Ukraine Claims Strike on WWI-Era Russian Sub Tender

The submarine tender / rescue vessel Komunna, seen here at launch as the Volkhov in 1913 (file image)
The submarine tender / rescue vessel Komunna, seen here at launch as the Volkhov in 1913 (file image)

Published Apr 24, 2024 10:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

Ukraine's military has repeatedly attacked the Russian Black Sea Fleet with long-range weapons, sinking its flagship and destroying or damaging about one-third of its total strength. While it has primarily targeted warships, it has occasionally taken aim at support vessels, like the tug Vasiliy Bekh, the tanker Sig - and now, the antique sub tender Kommuna, one of the oldest working naval vessels in the world. 

Kommuna has been in commission for 109 years, serving through the First World War, the Russian Civil War, the Second World War (including the defense of Leningrad), decades of Cold War standoffs with the United States, and the long-running invasion of Ukraine. She has been stationed in the Black Sea as a submarine rescue vessel since 2012, and has been homeported in Russian-occupied Sevastopol.

Kommuna in the Black Sea, in her modern configuration (George Chernilevsky / public domain)

Capt. Dmytro Pletenchuk, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Navy, told Ukrainska Pravda that the Kommuna has had an operational role servicing vessels of the Russian Black Sea Fleet during the ongoing invasion. The Ukrainian Navy targeted the vessel in port in Sevastopol, and Pletenchuk said that the operation caused an unknown amount of damage. "Early reports indicate that the ship is not fit to perform missions," he said. 

While unconfirmed, a video purporting to show a fire aboard Kommuna has circulated on social media

Komunna is the primary submarine rescue asset for the Black Sea Fleet, and if she is out of service, Russian Kilo-class subs operating off Ukraine may have to operate without backup if something goes wrong. The Black Sea Fleet's subs have been used regularly to launch missile salvos at civilian and military targets behind the lines in Ukraine, and the attack on Kommuna could degrade this capability. 

As a deployment platform for deep-diving mini-submersibles, Komunna also has a militarily-useful seabed warfare and salvage capability, according to analyst H.I. Sutton. The ship was deployed to the site of the Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva after it was sunk by Ukrainian forces in 2022.  

Ukraine's armed forces have had considerable success in the Black Sea, but have been operating with limited U.S. support since last year, when congressionally-authorized funding for military aid ran out. Those funds were renewed with a new $61 billion aid package on Wednesday; among other items, the expected list of donations includes the long-range ATACMS missile, which could add to the risk for Russian vessels stationed at Sevastopol.