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Always ahead of Times

Over its history, the Sormovo shipyard has many times been a pioneer of technical progress. It saw Russia’s first open hearth furnace, first Soviet tank, first all-welded paddle steamer, the country’s first industrial continuous steel casting plant, the world’s first passenger hydrofoil and the world’s first double-hulled floating crane. As Krasnoye Sormovo is celebrating a major anniversary this year, its people are recalling the shipyard’s glorious history and pondering over present days.

The founder and then the sole owner of the new shipyard on the Volga River near Nizhny Novgorod, central Russia, was Dmitry Yegorovich Benardaki, a Russian industrialist of Greek origin. Together with two Russian princes, Lev Kochubei and Vladimir Menshchikov, «retired poruchik» Benardaki estab lished a company with a long name and ambitious plans: Nizhny Novgorod Machine Factory and Volga–Kama Steam Navigation Line.

In March 1849, the founders allocated 500,000 rubles in silver for the factory’s construction. And on July 21, the Balakhna County Court approved the purchase of the land for the future plant between villages Sormovo and Myshyakovka.

No doubt, the Sormovo shipyard, which will celebrate its 170th birthday on July 21, 2019, was Bernardaki’s favourite child. He invested his money, energy, will, intuition and luck to fulfill his dream to build ships. Like no one else, Bernardaki realized the importance of the Volga, this free Russian highway and the water artery that feeds the country’s economy.

The shipyard’s operational management was entrusted to Alexei Ivanovich Uzatis, retired major of the Mining Engineer Corps.

Mikhail Pershin,

General Director, Krasnoye Sormovo

Due to the long-term experience in shipbuilding, Krasnoye Sormovo has been firmly holding the status of a leading civilian shipyard for many years. Making use of our production and intellectual potential, we are manufacturing next-generation vessels and constantly improving the quality of the products, both the ones in production and under development. We are constantly renewing and upgrading our products, expanding the market for civilian vessels and preserving our operations in the segment of special machinebuilding. Thanks to this, the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard is well known both in this country and abroad.

This «union» between Benardaki and Uzatis lasted for over 20 years and laid down the basis of Sormovo’s key activities for many decades to come. Building commercial vessels (first wooden, then with a metal hull — for the first time in Russia); executing orders from the Naval Ministry; manufacturing steam boilers, ship mechanisms and a dredger; making vessels for the Caspian Sea; installing Russia’s first open hearth furnace — these are just some of the things the Sormovo shipyard did during the first, 20-year long period in its history, when it was run by Bernardaki. As soon as in 1856, almost half of all Russian steamers in the Volga–Kama basin were the ones built in Sormovo. And in the late 1860s, the factory launched production of railway machinery.

The first Sormovo-built vessel was named Lastockha (meaning «swallow» in Russian). By 1870, the shipyard had already constructed 80 vessels: capstan vessels and anchor delivery boats for them, steam tugs, barges and others. A year after Dmitry Bernardaki’s death, in 1871, the Sormovo shipyard built the first Russian two-decked passenger steamer, named Perevorot (Russian for «revolution»; later she was renamed Colorado). This luxurious steamer provided unprecedented comfort and an upstream speed of 12 km/h. She marked a revolution in river shipbuilding: double-deckers became a trend in the construction of river steamers for decades to come, all the way till the mid-20th century. And the Sormovo shipyard, which was renamed Krasnoye Sormovo («red Sormovo») in 1922, has seen many revolutions like this, when the plant was ahead of the times.

From an oil schooner to a chemical tanker

In 1887, the Sormovo shipyard launched an oil schooner, named Minin. She was a 320-horsepower screw tanker with a displacement of 500 tons. The schooner replaced barges with casks, which were used for transporting oil from southern Baku oil fields to inner regions of Russia. This gave a start to a new line of Sormovo’s commercial activities: construction of river oil carriers. The shipyard built 14 of them in four years. Featuring bold in-house technical solutions, a powerful power plant and high cargo capacity, these vessels were recognized the best in the class. Besides steam engines, they had sails on masts, which guaranteed a speed of nine knots.

