PQ 13 to PQ 16 Part I

Of the twenty merchant ships that sailed from Hvalfjord with PQ 13 on 20 March, ten had been lost at sea or in the hell of Murmansk and with them had gone 180 men. PQ 13 was the first Russia-bound convoy to be put to the German sword and the mauling it received was only a curtain-raiser for things to come.

Those ships that survived returned to the west as and when the opportunity arose. Two of them, the River Afton and Mana, had made it through with QP 10. The Tobruk, Lars Kruse and Scottish American, were destined to lie in Murmansk until the autumn but the other five, the Dunboyne, Eldena, Mormacmar, Ballot, El Estero and Gallant Fox, all United States Maritime Commission ships, were assigned to sail with Convoy QP 11.

QP 11 left the Kola Inlet on 28 April and was made up of thirteen British and American ships, including the five PQ 13 survivors. This convoy was even more heavily escorted than its predecessor, having with it no fewer than six destroyers, HMS Amazon, Beagle, Beverley, Bulldog (SOE), Foresight and Forester, the corvettes Campanula, Oxlip, Saxifrage and Snowflake, and the armed trawler Lord Middleton.

The sailing of QP 11 did not go unobserved by the enemy. The convoy had been sighted by a patrolling U-boat of the Ulan Group late on the 29th. Nervous of the presence of so many destroyers and corvettes, the U-boat called for reinforcements and settled down to shadow the convoy. One of those alerted by the shadowing boat’s signals was Kapitänleutnant Max-Martin Teichert in U-456, then 250 miles north-north-west of the Kola Inlet and conveniently right in the path of QP 11. Teichert, who saw action against PQ 13, albeit without success, had been at sea since the beginning of the year and was running low on fuel and stores. When news of the convoy came in Teichert was at the stage of considering a return to base with nothing to show for the patrol. He was more than willing to wait for a chance to open his score.

Two days out of Murmansk, on the 30th, QP 11’s defensive screen was strengthened by the arrival of the 10,000-ton Edinburgh, one of the two new Town-class cruisers, formidable ships mounting twelve 6-inch and twelve 4-inch guns, with side armour designed to withstand 8-inch shells, and a top speed of thirty-two knots. The Edinburgh was playing a dual role, in that as well as acting as independent escort to QP 11, she was a bullion carrier for the Soviet Government, having on board $20 million in gold, a payment to America for arms received. In retrospect, it might be asked why, when carrying such a huge shipment of gold through enemy-dominated waters, the Edinburgh was not sailing alone and at full speed, instead of playing nursemaid to an eight-knot convoy. It can only be assumed that the Admiralty was confident that the extra destroyers would be sufficient to protect her. Subsequent events were to prove its confidence to be misplaced.

Edinburgh, commanded by Captain Faulkner and with Admiral Bonham Carter on board, took up station twenty miles ahead of the convoy, steering a zig-zag pattern and using her radar to search ahead and around. Two hours after joining the convoy, neither her radar scanner nor her lookouts saw U-456’s periscope break surface to starboard. Teichert’s two torpedoes both found their mark, one exploding in the cruiser’s forward boiler-room with devastating results, the other slamming into the cruiser’s stern, destroying her rudder and two of her four propellers. This was Trinidad and PQ 13 all over again, only this time the damage was not self-inflicted.

Although Edinburgh had suffered widespread damage above and below decks, she was still seaworthy and, when the furore had died down, she was taken under tow by the destroyer Forester. Escorted by Forester’s sister ship Foresight and two Russian destroyers now familiar to the Allied ships, Gremyaschi and Sokrushitelny, Edinburgh began a slow return to Murmansk.

Teichert had not gone away but was following in the wake of the sad procession, waiting for the opportunity to finish off the Edinburgh. The escorting destroyers were doubly vigilant and although Teichert made several attempts to get into position to deliver the coup de grâce, each time U-456 was detected and driven off, on one occasion narrowly escaping being sunk. It is probable that the damaged cruiser would not have reached the Kola Inlet, had it not been for the arrival on the scene of three German destroyers of Zestörergruppe ‘Arktis’, the Hermann Schoemann, Z-24 and Z-25. The ‘Z’ boats, still smarting from the drubbing they received in the attack on HMS Trinidad a month earlier, were anxious to redeem themselves. They first fell in with QP 11 and quickly learned that there were no easy targets for their guns here. After a fierce battle with the convoys escorting destroyers, the German ships were forced to retire, having sunk only the Tsiolkovsky, a small Russian merchantman.

Twenty-four hours later, the German destroyers found the crippled Edinburgh and with a depleted escort, for the Gremyaschi and Sokrushitelny were both running short of fuel and had gone on to Murmansk. The enemy made the mistake of thinking they had found a soft target but they were forced to think again. The Edinburgh may have been badly damaged and had lost many men, but she still had the ability to hit back. While Foresight and Forester tackled Z-24 and Z-25, Edinburgh took on the Hermann Schoemann and punished her so hard that she eventually sank. Most of her crew were taken off by Z-24 and Z-25, but fifty-six men were left on rafts, and were later picked up by U-88.

There was a price to pay for the victory. Forester had been severely damaged in the clash with the German destroyers and had sustained heavy casualties. She now lay stopped and helpless under the guns of Z-24 and Z-25. She was saved from complete destruction by the intervention of Foresight, who made smoke and placed herself between the enemy and her crippled sister. In doing so, Foresight received two direct hits which left her with only one gun in action and her decks littered with dead and wounded. Among the dead was Captain Sloan of the Lancaster Castle, who had lost his ship to the German bombers in Murmansk and was returning home as a passenger in the destroyer.

With Foresight also in trouble, Forester, still lying stopped and unable to manoeuvre, was an easy target for two torpedoes fired by one of the two German destroyers – which one was not clear – but luckily, for Forester at least, the torpedoes were set too deep and passed underneath her. Unfortunately, one man’s luck is often another’s misfortune, and so it was for HMS Edinburgh. She then happened to be passing on the other side of Forester and was directly in line of fire of the enemy’s torpedoes. The cruiser being of deeper draught, one of the torpedoes found a target in her hull. This was the death blow for Edinburgh. Already severely weakened by U-456’s torpedoes, she broke her back and looked to be in imminent danger of going down. At great risk to themselves, the minesweepers Harrier and Gossamer, who had been detached to help in the defence of QP 11, went alongside Edinburgh, one to port and the other to starboard, and took off the cruiser’s crew. While the rescue was going on, much to the relief of the British force, Z-24 and Z-25 decided that they had had enough and withdrew.

Edinburgh was a floating wreck, but she stubbornly refused to sink on her own, and two days later Foresight was forced to put an end to her with a torpedo to avoid her bullion falling into German hands. The cruiser went down, taking with her the bodies of fifty-six men and the five and a half tons of gold locked in her strongroom. Her survivors, many of them injured, were taken back to Murmansk in the minesweepers.

With the exception of the burnt-out wrecks of the merchantmen, all that now remained of PQ 13 in Murmansk was HMS Trinidad and she had, by this time, been patched up, ironically with steel plates brought out from Britain by Edinburgh a month earlier. It now fell to Trinidad to carry home as many of Edinburgh’s survivors as she could cram into her mess decks. She sailed from the Kola Inlet on 13 May, accompanied by Foresight and Forester, themselves hurriedly patched up, and the two bigger and more modern destroyers Matchless and Somali. In effect, Matchless and Somali were escorting three lame ducks on what they hoped would be a high-speed dash to the nearest British shipyard capable of carrying out more permanent repairs. However, the top speed of this all-naval convoy would be dictated by the damaged ships and was never likely to exceed twenty knots, but between them the ships mounted a very considerable array of guns and they had no slow-steaming merchantmen to look after. They also had the added reassurance that, should they get into trouble, the Home Fleet covering force, led by the battleship Duke of York was not too far over the horizon.

It seems certain that the Germans had advance notice of the sailing of the homeward bound British warships, for within a few hours of their sailing from the Kola Inlet two enemy aircraft were shadowing the convoy. As the days were now almost twenty-four hours long, there would be no darkness in which the ships could hide, only a brief period of twilight around midnight to mark the passing of the night. For Captain Saunders on the bridge of the Trinidad, the scenario was all too familiar. He was not surprised when an hour later two U-boats were sighted, lying off out of range like cruising sharks waiting for the opportunity to strike.

The first indication of a major attack in the offing came at 21.00. Trinidad’s radar began picking up echoes of aircraft approaching from the south-west, a few at first, then formations. The bombers were on their way and this time it was evident that they would not be attacking in ones and twos. Saunders hoisted the signal ‘Prepare to repel enemy aircraft’, and every gun capable of being elevated to the sky – and in the five ships that was a considerable number – was manned. In Trinidad, the Edinburgh survivors, having no action stations to go to, reluctantly sought cover below decks.

The weather could not have been more favourable for the attacking aircraft, patchy cloud and good visibility, and as the reports came through from the radar office of the increasing numbers of echoes showing up on the screen, Saunders began to have serious concern for the safety of his ship. The repairs carried out by the Russians in Murmansk were, at best, makeshift, and he had grave doubts about his ability to manoeuvre at speed to avoid the bombs about to fall from the sky. At the same time, he had no way of knowing how well his men would fight. They had been through the worst kind of ordeal in the two months past, and with seventeen of their shipmates killed in an accident that should not have happened, their morale might not be as high as it should have been.

Any doubts Saunders had about his men were swept away when the first wave of Stukas dropped out of the clouds, the roar of their engines rising to a frightening pitch as they pounced on the cruiser. Trinidad’s eight 4-inch guns and massed batteries of pom-poms opened up as one, throwing up a lethal curtain of steel through which the German pilots were forced to fly, but they still pressed home their attack. The Stukas were followed by the heavier, twin-engined Ju88s and Trinidad, twisting and turning, was bracketed by dozens of bomb bursts that filled the air with spray and flying shrapnel. Saunders, conscious all the time of the vulnerability of the welded patch on his hull, manoeuvred the 8000-ton cruiser with the light touch of an ocean yachtsman, always judging the fall of the bombs right, and always altering in time to turn a certain direct hit into a near-miss.

The destroyers with Trinidad also came in for their share of the bombs, for the sky over the five ships was full of diving and weaving planes. They were being kept at bay by the massed guns of the ships, upwards of fifty smoking barrels hurling shells skywards, backed by batteries of light and heavy machine guns. The sky was filled with bursts of black smoke and lines of flaming tracer. No one on either side had any illusions but that this was a fight to the death, with the advantage on the German side. There were now twenty-five Ju88s involved, each carrying up to twelve 500lb bombs, and to those on the receiving end in the ships there seemed to be an endless queue of aircraft lining up to blow them out of the water.

The attack went on for two hours without pause but, although the bombs fell from the sky like rain, the ship handling of the British captains and the thunder of their guns played havoc with the enemy’s aim. There were near-misses in plenty but no direct hits. Trinidad, the main target of the bombers, seemed to be continually hidden by the spray thrown up by bombs bursting all around her. Saunders, by this time acting more by instinct than judgement, continued to throw his ship around, but was worried that sooner or later, probably sooner, the patch on her hull would give way, for some bombs were landing within fifty feet of her. Then a new and far more dangerous threat appeared on the horizon.

The cry of ‘Torpedo bombers bearing Red 90!’ sent a chill down Saunders’ spine. He swung round to see a line of ten aircraft low on the water coming in from the south. He snatched up his binoculars and as the planes came nearer he identified them as Heinkel 111s, twin-engined bombers, a type widely used in the Battle of Britain, but now adapted to carry two 1600lb torpedoes. Once again, Trinidad was the primary target but now her guns were split, some depressing to meet the new threat, the others continuing to ward off the bombers, who now, perhaps sensing their victim was about to meet her end, intensified their attacks.

The destroyers came to Trinidad’s aid, using their 4-inch guns to put a wall of fire between the cruiser and the torpedo planes. The barrage was too much for the Heinkels, who swerved away, broke up into two formations and came in from two different directions, hoping to divide the fire of the ships. The guns beat them off again, only two Heinkels getting through to launch their torpedoes at Trinidad. Saunders was easily able to comb the tracks of the four missiles, which sped harmlessly past on either side of the cruiser.

Captain Saunders might now have been forgiven for thinking that things were unlikely to get much worse. Then one of the destroyers reported sighting four U-boats on the surface to the north and east – jackals waiting to pounce on a wounded prey. The situation was developing into a potential disaster for the British ships and some were beginning to wonder what the Germans would throw at them next. Capital ships, perhaps? Saunders was not given the luxury of speculation, for the Heinkels were coming in again, all ten of them in line abreast on Trinidad’s port beam.

Watching the Heinkels skimming over the wave-tops, untouched by the shells and bullets kicking up the water ahead of them, Saunders kept a cool head, waiting for the right moment to take evasive action. This came when he saw the enemy torpedoes hit the water and a line of feathered wakes came racing towards him. He brought the Trinidad round to port under full helm to comb the tracks as he had done before. In doing so, he ran straight into a stick of four bombs dropped by a Ju88.

The Ju88, in its turn, ran into the combined fire of Trinidad’s AA guns and turned into a ball of fire, but not before its bombs had found their mark. The effect of four 500lb bombs exploding in and around the cruiser was catastrophic. One bomb landed just forward of her bridge, smashing its way through the deck to explode with terrible effect in the petty officers’ mess deck. The area was completely wrecked and several fires were started. Two other 500-pounders narrowly missed the forecastle head but exploded close enough alongside to lay open the hull to the sea. The fourth bomb also landed outboard, sliding down the hull plates on the port side before exploding directly under the ill-used welded patch on Trinidad’s hull. The patch that had so far held firm, was torn off and the sea poured into the magazine and cordite compartments below ‘B’ turret.

The Trinidad was sorely hit, many of her complement lay dead or wounded and fires burned above and below decks, but her engines still turned, her steering still functioned, and some of her guns still fired. Damage and fire control parties were at work and Saunders decided it would be wiser to carry on at full speed, rather than slow down and become an easy target for the German planes. His ship was listing heavily, but she was brought upright again by filling ballast tanks and, although considerably lower in the water, she steamed on.

The Heinkels continued to concentrate their attacks on the Trinidad, intent on finishing her off, but Saunders was still weaving from side to side, frustrating their efforts. Meanwhile, the fires were out of control and water still poured into the shattered hull. Whether the sea or the fires would claim the ship first was anybody’s guess.

At around midnight, when it seemed to Saunders that he and his ship could take no more, he became aware that the German planes were going away, probably having run out of bombs and torpedoes. Now, at long last, he was able to draw breath, to reduce speed and take stock of the situation. Reports reaching him on the bridge, which itself was rapidly becoming untenable as the house below was ablaze, soon confirmed the hopelessness of his ship’s position. The Trinidad was slowly being consumed by the fires, and so many of her crew were dead, injured or trapped by the fires, that the fight to keep her afloat had been lost. Saunders decided to abandon ship before the U-boats moved in to finish the work begun by the planes.

