Standard of the Commander-in-Chief, Russian Navy.
The origins of the Russian navy may be traced to the period between the 4th and the 6th century. The first Slavic flotillas consisted of small sailing ships and rowboats, which had been seaworthy and able to navigate in riverbeds. During the 9th through 12th centuries, there were flotillas in the Kievan Rus' consisting of hundreds of vessels with one, two, or three masts. Riverine vessels in 9th century Kievan Rus guarded trade routes to Constantinople. The citizens of Novgorod are known to have conducted military campaigns in the Baltic Sea (e.g., the siege of Sigtuna in 1187)—although contemporary Scandinavian sources state that the fleet was from Karelia or Estonia. Lad'ya (ладья in Russian, or sea boat) was a typical boat used by the army of Novgorod (length 30 meters with a width of five to six meters, and two or three masts, with the armament of battering rams and catapults, complement: 50 to 60 men). There were also smaller sailboats and rowboats, such as ushkuys (ушкуи) for sailing in rivers, lakes and skerries, kochis (кочи), and nosads (носады), used for cargo transportation.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Cossacks conducted military campaigns against the Crimean Khanate and Ottoman Empire, using sailboats and rowboats. The Don Cossacks called them strugs (струг). These boats were capable of transporting up to 80 men. The Cossack flotillas numbered 80 to 100 boats. The centralized Russian state had been fighting for its own access to the Baltic Sea, Black Sea and Sea of Azov since the 17th Century. By the end of that century, the Russians had accumulated some valuable experience in using riverboats together with land forces.
Under Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich, the construction of the first three-masted ship to be built entirely within Russia was finished in 1636. She was built in Balakhna by Danish shipbuilders from Holstein with a European design. She was christened the Frederick. In 1667–69, the Russians tried to build naval ships in a village of Dedinovo on the shores of the Oka River for the purpose of defending the trade routes along the Volga River, which led to the Caspian Sea. In 1668, they built a 26-gun ship, the Oryol (Орёл, or "eagle"), a yacht, a boat with a mast and bowsprit, and a few rowboats.
During much of the seventeenth century Russian merchants and Cossacks, using koch boats, sailed across the White Sea, explored the rivers Lena, Kolyma and Indigirka, and founded settlements in the region of the upper Amur. Unquestionably the most celebrated Russian explorer was Semyon Dezhnev, who, in 1648, sailed the entire length of present-day Russia along the Arctic coast. Rounding the Chukotsk Peninsula, Dezhnev passed through the Bering Sea and sailed into the Pacific Ocean.
The regular Russian Navy was created at the initiative of Peter the Great. During the Second Azov campaign of 1696 against the Ottoman Empire, the Russians employed for the first time 2 warships, 4 fireships, 23 galleys and 1300 strugs, built on the Voronezh River. After the Azov fortress was taken, at Peter I's request the Boyar Duma, understanding the vital importance of a navy for successful warfare, on 20 October 1696 adopted a decree on commencing the construction of a regular navy. Early on in his reign, Peter made a tour to western Europe, England, and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, he became acquainted with the work of the mathematicians Hans Gouda, Dirk Raven, and Hans Isbrandtsen Hoogzaat, which sparked his enthusiasm for the value of mathematics. A major result of this tour was the hiring of large numbers of foreign specialists of various expertise, including mathematicians. Among those hired was Henry (or Harry) Farquharson, called in Russia Andrei Danilovich (Daniloff) Farkhvarson or Farvarson (1675–1739), who had taught mathematics and astronomy at the University of Aberdeen and was recommended by Halley and Jacob Daniel Bruce (1670–1735), while John Colson was hired to teach mathematics. Farquaharson's task in Russia was to create and administer a School of Mathematics and Navigation. It was under Farquharson's guidance that he and Tsar Peter wrote the mathematics curriculum for the new school. He was accompanied by Stephen Gwyn (1684–1720) and Richard Grice (1682?–1709), who were graduates of the England's Royal Mathematical School. In 1700 at Voronezh the first major ships launched for the fledgling Russian Navy—for use with the Azov Fleet—were the 58-gun Goto Predestinatsiya (God's Providence), the 80-gun Staryy Orel (Old Eagle), and the 70-gun Staryy Dub (Old Oak).