In 1903, Sormovo shipbuilders launched the first river oil-carrying motor ship, named Vandal. She became the first diesel-powered ship on the Volga and in the world.

A series of oil tankers were built in the 1930s. They were huge for the time and were considered as major achievements of the shipyard. Before World War II broke out, Krasnoye Sormovo had build 11 tankers of the class; their displacement was 11,940 or 7,600 tons.

Alexander Tsepilov,

Technical Director, Krasnoye Sormovo

In the early 1990s, the shipyard went through a «zero conversion,» when all the military orders were cancelled and we had to look for our niche in the conditions of market economy. Today we can build ten river-sea class vessels a year and efficiently adapt to the construction of new projects. We would not have achieved this if, in the 2000s, we hadn’t started radical modernization of our production facilities and set up a technological conveyor, splitting a vessel’s construction cycle into separate technological operations. Since then, every year we’ve been re-equipping our production facilities, introducing automated equipment with modern numerical control systems. Only this is a way forward.

Over its entire history, the shipyard in Sormovo has constructed more than 200 tankers. And during the last 20 years, it has made 96 tankers and oil barges of different projects, meeting all the safety and reliability requirements stipulated in international conventions.

A number of vessels from Krasnoye Sormovo have gained recognition from foreign expert communities. Since 2004, Britain’s Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) has added five Sormovo-built vessels to the list of Significant Ships of the Year. These are the lead Project 19619 tanker, President Heydar Aliyev (2004), and her sister ship Zangezur (2009), which underwent a major upgrade.

For over 15 years, Project 19619 tankers have been the largest oil carriers in the Caspian Sea. Sormovo-built tankers are operating in the fleets of the Caspian countries on key Caspian fairways. Each of them can transport up to a million tons of oil and oil products.

Another Sormovo-built project, which was developed by the Volgo-Caspian Design Bureau, is the Project 19900 river-and-sea tanker with a deadweight of about 7,000 tons. The lead ship of the project, Jeyhun, was constructed for Turkmenistan’s State Service of Maritime and River Transport and recognized as one of the Significant Ships of 2010.

The Project 19614 tanker with a deadweight of 5,400 tons is an eager beaver for rivers; sailors love this vessel for her superb reliability and maintainability. From 2002 through 2011, Krasnoye Sormovo built 25 vessels of this project, which had been designed by the shipyard itself. For the early 21st century, this is a record number of same-project vessels, built by one shipyard.

But the record did not stand very long: in 2017, it was beaten by this very shipyard with the construction of Projects RST27 and RST27М tankers. The Marine Engineering Bureau has designed the project; and Krasnoye Sormovo has already produced 28 tankers of this family. The lead ship, VF Tanker-1, continued the good tradition and was named among the Significant Ships of 2011. The first upgraded Project RST27M tanker, Balt Flot 16, also deserved a place on this list in 2017.

Oleg Tyukayev,

Executive Director, Krasnoye Sormovo

Our main goal is to build with high quality and meet the deadlines. This is what customers value. While for serial Project RSD59 dry cargo vessels the technologies have been time-proven, the Project PV300 cruise liner is a lead vessel, and as we are working on her, we are gaining the experience of building modern river passenger vessels. I am sure our team will tackle this challenge successfully.

To achieve maximum economic effect, you need a cargo vessel with the highest possible deadweight. The efficiency of operating mixed-navigation ships, whose dimensions are limited by the conditions of internal waterways, can be increased through a rational hull design, higher block coefficient of fineness of displacement and an optimized propulsion system. The Projects RST27 and RST27M tankers enjoy the record block coefficient of fineness — 0.93.

Continuous improvement of serial vessel projects and willingness to meet the customers’ requests constitute the foundation for long-term partnership ties between the shipyard and shipping companies.