The cruiser was stopped and all her surviving crew assembled on the quarterdeck – nothing could be done for those trapped below. Matchless came alongside first, taking off the wounded that could be reached, while the other destroyers circled to keep the U-boats at bay. Foresight and Forester then each took their turn, easing alongside the burning ship with hoses rigged to beat off any flames jumping across. Trinidad was now listing dangerously to starboard, adding to the difficulties of the evacuation. And as if things were not bad enough, a lone Heinkel had come back and seemed intent on sending the cruiser to the bottom while she lay helpless. Fortunately, in the finest tradition of the Royal Navy, two men, Commissioned Gunner Richard Bunt and Gunner Charles Norsworthy, were still manning one of Trinidad’s 4-inch turrets to give cover to the survivors. Training the turret manually – all the electrics were out – they waited until the Heinkel had settled on its torpedo run and fired both guns. The two shells skimmed over the water and exploded directly under the incoming aircraft. The Heinkel was lifted bodily and it banked away with smoke and flame pouring from its fuselage. Its torpedo hit the water but went off at an angle, passing astern of the cruiser.

Trinidad’s guns now fell silent and the last of her survivors scrambled aboard Somali, which had taken her turn to come alongside. Captain Saunders was the last man to leave the ship. The destroyers then withdrew and circled slowly, silent witnesses to the death throes of a very gallant ship. Trinidad, however, although burning furiously and lying low in the water, stubbornly refused to sink. Eventually, it was left to Matchless to put a torpedo in her. Only then did HMS Trinidad, her battle ensigns still flying, concede defeat and slip slowly below the waves, taking with her into the icy depths of the Barents Sea the bodies of eighty men, twenty of whom were the injured from the Edinburgh.

The four British destroyers, Foresight and Forester, Matchless and Somali, crammed with survivors, set course to the north-west at full speed, anxious to be clear of the scene of the sinking as quickly as possible. It was certain that the German planes would be back and all four ships were running low on ammunition. As they hurried away at twenty knots – this was all Foresight and Forester, both still suffering from damage received when defending Edinburgh could manage – a signal was sent requesting cover from ships of the Home Fleet.

The JU88s were back within an hour and the agony began all over again. The destroyers spread out and, twisting and turning, their guns hammering out defiance, they each fought their individual battle with the enemy. This time they were severely hampered, as their decks were full of Trinidad’s survivors and there were many injured below decks. But, yet again, the German bombers scored no hits and after a while they were driven off by the withering fire put up by the British ships.

There was a much appreciated lull, during which the destroyers pressed on to the west, but they were soon receiving somewhat vague signals reporting that unidentified German cruisers, accompanied by destroyers, had left a Norwegian fjord and were heading north towards them. It was well known that the Tirpitz, Scheer, Hipper and Prinz Eugen were holed up in the fjords and the conclusion drawn in the destroyers was that one or more of these ships, along with some big Narvik-class destroyers, was on the way to intercept them. Exhausted though they were, the men of the British ships stood to their guns. They were now dangerously short of ammunition, but the thought that the odds were stacked too heavily against them did not deter them. They would fight to the last.

A tense hour passed, then a number of unidentified ships were sighted on the horizon. It was assumed this must be the German force, and while the hampered Foresight and Forester, covered by Matchless, altered away to the north, Somali, the only one of the four with a full complement of torpedoes left, turned to engage the enemy. Somali, a 1870-ton Tribal-class destroyer, mounting six 4.7-inch, two 4-inch guns and four 21-inch torpedo tubes, had a top speed of thirty-six and a half knots, and might have held her own against the Narvik-class destroyers. If there was anything heavier in the German force she was likely to be blown to pieces before she was close enough to fire her torpedoes. It was only to be hoped that she would buy time for the others to escape.

As Somali steamed south at full speed, signal lamps winked out from the ‘enemy’, who identified themselves as ships of the British 10th Cruiser Squadron, much to the great relief of Somali and the other destroyers. They were the light cruiser Nigeria, flying the flag of Rear Admiral Burroughs, the heavy cruisers Kent and Norfolk, and the light cruiser Liverpool. The newcomers closed around the destroyers and the whole, now very formidable force set course for Iceland. The reported German ships failed to make an appearance, probably warned off by the reconnaissance plane now shadowing the British ships. This aircraft was also most certainly responsible for the reappearance of the German bombers, this time in even greater numbers. Over the five hours that followed, the Stukas and Ju88s pressed home their attack with a determination bordering on desperation, but the combined firepower of the eight British warships was such that not one bomber succeeded in scoring a hit. Finally, at around noon on 15 May, with the distance to the German airfields becoming greater and greater, the Luftwaffe accepted defeat and the bombers flew away.

The loss of two first-class cruisers within two weeks of each other was a serious blow to the Royal Navy, already heavily committed elsewhere. With summer coming on, with its twenty-four hours of daylight and clear weather on the Arctic route, Churchill was reluctant to continue with this costly supply operation. He was urged to withdraw escorts from the North Atlantic, but out there the Navy was already stretched to breaking point attempting to stem a haemorrhage running at over 100 ships a month being sunk by the U-boats.

The clamour from the Russians for more tanks, more guns, more planes was loud and unrelenting, and with good reason. By the close of 1941, the German armies had made huge inroads into Russia, being halted only by the severity of the winter. Some ground had been regained by the Soviet forces, even so, by the spring of 1942, the front lay from Leningrad in the north, southeastwards to within 100 miles of Moscow, and then southwards to Rostov on the Don. As summer advanced, Hitler was determined to break through into the Caucasus, his goal the oilfields of Baku, and had already massed 100 divisions, eight of these armoured, supported by 1500 aircraft, all poised ready to strike when the time was right. In response, the Russians were planning a massive counter-attack, possibly before the German armies made their move, hence their demands for ever more supplies from the Allies. Stalin’s plea to Churchill, sent on 6 May, was unusually restrained: ‘I am fully aware of the difficulties involved and of the sacrifices made by Great Britain in this matter. I feel however incumbent upon me to approach you with the request to take all possible measures in order to ensure the arrival of all the above-mentioned materials in the U.S.S.R. in the course of May, as this is extremely important to our front.’

Stalin was referring to the ninety or more merchant ships lying in Iceland and north British ports loaded with supplies for Russia, most of which had crossed the Atlantic from America and was still awaiting delivery. The hold-up was highly embarrassing for Churchill, who replied: ‘I have received your telegram of May 6, and thank you for your message and greetings. We are resolved to fight our way through to you with the maximum amount of war materials. On account of the Tirpitz and other enemy surface ships at Trondheim the passage of every convoy has become a serious fleet operation. We shall continue to do our utmost.’

Obviously, it was the threat of the Tirpitz anchored in Trondheim fjord and within easy reach of the convoys that worried Churchill most. He was not alone in this, for the thought of this 42,000-ton battleship, the most powerful warship afloat, being allowed near the thinly defended merchant ships was frightening. And backing up the Tirpitz’s 15-inch guns were the pocket battleships Admiral Scheer and Lützow and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, not to mention, sheltering in fjords further north the Narvik-class destroyers, whose 5.9s had previously caused havoc amongst the convoys. British long-range bombers were flying frequent sorties against Trondheim, but these planes were operating at the extreme limit of their range and the defences of the fjord were so strong that little was being achieved. The Tirpitz and her consorts remained a major threat to the convoys to Russia.

The arrival in Scapa Flow of a United States task force made up of the brand new battleship Washington, the aircraft carrier Wasp, two heavy cruisers and six destroyers, helped to tip the balance. The American ships, impressive though they were, lacked experience of convoy work, but they were extra guns and the enthusiasm of their crews was unquestionable. Their availability persuaded Churchill to attempt to clear the backlog of ships for Russia, which by this time had reached 107 ships now loaded, or being loaded in ports in the US and Britain. Convoy PQ 16, the largest convoy to Russia yet to be attempted, sailed from Hvalfjord on 21 May.

PQ 16 comprised thirty-six merchant ships, twenty-one American, nine British, five Russian and one Dutch. Among the British ships was a new innovation, the CAM (Catapult Aircraft Merchant) ship Empire Lawrence. CAM ships were selected merchant ships which carried a specially adapted Hawker Hurricane fighter mounted on a catapult on the forecastle head. Once launched, the fighter could not be brought back on board, leaving the pilot with the only alternative of bailing out or ditching alongside the nearest ship and hoping to be picked up. It was an expensive idea, but was proving successful as an answer to the Focke-Wulfs that shadowed convoys in the Atlantic. How the CAM ship would fare in the Arctic was yet to be seen.

The strength of PQ 16’s escort indicated the importance attached to this convoy. As before, armed trawlers accompanied the ships until they were clear of Iceland, then the ocean escort joined from Seydisfjord. In PQ 16’s case, this was made up of the British destroyers Achates, Ashanti, Martin, Volunteer and Ledbury, the Polish destroyer Garland, the corvettes Honeysuckle, Hyderabad, Starwort and Roselys (Free French), the auxiliary anti-aircraft ship Alynbank and the submarines Seawolf and Trident. Cruiser cover was provided by the British heavy cruisers Kent and Norfolk, the light cruisers Liverpool and Nigeria, accompanied by the destroyers Marne, Onslow and Oribi. The distant covering force was Anglo/American, comprising the battleships Duke of York and USS Washington, the aircraft carrier Victorious, the cruisers London and USS Wichita, and the destroyers Blankney, Eclipse, Faulknor, Fury, Icarus, Intrepid, Lamerton, Middleton, Wheatland and USS Mayrant, Rhind, Rowan and Wainright.

Against such a massive escort the German surface ships very wisely decided not to venture out of their fjords, but PQ 16 did not escape the U-boats and aircraft, some 260 of the latter mounting a series of attacks on the convoy. The U-boats claimed one merchantman, while the bombers sank six ships, including the CAM ship Empire Lawrence, whose Hurricane justified its existence by shooting down one attacker and damaging another before ditching. Four other merchantmen and the Polish destroyer Garland were damaged.

With twenty-nine out of thirty-six ships reaching their destination, PQ 16 was judged to be a success and it was the precursor of even greater efforts to clear the backlog of loaded ships for Russia. But the German capital ships hiding in Trondheim fjord would still prove a threat to be reckoned with.

PQ 13 to PQ 16 Part II

Arctic Convoy

German Operations

During early March Admiral Schmundt ordered four U-boats west of Bear Island to attack the expected PQ12 convoy south of Jan Mayen, U377 and U403 requested from Narvik to join his waiting patrol line. Together with U589, they formed the Blücher group on 11 March, although U377 emerged almost miraculously unscathed after she was attacked in error by a flight of Junkers Ju87 dive-bombers near Moskenstraumen shortly after leaving port.

On 10 March the U-boat group Umhang was formed, comprising U436, U454 and U456 north-west of the entrance to the White Sea, but failed to successfully engage the enemy during its six-day existence. Hackländer’s U454 did report the sighting of ten steamers, four destroyers and two escort vessels on 12 March but was unable to achieve a firing position before losing contact and the information came too late for Luftwaffe intervention. Fellow Umhang boat U456 also attempted to attain a favourable attacking position but was unable to do so before the convoy disappeared from sight. U454 had been in Trondheim as part of the screen for Tirpitz’s move north and to allow shipyard repairs. Sailing back into action on 24 February, Matrosengefreiter Josef Kauerlost was lost overboard in high seas only two days after departure. Dönitz was fiercely critical of the Umhang boats’ dispositions so close to Murmansk, citing their lack of manoeuvre room in such proximity to the coast as the primary reason for their inability to attack. To operate effectively a U-boat needed space to outpace its target, running surfaced beyond the horizon and then lying in wait across the convoy’s predicted path.

PQ12 sailed from Reykjavik on the first day of March under escort by HMS Renown, Duke of York, Kenya and six destroyers, with additional heavy forces sailing from Scapa Flow to rendezvous south of Jan Mayen Island. It was a formidable show of Royal Navy strength and Tirpitz sailed four days later to attack, escorted by destroyers and torpedo boats. A U-boat screen, combined with Luftwaffe reconnaissance, engendered confidence that PQ12 could be found and attacked. To add to the impending maelstrom, westbound convoy QP8 sailed from Murmansk, expecting to pass the inbound traffic near Bear Island. However, despite the number of vessels at sea, the two fleets managed to probe the seas around Bear Island without making any contact before Tirpitz returned to Norway, shadowed and unsuccessfully attacked by British carrier-borne aircraft. A single slow Russian freighter straggling from QP8 – 2,815-ton SS Ijora – was found by destroyer Friedrich Ihn and sunk with torpedoes, while U134 and U589 were both ordered south-east of Jan Mayen in a final attempt to find the elusive convoy. Both the U-boat and Luftwaffe reconnaissance had failed completely: PQ12 safely reaching Murmansk on 12 March.

Of course, unbeknownst to the Kriegsmarine, British code-breakers had managed to provide intelligence that enabled the re-routing of PQ12 out of harm’s way. The vaunted Enigma code used by all branches of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS had been broken in various stages. The U-boat service, though perhaps the most security conscious of all the Wehrmacht, was no exception at this point in the war; Enigma messages that provided plans and locations were read and decoded within hours. Though the introduction of a new rotor and expanded cipher in February 1942 would see an intelligence ‘blackout’ for most of that year, by December this new Enigma’s cipher – ‘Shark’ – had also been mastered. The scale of advantage offered to Allied forces by the breaking of the Enigma codes can barely be overstated.

The Blücher U-boat group was moved north into the Arctic Ocean near Petermann Land while Umhang disbanded; U405 and U592 waited south-east of Franz Josef Land and soon grouped with incoming U586 to form the Wrangel group though the middle of March remained unsuccessful:

One of the principal tasks of the Navy is to disrupt enemy supplies to Murmansk and Archangelsk in order to safeguard northern Norway and support Army operations against the Soviet Union. This task is not being fulfilled at the present time. Supplies are being shipped to Russia almost undisturbed … So far very few U-boats (three or four at the most) have been committed in the Arctic area. Experience shows that possibilities for successful U-boat operations definitely exist. British convoys to Murmansk and Archangelsk are forced to sail through an area, which the ice border limits to from 180 to 200 miles at the most. (The distance between the southern tip of Bear Island and the latitude of the North Cape is 190 miles; the distance between the North Cape itself and Bear Island is 228 miles.) Assuming that the enemy will approach the Norwegian coast no closer than 100 miles because of German forces, only a strip about 100 miles wide remains to be watched. It is impossible to patrol this area and attack enemy convoys with two or three U-boats. However operations by six U-boats would be very promising. In cooperation with air reconnaissance it must be possible effectively to hamper, if not entirely disrupt, enemy shipping in the Arctic area. The depth of the water is favourable for U-boat warfare … Therefore it is not possible to withdraw the submarines from Iceland or the Arctic Ocean, for example for promising operations off the U.S. coast; on the contrary, convoys to Russia should be considered a particularly valuable target for our U-boats. To intercept them it is much better to station several submarines in the Arctic area (Bear Island – North Cape) than in the Iceland – Hebrides area. The Naval Staff therefore makes the following suggestions to the Chief, Naval Staff:

a. The Arctic Ocean submarines of the Admiral, Arctic Ocean should be increased to at least 10 or 12 (including those in Narvik).

b. Submarines east of Iceland should be increased to five or four.

c. Submarines stationed northwest of the Hebrides should be withdrawn.

