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Soviet Naval Battles - Cold War incidents

Soviet cogitations: 303
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 16 Aug 2018, 10:46
The end of the WW2 (Great Patriotic War) resulted in the subsequent Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union.

During this long period, the Soviet Navy never engaged in direct combat with the enemy, even if fought in some African conflicts (especially in Guinea (viewtopic.php?f=149&t=55179 ) and in Eritrea (viewtopic.php?f=149&t=55043 )). However, incidents of collision (often deliberate) happened during all the different stages of naval Cold War.
During the first decade of Cold War (until the death of Stalin), the Soviet Navy initiated a large shipbuilding program shaped out of lessons-learned from the conflict merged with technologies and strategies obtained from the Kriegsmarine. A massive conventional submarine fleet played a similar role to the Kriegsmarine U-boats in case of war, while newly built cruisers (including unrealized classes) aimed for major surface vessels to accomplish individual raids on enemy merchant lines. Interestingly, it was during this early phase that the Soviet Navy constituted its real foreign base intended for offensive purpose: the Sazan Island base for submarines in Albania (until the political split in 1960).

The second phase of naval Cold War begun with the Navy abandoning plans and strategies of WW2-era and focused on the strategic importance of nuclear warfare as deterrent of conflict. Nuclear-propelled Ballistic missile submarines become a primary asset (the first Soviet class, project658, begun service in 1960). Interestingly, the Soviet Navy (differently from the US Navy) never abandoned the use of conventional-propelled submarines. While this article focus only on military confrontations, this phase was an era of long-rage patrols, visits to friendly socialist nations but also a time of sacrifice and losses with technical incidents and vessels sunk or damaged and heroism and sacrifice of sailors attempting to prevent such damages. While many Soviet commanders deserve credits for their actions, Vasili Arkhipov’s actions had worldwide consequences…twice! He was a key officer onboard nuclear ballistic missile submarine K-19 during the notorious incident in July 1961 (efforts and sacrifices prevented a nuclear detonation in proximity of US warships). Later, Arkhipov was the group’s commander on conventional submarine B-59 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and his behavior prevented the launch of a nuclear-torpedo against an US warship (the action could have potentially escalated the crisis).

The third phase of naval Cold War included a constant strengthening of the Soviet Navy in terms of submarine technology and the development of the strategy of “Naval Bastion”: to deploy nuclear ballistic missile submarines in geographically protected area and exploit the long-range of nuclear missiles. Contrary to the general western belief, this led the surface warships of the Soviet Navy and attack submarines, to focus on anti-submarine warfare (against potential NATO submarines hunting for the Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarines). It is no surprise that the first “carrier-type” warships of the Soviet Navy (project1143) entered service in 80s, and the late single-ship aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (in service since December 1990) were all designed to protect and implement an anti-submarine function inside the “Bastions”. It is only toward the end of ‘80s that the Soviet Navy begun to explore the modern-day concept of “multirole surface ship”, but the downfall of the Soviet Union cut these works.
Interestingly, another western myth of the Soviet Navy is the alleged build-up of military naval bases outside the national territory of Soviet Union.
Excluding the above-mentioned Sazan-Island, the Soviet Navy operated in socialist-oriented friendly nations in temporary assigned missions (sometimes on rotation) without building up long-standing offensive facilities. With the change of strategies, the Soviet Navy established the 5th Operational Squadron in Mediterranean after Northern and Black Sea Fleet ships, but it never gained the level of independence of a separate Fleet.
Bases (like Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam, Alexandria in Egypt, Tartus in Syria, Socotra Island in Yemen, Dhalak Archipelago in Red Sea etc.), often functioned as sorting point for weapons deliveries, political and military advisors and humanitarian aids to friendly countries. During the third phase of naval Cold War, there is interesting (but scant) information over multiple incidents with Malay pirates and poorly reported anti-piracy operations off Morocco.