When working on Project RST27 tankers, Krasnoye Sormovo staff together with specialists from the Marine Engineering Bureau and the Volgo-Caspian Design Bureau never ceased to enhance the project. As a result, the Project RST27M vessel became a chemical tanker, which can safely transport dangerous cargoes and a wide range of vegetable oils. Compared to the Project RST27, she also received better sea-going qualities and extra 880 tons of deadweight (up to 7,900 tons).

A self-propelled barge and «super-full» dry cargo ships

In 1913, the Sormovo shipyard built a self-propelled barge, named Danilikha. This light dry cargo ship could carry 800 tons of freight with a draft of about one meter. As a result, she could easily reach Moscow, which was impossible for other steamers. Dry cargo vessels have traditionally accounted for a large share in the Russian commercial fleet; and the Sormovo shipyard had to resume their mass production several times in its history. The biggest batch — 120 vessels — was built from the late 1960s to the 1980s under Krasnoye Sormovo’s Project 1557. These are mixed river-sea vessels, custom-made for the Volga-Baltic waterway. Paying respect to the shipyard, this class of dry cargo vessels was dubbed Sormovsky. In 1985, Krasnoye Sormovo began to build the Volga-type dry cargo vessels; a total of 45 have been launched.

To date, the shipyard’s order portfolio for the current and upcoming years includes fifteen Project RSD59 dry cargo vessels, designed by the Marine Engineering Bureau. In 2018, the shipyard completed five of such vessels, contracted by Russia’s State Transport Leasing Company for Pola Rise Ltd. During the construction, thanks to the joint efforts of the shipyard’s designers and specialists, the vessels’ cargo capacity was increased by 800 tons (their deadweight is 5,269 in rivers, and 8,093 in seas).

The Project RSD59 has borrowed the «super-full» hull lines from the RST27 tanker, thus ensuring a high coefficient of fullness. The vessel has two dry cargo holds, one of which is almost 78 meters long — a record figure for vessels of the Volgo-Don Max class. This enables shipping of long cargoes, which is currently quite topical for the Caspian region.

Military production

In 1929, the Soviet Naval Directorate ordered a submarine «with a displacement of 580 metric tons.» The order also mentioned that the shipyard was to be ready to «build up construction to twenty submarines in case of war.» The country’s leadership was preparing for a war, so it seemed reasonable to set up submarine production far away from the borders.

Alexei Bulavin,

Deputy General Director for Development, Krasnoye Sormovo

If we look at the history of our enterprise, we’ll see a pretty wide range of manufactured products — from sewage hatches to double-decker railroad cars. This indicates the rich experience and versatility of our plant. And though presently Krasnoye Sormovo’s strategic priorities are on its activities as a shipyard, we are always ready to develop new areas.

Krasnoye Sormovo laid down its first Shchuka-class submarine on February 23, 1930; and the Soviet Navy received her in 1934. Submarine construction is a separate record in the shipyard’s chronicle, proving the heroism and high professionalism of Sormovo workers. There were periods when they would launch a new boat in a special floating dock every month. And in certain times — every ten days! This is the case with the Project 613 diesel submarines, the most numerous post-WWII class.

During 75 years of submarine construction, Krasnoye Sormovo built, upgraded and handed over to the Navy more than 300 submarines of different projects, including six nuclear ones.

In October 1941, the shipyard began to manufacture the T-34 tanks. During the World War II, the shipyard produced more than 13,000 tanks, 27,000 submarines and over 3,000,000 projectiles for the legendary Katyusha multiple rocket launcher.

A team of professionals

Ability to undertake the most challenging tasks and re-launch production of immensely sophisticated vessel types on an absolutely new level have become distinctive features of Krasnoye Sormovo. Without a tight-knit team, you can never achieve strategic or tactical goals and comply with the construction schedule. The shipyard obviously has a team like this. Engineers, workers, mid-level managers and the leadership of Krasnoye Sormovo are top-grade professionals.