Fresh determination to intercept PQ convoy traffic spurred a strong U-boat and destroyer commitment against PQ13. The fact that Tirpitz only narrowly evaded damage from aircraft resulted in Hitler ordering extreme caution in the use of major surface units if there was any possible presence of an enemy carrier. Regardless, the convoys had to be stopped:

Most reports concerning British and American plans agree that the enemy is trying to maintain Russia’s power of resistance by means of great quantities of supplies and to open a second front in Europe in order to divert German forces from Russia. The regular heavy convoy traffic from Scotland to Murmansk or Archangelsk can serve both purposes. Therefore we must consider the possibility of enemy landings on the Arctic coast, in which case the nickel mines in northern Finland which are indispensable to us are most likely to be attacked. This remark introduces the Führer directive, which stipulates that all available means should be used to disrupt sea communications between the Anglo-American powers and Russia in the Arctic Ocean, which are practically intact so far, and to overcome the enemy’s supremacy at sea which extends into our own coastal waters.

PQ13 became the focus of Jürgen Oesten’s new U-boat command. To locate the incoming convoy U435, U589, U454 and U585 were ordered to patrol sectors of the AC quadrant close to the Murman coastline. PQ13 left Reykjavik on 20 March; sixteen freighters and a fleet oiler were escorted toward Murmansk by three whalers, due for transfer to the Soviet Navy as minesweepers, as well as three Royal Navy trawlers, two destroyers and a light cruiser. They left the convoy between 23 and 25 March, escort duties then taken over by two Soviet destroyers and the Royal Navy’s 6th Minesweeping Flotilla from 27 March.

The returning convoy QP9 cleared the Kola Inlet on 21 March, headed first for Iceland then onward to the United Kingdom. Two days later the U-boat group Ziethen formed: U209, U376, U378 and U655 lying north-west of Tromsø in the Norwegian Sea, waiting for PQ13 or outgoing QP9. It was here that Kaptlt Adolf Dumrese’s U655, on its first war patrol, was sighted by minesweeper HMS Sharpshooter south-south-east of Bear Island. The Halcyon-class minesweeper had come from the United Kingdom to Archangelsk with PQ5, assigned to carry out local duties in Russian waters, including ASW sweeps, minesweeping and local convoy escort. Sailing with the nineteen ships of QP9 – some returning empty, others carrying chrome, timber, potassium chloride and magnesium to Britain – Sharpshooter signalman Kenneth Hendry remembered the voyage:

We left the Kola Inlet as senior escort for the return convoy QP9, together with the destroyer Offa and two trawlers … and we were stationed ahead, doing the usual zigzag sweep. All was quiet until the evening of our third day at sea. It was dark but visibility was reasonable when the showers cleared.

I went on watch at 8pm. The weather was fairly calm but with frequent snow showers, keeping you on your toes at the end of each leg of the sweep to ensure that you were still on station and that none of the merchant ships was uncomfortably close, which often occurred in such conditions …

It was about 8.25pm and we had just turned and settled on to another ‘leg’ with a snow shower clearing ahead of us, when there was a hail from the leading-gunner closed up on the four inch on the foc’sle. Two or three cables away and about 10 degrees off our starboard bow we saw a U-boat lying beam-on with, as far as could be seen, no one on deck or in the conning tower. The Officer of the Watch called the captain and I sounded off action stations. The captain (Lieutenant-Commander David Lampen RN) immediately called the engine room for emergency-full-ahead and the ‘Stand by to ram!’ – and we had just begun to gather speed when we struck the U-boat just abaft the conning tower. She turned across our bow, listing, and bumped down our port side, obviously sinking as she went, and finally disappeared into the gloom astern. It was all over very quickly. Sharpshooter had stopped engines, damage control parties had already been mustered and I was ordered to signal by lamp to any ship I could see, ‘Have rammed U-boat – think I am sinking – please stand by me’. I managed to flash the signal to two merchant ships coming up astern but they were probably too preoccupied with avoiding us to read the signal. Later damage control parties reported that the forward mess deck was shored up and the pumps were coping, and Offa came alongside. She was instructed to take over the convoy and leave us to proceed at slow speed independently. The next few days as we limped along were pretty worrying, but the weather proved kind and we eventually reached Iceland.

Dumrese’s U655 rolled over with the impact and sank stern first, no trace of her or her forty-five crew remaining except for two lifebuoys and what the British observers took to be a canvas dinghy. The Russian convoys had sunk their first U-boat.

Although QP9 escaped attack, elements of PQ13 were found by U376 who immediately began shadowing and sending position reports. The voyage had been uneventful until 24 March when the convoy encountered an Arctic storm that raged for four days and nights and dispersed the convoy over a straggling distance of 150 miles. The nineteen merchants gradually formed small groups for mutual protection: one of eight ships and one of four, while the remainder proceeded independently. One of the latter, 4,815-ton SS Raceland carrying tanks, trucks and aircraft, was found by the Luftwaffe on 28 March and sunk by two near misses that ruptured the hull. The entire crew abandoned ship in two boats, but only one containing twelve men reached the shore where Norwegian civilians rescued them and took them to the Kriegsmarine hospital in Tromsø. The 7,008-ton SS Empire Ranger was also hit and sunk by the Luftwaffe that same day, all forty-seven crewmen abandoning ship and rescued by the German destroyer Z25, one of three from the 8th Zerstörerflottille that had been added to the attack on PQ13.

The following day the German destroyers attacked in appalling visibility and strong snow flurries, sinking the 4,687-ton SS Bateau before coming under attack by destroyer HMS Fury and cruiser HMS Trinidad in the early hours. Z26 was badly damaged and later sank following further attacks by the Royal Navy and Russian destroyer Sokrushitelny. Ironically, HMS Trinidad was disabled by one of its own torpedoes after the weapon’s gyroscope froze and sent it circling. As the German destroyers disengaged, so too did the British: Trinidad limping for the Kola Inlet. From the sinking Z26 the remaining German destroyers rescued eighty-eight survivors while U378 took eight others aboard and headed for Kirkenes.

On 30 March, U-boats that had been hastily grouped into the new pack Eiswolf finally succeeded in attacking the scattered convoy. They had already suffered at the hands of convoy escorts during the preceding days; the retreating U378 depth charged by HMS Fury and U585 was forced to abort its patrol after depth charge damage to all forward torpedo tubes. Worse was to come for Kaptlt Ernst-Bernward Lohse’s battered U585 as it headed for Kirkenes but blundered into a German mine that had broken free from its mooring in the ‘Bantos A’ barrage. The U-boat was destroyed with all forty-four crew finally listed as missing on 8 April.

Oberleutnant zur See Friedrich-Karl Marks’ U376 found and torpedoed straggling 5,086-ton SS Induna at 8.07 a.m. The convoy’s vice commodore’s ship, Induna, had attempted to corral five other vessels into a group after the storms had abated. Sixteen men, who had prematurely abandoned the freighter Ballot after damage by Luftwaffe bombs, were taken aboard – the remaining crew taking the damaged Ballot into Murmansk. Separated from the remainder of PQ13, Induna was accompanied by whaler HMS Silja before both became stuck in ice the following day. Once freed, the steamer took Silja in tow, the small warship’s fuel almost exhausted. In heavy seas the following night the tow parted and once again Induna was alone. Unbeknownst to the merchant’s master, William Norman Collins, Kaptlt Heinrich Brodda’s U209 had sighted the steamer and missed her with two torpedoes at 5.52 a.m. Undeterred, Brodda gave chase in order to fire again.

At 8.07 a.m. Marks hit Induna with one of three torpedoes, the freighter catching fire and slewing to a stop. A coup-de-grâce torpedo sent the boat under, bow first. Marks did not linger at the scene as lookouts sighted a nearby periscope, presumed to be Russian. It was, however, Brodda: beaten to the punch by his flotilla mate after his prolonged chase. Forty-one survivors abandoned ship in two lifeboats, but only thirty living men were later rescued by a Russian minesweeper. Austin Byrne was a DEMS gunner aboard Induna:

Have you ever thought of anyone you would like to have a word with, someone famous perhaps or someone from your schooldays? Well I would pick the most wonderful man, who I consider that I have ever met. Sadly I do not know his name; all that I know is that he is buried in the Naval Cemetery in Murmansk, North Russia … We had been adrift for four days in the lifeboat, after the submarine U376 had torpedoed the Induna on the 30th March 1942. This man was not a crewmember of the Induna but was aboard the Ballot when she was sunk, and you could say that they were very unfortunate in ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time’.

The long-range German planes found the ships and homed in on the destroyers for an attack, this was beaten off by the cruiser HMS Trinidad, but then the JU88 and high level Focke Wulfes attacked with bombs. The Ballot suffered some very near misses from a dive bomber attack and lost steam which caused her to drop astern of the convoy, a lifeboat was lowered with sixteen men aboard and they were picked up by the Whaler Silja which was herself on passage to be turned over to the Russians, she was one of three that had been sent, one was sunk and the other turned over in the ice. A few ships went north to get near the ice, but the Induna got stuck and while the other ships sailed on, the Silja stayed and as she was a small ship with limited room, the men from the Ballot walked over the ice onto the Induna. The Silja then ran out of fuel so the Induna took her in tow but at about 10 pm the tow broke and the two ships parted.

The next morning … the Induna was torpedoed in the number five hold right under a load of aviation spirit and the explosion turned the deck into a burning mess. We were sent to boat stations and a few people started to run through the fire, whilst some on the stern jumped into the sea and away from the flames. The last man was one of those rescued from the Ballot and he had no shoes on so his feet were ripped open by the cargo of barbed wire which we were also carrying, and he was leaving bloody footprints as he made his way to the lifeboat station, the Mate then lowered the boat to deck level and myself with some others were ordered into the boat, this was when we saw this man coming towards us, his hair was burnt off and his face and hands were badly burnt, as his jacket and trousers were also burning we rolled him into the boat and beat out the flames.

The boat was lowered into the sea and as we rowed away another torpedo smashed into the ship, which then sank with all the men who were still aboard. We were in the lifeboat for four days in terrible weather, after all it was winter in the arctic and we were in the Barents Sea. The burnt man had few clothes and he sat in the boat with the seas breaking over him and we covered him with a blanket and a spare coat, the other six in the boat were of no help, so the gunner and myself did all of the baling. We tried to talk to this man but the poor soul could hardly talk, but I did get out of him that he came from America. The seas broke over him and a coat of ice formed on him which got thicker as time went by, but never once did he moan but just sat quietly and all that he ever asked for was the occasional cigarette, which I would light for him and put it into his mouth, he would then try to move his head when I should take it out, and that was all that he asked for, a few times a day he would say ‘gunner, can I have a cigarette?’

This went on for the four days that we were adrift, and then at dusk on the fourth day we sighted land, when we told him he asked ‘gunners will you please turn the boat so that I can see it’, and this we did, his next words were ‘put an oar into my hands and I can rock my body to help’, at this time his hands were twice as thick as they should be, with his fingers drawn and bent with the cold, all black with knuckles burst and covered with scabs, and still he wanted to help!

Then we saw the rescue boats and were picked up, as I was pulled aboard I saw a Russian sailor down in the lifeboat looking at him and a rope being passed down, I do not know how they got him out of the lifeboat as I was taken to the bridge. The next time that I saw him was after one of the females in the Russian crew called to me, she was having difficulty with the cabin boy, a seventeen-year-old lad called Anderson, who was frozen bent double, and having cut his jacket off I saw that he was black to the waist, when she saw this the Russian said to leave him.

After a few tots of vodka I was taken to see the burnt man, who put out his hand to me and said as best he could ‘We made it kid’, words that I will never forget from a man who was now suffering from both burns and terrible frostbite. The next day we arrived in Murmansk and were put into the Russian Hospital, where I went to sleep and when I woke up I was told that the cabin boy had died and later that the American had also died from his injuries. Who was he? I will never know for certain but there is a grave in Murmansk to an unknown sailor from the Ballot, a man who died with dignity, a man who anyone can be proud to say ‘I met that man’. His family can also be proud of him, but the sad part is that no one in America knows anything about him.9

The second ship to be sunk by U-boat from PQ13 was 6,421-ton American merchant Effingham, one of the small group of vessels temporarily gathered by Induna following the storm. Kapitänleutnant Max-Martin Teichert’s U456, on its first war patrol, attacked two straggling merchants at 10.36 a.m.; a spread of three torpedoes missed Honduran Mana, but a fourth hit Effingham amidships on the port side, bringing her to a stop. The cargo was general war supplies but also a heavy load of explosives so the crew abandoned ship as she began to settle by the stern, two men falling overboard and drowning. A stern tube coup de grâce missed, after which the damaged freighter was lost from vision in a snow squall. Teichert’s crew hastened to reload all torpedo tubes and attempt to find the damaged steamer. Meanwhile Kaptlt Siegfried Strelow’s U435 found the American, missing with an initial salvo of two torpedoes and hitting with a third while attacking surfaced in driving snow; the ship exploded and sank following a final torpedo hit in the bow. Thirty-one of the forty-three crew were later rescued.

Although other ships of the convoy were chased by U-boats, there were no further attacks: most ships docking in Russia on 30 March and the final straggler entering harbour on 1 April. The Germans too had suffered heavily: one destroyer and two U-boats destroyed for the destruction of five merchant ships – two to the Luftwaffe, one to a destroyer and two to U-boats. German surface ships in Norway already contended with severe fuel shortages and the decision was made that henceforth destroyers would only be used against enemy convoy traffic if the enemy’s location was definitely known and conditions for success favourable. Although PQ13 had gotten off comparatively lightly, the loss of over 25 per cent of the convoy was unacceptable. Both the Home Fleet commander, Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Tovey, and the first sea lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, argued strenuously that the PQ convoy size should be radically reduced so as to provide a smaller target to locate. With extreme pressure from Washington to move supplies to Russia, Churchill was given no other option than to insist that the convoys remain as they were if not become larger.

It was not only the Kriegsmarine threat that had increased for the Murmansk run. The Luftwaffe had begun to strongly reinforce their presence in northern Norway and by June could muster 103 Ju88 bombers, 42 He111 torpedo bombers, 15 He115 torpedo bombers, 30 Ju87 dive-bombers as well as 8 Fw200, 22 Ju88 and 44 Bv138 reconnaissance aircraft.

