A Tale of Two Warships

Moskva is the largest warship to be sunk in combat after World War II.
Keywords: Moskva, HMS Sheffield, Warship, Ukraine, Russia, Navy, Ammunition, Neptune, Missile, Weapons, Vessel, Blockade
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On 14 Apr 2022, Russia and Ukraine both announced to the world that the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet Flagship Missile Cruiser Moskva had sunk after being seriously damaged. Initially, Russia claimed that the ammunition compartment onboard the ship exploded due to some unexplained fire, which led to the sinking of the ship, but later retracted their statement saying that the ship had sunk after being hit by an enemy missile. Ukraine claimed that their forces had sunk the ship using their Neptune missile. 

We can’t really trust any media agency to tell us the truth. In any case, in war, truth is often the first casualty. But undeniably, the sinking of a major warship of any nation, in any war, anywhere in the world, is a huge blow to the morale and pride of that nation.

Moskva: Russian Naval Flagship

A look at published pictures of the Moskva gives one the impression that she’s got a spine made from titanium and nerves of steel. The Moskva was a Slava Class Cruiser warship and was the third largest class of vessel in Russia’s active naval fleet. She was also one of the most heavily defended assets of the Russian Navy. The Cruiser was equipped with a triple-tiered Air Defence System, that if operating properly, should have made it very hard to succumb to a missile. Moskva also had medium and short range defence systems, its Close-in-Weapons System (CIWS) had six rapid fire guns, each of which could fire 5000 rounds of ammunition in one minute, thereby creating a wall of flak to stop any incoming missile at the very last moment. 

The Neptune Missile

The Ukrainian made Neptune missile was made by the Ukrainians in response to the growing Russian military threat following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. In the current conflict, the Russian Black Sea Fleet is being used to blockade supplies coming into Ukraine from the South and also to launch cruise missiles anywhere in Ukraine from undisclosed and changing locations at sea. Thus, it was important for Ukraine to sink any vessel of the blockade, and in particular the Flagship. Although, the sinking of the Russian Naval Flagship will not remove Russia’s Naval blockade on Ukraine completely, the victory is more about the psychological damage the sinking would have on the Russian Forces. And it establishes the fact that Ukraine can now use its missiles effectively, perhaps even with America’s clandestine help and satellite information. 

The Sinking of HMS Sheffield in 1982

The Moskva may have had the sensors and weaponry to defend herself but she needed more than that to cope with war’s apocalyptic downsides. Here, let us look back in time, at the sinking of HMS Sheffield in the Battle of the Falklands, that took place forty years ago, after being hit by an Argentine missile. The British Government made these reports public after 35 years of lies and half-truths. Some of what happened on the Sheffield may well have happened in the Moskva, which may explain why the Moskva actually sank on 14 April 2022. 

HMS Sheffield was hit and sunk by an Argentine Exocet missile during the early days of the Falklands conflict. It was the first Royal Naval warship to be lost in war after WWII. The missile that hit the Sheffield ripped a hole 4 ft high by 15 ft long, on the starboard side of the ship, resulting in a fire with billowing smoke, making fire-fighting a daunting task. The smoke emanating from the insulation lining the inner side of the hull was like a coruscating kaleidoscope of thick grey matter choking and smothering everything that came in its path. Defence experts say that it was the blazing cotton-glass fibre insulation which gave rise to the fumes, which prevented fire fighting and which in turn sank the ship.

Declassified reports now tell us about the most weird and intriguing things that led to the sinking of the Sheffield. The following details are now clearly established:

• Some members of the Sheffield crew were ‘bored’ and a little frustrated by the ‘inactivity’ which led to the ship ‘not being fully prepared’ for defence against the incoming missile.

• The Anti-Air Warfare Officer had left the Ship’s operation room and was having coffee in the wardroom, while his assistant had gone to visit the ‘heads’ (relieve himself in the toilet) when the missile struck.

• The Anti-Aircraft radar on the ship had the capability to detect the incoming Argentinian Super Etendard fighter aircraft carrying the missile, but the radar was not operational because of Electro-magnetic Interference from the ship’s radio transmitter which was sending a radio message to the other ships.

• One of the nearby ships, HMS Glasgow, had detected the incoming enemy aircraft and reported it to all ships in the vicinity, but Sheffield’s operation room failed to react.

• The Anti-Air Warfare officer was recalled to the Operations Room but did not believe that the Sheffield was within range of the enemy’s aircraft to fly to such a distance and fire a missile effectively. They were unaware of the capability of the enemy aircraft to fuel mid-air.

• When the incoming missile was sighted visually in the final moments of it’s flight by the look-outs, the officers on duty in the Bridge were mesmerised by the sight of a missile coming towards them and so failed to warn the Ship’s Company to brace for an explosion or to take anti-missile evasive measures, like firing of CIWS weapons, firing of Chaff to deflect the missile and high-speed manoeuvres to avoid a direct hit on the ship.

• Nobody on the Sheffield informed the Captain about the incoming danger and neither was the ship brought to its highest state of readiness by announcing ‘Action Stations’ to warn the rest of the ship and move out of the targeted area with a combination of high speed and hard manoeuvres.

• The fire-fighting was uncoordinated and lacked cohesion and it was not clear who was taking charge of the fire-fighting effort. The fire-main pipeline carrying sea water to fight the fire was ruptured and several fire pumps were damaged in the blast, making it impossible to fight the fire.

• The ships couldn’t bring the fire under control and the Captain felt that the ship would eventually sink, so he gave the order to abandon the ship, when they could still have fought the fire and saved the ship from sinking. 

The Royal Navy chose not to court martial the two officers it had found guilty of negligence, in order not to underplay the euphoria of winning the war. The Board of enquiry also found out that there were critical deficiencies in the firefighting equipment of the Type 42 Destroyers, such as the HMS Sheffield. However, the truth about the Type 42 destroyers never came to light for many years because the British Government was trying to sell these vessels to Third World countries. Rather, they covered up the incident by saying that the enemy fighter plane probably flew under the radar of the ship’s anti-aircraft detection system and thus was able to penetrate its defence. Whereas, on the other hand, the French manufacturer of the Exocet missile made hay while the sun shone and declared to the world, the very next day, that the French Exocet missile was infallible and consequently made a lot of money selling their missiles to many other countries. 


The world has now implemented industrial standard A60 mineral insulation for protection against fire resulting from plastic, wood, paper, cotton textiles and other cellulosic fires. The A30/A60 insulation is a noncombustible, thermal insulation specifically designed and manufactured for use on shipboard bulkheads and decks. It is suitable for use on ducts, mufflers and exhaust stacks. 

Moskva is the largest warship to be sunk in combat after World War II. What happened on board Moskva, that led to the sinking of a battleship that was the pride of Russia? Perhaps, we will have to wait for another forty years to know the truth behind the sinking of the Russian warship, if the iron curtain ever decides to make it public. All said and done, however, the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Neptune missile has perhaps kiboshed Russia’s Sea Control of the Black Sea region.

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Anil Gonsalves

Captain Anil Gonsalves (IN) is an Indian Navy Veteran who specialised in Anti-submarine warfare and was Fleet ASW Officer. He commanded CGS Rajshree and INS Mahish. After leaving the Navy prematurely, he joined the Offshore Division of Shipping Corporation of India and commanded a number of Platform Support Vessels and top-of-the-line Dynamic Positioning Vessels.

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