1919-20 British tanks in Russia

WHIPPET TANK Seen here from the rear, the Whippet was a fast, 13-kilometre per hour (eight-mile per hour) tank armed with four Hotchkiss machine guns in its fixed turret. 17 were sent to Russia. They were used to pursue broken troops and exploit breakthroughs by other tanks. Denikin insisted that only officers could crew the tanks that had been provided. The Russian officer here is a member of the crew, seen at the rear of a Whippet.

Between 1919-20 British tanks lumbered across the sun-baked steppes of southern Russia, flanked by Cossacks wielding lances and sabres.

In 1916 the Russians had been considering importing tanks from the west. However, in the confusion following the following the revolution of March 1917, this plan lapsed, although a down payment was made by the Provisional Government. However, during 1919 a number of tanks were supplied directly to Denikin’s forces in southern Russia by the British. A dozen French Renaults were also provided but fell into Bolshevik hands. The British supplied small numbers of tanks to other anti-Bolshevik groups. They also supplied other equipment in the hope of influencing the bitter civil war.


The bulk of the tanks supplied to Denikin’s forces from March 1919 were Mark V types: Male (two six-pounder guns, one on each side), Female (machine guns only, two on each side) and Hermaphrodites/Composites (a six-pounder gun on one side and two machine guns on the other). All types also had machine guns between the tracks to the front and rear. Some of the British tanks supplied were captured by the Bolsheviks, including 50 or so Mark Vs.

The first 12 tanks (six Mark Vs and six Medium As, known as `Whippets’) delivered were committed to action on 20 May 1919 northwest of Taganrog where they spearheaded an operation to clear an important railway line. They struck terror into enemies, who broke and ran. This reaction was to become common over the course of the next six months. In June a further 16 machines arrived. Two Mark Vs and two Whippets were dispatched to support the attack on the heavily fortified city of Tsaritsyn (later Stalingrad). The tanks, some with British crews, broke down barbed wire defences and on 30 June entered the city in triumph.

Battle of Tsaritsyn

The battle started when White forces under Ataman Pyotr Krasnov laid siege to Tsaritsyn in the autumn of 1918, pushing back the Red Army defenders into areas surrounding the town on the west bank. The local Bolshevik leaders desperately called Moscow for reinforcements and arms, but received nothing other than orders to stand firm.

The city was saved by the actions of the local chairman of the military committee, Joseph Stalin. Stalin urged his comrades to continue fighting and disobeyed direct orders from Moscow by recalling forces from the Caucasus, nicknamed Zhloba’s ‘Steel Division’. These forces were able to attack the White forces in the rear and defeat them, saving Tsaritsyn for the Bolsheviks. Three major engagements then developed around the city afterwards during the entire duration of the battle but were likewise less successful than the first one.

White general Anton Denikin’s troops temporarily took over the city in June 1919. Major Ewen Cameron Bruce of the British Army had volunteered to command a British tank mission assisting the White Army. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery during the June 1919 battle for single-handedly storming and capturing the fortified city of Tsaritsyn, under heavy shell fire in a single tank; this led to the successful capture of over 40,000 prisoners. The fall of Tsaritsyn is viewed “as one of the key battles of the Russian Civil War”, which greatly helped the White Russian cause. Noted historian B. H. Liddell Hart commented that Bruce’s action is “one of the most remarkable feats in the whole history of the Tank Corps.”

However, Red Army forces under both Stalin and Voroshilov, strengthened by supplies and weapons that had recently arrived from Moscow, staged an all-out assault towards the city and retook it by January 1920. As a result, the defeated White Army, now in danger of destruction, then retreated towards the Crimean Peninsula.

Denikin organised the 73 tanks he’d received by October 1919 into the First and Second Tank divisions. Repair and training facilities, supervised by members of the Royal Tank Corps, were located at Taganrog until late 1919, when the base was overrun by the Red Army.

The Military Situation in South Russia 1917

The original justification for British intervention in south Russia was the Anglo-French Agreement of 23 December 1917. When it became obvious that Russia would soon be out of the war against Germany, an agreement was reached between Britain and France. Under this agreement, the Allies were planning to continue an Eastern Front against Germany on Russian territory, with or without the support of the Bolshevik government. France was given responsibility for the area west of the river Don, and Britain was given the Caucasus and the area north and east of the Caspian. In truth, while the First World War continued, there was little that could be done against the German occupation of the Ukraine or Turkey’s attempted occupation of the Caucasus. The Dunsterforce expedition had soon been driven out.

Earlier in 1917, the Kerensky government had asked the leader of the Army, General L. Kornilov, to move loyal Army units to St Petersburg to restore order. But as soon as Kornilov had started to move troops, Kerensky had lost his nerve and had him arrested for planning a military dictatorship. Kornilov was imprisoned, along with General Anton Denikin. They were held by military personnel, however, and were allowed to come and go as they pleased. The new head of the Army was General M. V. Alekseev. With the takeover of the Bolsheviks in the October 1917 Revolution (November in the new calendar), Alekseev fled to south Russia, thinking the Cossack regions in the south would be a centre of resistance to the Bolsheviks. In December 1917, he was joined by Generals Denikin and Kornilov, who had simply walked out of the prison in which they had been kept.

A small number of officers and men began to join Alekseev in the south to take part in the fight against the Bolsheviks. General Alekseev called this group the Volunteer Army. Most of the men joining Alekseev were officers, and some of the early units were made up entirely of officers. After some disagreement, General Kornilov became the military commander and Alekseev the political chief. The Cossack hosts were as war-weary as the rest of Russian society and failed to rise against the Bolsheviks. Also, the numbers joining the Volunteer Army remained small and the promised finance failed to arrive.

During February 1918, Rostov was captured by detachments of the Red Guard sent out from Moscow. At this early stage of the Civil War, many sections of the population supported the Soviet government, not having yet suffered under Bolshevik rule. With the fall of Rostov, Alekseev and Kornilov led the Volunteer Army, now 4,000-strong, into the north Caucasus. To the Volunteers, this period became known as the ‘Ice March’. During this time, massively superior numbers surrounded them on all sides as they marched across the frozen steppes. Kornilov, as the military commander, decided to attack Ekaterinodar, the Kuban Cossack capital, which was now the capital of the Kuban Soviet Republic, in order to give themselves a base for operations. The attack was started on 10 April 1918. During the fighting, Kornilov was killed by artillery fire when his command post in a farmhouse was hit. The command passed to General Denikin, who was forced to call off the attack on Ekaterinodar and retreat towards the Don territory.

Russia had been negotiating with Germany to end the fighting between them, but when these talks broke down during February 1918 the Germans again began to advance into Russia. What was left of the Russian Army melted away in front of the Germans. Large areas of eastern Europe were occupied, including the Ukraine. The Russians returned to the negotiations and signed the Brest-Litovsk peace on 3 March. As part of the settlement, the Germans were given a free hand in the Ukraine. On 8 May, they captured Rostov.

The Don Cossacks soon became tired of Soviet rule. In May 1918, a meeting of the Don Krug elected a new Ataman, General Peter Krasnov. The Red Guards only had a loose hold on the Don territory and were soon driven out. The region to the west of the territory held by the Don Cossacks was now occupied by the Germans, who supplied money and arms to the Cossacks. By the middle of June, the Don Cossacks had an Army of 40,000 operating against the Reds. The Red Army was still in its infancy and had few combat troops available to send to the south, forcing them to rely on local troops.

The city was renamed Stalingrad in 1925 to honor Stalin and his actions.

After they had reoccupied all their own territory, the Don Cossacks turned east to try to capture Tsaritsin [Tsaritsyn]. But, after months of fighting, they failed in their bid to take the city. Tsaritsin was a large, built-up industrial area with a substantial working-class population that had supported the Red takeover. Most of the Don Cossacks were cavalry, and they lacked the heavy forces needed to capture the trench lines around the city. In command in Tsaritsin during the summer of 1918 was Stalin, along with Vorishilov and Budenny in subordinate roles. Stalin clashed with Trotsky over the strategy in the south and over the use of ex-Tsarist officers in command positions and was finally recalled to Moscow.

The Volunteer Army was re-equipped with arms and munitions from Germany, acquired via the Don Cossacks. Volunteer Army policy had originally been to continue the war against Germany, but this does not seem to have stopped them taking German money and arms through the Cossacks. By June 1918, the Volunteer Army had grown to 9,000 and they again tried to capture the north Caucasus area from the Red government forces. On 18 August, they captured Ekaterinodar, the Kuban Cossack capital. Once they had been liberated, the Kuban Cossack leadership joined the Don Cossacks and the Volunteer Army in the fight against the Bolshevik forces.

The original Volunteer Army was an effective and disciplined force capable of defeating Red Army units of much larger numbers. General Denikin continued to advance eastward across the Caucasus, and the Red Army set up their new base at Piatigorsk on the main rail line to Tsaritsin. On 8 October 1918, General Alekseev died, leaving General Denikin as the undisputed leader of the Volunteer Army. The Don Cossacks were faced with the 8th and 9th Red Armies in the north and the 10th Army in Tsaritsin, but they continued to hold out against the increasing pressure. During August, General Peter Wrangel joined the Volunteer Army. Wrangel was forty years old and had been in the Army for seventeen years. He had risen to command a division in the First World War. When he arrived in Ekaterinodar, the Volunteer Army had grown in size to around 38,000 troops. Denikin, who knew Wrangel slightly, offered him command of a division in the Volunteer Army. Wrangel went on to become the most effective of the White generals.

The counter-revolution in the south was still a limited affair but the influx of huge amounts of Allied equipment, money, and men would transform the situation.


The war with Turkey ended in October 1918 and the Armistice with Germany took effect on 11 November. This freed up access to the Black Sea. As part of the settlement, elements from the Allied forces occupied the fortifications along the Bosphorus. In late November, British ships from the Mediterranean fleet entered the Black Sea. This made the supplying of aid to the White forces in south Russia a practical proposition. Military supplies and men began to flow from bases around the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East into the quagmire of the Russian Civil War.

But the first British troops into south Russia were from the 14th Indian Army Division stationed in Iraq and Persia. On 17 November 1918, six days after the end of the First World War, Major General Thompson, who had replaced General Dunsterville, reoccupied Baku as the Turks withdrew. Escorted by the five armed ships under the command of Captain Washington, a convoy of seventeen merchant ships landed 2,000 British troops in the port at Baku. Another British Army force from Salonika occupied the port of Batum on the Black Sea. These two ports were connected by a rail line that ran along the southern line of the Caucasus Mountains, through the city of Tiflis. The supply problems for the British ships on the Caspian were reduced by this rail and sea link to the Mediterranean. The British occupation of the Transcaucasus region was intended to bring stability to the area of the largest oil-fields in the world, as well as to ease supply problems. It was also intended to disarm the area as the Turkish Army withdrew. But the number of British troops remained tiny in the context of the troubles in the region.

