MARINA DE GUERRA REVOLUCIONARIA DE CUBA
Cuba naval forces overview
In the 19th and early 20th century, Cuba’s navy was limited to small sloops and patrol craft. During WWI, Cuba declared war on Germany but the navy took no part in the war. In the 1920s and 1930s, the force was allowed to shrink significantly. An 815-ton buoy tender Enrique Collazo was bought from Great Britain in 1906. The largest ship was the destroyer Cuba, slow and of limited abilities. This ship (commissioned in 1937) was damaged during a collision in London in on 31 May 1939 and saw limited use afterwards.
(above: the destroyer Cuba sometime during the late 1930s)
WWII and beyond
Cuba joined the Allied cause in 1942. A large number of USN ships and aircraft were based all over the nation during the war. Six USCG gasoline-powered 44-ton patrol boats were transferred to the Cuban navy in 1943; numbered in the GC-__ series these craft survived until 1976. A 100-ton buoy tender Bertha (SF-10) was commissioned in 1944, it served until 1977.
After WWII ended, the United States hoped to build Cuba into a competent military ally. Under the auspices of the State Department’s “Foreign Liquidation Commission” program, ex-USN and ex-USCG assets were transferred:
The largest vessels were three Tacoma-class frigates: USS Eugene (PF-40) which became Jose Marti (F-301), USS Peoria (PF-67) which became Antonio Maceo (F-302), and USS Grand Island (PF-14) which became Maximo Gomez (F-303). All three were transferred together on 16 June 1947.
Despite never being modernized these frigates served on well past the revolution; Jose Marti made patrols until 1960 and then was a barracks ship before being scrapped in 1976. Maximo Gomez decommissioned in 1964 but was not scrapped until 1977, at Mariel Bay. Antonio Maceo sank pierside during a storm in 1975.
In November 1947 the State Department also donated two unnamed WWII coastal escorts which became Caribe (H-201, PE-201 after the revolution) and Siboney (H-101, later PE-302). Caribe was decommissioned in the 1960s but Siboney served until 1975.
Also donated with the three frigates in 1947 were four WWII 130-ton submarine chasers: Oriente (GC-104) (ex-SC-1000), Las Villas (GC-106) (ex-SC-1290), Habana (GC-107) (ex-SC-1291), and Pinar Del Rio (GC-108) (ex-SC-1391); these four ships survived as late as 1978.
In 1948, the USN sold the WWII-era tug ATR-4, this became the Cuban Diez de Octubre which served into the 1980s. Along with the tug were sold PT-715 and PT-716, these wooden-hulled torpedo boats were renumbered R-41 and R-42 and served until 1975. Three 58-ton American harbour workboats A-1, A-2, and A-3 were delivered in 1949 and served until 1988.
There was also some indigenous shipbuilding during this era. An 80-ton corvette Leoncio Prado (GC-101) was built at Havana in 1946 and served until 1977. Seven 40’ harbour patrol boats were built at Havana in the late 1940s, numbered in the GF-___ series. These were given to the Border Guard after the revolution and served into the late 1970s, as did fourteen smaller Type SV harbour patrol boats built during the early 1950s in Cuba. Additionally a small one-off patrol boat Guanabacoa was bought from Spain, it served until 1975.
Cuban navy in the communist era
In 1952, Fulgencio Batista (who led an earlier coup in 1933) overthrew the democratic government and installed himself as dictator. His reign was marked by corruption and in 1959, Fidel Castro’s communists seized power. Below is a listing of the types operated by the contemporary Cuban navy.
Three Project 641K (“Foxtrot”) submarines were delivered to Cuba on 2 July 1979, 8 Mar 1980, and 22 Feb 1984; numbered 725, 727, and 729 respectively. These were in fact the final three “Foxtrot”s ever built and feature a slightly different limber-hole arrangement on the outer hull. For legal purposes the Soviet navy assigned them pennant numbers B-309, B-586, and B-510 before and during the actual delivery voyages.
