Two big motor boats were approaching Nazi-occupied Yalta amidst morning fog. Their appearance did not warn anybody either on watches, or on coastal artillery batteries on Cap Aytodor and Cap Massandra, or aboard the patrol boat cruising in the port approaches. As the German boat transmitted the light identification signal, her commander saw that on one of the intruders the lights also started blinking, but instantly ceased. Must have faulty lamp, thought sluggishly the commander and with increasing speed turned his ship to Aytodor. Meanwhile intruders at slow speed began entering Yalta harbour, while Nazi soldiers gathered on the breakwater gazed at them… Suddenly the roar of powerful engines tore the silence. Astonished Germans saw the boats sharply increasing their speed. One of them made a narrow circulation and fired torpedoes at the drifters and the submarine moored near-by. Meanwhile from the other boat rockets flung at materials stashed on the piers, and within seconds exploding torpedoes demolished fascist boats moored along the piers. Machine guns on the breakwater, and the artillery of German ships rattled after the boats going away into the open sea. Also the coastal batteries deployed in the port and on the caps opened fire. An enemy shell hit one of the boats; it damaged the engine and wounded several crewmen… And nevertheless the daredevil assault brought a real success. Professional skills and utter exploitation of the surprise factor decided about that success. On 20 June 1942 the Nazis felt in Yalta at home: the nearest base of the Soviet torpedo boats was in Novorossiysk – at a distance exceeding the range of the Soviet G-5 boats, which were also familiar to the Germans. But the enemy did not know that the Black Sea Fleet possessed two large torpedo boats developed by Soviet constructors at the eve of the war.
The necessity to have such ships was defined yet during the manoeuvres of the Pacific Fleet in 1935. Then the fleet commander M.V.Viktorov, when he commented on the operations of Tupolev’s small boats Sh-4 and G-5, had said: For open theatres, like the Pacific Ocean, we need boats of bigger displacement and range, capable to sail in at least force 5 waves. Indeed, the low seaworthiness of the small boats, especially the Sh-4’s, was no secret to anybody. Even moderated waves would flood them, and easily penetrate the very low, open atop, cockpit. Torpedo launch was guaranteed when the waves were no bigger than the force 1, and their sea running could be impaired already at the force 3 waves. Due to the low seaworthiness Sh-4’s and G-5’s rarely achieved their construction range, which depended no as much of the fuel as of the weather. All those and other deficiencies came out of the “aviation” heritage of the boats. Constructors based their project on the profile of a hydroplane float. Instead of the upper deck Sh-4 and G-5 had a steep curve surface. It provided a high mechanical resistance of the hull, but simultaneously created a lot of maintenance problems. It was difficult to hold atop even when the boat was motionless. Whereas the boat was at full speed, absolutely everything unattached would be swept away. This proved a very serious minus as far as combat operations are concerned: landing parties had to be accommodated in the torpedo gutters – there was no other space for them. Also due to the lack of flat deck Sh-4’s and G-5’s, despite of relatively good floating qualities, practically could not carry bigger cargo. Another “aviation” deficiency of the Tupolev’s boats was closed profiles: they proved too expensive and too inconvenient in shipbuilding production. Also the hull material was flawed. Corrosion literally “devoured” duralumin, and the ships had to be slipped virtually after every single sea going.
All that forced the navy to speed up definition of the requirements given to the shipbuilding industry, concerning development of bigger and more seaworthy torpedo boats for the Northern and Pacific fleets. In autumn 1935 a group of constructors started projects of torpedo boats with steel hulls SM-3 and SM-4 (stalnoy morekhodnyi – steel seaworthy), and with three and four engines. Another group started simultaneous works according to the same specifications on the boats D-2 and D-3 with wooden hulls. In the summer 1939 the “woodcarvers” showed experimental prototypes of their ships to Admiral Ivan Isakov, after which a commission was created to conduct tests in the Baltic. The chairman of the commission, Rear-Admiral B.V.Nikitin noted, that
it soon came clear, that the D-2 project does not fully satisfy navy’s requirements: it proved too crank, unstable on straight courses – yawing. Its displacement barely exceeded the well-known G-5. Whereas the tests of D-3 showed, that this boat had good agility and quite satisfactory seaworthiness. Having displacement of 40t and summary power of three engines GAM 3600hp it could achieve speed of 48 knots. The best foreign ships of comparable type did not achieve such speed until 15 years later. Moreover, D-3 had a big range (355 miles against G-5’s 220 miles) and therefore could be considered a long-range torpedo boat.
The test in the Black Sea confirmed the reliability and combat qualities of the D-3 boats, which were commissioned and handed over to the Black Sea Fleet. Simultaneously the People’s Commissariat for the Navy placed an order for several dozens of such boats with shipbuilding industry. In the spring 1940, when the production of D-3 boats already started in several shipyards, it occurred that the aviation industry was unable to deliver the extremely deficit engines GAM 1250hp. The navy had to content itself with 1000hp engines, which reduced the speed below 40 knots.
At the time when the navy received the first D-3’s the industry also finished building of the experimental prototype of SM-3. In February 1941 the state commission started testing the new boat. It was found already during the first sorties, that due to unsatisfactory hardness of the hull the planking around the foundations of the high-revolution engines vibrated excessively. It did not cause troubles until the boat underwent tests in the high seas. Then came the disaster, remembers Nikitin.
