Nearly Three Centuries of Service Keeping Russia’s Window to the East Open

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russian pacific fleet, pacific fleet, navy, russia, far east, vladivostok, flotilla, history.

russian pacific fleet, pacific fleet, navy, russia, far east, vladivostok, flotilla, history.

May 21 is the 292nd anniversary of the creation of the Okhotsk Flotilla – the spiritual precursor to the Russian Pacific Fleet. Three centuries on, the naval force’s mission remains true to that of its origins – guarding Russia’s far eastern frontiers and providing the nation with access to the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.

292 years ago today, on May 21, 1731, Empress Anna Ioannovna issued a decree on the creation of a new naval force in Russia’s far eastern territories. The flotilla, headquartered in the Khabarovsk Krai settlement of Okhotsk, was tasked with guarding the coasts and islands of the Russian Empire’s Far Eastern possessions.

A small shipyard was created in Okhotsk to build vessels for the transport of goods and people between Okhotsk and Kamchatka, with the Russian state and local industrialists building and chartering commercial, scientific and military vessels to chart local waters, explore south toward Japan, and east toward the shores of Alaska and California, where Russian settlers would soon establish multiple colonies. In 1799, Pavel I of Russia announced the creation of a regular naval force to protect Russian possessions in the region.

Over the next 150 years, the flotilla’s headquarters would be moved repeatedly, transferring to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in 1849, to Nikolayevsk-na-Amure in 1855 (when the flotilla would be renamed the Siberian Flotilla), and, from 1871 on, in the port city of Vladivostok.

The flotilla saw its first naval engagement in August and September 1854, when, as Russia faced off against the Ottoman, French and British Empires during the Crimean War, the Frigate Aurora, the Dvina armed transport and the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky garrison faced off against a squadron of six British and French warships.

The naval force now known as the Pacific Fleet would play a crucial role in Russia’s 20th century history. At the start of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, a Siberian Flotilla of only 4 cruisers, 5 gunboats, 22 torpedo boats and 2 minelayers faced off against a Japanese fleet armed with battleships, cruisers and destroyers, prompting Emperor Nicholas II to dispatch the Baltic Fleet on an exhausting, round-the-world journey to face off against the Imperial Japanese forces. Much of the fleet was lost in the disastrous Battle of Tsushima in May of 1905, pushing Russia to sue for peace and resulting in the first Russian Revolution.

The Siberian Flotilla, armed with the Askold armored cruiser (which had taken part in the Russo-Japanese War), a light cruiser, over two dozen destroyers and 13 submarines, met the First World War materially strengthened but politically demoralized. In the aftermath of the October Revolution in 1917, most of the fleet’s vessels were seized by Japanese occupation forces and the White Army.

1935: Fleet Gets Its Current Name

After the conclusion of the Russian Civil War in 1921, the Soviet authorities slowly began work to rebuild the fleet. The Pacific Fleet received its current name in January 1935 when, after witnessing Japanese aggression in Manchuria, the USSR realized that Tokyo might target the Soviet Union next, and began a large-scale military buildup. Moscow could not hope to amass the same kind of naval might as the Japanese (who had the third most powerful fleet in the world at the time), and so instead focused on asymmetric warfare, including large numbers of small torpedo boats and subs, backed by coastal defense forces and naval aviation. In addition to the Pacific Fleet, the Soviets formed a North Pacific Flotilla in August 1939 to guard the Tatar Strait separating the Russian mainland from Sakhalin Island.

During the Second World War, the Pacific Fleet took part in operations to ensure the safe passage of US lend-lease aid to the USSR via the Pacific Ocean. Over 147,000 personnel from the Fleet were transferred west to join naval units of the Northern Fleet, other naval formations and ground forces fighting the Nazis and their allies, taking part in the defense of Moscow, Stalingrad, Sevastopol and Stalingrad.

During Operation August Storm in 1945, the Pacific Fleet assisted Red Army assaults in Manchuria and Korea by attacking Japanese forces at bases and ports along Korea’s coasts, and conducting multiple naval landings, most notably the South Sakhalin Operation liberating the southern portion of the island from Japanese troops.

The Pacific Fleet actively took part in the battles of the Cold War, including the Korean War, when it assisted in the delivery of weapons and military equipment to the North Korean Navy. In 1979, the Pacific Fleet established a presence at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, with the facility becoming the USSR’s largest base abroad. During the Cold War, the Pacific Fleet became the largest and most powerful of the four fleets of the Soviet Navy, and – together with the Northern Fleet, was armed with nuclear ballistic missile submarines to serve as the backbone of the nation’s naval-based nuclear deterrent. The fleet conducted operations across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Arabian Sea, making its area of responsibility larger than that of the rest of the Soviet Navy combined.

Deterioration and Rebirth

The Pacific Fleet was hit hard by the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, with its two heavy aircraft-carrying cruisers – the Minsk and the Novorossiysk sold off and turned into a theme park in China (in the Minsk’s case) and scrapped (in the case of the Novorossiysk). The Orlan-class heavy nuclear missile cruiser Admiral Lazarev suffered a similar fate, as did dozens of other ships large and small. Between the early 1990s and 2003, the fleet did not receive a single new large warship or submarine.

It wouldn’t be until the late 2000s that major resources began to be invested, with existing ships receiving upgrades and the fleet getting new vessels.

Today, the fleet has 11 major surface warships, including the Project 1164 Atlant Varyag cruiser – which serves as the flagship of the fleet, five destroyers, five corvettes, about twenty anti-submarine warfare and missile corvettes, four large amphibious assault craft, four Borey-class nuclear submarine missile submarines, and about 18 attack and cruise missile subs.

Last month, Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Nikolai Evmenov announced that the Pacific Fleet would continue to be rearmed over the coming years with new frigates, corvettes and nuclear submarines.

“The equipment – the newest ships, submarines and aircraft, has demonstrated high reliability, while its personnel shows its professional skills,” the commander said following snap combat readiness checks in mid-April.

The Pacific Fleet’s Combat Readiness Drills - Sputnik International, 1920, 20.04.2023

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The new vessels expected to join the fleet over the next five years include 12 Project 20380 Steregushchiy and Project 20385 Gremyashchiy-class corvettes, new Project 22800 Karakurt-class small missile ships, and Kalibr and Uran cruise and anti-ship missiles fitted aboard the upgraded Project 11551M Admiral Vinogradov frigate. Two Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates are also currently under construction by Severnaya Verf in St. Petersburg, and are expected to be commissioned in 2026 and 2029, respectively.

The Pacific Fleet’s sub fleet is expected to receive at least one more improved Borey-A nuclear submarine before the end of the current year, and to be equipped with six new Project 636.3 Varshavyanka diesel-electric attack subs by the end of 2024.

Finally, the Pacific Fleet awaits upgrades to its amphibious assault capabilities, with two modified Project 11711 Ivan Gren-class large landing ships expected to be commissioned in 2023 and 2024. These ships will be capable of carrying up to 40 armored vehicles, 400 troops, or between four and five Ka-52K, Ka-27 or Ka-29 helicopters, and up to six Serna-class landing craft.

Russian and Chinese warship detachments meet in the Sea of Japan during the Vostok-2022 military exercises - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.09.2022

Vostok 2022: Pacific Fleet Takes Part in Military Drills





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