Tanks being delivered on the docks

The British cabinet had taken the decision on 14 November to contact General Denikin and to provide him with military equipment and training. Major-General Frederick Poole had been recalled from the British forces in north Russia and it was decided to place him in command of the British Military Mission to General Denikin. The capture of Novorossisk by General Denikin’s Volunteer Army, in late 1918, had given them an outlet to the sea. Taking advantage of this, General Poole arrived in Novorossisk in December 1918. The relations between General Denikin and the Don Cossacks had never been particularly warm, although they had worked together against the Red forces. But General Poole, with promises of enormous amounts of British money and equipment, forced the Don Cossacks under their Ataman General Peter Krasnov to place their forces under the command of General Denikin.

To support the British Army and Navy forces in the area, the RAF began to gather together units to send into south Russia. Number 17 Squadron was stationed in Salonika and had taken part in the Bulgarian campaign. In the middle of September, A Flight had its Armstrong Witworth aircraft replaced by DH9s. Under the command of Captain A. D. Makins, A Flight left Salonika on 31 December for the port of Batum.

Number 221 Squadron was also sent into south Russia. Stationed on Mudros at the end of the war was Major John Oliver Andrews; writing in the 1920s, he recalled the squadron’s journey:

In November 1918, the Dardanelles being opened, a squadron of DH9s was formed to proceed to S. Russia, with the idea of co-operating with the Naval forces on the Caspian Sea, and with the Russian White Armies operation under Denikin in the Caucasus. It was difficult to raise the necessary other rank personnel, due partly to the demoralisation and war weariness caused by the long sojourn in Mudros and Imbros … In December, the unit, 221 Squadron, embarked in the S. S. Riviera, and proceeded via Constantinople and the Black Sea to Batum. The passage was uneventful, except for New Year’s Eve spent at Constantinople with the R. N. R. and a spell of coal trimming and stoking undertaken by the squadron in the Black Sea, as the ship was short handed. It was universally agreed that coal shovelling in a ship’s bunker is a poor way of making a livelihood.

221 Squadron was to be part of 62 Wing, made up of 221 Squadron equipped with DH9s, and (later) DH9As; 266 Squadron equipped with Short 184 floatplanes; and 186 Squadron, to be equipped with Handley Page bombers. In the event, 186 Squadron never arrived.

Also stationed at Mudros at the end of the war was D. B. Knock, an armourer. In his diary, published in the 1930s, he described Major Andrews:

20/12/18 Remnants of Squadron re-formed as 221 Squadron RAF, with Major Andrews as CO. Things brushed up and discipline tightened up. Andrews won’t stand any nonsense. A soldier from head to feet … Have heard of his record in France with somewhere around 40 EA [enemy aircraft] to his credit [if aircraft driven down are included, Andrews’ total was 24 EA]. Didn’t get his DSO and MC for nothing. A pre-war soldier before RFC.2

D. B. Knock also related his experiences on the journey to Batum in his diary. He seems to have agreed with Andrews on the coal shovelling:

28/12/18 Orders to be ready to move early morning. Nobody knows really where, but rumours say Constantinople. Be great to see the city of Mosques. ’Planes, motor transport, ammunition, etc. all ready.

29/12/18 HQ staff and A Flight board HMS “Riviera” (seaplane carrier). At midnight. Sail at 2am. We enter Dardanelles at 8am … Reach Constantinople at 9pm.

31/12/18 Not allowed ashore. Instead we help Navy stokers to coal from a collier moored alongside. Get as black as Hades drill slacks and tunic so black I trade them with a stoker for rum. He can wash them! Leave Bosphorus 8am and out into Black Sea. Wonderful sight that waterway is. 1919 breaks with a blue sea and the sight of HMS “Superb” at 10am making from somewhere, probably Odessa. For Constantinople. [500 British marines had been landed in Sevastopol.]

Another member of 221 Squadron was Lieutenant O. R. Gayford, an observer, who had earlier taken part in the bombing of Constantinople. He also described the journey:

By December 1918 the Squadron was completely equipped with Puma DH9s, [Major Andrews took one Bentley-engined Sopwith Camel with him for his own personal use] and was preparing to go up to the Caspian Sea for work with a naval squadron, which was on those inland waters. We left by Flights at intervals of about a fortnight in seaplane carriers via the Bosphorus to Batum on the Black Sea. Our aircraft were taken with engines installed and with undercarriages on, but wings and empennages dismantled.

By the end of 1918, 221 Squadron had started the move into the Caucasus, but it was to be early 1919 before 266 Squadron, the seaplane squadron, joined them. The British Naval ships on the Caspian were active during December. On 8 December, two British ships, the Zoro-Aster and the Alla Verdi, were at anchor off Chechen Island, north of Baku, when three Bolshevik navy vessels were seen escorting three merchant ships. The Bolsheviks opened fire on the British ships, which left their moorings and chased the Red vessels. Hits were seen on the enemy ships, while three shells hit the Zoro-Aster. The Red vessels escaped, but in their first encounter the British ships had seen off a superior enemy with no losses. On 29 December, four of the British ships bombarded the Bolshevik base at Staro-Terechnaya. The British flotilla was now up to a strength of eight armed ships.

By the end of 1918, contact had been established with General Denikin to find out his military needs, and a small force of British troops had occupied the south Caucasus region.

Imperial Russian Baltic fleet shipyards

A representation of St Petersburg in 1716 by the contemporary architect Marcelius (no first initial available), showing the administrative and logistical hub of the Baltic fleet in its early years. The view is taken from the banks of the Neva looking across towards the centre of the city, with an unidentified warship anchored to the right and various small craft going about their business on the river. Visible on the opposite bank are the building slips, with a launching under way just beneath the towers of the Admiralty looming in the distance. To the right is the Church of St Isaac of Dalmatia showing the typical features of a Russian Orthodox church. The buildings scattered along the waterfront include the workshops of ship designers, the iron works (smithies) of the navy and the magazines of the fleet.

This drawing of St Petersburg in 1725 at the death of its founder Peter I should be compared with that from 1716. Both show the spire of the Admiralty dominating the skyline, but this drawing shows the impressive building from two perspectives. The cleared space in the lower picture is devoted to the drilling and housing of the Russian army and was as much a part of the underpinnings of Russian power as the fleet under construction in the upper. Both drawings show a line of battleship being launched from the slip immediately below the Admiralty tower, an indication that this artist knew of and was influenced by the 1716 representation. Details are hard to come by, but an observant eye can note that the building slips in the 1725 drawing are occupied by larger warships than those seen the 1716 drawing – a sign of the significant growth in ship size in a single decade.

Northern shipyards


Prior to the completion of St Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland in 1703, Russia’s major commercial seaport to the West was Arkhangel’sk at the mouth of the Dvina River on the White Sea facing the bleakness of the Arctic Circle. The shipyard servicing Arkhangel’sk was the Solombala Yard located on the Solombala islands at the mouth of the North Dvina and opened in 1693. Arkhangel’sk was never fully eclipsed by the naval hub of St Petersburg as the major production centre for the Russian sailing navy and did not finally cease operation until 1859 with the launch of the paddle frigate Solombala.

Arkhangel’sk had significant advantages as a builder of sailing warships in spite of its wretched climate and its distance from central Russia. The northern larch and pine forests provided an abundant supply of cheap timber and the extensive river network flowing into the Dvina made its transportation to the shipyards easy and cheap. Meaningful price comparisons are difficult during this period, but the cost of the larch used for a Russian 74 in 1805 was worked out at £9,000–9,500 as compared to £48,000 for the cost of properly seasoned timber for a 74 built in England at the same time. Arkhangel’sk had the additional advantage of having ready access to abundant iron ore deposits in the nearby Ural Mountains for the production of ordnance and other warship equipage. The shipyard was also sufficiently remote from the Baltic area as to be free from the likelihood of conquest by land or blockade by sea and the production of warships could continue unabated regardless of unfavourable military events to the south.

Ships completed in the northern yards were only commissioned as warships at St Petersburg after a one to two month working up voyage around the entire extent of the Scandinavian peninsula and then northwards again across the entire length of the Baltic from the straits of Denmark to the naval bases of St Petersburg. This long, arduous, and occasionally dangerous voyage gave Russian commanders a unique two-fold opportunity to work up untrained groups of landsmen with no previous experience with the sea into reasonably competent seamen and also to reveal weaknesses and defects in their newly completed warships.

There was, of course, another side to the coin. Pine and larch were not well suited for use in sailing ships, being liable to rapid dry rot and deterioration in service. The British and other European naval powers turned to the use of pine only during periods of great desperation, and ships so constructed were only expected to have useful service lives of five to seven years. The very ease of transportation of timber by floating it down the Russian waterways leading to the Solombala Yards was in itself a major accelerant to the rapid deterioration of the timber employed by saturating it with moisture at the very point in its life when it was most in need of drying out and seasoning. Floating large quantities of green, newly cut timber on water and then immediately employing it in the construction of warships was the worst possible use of ship timber irrespective of the economic advantages of the process. A one-year seasoning period was specified before the timber was used in construction, but this guideline was not always adhered to, and could not suffice to undo the damage already done. It can only be said at this point that cheapness and ease of construction had a greater priority for the Russia sailing navy than long life and durability in service. The ships produced were still effective warships during their abbreviated service lives and the wisdom of this policy must remain a matter for debate. The situation improved considerably after the accession of Nicholas I with the replacement of the waterborne transportation system by the slower and more expensive method of transportation by road and by rafting. This, in turn, had to await further emergence of Russia from a primitive medieval economic system into one more closely in step with modern European developments.

A final drawback to the use of Arkhangel’sk as a builder of sailing warships lay in the fact that completed ships could only make the long journey to St Petersburg if they were able to leave Arkhangel’sk during a one to three month window early in the season and this, in turn, might be further constricted by a late spring thaw. If the new ships missed the window for departure, they were left to deteriorate through the stresses of yet another arctic winter with increased probabilities of separation of seams and leaking when the voyage became possible in the ensuing year.

