Shadow of former greatness: What military bases Russia lost in Africa

As you probably already know, the Russian Federation resumes its presence on the Black Continent, opening its own PMTO (logistics center) of the Russian Navy on the Red Sea coast near the deep-water port of Port Sudan by agreement with the government of this country.

This facility, according to the plans of the Russian Navy, will be used for repairs, resupply and rest of the crew members of Russian warships. In addition, the new PMTO, in addition to the traditional task of displaying the flag and maintaining the ships of the far sea zone, will also be called upon to solve the problem of a military presence in a terrorist and pirate-prone region to maintain safe commercial shipping.

Among other tasks, the ships of the Russian Navy that appeared there will have to ensure our interests not only in the Indian Ocean and nearby seas, but also in the entire Black Continent, since this PTMO, purely geographically, should become the key to all of Central Africa, where Russia also has its own interests (including in the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

But this PMTO, the second on the Black Continent (the first was the 720th PMTO of the Navy in Tartus, SAR), is only a shadow of our former greatness of the Soviet era. Soviet naval bases (naval bases) and PMTO were already in this region.

Berbera (Somalia)

The first naval base appeared there 56 years ago. In 1964, the construction of a first-class naval base of the USSR Navy began in the harbor of the Somali city of Berbera on the shores of the Gulf of Aden. It received and serviced not only ships, but all types of naval aircraft. The runway built by Soviet specialists had a length of 4140 m.At that time, it was the longest in Africa. And it is no coincidence that this naval base was called the "Guardian of the gates to the Red Sea." She controlled a strategically important sea transport artery from Europe to Asia through the Suez Canal, and also did not allow anyone to "play naughty" in the western Indian Ocean.

Of course, the Soviet Union paid with generous aid to the Somali people. They say that the debt of this country to the USSR resulted in a colossal amount, which in terms of gold is 44 tons. But the Ethiopo-Somali war that broke out in 1977 destroyed the idyll. Moscow decided to support Addis Ababa in the conflict. Mogadishu reacted instantly, demanding the removal of the naval base from Berbera within three days. Since the Somalis were given weapons above the roof, and almost the entire officer corps of this country was trained in the USSR or by Soviet advisers, it was pointless to get involved in the conflict, and it was dangerous. Everything that they had time and that they could was taken to Aden and to the Ethiopian island of Nokra in the Red Sea. A well-equipped port, a unique airfield, a communications center, a tracking station, storage for tactical missiles and fuel, living quarters for 1500 people were lost. But the situation went so far that the USSR even had to use a military contingent to save its citizens. On November 20, 1977, in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, a landing of marines from ships of the 8th operational squadron of the Pacific Fleet was landed to evacuate the Soviet embassy and Soviet citizens working in this country.

The Americans, who replaced the "Soviet friends", were delighted with the airfield in Berber. They have set up a reserve landing strip for their space shuttles there. But, in the end, the practical Yankees got tired of the constant extortion of local corrupt officials, and the Space Shuttle program ended, and they left Berbera. After that, this port turned into one of the strongholds of the Somali pirates. Now they have calmed down somewhat, but no one will guarantee that sooner or later the East African filibusters will not again take up the lucrative craft.

Nokra (Ethiopia)

Nokra Island in the Dakhlak archipelago, where the PMTO moved from Berbera, is located in the southwestern part of the Red Sea. During Roman times, the island was one of the main centers for pearl fishing. In modern times, there was an Italian convict prison.

The floating dock PD-66 with a lifting force of 8500 tons was brought to the Gubeyt-Mus Nefit Bay of Nokra Island, not without adventure. , diving boats and other support craft. A separate mobile engineering battalion of the Black Sea Fleet erected berths and a ship repair shop, fuel and water storage facilities, warehouses, equipped a helipad, built residential buildings for military personnel and their families, as well as social infrastructure facilities. Electricity and water supply systems were established. Equipped again for centuries.

