The Russian Submarine B-307

The B-307 submarine, a member of the Soviet Tango class, was designed for advanced anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare during the Cold War.

It featured a streamlined hull, diesel-electric propulsion, and sophisticated sonar systems, enabling it to perform long-duration patrols and intelligence gathering missions.

Decommissioned after the fall of the Soviet Union, the B-307 now serves as a museum ship in Togliatti, Russia.


Historical Background

The historical context of the B-307 submarine is deeply intertwined with the geopolitical tensions and technological race of the Cold War era. The Cold War, spanning from the late 1940s to the early 1990s, was characterized by a prolonged state of political and military tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, along with their respective allies. This period saw an intense competition for global influence, which extended into various domains, including space, nuclear arms, and naval power.

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The development of the Project 641B, known by its NATO reporting name “Tango” class, emerged from the need to enhance the Soviet Union’s naval capabilities, particularly in submarine warfare. During the earlier phases of the Cold War, the Soviet Navy relied heavily on submarines designed during World War II and immediately after, such as the Project 641 (Foxtrot class). These submarines, while effective, began to show limitations in the face of advancing NATO technology and tactics.

A Tango-class submarine underway in the early 1990's.
A Tango-class submarine underway in the early 1990’s.

The Soviet Union recognized the need for a new generation of submarines that could effectively counteract the growing threat posed by NATO’s increasingly sophisticated anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. The United States and its allies were making significant strides in sonar technology, underwater detection methods, and the deployment of fast, nuclear-powered attack submarines. In response, the Soviet Navy embarked on an ambitious program to modernize its submarine fleet.

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The Tango class submarines were conceived as an advanced iteration of the earlier Foxtrot class. They incorporated lessons learned from previous designs and featured substantial improvements in terms of stealth, endurance, and sensor technology. The Tango class was intended to be quieter and more capable of operating in the challenging environments of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, where NATO’s naval presence was strong.

Design of the B-307

The design of the B-307 submarine, part of the Project 641B (Tango class), was a significant leap forward in the evolution of diesel-electric submarines. One of the defining features of the Tango class was its streamlined hull, which was engineered to enhance underwater speed and reduce acoustic signature. This design aimed to make the submarine less detectable by enemy sonar, a crucial advantage in the cat-and-mouse game of submarine warfare. The streamlined hull also contributed to improved hydrodynamics, allowing the submarine to move more efficiently through the water.

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In terms of physical dimensions, the B-307 submarine measured approximately 90 meters (295 feet) in length, with a beam of about 9.9 meters (32 feet) and a draught of around 7.2 meters (24 feet). These dimensions gave the submarine a displacement of 3,400 tons when surfaced and 4,600 tons when submerged. This substantial size provided ample space for the crew, weapons, and advanced systems necessary for its operational roles. The relatively large displacement also contributed to the submarine’s stability and endurance at sea.

The propulsion system of the B-307 was a key component of its design, combining three diesel engines and three electric motors to power two shafts. This hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system allowed the submarine to operate both on the surface and underwater with considerable efficiency. When surfaced, the B-307 could achieve speeds of up to 16 knots (30 km/h), while submerged, it could reach speeds of 25 knots (46 km/h). This speed capability, combined with its stealth features, made the B-307 a formidable adversary in underwater combat.

B-307 as a museum ship.
She was decommissioned in 2002. Image by ShinePhantom CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the standout features of the B-307 was its impressive operational range. It could travel up to 14,000 nautical miles (26,000 km) at a cruising speed of 8 knots when surfaced. This extended range enabled the B-307 to conduct long-duration patrols, critical for its roles in reconnaissance, surveillance, and potential engagement with enemy vessels. The endurance of the submarine was further supported by its capacity to remain submerged for extended periods, reducing the risk of detection by surface ships and aircraft.

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The Tango class submarines were equipped with advanced sonar and radar systems. The B-307 featured the MGK-400 Rubikon sonar system, which provided both passive and active sonar capabilities. This system allowed the submarine to detect and track enemy vessels with high precision, giving it a tactical advantage in various operational scenarios. Additionally, the submarine was fitted with radar systems for surface navigation and target acquisition.

Armament was another crucial aspect of the B-307’s design. The submarine was equipped with six torpedo tubes, which could launch both conventional torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. This versatile weaponry enabled the B-307 to engage a wide range of targets, from enemy submarines to surface ships. The torpedo tubes were strategically positioned to maximize the effectiveness of the submarine’s attacks, making the B-307 a versatile and potent platform in the Soviet Navy’s arsenal.

