Russian Warship Explodes In Massive Fireball After Cruise Missile Strike (Updated)

It appears that a Russian warship, or the pier it was tied to, blew up, with Ukraine’s Air Force chief claiming responsibility.

byTyler Rogoway|
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Among multiple explosions, a huge fireball rose high above the pier in the Crimean coastal city of Feodosia early Tuesday morning local time. According to Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, a strike by his forces destroyed the Ropucha class landing ship Novocherkassk. While we cannot confirm the general's claim, based on open source imagery, a vessel very similar to a Ropucha class ship has been photographed on fire or next to a pier that is on fire.

Editor's note: The Novocherkassk is destroyed. Russia is saying it was air-launched cruise missiles that hit it. See updates at the bottom of this post.

In addition, low-resolution satellite imagery taken by Planet Labs on the 24th does show a Ropucha class vessel in the same berth.

"And the fleet in Russia is getting smaller and smaller! Thanks to the Air Force pilots and everyone involved for the filigree work!" Oleschuk declared on Telegram, according to Reuters.

Planet Labs imagery taken on the 24th shows the planform of a Ropucha class ship docked where the ship is seen burning in imagery after the blast. PHOTO © 2023 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION
The Ropucha class landing ship Novocherkassk. (Vadim Indeikin via Wikicommons)

Feodosia sits on the southeastern shore of Crimea, about 60 miles from the Kerch Bridge to the east and 100 miles from Sevastopol to the west.

Google Earth

The town features a relatively small harbor and pier that can support a handful of cargo ships. It's worth noting that the harbor does have booms and barriers at its entrance to keep unmanned surface vessels (USVs) at bay and to foil other forms of surface/subsurface attacks.

Image taken on 10/14/23 of the harbor in Feodosia. PHOTO © 2023 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

Claims are floating around that the ship was carrying Iranian-supplied munitions, although we have seen nothing in terms of real evidence to back this up. Clearly, the vessel and/or the pier were laden with some very high-explosive cargo.

Regardless, these vessels, which are built primarily for executing beach assaults, have taken on many roles during Russia's nearly two-year-long all-out war with Ukraine. These have included everything from cargo hauling to providing ferry services. They were also very active globally in the final lead-up to Russia's invasion, transferring materiel from around the globe to Russia's ports on the Black Sea.

The Ropucha fleet has suffered throughout the conflict, with multiple examples being badly damaged by Ukrainian strikes. Even the same ship supposedly struck today was thought to have been damaged in another pier-side explosion earlier in the war.

If Ukraine had intelligence that the Novocherkassk was laden with munitions and weaponry, it would have presented a prime target for Ukrainian forces. The Ukrainian Air Force's Su-24 Fencers have been put to work as Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG cruise missile launch platforms, which would have been the logical weapon in this case. Such a strike would have mirrored those on another Ropucha class ship and a Kilo class submarine in drydock in Sevastopol, as well as a more recent strike near Kerch that destroyed a brand-new Russian missile corvette.

On the other hand, it could have been prosecuted by another system, such as via a long-range drone strike. Even catastrophic accidents are possible, too. We just don't know enough at this time.

We will update this post when new information becomes available.

Update: 5:00 AM EST –

The latest reports indicate that the Russian Ministry of Defense has indeed confirmed that the landing ship Novocherkassk was at least damaged in an attack that involved a Ukrainian air-launched cruise missile. At this stage, there appears to be no official word from the Russian Ministry of Defense on the severity of the damage — something that is far from uncommon in these kinds of incidents.

As well as a sardonic reference to Spongebob Squarepants, the latest 'kill tally' posted to social media by the Ukrainian Air Force includes the Novocherkassk — as well as the 13 Iranian-designed Shahed-series one-way attack drones that it also claims to have destroyed overnight.

Update: 5:30 AM EST –

A photo posted to the Telegram messaging app by a pro-Ukrainian military account shows what is purported to be wreckage left in the aftermath of the attack on the Novocherkassk. While the original source of the photo cannot be verified at this point, the photo would suggest that the vessel was completely burnt out. The same account claims that the landing ship had been loaded with Iranian-supplied Shahed drones, which are known to be regularly launched from Russian-occupied Crimea. It also states that a nearby tugboat, identified as MB-304, was also damaged by fire in the attack.

A video has also appeared on social media showing apparent damage to a railway station in Feodosia, the result of the blast wave that resulted from the cruise missile attack. Pro-Ukrainian accounts claim that suburban train services have been disrupted.

Update: 10:00 AM EST –

The detonation of the Novocherkassk in Feodosia appears to have been so violent that it left parts of the landing ship scattered over the surrounding area, at least according to the claim in the video below.

Update: 2:13 PM EST—

Russia now admits the ship was 'damaged' specifically in an air-launched cruise missile attack. Score one more hull for the Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG it would seem.

A new video gives us the best look at the massive explosion:

Low resolution imagery from Planet Labs shows the aftermath of the attack. The Ropucha that was once there is now a husk of its former self and appears to have pulled away from the pier. An oil slick is also visible emanating from it. It is still unclear how bad the damage is to other ships at the pier as well as the infrastructure there.

Before, taken on the 24th, and after, taken today:

PHOTO © 2023 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION
PHOTO © 2023 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

Some additional analysis on this strike:

Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG is an outstanding anti-ship weapon when those ships are in port/fully static. Add smaller ports where air defenses are less dense (compared to Sevastopol) and then add a target that is heavily laden with high-explosives — much bigger chance at full write off and secondary damage to infrastructure (which could have a bigger impact that destroying the ship) and other ships — and you have a perfect target.

Intel on what was on that ship and the window for attack was likely the main catalyst for executing it. Yes, for taking that explosive materiel off the table but more so because of the massive secondary explosion potential it had. Choosing targets with major secondary potential has been a key facet of this war on both sides, but Ukraine using its precious cruise missiles in this manner makes absolute sense and we will likely be seeing more of it going forward.

Contact the author: tyler@thedrive.com

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