Submarines: The Soviet Sub Experience in WWII

This remarkable documentary is an English dub of an episode of a Russian TV series. In English the series, which ran in the UK in the dubbed version, is called Soviet Storm, and this is episode 13.  (Fear not the language; while the charts and maps still appear in Russian, the narration is professionally rendered in native English). This episode deals with the sea war, which really means, essentially, the sub war. The video shows why: when the Soviets tried surface operations, the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe cleaned their clock. So Stalin’s sailors took their war below the surface, at great risk, but also, to great effect.

At the start of the War, for instance, the Red Navy was weak in surface power, but it had a numerically strong submarine fleet — not as big as the Germans’ but the Soviets weren’t trying to contest the Atlantic convoy routes.

We didn’t know about the 25-mile-long submarine net barrier that the Germans erected in the Gulf of Finland, from the Porkkala-Udd peninsula to Naissar Island and Makilyuto Island off Tallin.

The guts and daring of the Soviet skippers and crews you learn a little bit about here are not much different from their Allied or enemy counterparts. So are their fates — the Baltic Fleet lost nearly half of their subs in 1942. A sunken sub usually bore its entire crew down to the eternal depths; if sunk on the surface, there might be a handful of survivors. As we saw recently with the cunning mine trap the British laid for U-Boats, mines are deadly to submarines; German and Finnish minefields accounted for many of the Russians’ subs whose fates are known.

For a clearly nationally-oriented production, it’s notably even-handed, with neutral phrasing during a discussion of disputed Soviet sub incursions into Swedish waters. Likewise, neutral phrasing handles the  There is a very interesting treatment of German attacks on Halifax-Murmansk PQ convoys; it hadn’t struck us before that the first seven convoys got through without a scratch, because it took the Germans a while to react to the problem.

Unfortunately, there’s very little about Soviet sub technology. It seems to have been at par with that of other nations at the start of the war, but the thrust of this document is operational, not technical. There’s also nothing about the training or life of submariners, whether they were ace commanders, long-service salts or new recruits on their first patrol. These omissions merely whet our appetite for more knowledge of Soviet sub technology, tactics, techniques and procedures, and for some first-hand accounts.

Also, be aware that the show is very dependent on CGI, and the CGI is dated and blocky by today’s standards.

This link should work to take you to a playlist of all episodes:

5 thoughts on “Submarines: The Soviet Sub Experience in WWII

  1. Bonifacio Echeverria

    Actually the Sovs started their part of the war with more subs than the Germans. Around 200 subs by June 1941, by far the largest sub fleet at the time (Japan being the second, IIRC). Dönitz didn’t get his 100th operational sub untill sometime around summer 1942 ( Uncle Joe was serius about his subs. Also, that seems to be a kind of Russian tradition. They have been purchasing everything that promised to optionally sink, at least, since the Russo-Turkish war. To the great delight of Nordenfeldt, Krupp, et. al. Also developing their own home breed of submarine forerunners.

  2. Eric

    Sometime back…well, probably a couple decades ago… I read an account of U-boat warfare by a surviving U-boat officer. As I recall, he stated that something like 92% of all German submarines had been sunk by the end of WWII, and German crews morale was in the toilet. In the later stages he visited one of his fellow submariners who tried to avoid going back to sea by killing himself. The guy failed at suicide, but succeeded in avoiding further service because he “only” blinded himself by shooting into his temple.

    It was a grim read.

      1. Max Popenker

        You’re most welcome ;)
        There’s plenty of Russian-language resources with valuable info, that are generally unknown to the Western public because those are in Russian language
        if you need more references about aviation, tanks etc – feel free to ask
        one example to enjoy: Soviet military automobiles

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