Any Other Name: The Origin of HMS Dreadnought (SSN, S101)

Any Other Name

The Origin of HMS Dreadnought (SSN, S101)


Crest of S101.[i]

            Dreadnought was the Royal Navy’s first nuclear powered attack submarine (SSN). Dreadnought was built through the joint efforts of the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral of the Fleet, Louis Mountbatten in tandem with the Chief of the US Navy’s Nuclear Power Division & Director of the Naval Reactor Branch at the Bureau of Ships, Vice-Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. How did the Royal Navy develop a nuclear submarine force, and why was the distinctive name of Dreadnought chosen for the first SSN produced in Britain?

HMS Victory and HM Submarine No. 3 of 5 Holland boats, probably 1903.[ii]


 The submarine as an element of industrial warfare developed first during the American Civil War. The Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley infamously attacked and sank USS Housitonic, on 17 February 1864.[iii] Thirty-six years later, pioneering naval designer John P. Holland had successfully coupled the Whitehead self-propelled torpedo to a petrol-electric submarine platform. The United States Navy purchased Holland’s design and commissioned Holland as SS 1.

The Royal Navy’s first operational submarines were, likewise, Holland boats, acquired as a component of First Sea Lord John Fisher’s flotilla defence doctrine.[iv] Fisher planned to purchase 12 submarines starting in 1904.[v] Fisher, the motive force behind the first HMS Dreadnought (1905) was typically not kidding around and by the end of 1904, £770,050 had been spent on submarines, considerably more than the previous years estimate.[vi]

USS Holland, under construction 1900.[vii]

The First and Second World War demonstrated that the submarine was an essential naval system, both for blockade defense and for attacking enemy warships and supply-lines.[viii] Submarines influenced naval deployments in both World Wars (North Sea & Atlantic, 1917 and 1943;[ix] Pacific, 1945). The growing importance of the submarine was now matched by the deepening uncertainty of the role for the traditional surface fleet in the Atomic age.

In 1947 the Royal Navy’s Naval Review was concerned by the implications of atomic bombs for the future of the Navy, and indeed the existence of British society altogether: “Is it morally defensible or even worth while to mortgage our souls and all that makes life worth living for an existence devoted to an end that at best is unlikely to offer anything better than mere survival in a Wellsian aftermath of devastation, where the most ardent optimist could hardly hope to distinguish victor from vanquished?”[x] Stephen Roskill, also the Royal Navy’s official historian for the Second World War, witnessed the Crossroads test events and became enraptured by the destructive power of the atomic weapons. In particular, he observed the danger of nuclear attack against a fleet in port.[xi]

Following the Second World War, budget imperatives pushed the submarine to the fore on acquisition.[xii] Britain’s post-war political and industrial decline required the economy of effort that the submarine represented.[xiii] There was also speculation by futurists that submarines armed with nuclear equipped missiles, rather than RAF bombers or land-based ICBMs, would become the ultimate strategic deterrent. The introduction of the atomic bomb strengthened the necessity for the submarine’s role within the RN: Submarines, especially if nuclear powered and equipped, could be discreetly stationed at bases around the globe, minimizing the risk of attack on the homeland.

Admiral Rickover inspects Nautilus, 1954[xiv]

            The New Battlecruisers; USN Nuclear Attack Submarines

The nuclear submarine program in the United States was overseen by USN Captain and later Vice-Admiral, Hyman Rickover. A graduate of Annapolis, with years of service aboard submarines, Rickover was the USN’s appointee to oversee the electrical section of the Navy’s Bureau of Ships. Rickover brought a reputation for ruthless centralization and attention to detail: Lt. Jimmy Carter recalled the sharp-end of Rickover’s focus.[xv] Rickover’s objective as Director of the Naval Reactor Branch of the USN’s Bureau of Ships, after the Second World War, was to harness nuclear power for submarines. He achieved this goal with the development of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), launched in 1954. Nautilus’ first generation Westinghouse reactor (STR, followed by S2W) provided the submarine with 13,400 horsepower, and 900 hours endurance at full power.[xvi] Nautilus was joined by USS Seawolf (SSN-575) in March 1957, leading to the production run of four Skate class SSNs, the last of which, USS Seadragon (SSN-584) was commissioned in December 1959.[xvii]


Nautilus approaches Manhattan.[xviii]

In August 1958 USS Nautilus accompanied by USS Skate (SSN-578) crossed the Arctic via the North Pole.[xix] Dr. Alfred McLaren, an influential Arctic scientist and explorer described the details of this mission.[xx] Nautilus’ first nuclear core proved capable of 60,000 miles of cruising endurance and its third core was designed for 130,000 miles.[xxi] Next in accomplishment, the $109 million dual nuclear reactor, USS Triton (SSRN) circumnavigated the globe in 84 days.[xxii] In 1959 USS Skipjack, designed with a teardrop hull-form and sporting the new S5W reactor became the fastest submarine in the USN. USS Halibut (SSGN-587), introduced in 1959, experimented with launching Regulus generation missiles. These were impressive nautical and maritime feats in and of themselves, not significantly less complicated than NASA’s simultaneous Project Mercury.

