Mein Kampf which Hitler wrote when he only engaged in his pursuit of power reads in part:
"When we speak of new territory in Europe today we must principally think of Russia..."
With brazen effrontery which was so typical of him Hitler added that the whole of Russia must be dismembered into its components. Those components were natural territories of the German Reich.
The entire policy of Nazi Germany was based on this premise. It was, therefore, purposeless to seek for changes in the Fuehrer's designs. While conducting hostilities in Europe, he had not abandoned his plans of attack on the USSR.
There is no doubt today that Hitler plotted deliberate treachery, when he signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. Had the situation been favourable, he would not have considered it a perfidious act to defy it even in autumn 1939.
In 1940, the "phoney war" in Western Europe ended. The spring and summer German offensive resulted in the seizure of Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and, finally, France. Hitler even threatened Great Britain with landing a descent. At an OKW (GHQ) meeting on July 22 he said that the Russian problem would be solved by an attack. A plan for a forthcoming operation should be thought over.
Subsequently this intention was given form in the notorious Barbarossa plan. The German General Staff switched over to the solution of practical questions, such as the directions of the main effort, the numerical strength of the forces needed, the roles to be played by the Army, Air Force and Navy. As the missions were clarified the date of opening hostilities was fixed. The hangover from easy victories scored in the West caused the Nazi high command to underestimate the Soviet Union's might. General Kostring, German military attaché in Moscow, reported to Berlin that the Red Army would need at least four years to prepare for war.
Even before Hitler signed the plan for the attack the Wehrmacht started to regroup the forces and to shift divisions to Poland.
When Molotov visited Berlin in November 1940, Hitler tried to assure him that Germany was observing the terms of the non-aggression pact. But shortly after this, on December 18, 1940, he signed directive No. 21 which later became known as Plan Barbarossa. It read in part that the Wehrmacht should be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a blitz campaign.
From that day Germany started to prepare for war against the Soviet Union on a scale that was obvious to many people.
Hitler postponed Operation Sea Lion, i.e. the landing of a descent on the British Isles. The present author does not propose to analyse the reasons behind this decision. There could have been several. But one point is indisputable, namely the Navy was to play a big role in an amphibious landing. The German Navy was not yet strong enough.
Germany launched a large scale new construction program in 1938, i.e. approximately at the same time as we. It was to be accomplished in ten years. During this period Germany was to build 10 huge battleships, four aircraft carriers, 15 ironclads, 49 cruisers and 248 submarines. The program was intended chiefly for warfare against Britain. The German naval command counted on being ready for war in the middle 1940s. But the war broke out earlier—in 1939. The Nazis actually had not the time to build up their Navy. This circumstance, beyond doubt, was one of the reasons why Hitler abandoned the idea of landing a descent on the British Isles.
Now that the German General Staff was working on Plan Barbarossa the German Navy intended to engage in operations in the Baltic. The easy victories in Europe made the Army High Command dizzy. Being jealous of the Navy the Army High Command assigned it a very limited role in the forthcoming military operations. The Nazi generals assured Hitler that they would defeat the Soviet Union without the help of the Navy.
Of course, in addition to Army-Navy rivalry in High Command GHQ, Germany's intense battle for the Atlantic exercised an influence on the course of the war. Despite this the naval command intended to employ against the Soviet Baltic Fleet its light surface forces, submarines and mines. The Army command hoped to take Leningrad coup de main within a few weeks. This also implied the seizure of Kronstadt. The German fleet was assigned the mission of protecting the sea routes and coast during the Army's triumphant march and of preventing our ships from forcing their way out of the Gulf of Finland.
Such were the calculations of the Nazi OKW. At the time, we had no inkling of Plan Barbarossa, of course. The German command started to deploy its forces in the East without wasting time. One division after another was being shifted closer to our frontiers. The Luftwaffe was building airfields there. Finland and Romania were already drawn into the orbit of fascist powers. The Germans first sent special missions and separate groups of officers, and later shifted troops to these countries. German fighting ships were making frequent calls on Finnish ports. Defying the non-aggression pact the Nazis stepped up their intelligence activities. Luftwaffe planes "accidentally" broke into our air space and appeared over military objectives. From then on we were receiving more and more reports on the impending attack. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Nazi Germany was the most probable potential enemy. Hitler trampled underfoot the nonaggression pact which lost all meaning.