The case with dredging vessels is quite indicative. The first Russian dredger was built by the shipyard in 1858. Later on, not once did the shipyard resume construction of this vessel type — a total of 47 dredgers were built in Sormovo. Then the shipyard did not have any orders like this for more than 60 years. But when in 2014 Russian federal company Rosmorport signed a contract for the construction of three Project TSHD1000 dredgers, all of them were commissioned on time and assigned to Russian ports Ust-Luga, Saint-Petersburg and Tuapse. In this case, it would be more correct to say that Kharsnoye Sormovo has opened up a completely new production area rather than resumed dredger construction. That’s because modern dredges differ radically from those of previous generations in terms of their equipment and productivity.

Passenger ships

Sormovo’s first passenger craft, single-deck passenger paddle steamer Minin, was launched in 1856. In 1914, the company built cargo-and-passenger paddle steamers Velikaya Knyazhna Olga Nikolayevna and Velikaya Knyazhna Tatyana Nikolayevna for river navitagion. Renamed after the Russian revolution into Spartak and Volodarsky, these steamers became legendary Volga vessels, which served until 1991 and 1986. Spartak «played the role» of steamer Lastochka in the famous Soviet movie A Cruel Romance by Eldar Ryazanov. Paddle steamer N.V. Gogol was added to the Guinness World Records. Built in 1911, she is the oldest Russian passenger steamer, which will do her 108th navigation in 2019!

In 1934, Krasnoye Sormovo built a special «government» steamer, named Maxim Gorky (initial name: Krasny Bogatyr), which had unique specifications. Another Soviet movie, Volga-Volga, showed the beautiful motor ship Iosif Stalin, which had been built together with three more vessels of the class for the Moskva–Volga Canal (now named the Moscow Canal). Having a streamlined all-welded hull with an unusual outline, these vessels looked really beautiful and were intended for 205 passengers.

Alexander Tsurganov,

Director for Production System Development

Production system development is essentially about using a number of tools and approaches, which help identify and eliminate losses in production and business processes, as well as enhance the company’s operational efficiency. This is particularly important when resources are limited and the business environment is unstable. In the course of 2018, we decreased the volume of unfinished production stocks by 45% and reduced manufacturing time of bottom sections by more than 50%. Krasnoye Sormovo became the best company in the USC Group in terms of production system development. And we are not going to stop there.

Krasnoye Sormovo reached its peak in this field with the construction diesel-electric vessels Lenin and Sovetsky Soyuz. They were developed by the shipyard’s design bureau under the leadership of chief designer Vyacheslav Kerichev and commissioned in 1958–1959. Sormovo shipbuilders were the first in the country who began to build comfortable three-decked river vessels, which were 121.5 meters long, carried 440 passengers and could sail at a speed of 25 km/h.

In 2017, the shipyard kicked off construction of the latest generation of vessels like this. The gorgeous four-decked Project PV-300 cruise liner is being built under a three-party contract, concluded in January 2017. The partners are the United Shipbuilding Corporation, Mashpromleasing and shipping company Vodohod. The vessel is due to be handed over to the customer in 2020. The project was drawn up by the Marine Engineering Bureau — Design — SPb; the working design documentation is being developed by the Volgo-Caspian Design Bureau.

The cruise liner has the maximum dimensions (length — 141 meters; beam — 16.8 meters) that make it possible to operate in the Volga–Don system of waterways. The liner can carry 342 passenger and 144 crew members. On the main deck, there are restaurants; and the three above are for passenger cabins (all for two people) and recreation areas.

The ship is supposed to transport passengers along such long-distance cruise lines as Moscow – Astrakhan, Moscow – Saint-Petersburg and Moscow – Rostov-on-Don. The comfort level provided for the passengers makes her a five-star hotel on water.

