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Amphibious assault operation in the Turkish Straits Area

Excerpts from the chapter.

References have been removed from the text.


Landing in the Black Sea Straits was considered one of the symbols of political and ideological victory in the history of Russia ("Cross hoisting at the Hagia Sophia", "access to the warm southern seas", etc.). Such landing took place in the Bosporus in 1833, and was seriously prepared in 1853, 1897 and 1916-1917. Most Soviet citizens in general have no doubts about the ability of the Black Sea Fleet to assault and capture the Straits during the Cold War. Reports from naval exercises about Marines in black uniforms storming the beaches and setting the flags on coastal elevations were convincing this opinion. Soviet military establishment was contemplating in the same vein. For example, USSR Navy First Deputy Chief Admiral I.Kapitanets defended his doctoral thesis on "Marine operation for capturing the entrance to Bosporus" when graduating the Military Academy of the General Staff in 1970. Rear-admiral V.Lebedko, who was the Chief of Staff of Southwestern Naval command, defended his thesis on "Organization of operational command and staff exercise on mastering the Black Sea straits area in joint operations of assault troops and ground forces" in 1986 at the same Academy. Note, that naval landings were not something new for the Black Sea Fleet. It has participated in 24 naval landings during World War II, including 4 operational-sized ones. The Kerch-Feodosiya landing operation in 1941 was the largest, when 40319 soldiers were landed in Crimea.

Series of reconnaissance operations were undertaken at Black Sea straits area to evaluate the physical and geographical conditions of the future theater for military actions. For example, hydrographic vessel "Thaddeus Bellingshausen" sailed to explore coasts of Marmara, Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas with a group of generals, admirals and officers of the General Staff, Odessa Military District and the Black Sea Fleet in early May 1969. Materials of this expedition became the basis of a joint operational training of troops, navy and air force in the South-West direction.

Landing of marine regiment and motorized rifle division in the Black Sea straits was mastered during the strategic exercises "South-71" in June 1971. Minister of Defense A.Grechko and Commander in Chief of the Navy S.Gorshkov passed through the Straits aboard cruiser "Dzerzhinsky", escorted by several warships. After reconnoitering the Straits they oversaw exercises of the 5th Naval Squadron in the Mediterranean. Officers of the Command group of Southwestern strategic direction made similar trip at the end of July 1985 aboard command ship "Angara". Based on results of this trip, special book for the senior officers of the Soviet armed forces was published the same year, called "The history of the struggle for mastery of the Black Sea straits area". At the same time military-geographical description of the most important islands in the Marmara and Aegean Seas was also ordered. Such a description of 1160 islands was prepared in 1988, describing, among other things, ease of naval landing on each island and their possible use as naval bases.

Opinions on the role and place of the navy in the USSR were influenced by the experience of the Great Patriotic War, when critical battles took place on land, with a strong continental enemy. Only auxiliary functions left for the fleet. Thus Soviet High Command believed that main objectives of the new war will also be achieved by the land fronts. Strategic operation in the continental theater of war was seen as an offensive by the group of fronts to defeat enemy armed forces and force states of the enemy coalition to withdraw from the war. In such an operation Navy had a number of tasks in supporting the ground forces, including making naval landing operations. But given the "unimportant" role of the fleet, the "weight" of the Navy in the eyes of the Army was minor. Commander in Chief of the Navy N.Kuznetsov wrote, "Military circles attributed little importance to sea war. Classic land doctrines of warfare predominated, and the General Staff brushed off all navy questions without giving them a great thought." Commander in Chief of the Navy S.Gorshkov in his notes also stated the predominance of opinions about the fleet as "a Soviet Army supporter" and Marshal G.Zhukov's leading role in this state of things.

This attitude remained changeless until the end of the Cold War. Even in 1985 (!) exercises of the Odessa Military District on "Frontline offensive in the seaside direction" front Commander planned to attack the Black Sea Straits, studiously avoiding interaction with the Black Sea Fleet at the exercises. Army troops attacked 200 km away from the coastline, so landing operations to support them have lost their meaning. When the district Commander Colonel-General A.Elagin was asked by Navy representatives about the cause of such situation, he replied with a counter question, "And what is your fleet doing now?" Chief of Staff of the Black Sea Fleet, Rear Admiral S.Alekseev replied, that fleet is trying to conquer command of the  Black Sea. "So go on and conquer it to your heart’s content", replied A.Elagin.

Note, that Soviet Army generals had sufficient grounds for skepticism concerning the fleet capabilities. First, the Black Sea Straits were not been considered as an important goal for the Soviet military. Based on the experience of the World War II, Army leadership sought to concentrate the main effort in the decisive direction. Italy, the most industrialized country of the Southern Europe, was considered the most important target on the South-Western Theater of operations. Italy's defeat disrupted the stability of the whole enemy front in Europe, seriously weakening NATO military capabilities and gaining the control over the Mediterranean Sea. Even in the fall of 1984 substantial part of HQ officers of South-Western direction still considered the Italian direction as the most important, while Bosphorus-Dardanelles direction was approved as main only after the intervention of the Commander in Chief of the South-Western direction Army General I.Gerasimov.