During the Great Northern War of 1700–1721, the Russians built the Baltic Fleet and the city of St. Petersburg. In 1703–1723, the main base of the Baltic Fleet was located in St. Petersburg and then in Kronshtadt. Other bases were later established in Vyborg, Helsingfors, Revel (now Tallinn) and Åbo. At first, the
Vladimirskiy Prikaz was in charge of shipbuilding. Later on, these functions were transferred to the Russian Admiralty.
Basic principles of the Russian Navy, its educational and training methods, as well as methods for conducting military action were all summarized in the Naval Regulations [Морской устав] (1720) penned by Peter the Great. Peter the Great, Feodor Apraksin, Alexey Senyavin, Naum Senyavin and Mikhail Golitsyn are generally credited for the development of the Russian art of naval warfare. Main principles of naval warfare were further developed by Grigoriy Spiridov, Feodor Ushakov, and Dmitriy Senyavin.
The Russo-Turkish Wars of Catherine the Great resulted in the establishment of the Black Sea Fleet, with its bases in Sevastopol (1783) and Kherson. It was at that time that Russian warships started to venture into the Mediterranean on a regular basis. In 1770, Grigoriy Spiridov's squadron gained supremacy in the Aegean Sea by destroying the Turkish fleet in the Battle of Chesma. After having advanced to the Danube, the Russians formed the
Danube Military Flotilla for the purpose of guarding the Danube estuary from the Turks and they came in 1771 as guests to Dubrovnik in the Republic of Ragusa. The Beluga caviar from the Danube was famous and the merchants from the Republic of Ragusa dominated the import-export business in Serbia with the Habsburg Monarchy. The Russian Navy captured in 1780 two British cargo vessels, their cargo were hemp and iron. The Republic of Ragusa became one of the chief carriers of the Mediterranean in 1783 with the help of the USA, when Britain acknowledges the United States independence, although the Americans agreed to allow Dubrovnik's ships free passage in their ports.
During the Mediterranean expedition of 1799, Fyodor Ushakov single-handedly carved out the Greek Republic of Seven Islands, proceeding to clear from the French Corfu and all the Ionian islands. His squadron then blocked the French bases in Italy, notably Genoa and Ancona, and successfully assaulted Naples and Rome. Ushakov, proclaimed a patron saint of the Russian Navy in the 21st century, was succeeded in command by Dmitriy Senyavin who reasserted Russian control of the southern Adriatic, disrupted Dubrovnik's sea trade, and destroyed the Ottoman Fleet in the Battle of Athos (1807). Between 1803 and 1855, Russian sailors undertook over 40 circumnavigations and distant voyages, which played an important role in exploration of the Far East and culminated in Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen's discovery of Antarctica.
The Russian Admiralty
in St. Petersburg is famed for its gilded steeple topped by a golden weather-vane in the shape of a sailing ship.
Notwithstanding these triumphs, Russia's slow technical and economic development in the first half of the 19th century caused her to fall behind other world powers in the field of steamboat construction. It was in 1826 that the Russians built their first armed steamboat
Izhora. At the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853, steamships were few and sailing ships heavily predominated. The Battle of Sinope, won by Pavel Nakhimov, is remembered in history as the last significant naval battle involving sailing ships. During the Siege of Sevastopol in 1854–1855, Russian sailors set an example of using all means possible for defending their base from land and sea. Although the Russians introduced modern naval mining in the Baltic and repelled the Siege of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in the Pacific, Sevastopol was finally surrendered on honourable terms but only after the Russians sank their ships to prevent outside use of the harbor. In accordance with the Treaty of Paris, Russia lost its right to have a military fleet in the Black Sea.