These early generation nuclear submarines were, however, three or four times more expensive to operate respective to their conventional electric submarine counterparts. During a year-long overhaul, Nautilus required over $10 million in repairs.[xxiii] Nevertheless, C. W. M., writing for the RN’s Naval Review, considered the transition to nuclear as significant a revolution in military affairs as the sail-steam transition.[xxiv]

First Sea Lord Louis Mountbatten, Admiral of the Fleet, as of October 1956.[xxv]

            Mountbatten’s background

            The Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine force was in large part the product of First Sea Lord Louis Mountbatten and Rickover’s cooperation on nuclear technology.[xxvi] Mountbatten was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria. He was the brother of Princess Alice (mother of Queen Elizabeth II’s consort, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh).[xxvii] Mountbatten’s father, Louis of Battenberg, had been no less than the XO of HMS Dreadnought (1905)- the battleship of Sir John Fisher’s imagining.[xxviii] After a stint as the Director of Naval Intelligence and Second Sea Lord, by December 1912, Battenberg became First Sea Lord. Winston Churchill was the Admiralty First Lord.[xxix] Battenberg’s son, Louis Mountbatten, after an important career in the Second World War, including Supreme Commander South-East Asia, became First Sea Lord in April 1955.[xxx] Winston Churchill, Battenberg’s old master and once again PM (1951-55) had blocked Mountbatten’s appointment until Churchill resigned in 1955.

Happier times: Churchill and Prince Battenberg.[xxxi]

The significance of the new nuclear powered submarines as the future capital ships appealed to Mountbatten’s technocratic sympathies.[xxxii] In a November 1955 meeting with Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations Arleigh Burke (USN) Mountbatten learned about the American Navy’s future prospects for launching nuclear tipped missiles from submarines; what became the Polaris program.[xxxiii]

In terms of nuclear strategy, Mountbatten was considered a proponent of the emerging limited war, or flexible response doctrine, later expressed by US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in his June 1962 Ann Arbour speech.[xxxiv] Mountbatten was trying to maintain a balanced RN, capable of carrier, amphibious and submarine operations.[xxxv] However, the introduction of thermonuclear weapons served only to reiterate the conclusions drawn post-war: the fleet had to disperse as much as possible to survive.

Mountbatten visited the United States in October 1955 in an attempt to gather information on the USN’s nuclear submarine program. His first encounters with Rickover’s school were frosty: Rickover blocked Mountbatten’s planned tour of Nautilus.[xxxvi] Rickover argued that the USA-UK Agreement on Military Atomic Co-operation did not yet “extend so far.”[xxxvii] Rickover actually met Mountbatten in London in August 1956, and it has been argued that Mountbatten then won-over the Strangelovian Admiral.[xxxviii] Rickover and Mountbatten worked in tandem for the next two years to surmount the diplomatic and legal hurdles required to enable transfer of the nuclear reactor technology. In December 1957 Rickover again visited Britain and met with Mountbatten, together they stressed the need for rapid movement on the reactor technology transfer.[xxxix] The US Atomic Energy Act was amended after March 1958 to enable Britain to acquire the legal right to possess the Westinghouse reactor technology. Nuclear fuel would be provided by the US.[xl]

Sandys in December 1947, MP.[xli]

The necessity for the Royal Navy’s first nuclear attack submarine

            Why the focus on submarines? In 1957 Harold Macmillan, Winston Churchill’s former Minister of Defence, and then Foreign Secretary under PM Anthony Eden,[xlii] became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and implemented a Defence review chaired by Minister of Defence Duncan Sandys. Sandys, Churchill’s son-in-law, issued his report in April 1957. The Sandys’ white paper “placed great reliance on nuclear weapons (the British thermonuclear weapon was about to be tested); and contained the ominous words ‘the role of naval forces in total war is uncertain’”.[xliii] Sandys’ recommendations included the termination of military conscription.[xliv] Existing aircraft carriers would transition to primarily anti-submarine platforms.[xlv] Sandys was reacting to the new public perceptions surrounding the thermonuclear bomb.[xlvi] The expectation was that the Navy would only be able to play a role in a limited war, and then primarily as a component of NATO’s anti-submarine warfare campaign in the North Sea and Atlantic.[xlvii] Nevertheless, part of the new Defence policy was a refocus on the RN as an element of British culture. The “naming policy” towards nuclear powered submarines reflected this.[xlviii] The new focus on nuclear submarines spoke to Mountbatten’s pragmatism: the RAF – RN rivalry over the Fleet Air Arm had not gone in the Navy’s favour.[xlix] The submarine was the RN’s last ace. Thus, the Dreadnought Project Team, with assistant director Naval Construction Rowland Baker as chief, was assembled in October 1957.[l]

In 1957 Rickover visited London and impressed upon the Admiralty the desirability of speedily adopting the American technology.[li] Initial controversy had been caused when Rickover had shown preference for Rolls Royce as the primary contractor, a decision that alienated Vickers (Rolls Royce did not yet have permission from the UK Atomic Energy Authority to produce fuel rods).[lii] At any rate, the US government contractor was indeed Westinghouse.[liii]

Mountbatten, in an effort to generate support for the RN SSN program, invited Sandys to tour Nautilus during its visit to Portland.[liv] Sandys was impressed, and Mountbatten now became concerned that the Defence Ministry would “decide that the nuclear-propelled submarine … made our present Navy completely obsolete.”[lv]