Of course, in terms of her capabilities, Nokra was inferior to Berbera, but she also occupied an important strategic position. The PMTO in the Red Sea was initially focused on the repair of Soviet submarines operating in the Indian Ocean. But soon he began to serve surface ships as well. Especially often large and medium landing ships entered the base, which were delivered to Ethiopia machinery and weapons used by government forces against the Eritreans who fought for independence from Addis Ababa.

In the spring of 1988, the Eritreans defeated the Ethiopian army at Afabet, defeating three divisions and several separate units of government forces. Most of the Ethiopian coastline came under the control of the rebels. They increasingly launched attacks against PMTO Nokra. At first, they operated in motor boats and opened fire from small arms at Soviet ships and vessels. Naturally, such a "fleet" could not cause much damage. But after some time, the Eritreans received Swedish-built speedboats with light artillery weapons. The situation began to worsen. The Olekma tanker came under fire in the Massawa-North Strait. His radio operator Mikhail Novikov was killed. A fire broke out, but the tanker was in ballast, and the ignition did not entail catastrophic consequences. The ship managed to break away from the pursuers.

AK-312 - the storm of the Eritrean rebels

To protect the base and shipping, the command of the USSR Navy began to send warships to the Red Sea. They had enough work. Thus, the AK-312 artillery boat of the 205P ChMF project under the command of Lieutenant Commander Nikolai Bely from the end of 1989 to May 1990 made 47 patrols and provided 33 convoys.

The boats of the project 205P "Tarantul" were created by TsKB-5 (now TsMKB "Almaz") on the basis of the missile boats of the project 205 "Moskit" With a total displacement of 245 tons and an almost 40-meter length, they developed a maximum 35-knot speed, which was provided by three diesel engines. Their armament consisted of two paired 30-mm AK-230 artillery mounts, two BSU-6 bomb release units with twelve BB-1 depth charges and four torpedo tubes for firing 400-mm SET-40 torpedoes to destroy submarines. These boats were intended primarily for maritime border guards, who classified them as border patrol ships of the 3rd rank. It is no coincidence that they received the Stenka code in NATO. For the Marine units of the Border Service of the KGB of the USSR and foreign customers, 137 "tarantulas" of various modifications were built. Several border patrolmen are still in service, including in foreign fleets. Some of the boats of the 205P project were used by the USSR Navy to guard bases and were classified as artillery.

Among them was the AK-312 from the 165th anti-submarine battalion of the 141st brigade of ships protecting the water area of ​​the Kerch-Feodosiya naval base. Twelve times in the Red Sea, Eritrean boats fired at him. And on May 27, 1990, he twice had a chance to participate in the battle. On that day, AK-312 transported a group of conscripts, who were subject to demobilization, to the hospital ship "Yenisei" en route to Sevastopol. The rendezvous point was 180 km from the PMTO Nokra.

During the transition to the Yenisei, the AK-312 encountered four Jaguar-class torpedo boats transferred from the FRG to the Eritreans, who outnumbered the Soviet boat not only in number, but also in firepower. With a length of 42,6 m, they had a total displacement of 210 tons and developed a 40-knot speed. Each Jaguar carried two 40mm Bofors automatic cannons with 3168 rounds per barrel, four 533mm torpedo tubes and 14 depth charges. Apparently, the Eritreans wanted to surround the Soviet boat, take it prisoner or sink it. But nothing came of this venture.

The crew of the AK-312 opposed both numerically and qualitatively to the opposing enemy high naval skills, which the Eritreans, of course, did not possess, and naval ingenuity. Skillfully maneuvering, Lieutenant-Commander Bely led his ship through the curtain of enemy boats. And when they began to catch up, taking advantage of the speed advantage, the original weapon was used against the Jaguars. Bely ordered to drop depth charges on the course of the pursuers. One of the Eritreans who were catching up with the boats "ran over" right on the blast of the exploded BB-1 and turned over. Discouraged by the death of their comrades, the crews of the three remaining boats stopped pursuing.

But when the AK-312 returned to base, the Eritreans greeted him with the clear intent of revenge. A fight ensued. Another Jaguar was sunk by well-aimed fire, and another was damaged (according to some sources, it also sank). Our boat did not receive a single hit in two battles.

