by Nikolai G. Kuznetsov, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, Hero of the Soviet Union
A decisive change in the course of the war in 1943 also changed the situation in all naval theatres. Together with land forces, the Navy was to drive the enemy from Soviet territory. By the end of 1944 victory came in sight. The situation in February 1945 made it possible to hold a conference of the heads of government of the Allied powers - the USSR, USA and Britain - in the Crimea. The entire Black Sea coast was already in our hands and only the Danube Flotilla, sailing up the river, was still conducting military operations.
As a member of the Soviet delegation I attended the Yalta conference.
I came to Sevastopol a week before the conference in order to check on preparations for the reception of the Allies' planes and ships. It was the end of January. A cold wind blew in Sevastopol, the ground was still covered with snow, and only at noon did the sun bring a little warmth. But as soon as we passed Baidary and descended to the plain we immediately fell the real Crimean spring. There was no wind. The sun blazed in the sky. We stopped our cars and got out to admire the blue sky and the calm turquoise green sea. It was difficult to believe that here our troops had retreated in the autumn of 1941 and that later our partisans, following the narrow steep mountain paths, had made their way through Baidary to the enemy rear. And only recently, these same passes had been crossed by our troops on their way to liberate Sevastopol.
On February 2, I. V. Stalin and V. M. Molotov arrived in Yalta and immediately went to their residence. On the following day we met the British and American delegations. The airfield was ready to receive the distinguished guests. Flags of the Allied powers were fluttering on masts. Not far from the runway stood tents which provided shelter from a gusty wind.
Precisely on schedule a four-engined C-54 plane appeared in the sky. Aboard it was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The airliner's engines had barely subsided when the stewardess opened a cabin door and a mobile though fairly obese Churchill appeared. Following him was a young woman in a military uniform, his daughter Sarah, who was accompanying her father on that historic trip.
Churchill wore a black cloth overcoat and a cap with a gleaming visor. He took the salute, carefully looking into the eyes of the Soviet soldiers, whose courage and invincibility had earned worldwide fame. In a few minutes he was already sitting in a tent partaking with visible pleasure of Russian vodka and caviar.
The heads of the Allied delegations were met by V. M. Molotov and A. Y. Vyshinsky and also by A. A. Gromyko and F. T. Gusev, Soviet ambassadors to the United States and Britain respectively. Naturally, the US and British ambassadors were there too.
I was to meet and, so to speak, to take care of British Admiral of the Fleet A. B. Cunningham. We knew each other but not face to face: our fleets had been in joint actions in the Barents Sea protecting Allied convoys on their way to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. I had heard about the domineering character and determination of this admiral so I imagined a tall, strong man brimming with health. Instead, I saw an elderly person of medium height with inflamed tired eyes. We had a quiet, unhurried talk, taking shelter in a tent untill we heard a stir on the airfield: Roosevelt had arrived. Everyone, including the British prime minister, went out to meet the American President. The airliner touched the concrete runway, made a short run, stopped. A special elevator-cabin brought Roosevelt down from the plane. Two tall soldiers carefully carried him to a jeep. A Negro servant solicitously wrapped his legs. The car moved slowly along the guard of honour, standing rigidly at attention. I remember the president's pale face. Apparently, the long journey had heavily taxed his strength. We knew that Roosevelt was very ill. Many years ago he had poliomyelitis and his legs had been paralysed since. Despite this handicap, he had had the will power and energy to hold responsible posts - including in the US Navy - and it was his fourth presidential term. But his transparently pale face revealed that Roosevelt was working to the limit of his physical ability.
Shortly, the heads of government left by car for Yalta. Cunningham and I stayed on a bit longer in order to meet Ernest King, Commander-in-Chief of the US Navy. It was particularly important for me to meet him: with King I was to solve the question of lend-lease ship reinforcements for our Pacific Fleet. King immediately impressed me as an old sea-dog: spare, tall, with the figure of an athlete and a weather-beaten red face.
