In my opinion, it was precisely the configuration of her weaponry that doomed RTS Moskva (121), Russian Navy’s Black Sea flagship.
Precise reason remains unknown, but at least now there’s no doubt any more that the ship went down: even Moscow has officially confirmed this.
The way they confirmed that was nothing but curious. While it was certain, already yesterday early in the morning, that the ship went down, no, they continued insisting on all sorts of fantasies for nearly 20 hours. ‘Fire under control, crew evacuated’, ‘towed to the port’, even ‘reached port on own power’…..anything, just not ‘sunk’. Only once there could be no denial any more did they admit, ‘capsized in storm while under tow’…
Re. ‘why’…. sure, I’m skeptical about Ukrainian claims to have hit Moskva with two Neptune AShMs. For me it’s always, ‘evidence, or it didn’t happen’.
That said, few things were always beyond doubt:
- The mass of older warships of the Russian Navy are in awful condition.
- Indeed, ships as old as Slava/Moskva were in awful condition already back in the early 1990s.
- Slava/Moskva was rusty and in poor condition already back in the 1990s. Was due for scrapping. An intervention of the Mayor of Moscow saved her, but most of ‘overhaul’ she was given was actually related to removing rust and applying thick layers of fresh colour. Again, and again. Indeed, visitors of the ship during the following years have pointed out that many of systems were non-operational: just covered by fresh colour so to look intact and tidy.
- Ever since, she was paraded around as ‘the most powerful warship in the Black Sea’. In 2015, the Russians moved her all the way to the coast of Syria, supposedly to ‘protect Hmeymim AB’.
With hindsight, one cannot escape the impression: she was really ‘paraded around’, probably with the mass of her systems in non-operational condition.
In my opinion, it was precisely the configuration of her weaponry that doomed the ship. Missile cruisers of the Slava/Moskva-class are ‘brimming with weapons’. They’re really full of them:
- a turret with 130mm guns at the front;
- multiple close-in weapons systems (CIWS) atop of the forward superstructure;
- yet more CIWS on either side of the bridge,
- massive launchers for anti-ship missiles on either side of the bridge;
- yet more missile launchers deep inside the hull (right behind the funnel);
- torpedo tubes adjacent of the helicopter hangar, and
- yet more SAM-launchers in the rear….
That’s lots of warheads, lots of shells, and even more missile propellant — all waiting for opportunity to convert even a minor accident into a catastrophe.
That’s no ‘built-in survivability’, though.
And yet, this was typical for designs of major Soviet warships in the 1970s: I still recall discussions about how ‘full of arms’ were Kinda, Kresta, and then the Slava-classes — especially in comparison to such US-designs like Spruance (guided missile destroyers) and Ticonderoga, (guided missile cruisers). That’s not to talk about nuclear-powered (and extremely expensive) California- and Virginia-classes of cruisers, which were approximately the same in size like Slava/Moskva-class, but as of the 1970s underway with only two 127mm guns and two-three missile launchers.
However, in turn, this ‘brimming with weapons’ resulted in a hull where ‘explosives were everywhere’ . This might appear ‘unimportant’ at the first look, but is even more so important considering that already the Soviet Navy of the mid-1980s was critically short on money to properly maintain its warships: the Russian Navy thus ‘just’ took over the same tradition. Moreover, there were always doubts about the Russian fire-fighting technologies and practices, and — something valid for the entire Russian armed forces — handling of ammunition.
Bottom line: perhaps Moskva was really hit by one or two of Ukrainian Neptune AShMs. Perhaps not. Perhaps she hit a mine. Perhaps there was really ‘just’ some sort of an accident. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter: the flagship of the Black Sea Navy blew up and sunk. And it’s no surprise she sunk.
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Photo credit: Reuters