During April the Soviet Navy amplified its submarine attacks off Nordkyn and Makkaur, despite the nights getting increasingly shorter with the Arctic spring. U-boats too had been bolstered in anticipation of PQ14, expected in mid April. Two U-boat groups were formed: Naseweis comprising U334, U592 and U657 stationed off Jan Mayen, and Bums comprising U334, U377, U403, U589, U591 and U592 west of North Cape. By 9 April fourteen U-boats were at sea within the Arctic, a further five in port scattered between Kirkenes, Narvik and Trondheim. The U-boat groups morphed as they waited for the incoming convoy, eight boats forming Robbenschlag, directed to new patrol areas by Oesten in Kirkenes. On 9 April PQ14’s 24 merchant ships were spotted by Luftwaffe reconnaissance, the sixteen ships of outbound QP10 shortly thereafter. With a sparse escort, the decision was taken to send destroyers against QP10, as well as Robbenschlag boats, three U-boats finding and beginning to shadow the convoy on 12 April. While the destroyers failed to make contact and aborted their mission, the U-boats opened their attack in heavy seas.

At 0.59 a.m. on 13 April Seibicke’s U436 fired torpedoes while submerged, hitting what he estimated was a 4,500-ton steamer: 5,823-ton Russian steamer Kiev, laden with chrome and timber, sinking within seven minutes and the crew abandoning ship in three lifeboats. Five crewmen were lost, a fifth female crewmember later dying from wounds after rescue by escorting ASW trawler HMT Blackfly. Half an hour later Strelow’s U435 also torpedoed a steamer from QP10: the 6,008-ton Panamanian El Occidente hit in the engine room and nearly breaking in half, sinking so rapidly that no lifeboats could be launched. The ship was carrying only a part cargo of chromium ore as ballast, twenty crewmen killed and a further pair rescued by HMS Speedwell. The U-boats then lost contact with QP10 in the heavy weather, Strelow later finding the abandoned 5,486-ton steamer Harpalion that had been damaged by Ju88 attack earlier that day. Three G7a torpedoes were fired, the third striking the ship astern and sending her under with its 600-tons of ballast mineral ore. One further ship had been sunk by the Luftwaffe before the convoy passed out of range, further U-boat attacks having been frustrated by bad weather and Robbenschlag ordered to abandon the hunt and focus attention on PQ14.

Ironically, the inbound convoy was largely defeated not by the Luftwaffe or Kriegsmarine, but by the weather. During the night of 10 April PQ14 encountered heavy ice south of Jan Mayen and was scattered by the elements. Many ships suffered ice damage and others failed to rejoin the convoy body, so much so that sixteen ships returned to Iceland, leaving only eight to continue under escort by the cruiser HMS Edinburgh and twelve other warships. Luftwaffe attacks yielded no results and only Kaptlt Heinz-Ehlert Clausen’s U403 from the ten-boat strong Blutrausch successfully hit the convoy commodore’s ship SS Empire Howard north-west of North Cape on 16 April. The ship, carrying 2,000 tons of war materials, went down in less than a minute – thirty-seven of the sixty-two crew rescued by escorting trawlers and commodore Captain E. Rees RNR among those lost. U376 also launched a torpedo attack against HMS Edinburgh, although despite recording the sound of three detonations, all shots missed. It was a meagre result for the U-boats, thwarted by a combination of aggressive escorts, bright skies and bad weather.

In Britain further entreaties from Tovey to reduce the PQ convoy size at least until pack ice had receded fell on deaf ears and PQ15 of twenty-five heavily escorted merchants sailed in late April for Murmansk. The political pressure on supplying the Soviet Union remained intense and Royal Navy operational considerations relegated to secondary concern. Within the Kriegsmarine too, there was concern at the U-boat operations within the Arctic, not least of all the difficulties caused by operational control being split between Schmundt’s post as Admiral Nordmeer and Hermann Boehm as Marineoberkommando Norwegen. Schmundt’s authority – and therefore that of Jürgen Oesten – only covered boats within a central band of the Arctic Ocean, those operating further west falling within Boehm’s authority. Both officers agreed that this was unwieldy and untenable. They reasoned that Schmundt’s authority should extend over a larger operational area representing an ‘organic whole’, so that he himself would be in the position to commit forces over a greater region allowing more streamlined and unified planning. Schmundt’s command area was soon extended eastward approximately from the line of the Lofoten Islands–Jan Mayen and Schmundt was given operational responsibility guided only by directives from above. The post of Admiral Nordmeer was placed directly subordinate to MGK Nord, thereby eliminating tedious links in the command chain.

Such directives were soon forthcoming from SKL demanding improved operations against the PQ convoys. U-boats were to be stationed further west to locate and attack traffic earlier and if convoy location reports were good and the convoy proceeding on large zigzag courses, U-boats were instructed to attack from a deeply echeloned patrol line slowly moving west. Heeding Dönitz’s admonitions, the narrow approaches of Kola Bay were not to be patrolled by U-boats but the Luftwaffe instead.

The fresh instructions yielded little against PQ15 or its reciprocal convoy QP11 that left Murmansk on 28 April. Nine boats of the Strauchritter group were gathered in the Barents Sea south of Bear Island, two of them passing from Boehm’s western waters command into Schmundt’s direct control. During the night of 29 April, in high seas and driving rain, Kaptlt Heino Bohmann’s U88 made contact with QP11, 150 miles north-east of Vardøe. Soon thereafter Kaptlt Heinrich Timm’s U251 and Kaptlt Hans-Joachim Horrer’s U589 also gained contact. At 6.03 a.m. the following morning Bohmann fired a spread of three torpedoes toward the convoy, recording a single detonation after nearly four and a half minutes of running time, although no ship was recorded as hit. Bohmann was confident that he had at least damaged a large steamer, while other U-boats reported that the heavy sea made it impossible to attack while submerged. Neither U405 nor U713 – the boats previously under Boehm’s control – east of Jan Mayen made contact and Schmundt ordered them into the waters between Bear Island and the North Cape to await PQ15.

Meanwhile at 11.42 a.m., U456 sighted the westbound HMS Edinburgh, deduced to be part of QP11’s escort. Radioing a contact report, Seibicke’s U436 was also able to find Edinburgh and fire a fan shot of four torpedoes at the zigzagging target, missing with all of them and later badly damaged by retaliatory depth charges from QP11 destroyers and forced to return to Trondheim. Teichert’s U456 clung onto the fast moving cruiser and at 4.18 p.m fired torpedoes, scoring two hits in spite of the bad weather making aiming difficult. Edinburgh was reported aflame and listing heavily though still afloat: three destroyers arriving to shepherd the damaged ship back to Murmansk. With heavy seas causing attack periscope problems, a frustrated Teichert was unable to mount another attack and was ordered to remain as contact boat to bring U88 to the scene.

HMS Edinburgh had been sailing some 20 miles ahead of the convoy, carrying £5 million in Russian gold bullion as payment to the United States for war materials, when Teichert’s torpedoes hit the starboard side, nearly severing the ship’s stern. HMS Foresight and Forester accompanied by two Soviet destroyers arrived to shield the crippled ship and begin towing back to port while Teichert continued to shadow. Ultimately, three of the German Arctic destroyers, who had sailed against QP11 but been forced away from the convoy, engaged the crippled cruiser and its depleted escort after the Soviet ships had departed to refuel. Z24 hit the cruiser again while the destroyer Hermann Schoemann was herself hit by fire from Edinburgh. The two Royal Navy destroyers also suffered damage before the battle ended: the doomed Edinburgh was sunk by a British torpedo and Hermann Schoemann by a German; 200 German crewmen were rescued by Z24 and sixty were plucked from a life raft by U88 and taken to Kirkenes. U456 had attempted one final attack after the destroyer action had finished, but was forced underwater and depth charged to such a degree that Teichert asked permission to return to Kirkenes, encountering wreckage from the sunk cruiser while en route, including rising oil, life rafts and pith helmets.

Contact with QP11 was maintained despite icebergs and bad weather and at 3.13 a.m. on 1 May Horrer’s U589 fired two torpedoes and hit 2,847-ton Soviet motor merchant Tsiolkovskij, badly damaging the ship that was later sunk by the retreating Z24 and Z25.

Meanwhile PQ15 had come under Luftwaffe attack, including six KG26 He111 torpedo bombers during the early morning half-light of 3 May: the first time these aircraft had been used in action. They claimed three ships sunk and another damaged, though in reality two were sunk and one damaged. This damaged ship was 6,153-ton freighter Jutland, subsequently found on 3 May by U251. Kapitänleutnant Timm had fired his first torpedo in anger two days previously against an escorting destroyer, but missed. A little past midnight on 3 May, Timm’s lookouts sighted Jutland emerging from a cloud bank and Timm dived to attack the ship; three torpedoes fired at a range of 3,500 metres, one hitting the ship whose cargo included 500 tons of cordite and 300 tons of ammunition. The resulting explosion was clearly audible as the freighter virtually disintegrated. Jutland had in fact already taken damage from Luftwaffe bombs and been abandoned when Timm attacked, but escort forces still homed in on U251 and depth charged the boat until Timm crept clear. The following day U703 passed the scene of the sinking and found large amounts of wreckage and six empty lifeboats. The remaining merchants of PQ15 reached Russia unscathed, U-boats foiled by aggressive escorts and intense depth charging.

Results had been disappointing and the lengthening hours of daylight robbed U-boats of their greatest ally: darkness. Despite Dönitz’s continued requests to return the boats to the Atlantic, the commitment of Arctic U-boats remained in force, though Dönitz at least agreed that they be used for convoy interception rather than support for land operations. During the night of 27 April, Soviet troops had landed in three places behind the Wehrmacht’s front line along the coastline of Motovski Bay. Urgent army appeals for Kriegsmarine help were denied: particularly calls for U-boats to harass Soviet landing craft, deemed too small to be targeted by torpedoes and too fast for gunfire while U-boats would expose themselves to extreme risk operating so close inshore.

Tupolev Tu-16/Xian H-6





A Xian H-6K bomber


One of Russia’s first effective jet bombers, the Tupolev Tu-16 has enjoyed a frontline service career matched by few other types.

The Tu-16 was made possible by the development of the Mikulin AM-3 turbojet, which also powered the four engined Myasishchyev M-4 ‘Bison’. A prototype designated Tu-88 and powered by AM-3A turbojets flew for the first time on April 27 1952. A second, considerably lightened prototype flew later that year and the type was subsequently selected for production ahead of the rival llyushin II-46.

Early production Tu-16s covered by NATO’s ‘Badger-A’ designation include the Tu-16A nuclear bomber, torpedo armed naval Tu-16T and the Tu-16N tanker for other Tu-16s (using the unique wingtip to wingtip method). Of the ‘Badger-A’s, only Tu-16Ms survive in service, although over 100 Chinese built Xian H-6s remain in service.

The first anti-ship missile launching Tu-16 was the Kh-1 (AS-1 ‘Kennel’) firing Tu-16KS-1 ‘Badger-B’ with retractable radome (now retired). The Tu-16K-10 ‘Badger-C’ is identifiable by its large, flat nose radome housing the l-band ‘Puff Ball’ radar and carried a single Kh-1 OS (AS-2 ‘Kipper’) missile semi recessed under the fuselage (modified to Tu-16K-10-26 ‘Badger-C Mod’ standard it could carry a single Kh-26/AS-6 ‘Kingfish’). The similar Tu-16K-11-16 ‘Badger-G’ was developed to carry the 320km (170nm) range Mach 1.2 Kh-11/ Kh-15 (AS-5 ‘Kelt’). ‘Badger-G’s modified to fire the Kh-26 are designated Tu-16K-26 ‘Badger-G Mod’.

Many of the 1800 plus Tu-16s built were converted to Elint/reconnaissance platforms. The Tu-16Ye is an elint conversion of ‘Badger-C’s, as is the Tu-16P ‘Badger-K’ and Tupolev Tu-16P ‘Badger-L’, while the Tu-16R ‘Badger-E’ and Tu-16P ‘Badger-F’ are optical reconnaissance variants.

Finally the Tu-16PP ‘Badger-H’ and Tu-16RM and Tu-16KRM, both ‘Badger-J’, are EW jammers.

Xian H-6 medium bomber

In early 1956 the Soviet Union agreed to licence production of the Tupolev Tu-16 medium bomber (NATO reporting name Badger) in China. The aircraft, which first flew in April 1952 and entered Soviet Air Force service in February1954, represented the then-latest state of the art in Soviet bomber design. The Tu-16 had mid-set wings with moderate sweepback and conventional swept tail surfaces; the four-wheel bogies of the main landing gear units retracted aft, somersaulting through 1800 to lie in large fairings projecting beyond the wing trailing edge. The powerplant consisted of two Mikulin RD-3M-500 axial-flow turbojets with a take-off thrust of 9,520 kgp (20,990 Ibst) placed on the fuselage sides immediately aft of the rear wing spar so that the inlet ducts passed through the wing roots, the fuselage being ‘pinched’ in accordance with the area rule. The crew consisted of two pilots, a navigator/bomb-aimer (sitting in an extensively glazed nose), a dorsal gunner/radio operator sitting behind the pilots, plus two more gunners sitting in a separate pressure cabin in the rear fuselage. The defensive armament comprised three powered barbettes with twin 23-mm AM-23 cannons and a single fixed cannon of the same type in the nose.

The actual licence agreement for manufacture of the Tu-16 was signed in September 1957. Under the terms of this, China received two production Tu-16 bombers as pattern aircraft, a further two aircraft in the form of a semi-knocked-down (SKD) kit and a CKD kit, essential for mastering the assembly of the first examples, and a set of blanks and raw materials for parts manufacture together with the necessary technical documentation. All of this was supplied by plant No. 22 in Kazan’, the main manufacturer of the type.

In 1959 the decision was taken to begin licence production in China, and in the same year a large technical team left the USSR for China to assist in setting up series production. It remained in China until the autumn of 1960.

The Bureau of Aircraft Industry (BAI) allocated two factories in Harbin and Xian (sometimes spelled Xi’an) for Tu-16 production. A major reconstruction of the Harbin Aircraft Factory, in the course of which the shop floor area was doubled, began in 1958; the plant received assistance in the form of 200 qualified workers seconded from the Shenyang Aircraft Factory. In May 1959 the Harbin plant took delivery of the two Tu-16 pattern aircraft and the CKD kit, and assembly of a bomber from the kit began immediately. The first Chinese Tu-16 was assembled in just 67 days (28th June – 3rd September), making its maiden flight on 27th September 1959, and was handed over to the PLAAF that December.

In 1958 the large aircraft factory at Xian was completed, and to assist in Tu-16 production there 1,040 skilled technical and engineering staff and 1,697 other workers were transferred from Shenyang. In 1961 the BAI decided to concentrate all work on the Tu-16 at the Xian factory so that the Harbin plant could concentrate on the H-5; the transfer of production took place in 1962-64. The Chinese licence-built version was briefly designated Feilong-201 (Flying Dragon-201) but became the H-6 in 1964. The RD-3M-500 was built under licence at the Xian Engine Factory (with assistance from the Harbin and Shenyang plants) as the WP-8.