SOURCES of Cold War Actions are relatively scarce.
Considering the current existence of NATO navies and direct Legacy between Soviet Navy and Russian Navy’s documents, most of Cold War actions remains military secret!
While is a good source for Cold War’s Soviet operations, most of information came from veteran and journal’s press release (especially for the most notable incidents during naval exercises). is also a good source for Danish/Baltic Sea incidents (((See also DDR naval incidents viewtopic.php?f=149&t=55172 )))


This page does not study in details the Cold War border incidents with Japan. After WW2, the Soviet Union and Japan initiated a long history of contested fishery rights in Kurili Islands. Many incidents occurred with Soviet vessels (especially Border Guard vessels) seizing small Japanese fishing boats, but despite Cold War tensions, no direct clash occurred between the Soviet Navy and the Japanese Navy.
Numbers however are quite impressive: according a Japanese report, since the end of the WW2 until the end of 1954, 303 Japanese fishing vessels seized by Soviets and 232 were not returned (46 crewmembers detained). By 12 March 1976, this number significantly swelled to 1154 Japanese fishing vessels seized by Soviets and 575 of them not returned, while 25 sunk (with the death of 37 sailors). Some particular incidents deserve to be further studied including sinking of a fishing boat (16 detained) on 13/Sept/62 reportedly after collision with a submarine! Fishing boat “Tayo Maru” sunk on 26/May/69 while chased by a Soviet patrol that accidentally collided with her (8 rescued), a similar incident occurred on 9/Aug/69 with the death of 11 Japanese sailors off Hokkaido. Another collision reportedly with submarine occurred to the fishing boat “Minato Maru” on 26/Oct/71 with unclear outcome off Niigata.
While all these incidents reasonably considered successes for the single units and boats of the Border Guard, scant details and peculiar background (different from the standard military Cold War incidents reported in detail), make these events a separate subject.

Impact of the USSR's 200 Mile Fishery Zone ont he Japanese-Soviet Fishery Negotiations, by Hiroshi Hara
The Management of Marine Regions by Edward L. Miles. (NOTE: on page94, report 36 sailors killed, and the same number of sinking mentioned by Hiroshi Hara. However it appears to make some confusion or doubling-data over ships “retained”, “seized” or “returned”, with quite unbelievable high numbers as ~500 vessels retained EACH YEAR from 1970 to 1976!), the original source mentioned is the Japan Maritime Safety Agency.

Interestingly, it appears that similar incidents occurred with the People’s Republic of China, and (not surprisingly!) with the dictatorial South Korean regime of Syngman Rhee (overthrow by popular revolt in 1960): both contending fishing waters with Japan.


COLD WAR – FIRST PHASE (conventional warfare)

13 August 1959
An unidentified soviet destroyer that was observing NATO maneuvers off Kiel, collided in the fog with the West German coaster Christel (259tons) inflicting damages and suffering none. Probably unintentional collision.

8 November 1959
Soviet cruiser Sverdlov collided with the West German coaster Hilda Rebecca in the Kiel Canal, inflicting damages (ship beached for repairs). Probably unintentional collision.

Only known incident with the interesting Sverdlov-class. The light cruisers were the last realized plan of Stalin’s dream to build a large conventional fleet of WW2-era warships. The change in technology made her class the very-last cruisers designed to operate with guns as main weapons. The Soviet Navy later adapted most of the vessels as hybrid missile cruisers or command-ships.

COLD WAR – SECOND PHASE (emphasis on nuclear submarines)

Unclear date 1961
American nuclear attack submarine USS Swordfish collided with unknown Soviet submarine in Pacific near the Soviet coast. No damage reported on both sides.

Unclear date Early 60s
Unidentified American nuclear attack submarine, possibly USS Skipjack collided with a Soviet destroyer in Barents Sea, suffering damage on conning tower.

6 January 1962
Unidentified NATO submarine reportedly damaged and forced to surface when observing an underwater nuclear test by Soviet Union in Barents Sea. The 20-megaton detonation occurred 100 miles from the submarine.

13 April 1964
Danish frigate KDM Esbern Snare collides with Soviet trawler Anapa, sinking her, crew of 23 saved. Unclear if intentional or unintentional collision.

September – December 1964
Soviet merchant Leninogorosk (9518 GRT) is the first Soviet vessel to report attacks from modern pirates in South-East Asia, multiple incidents occurred during her voyage when her crew repulsed boarding attempts.

4 June 1966
American surveillance ship USS Banner collides with Soviet surveillance ship Anemometer in the Sea of Japan and both ships suffer minor damage. Interestingly, USS Banner was sister-ship and operated in the same area of USS Pueblo (seized by the Korean People’s Navy two years later).

Unknown day of December 1967
American nuclear ballistic missile submarine USS George C. Marshall grazed on the starboard ballast tank after collision with an unidentified Soviet submarine in Mediterranean Sea.