The long 2,600-mile voyage from Arkhangel’sk to St Petersburg and the exposure of untried ships early on to severe weather conditions even during summer months may have been beneficial with respect to the working up untrained crews and for uncovering defects in construction, but it was also something of a curse, with warships constructed of poorly prepared materials being subjected to unusually severe hull stresses at the very beginning of their service lives. In addition, the transit through the narrow Straits of Denmark and then along the coast of Sweden was simply not a viable option during wartime at the very time when new construction was most urgently required.

In spite of all of the drawbacks to the use of Arkhangel’sk as a construction centre, some 247 major warships were completed by the Solombala Yards between 1702 and 1855 as against the smaller total of 171 by the more strategically located Main and New Admiralty Yards at St Petersburg between 1706 and 1844 (or 202 if allowance is made to include ships built at Kronshtadt and Okhta). This total for Arkhangel’sk included 64 standard 74s, 78 66s, 21 54s and 84 frigates of all sizes. These figures, both for Arkhangel’sk and the Baltic shipyards, are of course only close approximations and subject to debate on numerous counts. Nevertheless the pattern is clear, Arkhangel’sk built more and smaller ships in all categories while St Petersburg built fewer and larger warships.

No other nation during the sailing ship era was faced with conditions approaching those imposed by this remarkable combination of poor construction materials and long transit from point of production to point of utilization. Arkhangel’sk was unique.

Bykovskaya Yard

The Bykovskaya shipyard located at Byk on the northern Dvina in the vicinity of Arkhangel’sk was the only private shipyard of significance in Russia that was contracted to build warships. Founded in 1734 by a private merchant N. S. Krylov, Bykovskaya was primarily a builder of merchant and fishing vessels but also built a small number of frigates and auxiliary vessels. The yard was finally closed in 1847.

Shipyards located in the St Petersburg Area

This section includes those yards built in and around St Petersburg including Lake Ladoga in the early years and extends to include a complex of shipyards built along the Neva River as well as the island fortress of Kronshtadt outside of St Petersburg. Some of these yards were abandoned at the end of age of sail while others continued in use, sometimes in different forms and under different names, to the present.


A short-lived shipyard built in the mouth of the Syas’ River which enters Lake Ladoga from the east. Four small frigates were built there between 1702 and 1704.

Lodeynoe Pole (Olonetskaya)

The earliest shipyard in the area, Olonetskaya, or Olonets as she was also called, was built inland on the Svir River which enters Lake Ladoga to the northeast of the future site of St Petersburg. The town serving the shipyard came to be known as Lodeynoe Pole (Boat Field) and the shipyard was known as Olonetskaya until renamed Lodeynopol’skaya Yard in 1785. Completed ships had to cross Lake Ladoga and proceed up the Neva to reach the sea. Between 1703 and 1711, Olonetskaya completed two 52-gun ships, ten snows, two bombs and various other smaller craft. Throughout the eighteenth century, the yard continued to build galleys and small craft. Between 1806 and 1820, an additional twenty additional ships were constructed there including two small frigates. The shipyard formally closed in 1849.

St Petersburg Main Admiralty Yards

The site of the new Russian capital of St Petersburg in 1703 was chosen by Peter I with an eye on its strategic positioning at the head of the Gulf of Finland, with its excellent defensive potentialities and its potential for controlling the entire Baltic to the south. The naval shipyards on the Neva River had access to Russian river waterways for the transportation of timber from the interior comparable to that of the Arkhangel’sk shipyards along with the added advantage of readily available supplies of high quality Kazan’ oak along with abundant supplies of larch. Fewer warships were completed in the shipyards around St Petersburg than those at Arkhangel’sk, but St Petersburg was entrusted with the honour of constructing the great majority of the Baltic fleet’s prestigious First and Second Rates as well as the more important of the heavy frigates. It seems likely that this division of labour between the two yards was a result of the greater durability and life spans that could be hoped for from ships built of higher quality timber than was available to the northern yard, especially when spared the trials of the long transit from Arkhangel’sk.

St Petersburg was very nearly as long-lived as its northern compatriot and rival, with the main admiralty yards continuing to build major sailing warships for the Russian Navy from their founding in 1706 to 1844. The total production of both the St Petersburg Main Admiralty and New Admiralty yards taken together (but excluding Okhta and Kronshtadt) was 21 100-gun ships, 30 80-gun ships, 20 70-gun ships, 33 64/66-gun ships, 14 52-gun ships and 53 frigates of all categories.

Galley Yard

Located slightly downriver from the Main Admiralty Yards, the Galley Yard was primarily involved in the production of galleys and other oared craft until it converted to the New Admiralty Yard in 1800 (see below).

Galernyy Island Yards

This site is referred to as Galernyy Ostrovok (Gallerny Island in Russian) throughout the data section. The site was founded in 1719 and built small galleys and sailing ships including 50 Crimean War gunboats, before beginning to construct larger craft from 1858. It was merged with the New Admiralty Yards in 1908.

Two plans of the naval base of Kronshtadt completed on Kotlin Island in 1713. The top view depicts the base in 1721 as planned by Peter I. The lower shows the changes made by 1741–3. Both reveal the heavy fortifications that guaranteed its dual status as both the guardian of the Russian capital at St Petersburg and as the major naval base for the Baltic fleet. No serious assault on St Petersburg would have been possible without first reducing this fortress, and the guns of Kronshtadt retained their deterrent value throughout the course of the Napoleonic Wars – and long after.


The main naval base for the Russian Baltic fleet was created in 1713 located on the Kotlin Island protecting the approaches to St Petersburg. Both a fortress and a naval base, Kronshtadt was primarily involved with major repairs. Construction activity was largely limited to important larger ships and to specialized prototypes because of the difficulty involved in transporting quantities of timber to the island. With the lonely exception of Sviatoi Pavel 86 of 1753, the production of major warships at Kronshtadt began in 1771 with the laying down of the 10-gun bomb Iupiter and continued through 1813 with the launching of the 100-gun Rostislav. Twenty-two warships ranging in size from First Rates to cutters were constructed there between 1753 and 1813 including four First Rates, one 80, one 66, eight rowing frigates and eight smaller ships.

With the great dry dock facility begun at the order of Peter I and completed in 1752, along with its vast complex of workshops, Kronshtadt has remained the main arsenal, repair and maintenance base for the Russian Baltic fleet to the present day. In 1857 it was determined that Kronshtadt was no longer suitably placed to act as an operational centre for offensive fleet operations. Plans were accordingly made to move fleet operations and the Admiralty headquarters to Rogervik, while retaining Kronshtadt as the armoury and repair centre of the Baltic fleet. Although financial constraints prevented the fulfilment of this project, the harbours serving Kronshtadt were deepened over several years beginning in 1859. A second attempt at providing a more forward operating base for the fleet was undertaken in the 1880s at Libava (now Lithuanian Liepaia), but these were abandoned in their turn in favour of Revel’ in 1912.

Okhta Yards

Also known as Okhtenskaya, this yard was located on the Okhta River, a branch of the Neva in the vicinity of St Petersburg. Builder of small vessels between 1781 and 1794. Between 1810 and 1862, Okhta became a major shipyard, completing eight 74s, nine heavy frigates and 49 smaller ships.

New Admiralty

The New Admiralty yards in St Petersburg were built on the Neva on the site of the former Galley Yard in the final year of the Emperor Paul’s short and tragic reign in 1800; 25 major sailing warships were built there between 1806 and 1866, including two First Rates, one completed as a steamship, twelve 80-gun ships, four 74s and three 44-gun heavy frigates. An additional four wooden screw and paddle cruising ships were also completed there between 1844 and 1866. New Admiralty continued to produce iron and steel hulled warships until 1908 when it merged with the Galernyy Island yard.

Bogatyr-class cruiser

Bogatyr Russian light cruiser class. Five protected, or 2nd Class, cruisers were ordered for the Imperial Russian Navy between 1889 and I90I. They followed the trend set by the Askold and Variag, being 23-knot ships of medium displacement and reasonable endurance for commerce-raiding.

The design was entrusted to the German firm of Vulkan, who built the lead ship and supplied material for another four to be built in Russian yards. They were unusual in being the first cruisers to have twin 6-in (152-mm) mountings, one forward and one aft, although the rest of the main armament was conventionally mounted in open-backed shields in broad-side sponsons.

The original intention was to build three ships for the Baltic and two for the Black Sea, but the Vitiaz caught fire during her construction and was so badly damaged that she had to be scrapped.

The Bogatyr helped to drive the German light cruiser Magdeburg ashore. 500 m (574 yards) from Odensholm lighthouse, on August 26. 1914. In November 1914 she was refitted for minelaying and on January 12, 1915 laid 100 mines east of Bornholm. A month later she was involved in a decisive action with the German cruiser München off Libau. In December, with her sister ship Oleg and the battleships Gangut and Sevastopol. she covered a minelaying raid east of Gotland and laid mines off Lyserort. One of her last operations before the Revolution was to cover a convoy with the big cruiser Rurik in June 1916. She was found to be in bad condition after the Revolution and the Civil War. and was stricken in 1922 and scrapped at Bremen.

The Oleg was interned during the Russo-Japanese war but returned to the Baltic after the end of hostilities in 1905. She was converted for minelaying in November 1914 and laid mines, in company with the Bogatyr. in January and February 1915. She was also involved in the skirmish with the Munchenon May 7. 1915 and accompanied her sister ship in most of the operations of 1915-17. She became part of the Red fleet in 1918 and took part in operations against the British during the War of Intervention in 1918-19. She was torpedoed in Kronstadt by British coastal motor boats (CMBs) on June 17. 1919.

The Kagul was renamed Pamyat Merkurya. in memory of the Merkurya, after the Russo-Japanese war. The Merkurya and the Kagul (ex-Ochakov) were active in the Black Sea during the First World War. and on January 4. 1915 Merkurya damaged the Turkish cruiser Hamidieh in a skirmish west of Sinope. In early May both ships patrolled off the Anatolian coast and the Pamyat Merkurya sank two ships at Kozlu. Between August and November they bombarded the Turkish coast at various points. In January 1917 the Pamyat Merkurya again raided the Anatolian coast in company with the battleship Ekaterina II and three pre-Dreadnoughts.