In 1964 the plant began manufacturing the jigs and tooling for series production of the H-6; new production methods differing from the Soviet ones were used, including explosive forming and epoxy resin male moulds instead of metal ones. In October 1966 the first airframe assembled from Chinese parts was finished, one year ahead of schedule; it underwent static tests at the BAI’s Aircraft Structure Analysis Research Institute in December 1968.

On 24th December 1968 the first Xian-built production H-6 bomber completely manufactured in China (with Chinese-made WP-8 engines) made its first flight The crew was commanded by test pilot Li Yuanyi, with Xu Wenhong as co-pilot After this, full-scale production of the H-6 in China got under way.

The reason that it took so long to establish H-6 in production in China was the disorganisation of the Chinese aircraft industry caused by the spread of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. A lot of design documentation was lost during the transfer of production from Harbin to Xian, and it took forever to restore it.

The London Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that approximately 120 H-6 bombers in various versions had been built up to 1987 when production was interrupted. It was resumed several years later.

The standard H-6 was 34.8 m (114 ft 2’Y64 in) long and 9.85 m (32 ft 35Y64 in) high, with a wing span of 34.2 m (112 ft F%4 in). The normal and maximum take-off weight were 72,000 kg (158,730 Ib) and 75,800 kg (167,110 Ib) respectively; the bomber could carry a normal weapons load of 3,000 kg (6,610 Ib) and a maximum weapons load of 9,000 kg (19,840 Ib). The maximum fuel load was 33,000 kg (72,750 Ib). The H-6 attained a maximum speed of 1,014 km/h (630 mph) at 6,250 m (20,500 ft), a cruising speed of 786 km/h (488 mph) or Mach 0.75 and a service ceiling Of 13,100 m (42,980 ft). The ferry range was 6,000 km (3,728 miles) and the combat radius was 1,800 km (1,120 miles).

H-6A nuclear-capable bomber

Even before production of the H-6 had been fully implemented, the modification of a Tu-16 assembled from Soviet parts into a carrier for the Chinese atomic bomb started at Xian under the codename ‘Mission 21-511’. The bomb bay was heat-insulated and air-conditioned to provide the correct environment for the nuclear weapons, the bomb release system was modified and the necessary monitoring and recording equipment for nuclear testing was installed. To all intents and purposes this aircraft was the counterpart of the Soviet Tu-16A. The modification work was supervised by Li Xipu.

The modified aircraft was the prototype of the nuclear-capable H-6A. On 14th May 1965 this aircraft captained by Li Yuanyi successfully carried out the third Chinese nuclear test, dropping a 20-kiloton atomic bomb over the Lop Nor nuclear test range in western China. The flight crew received a collective government award for this mission. On 29th September 1969, an H-6 bomber dropped China’s first thermonuclear bomb with a yield of 3,000 kilotons.

H-6D (H-6 IV, B-6D) missile strike aircraft

In 1975 work began on an anti-shipping missile strike version of the H-6A for the PLANAF. The carrier, given the designation H-6D (orginally H-6 IV), featured a missile guidance system, an automated navigation system and a new Type 245 surveillance radar in a much-enlarged flat-bottomed chin radome linked to the missile guidance system. At an altitude of 9,000 m (29,530 ft) the radar could detect a surface target with a radar cross-section of 7,500 m2 (80,645 sq ft) from a maximum range of 150 km (93 miles). The wings were strengthened for carrying two YJ-6L anti-shipping cruise missiles which were suspended on pylons resembling those of the Soviet Navy’s Tu-16KSR-2 missile strike aircraft.

The YJ-6L air-to-surface missile (export designation C-601, NATO codename CAS-1 Kraken) was developed in China from the HY-2 ship-/land-based anti-shipping missile – a copy of the Soviet P-15 supplied to China at the end of the 1950s. The missile was powered by a liquid-fuel rocket motor and fitted with a 513-kg (1, 131-lb) high-explosive warhead; it had a range of 120 km (74.5 miles) and a speed of Mach 0.8. The H-6D reportedly also retained a level bombing capability.

The first flight of the experimental H-6D took place on 29th August 1981 with Zhai Xijie in the captain’s seat. The first launch of a YJ-6L instrumented test round followed on 6th December; all four tests of inert missiles were reportedly successful. The test program for the aircraft and the ASM complex as a whole was concluded by live missile tests at the end of 1983. In December 1985 the new anti-shipping complex entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF).

In May 1985 the H-6D with its C-601 missiles was exhibited at the Paris Air Show.

Later, the YJ-6L was replaced by the more modern YJ-61 (C-611) missile which has a range of 200 km (124 miles). The export version of the H-6D was designated B-6D (B for bomber); four were supplied to Iraq.

The dimensions of the H-6D were identical to those of the standard bomber, and the performance was similar. Differences included a service ceiling reduced to 12,000 m (39,370 ft).


The classic MiG 21






The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (NATO reporting name “Fishbed”) is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It was popularly nicknamed “balalaika”, from the aircraft’s planform-view resemblance to the Russian stringed musical instrument or ołówek (English: pencil) by Polish pilots due to the shape of its fuselage. Early versions are considered second-generation jet fighters, while later versions are considered to be third-generation jet fighters. Some 50 countries over four continents have flown the MiG-21, and it still serves many nations a half-century after its maiden flight. The fighter made aviation records. At least by name, it is the most-produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history and the most-produced combat aircraft since the Korean War, and it had the longest production run of a combat aircraft (1959 to 1985 over all variants).


The classic MiG 21 is the most extensively exported jet fighter in history. It has fought in several wars and continues in frontline service four decades after its appearance.

The experience of air combat in Korea forced the Mikoyan design bureau to draw up radical plans for a new air-superiority fighter. This machine would have to be lightweight, be relatively simple to build, and possess speed in excess of Mach 2. The prime design prerequisite entailed deletion of all unnecessary equipment not related to performance. No less than 30 test models were built and flown through the mid- to late 1950s before a tailed-delta configuration was settled upon. The first MiG 21s were deployed in 1959 and proved immediately popular with Red Air Force pilots. They were the first Russian aircraft to routinely operate at Mach 2 and were highly manoeuvrable. Moreover, the delta configuration enabled the craft to remain controllable up to high angles of attack and low air speed. One possible drawback, as with all deltas, was that high turn rates yielded a steep drag rise, so the MiG 21 lost energy and speed while manoeuvring. This was considered a fair trade-off in terms of overall excellent performance. More than 11,000 MiG 21s were built in 14 distinct versions that spanned three generations of design. They are the most numerous fighters exported abroad, and no less than 50 air forces employ them worldwide. The NATO code name is FISHBED.

The MiG 21 debuted during the Vietnam War (1964–1974), during which they proved formidable opponents for bigger U.S. fighters like the McDonnell- Douglas F-4 Phantom. Successive modifications have since endowed them with greater range and formidable ground-attack capability, but at the expense of their previously spry performance. Russian production of the MiG 21 has ended, yet China and India build, refurbish, and deploy them in great numbers. These formidable machines will undoubtedly remain in service for many years to come.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 variants

Specifications (Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F-13)

General characteristics

Crew: 1

Length: 15.76[50] m (51 ft 8.47 in)

Wingspan: 7.154 m (23 ft 5.66 in)

Height: 4.1 m (13 ft 5.41 in)

Wing area: 23.0 m2 (247.3 ft2)

Empty weight: 4,871 kg (10,738 lb)

Gross weight: 7,100 kg (15,650 lb)

Powerplant: 1 × Tumansky R11F-300, 37.27 kN (8,380 lbf) thrust dry, 56.27 kN (12,650 lbf) with afterburner each


Maximum speed: 2,125 km/h (1,385 mph)

Maximum speed: Mach 2.05

Range: 1,580 km (981 miles)

Service ceiling: 19,000 m (62,335 ft)


1x internal 30 mm NR-30 cannon, plus

2x K-13 or K-13A (R-3S) AAM or

2x 500 kg (1,102 lb) of bombs

Cold War – Soviet Helicopters I

Early Cold War

In 1962, WSK-Swidnik in Poland began producing the Mi-2 Hoplite under license, although the plant did not reach full production until 1965. With two Isotov GTD-350 turboshafts mounted above the cabin, the Mi-2 produced 40 percent more power, at less than half the weight, effectively doubling the lifting capability of the Mi-1. An all-metal three-bladed rotor system, measuring 47 feet, 9 inches in diameter, provided lift for the single-pilot, eight-passenger utility helicopter. Of a modified pod and boom design, the Mi-2 attained a maximum airspeed of 110 knots and hauled 3,000 pounds of internal cargo, or a 1,750-pound slingload. External pylons provided mounting points for a combination of machine guns and AT-2 Sagger ATGMs. The Mil Company reported the maximum service ceiling at 13,000 feet.

In the late 1950s, to meet several requirements of the Soviet military, Mikhail Leontyevich Mil began designing and producing large heavy-lift helicopters. On June 5, 1957, Mil Design Bureau test pilot Rafail Kaprelian piloted the Mi-6 Hook on its maiden flight. The first of five prototypes, the Mi-6 was the world’s largest helicopter to that time, and the Soviet Union’s first production turbine-powered helicopter. The fuselage measured 134.5 feet, and the five-bladed, all-metal main rotor system 114.8 feet in diameter, dwarfing all previous helicopters. Two removable wings, with a span of 50 feet, 2 inches, provided additional lift in forward flight. The groundcrew usually removed the wings for large slingload operations, as they just increased drag.

Mil utilized plastic-impregnated wood, reinforced with steel spars, to manufacture the four-bladed tailrotor. Production models carried an alcohol-based deicing system. Equipped with two Soloviev D-25V turbine engines, producing 5,500 horsepower each, the huge machine could carry up to ninety troops and lift off at a maximum gross weight of 93,500 pounds, which translated into a payload of 26,400 pounds of internal cargo, or a 17,500-pound slingload. As an air ambulance the Hook could accommodate forty-one stretchers and two medical attendants. Two hydraulically operated rear-opening clamshell doors made possible the loading of large cargo into the fuselage, which included a winch with a capacity of 1,750 pounds. A pilot, copilot, navigator, flight engineer, and radio operator composed the crew. In 1961 the Mi-6 became not only the largest but also the fastest helicopter in the world by reaching 300 kph (162 knots), thereby winning the Igor Sikorsky International trophy. The Hook had a range of 385 statute miles and a service ceiling of 14,750 feet. For ferry flights the Mi-6 could carry four auxiliary fuel tanks, two installed internally and two mounted above the main wheels of the fixed tricycle landing gear.

The standard avionics package provided the Hook with day/night, all-weather capabilities. The helicopter usually carried a ground power unit (GPU) on a trolley for engine starting and ground operations. A single DShK 12.7-mm heavy machine gun could be installed in a flex mount in the nose for self-protection. From the time the Mi-6 entered production in late 1960, until production ended in 1981, Mil produced 860 aircraft. Aeroflot used the large helicopters in trackless Siberia, while the Soviet military utilized the heavy-lift capabilities of the machine to transport rocket launchers and other heavy weapons. The Mi-6VKP, Hook “B,” hauled a huge array of radios and functioned as an airborne command post, which eventually led to the Mi-22C “command post.” The Hook, in various modifications, provided forward refueling points for both vehicles and aircraft, fought forest fires, and recovered Soyuz space capsules. The USSR produced 860 Hooks and exported the machine to several countries, including North Vietnam, which used the Hook to carry fighter aircraft from airfields to remote locations to protect the jets from U. S. air strikes. In July 2002 an Mi-6 crashed, killing all twenty-one on board, and the Russian Ministry of Transportation halted the use of the aging Mi-6.

Continuing to focus on heavy-lift helicopters, the Mil Bureau introduced the Mi-10 Harke. In July 1961 the “flying crane” modification of the Mi-6 appeared at the Soviet Tushino Air Show; it flew at the Paris Air Show in 1965. The Mi-10 shared engines, transmissions, rotor system, hydraulics, and many other parts with the Mi-6, reducing maintenance costs for both aircraft. The Mi-10, however, featured a much modified fuselage designed for transporting large external loads weighing up to 36,300 pounds. Mil designed the machine with an extended, wide, four-legged dual-wheeled landing gear to straddle large, cumbersome loads. For whatever reason, the bureau fitted the aircraft with right-side struts a foot shorter than those on the left, causing the machine to cant slightly to the right when parked.

Several other modifications differentiated the Harke from the Hook. Hydraulic arms fitted to the fuselage underside held specially designed wheeled pallets in place during flight. It was intended primarily as a cargo helicopter, and there were no provisions to install removable wings; the shortened, 107-foot, 10-inch fuselage, however, could accommodate up to twenty-eight passengers in addition to the three-man crew. The first models included a pod, or “dustbin,” under the nose by which the crew could observe external loads, but the pod was removed from later models and the crew monitored their loads via closed-circuit television. Slower than the Hook, the Mi-10 reached a top speed of 120 knots and a service ceiling of 9,850 feet.

The Mi-10K variant appeared in 1966. Differing slightly from previous models, the “K” offered greater lift capacity, shorter landing gear struts, and a gondola under the forward fuselage. The gondola, reflecting that on the Sikorsky CH-54, housed a full set of flight controls, allowing a copilot to position unwieldy payloads accurately. Certain specialized variants included the Mi-10P electronic countermeasures (ECM) helicopter. The Soviet Union produced only fifty-five Mi-10s, and none are known to have been exported.

In 1965 the Mil bureau began work on the largest helicopter ever built, the Mi-12 Homer. Designated the V-12 by the Soviets, the aircraft, comparable in size to a Boeing 727, first took flight in 1968. The next year a prototype lifted a 72,000-pound payload to 7,900 feet, setting a new weight-to-altitude record. Capable of carrying 120 passengers, the Homer made its first public appearance at the 1971 Paris Air Show.

Designed by Mil, who died in 1972 and was replaced by Marat Tischenko, the Mi-12 encountered numerous developmental problems. Of a side-by-side rotor design, the Homer incorporated the engines and transmissions of the Mi-6. At the end of two reverse-tapered wings (wider at the tip than at the root), two Soloviev 5,500-horsepower turboshafts drove a five-bladed rotor system. The Mi-12 sat on a dual-wheeled tricycle landing gear, and large clamshell doors at the rear of the fuselage allowed loading of oversize cargo. Requiring a crew of six, the Homer never fully met its design specifications, and the program was canceled. One prototype remains on static display in Russia.