Mountbatten’s promotion had been approved by 22 May 1958 to Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), and so  Admiral of the Fleet Charles Lambe became First Sea Lord (and Chief of the Naval Staff) in December 1958.[lvi] Lambe supported Mountbatten. The CDS now felt that with Rickover’s cooperation, he was in a position to advance his reforms. Rickover had to be kept onside but without turning the entire project over to the Americans: for example, Rickover was insistent that he “personally select all the senior personnel for Dreadnought” an opinion Mountbatten torpedoed after he demonstrated his own hands-on approach and knowledge of engineering during a visit to USS Skipjack in October 1958.[lvii]

Britain’s submarine for the “jet age”.[lviii]

            Technical specifications of HMS Dreadnought

The name of Britain’s first nuclear attack submarine was chosen to reflect the technological prowess of Britain during the Edwardian years, and to convey the ascension of the submarine to the position of capital ship.[lix] Battlecruiser names were chosen as it was expected that the submarines would fulfill much of the battlecruisers’ old role in terms of the “control [of] sea communications”.[lx] Subsequent submarines, Valiant (S102) and Warspite (S103) were named for the Queen Elizabeth class battleships familiar to the 5th Battle Squadron of the Battle Cruiser Fleet.

Dreadnought was laid down on 12 June 1959 at Vickers (Barrow), and launched on Trafalgar Day (October 21) 1960 by Queen Elizabeth II and members of the royal family. The SSN was commissioned on 17 April 1963. Dreadnought was 265.8 feet in length by 32.3 feet breadth, dimensions not indifferent to a German Type IX submarine of 1940 (261 feet by 22.4 feet),[lxi] although displacing almost three times as much, 3,000 tons on the surface and 3,500-4,000 tons submerged, and capable of diving to over 1000 ft. The submarine was armed with six torpedo tubes for 21-inch torpedoes. [lxii] 88 officers and men controlled the SSN.[lxiii] Dreadnought’s reactor was a fifth generation submarine reactor produced by Westinghouse (S5W) known for its redundancy and reliability.[lxiv] The reactor could develop 15,000 horsepower and remain at full power (28 knots) for at least 5,500 hours.[lxv]

S.101 enroute to sink the German derelict tanker Essberger Chemist with HMS Llandaff, F61, in background. See the video of the sinking in the endnotes.[lxvi]


By 1960 it was stated in the Naval Review that nuclear propulsion was “an essential characteristic” in submarine design.[lxxi] In 1962 Skybolt, the USAF nuclear attack system the RAF had hoped to acquire was about to be canceled.[lxxii] The result was a conciliation agreement between JFK and Harold Macmillan: the RN now planned to transition to the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile system, Polaris. Mountbatten, as we’ve seen, had encountered Polaris before, between 1955 and 1958.[lxxiii]

Operating Polaris would be the four SSBNs of the Resolution class, although these larger warships would require first a proven nuclear attack submarine platform.[lxxiv] The Navy’s aircraft carriers were in need of replacement, although this option was considered prohibitively expensive according to the Naval Staff. The 1964 Labour government’s Defence review invariably put the focus on affordability.[lxxv]

As the Dreadnought Project Team went about their work, advances in submarine warfare further emphasized the future role of the submarine: the Admiralty’s Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland had devised a new generation of passive and active sonar for HMS Dreadnought.[lxvii] The advanced sonar and torpedo technologies of the 1960s made the submarine itself an anti-submarine weapon.[lxviii] As a result of the technology transfer protocol, the RN’s next class of nuclear powered submarines, the Valiant class, employed Rolls Royce Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR1).[lxix] Valiant was finally commissioned in July 1966.[lxx]

The SSN and SSBNs represented the last visceral image of Britain as a great power.[lxxvi] In 1966 the failure of the CVA 01 program and the climax of the struggle with the RAF for control of the Fleet Air Arm resulted in the submarines unexpected triumph.[lxxvii]

            Dreadnought was the first RN submarine to surface at the North Pole on 3 March 1971, not long after the conclusion of the Apollo 14 mission on 6 February.[lxxviii] Dreadnought was decommissioned in 1980, having served a longer career than its namesake predecessor. The remains of Dreadnought, along with Britain’s other decommissioned nuclear submarines, are currently laid up for disposal at Rosyth, the former base of the Battle Cruiser Fleet during the First World War.

Rosyth dockyard showing decommissioned SSNs and SSBNs.[lxxix]

Retired USN nuclear attack submarines in 1993.[lxxx]




[iv] Jon Tetsuro Sumida, In Defence of Naval Supremacy: Finance, Technology , and British Naval Policy, 1889-1914, 1993rd ed. (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1989)., Table 10, “Expenditures on Flotilla Construciton by Type, 1889-90 to 1913-14 (not including cost of armament)., p. 352

[v] Nicholas Lambert, Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2002)., p. 117

[vi] Sumida, In Defence of Naval Supremacy: Finance, Technology , and British Naval Policy, 1889-1914., Table 10, “Expenditures on Flotilla Construciton by Type, 1889-90 to 1913-14 (not including cost of armament)., p. 352


[viii] Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War, 2nd ed. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961). p. 354-6

[ix] Duncan Redford, “The March 1943 Crisis in the Battle of the Atlantic: Myth and Reality,” History 92, no. 305 (January 1, 2007): 64. Redford is critical of both US (Samuel E. Morrison) and British (Stephen W. Roskill) official historians for over-stating the significance of the 1943 submarine crisis. Apparently Morrison had received the crucial documents from Roskill.

