There Shall Be a Navy
From N.Kuznetsov, On the Eve of the War, Voyenizdat Publishing House, 1966, (in Russian), with a few changes.
A Dream Comes True
In autumn 1919 a boy from Medvedka, an out-of-the-way village on the River Ukhtomka, a tributary of the Northern Dvina, was heading for Kotlas in the hope of finding a job. On the way he met a group of sailors and decided to stick to them.
That was how I volunteered to serve in the Northern Dvina Naval Flotilla. The Civil War did not last much longer. In spring the Soviet forces liberated Arkhangelsk from the foreign interventionists. Upon execution of its mission the Northern Dvina Naval Flotilla was disbanded. But the young seamen remained in the service.
After six months of marching drills (which passed like a single day) we were transferred to Leningrad. Those who wished to enter Naval School were sent to a preparatory school which had just been opened. I was enrolled in the junior semester. I could not hope for anything better than that after three years at a parish school.
Late in 1922, I was transferred from the preparatory school to Naval School (which graduated its first group of young Red commanders that year).
The Naval School building being originally designed for six companies of cadets and guardemarines (midshipmen), there was plenty of room for four small classes.
More than two and a half centuries ago, i. e. on January 14, 1701 a Royal Decree was issued which reflected Russia's urgent need for appearing on the high seas. It read in part:
"In this state there shall be a school of mathematical, navigational and other sophisticated arts."
It was Peter I that established a nautical school in Moscow. It was later shifted to St. Petersburg and renamed the Naval Academy.
In May 1917, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin addressed a rally at Naval School. He informed the working people of Petrograd about the April Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks). After the Great October Socialist Revolution the classrooms of Naval School were taken over by experienced seamen who had taken part in the Revolution and the Civil War.
When I entered Naval School it had already introduced a normal three-year curriculum.
Thus, my dream had come true. I always wanted to devote my life to service in the Navy. The yellow building of Naval School was now my home. But it took us some time to get used to it. The head boards of the beds in the dormitory still bore the names of the former titled cadetscounts and barons. And now one of these beds was occupied by a common peasant boy instead of a descendent of the Livens, members of the old aristocracy.
There were not many cadets in those days: our class included about a hundred. Most of the rooms were vacant. When we had our meals the huge Revolution Hall was only half full. Sometimes the Party organisation of the whole of Petrograd would hold its meetings there. On Mondays it was used as a concert hall where distinguished artists performed for audiences. Fyodor Chaliapine, the famous basso, would perform Mephistopheles' aria there. The Hall was preceded by a picture gallery with priceless canvasses by Russian seascape painters. We would stand for a long time before such paintings by Aivazovski and Bogolyubov as "Chesma", "Navarino", "Battle of Afon" and "Sinop" which gave us an insight into the past glory of the Russian Navy.
The school was mainly staffed with officers of the former imperial Navy. All of them, with very few exceptions, proved their loyalty to Soviet power. They worked faithfully and self-denyingly.
Distinguished professors of Petrograd taught general education subjects. My classmates still remember the mathematician Lyaskoronski. He was a master of his subject. Since we had poor knowledge of mathematics he would give us a few additional hours after classes in the evening.
The Lenin Enrolment
There are events which work sudden, radical changes in regular life. In a few days or even hours people live through more experiences than in several years. In my own life and in the lives of many of my coevals the death of Vladimir Ilyich was such an event. Though more than four decades have passed since then, I still clearly remember the bleak winter evening in Petrograd. Our classes were over for the day.
And suddenly we were stunned by the frightful news of Lenin's death.
Nobody assembled us or ordered us to fall in. There was no official announcement. But everybody knew that it had happened. Everything that seemed important to us a moment ago lost all meaning and plunged into infinity. We forgot about going on furlough and doing our homework. Our books were lying open on our desks before us. We forgot to solve our mathematical problems. The sentences we were writing in our copybooks remained unfinished.
We had an urge to be together and feel one another's elbows. We gathered in groups and exchanged remarks in low voices. The regular signals were muffled too. As the column marched through the long echoing corridors the cadets did not stamp their feet, but walked nearly noiselessly.
Our minds and talks were centered on the man we lost. None of us had seen Vladimir Ilyich Lenin or heard his voice. Until that moment, perhaps, we did not realise what he meant to us, to our people, and the whole of mankind. You could not take this in a moment. You would need years or decades for that. But we already began to comprehend that the loss was an irreparable one.
In Lenin's time there was no adulation in connection with his name. A really great man he was really modest. He was simply referred to as Comrade Lenin or Ilyich. He was an embodiment of the Revolution, its triumphs and the future of the people. When he died we were orphaned. Everybody experienced the feeling of a son who had suddenly lost his father. You would always appeal to him in the hour of difficulty, and he would know what to do. When he died, the burden of new responsibility weighed heavily on your shoulders.
On the following day we learnt that a small naval unit would join the Petrograd delegation to attend the funeral of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. I was included in it too.
We were to stand in the guard of honour on Saturday, the last day before the funeral. We were escorted to the Hall of Columns through a side entrance which was also used as an emergency exit. We climbed to the gallery carefully placing our feet on the steps of the staircase. We looked down in silence. The crowds of mourners passed by a tall bier. They carried the heavy burden of grief of Moscow, Russia and all the peoples inhabiting the Soviet Union and of all the working people of the world. The musicians were-playing sad solemn tunes which merged with the sobs of the mourners.
My post in the guard of honour was on the right, at the foot of the coffin. Though the stream of grievers flowed unceasingly, it seemed to me as if I saw nothing at all and as if my mind was vacant. I was looking at Lenin's face. I knew I had to fix it in my memory forever.
I cannot convey what we thought and felt during that long night and the following day, when we formed a line along the human corridor to allow the workers and friends of Lenin to carry his body. This was the last routeto the Red Square and the Tomb.
We formed the "rearguard" of the procession to the Red Square. We were practically behind the coffin.
Soon after the funeral of V. I. Lenin we returned to Naval School, to Leningrad, no longer Petrograd. The city was given a new name. It was the workers of Petrograd that renamed it Leningrad.
When I returned to Naval School, I went to the Party cell and filed in an application for membership. It was only a few lines long, but they summed up all that I had thought and come to understand in the days of mourning in Moscow.
Many thoughts flashed through my mind as I faced the Party meeting. But I said only a few words about myself. The hall was full of men who had taken part in the Revolution. They were fighters Lenin had steeled, whereas I was only at the beginning of my road in life. I wanted to be worthy of the title of Communist.
This is what I pledged to the comrades who admitted me to membership.
Service in Ships
I spent four years at Naval School. In winter we attended classes and in summer we sailed in ships. We learnt seamanship from the start. We were taught to clean the deck, polish the copper, and keep watch as beginners. But with every passing year our duties became more and more complicated.
In our graduate year we had practice aboard a battleship. We were admitted to keep watch as full fledged officers on the bridge. K. I. Samoilov, commanding officer of the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna, would issue the order to moor, and we would give the pertinent commands. The captain's confidence filled us with pride.