In 1905 the Ochakov’s crew joined the mutiny in the Black Sea Fleet and for a time she served as the rebels’ “flagship”. She was sunk in shallow water by gunfire from the loyal battleship Rostislav but was refloated and repaired. As a mark of the Tsar’s displeasure her name was removed from the record, and on April 7, 1907 she was renamed Kagul. On April 13. 1917. to commemorate her revolutionary fervour, and to wipe out the ‘stain’ of the censure, she was given back her old name, but was soon out of commission. She was recommissioned by the White Russians in February 1919 and renamed General Kornilov in September. In 1920 she was the last ship to leave the Crimea for Constantinople, but two months later she sailed for Bizerta. arriving there on December 29. 1920. The French government seized her as compensation for outstanding debts and she was scrapped in 1933.

During the First World War, as supplies of the new Vickers-designed 13-cm (5.1-in) gun became available, the class was rearmed. The Oleg and Bogatyr received 16 of the new guns, some of them replacing 75-mm (3-in) guns. The Black Sea ships were supplied with different guns; the Kagul received 12 13-cm guns in 1917, but her sister ship was merely given four more 15.2-cm (6-in) guns to replace some of the 75-mm guns on the broadside. The Baltic ships were given four 75-mm antiaircraft guns but the Black Sea ships had only two. The torpedo tubes were removed from the Oleg and Bogatyr. while the others were reduced to two beam underwater tubes.

After the Revolution the Pamyat Merkurya had a checkered career. While lying at Sevastopol in 1919 she was taken over by British forces, and when they withdrew in April they destroyed her machinery. The Red Army recaptured her in 1920. after the evacuation of Wrangel’s forces, and in 1923 renamed her Komintem. With rebuilt machinery and some alterations to her armament she recommissioned on May 1, 1923. but as her speed was now only 20 knots she was of little use except for training. It was later proposed to convert her to a seaplane carrier, but this was uneconomical even by Russian standards. In 1941-42 she took part in the defence of Odessa and Sevastopol. She was badly damaged by German air attack at Novorossisk on July 2. 1942 and limped to Poti, only to be hit again on July 16. A total loss, she became part of a breakwater in Poti harbour.

General characteristics
Type:Protected cruiser
Displacement:6,645 long tons (6,752 t)
Length:134 m (439 ft 8 in)
Beam:16.6 m (54 ft 6 in)
Draught:6.3 m (20 ft 8 in)
Propulsion:2 shaft vertical triple-expansion steam engines 16 Normand-type boilers 23,000 hp
Speed:23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph)
Armament:12 × 152 mm (6 in) guns (2 twin turrets and 8 single guns), replaced by 130 mm (5 in) guns in subsequent refits for all ships 12 × 11-pounder guns 8 × 47 mm guns 2 × 37 mm guns 2 × 15 in (380 mm) torpedo tubes
Armour:Deck: 80 mm (3.1 in) Turrets: 127 mm (5.0 in) Casemates: 80 mm (3.1 in) Conning tower: 140 mm (5.5 in)
Notes:Sunk in the Baltic Naval War, 1919


Vlasov wasn’t just a random commander whose only distinctive quality was being willing to jump ship to the German side. In the mess that was the Soviet officer corps, before the bloody crucible of the Wehrmacht pummeled many of the incompetents out of the ranks, Vlasov was one of the most capable. Indeed, when he took command of the 99th Rifle Division, he turned a pretty bog-standard unit into what Semyon Timoshenko called the best division in the Soviet Army in nine months.

Vlasov’s problem was that in the first year of the Great Patriotic War, he was squarely in the middle of several utter disasters, many of which could be directly attributed to Stavka. Vlasov held the very unfortunate command of the 4th Mechanized Corps in June 1941, part of Kirponos’ Southwestern Front- an extremely unready formation that, along with five other mechanized corps, participated in the abysmal disaster that was the Battle of Brody.

A counteroffensive insistently ordered by Zhukov despite Kirponos’ pleading about its impossibility, Brody was one of the most crushing defeats of any force in the entire war. Vlasov’s corps, the strongest of the six, was pretty much annihilated- by 12 July, it was down to 65 tanks from a starting strength of 979. The corps’ remnants, now fighting on as infantry, was soon encircled and annihilated in the right bank Ukraine, and the unit was officially disbanded on August 1941.

Vlasov’s next posting was right in the middle of another developing disaster- the 37th Army, one of the six armies holding the Kiev sector against Army Group South. There, the 37th Army gained the dubious distinction of being part of the largest single pocket of history. Under Vlasov’s direction, parts of the army managed to break out before the German pocket fully solidified. Most of the unit was destroyed and near the end of September officially disbanded.

However, even that disaster that befell the 37th Army was a quite successful defense by the Soviet standards of the time, where the Germans were handing Stalin the red ruins of his army all across the front. Vlasov was now sent to command the 20th Army, freshly reconstituted after its annihilation in the Vyazma Pocket. He commanded the army through the second phase of the Battle of Moscow, with success. With his name followed by glowing praise on the Pravda and a brand new Order of the Red Banner glistening on his chest, Vlasov went to a new command- the 2nd Shock Army in the Volkhov area.

Vlasov’s army was the spearhead of the Lyuban Offensive Operation, intending to break the siege of Leningrad. The 2nd Shock Army advanced across the Volkhov river and penetrated seventy kilometers forward from their starting position, but support proved insufficient against strengthening German defenses and the offensive stalled. Vlasov requested permission to withdraw out of the salient he had formed, and was ordered to hold position, no matter what.

That didn’t work out. Germans counterattacked against the salient, broke through the Soviet positions, and cut Vlasov off. His attempt at breaking out was unsuccessful, and Germans wiped out the 2nd Shock Army at Myasnoi Bor. Vlasov was captured, and after a short while in German custody, turned his colours.

Vlasov’s hatred of Stalin for his disastrous mismanagement of the military situation led German intelligence officers to seek his cooperation in heading an army of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) committed to fight against the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet POWs were already serving as auxiliaries to the German army in noncombat roles, many of them doing so simply to stay alive. Vlasov worked out a political program for a non-Communist Russian state, but this concept flew in the face of Adolf Hitler’s policy of subjugating and colonizing the Soviet Union. Although German intelligence officers proceeded to create the Russian Liberation Army (ROA), Hitler refused it any combat role, and it became a device only to encourage Red Army desertions.

German Schutzstaffel (SS) Chief Heinrich Himmler met with Vlasov in September 1944 and promised him a combat role. Himmler also arranged for the creation of the multiethnic Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (KONR), which was announced in Prague that November. Two divisions of the ROA came into being, one of which was sent along the Oder River in mid-April 1945 but retreated before the Red Army. The “Vlasov Army” then changed sides. Cooperating with the Czech Resistance, it helped liberate Prague and disarmed 10,000 German soldiers, hoping to be recognized by the Western Allies.

At the end of the war, Soviet authorities demanded Vlasov’s return in accordance with repatriation agreements reached at the Yalta Conference, and on 12 May 1945, U.S. units handed him over, together with other ROA prisoners of war. On 13 August 1946, the Soviet Supreme Court condemned Vlasov as a “German collaborator” and an “enemy of the Russian people” and imposed the death penalty on him the same day.

Now, the question. Why?

There are three prevailing theories. The traditional Soviet claim is that Vlasov’s betrayal was primarily motivated by self-interest: a cold, calculating move made by a man who saw a chance to grab at power and took it. A second possibility is that Vlasov was simply infuriated- spiteful, even, at being hung out to dry at Lyuban, and desired vengeance.

Both of these are entirely feasible- I would like to emphasize that the only claims about his motivation that we know Vlasov made, he made while working with Germans, and since Soviets hung him for a traitor in 1946, we can’t exactly ask him. Therefore, anything I’m going to say, and anything anyone can tell you about Vlasov’s motivation, is pretty much an educated guess.

But I myself am partial to the third and most mainstream theory- that when Vlasov stated his anti-Communism and desire to free Russia from Stalin’s grasp, he wasn’t lying.

Most people grow up with at least some sense of loyalty to their countries- treason doesn’t come easy to most people. Vlasov’s situation seems exceptional- not that long ago, during the First World War, it would have been incomprehensible that a captured Russian army commander may write a memorandum to the Kaiser himself asking to be allowed to form an army of Russians so that he might fight against other Russians.

That this happened in the Second World War means two things- either the person is exceptional, or the situation is. But the person isn’t exceptional. Vlasov wasn’t the first Soviet commander to turn his colours in prison, he wasn’t the last, and he sure as hell wasn’t the only- when his ‘Russian Liberation Army’ became a reality in 1944, of the 51 officers commanding a regiment or above, 23 were Soviet defectors(the rest Russian emigres). Well over one million Soviet citizens defected to the German side- such a thing would have been incomprehensible at any other time.

So, if the person isn’t exceptional- the situation has to be.

The prevailing theory, and the one I agree with, is that Vlasov had grown disillusioned with the government he had served. After living through a series of disasters said government presided over, culminating at Lyuban, Vlasov was simply fed up with the Soviet regime- and unfortunately for him, he didn’t exactly have an awful lot of options if he wished to turn his efforts to its destruction.

And thus, one fateful day while imprisoned in Vinnytsia, he had a thought and came to a decision that would eventually lead him to a long drop off a short rope- a tragic but not undeserved fate for a man who in all likelihood had noble reasons for a loathsome act. He certainly didn’t prove half as lucky as his German counterpart- his fellow traitor Walther von Seydlitz-Kurbach, who eventually got repatriated to West Germany, somehow managed to be pardoned by the country he betrayed, and died of old age in 1976.

And when it came to describing the Soviet hero turned German collaborator, I wish to leave the final words to Mark Elliott:

    Some have characterized Vlasov a vile collaborator; others have seen him as a Russian national hero. Neither description quite fits. Andrei Andreevich Vlasov, given to drink and fits of fatalism and inertia in captivity, lacked the sterling character deemed essential for a martyr. On the other hand, the ROA chief was anything but a Nazi — he caused his German supporters discomfort with his strong Russian nationalism and his personal refusal to lend his voice to the prevailing, official anti-semitism. He possessed neither a Quisling’s moral blindness to questions of patriotism nor a Joan of Arc‘s penchant for self-immolation. He came closer to the mean of most humans, aptly personifying the nightmarish predicament which confronted millions of the Eastern Front’s victims. Vlasov, like multitudes of other helpless Soviet citizens, was cruelly pulverized between the enormous and unfeeling millstones of Nazism and Communism. Shuffled about Europe’s wargame board, first by Stalin, then by Hitler, Vlasov was a pawn in the epic struggle just like the lowliest POW or forced laborer. He fantasized a Russia minus Marx, and though his failure was complete, he still came closer than any other Russian since the Civil War to fulfilling that dream.