We could not fail to notice the change in the behaviour of Captain N. von Baumbach, German naval attaché. He had once said, and not in vain, that his superiors considered his post important. His visits to the Naval Foreign Relations Division became more frequent. He proposed to share with us "useful information". But he himself tried, in a seemingly incidental manner, to glean some information about our Navy.
To put it in a nutshell, early in 1941 information about Hitler's far from peaceful intentions reached us. In the beginning it was scanty, then it was more varied and at the same time definite. After the war I learnt that the Nazis had worked out a broad plan designed to mislead the Soviet Union about Germany's true intentions. Apparently, in pursuit of this plan M.A. Vorontsov, our naval attaché in Berlin, was invited to Admiral Raeder who tried to lead him to false conclusions about the steps the Germans were undertaking. Though the German command sought to conceal the preparations for a large-scale attack on a broad frontage extending from the Barents Sea to the Bosphorus, it was unable to do so. The intelligence summaries of the General Staff and reports from the fleets contained alarming news. At personal meetings and during telephone talks the fleet commanders persistently asked how the government appraised Germany's unfriendly actions.
V. F. Tributs, Baltic Fleet commander, called me over the phone more frequently than the others. He said that the behaviour of the Germans in the Baltic was particularly suspicious. When he reported on intrusions into our air space or other similar acts V. F. Tributs, a man of great energy and initiative, would always ask me the meaning of this.
And indeed, we should have collated and analyzed all the information and weighed it on scales early in 1941. We should have placed those acts of the Nazis and the actual facts in one pan, their promises and the non-aggression pact in the other. Which of them would have outweighed the other?
Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with us. But then there was Hitler's Mein Kampf. In his book he set forth his plans for the seizure of "Osten Lebensraum". As I had pointed out above, he had neither repudiated his book nor given up his plans.
If I am not mistaken, in February 1941 I reported to the government that the Germans were delaying deliveries of equipment for the cruiser Lutzow we had purchased from Germany. J. V. Stalin carefully heard my report and asked me to keep him abreast of the details. Turning to all those who were present in his office Stalin remarked that the movements of our people in Germany were being restricted.
At approximately the same time I had a talk with A. A. Zhdanov. Once, after a meeting, he stayed behind in my office. We talked about different things. Then I asked him whether he regarded Germany's activities in proximity of our frontiers as preparations for war. Andrei Aleksandrovich expressed the view that Germany was not able to fight on two battlefronts. He said that intrusions into our air space and concentration of German forces on our frontiers were precautionary measures on the part of Hitler or a means for exerting psychological pressure on us. But not more than that.
I expressed doubt. I said:
"To take measures of precaution Hitler does not have to concentrate forces in Finland and Romania. What are Luftwaffe reconnaissance planes doing over Hanko and Polyarnoye? Nothing threatens the Germans from there."
A few months before that I heard Zhdanov say positively that both sides in the West were bogged down in war. Therefore, we could quietly do our own work. Though he did not repeat what he had said, he did not consider an early clash with Germany probable. Andrei Aleksandrovich made reference to the experience of the First World War which showed that Germany could not Fight on two battlefronts. He even mentioned the well-known warning of Bismarck, the "iron chancellor", in this connection.
Perhaps, deep in his mind Zhdanov, just like myself, was tortured by doubts. Or, possibly, he knew something about Stalin's calculations of which I was ignorant. Of course, he was well aware of the large-scale works that were underway to strengthen the Western frontiers. They were regarded as a high priority task. These works were being conducted above all as a measure of precaution against a German attack. This meant that the possibility of such a war was being taken into account. But I still do not know why Zhdanov answered me in this way. Nor do I know about the plans of Stalin during that period.
The actions of our top level authorities during the last few months before the war obviously did not meet the situation. The striking power of the air force, the powerful raids it could launch in the First few days and even hours after the opening of hostilities were widely discussed. Many authors wrote about the role staffs of all levels played and about the need reliably to protect them in time of war. I knew this from personal experience. In Cartagena I had to spend hours in a poorly equipped shelter. I could not help thinking that it was necessary to build reliable shelters in time of peace.
Without requesting permission I ordered, at my own risk, to build a concrete bunker for the People's Commissariat of the Navy with enough space for a small staff and a communication centre. The People's Commissariat of Defence was not yet doing anything along these lines.
In his book Through Three Wars I. V. Tyulenev, former commander of the Moscow Military Area, wrote about his interview with K.. Y. Voroshilov, former People's Commissar of Defence, several days before the German attack. Voroshilov asked him:
"Where have you prepared a command post for the Supreme Command?"
Tyulenev replied that he had received no instructions on that matter from anybody.
