>Russian – Georgian War at Sea


The war between Russia and Georgia was fought according to the emerging pattern of the 21st century wars. The battle was on 4 dimensions: On the land in the air, in sea and at the space, or to be exact at the cyberspace.

Information, disinformation and propaganda created another layer of fog-of-war. Only now one month after the cessation of the hostilities the truth begins to emerge from the ruble.

I will try to reconstruct the naval side of this conflict with information available to open sources.


The coastline of Georgia is 310 km. On this short stretch Georgia has 3 natural harbors. From south to north: Bathumi, Poti and Sokhumi. Bathumi lies in the autonomous region of Ajaria and Sokhumi lies in the autonomous region of Abkhazia. As the relation between the central government of Georgia and Abkhazia was not friendly the harbor of Sokhumi was not available for Georgian Navy.

Before the start of the hostilities Georgian Navy and Coast Guard had together 3100 men and 23 ships of various states of sea worthiness. Of these 23 ships 9 belonged to the navy and only two had some means of assault capability: fast attack crafts Dioscuria and Tbilisi. Dioscuria a La Combattante II class boat was transferred from Greek Navy in 2004. She had 4 MM38 Exocet ASuW missiles. Tbilisi a Makta class boat was acquired from Ukraine in 1999. This boat had 2 SS-N-2C Styx missiles. The range of Exocet is 42 km and the range of Styx is 83 km.

The armament for rest of the Georgian boats consisted of guns and machine guns with calibers between 12,7 mm and 40mm.

The Russian has 23.000 men and 39 ships in the Black Sea. One Kilo class submarine one Slava class cruiser, one Kara class cruiser, one Kashin class destroyer two Krivak class frigates, 6 light frigates and 9 corvettes created the back bone of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The Russian ships carried SS-N-2D Styx, SS-N-9 Siren, SS-N-12 Sandbox, SS-N-22 Sunburn and SS-N-25 Uran, missile as their offensive armament.

The main base of Russian Black Sea fleet is Sevastopol, which is shared by Ukrainian Navy. Sevastopol was once the most important military harbor for Russia. After the collapse of Soviet Union, the Crimean peninsula became a part of Ukraine and the Russian fleet has become an unwanted and barely tolerated guest.

Chronology of Events:
Friday, 8th August 2008:
The hostilities between Russia and Georgia escalated to a full scale shooting war.

Saturday, 9th August 2008: Russia naval task force consisting of cruiser Moskva, destroyer Smetlivy, landing ships Saratov, Yamal and Tsezar Kunikov plus an undisclosed amount of corvettes and light frigates arrive off the coast of Ochamchire in Abkhazia. Although the names of the corvettes and light frigates were never full disclosed during the war, reports surfacing just at the end of the war indicate that Alexandrovets, Suzdalets, Kasimov, Muromets, Turbinist, Mirazh, R-109 took part in the naval operations.

The naval force had two objects: First to land Russian troops at Ochamcihre, second to gain the control of sea lines of communication in the region.

The timing of the arrival of this task force is interesting. Of fall the ships mentioned above Ropucha class are the slowest. Jane’s Fighting Ships states the maximum speed for the Ropucha class landing ships as 17,5 knots and the range as 1700 nautical miles at 16 knot speed. The distance between Sevastopol and Ochamchire is approximately 400 nautical miles thus a Ropucha class ship would need at least 25 hours to cover this distance. This means that either the Russian ships left their berths immediately just after the shooting has begun or the landing ships came from Russian port Novorssiysk which is 200 miles away.

Georgian sources claimed that Russians disembarked 4.000 troops in Ochamcihre. This number is highly questionable as Ropucha class ships carry between 230 – 300 troops and Alligator class ships carry 300 troops according to various naval publications. Although it is quiet common to squeeze the troops to carry more soldiers to the battle, even the Russians will not be able to over fill their ships by %433. The Russians did not declared how many soldiers they have moved to Abkhazia by the sea.

Sunday, 10th August 2008: The first and last encounter between Russian and Georgian naval forces happened of the coast of Georgia. There are many and contradicting information about this encounter. All information about this action is coming from Russian sources. The following scenario is believed to be the most accurate one: While conducting a landing the Russian forces detected an incoming fleet of Georgian ships. Russian ships supposedly fire warning shots to prevent the Georgian ships to come closer and later the Russian Fast attack Boat Mizrah fires one (or two) SS-N-9 Siren missiles. One of the targets disappeared from radar screen the rest returned away. This was the first time that Russians took part in a naval encounter since the Second World War.

In the initial news after this encounter Russian claimed that they have sunk the Georgian missile boat Tbilisi. And Georgian sources claimed they have scored hit on Moskva and a small fire broke out aboard. This claim was never confirmed.

As the fog of war cleared it turned out that Tbilisi did not take part in the action after all. The names of the participant ships on both sides are not made fully public. Georgi Torelli in her better daysBut from the news material available on the web we can assume that on the Russian side Landing ships Saratov and Tsezar Kunikov, fast attack craft Mizrah and most probably the cruiser Moskva took part in this naval battle. On the Georgian side the coast guard cutter Giorgi Toreli armed with two 37mm guns, has definitely took part in this action and was sunk by enemy fire. According to Russian report Giorgi Toreli sunk in 90 seconds. Any survivors were never ever mentioned in any published account of the engagement.

Wednesday, 13th August 2008: Georgian warships in Poti harbour are destroyed by Russian forces. The first emerging news on the media indicated that these ships may have been sunk by gun fire from Russian ships. But in truth these Georgian ships tied at the pier, were destroyed by Russian soldiers with demolition charges. The Georgian ships sunk in Poti are: Tbilisi, Dioscuria, Avery, Tsontne Dadiani, General Mazniashvili and one Zhuk class boat.




The military base at Poti harbour was also rampaged.

Conclusion and Comments:

Russians sunk 7 Georgian warships. Thus Georgians lost almost one third of their whole naval force among with their only two missile carrying ships. On tactical terms Russians established a total control off Georgian coast and could carry out any kind of naval action they wished to do.

Georgian navy was clearly unprepared for this war. They did not have any reliable intelligence about the strength and intention of the navy. The heroic but suicidal attack of Georgian boats armed with nothing but guns against Russian task force was a clear sign of the lack of tactical picture of the maritime domain.

I cannot understand why and how the Georgian missile boats Tbilisi and Dioscuria let them self get captured at Poti Harbour. If they were in seaworthy state they could have escaped destruction by moving to Bathumi. Batumi in the autonomous region of Ajaria was not attacked by the Russians. The Georgian boats in this harbor survived the war without a scratch.

The move of Tbilisi and Dioscuria from Poti to Bathumi may have hurt the pride of Georgians but saved the ships to fight another day. This small fleet in being would have forced Russians either to divide their forces. Or if Georgians could have established some tactical picture they could have tried to ambush Russian ships.

Personally one of the most interesting conclusions in this war is the fact that ships made of aluminum alloys are death traps for the sailors. I have heard of stories of ships made from alloy suffering (e.g. Type 21’s in Falkland War) from more damage (especially from fire) than to ships of steel.

But seeing the pictures of the burned Tbilisi were really eye opener for me. The photos show that boat’s superstructure literary have melted. I know that aluminum alloy is light and is resistant against the corrosive sea water. But if the there is an explosion or fire the aluminum alloy tends to burn and deform thus making the ships a death trap for the sailors. Luckily Tbilisi was not manned when Russian troops ignited their demolition charges.

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