Unveiling the Shchuka-class: general characteristics and a dive into its operational history

Resilience was demonstrated by the Soviet submarines of the Shchuka class, which were vital in World War II. The vessels that survived were in use until the 1950s, although the majority were lost. The Shchukas had a lasting influence on China since, in 1954, the People’s Liberation Army Navy received M-class submarines and S-121 and S-123 on loan.

As a medium-sized class of Soviet submarines, the Shchuka-class sometimes referred to as the Sh or Shch-class, submarines were heavily involved in World War II. These submarines, named “Shchuka” (Russian for “pike”), were distinguished by their sturdy construction and extensive use in naval operations. They were built in great quantities and played a crucial role in the war efforts of the Soviet Navy.

Just two submarines of this class, 411 and 412, formally entered service after 1945, despite being built before the war. Notably, these two submarines were launched before World War II broke out, but they were put into active service only after the war. This particular situation highlights the Shchuka-class submarines’ resilience and versatility, as they continued to support naval operations long after the war for which they were originally designed.

General Characteristics:

With a displacement of 577 tonnes when above and 704 tonnes while submerged, the Shchuka-class submarine is a powerful undersea vehicle. This submarine is a small but mighty force beneath the seas, with dimensions of 57 metres in length, 6.2 metres for beam, and 3.78 metres for draught.

The 1,020 kW (1,370 hp) diesel engine and the 600 kW (800 hp) electric motor of the Shchuka-class submarine is powered by a sturdy 2-shaft diesel-electric propulsion system. With this setup, it can reach a submerged speed of 6.3 knots (11.7 km/h; 7.2 mph) and a surface speed of 12.5 knots (23.2 km/h; 14.4 mph).

With a speed of 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph), the Shchuka-class submarine has an impressive operational range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,000 km; 6,900 mi). This submarine has a test depth capability of 91 metres (300 feet), which allows it to operate in a variety of underwater conditions.

The 38 crew members on board the Shchuka-class are responsible for operating and maintaining its innovative features. Armament-wise, it had two stern and four bow torpedo tubes, with a combined capacity of ten torpedoes. The submarine’s offensive capabilities are further enhanced by the addition of two 45 mm (1.8 in) semi-automatic weapons.

Operational Service:

During World War II, the Soviet Navy relied heavily on the Shchuka-class submarines, also referred to as the Shch-class. Unfortunately, 60–70% of these submarines were lost during their service, mostly in the Baltic, Black Sea, and Northern Fleets. The Shchukas suffered greatly from the difficult conditions of war; the only fleet that escaped this fate was the Pacific Fleet because of the theatre’s relative calm. The Japanese Navy was mostly defeated in the autumn of 1945, marking the start of Japanese military operations in the Pacific. As a result, the Pacific Fleet did not lose any ships in combat, although three submarines were lost for other reasons.

35 Shchuka-class submarines were lost during World War II, accounting for the great majority of the fleet, resulting in a heavy overall loss. The surviving submarines served in the Soviet Navy until the middle of the 1950s, when they were retired and eventually demolished, despite suffering significant casualties.

Nonetheless, the Shchuka-class submarines left behind a legacy that went beyond their Soviet Navy service. Two of these class submarines, designated S-121 and S-123, as well as two Soviet M-class submarines, were strategically delivered to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in June 1954. This transfer was a crucial step in the People’s Republic of China’s submarine force’s formation.

Remarkably, China did not purchase the two Shchuka-class submarines; instead, they were lent to help with Chinese crew training. In contrast to the M-class submarines, the Shchukas were given their original designations and did not receive new names, highlighting their transient status within the PLAN.