[x] Guy Liardet, “Nuclear Matters,” in Dreadnought to Daring: 100 Years of Comment, Controversy and Debate in The Naval Review, ed. Peter Horne (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Seaforth Publishing, 2012), 373–89. p. 376; quoting, Mate, “Second Thoughts on Atomic Warfare,” Naval Review 35, no. 2 (1947): 131–33.

[xi] SWR, “Bases and the Bomb. Some Implications of ‘Operation Crossroads.,’” Naval Review 35, no. 1 (January 1947): 16–24. p. 17; Stephen Roskill had been appointed a high level of clearance to report on the Crossroads operations, see Barry Gough, Historical Dreadnoughts: Arthur Marder, Stephen Roskill and Battle for Naval History (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Seaforth Publishing, 2010). p. 62. Roskill and his team saw the air-dropped “Able” detonation on 1 July 1946 aboard USN Auxiliary Blue Ridge. Roskill also saw the submarine style detonation of “Baker” on 26 July.

[xii] Duncan Redford, “The ‘Hallmark of a First-Class Navy’: The Nuclear Powered Submarine in the Royal Navy 1960-77,” Contemporary British History 23, no. 2 (June 2, 2009): 181–97. p. 182

[xiii] Ibid. p. 183-4


[xv] Jed Graham, “Rickover Was Way Up On Subs: Full Steam Ahead: The Admiral Made Sure to the U.S. Navy Its Nuclear Edge,” Investor’s Business Daily, May 1, 2007, online edition, sec. Leaders & Success.

[xvi] Wikimedia Foundation, “S2W Reactor,”, November 20, 2014,; Big Book of Warfare, “U.S. Naval Reactors,”, April 24, 2011,

[xvii] davidvblack, “The Dawn of the Nuclear Age, Interview with Nuclear Engineer S. Reed Nixon,” blog, The Elements Unearthed, (December 28, 2010),, see also “USS Seadragon (SSN-584),” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, November 24, 2014,


[xix] Society for Science & the Public, “Two U.S. Atomic Subs Sail under North Pole.,” The Science News-Letter 74, no. 8 (115AD): 23 August 1958.

[xx] William Broad, “Scientists at Work — Alfred McLaren; Explorer of Arctic Depths Plans Another Trip North,” The New York Times, October 29, 2002, online edition, sec. Science.; Alfred S. McLaren, “Analysis of the Under-Ice Topography in the Arctic Basin as Recorded by the USS Nautilus during August 1958,” Arctic Institute of North America 41, no. 2 (June 1988): 117–26.

[xxi] Kahn, On Thermonuclear War. p. 265

[xxii] Ian Hillbeck, “Submarines Association, Boat Database, Dreadnought S101,” Database, Barrow Submarines Association, (1997),

[xxiii] Kahn, On Thermonuclear War. p. 265

[xxiv] C. W. M., “Marine Nuclear Propulsion in Great Britain,” The Naval Review 48, no. 4 (1960): 393. p. 393

[xxv], “Mountbatten, Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas, First Earl Mountbatten of Burma,” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),

[xxvi] J. R. Hill, “The Realities of Medium Power, 1946 to the Present,” in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy, ed. J. R. Hill and Bryan Ranft (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 381–408. p. 384

[xxvii] Mountbatten,

[xxviii] Philip Ziegler, Mountbatten: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985)., p. 23

[xxix] Ibid., p. 30-1

[xxx] “Mountbatten, Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas, First Earl Mountbatten of Burma.”

[xxxi] Jim_and_Gerry, “Churchill – Less Than Audacious,” First World War Hidden History, accessed November 28, 2014,

[xxxii] Eric Grove, The Royal Navy since 1815 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)., p. 231

[xxxiii] Ziegler, Mountbatten: A Biography. p. 560, see also, Eric Grove, Vanguard to Trident (Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institue, 1987). p. 234

[xxxiv] Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1983)., p. 316. See also: Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War., an abridged version of “No Cities” speech can be seen here: Robert McNamara, “‘No Cities’ Speech by Sec. of Defense McNamara, 1962,” June 1962, J. R. Hill and Bryan Ranft, eds., The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy (Frome, Somerset: Oxford University Press, 1995). p. 386. US President John F. Kennedy and UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had agreed at the Nassau summit in November 1962, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis. See also Lawrence Freedman, “The First Two Generations of Nuclear Strategists,” in Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986), 735–78., & Michael Carver, “Conventional Warfare in the Nuclear Age,” in Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986), 779–814.

[xxxv] Hill, “The Realities of Medium Power, 1946 to the Present.” p. 386

[xxxvi] Ziegler, Mountbatten: A Biography., p. 558

[xxxvii] Ibid., p. 558

[xxxviii] Ibid., p. 558

[xxxix] Ibid., p. 558-9

[xl] Grove, Vanguard to Trident. p. 232


[xlii] Grove, The Royal Navy since 1815. p. 224

[xliii] Hill, “The Realities of Medium Power, 1946 to the Present.” p. 386 [xliv]

[xlv] Grove, The Royal Navy since 1815. p. 228-30.