Stalin was in Yalta but did not meet the guests. They say Churchill and Roosevelt were somewhat displeased by this. But then, we could understand that gesture on the part of Stalin: the Allies had for so many years procrastinated with opening a second front, leaving the Soviet Union to fight nazi Germany alone at a very difficult time for us. By the time of the Yalta conference the Soviet Union was not in such urgent need of aid. On the contrary, we had to aid the Allies. Shortly before the conference Field-Marshal Montgomery, getting stuck with his army in the Ardennes, had found himself in a difficult situation and, via Churchill, had asked for aid. Loyal to its allied duty, the Soviet Government, disregarding the weather and not waiting till "the last soldier had the last button sewn to his coat", had ordered its troops to launch an offensive. It was precisely during the Crimean meeting that the Soviet Army units forced the Oder, drawing off German divisions from the Ardennes.
The Americans were lodged in the former czar's residence in Livadia. In his book “I Was There” Admiral of the Fleet William D. Leahy joked about King sleeping in the former bed-chamber of the Russian Empress. Churchill and his entourage were placed in the Vorontsov Palace (they say Count Vorontsov had built it to the design of an English architect who had also designed Buckingham Palace). The Soviet delegation stayed in the former Yusupov Palace in Koreiz.
Being a seaman, I recall details of negotiations concerned with our fronts' naval flanks best of all. I remember Churchill's question to Stalin regarding Danzig. This port interested the British Prime Minister: one-third of the German submarines were being manufactured and their personnel trained in Danzig. Churchill was obviously satisfied with Stalin's reply: "Danzig is not yet under our artillery fire but there is hope that this will soon happen." It did.
During our land forces' offensive precisely in those days - at the end of January 1945 - submarine S-13 (commander A. I. Marinesco) sank the German liner “Wilhelm Gustlow”, aboard which nazi submarine personnel, who instilled justified fears in Churchill and Cunningham, were being evacuated from Danzig.
Though the defeat of nazi Germany appeared to be around the corner we had to conduct yet not one strategic operation with fleets taking part. On the Baltic Sea, our fleet was to assist the fronts to liberate local bases, perform landing operations and fight on naval communications. The Northern Fleet was aiding the Karelian Front on the coast, simultaneously helping the Allies to ensure the security of the convoys, which by then were sustaining small transport losses. We were successfully fighting nazi U-boats. Though their chances of success were dwindling with every passing day, individual fanatics were scouring the Barents Sea, some even after Germany's surrender. "But we are still fighting," Admiral A. G. Golovko, Commander of the Northern Fleet, reported to me by telephone in mid-May 1945, specifying the location and place of attack of a German submarine.
Of the 1945 Baltic Fleet operations mention is deserved of the landing of a force in April on the Frische-Nehrung Spit and the combats of our aviators and cuttermen on the enemy communication line between Libava and the Bay of Danzig.
When troops of the 3rd Byelorussian Front were smashing the enemy grouping in Konigsberg and occupying Danzig and Gdynia in the spring of 1945 the Baltic seamen aided them by naval operations, using warplanes and railway artillery and interacting directly with the frontline troops.
The Baltic Fleet, which had engaged itself with the nazis prior to the others, also had to fight after May 9 around the Danish Bornholm Island and also in liberating Libava, where some enemy units were still resisting.
In 1945 military operations were also performed by the Dnieper Flotilla. Together with the land forces, it had experienced the severe autumn of 1941: its monitors and cutters had fought to the last but had had to be scuttled when no alternative was left. Part of the personnel had joined the land units but many, including the flotilla commander, Rear-Admiral D. D. Rogachov, who had recovered from wounds, had been sent to reinforce the Volga Military Flotilla, which, together with the army, had been defending Stalingrad. When the enemy was rolled back from this city the Volga
Flotilla was ordered to remove the mines: the nazis had sought to mine the Volga fairways. Under a special order from General Headquarters I then left for Stalingrad and Saratov in order to assist the new commander, Rear-Admiral Y. A. Panteleyev, in his difficult mission.
