With the Novik launched in Saint Petersburg in 1911, Imperial Russia had achieved a formidable destroyer design. (Click for review of the Combrig Novik) With this revolutionary design, future destroyers of the fleet would be extraordinarily large and powerful for their time. New designs for large destroyers were constructed for the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets. The 1914 Naval Program called for eight even larger destroyers for the Black Sea.
This class was to be called the Gadzhibei Class after the first to be laid down. The original plan called for ships of 1,570 tons normal load, a speed of 35 knots, armament of three 102mm guns, one 47mm gun, two 40mm guns, and twelve 18-inch (457mm) torpedo tubes 4x3. In a burst of economy the design was down-sized to 1,326 tons normal (1,745 tons full load). The new design actually increased the 102mm guns to four, kept the heavy torpedo armament and lost all lighter guns except one 40mm (47mm in Breyer). The large destroyers of the Baltic Fleet had round funnels, while those of the Black Sea Fleet had oval funnels.
Plans called four eight in the class but only four were completed before the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917. Gadzhibei had a eight-month start over the other three. She was laid down on February 10, 1915 with Kerch, Kaliakriya and Fidonisi ex-Feodonisi being laid down October 29, 1915 but Kerch was the first to launch on May 18, 1916, along with Fidonisi. The construction supervision was contracted to Vickers and Parsons turbines and Thornycroft boilers used, apparently shipped into the country right before the outbreak of the war. The four became the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla. For whatever reason the maximum speed of the class, 27 knots, was far slower than contracted, making them the least satisfactory of the big destroyers that followed Novik.
Kerch probably had the most interesting history of the class. It is little realized that Kerch probably sank more tonnage than any destroyer of any country in World War One. However, tragically the ships she sank flew the same flag as Kerch. With the Bolshevik takeover, civil war started and country fell into chaos. The four completed destroyers of the class went over to the Bolsheviks. In spite of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the German Army resumed their advance on Sevastopol. On April 30, 1918 the ships left Sevastopol and steamed to Novorossisk. By June this port was no longer secure and a cease-fire was arranged. On June 19, 1918 the Bolsheviks ordered the destruction of the class to prevent their capture by the Germans. Gadzhibei and Kaliakriya were scuttled by their own crews. Kerch torpedoed and sank the Fidonisi. Kerch also fired four torpedoes into the dreadnought battleship Svobodnaya Rossiya as the Imperatritsa Ekaterina Velikaya had been renamed after the first, February 1917, revolution, sinking the battleship. (Click for review of the Combrig Imperatritsa Ekaterina Velikaya) Following this Kerch scuttled herself. In November 1923 she was raised but sank again. However, the ship lived on as her turbines were removed and installed in the Tuapse municipal electricity station.
Gadzhibei was raised in 1928 but never was repaired, being scrapped in 1930. Fidonisi, victim of the torpedoes of the Kerch, was not raised until 1964, when she was broken up. Only Kaliakriya of these first four ever again served under the Soviet flag. She was raised in October 1925 and repaired at Nikolayev. She was renamed Dzerzhinski on November 24, 1926 and fought in World War Two. She was lost to a mine on May 14, 1942 off of Sevastopol.
Of the other four ships in the 1914 program, Tserigo was seized on the stocks by the Whites and completed to become part of the White Fleet under Wrangel. She fled the Black Sea with the survivors of the White Fleet when the Whites succumbed to the Red Army. She was sold in 1924. The other three, Korfu, Levkas and Zante, were seized on the stocks by the Germans. In November 1918 they were handed over to the allied interventionist forces, who in turn handed them over to the Whites in February 1919. These three were seized by the Red Army when White resistance collapsed.
Korfu was commissioned on May 10, 1925 as Petrovski. On June 23, 1939 she was again renamed, this time to Zheleznyakov. She served in World War Two and after April 8, 1953 served as an accommodation vessel, under the designation PKZ-3. She went to the breakers on July 27, 1956. Levkas was renamed Shaumyan. On April 3, 1942 she ran aground. She was salvaged but not returned to service. Zante was renamed Nezamoshnii on November 7, 1923 and then to Nezamozhnik on April 29, 1926. In 1949 she was transferred to the Bulgarian Navy. She served Bulgaria under her Soviet name until 1956, when she was transferred back to the Soviet Navy to be used as a training ship. (History from Soviet Warship Development, Volume 1: 1917-1937 by Siegfried Breyer; and Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1906-1921)
Combrig has recently released a 1:700 model of the Kerch. As is the case with all the releases from Combrig over the last two years, there is quite a bit of detail packed into the model. Highlights include the beautiful hull with distinctive deck mine rails and superb 102mm guns. The modeler may wish to remove cast on inclined ladders and replace them with brass photo-etch. No photo-etch comes with the kit, so it would have to be acquired from another source. There was one variance in my advance sample. All of the references show that Kerch was fitted with four triple 18-inch (547mm) torpedo tubes. The plan & profile and assembly drawing of the instructions of the Combrig Kerch also show four mounts. However, the photo of the parts on the instructions only show two mounts and my sample only contained two mounts. Although ships of the class were reduced to two mounts under subsequent Soviet service, all sources show that they were originally outfitted with four. The inclusion of two mounts was an inadvertent error as the standard kit from Combrig comes with all four mounts.