When the conversation turns to amphibious operations in World War Two, invariably either of two topics is covered. Of course one is Operation Overlord in June 1944, when the allies mounted their amphibious invasion of Normandy. The other topic would be the US Marine Corps and their corps size amphibious operations. However, a topic normally not covered outside of Russian is the activity of the Russian Naval Infantry. Russian equivalent to marines, Russian Naval Infantry was especially active in the Black Sea.
During World War Two the Soviet Navy made over 100 amphibious landings in the Baltic and Black Seas. These ran the gamut of raids, defensive reinforcement and offensive operations. Early in the war blocking forces were inserted to slow the German advance and to gain time to better prepare the main line of defense for the Red Army. As the war progressed, Soviet amphibious operations switched to the offense, as naval landings were aimed at obtaining a base for expansion of offensive operations and to capture ports, usually in a coordinated operation with the much more heavily armed Red Army. Towards the end of the war amphibious insertions were made to block the enemy retreat from the tank heavy Red Army formations.
Other than raids and sabotage operations, which employed minimum personnel, the main tactical unit employed by the Soviet Naval Infantry was the regiment with infantry weapons and crew served weapons. Normally the most powerful weapon system that could be employed in amphibious landings was light artillery. The problem with deploying heavy equipment, including armor, was the lack of dedicated amphibious warships. World War Two Soviet amphibious operations amounted to a continuation of the amphibious operations from World War One in which infantry were moved in transports to the beachhead and landed in small boats. Cargo landed was very limited because of the lift capacity of the transports and especially restricted due to the nature of the craft available for ship to shore shuttles.
Unlike the western allies who developed a wide range of specialized amphibious ships and craft, the Soviet Navy had to make do with what vessels they had before the German invasion. Almost all of the big naval yards along the Baltic and Black Sea coasts were over run by the German Army early in the war. The priority of use for steel went to the huge tank factories in the Urals. Therefore, the Soviet Navy had neither the yards nor production priority to develop specialized amphibious vessels. Fast patrol boats would frequently be used for the first wave, followed by troops in civilian transports. In one large operation in December 1942 beachheads were established on the Kerch Peninsula on December 26 with an eventual 12,525 troops landed from the 51st Army by December 30. However, lack of specific amphibious warships limited the force to landing just a handful of tanks and artillery pieces. Other, even larger amphibious operations were conducted later in the war but they were always hampered by the very limited ability to transport heavy equipment.
As a result of analysis of Soviet amphibious operations during World War Two, the Soviet Union started designing and building dedicated amphibious warfare ships. Among the first such ships were the Polnocny class of light amphibious warfare ships. These ships were given the designation of Sredniy Desantni Korabl (SDK) Medium Landing Ship. These vessels of 900-tons could carry six tanks and 180 troops. It is interesting that they were given the same adjective of desantni as was applied to Soviet airborne troops and air-deployable equipment. It may appear as the word descent but in the Russian application went beyond the description of airborne operations to include amphibious operations as well. Any arm, which is capable of being deployed behind enemy lines to include airborne or sea-borne envelopment, is included in this descriptive term.
In the 1960ís a new type of Soviet amphibious warship appeared. On February 14, 1962 a design by TsKB-50 for a true LST was approved. This design continued to evolve as changes were made and was given the project number 1171 and called Tapir, although it was also known as the Nosorog class. The first ship was laid down in 1964. That ship was the Voronezhsky Komsomolets. Laid down on February 5, 1964, Voronezhsky Komsomolets was launched on July 1, 1964 and commissioned on August 18, 1966. She was typed as Bolshoi Desantni Korabl (BDK) Large Landing Ship and was designed as a Landing Ship Tank (LST). The displacement of the new design was 2,905-tons, 4,360-tons full load. The Voronezhsky has a crew of 55 and can carry 313 troops. She can also carry 20 tanks with additional lighter vehicles stored on the upper deck. The tank deck is 90m in length and totals 850 square meters. Total load capacity is 600 tons for beaching operations or 1,750-tons freight for port operations. NATO gave the class the code name "Alligator". The design included the classic LST form with a blunt bow with large equipment loading doors. Because the bow doors are the weak point in any such design, speed was limited to 16 knots.