In this connection it would be appropriate to ask if it was the concern of the commander, Moscow Military Area, to provide a reliable shelter for the future GHQ.
Had the General Staff paid due attention to the matter it could have been solved in peace time.
Hostilities do not always develop in keeping with the "instructions" or "decisions" even of distinguished political leaders. Not everything occurs as they wish. Far from it. Sometimes events get out of their control and they have to take unforeseeable decisions. Though the events may take an unexpected turn, you must not be taken by surprise. You must be ready for it, particularly where the defence of the state is concerned. The country's defence does not depend solely on the number of divisions, tanks and aircraft in the forces. It depends above all on the ability immediately to commit them to action and to make effective use of them, when the need arises.
Preparations for war do not boil down merely to building up weapon stockpiles. To beat off a possible attack it is necessary in advance to work out strategical plans and make them known to the executors. But this is only a beginning. The executors must elaborate their own operations plans and, what is particularly important, to learn to execute them. These are extremely time-consuming jobs.
Which country should you be prepared to Fight? When? How? These are not idle questions. The entire course of the war depends on the answers to them. Did Stalin give thought to these matters? It was a fact that from May 1941 he was not only General Secretary of the Central Committee, but also Chairman of the USSR Council of People's Commissars. Of course, he did. I am of the opinion that he knew for sure that war was inevitable and that it was bound to break out in the West or East. Perhaps, simultaneously both in the West and East. The frontiers were being fortified both in the West and East. The shifts of top level commanders late in 1940 and early in 1941 also showed that preparations were being made for "war on two battlefronts". In actual fact preparations for a possible military conflict were being made long before that. Pertinent steps were being taken purposefully and with great effort. Every Soviet citizen knew that the rapid build-up of the country's industrial might was necessary to increase its capacity for defence. We had to accomplish a lot in little time. And the party frankly said so to the people. The prewar five-year plans changed the country. They created the economic foundation for its defence. It is clear now that the creation of new industrial centres in the Eastern part of the country, such as Kuzbas and Magnitogorsk, played a big role in the war.
We knew that our country was 50 to 100 years behind the developed capitalist countries and that it had to catch up with them in ten years. Otherwise we would have been crushed. And the Soviet people managed to achieve in a decade a level of industrial development which other countries achieved in a century. We must not forget it.
The party and government paid special attention to the development of our Armed Forces. They were doing a great deal to build up their strength. However, something of vital importance was overlooked. They were not kept in a state of readiness for war at all times.
It should be mentioned that Stalin was, apparently, mistaken about the time of the possible conflict. He thought that there was still some time in reserve.
As I see it, the tremendous prestige Stalin commanded played a dual role. On the one hand, everybody was certain that Stalin knew more and, when the time came, he would take the necessary decisions. This certainty prevented the people working together with him from having a view of their own and from staling it straightforwardly. The officers and men of the fleets were sure that, since no instructions had been issued, the probability of the outbreak of war was small.
It was only in May-June 1941, when the situation on the frontiers became especially tense, that people began to ask why no measures were being taken.
Lack of clarity, understandably, caused increasing anxiety as the situation grew worse. However, it was difficult to talk about these things aloud and to question the actions of the top authority. We, sailors, could do nothing but keep abreast of what the People's Commissariat of Defence was doing. We realised that the Navy played an auxiliary role and that the main role in the future war would be played by the land forces. We had no intention of carrying out missions independently of them. When Voroshilov was People's Commissar of Defence we thought that he, as a member of the Politbureau, knew more than we about the plans and decisions of the top authority, that he contributed to their elaboration and, therefore, he could give us a lot of useful advice.
After the Finnish campaign S. K. Timoshenko was appointed People's Commissar of Defence. I tried to establish close contact with him. Though I could not say that our relations were bad, they were not harmonious. Under pressure of his own work Timoshenko could not pay much attention to the Navy. Several times I invited him to conferences with the fleet commanders to discuss strategic questions. I thought they would be useful both for us, sailors, and the People's Commissar of Defence. After all it was our duty to prepare for close co-operation in war. Though Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko politely accepted, he did not attend a single conference. Later he would ask to be excused on account of urgent business.
I considered it particularly important to establish and maintain contact with the General Staff. One of the reasons was that Stalin relied on it, whenever he dealt with military matters. This meant that the General Staff received instructions and directives that had bearing on the Navy too.
