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The Russian Navy’s interest in torpedoes developed very early. It has even been claimed that.

The first self-propelled mine (torpedo) in the world was developed in Russ is by the famous Russian inventor L. F . Aleksandrovskiy, who in 1865 submitted a detailed plan for a torpedo to the naval ministry. One year later, Whitehead, an Englishman, announced that he had invented the torpedo. In spite of the good data obtained during the tests of the Aleksan- drovskiy torpedo, officials of the naval ministry preferred to buy the patent and torpedoes designed by Whitehead.

The first torpedoes and a manufacturing license were obtained from Whitehead in 1876, about five years after Whitehead began selling torpedoes. By 1881 Russia had acquired 250 Whitehead torpedoes, a scant four fewer than the Royal Navy. Through 1917 31 different types of torpedoes were acquired by the Navy. Some of these were designed by Whitehead, others by Russian.

This article is based almost entirely on recently published Russian language publications. No classified information has been used. In the interest of making the source clear no attempt has been made to correlate with English language sources. We note, however, that the data presented here does not always agree with existing English language sources. The main sources for general coverage of Soviet torpedoes have been the following Russian language publications:

V.P. Kuzin and V.I . Nilcol’skiy Voyenn-morskoy Flot SSSR 1945-1991 (The Navy of the USSR 1945-1991) St. Pdcrsburg: lstorichcskoyc Morslcoy Obshchcst-vo, 1996.

Yu. L . Korshunivov and G .V. Uspcnskiy, Torpedo Ro.s.siyslcogo Flota (Torpedoes of the Imperial Russian Fleet) Monlcoy Oruzhic (Naval Weapons) No . St. Petersburg: Gangut, 1993.

Yu, L . Korshunivov and A.L. Strokov, Torpt’dy VMF SSSR (Torpedoes of the Soviet Navy) Morslcoy Oruzhic (Naval Weapons) No. 3, St. Pctcnburg: Gangut, 1993.

Beloshitslciy, V.P. and Baginskiy, Yu. M. “Underwater Weapons” Moscow: Military Publishing House, 1960, p. 83 of the Russian version or p. 63 of the NISC translation (AD A046104).
engineers closely following Whitehead·s designs. Some were manufactured in the Whitehead Fiume plant and o~ers in Russian plants, primarily the Obukhovskiy naval arms plant and Lessner torpedo plant. This is interestingly the same buy, manufacture under license, improve, an indigenous design approach that was followed by other countries, particularly Japan, in the development of torpedoes. The exception to Whitehead-based designs was the acquisition of 75 Schwartzkopf 45 cm. torpedoes for use by submarines during the Russo-Japanese War. In view of the clouded provenance of Schwartzkopf designs, even this may not really be an exception. The Russian Fleet used torpedoes of various kinds in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78. A Russian torpedo boat fired the second Whitehead torpedo fired in combat, but both it and another missed. Torpedoes, launched by torpedo boats and destroyers, were used by both sides in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-05. The Russian Navy fired 25 torpedoes from surface vessels during that war. Russia had torpedo-carrying submarines operational in the Far East before the Battle of Tsushima, but we have found no claim that they launched any torpedoes during the Russo-Japanese War.

During WWI 230 torpedoes were fired by Russian submarines for a claimed 25 hits. Seventy-seven torpedoes were fired by their destroyers for a claimed 12 hits. The period from 1916 to the mid-1920s was a dark one for the Russian/Soviet Navy. World War One, the Revolution, Mutiny , and Civil War all took their toll. As a result, there was a hiatus in naval construction and development. In 1927 the first post-WWI torpedo, the 53-27, entered service. This was also the first 533 mm (21 inches) Soviet torpedo.3 Only 52 of this model were produced and the Soviets admit “it was not a very good torpedo.” Between 1927 and 1941 several new or improved torpedoes were introduced. These were straightforward steam torpedoes with reciprocating engines of either the Brother-hood radial type or from the 53-38 on the two-cylinder, double-acting Whitehead-Weymouth type. Exactly how the Soviet torpedo designers obtained the two-cylinder engine design is not clear, but the most probable explanation is that they purchased Italian
These 533 mm torpedoes were font used in new cruisers commissioned in 1927.

