What Is Readiness?
When anybody mentions the early period of the war, he usually points to the element of surprise Germany assured in the attack on the USSR and the advantages it secured as a result. But it is not appropriate for us, military and naval leaders, to ascribe all our failures in the early period of the war to this cause alone. We have no right to be caught by surprise.
Some authors allege that the perfidious surprise attack against our country was practically the only cause of all our setbacks in the first few months of the war. Stalin kept repeating this. This assertion does not hold water.
I would like to make a preliminary point. The fact that the enemy was allowed to lodge a surprise attack on our Homeland was already a grave failure. While at school, we were taught that wars were now started without warning. Chivalry was a thing of the past. Aggression is plotted in secret and we cannot afford to forget about this.
Surprise may be strategic, operational and tactical. When the attack occurred on June 22, 1941, strategic surprise was out of the question. We long knew what the German command was capable of. German generals always believed that to secure success you had to take full advantage offered by the element of surprise and of the power of the first attacks. All along they professed the Blitzkrieg doctrine. Thus, unleashing the First World War the German General Staff tried to carry out the notorious Schlieffen-Moltke Plan. According to it France was to be crushed within six-eight weeks, i. e. before Russia could deploy its forces.
All the later German acts of aggression were characterised by "blitz" strikes and surprise attacks. Before the war we eyewitnessed a series of such operations. We saw Hitler overrun Austria and Czechoslovakia, seize Poland and rout France. All these were blitz campaigns.
Seeing that Germany would have to fight a bitter and protracted war against Great Britain (because the latter was being backed by America), the German General Staff passed a decision in the middle of 1940 on attacking the Soviet Union. Though we were receiving more and more disturbing indications about Nazi Germany's intentions, we did not yet know anything for sure. But we were fully aware that the Nazis always sought to surprise their enemy with overwhelming attacks. More than that, the Germans made no secret of concentrating their divisions on our frontiers. This meant that the storm had been gathering for a long time and that lightning could strike at any moment.
To rule out strategic surprise preparations had to be made long in advance. It is difficult to work out a strategic plan and to change it after the outbreak of war. Therefore, it is highly important to determine in good time the potential enemy and make a sound forecast of his intentions and of the more probable directions of his attacks.
At dawn on June 22, 1941, the enemy managed to achieve operational surprise, i. e. he caught the Soviet frontier units unawares when he invaded our territory. There were many reasons why this happened. One of these was a misappraisal of the entire international situation, in particular of the mounting threat of attack on the part of the world's most aggressive country - Nazi Germany. Another was the inadequate readiness of our Armed Forces for repelling the enemy's first attacks.
An important point. We learnt in the afternoon of June 21 that a German attack should be expected that very night. What could have prevented us from alerting all the forces stationed close to the frontier from the northernmost to the southernmost point? We now know that by noon of June 22 the Soviet Air Force lost 1,200 aircraft. Eight hundred of them were destroyed on the ground. Some people also say that in the evening of June 21 D.G. Pavlov, commander of the Byelorussian Military Area, was at a theatre. When an officer reported to him that the behaviour of the Germans aroused suspicion, he retorted: "Rubbish."
This showed that many of our formations were not prepared at operational and tactical level for an enemy attack.
I deliberately quoted an example of air force losses. Unlike the infantry the Air Force did not have to change its dispositions. I he fliers did not need more than 15-20 minutes to assume stand-by condition for take-oft. At least this fully applies to fighter units.
I also heard officers say that our retreat was inevitable because the Germans had acquired more fighting experience. I rejected and continue to reject this assertion as an undeserved allegation against courageous Soviet officers and men. They were no different from the defenders of the Brest Fortress who administered a powerful rebuff on Nazi crack troops.
I cannot say why the Nazi attack on our land frontiers came as a surprise or how much of a surprise it was. But I would like to tell the reader about the readiness of the Navy.
