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Soviet battleship Novorossiisk

The Soviet battleship Novorossiisk was a prize of war taken from the Italians after World War II. The Italian battleship Giulio Cesare was ceded to the Soviet Union as compensation of war damages, and on February 3, 1949, was commissioned into the Soviet Navy as Novorossisk.

On the night of October 29, 1955, Novorossiisk was moored in Sevastopol Bay, 300 meters (1000 feet) from shore and opposite a hospital. At 1:30am, an explosion estimated to be the equivalent of 1,200 kilograms of TNT under the bow of the ship pierced all decks from the bottom plating to the forecastle deck. In the forecastle deck there was one hole which measured 14×4 meters in size. The damage extended from the bow aft 22 meters.

The ship sank slowly, capsizing at 4:15am, 2 hours 45 minutes after the explosion, and 18 hours after that fully submerged. The capsizing resulted in the death of 608 sailors, most of whom were staying in the ship's compartments.

The loss of life as well as the complete destruction of the ship was directly caused by the incompetent actions of her captain, Fleet Commander Vice Admiral V. Parkhomenko. Among other underestimates of the danger to his ship, he did not know the conditions of the sea bottom, believing that the ratio between the sea depth (17 meters) and the ship's beam (28 meters) would prevent capsizing. However, the bottom was soft ooze, 15 meters deep, which offered no resistance. It was also reported that the commander displayed conceit and groundless calmness during this critical situation, and had even expressed the wish to "go have some tea."

There are two hypotheses as to what caused the blast. The more theatrical explanation was that Italian frogmen[?] were avenging the transfer of the formerly-Italian battleship to the USSR. The more prosaic suggestion was that the explosion was caused by a ground mine that had been left behind since the Nazi occupation of Sevastopol. During the next two years divers found 19 German ground mines on the bottom of the Sevastopol Bay. Eleven of the mines had the same TNT equivalent as the blast under Novorossiisk. No real traces of sabotage were found. The possibility of sabotage was not ruled out because of the poor safeguarding of the fleet base on the night when the explosion took place.

Because of the loss of Novorossiisk, the First Deputy Minister of Defence and the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy Nikolai Gerasimovich Kuznetsov was fired from his post in November 1955, and in February 1956 he was demoted to the rank of vice admiral and sent to retirement without the right to return to active service in the Navy.

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