NOT SO TRIVIAL A PURSUIT
Tbe Soyiet Submarine Fleet; A Photographic Suryey by John Berg with an introduction and preface by John Moore is intended to be a recognition guide tor the “non-naval public.” However, even a quick glance suggests it is far more valuable. The book is based on a format Berg designed as a guide for Scandinavian spotters and has been expanded into a text that presents photographs of almost every contemporary “full-size” Soviet submarine class. The photographs are generally or superior quality, and thereby reveal features that are not usually apparent in pictures published in newspapers and magazines.
The preface presents a brief but sufficient overview of submarines, their operations, and some pointers on reporting submarine sightings. A few brief paragraphs on the Soviet Navy and a rough distribution of submarines between the four Soviet Fleets are included. But a separate and more interesting summary is presented on the cover flaps.
The text is arranged into six chapters or groups. The groups are conventional attack, conventional attack equipped with cruise missiles, nuclear attack, nuclear attack equipped with cruise missiles, conventional and nuclear equipped with ballistic missiles, and specialized or auxiliary submarines. Within each group, at least one photograph of individual submarines is presented with a short description or its identifying features, its order-of-battle by fleet, its surface displacement, and its length in meters. At the end of Group 2 and Group 4, there is an additional collection which points out the similarities and differences among conventional attack units as well as nuclear attack units.
Photographs are included for all submarine classes discussed, except for the MIKE SSN (a drawing “based on satellite photographs” is presented), the DELTA IV SSBH, the LIMA SS, and the UNIFORM SSN. Except for a few units, the photographs are of sufficient quality to make this a collection that will be of interest to submariners, as well as the “non-naval public.n Indeed, the quality and completeness of the photography reveal a great deal more about Soviet submarines than is available in any text to date — and therein lies the value or this book. Since the author has included photographs or class variants and old as well as new photography of standard units, changes over time become more obvious. In fact, The Soyiet Submarine Fleet; A Photograohic Suryey reveals that Soviet submarines differ from U.S. submarines in many ways and that some of the observable features of these hulls aren’t readily identifiable and are subject to discussion as to their function. To make a best evaluation about the implications and functions of these features is certainly “not so trivial a pursuit.”
Looking at the photographs Berg and Moore have assembled and making educated guesses as to the purpose and implication or certain features can be a tun and worthwhile pursuit for the submariner. Having a limited knowledge of contemporary Western submarine design might not be a handicap, since the Soviets appear to have moved in directions not identical to the United States. Indeed, knowing U.S. design practices may be misleading particularly when the photos are not examined with great care. What is needed is an experienced eye, practical sense, and the insatiable curiosity that is characteristic of the submariner. Being curious as to how submarines are being improved and as to the nature or the latest developments, I would start a sort of Trivia Pursuit game — using photos from this book or ones from other publications, The Proceedings, Jane’s Fighting Shins, Soyiet Military Power, etc. And, start with the biggest and possibly most radical submarine of modern time, the TYPHOON. My first thoughts are to its great size: about 170 meters long, 25 meters in beam, and 16 or so meters high with a very long parallel mid-body. This envelope produces a submerged displacement of only 25,000 tons? My submariner’s instinct sends up a red flag on that value. With a crosssectional area or over 300 square meters the outer envelope or the sub must contain over 45,000 tons. The small surface displacement of 20,000 tons described in the book would require a freeflood volume of 20 to 25 thousand tons. It would be an unprecedented folly in ship design to tote around 25,000 tons or sea water unless there is a way or making some clever use of it.
The high freeboard suggests a healthy reserve buoyancy, probably more than 25J. The lack or limberholes, which total over 500 on previous SSBNs such as the DELTA-III Class, further suggest that there is not a great deal or free-flood volume that must be drained from the superstructure as the ship surfaces.