Second, military history taught Soviet planners, that the Black Sea Straits and Constantinople/Istanbul were never captured by attack from the sea, but only by attack from the land. The experience of British and French forces during World War I is indicative: on April 1915 they've attempted landing of about 80 thousand troops with support of a powerful fleet at Gallipoli peninsula. The operation has failed with heavy losses, and the Soviet generals knew it well. So when the Soviet fleet came out to fight with American Nuclear-powered Ballistic Missile Submarines in the Mediterranean in 1960s, and quick capture of the Straits has become a priority task, the Army still relied only on its’ own forces to break through the Straits.

In part this was due to the weakness of the Black Sea Fleet. After the World War II many captured ships of a questionable combat value were hastily included in the fleet ranks. Then Fleet received a lot of new-built, but already obsolete ships, which it ultimately had to scrap in the late 1950s-60s. As noted by the American experts, the ability of the Black Sea Fleet to support the naval flank of the ground forces in their run to the Straits depended on the enemy which it would have to face. Breakthrough of the NATO naval forces with aircraft carriers of the 6th U.S. fleet in the Black Sea would lead to the destruction of the Black Sea Fleet. Meanwhile, the war experience showed that it was impossible to carry out operational naval landings in the Black Sea Straits, unless control of the Black Sea was achieved.

Anyway, during the late 1950s-60s the Black Sea Fleet simply couldn't offer much help in the organization of naval landing. Sole marine unit of the fleet (393rd Separate Marine Battalion; was stationed in Kazach’ya Bay of Sevastopol) was disbanded in 1955, as well as the entire Soviet Marines. According to the admiral I.Kasatonov, USSR Defense Minister G.Zhukov took the final decision to disband the Marines and to include their units into the Ground forces. Marine School at Vyborg was also closed, which led to the acute shortage of officers after the revival of the Marine Corps, as the sole Faculty of the Officer Academy in the Far East could not meet the needs of the Navy. 75 of the 80 landing ships, which entered the ranks of the Soviet Navy during the first 10 years after the World War II, were later transferred to the Ministry of the Merchant marine and Fisheries of the USSR. Few remained amphibious ships were used mainly for transport duties. Army leadership insisted that naval landings completely lost their meaning in a nuclear war, but, if necessary, landings can be performed by motor rifle units of coastal military districts. There were also expressed views, denying the need to support ground forces by Navy during operations along the coast. It was assumed that the ground troops with nuclear weapons do not need the support from the sea, as they can capture the Black Sea Straits on their own and even fight with the enemy fleet trying to attack them from the sea. However, exercises and maneuvers showed that these statements were far from reality. Drastic changes have taken place after the failed landings of motor rifle units during the exercises of the Caspian Flotilla and the Pacific Fleet in the early 1960s, dubbed "the total disgrace" and "self-drowners" by than USSR Defense Minister R. Malinovsky.

Thereafter, at the initiative of the Commander in Chief of the Navy Admiral S.Gorshkov and Deputy Defense Minister Marshal A.Grechko, working out of target tasks on the amphibious assaults resumed at joint activities of troops and fleets. This was due to the drastic increase in the combat capabilities of the Navy related to the widespread introduction of missile weapons on ships and naval aviation, with the new generation of submarines mass production. Results of experimental exercises showed that fighter aircraft ensures reliable air coverage of ships at the distance of 120 km from the coast, which is sufficient for operations near the Bosphorus. Based on this, the command intend to seize dominance in the Black Sea since the war began and further concentrate their efforts on supporting the ground troops in capturing the straits area. So far the tactical landings of reinforced mechanized infantry battalion were perfected in the seaside flank of the offensive front. Black Sea Fleet has one division of landing motorboats in Odessa, restored in March 1962 for these purposes. Further growth of landing opportunities depended directly on modern amphibious equipment of the fleet.

The meeting of Navy commanders of the Warsaw Pact was convened in the General Staff of the Soviet Navy in the autumn of 1962, and was devoted to fleets landing training and equipping with modern technics. Poland and East Germany, acting on the main western direction, where was a problem of Danish Straits quick capture, never stopped the landings training. The meeting of Navy commanders of the Warsaw Pact was convened in the General Staff of the Soviet Navy in the autumn of 1962, and was devoted to fleets landing training and equipping with modern technics. Poland and East Germany, acting on the main western direction, where was a problem of Danish Straits quick capture, never stopped the landings training. Polish Marines considered the best in the Coalition. But the Black Sea allies Romania and Bulgaria had neglected the landing training even more, than USSR. Meeting decisions had an advisory format and formed the basis of a new concept of amphibious forces. In particular, since 1963 due to lack of berth places in the USSR the construction of medium amphibious ships was transferred to Gdansk, in agreement with the Polish government. This gave a powerful impetus to the development of amphibious fleet. In the summer of 1963 the first Soviet Navy marine regiment began formation on the Baltic Sea. Next year the battalion of marines of the Baltic fleet was involved at the operational-strategic command and staff exercises of the Warsaw Pact "Strandja" on the territory of Bulgaria.

In 1964 Commander in Chief of the Navy S. Gorshkov made a speech with the words on the importance of this topic at the military-scientific conference devoted to the problems of preparation and conduct of landing operations, which was attended by about 300 admirals, generals and senior officers from all the fleets and flotillas. In 1962-1968 Black Sea Fleet Staff organized five military and scientific conferences, which examined issues of forces management at supporting the ground forces in capture of Straits area at the war beginning, preparation and conduct of amphibious operations.

