Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday April 29, 2015: The Red Taxi of the Black Sea
Here we see the Svetlana-class light cruiser Krasnyi Kavkaz (Red Caucasus), pride of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet steaming on a summer day in 1940 on the eve of the Soviet Union entering World War II.
In 1906, the Imperial Russian Navy had the luxury that many fleets never do: the chance to start from scratch building their naval list with the benefit of real-world modern combat lessons under their belt. This of course was because they had lost more than 2/3 of their Navy in combat with the Imperial Japanese Navy during the late war with that country.
The Tsar’s naval planners envisioned a fleet of nine top-notch all-big-gun dreadnoughts of the Gangut, Imperatritsa Maria, and Imperator Nikolai I-class. These 25,000-ton+ bruisers needed a screen of fast destroyers to prevent torpedo boats from getting close (as the Japanese had pulled off at Port Arthur) as well as speedy light cruisers to scout over the horizon.
That is where the Svetlana’s came in. These modern cruisers went 7,400-tons when fully loaded and were 519-feet overall. They were built in Russia with extensive British help. Powered by 16 Yarrow oil boilers pushing a quartet of Parsons turbines, these ladies were fast– capable of 30-knots when needed. A battery of 15 rapid fire 130 mm/55 B7 Obukhov (Vickers) Pattern 1913 naval guns could fire a 81.26 lbs. shell out to ranges that topped 24,000-yards. With these cruisers carrying an impressive 2200 of these shells in their magazines, they could fire all of these (theoretically) in just under 19 minutes. For protection against threats smaller than they were, the Svetlana’s were sheathed in up to 120 mm of good British armor plate.
The subject of our study, Krasnyi Kavkaz, was laid down at the Russud Dockyard, Nikolayev (currently Mykolaiv, Ukraine) on 31 October 1913, just ten months before the beginning of World War I. Her name at the time for the Tsarist Navy was to be Admiral Lazarev after Russian 19th Century explorer and fleet commander Mikhail Petrovich Lazarev. With wartime shortages in the Empire, she was only launched in the summer of 1916 and, when the Revolution came, was still fitting out.
She was captured in turn by the Germans, the Reds, the Ukrainians, the French, the Whites, and then the Reds again during the tail end of WWI and the madness of the Russian Civil War. Of course, since she was only 2/3rds complete and incapable of either sailing or fighting, all of the flag exchanges meant nothing.
Finally, the Soviets completed her on 25 January 1932 (just 19 years after she was laid down), with the brand new name of Krasnyi Kavkaz, to celebrate the geographic region added gloriously back to the worker’s paradise in 1921 after post-Tsarist secession and brief independence.
However, since her original British-designed 130mm guns were not available, Krasnyi Kavkaz was completed instead with a set of unique 180 mm/60 (7.1″) B-1-K Pattern 1931 that were relined from old 1905-era 8-inchers with the help of Italian gunnery experts (the Russians never throw anything away).
Equipped with just four of these larger guns in single mounts, our oddball cruiser could only get off about 16 rounds per minute, but these rounds were 215 lbs. each in weight and could reach out to 40,000 yards, making her a light cruiser with nearly heavy cruiser armament.
She was also given a quartet of twin 100 mm DP guns, a dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes (original design was for fewer 17.7-inch tubes), Brown-Boveri turbines as no fine British Parsons were available, a catapult for two KOR-1 seaplanes, and the capability to lay up to 120 M-08 naval mines.
A happy vessel during the 1930s in a Navy that was short on capital ships (out of the legion of Svetlana-class cruisers planned, the Soviets only had one other, class leader Krasnyi Krym –Red Crimea– afloat), the Krasnyi Kavkaz was extensively photographed and showboated to show off the modern Red Banner Fleet of the happy People’s Republic. She made a well-publicized 6-month Mediterranean cruise in 1933 in which she traveled over 2600 miles and made extensive stops in ports throughout the region– a rarity for a Soviet naval vessel of the era.
From 1936-37 she came face to face with German and Italian naval vessels in the Bay of Biscay patrolling the Spanish coastline during the Civil War in that country.
By the time World War II came to the Black Sea in June 1941, the Krasnyi Kavkaz spent a hard 28 months shuttling around the coasts of Rumania, the Crimea, Kerch, and Novorossiysk. In that time she sewed minefields under darkness, covered the evacuation of Odessa just ahead of the Germans, landed battalions of Naval Infantry and Red Army troops in amphibious operations under heavy Luftwaffe air attack, and provided naval gunfire support during the epic 9-month Siege of Sevastopol.
In the latter, she and her sister was a vital lifeline to the port, bringing in ammunition and reinforcements and taking away the wounded and the city’s valuables.
Notably, on January 4, 1942, she survived a close in bombing run by Ju-87 Stukas that left her holed, nearly dead in the water, and full of over 1700-tons of seawater, pushing her to a 12,000-ton displacement. However, after a quick patch-up, she was back in action. This translated into more evacuations, amphibious landings, mine laying, and duels with Stukas and gunfire support. Continuing limited operations from Batumi and Poti in the Caucus in 1943, she was one of the last remaining operational Black Sea Fleet vessels to survive the war.
Post war surveys found the ship, which had been repaired during the war in many cases with concrete, was in poor condition.
Decommissioned from fleet duty on May 12, 1947, she was retained as a dockside training ship and berthing barge.
She was disarmed in 1952, her 180mm guns being transformed into railway mounts. Finally, on November 21, 1952 Krasnyi Kavkaz was sunk near Feodosia by a regiment of Tu-4 bombers testing their new SS-N-1 missiles. Her name was stricken from the Soviet Naval list in 1953.
Her only completed sister, Svetlana/Krasnyi Krym, was scrapped in 1959.
Displacement: 7,560 metric tons (7,440 long tons; 8,330 short tons) (standard)
9,030 metric tons (8,890 long tons; 9,950 short tons) (full load)
Length: 159.5 m (523 ft. 4 in)
Beam: 15.7 m (51 ft. 6 in)
Draught: 6.6 m (21 ft. 8 in)
Propulsion: Four shafts, Brown-Boveri geared turbines
16 Yarrow oil-fired boilers
55,000 shp (41,000 kW)
Speed: 29 knots (33 mph; 54 km/h)
Armament: (as completed)
4 × 1 – 180 mm cal 57 guns
4 × 2 – 100 mm cal 56 AA guns
2 × 1 – 76 mm AA guns
4 × 1 – 45 mm AA guns
4 × 1 – 12.7 mm (0.50 in) AA machine guns
4 × 3 – 533 mm (21.0 in) torpedo tubes
Armor: Upper and lower armored decks: 20 mm (0.79 in) each
Turrets: 76 mm (3.0 in)
Lower armor belt: 76 mm (3.0 in)
Upper armor belt: 25 mm (0.98 in)
Conning tower: 76 mm (3.0 in)
Aircraft carried 2 × KOR-1 seaplanes
Aviation facilities: 1 catapult
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