What Badly Damaged The Russian Landing Ship at Berdyansk?

On 24 March, the one month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a Russian naval vessel was badly damaged alongside the docks at the occupied Ukrainian port of Berdyansk.

Ukrainian strikes left a Russian Alligator-class landing ship on fire and partially submerged at her moorings. The Russian landing ship was reportedly struck by a Tochka-U short-range ballistic missile strike, though some sources suggest a drone may have been responsible for the attack. The vessel has been identified as an Alligator class landing ship. Two other Ropucha class landing ships were damaged with burning material seen on their decks as they slipped their moorings and fled out to sea.

A photo reportedly showing the incident (via UAWeaponsTracker)

Footage of the strike came via a pair of videos shared by holiday resort webcam operator kirillovka.ukr. Their YouTube channel shared a first video titled “BERDYANSK: explosions and fire in the port on March 24, 2022” which was described as being filmed by a local resident’s drone and a second webcam video, titled: “BERDYANSK today: 3 beach 03/24/2022 – fire in the port”.

Webcam footage via kirillovka.ukr

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense confirmed the strike posting “a large paratroop “Orsk” of the black sea fleet of Russian occupiers was destroyed,” along with some images of the vessel and the strike. Later on the 24 March, the UK Ministry of Defence shared their daily intelligence updates and confirmed that the strike had targeted “a landing ship and ammunition storage depots at Berdyansk.” the Ukrainian General Staff later updated their report to correct that they believed the Alligator class vessel damaged was the Saratov, not the Orsk, and that the two Ropucha-II class ships were the Caesar Kunikov and Novocherkassk.

The vessels were publicly known to be in Berdyansk as Russian TV reports had been filmed from the docks showing the unloading of vehicles and equipment. Alligator class landing ships are capable of carrying over 400 personnel and as many as 20 tanks or 40 armored fighting vehicles.

Webcam footage via kirillovka.ukr

The second 15 minute-long video shows what might be the moment of the strike, sadly the video is not timestamped. 20 seconds into the footage there is no sign of smoke or fire (suggesting the footage begins before the attack) then there is a first small explosion. 55 seconds in and there is a second, more substantial explosion. Whether the explosions were caused by the 1,000lb high explosive warhead of a Tochka-U is difficult to say, but the footage may suggest the strike was carried out by a drone rather than a ballistic missile. The Ukrainian Navy does operate a number of TB2 drones, the first of which were delivered in July 2021. It has been reported that earlier, on 19 March, that Tochka-U missiles have been fired against the port already this month. Within 3 minutes of the start of the video a significant fire has taken hold and at 3.39 a second plume of smoke begins to rise to the right of the first. Throughout the rest of the footage other smaller smoke plumes and secondary explosions can be seen.

Sentinel-2 satellite imagery from 12AM on 24 March showing a considerable smoke plume (via Sentinel Hub)

Sentinel-2 satellite imagery of Berdyansk showed a long smoke plume emanating from the stricken vessel. The other ships have reportedly stood off from shore and assumed a holding pattern. The latest imagery from commercial satellite imagery company MAXAR shows the vessel still sunk alongside the dock and smoke still emanating from the silos near the vessel.

Satellite imagery, 25 March, of the damaged vessel (via MAXAR)

Regardless of whether the strike was carried out by a Tochka-U or a TB2 the attack on the Russian landing vessels at Berdyansk represents a significant victory in terms of Ukrainian morale and demonstrates the Ukrainian military’s continuing capability to strike valuable Russian assets and targets of opportunity at will.