Exploits of the "Scout"

Other Soviet ships and boats also acted with initiative and courage. In May of the same year, the Project 266M Aquamarine sea minesweeper under the command of Captain 3rd Rank Viktor Nosenko, escorting the Internationale tanker in the Red Sea, was attacked by four Eritrean boats that fired at Soviet ships from 106-mm recoilless guns and machine guns. Our minesweeper cut off the attackers from the tanker and entered the battle, which lasted only eight minutes. During this time, the "Scout" gunners fired at the enemy four and a half of the six tons of ammunition on the ship. The fire was also conducted by sailors armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles. The hydroacoustic engineer of the 2nd class, Igor Shvets, who was firing from the Utes heavy machine gun, was wounded. And the calculation of the foreman of the 1st article, Alexander Nondescript, put one of the attackers' boats to the bottom, after which they retreated. In total, in January-August 1990, the "Razvedchik" carried out convoys in the Red Sea 29 times and successfully navigated 52 ships.

Other incidents of 1990

On October 19, 1990, the Project 118M small anti-submarine ship Komsomolets Moldavii (MPK-1124) was accompanied by a convoy of two large landing ships, the Sheksna tanker and the Paravan sea minesweeper. At 14.30 pm, the convoy came under fire from two Eritrean coastal batteries from Cape Karali and Asarka Severnaya Island. Six 118-mm rounds and three unguided rockets of the Grad MLRS were fired at the MPK-122. The commander of Komsomolets Moldavia, Lieutenant-Commander Dmitry Brastovsky, ordered to open fire from the aft automatic 76-mm AK-176M cannon. Having expended up to hundreds of shells, the IPC suppressed both batteries and detonated an ammunition depot. Now this ship is called "Suzdalets" and continues to serve as part of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

In December 1990, the Paravan sea minesweeper repulsed an attack on the Sheksna tanker. At the same time, the MTSH "Dieselist" sank two of the six Eritrean boats that attacked it.

Loss of base

In early February 1991, the Eritreans took the city and port of Massawa by storm. As a result, Ethiopia lost access to the sea. The Soviet leadership decided to close the base. On February 6 at 17:14, the state flag of the USSR was lowered from the PMTO flagpole. In the evening, with the onset of dusk, the ships and vessels of the Soviet Navy moved away from the piers and dispersed to the places of safe anchorage in the inner roadstead. All equipment and property of the base passed into the ownership of the Ethiopian side. And then the Soviet ships left for Aden.

The last to leave the Dakhlak archipelago was the project 72M Storm T-206 hydrofoil torpedo boat under the command of Lieutenant Commander Andrey Prokopchik. He covered the convoy all the way to Aden. The fate of this small ship in the Ethiopian campaign of the Soviet Navy is also quite interesting. Just like the AK-312 boat, it is a "relative" of the Mosquito project 205 missile boats, only more distant. Designed by the designers of the Almaz Central Marine Design Bureau, the Shtorm-type torpedo boats had a total displacement of 250 tons and a length of 39,5 m. When moving on the wings, they developed a 44-knot speed. The armament was very powerful: a twin 57-mm automatic gun mount AK-725 and a twin 25-mm machine gun 2M-3M, as well as four 533-mm torpedo tubes. The T-72 can serve as an example of the high reliability of Soviet naval equipment. This boat made the transition on its own to Nokra from the Swinoujscie naval base in Poland, that is, from the Baltic. The boat was often used in the Red Sea as a kind of "ambulance". If it was necessary to drive off the Eritreans, the T-72 was heading there.

Bloody showdown in Aden (Yemen)

In the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), with its capital in Aden, formally, no Soviet bases or PMTO existed. But de facto they acted, and quite actively. In 1969, an agreement was concluded with the USSR on the use of the port facilities of South Yemen for recreation and resupply of Soviet ships operating in the Indian Ocean. And from year to year the number of calls of warships and auxiliary ships of the USSR Navy increased. From November 1976 to December 1979 alone, 123 Soviet ships visited Aden. Since January 1980, Il-38 anti-submarine aircraft of the naval aviation of the Navy began to be permanently based in Aden. After the construction of a military airfield in Al-Anad, they changed their "registration" and stayed there until 1991, that is, until the collapse of the USSR. The Soviet fleet also used the convenient bays of the Yemeni Socotra archipelago for anchorage at the "entrance" to the Gulf of Aden from the Indian Ocean.