Whitehead torpedoes that used the horizontal engine. From the 53- 38 on, the Soviet torpedoes seem to have been relatively reliable. In “Russian Submarines in Arctic Waters”, I. Kolyshkin brags a little that the Soviet torpedoes of WWil did not suffer from the exploder problems experienced by German, U.S . and Japanese forces. The most modern torpedoes used by the Soviet Navy in WWII were the 450 mm 45-36NU (1939), the 533 mm (53-38U (1939), and the 53-39 (1941). All were launched from surface ships and submarines. From 1944 on illusion Il-4 twin-engine bombers were used to drop torpedoes (varieties of the 45-36A). In August 1944 the first Soviet electric torpedoes, 533 mm by 7.5 m ET-Sos• were used against German targets. In addition, there was a little preliminary development of pattern running and homing torpedoes. Reportedly, during WWII Soviet submarines fired 1594 torpedoes and sank a total of 411 axis naval and merchant’s vessels; aircraft dropped 1294 for 399 sinkings; PT boats launched 845 for 190 sinkings and destroyers 16 for four sinkings. s The numbers for sinkings seem very high and we have not been able to verify them.

Post-WWII Torpedo Development

The experience of all navies in WWII indicated that the primary targets for submarines were surface vessels including surfaced submarines. Soviet torpedo development naturally turned to the development of anti-surface vessel (ASV) torpedoes. One of the first steps was to exploit the German material acquired from the U250 which was raised in September 1944. These treasures included two flat nose G7es (TV), Zaunkonig, passive homing electric torpedoes, a G7e (full Fat), a G7e (full Lut) electric torpedoes. The latter two were equipped with two different patterns running attachments-one Fat (Federapparat) and the other Lut (Lagen unabhangiger). With these items as inspiration work resumed on homing, electric, and pattern running torpedoes.6 The first success was the electric torpedo ET-46 (1946). ET-46 was longer and heavier than the G7e and carried an enormous 450 kg (990 pounds) warhead. Pattern running was incorporated into the faithful 53-39 to yield the 53-39PM (1949). The first passive homing torpedo was accepted for service as the SAET-50 (1950). This was an electric torpedo {ET-46 envelope) with passive, azimuth only, homing; functionally similar to the German Zaunkonig and the U.S. Mk 28. Thus by 1950, the Soviet Navy had largely caught up with the U.S. anti”‘5urf ace vessel torpedoes. The exception was in propulsion where the U.S. had operational NAVOL (high test peroxide) torpedoes. This shortfall was remedied in 1956-57 with the introduction of the 53-56 torpedo fueled by kerosene and oxygen which powered a reciprocating engine and the 53-57 fueled by kerosene and high test peroxide which powered a turbine. The 53-56 torpedo was remarkably similar to the Japanese Type 95, the 21-inch sibling of the famous Type 93 Long Lance. Development of the 53-57 peroxide torpedo benefitted from materiel and technical manpower from the German torpedo establishment. Between 1945 and 1976 the Soviet Navy put in service at least 17 submarines and launched ASV torpedoes. Active acoustic and wake homing, silver-zinc batteries, and nuclear warheads were some of the new features to be found in these weapons. Most of these 17 torpedo types were 533 mm in diameter, one was 400 mm and two were 650 mm (25.6 inches) giants. The first of the 650 mm torpedoes, 65-73 (1973) was a straight runner capable of 50 kits for 50 km (17.5 nm) and carried a nuclear warhead. The second, 65-76 (1976) was a homing torpedo with a 450-500 kg warhead (a nuclear warhead was also available) otherwise the same as the 65-73. Most torpedo attack submarines from Project 671RT, [NATO Victor-2), have been equipped with 65 cm tubes to fire these huge torpedoes and other weapons. In addition, most of the lO Soviet submarine and vessel launched torpedoes with both depth and azimuthal homing had an ASV capability. Three air-launched anti-surface vessel torpedoes were also developed. Of the 40 torpedoes tabulated below, only nine air-launched and the SHKVAL7 are pure ASW weapons with no ASV capability. This strong emphasis on torpedoes with anti-surface vessel capability was fully consistent with the post-WWII Soviet views that amphibious and carrier task forces represented severe threats to their security. As submarine and ballistic missile technology evolved, ASW became important and this drove the development of ASW torpedoes.