The cadets of our class spent two summer seasons aboard the obsolescent, but highly treasured, cruiser Avrora. The commanding officer was L.A. Polenov. The cadets treated him with deep regard: Polenov served in her way back in 1917, when she fired the historic round.
In 1926, I bade farewell to Naval School. Before graduation we argued where it was best to serve. In those days the most tempting and promising appointment was a battleship. When we were in training cruises in the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna K. I. Samoilov, commanding officer, would say to us:
"Service in a battleship is an incomparable, though tough, training course."
Samoilov would study each of us intently. His purpose was "to spot a few talents" for his ship. Though I had been selected, my fate took a different turn. That year the cadets who completed Naval School with excellent marks were granted the right to choose the fleet they wished to serve in. When my name was read out among the excellent cadets I stood to attention and said:
"I wish to serve in the Black Sea Fleet." This decided my fate. I was appointed to the Black Sea Fleet.
While I studied at preparatory school and then at Naval School the Soviet Navy was being restored. The newborn Soviet Republic had to start anew. During the Civil War nearly all the ships of the Black Sea Fleet became practically unserviceable. Some of them were lost in action, other ships, on Lenin's order, were scuttled by their own crews to prevent them from falling into enemy hands, and still others were taken by the White Guards to Bizerta, a French base in North Africa.
We knew the names of former tsarist naval officers who faithfully served Soviet power, though they did not always understand the developments. Among them were M.V. Viktorov, L.M. Galler, E.S. Pantserzhanski, S. P. Stavitski and G.A. Stepanov. We also heard about seamen who distinguished themselves in the Revolution and the Civil War, and who received high appointments. Among these were A.G. Zosirnov, N.F. Izmailov, I.M. Ludri, R.A. Mukievich, K.I. Dushenov, I.D. Sladkov, V.D. Trefolev and P.Y. Dybenko, Chairman of the Baltic Fleet Central Committee and first People's Commissar for Naval Affairs.
Though our shipbuilding industry was weak and there were few ships in the fleet, we cadets had no fear of temporary difficulties. When we completed Naval School, we had infinite faith in the future of the country and its Navy.
With Faith in the Future
I gave up the Baltic Fleet with its battleships, the dull Kronstadt and the splendid, though rainy, Leningrad. I chose the Black Sea and the new cruiser Chervona Ukraina (the former Admiral Nakhirnov) which had been laid down before the Revolution, but completed only in the 1920s.
In my dreams of the Black Sea, Sevastopol and prolonged cruises I thought that nothing could be better than service in the newest cruiser.
We, watch officers of the cruiser, wanted to know the officers we were going to serve with. We heard from several sources that the commanding officer of the Chervona Ukraina was N.N. Nesvitski, the executive officer A.I. Belinski, and the first lieutenant L.A. Vladimirski.
Dressed in new uniforms and looking "smart" we reported to the commanding officer of the cruiser. The crew was still living in barracks. N.N. Nesvitski's "cabin" was on the ground floor. Its windows looked out into a spacious yard with several mobile army kitchens in it.
Shortly after our arrival we cast off the mooring lines and set sail. The workers that had built the ship bid us a friendly farewell. They were obviously proud of the job they had done.
We were heading for Sevastopol to conduct sea trials. For the time being, all of us, including the captain and seamen, were mere passengers. The ship was under the command of P. I. Klopov, master from the shipbuilding yard. The machinery was handled by civilian engineers and mechanics. Our job was to watch them, learn from them, and carry out duties of an auxiliary character. It was only half a year later that the acceptance commission signed the acceptance certificate and the cruiser was commissioned as a naval ship. New colours were hoisted on this occasion. But it took quite a long time to turn her into a real fighting ship. Serving in a new ship was not easy. The crew had not mastered the machinery and other equipment. The level of training was not adequate and, in the beginning, the discipline was slack. These factors created tremendous difficulties.
In the Chervona Ukraina I realised that the training of efficient command personnel was a difficult process which required a long time. The higher the rate of technological progress the less time it took to build a ship. But much more time to train officers. They were to handle increasingly sophisticated equipment.
Gradually, thanks to our efforts, the cruiser was becoming a well matched team. We then carried out gun firing and torpedo practice. We conducted several long cruises. Two years later the Chervona Ukraina deserved to be called a full fledged fighting ship.
In those days the country was realising the slogan: "There shall be a navy!" It was adopted by the Ninth All-Russia Congress of Soviets. Before that the country had other things on its hands. This was quite understandable, because the industries were weak and we were short of funds. It was necessary to recondition the old ships. We could not yet dream of building new ones.
The Navy needed a leader and Rornuald Adamovich Muklevich was appointed Chief of the Naval Forces.
Some quarters did not believe it would be possible to build a powerful navy. Others did not think it was expedient. Muklevich had to cope with a number of very difficult problems. A man of outstanding intelligence and considerable experience in life Rornuald Adamovich Mukievich saw the difficulties that had to be resolved to accomplish the task assigned to him. He knew it would take years to enable the Navy to live up to its missions.
From the outset Mukievich persistently fought against harmful theories designed to separate the Navy from the country's Armed Forces. He also opposed high standing army officers who underestimated the role of the Navy and sought to subordinate it to the army command. Some of them even proposed to introduce the army uniform for naval officers and men. He defended his position everywhere: at command conferences and in the press.
Rornuald Mukievich published a series of articles in Morskoi sbornik (Naval Bulletin) in which he revealed the important role the Navy played within the framework of the Armed Forces. Thus, in an article entitled "Army-Navy Cooperation" (Morskoi sbornik. No. 2, 1928) he wrote:
"We have witnessed attempts to separate the Navy from the country's Armed Forces."
In referring to the military reform which was being carried out under the supervision of Mikhail V. Frunze Mukievich explained his concept as follows:
"Of course, centralisation should not interfere with the independent development of the Naval Forces to a certain, expedient degree."
In his articles he formulated a very important idea in clear-cut terms:
"Defence is the joint mission of our Armed Forces." He repeatedly said that effective Army-Navy co-operation was essential for success in war.
Proceeding from the USSR's economic potential Mukievich maintained that it needed ships for defence and not for supremacy on the seas. He wrote:
"We cannot seek to accomplish missions on the high seas, we cannot set ourselves the task of achieving supremacy on the seas... Therefore, it is not necessary to build battleships or Washington class cruisers. Our missions are of a defensive character."
He did not go to the other extreme either. He did not propose to build a mosquito fleet alone which was to be made up of motor torpedo boats and other light craft. Mukievich was firmly convinced that a strong navy was needed. When he was Chief of the Naval Forces, the staff began to work on a long-term new construction programme. It paid special attention to submarines, motor torpedo boats, the air arm and surface ships, "but without battleships and Washington class cruisers." Though it is a pity, few people understood the expediency of this approach.