In May 1960, Mil conceived a machine to replace the piston-engined Mi-4 Hound. On June 9, 1961, the first Mi-8 Hip prototype, with a single AI-24V turboshaft and four-bladed main rotor system, lifted off for its maiden flight. On September 17, 1962, the Hip B, modified with two TV2-117 1,482-horsepower turboshafts mounted atop the fuselage, and a five-bladed main rotor system measuring 70 feet in diameter, took flight. The Mi-8 went into full production in 1965, and by 2000 fifty-four countries operated the more than 10,000 Mi-8s manufactured by the Rostov and Kazan production facilities in Russia and by foreign licensees. Designed as a medium-lift transport helicopter, the Hip, in its many variants, fulfilled a miscellany of mission requirements, including troop and cargo transportation, air ambulance, attack helicopter, airborne command post, fire fighter, and civilian carrier.

Constructed of light alloys, the Hip featured a “bus-shaped” fuselage with a rounded nose and glassed-in cockpit that accommodated a pilot, copilot, and flight engineer. The cabin housed twenty-four passengers, 8,800 pounds of cargo, or twelve stretchers. A large sliding door on the forward port side and rear-opening clamshell doors simplified loading large cargo. Removable interior seats and an internal winch capable of lifting 350 pounds that doubled as a rescue hoist facilitated cargo handling. Additionally, Mil equipped the aircraft with a cargo hook capable of carrying slingloads up to 6,500 pounds. A long tailboom extended from the upper portion of the fuselage and swept up to a tapered vertical fin that housed the gearbox and tailrotor, attached to the left side (right on the export versions).

External racks attached along the center of the 61-foot fuselage were designed to hold auxiliary fuel pods or weapons systems. Variants of the Hip carried a combination of 57-mm or 80-mm rockets, AT-2 Swatter or AT-3 Sagger ATGMs, 12.7- or 23-mm gun pods, or either 4  500-pound or 2  1,000-pound bombs. In 1967, Mil introduced the Hip E and F ground support helicopters, each mounting a flexible 12.7-mm heavy machine gun under the nose and carrying 192 57-mm rockets. Combat troops could also fire their individual weapons from the windows of the helicopter. In later models Mil installed the upgraded Isotov TV2-117A engines, which produced 1,700 horsepower each. Generally a Hip cruised at 122 knots, had a service ceiling of 14,700 feet, and hovered Out of Ground Effect (OGE) at 2,600 feet. All Mi-8s rested on a fixed tricycle landing gear, with dual wheels at the nose. Total production estimates ran as high as 15,000 units of the Mi-8 and its export version, the Mi-17.

In September 1969 the Mil Design Bureau modified the Hip into the Mi-14 Haze for naval applications, mainly for shore-based ASW operations. The Mi-14 received a boat-hulled lower fuselage with pontoons on either side and a retractable landing gear. A radar dome under the nose and an internal weapons bay differentiated the Mi- 14 from the Mi-8. Both the Mi-8 and Mi-14 carried infrared jammers and flare/chaff dispensers.

Another modification allowed the TV2-117TG engines to operate on both liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and standard jet fuel (a type of kerosene). Large external tanks held the LPG under low pressure, and the pilots switched the engines to regular fuel for takeoffs and landings. The LPG tanks reduced the helicopter’s payload by 220 to 330 pounds but extended its useful range by several miles.

In July 1961 the Kamov Ka-20 Harp appeared for the first time during the Soviet Aviation Day celebration. The Ka-20 followed the traditional N. I. Kamov coaxial rotor design, with two three-bladed, counter-rotating main rotors. A large bulge under the forward fuselage and a fairing under the tailboom indicated that the Ka-20 was an ASW helicopter of some type. It was much larger than the Ka-18, with dual turbine engines mounted over the cabin body. Two fixed machine guns protruded from the nose, and two air to surface missiles (ASM), probably dummies, hung from external racks on each side of the helicopter. The new craft proved to be an advanced prototype of the Ka-25 Hormone, which became operational with the Soviet Navy in 1965.

Only slightly different from its predecessor, the Kamov Bureau (OKB) produced the Ka-25 Hormone in three major variants, all powered by two Glushenko GTD-3 900-horsepower turboshafts, as well as featuring a coaxial rotor system and the compact body most effective in shipboard operations. OKB designers included folding main rotor blades, reducing the Ka-25’s stowed length to only 36 feet. The Hormone A, designed specifically to destroy nuclear-powered submarines, carried two pilots and three sensor technicians to operate ASW equipment, which included a search radar installed in a large, chin-mounted radome, a towed magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), and a dipping sonar housed in a compartment at the rear of the cabin. Some models featured ventral weapons bays by which the Ka-25 could be armed with torpedoes, depth charges (including nuclear), or air to surface missiles. Later improvements to the Hormone included an automatic pilot, state-of-the-art avionics, and a vastly improved over-the-water navigation system for precise targeting of submarines and surface vessels. By 1968 the Hormone A operated from cruisers of the Kresta and Kara classes, Moskva and Leningrad carrier/cruisers, and Kiev and Minsk ASW carriers. The smaller cruisers carried only two Ka-25s, while as many as eighteen Hormones operated off the larger ASW carriers.

The second variant carried search radar and other electro-optic target acquisition equipment for over-the-horizon guidance of surface-to-surface missiles and naval rifles. A larger, and more spherical, chin radome, a cylindrical radome mounted at the aft end of the fuselage, and no ventral bays differentiated the Ka-25 B from other models. The Hormone reached an airspeed of 105 knots, a range of 350 nautical miles, and a service ceiling of 11,000 feet.

In a later variant, the Hormone C, OKB engineers removed the ASW and targeting instrumentation and equipped the helicopter for SAR missions. Without the electronic gear the large cabin also offered a secondary capability of transporting twelve naval infantry troops. Two other versions appeared in limited numbers, the Ka-25 BT mine countermeasures helicopter and the Ka-25 K civilian helicopter, which had a small cockpit under the forward fuselage for slingload operations. In the event of ditching, most models of the Hormone were fitted with inflatable pontoons on each of the four landing gear struts. Between 1965 and 1975 the USSR produced more than 460 Ka-25s, with export models sent to Syria, India, Bulgaria, North Vietnam, and Yugoslavia.

In January 1964 the Soviet government issued a directive for both an agricultural and a passenger transport helicopter. On August 18 of the next year, the Kamov Bureau responded with the prototype Ka-26 Hoodlum, a small, multipurpose helicopter. Kamov deputy chief designer M. A. Kupfer and project leading engineer Y. I. Petrukhin, of course, specified the installation of OKB’s typical coaxial rotor system atop the boxlike fuselage of the Ka-26. The craft incorporated a conventional Kamov tail assembly of twin vertical fins with rudders and an interconnecting horizontal stabilizer, which included the elevator. The helicopter sat on a four-wheeled fixed landing gear. Initial manufacture began in 1967 at the Kumertau Aircraft Plant. Placed in full production in 1970, the multirole helicopter was powered by two 325-horsepower Vedeneyev M-14V- 26 nine-cylinder radial engines. Flown by either one or two pilots, the Hoodlum hauled loads of 2,000 pounds up to altitudes of 9,850 feet, at speeds of 95 knots. OKB’s modular design and interchangeable cargo containers permitted rapid conversion of the Hoodlum from a passenger carrier to an air ambulance, crop duster, or “flying crane.” Kamov OKB first used composite materials for the engine cowlings, rotor blades, and chemical hoppers, which increased the useful life of Ka-26 subassemblies. The composite rotor blades, for example, demonstrated a service life of 5,000 hours, compared with the 600 to 800 hours of conventional metal blades of the era. With OKB production methods patented in five Western nations, the Hoodlum became the only Soviet helicopter certificated under U. S. federal aviation regulations (FAR). The Soviet Union produced at least 850 Ka-26s and exported the machine worldwide.

In 1970, Kamov created his first designs for the next generation of Soviet naval helicopters. He envisioned a machine similar in size to the Ka-25 but with an updated avionics and weapons package. On December 24, 1973, OKB’s chief pilot, Y. I. Laryushin, lifted the prototype Ka-252 off for its first flight. Unfortunately, the aircraft’s designer did not see his project completed; Kamov died on November 24. Sergei Viktorovich Mikheyev then assumed the directorship of OKB, which in 1974 was renamed in honor of Nikolai Il’yich Kamov.

Developed from the Ka-252 prototype, the Ka-27 Helix produced more power from the two Isotov TV3-117 2,225-horsepower turboshafts mounted under the three-bladed coaxial rotor system. Only slightly longer than the Ka-25, the Helix had a redesigned tail assembly. With a maximum gross weight of 24,250 pounds, the Ka-27 rotor diameter measured 52 feet, 2 inches and the aircraft 37 feet, 1 inch in length. Capable of 140 knots, the Helix had a maximum range of 432 nautical miles and a service ceiling of 19,700 feet. Designed specifically for the Soviet Navy as an ASW hunter/killer, the Helix did not become operational until 1978.

Cold War – Soviet Helicopters II

Attack Helicopters

As a result of the success of U. S. helicopter gunships in Vietnam, other nations, especially the USSR, realized the need for armed helicopters. Soviet military doctrine, however, had no place for a helicopter dedicated specifically to the gunship role. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the USSR had armed the Mi-8 Hip and its export version, the Mi-17, but the Red Air Force demanded a fast, heavily armed helicopter to fill the role of the Sturmovik ground support fighter of World War II, or an airborne equivalent of a main battle tank. On September 19, 1969, the Mil Bureau responded with the prototype Mi-24 Hind A.

To produce the first model Hind A (NATO designation), Mil modified the fuselage of the Mi-8 but used the same two TV2-117 1,482-horsepower turboshafts and five-bladed main and three-bladed tailrotor system of the Hip. Mil installed the retractable tricycle landing gear of the Mi-14 and the antidihedral wings of the Mi-6 for weapon installation. The Hind’s cockpit that went into flight testing in 1970 resembled a World War II bomber, with a multipaned canopy and a 12.7-mm machine gun in the nose. The pilots sat side by side on a four-place bench seat behind the gunner’s position, which resulted in poor visibility. The Hind A carried a crew of three and up to eight combat-loaded troops, who could fire their individual weapons through windows in the cargo compartment. Weapons on the wing stores included four to eight AT-2 Swatter ATGMs and two to four 57-mm rocket pods. If not transporting troops the Hind held four litters and a medic, or carried a second basic load of rockets and missiles internally. The heavily armored Hind A, according to the Mil Bureau, posted a speed record of 198.72 knots during testing. The West first saw the Hind A in Eastern Europe in 1972, with “V” and “C” models appearing in succeeding years.

In 1975, Western intelligence services discovered the radically redesigned Mi-24D. A new stepped tandem cockpit with bulletproof bubble canopies provided greater visibility for the pilot and copilot/gunner, who sat in the forward cockpit, just behind and above a YaKB-12 four-barreled heavy machine gun mounted in a chin turret capable of a 120-degree traverse. Two Isotov TV-3-117 2,200-horsepower turbines, installed in the upper section of the 57-foot, 8-inch fuselage, powered the all-metal 56-foot, 9-inch main and 12-foot, 9.5-inch tailrotors. With a wingspan of 21 feet, 4 inches, the new Hind exhibited a range of 245 nautical miles with a normal load, and a maximum ceiling of 14,700 feet at a maximum gross weight of 26,455 pounds. Without weapons the aircraft could haul a 5,500- pound slingload. In addition to armored seats, applique armor surrounded the cockpit as well as critical oil and fuel supplies. Wingstores included ATGMs, 57- or 80-mm rocket pods, or free-fall bombs.

The Mi24D began to appear in significant numbers in Soviet units in 1976, and in Warsaw Pact countries shortly afterward. Production records indicated that about fifteen Hinds a month rolled off the Mil assembly lines. At the time the Red Army invaded Afghanistan in 1980, more than 1,000 Mi-24s were in service, and the Hind became a symbol of that war, much like the Huey in Vietnam. Although Mil upgraded the Hind with lighter, more efficient composite rotor blades, yokes, and hubs, aircraft limitations affected the successful employment of the Hind in the rarified air of the Afghan mountains. The wings provided 22 to 28 percent of the helicopter’s lift, requiring pilots to maintain minimum forward airspeeds or the helicopter would experience unmanageable roll rates in tight turns; nor could the heavily loaded machines hover at the high altitudes encountered, sometimes 18,000 feet. Although ruggedly designed, the Hind’s transmission, and especially the tailrotor gearbox, rapidly overheated at a hover without the cooling effect of airflow through cooling vents. As a result the Hind pilots mimicked U. S. Army tactics from Vietnam and flew in pairs, or multiples of pairs, making running fire attacks on their mujahideen adversaries. The Hind pilots relied on speed and armor to survive. They attacked at 140 knots, blasted the target area, and pulled away in tight turns.

Soviet tactics overall replicated U. S. tactics in Vietnam. Mi-8 and Mi-17s, escorted by Mi-24s, lifted large numbers of troops to air as sault into remote areas to attack mujahideen soldiers in their sanctuaries. Hind pilots also frequently flew “roadrunner missions,” escorting vulnerable convoys moving along winding mountain roads. Afghani rebels called the Mi-24 the “Devil’s Chariot” because of the heavy firepower the Hind brought to the battlefield. The Hind pilots called themselves “Grey Wolves.”

Ground fire downed several other types of helicopters, but the heavily armored Mi-24s remained almost impervious to most weapons, except Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). To escape the volleys of RPGs most Soviet helicopter crews flew at higher altitude until 1985, when the CIA introduced the U. S.-manufactured Stinger missiles through Pakistan. The highly effective Stinger, with a maximum range of 15,000 feet, forced the helicopters back down where small arms again began to take a toll of Soviet aircraft. The rebels claimed that all they needed to defeat the invaders was the Koran and more Stingers. The USSR lost hundreds of aircraft and at least 15,000 aircrewmen in the Afghanistan War. The mujahideen claimed to have downed more than 200 Mi-24s alone. Several captured Hind crews were skinned alive because of the death and destruction they wrought on rebel villages. In 1987, Soviet engineers equipped their helicopters with flare dispensers, but the Stingers continued to bring down helicopters until the last Soviets departed Afghanistan in February 1989.

On November 10, 1982, the Mil OKB began testing the Mi-28 Havoc, intended to replace the Hind. With its stepped, two-place tandem cockpit, two Klimov TV-3-117VM, 2,200-horsepower turboshafts installed externally on either side of a long, slim fuselage, and a large tailfin mounting an asymmetrical X-shaped tailrotor, the Mi-28 bore a great resemblance to the AH-64 Apache. A nose radome housed a laser rangefinder and radar. A 56-foot, 5-inch five-bladed composite main rotor provided lift for Mil’s new attack helicopter. Smaller than the Mi24 at a maximum gross weight of 24,500 pounds, the Havoc, nonetheless, packed a significant wallop. Typical armament included a chin turret mounting an A42 30-mm cannon, sixteen AT-6 or AT-9 ATGMs, and forty S-8 rockets or two GSh- 23 23-mm cannons on the stub wings. The wings also held ECM pods at their tips. For some time the Havoc created quite a stir among Western intelligence operatives, as well as helicopter pilots, but the Mi-28 failed to live up to its hype of a fully aerobatic attack helicopter. Never placed in full production, the Mi-28’s maximum speed appeared to be around 160 knots and its range 250 nautical miles. In the mid-1990s Mil introduced the Mi-28N with a mastmounted FLIR for enhanced night operations, but the Russian military seemed inclined toward the Kamov Ka-50 Hokum as its primary attack helicopter. To date the Mil bureau has not been able to find foreign customers for the Havoc.