(above: Cuban “Foxtrot” underway in 1986) (official USN photograph)
The presence of ocean-going submarines so close to the United States was of course worrisome at the time, but in retrospect the Cuban navy (having never operated submarines before) were ill-suited to fully utilize this asset. Patrols were irregular and tactics poor; the Cuban subs spent almost all of their time on the surface. Cuban submarine ASW abilities were judged very low or non-existent. Maintenance was difficult, for example a basic overhaul of 725 which started in March 1986 was not completed until January 1992.
The last observed dive by a Cuban submarine was in late 1991 and the last mission of any type was in 1992. Number 727 withdrawn for a refit in July 1989 which was never completed. The submarine force was formally disestablished as a separate arm on 31 March 1998. Number 729 was decommissioned in 1997 and 725 in 1998. Both had been undermanned and unseaworthy for years before.
A single Project 613 (“Whiskey”) class submarine was delivered under tow to Cienfuegos in April 1979 for use as a battery-charging barge. It was delivered with the propellers, periscopes, and torpedo tube breeches removed. It’s ultimate fate is unknown.
A unique mini-sub was spotted in Havana harbour during 2008. It appears similar in concept to some of the Iranian units of this genre. Armament (if any), sensors, propulsion, and role are unknown.
Project 1159 “Koni” class: Three of these frigates were transferred by the USSR, they were of the subvariant also transferred to Libya with long deckhouse and additional air conditioning. Numbers were 350, 353 (changed to 383 in October 1988), and 356. Number 350 had previously briefly served in the Soviet Black Sea fleet as SKR-28 for the purpose of training the first Cuban crew. Number 350 was apparently semi-officially named Mariel while 353 was sometimes referred to as Monkado. The other frigate was only referred to by number.
Despite Soviet efforts (including a joint exercise between 356 and the helicopter carrier Moskva in July 1984) the Cubans never really developed tactics to use these ships to their full potential. The frigates were based at Cienfuegos. Post-1991, upkeep of their SAMs and gas turbines as impossible without Soviet help and 356 was scuttled in 1996, while 383 was stripped and sold to the Cayman Islands in 1998 where it was also scuttled. Number 350 remains nominally in commission and in 1999 Cuba announced it was beginning a refit, however nothing was ever done and it is now realistically beyond repair.
Project 1241PE “Pauk II” class: This ship, numbered 321, was built by the Yaroslav shipyard in the USSR and delivered via tow in May 1990. It was the final warship received with Soviet funding aid, and three more transfers of this class were cancelled by the Russian Federation.
Project 1226 “Kronshtadt” class: Six ex-Soviet units of this class were transferred in February 1962. Two were scrapped in 1982 and the other four in 1985.
Project 201M “SO-1” class: Six of these Soviet subchasers were transferred in 1964 and six more in 1967. Three were discarded in 1983, five in 1985, and the last four in 1989.
Project 183R “Komar” class: Twenty of these wooden-hulled missile boats were used; a dozen were delivered via a Soviet merchant ship in 1962 (the delivery was shadowed by the USN) and eight more in 1966. This class was discarded en masse between 1982-1985.
Project 183 Bolshevik (“P-6”) class: A dozen of these torpedo boats were delivered in 1962 through 1964, six had all been decommissioned by 1984 and the rest in 1989.
Project 123K Komsomolets “P-4” class: Twelve ex-Soviet units were delivered between 1962-1964. Six were discarded in 1983 and the rest in 1985-1987.
Project 205 “Osa-I” class: Two were delivered in 1972, two in 1973, and two more in 1974. One was scrapped in 1981 (perhaps following an accident) and the other five in 1995 although they had ceased regular patrols before that.
Project 205 “Osa-II” class: Thirteen of this class was used by the Cuban navy: two were delivered in 1977, three in 1978, two in 1979, two in 1982, and four in 1982. These were by most standards the mainstay of the Cuban navy. In 1984, several were refit with lockers for SA-N-5 “Grail” MANPADS. Seven were deleted throughout the 1990s and the remaining six remain nominally available (see Active Forces section below) albeit in reduced status.