Between 1964 to 1975 fourteen of the ships were constructed. In 1975 the 15th of the class, Nikolai Golubkov, was cancelled while under construction. There were several variations or sub-types of this class. As Voronezhsky Komsomolets was the first of the class to be built, she reflects the initial Type I sub-type. The early Type I vessels are easily distinguished from the later variants because they have two cranes on the forward deck and a third on the aft deck. One of the forward cranes and the aft crane are 5-ton KE26TD. The other crane on the forward cargo deck is a 7.5-ton KE29 crane. Type II and subsequent variants had only one 7.5-ton KE29 crane on the main deck. Type I ships also had a clean raised forecastle with no deckhouse forward and a fairly large quarterdeck. Subsequent designs added extra superstructure forward and increased the length of the main aft superstructure, which decreased the size of the quarterdeck. With clamshell bow doors and landing ramp forward, tanks and other heavy equipment were loaded through the front doors, while light vehicles, equipment and supplies were loaded by the cranes. Nine of the 14 vessels were stricken in the mid-1990s. However, Voronezhsky Komsomolets was one of the ships to make it to the 21st century, although the ship had been renamed to a simple BDK-65. (History from: Combat Fleets of the World 2000-2001, edited by A.D. Baker III; Soviet Naval Operations in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945, 1981, by V.I. Achkasov and N.B. Pavlovich )
Combrig Voronezhsky Komsomolets
Combrig is releasing two models of the Tapir class, Project 1171, BDK. The two models replicate the first and last sub-types within the class. This review is on the first of the class, Voronezhsky Komsomolets. The model should be ready for release now but when this sample was sent, neither the instructions nor box art were prepared. However, as you can see from the photographs of the resin and brass photo-etch parts, almost everything else is ready. There is a possible exception of a resin strip of windlasses and anchors, which would be shipís fittings but were not in the mix of resin or brass parts. What distinguishes the Voronezhsky Komsomolets from the other Combrig kit of the class are the two cranes forward and on one the quarterdeck, one crane aft, lack of superstructure forward and shorter aft superstructure. Her only armament is a twin 57mm gun mount just forward of the bridge.
The hull casting is very crisp and detailed, as is expected in any kit from Combrig. Normally I receive Combrig models free of any damage, however, with this particular sample the top of the cutwater at the top had broken. Basically the notch at the top of the bow should not be there, as a solid bulkhead extends around the front of the forecastle. From the hull casting you can see that the design is broad and rounded. Certainly she was built for cargo lift and not for speed. As to be expected the front loading doors dominate the hull side detail. The door outlines are nicely incised into the bow and should readily be identifiable upon painting of the model. Also forward are the large recessed anchor wells. Amidships at the deck edge there were weep or drainage slots to the solid bulkheads of the cargo deck. These are shown as small-incised slots and should be inked in upon painting. These features allow for an opportunity for effective and realistic weathering as streaks from seawater run off could be expected to be found here. To the aft under the superstructure the hull sides have a single row of small square side windows, delicately incised in the resin.
The deck of the hull casting obviously contains most of the details. The raised forecastle is dominated by large recessed anchor chain hawse. There are four locator holes for deck fittings behind these, although since I had no instructions, I couldnít determine exactly which fittings were placed there. Cast on detail on the forecastle includes two large pair of bollards inboard and two smaller sets at deck edge. The main cargo deck is dominated by a series of wide cargo access doors, whose lines are scribed in the deck. These are grouped in three clusters with centerline crane locator holes separating them. There are also four sets of twin bollards as deck fittings. Solid deck edge bulkheads are found running the length of this upper cargo deck. At the base of the superstructure there is a deck break for the raised quarterdeck. Here the hull casting is dominated by the base of the superstructure/shelter deck. The actual quarterdeck aft of the shelter deck level has more scribed cargo hatch doors and a further eight sets of fittings. Again there are two sets of large bollards inboard but with this deck there are four sets of deck edge smaller bollards and two open chocks.