In 1982 a prototype of a revolutionary Soviet attack helicopter appeared that sent chills through most NATO helicopter pilots. The Kamov Ka-50A Blackshark, designated Hokum by NATO, looked as much like a single-seat jet fighter as it did a helicopter. Although U. S. Army generals denied any necessity for air-to-air capabilities in Army helicopters, and USAF generals promised protection from all low-flying aircraft, the Ka-50A negated both assumptions. Two Klimov TV3-117VMA 2,200-horsepower turboshafts, installed on either side of the slim 44-foot, 3-inch fuselage just above the wingroots, powered the 45-foot, 7-inch three-bladed, swept-tipped polymeric coaxial rotors, which also incorporated an electric deicing system. The fuselage, constructed of more than one-third composites, including a kevlar/nomex armored keel, ended in a fixed-wing type empennage and held the retractable tricycle landing gear. IR suppressers covered the engine exhausts, and OKB equipped the aircraft with IR jammers, radar warning receivers, and chaff/flare dispensers. A fully armored seat protected the pilot from 23-mm rounds, and the flat-plate canopy deflected anything up to 12.7-mm fire. A Zvezda K-37-800 pilot ejection system allowed the pilot to eject from the Ka-50 at low airspeeds and altitudes. Explosive bolts separated the rotor blades from the bearingless hub at the initiation of the ejection sequence.

Designed as an antitank/antihelicopter aircraft, the fully aerobatic Hokum carried a variety of weapon systems. Acquisition and targeting systems included low-light television and laser rangefinders/designators linked to a satellite navigation system and automatic pilot that allowed the Hokum pilot to engage targets at ranges over 10 kilometers. A helmet sighting system and heads-up display (HUD) allowed the pilot to focus his attention outside the cockpit while flying in adverse conditions or operating the weapons systems. The fire control computers allowed the pilot to engage targets outside his visual range, and a digital downlink provided the target data to a ground control center. For day/night, all-weather operations the Ka- 50N, sometimes called the Nightshark, or more popularly Werewolf, carried a nose-mounted FLIR and millimeter-wave radar in an EO (electro-optic) underwing pod, and the cockpit had an additional MFD. Capable of carrying more than 5,000 pounds of ordnance on the wingstores, the Ka-50 could be armed with up to sixteen AT-9 Vikhr antitank missiles, with two 20-round S-8 80-mm FFAR pods, and 500 rounds, mixed HE and AP, for the 2A42 30-mm cannon, the same gun mounted on the BMP-2. The enhanced version of the supersonic 125-mm Vikhr missile depended on radar guidance during launch and laser guidance for target designation. The two-stage shaped-charge warhead penetrated armor up to 900 mm.

Making the AT-9 even more deadly, the Ka-50 pilot, by a flick of a switch, could engage aircraft flying at up to 450 knots with the AT-9. Twin 23-mm cannon pods, AS-12 Kegler guided missiles, AA-11 Archer and IGLA-V, Needle C, AAMs, and 1,000-pound bombs also appeared on test aircraft. The Ka-50A attained a known speed of 188 knots and reportedly reached a maximum range of 650 nautical miles with auxiliary fuel tanks, and 240 nautical miles with maximum ordnance load. Reported service ceiling was just over 18,000 feet. With the demise of the USSR, the Hokum failed to reach full production by 2000, but the Russian Air Force intended to acquire two aircraft per year for fourteen years, depending on available funding.

Naval Helicopters

In 1973 the Soviet Aviation Ministry issued directives to develop an attack/assault transport helicopter for support of naval infantry and amphibious operations. OKB Kamov’s Deputy Chief Designer S. N. Fomin led the program with leading designer G. M. Danilochkin and leading engineer B. V. Barshevsky as his chief assistants. On July 28, 1976, test pilot Y. I. Laryushin lifted the Ka-29 prototype off on its first flight. The design bureau completed all acceptance trials by May 1979 and placed the Ka-29 Helix B in full production in 1984.

Based on the Ka-27 Helix, OKB widened the fuselage and revamped the forward section with a five-piece flat windscreen and blunt nose, which housed a FLIR/TV sighting system and a new search/targeting radar. Armament stations included a fixed multiple-barreled 7.62-mm machine gun under the right side fuselage, and winglets on which to mount a variety of weapons. Two Klimov (Isotov) TV3-117V 2,190-horsepower turboshafts turned two typical Kamov three-bladed 52-foot, 2-inch coaxial rotors, which allowed the Ka-29 to take off at a maximum gross weight of 27,775 pounds. This translated into two pilots and up to sixteen combat-loaded troops, or four litters and six seated patients with two attendants in the air ambulance modification, or an 8,800-pound slingload. Typical weapons loaded on the Ka-29TB attack version included four 57- or 80-mm rocket pods, or two rocket pods and two four-round clusters of AT-6 Spiral ASMs. In addition to a 30-mm cannon mounted above the left wing, the helicopter could also be armed with submunition dispensers (CBUs) or conventional free-fall bombs. In several comparison tests with the Mi-24D Hind, the Ka-29TB, because of the almost vibrationless rotor system, proved almost twice as effective at placing its ordnance on target as the Hinds.

The pilots enjoyed the communications and electronics suite provided in the new Helix B. These systems included a Doppler radar, and later GPS, navigational system, integrated with computerized displays of flight and targeting information incorporated into a modern cockpit layout. All versions cruised at 125 knots with a maximum airspeed of 151 knots, and a maximum range of 400 nautical miles. The Soviet Navy planned on a combat radius of 54 nautical miles, including six to eight attack passes for the Ka-29TB.

In the early 1980s the Soviet Union provided ASW helicopters to other countries. With the advent of the Ka-29 the USSR sold the Ka-28, a downgraded export version of the Ka-27, to India, Ukraine, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The Ka-28 carried a dipping sonar, disposable sonobuoys, and wire-guided torpedoes, or depth charges, but not the latest in electronic submarine detection gear. The Soviets sold their allies an upgraded version of the equipment carried by the Ka-27, but not the advanced electronics installed on the Ka-29 Helix.

On October 8, 1980, a prototype medium lift multipurpose version of the Ka-27 also appeared. Intended as a commercial helicopter and known as the Ka-32 Helix C, it had two Klimov TV3117V 2,190-horsepower turboshafts that turned the same counter-rotating three-blade main rotors installed on the Ka-29. The several versions of the Ka-32 also had the wider fuselage of the Ka-29, indicating a probable developmental link between the two machines.

A pilot and navigator crewed the Ka-32T transport version, which accommodated sixteen passengers, or an internal load of 8,820 pounds, or an 11,000-pound slingload. The Helix C appeared in passenger/cargo transport, air ambulance, fire-fighting, police, flying crane, and SAR versions. The Ka32K featured a retractable underfuselage gondola for a second pilot to fly the aircraft while picking up or delivering bulky slingloads. The Ka-32S SAR helicopter included a search radar, as well as advanced flight and navigation instrumentation for IFR and maritime operations. The Russian government and commercial operators also made use of the Ka-32S in offshore oil explorations. Without a slingload the Ka-132 attained a maximum airspeed of 135 knots and a range of 430 nautical miles without auxiliary fuel. Although described as a commercial helicopter, and sold or leased to several foreign countries, Ka-32s in Aeroflot colors were photographed operating from the decks of vessels belonging to the Russian Navy.

As the economy of the USSR decayed, Soviet, then Russian, industries began to seek civil and foreign markets for their products. In October 1988, Kamov introduced the first of fifteen civilian variants of the Ka-126 derived from the naval Ka-26 Hoodlum. The Ka- 126 featured a modular concept to rapidly convert the light, multipurpose helicopter to accomplish several diversified missions. Wide use of composites in both the traditional three-bladed coaxial rotors and fuselage lightened the aircraft, which resulted in increased load capacity and range. A single TVO-100 720-horsepower turboshaft, mounted above the cabin, provided power to lift a pilot and six passengers, or an internal cargo load of 2,200 pounds. The 126 cruised at 90 knots and attained a service ceiling of 15,250 feet. Kamov intended the Ka-126 to fulfill EMS, police, passenger/cargo transport, and geological/oil survey roles. The agricultural version, designed especially for crop spraying, was equipped with a cockpit air filtration system to prevent toxic chemicals from entering the flight deck. Kamov installed a 722-horsepower Turbomeca Arriel 1D1 turboshaft in one export version of the helicopter.

Combat Service Support

The Mil design bureau holds the distinction of designing and building the largest helicopter placed into full production. The Mi-26 Halo, with a maximum gross weight of 123,650 pounds, corresponds in size to a Boeing 737. Designed as a heavy lift military transport to replace the Mi-12, the huge machine was capable of hauling a 45,000-pound payload or seventy fully equipped troops. The Halo, however, became most successful as a civilian helicopter, earning fame by resupplying remote Siberian villages and oil camps; fighting forest fires throughout the world; and providing a mobile crane for construction of high-rise buildings, bridges, or pipelines in remote areas.

First flown on December 14, 1977, the Halo had an aerodynamic pod and boom fuselage that measured 131 feet, 4 inches in length, with a spacious cockpit for the crew of four forward, and large clamshell doors aft. The Halo lacked the wings of the Mi-12, depending on an advanced rotor design for all its lift. Powered by two Lotarev D-136 5,620-horsepower turboshafts mounted atop the fuselage, driving a 104-foot, 11.5-inch eight-bladed main and fivebladed composite tailrotors, the Halo reached a service ceiling of 15,000 feet. In a clean configuration, without an external load, the Mi-26 was capable of a maximum speed of 160 knots, usually cruising at 135 knots, with a normal range of 360 nautical miles. With internal ferry tanks the range increased to 1,100 miles, permitting the big machine to self-deploy over long distances. The helicopter rested on a very robust fixed tricycle landing gear. Mil produced at least 550 Mi-26s, improving the machine’s performance and versatility, with the most current variants incorporating engines up to 8,500 horsepower each, more efficient rotor systems, and digitized glass cockpits. The MJ-26 boasted a 100-troop capacity, improved rotor blades, and a flight director with an autohover mode. The Mi- 26T “flying crane” included a modified flight deck with a second pilot position and stabilization system for lifting and depositing cumbersome external loads. In a firefighting role the Mi-26 carried up to 4,400 gallons of water in two large buckets. India bought twenty Mi-26 export versions, and Ukrainian Haloes, under UN colors, served in Bosnia. Several countries used the Halo on a contract basis for construction projects and for fighting large fires.

Soviet MTBs


G-5-class motor torpedo boat.


Soviet SM-4 MTB


D-3, lead boat of her class and also the only of them active in Black Sea.


Soviet MTB SM-3 Black Sea Fleet

The Soviets used G-5, D-3 MTBs along with MO-4 gunboats against the Finns. Aside from the SM-3 and one D-3, all the MTBs in the Black Sea were G-5s.

Soviet torpedo boats [MTBs] were developed from ‘experience with their own Type Sch4 (an earlier Russian design–itself based on British First World War CMBs), Italian plans, and new Soviet design ideas. The majority of all Soviet high-speed motor torpedo boats of World War II were of this type, called G-5.’ Its specifications are:

Length: 19 meters (roughly 60 feet)

Beam: 3.3 meters (about 17 feet)

Draft: 1.5 meters (almost 5 feet)

Displacement: 14.84 tons

Speed: 48 knots loaded, 53 knots stripped

Machinery: Two 850 hp. GAM gasoline engines

Armament: 1 12.7mm (.50 cal) machine gun, 2 53.3 (21 inch) torpedoes in stern troughs

Interesting features of Type G-5 were the light aluminium hulls and the change to the more powerful 21 inch torpedo (earlier Soviet attempts to develop MTBs used the 18 inch torpedo). Type G-5 was built from 1930 to 1939 to various specifications as Series 7, 8, 9,10, and 11, with the last named series being produced in 1939, fitted with two GAM 34 BSF engines which called for more robust hulls, and one boat was reportedly able to attain a speed of 62 knots unladen.’

Some 329 boats were built to this design from 1934-1944, divided into five basic series. In 1942, following the successful use of home-made Katyusha 88mm rocket-launchers from boats of this type, the naval authorities ordered 82mm and 132mm army rocket-launchers to be adapted for naval use (242 had been ordered by 1945). Some of the G5-class boats completed from 1943 to 1944 had torpedo wells plated out, and missile-launchers mounted above the conning tower.



No 7K412 from 23 February 1944

Funds to complete No. 106 were raised by public subscription so, in addition to her number, she bore the name commemorating the donors (Moscow artisans). She participated in landings on Kerch in November 1943 and in the Crimea in April 1944. From April 1945 she served with the Danube Flotilla.


Since the mid-1930s the Soviet Navy had run an experimental programme with a view to producing large, seaworthy motor torpedo-boats. Following trials of the G5- derived boats of various sizes, the stern-launching system was abandoned in favour of deck torpedo-launching racks. Soon two types of wooden- and steel-hulled boats of this kind were selected for further evaluation. The general performance of the larger, wooden-hulled boat was found to be satisfactory and series production began in 1939 under the designation D3 class. Because of engine shortages fifty-six hulls were completed as subchasers and it was only when Packard engines became available that the construction programme reached its peak. A total of 119 boats, (torpedo-boats or subchasers) had been built by 1944.

Displacement 32.1 tonnes full load

Dimensions 21.6m overall length x 3.9m beam x 1.35m max draught

Armament two 533mm torpedo tubes/launching gears, two 12.7mm MG. eight depth-charges

Electronics Tsefej-type hydrophones

Machinery 3-sbaft GAM-34F petrol engines, 3,150bhp

Speed 37kts

Endurance 550nm at 8kts

Complement 2 officers and 6 – 8 men

Soviet Warship Building and Actions

The Soviets built a large number of MTBs during the war and were definitely able to replace them. Between 1941 and 1945 Soviets built:

31 – Komsomolets class

5 – Yunga class

38 – D-3 class

71 – G-5 class

1 – STK DD class

The Soviet Navy saw little action in WWII, so any history of the actions of the surface fleet will be hard to find. Combined, the Soviet battleships, cruisers, destroyers, gunboats, and minesweepers failed to sink a single Axis ship, either merchant or warship. The subs and MTBs had some success, but suffered very high losses in comparison. Most of the larger ships were used as floating batteries while the bulk of their crews served ashore.

Jurg Meister credits the MTBs with sinking 1 Finnish minesweeper, 4 German minesweepers, 1 German torpedo boat, approximately six small German auxiliary minesweepers or patrol craft, and approximately four large and 10 very small German merchant ships, fishing boats, or other small craft, plus two Japanese merchant ships.