When Boris Mikhailovich Shaposhnikov was Chief of General Staff, we established good business-like relations. Our relations with K. A. Meretskov who was Chief of General Staff from August 1940 were satisfactory too. I knew Kirill Afanasyevich Meretskov a little when he was in Spain. Then I met him when he was commander of the Leningrad Military Area. We always found a common language. I had to solve a few questions with him, such as increasing the strength of the Army garrisons in Libau and Hanko and the relations between the Baltic Fleet and the Baltic Military Area. And we easily came to agreement.
Meretskov was Chief of General Staff for only a few months. On February 1, 1941 he was replaced by General of the Army Zhukov. I went to see him several times, but without success. He was rather arrogant and did not even try to comprehend naval matters.
First I thought that it was only I that failed to develop rapport with him. I hoped that 1. S. Isakov, Chief of Naval Staff, and, therefore, his colleague, would be more successful. However, Isakov was equally unsuccessful.
It would be fair to point out that some of the General Staff officers, for instance, N. F. Vatutin, deputy Chief of General Staff, G. K. Malandin, chief of operations department, and A.M. Vassilevski, his deputy, paid serious attention to naval matters. I recall with pleasure the meetings I had with Lieutenant General N. F. Vatutin and Major General A. M. Vassilevski before the war. However, difficulties were not created by separate officers whose individual qualities always differed. The point is that the relations between two defence People's Commissariats were not defined with adequate clarity.
The program for the construction of a big navy launched before the war had to be abandoned. We managed to carry out only a small part of it. This was particularly true about the construction of big ships. Despite this, by 1941 we had a new navy. Practically all the ships had been built after the Revolution.
What sort of Navy did we have? By 1941 we had close to 600 fighting ships. The fleets of the various seas had three battleships, seven cruisers, 54 destroyers and 213 submarines. Sometimes you hear people say that the important role of submarines became clear only after the war. This is not really so. Far from it. Of course, when submarines became nuclear-powered ships they acquired special importance. Their speed is superior to that of surface ships and their endurance is practically unlimited. Though I served a good many years in the Navy, I had not met a single admiral who underestimated the value of submarines.
I do not wish to repeat that only a balanced naval force comprising various naval arms and types of ships is capable of accomplishing the missions confronting the Navy. Thus, in attacking shipping on sea routes and even shore targets it would be difficult to overestimate the role of submarines. But if you want to land a descent to gain a foothold on an enemy coast or to seize an island, you will be unable to do so without surface ships. In modern naval warfare a surface ship will never be without a job.
The experience of the Great Patriotic War revealed that the role of submarines or surface ships depended on the missions the enemy sought to accomplish in our theatres of naval operations and on the composition of his forces.
In the North where it was above all necessary to attack enemy shipping the submarines proved better suited for that mission. Therefore, there was a special need for them. In contrast to this, in the Black Sea there were fewer missions for the submarines. Here the enemy hardly made use of the sea routes. Therefore, in the Black Sea surface ships played a more important role. It was they that transported troops to Sevastopol, when the enemy besieged it, landed descents, protected the lines of communications, and bombarded enemy held coasts. In most cases, in the bigger theatres both surface ships and submarines play important roles. They should not be opposed to each other. The numerical relation depends on the missions the given fleet has been assigned in war.
In my opinion, the shortcoming of our prewar program was not that the submarines were underestimated or that big surface ships were being built. It was planned to build a large number of submarines. In the light of the tasks facing the country the surface ships that were to be built were necessary too. However, it would be fair to say that not all types of surface ships were needed in equal degree at the time. Thus, the emphasis on battleships and heavy cruisers for small theatres of naval operations was not justified. In my view, this is the main mistake in our big new construction program.
What we badly needed was small aircraft carriers. Without these ships cruisers and destroyers could not execute their missions with maximum success.
Let us assume for a moment that our fleets had no surface ships. How would Odessa have been able to defend itself without new troops and equipment brought in by ships? It would have been impossible to defend Sevastopol for such a long time, if no supplies had been brought in by sea. This task was fulfilled above all by fighting ships—cruisers and destroyers. The Black Sea Fleet would not have been able to perform the daring landing operation at Feodosiya late in 1941, if it had no surface ships.
Similar examples could be quoted from the chronology of operations conducted by the Baltic Sea Fleet during the defence of the Moonsund Archipelago, the peninsula of Hanko and the entire coast. It was the surface ships and the coastal defence command that helped the retreating Eighth Army hold its ground in Oranienbaum, which served as an important foothold in the defence of Leningrad. If it were not for the cruisers and destroyers we would have hardly been able to evacuate such a large body of troops and so many civilians from Tallinn and the Hanko Peninsula.