During WWII Soviet submarines sank perhaps three German submarines and lost no more than nine of their own to German and Finnish submarines. Soviet merchant shipping losses to submarines were modest. 8 This may have fostered a belief that ASW torpedoes were less important to the Soviet Navy than anti-surface
vessel torpedoes.

Post World War II, early Cold War conditions did little to change that view. The NATO submarine fleet was numerically small9 compared to that of the Soviet Union. In addition, homing in both depth and azimuth poses a whole new set of problems as opposed to azimuthal homing only. All of these factors may have contributed to what appears to have been relatively slow Soviet development of ASW torpedoes. It is possible that the appearance of NAUTILUS, the first SSN, in 1954 triggered a more urgent

Soviet interest in ASW torpedoes. 10 The first Soviet ASW torpedo, the SET-53, became operational in 1958. As detailed in Table I, it was a large passive homing torpedo powered by lead-acid batteries. The SET-53 and a modification, SET-53M (1964), were, however, the only passive homing ASW torpedoes to enter service with the Soviet Navy. All of the other ASW torpedoes used active or active/passive homing. The first torpedo of this type to enter service was the 400 mm SET-40 (1962). It was relatively light, 550 kg (1200 pounds) with an 80 kg (176 pounds) warhead. It used electric propulsion with a silver-zinc battery for a range of 8000 meters at 29 knots. It’s active/passive homing system had an acquisition range of(,()() to 800 meters. All in all a very competent ASW torpedo for that period. SET-65 (1965) 11 was larger, 533 mm, and improved, but generally comparable with the SET-40. Subsequent active/passive homing electric torpedoes, SET-72 (1972) and USET-80 (1980), were classified as dual-purpose meaning capable of attacking both submarines and surface vessels. They were faster, longer-ranged, and large than the SET-40 and capable of operating to depths below 400 meters (1300 feet). Wire guidance was added first to the SET-53M to produce the STEST-68 (1969) and then to the SET-65 to yield the TEST-71. 12 TEST-3 (1977) is a modified TEST-71 for launch from surface vessels. An improved TEST-71, TEST-96, has been announced, but its status is not definitely known. The Soviet Navy also developed a class of aircraft that launched antisubmarine torpedoes which included those launched as payloads of antisubmarine rockets. The first of these, A T-1, entered service in 1962. It was followed by two 533 mm (1965, 1973) and two 400 mm (1981) weapons. 13 One of each size was launched from aircraft and the other as payloads for ASW rockets. Two submarine-launched ASW rockets known as VYUGA were developed by the Soviet Navy. The smaller, 533 mm diameter, was very similar to the U.S. SUBROC. It carried a nuclear warhead and could be launched from 533 mm torpedo tubes. The larger rocket was to be launched from the 650 mm tubes of later Soviet submarines. It carried a 500 mm homing torpedo as a payload and had no US/NATO equivalent. 14 Neither version of VYUGA is now in service. The functional equivalent of the U.S. ASROC was METEL which was launched from surface vessels and carried, as one option, a 400 mm torpedo as payload.

In addition to conventional (by US/NATO standards) torpedoes, the Soviet Navy developed several unique weapons. Four of these, RAT-52 VA-111 (SHKVAL), APR -1, and APR-2 were rocket-propelled. V A-111, as noted is officially claimed to be capable of 200 knots and to operate in a super cavitating mode. The other three are 60-knot torpedoes. RAT-52 was an early, straight running, anti-surface vessel torpedo. APR-I and APR-2 are ASW weapons with active/passive homing. Also relatively unique is the VTI-1 a wire-guided, a lightweight torpedo launched from helicopters. Finally, we note that the Soviet Navy acquired a U.S. Mk 46 torpedo.