Project 206M Shtorm “Turya” class: Cuba was the first foreign recipient of this hydrofoil class. Two (101, 102) were delivered in February 1979, two (108, 112) in February 1980, two (130,165) in January 1981, two (178, 180) in January 1983, and the final unit (193) in November 1983. In 1984 they al had lockers for SA-N-5 “Grail” MANPADS installed, as in the “Osa-II” units. They were almost never observed in ASW exercises and instead used as general patrol boats.
Project 205P “Stenka” class”: Three of these ships were delivered directly to the Border Guard, two in February 1985 and one in August 1985. The Soviets removed the sonar and torpedo tubes before transfer.
Project 1400M Grif “Zhuk” class: Twenty-one of these small patrol boats were transferred between December 1971 and February 1984. Of these, three were re-transferred to Nicaragua in 1987. Another batch of nineteen was transferred in December 1989, in part to replace worn-out craft of the original deliveries. By 1995 there were twenty-seven still in use, many assigned to the Border Guard. About ten of these were allowed to go derelict during the early 2000s. Some have had the aft gun removed.
Amphibious Assault ships
Project 771 “Polochny-B” class: Two of these Polish-built LSTs were transferred from the Soviet navy, 601 in September 1982 and 690 in December 1982 (this ship was delivered still with it‘s Soviet pennant number 442). Previously the USSR had frowned on transferring amphibious ships, perhaps due to Cuba’s location. These two were apparently demanded by Fidel Castro following the Cuban navy’s gross inability to reinforce the Grenada garrison earlier that year. Number 601 was decommissioned for cannibalization in 1991, 690 was decommissioned in 1998.
Project 306 “T-4” class LCM: Seven of these light beach craft were delivered one per year between 1967-1972, and a final one in 1974. They never took part in any exercises and were instead used as harbour lighters and storage barges. They are now all derelict.
Project 1258 “Yevgenya” class: A dozen of these inshore minesweepers were transferred between November 1977 - September 1984; they were all ex-Soviet navy ships mostly from the Baltic fleet. Numbers were 501, 502, 504, 507, 509, 510, 511, 512, 513, 514, 531, and 538. They were split into two six-ship squadrons assigned to the Eastern and Western commands. Eight of these ships were decommissioned in the early 2000s.
Project 1265 “Sonya” class: Four of these ocean-going minesweepers were delivered, 560 in August 1980, 561 in December 1980, 570 in January 1985 and 578 in December 1985. They rarely participated in MCM exercises and were instead used as OPVs. The first two were decommissioned in 1995.
Project 1799 “Pelym” class ADG: One of these degaussing ships (SR-77 of the Soviet navy) was transferred via tow in February 1982 to support the “Foxtrot” fleet and numbered 40.
Project 871 “Biya” class AGS: One of these Polish-built survey vessels was delivered in 1970, renamed Guama (H-103).
Project 525M “Yelva” class YDT: Two of these diving tenders were transferred in 1973, one is numbered B-015 and the other was apparently transferred for spares.
Arminza class AGI: A single ship, Isla de la Juventud, of this Spanish-built trawler class was converted into an intelligence ship in 1980. It’s fate is unknown but it has not been seen for years now.
Two “Poluchat-I” class TRVs were delivered in 1982-1983. Numbered RT-83 and RT-84, the first was cannibalized in 1994. Six “Nyrat” class YDTs were transferred; two in 1978 and four in 1984. Numbers were H-91 through H-96. The first two were cannibalized in 1994. Four 1950s-vintage “Orel” class tugs were transferred from the Soviet Ministry Of Fisheries in 1985 and used by the navy, numbered R-21, R-23, R-27, and R-29. All are now decommissioned, replaced by three “Promotey“ class tugs in 1972. A single “Okhtensky” class tug was delivered in 1976 and renamed Caribe, it decommissioned in 1993. In 1972, a 600-ton Spanish-built trawler was moved from the Cuban state fishing fleet and renamed Siboney (H-101) as a training ship. In 1979, an 1100-ton Spanish-built buoy tender Taino (H-102) entered service.