Rornuald Adamovich paid serious attention to tactical training of command personnel and combat training of the fleets. The Combat Regulations of the Naval Forces and Navy Regulations were produced under him. He frequently visited the fleets and took part in cruises. He tried to attend the graduation ceremonies at Naval College and Naval Schools. Mukievich demanded that the officers should acquire a correct idea about the role of the Navy within the framework of the Armed Forces. He emphasised the need for strict discipline. He would say:
"We have large-scale' discipline, but we have not yet achieved 'small-scale' discipline."
He spared no pains to introduce proper order in all ships, and even "little things" mattered to him.
In July 1929, the Chervona Ukraina was required to perform an unusual and unexpected cruise. When we received the orders, she was carrying out her summer combat training plan.
The planned sortie for practice Fire and exercises was cancelled. The fleet unit commander and commanding officer of the cruiser did not let us into the briefing at the fleet staff. Two or three days later the entire crew was ordered to form on deck in dress No. 1, i.e. in whites. In the depth of Yuzhnaya Harbour we sighted a big staff launch. When it drew near we recognised J.V. Stalin and O.K. Ordzhonikidze. They came aboard accompanied by V.M. Orlov, fleet commander, and G.S. Okunev, member of the Military Council. As soon as the guests appeared aboard the cruiser cast off from the buoy and, swinging around swiftly brought herself on the Inkerman range. She sailed close inshore. We were to make a brief stop offMukhalatka where K.Y. Voroshilov, People's Commissar of Defence, was on holiday. A launch lowered from the ship brought him aboard. As far as I can remember he brought Ordzhonikidze's daughtera child of eight or nine with him. She was eager to see what a real warship was like. The talks were brief. Having posed for a photograph with the crew K.Y. Voroshilov left for the shore.
Our guests were enjoying a cool evening on the bridge. J.V. Stalin and G.K. Ordzhonikidze were not old then. Both were wearing grey jackets. Grigori Konstantinovich was leaning on the bridge dodger and was telling the officers something in a lively manner, accompanying his speech with gestures. He spoke Russian with a noticeable Georgian accent. J.V. Stalin was constantly filling his pipe and puffing at it without inhaling. I again saw V.M. Orlov and G.S. Okunev.
I did not listen to our high standing guests. It is not proper for a young officer to intervene in a conversation of top level superiors. But I think that, though J.V. Stalin and G.K. Ordzhonikidze who was in charge of the country's heavy industry were aboard the ship only for a short time, this played a positive role in the development of the Navy.
About six years later I again met Ordzhonikidze aboard the Chervona Ukraina, but this time I was her commanding officer. I learnt from him that he had a good knowledge of the naval construction plans. It took them years to mature.
In the evening the crew entertained the guests at an amateur concert on the quarter deck. Of course, amateur performers were invited from other ships to assure success. It appeared that the guests and everybody else were pleased with the performance. That same evening, on July 26, 1929, J.V. Stalin made the following entry in the ship's log:
"I visited the cruiser Chervona Ukraina and attended an amateur concert... I have met wonderful people, they are brave and cultured comrades who are ready to do anything for our common cause..."
Three years had passed since the cruiser hoisted her colours. No time was wasted. The Chervona Ukraina was now a real fighting ship.
In autumn I was to go to Leningrad to study at Naval College.
"Bays or Straits?"
Entering the graceful building of Naval College on the Eleventh Line of Vassilyevski Island in Leningrad was an exciting experience for me. The College was in a period of transition from a short-term to a regular curriculum. That was why the training period was increased and extra classes were conducted in the evening. To master the course the officer students had to put a lot of effort into the studies. Not all of them, particularly those over thirty, could complete the College. But most of them coped with the full college course with honours and helped develop the Navy.
The operations department I had chosen had a three-year training period. In the beginning an attempt was made to switch over to the full curriculum. But it failed. One out of every two officer students had not completed regular Naval School. The command was, therefore, compelled to simplify the programmes of some subjects so that everybody could master them.
Those who had completed Naval School felt, already during the first semester, that the programmes were too easy for them. This made it possible to put in more effort into individual work. We made use of our free time as we saw fit. Some would read naval literature, others would concentrate on optional subjects. V.A. Alafuzov who was my neighbour in the classroom and I decided to study foreign languages to read the works of foreign naval theorists in the original. I shall deal with this later.
In those days the College eagerly discussed the theme: "What is the future of the Soviet Navy?" We attended these discussions not only as listeners, but also as contributors.
In the early 1930s, our industries could build practically all types of ships. Having strengthened its positions in the world, the USSR had to establish itself more actively on the high seas.
The Naval Directorate, especially after R.A. Mukievich was placed at its head, was drawing up a sizable, ten-year, new construction plan.
The main subject of discussion at the College was: "What sort of navy does the country need?"
Some comrades, though few in number, favoured the construction of a so-called "mosquito" fleet. They averred that it could be built with limited funds.
On the face of it the idea appeared tempting. A relatively small sum would be enough to create a fleet of small craft which, in the very beginning, could beat off an enemy attack.
However, this view no longer met the requirements of the time. Therefore, fewer and fewer people supported it.
The College command and most of the officer students supported two principal concepts. The first was to concentrate the effort mainly on the construction of submarines and the second was to build not only submarines, but also surface ships.
As far as I remember, Professor B.B. Zherve, Commandant of Naval College, upheld the latter concept. He maintained that it was necessary to have not only submarines, but also various types of surface ships. Under pressure of his opponents the professor gradually, though unwillingly, surrendered his positions.
A.P. Aleksandrov, then a young instructor, strongly favoured the construction of submarines only. In his lectures he tried to drive home the idea that in future battles the submarines would play a tremendous role. He would zealously describe them as the only powerful, and absolute, weapon at sea. Quoting examples Aleksandrov tried to prove to us that, in the First World War, the powerful German submarine fleet nearly brought Great Britainthe supreme sea powerto its knees.
Aleksandrov did his utmost to persuade us that it was impossible to lock up the submarines in their harbours. It is true, however, that operational war games on charts did not confirm his thesis.
Later, the Great Patriotic War resolved our doubts. Having installed several lines of antisubmarine barriers in Gulf of Finland in 1943 the enemy actually prevented our submarines from venturing out into the Baltic Sea.
There were cases when the opposing parties resorted to "foul play" in arguments. Thus, the "submariners" would accuse their opponents of supporting reactionary ideas of supremacy on the seas, which were advanced by Alfred Mahan of the USA and Philip Colomb of Great Britain. They would aver that their viewpoint alone was the only correct and progressive one.
Owing to their youth and categorical thinking the officer students would support A.P. Aleksandrov's basically sound theory. They would test its validity in games.
Sometimes senior officers of the Naval Directorate would take part in the discussions. Once Mukievich came to the College. The Communists filled the assembly hall.
