After three and a half years of World War One, followed by years of the Russian Civil War, the former Imperial Russian Fleet was in very sad shape. What little had not been destroyed by the Germans, or the Reds, or the Whites, or the Interventionist Forces was in a dilapidated condition. The new Soviet government had no money and few friends. Initially the government further reduced the navy by scrapping many worn out, obsolete, obsolescent or incomplete vessels in 1922. As the 1920s progressed the Soviets decided to rebuild the fleet. Still financially strapped, the government did not have the finances, technology or infrastructure for large warships but they did have the facilities for submarine construction.
There were only a few surviving submarines from World War One, The best were the double hulled Bars Class as well as single hulled AG Class (Amerikanski Golland) Holland designed submarines, acquired from the US in 1916. The surviving boats in both classes were given suitably revolutionary names and continued to sail on for the Soviet Union. People’s Commissar Frunze was the architect for the new Soviet Navy. In 1925 planning began to greatly enlarge the fleet and one of the major components would be a very large submarine force.
The first of the Soviet submarine designs was based on the successful Bars Class. This was the Dekabrist, later called the D Class, after the submarines were reassigned numbers, rather than names. Only six of these medium size boats were built, completed in 1931 and 1932, and they proved to be an unsuccessful design. Soviet designers used lessons learned from the construction and performance shortfalls of the D Class, coupled with what they learned when they raised the British submarine L 55, which was sunk by a Bolshevik destroyer in 1919, to greatly improve their next design. This design was another medium sized partial double hull boat, initially called the Leninets Class, later the L Class, when they along with the other submarines were given numbers in lieu of names.
The L Class proved to be much more successful than the preceding D Class. Due to its success 25 were built between 1933 and 1942. The boats had six 21-Inch (533mm) torpedo tubes and were also equipped, like the D Class, to lay mines, through two tubes in the stern. This mine laying capability was very understandable since the naval war in the Baltic, during World War One was dominated by mine warfare. The L Class was subdivided into three series during the construction lifespan. There were small differences among the different series, the most noticeable of which was the shape of the conning tower. When Germany invade Russia in June 1941, L Class boats were in service in the Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific.
The boats were employed mostly in the defense, as this was the initial Soviet deployment theory and also because the Germans controlled the air up to 1943. In 1942 two of the class, L 15 and L 16 were transferred from the Pacific to the Arctic and were to travel to San Francisco and then through the Panama Canal. L 16 never finished the journey, as she was mistaken for an American submarine and was sunk by the Japanese submarine I-25 off of the western coast of the United States. L 3, originally named Frunzovest, was the most successful boat in the class. Her most significant success came on April 16, 1945, when she sank the German steamship Goya 5,230 tons.
Six of the 25 L Class boats were lost during the war. Twenty-four percent losses may seem high but it was the lowest loss rate among the Soviet submarine classes during the war. The D Class lost five of six, one in a prewar accident (84%); the coastal M Class lost 35 of 100 (35%)(Click for review of the Combrig kit of the M (Malyutka) Class); the large coastal Shch Class lost 32 of 88 (36%); the large P Class lost 3 of 3 (100%); the medium S Class lost 16 of 33, one in a pre-war accident (48%); the large K Class lost 5 of 13 (38%); and of the pre-Soviet boats only 5 A Class, formerly AG Class Holland coastal boats served during World War Two and 3 were lost (60%). (Bulk of history on the L Class is from Submarines of World War Two by Ermino Bagnasco)
Combrig has just produced a 1:700 scale model of the L-3, the most successful boat in the class. The model comes with full hull and water line hull, so the modeler has the option of which to build. Combrig is well on the way to producing a model for every class of Soviet submarine that saw service during World War Two. With models of the D Class, L Class, M Class, S Class and K Class, they only lack the Shch, P, and A Classes. With these kits the modeler can inexpensively build and observe the evolution of Soviet submarine design through 1945.