Russia's Unique 110-Year-Old Ship, Kommuna

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Russia's Unique 110-Year-Old Ship, Kommuna

Flag Russia Naval Auxiliaries are generally overlooked by casual observers, but in wartime they suddenly come into focus. Among them, salvage ships are so obscure that they are often forgotten in popular fleet lists(!). But it depends what needs salvaging! Think Glomar Explorer. Think... the Russian Navy's Kommuna.

The vintage rescue ship Kommuna has a long and at times distinguished career. Now 110 years old, she finds herself in active duty in the Russian-Ukraine war. Whether you see her as an elegant old lady, or an out of date accident waiting to happen, she is certainly one of the more interesting ships afloat today.

And she has been active in the war. She has been observed off the Crimean coast working with other naval vessels.

It seems likely that any salvage attempts on the wreck of the cruiser Moskva will involve her. Although at the time of writing the fog of war is literal as well as figurative, and there is no certainty.

Russian Navy rescue ship Kommuna
Kommuna seen in Sevastopol, February 2022. Note the red and white Project 1855 Priz class DSRV.


Displacement: 3,100t fully loaded
Length: 96 m (315 ft)
Beam: 18.57 m (60 ft )
Draught: 3.65 m (12 ft)
Propulsion: 2 × 600 hp (447 kW) Felser 6-cylinder diesel engines
Complement: 99
Submersibles: 1 x Project 1855 Priz class DSRV

Armament: None

Unique History Of Kommuna

She was originally laid down in Saint Petersburg as Volkhov in 1912. Like a few other similar designs from the time her mission was to rescue stricken submarines. She did this at least twice in 1917, lifting sunken Russian boats. She also served as a submarine tender between rescues and salvages.

In design terms she lent heavily on the German rescue ship SMS Vulkan. She had two lifting frames between catamaran hulls so that a submarine or other objects could be lifted into it. The ends of the ship were joined to create a moon-pool affect.

Compared to Vulkan, the Russian Ship was not I only longer and had a much greater displacement. It also had a more extensive lifting rig.

Although catamaran salvage and rescue vessels are unusual, and Kommuna is unique today, thhere ave been others. The Imperial German Navy's SMS Vulkan was the inspiration, and the U.S. Navy's USS Pigeon (ASR-21) is also similar. The idea of a gantry crane lifting between catamaran hulls is inherently sensible.

SMS Vulkan, USS Pigeon
SMS Vulkan, left. USS Pigeon, right. U.S. Navy images

After the communist revolution of 1917 she found herself in the fledgling Soviet Navy. Renamed Kommuna (meaning commune) she continued to serve in the Baltic.

During World War Two she served in the siege of Leningrad (as Saint Petersburg had been renamed). She was used to salvage valuable tanks and vehicles which had fallen through ice. She was also valuable as a submarine tender.

Today she has moved from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In the meantime she has received major enhancements to get capabilities, although her main structure remains almost unchanged. She now acts as a host ship for deep-diving submersibles and ROVs (Remote operated vehicles).

Deep-Diving Submersibles

In 1974 she was modernized to act as a DSRV (Deep Submergence rescue Vehicle) mother ship. For this she was equipped with a first-generation Project 1837 submersible. This 45 ton boat could dive to 500 meters and rescue up to 20 submariners at a time.

Russian Navy rescue ship Kommuna
Kommuna can carry a minisubmarine. Left, the original Project 1855 Priz class DSRV, right the current Project 1855 Priz class DSRV.

Since the Pr.1837 submersible has been retired, she has been equipped with the Project 1855 Priz class DSRV, AS-28. This has generally similar performance except that it can dive to twice the depth. It is equipped with two manipulator arms to allow it to perform other tasks on the sea floor.

Remote operated vehicles (ROVs) can also be carried.

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