Thereafter, the Department of the Naval operational art of the Naval Academy made an extensive work to create the foundations of the theory of amphibious operations and tactics of landing operations. Instruction of an amphibious assault landing was made in 1966 instead of Instruction on the Army cooperation with the Navy and river flotillas of 1943. It was in force till 1988, when Naval Staff management of the South-Western direction in Chisinau has created the guide on planning and preparing of aero-naval amphibious operation. Despite the discontent  of the fleet command structures, which have destroyed all copies of the new guide initially, this guide was approved by the General Staff directive as a guide for all fleets and coastal districts, as it met fully the requirements of "Basics of preparation and conduct of the operations of the Armed Forces of USSR", which were published in 1978 and contained the subject and organization of the preparation and conduct of the land, air, antiaircraft, sea, joint landing and anti-amphibious operations, strategic, frontline operations and fleet operations.


Role and place of an amphibious operation in the Black Sea Fleet remained unchanged. It was necessary first to achieve the dominance in the Black Sea for landing and supporting the ground forces offensive in the seaside direction. The key to this was considered as defeating the enemy forces in the Black Sea area, blocking out of the Bosporus and destruction of the enemy's naval force in the Black Sea, deployed there until the outbreak of hostilities. In addition, Navy and Air Defense Forces should create an "umbrella" over the Black Sea, covering from enemy air attacks. This conclusion was based on command-staff exercises in autumn 1967 and became the basis for all further operational training of the Black Sea Fleet during the Soviet period. In the 1970s and 80s, actions of naval forces in the ere-strait area, aimed to support the seaside front troops offensive on the Bosporus direction with operational amphibious assault landings, were perfected regularly at the exercises. Since 1980, issues of joint operations of fleet and coastal troops, with amphibious landings and participation in the front offensive, were perfected out at the navy exercises. Such an abrupt reversal of command from denial to strong interest in landing operation near the Bosporus Strait could be explained by two factors.

First, since 1967 the Soviet Navy began constant combat duty in the Mediterranean. But the forces of the 5th Mediterranean Squadron failed to meet their tasks' requirements and had little combat power to oppose NATO naval forces there. According to the estimations, combat survival time of the 5th Squadron under the conditions of 1960s and 70s, was no more than three days. Estimate of Commander in Chief of the Navy S.Gorshkov was even tougher – two days. There was simply no time for the large land offensive at the Bosporus-Dardanelles direction to capture the Straits. Only naval landing could allow to accelerate the capture of the Straits and to ensure a breakthrough of the Black Sea Fleet into Mediterranean Sea to support 5th Squadron even before the completion of the fighting in the straits area. In particular, submarines had to break through the straits submerged, when at least part of the Asian shore is still in the hands of the enemy. In addition, the operating zone of the Black Sea Fleet expanded significantly. In 1983, with the assignment of Admiral A.Kalinin as the Black Sea Fleet Commander, the task was set by Defense Minister Marshall D.Ustinov to expand the fleet influence in the western part of the Mediterranean and the East Atlantic area. This increased further the importance of amphibious assault for the quick capture of the Black Sea Straits. Its success was the next task in the first operation of the fleet after the decision of the immediate task - gaining dominance in the Black Sea. The second operation of the fleet received a new immediate task - to lead the forces through the straits into the Mediterranean Sea. Together with the defeat of the enemy on the Balkan direction and in the Mediterranean Sea it was an immediate task of strategic operations in the South-western Theater of operations! This theme has become a leading at the exercises with amphibious landings in the first half of the 1980s. Thus, at the military exercises "South-83" the forcing of Straits area was perfected within the further task of the first stage fleet operation, and the preparation and conduct of the second stage fleet operation - capture of Straits. The lead of the fleet forces through the Straits into the Mediterranean Sea was worked out on maps at the command-staff exercises of the fleet in June 1984. The fighting operations of various naval forces and Army front on capturing the Straits area, actions of the mine-sweeping forces and engineering military units on the Straits unblocking were conducted at the first stage of the operation. At the second stage leading the forces through the Straits by echelons was conducted, as well as the creation of new naval bases in the Aegean with the providing of all types of their defense and protection. Than opponents started the widespread use of all weapons of mass destruction, so no conventional warfare was seriously planned after that stage. Results of the operational training on organization of forcing the Straits area was summarized at the XXIXth Military Staff scientific conference of the Black Sea Fleet in March 1985. This moment was the high point in the development of an amphibious operation in the Straits area during the Soviet period.


Secondly, such a decisive landing tasks setting was based on the rapid development of amphibious forces of the Black Sea Fleet. With arrival of the new amphibious ships the 197th Brigade of Amphibious Ships was formed at Donuzlav Lake (Crimea) on July 28, 1966. This brigade included division of medium amphibious ships, division of small amphibious ships and landing motorboats, as well as division of old project 30-bis artillery destroyers, that formed the group of fire support ships during landing operations. Division of large amphibious ships was added in April 1971, and division of hovercraft ships and motorboats was added in June 1980. The brigade was the basis of the landing forces and should provide the carriers for the first assault landing waves. In 1983, the 197th Brigade of Amphibious Ships has been transformed into a qualitatively new unit – 39th Division of Amphibious Forces. Division included 27 ships at the time of formation. It was now able to land not only the first waves, but all the forces of the first operational echelon of an naval assault landing. Marines were developed at the same time. 309th Separate Marine Battalion was formed by the directive of the Minister of Defense on the Black Sea Fleet on April 30, 1966. Two of its companies took part in amphibious landing on the Caspian Sea already in August, and went on their first combat duty in November.