The Day of Victory over nazi Germany will forever remain in the people's memory as the day of their liberation from fascism.
But after the signing of fascist Germany's surrender our duty as an Ally demanded preparations for an offensive in the east. Though the entire country was celebrating victory over Germany, realising that the principal enemy had been routed, the last onslaught was required in order to put a complete end to the Second World War.
On June 24, 1945 Moscow held a Victory Parade. A great deal has been written about it already but I remember how the decision to hold it was taken in Stalin's study and the General Staff immediately got down to relevant preparations.
Review of the troops was assigned to Marshal G. K. Zhukov and command of the parade to Marshal K. K. Rokossovsky.
I suggested that the naval regiment should be placed under the command of Vice-Admiral V. G. Fadeyev, a hero of the defence of Sevastopol. The day before the parade I personally checked this regiment's readiness. Nothing warranted any remarks. The personnel was the pick of the Navy and all were in fine fettle.
The rain did not detract from the high spirits of those who stood on the Mausoleum tribune either. Even Stalin did not conceal his uplifted mood. Usually, he rarely smiled or spoke. But on that day he was particularly affable and readily talked with all those on the tribune. Celebrated army commanders headed their columns. Generals, oflicers, privates - all marched smartly.
The parade's culmination is unforgettable, when the victorious troops threw down the captured nazi banners at the foot of the Mausoleum.
The Main Naval Headquarters, while maintaining the practice of morning and evening reports, was now thoroughly analysing the situation in the Pacific Fleet and its readiness for combat operations. The ships and units were being additionally supplemented by seasoned personnel from the Western fleets.
The approximate time of launching the offensive was already becoming clear: two to three months after the victory over Germany, as planned. In other words, sometime in August the fleet was to begin combat operations.
Back in mid-June 1945 I heard from General of the Army A. I. Antonov, Chief of the General Headquarters, that I was to leave for Potsdam to attend a conference of the Allies.
At dawn on July 14 our plane took off from the Central Airport and steered a course for Berlin.
On July 16 on the newly-built platform of the railway we - Marshal Zhukov, General of the Army Antonov, Vyshinsky, who then was our Deputy Foreign Minister, and the author - were to meet the Soviet delegation, led by Stalin.
Exactly at the scheduled time a steam locomotive with several cars pulled up to the platform. Stalin stepped off from one of the cars. He wore his usual grey service coat (though he already had the title of Generalissimo). Warmly greeting us, without lingering at the station, he got into a car. Together with Molotov and Zhukov, he went to Babelsberg - the residence of the delegations.
Though in the Far East the war was still continuing all members of the delegations were in a victorious frame of mind. However, the heads of government of the USSR, USA and Britain had other serious and difficult questions facing them.
I for one was concerned with the question of division of the captured nazi fleet.
Despite the victory and the outwardly excellent relations between the Allies, unlike at the Crimean conference, here, in Potsdam, many wide-ranging political matters caused debates. I distinctly remember an angry exchange between Stalin and Churchill over the division of the German fleet. The British stubbornly declined an equal division of this fleet while Stalin insisted on it, motivating his stand by the role the Soviet armies and fleets had played in defeating Germany.
Quite often, difficult questions would be put off "until better days" and the delegations would pass on to other questions. That was what happened this time.
But when only two or three days remained until the end of the conference I grew anxious and reminded Stalin about the captured fleet. The three commanders-in-chief - of the USSR, USA and Britain - were assigned to meet with foreign ministry representatives and draft a proposal.
Admirals King and Cunningham and the author met on the upper floor of the Zezilienhof Castle. I was lucky to preside over this conference and decided to insist at all costs on a solution satisfactory to the Soviet Union. I had been so ordered by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
We argued till we finally hit upon an unorthodox decision to divide the surrendered fleet into three "approximately equal parts" and draw lots. I feared that Stalin might be displeased by such a solution but everything went off well.
One way or another, the Allies divided among themselves more than 500 military vessels and 1,329 auxiliary craft. We received 155 combat ships.
