The Cruel Sea:
Russian Destroyers

The Russian destroyer Novik, designed by the German AG Vulkan yard of Stettin, marked a revolutionary leap in destroyer design around the world. At 1,200 tons she was half again as large as what had been considered a large destroyer, with twice the gunnery and torpedo armament. On top of that, she was the fastest ship in the world when commissioned in 1913.

Despite the revolutionary nature of the Novik design, other fleets were slow to imitate the Russians. The Russian Admiralty did not hesitate, and even before Novik had been launched the Imperial Navy ordered a class of nine boats for the Black Sea Fleet built to a similar but smaller design with two more torpedo tubes, one fewer gun and only 34 knots’ speed. In the following fiscal year - with Novik still incomplete - they ordered a class of 22 very similar ships for the Baltic Fleet.

The Leitenant Ilin class was slightly smaller, with three triple 18-inch torpedo tube mounts rather than the four twin mounts of Novik, and the same main armament of four 102mm (4-inch) guns. They had a smaller power plant, giving them a lower speed: 32 knots (slightly less than the newest German torpedo boats) compared to 37 knots for Novik.

Nicholas II inspects the brand-new Novik.

Another five slightly larger boats built to a variant design with one more gun were laid down in Reval, Estonia by a French-owned shipyard and known as the Izyaslav class. Nine more to yet another variant design were ordered from a German-owned shipyard that set up a subsidiary in Riga; five of the boats were re-ordered to the Leitenant Ilin design after Russia went to war with Germany and the flow of turbines and other parts from the German suppliers was cut off.

The Black Sea Fleet received eight more boats under the 1914 program, the Fidonisi class, enlarged vessels with a dozen torpedo tubes and the now-standard allotment of four 102mm guns. Another dozen of the same design, known as the Tenedos class, were ordered in late 1916.

In our own reality, many of those 66 boats would not be completed (and the 12 boats of the 1916 program were never laid down). Others were lost during the Russian Civil War. But in our Second Great War alternative history, all of them survive the Great War (mostly because only a handful would have been complete when fighting ceased in December 1916).

As in the United States with its huge stock of Wickes- and Clemson-class “four-stack” destroyers, the presence of 66 big and modern (at least when new) destroyers in the Russian inventory would have made it difficult for the Navy to ask for new boats in the 1920’s. Instead the Imperial Navy modernized them starting in the late 1920’s, bringing them to a common standard of armament with four 102mm guns, six 37mm anti-aircraft guns, nine new and more effective 21-inch torpedo tubes in three triple mounts, and the capacity to lay 80 mines. Most received new boilers and turbines, giving them a speed of 32 to 34 knots depending on their condition and original hull form.

With modern new destroyers joining the fleet in the 1930’s, 18 boats were sold to the Imperial Iranian Navy. Of the remaining 48 Russian vessels, six of them serve in the Arctic, six in the Baltic, a dozen in the Black Sea and the remainder in the Pacific.

To lead their masses of big, powerful destroyers, the Russians planned a class of five 2,500-ton super destroyers. These carried a main armament of five 130mm (5.1-inch) guns, the same weapons carried by the modified Svetlana-class light cruisers, and the dozen 18-inch torpedo tubes of the most recent Novik-type destroyers. They could make 36 knots, though their range was not great as they were only expected to operate in the Baltic. Like their smaller cousins, all five were modernized in the 1930’s with new boilers and torpedo tubes. All of them serve in the Baltic in 1940.

Note: Details of these boats are fairly sketchy beyond the displacement and the number of units projected, so I made them up based on Russian practice of the time.

By the early 1930’s the Novik-type destroyers had begun to show their age, and the Imperial Navy received funding for a large new class of replacements. The old destroyers were no longer suitable to accompany the new fast battleships and battle cruisers, and all four fleets needed modern boats to escort the new capital ships.

Soviet destroyer Ognevoy, model for the Second Great War’s Shestakov.

Designed with Italian assistance, the Kit class were large boats at 1,600 tons, with four 120mm (4.7-inch) guns in shielded mounts, two forward and two aft, and six 21-inch torpedo tubes in a pair of triple mounts amidships. They had an array of light anti-aircraft guns, six depth-charge throwers and the capacity to lay 60 mines. In keeping with their Italian design ancestry, they had a high speed, making 37 knots on trials even with all of their armament, fuel, feed water and ammunition.

The Imperial Navy ordered 32 of them, with a dozen going to each of the Baltic and Arctic Fleets, with the Black Sea Fleet receiving eight of the class. None of them served in the Pacific Fleet, with its abundance of Novik types.

Note: The Imperial Russian Kit class is based on the Soviet Type 7U, rationalized as slightly smaller (as they did with other types, the Soviets built overly large vessels for their role and capabilities) with smaller guns (the Type 7U was over-armed with 130mm guns, contributing to stability problems).

The Kit class gave the Imperial Navy a serviceable modern fleet destroyer, but their flotillas needed the backing of their big leaders and “Saint” class fast cruisers to stand up to the superior firepower of Imperial Germany’s big and powerful Storm Birds. The Russian admirals had become used to fielding ground-breaking ship designs, and sought a new fleet destroyer.

The much larger Shestakov class was a much larger boat, of Russian design. She carried six 120mm guns in three twin gunhouses, six 21-inch torpedo tubes in a part of triple mounts and an array of 37mm light anti-aircraft guns as well as six depth-charge throwers plus rails for 60 mines. She displaced 2,000 tons and could make 37 knots.

That still left her a little short of matching up with the big German Storm Bird type destroyers, but the German flotillas lacked the big destroyer leaders to support them with heavier guns. The Imperial Russian Navy eventually ordered an even 100 units, with 46 of them in commission at the outbreak of the Second Great War.

Note: The Shesakovs are based on the Soviet Ognevoi, a very modern design that soldiered on well into the Cold War era. Ognevoi had four 130mm guns in two twin gunhouses; our Shestakov has six slightly smaller 120mm guns in three mounts to give her more surface fighting power to challenge the German destroyers.

A dozen Shestakovs appear in The Cruel Sea, with fourteen more in Swedish Steel and eight boats in Sword of the Sea.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.