1966 Soviet submarine global circumnavigation
The 1966 Soviet submarine global circumnavigation was announced to be the first submerged around-the-world voyage by a group of Soviet nuclear-powered submarines. The voyage was an early example of blue-water operations by the Soviet Navy's
Soviet Navy
The Soviet Navy was the naval arm of the Soviet Armed Forces. Often referred to as the Red Fleet, the Soviet Navy would have played an instrumental role in a Warsaw Pact war with NATO, where it would have attempted to prevent naval convoys from bringing reinforcements across the Atlantic Ocean...

 nuclear-powered submarine fleet, and it paved the way for future operations during the latter half of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. The voyage took place nearly six years after the first complete submerged circumnavigation of the world
Operation Sandblast
Operation Sandblast was the code name for the first submerged circumnavigation of the world executed by the U.S. Navy nuclear-powered radar picket submarine in 1960 while under the command of Captain Edward L. Beach, USN...

 undertaken by the U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered submarine in 1960. Technically speaking, this Soviet submerged around-the-world voyage was not a true "circumnavigation" since the submarine group went from the Soviet Northern Fleet in the area of the Kola Peninsula
Kola Peninsula
The Kola Peninsula is a peninsula in the far northwest of Russia. Constituting the bulk of the territory of Murmansk Oblast, it lies almost completely to the north of the Arctic Circle and is washed by the Barents Sea in the north and the White Sea in the east and southeast...

 to the Soviet Pacific Fleet base in Kamchatka and consequently did not go completely around the world as did the USS Triton.


The development of nuclear-powered submarines by the Soviet Navy differed significantly from the approach adopted by the United States Navy. While first generation U.S. Navy nuclear submarines were experimental vessels that could carry out operational missions, the Soviet Navy opted for immediate series production for its Hotel
Hotel class submarine
The Hotel class is the general NATO classification for a type of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine that was originally put into service by the Soviet Union around 1959. The Soviet designation is Project 658.-Design:...

, Echo
Echo class submarine
The Echo class submarines were nuclear cruise missile submarines of the Soviet Navy built during the 1960s. Their Soviet designation was Project 659 class for the first five vessels, and Project 675 for the following twenty-nine...

, and November
November class submarine
The Project 627 class submarine was the Soviet Union's first class of nuclear-powered submarines. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization used the standard radio communication phonetic alphabet to denote submarine classes...

 classes, which were known collectively as the HEN classes. While more capable in many respects than early U.S. nuclear submarines, early Soviet nuclear submarines also experienced significant problems with their reactor plants
Soviet submarine K-19
K-19, KS-19, BS_19 was one of the first two Soviet submarines of the 658, 658м, 658с class , the first generation nuclear submarine equipped with nuclear ballistic missiles, specifically the R-13 . Its keel was laid down on 17 October 1958, christened on 8 April 1959 and launched on 11 October 1959...

, and remedial action was required to correct these technical deficiencies. Consequently, the Soviet Navy could not deploy any nuclear-powered submarines in support of Operation Anadyr
Operation Anadyr
Operation Anadyr was the code name used by the Soviet Union for their Cold War secret operation of deploying ballistic missiles, medium-range bombers, and a division of mechanized infantry in Cuba to create the army group that would be able to prevent an invasion of the island by U.S. forces...

, the Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missile build-up in Cuba which caused the Cuban Missile Crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation among the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States in October 1962, during the Cold War...

 of 1962.

Operational summary

The first submerged circumnavigation by a detachment (Russ. otryad) of submarines was undertaken by two submarines under the overall command of Rear Admiral
Counter Admiral
Counter admiral is a rank found in many navies of the world, but no longer used in English-speaking countries, where the equivalent rank is rear admiral...

 A.I. Sorokin. The detachment departed from the Red Banner Northern Fleet on 1 February 1966. Planning for the mission was credited to Admiral Vladimir Chernavin
Vladimir Chernavin
Fleet Admiral Vladimir Nikolayevich Chernavin was the last Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy 1985-91 and the first Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy 1991-92.-Biography:...

, the future Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy. The detachment's sailing orders from the Main Naval Staff read in part:

You will be passing through seas and oceans where Russian sailors have not traveled in more than 100 years. We firmly believe that you will successfully surmount all difficulties and carry the Soviet Navy Flag with honor through three oceans and many seas.

The detachment consisted of the Project 627 (November class) attack submarine K-133 under the command of Captain 2nd Rank
Frigate Captain
Frigate captain is a naval rank in the naval forces of several countries.It is, usually, equivalent to the Commonwealth/US Navy rank of commander.Countries using this rank include Argentina and Spain , France , Belgium , Italy ,...

 V.T. Vinogradov and the Project 675 (Echo II class) cruise missile submarine K-116 under the command of Captain 2nd Rank L.N. Stolyarov, with K-116 serving as the detachment's flagship. The oceanographic salvage ship Polyus escorted the submarines during their transit.

