Monday, May 18, 2015

Soviet Cruisers

In 1980, the Soviet Union completed construction of the first of four Kirov-class cruisers. Two more were completed by 1988; the fourth unit was not commissioned until 1998 due to a lack of funds for construction. Due in part to its size, Kirov is designated by some as a battle cruiser.

The hull measures 826 feet, 9 inches by 93 feet, 6 inches, displaces 25,860 tons when fully loaded, and is protected by an undisclosed type of armor. The ship relies on propulsion from nuclear-powered turbines that produce a maximum speed of 31 knots, which makes it the first Soviet nuclear-powered surface combatant. It is also sometimes defined as a battle cruiser because of its large array of weapons, as the Soviets desired a ship that would fulfill antiaircraft, ASW, and antiship duties. The majority of the missile systems are located in the forward section. Unlike the other cruisers of the Soviet era, some of these systems are equipped with reloading machinery. The Kirov mounts 12 SA-N-6 SAMs in a vertical launcher within the bow that can be reloaded by a magazine that contains 96 missiles. These can be fired at aircraft or missiles. It also carries one twin-tubed SS-N-14 ASW system with between 14 and 16 reloads. The bow section also contains a vertical launcher that holds 20 SSN- 19 SSM weapons, a descendent of the SS-N-3. Like its predecessors, the SS-N-19 can carry a conventional or nuclear warhead. Complementing these various missiles are two RBU-6000 ASW rocket launchers, 10 torpedo tubes for use against submarines and surface vessels, and one helicopter. The ship also carries two fully automated guns, 3.9-inch guns in the case of Kirov; the other vessels mount 5.1-inch guns. Finally, Kirov ships eight 30mm Gatling guns that resemble the Vulcan Phalanx for close defense against missiles and aircraft.

The Soviet warship program also produced three more cruiser classes during the 1980s and early 1990s, the first being the 20-ship Sovremenny- class designed for antiship warfare. They were followed by the 13-vessel Udaloy-class, which mounts weapons arrays for use against submarines. The final group of vessels that were completed between 1983 and 1989 are the two Slava-class cruisers. These vessels are a smaller, cheaper version of the Kirov class and are designed primarily as surface strike ships. All are conventionally powered. Together with the Kirov-class and two more units of the Kiev-class that were completed between 1981 and 1983, they are the final units produced by the Soviet Union before the collapse of the communist regime.

These cruisers and those built by NATO members reveal the extent to which the cruiser has evolved as a modern weapons system. In place of a relatively small but important set of roles that existed since the Age of Fighting Sail and became attached to the first cruisers of the nineteenth century, the newest ships are called upon to cover a myriad of tasks. This change was made possible by technological innovation that allowed for progressively more powerful and advanced weapons and sensory systems. In the later years of the Cold War, the roles of cruisers still included commerce protection and possibly reconnaissance through the use of radar and sonar, but the chief duties were antiaircraft and ASW defense. Both of these roles were important for task forces; the latter specifically was also vital due to the need in the nuclear age to protect against the launch of nuclear weapons by submarines. Surface warfare, in the case of cruisers that were armed offensively, also remained a key role. All of these roles remain important to the present day.

Despite large offensive and defensive capabilities, the Soviet and NATO missile cruisers built in the 1970s and 1980s were not tested in combat because the Cold War never produced a hot war between the superpowers and their allies. The extent of contact consisted primarily of projecting power in fleet exercises, where one superpower would closely monitor the activities of the other at sea.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sturmovik Aces

Senior Lieutenant Anna Yegorova piloted 243 Il-2 missions and was decorated three times. One of these awards was the Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union that she had received "posthumously" in late 1944, as she was presumed dead after being shot down. She managed to survive imprisonment in a German POW camp. Junior Lieutenant Ivan Grigorevich Drachenko, another Il-2 pilot, was reputedly one of only four men who were decorated as both Heroes of the Soviet Union and also won all three of the Orders of Glory.

Hero of the Soviet Union recipient T. Kuznetsov survived the crash of his Il-2 in 1942 when shot down returning from a reconnaissance mission. Kuznetsov was able to escape from the wreck and hide nearby. To his surprise, a German Bf 109 landed near the crash site and the pilot began to scrounge around the wrecked Il-2 possibly to assist Kuznetsov or to look for souvenirs. Thinking quickly, Kuznetsov ran to the German fighter and used it to fly home, barely avoiding being shot down by Soviet fighters in the process.

Lt. Col. Nelson Stepanyan flew an Il-2 and participated in a number of aerial battles and bombing sorties. He was shot down once but managed to return to the Soviet lines. On his final sortie in Liepāja, Latvia on December 14, 1944, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and, though wounded, was able to steer his plane and ram it into a German warship. Soviet sources assert that Stepanyan undertook no less than 239 combat sorties, sunk 53 ships, thirteen of which he did alone, destroyed 80 tanks, 600 armored vehicles, and 27 aircraft.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Helmut Gröttrup

Helmut Gröttrup

It has been widely reported that the Germans unanimously decided to surrender to the Western Allies. This is not the case. Some of the scientists were more impressed by the Soviet system than they were by American capitalism, and Helmut Gröttrup was the most conspicuous of these. Gröttrup was an electronics engineer who no longer wished to 'understudy' Von Braun as he had done in the development of the V-2 rocket. Gröttrup decided to approach the Soviets and was offered a senior position in Russian rocket development. Between 9 September 1945 and 22 October 1946 Gröttrup with his loyal team of researchers worked for the USSR in the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany (later to become the German Democratic Republic). His director of research was Sergei Korolev, Russia's leading rocket scientist. In the autumn of 1946, the entire team was moved to Russia. Gröttrup had cooperated with Russia in bringing 20 of the V-2 rockets to the newly established rocket research institute at Kapustin Yar, between Volgograd and the deserts of Astrakhan. The base is known today as Znamensk and it had opened on 13 May 1946 specifically to offer facilities to German experts. In charge was General Vasily Voznyuk and on 18 October 1947 they launched the first of the V-2 rockets brought in from Germany.

Gröttrup worked under Korolev to develop the Russian R-1 project; these were in reality V-2 rockets built using Russian manufacturing and materials with the German designs. The People's Commissar of Armaments, Dmitry Ustinov, requested that Gröttrup and his team of technicians design new missile systems, culminating in the projected R-14 rocket which was similar to the design of long-range missiles that Von Braun was developing during the war. The site at Znamensk developed into a top-secret cosmodrome and the small town itself was expanded to provide a pleasurable and civilized lifestyle for the families of the research teams working on the rockets. It was no longer included on Russian maps, and there were strict rules against disclosure of what was going on.

The value of the German expertise to the Russians proved to be limited and, in due course, the authorities allowed the research workers to return to their homes in Germany. The design of rocket motors in Russia by Aleksei Mikhailovich Isaev was already superior to the German concepts used in the V-2 rockets, and their lightweight copper motors gave rise to the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7. It was this design advantage that gave the Russians technical superiority in rocketry and led to their launching the world's first satellite Sputnik 1, and subsequently to the launch of Yuri Gagarin as the first man into space.

The same technology gave the Russians the capacity to launch the first lunar probe, and later the spacecraft sent out towards the planets. Indeed, this design of rocket is still in use today. Once it was recognized that there was little point in keeping the German rocket specialists in Russia, on 22 November 1955 Gröttrup was given leave to return to his native Germany. In cooperation with Jürgen Dethloff he went on to design and patent the chip card which was to become so important in modern banking systems, and so his post-war genius is with us today.