The History of Soviet Submarines and Soviet Project 629A

An top view of a WW1 era Soviet Submarine deployed in the Baltic Sea

The Russian usage of submarines as a form of warfare dates back to 1914 when the Imperial Russian army launched twenty two submarines as reconnaissance vehicles in the Baltic, Barents, and Black seas. A majority of these submarines were scrapped or decommissioned as the Russians began to withdraw from the war efforts of the First World War. As the Bolshevik Revolution spread through Russia, a majority of the naval forces were recalled to fight against the revolution. Following the Russian Revolution and the rise of the USSR, eleven submarines were salvaged by the red army with eight being deployed to the Baltic and the remaining three deployed to the Black Sea. It wasn’t until the first Soviet Five Year Plan in the late 1920’s, in which the Soviets sought to increase their military presence across the expanse of their territory, that submarine production began.1 The Soviets began to produce armed submarines to combat both the threats of German and Japanese imperialist expansions in the East and West. By the outbreak of the Second World War, the USSR had a fleet of submarines totaling over one hundred fifty. The total damage caused by Soviet Submarines during the Second World War was over 253,000 tons.2

The Cold War

A Soviet Propaganda Poster depicting an on duty member of a submarine crew

The outbreak of tensions between the Western Capitalist nations and the USSR following the end of the war caused an instantaneous increase in Soviet spending on their arsenal in all regards, but specifically in tactical positioning of nuclear weaponry. Submarines allowed for stealthy and efficient transportation and strategical placement of nuclear weapons across the various Soviet influenced territories. As tensions with the United States grew, the Soviet need to position nuclear warheads across the Atlantic and the Pacific also grew and necessitated new initiatives to increase the range, capacity, and efficiency of their submarine fleet. By the mid 1960s, the USSR had nuclear submarines positioned across two oceans with the capacity to reach both coasts of the United States.3 The navy was a large source of economy and pride for the Soviet people because of the vast amount of jobs that were necessitated to keep the navy running as well as what the arsenal represented. Propaganda and displays of dominance were key during the cold war because of the importance of both sides representing tactical abilities.

Project 629A

Project 629A submarines were a class of diesel-electric ballistic missile submarines that served the Soviet and Chinese Navy’s during the Cold War. In total, twenty three 629A submarines were completed and operated between 1958 until the projects dismantlement in 1990. Project 629A submarines were based on the earlier Foxtrot class of submarine but were modified for the purpose of being able to carry three ballistic missiles. The development of the vessels coincided with the development of the D-2 launch system technology, which enabled for the launch of targeted missiles from underwater.4 Throughout the cold war, 629A submarines were used to strategically move Russian missile vantages around the oceans. However, as arms tensions with the United States eased up in the later end of the century, 629A ships were mostly recommissioned to test new missiles.

The Kamchatka Peninsula in Northeastern Russia
Severodvinsk, a manufacturing center of Soviet Submarines

The Soviets were strategic in making sure that manufacturing and deployment of their submarines were distributed across the entire expanse of their territory. As important as the West was for securing Soviet domination over their rivals, the Pacific also posed a threat due to the United States vast array of militaristic power through the entire ocean.5 Soviet initiatives sought to build up the Northeastern Pacific coastline to strategically arm the Eastern USSR for both defensive and offensive capability against the United States. Weapons facilities and intelligence bases propped up in the desolate straits of Siberia, becoming the generators of the economy and expanding the reach of the Soviet War machine.6 Because the Soviets utilized previously non-industrialized regions of their empire to fuel to manufacture their weapons of war, they displaced large numbers of indigenous Siberians and local communities in the process of establishing connecting lines of transport between their various bases of operation. The growth of these operations also necessitated the building of communities to house workers, troops and their families, generating multitudes of manufacturing cities across the Russian expanse.7

Submarine Specifications

629A submarines were advanced technology for their time and were representative of the USSR/USA arms race to demonstrate domination through nuclear capability. K129 was one of twenty two submarines of this class, and one of six that were assigned to the Pacific Ocean.

Length98.4 m (323 ft) (629)98.9 m (629A)
Beam8.2 m (27 ft)
Draught7.85 m (25.8 ft) (629)8.5 m (629A)
Propulsion3 × diesel engines, each 2,000 bhp (1,500 kW); 3 × electric motors, 5,200 shp (3,880 kW); 3 shafts
Speedsurface – 17 kn (31 km/h; 20 mph), 9,500 nmi (17,600 km; 10,900 mi)/5 kn (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph); submerged – 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph)
Range70 day on open water
Test depth260 m (design)300 m (maximum)
Complement80 (629)83 (629A)
Armament1958: 3 × missile tubes3 × Project 629 boats D-1 launch system with R-11FM missiles
1962: D-2 launch system with R-13 missiles
1966: D-4 launch system with R-21 missiles, 6 × 533 mm torpedo tubes
Ship schematics come from the public Miramar Ship index

End of the Cold War and Modern Era

Following the dismantling of project 629A, a portion of the remaining submarines were sold to North Korea and were repurposed into the nuclear submarines that the communist nation operates today in order to maintain nuclear competition with the United States and Nato.7 Both the United States and Russia still operate nuclear capable submarines although tensions and threats of nuclear war have severely diminished since the fall of the USSR. Project 629A played a pivotal role in Soviet nuclear arms development and holds a lasting impact on the global state of nuclear affairs.


  1. Vego, Milan. “The Role of the Attack Submarines in Soviet Naval Theory.
  2. Vego, Milan. “The Role of the Attack Submarines in Soviet Naval Theory.
  3. Laird, Robbin F., and Dale R. Herspring. “The Soviet Union and the Strategic Arms Race.”
  4. Critchley, W. Harriet. “Polar Deployment of Soviet Submarines.”
  5. Critchley, W. Harriet. “Polar Deployment of Soviet Submarines.”
  6. Critchley, W. Harriet. “Polar Deployment of Soviet Submarines.”
  7. Senn, Alfred Erich. Journal of Cold War Studies 18
  8. Senn, Alfred Erich. Journal of Cold War Studies 18