Bars Class Russian Submarine 1915

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Grand Duke Konstantin also gave his support to the Polish-born engineer Stefan K. Drzewiecki’s submarine projects. Again, conflict provided the immediate impetus, in this instance the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. Drzewiecki built and tested two successive designs for small, man-powered submersibles that led to the construction of a series of 50 production units for the war ministry by the Nevskiy Shipbuilding and Machinery Works at St. Petersburg between 1879 and 1881. The army deployed these craft in the defense of Kronshtadt and Sevastopol until they were transferred to the navy in 1885, whereupon they were discarded as ineffective. Drzewiecki himself moved to France in 1887, where he proposed several semi-submersible designs for the French Fleet, none of which were built, and also developed his very successful drop-collar torpedo launch system that saw extensive use on both French and Russian submarines into the 1920s.

Russian interest in submarines revived in the 1890s, leading to the establishment of a special submarine committee on 19 December 1900, headed by Ivan Grigorevich Bubnov. It evaluated both foreign and native designs and by June 1901 had produced an indigenous design that was constructed as the Delfin . Bubnov went on to design a series of submarines for the Imperial Russian Navy, culminating with the Bars class, laid down immediately before World War I.

The 1912 construction programme for the Russian Navy included 12 submarines for the Baltic Fleet, and six for the Pacific Squadron, all of the same type. They were designed by Professor Bubnov, the leading Russian submarine designer, but did not prove suitable in service. The Drzewiecki ‘drop collars’ for the external torpedoes were sited too low, on either side of the casing, where they had an adverse effect on underwater handling.

During the autumn of 1915 work started on rebuilding the class to move the drop collars higher; in some cases they were actually sited on the casing, and the later boats were completed with the improvements. After the success of the minelayer Krab. the Ers and Forel were altered on similar lines, but neither boat entered service until after the October Revolution in 1917. The boats were built at the Baltic Metal Works yard at Saint Petersburg (Petrograd) and the Reval Russo-Baltic works.

As with many of the surface warships, the main machinery had been ordered from Germany, and at the outbreak of war all the diesels had been seized by the Germans. The early boats of the Bars Class were therefore without diesels, and it was necessary to requisition weaker machinery from the Kopje Class Amur monitors. Not until 1917 could 1320-bhp engines be obtained, and the first boat fitted with them, the Kuguar. was able to make 17 knots. Despite these problems the boats boats completed in 1915 were active against German shipping in the Baltic.

On May 17, 1917 the Volk sank the steamers Bianca, Hera and Kolga off Norrkoping. Late in May 1916 the Gepard was rammed by the German decoy-ship K while attacking a convoy, but she escaped with damage to her deck guns. During the same operation the Bars was also attacked but escaped without being hit. In the Gulf of Bothnia two more ships were sunk, the Dorita by the Volk on July 5 and the Syria by the Vepr.

The freezing of the Baltic prevented activity during the winter but in May 1917 the Bars, Gepard, Vepr and Volk began their patrols again. This time the Bars was unlucky and failed to return from a patrol. She was probably sunk by a German depth-charge attack in the Bay of Norrkoping on May 28, but she could have been rammed accidentally by a Russian destroyer. The Pantera was damaged by an airship on June 14 and the Lvitsa was sunk, probably on June 11 by patrol craft. The Vepr, however, sank the SS Friedrich Carow on August 8. The Gepard was damaged on September 20 while carrying out an attack, and in October she failed to return from a patrol. She was possibly sunk in a minefield on October 29.

Three more of the Bars Class were ordered in 1911 for the Black Sea Fleet, and were known as the Morz Class. They were followed by a further six ordered in 1915. The launch dates for this group are not known.

The Morz sank a small steamer in March 1915 while the Tjulen torpedoed a larger collier and 11 schooners early in April. The two boats were active again in May, when the Morz was damaged by a Turkish aircraft. All three were active in the spring of 1917 as well, and the new Gagara sank six sailing vessels on her first mission in August. The Morz failed to return from a patrol in May, and was probably sunk by air attack near Eregli or mined east of the Bosphorus. During the British Intervention the Pantera (of the original group) succeeded in sinking the destroyer HMS Vittoria.

Both the Baltic and Black Sea submarines of the class were victims of the chaos which followed the Revolution. The Edinorog was scuttled on February 25, 1918 and the Ugor was scrapped in 1922, the Forel, the incomplete Jaz and the Kuguar and Vepr were scrapped in 1925. The Gagara and Orlan fell into British hands at Sevastopol during the Anglo-French Intervention, and both were scuttled in April 1919. The incomplete hulls of the Lebed and Pelikan were scuttled at Odessa in 1919, and although they were subsequently raised they’ were not repaired. The Burevestnik, Tjulen and Utka followed General Wrangel into exile at Bizerta in 1920, leaving only the Nerpa in the Black Sea.

General characteristics
  • 650 tons surfaced
  • 780 tons submerged
Length: 68 m (223 ft 1 in)
Beam: 4.5 m (14 ft 9 in)
Draft: 3.9 m (12 ft 10 in)
  • Diesel-electric
  • 2,640 hp diesel
  • 900 hp electric
  • 2 shafts
  • 18 knots (33 km/h) surfaced
  • 9 knots (17 km/h) submerged
Range: 400 nmi (740 km)
Complement: 33
  • 1 × 63 mm (2.5 in) or 75 mm (3.0 in) gun
  • 1 × 37 mm (1.5 in) AA gun
  • 4 × 457 mm (18.0 in) torpedo tubes
  • 8 × torpedoes in drop collars (later removed)
Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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