|Armament||3 x 3 16"
DP and Light AA
|3 x 3 18"|
DP and Light AA
|Speed||31 knots||30 knots|
|VTS Rating(s)||5 5 6||6 7 6|
Around the start of WW II the Soviet Union tried to renovate its Navy with new construction of battleships and/or battlecruisers built with foreign assistance. They wanted the U.S. to create a battleship design with American-made 18" guns, but the U.S. declined. Germany supplied a half-finished heavy cruiser, but balked at battleship co-operation. The Ansaldo shipbuilding conglomerate of Italy took on the task and started at least one large, 3-turret battleship that invading Axis forces found half-built in the Nikolaev shipyard on the Black Sea in 1941. Speculation of its finished size ranged from 45,000 to 60,000 tons. It appeared to be a Russian version of Littorio with 16" guns. The Axis forces didn't bother to launch or use the hull.
In "Grand Fleet", three large Soviet battleships, one in Leningrad and two in Nikoilaev, were being made with Italian, French, and American assistance. Heavily gunned, heavily armored and fast, these ships were to bring the Soviet Union up to world standards for battleship construction, after a lapse of some twenty years and various "purges" of talented, but "bourgeois" ship designers. The Sovietski Soyuz (Soviet Union) was finished in 1940 with French-made 16" guns similar to those on Alsace, and her sister Sovietskaya Ukraina (Soviet Ukraine) was due out in early 1942. The rapid German overland advance when war started forced the Soyuz and other naval forces to seek other Black Sea ports. The Italian workers in Nikolaev's shipyards mobilized to save the nearly complete Ukraina from escaping by sinking an old freighter across the building basin and capturing the Russian demolition squad before they could act. The Ukraina was completed by the Italians and re-named Il Duce, supposedly over Mussolini's faint-hearted objections. In the North, the big-sister Krasny Tovarishch (Red Comrade) carried the identical superstructure and internal layout except for larger-diameter wells and heavy turrets for the proposed 18" guns. The ship was essentially a Soyuz set into a larger and longer hull that formed extra protection and bunkerage without diminishing speed. The U.S. had balked at sending the 18" guns after Russia carved up Poland and invaded Finland and the Baltic nations. When Germany invaded in 1941, however, assistance to our "friend" could scarcely be denied, and the guns destined and rejected for the USS Constellation were now available.
The Sovietski Soyuz was hit often in port by the Luftwaffe but engaged and crippled the Turkish battleship Fatikh and the Spanish Jaime I on her only sortie of note. The rest of the time she used her artillery to give gunfire support to Soviet land forces.
Il Duce was the proud "prize ship" of the Regia Marina. Though she was bombed while transferring to the Turkish port of Izmir by Lancasters and B-17's from Egypt, she was the lead ship through the Suez Canal after Cairo fell, and allowed the impressive battle line of the Regia Marina to sail to Somalia. After sinking the battleship Nelson off the Horn of Africa, she was paraded around Italy's ports to garner public support for the war that was turning against them. New Allied armies landed in Morocco by Torch were sweeping Eastward across N. Africa. When she next sailed she went up against the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet of old WW I battleships. The lead ship, "battlecreeper" Inflexible, took the brunt of Il Duce's salvos without seeming to be bothered, and the British gave Il Duce such a pasting that she had to be sunk by her own ships.
In early 1942 an Allied convoy unloaded the promised 18" guns in Arkangelsk and they made their way to Leningrad to be installed in the otherwise-completed Krasny Tovarisch. Though kept in port most of the time, Tovarishch's big moment came when she challenged the Japanese battleship Kii off Gotland after Japan had brazenly attacked the Soviet union in defiance of the non-aggression pact the Soviets were abiding by. Each battleship was slinging 18" shells across the sky, but Tovarishch's lookouts and seamanship weren't up to the task of dodging Kii's torpedoes, too. Two underwater explosions, one from a "short" and one from a torpedo, tore a big hole in Tovarishch's side, enough for her to "give the ring back" (break off the engagement). Limping into Khrondshdat naval base, she sat out the rest of the war firing at the encircling Germans until the Russian offensive drove the invaders out of range. Post-war propaganda had her become a fearsome "missile ship", but in reality she was broken up for material to make more submarines.