    Mark Elliott, “Andrei Vlasov: Red Army General in Hitler’s Service,” Military Affairs, Apr. 1982


Andreyev, Catherine. Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement: Soviet Reality and Émigré Theories. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Elliott, Mark. “Andrei Vlasov: Red Army General in Hitler’s Service.” Military Affairs 61 (April 1982): 84–87.

Steenberg, Steve. Vlasov. Trans. Abe Fabsten. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.

Strik-Strikfeldt, Wilfried. Against Stalin and Hitler: Memoir of the Russian Liberation Movement, 1941–1945. New York: John Day, 1973.

Kievan Rus and the Mongols

Sergey Prisekin, The Battle of Kulikovo, 1980, oil on canvas

In 1237, Mongol invaders attacked the town of Suzdal.

They plundered the Church of the Holy Virgin and burned down the prince’s court and burned down the Monastery of St Dmitrii, and the others they plundered. The old monks and nuns and priests and the blind, lame, hunchbacked and sick they killed, and the young monks and nuns and priests and priests’ wives and deacons and deacons’ wives, and their daughters and sons – all were led away into captivity.

Such images have haunted the minds of Russians over the centuries. They have been re-enacted within living memory in the German invasion of 1941. Whatever else they may have wanted, Russians have always longed for security from terrifying and murderous assaults across the flat open frontiers to east and west. They could not have that security, though, without restraining the feuding of their own internal strongmen. That was the need which motivated the creation of the first Rus state, more than three centuries earlier. The Primary Chronicle, the first East Slav foundation narrative, reported of the 9th-century Slav tribes that

there was no law among them, but tribe rose against tribe.

Discord thus ensued, and they began to war against one

another. . . . Accordingly they went overseas to the Varangian Russes.

[And they] said to the people of Rus ‘Our whole land is great and

rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us.’

Probably this was not a single event but a gradual process by which scattered tribes accepted Varangian, or Viking, rule in the interests of peace, security, and stable commerce. The Vikings established fortified urban settlements on the trading route from Scandinavia to Byzantium along the rivers Volkhov, Dvina, and Dnieper. At the southernmost of these settlements, Kiev, they established a capital city from where their kagan (later Great Prince) could enforce his authority over unruly tribes. It forms the birthplace of two of today’s sovereign states, Russia and Ukraine. Around Kiev they built a semi-circle of fortresses to defend it against nomadic raids. They intermingled readily with their subjects and adopted their tongue, so that a common East Slav language and culture emerged, albeit one with a marked social hierarchy: the prince and his druzhina (armed henchmen) formed the elite.

This fixing of authority and culture made life safer and more prosperous: a lively commerce and settled agriculture developed. Kinship faded as the basic principle of social organization, and the names of tribes disappeared from the Chronicles, to be replaced by urban and village communities. The princes awarded their warriors the right of kormlenie, that is to be supported (literally: fed) by local communities in return for guaranteeing protection. This was a variant of the ‘gift economy’; it gave local communities a means to get to know their masters, gauge their reactions, and establish – or sometimes not – some mutual trust and a give-and-take relationship with them.

To regulate their own affairs, village communities had their own assemblies, for which the term mir, meaning peace or harmony, gradually came into use. The urban assemblies were known as veche: only their support or ‘acclamation’ rendered a prince’s authority fully legitimate. All male citizens were members of the veche, and they had both the right and duty to take up arms in defence of the community.

Establishing a unified kingdom, however, proved more difficult. The various sons of the Kievan Great Prince regularly fought one another for the succession. Efforts to curtail these feuds resembled those of Charlemagne’s successors, who were also trying to suppress lesser princes and unruly tribes. The best way to establish law and order and to generate mutual solidarity was to accept a monotheistic religion. That is what Prince Vladimir (r. 978–1015) did in 988 by accepting the Byzantine form of Christianity. It offered attractive assets to a prince seeking to consolidate his authority: it condemned blood feuds and it justified the princely imposition of law, order, and peace. Two of its first saints, Boris and Gleb, sons of Vladimir, were said to have been murdered by rivals because they declined to participate in dynastic feuds. As it extended its network of parishes, the church also provided the most effective way of disseminating both moral concepts and observance of the law.

A close relationship with Byzantium was especially beneficial to a people who already traded with it. Orthodox Christianity had other advantages: it accepted partnership with secular authority, and its liturgy was conducted in a language akin to the vernacular, so that it was closer to the people than Latin Christianity. On the other hand, after the Byzantine and Roman churches split apart in the 11th century, Orthodoxy lost its ecumenical contact with much of Central and Western Europe.

To coordinate the sinews of authority, Vladimir dispersed his sons to various regional bases within his realm. Each had a druzhina, entitled to kormlenie from local communities. Vladimir’s work of consolidation was continued by his son, Iaroslav (r. 1019–54), who rebuilt Kiev as an imposing capital city, with stone fortifications, its own Cathedral of St Sophia, named after Byzantium’s principal church, and a Golden Gate for ceremonial entry. The Kievan Caves Monastery became a centre of Christian learning and culture, and over several decades in the 11th and early 12th centuries, it produced the Primary Chronicle, which identified the Kievan realm as the joint enterprise of Vladimir’s Riurikovich dynasty (called after the first Varangian prince, Riurik). Iaroslav promulgated the first Rus-ian law code, the Russkaia Pravda. Pravda is a key word for understanding Russian culture: it means not only truth, but also justice and what is right according to God’s law. The code’s main contribution was to severely restrict blood feud and supplant it with a closely calibrated scheme of fines for murder, injury, insult, or violation of property. The capacity to impose such fines presupposed both strong central authority and a stable monetary system.

At the northern end of the trading route from Scandinavia to Byzantium, the city of Novgorod developed as a major economic centre. It gained control over the immense territories of the far north and east, and it enforced tribute on the local Baltic and Finno-Ugrian peoples. From the huge forests, the Novgorodians could sell timber, furs, wax, and honey both southwards to Kiev and Byzantium, and westwards to the Baltic and Germany through the Hanseatic League. It had its own Cathedral of St Sophia and its own archbishop, who was second only to the Kiev Metropolitan. Its veche was especially influential and frequently reasserted its right to elect its own prince, whatever the dynastic arrangements laid down from Kiev.

Iaroslav did his best to ensure strong collective leadership by regularizing the succession to the princely thrones, not in direct succession from father to son, but passing through the younger brothers according to seniority. This was to establish the principle that the realm was a kind of federation belonging to the princely family as a whole, while also removing the grounds for feuds within that family. The oldest living brother was to supervise the whole arrangement.

Collective rule was honoured in principle, but proved too difficult to manage in practice. After Iaroslav’s death, his brothers and cousins periodically fought each other over the inheritance, yet at times they had to curtail their feuds to face common threats from the nomadic horsemen of the steppe. During the especially alarming raids of the Kipchaks (or Polovtsy) in the 1090s, the princes met and renewed their dynastic agreement. It was successful in coping with the immediate danger, and gave Kievan Rus another generation of peace, but it did not prove durable.

In 1113, the citizens of Kiev invited Vladimir of Pereiaslavl, the most successful commander against the Kipchaks, to rule over them as Great Prince. After his victories, he received from Byzantium a fur-lined crown, the ‘Monomakh crown’, as a symbol of his God-given authority. He was a thoughtful and pious but also practical ruler, who believed in taking personal responsibility for all the major burdens of princely authority: war, the dynasty and its household, justice, charity and patronage, and the observance of pravda. He outlined his precepts in a written Exhortation (Pouchenie) to his sons, urging them to rule not only through military means, but also through ‘repentance, tears, and almsgiving’. This combination of physical power with Christian morality continued to be an ideal for the rulers of Rus/Russia.

After Vladimir’s death, the fragmentation of Kievan Rus resumed. This happened partly because it was growing in size and prosperity. Trade was bringing economic activity to new areas, especially to the north and east, where there was abundant timber, furs and fish, and tree cover offered better protection against steppe raiders. New towns were founded and junior princes used them as bases for securing their own authority; in particular Vladimir, Suzdal, and Rostov became wealthy commercial centres, though as yet not serious rivals of Kiev and Novgorod. New churches were built and new bishoprics created under the aegis of the Kiev Metropolitan. At the same time, the princes’ feuding over land and succession rights repeatedly undermined these promising developments.

Mongol overlordship

In the early 13th century another, much more serious, danger emerged. Under the Mongol tribe, a new kind of steppe federation was being created, with its centre between Lake Baikal and the Great Wall of China. It created large, extremely mobile, and proficient cavalry armies, which conquered China under Chingis Khan. They then moved westwards, integrating the scattered nomadic tribes of Central Eurasia, among them the Kipchaks. Here the Rus princes’ disunity proved fatal. When the army of Batu, Chingis Khan’s grandson, approached Riazan in 1237, the princes were engaged in ferocious battles for control of Kiev, and did not respond to Riazan’s appeal for help. Over the next three years, Batu’s cavalry was able to attack cities singly, without ever facing a combined Rus army, inflicting the carnage we saw above.

In each case, his men looted, destroyed, and killed without mercy. Many towns lost most of their population; able-bodied survivors were deported to slavery or to service in Batu’s army.

Eventually Batu withdrew, concluding that direct occupation of such unfamiliar forested territory was beyond him. He set up the capital of his domain (ulus), usually called by historians the Golden Horde, at Sarai on the lower Volga. From there, he and his successors fashioned a system of dominion over the Rus principalities. They awarded each ruling prince a iarlyk (the right to rule), after a symbolic ceremony of submission. In selecting a successor for each principality, the Golden Horde followed wherever possible the established Kievan principles – but kept the final decision in their own hands. They appointed to each prince a Mongol tribute-collector and a viceroy, who carried out a census of the local population – an indication of a highly developed administrative system – to ensure that the people paid tribute to Sarai and contributed recruits to a militia or to a forced labour brigade.

Traditionally, Russians have regarded the Mongol overlordship as an unmitigated disaster. Recent research suggests, however, that, after the initial shock and destruction, it had compensations, even though for several generations it imposed a heavy burden on the Rus population, against which townsfolk periodically rebelled. The Mongols restrained princely feuding. They built and maintained a network of communications, together with postal relay stations, superior to anything that had existed in Kiev. Through it, they plugged Rus into a Central Asian trading network which extended to China, the world’s wealthiest civilization. This trade laid the basis for an economic recovery which gathered pace during the 14th century. The princes who cooperated with the Mongols did especially well: their authority was guaranteed, and they received Mongol support against any rebellion in their territories.

