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Cold War Tech: Soviet Torpedo Trawlers

by John Reed on March 9, 2012

Thought I’d give you some secret Soviet Cold War tech for this Friday morning. The ship above looks like an innocent little ex-Soviet fishing trawler. You know, the innocent trawlers that were always fishing within sight of U.S. warships. Fishing for intelligence, that is, boom! (Sorry, it was so bad I couldn’t resist.)

Anyway, it appears that some of those trawlers were carrying more than imaginary fishhooks and EW/SIGINT gear.  The pic below shows the bow section of that trawler equipped with what appears to be at least one torpedo tube and what might be a sonar dome. So sneaky. This torpedo-armed trawler may have been a one-off concept ship, since it’s unknown how many were actually built

Via Sal.

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Some guy March 9, 2012 at 11:20 am

A short but exciting life in the event of war.


Riceball March 9, 2012 at 11:29 am

It's all for fishing, the sonar is obviously for finding fish and the torpedo tube isn't really a torpedo, it's a fish vacuum designed to suck fish as the trawler goes through a school of fish. Yeah, yeah, that's it, a fish vacuum.


James Haney May 9, 2014 at 11:52 am

if it were a torpedo tube they would have to have a bow door or that would impede the vessel at sea. Look closely and you can see the door partially open. Still would create a drag by disrupting the water flow on the bow


Fred Enaj March 9, 2012 at 11:32 am

Its got to be a sonar dome, nver seen a hull like that on a commercial fishery vessel.Great pics.


jrexilius March 9, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Hmm.. I can see a lot of innocent civilian Iranian shipping vessels going in for hull work soon.


Thunder350 March 9, 2012 at 6:14 pm

You mean the ones we keep rescuing? =P


ernoz March 12, 2012 at 8:57 am

Many already went if you ask me. I bet many of those speedboats have huge hidden efp or something similar inside.


TomUK March 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm

TT 'outer' doors open outwards – not the case here. A bow sonar like that would not survive the battering it would receive if mounted on a small boat in a proper Atlantic seaway. (Inventive use of fibreglass, Duck tape, etc, is to be commended).


Big B March 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm

TT Doors….. wrong the slide inwards, otherwise they create drag, noise and turbulence.

Sonar bows in the atlantic, for reference look at some of the pictures of the early 50 and 60 Soviet Diesel Submarines with the upper bow mounted sonar domes. Yes the served in the Atlantic, with lots of time in the Northern Atlantic and Barents sea.


TomUK March 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I accept the correction about outer doors – I mis-spoke, but I still don't believe that the clunky quarter-plate disc shown would have been adequate. Sonar 'boats' were long mounted on sub upper bows (and indeed as arrays on conning towers, and not just in Soviet practice). The point was that the lower bow mount on such a small &lively ship would have constantly been 'hammering' into oncoming seas as it left and met the water, and, as a fragile construct, was not feasible.


Steve December 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Outer doors, interlocked to the Bow caps open inwards, while the actual pressure tight topedo tube bow caps open outwards.


myname February 23, 2014 at 8:42 pm

So you are saying you think the front of that boat is sitting on duck tape and fiberglass? Nope. And all TT doors open outwards, lol apparently not.


Riles March 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm

1. I wouldn't be surprised if the Chinese had something along these lines. They harass ships with fishing boats, if I recall correctly.

2. Whoever writes these articles uses the phrase: "you know, (insert something slightly ironic or humerous)" a lot. Has anybody else noticed this?


AlC March 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm

you know, I never noticed that. Thanks !


benny March 9, 2012 at 1:32 pm
Lance March 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Not shocking the Soviets had alot of covert ways to destroy America in any event of war. KGB agents armed with Suit Case Nukes for instance. I doubt this trawlers would be able to take any large fleet into chaos but attacking supply ships would be useful.

Interesting history. Thanks Defense Tech.


matt March 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm

You know what those doors are?

A nearly silent propulsion system?


Captain Ramius March 9, 2012 at 6:27 pm

It would sound like whales humping or a seismic anomalie…


Nick T March 10, 2012 at 12:48 am

Right, back to the torpedo theory.


SJE March 10, 2012 at 10:25 am

Of course. Lets put top secret silent propulsion on fishing trawlers


stephen russell March 9, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Cute, get in close range wise & fire lone torpedo then scurry away amid the waves.
But suicidal since nearby escorts would fire on said ship or carrier planes would hunt down trawler.
Scary then during Cold War 1.


Steve B. March 9, 2012 at 8:08 pm

It's probably a silent propulsion system – I.E. Caterpillar Drive.

"If I can get you close enough, can you track this thing, Jonesy ?".

"Sure Captain, all I need is a pair of good binoculars".


Alex March 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Not a big shocker. The Soviet's had a penchant for arming everything possible. War truly was an all hands on deck effort, if it came to that.


eirikr1 March 10, 2012 at 10:36 am

Didn't the Soviets (or communist doctrine) have a belief in the "militarization of the citizenship"?? that the entire population was to be militarized?


joe March 12, 2012 at 4:35 am

Essentially, yes. More precisely, since almost all industry was state-owned, everyone therefore works for the state and hence the state is at liberty to redeploy whatever proportion of them is required for a project it perceives as critical. This is how the Soviet Union managed to turn up to Kursk with five thousand tanks…

Same applies to military and intelligence; if a business is state-owned, the state has a right to embed intelligence-gathering people or equipment in it.