As a consequence, the Russian sailing fleet lost its significance and was rapidly replaced by steamboats, including the first steel armored gunship Opyt and one of the first seafaring ironclads Pyotr Velikiy. On 16 January 1877 Admiral Stepan Makarov became the first to launch torpedoes from a boat in combat. He also proposed the idea and oversaw the construction of the world's first ocean-going icebreaker "Yermak", commanding it in two Arctic expeditions in 1899 and 1901. At about the same time, Aleksey Krylov elaborated the modern floodability theory.
The Russian Navy was considered the third strongest in the world on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, which turned to be a catastrophe for the Russian military in general and the Russian Navy in particular. Although neither party lacked courage, the Russians were defeated by the Japanese in the Battle of Port Arthur, which was the first time in warfare that mines were used for offensive purposes. The warships of the Baltic Fleet sent to the Far East were lost in the Battle of Tsushima.
Soon after the war Russia devoted a significant portion of its military spending to an ambitious shipbuilding program aimed at replacing lost warships with modern dreadnoughts. During World War I, the fleets played a limited role in the Eastern Front, due to heavy defensive and offensive mining on both sides. Characteristically, the Black Sea Fleet succeeded in mining the Bosporus, thus preventing the Ottoman Fleet from entering the Black Sea. After the revolution forced Russia to quit the war, the Baltic Fleet was evacuated from Helsinki and Tallinn to Kronshtadt during the Ice Cruise of the Baltic Fleet and many of the ships of the Black Sea Fleet found their last refuge in Bizerte.
For the most part, Russian sailors welcomed the Russian Revolution of 1917, in which they participated. Earlier, in 1905, sailors of the Imperial Russian battleship Potemkin in the Black Sea Navy revolted. In 1906 rebellious soldiers gained control of some Helsinki coastal fortifications during events known as the Viapori Rebellion, which was subsequently put down, following bombardments from ships of the Baltic Fleet which remained loyal to the Tsarist government. The first ship of the Soviet Navy could be considered to be the rebellious Imperial Russian cruiser Avrora, whose blank shot from its forecastle gun signaled the October Revolution according to Soviet narratives. In March 1921, the sailors of Kronshtadt rebelled against the Bolsheviks, demanding freedom of speech and closing of concentration camps, but this belated revolt was ruthlessly suppressed by Leon Trotsky.
After the Revolution, the Navy's restoration was slow, and only with the beginning of industrialisation in 1930 was a large shipbuilding program developed, but not accomplished before the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union's portion of World War II. As a result, the Soviet Navy during World War II consisted of some old World War I-era ships, some modern pre-war built cruisers and destroyers, and a number of torpedo boats. Unfortunately, much of the Soviet fleet on the Baltic Sea was blocked in Leningrad and Kronshtadt by Finnish and German minefields during 1941–1944 and maimed by mines and air attacks, nevertheless numerous sorties by attack boats and submarines actions were conducted. On the Black Sea with the loss of the main naval base—Sevastopol, and effective actions of axis aviation as well as minefields the effectiveness of large surface ships was limited. The Northern Fleet, composed mostly of destroyers (World War I Novik-class and more modern Design 7 and 7U vessels), played a role in anti-aircraft and anti-submarine defence of allied convoys heading to Murmansk.
During the Cold War, the Soviets gave their navy a number of missions, in addition to its role as one of the legs of the nuclear triad, the navy was supposed to destroy American SSBNs and carrier groups, interdict NATO lines of communications, and assist the ground forces in continental theatre offensives. They were quick to equip their surface fleet with missiles of various sorts. In fact, it became a hallmark of Soviet design to place large anti-ship missiles onto relatively small and fast missile boats. The Soviet Navy also possessed several very large guided missile cruisers with great firepower, such as those of the Kirov class and the Slava class cruisers. In the 1980s the Soviet Navy acquired its first true aircraft carrier, Tbilisi (subsequently renamed Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov).