309th Separate Marine Battalion


        three Marine Companies;

        Tank Company;

        Mortar Battery;

        Platoon of Armored personnel carriers;

        Reconnaissance Platoon;

        Landing Engineer Platoon;

        Communications Platoon;

        Transport Platoon.




In December 1967 the battalion has been transformed into the 810th Separate Marine Regiment. Because of the shortage of staff, considerable number of officers from Army units was sent to fill vacant posts in the Marine Corps. So in early 1970s Commander in Chief of the Navy S.Gorshkov ordered creation of the 299th Training Centre of the Marine Corps at the Black Sea Fleet. The third battalion of the regiment remained on reduced establishment, but the regiment regularly trained full mobilization, for example, at the exercises "Crimea-73", "Coast-77", "Coast-79".




810th Separate Marine Regiment


           three Marine Battalions;

           Battalion of Amphibious Tanks;

           Tank Company;

           Antiaircraft Battalion (1 battery of ZSU-23-4 SPAA guns and 1 battery of anti-air missile system "Strela-1"/SA-9 "Gaskin");

           Rocket Artillery Battery (6 BM-14-17 rocket launchers on truck chassis);

           Self-propelled Artillery Battery (6 SU-100 self-propelled guns);

           Anti-tank Battery (6 armored vehicles with anti-tank missiles 9P110);

           Landing Engineer Company;

           Communication Company;

           Repair Company;

           Material Support Company;

           Reconnaissance Platoon;

           Headquarter Defense Platoon;

           Regimental Medical Aid Post.


November 20, 1979, 810th regiment was reorganized into 810th Separate Marine Brigade, which  consisted of 2,300 soldiers in peacetime. This was partly due to changes in the nature of an amphibious operation, as will be discussed below.


810th Separate Marine Brigade


           Separate Air Assault Battalion;

           Two Separate Marine Battalions;

           Separate Marine Battalion (on reduced establishment);

           Separate Tank Battalion (three tank companies of T-55M and the company of amphibious tanks PT-76, 13 tanks per company);

           Separate Reconnaissance Battalion;

           Separate Rocket Artillery Battalion (three batteries of 5 122-mm MLRS BM-21 "Grad");

           Separate Self-propelled Battalion Division (three batteries of 6 122-mm self-propelled howitzers 2S1 "Gvozdika");

           Separate Antitank Battalion;

           Separate Antiaircraft Battalion (ZSU-23-4 batteries and anti-air missile system "Strela-10"/SA-13 Gopher);

           Landing Engineer Company;

           Communication Company;

           Repair Company;

           Material Support Company;

           NBC Protection Platoon;

           Amphibious Platoon;

           Headquarter Defense Platoon;

           Topographic Platoon;

           Brigade Medical Aid Post;

           Training Center.




If in the early 1960s amphibious landing of mechanized infantry units took almost twenty-four hours, now landing of Marines Regiment took no more than one and a half - two hours, and battalion landing took 30 minutes! This was facilitated by equipping the regiment with nearly 150 amphibious combat vehicles, which increased the rate of landing several times. In August 1977, at the "Coast" exercises during working out the capture of the Straits all combat units were landed in 1 hour 53 minutes, and the total time of landing marine regiment and motorized rifle regiment from 17 amphibious ships and converted transports was 6 hours and 5 minutes. For comparison, according to the Soviet estimates, landing of the American Marine Expeditionary Battalion (equipped with five tanks, six howitzers and 14 amphibious armored personnel carriers plus 2500 soldiers) at the unequipped beach was supposed to take as much as 4 hours.



Such high speed of amphibious landings was possible due to the numerous exercises and trainings. Between 1946 and 1994 14 operation-level naval landing exercises took place on the Black Sea Fleet. However, in many cases, an amphibious training was simplified and role of operational landing was played by tactical landing company to battalion-strong. To make the exercises’ area similar to the Bosporus, landings were conducted in the Kerch Strait - on the range at the Opuk Cape. For example, at the "Crimea-79" exercises Marine Regiment was landing there, trying to break through the anti-amphibious defense of two motor rifle battalions. And during the "South-83" exercises forcing the Bosporus Strait was worked out for the first time. In practice, it looked like this: after landing and a capture of bridgehead Marine Brigade allocated a reinforced company as a vanguard, which forced the Kerch Strait on armored amphibious vehicles. In August 1990 operational landing was practiced for the last time near the Kerch Strait at the exercises of the United Black Sea Fleet of the Warsaw Pact States. Landings on the territory of Bulgaria were usually practiced in the Bourgas Bay – in the areas of Sozopol and Atia Cape, which resembled the Turkish coast of Thrace.

But marines were few, so when landing at the Black Sea Straits they acted mainly as the first landing wave with the task of the capture of the beachheads. Combat swimmers of the 17th separate Naval Reconnaissance Spetsnaz Brigade and forces of the Marine Engineering Service of the Black Sea Fleet were to be involved in that assault echelon along with the Marines. Marine Engineering Service commanded the 160th separate Marine Engineer Battalion in a peacetime, and was supposed to deploy second similar battalion on a base of 212th mobilization depot. Forces and resources for beach clearing groups (including underwater demolition teams) were to be allocated from these battalions for making the passes in anti-landing barrages installed in the water. The Landing Engineer Company of Marine battalion was to be included almost fully into the assault landing and was specialized in technical support of the troops landing ashore and overcoming the coastal strip at a high pace.

