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A  TRIP  TO  THE  ‘MINSK’

By Peter HUNT

 

The Minsk

 

“Sit Attention!”

 

“Sit Easy … Alright Academy Class ’08.  Today’s problem is how would you find a Soviet era, 43,000 ton Kiev class, Provtivolodochny Kreyser or Aviation Cruiser?”

 

“Sir! Sir!  Please Sir!”

 

“Yes Midshipman Clancy?”

 

“Sir, well first our IR Keyhole satellites over Murmansk would pick up the heat plumes in the engineering spaces as they fired up the 12 boilers.  Then one of our Los Angeles class SSNs would track her on passive sonar as she left the “barn”.  At 32 knots she would be going too fast for the LA to follow her quietly, but we would at least get a good course plot on her.  We would step up the Hawkeye AWACs patrols from the CBGs and surge the P3 Orions out of Keflavik.  One of them would pick up the distinctive tone of the Kiev’s “Plate Steer” radar and our ESM would localize her position.  Her P500 Bazalt (SS-N-12 “Sandbox”) missiles have range of nearly 300 nautical miles and pose a deadly threat to our CVNs, so I would launch a strike immediately.  Maverick and Iceman in the F14s would have to do some of that pitot sh*t but they would have no problem seeing off the CAP of Yak 38 “Forgers”.  The Kiev’s Shtorm (SA-N-3”Goblet”) long range surface-to-air missiles would be a bit of a problem but nothing the EA-6 “Prowlers” of the air group couldn’t handle with their jamming.  Each of the 12 A-6 “Intruders” in the strike would launch two “Harpoons” and hopefully these would saturate the point defence fire put up by the Kiev’s two Osa (SA-N-6 “Gecko”) Missile launchers; two twin 76mm guns; and eight AK 630 30mm, six-barrel rotary cannon close in weapons systems”.

 

“Oh Clancy, you are sooo 1980’s!  The Cold War is over, and anyway it would take ten pages of your next book to explain all that technobabble to a layman … Anyone else know how to find a Kiev?”

 

Erm …”

 

“Yes Midshipman Hunt?”

 

“Well Sir, I caught the Shataukok Express bus for $25HK from the Regentville Bus Terminus in Luen Wo Hui, Fanling, (I believe it also runs from Suffolk Road Kowloon Tong, near Exit D of the MTR), to the Shataukok Boundary Crossing Point which takes 20 minutes.  Once on the Mainland side you flag down a taxi, smile, and say “Min-Si-Quer” in your best Putonghwa.  For the minimum flag fall fare of RMB 12.50 and five minutes travel you are at the Kiev’s sister ship, the Minsk, moored in Shataukok Hoi.  You can’t miss it, at the entrance there is a very large man beating swords into ploughshares … quite appropriate really.”

 

“Well done Midshipman Hunt … tells us more.”

 

Swords into ploughshares

 

 Citic Minsk World” is a military theme park in Shataukok, just across the Boundary from Hong Kong.  Admission costs RMB 110.  The park houses displays of Cold War era Chinese planes and artillery pieces, a shooting gallery of compressed air cannon and, yes, a 43,000-ton aircraft carrier.

 

The Minsk was the second of the four Kiev or “Krechyet” class aviation cruisers.  These “PKRs” to use the Russian abbreviation, were not pure aircraft carriers, like the American giants, the French Foch or Charles de Gaulle, or the older British built ships that still serve several nations, equipped with caterpaults and arrested gear to launch and retrieve normal fixed wing aircraft; but they were hybrids, meant to fulfill several roles.  The best description that I can come up with is to imagine the forward half of Russian Kirov class battle cruiser bolted onto a British Illustrious class “through deck cruiser” or VSTOL aircraft carrier.  Minsk was launched in 1975 and decommisioned in 1993. In 1995 she was sold to a South Korean businessman who re-sold her onto China and her present, more peaceful, role.

 

The 12 Yak 38 Forgers carried by the Kievs were first generation short take off, vertical landing interceptors and light attack aircraft.  They had no chance in air-to-air combat with the American carrier F14 Tomcats of “Top Gun” fame but, for the first time, the Red Navy could mount a combat air patrol that would mean that attacking aircraft would have to be escorted by their own fighters, and unescorted NATO surveillance aircraft, like the Hawkeye AWACs of the Carrier Battle Groups or long range maritime patrol aircraft such as the American P3 Orion, or the British Nimrod, would be vulnerable to interception.  The 17 Hormone or Helix helicopters carried by the Kievs would provide a substantial anti-submarine screen and also provide mid-course guidance for the many long-range surface-to-surface missiles carried by Soviet ships and submarines, which were intended to attack the US carrier battle groups and NATO merchant shipping from a safe distance.  Thus the Kievs’ air groups served to slightly reduce NATO air-superiority at sea, as well as substantially increasing the Soviet anti-submarine, and anti-surface capability.