For the Orthodox Church, the Mongol dominion was almost a golden age. The Mongols were on principle tolerant in religious matters, and later themselves became Muslims. They granted the church immunity from tribute and from the obligation to deliver recruits for military and labour service. It was able to accumulate extensive landholdings and vassals. Much of the work of opening up new territories was accomplished by monasteries, which thus became nurseries of both spiritual and economic power. Moreover, with the fragmentation and subjugation of secular authority, the church was the only institution able to speak for Rus as a whole. The Kiev Metropolitan regarded himself as the custodian of its integrity: he took the title Metropolitan of All Rus, and spent much of his time travelling round the various dioceses.

Meanwhile, Novgorod was going its own way. Its far northwestern forest location deterred the Mongols from attacking it. Its prince, Alexander (r. 1236–63), negotiated skilfully with them, and in return for paying an ample tribute received a special charter guaranteeing the city’s right to govern itself. He had good reason to mollify the Mongols, for his western frontier was threatened by the Swedes; he defeated them in 1240 in a battle on the River Neva – hence his nickname Nevskii. In addition, the Teutonic Knights were trying to block Novgorod’s lucrative trading routes in the Baltic. When they advanced towards the city itself in 1242, Alexander overcame them in battle on the frozen Lake Peipus. The scale of the battle may have been exaggerated by later chroniclers, but its significance cannot be. It established the River Narva and Lake Peipus as a permanent boundary between Eastern and Western Christianity.

Alexander’s younger son, Daniil, became ruler of the new principality of Moscow. During the early 14th century, he and his successors succeeded in establishing themselves as the favoured recipients of the iarlyk of Great Prince, even though, as scions of a cadet Riurikovich line, they did not qualify under the Kievan succession rules. Daniil’s son, Ivan I (Ivan Kalita, or ‘moneybags’, r. 1325–41), received the iarlyk in 1328, having seen off a rival from Tver. He practised unswerving loyalty to the Golden Horde, and used his function as their tribute-gatherer to enrich his own principality. By subsidizing neighbouring princes, he was able to attract their support and that of their trading towns, and in some cases actually integrate their territories into his own. Gradually, Moscow ceased to observe the Kievan dynastic rules and went over to straightforward patrimonial succession, from father to eldest son. The importance of doing so was underlined when in 1425, on the death of Vasilii I, his brother contested the succession of his son, and plunged Muscovy into a civil war which lasted nearly thirty years. Later princes and their boyars (leading warriors) were determined to prevent any repetition of this disaster.

The recovery of Rus took place not only in the north and east. The south-western principalities, notably Galicia and Volynia, allied themselves with Lithuania, which defeated the Golden Horde at the Battle of Blue Waters in 1362, and was able to establish its authority over Kiev and most of the original heartland of Rus. From the late 14th century, Lithuania, for its own protection, sought union with Poland, to form what at the time was the largest kingdom in Europe. The Lithuanian princes accepted the Catholic religion, though many of their people remained Orthodox. In this way, the western and south-western principalities of Kievan Rus adopted an elite Latinate Polish culture, which distinguished them from those of the north and east. The language spoken in the west, initially known as Rusin (Ruthenian), evolved into modern Belorussian and Ukrainian. Eventually, their territories became contemporary Belorussia and a large part of Ukraine.

Since the Metropolitanate was the most important ‘all-Rus’ institution, its location and powers were vital to the development of Kievan Rus’s successor states. Kiev itself lost its ascendancy because it was especially vulnerable to steppe raids. In 1325, the Metropolitanate relocated to Moscow; Metropolitan Petr, who made the move, was subsequently canonized with the support of Ivan Kalita, and his tomb became a pilgrimage site. This was a crucial moment: from then on, Moscow became the centre of Russian Orthodox Christianity, though at times contested by Kievan Metropolitans with Lithuanian backing.

During the 14th and 15th centuries, monasteries multiplied and acquired extensive new lands in the northern and eastern forests. Their motive was both spiritual and economic. When young monks became discontented with the discipline in their home foundations, they would break away to set up their own skit (hermitage) further into the forest, where to achieve spiritual concentration they could be alone or share divine worship with just a few like-minded colleagues. In the course of time, other devotees would join them, build their own huts or shelters close by, and so a whole new monastery would appear. The most skilled and experienced monks became revered elders (startsy), whose spiritual counsel was sought by believers from all ranks of society. Dostoevsky depicted one as Father Zosima in his Brothers Karamazov.

Such was the biography of St Sergy of Radonezh, who left home with his brother and built a chapel deep in the forest. He acquired a reputation for spiritual insight, and gradually other monks and seekers joined him. Eventually, they set up a full-scale monastery, of which they invited him to become the abbot. Reluctantly, and only on the insistence of the local bishop, he agreed. His foundation later became the Lavra of the Holy Trinity and St Sergy, future site of the Moscow Patriarchate and centre of Russian Orthodoxy.

The search for spiritual peace and concentration also inspired icon painters associated with the Moscow princely court and the Trinity Lavra. Feofan the Greek and his pupil, Andrei Rublev, developed Byzantine iconic models, making their figures less monumental, more graceful and expressive in their gestures and appearance. Rublev’s Trinity is perhaps the best known of all Orthodox icons: its light blue colouring, the meek and trusting way the three angelic figures respond to each other, express the spiritual peace and mutual communion (later known as sobornost) which has remained an ideal for Russian believers.

The decline of the Golden Horde and the rise of Muscovy

The very wealth of the Golden Horde, based on Eurasian commerce, encouraged its subordinate rulers to utilize their ulus as centres of settled prosperity and independent power. In the 1370s, one such warlord, Timur (or Tamerlane), carved out a Central Asian empire, the last of the great nomadic super-states. One of his generals, Mamai, set up his own independent khanate west of the Volga and claimed the whole of Rus as his ulus. The princes of Rus were faced with two sets of demands for tribute, but also with the opportunity to take advantage of their overlords’ conflicts. In order to overcome the growing power of Moscow, Mamai allied himself with Lithuania. Moscow had always deliberately avoided armed conflict with the Horde. In 1380, though, when Mamai moved on Moscow, Prince Dmitry, fortified (as legend has it) by the formal blessing of Sergy, decided to challenge him on the field of Kulikovo, on the upper River Don. Dmitry’s army succeeded in repelling the Mongol cavalry charges before Mamai’s Lithuanian allies could arrive. Dmitry became known as Dmitry Donskoi in honour of his victory.

The Mongols’ yoke was shaken but not overthrown. They decided to demonstrate who was master and raided Moscow two years later. Dmitry meekly accepted the iarlyk again. All the same, unquestioning acceptance of Mongol domination had faltered. Moscow had become the undoubted leader among the northeastern principalities. Over the next two generations, a series of writers of chronicles and narrative poems began to extol Moscow as the leader of the forces of Christendom against the Muslims. In this narrative, Kulikovo and Sergy’s blessing occupied central place; Dmitry Donskoi became the saintly prince who with God’s help had delivered victory over the infidels. By the same token, the ‘land of Rus’ became identified with the power of the Muscovite Great Prince. This was the launch of Moscow’s fusion of strong state power with religious mission.

Despite the legend, Moscow had augmented its power and prestige not by opposing the Mongols but by cultivating good relations with them, proving themselves reliable tribute-payers and upholders of order. In the course of that experience, they learned much about the art of government: how to conduct a census and use it for taxation purposes, how to raise an army, maintain rapid communications over extensive territory, and exploit trade whilst also extracting dues from it. The steppe khans ruled by intermittent consultation with their leading warriors when important decisions had to be taken. The Muscovite Great Prince likewise summoned his boyars to periodical gatherings which historians have called the Boyar Duma. He issued major decrees with the wording ‘the boyars advised and the Great Prince resolved . . . ’.

Concentrating power and gaining the consensus of the junior princes and boyars became the paramount priority for the Great Princes, especially after the mid-15th-century civil war showed how dangerous disunity was. Their success enabled Moscow to become the largest and most flourishing of the post-Kievan principalities, with the single exception of Novgorod. Between 1462 and 1533, Muscovy roughly tripled in size and population. By persuasion, marriage settlement, and the occasional threat of war, Moscow brought under its sway several principalities of the north and east. The largest prize was Novgorod itself, which was trying to form an alliance with Lithuania in order to maintain its independence and commercial links with the Baltic. In 1478, Ivan III (r. 1462–1505) marched into the city, closed the veche, and took down its summoning bell, symbol of its independence. He deported many of Novgorod’s landowners and awarded their extensive lands as pomestia (service estates) to his own followers. In the following decades, making such awards from newly acquired land enabled the Muscovite Great Prince to create his own army, with its commanders answerable to him. Junior princes had to take their place in the boyar hierarchy.

Up until the late 15th century, all the same, Moscow still had a nominal overlord, the Khan of the Great Horde, one of the remnants of the defunct Golden Horde. In practice, Ivan III, though he continued to pay tribute, ignored his theoretical obligation to seek consent for his policies from the Khan. In 1480, Khan Akhmet made one final attempt to enforce this obligation by moving his armies towards Moscow. Ivan barred his way on the River Ugra, and after a long standoff, Akhmet retreated. This was a tacit acknowledgement that Mongol suzerainty was no longer enforceable, though Moscow continued to pay tribute for a few more years.

At around the same period, the church was also emerging from under the canopy of Byzantium. As the Byzantine Empire became progressively weaker, more of its worldly responsibilities devolved upon the Patriarch, who reacted by attempting a reunion with Rome. At the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–9), the Orthodox accepted the demands of the Vatican on all essential doctrinal matters. Metropolitan Isidor, who attended on behalf of Muscovy, signed the concluding document, and returned home a Roman cardinal. He entered the city in solemn procession holding aloft a crucifix, but to his horror was arrested and confined in a monastery for apostasy. Henceforth, the Muscovite church no longer deferred automatically to the Byzantine Patriarch. Shortly after that, in 1453, Byzantium finally fell to the Ottoman Empire – an event which appalled Moscow’s churchmen, but which also vindicated their judgement and liberated them.

By the late 15th century, then, Muscovy was incontestably the dominant power in the north and east of former Kievan Rus, and it had become independent of the Mongols. It had achieved this by integrating most of what had been a dynastic federation into a single patrimony, governed by adapting some Mongol practices.

Its church had emancipated itself from Byzantium and believed it had an ecumenical mission as the bastion of the one true Christian faith. The amalgam of radical centralization with a sense of universal religious calling was to remain the most characteristic feature of Muscovy and later of Russia.

