Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Started The War With Eight ‘Raptor’ Patrol Boats. It Might Have Three Left.


In 10 weeks of fighting, Ukraine’s TB-2 drones and anti-tank missile teams have wreaked havoc on the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s patrol boat flotilla. Especially around strategic Snake Island.

The fleet reportedly had eight of the 55-foot, gun-armed Raptor-class boats when Russia widened its war on Ukraine on the night of Feb. 23. Today it might have just three Raptors left.

In March, a Ukrainian missile team in Mariupol—a historic port on the Sea of Azov that today is mostly under Russian control—damaged, if not sank, a Raptor. But the losses really piled up a month later.

Ukrainian navy TB-2s starting in late April blasted four of the boats as part of Kyiv’s ongoing aerial campaign targeting Russian forces on strategic Snake Island, 80 miles south of Odessa in the western Black Sea.

At 110 acres, Snake Island is tiny. But whichever country controls it also has a legal claim on the resources of the western Black Sea. It’s not for no reason the Russians seized the island, then assigned the bulk of its regional fleet to holding it. There also is a reason the Ukrainians relentlessly are attacking those same forces.

The Black Sea Fleet has lost other ships to Ukrainian action, most notably the 610-foot missile-cruiser Moskva, which sank on April 14 with potentially scores of her 500 sailors after catching two Neptune anti-ship missiles on her port side while sailing between Odesa and Snake Island.

And on March 24, Saratov, a 370-foot landing ship belonging to the Black Sea Fleet’s reinforced amphibious flotilla, burst into flames while pier-side in Russian-occupied Berdyansk in southern Ukraine. It seems an accurate hit by a Ukrainian army Tochka ballistic missile started the blaze.


Rumors in early May that the Ukrainians also struck the Black Sea Fleet frigate Admiral Makarov appear to be baseless.

The sinkings were turning points in the war. The Saratov blaze, which also damaged two other landing ships moored nearby, apparently convinced Russian commanders that an amphibious assault on Odessa was naval suicide for the nine or so intact landing ships.

Moskva’s destruction three weeks later peeled back the Black Sea Fleet’s main air-defense. The cruiser, with her 64 S-300 surface-to-air missiles, in theory could engage targets 60 miles away—twice as far as the fleet’s three frigates with their 24 Buk SAMs can do.

To protect them, fleet commanders reportedly pulled back the frigates, away from the coast and whatever Neptune missiles Ukraine has left. But that left Snake Island, which Russian forces led by Moskva captured on Feb. 24, open to aerial assault.

TB-2s starting late last month bombarded the island and any boats or landing craft approaching it. The drones knocked out air-defense guns and SAM launchers and even blew up a landing craft and an Mi-8 helicopter offloading reinforcements on the island. Ukrainian air force Su-27 fighters streaked in to drop bombs on the battered survivors.

The TB-2s also struck four Raptors around the island, likely destroying them. It’s apparent the Black Sea Fleet was leaning heavily on the patrol boats—with their three-person command crew plus gunners for three crew-served weapons—to guard Snake Island.

Now there might be just three undamaged Raptors left in the whole Black Sea. The Russian navy before the war had 16 boats of the class. Eight Raptors that belong to other Russian fleets in theory could replace the ones the Black Sea Fleet has lost.

But they can’t get there. Turkey controls the Bosphorous Strait, the only waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Ankara hasn’t let in any warships since the wider war began.

First the Ukrainians stripped away Snake Island’s air-defenses. Then, its sea-defenses. Every Russian vessel the Ukrainians damage or destroy advances the date when Kyiv might liberate the occupied island.


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