The Night of June 21-22
Saturday, June 21, was no different from any other day. More and more disquieting news was coming in from fleets. Before Sunday we would end work at an earlier hour. But that evening my heart was burdened with uneasiness. So I dialed my home number saying: "Don't wait for me. I am being delayed."
This did not surprise Vera Nikolayevna, my wife. She was used to it because I frequently worked long hours.
It was hot and stuffy that evening in Moscow. Dark clouds shrouded the sky. The leaves on the trees in the street did not quiver. Though the windows in my office were open, there was no draught.
A lull set in in the offices of the capital. Normally, after 1800 hours was dinner time. The high standing officials would go home for two or three hours and then return to their offices to maintain the vigil till late in the night. But on Saturdays many would go to the country for the weekend.
That Saturday evening was particularly quiet. There were no telephone calls. It seemed as if the wire had been cut off. Even such "restless" People's Commissars as V. A. Maiyshev and 1. 1. Nosenko with whom I worked in close contact did not call me to ask me the usual question: "How is everything?"
As I sat in my office I heard the usual noises of the street - the hum of motor vehicles which was sometimes suddenly interrupted by loud, carefree young laughter.
I was absent-mindedly looking through the papers. But I could not concentrate on them. Shortly before a review of the foreign press and TASS agency summaries caught my eye. Different papers wrote about the impending war between Russia and Germany. Surely all of them could not be in collusion with one another.
My reflections were interrupted by V. A. Alafuzov, deputy chief of Naval Staff. He came, as always, to make the evening report. There seemed to be no changes in the situation. As in the past the situation in the Baltic was very disturbing, in the Black Sea it was less disturbing, and in the North nothing unusual was happening.
When V. A. Alafuzov left I called up the People's Commissar of Defence.
"The People's Commissar has left his office," an aide told me.
The Chief of General Staff was not in his office either. I decided to call up the fleets. I first heard the report of the Baltic Fleet commander V. F. Tributs, then of chief of staff of the Black Sea Fleet 1. D. Yeliseyev and finally commander of the Northern Fleet A. G. Golovko. They were all in their offices. Everything seemed to be in order. The command posts had been established and the fleets were maintaining readiness for action, condition 2, for two days now. Very few officers and men were on shore leave. There was a concert at the Navy Club in Sevastopol, but the staffs and command posts were functioning. They were vigilantly watching the situation. Lookouts were reporting all they saw. The operations duty officer at the Black Sea Fleet staff noticed that the German transport vessels that were normally at sea at this time of the day had suddenly disappeared to take refuge in Bulgarian and Romanian ports.
I was somewhat relieved to learn that the fleet commanders were at their posts. If necessary, they would immediately know what to do. But why was there no information from my superiors? The People's Commissar of Defence and the General Staff knew from our operations summaries that the fleets were maintaining a heightened operational readiness. The General Staff had not taken any such measures and was not telling us anything.
At 20:00 hours M. A. Vorontsov entered my office. He had just arrived from Berlin. A short while ago we recollected the details of this meeting.
That evening Mikhail Aleksandrovich spent nearly an hour telling me what was happening in Germany. He repeated: the attack may occur any hour now. "What does all this mean?" I asked him bluntly. "War!" he replied without hesitation. Hardly had Vorontsov left my office, when L. M. Galler came in. He had not gone home either.
For nearly a year L. M. Galler was supervising shipbuilding. He mentioned a document that had some bearing on the acceptance of ships. This was neither an urgent nor an important matter. I realised that it was not this that was on L. M. Caller's mind. I said that the situation was tense and that the fleets were maintaining a heightened operational readiness. He cautiously reminded me:
"The Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya is still in Tallinn and is lying out on the open roads."
The implication was: had everything been done to assure the safety of the battleship?
We discussed the situation in the Baltic, particularly in Liban. It troubled me more than the other bases.
Lev Mikhailovich left my office at about 10 p.m. It was not yet dark, when the wind started to blow raising vortices of dust in the street. The curtains on the open windows fluttered. A thunderstorm burst. There was a brief downpour which dispersed the merry crowd in the street.
I then heard another, extraordinary report from V. A. Alafuzov. The fleets were reporting the sighting of unidentified ships in proximity of our coasts and the Luftwaffe intruding into our air space.
At 11 p.m. the telephone rang. I heard Marshal Timoshenko's voice:
"I have something important for you. Would you, please, come to my office."