I recall that the report sparked off a heated exchange. It seemed that the opposite viewpoints could not be reconciled. Most of the speakers upheld a correct position. They proposed to build various types of ships, though the country could provide limited funds and possibilities of the industries were still inadequate. But they paid due attention to submarines and motor torpedo boats. Some, however, supported the construction of big ships. They emphatically stated that a major sea power, such as the USSR, could not do without them. At the same time they did not deny the role of submarines. It is true, however, that nobody mentioned battleships.
The conference was already going on for several hours and everybody was tired. The audience wondered what Mukievich would say. He was jotting down notes in his notebook. Once in a while he would raise his hand to cool the passions. He was not in a hurry to speak. Finally, when the list of speakers was exhausted, Rornuald Adamovich took the floor. He approached the rostrum in a deliberately slow step and opened his notes. Silence set in immediately.
"So, what will it be: bays or straits?" he puzzled us from the outset. Then taking his time he smoothed out the corners of his papers and started to explain what he meant. Those who favoured the "strategy of straits", he said, proposed to build only big ships disregarding the country's economic potential. They, so to say, reflected the ambitions of the tsarist government to seize the straits and to secure an outlet to the Mediterranean. Those who wanted to build small ships and craft, he said, supported the "strategy of bays". These, so to say, limited the fleet's missions to the Gulf of Finland, to the passive defence of the home shores.
After this witty introduction Mukievich set forth the official view on the Navy's future. It is necessary to have a strong navy, but its construction should be geared to the industry's capabilities. He said:
"We shall build various types of ships that will be needed for the country's defence, but not for achievement of supremacy on the seas and oceans. Therefore, there is no need for battleships and so-called Washington class cruisers with a displacement of more than 10,000 tons and a big endurance."
Mukievich set forth the solution we had long sought for in vain. In clear cut terms he formulated a definite purpose and logically substantiated the tasks confronting the sailors and the shipbuilders.
When Mukievich finished, the audience applauded loudly in approval.
"He has the mind of a statesman," we said as we walked out of the hall.
What did subsequent experience and particularly the experience of the war reveal?
The best solution was a properly balanced naval force comprising ships of various types on each theatre so that they would be able to accomplish the given fleet's missions. Today nobody will question our need for a fleet made up of all types of modern ships and craft, from shore based missiles, aircraft, nuclear powered submarines and missile cruisers to depot ships and tug boats. The strength of a fleet lies in a unified balanced complex. The loss of a depot ship will decrease the might of the fleet as a fighting organism. Extremes are always harmful. Naval College equipped us with a sound operational-tactical education. We thoroughly studied many of the problems of potential war at sea. It was Naval College that instilled in us sound views on the role of the Navy in the defence of our Homeland. Proceeding from a strategy common for all the Armed Forces we clearly saw the part the Navy was to play as one of the fighting services. This concept was clearly laid down in the Combat Regulations of the Naval Forces. I cannot name a single sailor who suffered from the so-called "Naval syndrome" overestimating the role of the Navy in war.
At Naval College I put a lot of effort into the study of foreign languages. I passed the examinations for an interpreter, third class, in German and French. I even got an extra 15 roubles a month for this.
Naval College broadened our outlook and equipped us with theoretical knowledge. This enabled us to form definite views, concepts and ideas. In those days, in 1932, the Navy offered good possibilities for rapid promotion. One could give up his principles for a relatively easy job and a broad stripe in practically no time. But I could not forget a good piece of advice Ivan Nikolayevich Dmitriyev, a merited navigator, gave us at Naval School. He said:
"If you have entered Naval School without intending to obtain command of a ship, you have made the wrong choice in life."
I decided not to seek a high post and asked for an appointment to the Black Sea Fleet. I was duly appointed executive officer of the cruiser Krasny Kavkaz. When I started to serve in the Chervona Ukraina she was then the newest ship. The Krasny Kavkaz, having been modernised to the latest achievements in engineering, was just commissioned as a ship of the Navy.
A Troublesome Job
I left for Sevastopol with V.A. Alafuzov, a college mate of mine. He was to serve in the fleet staff and I aboard a cruiser. The Krasny Kavkaz was, so to say, a prototype of the new big Soviet ships to be laid down a few years from then. Her main armament consisted of only four (instead of 15) fundamentally new guns. They were long-barrelled 180 mm pieces in twin turrets fore and aft. The length of their barrels ensured a tremendous range and high accuracy of fire.
Yes, the cruiser had only four guns, but they were of a bigger calibre. They were outfitted with a director control system which made it possible to conduct fire even if the enemy was sighted only from the round top, i. e. from the very top of the mast. The guns were laid with the help of instruments. The turret crews only had to watch the hands of the dials and to reload the guns in time for the next broadside. As a result, the cruiser's four guns could fire as much metal per minute as the 15 guns of an earlier design. In addition, the range and accuracy of fire were far superior to the latter. In actual fact all the ship's departments were outfitted with the latest instruments and mechanisms. The navigating officer expressed a high opinion of the automatic position plotter, new log and sounding instrument. The torpedo department had the latest tubes with torpedoes of the latest model. A hydroacoustic device made it possible to detect submarines at a considerable range by the noise. There was a radio announcing system. The reader might express scorn, but in those days this was a new development. We all eagerly listened to the orders announced over the loudspeaker system which replaced the megaphone, the traditional bugle and boatswain's pipe.
The crew's accommodations were different too. There were no hammocks any more. Every seaman had a permanent berth of his own.
I set foot on the deck of the Krasny Kavkaz as executive officer.
It is important for every officer to spend some time as executive officer, because it is a school of naval service. It would be fair to say that the executive officer alone senses the life of the ship with every fibre and feels its pulse. If I went ashore for a day, I felt I was no longer abreast of the ship's life. It took several days to make up for lost time. The executive officer has practically no free time for himself. The door of his cabin is open round the clock. It does not even occur to anybody that the working day is over and that the executive officer has earned a little rest too. On the face of it might appear that his duties are limited. But in actual fact he cannot afford to overlook a single detail in the life of the ship. He must not neglect a single occurrence or serious disciplinary offense. On some days the executive officer will inspect his ship several times, pry into every hole a dozen times and dive into the engine room and everywhere he will find something to do.
I started to serve in the Krasny Kavkaz practically at the same time with her newly appointed commanding officer Nikolai Filippovich Zayats. He started service before the Revolution as a seaman. Under the Soviets he completed the courses for command personnel. He loved the Navy with all his heart and devoted his whole life to it. It would be correct to say that he was a commanding officer of the so-called period of transition in the history of our Navy. In those days only a few of the competent officers of the imperial Navy were loyal to Soviet power. In addition, some of them tended to remain aloof from the ships' crews. There was a shortage of Soviet command personnel who came from the midst of the people and who had a regular naval education. That was why former seamen who had obtained an education and accumulated adequate experience were appointed commanding officers of big ships.
I was pleased to serve with Nikolai Filippovich Zayats, because he gave me plenty of leeway. When he saw that the ship's crew showed good performance, he did not interfere in the routine details.
