Rumors Swirl Of New Attacks On Black Sea Fleet

SEP 16, 2023

Two Russian warships appeared in Sevastopol under tow but without clear signs of damage, while others remain unaccounted for.

Claims of new successful drone attacks on Russian warships of the Black Sea Fleet remain unconfirmed as of Saturday, though two ships in question were seen under tow in Sevastopol.

Observers quickly noticed the appearance of Russian Project 1239 Bora-class missile corvette Samum under tow in Sevastopol after a Ukrainian “Sea Baby” uncrewed surface vessel attack Thursday outside Sevastopol. A picture appears to show the hovercraft’s stern sitting low in the water with tow boats connected to bow and stern lines, though obvious evidence of damage remains unseen. 

Satellite imagery also captured the Black Sea Fleet flagship Admiral Makarov, a Project 11356R Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate, under tow in Sevastopol harbor on Saturday. The image shows what appears to be smoke from the ship’s funnel and again lacks clear evidence of damage from an attack.

Ships in a large, dispersed naval base like Sevastopol are commonly towed from one mooring to another. So the ships’ appearance with towboats does not conclusively indicate they’ve suffered damage. Conflicting reports say Makarov, once claimed sunk by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles in the Black Sea and later damaged in a mass USV attack on Sevastopol in October, was damaged in the missile strike on the shipyard drydock September 13

However, two ships in particular remain unseen after a reported Ukrainian attack on September 14, the two Project 22160 patrol ships Vasily Bykov and Sergei Kotov. Ukraine released video of the claimed attack in the Black Sea using USVs. It appears neither ship has returned to port in the Black Sea as of Saturday.

Exactly where the September 14 attack took place remains unclear, though the Bykov in particular operated far from occupied Crimea near the Romanian coast when it boarded the Palau-flagged freighter Sukru Okan in August.

A Ukrainian naval source told The War Zone on Saturday that the Bykov, previously claimed damaged off Odesa early in the war, was struck below the waterline and flooding. The source also said the attack destroyed the Tor SAM system parked on the ship’s flight deck for additional point defense. The Kotov was also reportedly holed above the waterline according to the source. We could not independently confirm these claims at this time.

Between the fog of war and numerous false alarms regarding attacks on ships in the Black Sea, its best to take all claims with a grain of salt until we see definitive proof otherwise. Only when the ships return to Sevastopol, Novorossiysk, or elsewhere, or end up lost at sea, will the results of the attacks become more clear.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

Another long campaign of Russian air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) attacks could be on the horizon for Ukraine this winter, per the latest intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defense. Waves of Kh-101 (NATO: AS-23 “Kodiak”), other missiles, and drones bombarded Ukrainian energy infrastructure last winter as Kyiv and its Western supporters scrambled to build a layered air defense system

The intelligence update noted that since April 2023, Russia has used fewer ALCMs while internally highlighting increased missile production.  There is thus “a realistic possibility Russia will again focus these weapons against Ukrainian infrastructure targets over the winter.”

On a related note, Russia attacked the city of Kharkiv with 9K720 Iskander (SS-26 “Stone”) missiles after a pause in strikes on the battered border city. At least four impacts were reported as smoke rose over Kharkiv.

Ukrainian Special Operations Forces revealed details about its operators’ involvement in the devastating cruise missile strike on the Sevastopol shipyard in occupied Crimea. The attack severely damaged the Project 775/II Ropucha-class landing ship Minsk and Project 636.3 Improved Kilo-class submarine Rostov-on-Don.

Like the August raid on Olenivka and Mayak, the SOF team reportedly approached Sevastopol by boat and “used underwater delivery means to reach mainland.” The team identified targets and corrected fire “with the help of special technical assets,” before confirming direct hits on the targets and conducting a successful exfiltration.

Since the first small drone struck the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters in August 2022, Russia has taken great steps to protect its considerable military infrastructure in Sevastopol. An SOF team infililtraing Sevastopol is impressive, but exactly how much of the story is true or not is unknown. Correcting fire for cruise missile and long-range drone attacks is a bit of a puzzling claim, but there is still so much we don’t know about the operation and what exact weapons were used and how.

There’s now footage of Ukrainian forces taking the bombed-out hamlet of Andriivka. Soldiers with the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade entered the ruined streets to find what Russians remained surrendering. Seeing the surrender, Russian artillery reportedly opened up on their positions. 

Also south of Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces have taken the similarly ruined town of Klishchiivka just to the north of Andriivka. New video shows Ukrainian troops walking among the cratered and splintered streets, shelling having reduced the town to something of a violent tornado’s damage path. 

One of Ukraine’s U.S.-supplied M7 Bradley Fire Support Team vehicles (BFIST) made an appearance with troops of the 46th Separate Airmobile Brigade. Ukraine received four M7s from the U.S., each with a target designation system in lieu of TOW missile launchers to direct artillery fire. This particular M7 is also equipped with the Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles (BRAT) kit, an explosive-reactive armor (ERA) kit for the Bradley family you can read more about here.

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