Our people

Historians are yet to count how many people have worked at the Sormovo shipyard over 170 years. We have a list of 91 workers who started construction of the new factory in 1849. But the end of the 19th century, as many as 9,500 people were working in it. In 1930, by the time the shipyard began to make submarines, it employed 15,000 people. By the 1970s, when Krasnoye Sormovo was carrying out mass production of submarines, its headcount was 29,000 employees. If you count all the people who have worked at the shipyard over 170 years, their number would amount to the population of a Russian regional administrative center.

To date, Krasnoye Sormovo employs 3,500 people. On the one hand, this is a lot less than there used to be; on the other hand, it is enough to build ten civilian vessels every year. We should also take into account the profound modernization, which was started by the company in the 2000s and continues to this day.

Sergei Smirnov,

Director, Engineering Center, Krasnoye Sormovo

A cruise liner is a pretty sophisticated vessel. Due to a tight schedule, design and construction are being carried out almost simultaneously. Many issues are being resolved not on the designer’s table, but directly on the stocks — together with the workers and specialists of the shipyard and our contractors.

History has preserved tens and hundreds of names, which will be etched in gold in the history of the shipyard and the entire Russian school of engineering. Among them are mining engineer Alexander Iznoskov, who built the first open hearth furnace in Russia, and many talented marine engineers: Konstantin Okunev, the shipyard’s head; Alexei Nekrasov, developer of the first 1,000-ton steamer on the Volga; Vasily Kalashnikov, a famous shipbuilder, combustion engineer and designer of steam engines; Gustav Trinkler, inventor of the first diesel engine without a compressor; designer Bronislav Malakhovsky, who developed the S-series of locomotives, which were among the best Russian express locomotives; chief engineer Iosif Appak, who supervised the production of first Soviet tanks; marine engineer Nikolai Kuteinikov, the first Soviet designer who introduced the section method in submarine construction; engineer and production manager Mikhail Lerner, one of the prominent representatives of the generation that set up Soviet submarine construction; mechanical engineer Ivan Panteleyev, who introduced electric welding at the shipyard; Professor Vyacheslav Kerichev, an outstanding designer of new river vessels; Rostislav Alexeyev, a genius designer of hydrofoils; designer Albert Zhivotovsky, who developed river-sea dry cargo ships and the first Soviet passenger hovercraft. This list can be continued with the shipyard’s directors Ye.E. Rubinchik, N.N. Smelyakov, M.A. Yuryev, N.E. Leonov and N.S. Zharkov; Heroes of Socialist Labor (supreme Soviet award for economy achievements) steelworker N.I. Anishchenkov, electric welder V.V. Paishchikov, assembly fitter A.P. Udalov; and many others.

Entire families would come to work at the shipyard. The most famous Sormovo dynasties are the Kuritsyns, Tretyakovs, Gordeyevs, Godyayevs, Usovs, Sukhonins, Lyapins, Chegovs and Romanovs. Six generations of the Pastukhov dynasty, starting from the mid-19th century, have tied their lives with the Sormovo shipyard.

It is not only because the Sormovo district is like a separate city inside Nizhny Novgorod. Work at Krasnoye Sormovo is more than a job — it is a life journey.

...And you can see how excited local boys are when they look at new ships being launched, and how they try to get closer to witness the moment the new Sormovo-built vessel hits the water. And if you ask them, «What do you want to do when you grow up?» — they would answer, «Of course, I want to work at Sormovo!»

The article was prepared by the press service and the museum of the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard.


1882 and 1896 - The right to use the national 

coat-of-arms and gold medals from exhibitions — Russia’s highest industrial award

1939 - The Order of the Red Banner of Labour

1943 - The Order of Lenin

1945 - The Order of the Patriotic War, 1st Class

1949 - The Order of Lenin

1970 - The Order of the October Revolution


Always ahead of Times
Always ahead of Times
Always ahead of Times
Always ahead of Times
Always ahead of Times
Always ahead of Times