When I was in Spain, I learnt that an air force could engineer powerful surprise attacks on ships. That is why the fleets should always maintain a high level of readiness for action. All the antiaircraft weapons and means should be on the alert, the ships should be dispersed and the bases should resort to blackout. A loss of several minutes might result in heavy losses. This was an obsession with me.
We started to work on heightening the readiness of the fleet for action in the Far East during the fighting at Lake Khasan. I had to reckon with the possibility of an air raid on Vladivostok. We were not dead sure that it would be possible to localise the fighting at Lake Khasan. The purpose of our measures was, in any event, to parry the enemy's first attack in order to deploy our forces.
I have already mentioned above that M. S. Klevenski, operations officer of the fleet staff, worked enthusiastically on the development of an effective system of readiness for action for the Pacific Fleet. When the war with Germany started, he was commanding officer of the Libau Naval Base. In the night he had been warned about a possible German raid, and two-three hours later he was already beating off one Luftwaffe attack after another. He defended this forward base with confidence and poise till the last possibility.
This was true not only of Libau, but also of the other naval bases. The point is that the measures we carried out in the Pacific in case of an enemy surprise attack were later adopted by all the other fleets.
Of course, we should bear in mind that the enemy struck the main blow at our land forces. Of course, it was much tougher for the Army than the Navy. It is not my intention to play down the heroism and self-denying conduct of our infantry. They were the first to resist the steel flood of Nazi panzer forces. I am dealing only with a few questions of organisation.
I cannot claim that the Navy had worked out all the details. But we were constantly thinking about the possibility of an enemy attack and tried to prepare for it to the best of our ability. Thus, the "History of the Great Patriotic War" states that when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union "the naval command was able to alert its forces much quicker than the Red Army command". It is on record that in the merciless night of June 21-22, 1941, the Soviet Navy did not lose a single ship. This fact, apparently, is not only of historical interest.
You would often hear people say that the Navy's heightened readiness for action is allegedly due to the specific conditions of naval service. I would ask: "What are these specific conditions?" But I never got a coherent reply.
Some officers would say that one of the "specific features" of naval service was that it was easier to assemble the ships' crews. That is totally wrong. If men are on shore leave and if the ships are on the roads, it is more difficult to deliver them aboard. I doubt if it is easier to alert a fleet with all its ships and shore units scattered over a wide area than a land force.
The "specific condition" in question before the war was the same for all fighting services: it was necessary to watch every move of the enemy lest he should deliver a sudden overwhelming attack from which it would be difficult to recover. A "specific" feature of the Navy was that all the fleets worked for nearly two years on a system of alert conditions. It was being persistently introduced in naval practice. These conditions were checked and worked out in hundreds of drills and exercises. It was clearly specified what was meant by readiness for action, condition 3, readiness for action, condition 2, and readiness for action, condition 1.
Readiness for action, condition 3, meant regular readiness of ships and shore units in commission. In this condition the crews engage in routine combat training, in regular activities, but they keep an adequate fuel supply, keep the weapons and mechanisms in a state of readiness.
Readiness for action, condition 2, is a higher degree of readiness. The ships in such a condition take aboard the necessary supplies, put the machinery, equipment and weapons in order and assign a certain part of the crew to alert duty. Shore leave is reduced to a minimum. The crews remain aboard. A ship can maintain such a condition for quite a long time, though it imposes a certain strain on the crew.
Readiness for action, condition I, is the highest degree of readiness. It is announced in the face of imminent danger. It implies that all the weapons and mechanisms should be ready for immediate action and all the personnel should be at their action stations. When a ship or shore unit receives the code signal the crew shall follow a standing operating procedure.
In the beginning we had a few hitches. The first check-ups and drills aboard the ships revealed a host of shortcomings. It took the fleets at least a year to learn quickly and smoothly to switch over to a condition of heightened readiness for action. I shall not tire the reader with all the staffs, ships and shore units had to do to show efficient performance. We had to work hard for time, not only for hours, but also for minutes and even seconds from the moment the signal was issued till all the reports came in on the fleet's readiness for action. Saving time in military service is extremely important.