Soviet Navy WWII Aircraft Carrier Design

PROJECT KOSTROMITINOV

Aircraft

66 Fighters

40 bombers/torpedo bombers

Guns

8×2 152 mm

4×3+6×2 100mm FlaK

8×4 – 37mm

22×2 – 23 mm

Catapults

2

Armour (mm)

Deck- 50+130

Side- 100

Hanger- 40

Top Speed (kts)

32

Range (at 18 kts)

8000

Project Kostromitinov is one of the most interesting, yet least known of all the carrier projects. It’s a study of Leutenant Kostromitinov, who studied the concept of German carrier Graf Zeppelin. The design bears similarities to the german projectalbeit it’s much larger, 300m full lenght and over 50 000 tons full load displacement.

 

Side-on view of the Project 71 aircraft carrier design put forward by TsNII-45 during the war years of 1941-45.

PROJECT 71

Full speed

34-35 knots

Armor

Belt – 100mm – 75mm.

Deck – 90mm.

Command center – 50mm.

Armament

8 AA 100mm.

4 quad AA 37mm (range Ver – 5km,160-180 shots/sec).

20 AA 12.7mm HMGs.

Aircraft:

10 recon-bomber aircraft

20 fighters.

Project 71 emerged soon after soviets introduced carriers into their naval building program in 1938.

PROJECT 72

Armor

Belt 90mm.

Deck 30mm+(50-80)mm.

Armament

6 or 8 dual AA 130mm.

4 dual and 8 single AA 85mm.

12 dual AA 37mm.

24 dual AA 23mm.

Aircraft

62 planes.

Project 72 was studied in 1944-45 and in most sources it is mentioned at least two variants of this project, one showed here with displacement and size of roughly the same as UK Illusrious class and another one considerably larger with approx. 62 aircrafts and diplacement of over 30 000 tons.

Post revolution and civil war, the newly emerged Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, after facing the challenges of foreign intervention attempts to remove and replace the Soviet order with the so called ‘White Russia’, had placed a ban on shipbuilding. This was lifted with the announcement, in 1926, of a five year building program for naval vessels which followed the announcement the previous year of a five year build program for commercial shipping.

In the 1930’s, although thoughts were turning to the possibility of operating aircraft carriers within the Soviet Navy at a future date, priorities in building capacity were allocated to projects considered to be more pressing, such as the need for new Destroyer/Escorts, Cruisers, Battleships and Submarines, with design priorities allocated to such classes of warship as the Project 23 Battleship, Project 69 Heavy Cruiser, Project 26 & Project 68 Destroyers and a diversity of Submarine classes.

The Soviet Union possessed no aircraft carriers in her fleets during World War II, this in no way mitigating that nations observations of the importance of such vessels in many theatres of war, in particular the Pacific war where both the Americans and Japanese, and to a lesser extent Britain, relied heavily on aircraft carrier battle groups to cover the large operating areas of the vast regions of the Pacific and surrounding areas. Aircraft carriers had been crucial in the European and Mediterranean theatres, particularly in the Battle of the Atlantic, providing air cover for allied convoys against submarine and long-range air attack, and in the Mediterranean, adding air cover for amphibious operations to the aforementioned tasks. The Soviet Union, locked in her titanic life or death struggle with the greater part of the German army on the Eastern Front, was in less need of aircraft carriers, such vessels being not just low on, but more or less absent from the priority list. However, with World War II at an end in late summer 1945, tensions between the two power blocks of East and West soon came to the fore, the USSR all too aware of that it was in a position of extreme inferiority at sea despite being in an overwhelming position of superiority on land.

During the war years, the western allies, the United States in particular, had built vast carrier fleets. The Soviet Union’s first serious workings on producing an aircraft carrier fleet had emerged between 1939 and 1940 when TsNII-45, which emerged from the takeover of large areas of the Research Institute of Shipbuilding & Ship Standards (NII-4) by NII-45, commenced design work on Project 71, the Soviet Union’s first national aircraft carrier program, TsNII-45 being the only such establishment of the People’s Commissariat of Shipbuilding that actually conducted work on the program. As well as design of the ship proper, TsNII-45 was also involved in design work on such systems as the deck catapults for aircraft operations.