I quickly collected the latest summaries on the situation in the fleets and summoned Alafuzov. We went together. Vladimir Antonovich took charts with him. We intended to report to the People's Commissar of Defence the situation in the theatres. I noticed that Alafuzov cast an uneasy glance at his white service jacket. He, apparently, did not think it was proper to appear before the People's Commissar of Defence in a white jacket.
"Perhaps, I should put on my Sunday best," he said humorously. But there was no time to change.
Our buildings were close to each other. When we came out into the street, the rain had stopped. There were plenty of couples on the pavement. You could hear a gramophone record being played in an apartment, because the windows were open. In a few minutes we were climbing the stairs to the first floor of a small mansion. S. K. Timoshenko's temporary office was there.
The marshal was walking to and fro in the room as he dictated messages. It was still hot. General of the Army G. K. Zhukov. Chief of General Staff, was sitting at the table and writing. Several message forms torn out of a book were lying before him. They had all been filled out. The People's Commissar of Defence and Chief of Staff had, apparently, been working for quite some time.
When Semyon Konstantinovich noticed us, he stood still. Without reference to sources he briefly said that a German attack on our country was considered possible.
Zhukov rose from his seat and showed us a telegramme he had written. It was to be sent to the frontier military areas. It was rather detailed - three pages long. It stated in detail what the forces should do in the event of an attack by Nazi Germany.
The message had no immediate bearing on the fleets. Scanning the text I asked:
"Are we allowed to use our weapons, if the Germans should attack us?"
"Permission granted." Turning to Rear Admiral Alafuzov I said: "Run post haste to the staff and alert the fleets without a moment's delay, this is the real thing, announce readiness for action, condition 1. Run!"
I had no time to consider whether it was dignified for an admiral to run in the street. Vladimir Antonovich hastily disappeared. I stayed behind for a minute to ascertain whether I had understood the information correctly. Should the attack be expected that very night? Yes, indeed, I had. In the night of June 21-22. But it had already set in!
As I walked back to my office grave thoughts preyed on my mind. When did the People's Commissar of Defence learn about the possible Nazi attack? At what hour was he ordered to alert the forces? Why did not the government, but the People's Commissar of Defence, order me to alert the fleets? Why in semi-official form and why with such a delay?
One thing was clear, namely that the People's Commissar of Defence had learnt about Hitler's possible attack several hours before. This was confirmed by the message forms I had seen on the table. They had been torn out of the message book and filled out. Later it surfaced that the People's Commissar of Defence and Chief of General Staff had been summoned to J. V. Stalin at about 1700 hours on June 21. It followed that already then it was decided, under pressure of incontrovertible proof, to alert the forces and, if the enemy should venture an attack, to beat it off. This meant that these developments occurred approximately 11 hours before the enemy actually invaded our land.
Not so long ago General of the Army I. V. Tyulenev, the then commander of the Moscow Military Area, told me that at two p.m. on June 21, 1941, Stalin called him up and ordered to alert the air defence force.
This again proves that in the afternoon of June 21 Stalin realised that the clash with Germany was highly probable, if not inevitable. That same evening, Stalin sent for A. S. Shcherbakov and V. P. Pronin, top leaders of Moscow. According to Vassili Prokhorovich Pronin, Stalin ordered them to tell the district party committee secretaries to remain in their offices and not to leave the town. He warned them that a German attack was possible.
It is deplorable that the remaining hours were not used with maximum effect. When I reached my office I was told that the urgent order had already been passed on. It was very brief - a mere signal. The local commanders knew exactly what to do, when they received it. However, a telegramme takes time to reach the addressee. And it was precious. I picked up the receiver. I first called V. F. Tributs, Baltic Fleet commander. I said:
"Do not wait for the telegramme which I have sent you. Alert the fleet, announce operational readiness, condition 1 - combat readiness."
I was under the impression that he had expected the call. He asked only one question:
"Are we allowed to open fire in the event of an obvious attack on the ships or bases?"
The sailors had been repeatedly reprimanded for displaying "excessive zeal". And now the fleet commander was asking me: "May I open fire at the enemy?" "You may and you must!"