Since operational amphibious assault assumed as part of the motor rifle units and formations supposed to be the main assault force. Staff of Crimean 32nd Army Corps involved usually during the exercises (e.g., "Crimea-76" exercises). Marines constantly perfected the interaction with two motorized rifle divisions of the Odessa Military District - 126th in Crimea and the 28th in Odessa region. Marines were preparing the personnel for a variety of military specialties in the training centers of these divisions. At the same time parts of these divisions were practicing in loading on the amphibious squad ships and were participating in landings from time to time. A number of ports on the coast of Crimea, Mykolaiv, Kherson and Odessa regions allowed simultaneous embarkation of troops and military technics, thus minimizing the risk of damage from enemy nuclear attack, which was considered the main threat, able to disrupt the landing operation.





Since the own amphibious forces ​​of the Black Sea Fleet were able to lift only marines from the first amphibious echelon (there were 19 amphibious ships as of January 1, 1986), then mobilized civil ships were intended for transporting the combined arms assault forces. That was well-tried practice. Thus, during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878 the Voluntary Black Sea Fleet was involved in transporting the troops - Russian state shipping company, which was created not only for the development of commercial seafaring, but also as the reserve of Navy. Russian Shipping and Trade Company was formed along the same lines. This company owned, for example, the ships "Grand Duke Constantine" and "Vesta", which have distinguished themselves in the sea fighting during 1877-1878 war. Actions of mobilized ships in the Black Sea during the two world wars are reflected widely in the literature.

Exercises showed the effectiveness of involving the "river-sea" class vessels and the Navy Ministry large transport "RO-RO" class ships, lighters and container ships into the landing operations. "Jane's fighting ships" reference book counted them in the auxiliary landing forces of the Soviet Navy, noting among other things, equipment for technics transportation and enhanced radio and engineering equipment, clearly excessive for the civil vessels. The wooden boards must be procured in advance in the holds of bulk carriers according to the mobilization plan, for the benches for personnel installing and combat assault technics fixing. Also, the Soviet naval command had the opportunity to use the ferryboats as supporting landing transport. Ferryboat line was opened in the autumn of 1978 from the Illichevsk port to the terminal on the west coast of Lake Beloslav located 30 km away from Varna. This line was served by four similar road-rail ferryboats built in Yugoslavia: Bulgarian "Heroes of Odessa" and "Heroes of Sevastopol" and Soviet "Heroes of Shipka" and "Heroes of Plevna". Ferry could transport wagons, trucks, cars, trailers, container carriers, tracked vehicles, oversized and heavy cargoes. Also ferries carried passengers and their personal luggage. Ferryboat could transport altogether 108 wagons or 920 cars or 90 16-meter trailers. Western experts almost immediately defined military transportation as the main task of the ferry line functions, since its capabilities were far higher than real economic needs and passenger traffic between the two countries.

Exercises on the Black Sea Fleet interaction with merchant ship owners of Azov and Black Sea in the framework of providing the mobilization of the vessels to the fleet to ensure an amphibious assault and troop transporting were rare, for obvious economic reasons. The exercises which considered the largest took place in June 1978, with verification of mobilization readiness and perfecting the mobilizing of ships of the Black Sea (Odessa), Azov (Zhdanov), Georgia (Batumi) and Novorossiya Shipping Companies, Soviet Danube Shipping Company (Ismail), Volga-Don (Rostov-on-Don) and the Dnieper (Kiev) River Shipping Companies, the General Directorate of the River Fleet in the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR, Union Fishing Association "Azcherryba" and the operational group of the State self-supporting Association "Yuzhflot". At these exercises the actual installation of the weapons during the refitment the civil vessels into the warships in Ochakov and the ships armoring for defense in the Black Sea Shipping Company in Odessa were worked out. And after the Falklands crisis the Black Sea Fleet held the exercises, in which container carrier was urgently adapted to receive a VTOL strike fighter Yak-38 was involved as a supportive aircraft carrier, following the example of the British Navy.




During staff exercises in Budapest in July 1970 Command of the Joint armed forces of the Warsaw Pact for the South-Western and Southern directions decided on the following plan of naval landing to support capture the Straits. Landing was to be made at Sile (east of Istanbul) in two echelons. First echelon comprised of marine regiment, landing from the landing ships of the Black Sea Fleet, while second echelon comprised of motorized rifle regiment (from Crimea) landing from four converted cargo ships.

In 1987 HQ of the South-Western direction in Chisinau have completed the operational plan for the landing operation. Commander in Chief of the Direction had to lead this operation in case of war. Commander of the Joint Warsaw Pact Black Sea Fleet supposed to be his deputy for naval part of the operation, and the First Deputy Commander of the Black Sea Fleet supposed to command the landing forces. The landing forces consisted of:

- Landing troops, including amphibious, transport and escort ships;

- Group of fire support ships;

- Antisubmarine search-and-destroy groups of ships;

- Minesweeper groups, providing the mine defense during transit and clearing mines within the landing area;

- Ship squad, guarding the landing area from enemy naval forces;

- Air assault group;

- Forces of the landing base, providing the high pace of disembarkation the landing groups and inventories ashore;

- Ships and boats for the demonstrative and decoy landings.  