The detachment crossed the Barents Sea
Barents Sea
The Barents Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of Norway and Russia. Known in the Middle Ages as the Murman Sea, the sea takes its current name from the Dutch navigator Willem Barents...

, the Norwegian Sea
Norwegian Sea
The Norwegian Sea is a marginal sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Norway. It is located between the North Sea and the Greenland Sea and adjoins the North Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Barents Sea to the northeast. In the southwest, it is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a...

, the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

, and the Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 via the Drake Strait which, according to Academian
Doktor nauk
Doktor nauk is a higher doctoral degree, the second and the highest post-graduate academic degree in the Soviet Union, Russia and in many post-Soviet states. Sometimes referred to as Dr. Hab. The prerequisite is the first degree, Kandidat nauk which is informally regarded equivalent to Ph.D....

 A.M. Chepurov, was the most dangerous phase of the voyage. Concerns included icebergs and collisions with whales. The ships' personnel participated in line-crossing ceremonies
Line-crossing ceremony
The ceremony of Crossing the Line is an initiation rite in the Royal Navy, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, and other navies that commemorates a sailor's first crossing of the Equator. Originally, the tradition was created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure their new shipmates...

 when the detachment crossed the Equator
An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plane perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and containing the sphere's center of mass....

. They also celebrated the landing of the Soviet space probe Venera 3
Venera 3
Venera 3 was a Venera program space probe that was built and launched by the Soviet Union to explore the surface of Venus. It was launched on November 16, 1965 at 04:19 UTC from Baikonur, Kazakhstan....

 on the surface of the planet Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

. The detachment completed its circumnavigation by arriving at the Pacific Fleet
Pacific Fleet (Russia)
The Pacific Fleet is the part of the Russian Navy that is stationed in the Pacific Ocean, which formerly secured the Far Eastern borders of the Soviet Union. The fleet headquarters is located at Vladivostok and a number of fleet bases are located in the Vladivostok area...

 submarine base in Vilyuchinsk
Vilyuchinsk is a closed town in Kamchatka Krai, Russia, located on the Kamchatka Peninsula about across Avacha Bay from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Population: -History:...

 on 26 March 1966, having covered 21000 nmi (38,892 km; 24,166.4 mi) in 52 days. The detachment encountered numerous U.S. naval vessels during its around the world voyage, but successfully avoided detection.

The circumnavigation served a political purpose because the mission was dedicated to the 23rd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
23rd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The 23rd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union took place in Moscow, RSFSR between 29 March and 8 April 1966. It was the first Congress during Leonid Brezhnev's leadership of the Party and state...

. The voyage provided a showcase for the capabilities of the Soviet Navy's nuclear submarine fleet as well as the professionalism of its personnel. Approximately one-third of the detachment personnel were members of Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the only legal, ruling political party in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organizations in the world...

, and the rest were Komsomol
The Communist Union of Youth , usually known as Komsomol , was the youth division of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Komsomol in its earliest form was established in urban centers in 1918. During the early years, it was a Russian organization, known as the Russian Communist Union of...

 members. Scientific studies were carried out during the voyage. Shipboard systems, tactical coordination, communications, and training were also carried out under a variety of climatic conditions. The timing of circumnavigation's completion coincided with discussions regarding the upcoming Five-Year Defense Plan. Minister of Defense Rodion Malinovsky
Rodion Malinovsky
Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky was a Soviet military commander in World War II and Defense Minister of the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and 1960s. He contributed to the major defeat of Nazi Germany at the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Budapest...

 addressed the 23rd Congress on 2 April 1966:

In recent years, the number of long cruises by our nuclear submarines have increased by 5-fold and they have clearly demonstrated the capability of our glorious sailors to successfully carry out any mission in the ocean expanses from the Arctic to Antarctic. Several days ago an around-the-world cruise by a group of nuclear submarines traveling submerged was successfully concluded.

The announcement was reportedly "greeted with stormy applause." Admiral Sorokin was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union
Hero of the Soviet Union
The title Hero of the Soviet Union was the highest distinction in the Soviet Union, awarded personally or collectively for heroic feats in service to the Soviet state and society.-Overview:...

 from Nikolai Podgorny
Nikolai Podgorny
Nikolai Viktorovich Podgorny was a Soviet Ukrainian statesman during the Cold War. He served as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, or leader of the Ukrainian SSR, from 1957 to 1963 and as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1965 to 1977...

, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was a Soviet governmental institution – a permanent body of the Supreme Soviets . This body was of the all-Union level , as well as in all Soviet republics and autonomous republics...