A. G. Golovko, Northern Fleet commander, was also on the spot. His immediate neighbour was Finland. How would it behave, if Germany should attack us? There were quite a few reasons to believe that it would join the fascists. But I could not say anything for sure yet. Arseni Grigoryevich Golovko asked me: "How should I act with respect to the Finns? German planes have been flying to Polyarnoye from their airfields." "Open fire at all planes intruding into our air space." "May I issue the orders?" "Granted."
In Sevastopol it was I. D. Yeliseyev, chief of the fleet staff, that picked up the receiver. My first question was:
"Have you received my message about alerting the fleet? It is already past midnight. The cyphered message should have reached you by now."
"No, we haven't," Ivan Dmitriyevich replied. I repeated to him what I had already told Tributs and Golovko, and added:
"Act immediately. Report to the fleet commander." Neither he nor I yet knew that Sevastopol had only three hours before the first enemy attack.
After my talks with the fleets I was sure that the machine had been set in motion. L. M. Galler dropped in. His face asked: "Anything new?" I told him about the instructions I received from the People's Commissar of Defence. The situation in the Baltic plagued me more than anything else. Lev Mikhailovich was an old timer in the Baltic. We discussed the state of our forces there as we studied a chart.
We now know that, at that very moment, the Germans were loading their bombers with bombs on airfields near our frontier, and Nazi panzer forces and warships were already underway to strike the first blow. Meanwhile we thought "Has the war really started?" Somewhere in the very depth of our minds hope still flickered: perhaps, it will work out in the end. But it did not. Very soon the events made us open our eyes. The emergency measures were nevertheless clearly laid down and worked out. I spent time in harrowing expectation.
In my mind's eye I saw the order on actual readiness, condition I, circulated to the fleets and flotillas, then to the bases and formations. The officers and men were working efficiently in complete silence, fully aware of the value of each minute. Subconsciously my hand stretched out to pick up the receiver, But I resisted the temptation. Perhaps, General Moltke was right, when he said that once the order for mobilisation had been issued, it was time to go to bed. The machine was now functioning automatically.
The events of that night in the fleets became known to me later. After my dialogue with V. F. Tributs I laid down the receiver at 2335 hours. The Baltic Fleet war diary says: "23 hours 37 minutes. Operational readiness, condition 1, announced." Everybody was at his station because the fleet had been in a state of heightened readiness since June 19. Only two minutes were required to start preparing the fleet for beating off an enemy attack.
The Northern Fleet received the message with the order at 0056 hours on June 22. Several hours later we received a message from A. G. Golovko, fleet commander:
"At 04 hours 25 minutes the Northern Fleet switched over to operational readiness, condition 1."
Thus, by then the order had not only reached the bases, air fields, ships and coastal defence batteries. They were all ready to beat off the attack.
I was pleased that early in the evening, at about 1800 hours, I suggested that the fleet commanders should take additional precautions. They obviously contacted the officers under them and told them to be on the alert. That Saturday evening the commanding officers of the bases, garrisons, ships and shore units - in Tallinn, Libau, in the Hanko Peninsula, in Sevastopol, Odessa, Izmail, Pinsk, Polyarnoye, and in the Rybachi Peninsula - had forgotten about relaxing with their families, about going shooting or fishing. They were all with their garrisons and crews. That was why they could act immediately the signal was received.
Though 20 minutes had passed after conversation with Vice-Admiral Tributs, the telegramme had not yet reached Tallinn. Despite this, operational readiness, condition I, was already announced in the peninsula of Hanko, the Baltic base and other places. This is further evidenced by entries in the war diaries. For instance:
"Readiness, condition 1, has been announced for the units of the coastal defence sector of the Libau and Windau naval bases."
At 0240 hours all the ships and shore units of the fleet were actually at full alert. Nobody was caught napping.
Before that there were weeks and months of exhausting, painstaking and sometimes irksome drudgery. There were incessant drills, timing and checks. Sleepless nights, upbraiding and, perhaps, punishment for being slow when the alert was sounded were now in the past. Many other things were over now too. But the effort, time and nerves put into training were abundantly justified now, because it took the fleets only minutes confidently, in unison and quickly to prepare to meet the enemy.
The first to take the blow was Sevastopol. Though the others engaged the enemy an hour or two later, they already knew that the enemy had attacked our country and that the war had begun. Sevastopol was ready for the attack. The fleet commander had to take the decision on opening fire himself. It should be recalled that only a week before we were being assured that there was no war in sight, that war talk was a provocation. I am putting this on record to show that a dramatic situation had taken shape that night, that the officers and men had to sweep aside internal inhibition, hesitation and uncertainty to repel the enemy stalwartly and gallantly.