[xlvi] Peter Nailor, “The Development of the Royal Navy since 1945,” in The Future of British Sea Power, ed. Geoffrey Till, Camelot Press Ltd (Southhampton: Naval Institute Press, 1984), 13–23. p. 15

[xlvii] Grove, Vanguard to Trident. p. 203

[xlviii] Redford, “The ‘Hallmark of a First-Class Navy’: The Nuclear Powered Submarine in the Royal Navy 1960-77.” p. 182

[xlix] Ibid. p. 189

[l] Grove, Vanguard to Trident. p. 232

[li] Ibid. p. 232

[lii] Ibid., p. 232

[liii] Ibid. p. 232

[liv] Ibid. p. 232

[lv] Ziegler, Mountbatten: A Biography. p. 560

[lvi] Ibid. p. 564-5

[lvii] Ibid. p. 559

[lviii] ; Redford, “The ‘Hallmark of a First-Class Navy’: The Nuclear Powered Submarine in the Royal Navy 1960-77.” , p. 186

[lix] Ibid. p. 186

[lx] Ibid. p. 186

[lxi] “German Type IX Submarine,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, November 27, 2014,, Tony Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships: Over 1,500 Military and Civilian Ships from 5000 B.C. to Teh Present Day (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 2001). p. 414

[lxii] J. J. Colledge and Ben Warlow, Ships of the Royal Navy, The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy (Philadelphia & Newbury: Casemate, 2010). ebook

[lxiii] Hillbeck, “Submarines Association, Boat Database, Dreadnought S101.”

[lxiv] Wikimedia Foundation, “S5W Reactor,”, May 30, 2013,

[lxv] Gibbons, The Encyclopedia of Ships: Over 1,500 Military and Civilian Ships from 5000 B.C. to Teh Present Day. p. 454-5

[lxvi] ;

[lxvii] Grove, Vanguard to Trident. p. 233

[lxviii] Redford, “The ‘Hallmark of a First-Class Navy’: The Nuclear Powered Submarine in the Royal Navy 1960-77.”, p. 183-4

[lxix] Duncan Redford and Philip. D. Grove, The Royal Navy, A History Since 1900, A History of the Royal Navy Series 14 (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014)., p. 244

[lxx] Grove, Vanguard to Trident. p. 233

[lxxi] M., “Marine Nuclear Propulsion in Great Britain.” p. 393

[lxxii] Hill, “The Realities of Medium Power, 1946 to the Present.” p. 386

[lxxiii] Ibid. p. 386; Ziegler, Mountbatten: A Biography. p. 560

[lxxiv] Hill, “The Realities of Medium Power, 1946 to the Present.” p. 386

[lxxv] Ibid. p. 386

[lxxvi] Redford, “The ‘Hallmark of a First-Class Navy’: The Nuclear Powered Submarine in the Royal Navy 1960-77.” p. 189

[lxxvii] Ibid. p. 193

[lxxviii] Wikimedia Foundation, “List of Apollo Missions,”, November 6, 2014,



Russian Operational Art of War in Crimea, March 2014

Russian Operational Art of War in Crimea, March 2014


Russian flags fly from a watchtower at the Ukrainian Naval headquarters at Sevastopol.[i]

During March 2014 Russian military forces captured key Ukrainian army, navy and air force bases around Crimea. By the end of the month Russia had completed the annexation of the entire Crimean peninsula and was under pressure from the international order.[ii] The lightning military conquest of Crimea triggered a major Russia-NATO showdown that is still evolving. How was this stunning military success achieved at the operational and tactical levels? What does the Crimean conquest reveal about current Russian operational doctrine?

            Following the turmoil of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution Western analysts expected some form of blowback from the Russian Federation. Talk of Ukrainian inclusion in NATO as early as 2008 had challenged Russia’s control of the Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol, prompting then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to describe Ukraine as an “artificial country.”[iii] Russian control of the Black Sea Fleet base, however, had not been scheduled to expire until at least 2017.[iv] Had this occurred, the Black Sea Fleet would have been relocated at the naval base of Novorossiysk.[v] Events leading towards military intervention began to unfold on 25 February 2014 in the Crimean capital of Simferopol where hundreds of pro-Russian protesters were involved in demonstrations against the new Ukrainian government.[vi]

Covert military deployments began at the end of February. On 26 February military personnel wielding Russian flags established checkpoints along the highway between Simferopol and Sevastopol.[vii] On 27 February sixty pro-Russian gunmen, 30 of whom arrived by bus and were described as heavily armed, seized the Crimean parliament buildings.[viii] The next day, 28 February, Russian forces described by Rueter’s newswire as “Russian servicemen wearing helmets and armoured body protection and backed by armoured personnel carriers” blockaded Belbek airport at Sevastopol.[ix] Another 50 gunmen in fatigues but without markings and described as wearing “the same gear as those who seized the buildings of the Crimean parliament” laid siege to Simferopol airport. The gunmen arrived in three KAMAZ military vehicles without plates or markings.[x]

Meeting in an emergency session, the Crimean parliament voted no-confidence to the Prime Minister, appointing as a replacement, Sergey Aksyonov of the Crimea Russia Unity Party, who promptly moved for a referendum on secession from Ukraine with a preliminary date set for 25 May 2014.[xi]

Military Action in Crimea

Whatever the origin of the plan, the seizures and preparations prior to 1 March suggest the calculated and complex nature of the Crimean operation. The initially covert actions acted as the prelude to the breakout of Russian forces from the Sevastopol naval base.


