In 1953 China began to assemble medium-sized conventional-powered submarines transferred by the USSR at Jiangnan and Wuchang shipyards. The first submarine was built in April 1955 in Jiangnan shipyard, she was launched in March 1956 and completed in October 1957. By 1957, the year that culminated a "golden age" of relatively rational governance and steady development under the Communists, the Chinese had established a strong foundation for their submarine force. However, this period was followed by the gravely-destructive Great Leap Forward (GLF) in 1958. The fiscal chaos that resulted from numerous irrational economic methods - ranging from community dining rooms to back-yard steel furnaces - quickly led to a famine that killed millions of Chinese during 1960-61.
During the "three lean years" that followed, the government diverted resources away from the military in order to stave off total economic collapse. Naturally, the production of naval vessels, including the W-class submarines, was slowed considerably. Ship-building was also hindered by the sudden evacuation of all Soviet advisors in 1960 as the Sino-Soviet rift widened. Reportedly, operational readiness also suffered after the Soviet advisors pulled out, and there may have been an increase in submarine accidents.
Through the production by licensing of this ship, the progress of shipbuilding technology was promoted, the production line was built up, the technical cadres and workers were trained, and management experience was accumulated, thereby marking the beginning of series production of submarines in China.
While the Chinese Navy had had more than 110 submarines in service in the mid-1980s, the total number of submarines believed to be in serviceable condition went down from 63 in 1990 to 48 in 1995. The PLAN has retired all of its Whiskey class submarines, built using Soviet designs that were based on the German Type-21 U- boat of 1944.
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