In 1933, the Krasny Kavkaz executed a particularly memorable missiona cruise to neighbouring countries. A detachment comprising a cruiser and two destroyers visited Turkey, Greece and Italy. This was a courtesy call in return to a visit of Italian submarines to the Black Sea. Three submarines accompanied us to Istanbul. Then they returned home, while we proceeded further. As always the officers and men were in good spirits. It was a pleasure to go on a cruise to other countries after a period of rigorous training.
When autumn set in, large-scale exercises and manoeuvres were held. Hardly had we secured to a buoy off Point Pavlov-ski, when the fleet staff ordered us to set sail again. Putting on his spectacles N.F. Zayats frowned and started to go through the sheets with the plans for the exercises. He hated paper work, but he could not go against his superiors.
Commanding Officer of a Cruiser
I was still going through the experiences of the last cruise. In my mind's eye I still beheld the Mediterranean, the Acropolis, Mount Vesuvius, the island of Capri with the famous azure grotto, when at a late evening hour I was expressly summoned to the Chervona Ukraina.
As the launch ploughed through the seas ruffled by a cruel north wind, I wondered what could have possibly happened.
When I entered the flag mess, I saw Ivan Kuzmich Kozhanov, fleet commander, studying a chart with a course plotted in a thin line from Sevastopol to Batumi. Reading the question on my face he said: "I will clear everything up for you in a moment." I waited till he finished what he had been doing before I arrived. Lifting his head from the chart I.K. Kozhanov fixed his eyes on me and said:
"You have been appointed commanding officer of the Chervona Ukraina" In keeping with the naval tradition I replied:
Having served in the Chervona Ukraina for several years I thought I knew her rather well. But when I took over the command I felt fear creep into me. I had nobody at my elbow to watch what I was doing and to come to my aid in case of need. Hundreds of men were awaiting my decisions and orders. This heightened my sense of responsibility. I pulled myself together because I was in a state of nervous tension.
I must say I felt like this not only on the first day, but also one, two and three years later. It is not easy to be in command of a ship. Of course, one or two years later you gain confidence and you are less nervous. But you can never relax or display indifference. There is no room for relaxation or indifference. A conceited and reckless commanding officer is a greater menace than an incompetent one.
The commanding officer shoulders tremendous responsibility. Perhaps, this is precisely why in all countries and on all seas the captain of a ship is endowed with tremendous rights and powers.
In those days the fleet commander would say: "It is necessary to enhance the commanding officers' prestige. They should be placed on a pedestal."
Although the idea was not expressed with adequate precision, these words evoked a lively response in our hearts. Nobody should be placed on a pedestal, and it is up to the commanding officer himself to gain prestige.
One day I was inspecting the crew formed on the upper deck. I walked slowly along the waist deck trying to look into every man's face. I could not forget what Y.F. Rail, cruiser brigade commander, said:
"When you are inspecting the crew never look blankly between the faces. You must remember that all of them are looking at you. Try look straight into the face of every man."
This was one of the useful things Y.F. Rail, officer of the former tsarist Navy, taught us. He was sure he was right. That is why I have never forgotten his words.
Some commanding officers, particularly the younger ones, feel a bit confused. They try to get the inspection over and done with as quickly as possible. They do not look into the men's faces. The men take this as a sign of indifference which is always offending. What does the commanding officer stand to gain from an inspection of caps, shirts and shoes? Pavel Nakhirnov, 19th century admiral, used to say: "Nobody is more important than the seaman."
As I inspected the crew, I not only wanted to be attentive to every member. I wanted to know how the men felt about me, a new man in their ship. Their faces expressed goodwill and interest. They seemed to say to me: "Let us see what sort of a commanding officer you are." It was then that I felt how important the first steps of a newly appointed captain were. He is always in the focus of attention. Hundreds of eyes are watching him. Several blunders in the very beginning would ruin the men's confidence in him for a long time, if not forever.
What makes a good commanding officer? You cannot answer this question in a few words.
After the inspection I took advantage of the presence of all the officers and men to say a few words about myself, how I grew up, where I studied and served until then. I did not want to sound official. I recalled a few cases from past experience and even some of the mistakes I made and the lessons I learnt from them.
This was a bit unusual. But the way the men listened to me showed I had chosen the right approach. Perhaps, it was then that I established the first contact with them, which is so important, because it makes service easier.
More than three decades have passed since then. But I still remember many of the comrades I met. I ran into them later in different fleets and still meet them.
I would like to point out that it is only in the beginning that all men appear alike. It appears so only when the young commanding officer has made his first step. A year later he will distinguish a whole range of characters. Though the men are different, they make up a team. The more you come to know it the more you become attached to it.
Though difficult people are few in number, they usually make a lot of trouble for the commanding officer and the political workers. They cause annoyance because they are unwilling to conform to the regulations in little, rather than in big, things.
During my first year in command of the Chervona Ukraina I met Georgi Dimitrov. This was an unforgettable event.
Having fulfilled the combat training programme in the 1934 campaign the cruiser was put up in dock for refit.
The fleet staff duty operations officer called me over the telephone to tell me that Comrade Dimitrov would be coming aboard. "Kindly send a launch to Grafskaya Jetty," he said.
I was a bit confused because a cruiser that had lowered her pendant for the winter was not a colourful sight as usual. I did not want to show her in such a condition to anybody and least of all to Georgi Dimitrov.
As the launch drew up alongside I immediately recognised Dimitrov's manly features I had known by the photos that had appeared in the papers and magazines. He climbed aboard. It was late autumn in November. Therefore, even in Sevastopol the weather was unpleasant. A north-western wind was blowing and it was drizzling. I invited the guest to the cabin mess. It was warm and pleasant there. The steward Shevehenko was already busy. I had ordered Meshcheryakov, chief paymaster, to "take care of everything". The guest explained to me:
"They suggested I should visit a ship. That is why I have caused you trouble."
Georgi Dimitrov was returning to Moscow after a holiday at Yalta. I expressed concern about the cruiser being in refit. Therefore, she could not be interesting to him.
The news of the arrival of a distinguished guest spread like wildfire. As if by accident everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of him. In those days Dimitrov was a phenomenal personality, so to say, and, naturally, aroused keen interest. As we toured the cruiser we appeared in some of the mess decks. I had deliberately shown them to him. Upon return to the cabin mess he was offered modest refreshments. We still had about two hours left before he was due to depart.
I was not eager to tell him about the ship. I wanted to hear about the Leipzig trial. He had just escaped from the clutches of the Nazi beast. When Zubkov, deputy commander for political affairs, and I expressed sincere admiration of his heroic conduct, he simply and modestly remarked: "I always felt powerful support." He then quietly uttered:
"I can hardly add anything to what everybody knows." Despite this, that evening the courageous and indomitable Communist told us many interesting details. Nazism was only gaining strength at the time. We did not know that two or three years from then the Nazis would be helping Franco in Spain. Nor could we foresee the Munich events. However already then Dimitrov warned us about the grave danger that threatened the world and about the Nazis preparing for war.
