Russia has always had a problem with access to the open ocean. As the largest country in the world, Russia is bound by a number of oceans and seas but yet geography has also imposed significant constraints upon the country. The of the major bodies of water, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea are dominated by the choke points that control entrance and egress. In the far east the Russian Pacific Coast faced geographical constraints. The Home Islands of Japan, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin Island form a chain the restricts access to Vladivostok. Access to the Arctic Ocean, Kara Sea and White Sea is of course dominated by the weather and the heavy pack ice of the winter. However, there is another sea to which Russia has access. The entirely landlocked Caspian Sea.
The Caspian Sea has an exotic sound. It is much longer north to south than it is wide east to west. Almost entirely found within the boundaries of Russia, only the strip of the south coast is controlled by another country, Iran. Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union maintained a naval presence on the Caspian, the Caspian Flotilla.
In 1908 Imperial Russia laid down two new gunboats at the Admiralty Shipyard in Saint Petersburg, launched in September 1909 and moved by sections to the Caspian Sea where they entered Imperial service in July 1911. They were named Kars and Ardagan. (Click for review of the Combrig model of Kars). At this time they were armed with two 120mm/45, four 75mm/50 cannons and two machine guns. They were also the first surface ships to use diesel engines for their primary propulsion. They remained far from action during World War One. With the start of the Russian Civil War, the two gunboats became part of the Red forces. Ardagan was renamed Trotsky and went back into service on April 28, 1920 and Kars was renamed Lenin and came back on July 5, 1920. The ships had new names but had not changed much since their first commissioning in 1911.
In the 1920s both were overhauled, Trotsky 1924-1926 & Lenin 1925-1927, but that amounted to basically refurbishing the existing equipment. Due to the shifting political climate in the Soviet Union, Trotsky came in for a name change. Trotsky, second in power to Lenin and the guiding force behind the Red Army in the Russian Civil War, lost out to Stalin in the maneuvering that followed Lenin’s death. Trotsky the man became an un-person and was airbrushed out of photographs, while Trotsky, the Caspian Flotilla gunboat became the Krasnyy Azerbaidzhan.
Another ten years passed and the ships received complete modernization, Krasnyy Azerbaidzhan in 1937 and Lenin from 1938-1940. Substantial changes were made through these modernizations. The hull casemate gun position was eliminated and plated over, the forecastle was extended much further aft, the bridge was modified, a full size funnel replaced the two diesel exhaust shafts, a tripod mast was added forward and a pole mast oddly at the extreme stern. Most importantly, a completely new outfit of armament was installed and just in time. The new armament consisted of three 102mm/60 and four 37mm/70 AA cannons as well as four 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine guns. One possible explanation for the new funnel is that new machinery replaced the old diesel plant. However, there is no documentary evidence to support this theory and is based strictly on the much larger size of the new stack.
When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Caspian Flotilla was far from the front. With the German offensive of 1942 the bucolic situation in the Caspian changed. Instead of renewing the drive towards Moscow that was stopped with the winter in 1941, the new German drive was in southern Russia with the objective of seizing the Soviet oil-producing region, centered on the Caucuses and Caspian Sea.
World War One was and infantry and towed artillery war. The bulk of the world’s warships were fueled by coal. Twenty years later, everything ran on petroleum distillates, gasoline, kerosene and fuel oil. Oh yes, there were Soviet cavalry brigades and German horse-towed artillery on the eastern front but the arm of decision was the mechanized armored force. The mechanized and motorized forces, the mass armor attack characterized combat in the Soviet Union. All of this required oil, and lots of it.
Unencumbered passage of the Caspian Sea was crucial to the survival of the Soviet Union. Sea transport from the oil production area centered around Baku to the northern ports of the Caspian, primarily Astrakhan. As the German forces pressed eastwards through the summer and early fall, the coastal merchant traffic in the Caspian Sea came within the range of German air attack. During this same time the need for oil and consequently the number of oil shipments north increased. As an example the daily transport requirements from Baku to Krasnovodsk was nine ships in 1941 but had jumped to 13 ships per day in 1942. The Soviets used convoys protected by escorts, designed for anti-aircraft defense, sine their were no opposing naval forces in the Caspian.
"In 1941-43, continuous growth in maritime shipments in several directions, as well as enemy opposition, required significant reinforcement of the Caspian Flotilla. The flotilla was supplemented with minesweepers, patrol boats and special-purpose vessels converted from small ships of the merchant fleet, and newly commissioned minesweeping boats, patrol boats, and armored boats." Soviet Naval Operations in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 by V.I. Achkasov and N.B. Pavlovich, at pages 345-346. The range of the German bombers allowed attacks in the northwest corner of the Caspian, centered around Astrakhan. The attacks amounted to bombing and minelaying.
In 1942 transports and barges made 1,200 passages of the Caspian and were under German air attack 216 times. Several ships and barges were lost, mostly in the Astrakhan harbor. German losses amounted to six aircraft with another four damaged. In 1943, while still within German aircraft range, 1,103 transport voyages were completed with the loss of two barges and a factory ship in the May through July 1943 time period. Of 58.2 million tons of cargo transported over sea lanes in the Caspian during the war, 51.1 million tons consisted of petroleum products. These figures in themselves indicate the role of the Caspian Flotilla in the defense of our sea lanes." ." Soviet Naval Operations in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 by V.I. Achkasov and N.B. Pavlovich, at pages 347.
Lenin, as one of the larger warships of the Caspian Flotilla, was one of the key vessels defending the Baku to Astrakhan oil shipment routes. Keeping those transport routes open and the oil flowing northward allowed for the mass armor production and massed armor attacks of the Red Army from 1943 onwards, that finally crushed the German Army.
The Lenin survived World War Two and was kept for further service. On December 29, 1954 the role of the Lenin was changed to that of an accommodation ship. Her name was changed to PKZ-100 on March 13, 1959. She was soon scrapped. It is somewhat ironic that this small combatant built to serve Tsar Nicholas II in an out-of-the-way flotilla, served to defend one of the most important transportation routes for Russia 35 years after she was laid down in Saint Petersburg. Russia got her money’s worth with the Lenin (ex-Kars). She outlasted the Romanovs, outlasted her namesake Vladimir Lenin, outlasted Trotsky, outlasted German forces in two world wars and finally outlasted Stalin, to see the dawning of the space race. (History from Soviet Naval Operations in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 by V.I. Achkasov and N.B. Pavlovich; Soviet Warship Development, Volume 1: 1917-1937 by Siegfried Breyer)
The Combrig Lenin
The model is fairly small but still has plenty of detail for her size. There are many deck fittings but the high light is the anchor chain and hawse openings. The fittings have a slightly different arrangement from the Kars. On the hull casting the two most obvious differences are the extended forecastle deck and plated over casemate positions of the Lenin casting. The Combrig Lenin deck is packed with gun mounts. With three shielded 102mm guns, four open 37mm mounts plus four 12.7mm machineguns, there is a gun in almost every open space on the deck.
There is also a new curved bridge and of course a new standard size funnel in place of the two pipe exhausts in the Kars kit. The plan of Lenin, found in the instructions, show four inclined ladders on the decks of Lenin. There is no photo-etch supplied with this kit but that presents no problem, as common railing and inclined ladders are all that are really needed. Likewise the instructions are in the standard Combrig format, with a plan & profile on one side and an assembly diagram or drawing on the reverse. The parts count and fit is fairly simple and the instructions seem perfectly adequate to do the job without creating any undue problems.