Info-graphic displaying the initial movements.[xii]

The Russian Federation Council, upper house of parliament, at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the use of the Russian military to ensure the security of ethnic Russians living in the Crimean region.[xiii] According to statements made by Putin later on, there were approximately 22,000 Russian personnel in Crimea at the Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol prior to March 2014. [xiv]

Military action commenced on 2 March with a series of incidents involving the surrender and capture of Ukrainian marines at Feodosiya and the attempted hijacking of the Ukrainian navy ship Slavutych.[xv] A standoff quickly developed between the Ukrainian and Russian naval bases at Sevastopol.[xvi]

            The standoff continued on 3 March, with allegations that Alexander Vitko, the C-in-C Black Sea Fleet had issued an ultimatum to the Ukrainian forces in Crimea urging them to surrender.[xvii] Russian naval vessels blockaded the Ukrainian anti-submarine warfare (ASW) ship Ternopil and the command ship Slavutych in port at Sevastopol.[xviii] 200 unarmed Ukrainian soldiers from the 240th Tactical Air Brigade were ejected from and then attempted to renter Belbek airbase.[xix] The 204th Fighter Unit of the Ukrainian Air Force defected, delivering up to 49 combat aircraft including MiG-29 fighters.[xx] Russian soldiers next seized the ferry terminal at Kerch, a key crossing point from Russia to Crimea.[xxi] By this point the Ukrainian government suspected 16,000 Russian troops had “massed in Crimea”.[xxii] The US estimates put the number at a more cautious 6,000.[xxiii]


Ukrainian MiG-29.[xxiv]

            On 4 March Vladimir Putin made a statement that the military forces in Crimea did not belong to Russia, but rather to local pro-Russian Crimean self defense forces.[xxv] Events continued to escalate the next day with the “unknown gunmen” in Simferopol taking UN special envoy Robert Serry hostage.[xxvi] 700 soldiers and officers from the 50th, 55th, and 147th anti-aircraft missile regiments at Yalta, Feodosiya and Fiolente defected. By 5 March as many as 5,500 Ukrainian personnel had defected, turning over hardware including 20 SA-11 and 30 S-300 SAM systems.[xxvii]

SA-11 system

SA-11 SAM system.[xxviii]


S-300 launch vehicle.[xxix]           

            On 6 March gunmen seized the Simferopol Radio and Television Transmitting Station, taking the station off-air.[xxx] Russian Black Sea Fleet sailors next scuttled the old cruiser Ochakov at the entrance of Donuzlav Bay to act as a blockship: an attempt to prevent the Ukrainian Navy from sortieing to the Black Sea.[xxxi] According to the Ukrainian border service, Russia now had upwards of 30,000 soldiers in Crimea.[xxxii] The next day a second blockship was sunk near the Ochakov.[xxxiii]

            Over the next week, Russian forces captured additional buildings in the capital, and secured several border crossing points. The major triumph came on 11 March when the Simferopol International Airport was occupied by pro-Russian forces, effectively closing Crimean airspace- except for flights direct from Moscow.[xxxiv]


Locations and descriptions of Ukrainian naval, air and army bases captured during March, 2014.[xxxv]

By 13 March, in advance of the Russian-backed referendum on Crimean secession, military drills were organized in Kursk, Belgorod and Rostov along the Ukrainian border. These exercises involved at least 10,000 soldiers, their vehicles and support aircraft, including six Su-27 fighters dispatched to Belarus in response to NATO F-16 deployments in Poland.[xxxvi] Attempts to deescalate prior to the 16 March referendum represented only slight friction for the Russian forces in Crimea, as they continued to seize Ukrainian military facilities.

            On 18 March masked gunmen entered Ukraine’s military topographic and navigation directorate at Simferopol, capturing the building. Two Ukrainian service members were killed in the gunfight that ensued.[xxxvii] The Ukrainian Fleet HQ at Sevastopol was then captured on 19 March, stormed by “several hundred militiamen”.[xxxviii]

International Reaction


Monday 24 March 2014: US President Barack Obama announces Russia’s suspension from the G8.[xxxix]

Russia announced its annexation of the Crimean peninsula on Tuesday, 18 March 2014. The Ukrainian government moved to relocate its 25,000 military personnel and families to the mainland the following day.[xl] Sevastopol, along with the rest of the Crimean peninsula, had voted in the controversial plebiscite on 16 March to join the Russian Federation as the Crimean Federal District (26 thousand square kilometers and population 2 million).[xli] The Russian Duma ratified the bill of accession on 21 March 2014.[xlii] On 22 March, Russian soldiers backed by half a dozen infantry fighting vehicles captured the Ukrainian military base at Belbek, followed shortly by the air base at Novofedorivka.[xliii]

The month long military takeover came to a conclusion when the Ukrainian government agreed to withdraw its forces from the peninsula.[xlvii] On 26 March acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered the withdrawal of Ukrainian military forces from Crimea.[xliv]


Ukrainian naval officials, civilian and military personnel surrender Sevastopol. Unidentified armed men, suspected to be Russian soldiers, stand guard.[xlvi]

On 27 March the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the referendum that had justified the Crimean peninsula’s absorption by the Russian Federation. The International Monetary Fund was at this point actively backing loans to the pro-European Ukrainian government to the tune of at least US $14 billion.[xlix] Russia had been expelled from the G8 Nations and Ukraine had withdrawn from the Soviet successor Commonwealth of Independent States.[l] US backed resolutions at the Security Council had been vetoed by Russia.[li]