The Potsdam conference was still in progress when I was summoned by Stalin. He instructed me to go to the Far East immediately after the conference.
IN THE FAR EAST
The Far East had long been a troubled theatre. Vladivostok had to be viewed as a place that must be protected under all circumstances. That was why in the early 1930s the Soviet Government decided to build up its Pacific Fleet in order to enable it to protect our maritime borders. I remember very well how, back in the second half of the 1930s, the Japanese, taking advantage of our weakness, sent their fishing vessels sailing in Soviet territorial waters. Only gradually, by annual "haggling", did we finally oust them. However, the safest way was to create and quickly develop a powerful fleet. Our weak Far Eastern ship-building industry made it difficult to reinforce the fleet with big surface ships. It was easier and more expedient to transport by railway disassembled submarines.
When I was first in command of the Pacific Fleet in 1937-39 it was already fairly well provided with submarines. The surface ship units were also growing: first those of torpedo boats, then those of patrol vessels. The rigorous conditions of a huge ocean developed excellent sailing qualities, which later manifested themselves in the war against nazi Germany.
When I first arrived in Vladivostok in 1937 I was amazed at the size of that naval theatre and the wealth and beauty of the local natural landscape. The environs of Vladivostok are particularly fascinating in autumn. The varicoloured maple trees made an extremely picturesque scene. In September and October it was still warm, for in these months the weather happens to be excellent there. It was so on the shores of the Amur Bay in October 1937. The most remarkable sights on the stretch of the coast from Vladivostok to Sovietskaya Gavan I saw later. How many amazingly beautiful bays there are, even around Vladivostok !
However, we were already plagued by the proximity of militarist Japan. There were frequent minor incidents. In the autumn of 1938 well-known events took place at Lake Khasan, not far from Vladivostok, where the Tokyo warlords attempted to grab part of Soviet border territory. When Marshal V. K. Blucher was setting out for the scene I talked with him at Fleet Headquarters. Frankly, neither of us was sure that this conflict would not grow into a war.
Then the Japanese were taught a lesson. But they tailed to draw appropriate conclusions. A year later, they provoked a larger conflict on the River Khalkhin-Gol.
By then the Kwantung Army in Manchuria had been hastily reinforced, obviously poised tor an attack against the Soviet Union. Though no major war broke out there was no really peaceful situation, which would make it possible to engage in calm combat preparations. This was the prevailing situation of ill-will on the part of Japan when nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. In the grim days of the autumn of 1941 there was absolutely no guarantee that Japan would not launch military operations against our country. I remember asking government permission, on discussing the naval border situation, to place mine obstacles around our bases. Mines, even our own, give a lot of trouble to the command. However, behind their protection life is more secure and the enemy would have to think twice before approaching major objectives like Vladivostok, Petropavlovsk-on-Kamchatka, and also the bays and coasts where troops could be landed.
Later, when war was raging in the West, there were periods when we also had to be fearful of the Far East. As a rule, this coincided with the most dangerous periods of the war with Germany. The situation changed after a decisive turn in the course of the war and when the United States, repulsing the early onslaughts of Japan, Itself went over to the offensive in 1943.
In 1944-45 we already felt more or less serene about our Far Eastern borders. Now aggression on the part of Japan would have been an act of insanity.
At the Crimean conference in February 1945 the first question raised was how to bring nearer the defeat of nazi Germany. On the Pacific we still foresaw major difficulties and needed, as Admiral of the Fleet King said to me, a fairly long time to achieve a final victory over Japan. This situation made Roosevelt request the Soviet Union to speed its readiness for launching military operations against Japan. As is known, agreement was reached that "two or three months" after the victory over Germany we would be prepared to do so.
At the Potsdam conference in July-August 1945 the question of the Soviet Union launching military operations in the Far East was deemed to be finally settled, and our General Headquarters indicated when they would begin.
On completing my work connected with division of the nazi fleet, I flew to the Baltic Sea and subsequently to Moscow and on to the Far East.
WAR AGAINST JAPAN
The Soviet Government declared war on Japan on August 8. Military operations began on the night of August 9.