Now the difficult questions; or, as the gamesman says, the next level of difficulty. For what purpose is all the volume? Reloads, extra weapons? Twenty tubes forward is only four more than the DELTA submarines, which are about 1/3 the size of TYPHOON. More design folly? What is the vapor on the missile deck and along the flanks? Air to reduce boundary layer density? The photos in DoD’s Soviet Military Power also show that vapor, although much less intense. Since the freeboard remains constant in all these photos, it doesn’t appear to be the result of ballast tank venting. Why are there such large, almost square holes on the deck, on the trailing edge of the “lower sail,” around the base of the sail, and along the after deck? It is hard to believe that these holes are ballast tank vents in that they appear both atop and outboard the sail in clusters and in the same transverse plane. Their location seems to alternate port to starboard between the “tracks” and wanders closer together as they progress aft to the plane of the two large trapeziodal structures, then the holes are continued aft, but outboard of the “tracks.” These similar holes also appear on the OSCAR (page 4 and 58) and the DELTA-III (page 70).
Next level of difficulty. What are the trapezoidal structures that rise from the after deck? Their shape may be an effort to reduce submarine drag through equal area rule design (i.e., that cross-sectional area is nearly constant along the direction of flow). Independent of shape, these structures are likely to have a marked effect on the flow over the after deck. They appear to be in line behind a pair of unusually large hatches with openings of about 4 meters by 7 meters. Although they are of different sizes, similar hatches are on the VICTOR-III, the DELTAs (Two in tandem on D-III), and the OSCAR. There may, of course, be others. But more trivia. Why the white paint along the door edges? The only other white paint seems to be for locating things, such as air salvage fittings, plimsoll marks, and escape hatches. Are these stowages for communication buoys? If so, why so many size variations on different submarines, and why the white edges, and why so big? Whatever is inside is over 3 meters wide and 6 meters long — big enough to carry men!
Same level of difficulty. Why is the sail so big? Why two levels of sail? Why are there sponsons around the sail? Their multi-meter width suggests more than a convenient walking deck. The whole sail design suggests some other function than housing masts. And why are the crew access hatches centerline and, except for the standard pair of air salvage fittings at the forwardmost and aftermost bulkheads, only single centerline fittings are observed on TYPHOON. Neither the salvage fittings nor the hatch locations are suggestive of the twin hull configuration reported in the literature.
Now that you’ve showed your prowess in making guesses to these “not so trivial” questions, you might relax with some easier, “first-level” questions. What is the purpose of the winglets aft of the trapeziodal structure? Are they like the flow directors on aircraft, or are they vortex generators to counter the disturbances created further forward?
Now even easier. What is the function of the pair of “tracks” on the walking deck? Up to now you might have kept your U.S. design concepts in check. If you said safety tracks, remember the TYPHOON’s size. TYPHOON has about a 25-meter beam. These are pretty good sized “tracks.” Why aren’t they on the missile deck (PROCEEDINGS) as they are on DELTAs (pages 69 and 70)? Notice the crimps in the tracks on TYPHOON’s afterdeck. Is that representative of a strong rail? But the real clincher: the photograph of an ECHO-II on page 50 shows what appears to be two pair of tracks, the inboard or larger pair being closer in dimension to the “tracks” on more recent classes. Other photographs show that they are sometimes light or white in color, that in some cases they go along the very edge of the deck and outboard or over the edge to pass obstacles. The more classes you look at in Berg’s collection, tbe more variations in track patterns you will notice, not only between classes but also among classes.
Well, enough of the TYPHOON — not that we have covered all or even most of the possible questions, but let’s make sure that the player’s interest is sustained. I think the interested submariner will have difficulty in finding a single picture in Berg’s collection that he is willing to pass over. For example, the photograph of the OSCAR on the frontispiece (page ~. unnumbered), as well as the VICTOR (page ~2), show a very wide vertical slot down the bow of these subs. Be careful now about a guess based upon u.s. design practice. These slots are much wider and longer than they need to be, if they were only torpedo-loading hatches. They are well forward of the main deck and, in some cases (see the SIERRA on page 96 of the PROCEEDINGS (December, 1985)), extend below the water line. The hoarfrost on the OSCAR reveals lines and shapes along this slot that are hard to understand. The entire slot is apparently subdivided, but is altogether rather large and located in a position subject to greater stress than traditional loading hatches. While we worry about shutter door noises, one should wonder why two of the Soviets• quietest submarines have been designed with such large noisemakers at such a critical location. And, in that same context, why are they so long and so wide? (Since the slot is along the curved bow and extends well forward of the pressure hull, a. weapon-torpedo loading hatch even shorter than those on the flat-decked fleet-boats would be adequate).
