The Bitch TASHKENT
Ships in every Navy are named according to patterns. Our ships and submarines are named following traditions that are similar to those used by other nations. One common trait is to name significant warships after statesmen and heroes; another is to use the titles of cities and regions or states.
We called one type of Soviet Cruiser the KARA-class, after the Kara Sea, in the most despicable, frozen waters on this planet. This type of warship was made up of seven units, all but one named for a town in the Union. I ran into these ships more often than other types and they were all very respectable fighters. On occasion, our crews would discuss strategies for attacking these brutes, but luckily, we never had to stick one.
Unit 5, PETROPAVLOVSK, was a clean, capable ship, with a perfect paint job and many awards for its high level of readiness. In the dispatches of "Morskoi Sbornik" (the Official magazine of the Soviet Navy), I read about the many awards PETRO received for Air Warfare and Missile Defense. This tells us helicopter guys to stay away, unless we want to swim home. What others saw as an innocuous detail provided us with clues to her wartime capabilities.
In reality, we did an awful lot to provoke these guys and I am somewhat amazed that they allowed us to live. During morning call-to-colors, all of the Soviet sailors would line up on the deck of that ship to receive their daily orders and get inspected. In our Navy, as well, this time is important to re-enforce doctrine and discipline.
Each day at dawn, we would launch to take a RADAR picture of the Soviet Battle Group. My ship, the USS KIRK, was detailed to follow a large heavily armed force of Red ships. The Battle Group contained the newest aircraft carrier in the world, plus KARAs, and older KRESTA II cruiser, a pair of feisty frigates (similar in capabilities to the KIRK), and a motley collection of support ships. The KARAs in the group included the TALLINN, TASHKENT, and the clean PETRO.
We flew a great arc, labelling the ships positions for our spooks. Each morning, this arc was timed to arrive over the PETRO as he raised his flag. (The Russian Navy has always used male pronouns to describe their fighting vessels.) So, the picture we have is a quiet, serious ceremony out at sea, with several hundred men of the Soviet Union's Navy standing at attention, listening to the exhortations of the Captain and Pollitical Officer (Zampolit) on the loudspeakers.
Only here, we would arrive in our blaringly loud helicopter, to hover alongside the enemy ship and aggravate the Zampolit by doing nothing but make noise. The crew of the PETRO never responded to our jibe. Other ships did...
The guided-missile cruiser on the left wing of the Soviet formation was a completely different matter. Although it rolled out of Kolumna Shipyard 61 (at Nikolayev North), just as its earlier brothers had, the TASHKENT held little of the grace of its family. All 174 meters of this ship looked like a rusted outhouse.
This critter was in my face several times in my career, and it was never pleasant. Once, it fired a short range missile into the air under an aircraft I was flying in. To say that it didn't matter because it was too far below us made me distrust the TASHKENT no less.
Three crewmen on the ORION patrol bomber watched the column of smoke rise from amidships as that cruiser, making our pilot almost crash in a desperate attempt to get away. Get the picture? Is Soviet for joke, da?
Of course, later it was stated that a warning was announced on the radio. The warning was a closure area for the test of a SA-7 GRAIL missile, with a range of about 3 miles. We heard nothing. I learned to watch the bitch TASHKENT.
Several years and oceans away, my ship was cruising along behind the Red aircraft carrier NOVORO. The actual name is much longer, but we always called it that. It was a lazy day, and I finished my work and went to stretch out on the flight deck beside our tiny helicopter.
The Soviet Battle Group was steaming in the vicinity of Midway Island, in the middle of nowhere (central Pacific). This area was known as Yellowstone Park. The reason is a jab at the fact that on any given day, Soviet long range bombers would fly over us. These aircraft were the venerable BEAR-bombers; hence the name of the area.
Other enemy warships were refueling, or waiting their turns at the oil-tanker. We observed; I napped. Our passage through the water slowed to steerage, and we began to wallow in the mid-Pacific swells. Our ship rocked deeply left, then lazily right.
I sat up to look around: the NOVORO, armed to the teeth and carrying 10 jump-jets on her angled flight deck, was fueling and one of the KARAs was parallelling our course, astern.
It looked like it was making some steam, but it should pass 200 yards down our starboard side. I laid back down and closed my eyes.
The thought of an enemy cruiser creeping up would not go away, so I cracked my lids to peek. There it was; almost alongside the KIRK. It looked like hell and had almost no paint left. The huge faded number 735 told me it was that old bitch TASHKENT, gliding up and slowing to a crawl.
I sat up again - the 540 foot guided missile cruiser dwarfing us was only yards away. My vantage point on the deserted flight deck/fantail was completely in view of the Soviet bridge crew. Ten or twelve of the Red bastards stood staring at me. Here we were, parked out at sea, with Gordon napping underneath our bird.
I made a show of how impressed I was by rolling back over. I knew that their spooks would tell by my flight suit the job I had - any photographs that they took of our helicopter for intelligence purposes would have me sleeping in them. It made a pleasant mental picture.
After a short time, the tremors of power returned to my ship - the ship's screw vibration in the metal deck under me signalled that we were underway. The breeze was cool. I could sense that we were pulling away from the Russian.
Approximately two minutes later, at a range of roughly a quarter of a mile, the TASHKENT fired a blistering broadside with every deck gun it had. Gatling guns and heavy cannon all let go in a thundering blast.
I jumped bolt upright at the initial report, just in time to hear the shells crackle in the air. The Red ship was nearly astern and completely lit by its own gunfire. In that first moment, I really hoped I would see where those shells would land; honestly, there was no way to tell what direction they were firing, i.e., mine.
Then, a mile off our port side, the distinctive splashes began to blossom. I watched, heart pounding, thinking that Hollywood never gets those kind of explosions right...
The rthymic crashes continued, the TASHKENT firing dozens of heavy cannon rounds into the defenseless sea. It appeared they were getting an enormous kick out of their fireworks show, and before long, several other Soviet ships began to assault the same patch of offending ocean.
Stomping into the hangar, I swore that TASHKENT would never surprise me again.
1991 The downfall of the Soviet Union precipitates the sale of many relatively new warships. There are no interested buyers in TASHKENT; it is sold and parted out, scrapped without ceremony.
1994 NOVOROSIISK is broken up in its Pacific Fleet port. Its gigantic boilers and turbines are reused to replace the failing local power station.
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