Black Sea Fleet

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The Black Sea Fleet came into being in 1783, when naval units were formed in the Bay of Akhtiar (and from 1784 at Sevastopol) to serve in the Sea of Azov and in wars against Turkey. During the Crimean War (18531856) it fought several naval battles, and its sailors were deployed on land in the defense of Sevastopol. The Paris Peace Conference in 1856 allowed Russia to have naval units in the Black Sea, a right expanded by the 1871 London Conference. At the start of World War I, the Black Sea Fleet consisted of five battleships, two cruisers, seventeen destroyers, and a number of auxiliary vessels; during the conflict it engaged in several actions against the Germans and Turks.

The fleet also became a center of revolutionary activity. In 1904 socialist cells were organized among its sailors, and this led to the mutiny on the battleship Potemkin the following year. In December 1917 Bolsheviks and other factions were active among the sailors. In May 1920 units that had sided with the Bolsheviks were organized as the Black Sea and Azov naval units, both of which took part in the fighting against Peter Wrangel's White forces. The Tenth Party Congress in 1921 decided to form a fleet in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov using two repaired destroyers and five escort vessels. Over the years these were substantially reinforced by the addition of larger ships and naval aviation. On January 11, 1935, the Council of People's Commissars combined the Azov and Black Sea units to form a new Black Sea Fleet. The Great Terror took a heavy toll among naval officers, and all of the fleet's commanders were purged. In January 1938, I. S. Iumashev was appointed commander, only to be replaced by F. S. Oktiabrsky in August 1939.

At the start of World War II the fleet had one battleship, six cruisers, seventeen destroyers, and numerous cutters, minelayers, mine sweepers, torpedo boats, and auxiliary vessels. It also had 625 aircraft. The Luftwaffe, operating with little opposition in the early days of the war, destroyed many Soviet ships and port facilities, but nonetheless the Black Sea Fleet managed to evacuate Odessa and Sevastopol. Overall, however, the performance of the Red Army in the Crimea in 1941 and 1942 was a succession of defeats at the hands of an outnumbered and outgunned enemy. During October and November 1941, Vice Admiral G. I. Levchenko commanded the defense of the Crimea, but in December he was arrested and sentenced to ten years (later released). When German forces advanced into the Caucasus, the Black Sea Fleet landed troops behind their lines at Novorossiysk, an inconclusive battle glorified when Leonid Brezhnev was in power because of his participation as a political officer. In 1943, with the German defeat at Stalingrad and retreat from the Caucasus, the navy conducted another landing at Kerch, which also failed. In May 1943 Oktiabrsky was replaced by L. A. Vladimirsky, but he was reinstated in March 1944 and continued as commander until November 1948. In 1944 and 1945, the Black Sea Fleet and the Danube Flotilla supported the Red Army's offensive operations in southeastern Europe.

Beginning in the 1950s, the Black Sea Fleet began to receive new ships and was a major component of the Soviet advance into the Mediterranean and the third world, but its buildup was marred by an explosion on the Novorossiysk in October 1955, the greatest peacetime disaster in the history of the Soviet Navy, which cost the commander in chief of the Navy, Admiral N. G. Kuznetsov, his job. The buildup, which even included the introduction of aircraft carriers, continued until the breakup of the Soviet Union. After 1991 both Russia and Ukraine claimed ownership of the fleet. An agreement on May 28, 1997, gave Russia the more modern ships and a twenty-year lease on the Sevastopol naval base. The Black Sea Fleet is now a shadow of its once-proud self, decaying along with other Russian military assets.

See also: crimean war; potemkin mutiny; purges, the great; turkey, relations with; world war i; world war ii


Felgenhauer, Tony. (1999). Ukraine, Russia and the Black Sea Fleet Accords. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs Case Study. Available at <>.

Nekrasov, George. (1992). North of Gallipoli: The Black Sea Fleet at War, 19141917. New York: Columbia University Press.

Michael Parrish