Later I heard that, just like several days before, that Saturday night the ships were dispersed in Sevastopol harbour. Their weapons were ready for immediate action. In the blackout their silhouettes could not be seen from the shore on the black water. But in the evening of June 21 the city was brightly illuminated. The boulevards and gardens were crowded with well-dressed crowds in a weekend mood.
N. T. Rybalko, operations duty officer. Black Sea Fleet staff, described that evening as follows: "It seemed that nothing foreboded tragic events."
At about 2300 hours Rear Admiral Yeliseyev, chief of staff of the Black Sea Fleet, entered the office of the operations duty officer. He only said:
"I am going home, but I shall be back in a few minutes." Rybalko saw the chief of staff again less than two hours later, when he quickly walked into the room with the message in his hand. Rybalko further wrote:
"I remember it by heart, word for word. The only thing I am not sure about is the order in which the fleets were enumerated." Here is the telegramme:
"To: Northern Fleet, Baltic Fleet, Black Sea Fleet, Pinsk Naval Flotilla, Danubian Naval Flotilla. Announce forthwith operational readiness, condition 1. Kuznetsov."
The all hands parade signal was sounded at the main base. The siren alarmed the city and the batteries fired signal guns. The city loudspeaking system announced an alarm. Sailors immediately emerged from the doors of their homes and hastened to their ships.
Admiral I. D. Yeliseyev wrote in his memoirs: "In view of the tense situation we agreed that one of the superior officers who was empowered, in case of need, to take responsible decisions would be present at the fleet staff at night.
"In the night of June 21-22 it was my turn (I was chief of staff) to go on this watch. According to the naval tradition, the most unpredictable watch was from Saturday to Sunday. Therefore, it imposed the greatest responsibility on the duty officer.
"At 0103 hours we received a message from Moscow. Two minutes later it was on my desk. Soon it was submitted to the fleet commander who had just arrived. It was the order of the People's Commissar of the Navy to announce operational readiness, condition I. Without losing a moment we actuated the alert system which had been developed and tried out. It provided for two methods for summoning personnel: with the help of messengers (secretly) and by sounding the alert. First I ordered to take recourse to the first method. But then the staff reported that it was taking too long to heighten the fleet's readiness. So I ordered to sound the base alert.
"Operational readiness, condition I, was announced to the fleet at 0115 hours on June 22, 1941."
Gradually the lights in the boulevards and windows of the homes went out. The city authorities and some of the officers
phoned the staff to find out why it was necessary to plunge the city into a blackout so quickly. Some people asked:
"The fleet has just returned from an exercise. The crews need a little rest, don't they?"
The duty officer would say that the blackout should be enforced immediately.
The power station was ordered to cut off the supply without further delay. The city plunged into darkness which existed only in the South. Only a beacon continued to blink. There was no contact with it. Perhaps, a saboteur had cut the telephone line. A messenger was sent on a motorcycle to the beacon. He sped through the dark city.
At the staff officers were opening envelopes that had been kept in safes till that perilous hour. On the airfields the fighter planes fired short bursts to try out their weapons. The antiaircraft gun crews removed the safety pins from their guns. Launches and barges were plying the harbours. The ships were loading rounds of ammunition, torpedoes and other supplies. The crews of the coastal defence batteries were bringing into play their heavy guns to cover the deployment of the fleet with their fire.
The staff officers were making entries on the reception of reports from the Danubian Naval Flotilla which had announced readiness for action. Similar reports were coming in from naval bases and formations of the fleet. Rybalko wrote:
"At about 0200 hours on June 22 the entire fleet was alerted."
Close to 0300 hours the duty officer was informed that the signal service and air observer posts heard aircraft engines overhead.
Rybalko reported to I. D. Yeliseyev that Colonel Zhilin, chief of the antiaircraft artillery, was asking if he could open fire at unidentified aircraft.
"Report to the fleet commander," the chief of staff replied. When Rybalko reported this to the fleet commander there was an exchange which I have reproduced on the basis of the duty officer's notes.
Oktyabrski: Are any of our aircraft airborne?
Rybalko: No, there are none.
Oktyahrski: Now, I am warning you, if one of our aircraft is airborne, you will be shot tomorrow.