 

The SUW-N-1s with the anti submarine rocket launchers beyond

 

At the “front end” of the ship Minsk has two multiple, 6000m range anti-submarine rocket launchers and one SUW-N-1 missile launder.  The latter system used navalised FROG unguided missiles to deliver a nuclear warhead on top of any unfortunate NATO sub detected within 25 km.  This was a very inaccurate system, that was only fielded on the two Soviet classes of PKRs, but with the nuke having a theoretical blast radius of 1 km it didn’t need to be that accurate.  The Soviets, Americans and British all fielded anti-submarine nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War, but improvements in homing torpedo accuracy rendered them, thankfully, redundant.  Thus, with the addition of her helicopters, Minsk was well equipped both to defend herself from and to attack, enemy submarines, and one of her main roles was to prevent enemy hunter-killer submarines or aircraft getting near the Russian ballistic missile submarines.

 

Behind the ASW weapons Minsk mounted two groups of four launchers each for P500 Bazalt supersonic cruise missiles.  The Kievs were the first Soviet ships in a generation to carry reloads for their main missile battery.  This implied that they were not intended for “shoot and scoot” tactics, trusting all to one successful first strike, but were regarded as having the survivability to fight an extended campaign.  The reloads were transferred to the weatherdeck by a lift arrangement between the two groups of launchers from the magazine below the waterline, and then transported sideways to either front load or rear load into the launch tubes.  On Minsk the lift is in the “down” position with a mock up P500 on it, and another mock up on the deck transporter.

 

The P500 on its transporter, Shtorm SAMs behind

 

In the middle of the front group of four launchers is a twin 76 mm gun turret which you can enter, and in the middle of the second is a twin launcher for M. 11 Shtorm anti-aircraft missiles which had a range of up to 55 km.

 

To port and starboard are two clusters of AK 630 Gatling Guns, designed to bring down incoming missiles, which could fire 5,000 rounds a minute, (although the magazine only holds 24 seconds worth of ammo), out to 4 km.  Next to the port battery you can see where the silo for the OSA-M close range surface-to-air missiles which had a range of 9 km.

 

30mm Gatlings - the Minsk’s last line of defence

 

After all of this firepower the aircraft carrier begins.  To starboard there is a conventional “island” housing the bridge and aircraft control spaces and the funnel.  At the stern end of the island all the AA gun and missile systems that are at the bow of the ship are repeated for good measure.

 

The flight deck angles off to starboard, and the first thing that you notice about it is that it is not smooth, but covered with rivet heads.  I include a picture of this rather trivial feature here because I know that somewhere out there is a model builder more anally retentive than me who will now go mad super-detailing his 1: 700 scale model of the Minsk!

 

The rivetted flight deck

 

Most of the Minsk is free touring, you can wander around at will, climb, touch and photograph to your heart’s content.  You enter via the hanger deck, which houses a video presentation on the ship, two, (of many), souvenir shops, a stage featuring a song and dance troupe, four of those video space rides were you sit inside a capsule and get thrown about until you are seasick, a Mig 23 Flogger you can stand next to whilst manhandling various empty bombs; and the engine of a Hormone helicopter.  Moving forward are the Minsk’s torpedo spaces and then you walk up to the flight deck to inspect all the goodies already described.

 

Q5s on the flight deck

 

At the stern end of the flight deck is another stage, and another song and dance troupe, a flight of Q5 fighter-bombers. The “Forgers” that she actually carried would have been nicer but you can’t have everything.  Of particular interest to the geek, is, of all things, a towed array for variable depth sonar that sits on the flight deck looking, literally, like a fish out of water.

 

The variable depth sonar array

 

You are free to walk through the bridge, navigator’s cabin, the catwalk alongside the funnel and the air control spaces, and these were some of the areas that I enjoyed the most – the controls and computer consoles are all there for you to play with, although they are getting knocked about a bit.  Even Mrs. Hunt got with the programme and when we came to the Captain’s chair in the middle of the bridge asked “Is this where Sean Connery sits?”  It would have been churlish to point out that in “The Hunt for Red October” Sean was driving a submarine, not an aircraft carrier, and anyway I saw her point.  In amongst all this Soviet era hardware it isn’t difficult to roll your “r”s and slur your “s”s outrageously in your best Edinburgh / Russian accent and recite: “Comrrrades, once more we play our dangerrroush game … we will … lay off their largesht city, and lishten to their rrrock and rrrroll … while we conduct mishile drrrillsh.”

