Toys of the Black Sea
By Mike Bennighof, PhD
November 2013

Tucked into Europe's lower right corner, it's easy to overlook the Black Sea. But in both world wars it's been the scene of intense naval combat, made even fiercer by the sea's isolation.

Our Black Sea Fleets supplement for the Second World War at Sea series covers war on this inland sea. There are three dozen scenarios, plus background articles, all about the conflict between German and Romanian forces on one hand and the Soviet Union on the other, plus potential conflicts involving Turkey. But what gamers really want to know is: What about the toys?

We have toys. Two hundred and ten of them: 70 "long" ship counters and 140 "small" ones for small ships and for aircraft. Actually almost all of those are for aircraft, as the megalomania of all the region's leaders created unbalanced navies with relatively few small warships. There are few escorts, minesweepers or auxiliaries on the Black Sea.

The Soviet Black Sea Fleet began the war built around a core of refurbished veterans of the tsar's fleet. One battleship and a cruiser had been transferred from the Baltic in early 1930, and two cruisers begun of the Tsarist Black Sea Fleet were completed a decade late. An ancient protected cruiser was also rebuilt as a training ship, and would be pressed into action in 1941.

During the Great War, the Imperial Russian Navy's Novik type destroyers had easily been the world's biggest, fastest and most heavily armed destroyers. They were very effective warships in 1915, much less so in 1941, but they remained the backbone of the Red Navy's destroyer force and much like the contemporary American "flush deck" destroyers gave good service 25 years after they had been laid down.



Great Stalin ordered a massive fleet buildup in the mid-1930s, and by the time war broke out a handful of these ships were in service. The Kirov class cruisers reflected the fact that the Soviet Union had not been asked to sign any of the naval limitations treaties of the 1920s and 1930s, and so they carried a main battery of an "intermediate caliber," nine 7.1-inch (180mm) guns. Two of them were in service on the Black Sea when the Nazis launched their sneak attack on 22 June 1941, with Molotov having joined the fleet only a week before.

Seeking outside expertise, the Soviets bought the flotilla leader Tashkent from Italy's OTO yard in 1937. The "Blue Beauty," as she was known, was exceedingly fast and well-armed. The Type 7 destroyers she was expected to command were also based on Italian practice, and were very similar to the Regia Marina's Freccia class destroyers. And like Italian destroyers, they were not particularly seaworthy to start with and suffered when the Soviets gave them even heavier armament. An improved version, enlarged to carry the added weapons, had just begun to enter service when the war began.



Soviet industry had been ordered to turn out a much grander array of warships, capable of challenging the imperialist powers. When war came to the black sea, a huge battleship was under construction along with a battle cruiser, a large class of light cruisers and improved flotilla leaders and destroyers. Only some of the cruisers and destroyers would ever be completed, with most of the remainder damaged beyond repair during the course of the war.




The Soviet Union's part in defeating Fascist Italy the Italian Army suffered more casualties on the Eastern Front than in North Africa entitled the Red Navy to a share of the surrendered Italian fleet. One battleship, one cruiser and two destroyers arrived in the Black Sea after the war and served into the late 1950s though the battleship was destroyed in an explosion purportedly caused by die-hard Fascist saboteurs.







And no study of the Red Navy would be complete without its efforts to build an aircraft carrier. None went to sea during this time frame, but we've provided three examples of the most likely designs along with the aircraft that would have flown from them.






As the vanguard of international revolution, the Soviet Union's leaders felt they had to justify their actions to the world. Much of the justification for the naval buildup was the "threat" presented by Turkey. The Turks refitted their battle cruiser, and so the former German Goeben appears in Turkish colors as modernized for the Second World War. Turkey also gets the pair of cruisers she tried unsuccessfully to buy in Britain, and the battleship she was offered in their place. And of course the backbone of their actual Turkish fleet is present, the modern destroyers ordered in Italian and British shipyards.




Romania rarely was mentioned as a threat, though the Romanians attempted to spend their oil revenues on a modest fleet construction program in the 1930s. Italian shipyards presented them with a number of very interesting proposals, and we have these present. The Ansaldo combine's U90 project was a variation on the German "pocket battleship" concept, with six 10-inch (254mm) guns in a pair of triple turrets on the hull of a Duca degli Abruzzi class light cruiser. As the design developed, the hull had to be enlarged to carry such a powerful main armament and the ship would have displaced about 10,000 tons had she been built. OTO offered a much smaller ship with their U102 project, a light cruiser with six six-inch guns mounted forward in the same turrets used in the Littorio class battleships with the aft deck kept clear to handle seaplanes a concept very similar to the Japanese Oyodo drafted about a year later. Neither of these cruiser programs, nor the attempt to add a second division of four destroyers to the fleet, would come to fruition.





The Red Navy also maintained a very large air force, and this is represented by a huge swath of counters. The early war force is not very good, with weak fighters and bombers, but improves as the war progresses.


Turkey fielded a large air force for the size of its armed forces, with types from many countries. Both sides offered Turkey their most modern aircraft in efforts to entice the republic to join them in the war or at least maintain a benevolent neutrality toward their cause. By actually joining the war, Romania cut herself off from Western aircraft types and since she no longer had to be bribed received the castoffs of the German Air Force.

Black Sea Fleets includes articles that cover all the ships and aircraft described above, and the scenarios make use of them on the Black Sea and also in the eastern Mediterranean. There are even early Cold War scenarios pitting Stalin's blue water fleet against the U.S. Navy.

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