Russia’s Northern Fleet
by Olivia Kroth
Russia’s famous Northern Fleet (Северный флот) remains one of the main naval units for Russian defence, in 2017. Based in Severomorsk, Murmansk and the Kola Bay, this unit of the Russian Navy is primarily responsible for the defence of northwestern Russia but also operates in all of the world’s oceans and in the Mediterranean Sea. The Northern Fleet was founded in 1937. During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), it defended the coastlines of the Rybachiy and Sredniy peninsulas, securing internal and external transportation routes. Northern Fleet personnel also participated in land warfare, including the Petsamo-Kirkenes Operation of 1944. Its submarines, torpedo boats, and aviation sank 192 enemy transport ships and 70 other hostile military ships. The Northern Fleet also damaged a total of 118 transport, military, and auxiliary ships. Since those hard times, the valiant Northern Fleet has continued its long and proud tradition of Soviet-Russian defence.
In autumn 2016, Russia’ Northern Fleet took part in counterterrism efforts for Syria, successfully reinforcing the Russian task force in the Mediterranean Sea. The Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier cruiser, the Kirov-class heavy missile battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, the Vice Admiral Kulakov and Severomorsk destroyers, as well as several supply ships of the Northern Fleet played key roles in increasing the capabilities of Russia’s combat air force to destroy international radical groups in Syria. The warplanes aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov included carrier-based variants of the Su-33 air superiority fighters and Ka-27/Ka-29 ASW helicopters. The Su-33s were equipped with an ultra-precision targeting system, the SVP-24, which had already successfully been used by other aircraft in Russia’s year-long anti-terrorist operation in Syria. Four MiG-29K multirole fighters were added, along with several Ka-52K reconnaissance and combat helicopters. The choppers were equipped with precision-guided air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, as well as unguided bombs and automatic cannon. The MiGs used smart bombs from the KAB-500 family and the Glonass satellite navigation system” (SPUTNIKNEWS, 15.10.2016).
Northern Fleet on its way to Syria:
“In 2017, Russia’s Northern Fleet will continue performing missions, including the Mediterranean Sea, to protect the economic and political interests of the Russian Federation. The Arctic, however, will remain a priority area of operations for the Northern Fleet’s Unified Strategic Command. The Fleet will carry out a number of Arctic voyages and conduct various tactical exercises with the involvement of units based on Arctic islands. Besides, drills have been scheduled for this year to practice rescue operations and ensure security of Russia’s coastal and island territories. The Northern Fleet’s warships performed several long-distance voyages in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. The biggest mission by its scope started in September, when the naval task group led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov set off for that region” (TASS, 09.01.2017).
The fleet’s press service specified the kind of tactical exercises and war games for 2017. “The Russian Northern fleet plans to participate in 26 out of 28 competitions during the International Army Games (IAG), including new ones like a drones competition and an armored vehicles battle march. The Northern fleet will also take part in a ‘military rally,’ which means a distance march for armored vehicles over 2,000 kilometres. Furthermore it will participate in a drones competition, the ‘Warrior of the Commonwealth’ competition for military personnel of the CIS states (Commonwealth of Independent States). The fleet’s personnel has already started training for these events, on the 1st of December 2016. The 2017 IAG are planned to be held in August 2017. It will be the third time that this military competition is held. The 2016 IAG, hosted by Russia and Kazakhstan, lasted from July 30 to August 13. The event featured competitions in 23 disciplines. The IAG were monitored by observers from 11 countries” (SPUTNIKNEWS, 08.01.2017).
Vice Admiral Nikolai Anatolyevich Yevmenov (Николай Анатольевич Евменов)
The Northern Fleet’s commander, Vice Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, told the press that “defending Russia’s national interests in the Arctic remains a priority activity of the Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command. The fleet has enormous experience in the Arctic. Among other activities there was the successful use of underwater troops as well as activities of above-water marines to maintain security in Russia’s Northeast Passage. With about a third of its territory located north of the Arctic Circle, Russia is interested in developing more projects in the Arctic region, according to President Vladimir Putin who called for accelerating the development in this area” (SPUTNIKNEWS, 09.01.2017).