 

After coming down from the air control you return to the flight deck and can enter the Combat Information Centre.  This is the only “guided” part of the ship and here you are divided into groups of sixty punters.  Signs warn you that this tour is not for the faint hearted.  What follows is a sort of “sound and light” show in a simulated CIC as the Minsk is attacked by an unidentified, but presumably American, enemy.  The Yanks get in a couple of good shots, lights flash on and off, alarms sound, computer screens falter and reboot and the Minsk staggers under the blows (well the gantry you are standing on does anyway), but eventually she triumphs and the enemy is seen off.  It is all rather silly, but rather jolly too, and no one in my group had a heart attack.

 

A serious geek might get a little bit annoyed at this high-tech pantomime but he will soon relent as when you leave the sound and light you actually pass through the real CIC which has its 1970s computer consoles still in place.  I had no idea what any of the consoles did until I reached the “plot” which was unmistakable, and rather confused.  To me it looked like the Minsk’s last mission was in the “Whacky Races”.

 

Minsk’s last, confused, mission

 

Leaving the CIC you are free to wander at will again and you come to the magazine spaces – geek heaven.  Here is the forward SAM magazine, full of simulated Shtorms that look, for all the world, like a giant milk bottling plant.  For the real aficionado there are two interesting points.  First of all it is quite clearly stated that the magazine holds 48 missiles, not 36 as stated in most technical publications on the Kiev class.  I believe them, they must have counted all their milk bottles.  Also it states that the magazine is armoured.  The Americans do this with Kevlar but back in the ‘70s the Russians still used plate, although there is no indication of how thick it is.  Forward of the SAM magazine is the P500 magazine, or at least the lift arrangement I described earlier, the magazine itself is in the bowels of the ship.  Forward of this is the 76 mm magazine and the hoists that take the shells to the turret above, and lots of dummy shells to get photographed juggling with too.

 

The missile milk bottling plant

 

The 76mm magazine

 

Walking back towards the stern of the ship the Captain’s Cabin, his senior Warrant Officer’s cabin, the sick bay and a recreation room have been preserved.  These are interesting because, in stark contrast to the ‘70s high-tech of the CIC and magazines, which look outdated now but I for one am old enough to realize that they once were “state of the art”, the personnel spaces look positively antique.  Here, if you need it, is physical evidence of the reason that President Gorbachev pulled the plug on the Cold War.  He realized that the cost of all the weaponry was holding back the economy of the country and money which should have been going on capital re-investment was going on arms.  The Minsk was a microcosm of her country:  1970s fire power and 1950s living conditions.

 

Beyond the living quarters is a gallery of aircraft carrier models, some of which are a getting a bit tatty, which is a shame, and the wardroom, which is now a snack bar.  There are a couple of amusements for, real, kids.  Then a long corridor, lined with great Soviet era classic propaganda posters, mostly from World War II, brings you right to the stern and back down into the hanger deck again to leave the way you came in.

 

All over the ship are photographs of the Minsk and her crew in her more serious role and I found these fascinating.  The other touch that appealed to me is that her new “crew” is all nattily, and it must be said immaculately, dressed in Soviet Sailor Suits … even the girls.

 

Overall the Minsk is a lot of fun and a great chance to get your hands on the hardware that normally you only get to handle in 1: 3,000 scale.  Last year I went on board HMS Monmouth in Hong Kong and, as well as not being able to make a pink gin, they wouldn’t let me press any buttons.  The Minsk has the same sad Angostura situation but you can touch the kit as much as you like. Of course the Minsk’s buttons do not actually work any more, whilst the Monmouth’s presumably do, but a little bit of imagination goes a long way on the Minsk.  Most of the other people I know who have visited her have been disappointed.  I have to say that if you are a normal person, looking for a “fun theme park” for all the family to enjoy for a whole day then save your RMB 110 and go to Disney or Ocean Park.  Your wife and kids will probably consider the Minsk to be just a lot of 30-year-old junk and some tacky amusements.  But if you are an 11-year-old boy trapped inside a 51 year old body, and have a genuine interest in modern naval hardware, then the short hop across the Boundary is well worth it.

 

If you are not in Hong Kong or Shenzhen then you can find the Minsk’s older sister, Kiev, playing a theme park role in Tianjin, near Beijing.  Her younger sister Novorossiysk was scrapped in 1995.  Most interesting of all is the Minsk’s kid brother, the Admirale Gorshkov.  The Indian Navy is paying a speculated US$3.4 billion to have her rebuilt as a ski-jump equipped carrier with an air group of 16 Mig 29s.  Renamed “Vikranaditya” she should recommission in 2010.  Who knows, she might visit Hong Kong and you might get to visit on board … but I bet they won’t let you press any buttons either.

 

The view from the sharp end

 

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