The news media could hardly ignore the stunning success of the Crimean operation: a showcase of Russia’s military prowess and modernization. Here unmarked Russian soldiers equipped with 100 (century) series AK assault rifles, Kevlar helmets, tinted goggles, and radio encryption units.[lii] Western military analysts went into overdrive, speculating on Putin’s next coup as early as 21 March.[xlviii]

On 8 April the Russian and Ukrainian governments signed an agreement of exchange whereby the 70 Ukrainian warships captured or surrendered during the March operation were returned to Ukraine.[liii] Also returned were 200 vehicles including T-64B main battle tanks and ZSU-23-4 Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery.[liv]


Ukrainian T-64B MBTs are moved from the military base at Perevalne, Crimea, as part of the Ukrainian withdrawal from Crimea.[xlv]

By 25 April 2014 significant Russian contingents had massed on the Ukrainian border, and US Secretary of State John Kerry alleged that Russian “military intelligence services and special operators” were conducting operations across the border.[lv]

The crisis expanded. Following the March movements, NATO and Russia announced new military exercises. In early June US President Barack Obama announced a $1 billion commitment aimed at strengthening US military power in Eastern Europe.[lvi] Fighting around the Ukrainian border city of Donetsk escalated in July, leading to the 17 July 2014 Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 disaster.[lvii]


Ukraine and Crimea showing location of MH17 crash.[lviii]


The Crimean operation revealed a transformation in Russian military affairs to a doctrinal focus on combined arms operations. The conquest of Crimea demonstrated a new capabilities of a Russian military equipped and trained for rapid deployment, small group tactics and covert operations, integrated at the operational level.[lix] Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have achieved his goal of developing a modernized Russian military, “mobile and well-equipped… that can respond rapidly and adequately to all potential threats” with an emphasis on the tactical and operational levels of war.[lx] Indeed, the new face of the Russian Forces (well armed, hi-tech, covert combat fatigues) was so alluring that it was employed by the RF MOD as a recruitment tool as early as 4 March 2014.[lxi]

Suffice it to say, Western military analysts must now assume that Russian troop movements of corps sized forces (30,000 to 50,000 combatants) in conjunction with combined naval-air-land operations represent a comfortable starting point for military intervention: a far cry from the 2008 war with Georgia.[lxii] The question of success with larger formations, such as the army sized military exercises carried out recently (summer 2013 far east exercises; 160,000 combatants)[lxiii] suggests the potential limitations of the Russian Defense Ministry’s focus on the operational context.[lxiv] Nevertheless, the RF executed a significant combined arms drill involving over 100 aircraft near Donetsk on 4 August 2014.[lxv]


The NATO “Iron Sword” exercise in Lithuania kicked off 3 November 2014.[lxvi] NATO reported major Russian troop movements east of Ukraine on 4 November.[lxvii]