. K-133 commander Vinogradov, chief engineer S.P. Samsonov, and three other participants were awarded the titles of Heroes of the Soviet Union. The New York Times reported the voyage in the following UPI dispatch dated 8 April 1966:

A squadron of nuclear-powered Soviet missile submarines kept a close watch on American planes and ships encountered during a recent around-the-world voyage, Krasnaya Zvezda
Krasnaya Zvezda
Krasnaya Zvezda is an official newspaper of Soviet and later Russian Ministry of Defence. It was founded on January 1, 1924. Today its official designation is "Central Organ of the Russian Ministry of Defence."...

 said today. An officer who made the six-week tour as a special correspondent reported in the Defense Ministry newspaper that American planes and ships were detected several times. "Every time the necessary measures were taken on board the atomic submarines," he said. On one occasion, when his submarine rose to periscope depth, he said, a United States plane was sighted and "we dived lower so as not to whet the appetites of the antisubmarine forces of the imperialists." "Of course, we had nothing to be afraid of," he added. "We crossed the seas and oceans strictly observing the international rules of navigation"

The unnamed naval officer cited in the above article was undoubtedly Captain 2nd Rank G.A. Savichek.


While this submerged circumnavigation by a group of submarines received little notice outside of Soviet naval circles, Soviet nuclear submarine operations took on an increasingly blue-water orientation. In 1968, a November-class submarine successfully tracked a carrier task group led by the nuclear aircraft carrier much to the surprise of U.S. naval intelligence
Office of Naval Intelligence
The Office of Naval Intelligence was established in the United States Navy in 1882. ONI was established to "seek out and report" on the advancements in other nations' navies. Its headquarters are at the National Maritime Intelligence Center in Suitland, Maryland...

. Also, the Soviet Navy deployed its first true nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the Yankee class
Yankee class submarine
The Yankee class is the NATO classification for a type of nuclear-powered submarine that was constructed by the Soviet Union from 1968 onward. 34 units were produced under Project 667A Navaga and Project 667AU Nalim...

, which began its first nuclear deterrence patrol in June 1969.

A detachment of two nuclear submarines, one of them a ballistic missile submarine, subsequently undertook a second around-the-world voyage, departing from the Barents Sea
Barents Sea
The Barents Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of Norway and Russia. Known in the Middle Ages as the Murman Sea, the sea takes its current name from the Dutch navigator Willem Barents...

 on January 5, 1976 and following a route similar to the one taken in 1966. The detachment commander, Captain 1st Rank
Captain (naval)
Captain is the name most often given in English-speaking navies to the rank corresponding to command of the largest ships. The NATO rank code is OF-5, equivalent to an army full colonel....

 Valentin Y. Sokolov, was personally selected by Admiral
Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union
An Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union was the highest naval rank of the Soviet Union.The rank was largely honorary and could be considered equivalent to Admiral of the Navy in other nations...

 Sergey Gorshkov
Sergey Gorshkov
Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergey Georgiyevich Gorshkov was a Soviet naval officer during the Cold War who oversaw the expansion of the Soviet Navy into a global force....

, the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, to command this detachment. This strategic deterrence patrol included operations in the North Atlantic. During its transit of the South Pacific, the detachment discovered a previously unknown ocean current. The detachment transferred to the Kamchatka Flotilla of the Soviet Pacific Fleet after 70 days at sea.

For the Soviet Navy itself, its blue-water aspirations culminated in OKEAN, a 1970 worldwide naval exercise. This feat was replicated with OKEAN 75, a three-week follow-up held in April–May 1975. Soviet Defense Minister Andrey Grechko declared:

The Okean maneuvers were evidence of the increased naval might of our socialist state, an index of the fact our Navy has become so great and strong that it is capable of executing mission in defense of our state interests over the broad expanses of the World Oceans.

The impact of this Soviet naval expansion was summarized by Fleet Admiral
Admiral of the Fleet (Royal Navy)
Admiral of the fleet is the highest rank of the British Royal Navy and other navies, which equates to the NATO rank code OF-10. The rank still exists in the Royal Navy but routine appointments ceased in 1996....

  Sir Peter Hill-Norton, RN, the chairman of NATOs military staff committee, who observed: "The U.S. had never previously faced a global threat to its sea-lane communications from a mix of subsurface, surface and maritime-air naval forces. This is a strategic change of kind, not of degree."

See also

  • Operation Sandblast
    Operation Sandblast
    Operation Sandblast was the code name for the first submerged circumnavigation of the world executed by the U.S. Navy nuclear-powered radar picket submarine in 1960 while under the command of Captain Edward L. Beach, USN...

  • Operation Sea Orbit
    Operation Sea Orbit
    Operation Sea Orbit was the 1964 around-the-world cruise of the United States Navy's Task Force One, consisting of USS Enterprise , USS Long Beach , and USS Bainbridge . This all-nuclear-powered unit steamed 30,565 miles unrefuelled around the world for sixty-five days.The cruise began on July 31...

  • First Russian circumnavigation
    First Russian circumnavigation
    The first Russian circumnavigation of the Earth took place from August 1803 to August 1806. It was sponsored by Count Nikolay Rumyantsev and was headed by Adam Johann von Krusenstern.-Events:...

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