alekseev. (Russian portrait formerly thought to be Admiral Oskar Victorovich Stark or Stepan Osipovich Makarov.) 1904. Attributed to: Kasai Torajiro. Library of Congress.

Using a force of 10 destroyers, the first Japanese torpedos were in the water at 00:28 on the snowy Tuesday morning of 9 February 1904 and the force withdrew from the harbor by 02:00. Of the 16 torps fired, just a few hit their targets, damaging the pre-dreadnoughts Retvizan and the Tsesarevich and the protected cruiser Pallada— all of which were returned to duty in a few weeks.

Slightly more dramatic that what actually happened, but hey, that’s why they call it propaganda

The night engagement and a delusory surface action the next morning likewise was unspectacular, resulting in a total of about 100-150 dead on each side.

Though tactically ineffective, Togo did achieve surprise on the Russian bear and the fleet at Port Arthur never managed to leave the harbor successfully during the resulting war, which proved disastrous for the Tsar.


Don’t mind me, just duck hunting Stukas

Here we see a Degtyaryov PTRD-41 team practice anti-air gunnery with a single-shot 14.5×114mm antitank gun.

Don’t laugh, it actually worked a couple of times, reportedly.

According to Soviet sources, one Red Army sniper of 82nd Guards Rifle division, Mihail Lysov, shot down a Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber in October 1941, using such a rifle while another Hero sniper of 796th Rifle Division, Vasily Antonov, downed a much larger Ju88 with four rifle shots of a semi-auto Simonov PTRS-41 in July 1942.

The single shot PTRD and 5-round PTRS were popular in the days of thin-walled tanks such as the PzKpfw I which had just 13mm of armor at its thickest point (the 14.5mm round could zip through 40mm of steel at 100 meters), but as tanks got meaner the guns were basically used to snipe trucks and thin-skinned vehicles at ranges out past 1 km.

However, the Soviets used them in their whaling fleet as late as the 1970s

And they still pop up in the Donbass today…

Pro-Russian rebels stand next to newly dug trenches at a fortified front line rebel position near the eastern Ukrainian town of Slaviansk May 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

Humint, 1978

(U.S. Navy Museum Number: 428-GX-USN 1172664) Soviet strike bomber Tupolev Tu-22M (Russian: Туполев Ту-22М; NATO reporting name: Backfire) Photograph received by U.S. Naval Intellegence, July 1978.

Though the type first flew in 1969 and was operational by 1972, it’s existance was not widely known in the West until it popped up over the Baltic on an excercise in 1980 during the international heartburn over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the footage appeared on state-run TV.



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