Dimitrov had a good command of the Russian language. His accent was apparent only at moments of intense excitement. His big head with thick hair reminded me of a well-known picture of Karl Marx. This powerful and tall man inspired confidence and respect.
I thought it would be a shame not to introduce Dimitrov to the entire crew. The men should hear him say a few words to them. Leaving the mess unnoticed for a moment I ordered the officer of the deck to muster all hands parade in a few minutes.
When Georgi Dimitrov was ready to leave, the bugler began to play. The clatter of hundreds of feet indicated that the men were falling in on the upper deck. I asked the guest to say a few words to them. Dimitrov shot a glance at me in surprise, but could do nothing. I said:
"The staunch and indomitable Communist Georgi Dimitrov has honoured our ship with a visit. We are grateful to him for this."
Addressing the men Dimitrov said a few simple and heartfelt words:
"In Leipzig I did what any other Communist would have done in my place."
Everybody listened to him with admiration. As he climbed down the gangplank he was hailed by a thunderous hurrah. His visit was discussed in the officers' quarters and mess decks for a long time.
Several years later I met Georgi Dimitrov at a session of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow.
When I asked him if he remembered our first meeting, he humorously replied:
"It was an unforgettable experience. You enlisted me in Party-political work, didn't you?"
That was, perhaps, true. I could not possibly miss such an opportunity. If I had, the deputy commander for political affairs, would never have forgiven me.
I last spoke to Georgi Dimitrov in summer 1946. He was then Chairman of the Council of Ministers in Bulgaria. Once, when he arrived in Moscow, G. Dimitrov called me up over the phone and asked me to release two Bulgarian officers from service in our Navy. He needed them badly. Saying that his request would be granted I asked how things were going on in his own country. He said:
"There are many difficulties, but soon everything will be better, much better in fact." Then he added: "Why don't you come and visit us on the Black Sea coast?"
Winter passed in toils and efforts. After refit the cruiser started out on another summer campaign. One exercise followed another. And all the departments of the ship worked for the fleet championship.
Once the fleet commander summoned me and asked whether the ship could sail to Turkey at a moment's notice. I replied it would take a day to prepare the ship for the cruise.
The point was that Vasfyf Cinar, the Turkish Ambassador, suddenly died in Moscow. And we were requested to take his body home.
On a bright Sunday in summer the cruiser cast off from her buoy and sailed out of the harbour. Even if we had kept our departure secret, the people of Sevastopol would have come to their favourite Primorski Boulevard to see us off. They learnt about our departure one day before. That was why at the appointed hour crowds gathered on Grafskaya Jetty and in Primorski Boulevard. Some came out of curiosity and others to see their relatives off. Heading for the Bosphorus the ship sailed leisurely to arrive at our destination on the following morning.
At daybreak we beheld the mountains of Turkey. Then we drew into the Bosphorus. The Turkish destroyer Zafer headed towards us at a high speed. When she closed in she hoisted the signal: "Have arrived at your disposal." She was to escort us to our berth at Istanbul and to participate in the obsequies.
I humorously remarked that it was not often that one had a chance to command a Turkish warship and ordered the signalman to hoist the signal "Fall in astern".
Having passed the entrance buoy we entered the Bosphorus Strait.
In Istanbul we had to perform several sad ceremonies connected with the transfer of the coffin with the Ambassador's remains. After that Y.F. Rail, cruiser brigade commander who took part in the cruise, made the necessary courtesy calls. The crew was not granted shore leave. The commanding officer of the Turkish destroyer Zafer arrived aboard my ship. "When do you intend to depart for home?" he asked. "Perhaps, this evening or tonight, as soon as my senior officer returns."
The Turkish officer looked at me in surprise. "Of course," he said, "you may do as you please, but it is not recommended to navigate the Bosphorus in darkness. Big ships may do so only at their own risk. In some places the strait is very narrow, the current is swift and the turns are sharp." Despite his warning, we set sail at night. His destroyer accompanied us. A.N. Petrov, expert squadron navigation officer, plotted the right course, and the ship's powerful propulsion engines reliably guaranteed the safety of all the manoeuvres.
On the following day the Turkish papers commented that the Russians, apparently, knew the straits well enough to navigate them in darkness.
On the way back, without intruding into Romania's territorial waters, we approached Constanta, a Romanian naval base, showed our flag and headed for the sea without further delay.
Having arrived at Sevastopol the cruiser immediately had to join in another exercise. The whole of the Black Sea Fleet was assembled on the roads of Yevpatoriya. In summer we could not afford to waste a single day.
In the 1930s, our fleet expanded not only numerically. The officers and men achieved a higher level of efficiency. The command personnel were receiving a regular naval education. Many of the commanding officers of ships had graduated from Naval School and Naval College. Officers of the pre-Revolutionary period went through a thorough training course in the Soviet Navy and were serving faithfully to build up the defensive might of the Homeland. Most of the petty officers were Communists who formed the element that cemented the crews. In addition, they were high class specialists. It was not in vain that they were referred to as the Navy's gold reserve. The seamen were different too. The young men that grew up under the Soviets developed a strong sense of love for the Army and Navy, and also of patriotic duty which, during the Great Patriotic War, manifested itself in mass heroism.
It is both easier and more difficult to have such men under you. It is easier because they carry out their duties willingly and conscientiously. It is more difficult because the higher the intellectual level of the officers and men the higher must be the level of the commanding officer.
In 1934, the Chervona Ukraina distinguished herself in gunnery practice. In my memory it is an element of a big movement known as the movement for the first broadside. It was initiated by the gun crews, because they knew the value of the first strike designed to forestall the enemy.
Important gunnery practice was usually conducted in the presence of senior officers. In that particular case I.K. Kozhanov, fleet commander, witnessed our cruiser's performance.
The Chervona Ukraina was to fire at a towed practice target at maximum range, while steaming at top speed. The gunnery officer was Arkadi Vladimirovich Sverdlov, an expert in his field. I could rely on him completely.
We sailed at the appointed time flying the fleet commander's three star flag on the mainmast. Having checked everything for the last time Sverdlov wearing his "Sunday best" (it was his debut after all) climbed into the conning tower. He again checked all the instruments and made the necessary calculations. The target was being towed by the cruiser Krasny Kavkaz which had set sail before us. Unfortunately the weather suddenly changed for the worse. Rain clouds were floating at a low height. The horizon was frequently dimmed by squalls. Although the waves were still low, white caps were appearing on the crests. It was too late to cancel the gunnery practice, because that year the Chervona Ukraina was vying for the first place in the combat training championship. In addition, the fleet commander was flying his flag on her mast.
Increasing her speed the cruiser headed for the reference point. We sounded general quarters. Having obtained permission to control fire Sverdlov climbed to the foretop. This was the best post for fire control at maximum range in weather like this. It was also the highest observation point.
