The Last Battlecruiser in the Seas Project 1144 Orlan; Namely, Kirov

The Last Battlecruiser in the Seas Project 1144 Orlan; Namely, Kirov 7 April, 2018

Project 1144 Orlan (Sea Eagle) class cruisers, being the largest surface battleships today, are more widely known as the Kirov class. Those familiar with or enthusiasts of naval systems can find it odd that we are using the plural form. Indeed, it is only the RFNS Petr Velikiy that is currently operational. However, Russia is planning that RFNS Admiral Lazarev and RFNS Nakhimov resume service in 2020. It is further the case that the first of this class, Kirov, is expected to rise out of its ashes like the Phoenix. It thus seems that the legend of this mightiest surface battleship will survive for many years to come.

Although their gigantic proportions and impressive weapons were indeed frightening, Kirov class cruisers led to heated debates from the moment they appeared on the scene. The roots of these debates could be dated prior to the Second World War. While the world was getting prepared for a return to the great war ending in 1918, the planners’ minds were busy with how naval battles would evolve given the advancements in technology. Pioneers including Billy Mitcell argued that surface superiority required aircraft. However, conservative admirals still believed in the functionality of huge battleships. Furthermore, it was widely acknowledged among countries that having the largest battleship was a matter of prestige. Based on this understanding, floating steel giants like Bismarck, Missouri and Yamato were either launched to sea in 1939 or laid down. 

During the first days of the Second World War, it seemed nothing had changed at all. The German armoured pocket battleship Graf Spee engaged the British HMS Ajax and MHS Exeter as well as the New Zealand’s HMNZS Achilles cruisers. U-Boats were playing hide and seek with destroyers to hunt commercial ships. However, when Germany invaded Norway, it was a turning point. On April 10, 1940, the German Königsberg cruiser was sunk by 16 Skua bombers serving with the British Navy. For the first time in history, a large surface battleship became the victim of aircraft; but it would not be the last.

Issue 86