Richard O'Brien March 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm

True that there were several suitcase bombs buried in places like Upper State New York (2k equiv. explosive power). Gorbachev disclosed the locations in the early 90s.
Russians shipped tactical nuclear bombs into Cuba in 1962, BEFORE the missiles arrived. Our JCS was clueless by recommending a conventional ground invasion of the island; Russian orders were to use 'em.
GUARANTEE: The Chinese have the same game plan on the West Coast today – 20,000 sleepers and bombs to boot. Hey, like that Chinese dirty bomb at Fort Knox in Jame Bond's "Goldfinder"! And that was '64.


Kski March 10, 2012 at 1:07 am

Sorta like what the Kriegsmarine did, turning cargo ships into raiders.


Jacob March 10, 2012 at 12:36 am

I imagine this is more of a defensive ASW unit. There's no way NATO would allow a Soviet trawler near its convoy routes, even if it weren't carrying torpedoes.


andy March 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm

they did it all the time.


surveyor47 March 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I ran East Coast tankers for many years, starting in 1974. Soviet trawlers were everywhere, particularly off of Norfolk, New York and Boston. You had to go through these fleets; there were so many spread out over so many miles that you could not go around them. It was not unusual to pass within 100 feet of Soviet trawlers, particularly at night.

USN destroyers had a heck of a task making a path through the trawlers for carriers to pass. So much for a long range fire control solution.

The USN has long made the mistake of dismissing merchant ships as having no military signifigance.


Mastro March 10, 2012 at 11:57 am

Didn't Zumwalt fear that the trawlers would open fire on US carriers etc in the first stages of WWIII?

I believe the Pegasus fleet was in part meant to combat that. Put a Pegasus next to a trawler- when the balloon goes us- they slug it out- leaving the destroyers, CV's out of it-


surveyor47 March 12, 2012 at 11:07 am

As I recall, it was the Soviet DDGs, aka "Tattletales", that Zumwalt feared. These destroyers could keep up with a CV and had SSN2 Styx missiles pointing aft, meaning that they had to turn away from the task force to open fire. Zumwalt put the Ashville class gunboats on the tail of the Soviet DDGs, thus giving the tattletales a tattletale. (The Ashvilles were the original Rockabillies- rockin and a rollin- trulyy awful sea duty). The hydrofoils were their supposed replacement, but turned out to be expensive and fragile.


tiger March 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Torpedo tubes on a trawler. Damned sneaky surprise.


joe March 12, 2012 at 4:41 am

Indeed. There was a tradition of "trawler" ships following carrier battle groups at some points in the cold war. They were blatantly intelligence ships acting as tattle-tales, something the USN was fully aware of – I remember hearing (but can't recall from where) that at least one CBG deployment which picked up one of these things established a standing policy of buzzing the thing every time a CAP plane came in to land. As noted above, they would have a short and interesting life if war had broken out.

However, if that is a heavyweight torpedo tube they might well have caused a nasty surprise or two first…


surveyor47 March 12, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Were there any 30 knot trawlers? I have seen reference to trawlers following battle groups, but I have never heard of a trawler doing much over 15 knots. From what I saw off of Charleston, Norfolk, New York and Boston, it was the sheer number of trawlers that had to be passed through that presented the problem. I have never tracked a trawler doing in excess of 15 knots, more like 2 or 10 knots.


tiger March 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm

One day those Japanese whaler ships are going to get tired of the Greenpeace types & try this idea.


joe March 12, 2012 at 4:41 am

Either that, or use it on the whale. Makes the butchering process rather faster (if a bit less efficient).


Twidget at large March 13, 2012 at 9:24 am

Nonsense joe, the explosian will just "naturaly" tenderize the meat.


Wicked bad August 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Could it some kind of ballast hatches?
Fill it with ocean water for stability at rough sea, but emptying it for speed when the sea allows for it.

Can imagine that the trawler have som kind of tubes along the underwater line of the hull. to hold the water, when ballasted down.

Just a thought from a small lake sailor…


JCR August 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm

OS-57 is apparently a torpedo trials vessel of the Project 1824 “Muna” class.
It can both launch torpedoes in simulated submarine conditions, track them and recover them with the onboard cranes.


Brian November 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Whoever designed that had apparently never been to sea. In even moderate seas the torpedo tubes would be visible as the boat crested a wave. If this vessel approached our fleet the jammers would come on and they would sink it asap.


Brian November 13, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Oh, wait. They were probably not designed to be a threat to our fleet, but to our boomer subs. A trawler would be ignored by the sub and it could listen and be prepared to launch if so ordered.


A.D. Baker III April 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm

I gather that the author of the article and most of those making comments have never looked at a copy of Jane's Fighting Ships or Combat Fleets of the World, wherein this very elderly Muna-class trials craft is listed, illustrated, and described. The letters on the bow stand for the Opitnoye Sudno = Trials Vessel, and the craft (and a sister) have been around for over 40 years.


Pixie April 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

You have to give it to the Russians that is an absolutely brilliant idea and form of self defence agains marauding idiot "fish police". pity the trawler pirated in Senigal and off Norway did not have it fitted, that would be a good way to stirup NATO in the black Sea . Mr Putin need to build a few more andn als fit them with decent anti-ship anti-air missile launcher s. If the stupids of NATO and the dumb yankees want a fight. One trawler to kill a fla top or just an Agis cruser in my workld is a win-win to the Russan Black Sea fleet. Time to bloody the kankee balls and nose


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