Rybalko: Comrade commander, may the batteries open fire?
Oktyabrski: Carry out the instructions.
I am quoting Rybalko's entries verbatim not to give an "efficiency report" on these men. I only want to show how difficult it was for the commanders to take the First dicisions that meant a switchover from peace to war. And it all happened in Sevastopol, the Black Sea Fleet's main base. To issue an order on opening Fire by the entire air defence system at still unidentified aircraft was not the same as ordering a frontier post to handle a trifling incident. Far from it. The command was assuming a tremendous responsibility. On the one hand, it could not afford to allow the enemy accomplish his mission and get away with it, and, on the other, it was not safe to give rise to undesirable complications. Somewhat later, all the fleets received clear-cut explanations that the war had started, so all doubts and hesitations were brushed aside.
The fleet commander's reply could not, naturally, satisfy Rybalko as duty officer. So, turning to I.D.Yeliseyev, who was standing beside him he asked: "What shall I say to Colonel Zhilin?" "Tell him that my order is that he is to open fire," I. D. Yeliseyev said flatly.
Speaking into the microphone N.T. Rybalko commanded: "Open Fire!"
But Colonel Zhilin too was well aware of the risks involved. Instead of pronouncing the brief navalese word "Right!" Colonel Zhilin remarked:
"Mind you, you bear full responsibility for this order. I am entering it into the war diary."
"I don't care where you are entering it. But open Fire at the aircraft!" Rybalko was getting nervous and he practically shouted out these last words.
0307 hours. The German planes were sneaking up to Sevastopol at low altitude. Suddenly the searchlights flashed. Their blinding beams began to search the sky. The antiaircraft guns of the shore batteries and the ships started to rumble. Several planes caught fire and crashed in flames. The others were in a hurry to discard their bomb load. Their purpose was to lock the ships up in Sevastopol's harbours and to prevent them from putting out to sea. The enemy failed to accomplish this. The mines the bombers dropped fell ashore instead of obstructing the channel. Some were dropped on the city and exploded destroying homes, causing fires and killing civilians.
The mines being dropped with parachutes, many civilians took them for paratroopers. In darkness a mine could easily be taken for a paratrooper. Though unarmed, women and even children hurried to the proposed place of touchdown to capture the Nazis. But as the mines burst the number of victims increased. However, the air raid was beaten off and Sevastopol welcomed the dawn of June 22 fully alert. The covers had been removed from the guns whose barrels were pointing at the sky or the sea.
Daybreak in Moscow was somewhat earlier. At three a. m. you could see everything. I lay down on a sofa to relax. I tried to imagine what was happening in the fleets. The low buzz of the telephone got me back to my feet again.
"Black Sea Fleet commander reporting," I heard a voice in the receiver say. The excitement it conveyed was a sign of some extraordinary occurrence.
"There has just been an air raid on Sevastopol. The antiaircraft artillery is beating off the attack. Several bombs have been dropped on the city."
Taking a look at my watch I saw it was three fifteen. So that was when it started. There was no room for doubt. It was war.
I dialled J. V. Stalin's office. A duty official replied:
"Comrade Stalin is not in his office and I don't know where he is."
"I have information of utmost importance which I must personally report to Comrade Stalin," I said trying to persuade the official.
"Sorry, I can't help you," he calmly replied putting down the receiver.
Without laying down the receiver I called up Marshal Timoshenko. I repeated to him word for word the report of Vice-Admiral Oktyabrski.
"Do you hear me?" I asked.
"I do," he replied.
The voice of Semyon Konstantinovich did not betray a shade of doubt. He did not even ask me to repeat what I said. Perhaps, I was not the first one to relay the news. He could have heard it from the command of a military area.
I knew the People's Commissar of Defence had his hands full, so I did not report to him on the situation in the fleets.
I did not leave the telephone for several more minutes. I dialled several other numbers where I thought I could get to Stalin personally. I failed, so I called the duty. official again:
"Would you, please, inform Comrade Stalin that German planes are bombing Sevastopol. This is war!"
"I shall report this to the right person," the duty official replied.
A few minutes later the telephone rang again. The voice coming through the receiver swelled with displeasure and annoyance:
"Do you know what you are talking about?" This was G. M. Malenkov speaking.
"I do. And I am reporting fully aware of the responsibility involved. The war has begun."
