In the late 1800s the Royal Navy reigned supreme. The naval construction infrastructure was far more advanced and far larger than every other country. In addition to building warships for the Royal Navy, British shipyards built ships for other countries throughout the world. Armstrong developed a protected cruiser design that was one of the leading export cruisers of the age. This was the famous Elswick cruiser, variations of which were purchased by many different countries, including the United States and Japan. With the dawn of the 20th century other countries had developed their naval construction industry to such a degree, that they too joined the warship export market peddling their designs that didnít have the capacity to build modern warships or to countries that had already utilized all of their native industry in warship construction but wanted to increase their fleet even further, such as Imperial Russia.
This arms emporium reached its zenith on the eve of World War One. The US built battleships for Argentina and sold two predreadnoughts to Greece, Britain built battleships for Brazil, and was building battleships for Chile and Turkey as well as a battlecruiser for Japan, and Germany was building a battlecruiser for Japan. All of this came to an end in August 1914 when the combatant countries needed all of the warships that they could get. There were a few export warships built between the two world wars but nothing near the tempo that existed prior to the First World War, primarily because of the terrible financial condition of most countries as a result of the world wide depression as well as effects of the Washington and London Treaties on naval arms control.
A nation could benefit by having their private naval yards build designs for other navies. Not only did it create jobs but also the jobs created were specialized ones that would increase the trained labor force that could be used for their own navies. The naval construction industry stayed large and viable without large subsidies from their home country. New ideas and experiments could be first tried out on designs for foreign buyers without the home navy rolling the dice on an experimental systems or theories. After World War Two and the start of the Cold War the Soviet Union and United States started furnishing their respective allies with warships but these generally can from transfers of old construction with the funds received allowing for the purchase of new construction. However by the 1970s both countries had started to build warships for export again. One example of a US design built for export was the Kidd Class destroyers, which were being built for Iran, before the fall of the Shah ended this contract and the USN bought the four destroyers of the contract. The Soviet Union also built warships specifically for export.
Project 1159 was one such export warship. In 1977 a new frigate was spotted in the Black Sea and at first was thought to be replacements for the Riga Class frigates built in the 1950s. The new design was given the NATO codename Koni Class. The educated guess was wrong, the design was for export to client states of the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union the frigate was called the Delfin and the design went into series production. The Soviet navy kept copies in the Black Sea for use in training crews of the foreign purchasers. The Delfin was laid down in April 1973 at the Krasney Metalist yard in Zelenodolsk on the Black Sea as hull #201. The ships were called Storojeve Korabli (SKR) or Escort or Guard Ships but were analogous to small frigates. Throughout the production cycle of the different series of Project 1159, the Delfin remained in the Black Sea training foreign crews. In total 14 of these ships were constructed in four variants. Six of this number were the basic model 1159, code name Koni I. Variants of the design were purchased by Algeria, Cuba, East Germany (DDR), Libya and Yugoslavia. The first four warships were of the same design. Delphin, Nerpa hull #202, laid down on October 2, 1974 and sold to East Germany (DDR). With East Germany she was renamed Rostock. The third ship was Kreshet hull #203, laid down on May 7, 1975 at likewise sold to East Germany, to be renamed Berlin. The fourth hull was named Sokol, hull #204, and was laid down July 14, 1976. This ships was sold to Yugoslavia and became the Split (VRB-31) after the port on the Adriatic. The Krasney Metalist Yard basically built one of the class per year and a foreign buyer was found, or more likely, the buyer was found first. The crew was brought to the Black Sea and trained on the Delfin.
With the fifth ship a variant appeared and the first ships were renamed with the Koni I NATO codename. The difference came with the buyer. The Koni I ships were designed for navies of Europe, Russia, East Germany and Yugoslavia, the Koni II was designed for warm water navies. Operations in a warm environment, changed the appearance of the ship to a certain extent. However, two more of the basic 1159 Koni I ships, were purchased after the advent of the Koni II. Yugoslavia purchased an additional Project 1159, which was commissioned in 1982 as the Korag. No name was assigned to her by the Russians. Under construction she was known as hull #205 or SKR-481. The sixth basic 1159 model was a third copy purchased by East Germany. Built between 1984 to 1986, she was hull #206 and called SKR-149, until commissioned as the Halle. The initials SKR stood for the Russian ship type Storojevoi Korable. Production for the last of the ships ended in 1988 and the Delfin was kept for a while just in case there were more buyers for the design. None were forthcoming so in 1990 the Delfin was sold to Bulgaria and was renamed the Smelyy.
The warships had the following dimensions 311 feet (95m) by 42 feet (12.8m) by 13.7 feet (4.2m) and displaced 1,700 tons standard and 1,900 tons full load. Armament for the initial 1159 design was four 76mm (3-Inch) AK-726 guns mounted in fore and aft twin turrets, two SA-N-4 SAM (Zif-122) with a 20 missile storage capacity, two 30mm AK-230 30mm gun systems, and two 12-barreled RBU 6000 ASW rocket mounts forward and depth charge racks aft. The design was also equipped with mine racks with storage for 20 mines. The design was equipped with three shafts. For economical cruising there were the two outer shafts turned by diesel engines of 12,000 shp combined and to put on speed for combat a centerline gas turbine at 18,000 shp. Top speed was 22 knots on diesel alone and 27 knots with the gas turbine running.
The Combrig Delfin
The smaller fittings are standard for Combrig. All are well cast and range in quality from good to excellent. The stack, tower mast and gun mounts are well done but the 76.2mm gun barrels are somewhat thick. The bridge level is nice with deeply incised windows. They are of such depth that you can use Micro-Klear to provide glass for these windows. Some of the nicest parts are some of the smallest. The AK-230 30mm CIWS, capstans, RBU-6000 ASW rocket mounts, cable reels, capstans and the life canisters are very nice. Since they are resin parts, the sensor arrays are solid. Gold Medal Models is about to release their new Soviet/Russian moderns warships fret in 1:700 scale. Although I have not seen it yet, this fret will undoubtedly be an excellent addition for the Delphin as well as Combrigís entire lineup of modern Soviet/Russian warships.