The Northern Fleet badly felt the shortage of surface ships which were needed for escorting Allied convoys heading for Murmansk and Arkhangelsk.
That is why we should not oppose one type of ship to another or give preference to a certain type of ship. A balanced naval force made up of all types of ships for the accomplishment of tasks set to the given fleet will assure an optimal solution. In the North and the Far East our fleets were small. But in the Baltic and Black Seas the Soviet submarines and surface forces enjoyed considerable superiority over the fleets of other countries in these theatres.
The naval air arm was only slightly different from the Army air force. It comprised 2,581 aircraft. Many conventional landbased bombers were converted into torpedo bombers and mine-layers. It is true that we had some seaplanes, reconnaissance planes in particular. But they were few in number and obsolescent. We did not have enough high speed bombers and modern Fighters. We had no dive bombers or attack planes which were best suited for attacks on ships at sea.
Our ordnance was of a high quality. Take our 130-mm gun for destroyers, which had a range of about 20 kilometers. In 1937 our engineers designed the 180-mm triple turret for cruisers of the Kirov class. These guns had a range of over 45 kilometers. No other Navy in the world had such advanced ordnance. The coastal defence batteries were also outfitted with excellent artillery pieces.
Our antiaircraft weapons were inadequate. They could not deliver effective fire at dive bombers. Our ships and bases were short of radar.
Our torpedoes both for surface ships and submarines were effective weapons. But we were somewhat behind the enemy in mines and sweeping gear.
Though we did not have enough time to build a big navy and to outfit our naval forces with the latest equipment and weaponry, our Navy was a battleworthy force. Its officers and men were determined to defend the Homeland together with the other fighting services.
The Navy was preparing to beat off enemy attacks by coordinated blows delivered by submarines, surface ships, the air arm and coastal defence command. The intention to coordinate the various arms in action was reflected in the organization of the fleets. We created task forces—fleets and detachments — made up of various types of ships. Already then we formed forces for the execution of operational and tactical missions and not on the basis of types of ships as before. The period of classical sea battles when cruisers fought cruisers and destroyers fought destroyers was over.
The readiness of the Navy for war was above all the readiness of the officers and men. The training of ratings and petty officers was well organized. The Navy always got good recruits. As a rule, ships got draftees whose civilian skills were close to those needed in the Navy, such as fishermen, merchant seamen, and inhabitants of coastal areas. They are better adapted to service in the Navy. However, as fighting ships were outfitted with more and more sophisticated equipment the requirements to able seamen became more exacting.
Way back in 1939 the government discussed in detail the training of ratings for the Navy. There were two ways: to increase the period of service or to recruit more men for extended service. Finally, it was decided to take recourse to both ways. The period of service in the Navy was increased to five years and at the same time we started to recruit more men for extended service by offering them higher remuneration. This enabled us to build up a body of efficient ratings. Soon extended service men occupied all the main jobs of petty officers aboard ships. There were particularly many of them in the submarines. In some submarines they accounted for three quarters of the crew. They formed what we called the gold reserve of the Navy.
The last exercises conducted in 1941 demonstrated that the ratings were proficient. As a rule, any rating could not only operate the machinery, equipment and instruments, and carry out maintenance procedures, but also remove faults in them.
During the war Soviet crews took over several ships in Great Britain, which were transferred to us as temporary compensation for our share of the Italian fleet which had surrendered. Among them were a battleship, several destroyers and submarines.(* In addition to these ships, a cruiser was handed over by the USA). Of course, everybody closely watched the work of Soviet sailors. Soon a rumor was circulated that we had sent crews made up of specially selected commissioned and petty officers. But in actual fact they were ratings who had been assembled in a hurry from all sorts of ships. After a brief shakedown period they mastered totally unfamiliar equipment and brought the ships safely to Murmansk.
The personnel of the Navy was educated in the spirit of devotion to their Homeland. The command personnel and political workers deserve due credit for that. I have already mentioned that the political workers helped the command personnel in peace time to accomplish the tasks of combat training and political education. When the war broke out they were together with the command personnel. Defying danger, displaying resourcefulness, valour and staying power they inspired the seamen to perform feats of heroism. We paid special attention to the training of command personnel. The commanders and specialists - engineers, artillery, signals and torpedo officers - are always engaged in their relatively narrow sphere. They, therefore, make progress in it. The sphere of duties of a line officer is very broad. He has to be well versed in special knowledge too. It is his concern to discharge the routine, to maintain discipline and to educate his subordinates. He is busy doing this from morning till late in the evening. However, in peace time it is not always easy to observe how a commanding officer extends his knowledge of theory and how he can apply it in combat. That was why the operational and tactical training of commanders was not always at the required level.
