The Pantera in World War II.
Few submarines served in both World Wars I and II. Indeed, only one readily comes to mind: the tsarist-era Pantera (Panther). She also fought with great success in the Russian Civil War of 1917-22.
Built at Revel (now Tallinn) in Estonia in 1914-16, the Pantera was one of 24 submarines of the Bars class. These were advanced undersea craft for their time, each armed with two bow and two stern torpedo tubes, as well as eight of the unusual Dzhevetski drop-collar type torpedo launchers.
With the Dzhevetski system, each of the eight torpedoes was held secure in a set of metal “collars” external to the hull of the submarine. The rear end of the torpedo was held by a pivot that allowed the torpedo to be swung horizontally out to 90 degrees. The torpedo’s compressed air engine then was engaged, and it was launched at the desired angle to the target ship. It was an effective system that enabled the simultaneous launch of a large number of torpedoes. The drawback was that the torpedo was a relatively sensitive object, and being mounted outside the pressure hull, it was particularly susceptible to damage resulting from changes in water pressure as the submarine submerged and surfaced. The torpedoes also were highly vulnerable to ice damage.
Stefan Karloviy Dzhevetski also designed a series of submarines. These included small, coastal defense craft, with 50 of those submersibles being ordered by the War Ministry. In addition, he designed large submarine “cruisers” and proposed a “unified” submarine engine for both surface and submerged propulsion for the Russian Navy, although neither of those proposals was accepted.
Upon completion, the Pantera operated in the Baltic against German forces. She made several short-term patrols but scored no successes. On 14 June 1917, she was attacked by a German airship, suffered damage, and was forced to return to base for repairs.
The Pantera's sister ship, the Lioness.
With the Russian revolution in the fall of 1917, most naval forces—including submarines—remained in port. During the civil war that followed, however, the Pantera undertook several patrols against the British “interventionist” forces in the Baltic area. On 23 July 1919, commanded by Alexander N. Bakhtin, the Pantera attacked the British submarine E-40 unsuccessfully. But on 31 August, she approached several British ships near Seskar Island in the Gulf of Finland. The Pantera launched two torpedoes from her forward tubes at the 1,100-ton British destroyer Vittoria. The destroyer, just completed in 1917, quickly sank—the major Russian submarine success of the World War I era and the only destroyer-type warship ever to be sunk by Russian undersea craft.
Pursued by British ships, the Pantera remained submerged for more than 24 hours and sailed 75 miles, establishing a submerged record for submarines of that period. (Bakhtin would fall out of favor in the 1920s; sent to the gulag work camps, he died five years after his incarceration.)
At the end of 1922, the Soviet regime renamed the surviving tsarist submarines. The Pantera, also designated B-2, was renamed Komissar in the scheme of “politically correct” names of the new regime—although her crews continued to call her Pantera.
The Pantera in World War I.
Routine operations followed. During her 1924 overhaul, the drop-collar torpedoes were removed, and in 1927 she was fitted for trials with one of the first passive sonars in the Soviet fleet. In 1934-35, the (former) Pantera underwent an extensive refit, during which two watertight bulkheads were installed within her pressure hull. At the time she was built, watertight bulkheads had been rejected by many tsarist naval officers because they could prevent them from observing their crews.
At the beginning of World War II in September 1939, the Pantera operated in the Baltic. Showing her age, and with the Soviet Union having the world’s largest submarine force at the time, she was withdrawn from service on 10 January 1940. She was designated as a floating battery charging station at Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) on 11 May 1942. The submarine provided this service until the end of the war.
The Pantera was stricken from the Navy’s inventory list in 1955 and scrapped. She was the last tsarist-era submarine afloat.
In 2007, Bakhtin was honored by a plaque installed in St. Petersburg that celebrates both the officer and the first submarine Pantera. The latter’s name has been assigned to a modern submarine, a Project 971/Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (also given the designation K-317). That Pantera remains in active service.
Mr. Polmar is coauthor of Submarines of the Russian and Soviet Navies, 1718—1990 (1991) and of Cold War Submarines (2004). Both volumes are being updated for publication by the Naval Institute Press.