Carrying on the offensive from three directions simultaneously, the Soviet troops overcame rugged, difficult terrain, crossing high mountain ranges. Fighting broke out on a front of 5,000 kilometres.
Our sailors immediately joined in the operations.
The Pacific Fleet was brought into Operational Readiness Number One at dawn on August 8, 1945. The merchant vessels took cover in preselected spots and a system of convoys was introduced on the naval communications. To the old mine obstacles, laid back in 1941, new ones had to be added.
In the early days of the war the fleet was ordered to make several landings on the Korean Peninsula. Besides, the fleet and the Northern Pacific Flotilla were to defend the entire sea coast and cut enemy communications. The nearest ports through which supplies and troops could come for the Kwantung Army were Yuki,. Rashin and Seishin. The fleet was also prepared for troop landings in these ports. According to reconnaissance data, these ports were guarded by powerful coast artillery. The best-fortified port was Seishin, with a garrison of up to 4,000 and strong coastal defences.
The first Soviet air and naval assaults were bold and successful. Already by August 11 a favourable situation had developed for troop landings in Yuki and Rashin. This was done within two days despite bad weather. The seizure of these two ports made it possible to launch a drive for Seishin.
These were extremely fierce battles. The Japanese constantly committed to action fresh reinforcements. But, despite the fanatic enemy resistance, on August 16 the Seishin naval base was occupied by troops landed by our Pacific Fleet ships.
By that time the Northern Pacific Flotilla, together with army units, had already launched operations for the capture of the Kuriles and Southern Sakhalin.
The operations proceeded as planned. In some places the Japanese were still offering stubborn resistance. Our concern that the Pacific Fleet seamen should master the combat experience of other fleets paid off. Now there were many commanders here who had fought in battles on the Black Sea.
I visited the Amur Flotilla. Its river craft and armoured cutters took an active part in defeating militarist Japan. I particularly liked the flotilla's monitors. These small but extremely well-designed ships turned out to be very efficient for close cooperation with land troops. They often operated far behind enemy lines, ensuring river crossings, landing troops and offering them supporting fire.
That within a matter of a few days the Soviet troops defeated the Kwaniung Army is largely to the credit of the Amur Flotilla sailors.
From the Far East I had two telephone conversations with Stalin. Once, hearing my report on the naval situation, he joked:
"You are still fighting?"
Our units were then landing on Kunashir Island, the most southerly of the Kuriles.
"Don't land on Hokkaido," the Supreme Commander-in-Chief warned in the same bantering manner.
"Not without an order," I replied.
RESULTS AND LESSONS OF THE WAR
Now that the war is already decades behind us some foreign historians are wasting a great deal of paper in futile attempts to belittle the role of the Soviet Armed Forces in defeating fascism - the worst enemy of mankind. Among other things, they misrepresent Soviet naval operations.
In effect, during the Great Patriotic War our Navy repulsed the enemy surprise attack and went over to a vigorous offensive in all naval theatres. From the very first days of the war our naval operations combined with the overall strategy of our Armed Forces. That was the only way it could be. That had been taught to us, sailors, back in prewar days. That was registered in our operational and tactical documents and checked in the course of major and minor exercises.
When warranted by the situation the Navy - ships, aircraft, coastal defences and marine units - closely cooperating with the land forces, lent the fronts all possible support on the coastal directions.
As a result, during the war our fleets destroyed about 1,300 transports with a total displacement of over three million tons and more than 1,200 enemy military vessels and auxiliary ships.
The naval aircraft performed a total of 384,000 sorties destroying close to 5,000 enemy planes. More than 100 naval landing operations were performed with a total participation of close to 330,000 troops. Up to 2,000 combat craft and several thousand auxiliary ships participated in the landing operations.
II was precisely the intensive operations of our fleets and their constant readiness to repulse the enemy from the sea that ruled out all enemy landings on our coasts.
During the war the Soviet Navy carried across various waters about 10 million people and more than 94 million tons of cargo of all kinds.
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