The leaders of the NDRY, who proclaimed the construction of socialism in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, were ideologically very close to Moscow. Therefore, they received generous assistance, mainly in the field of building the Armed Forces and the Navy, in particular. The naval forces of South Yemen were supplied with 8 missile, 4 torpedo and 10 patrol boats, a large landing craft and three medium landing ships, 5 landing boats, 5 minesweepers, as well as auxiliary vessels. Thus, the NDRY navy turned into a very serious force in the Arabian Sea, not to mention the Gulf of Aden.

Everything seemed to be going well. However, a hidden tumor lurked in the leadership of the NDRY itself. The leaders of the Yemeni Socialist Party increasingly disagreed among themselves on how to build a "bright future." Frictions have repeatedly arisen with the fraternal Yemeni Arab Republic (YAR) and its capital in Sana'a. On January 13, 1986, the contradictions in the leadership of the country and the party reached their climax. An open civil war began, in which tanks, aircraft and the navy were involved. This bloody showdown of former associates cost lives, according to various estimates, from 13 thousand to 17 thousand citizens of the republic, another 65 thousand people fled to the YAR.

Soviet representatives from among military advisers and civilian specialists were also drawn into the whirlpool of the conflict. They, thank God, did not take sides, but had to take care of their own safety and their families. It got to the point that the midshipman and two workers of the Far Eastern Zvezda plant, who arrived in South Yemen to repair artillery guns, when they were under crossfire, were forced to roll out a 100-mm anti-tank gun from the workshop and began firing at the surrounding armored vehicles with direct fire. They knocked out six tanks and four armored personnel carriers.

Adviser to the commander of the Navy of South Yemen, Captain 1st Rank Alexei Mironov and several of his subordinates, who worked at the headquarters of the fleet, were taken hostage. But they managed to escape. Together with their family members, they went to sea on a pilot boat and motor boat. They were considered dead for several days. However, everything ended well. They were picked up by a Soviet fishing vessel.

The ships of the 8th operational squadron of the Pacific Fleet were evacuated from the battles of Aden: the minesweeper Zapal, the floating base of the Volga submarines, and the large landing ship BDK-101. They took out several thousand people. The tanker Vladimir Kolechitsky, which was loaded to capacity with fuel, was also involved in the evacuation. And all around the shells exploded.

The vessel also completed another unusual mission. The captain of the tanker Gennady Kireev received a radio telephone call from the Minister of Defense of the USSR Marshal Andrei Grechko. He ordered the search for senior Soviet military advisers who had fled from South Yemen and immediately return them to Aden. Two generals and fifty-seven officers seized passenger boats in the port and left the conflict zone without their families. But soon they ran out of fuel, and they began to drift at the behest of the waves a hundred and fifty miles from the coast. Captain Kireev brought the fugitives to the port, gave out a three-day dry ration and put them on boats. In a word, he fulfilled the order of the minister.

The forces that had gained the upper hand in the civil war remained sympathetic to the Soviet Union. In 1990, South and North Yemen became a single state. This change did not affect our military in any way, since Moscow had friendly ties with Sana'a. But the events of 1991 in Russia prevented further military cooperation with Yemen. And the "base" in Aden had to be abandoned.

The last stronghold - Seychelles

The same happened with the Seychelles, where, since 1984, the Soviet Navy used the port of Victoria for refueling and supplying ships, and the local airfield for landing naval aircraft. But after 1991, this perfectly adjusted mechanism ceased to function.

Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was killed in early December 2017, offered Moscow to restore the agreements between the NDRY and the USSR, and also spoke of its readiness to provide Russia with "all the necessary infrastructure" for naval bases, ports and airfields. But returning to a country engulfed in a civil war that has been going on permanently since 1962 would be reckless.

Now the Russian Navy is returning to the region, I hope, for a long time.
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