10 May 1967
Soviet destroyer Besslednyi while following an American task force in Pacific, intentionally collided with American destroyer USS Walker: both suffered minor damage

Photo of Besslednyi (a project 56) seen from deck of USS Walker during the incident.

31 December 1967
American conventional submarine USS Ronquil experienced an accidental fire near Soviet coast and later surrounded by Soviet vessels but managed to flee.
No direct damage or clash, details of exact composition and participation of Soviet Navy vessels is unclear.

31 January 1968
American destroyer USS Rowan is lightly damaged (hole above waterline) when struck by the Soviet merchant Kapitan Visiobokov in the Sea of Japan, merchant also received damage. Apparently unintentional collision.

9 October 1968
Unidentified Soviet submarine collided with an unidentified submarine, suffering damage (a hole on hull). According Soviet sources could have been either an American vessel, or a British conventional submarine later reportedly sighted in Norway with damages on sail.

19 November 1969
The very famous Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarine K-19 collided with the American nuclear attack submarine USS Gato in Barents Sea. K-19 suffered damages (bow sonar and covers of the torpedo tubes), while the American vessel suffered none.

Photo of K-19 took during the famous nuclear incident when the crew prevented a nuclear explosion.

14 March 1970
American nuclear attack submarine USS Sturgeon scraped after a collision against an unidentified Soviet submarine.

20 June 1970
In the Sea of Okhotsk, Soviet nuclear cruise missile submarine K-108 collided with the American nuclear attack submarine USS Tautog: the soviet vessel suffered heavy damage to the outer hull, while the American one suffered heavy damages on the conning tower with a flooding. By damages suffered on both sides, it is considered probably the heaviest submarine collision on the cold war.
Photo of a Soviet submarine project675 class

Photo of USS Tautog: she was part of Sturgeon-class, the most commonly used American nuclear attack submarines during the whole Cold War.

9 November 1970
Soviet destroyer Bravyy while observing a NATO exercise, collided with the British aircraft-carrier HMS Ark Royal, that suffered slight damage, however Bravyy suffered minor damage but 7 crewmember fell overboard and 2 of them perished

Photo of the British aircraft-carrier.

Unclear day of March 1971
Unidentified American submarine operating close Soviet coast collided with unidentified Soviet submarine.

6 May 1971
Soviet fleet tug Diomid intentionally collided with USS Hanson in Korean Straits, causing minor damage.

6 June 1971
What was possibly the most bloody and dangerous incident out of intelligence-gathering information of Cold War during naval exercises.
The Soviet Navy engaged in the Yug-71 exercises in Mediterranean when French Navy operated a tactical group led by aircraft carrier Arromanches.
The French large leader destroyer Surcouf sailed close to the Soviet tanker General Busharov (14265 GRT): apparently attempting to detect a submarine sailing under the tanker.
Out of a series excessively close maneuvering, the French ship ended in the collision-route with the (six-time heavier!) Soviet tanker, suffering massive damages.
French destroyer Tartu attempted to tow the damaged ship, but she split in two (bow sunk quickly, aft section towed in port and expended as target).
The Soviet vessel received also damages, Soviet sources does not identify the submarine(s) operating close the tanker. 10 French sailors died because of the incident.

The vessel was effectively the largest-ever warship sunk (not intentionally) by a Soviet vessel into a Cold War military incident.

Unclear date of 1971
American nuclear attack submarine USS Dace collided in Mediterranean Sea with an unidentified Soviet submarine, the latter reportedly suffered damage.

Early 1972
American nuclear attack submarine USS Puffer collided with a conventional submarine near Petropavlovsk.

1 May 1974
American nuclear attack submarine USS Pintado collided with a unidentified Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarine of project 667 class, close Kamchatka peninsula. The American vessel suffered multiple damages (bow sonar, torpedo hatch, diving plane), while the damage to the soviet vessel is unknown.

First incident involving a late-cold war Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarine, the American vessel was a standard Sturgeon-class.

3 November 1974
American nuclear ballistic missile submarine USS James Madison collided with Soviet nuclear attack submarine K-306 (project 671) just outside the Scottish harbor Holy Loch. According a source, both vessels reported damages.

Photo of the American submarine, lead-ship of her class.

Photo of a Soviet project671 vessel: first class to show an advanced teardrop design.

28 August 1976
In the Mediterranean Sea (Ionian Sea) Soviet nuclear cruise missile submarine K-22 collided with the American frigate USS Voge. The Soviet submarine followed by the frigate and did not noticed her until the collision: the American frigate suffered hull damage. K-22 was on return following the USS Moinester.