Operational History

The operational role of the B-307 submarine, along with its sister ships in the Tango class, was primarily centered around anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. These submarines were designed to be versatile and capable, reflecting the strategic needs of the Soviet Navy during the Cold War. Their deployment was aimed at countering NATO’s naval forces, ensuring the Soviet Union could defend its maritime interests and project power globally.

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One of the primary missions of the B-307 was anti-submarine warfare (ASW). During the Cold War, NATO’s submarine fleet, particularly the United States’ nuclear-powered submarines, posed a significant threat to Soviet maritime security. The B-307 was equipped with advanced sonar systems, such as the MGK-400 Rubikon, which provided it with superior detection and tracking capabilities. These systems allowed the B-307 to locate and monitor enemy submarines at considerable distances, enhancing its ability to engage and neutralize these threats. By maintaining a robust ASW capability, the B-307 contributed to the overall strategic goal of protecting Soviet naval assets and ensuring the security of key maritime areas.

In addition to ASW, the B-307 was tasked with anti-surface warfare (ASuW). This involved engaging enemy surface ships, which could include aircraft carriers, destroyers, and frigates. The submarine’s armament, comprising torpedo tubes capable of launching both conventional torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, was designed to inflict significant damage on enemy vessels.

B-307 rear.
A view of the ship’s rear. Image by ShinePhantom CC BY-SA 3.0

This capability was particularly crucial in disrupting NATO’s naval operations and denying them control of critical sea lanes. The ability to strike from underwater, combined with its stealth features, made the B-307 a formidable adversary in naval engagements.

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The B-307 also played a crucial role in intelligence gathering and reconnaissance. During its patrols, the submarine collected valuable information on NATO’s naval movements, exercises, and tactical procedures. This intelligence was vital for the Soviet Navy to plan and execute its own operations effectively. The B-307’s advanced sonar and electronic surveillance equipment enabled it to gather data while remaining undetected, providing the Soviet Union with a strategic edge in the intelligence domain.

Another significant aspect of the B-307’s operational role was its participation in naval exercises and patrols in strategically important regions. The submarine was often deployed to the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, areas where NATO’s naval presence was strong. These deployments served multiple purposes: they demonstrated the Soviet Union’s ability to operate in hostile environments, tested the submarine’s capabilities in real-world conditions, and trained its crew in various tactical scenarios. The presence of the B-307 in these regions also served as a deterrent, reminding NATO of the Soviet Navy’s reach and readiness.

The Fate of the B-307

The legacy and decommissioning of the B-307 submarine reflect broader trends in naval technology and geopolitical shifts following the end of the Cold War. As a member of the Tango class, the B-307 played a role in the Soviet Union’s naval strategy during a period of intense global rivalry. However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the beginning of significant changes for the military assets of the former superpower, including its submarine fleet.

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With the end of the Cold War, the strategic imperatives that had driven the massive build-up of military forces, including submarines, began to shift. The newly formed Russian Federation faced numerous challenges, including economic hardship and the need to reorient its military strategy. The reduction in military budgets meant that many of the older submarines, including the Tango class, were no longer sustainable or strategically necessary. Advances in submarine technology also played a role; the newer generations of nuclear-powered submarines offered superior capabilities in terms of endurance, speed, and stealth, making the diesel-electric models less relevant.

Torpedo exiting the tube on board B-307.
A torpedo looks to be exiting one of the tubes… Image by ShinePhantom CC BY-SA 3.0

The B-307, like many of its contemporaries, was gradually phased out of active service. The decommissioning process involved stripping the submarine of its operational capabilities and weaponry. This phase-out was part of a broader effort to downsize and modernize the Russian Navy, focusing resources on maintaining and developing more advanced platforms. The decision to decommission the Tango class submarines was influenced by their operational costs, the availability of newer technologies, and the changing strategic landscape post-Cold War.

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Despite being decommissioned, the B-307 was not destined for the scrapyard. Recognizing its historical significance, the decision was made to preserve the submarine as a museum ship. This decision reflects a broader trend of maintaining and showcasing historical military artifacts to educate the public and commemorate the technological achievements of the past. The B-307 was moved to Togliatti, Russia, where it was restored and prepared for public display.