In WWII following ships were sunk by Russian surface warships:

Transport “Tania” – Jan, 20 1943 by DL “Baku”

Submarine “U-585” – March, 30 1942 by DD “Gremyaschiy”

Submarine “U-286” – Apr, 22 1945 by DD “Karl Liebkhnecht”

Submarine “U-334” – Aug, 22 1944 by DD “Derzkii”

Submarine “U-387” – Dec, 9 1944 by DD “Zhivuchii”

Submarine “U-2342” – Dec, 26 1944 by sub chaser “MO-113”

Submarine “U-679” – Jan, 9 1945 by sub chaser “MO-113”

MTB “Rau” – May, 5 1943 by sub chaser “MO-114”

Submarine “U-250” – July, 30 1944 by sub chaser “MO-313”

Submarine “U-362” – Sept, 5 1944 by minesweeper “T-116″

While obviously not a stellar success, they did sink some ships. MTBs and submarines were even more successful.

That’s the Finnish Raju, a Nuoli class boat.

There was exactly one ship to ship action involving Soviet ships DD an above. It happened in June or July 1941 near Irben Straights in the Baltic when 2 Gnevny class DDs engaged what they reported to be an auxiliary cruiser and 2 TBs, but were probably a sub base escorted by 2 patrol ships, but due to bad visibility there was no results.

However Soviet light forces were active on all of the theaters and Soviet heavy ships were instrumental in supporting Soviet army. Supplying Sevastopol was a hard and as dangerous as supplying Malta and Soviet ships were actively providing gunfire support to Odessa, Sevastopol and during the Feodossia-Kerch landing operations. The only reason, why the navy didn’t really oppose German evacuation from Sevastopol, was because after the sinking of 3 Soviet DDs during the sortie at sea by German aircraft, Stalin forbade Soviet heavy ships from leaving port.

It is generally accepted that one of the reasons why Leningrad didn’t fall was because of the Soviet Baltic Fleet. One interesting note, that there was another small beach head near Leningrad that was never occupied by the Germans. It was about 30 kilometers west of Leningrad, and was exactly 24 km in radius centered on the coast defence fort of Krasnaya Gorka and was exactly the radius of the forts 8×12” guns’ range. It is hard to fault Soviet heavy ships staying at home in the Baltic as the Gulf of Finland was the most heavily mined area of sea in the world and even after the war and after heavy minesweeping by 1949 there were over 700 mine incidents reported there.

In the North Soviet navy was very weak and Soviet ships there were generally not designed for work in the open ocean, but there they were very active with local patrols and local raids on the occupied Norway coast.

Soviet submarines were active, but in the Baltic they had to run a gauntlet of mines and anti-submarine nets. Germans actually closed the whole Gulf of Finland with anti-submarine nets. That lead to heavy loses and virtually stopping of operations in 1942-43 (it was also because in Leningrad during blockade there was no fuel of food for naval operations). In the Black sea and North Sea sub operations were active and were fairly successful (especially in the north). Soviets have long claimed that K-21 had torpedoed Tirpitz during its PQ-17 sortie, but it seems that it wasn’t true; however it did attack it and might have been one of the reasons why it turned around…

I think that the largest ship lost to Soviet Navy in WWII was Finnish Illmarinen sunk by the soviet mine in 1940. But overall Soviet mines cost more to the Soviets that they did to the Germans, since 3 Soviet DDs in the Black sea were sunk by Soviet minefields.

Overall Soviet navy was active in WWII, but not in the conventional sense due to the strategic situation, but none the less they were instrumental in many Russian operations. (Soviet navy was even involved in capture of Berlin with large number of riverine craft).


Illmarinen went down in 1941 while supporting the invasion of Some Russian held islands in the Baltic. A Russian Dreadnought and destroyers where in the area but did not attack for some reason. It sunk on 13 September 1941 during invasion of Dago Island in the Moonzund archipelago. I really doubt that any heavy Russian warships were in the area, since all of the Russian heavy ships were withdrawn from Tallinn to Leningrad in the end of August if 1941 with heavy loses and it would very be doubtful that they would let any battleships to get back out in such dangerous waters. And from the information I have both Russian BBs spent the whole war in the Kronshtadt-Leningrad area.


Lost two Soviet DDs to their own Mines in the Baltic, and in one hour had 3 brand new ones sunk in a Swedish Minefield that the Naval Command knew about but forgot to tell their Ships about …

Soviet Naval Infantry

The Soviet Naval Infantry fought during the Second World War, but was then transferred from the navy to the coastal-defence forces before being disbanded in the mid-1950s. On 14 July 1958, however, the president of Lebanon requested urgent aid from France, the UK and the USA to counter a threat by the USSR to deploy Soviet ‘volunteers’ to support pro-Nasser rebels. The US Sixth Fleet was able to land three Marine battalions the very next day, and the threat from the Soviet ‘volunteers’ immediately disappeared. The Marine battalions withdrew on 21 August after what had been a classic exhibition of the value of sea power and amphibious capability.

The Soviet leadership, never slow to learn from such experiences, responded by re-establishing the Naval Infantry, which rapidly became a corps d’élite. in 1961 the Naval Infantry was resurrected; the Soviet Army came to recognize the utility of specialized marine forces for conducting amphibious landings, and each of the fleets was allotted such a unit. Essential to this new policy was the development of amphibious warfare ships, notably the new tank-landing ships (LSTs) of the Alligator class.

The Naval Infantry was divided among the four fleets. From 1961 the Black Sea, Northern and Baltic fleets were allotted a naval infantry regiment, while the Pacific Fleet deployed a brigade. US intelligence assessments from the 1980s indicate that these formations were larger by that time, with brigades deployed by three fleets, and a division with the Pacific fleet.

Each naval infantry regiment comprised three naval motor rifle battalions and a naval tank battalion. The motor rifle battalions each had about 33 BTR-60 amphibious armoured troop carriers, while the tank battalion had a mixed complement of 34 PT-76 amphibious tanks and ten T-55 or T-72 tanks. In battalions with the T-55 tank, three of the ten were often the TO-55 flamethrower type. A naval infantry brigade had two tank battalions and five battalions of naval motor rifle troops, making it nearly double the size of the 2,500-man regiments.

The naval infantry troops, like most Marine forces, were of a higher calibre than normal motor rifle troops of the Soviet Ground Forces. They were better trained than their Ground Forces counterparts, and an increasing percentage were parachute qualified and trained in helicopter-landing operations. There were apparently specialized teams in these regiments trained to employ atomic demolition munitions (ADMs). Soviet ADMs are believed to have been available in several types, weighing 32-36kg each, with an explosive force of 0.1-0.5 kilotons. They would have been used to attack major port or seaside facilities.

The Soviet Naval Infantry force was quite small. It was intended for use on a tactical level as a raiding force, and on an operational level as the spearhead of an amphibious-landing force. Once a beachhead had been seized, further troop landings would be provided by Ground Forces units. For this reason, the Soviet Naval Infantry numbered only about 18,000 troops – compared to the US Marine Corps, which was more than ten times its size. Likewise, the Soviet Fleet’s amphibious warfare ships were inferior in number and sophistication to those of the US Navy. The Soviet Naval Infantry also differed considerably from the US Marines in its approach to amphibious warfare. While the US Marines relied on specially designed armoured, amphibious tracked vehicles (amtracs) for landing operations, the Naval Infantry used the normal Ground Forces BTR-60, which had only marginal performance in the open water. This policy was due in no small measure to the difference in the experiences of the two forces. The US Marines had a tradition of preparing for hotly contested beach assaults, such as those of World War II in the Pacific. In contrast, Soviet wartime experience was mainly against targets without formidable beach defences. Current areas where the Naval Infantry might be used, such as the Danish or Norwegian coasts, were not heavily fortified.

Yet the Soviet Naval Infantry was ahead of the US Marines in the adaption of hovercraft for beach-landing operations. The Soviet fleet deployed over 60 hovercraft in classes, most notably 35 of the AIST class, which was capable of carrying four PT-76 tanks, two T-72 tanks or 220 troops; a fourth class of hovercraft, the Uterok, began entering service in the 1980s. Hovercraft have obvious attractions over armoured amphibious vehicles: against lightly defended beaches, they can quickly land an assault force, and return rapidly alongside the ships of the assault fleet to load up for renewed missions to the beachhead.

Judging by the Soviet Navy’s shipbuilding programmes of the 1980s, the Naval Infantry remained central to Soviet strategic thinking. The construction of further Ivan Rogov-class landing ships, for example, made the Naval Infantry more suitable for employment outside traditional Soviet waters. The Naval Infantry was no longer confined to LSTs alone: the Ivan Rogov class had habitable berths on board, thus permitting long voyages to more distant destinations.

The force expanded, peaking in size and effectiveness around 1988, when it was some 18,000 strong. It fielded:

• one division (7,000 men) of three infantry regiments, one tank regiment and one artillery regiment;

• three independent brigades (3,000 men), each of three infantry battalions, one tank battalion, one artillery battalion and one rocket-launcher battalion;

• four spetsnaz (special forces) brigades, each of three underwater battalions and one parachute battalion.

The Naval Infantry was transported by a growing number of amphibious-warfare ships. Largest were two Ivan Rogov-class dock landing ships, displacing 13,100 tonnes, which carried one Naval Infantry battalion and forty tracked or larger numbers of wheeled vehicles, plus helicopters and surface-effect ships. Fourteen Alligator LSTs were similar in many respects to the British Sir Galahad-class logistics landing ships (LSLs); with a large cargo capacity and bow and stern doors, these were intended for follow-up operations rather than the assault wave. Principal assault vessels were the thirty-seven Ropucha LSTs, which were built in Poland. Smallest were forty-five Polnocny-class small tank landing ships (LCTs), also built in Poland, which displaced some 1,000 tonnes and had a payload of six battle tanks.

The Naval Infantry seized on the surface-effect ship (SES) as an effective way of transporting marines ashore, and developed a number of types including the Pomornik, which could carry three battle tanks, and the Aist, which carried two. Under development at the end of the Cold War was the Orlan-class wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) vessel, designed to transport up to 150 troops at speeds of up to 300 knots. Both the SES and the WIG vessels were very fast compared with normal amphibious shipping, and were designed for short ‘hooks’ in support of a ground advance, or for lightning attacks on crucial targets in the Baltic and Black seas, both types of operation having precedents in the Soviet experience in the Second World War. These craft were another example of the flexibility of thought in the Soviet forces, which produced some novel solutions to the problems facing them.

The Soviet Naval Infantry (marines) numbered some 12,000 during this period, organized into regiments (one each stationed with the Northern, Baltic, Black Sea, and Pacific Fleets.) These forces were tailored for amphibious assault, but were largely directed to support the activities of the fleets to which they were assigned. However, as the Soviet-Syrian exercise in 1981 showed, they did have the capability to operate in a power projection role, as did the presence of Soviet amphibious forces in the Indian Ocean during this time. A total of 83 amphibious ships supported these forces. Supply could have been provided by the Soviet merchant marine, numbering some 1,723 ships by mid-1982.

In displaying American geopolitical will vis a` vis the USSR, the US Navy increasingly revealed the weaknesses of its Soviet counterpart. The Soviet Navy was never able to match the wide-ranging exercises of the Americans during the 1980s, as its Okean maneuvers in 1970 and 1975 had done. This is not to say that the Soviet Navy was idle. A major amphibious exercise was undertaken in July 1981 by Soviet and Syrian forces in the Eastern Mediterranean involving over 1,000 Soviet Naval Infantry. In September of that year, the Soviet Navy deployed 60 ships and landed more than 6,000 Naval Infantry and Army troops as part of Zapad ’81, a major combined-arms exercise conducted in the Baltic near the Polish border. The size of the exercise (the Soviets officially declared that some 100,000 personnel took part) and its political significance (it occurred three months before martial law was imposed in Poland as a result of the challenge of the Solidarity movement) meant that the Navy could still be seen as important to Soviet foreign policy. Nonetheless, when it is considered that the US Navy was able to participate in a plethora of combined-arms exercises that achieved such impressive results, Soviet activities are put into proper perspective.

Russian Federation

The Marine Infantry (MI) is an Arm of the Coastal Troops of the Navy, designed and specially trained for combat operations in amphibious landings, as well as for defending naval bases, important parts of the coast and coastal facilities.

The marines in amphibious operations can operate on its own for capturing stationing sites of the enemy’s navy, ports, islands, non-integrated parts of the enemy’s coast. In the cases, when the landing basis is represented with the Land Force’s units, the marines land within advanced units to seize seashore points and parts and to support landing on them of the main landing forces.

The MI’s armaments: waterborne combat equipment, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems and automatic small arms.

The Marine Infantry’s formations and subunits are landed on the beach from amphibious ships and boats, as well as from shipborne and shore-based helicopters with fire support of ships and aircraft. In some cases, the marines can surmount water spaces under their own power aboard amphibian vehicles (in most cases, armoured personnel carriers).

The Russian Naval Infantry have been gradually phasing out PT-76 amphibious tanks, and started to receive a number of T-80s. A full-strength Naval Infantry Brigade may have up to 70-80 Tanks. The APCs used by the Naval Infantry are either wheeled BTR-80s (in Assault Landing Battalions) or tracked MT-LBs (in Marine Battalions). While Naval Infantry units were supposed to receive BMP-3 IFVs, BMMP (bojevaya mashina morskoj pekhoti) fitted with the turret of the BMP-2, few have been delivered, and it is far from certain such re-arming will take place. BMP-3s may equip one company per Marine battalion.

According to Defense Ministry statement published by RIA Novosti (November 27, 2009), “All units of Russia’s naval infantry will be fully equipped with advanced weaponry by 2015.” Included in this upgrade would be T-90 tanks, BMP-3 IFVs, 2S31 120mm mortar/artillery tracks, wheeled BTR-82A armored personnel carriers, air defense equipment and small arms. All Naval Infantry units were equipped with Ratnik infantry combat gear and all Northern Fleet naval infantry units were equipped with BTR-82A APCs as of November 2016. Naval Infantry and Navy units also receive new-technology binoculars. The Naval Infantry have started to receive a modernized version of Strelets reconnaissance, control and communications system and completed receiving D-10 parachutes. All Pacific Fleet and Caspian Flotilla naval infantry units were equipped with BTR-82A APCs as of May 2018.

In late February 2014, at least one Black Sea Fleet assigned unit (at company level) was apparently using Tigr armoured cars near Sevastopol during the 2014 Crimean crisis. During the crisis in March 2014 imagery emerged of some Naval Infantry personnel carrying what appeared to be the OTs-14-1A-04 7.62×39mm assault rifle with an under-barrel GP-30 40mm grenade launcher; a bullpup design normally associated with the Russian Airborne Troops, as well as Combat Engineering and Spetsnaz units.