Kirov Saga Men of War - By John Schettler


On December 30, 1980 the Baltiysky Naval Shipyard in Leningrad was a very busy place. It was the day the first of a new fearsome naval surface action combatant, the nuclear guided missile battlecruiser Kirov was slated to be commissioned into the Soviet Navy, the first of four planned ships in this class. It would be some time before the Western analysts and intelligence experts who watched from a distance would really take the measure of this awesome new ship. In its early months in the Baltic NATO planners had taken to calling it BALCOM-1 for “Baltic Combatant 1.” Once they got a look at the ship they hoped it would be the last they would ever see of this class, but Soviet Russia would not oblige.

Bristling with vertical launch missile ports, SAMs, and deck guns, the ship promised to upset the balance of power in the Northern Seas and, for the Royal Navy, there had not been a ship this feared and respected since the launching of the German Bismarck class battleships in the Second World War. One man who watched the reports saw the satellite and high altitude U-2 photos was Captain Peter Yates, British Naval Intelligence. The rumors of the ship had already set analysts into worry mode since it first hit the Soviet naval designer’s drawing boards in the mid 1970s. Yates had been one of the privileged few to see the drawings and early photographs of the ship in the naval yards. Something about the scale and design of the ship immediately set off a thrum of anxiety. Kirov would be over 827 feet long with a generous beam of 94 feet and displace 28,000 tons fully loaded. While half the weight of a respectable World War II class battleship, she would have the power to confront and sink an entire fleet.

A young man in 1980, Yates was recruited into a dark program hidden deep within the wandering the hallways of the Naval Board at Whitehall. He would not even learn what it was for some years, and then one day he would be escorted into a windowless room handed a sheaf of files with photography and transcripts and told he was to see the British Royal Navy Admiral Of The Fleet immediately after he had reviewed the material. Captain Peter Yates, whose surname meant ‘dweller by the gate,’ or the gatekeeper, was about to receive a promotion and become Commodore Yates. He would be admitted to a very select group of men known only as the Watch, and told he would have more than his fair share of long years to stand if he accepted the post, and be privy to intelligence matters with the highest possible clearance. He accepted, and was soon surprised to learn that his post would relate directly to the photographs he had studied before the meeting. His watch would be on that very ship, Kirov, and he would need to know its movements, whereabouts and status at all times.

On December 30, 1980, he also got his first look at the dark history of this vessel. There before him were photographs, gun camera footage, and other video related to a top-secret event known only as the “Geronimo incident” dating from World War II. To his great surprise that December the ship he saw cruising quietly into the Baltic Sea was the image and likeness of the ship he had seen in those secret files! The phantom that had haunted the opera of British intelligence for the last forty years had finally taken shape in the real world, built by the hands of men.

Yates did not know then that this was not the ship that confronted the Royal Navy in the North Seas in 1941, and again in the Mediterranean of 1942. There were subtle differences, but it's lines and specifications were so close that the first Kirov became the most watched ship of its era, with a British submarine assigned to dog its movements for each and every second of its brief ten-year active service life.

When the ship finally suffered a reactor accident in 1990 during a Mediterranean cruise, and was taken off the active-duty list, Yates released a sigh of relief. Now the ship would at least be kept in one place for a time where British Intelligence could keep a watchful eye. There it sat, rusting away in the cold Arctic North while Yates watched the three others of its class suffered similar fates. They were all given new