Creator of titans

Creator of titans

On June 29, 2021 – Shipbuilder’s Day – in the center of Moscow they unveiled the memorial plaque to Boris Yevstafievich Butoma, Minister of Shipbuilding Industry of the USSR

On this day near the famous house on Povarskaya street the Navy marches thundered, the high-ranking representatives of the federal ministries and the heads of the Duma committees spoke from the stage, and the passers-by who stopped to have a look invariably asked: «And who is this Butoma?»

Boris Yevstafievich was not just another Soviet official whose former services have faded over the decades or fallen into oblivion with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The results of his work are evident to the whole world: the Russian tricolor is demonstrated in the World Ocean, and every year on the day of the Main Naval Parade a ceremonial formation passes through the Neva, as well as in Kronstadt, Severomorsk, Baltiysk, Sevastopol and Vladivostok. Boris Butoma can be called the father of today’s Navy and the founder of modern Russian shipbuilding.

He can be compared with Fyodor Apraksin, one of Peter the Great’s closest associates, Admiral and founder of the Navy, the 325th anniversary of which will be celebrated this year. Of course, there is a fair amount of slyness in making historical parallels of this kind. And it is not even the fact that Boris Butoma was not from a boyar family, that he chose an engineering career instead of military, or that he began his journey not from a position of a dignitary close to the governor, but a turner in the ship repair workshops of the port of Sevastopol. Nevertheless, the most important similarity is undeniable: Butoma, like Apraksin in his time, had to create a technically advanced fleet and advanced shipbuilding, which would provide our country with the status of a great maritime power.
After the end of World War II, the Soviet Union was considered a powerful, but exclusively continental empire. The bloody catastrophe caused monstrous damage to the economy and the entire industrial complex of the country, and the former allies in the anti-Hitler coalition, especially the United States, claiming absolute hegemony, made every effort to limit the USSR’s maritime ambitions as much as possible, to lock its opponent within its borders and establish monopoly control over the world’s oceans.

In these circumstances, Boris Butoma’s successes seem all the more incredible. Having actually taken over the management of the industry in 1953 – with the appointment to the post of Head of the 4th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Transport and Heavy Engineering of the USSR, he managed to transform the shipbuilding complex of the country into a powerful industry in a little over two decades and with limited resources by the standards of the Western naval forces. By the early 1970s, the Soviet Navy, according to Norman Polmar, a prominent American naval analyst, «was capable of posing a full-fledged challenge to the U.S. Navy both in numbers and efficiency.»

It is impossible to find a single explanation for how Boris Butoma managed to turn a huge industry into a single, smoothly working mechanism. But his main and indisputable trump card was an absolutely clear understanding of how the whole system works, at each stage, from worker to plant manager, from ordinary engineer to employee. After all, he did not get to his post from the ministerial corridors, but all the way through, having worked as a fitter, engineer and plant manager.

In 1942 in the height of the Great Patriotic War he was included in the expedition to the west - to Murmansk and the Baltic. And in 1943 he was appointed chief engineer of the Zelenodolsk plant. His notes were preserved: «The plant is big! The metallurgical base is huge... And not a crumb of coal at the plant. Everything is switched to firewood, which has to be transported by cars from the forest... Motor transport is in a deplorable condition. A maximum of 5 cars go to the line, when 8-10 cars are needed for firewood alone. It’s 30 degrees below zero in the workshops... There is a shortage of machines, without which you can’t work. Fitters and cabinet makers work only till four o’clock - there are no electric lamps and that is why people go home before dark. I started to work and I don’t pat anybody on the head. I don’t want to become Don Quixote of the twentieth century. I have enough work to do.»

He was never intimidated by difficulties. He took up the challenge and in a few years he transformed the plant, suffering from a chronic shortage of equipment and fuel, into an advanced enterprise, for which he was awarded the State Prize and received a new assignment – to Moscow, to the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Boris Butoma belonged to that very rare type of people, who were not determined by the epoch, but created it themselves, as Sergey Korolev did in rocket engineering. In shipbuilding, the «Butoma Era» is almost an official term, a common name for a period of unprecedented development. Out of 220 shipbuilding plants, which existed in the USSR, the most part was created on his personal initiative and under his leadership. Only from 1956 to 1970, the USSR Navy received 290 submarines, 152 large surface ships, 819 small combat ships and boats, 370 sweepers and mine clearers, 247 landing and 18 reconnaissance ships, 185 rescue, 65 tankers and 67 transport vessels, 6 weapons carriers, 13 floating bases, 34 floating workshops and reloading bases, over a hundred hydrographic vessels and 15 icebreakers.

And these are just dry statistics. But the «Butoma Era» is first of all not an increase in quantity, but a breakthrough in qualitative characteristics of ships and vessels. That’s when the domestic fleet became ocean-going, and unique, still unparalleled ships were born. And Boris Butoma was responsible for each project, which by its ambition and complexity could well compete with the space program.

He was responsible for construction of the first domestic nuclear submarine K-3 «Leninsky Komsomol» and the first missile submarine of the project B611, was one of the initiators of creation of two domestic famous marine design bureaus: «Almaz» and «Korall». He managed to organize construction of second-generation submarines and then to carry out large-scale reconstruction of the shipbuilding enterprises, thereby preparing the industry for construction of the third generation of nuclear-powered submarines. Under his leadership a family of heavy nuclear-powered missile cruisers of project 1144 «Orlan» was laid, which still remain the largest and most heavily-armed surface non-aviation warships.

Civilian shipbuilding also experienced an unprecedented rise: the unique and one-of-a-kind first nuclear icebreaker «Lenin» was built, and the second generation of Arktika-type nuclear icebreakers was created – achievements that no other country has been able to repeat. The tonnage of the transport fleet was growing by a million tons per year, the first domestic supertankers, modern dry-cargo ships and passenger ships were created.

It was a huge responsibility, but Boris Butoma could take risks, accept the consequences of his decisions and - the main thing - he was convinced: both people and enterprises should always be given a chance to prove themselves. «Yes, his work cost him many heart attacks,» his daughter, Inga Borisovna, recalled at the unveiling of the memorial plaque to Boris Butoma, «but he was devoted to his work and happy in his calling - building ships. He could have had no other life.»

Boris Butoma’s main trump card was an absolutely clear understanding of how the whole system worked

Creator of titans
Creator of titans
Creator of titans
Creator of titans