Landing force consisted of a marine brigade, motorized rifle division of the first echelon, airborne division and motorized rifle division of the second echelon. Commander of the motorized rifle division of the first echelon to be Combined arms Commander. If 32nd Army Corps staff would’ve inclusion in the staff of the landing force – Corps Commander should be appointed on this position. He should take the command of the landing troops after the landing of 1st echelon ashore. But being onboard the landing ships and till the moment when his staff was landed ashore he was subordinate to the Commander of the landing forces. Air Force of the High Command should be involved for the air drop of the air assault marine battalion and airborne division, together with the transport aircraft of the Black Sea Fleet and the Odessa Military District. In addition, the false assault by forces of the Kerch-Feodosiya naval base was planned.




Bulgaria was preparing to land up to one battalion of its own forces. It supposed to support the offensive of Bulgarian troops in Eastern Thrace towards the Straits, but later it was included in common landing operation of the Joint Black Sea Fleet of the Warsaw Pact. 89th Marine Battalion and the 94th Sapper Battalion were formed as part of the Bulgarian Navy in 1952 for this purpose. Last one was equal to the Marine Engineering Battalion of the Black Sea fleet by his tasks, but remained downsized in peacetime. Initially, the base of Bulgarian amphibious assault fleet were high-speed assault barges BDB, which were produced in Varna using German construction documents starting from the Second World War till 1955. 24 small landing ships (project 106K) were built in Burgas and Ruse and 2 medium landing ships (project 770E) were received from Poland during the 1970s and 80s. Since the beginning of the 1950s Bulgarian Navy also had 12 landing barges, that stood idle in the Cervenka Bay (Chernomorets city at the Burgas Bay). By the early 1980s 20 amphibious ships were accumulated there. According to the mobilization plan, the amphibious ships brigade (which was able to load whole  motorized regiment), should be formed on the base of these reserve ships. Crews should be taken from amongst merchant seamen. This was practiced only once at the "Shield-82" exercises.

Romania, following the recommendations of Soviet advisers, has disbanded its Marines in 1958. The 307th Separate Battalion of Marines, formed in November 1971, was trained mostly for the coastal defense of the Danube Delta. And Rumanian combat swimmers unit, formed in Constanta in 1976, never took part in the amphibious exercises of the Black Sea Fleet. Romanians were involved in the landing exercises only once (in 1978), when they have participated in the operational airborne-amphibious assault on the Mangalia as a part of frontline offensive operation (exercise "Union-78"). In 1980 during staff exercises "Tavria" Rumanian and Bulgarian ports were used to load Soviet troops, which participated in the Straits landing, aboard landing ships, but no Romanian marines were used. Romanian marines also have not participated in the "Shield-82" exercises.

Sizable air-naval amphibious operation was held at the Black Sea during the exercises "Shield-82". Marines were structured in two echelons of 4 waves each. Two waves of the first (assault) echelon consisted of 810th Marine Brigade, landing from helicopters, amphibious assault hovercraft ships and large amphibious ships. Third and fourth waves consisted of the vanguard of the Bulgarian 96th Motorized Rifle Regiment. Second echelon landed the main forces of the 96th regiment and part of the Bulgarian 16th Motorized Rifle Division from Bourgas, using the medium and small amphibious ships. There were landed up to 2.5 thousand soldiers of amphibious assault in total.  At the BSF operational exercises "South-83" in June 1983 for the first time paratroopers from the air assault and reconnaissance battalions of the 810th Marine Brigade were landed at night with the simultaneous naval landing of the rest of the brigade, mobilized to its’ full wartime TO&E. 381 vehicles and 1987 soldiers were landed in total at the 15 km front in two landing points.




Planning of amphibious operations in the Black Sea Straits area was changed, finally taking into account experience from the exercises. Prior to that, according to Rear Admiral V.Lebedko, air-naval operation looked like one curve line connecting Sevastopol and Istanbul on the map, and the plan of amphibious operation itself hasn't existed at all.  Resources of the Naval Forces Command Staff of the South-West direction were involved in this fleet-wide scandal correction, including Operational Planning Department, Operations Department, Nuclear Planning Group, secret record-keeping and typescript bureau. Only a few people had the full access to these documents classified as "special importance". Detailed plan of operation was approved, including the decisions of commanders, the plan of the landing forces embarkation at the amphibious ships and vessels, plans to organize an anti-submarine, anti-sabotage, mine and air defense, plan of organization of electronic warfare when the troops moving by sea, plans for the complex fire damage at all stages of the marine amphibious operation, including the most complicated of them - a detailed plan for the enemy anti-landing defense suppression. The projects of battle-order of assault troops commander and an example of graphical landing plan (the map with an explanatory notes attached) were drafted. In addition, the landing plan and battle plan for the amphibious force when performing his tasks ashore were prepared. Such a high level of preparation to the amphibious operations in the Black Sea Straits area was reached for the first time.

To date, there is some public information about the organization of such an operation. It included the following steps:

- Concentration of troops, combat and transport ships;

- Hidden deployment of troops to the waiting area and deployment to embarkation points;

- Hidden and dispersed embarkation of assault troops and equipment to amphibious ships;

- Transit of the landing forces by sea;

- Fight for the landing beaches – defeat of the enemy anti-amphibious defenses and landing itself;

- Implementation of tasks of the landing forces after they landed ashore.  

