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Northern Fleet


The Northern Fleet is the largest of the four Russian naval fleets. It differs from the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets in that it (like the Pacific Fleet) has operated nuclear-powered vessels for more than forty years. In fact, two-thirds of Russia's nuclear-powered vessels are assigned to the Northern Fleet at the Kola Peninsula. The others are based at Pacific Fleet bases near Vladivostok. The Northern Fleet is organized into departments with separate spheres of responsibility. Other duties are divided among government committees and ministries. While the navy is responsible for the nuclear submarines and the three shipyards that service and maintain them, the State Committee for the Defense Industry (Goskomoboronprom) maintains the other shipyards. The Ministry for Atomic Energy (Minatom) is responsible for the nuclear fuel used in naval reactors, and the Ministry of Transport is in charge of shipments of new and spent nuclear fuel by railroad.

Before the Soviet collapse in 1991, nuclear submarines from the Northern and Pacific Fleets regularly patrolled the east and west coasts of the United States, the South China Sea, and outside the Persian Gulf. During the early twenty-first century, however, Russian nuclear submarines are rarely seen in these waters. The number of nuclear-powered submarines in operation in the Northern Fleet decreased from 120 during the late 1980s to less than forty in 2001. The Northern Fleet has six naval bases and shipyards on the Kola Peninsula to serve its nuclear vessels: Severomorsk, Gadzhievo, Gremikha, Vidyaevo, Sayda Bay, and Zapadnaya Litsa. Its main base and administrative center is Severomorsk, a city with a population of 70,000 situated 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north of Murmansk on the eastern side of the Murmansk Fjord. Three nuclear-powered Kirov -class battle cruisers are based in Severomorsk: Admiral Ushakov, Admiral Nakhimov, and Peter the Great. However, no nuclear submarines are permanently stationed there. Safonovo, a rural town in the Severomorsk area, is the repair center for nuclear submarines and surface vessels, including the largest Northern Fleet submarines, such as the Typhoon class.

The strategic importance of the Kola Peninsula became apparent to Russian military planners with the rise of German naval power in the Baltic Sea and the outbreak of World War I. Recognizing the need for access to ice-free harbors in the north, Russia built a modern port in Alexandrovsk (today called Polyarny) at the mouth of the Murmansk Fjord in 1899. A naval force dedicated to the northern region was established shortly after the out-break of World War I. In 1917, a railroad line was built to Murmansk, connecting the rest of Russia to an ice-free port open year round. Not until Josef Stalin's visit to Polyarny during the summer of 1933 was the Soviet Fleet of the Northern Seas actually established, however. Renamed the Northern Fleet in 1937, it consisted (before World War II) of just eight destroyers, fifteen diesel-powered submarines, patrol boats, minesweepers, and some smaller vessels. During World War II, supplies from the Western Allies were transported by convoy to Murmansk and then taken by railroad to military fronts in the south. A major naval buildup began after World War II in an effort to catch up with the United States. The first Soviet nuclear submarine (the K-3 Leninsky Komsomol ) was commissioned to the Northern Fleet on July 1, 1958, just four years after the commissioning of the first American nuclear submarine, the Nautilus. During the period from 1950 to 1970, the Northern Fleet grew from the smallest to the largest and most important of the four Soviet fleets.

See also: baltic fleet; black sea fleet; pacific fleet


Burns, Thomas S. (1978). The Secret War for the Ocean Depths: Soviet-American Rivalry for Mastery of the Seas. New York: Rawson Associates.

Jordan, John. (1982). An Illustrated Guide to the Modern Soviet Navy. New York: Arco.

Nilsen, Thomas; Kudrik, Igor; and Nikitin, Alexandr. (1996). The Russian Northern Fleet: Sources of Radioactive Contamination. Oslo: Bellona Foundation.

Nitze, Paul H., and Sullivan, Leonard. (1979). Securing the Seas: The Soviet Naval Challenge and Western Alliance Options: An Atlantic Council Policy Study. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Johanna Granville

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