It seemed futile to waste time on idle talk. This was the time to act without delay. There was a war on.
Malenkov laid down the receiver. He, apparently, did not believe me. Somebody in the Kremlin must have been calling Sevastopol to check my communication. The exchange with Malenkov showed that the hope to avoid war had not yet perished even then, when the enemy had launched his attack and blood was being shed in the vast expanses of Soviet soil. Perhaps, that was why the People's Commissar of Defence displayed no haste in transmitting to the military areas the instructions he had just received. Perhaps, that was why they did not receive these instructions before the Nazi attack.
After Malenkov called me I hoped that the government would instruct me what to do immediately once the war broke out. No instructions followed. Therefore, taking full responsibility I ordered the staff to officially notify the fleets that the war had begun and that they should repulse all enemy attacks with all available weapons. For instance, acting on this basis the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet announced as early as 0517 hours on June 22:
"Germany has attacked our bases and ports. Repel every enemy attack with the help of weapons."
Of course, at that moment already we should not only have "repelled every enemy attack," but also have dealt retaliating blows at the enemy. But the Navy could not do this alone. It was necessary to draw up coordinated plans and to establish unified guidance of all the Armed Forces.
The Naval Staff transmitted still another order to the fleets: "The fleets shall forthwith lay mine fields in pursuit of the screening plan."
I remember the Baltic Fleet command ask permission to execute this mission somewhat earlier, when operational readiness, condition 2, was introduced, i.e. on June 19. But I could not grant permission because that was beyond my powers. That was why the Baltic Fleet received this order at 0630 hours on June 22. The Baltic theatre of naval operations worried us more than any other. And we tried to make up for lost time. Then an additional order was given: "The fleet shall lay mines round the clock using all suitable ships for the purpose, including destroyers." I remember L. M. Galler calling Tallinn over the phone and asking that the staff should expedite the operation because several thousand mines had to be laid. Rear Admiral D. D. Vdovichenko, commander of the fleet detachment, put to sea with a force to provide cover for the minelayers. N. I. Meshcherski, commanding officer of the minelayer Oka, later wrote that the operation was carried out at great risk with admirable poise and sense of duty.
The night passed in torturous expectation. There were no reports from the fleets yet. I was sure that Sevastopol was not the only city the Luftwaffe had attacked. Two possibilities harassed me more than any others, namely that of landing a descent and overwhelming air raids on naval bases.
At about ten o'clock in the morning on June 22 I went to the Kremlin. I decided to report the situation personally. Moscow was enjoying a serene Sunday. Just like on Sundays in general there were few people in the centre. The pedestrians were in their Sunday best. The few cars that sped through the streets startled the passers-by with their alarming hooters.
The capital was not yet aware that the conflagration of war was raging on the frontiers and that the advanced units were engaged in heavy fighting in an attempt to halt the enemy's onslaught.
The Kremlin was no different from what it was on any other Sunday. The guard at Borovitski Gate looked smart as ever. He saluted me and as always looked into the car. Slowing down a little we passed through the gate. I took a good look around, but there was no sign of alarm.
I decided that the leaders of the state had, apparently, met at some other place. But why was there no official announcement about the war yet, I wondered.
Finding nobody in the Kremlin I returned to my office. My first question was whether there were any calls. But nobody had called.
At noon on June 22 the Soviet government made a statement on Nazi Germany's perfidious attack on our country. The whole of the people now knew that the war had begun. The Naval Staff had received information on the fighting in the theatres of naval operations. Sevastopol had made it clear that the Luftwaffe had dropped mines, not bombs. The Nazis intended to block the channel, but as a result women and children suffered injuries. There were mines of a new design, they were electromagnetic mines. Somewhat later Izmail where the staff of the Danubian Naval Flotilla was located sent in a report too. There the war broke out in a frenzied squall of Fire from the Romanian bank of the Danube. The ships had been alerted and they immediately returned fire with equal force. They had sustained no losses. When evening set in, we learnt that the Luftwaffe had bombed Libau several times. The raids were beaten off with antiaircraft artillery Fire and Fighter planes. In the North planes operating from Norwegian airfields attacked our ships, airfields and other military objectives in the Kola Inlet.
Admiral A. G. Golovko called me over the phone: "May I bomb enemy aircraft on his own Fields?" "You may bomb German air stations in Norwegian territory," I replied.