On the basis of this acquisition, they developed the KOLIBRI which is powered by a turbine and uses Otto fuel.

Propulsion, Warheads and Guidance

Early post-WWII Soviet development of anti-surface vessel torpedoes focused on optimizing range, speed, and warhead size.

Warhead weight trades off directly against fuel and oxidant weight. For a given torpedo and propulsion system the product of range and speed squared is roughly proportional to the weight of propellant and oxidant (or battery weight for electric torpedoes). Clearly, design flexibility is increased if the allowable torpedo weight is increased. Most Soviet 533 mm torpedoes weighed about 2000 kg (4400 pounds). For comparison, the two heaviest U.S. torpedoes were the Mk 16 at 4000 pounds and the Mk 17 at 4600 pounds; all others were under 4000 pounds. Propulsion systems that were wallceless were deemed to be advantageous for attacking surface targets, especially at long range. As acoustic homing became important, quietness also became a factor. The first post-WWII propulsion system, employed in both conventional and homing torpedoes, was electric using lead-acid batteries. The initial performance of these systems was comparable with the German G-7e (T-11) or the U.S. Mk 18. Weight and size differences account for most of the performance differences. Lead-acid systems were improved, yielding about a 20 percent increase in speed with no sacrifice of range. In due course, the advantages (and cost) of seawater batteries were recognized and one-shot silver-zinc and silver-magnesium battery systems were developed. These batteries yielded further increases in speed and range. Thermal propulsion was not neglected. Starting from the vintage reciprocating engine system that powered the 53-39 and variant torpedoes, the Soviet Navy explored the use of high test peroxide {HTP 85 percent H20i) and pure compressed oxygen as oxidants.s .16 These oxidants save weight because they avoid carrying the 80 percent nitrogen in compressed air and in the case of HTTP the weight of the air/oxygen flask is eliminated. They have the further advantage of being essentially valueless. Both turbine and reciprocating engines were used. The best of the 533 mm HTP torpedoes from a propulsion standpoint, was the 53-65, which had a range of 12,000 mats 70 kt.s with a 300 kg warhead. Great and relatively successful efforts were made to maintain the secrecy of the Soviet HTP and oxygen torpedoes. Kuzin and Nikol’skiy devote a paragraph to the subject. They say in part:

The absence of those kinds [oxygen and HTPJ of torpedoes in the navies of the USA and UK was not due to any lag behind the USSR … the USA … had begun the development of a radically new thermal propulsion system using a monopropellant [Otto fuel] having a very high energy content.

Soviet torpedo designers caught up with this advance as a result of the access to a Mk 46 torpedo as earlier noted. The other interesting Soviet propulsion development was rocket or jet propulsion. Several such torpedoes appear in the tables designated RAT, APR, or VA. The reported 200 kt speed of the VA-111 is phenomenal. The others are much slower and the APR varieties have active/passive homing.