There were at this stage, though, several possible futures before it. It could become an embryonic East Slav nation-state – but the western branches of that potential nation were already under another power. It could become a centre of the eastern Christian ecumene, taking over from Byzantium – but, as we shall see, it was to dilute that mission by assimilating many non-Orthodox, indeed non-Christian, peoples. Or it could become a north Eurasian multi-ethnic and multi-faith empire, in effect the successor to the Golden Horde – but in that case, the church, with its assertive sense of mission and its secular riches, would prove a problematic ally.

Russia and China Report II

Russia’s progress

In the decades prior to Russia’s deployments to Ukraine (2014-) and Syria (2015-), its armed forces used EW to varying degrees during conflict in Chechnya in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as during its short war with Georgia in 2008. In Chechnya, it is thought that the gathering of communications intelligence (COMINT) on opposing forces, particularly in geo-locating sources of communications transmissions, was vital in finding and fixing enemy positions for targeting by artillery or airstrikes. In contrast, in Georgia Russian efforts to gather electronic intelligence (ELINT) on and direct jamming against ground-based air-surveillance and fire-control radars was said to have been poor, though this may have also been due to Georgian countermeasures.

Russia has since made efforts to regenerate its EW capabilities, and the deployments to Ukraine and Syria have provided an operational laboratory for the armed forces to refine and develop their EW doctrines. At the same time, they have to some extent offered a window to observe Russian capabilities. The US armed forces’ Asymmetric Strategy Group, writing in the publicly available study of Russia’s `new generation warfare’ (published 2015), said that Russia had observed, and looked to exploit, Western strategies. For instance, `because of maneuver warfare’s reliance on communication, Russia has invested heavily in Electronic Warfare systems which are capable of shutting down communications and signals across a broad spectrum’.

Russian EW in Ukraine was overtly offensive. Jamming helped sever Ukrainian military radio communications in Crimea, as Russia occupied and annexed that territory in early 2014. This was supported by the RB 314V Leer-3 uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV)-equipped system, which was used to jam cellular networks, and the RP-377LA Lorandit COMINT system, which targeted high-frequency and very-/ultra-high-frequency communications. Jamming also affected the RF links used to control S-100 Camcopter UAVs assisting the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe observation mission in Ukraine. Russia looked to integrate these capabilities to improve its `reconnaissance-strike complex’. The Asymmetric Strategy Group stated that, in Ukraine, Russia used `a sophisticated blend of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, electronic warfare jamming equipment, and long-range rocket artillery’.

In Syria, Russia’s EW posture generally focused on force protection. The loss of a Russian Air Force Su-24M Fencer D combat aircraft to two Turkish Air Force F-16C fighters in November 2015 prompted Moscow to deploy additional EW systems. One month earlier, Russia had deployed the 1RL257 Krasukha-C4 jammer, which targets the X-band and Ku-band airborne radars typically used by combat aircraft and missiles, to protect Khmeimim air base in northern Syria. The Krasukha-C4 was supplemented by L-175V/VE Container/Khibiny and Leer-3 systems. The L-175V/VE jammer can be carried by Russian Air Force Su-30SM Flanker-H, Su-34 Fullback and Su-35 Flanker M combat aircraft.

Leer-3 may have been deployed to support Syrian Army operations by jamming insurgent mobile phones. It may also have been used to deliver morale-sapping text messages to opposing forces. Reports have circulated of the Russian armed forces also deploying equipment such as the RB-301B Borisoglebsk-2 COMINT system, which has also been used in the Ukraine theatre, and the Repellent-1 counter-UAV system, which is designed to interrupt the RF links between a UAV and its ground station. In June 2019, reports emerged that Israeli airspace had experienced GNSS jamming, possibly caused by Russian Army R-330Zh Zhitel systems being used to protect the Russian deployments at Khmeimim air base. Whether this jamming was deliberate, or an unintended consequence of operations, remains unclear.

Russian EW effects have also been observed in Europe. Moscow has been accused of using jamming against Norway and its Baltic neighbours. In March 2019, Oslo claimed that the Russian military had jammed GNSS signals in the country’s north during NATO exercises in October-November 2018. Russia’s earlier Zapad 2017 exercises saw EW used to prepare Russian forces for fighting in an electromagnetically contested environment. These EW efforts have not been performed in a vacuum. Operations in Ukraine and Syria showed that these form part of a wider strategy involving cyber attacks. Moscow has been accused of performing cyber attacks against Ukrainian critical infrastructure, and of targeting non-governmental organisations and opposition groups with cyber activity during its involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Russia’s Armament Development

The year 2020 was meant to end a decade in which the Russian Army had started to field a significant number of T-14 Armata main battle tanks in front-line units. However, by the end of 2019 none had entered operational service. Development and production challenges are contributory factors, as is cost, and instead the army has resumed upgrades to armour already in service, in particular the T-72B3 mod. and the T-80BVM. ­

Russia’s president announced during the June 2019 Army Military Show that 76 Sukhoi Su-57 Felon multirole fighters were to be delivered by the end of 2027. When it was finalised at the end of 2017, the State Armament Programme to 2027 only covered the manufacture of up to a further 16 of the aircraft in the early 2020s. Around 60 Felons were originally to have been delivered by the conclusion of the 2020 State Armament Programme; realising this ambition was difficult even when the plan was drafted in 2010. ­

Moscow continued during 2019 to pursue a number of nuclear-delivery systems intended to defeat US missile defences, including some beyond New START definitions. These included the Burevestnik (SSC-X-9 Skyfall) nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed long-endurance cruise missile, despite a series of test failures. While the Burevestnik remained some way from service entry, the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide programme was on the brink of entering the inventory. The MiG-31K variant of the Foxhound modified to carry the Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile was also near to service entry as 2019 concluded. The Status-6/Poseidon nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered autonomous underwater vehicle remains in development. ­

Most Eurasian states continue to rely on ageing Soviet-era combat aircraft that are only slowly being replaced with more capable types. Belarus will become the second regional export operator of the Su-30SM Flanker H alongside Kazakhstan with the delivery due by the end of 2019 of the first four of 12 on order. A number of countries continue to operate early-model MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker B aircraft in the fighter role including Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

New weapons and research and development

The new strategic systems announced by President Putin in 2018 were already at an advanced stage of development when the announcement was made. Further progress has been made, but there have also been evident problems.

Tests of the Burevestnik (SSC-X-9 Skyfall) missile resumed in 2019. However, US sources indicate that nearly all the test launches failed. In August 2019, an accident occurred when a team was recovering wreckage from a previous missile test. Seven people were killed and there was localised radiation contamination. It is not surprising that the defence ministry has not elaborated on the nature of the problem, but it has said that further design development will take place before testing resumes.

Development of the Avangard glide vehicle is, however, more advanced. At least officially, development is complete and series production has begun. The weapon was successfully tested in December 2018, being launched from an RS-18 (SS-19) ICBM. It was announced that the first of these missiles with the Avangard glide vehicle will be deployed by the end of 2019. Russian analysts understand, based on unofficial data, that GPV 2027 includes equipping two RS-18 (SS-19) regiments. It is possible that the Avangard could also be fitted to other launch platforms, such as the RS-28 Sarmat ICBM that is currently under development.

Meanwhile, an experimental squadron of MiG-31K aircraft equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles reportedly made more than 400 flights over the Caspian and Black seas in 2018, while the first Peresvet laser systems have been on trial combat duty since the end of 2018 with two divisions of the Strategic Rocket Forces. It is unclear whether these are operated by troops from the Strategic Rocket Forces or by air-force personnel, but Russian analysts understand that a Peresvet training centre is being built at the Russian Federal Nuclear Centre at Sarov. In February 2019, range trials were reported completed on the Poseidon UUV, and two months later the much-modified Project 09852 Oscar II-class submarine Belgorod was launched. This may be the first delivery platform for Poseidon.

2019 also saw construction continue at the Era military-technology park at Anapa on the Black Sea coast. Six additional research disciplines were also announced, including the development of weapons with novel physical principles (such as lasers and plasma), small satellites, geo-information systems and work on the use of artificial intelligence for military purposes.

Russia and future conflict

Since 2014, Russia has made increasingly visible use of its armed forces as a tool of national policy. Its military actions in Ukraine surprised transatlantic leaders, even though Russia had used military force before, in Georgia in 2008. John Kerry, the then US secretary of state, called Russia’s occupation of Crimea a `stunningly wilful choice’. Moscow’s actions led to speculation about how its leadership was `reinventing war’ and assessments about how Russian ways of war were evolving. Some of the more prominent of these, arguing that Russia was waging a form of `hybrid war’, emerged after Crimea was annexed, and after a retrospective reading of a 2013 article signed by General Valery Gerasimov, then newly appointed as Russia’s chief of the general staff. Entitled `The Value of Science is in the Foresight: New Challenges Demand Rethinking in the Forms and Methods of Carrying out Combat Operations’, this piece appeared in the 27 February 2013 edition of the Military Industrial Courier. Commentators introduced a range of catchy epithets – some coined by Western authors, others picked from the discussion among Russian sources – such as `war in the grey zone’, `non-linear war’ or `new generation war’, generally labelled as the so-called `Gerasimov doctrine’. These views have remained prominent, updated with `new’ or `2.0′ following another speech by Gerasimov in March 2019.

This emphasis may derive from Western strategists’ judgement that Russia is obliged to compete in indirect, asymmetric ways since it could not hope to win a direct conventional confrontation with NATO states. According to General Sir Nick Carter, the United Kingdom’s chief of defence staff, speaking in 2018, countries like China and Russia had been studying Western states’ strengths and weaknesses and had become `masters at exploiting the seams between peace and war’. Moscow would operate below the threshold of conventional war, weaponising a range of tools to pose a strategic challenge. These tools include, but are not limited to, energy supplies, corruption, assassination, disinformation and propaganda, and the use of proxies, including private military companies (PMCs). This is understood as a new Russian way of war that corresponds to `measures short of war’, and a preference for the manipulation of adversaries, avoiding military violence.

However, as specialists have pointed out, in the Russian debate there is no formulation resembling the `Gerasimov doctrine’. Moreover, giving too much weight to terms such as `new generation war’ may also hinder an accurate understanding of Russian views of contemporary conflict. These do reflect a changing security environment and non-conventional capacities, but also reflect significant focus on the use of combat power.