There were fourteen Mi-14PL “Haze-A” ASW helicopters delivered in the late 1970s/early 1980s; followed by four Ka-28 “Helix-A” helicopters in the late 1980s. All are nominally still in service (see Active Forces” section below).
(above: Cuban navy Mi-14 “Haze”, the truck is an American-built M-35 “deuce and a half” dating to the pre-revolution era)
Active forces (as of 2009)
According to Jane’s Fighting Ships the entire Cuban navy was in disarray by 1994 due to fuel shortages and maintenance problems. In 1997, a Cuban newspaper stated that the navy was being “realigned” with the decommissioning of all blue-water ships, conglomeration of the former independent commands, and an emphasis on shore-based coastal defense.
The single “Pauk II” is still active, possibly with the ASW systems deactivated. It was decommissioned in 1997 but re-commissioned in 2000 after Chinese assistance. As part of the refit, two 23mm AA guns were mounted on the extreme stern, to either side of the VDS.
Four “Osa II” units remain (261, 262, 268, and 274); in the early 2000s the these had the “Drum Tilt” gun control radar deleted and a 2M3 twin 23mm taken from a decommissioned ship installed on it’s mount. A HF whip antenna is installed on these craft’s main decks, this may mean the Soviet-era radios are no longer operational. In 2006 it was reported that all of the “Styx” rounds had been offloaded to build more shore-based launchers (see Coastal Defense section below) however the firing canisters remain aboard these four. Another two are derelict and unlikely to see further use.
A “Stenka” class patrol boat remains operational, it has the 2M3 installed in place of the “Muff Cob” fire control radar as described above. It is allocated to the border guard. Two others decommissioned in 2005 but are still afloat. There are still a few of the “Turya” hydrofoils afloat, but with torpedo tubes deleted. They rarely go to sea.
At least one (and possibly two) Rio Damuji class OPVs (converted Spanish-built fishing trawler) are in service, the one unit seen at Havana is now armed with two SS-N-2 “Styx” missiles taken from a decommissioned “Osa II” class craft. The single “Pelym” class ADG had all degaussing gear deleted in 1998 and is likewise now used as an OPV. Two “Sonya” class ocean-going minesweepers (570 and 578) remain, although neither has been observed in MCM exercises in many years. There are four “Yevgenya” class inshore minesweepers remaining, of unknown readiness level. The MG-7 sonars are almost certainly non-operational.
Two dozen “Zhuk” patrol boats remain, in varying degrees of readiness. These types are the most active due to their low operating costs and almost all are now assigned to the Border Guard.
The three “Promotey” class tugs remain operational, as does the buoy tender Taino (H-102).The “Biya” class survey ship Guama (H-103) remains operational but with a civilian crew. It is backed up by Siboney (H-101), still in use as of 2009. There are three Cuban-built small yard craft designated “Lamda” and numbered H-76, H-77, and H-78 in service. They are of 1960s vintage and need replacement.
The naval aviation wing has basically collapsed due to fuel shortages with only sporadic flights by the “Haze” helicopters for SAR and daylight reconnaissance missions. The “Helix” helicopters have not been seen for some years and neither type conducts ASW training any longer.
(above: An “Osa-II” class ship tows a “Stenka” out of Havana harbour after a 2007 engine breakdown. Note that both have a 2M3 gun mount in place of their aft fire control radars.)
A “Border Guard Of The Ministry Of The Interior” was established after the revolution, modeled on the KGB Border Guard. It’s vessels wear red pennant numbers. Since the 1990s, the Border Guard vessels have received a higher maintenance priority than the regular navy. In February 2003, a four-man small craft of the Border Guard defected to Key West, FL.
There is a marine corps that at the height of the Cold War numbered 7000 well-trained troops. By 2009, this had shrunk to 550 troops. The naval infantry are known to operate PT-76 amphibious tanks.