During the early war years of 1941-1943, any plans for aircraft carrier design work in the Soviet Union were not merely put on hold, but abandoned as the Soviets embarked upon the struggle for survival against Germany and its allies. TsNII-45, despite the horrors of the siege of Leningrad, combined with other hardships of war such as losing personnel to front line duties and other causes including direct German attack and starvation, continued to work in support of the USSR Navy and the war effort in general. During those terrible war years’ large numbers of personnel were called to active duty in the armed forces leaving only 500 or so, more than 400 of which were evacuated from Leningrad to Kazan, leaving only 80 personnel at the bureau in Leningrad. More than 60 of the total work force was killed during the siege of that city, which was lifted in January 1944, TsNII-45 being named after A.N. Krylov (supervisor of the model basin from 1900-1907) that year.

CDB-17, formerly Neva PKB, the name under which it was formed on 18 January 1931, before being changed to TSPKB-1 in 1932, and then to CDB-17 in 1937, meanwhile, had, in 1943, been authorized to push ahead with design work on the Project 72 aircraft carrier program, apparently under V.V Ashik, formerly a chief designer on battleship projects. Progress was, however, slow as priorities were allocated to the more pressing need to defeat Germany on land; aircraft carriers it was clear would be next war weapons as far as Soviet requirements were concerned.

When the war in Europe ended in 1945, in the days after the Russian occupation of the German capital, Berlin, the Soviet Union, which was predominantly a land power endowed with the largest most powerful land army in history, also possessed a powerful navy (then tailored to regional war aims to support the land forces), but this paled in size and power in comparison to those of her former allies, Great Britain and the United States. As the Soviet Union transferred massive land and air forces to the Soviet Far East in preparation for ‘Operation Storm’, the Soviet invasion of Japanese occupied lands in the Far East, agreed on by the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States at the Yalta conference in February 1945, the US and Britain were conducting naval operations off the coast of Japan in the wake of the battle for the Japanese Island of Okinawa. The Okinawa operation had involved the employment of large scale aircraft carrier forces, predominantly, about 75%, American, the Soviets all too aware that while they could be in a strong position in areas of Soviet interest on the Eurasian mainland, they would be at a major disadvantage in any future power struggle in the Pacific Ocean areas that were of considerable distance from the support offered by land based air power.

In 1945, the Soviet Union embarked upon a ten-year naval modernisation program which called for design and building of new ships of most types, including battleships and heavy cruisers although there was no specific mention of aircraft carriers. Such projects remained suspended as design and building work focused on the pressing need to build Project 30Bis Destroyers and CDB-17 being heavily involved in design work on the Project 68K Light Cruisers of the Chapaev Class and 68Bis Light Cruisers of the Sverdlov Class; 5 and 14 of these large warships being built respectively.

There is no official documentary evidence that supports claims that the USSR had detailed plans to convert such large incomplete warships as the Kronstadt Battlecruiser (termed a Heavy Cruiser by its designers) to any aircraft carrier design post-1945; aircraft carriers being way down the list of priorities for reconstruction of the post-war Soviet Navy which was woefully short on modern small surface combatants, necessity programs such as the aforementioned Project 30bis Destroyers overriding luxury programs such as a future aircraft carrier program.

The Soviet Union was by this time, however, already in possession of one aircraft carrier, the incomplete former German Navy Graf Zeppelin of which the Soviet Union had taken custody at the end of the war in summer 1945. The Graf Zeppelin had been launched at Kiel, Northern Germany, on 8 December 1938, but the outbreak of war less than a year later would see her consigned to sit the war out incomplete in port, being subjected to Allied air raids.

There is certainly much conflicting information, even within official documentation, in regards to specific data about the Graf Zeppelin, this being unavoidable for a vessel that was never completed. However, it is clear that length was in the order 262 m overall and beam was in the order of 32 m. The vessel was expected to achieve in excess of 30 knots speed under the power of around 110,000 hp.

While there were never any plans to repair and complete the Graf Zeppelin for service with her new Soviet owners, this vessel was certainly inspected by teams of Soviet naval engineers and designers, although to what extent remains something of an unknown as detailed inspection was not scheduled to take place until the vessel was in a Soviet port, this never taking place as the aircraft carrier had remained in port at Swinemünde on the German Baltic Coast until August 1947. She was assumed to have sank under tow to a Soviet port, although accounts conflict, one being that she was deliberately scuttled and others that she was sunk by ordnance by the Soviets; the sunken wreck was discovered in 2006.

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