1 September 1976
Turkish conventional submarine Dumlupinar collided with the Soviet merchant Fizik Vavilov (13270 GRT) in Dardanelles. The vessel was part of the famous Leninsky Komsomol-class multipurpose transport, very fast ship designed to operate also as armed blockade-runner and widely used during the Cold War to deliver military cargo. While details are unclear, and collision possibly unintentional, the nature of the Soviet vessel make possible it was an attempt of surveillance.

19 April 1977
Soviet merchant Valentin Khutorskaya (9334 GRT) while berthed in Singapore, attacked during the night by Malay pirates but they were repulsed by crew.


COLD WAR – THIRD PHASE (Late Cold War, increased Piracy and Bastion Strategy)

18 April 1980
Danish minelayer KDM Fyen was observing Warsaw Pact naval maneuvers in Baltic Sea when she collided with an unidentified Soviet project-35 class light frigate, suffering heavy damages.

Photo of the Danish minelayer KDM Møen (sister-ship of KDM Fyen): a stubby class of four minelayers, designed and built in Denmark under a NATO design for nordic countries.

Photo of a Soviet Project35 vessel. Classified in West as "light frigates" or "corvettes", in Soviet Union they were at first classified as "Anti-submarine ships" and then as Guard ships.

Unclear day of March 1981
Soviet nuclear attack submarine K-324 collided in the Sea of Japan with American nuclear attack submarine USS Drum and both suffered damages (American vessel had damages at sail, lost antenna, periscopes and a flooding).

1 May 1981
In Barents Sea, Soviet cruiser Admiral Isakov intentionally collided with the British destroyer HMS Glasgow while the ship was attempting to observe Soviet maneuvers. The British ship received damage to the forecastle fittings.

Photo of the cruiser Admiral Isakov (project1134A), the ship on the left.

23 May 1981
Collision between Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarine K-211 with the British nuclear attack submarine HMS Sceptre, the latter suffering multiple damages (forward outer casing torn away, damage to the fin and to pressure hull).

Photo of a sister-ship of Project667BDR: the class is still in service in the post-Soviet Russian Navy

11 March 1983
Soviet merchant Sovetskiye Profsoyuzy (11854 GRT) attacked near Bombay by pirate boat that used firearms to attempt stop the vessel but failed in their intention.

31 October 1983
Soviet nuclear attack submarine K-324 snagged the towed sonar array cable from the American frigate USS McCloy, west of Bermuda. Soviet vessel suffered damages to the propeller and repaired in Cuba, while technicians recovered parts of the American ship array.

Photo of the submarine (project671RTM) with close a Soviet survey ship and the American destroyer USS Peterson observing their movments.

17 November 1983
In North Arabian Sea, American destroyer USS Fife collided with Soviet frigate Raziashchiy causing minor damages to the American ship. The Soviet vessel was observing American maneuvers and previously attempted to approach the carrier USS Ranger.

Photo of the American destroyer in 2002: she was the first of the late Cold War/modern class Spruance to engage in such incidents.

21 March 1984
Soviet nuclear cruise missile submarine K-134 collided with the American aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Sea of Japan and suffered heavy damages (had to be towed away). While also the carrier too suffered minor damage, the American rightfully claimed a “victory mark” painting (later removed).

Photo of the Kitty Hawk: a supercarrier with a long service record from Cold War to modern times.

2 April 1984
In the South China Sea, the Soviet aircraft carrier Minsk had a close encounter with American destroyer USS Harold E. Holt, the latter sailing extremely close the carrier starboard side: the Soviet launched eight signal flares and three of them hit the American ship without casualties and apparently no damage. Still this encounter was the only known instance of a Soviet warship firing something toward an American vessel.

Photo of the Minsk: she was the only Soviet carrier that was engaged in a direct cold war incident (even if no damage occurred on both sides).

25 September 1985
In Black Sea, the Soviet training ship Khasan rammed and cut in half the Turkish missile boat Meltem while navigating in Bosporus Strait with fog. 5 sailors died. The sinking was an accident and the later inquiry blamed the captain of the missile boat. While unintended, it is the only instance of a Soviet warship (the class of training ship was armed) sinking a NATO warship during the Cold War.
Soviet projet887, while intended for training purpose, retained weapons for self-defense and patrol duties. Still it is clear that no Soviet cadet on the ship possibly imagined their training vessel would be the one and only to sink a NATO warship!

