Cold War Threats: The November Class SSN

The November class SSN was the Soviet Union’s first nuclear powered attack submarine. Although designed with a less reliable nuclear power plant and machinery than her American counterparts, the Soviet reactors were more compact and had a better power-to-weight ratio than American designs.  She was also the first nuclear attack submarine to be given a round, streamlined hull shape. Until this time, American nuclear boats had hulls similar to their WWII counterparts. See, for example, USS Nautilus or USS Halibut.

In the Soviet union, the design was known as Project 627, the “Whale” to those working on it.  The Class comprised 14 boats, and all are retired from active service and stricken from the Russian Navy’s lists.  By the standards of the day, the November class was a rather noisy boat, with little in the way of interior silencing. However, she was fitted with an anecoic coating to reduce active sonar detection. This coating was developed from a similar product developed by the German Navy in WWII, and applied late in the war to the new Type-XXI U-Boats.

The initial mission of the November class was to maneuver outside of American ports and attack them with large, thermonuclear tipped torpedoes. These monsters were designated T-15, and had immense dimensions, being 1555mm in diameter, and 23 meters in length!  T-15 torpedoes used a gas-steam power plant, and had a range of 45-50 KM. The November was to have a single tube for firing these, and two standard 533mm tubes for regular torpedoes mounted abreast in the bow.  Tactical doctrine was to quietly approach the designated harbor, then launch the thermonuclear torpedo and make it’s escape. Soviet strategic analysts felt that the destruction of harbors and facilities would impede American support of a war in Europe, since the majority of supplies and troops would have to come by sea.

After much debate, it was determined to scrap this idea, and change the mission for the November to that of interdiction of US supply ships at sea. As a result, the T-15 Torpedo  was stricken from the design and a battery of 8 533mm torpedo tubes were installed. The November still carried a mix of 20 conventional & nuclear-tipped torpedoes, but the harbor-destroying thermonuclear T-15 was, thankfully, not used.

For more on how the November would look if designed for the T-15, see here. The site is in Russian, but the plans speak for themselves.

November class boats developed ~22,000 horsepower,  used a single-shaft and screw, driving her at up to 30kts submerged. She displaced ~4300 tons submerged, and was ~108m long, and ~8 m in width., depending upon the specific boat in question.

Construction of the November class began in 1957 and ended with the 14th boat in 1963. The last operational November was retired in 1990.  During it’s service life, 2 were lost. One was lost in the Bay of Biscay, and it’s position is referred  to by the US Navy as the “Lost November Datum”.  The other was intentionally sunk in a training area of the Kara sea after a serious reactor incident.  One other November was lost in 2003 in the Barents sea while being towed to the breaker’s yard. 9 sailors lost their lives in this incident, with one saved. More on this event may be found here.

Soviet November Class Submarine


10 Responses to “Cold War Threats: The November Class SSN”

  1. 1 virgil xenophon
    April 26, 2010 at 22:48

    “the site is in Russian”

    Don’t you have the Firefox language translator?–or is that statement for those of us too ham-fisted to know how to add it on? 🙂

    I particularly lol’d at the comment that, as it was such a “close-hold” secret project they didn’t let submariners privy to the plans so the initial design was “not very good.” LOL–how typical of Stalinist Russia in the early 50s–TRUST NO ONE!!!!!! 🙂

  2. 3 SCOTT the BADGER
    April 27, 2010 at 02:00

    I get automatic translation with Google. The Bear has gotten a lot of milage out of that basic sail design, hasn’t he?

  3. 4 xbradtc
    April 27, 2010 at 03:45

    O/T, but I’ve been just outside NAS Whidbey for 4 hours already, and STILL haven’t seen a P-3. I did spot a Prowler in the pattern. No Growler’s yet either.

  4. 5 ewok40k
    April 27, 2010 at 10:27

    do you think just by their speed they could have done some damage back in the late 1950s before ASROC went online?

    • April 27, 2010 at 13:54

      Possibly. The thing is, is that the west still had a large number of escorts and dedicated ASW platforms, even ASW-dedicated carrier hunter/killer groups.

      The Novembers were likely to have been kept back from attacking the Navy assets, unless they were urgently needed for that task. Their primary mission was attacking supply ships bringing reinforcements and support to Europe in the event of war.

      The Soviet Union felt that, barring Nukes, a war with Europe could be handily won IF American supplies and troops could be kept from reaching the battlefield. At that time, America had no serious large cargo aircraft. The C-130’s were coming on line, and we could only get small amounts of troops and supplies ti Europe in that manner. ALL of the heavy stuff, tanks, artillery, trucks, etc, would have to come over on ships, and the Novembers would be waiting for them.

      • 7 ewok40k
        April 27, 2010 at 17:11

        hmm they would have to get into the convoys vicinity , which automaticaly would expose them to escorts firepower… what was the status of the ASW torps back then, no MK46 yet?

  5. 8 Guns
    July 7, 2011 at 01:24

    If memory serves, the November class had 2 screws, like the others in the HEN class.

    CWO3 Guns

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