Although the enemy had not been sighted, the guns and range finders were already trained in the probable direction. As soon as Sverdlov sighted the massive masts of the Krasny Kavkaz (which was towing the target) he ordered the main battery in standby condition. The tension in the conning tower and the whole of the ship reached its peak. At that moment the visibility, unfortunately, worsened: the target was shrouded in rain. It was barely distinguishable in the range finders. Ten to fifteen minutes later both ships were on the firing course. Our cruiser was due to open fire in a few minutes. At that decisive moment a squall further obscured the target. We were afraid not only of failing, but also of hitting the Krasny Kavkaz that towed the target. Such accidents regrettably occurred in the past. However, Sverdlov issued one command after another with admirable poise. The stop watches continued to read out the time. When the hands on the dials showed "ready" everything came to a standstill. All I heard was the whining of the wind and the hum of the forced draught fans. I cast a questioning glance at the fleet commander. He raised the glasses to his eyes in expectation of the first broadside. "May I open fire?" Sverdlov asked me.
"Granted!" I said abruptly in excitement. "Fire!" he cried out.
The guns fired as soon as the hooter sounded. The ship jerked and slightly rolled. Yellow tapered flames flashed out of the barrels. The wind carried the smoke away to the stem. The crews immediately recharged the guns. All the glasses were riveted to the target.
Nobody on the bridge could register where the first projectiles fell. But the range finder operators reported:
"Target straddled: three rounds short of target, one round beyond target."
Everybody heaved a sigh of relief. The first broadside was a success.
"Target hit!" the gunnery officer cried out. I.K. Kozhanov could not believe it. He proposed to close in with the target and take a good look. At close range we saw several big holes. There was no room for doubt any more. The fleet commander then sent a radio message to the fleet. It read in part:
"This is the first time I have witnessed..." The opening sentence was followed by a detailed account of the situation and the conditions in which the Chervona Ukraina fired her first broadside. That was long before the war.
At the time the concept of the "first broadside" had a narrow meaning. It was a specifically artillery term. But later the movement was joined by the submarine and MTB crews.
In September 1939, the Second World War broke out in Western Europe. Nazi Germany, the aggressor, was now the potential enemy. The "first broadside" concept acquired a new meaning. It implied readiness for action not only of separate ships or units, not only achievement of tactical advantages in the event of some small-scale conflict, but also operational readiness of all the fleets. That was why in November 1939 I signed the first Naval Staff directive on the conditions of operational readiness of the fleets and formations.
I raised the question of the "first broadside" in connection with the Chervona Ukraina's gunnery practice in order to show how a specific tactical concepta cruiser's effective first broadsidedeveloped into a general strategic concept denoting the readiness for action of submarines and surface ships and later of entire fleets, if the enemy should attack us.
I recall the events of the tragic night of June 21-22. The Luftwaffe launched a raid on Sevastopol at 0307 hours. Having heard the report of the Black Sea Fleet commander, I laid down the receiver. The war had begun and there was no doubt about it. But that fatal night we had not lost a single ship. It took the Black Sea Fleet many years of persistent combat training, exhausting naval exercises and manoeuvres of ships and formations, and of purposeful effort for the "first broadside" to acquire a level of readiness that enabled it to beat off the Nazi surprise attack.
Flying a Government Member's Flag
The commanding officers of ships try to instil in the minds of young sailors that they are at home at sea and that they are visitors ashore. But this formula is not to everybody's taste. When a ship is far away from shore and her base the crew shows a higher level of performance in combat training. At sea everybody is at his station, all the shore concerns recede into the background, and the officers and men concentrate their efforts on their duties. At sea the crew really becomes a close-knit team. Its members get to know each other much better. And, of course, the crew really gets to know the ship, when she is at sea.
Y.F. Rail saw to it that the cruisers did not stay too long in harbour. Seeing a fly on the glass of a porthole he would say sarcastically:
"Why, you've been in harbour too long." He was now replaced by I.S. Yumashev, former commanding officer of the Krasny Krym. He was well known in the fleet. He started to serve as an able seaman in the imperial Navy. As far as experience went he was no inferior to his predecessor.
Late in July 1935, combat training in the cruiser brigade was at its highest peak. We were working on different gunnery practice missions at shore targets. We conducted joint exercises with army units in daylight and darkness. We had very little time in harbour. We were at sea practically all the time.
One morning Arkadi Sverdlov and I were planning gunnery practice. The ship was on the roads of Chauda near Feodosiya.
Suddenly a liaison officer appeared aft and reported that there was a signal for me. It read:
"Weigh anchor without delay and proceed to Sochi. Fleet commander."
As we approached Sochi the weather suddenly changed. The sea swelled. Lightning flashed in the Caucasian mountains. But this was nothing for the cruiser.
After the ship made colours I descended onto the jetty where I was met by R.P. Khmelnitski who took me to K.Y. Voroshilov, People's Commissar of Defence. I was introduced to A.A. Zhdanov. My orders were to sail to Tuapse. I hastened to the ship because the weather was quickly growing worse.
In the evening cars drew up at the jetty. G.K. Ordzhonikidze, Zinaida Gavrilovna, his wife, G.N. Kaminski, People's Commissar of Public Health, and two doctors alighted from them.
Ordzhonikidze needed to go to another place to convalesce after a serious operation. The doctors said the Crimean climate was more salubrious for him than that of the Caucasus. The fleet commander decided to take advantage of our cruise to carry the patient in suitable conditions.
As soon as the guests were aboard the cruiser weighed anchor and headed for Yalta. Soon the lights of the Caucasus were out of sight. A fair breeze was blowing. The golden moon path was slightly ruffled by breaking crests.
Every commanding officer has a favourite place on the bridge. I would usually sit in a high armchair from which I had a good view of the horizon. At the same time I could see what was going on in the pilot room.
I had just made myself comfortable when A.I. Malov, torpedo officer who happened to be the officer of the deck, reported that Comrade Ordzhonikidze summoned me.
That was Malov's interpretation of Grigori Konstantinovich's kind invitation to dinner into formal navalese.
The atmosphere at dinner was friendly. There was practically no shop talk because the doctors closely guarded Sergo Ordzhonikidze's peace. The host himself was lively and in good spirits. He spoke to all the guests at the table.
When he heard that I refused to take a glass of light dry Tsinandali he humorously remarked: "Afraid of Voroshilov, eh?"
In those days I would not take such light beverages as Tsinandali. But it was my rule never to take alcohol aboard my ship. That evening my only wish was to take in everything Sergo said. As I looked at his lively face I wondered whether I would ever meet him again. And indeed I never did.
O.K. Ordzhonikidze spoke about the Caucasus and the Crimea. He recalled the events that occurred during the Civil War. When he mentioned his meetings and work with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin his voice acquired particular warmth and affection. You could feel that he cherished these memories and that they evoked emotions, though many years had passed. Looking at me meditatively he asked: "Did you see Lenin? Hardly so."
In my mind's eye I saw the scenes of the funeral ceremony of Vladimir Ilyich. And my heart brought back the experiences of those few days. I did not tell Sergo about this. Knowing that he was unwell it would have been unwise to stir sad memories.