Sister-ship Şimşek: originally built in West-Germany as Cold War motor torpedo boats, the class was later upgraded as missile boats with Norwegian-designed "Penguin" anti-ship missiles.

31 October 1985
A Soviet project-1265 minesweeper intentionally collided with the Swedish surveillance ship HSwMS Orion during a Soviet naval exercise.

20 October 1986
Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarine K-457 collided with American nuclear attack submarine USS Augusta in eastern Atlantic that suffered damages. Americans believed they collided with K-279 (of same class).

24 December 1986
In Barents Sea, a Soviet nuclear ballistic missile submarine of the massive project 941 class collided with the British nuclear attack submarine HMS Splendid, cutting away her towed sonar array.

The huge project 941 "Akula" (known in the west as "Typhoon") was the largest-ever submarine class ever built and a feared component of the Soviet Navy in late cold war. This incident could be probably the only one involving the class.

15 January 1987
The Soviet merchant Svoboda (13270 GRT) suffered an attack close Singapore by local pirates in Malacca Straits. The group of pirates boarded the vessel on night but the Soviet crew neutralized them. The vessel was part of the famous Leninsky Komsomol-class multipurpose transport, very fast ship designed to operate also as armed blockade-runner and widely used during the Cold War to deliver military cargo.

3 March 1987
Another pirate attack on the Malacca Strait. A speedboat approached the Soviet merchant Slutsk (9344 GRT). 3 pirates boarded the ship with rope ladders with hooks: Soviet crewmembers fought the pirates and drove them away from the ship with makeshift weapons. During fight, the senior mechanic suffered wounds and ship returned to Singapore for his safety.

12 February 1988
Soviet frigate Bezzavetnyy, in Black Sea, intentionally rammed the American nuclear cruiser USS Yorktown, inflicting damages (two missile-canisters damaged) and suffering the same (port anchor lost). At the same time, Soviet light frigate, SKR-6 intentionally rammed the American destroyer USS Caron, inflicting only a superficial scraping.
Close to the end of Cold War, the Soviet Navy and the American Navy engaged in one of the most violent ramming incidents of the Cold War with a deliberate attempt of the Soviet ships to push away Americans who were intentionally "testing" the Soviets navigating in Soviet territorial waters while claiming "innocent passage". The photo show frigate Bezzavetnyy in collision with the cruiser, seen from the USS Yorktown.

Photo of SKR-6 in collision with the USS Caron: both Soviet vessels acted boldly because they were considerably smaller than their opponents (this was true especially for SKR-6).

Unclear day of 1989
Soviet minesweeper Pulemiotchik, attacked unidentified pirates off Morocco after they seized a Soviet fishing trawler. After warning shots, Soviet sailors boarded the seized trawler and liberated it after pushing the pirates off board. There are little details concerning this interesting incident, because the subsequent political situation in Soviet Union. Soviet group’s commander, Lt. Usov, received an award. It appears the attackers were not part of the POLISARIO front, due the nature of the incident: Soviet sources directly point to local Moroccan robbers-pirates.

Project266M. This class of solid minesweepers with multipurpose secondary capabilities actively used in Africa by Soviet Union (especially in Eritrea) in ‘80s.

Unclear day of 1990 or 1991
A second incident, again in Morocco waters: an unidentified armed boat attacked a Soviet trawler. Soviet minesweeper Artillerist fired warning shot and prevented the attack.
Soviet cogitations: 303
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 07 Mar 2019, 18:39
1) Reworked Intro
2) Added paragraph about scant incidents with Japanese trawlers in Kurili islands (many reportedly sunk or seized!!)
3) Two minor incidents in 1959
4) Loss of Soviet trawler "Anapa" due collision on 1964
5) First pirate attack on Soviet ship in 1964
6) Minor incident in early 1968
7) Important incident on 6 June 1971: total loss of French destroyer Surcouf after collision during observation of Soviet naval exercises
8 ) Minor incident with Turkish sub in Sept 1976
9) Pirate attack in April 1977
10) Pirate attack in March 1983
11) Two different pirate attack repelled in January and March 1987
12) Unclear and poorly reported Soviet anti-piracy operations in 1989-1991 off Morocco: 1 Soviet trawler liberated

NOTE: Claims of extensive Soviet anti-piracy operations including a violent incident in Madagascar on 1981: appears to be complete fabrications of Russian articles without a single confirmed data.
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