At the beginning of the operation, when the ships and transports were arriving in concentration areas, troops were stationed in the waiting areas at a minimum distance of 10 km from the embarkation points. The time required for the concentration and dispersed embarkation of the Marine Brigade was up two days. Process of embarkation itself, when the troops were particularly vulnerable, had to be made secretly (usually at night) and at a high pace. For example, embarkation of 5 pieces of equipment/weaponry aboard medium landing ship in the mid-1960s took 3-4 minutes, and embarkation of the reinforced marine battalion (350-400 soldiers and about 40 pieces of equipment/weaponry) took no more than 30-35 minutes. This was achieved by allocating of 2-3 regimental landing areas to each motorized rifle division, and by allocating of 2-3 basic and 2-3 reserve landing points to each regiment, so that a reinforced battalion could conduct the embarkation on each landing point simultaneously. The distance between two nearest landing points should rule out the possibility of their simultaneous destruction by the nuclear weapon of average power, and their equipment should be made in advance by BSF Marine Engineering Service in peacetime. Landing divisions should be loaded onboard ships together with their reinforcements in the interests of their independence in combat after the landing. Vehicles and equipment should be loaded considering priorities for their use after landing. Loads of one kind (especially ammunition) should be distributed among the largest number of ships possible, so that the loss of one ship wouldn't result in the loss of all combat capability of assault unit.

After the end of embarkation ships and amphibious transports should be moved into the areas of dispersion, where they should be masked and await the start of movement to the area of the landing. Motorized rifle division should be composed of 3-5 landing groups, and marine brigade composed of 2-3 landing groups during the sea transit. Each landing groups was carrying the assault troops and units, disembarking in one echelon, and had its own order and guarding. The main marching order elements of the landing forces were:

- Assault squads (main forces), consisting of the amphibious ships and transports, direct guarding forces, emergency, hydrographic, rescue ships;

- Detachment for fire support;

- Support groups: tactical air reconnaissance, long-range aircraft air antisubmarine escort, radar watch, fighter aircraft cover, search-and-battle anti-submarine ship groups, anti-launch and air defense percussive ship groups, aircraft percussion groups of the anti-ship defense, groups of ships (helicopters) of the distant mine defense, groups of special forces, electronic warfare groups, false landing, decoy groups, etc.

During the embarkation and sea transit, air and naval forces attacked enemy ships and airfields, also using nuclear weapons. Searching and destroying of the enemy mines, submarines, missile and torpedo boats was made at the exit points of landing and movement routes, directly before the sailing of the assault groups. At the transition landing forces should be covered by fighter aircraft of Air Defense Forces from Crimean and South Ukrainian airfields. Anti-submarine warfare of the landing squads was provided by search-and-destroy anti-submarine ship groups (10-14 groups) and aviation (two groups of Ka-27 helicopters and one group of Be-12 planes). The forces of operational cover were supposed to come beforehand at the threatened areas to repel the attacks of the enemy groups of surface ships and boats. The Commander of Landing Forces and the Assault Commander were crossing the sea on the same ship and their deputies with groups of officers were on the other ship.




A few hours before the landing the fighter-bomber aircraft and ships of the fire support group started to suppress enemy anti-amphibious defense before the amphibious ships will approach their deployment line, and to cover the assault echelon moving to the landing points afterwards, on the order of the Commander of Landing Forces. Naval artillery should open the fire after the nuclear attack. Attack aircraft should attack 10 minutes after the atomic bombings, bomber aircraft should attack not less than 20 minutes after. Planes should act at a distance of not less than 15 km away the center of a nuclear explosion.

Motorized rifle division should be landed in the same area at the front of 20-30 km. The landing beach some 10 km was considered for the Marine brigade of the first echelon, and the landing beach up to 6 km was considered for the Marine regiment. Each beach consisted of a battalion landing points up to 2 km wide. Battalions were landed first and acted as vanguards with the main task of capturing the landing points. The distance between adjacent landing points should be ruled out the risk of their simultaneous destruction with nuclear weapon of the average power.

The line of tactical deployment of the assault landing was located in 20-25 nautical miles off the shore. At a closer distance ships were moving only behind the trawls of minesweeper groups. The landing groups were deployed in waves. The distance between waves of amphibious ships and boats must be at least two safety radii of the explosion of a nuclear weapon of the average power. In addition, the gap between the waves should be sufficient to avoid the accumulation and congestions at the landing points.

The troops should be landed by helicopters at the water's edge 30-40 minutes before the arrival of the first wave in order to capture and hold the landing beaches to facilitate the amphibious assault. The amphibious assault hovercraft ships with the Marine assault groups made the first wave. The following waves were landing in the landing boats and ships (small and medium) with the rest of divisions of the assault echelon, including reconnaissance, hydrographic, search-and-rescue groups, as well as unblocking groups, chemical reconnaissance patrols, forward observers of naval artillery, forward air controllers.

The first wave entrance into the line of anti-amphibious barriers could be achieved by explosive devices (UZP-69 complex) usage. The baseline for attacking the shore was stated at 30 cables from the water's edge - beyond the reach of the enemy tank guns. The minesweepers were making passages in minefields (as well as the helicopter minesweepers starting from 1977). Using just 6 minesweeping helicopters have reduced the time needed for the passes unblocking from one and a half hours to 30 minutes during the "Beach-77" exercises.  The unblocking groups, consisting of the Fleet Engineering Service divers and combat swimmers, were making the passages in the anti-amphibious barrages installed in shallow water and on a beach. 3-4 passes were made at the each point of disembarkation, which should been extended afterwards to form a continuous line before the landing point. Further on the shore the landing forces were making the passages in minefields by their own demining divisions. Hydrographic groups were equipping the passages and alignments for the approach of landing ships to the shore.

