The growth of the Soviet submarine force during the post-World War 2 period (1939-1945) is an interesting study and shows how technological advancements and operational experience helped to make the force into one of the best and most feared in the world during the Cold War (1947-1991) that followed. The Zulu-class was part of this evolutionary process and these boats followed the K-class of the wartime period, becoming substantial improvements over the pre-war P-class units. The Zulu-class was known locally under the "Project 611" label and proved just as capable as any American post-war submarines coming online. The Zulu-class was itself succeeded by the much more capable Foxtrot-class boats in due time.
Like the Americans, the Soviet post-war submarine program was helped immensely by the capture and study of the revolutionary German Type XXI U-boat (detailed elsewhere on this site). The Americans brought their fleet up to a new standard influenced by the German design through the "GUPPY" initiative while the Type XXI similarly ushered in a new era of Soviet submarine design.
The twenty-six boats that made up the Zulu-class were built from 1952 until 1957 and entered service beginning in 1952. They were classified as attack submarines and given appropriate armament and performance for the role. These were deep water vehicles with good endurance and balanced speed whether traveling on water or under it.
Aboard was a crew of seventy and the hull displaced 1,875 tons when surfaced and 2,390 tons when submerged. Overall length reached 90 meters with a beam measuring 7.5 meters and a draught down to 5.15 meters. Installed power was 3 x Diesel units developing 6,000 horsepower (for surface travel) and 3 x Electric motors generating5,400 horsepower (for submerged travel). The boat could reach speeds of 18 knots when surfaced and 16 knots when submerged. The latter quality was of particular note as this period of naval history began to see submarines become faster underwater vessels that surfce-bound travelers. The hull was tested to depths of 656 feet - which proved another notable quality of the class and allowed it to venture further away from shore.
As an attack platform, the Zulu-class was appropriately outfitted with ten total torpedo tubes of 533mm caliber (21 inches). Six faced the bow and four faced the stern. Some of the class was later outfitted with a launching capability for the R-11FM SCUD missile series. Early forms were completed with projectile-based Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns but these were soon deleted upon entry into service. They also lacked snorkels but this was rectified in later revisions.
The Zulu boat's profile involved a sharply pointed bow, level deck and downward sloping stern. At the stern was mounted the rudder control plane and propeller units. The sail was fitted over midships in the traditional way. Beyond that, the submarine was of conventional appearance. It was easy to see the evolution of Soviet submarine design in the Zulu-class when compared to the earlier P-class units.
The Zulu-class was fielded alongside the Whiskey-class boats in Soviet naval service. This particular group was a large series numbering 236 total units that were built from 1949 until 1958. Between the two classes was shared the sonar fit and related equipment though the Zulu-class also went on to find its own level of success, their hulls proved to be up to the task. After successful testing of a missile launch from a Zulu submarine in 1955, six of the boats were equipped with a missile-firing capability in 1956 which made them the first ballistic missile submarines in naval history. The profile was left untouched but the firing process required the boat to become completely surfaced.
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