Finland had not yet taken a direct part in the hostilities. It could hardly be called a neutral country. The sympathies of the Finnish government were obviously with the German Nazis. However, we could not yet start hostilities against the Finns, nor did we want to.
By the end of June 22 we got the First indications about the German drive on Libau. The enemy did not risk attacking the base from the sea. I hoped that the forces of the Baltic Military Area which were to defend the town and the base would repel the enemy.
The important point was that on the First day of the war the enemy had not sunk a single ship. He only inflicted slight damage on the Navy's installations.
Later, however, I saw that I had overlooked a few things. The enemy had forestalled us in many areas. This surfaced above all in the Baltic. By the time the Germans started the war they laid minefields off our coasts. Their U-boats were already in their patrol zones along the probable routes of our ships.
Obviously, before the war broke out we should not only have announced a heightened readiness condition, but also carried out partial mobilisation and deployment of the forces. We should have taken measures in response to every step Germany made to prepare for war. Plan Barbarossa had been worked out in detail. It was being gradually put into effect. Seeing that he could not take us unawares and that he might encounter a Fierce and well prepared repulse Hitler might have postponed the execution of the plan. He might not have given the order to attack us as he had not issued the order to execute Operation Sea Lion. An aggressor is deterred by the other side's determination and readiness to repel him, and not by his passive behaviour.
Before the Germans attacked, the Baltic Fleet staff had information on "suspicious silhouettes" at sea. All we did was to report on them. What these silhouettes were we learnt only during the early days of the war. The cruiser Maxim Gorkv struck German mines laid in advance. It was only the excellent proficiency and self-denying behaviour of the crew and the competent action of Captain 1st Grade A. N. Petrov. commanding officer of the cruiser, that helped save the ship which was soon reconditioned. Everything might have ended in a tragedy.
That period revealed quite a few other blunders on our part. We should not. therefore, ascribe them all to "Stalin's erroneous appraisal of the situation" alone.
Once the war had begun it was necessary to fight the enemy straining every effort and all our willpower, without sparing our lives.
Late in the evening of June 23 I was invited to Stalin. This was the first time I met him after the war began. The car drew up at an entrance in a blind alley where it was always quiet. There were never any people near it. Only a small number of people knew how to ascend to the First floor and to reach Stalin's reception room by a strip of carpet.
Having left my service cap in the wardrobe on the ground floor I entered the lift which took me to the first floor. There was nobody in the reception room. I assumed that everybody was already in the office and hastened to ask A. N. Poskryobyshev whether I could go in. A photograph of Stalin in a "budyonovka" hat of the Civil War time was hanging in its place on the wall at Poskryobyshev's desk. The photograph had been taken during the defence of Tsaritsyn. Externally nothing had changed.
In my mind I was getting ready to report on the normal deployment of the fleets, on the German thrust in the direction of Libau and on the contemplated bombardment of Constanta by ships of the Black Sea Fleet.
In Stalin's office, in addition to the Politbureau members, I saw the People's Commissar of Defence. As far as I could understand (there were maps on the table) they were discussing the organisation of defence lines in proximity of Vyazma. Stalin asked me to report the situation in the theatres of naval operations. Having heard my report he nodded with satisfaction and said: "Very well."
At that rnoment it was reported that German planes were approaching the city. Everybody rose and looked at Stalin as if asking what to do.
"It looks as if we shall have to interrupt our work," he observed.
Everybody got into their cars and headed for Kirovskaya underground station which had not yet been fully converted into offices. I was present when Stalin received reports from the Air Defence command post. Major General M. S. Gromadin, Moscow's air defence commander, was enduring moments of anguish as he set forth the measures he had taken, but the planes were getting closer and closer.
Soon it turned out that these were Soviet planes and that the alarm was a false one.
On the following day the papers wrote that this was an emergency drill. I imagined full well how the Air Defence command felt about it. But Stalin issued an order that nobody should be called to account or be severely punished.
But the false alarm proved useful. The antiaircraft defence of the capital was reinforced. On July 9, the State Defence Committee passed a special decision on this question. Acting on its basis GHQ, Supreme Command, more than trebled the number of fighter regiments in the 6th Air Corps which was defending Moscow. The 1st Antiaircraft Artillery Corps was also considerably expanded. The number of barrage balloons was trebled. Therefore, when the Luftwaffe launched a massive raid (of more than 250 aircraft) on the Soviet capital on July 22, the air defence force effectively repelled it. The fighters and antiaircraft artillery destroyed 22 Nazi bombers. Only a few enemy planes managed to force their way to the capital. They failed to inflict serious damage on the city.