Late in 1940-early in 1941 we concentrated our efforts on training the commanders at sea, and not only by organization of war games on charts or studying books. This was easier for the Black Sea Fleet, because they could sail all year round. Though the winter of 1940-1941 was harsh and the normally ice-free harbour of Tallinn was icebound, the ships put to sea rather early in 1941. They wasted no time in harbour.
In 1941 all the fleets trained in conditions that were close to those of actual combat. This inevitably increased the number of accidents. Everybody who served in the Navy then remembers this.
As a rule, accidents and disasters are remembered for a long time. They are like milestones in naval life. Desiring to establish the time of an event more exactly an officer would say:
"Surely you remember that this happened in summer, when Misha Moskalenko, destroyer commanding officer, rammed a submarine."
An accident is always a painful experience. It is not only the officer who committed the mistake, but also the others, particularly the commanding officers, that feel the weight of the guilt. Everybody shares the responsibility. This is quite understandable. Grave accidents would call for a government investigation with a pertinent government decision or an order of the People's Commissar of the Navy. Sometimes punishment would be administered to teach others a lesson. The government demanded that the Navy should learn the lesson and once again check the routine and standing operating procedures to prevent the recurrence of such cases.
Of course, these requirements were fair. But their rigorous character brought about undesirable results. Receiving such orders from Moscow the local command would start simplifying manoeuvres and executing them in easier conditions.
I must admit that sometimes the People's Commissariat would shut its eyes to such practices. Nobody is looking for trouble.
The most rigid restrictions were imposed on the submarines. Elaborate naval manoeuvres with the participation of submarines are always fraught with accidents, sometimes fatal ones. Several fleet commanders suffered demotion. Thus, the submarine skippers were restricted in manoeuvres in attacks. Surface target ships would appear before them at lower speeds pursuing a constant course, although everybody knew that in war it would be different.
I once mentioned this to A. A. Zhdanov. I tried to prove to him that excessive fear of accidents was an obstacle to training real, daring submarine skippers and that, in the event of war, we would have to pay for this. This talk occurred shortly after we had lost a submarine in the North. Zhdanov flared up. He said:
"Do you propose that I should allow them to get away with accidents and encourage impunity?"
I was unable to convince Andrei Aleksandrovich. To be honest, I myself was not quite prepared to abandon the established practices. I knew what was in store for me, if something went wrong.
Before the war we also had plenty of trouble with aircraft. When I was commander of the Pacific Fleet, we had an adequate number of aircraft and they did a lot of flying. But it did not always go off smoothly. Sometimes there were serious accidents. I would issue a strict order to combat accidents, which inspired fear in the air arm. But this is a great danger in war. In combat excessive caution and shyness are far worse than desperate risk. Though we realised this, we could not allow people to get away with accidents. Though it was difficult to find a golden mean, we should have tried to.
After the Finnish campaign we tried to reduce the restrictions in exercises to a minimum. The commanding officers of ships and formations displayed far greater boldness in difficult conditions both in daylight and in darkness. We no longer reprimanded them for minor errors.
The intensity of training at sea steadily mounted till the war broke out. In May and June 1941, the Baltic Fleet conducted drills and exercises in absolutely unusual conditions. When the fleet put out to sea it would send out patrol vessels and reinforce the nucleus. The air arm flew reconnaissance missions. These measures were being taken in case of a real, and not a simulated attack launched by a real and not a simulated enemy.
Some authors assert that J. V. Stalin did not attach due importance to higher readiness of the Armed Forces for action. Others even claim that he simply forbade them to engage in such activities. I cannot agree to this. He was informed about the heightened readiness of the fleets and the measures we had taken in the last four-six months before the outbreak of the war. We sent pertinent reports and operations summaries to the government and the General Staff. Neither body raised any objections.
But it is a fact that the Navy received no special instructions from the government to enhance the fleets' readiness for action. I regard this as a serious blunder. In those days the USSR was not a weak sea power. It was not accidental that in the fatal night of June 21-22, 1941, the Nazi Luftwaffe launched attacks on Sevastopol, main base of the Black Sea Fleet, and also our naval bases in the Baltic in an attempt to cripple our ships.