The navy is responsible for a portion of the coastal defense troops, which today consists of artillery, AA systems, and road-mobile SSC-3 “Styx” coastal defense missiles. Additionally some actual shipboard-type SS-N-2 “Styx” launchers from decommissioned “Osa” ships have been refitted to serve with the coastal defense forces, mounted on wheeled sleds and hidden in bunkers (in one case, former SA-2 “Guideline” hangars) and then wheeled out to launch. There is at least one MAZ TEL (transporter-erector-launcher) from a FROG-7 rocket fitted with a “Styx”.
There are also an unknown number of CSS-C-3 “Seersucker” coastal defense missiles which were supplied by China in the late 1990s/early 2000s. One of these has been observed fitted to a tank chassis.
The SSC-2A “Salish” systems are now all discarded.
This is the yacht which Castro returned to Cuba aboard to start the revolution, it has been left in perpetual commission since. In 1976, Granma was hauled ashore to halt further hull rotting.
For much of it’s history the Cuban navy’s rank system mirrored the USN’s with E-1 - E-9 enlisted, WO-1 - WO-3 warrant officers, and O-1 - O-9 officer; however the post-revolution navy also had a rank (“almirante”) that would equate to O-10.
Due to the collapse of the navy the enlisted structure was changed in 1999 and there are now only four ranks: Seaman, which covers all draftees; and three grades of Sergeant for rated personnel.
(Post-1959 only. The national flag is often used instead.)
Bahia de Nipe: Small anchorage opposite Guantanamo Bay, now disused.
Cabanas: Closed in 1999. (Former HQ-Western Command.)
Cienfuegos: Port facilities, submarine facilities (now closed), drydock. This was also the main base for visiting Soviet ships during the cold war, and included facilities for handling shipboard nuclear weapons.
Granma: Naval Infantry HQ
Havana: GHQ, port facilities, drydock, naval aviation.
Holguin: Former HQ-Eastern Command, port facilities.
Mariel: Port facilities, naval aviation (home airbase of ASW helicopter division).
Nicaro: Port facilities, substantial coastal defense facilities.
Punta Movida: Port facilities, armory for shipboard missiles (also connected via secure railroad to Cienfuegos).
This USN base on Cuba’s southern coast was obtained during the Spanish-American War. In 1903, the USN leased it “in perpetuity” for $2000 annually. In 1943 the lease was amended to increase the rent to $3085 and also allow Cuban use of the base. After the revolution the latter clause was of course revoked. Fidel Castro has long since voided the lease and for many years now, Cuba has refused to accept the annual payments. The base itself is small with an airstrip, barracks, some minor port facilities, and some EW gear. The base perimeter is heavily land-mined. Since 2002 it is also the prison for captured terrorists. Guarding and supplying it probably costs the USN more than it is worth and it basically still exists only due to it’s unique geopolitical situation. It is likely that if there is a pro-Western change in government in Cuba, the USN will either scale back or relinquish the base.
The height of the Cuban navy’s power was perhaps in 1989, with about 9000 sailors and officers serving and all of the above-listed modern era ships and submarines active. Since the end of Soviet aid, the collapse has been remarkable, even when compared to other former Soviet-satellite navies. By 2009 there are only 2450 men remaining, manning the paltry force described in the “Active Forces” section above. The spare parts shortages have leveled out, basically because the navy has hit rock-bottom and only sails with the most unsophisticated systems. More troubling are constant fuel shortages. By 2010 the newest ship will be a fifth of a century old, and most are even older than that still.
Even at it’s height, the Cuban navy did not play much into USN strategy. Even with no preparation or reinforcement, the USA could bring to bear massive force against Cuba‘s navy: a squadron of F-16s at Homestead AFB, FL; the six Pegasus PHMs at NAS Key West, FL; and an Harpoon-capable ASW aircraft squadron at Roosevelt Roads, PR. Beyond this there were always additional substantial USN and USCG assets in the Caribbean.
Assuming a pro-American leader takes over from Raul Castro, substantial American aid is likely however given the crippled state of the Cuban economy defense spending will probably be a low priority.