For what it lacks in beauty it sure makes up for it in character, Russia's 100 year old Kommuna is the world's oldest active naval vessel. Launched as a submarine tender back 1915, this pre-Bolshevik Revolution relic continues to serve as a salvage ship and midget sub tender as part of Russia's Black Sea Fleet.
Click here for an awesome photo tour of the Kommuna
Although she may look a little rough and ungainly from the outside, her interior is a time machine that transports you back to the realities of navy life and technology of the early 1900s. Her bridge is a spattering of wood, steel and brass analogue components and her crew dining and berthing facilities are a cozy and colorful example of Russian living from many decades past. Even an old stand-up piano graces the wall of her well used saloon.
But this incredibly noble old ship is not just a collection of ancient parts, she is outfitted with advanced deep diving submersible systems that can manipulate their environment, or rescue stranded submariners, thousands of feet below the waterline. It is this historical tension, between new capabilities and a very old vessel, that seems to have made Kommuna such a great success throughout her long life that has featured many refits, trials and tribulations.
Originally laid down in St. Petersberg under the name Volkhov and commissioned in 1915, the 315 foot catamaran was renamed 1922 to reflect Soviet Russia's new political ethos. She served in the Baltic fleet for decades where she tended to submarines, being able to carry 50 tons of fuel, about a dozen spare torpedoes and around 50-60 submariners. She also salvaged sunken subs, ships and airplanes.
Kommuna was relocated to Leningrad for during the second World War where she received repeated damage from bombardment and even survived through the three years long siege. She continued to soldier on throughout the war, plucking tanks and vehicles out of sunken supply ships and raising broken submarines and ships from the seafloor by the dozens. After the war, the ship's crew was highly decorated, including being awarded the 'Medal For The Defense Of Leningrad' for persevering through nearly impossible odds.
After being refitted in the 1950s, she continued to pluck wrecks from the seafloor through the mid 1960s. Kommuna was transferred to the Black Sea Fleet in 1967 where she was refitted once again to carry deep-diving submersibles. In the 1974, her advanced Type AS-6 Poisk-2 submersible hit a record depth of 6,647 feet. Just a few years later she was used to locate a recover a then extremely high-tech Su-24 Fencer that crashed into the Black Sea, sinking to a depth of just over 5,500 feet.
During the late 1980s the Kommuna was going to be handed over to the prestigious Russian Academy of Sciences to be used as a deep-water exploration vessel, but for some reason this never happened, probably because of lack of funding. While the once proud and highly accomplished antique was in limbo it was totally looted and vandalized. Years later it was fully restored and put back into use as a salvage and submarine rescue vessel for the Black Sea Fleet.
Today she has a new British-built submersible, the Pantera Plus, and still serves as an integral and very historic part of the resurgent Black Sea Fleet, which is headquartered on the south western tip Crimea, in Sevastopol. With Russia annexing Crimea last winter and with Moscow's grand plans to rebuild the Black Sea Fleet, including its submarine force, the Kommuna may very well serve far into the its second century of proud service and retain its title as the world's oldest active naval ship.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com