Vice Admiral Nikolai Anatolyevich Yevmenov (Николай Анатольевич Евменов) was born in Moscow, on the 2nd of April 1962. He graduated from the Higher Naval Submarine School, in 1987. Afterwards, he was trained in the Naval Academy Kuznetsov, from 1995 to 1997. He served as chief of staff of the 25th division of submarines, from 1999 to 2001. Then continued his studies at the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, from 2001 to 2006. Nikolai Yevmenov served as Deputy Commander (2003-2004) and Commander (2004-2006) of the 25th submarine division. From 2006 to 2010, he was Chief of Staff, and from 2010 until 2012 Commander of the 16th squadron of submarines. Several posts in the Pacific Fleet and Northern Fleet followed, before President Vladimir Putin appointed him Commander of the Northern Fleet by Presidential Decree, in April 2016.
Russia’s Minister of Defence, General Sergei Shoigu, noted that Vice Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov has extensive experience in dealing with complex and important challenges facing the joint strategic command, and in the new position he was capable of fully implementing his comprehensive knowledge, as well as high moral and professional qualities. He received the Order “For Military Merit (2006) and the Order ‘For Merits At Sea” (2015).
Northern Fleet training in the Arctic:
Severomorsk is the Northern Fleet’s main headquarter. This closed town in Murmansk Oblast is located on the Kola Peninsula in the Barents Sea, 25 kilometres northeast of Murmansk. The naval base is linked to Murmansk by railway and motorway. Severomorsk is the sixth-largest city of the Artic Circle, with a population of 51.000. It lies in the zone of permafrost. Average temperatures in January are – 8 degrees Celsius, in July + 12 degrees Celsius. The first settlement goes back to 1896. The Russian settlers were engaged in hunting, fishing and animal husbandry. In 1917, only 13 people lived in the settlement. In 1933, the place was chosen as one of the bases for the newly created Soviet Northern Fleet. From 1934 until the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, brick buildings, military installations and an airfield for marine aviation were installed. In 1947, the population amounted to 3.884 people, and the first high school was opened. By the 1960s, the town owned a sausage factory, a workshop for the production of soft drinks and a public swimming pool.
Some of the town’s landmarks are connected with the Great Patriotic War and the Northern Fleet. The “Monument to the Heroes of Severomorsk, defenders of the Arctic”, shows the figure of a sailor with an automatic rifle in his hands. It is 15 metres tall, standing on a 10 metre pedestal in the form of a submarine. The monument was created by sculptors Georgy and Yury Neroda, installed on Maritime Square in 1973. The “Monument to the Heroes of the Artillery 221-1 of the Red Banner Northern Fleet Battery” features a 130 mm ship weapon on a concrete pedestal. It was created by the architects A. Shashkov, T. Shashkova, A. Weisman, and E. Panteleymonov, installed on Maritime Square in 1961. The “Monument to the Torpedo Boat TKA-12” is dedicated to the boat’s commander, Alexander Shabalin, twice Hero of the Soviet Union. It was created by the architects V. Alekseev and V. Gopak, installed on Courage Square in 1983. Two museums in Severomorsk display the Northern Fleet’s history. The Museum of Severomorsk and Navy History is located on Safonov Street, the Museum “Submarine K-21” on Courage Square.
Monument to the Heroes of Severomorsk, defenders of the Arctic:
An important part of the Northern Fleet is based in Polyarny (Полярный), a closed town on the west side of Kola Bay (Кольский залив). As of 2008, the following units are stationed there: the Kolskaya Flottila (Kola Peninsula Fleet) Units, the 161st Submarine Battalion comprising x7 Kilo Class D-E Attack Submarines, the 7th Coastal Patrol Brigade comprising the 270th ASW Missile Corvette Battalion & 108th Small Missile Corvette Battalion, the 5th Minesweeper Brigade comprising the 83rd Coastal Minesweeper Battalion & the 42nd Seagoing Minesweeper Battalion.
During the cold war, the Soviet Union developed a vast complex of air, land and sea installations, including radars, ABM warning systems as well as underground docks for submarines in the Kola Peninsula. They have been modernized and serve the Northern Fleet today, which has also undergone an ambitious programme of modernization. Although smaller than in Soviet times, the current Northern Fleet maintains a certain level of threat to NATO’s Atlantic lifelines. This is an important mission for Russia’s Northern Fleet.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow. Her blog: https://olivia2010kroth.wordpress.com