The bulb-shape of the sail’s base, the blunt trailing edge of the “upper” sail structure, and the fences or vortex generators on the TYPHOON may be better explained as aerodynamic features rather than traditional submarine hydrodynamic ones. Photographs of other classes, such as the apparent coke-bottle shape of the BRAVO (page 78) and the complex curvatures pictured on the DELTA-III (page 70) and VICTOR-III (page ~~). are also reminiscent of lessons learned in the aero community decades ago. The full shape of the sail of the ALFA elicited the author’s comments that it “is narrow on the top and widening downward, so that the sides blend with the bull” and “it is not possible to step out from the side or the fin (sail).” Some Soviet sail shapes, such as ALFA and AKULAt appear to be closer to the design or aircraft wings than those of u.s. submarines. Indeed, the photograph or the ALFA (page 40) makes one recognize just bow important streamline design is to the Soviets. Maybe this game would be more interesting if an aircraft pilot or designer were to assistl
One more rule or this game should be consistency. Hake sure your answers are consistent within a photograph and between photographs. For example, hesitate to explain a particular circumstance because the weather is cold in one photo and in another a warm sun is in evidence. This points out another value or Berg’s work. Since most or the submarine classes are presented with multiple photographs, similarities and differences can be pointed out. The BRAVO is a late 60s non-nuclear, so the splotches all over its surface (page 78) might be evaluated as peeling paint. But, on the rubber-coated ALFA there is a similar discoloration. Is it paint -or a Polymer slime? Other submarines also have discolorations which appear to be more like selective wetting. That is, some panels appear water-covered. while others adjacent and closer to the water, appear dry. Some or the darker stains on the TYPHOON give the appearance or leaks -leaks coming out or the coating and leaks coming from between the coating panels.
Helpful hint. One should develop Soviet patterns. While Western submarine designs have nearly 12J reserve buoyancy, the freeboard or the TYPHOON suggests more than 25J. Soviet literature states that reserve buoyancy and its distribution (not concentrated at a few points) are direct measures or the ship’s survivability. The photograph of the VICTOR-III on page 44, with the horizontal control surfaces (bow and stern planes) breaking the sea surface, demonstrates the extraordinary reserve buoyancy of this class. With the bow still high, the stern is nearly half out. It is clear that during normal surfacing, the VICTOR still has a sizable reserve buoyancy. In fact, this photograph gives credence to the Soviet open-source articles which suggest that they still build hard tanks in order to tolerate the loss of a compartment. There is still another test for your skills in this photograph. Although the VICTOR is described as having contra-rotating propellers, it is apparent from the photo that both the forward and after screw are pitched in the same direction. Thus, they would be better described as tandem propellers.
The Soyiet Submarine Fleet: A Photographic Suryey should provide interesting reading and perusing for both the layman and submariner, especially the submariner. For the submariner, good eyes, interest, and a commitment not to fall victim to U.S. ways of designing submarines is all that is needed to really enjoy the book. All lines on the deck are not necessarily safety tracks, all hatches do not necessarily house communication buoys, and all long deck hatches may not be for torpedo loading. There are many important features or Soviet submarines that remain unidentified and need an experienced mind and an experienced eye to evaluate. Berg and Moore present that opportunity in their new book. For all or us, they have provided an extraordinary addition for our reference library. K.J.M.
By Jonathan Crane. Published by The British Broadcasting Corporation, 1984.