In some respects, including speed and reactor technology, later Soviet submarines were, and remain, some of the world's best.sonar technology. The Soviets possessed numerous purpose-built guided missile submarines, such as the Oscar-class submarine, as well as many ballistic missile submarines, such as the Delta class submarines, and attack submarines, such as the Victor and Akula-class submarines. The Soviet Navy's Typhoon class ballistic missile boats are the world's largest submarines. The Soviet attack submarine force was, like the rest of the navy, geared towards the interception of NATO convoys, but also targeted American aircraft carrier battle groups.
Their primary shortcomings were insufficient noise damping (American boats were quieter) and
The 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union led to a severe decline in the Russian Navy. Defense expenditures were severely reduced. Many ships were scrapped or laid up as accommodation ships at naval bases, and the building program was essentially stopped. Sergey Gorshkov's buildup during the Soviet period had emphasised ships over support facilities, but Gorshkov had also retained ships in service beyond their effective lifetimes, so a reduction had been inevitable in any event. The situation was exacerbated by the impractical range of vessel types which the Soviet military-industrial complex, with the support of the leadership, had forced on the navy—taking modifications into account, the Soviet Navy in the mid-1980s had nearly 250 different classes of ship. The Kiev class aircraft carrying cruisers and many other ships were prematurely retired, and the incomplete second Admiral Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier Varyag was eventually sold to the People's Republic of China by Ukraine. Funds were only allocated for the completion of ships ordered prior to the collapse of the USSR, as well as for refits and repairs on fleet ships taken out of service since. However, the construction times for these ships tended to stretch out extensively: in 2003 it was reported that the Akula-class submarine Nerpa had been under construction for fifteen years. Storage of decommissioned nuclear submarines in ports near Murmansk became a significant issue, with the Bellona Foundation reporting details of lowered readiness. Naval support bases outside Russia, such as Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, were gradually closed, with the exception of the modest technical support base in Tartus, Syria to support ships deployed to the Mediterranean. Naval Aviation declined as well from its height as Soviet Naval Aviation, dropping from an estimated 60,000 personnel with some 1,100 combat aircraft in 1992 to 35,000 personnel with around 270 combat aircraft in 2006. In 2002, out of 584 naval aviation crews only 156 were combat ready, and 77 ready for night flying. Average annual flying time was 21.7 hours, compared to 24 hours in 1999.
Training and readiness also suffered severely. In 1995, only two missile submarines at a time were being maintained on station, from the Northern and Pacific Fleets. The decline culminated in the loss of the Oscar II-class Kursk submarine during the Northern Fleet summer exercise that was intended to back up the publication of a new naval doctrine. The exercise was to have culminated with the deployment of the Admiral Kuznetsov task group to the Mediterranean.
As of February 2008, the Russian Navy had 44 nuclear submarines with 24 operational; 19 diesel-electric submarines, 16 operational; and 56 first and second rank surface combatants, 37 operational. Despite this improvement, the November 2008 accident on board the Akula-class submarine attack boat Nerpa during sea trials before lease to India represented a concern for the future.
In 2009, Admiral Popov (Ret.), former commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, said that the Russian Navy would greatly decline in combat capabilities by 2015 if the current rate of new ship construction remained unchanged, due to the retirement of ocean-going ships.
In 2012, President Vladimir Putin announced a plan to build 51 modern ships and 24 submarines by 2020. Of the 24 submarines, 16 will be nuclear-powered. On 10 January 2013, the Russian Navy finally accepted its first new Borei class SSBN (Yury Dolgorukiy) for service. A second Borei (Aleksandr Nevskiy) was undergoing sea trials and entered service on 21 December 2013. A third Borei class boat (Vladimir Monomakh) was launched and began trials in early 2013, and was commissioned in late 2014.