Conventional Soviet anti-surface vessel torpedoes had warheads between 300 and 450 kg of high explosive. The 400 mm anti-escort weapons have much smaller warheads. The large warheads were directed towards inflicting serious damage on large aircraft carriers with a small number of torpedo hits. The same consideration originally motivated nuclear warheads. Conventional war-heads for other classes of torpedoes carry 60 to over 200 kg of high explosive. The exact composition of the high explosives used in torpedo warheads has not been found in the unclassified literature. Soviet explosives used during WWII did not contain ROX, but contemporary warhead loads are probably equivalent to TORPEX, H-6, or HBX in underwater effectiveness against ships. Exploders for conventional warheads include multi-axis inertial (contact) exploders and a variety of acoustic, magnetic, and possibly optical proximity devices. Again, the details have not been found in the unclassified literature, but the devices are described as active electromagnetic (probably more correctly magnetic), active acoustic, and optical. Machine Building and was aborted in the design. phase at Navy insistence. The other three designs were completed and the warheads entered service. The second was the warhead designated RDS-9 which was designed for the 533 mm T-5 torpedo. The prototype warhead was tested underwater at Novaya Zemlya Nuclear Naval Weapons T~t Area on 21 September 1955. The yield was estimated “arbitrarily” at 3 kilotons. 11 On 10 October 1957, again at the Novaya Zemlya test area, a T-5 torpedo with a nuclear warhead was fired from a submarine” at a cluster of submarine targets. Two submarines S-34 and S-20 were sunk and S-19 was rendered nonoperational. These two may have been the only underwater tests conducted by the Soviet Union. The T-5 torpedo entered service- in 1958 as the Type 53-58. Roughly contemporaneously with the development of the T-5 torpedo a universal 533 mm nuclear warhead was developed. The idea was to design a single warhead that would fit most 533 mm torpedoes. This development was successfully completed and the warhead was designated ASB-30. Fleet distribution of ASB-30 began in late 1962 and it became the practice to carry two such warheads in each submarine. The final nuclear torpedo warhead was used in the large 65-73, but details are not available to us.

Early Soviet anti-surface vessel homing torpedoes20 had a strong design heritage from German WWII developments. SAET-50 SAET-60 and modifications used a passive homing system much like the WWII German Zaunkonig homing system. A horizontal array of four hydrophones was used to achieve a directional sensitivity with two lobes about 25 degrees right and left of the torpedo axis. The MGT-1 400 mm anti-escort torpedo used a similar passive homing system. Purely passive homing systems have limitations and in due course, both active and active/passive homing systems were developed for the Soviet Navy. These seem to have evolved initially from the Gennan Geier torpedo which had been produced in limited quantities by the end of WWII. In addition to acoustic homing systems, many of the Soviet anti-surface vesse1 torpedoes employ wake following. Again, these systems may have had their origin in the German Ibis concept. Wake following torpedoes is equipped with sensors that detect a ship’s wake and typically steer the torpedo in a sinusoidal path of decreasing amplitude up the wake to the stern of the target where a contact or proximity explodes detonates the warhead. Several kinds of wake sensors including turbulence, acoustic, electromagnetic, and optical are mentioned in Russian literature. Wake homing is a special treat in that it is not vulnerable to noisemakers or transponders which can be effective countermeasures against passive and active homers.

The guidance system for ASW torpedoes poses more severe problems. Because guidance in both depth and azimuth is required, the entire system is more complex, heavier, larger, and consumes more power. There was very little WWII experience with ASW torpedoes on which to draw. The German Navy had not been particularly concerned with ASW during WWII and the only ASW torpedo to see actual service during the war was the U.S. Navy Mk 24, FIDO, Even with this and several torpedoes in the late stages of development as a start developing good post-war ASW torpedoes was difficult. For the Soviet Navy, without such experience and only anti-surface vessel developments as background, the development process was surely even more difficult. The first Soviet ASW torpedo was the passive homing SET-53 which entered service in 1958 some eight years later than the passive homing anti-surface vessel torpedo SAET-50. The SET-53 used a mechanically scanned homing system. The SET-53 propulsion system and possibly the homing system were improved in the SET-53M, but no additional passive homing ASW torpedoes were developed. Beginning with the SET-40 (1962) all subsequent Soviet ASW torpedoes have used active-passive homing just as U .S. Navy ASW homing torpedoes have since the Mk 35 (1949). Wire guidance appeared when the TEST-68 entered service in 1969. A wire-guided torpedo specifically for launching from surface vessels, TEST-3, and another specifically for launching from helicopters, VTT-1, have also been developed.

The Torpedoes

The following tabulation consists of the torpedoes listed by Kunin and Nikol’skiy using their classifications. Some minor additions from other sources have been made. Such additions are indicated by asterisks following the data.

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