[i] [ii], “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis” (wikimedia foundation, October 23, 2014), [iii] Steven Erlanger, “Russian Aggression Puts NATO in Spotlight,” The New York Times, March 18, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, [iv], “Sevastopol” (, March 18, 2014), [v] Ibid. [vi], “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis.” [vii] Mark Mackinnon, “Globe in Ukraine: Russian-Backed Fighters Restrict Access to Crimean City,” The Globe and Mail, February 26, 2014, online edition, sec. World, [viii], “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis” (wikimedia foundation, October 23, 2014),; Sabra Ayres, “Crimea Sets Date for Autonomy Vote amid Gunmen, Anti-Kiev Protests,” The Christian Science Monitor, February 27, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, [ix] Reuters UK, “Military Airport in Ukraine’s Crimea Taken over by Russian Soldiers-Interfax,”, February 28, 2014, online edition, [x] Interfax-Ukraine, “About 50 Armed Men in Military Uniform Seize Simferopol Airport in Early Hours of Friday,” Ukraine News Agency, February 28, 2014, 50, [xi] Ayres, “Crimea Sets Date for Autonomy Vote amid Gunmen, Anti-Kiev Protests.” [xii] David Miller, “Russia’s Crimea Conquest,” blog, David Miller: Geography Instructor, (March 10, 2014), [xiii], “Putin: Russian Citizens, Troops Threatened in Ukraine, Need Armed Forces’ Protection” (Russia Today, March 1, 2014), [xiv] Matt Smith and Alla Eshchenko, “Ukraine Cries ‘Robbery’ as Russia Annexes Crimea,” CNN, March 18, 2014, online edition, sec. europe, [xv], “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis.” [xvi] Haroon Siddique and Ben Quinn, “Ukrainian and Russian Troops in Standoff at Crimean Military Base – As It Happened,”, March 3, 2014, online edition, sec. world, [xvii], “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis.” [xviii] Ibid. [xix] Alan Cullison and Margaret Coker, “Confrontation at Crimea Air Base Defused – For Now,” The Wallstreet Journal, March 4, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, [xx] The Voice of Russia, “ARC Government: Three Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiments of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Join Crimean Side,” Voice of Russia, TASS, RIA, Interfax, March 5, 2014, online edition, [xxi] The Associated Press, “U.S. Warns Russia against Threatening Ukraine Navy,” CBCnews, March 3, 2014, online edition, sec. world, [xxii] Ibid. [xxiii] Ibid. [xxiv],_Ukraine_-_Air_Force_AN1734687.jpg [xxv] BBC News, “Putin: Russia Force Only ‘Last Resort’ in Ukraine,”, March 4, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, [xxvi] Agence France Presse, “UN Envoy in Crimea Detained by Gunmen: Ukraine Ministry,” The Daily Star, March 5, 2014, online edition, sec. International, peiIFE. [xxvii] The Voice of Russia, “ARC Government: Three Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiments of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Join Crimean Side.” [xxviii] [xxix] [xxx] Interfax-Ukraine, “Gunmen Seize Simferopol Television Station, Turn off Channel 5, 1+1, Turn on Rossiya 24,” KyivPost, March 6, 2014, online edition, sec. Ukraine, [xxxi], “Russia Sinks Ship to Block Ukrainian Navy Ships,” Naval Today, March 6, 2014, [xxxii] La Prensa, “Ukraine: 30,000 Russian Troops in Crimea,”, March 7, 2014, online edition, [xxxiii], “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis.” [xxxiv] The Standard, “Crimea Bars Flights,” Hong Kong Standard, March 11, 2014, online edition, sec. World, [xxxv] [xxxvi] Steven Myers and Alison Smale, “Russian Troops Mass at Border With Ukraine,” The New York Times, March 13, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, [xxxvii] Smith and Eshchenko, “Ukraine Cries ‘Robbery’ as Russia Annexes Crimea.” [xxxviii] The Associated Press, “Militiamen Storm the Ukrainian Navy’s Headquarters,” Haaretz, March 19, 2014, online edition, sec. World, [xxxix] Alison Smale and Michael D. Shear, “Russia Is Ousted From Group of 8 by U.S. and Allies,” The New York Times, March 24, 2014, Online edition, sec. Europe,​. [xl] David Herszenhorn and Andrew Kramer, “Ukraine Plans to Withdraw Troops From Russia-Occupied Crimea,” The New York Times, March 20, 2014, sec. Europe, [xli] search for “Crimea”, 3 November 2014: [xlii] [xliii] Carol Morello and Will Englund, “Ukrainian Military Outposts in Crimea,” The Washington Post, March 23, 2014, online edition, sec. World, [xliv] Smith and Eshchenko, “Ukraine Cries ‘Robbery’ as Russia Annexes Crimea.” [xlv] [xlvi] [xlvii] Herszenhorn and Kramer, “Ukraine Plans to Withdraw Troops From Russia-Occupied Crimea.” [xlviii] Michael B. Kelley, “AFTER CRIMEA: Top Intelligence Analysts Forecast The 5 Things That Putin Might Do Next,” Business Insider, March 21, 2014, online edition, [xlix] BBC News, “Ukraine: UN Condemns Crimea Vote as IMF and US Back Loans,”, March 27, 2014, online edition edition, sec. Europe, [l] Smale and Shear, “Russia Is Ousted From Group of 8 by U.S. and Allies.” [li] Herszenhorn and Kramer, “Ukraine Plans to Withdraw Troops From Russia-Occupied Crimea.” [lii] C. J. Chivers and David Herszenhorn, “In Crimea, Russia Showcases a Rebooted Army,” The New York Times, April 2, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, [liii] Ruslan Pukhov and Andrei Frolov, “The Ukrainian Crisis: Possible Implications for the Russian Military Industry” (, May 12, 2014), [liv] Tim Ripley, “Russia Begins Returning Ukraine Naval Vessels and Aircraft,” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, April 12, 2014, online edition, sec. Military Capabilities, [lv] C. J. Chivers, Neil MacFarquhar, and Andrew Higgins, “Russia to Start Drills, Warning Ukraine Over Mobilization,” The New York Times, April 24, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, [lvi], “Obama Pledges $1bn for More Troops, Military Drills in E. Europe,” Russia Today, June 3, 2014, online edition, [lvii], “Malaysia Airlines Flight 17” (wikimedia foundation, 4 November), [lviii] [lix] Chivers and Herszenhorn, “In Crimea, Russia Showcases a Rebooted Army.” [lx] Vladimir Putin, “Expanded Meeting of the Defence Ministry Board,”, February 27, 2013, online edition, sec. News, [lxi] Simon Shuster, “Putin’s ‘Test’ in Crimea Gives Russian Army a Rare Chance to Gloat,”, March 31, 2014, online edition, sec. World, [lxii] Konstantin Makienko, “The Russian Air Force Didn’t Perform Well during the Conflict in South Ossetia,” Russia & CIS Observer 23, no. 4 (November 2008), [lxiii] Chivers and Herszenhorn, “In Crimea, Russia Showcases a Rebooted Army.” [lxiv] Graeme Mackay, “Ukraine, Russia and the Crimea: A History,” Yahoo! News, April 2, 2014, [lxv] Alec Luhn, “Russia Holds Huge Military Exercises near Ukraine Border,”, August 4, 2014, online edition, sec. world, [lxvi], “Iron Sword 2014: NATO Stages Massive Military Drill in Lithuania,” Russia Today, November 3, 2014, online edition, [lxvii] AFP, Reuters, DPA, “Ukraine Readies for Attacks in East,”, November 4, 2014, online edition,