During the entire period of the war close to 500 German bombers reached Moscow. As a rule, the air defence force intercepted them on the approaches to the city. Dropping their bombs in confusion they suffered heavy losses.
It gives me satisfaction to recall that the naval antiaircraft batteries which took part in the defence of the city showed splendid performance which was duly appraised.
When the situation became clearer on June 24, Admiral Isakov and I discussed the deployment of the fleets and analysed the situation. The enemy was driving hard on the Western sector, and there was no doubt about it. However, nobody knew where frontline was now or whether our forces had been able to stop the enemy.
From the very first hour of the war the Naval Staff maintained complete control of the fleets and the developments in the theatres. It was also abreast of all the orders issued by the People's Commissariat of Defence.
It should be mentioned that the events developed at a rate that was hard to foresee. Soon the enemy began to threaten our bases on the Baltic from the rear. We were now paying for being so cocksure of ourselves. It was then that I recalled a conversation I had with F. I. Kuznetsov, commander of the Baltic Military Area, shortly before the war. I wanted to know how the perimeter defence of Libau and Riga was organised, because many ships were based there. Obviously hurt by my assumption he remarked:
"Do you really think that we will allow the enemy to get as far as Riga?"
But now the rapid advance of the enemy threatened not only Riga, but also Tallinn, the fleet's main base. Two days after the opening of hostilities the situation of Libau was becoming hopeless. There was more in store for us. In two months the Baltic Fleet was to force its way through infinite dangers from Libau to Kronstadt, leaving one base after another. Late in August-early in September I went to Leningrad. These were days of great peril for the city. When I spoke to people some of the witnesses said that the most critical days were September 10-11, others named a later date. Y.A. Panteleyev. author of the book "Sea Battlefront", stated that the most dangerous day for Kronstadt was September 15. No wonder the German fleet was deployed at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland to intercept our ships if they attempted to be interned in Sweden. On September 27, a German fleet comprising the battleship Tirpitz, the heavy cruiser (pocket battleship) Admiral Scheer, the light cruisers Nurnberg and Koln escorted by six destroyers appeared in the Abo-Aland skerries with minesweepers, motor torpedo and patrol boats.
Soon two cruisers - the Emden and Koln - with two destroyers entered Libau.
But by late September the Germans realised that the Baltic Fleet had no intention of leaving Kronstadt. Having failed to secure success the Nazis began to dig in around Leningrad. Later they tried to devise other, more perfidious ways to take the city. Having laid siege to Leningrad they started to destroy it with air bombardment.
It was then that Tallinn was evacuated. The operation was accompanied by serious losses.
In August I went to Leningrad. When I returned to Moscow early in September I had a most unpleasant talk with Stalin on the threat to the Baltic Fleet. Pounding every word into my head he said:
"I don't want a single bailleworthy ship to fall into enemy hands."
Fortunately, the heroic resistance the defenders of Leningrad put up removed this item from the agenda.
Somewhat later the situation in the Black Sea theatre worsened. On land the enemy reached Odessa and Sevastopol, the fleet's main base. The sailors that gallantly defended these heroic cities added glory to the exploits in the Great Patriotic War.
It took our armies months of bloody Fighting before they were able to halt. the enemy and to turn the tide in the war.
Every day was packed with heroic deeds the valorous Soviet fighters performed on land, at sea and in the air. Many novels have been written about them. Many more shall appear.
However, I want the readers not to forget a matter of great importance. It is necessary seriously, profoundly and responsibiy to analyse the causes of our failures and mistakes in the early period of the war. The people who have survived the war and who honour in their hearts the sacred memory of those who did not return home are not responsible for these mistakes. Their conscience is clear. It is we, leaders of all grades, that are responsible for these mistakes. They weigh heavily on our conscience. In order that others should not repeat them these mistakes should not be hushed up or laid on those who are dead. We must have the courage to admit them honestly. A repetition of past mistakes shall be qualified as a crime.
I would like to make it clear again that the prewar period and the unsuccessful beginning of the war were only a stage in an unprecedented armed contention which the Soviet people won under the guidance of the Communist Party.
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