The Soviet Navy began its commitment to heavily armed and armored river boats back in the military build-up of the 1930s. These vessels were then put through their paces during World War 2 (1939-1945), charged with operations centering on lakes and rivers where their modest short-to-medium ranged weaponry could best be brought to bear. In the massive military draw-down of the post-war period, there seemed little interest in evolving the line amidst a rise of more advanced and potent technologies centered on jets and missiles. It was not until the mid-1960s that thought was given to developing an all-new entry into the river artillery boat category for the Soviet Navy and this became the Shmel-class (Project 1204).
The boats were slim in their base design though specifically given shallow draughts, allowing for operations in shallow waters as well as in Close-to-Shore actions (littoral). Each carried a crew of about fourteen and featured a bow-to-stern length of 90 feet with a beam of 14 feet and a draught of just 2.7 feet. Installed power allowed for a maximum speed of 24 knots to be reached and the boats ranged out to 322 nautical miles.
Beyond its armor protection, the war boats were well-regarded for their mix of armament. This was led by a PT76B turret fitting a tank-killing 76mm main gun. The turret was installed at the important "lead" position over the forecastle, just ahead of the pilot house (bridge). Over the stern was a 25mm twin-gunned turret capable of countering low-flying enemy aircraft as well as assisting against shoreline actions. Near midships was installed a 140mm seventeen-shot BM-14-17 rocket launcher atop a trainable mounting for ranged target area suppression. Up to 4 x 30mm BP-30 Plamya automatic grenade launchers were carried as was 1 x 7.62mm SGMT machine gun. The boat could also lay down naval mines to deny access to strategic waterways in the event of war.
All this made the 78-ton Shmel-class potent surface vessels. While they could be taken out to open water, they were not necessarily designed for choppy seas and served better in a tactical role, denying passages, protecting vital harbor points, transporting goods or troops to and fro. Additionally, the potency of its armament fit allowed the boats to assail shoreline targets in support of ground troop movements. While the 76mm was well-known as a tank-killer in its time, it served a potent HE (High-Explosive) shell as well. The twin-gunned 25mm fit could also bring about devastating results to shoreline troop positions and soft-skinned vehicles unfortunate enough to come through its crosshairs.
About 118 of the type were constructed from 1967 until 1974. While something of a Cold War relic, several of the boats continue to serve the modern Russian Navy today (2017).
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