In 1983 the BBC made a television “mini series” about The Royal Navy’s submarine service that consisted of six thirty minute programmes. The series was split into three sections; one about life onboard an SSN, one following the fortunes of four candidates in the Commanding Officers Qualifying Course and the last about life onboard an SSBN. This book is written by the director of the film crew and is split in the same way but with the addition of a fourth chapter containing a potted history of submarines from 332 BC until the advent of the Polaris Submarine in the mid ’60’s.
The book starts dramatically with a boat rendezvous off Campbeltown Loeb in a grey choppy Scottish day as the film crew board HMS WARSPITE which was sailing to take part in Exercise Ocean Safari •83. What follows is an accurate and sympathetic description of life onboard a modern SSN, written not in any sneering way but with a genuine respect of the submariners by the film crew. “The whole concept of taking a miniaturised nuclear power-station to sea, throwing it around at violent angles from the surface to several hundred feet down is somewhat audacious.”
That is not to say that an unrealistically rosey picture of life onboard is painted — the portrait contains “warts and all.” WARSPITE fared with mixed success during the Exercise and no cloak is drawn across an early detection by an Atlantique aircraft after which the Captain in masterful understatement commented that “We have not had a good day.” For the American reader this chapter has much that be will find strange and amusing; for instance the officers and ratings have sherry together after church, served orr a silver salver.
The second chapter follows the varied fortunes of four officers in the Commanding Officers Qualifying Course — “The Perisher” so named, not as the book implies because many fail, but from the diminutive of “The Periscope Course,” its original name. Undoubtedly this is the highlight of the book, as it was of the television series. It is a compelling account of this gruelling course whilst remaining accurate and containing sufficient technical detail for the reader to understand what is happening. When the two episodes of The Perisher were shown on British Television, the whole country stopped to watch as if mesmerised by the gyrations around the periscope. “Teacher” became “public enemy number one” for failing a student, numerous articles appeared in the national press and civilian friends telephoned asking, “Did you really do that?” with renewed admiration in their voices. The book cannot catch the fast moving pace of the film but despite that it is a well written and interesting account which all U.S. submarine Commanding Officers will enjoy reading if only to find out how their British opposite numbers are trained.
The Perisher, which lasts five months, consists of two main phases; the first has the students conducting visual attacks over a three week period against a steadily increasing number of ships — one frigate at the start rising to four frigates and a target at the end. The attacks are contrived and artificial with little direct tactical significance; the aim of this phase in the words of Teacher is “to put the student to the limits. We create these kinds of situations so that he is aware of his personal limitations.” Anyone who has witnessed the Perisher at sea knows how true that is.
The second part of the course is to train the students in a realistic tactical scenario and is split into two further phases, ocean and inshore. In the book only the latter is covered. It is again an accurate portrayal of the evolutions that are conducted, in this case a minelay, a photo reconnaissance and finally the landing of special forces. the ten students who start the Of Perisher only six pass which is “par for the Course.”
The third chapter, “Submersible to Submarine,” appears to have been added to the book to pad it out. It is not badly written but seems to have little relevance to the other three chapters; while, the early history of submarines is very much better covered elsewhere, (for example: Submarine Boats by Commander Richard Compton-Hall. )
Chapter four, “Bomber,” returns to the filming, this time onboard HHS REPULSE, one of the Royal Navy’s four Polaris submarines. Much is made of the problems of the families while their husbands are away on patrol and the unenviable task that wives face in compressing all the affairs of home into forty short words that make up a “family gram. 11 There is a short description of a practice firing sequence and a rather poorly written section about the efficacy and morality of the nuclear deterrent.
I hope this book will be published in the USA and that the PBS television stations show the BBC series “Submarine” as it has succeeded in capturing the atmosphere of today•s submarine service. The American viewer may not like all that we Brits do onboard our submarines but those who have worked with us at sea know that although we have different ways we can and do keep up with the best.
Commander James F. Perowne, OBB Royal Navy[Ed. Note: CDR Perowne sent a VHS videocassette of “SUBMARINE” to the Naval Submarine League for those who wish to borrow it.]