Smaller Resin Parts
The Combrig Voronezhsky Komsomolets comes with a bag of smaller resin parts. The ship has a very modern look, compared to WW2 LSTs in that her superstructure appears almost streamlined. A large three-story bridge rises above the low cargo deck. This large piece is very detailed with large square windows on the two lower rows of the bridge face and continuing around the rounded edges to the superstructure sides. The upper row of narrow set windows on the bridge face indicates the navigation level. The sides of this structure are thin two-story bulkheads ending in angled chevrons. Also the upper level of the bridge face is the same very thin bulkhead rising from the block of the bridge casting for the two lower levels. The diesel exhaust stack is also very modern looking. In overhead it resembles an egg shape, broader at the aft base than the forward end. The back half has intricately scribed grill work for the position of the fume exhaust. Seen from profile, the piece slants downward as it runs aft. The stack is cast as part of the stack house, which has finely scribed windows and doors at the forward part on each side. This piece also has thin bulkheads rising from the stack house on either side of the forward end. There is a large rectangular block of resin, which undoubtedly forms part of this bridge assembly but lacking the instructions, I am not certain of its exact location.
A resin film sheet is included with nine pieces cast on the film. The largest is the overhanging deck that will fit on top of the superstructure block on the hull casting. Rounded in front, the front end should overhang the cargo deck in front of the bridge and provide a platform for the twin 57mm/70 mount. It appears that the rear side will fit flush with the rear face of the superstructure block. Two side bulkheads for the superstructure are also on the sheet. The forward edge of these parts fit perfectly in the lower half of the angled chevrons on the side of the bridge casting and carry the bridge bulkheads further aft. These pieces are admirably thin and have a series of features that can be opened to give the model an appearance of three dimensions. There is a row of five large rectangular windows and one small square window on the upper portion of each piece. On the lower portion there are seven very small drainage slots, which allow seawater to drain from the deck. Another large deck piece obviously fits above the bridge and is supported to the rear by the rectangular deckhouse piece previously mentioned. Three crane bases are included on this film wafer. The two smaller pieces are almost surely for the 5-ton cranes and the single larger base for the 7.5-ton crane. The last two parts on the wafer are two small squares of resin. I am not certain of their placement but they may be machinery houses for the 5-ton cranes. Three rectangle deckhouses are provided on a separate resin runner and appear to be fittings for the cargo decks, fore and aft. Four other runners make up the rest of the resin parts for the kit. One has four clusters of life raft canisters with individual canisters clearly scribed. Another runner contains two shipís boats with covers. A third resin casting block has the open-topped gun mount for the twin 57mm/70 guns. This is another very well done part, which is hollow in the interior with a cradle for the guns. The last runner contains seven resin parts. These are a shrouded main mast, mast top, twin 57mm guns, a cable reel, shipís gig and two block structures, which I canít identify without the instructions.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
The Combrig Voronezhsky Komsomolets comes with a brass photo-etch fret. The fret is dominated by the cranesí fittings. Each of the three cranes has multiple parts of brass. Three sides are folded from one brass part and the bottom panel is a separate piece. The 7.5 ton crane is larger and of a different design from the two 5-ton cranes. Each crane also has a lattice tower atop of the machinery house from which the rigging runs to the crane tip. In this area as well, the heavier lift crane has a different design than the lighter lift cargo cranes. Additional parts are for the crane arm base cradles. The 7.5-ton crane has a small operatorís shack atop the lattice tower with open windows on three sides, which will present a truly unique appearance when assembled. Other parts included are some bridge railing, mast platforms, boat cradles, anchor chain and inclined ladders.
The Russian Gators are coming. If you are a "Gator" enthusiast you will have to get the Russian Alligator class LSTs. The design is a mixture of the blunt-bowed WW2 design with clamshell doors on the cutwater and modern streamlined superstructure. The Voronezhsky Komsomolets is the first of the ships of the Project 1171 Tapir class BDKs and reflects the Type I variant, identifiable with two cranes forward, one crane aft, lack of superstructure forward and smaller aft superstructure. This resin and brass kit will add a unique unit to anybodyís 1:700 scale "Gator" collection.