Vanguard should capture landing points on the 4-6 km depth, thus ensuring the landing of next echelons, which will expand the bridgehead. Vanguard divisions should organize another important element - the landing base: moorings, beach-master’s service, road works. In particular, since the exercises "Breeze" in 1966 wheeled vehicles were passing through the sand and pebble beaches on special metal pavements. The time needed for the installation of PM-61 floating dock with the AS-R military ramp was reduced from 8 hours to 30-40 minutes within 20 years! This has served to speed unloading of the landing troops without the risk of congestions and "jams". Forces of the Water area Defense should organize defense from the sea, deploying patrol service, sweeping the maneuver areas and fairways, anti-submarine and anti-diversionary defense. Achieving the reliable suppression of enemy defenses and successful offensive of the first echelon landing transports could come as close as possible to the shore in order to expedite the landing of the next echelon.  

Aviation and naval forces were providing fire support for the landing forces from the moment of landing ships’ entrance within the range of the enemy's defense (2-3 km) and till the capturing the enemy's strong points to a depth of 3-5 km from the shore. The missile units and attached artillery of motorized rifle division joined the nuclear attack after the assault forces’ disembarkation, using nuclear weapons. The total depth of the combat mission depended on the situation and could be up to 50 km for the motorized rifle division, up to 40 km for the marine brigade and up to 30 km for the marine or motorized rifle regiment. The fire support of the landing operations at the shore was ensured at the entire depth of the landing mission.

Landing of the airborne division followed the nuclear strikes to ensure the beachhead capture and its isolation from the approaching enemy forces. Airborne Division was subordinated to the Amphibious Assault Commander from the moment of landing. According to Colonel General V.Achalov, the 98th Guards Airborne Division of the Odessa region should be involved in the operation of capturing the Straits.

The offensive inland was to be carried out using the results of nuclear strikes and success of the airborne and air assault units, without waiting on the coastal line, with the most rapid move deep through the enemy defense, with constant readiness to repel its’ counterattacks.

Since the position of troops remained risky even in case of a successful landing it was recommended to land the assault forces at a distance not far than 200-300 km from the initial position of the front line, i.e. within the range of the tactical aviation.  




In fairness it should be admitted that the Warsaw Pact scale of training of the amphibious operation in the Black Sea Straits conceded seriously to the NATO one. The landing at the "Rhodope" operational-strategic exercises in 1967 was the most numerous, including about 6,000 soldiers and 1,200 pieces of equipment. For comparison, NATO marines were landing near the Dardanelles Strait almost every year, and their number usually ranged from 3 to 5 thousand troops. The largest landing of the 8000 marines took place at the "Deep Water" maneuvers.

In addition, the Soviet command failed to resolve many of the difficulties in the organization of interaction between different kinds of formations and units in such a landing operation. Discrepancy of the topographic base for the sea and land maps has complicated greatly the planning and control, especially during the disembarkation period and landing operations on shore. Irreconcilability of the sea, land and air communication and control means and a lack of the unified mutual identification system have created a huge problems for the creators of a complex fire plan at the disembarkation stage. The targets’ allocating between the fire support ships and the artillery units of ground forces was quite uncertain. Although the study of anti-landing defense organization and planning of naval landings took about 200 hours at a military academy, in reality, commanders of all levels did not know the capabilities of their neighbors in such operations. Complexities were started already at the stage of issuing the commanders’ orders, as the Army officers did not understand the Naval map symbols and marine terminology, and Navy officers hardly understood Army ones. Different types of mobilized civil transports increased embarkation time. Estimations of embarkation plans were performed by weakly prepared officers, because none of the Army Academies has such themes in the curriculum.

The grandfathers' method of "communication delegates" was used in attempt to solve the coordination problem. But there were no spare officers in small staffs of units and sub-units to man coordination groups of the Combined Arms Assault Commander and the Landing Forces Commander. Therefore, their staffs were developing a unified planned table of interaction in advance on the base of GDR Army model, developed for amphibious landings. And the Commandant posts headed by officers from the landing ground forces were added to the fleet Commandants of loading and disembarking, in order to avoid the congestions and "jams" of troops on the landing beaches.  

Although the progress in the preparation of operational landing in the Black Sea Straits was unquestionable by 1987-1988, its feasibility still caused the serious doubts. Thus, according to the estimation of Rear Admiral V. Lebedko, the navy still could not implement the fire plan to destroy enemy anti-amphibious defense and therefore relied on nuclear weapons, as in the 1960s. According to the memoirs of one Romanian admiral, which were published in the 1990s, the number of nuclear weapons for use during the amphibious operations at the exercises of the Warsaw Pact simply strikes the imagination. Attacks were made in series of 12, 14 and even 18 10-kiloton devices. Maps of the Straits were riddled with marks of nuclear explosions. It seemed that there would be enough nuclear blasts to "blast" another strait here. If we consider that the enemy was also preparing massive use of nuclear weapons, then the mission of amphibious assault in the "last throw to the south" seemed unattainable.