At 42-knot speed the hull, made of 4mm-thick steel cracked and the water poured inside. The crack was right in the middle of the engine compartment, from one board to the other, and menaced to break the boat in halves on force 4 waves. We had to reduce speed and take the homebound course. Fortunately, SM-3 managed to moor, and the flooding ceased. While the commission came to conclusion that the boat could not be commissioned for production, it simultaneously recommended strengthening of the hull with additional futtocks and stringers. Let the boat become heavier, decided commission members, let it be slower, but in return the Black Sea Fleet will receive a long range torpedo boat. Just several months later the ominous events of the Great Patriotic War confirmed specialists’ foresight and the wisdom of their decision.
In the end of December 1941, before the Kerch-Theodosian amphibious operation, SM-3 under command of Lieutenant I.Belousov disembarked a reconnaissance squad on Cap Chauda. Several days later the same boat twice sailed to Kerch to divert the fire of the Nazi artillery from the landing of the Soviet troops. And on 18 June 1942, when the air reconnaissance of the Black Sea Fleet spotted several ships and transports in the port of Yalta, the Soviet sailors remembered about D-3 and SM-3 – the only long range torpedo boats in the Black Sea. As a matter of fact the distance from Novorossiysk, where the boats were based, to Yalta exceeded the boats’ range, but the squadron leader Lieutenant K.Kochiyev calculated that additional petrol stashed on the decks in barrels would provide enough fuel to carry out the assault on Yalta and return home. It was also to the advantage of the Soviet sailors that the Germans, confirmed in the belief that Yalta was beyond the reach of the Soviet boats, in the morning fog would likely take them for own ships returning from patrol. After considering all the “pros” and “cons” the brigade command approved the operation. The group composed of D-3 under command of O.Chepik, and SM-3 under command of D.Karymov was led by K.Kochiyev. On 19 June evening, having loaded extra fuel, the boats left Novorossiysk, and after 7-hours journey they reached Yalta.
The fight, which happened after the daredevil assault of two tiny but heavily armed ships on Nazi-occupied Yalta, was already described. It reached its critical point: an artillery shell hit one of the retreating Soviet boats. It rendered the SM-3’s engines inoperable; the tiny ship rocked helpless on the waves of the Black Sea. One could say her hour had come. But the Russian navy has an unwritten rule: “dieth but rescueth thy mate”. The crew of D-3 immediately covered the damaged boat with dense smoke screen. While the wounded ship was towed after D-3, hidden from artillery fire, SM-3’s engineers managed to re-start engines, and soon the boat could develop 20-knot speed. They successfully evaded the pursuit of the enemy patrol boats, and towards the end of 20 June they returned to the base, having sunk a submarine and a torpedo boat, and damaged several other enemy torpedo boats. And several weeks after Soviet boats again distinguished themselves by sinking two fascist landing crafts near Theodosia.
At the outbreak of the war the Soviet navy, apart of the experimental prototype in the Black Sea, possessed two more D-3boats. Those were the only torpedo boats, with which the Northern Fleet went to the war. In August five more units were transported from Leningrad by train, and this small squadron fought till March 1943, when the Northern Fleet acquired boats of Higgins and Vosper type, delivered by the Allies. Vice-Admiral A.Kuzmin, who during the war commanded the torpedo boats brigade in the North, wrote:
We liked our domestic torpedo boats, particularly D-3, better than the foreign ones. Having installed newer engines, they achieved the same speed as the “Higgins” ones, and while they had displacement twice as less as the latter, they were superior in respect of agility. Low silhouette, low draught, and reliable mufflers made our D-3’s irreplaceable in the operations in the enemy littoral.
D-3 and SM-3 were not the only torpedo boats developed in the USSR at the eve of the war. At that time a group of constructors developed a small torpedo boat Komsomolets, which had almost the same displacement as G-5, improved torpedo tubes, and better anti-air and anti-submarine defence. Successful test of D-3 made experienced Soviet boaters B.Nikitin and N.Khavin to think about a project of a small submarine chaser and a torpedo boat built on the same universal hull, and as the basis for their project they wanted to take the hull of D-3. Authorities supported this idea, and the industry received an order for development of a wooden hull, which could become either a small chaser or a torpedo boat, depending of the armament it carried. The bureau of low tonnage constructions, a subsidiary of Baltsudoproyekt, in 1941 successfully completed the task: by 1942 a group of constructors led by L.Yermash designed the small chaser OD-200 and torpedo boat TD-200 on a universal wooden hull. The latter, as compared with D-3, had the board torpedo tubes replaced by torpedo launchers, which protected torpedoes of icing. The production line of the wooden hulls was established at one of the evacuated factories: they were assembled on a slip out of details manufactured in a workshop according to standard templates. Apart of the wooden hull, also a universal steel hull had been developed, which became the basis for the small chaser OM-200, and torpedo boat TM-200.
Although the war slowed down finishing works on the Komsomolets, the project was not all scrapped. Together with D-3, “Komsomolets” will become the standard torpedo boat, said the deputy people’s commissar for the Navy, Admiral Lev Galler, during one of the conferences in 1942; it is good both for the Baltic and the Black Sea. New boats had been commissioned for the navy since August 1944, and took part in the final battles in the Baltic. Nowadays in Severomorsk three machines, depicting the striking force of the Northern Fleet during the Great Patriotic War, have been turned into monuments. On the Gulf of Kola waterfront has been placed a famous “Katyusha” – the cruiser submarine K-21. In a gorge between two hills, on a concrete pillar, a navy torpedo bomber Il-4 soars in eternal flight. And in the centre of a downtown boulevard, while leaving behind a concrete wake sails from the past TKA-12 – a wooden boat of D-3 type. One of the two, with which the Northern Fleet met the Great Patriotic War.