Russian debate on future conflict

There was some discussion in Russia in 2013 about `new generation war’, but since then Russian practitioners and observers have tended to use the term `new type’ warfare. This is an important distinction in Russian military theory, given the extensive and long-running debates about the changing character of war, including the idea of `sixth generation’ warfare referenced by MajorGeneral Vladimir Slipchenko following Operation Desert Storm in 1991. However, even though the term `hybrid warfare’ does exist in the Russian debate, it is used in reference to Western forms of war and how contemporary warfare more generally is evolving, not as some form of particularly Russian reinvention of war. Gerasimov himself noted, again in the Military Industrial Courier but in March 2017, that while `so-called hybrid methods’ are an important feature of international competition, it is `premature’ to classify `hybrid warfare’ as a type of military conflict, as US theorists do.

Indeed, rather than implementing `measures short of war’, there is evidence that Russia’s leaders have sought to enhance national readiness, as illustrated by the many exercises that bring together all elements of the state and move the country onto a war footing. These exercises – including the Vostok, Tsentr, Kavkaz and Zapad series of strategiclevel drills – seek to prepare Russia for fighting in a large-scale war. Furthermore, as is evident from the battlefields in Ukraine and Syria, while it may be considered preferable to achieve aims non-violently, this remains a theoretical ideal and the considerable weight of combat firepower is still a prominent feature of Russian conceptions of war fighting. Indeed, the scale of Russia’s combat deployment has regularly been announced by the Russian leadership, particularly with reference to operations in Syria. It is more appropriate to think, therefore, not in terms of Russian `measures short of war’, but perhaps instead in terms of Russian `measures of war’.

Russian views of warfare have evolved considerably even since the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, with important consequences for force development and posture. The Russian defence and security landscape is changing in response and the shifting balance between military and non-military resources to achieve political ends is often referenced by senior officials. But at the same time, the role of the armed forces in ensuring Russian security is being reinforced. As such, conventional combat remains a central element in Russia’s contemporary conception of conflict, with an emphasis on long-range precision strike and massed artillery fire, enhanced by new technology developments, including uninhabited systems and better command and control, and exploited by high-mobility forces.

Mil Mi-35P Attack Helicopter (Variant 2019 – “Phoenix”)


The Mi-24 attack / transport helicopter was developed by the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, a subsidiary of Russian Helicopters.

The Mi-24 entered service with the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and has been deployed by 40 countries. More than 3,500 Mi-24 helicopters have been produced. It has been deployed in more than 40 wars and conflicts including Afghanistan and in Chechnya.

The original model (Nato codename Hind-A), designed to carry eight combat troops, was later reconfigured to take on the gunship role (Hind-D). Later versions, Mi-24P (Hind-F) and the export Mi-35P, are also armed with anti-tank missile systems for the engagement of moving armoured targets, weapon emplacements and slow-moving air targets. All versions retain the troop transport capability.

The Mi-35P version entered into the serial production in August 2020.

Russian Helicopters holding has developed a common standard for Mi-24 modernization designated as Mi-35P. The Mi-35P has received the OPS-24N-1L observation-sight system with a third generation long-wave matrix thermal imager, TV camera, and laser rangefinder. The upgraded gunship’s cockpit has the KNEI-24E-1 flight navigation system with multifunctional displays. The PKV-8-35 digital flight system increases the helicopter’s manoeuvrability and steadiness. The modernised gunship is also fitted with the updated PrVK-24-2 targeting system, which allows the use of 9M127-1 Ataka-VM anti-tank guided missiles and either L370 Vitebsk electronic countermeasure system or its export version President-S. The helicopter has also received a chin-mounted NPPU-23 turret with a twin-barrel GSh-23L rotary cannon. Serial production has started as of August 2020 for an export customer.

Hind helicopter international sales

The Mi-24 is in service with Russia and countries of the ex-Soviet Union and has been exported to Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bulgaria, Cuba, Czech Republic, East Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iraq, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North Korea, Peru, Poland, Vietnam and South Yemen. Ten Mi-35 helicopters were delivered by Russia to the Czech Republic in 2005/2006 as part of a debt repayment. The Mi-35M model entered into serial production by Rostvertol since 2005

In 2005, ten Mi-35M helicopters were ordered by Venezuela. The first batch of four was delivered in July 2006, the second four in December 2006, and the deliveries of remaining helicopters were completed by 2007.Indonesia placed an order for six additional Mi-35s in late 2006 and the deliveries were completed by 2008. Another batch of three Mi-35s out of five was delivered in 2010.Brazil ordered 12 Mi-35M attack helicopters in October 2008, with deliveries completed by 2014.

Iraq took delivery of the first four Mi-35s in 2013 as part of a deal for 40 Mi-35 and Mi-28NE attack helicopters. Another batch of Mi-35Ms was delivered in 2015.

The Mali Air Force took delivery of two Mi-35Ms in 2017.

Pakistan received four Mi-35Ms from Russian Helicopters in 2017, while Nigeria placed an order for 12 Mi-35s in 2019.

India delivered four refurbished Mi-24Vs to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) by 2019 as a replacement for the four attack helicopters earlier gifted to Afghanistan.The Kazakh Armed Forces procured four Mi-35Ms in June 2020.The Mi-35M helicopter is currently being delivered to the Russian Armed Forces.

Mi-24 Hind upgrades

The Russian Army Mi-24s were upgraded with new avionics including thermal imagers. Other upgrade packages are available, including that of Denel / Kentron of South Africa which includes Eloptro infrared sighting systems and Kentron Mokopa anti-tank missiles, and IAI Tamam which has HMOSP (helicopter multi-mission optronic stabilised payload) with FLIR, TV and autotracker, embedded GPS (global positioning system) and cockpit multi-function displays.

The ‘Visegrad Four’ – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – signed an agreement in February 2003 to jointly upgrade up to 105 Mi-24D/V helicopters to Nato standards. This agreement was later abandoned.

However, two Polish Mi-24s were upgraded to Nato standard as prototypes. In February 2004, BAE Systems was selected as integrator for the avionics systems, which include an integrated electronic warfare suite.

In December 2005, Bulgaria signed a contract for the upgrade of 12 Mi-24 helicopters to a team led by Lockheed Martin and Elbit. However, the contract was subsequently cancelled in February 2007.

Mi-24 Hind helicopter design

The design of the Mi-24 is based on a conventional pod and boom, with a five-blade main rotor and three-blade tail rotor. It has retractable tricycle nose-wheel landing gear.

The two crew (pilot and weapons operator) are accommodated in tandem armoured cockpits with individual canopies and flat, bulletproof glass windscreens. The main cabin can accommodate eight troops or four stretchers.

Weapons aboard Mi-24 helicopter

The helicopter has six suspension weapon units on the wingtips. The Mi24D (Mi-25) and the Mi-24V (Mi-35) are equipped with a YakB four-barrelled, 12.7mm, built-in, flexibly mounted machine gun, which has a firing rate of 4,000-4,500 rounds a minute and a muzzle velocity of 860m/s. The Mi-24P is fitted with a 30mm, built-in, fixed gun mount; the Mi-24VP with a 23mm, built-in, flexibly mounted gun.

The Mi-24P and Mi-24V have four underwing pylons for up to 12 anti-tank missiles. The Mi-24V (Mi-35) is armed with the Shturm anti-tank guided missile system. Shturm (Nato designation AT-6 Spiral) is a short-range missile with semi-automatic radio command guidance. The 5.4kg high-explosive fragmentation warhead is capable of penetrating up to 650mm of armour. Maximum range is 5km.

The Mi-24V can also carry the longer-range Ataka anti-tank missile system (Nato designation AT-9), as can the Mi-24P. The Ataka missile’s guidance is by narrow radar beam, and the maximum range of the missile is 8km. The average target range is between 3km-6km. The target hit probability of the Ataka missile is higher than 0.96 at ranges 3km-6km. The missile has a shaped-charge 7.4kg warhead, with a tandem charge for penetration of 800mm-thick explosive reactive armour.

All Mi-24 helicopters can also be armed with rockets and grenade launchers.


The Mi-24D is equipped with the KPS-53A electro-optical sighting pod. The most recent Mi-24V and P variants have a digital PNK-24 avionics suite and multifunction LCD cockpit displays, and Geofizika ONV1 night-vision goggles, along with NVG-compatible cockpit lighting.They are fitted with the Urals Optical and Mechanical Plant GOES-342 TV/FLIR sighting system and a laser rangefinder. Countermeasures include infrared jammer, radar warner and flare dispensers.

Mi-24 engines

The helicopter is powered by two Isotov TV3-117VMA turboshaft engines, developing 2,200shp each. The air intakes are fitted with deflectors and separators to prevent dust particle ingestion when taking off from unprepared sites. An auxiliary power unit is fitted.

The internal fuel capacity is 1,500kg, with an additional 1,000kg in an auxiliary tank in the cabin or 1,200kg on four external tanks. The fuel tank has self-sealing covers and porous fuel tank filler for increased survivability, and the exhaust is fitted with infrared suppression systems.

Mi-24 – General Comparison to Western helicopters

As a combination of armoured gunship and troop transport, the Mi-24 has no direct NATO counterpart. While the UH-1 (“Huey”) helicopters were used in the Vietnam War either to ferry troops, or as gunships, they were not able to do both at the same time. Converting a UH-1 into a gunship meant stripping the entire passenger area to accommodate extra fuel and ammunition and removing its troop transport capability. The Mi-24 was designed to do both, and this was greatly exploited by airborne units of the Soviet Army during the 1980–89 Soviet–Afghan War. The closest Western equivalent was the Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk, which used many of the same design principles and was also built as a high-speed, high-agility attack helicopter with limited troop transport capability using many components from the existing Sikorsky S-61. The S-67, however, was never adopted for service.[1] Other Western equivalents are the Romanian Army’s IAR 330, which is a licence-built armed version of the Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma, and the MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator, a special purpose armed variant of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. The Hind has been called the world’s only “assault helicopter” due to its combination of firepower and troop-carrying capability


Crew 2

Length 16.78m

Rotor Diameter 17m

Main Cabin 2.5m x 2.45m x 1.2m

Take-Off Weight

Normal – 11,100kg

Maximum – 11,500kg

Combat Load

Normal – 900kg

Maximum – 1,480kg

Maximum Payload on Sling 2,500kg

Empty Weight 8,500kg

Powerplant 2 x Isotov TV3-117VMA turboshaft, 2,200hp each

Flight Range 480km

Ferry Range 1,050km


Maximum – 324km/h

Cruising – 280km/h

Hovering Ceiling 2,200m

Service Ceiling 4,599m