After dinner we went onto the upper deck and relaxed in wicker chairs.
Sergo was a tall and strongly built man who put on some extra weight as he advanced in age. The signs of sickness were on his face. He looked so tired. Despite this, he was the embodiment of spiritual power and energy. His warm kind eyes were youthful and he looked at you with lively interest. You could not possibly think that a year and a half from then the life of this strong and charming man would end so tragically.
On the upper deck the subject of my ship was raised. Sergo asked about her seaworthiness and combat capabilities.
"When was she laid down?" he inquired. "How well does she meet modem warfare requirements? What is obsolescent in her?"
At first I thought Sergo asked these questions because he wanted to be polite. I answered in general terms. But then I saw that my replies did not satisfy him. He would repeat his questions about the number of her guns and maximum speed.
During the First World War, Russia laid down eight cruisers of the Chervona Ukraina class. Already then Russian shipbuilders were capable of building excellent ships of various types. Thus, an international contest was announced before the Sevastopol class battleships were built. The Russian design produced by a team working under A.N. Krylov, famous scientist and naval architect, proved to be the best. The battleships built to this design were superior to any other in the world for a long period of time. Among them was the Marat of the Baltic Fleet. Russian destroyers of the Novik class were the fastest in the world. And the cruisers laid down then would have been excellent ships for their time. But they were not
completed under the tsar. Some of them were finished under Soviet power. A few of the hulls were used as tankers which were not too good. So they had to be rebuilt several times.
It turned out that Grigori Konstantinovich was well informed about this.
I tried to prove to him that the Chervona Ukraina was a modern fighting ship. He did not argue. Perhaps, he thought it would be wrong to undermine the commanding officer's confidence in his ship. In those days it would have been totally wrong to write off the Chervona Ukraina as a hopelessly obsolescent ship. But Sergo was looking far ahead.
We talked for a long time. Several times Zinaida Gavrilovna appeared on the deck. She was obviously anxious. Finally, she came with G. N. Kaminski and demanded that Sergo should have a rest. He reluctantly obeyed. When Ordzhonikidze left, Kaminski said to me: "Please, don't overstrain him next time." After the call all hands signal at 0600 hours the officer of the deck reported to me on the bridge that G. K. Ordzhonikidze had gotten up and gone to see the mess decks.
This was not the time to show a distinguished guest the crew's accommodations. The men were putting away their bedding. And, naturally, the mess decks were not an attractive sight. In all the older ships they were cramped and the men slept in hammocks. Before they were put away it was not easy to walk through the decks. When we met, Sergo joked that he thought the signal concerned him too. But then he added seriously:
"I have trouble with my sleep, so I decided to see what a ship was like inside. But, please, do not give me away to the doctors."
Grigori Konstantinovich had inspected the forecastle where most of the men were accommodated. The men surrounded him and he had a lively exchange with them. It would have gone on for a long time, if the men had not been ordered "to clean up". Sergo remarked:
"It looks as if I have intruded and violated your routine." After that he left the mess decks.
When the crew had cleaned up all the officers and men off watch assembled on the quarterdeck. A photo was taken with Sergo. The ship's amateur photographer took his time seating Sergo. But then he would hasten to the camera to take a snapshot. I still have one of these photographs.
I invited Sergo to the bridge which offered a view of the whole ship. The other guests came up with him.
The ship having been cleaned up was a pleasant sight. Visitors who know little about life in the Navy could be deceived by her appearance from the bridge. Several times after a tiring cruise reports in the paper about our ship annoyed us. We resented them because life in a ship was described as an enjoyable game light-minded suntanned boys in full dress were playing.
The hard work of the men and difficult duties are not always visible from the upper deck. The men inside the ship which is two thirds submerged get it the hardest. They have to operate sophisticated machinery, mechanisms and instruments there.
G.K. Ordzhonikidze needed no explanations. He knew everything only too well. Casting a glance at a group of men in blue fatigues, at their smeared faces and cap covers on their heads he asked: "Do you call them 'ghosts'?"
He wanted to know everything about the conditions they worked in. They were former stokers. Now they were officially called boiler room artificers. Then the conversation veered to the ship's equipment.
I.I. Buldakov, force engineer officer, said the cruiser used boiler oil for fuel. Not so long ago the ships burnt coal. Work was harder then and the speeds were lower. He proudly said:
"We can cover more than 500 miles at a speed of up to 30 knots."
Sergo agreed that the Chervona Ukraina was not a bad ship, but added:
"In the future we cannot be satisfied with such characteristics. Technology must make progress." Referring to the cruiser Krasny Kavkaz Sergo said: "As far as I remember she was laid down together with your ship. But she was completed later. This made it possible to equip her with many new devices. And her ordnance is totally different. Many experimental instruments have been installed in her. If they prove to be good we shall outfit all the ships with them."
I was surprised that G.K. Ordzhonikidze knew so much about the Krasny Kavkaz. I had been executive officer in her. It was obvious that Sergo paid serious attention to problems of shipbuilding and also to other matters bearing on the country's defence and the development of heavy industries. I felt ashamed of the generalities I answered his questions with. I felt a bit uneasy again when Sergo said:
"We must have a good Navy and we shall have it. But what do the sailors need above all?"
This question caught me unawares. So I had to reply in general terms again. Being busy with the ship I gave little thought to problems bearing on the development of the Navy. But the government were obviously discussing them. Seeing my confusion G.K. Ordzhonikidze said:
"We are now building quite good submarines. Soon we will be constructing bigger ships. Wait a little and our shipbuilders will be able to construct all types of ships. We are short of metal. We are having difficulties with the manufacture of big turbines. But our industries will master them too. We have already learnt to manufacture guns of any calibre. Generally speaking we can rely on ourselves alone."
The cruiser was approaching the Crimea. The sea was calm. Under the rays of the morning sun it was green and transparent. Only the stem was cutting a white feather and there was a backwash aft. Mount Ayu Dag or Bear Mountain was sighted directly ahead. It did indeed look like a bear drinking water from the sea.
G.N. Kaminski began to praise the Crimea's salubrious climate. But Sergo jealously defended that of his native Caucasus.
"Ten years from now," he said, "you will not recognise the Caucasus which used to be plagued with malaria."
The ship having cast anchor off Yalta, Sergo descended from the bridge to alight from the ship. By then the crew had fallen in. He bid the men farewell. They responded with a thunderous hurrah.
We got back to our gunnery practice, joint cruises and increasingly complicated exercises. The crew put their hearts into the work and the men's efforts produced fruits. The ship was constantly flying the flag of the fleet commander. Of course, this was a source of additional difficulties. But I was drawn into discussion of questions way beyond my province. These matters had bearing on the fleet as a whole. This enabled me to get an insight into the work of the fleet commander and his staff. I heard intelligent remarks during the exercises. This was a good school.
I.K. Kozhanov who was constantly searching for new developments clearly understood the role of the Navy within the framework of the country's Armed Forces. He preferred to conduct exercises with the participation of the land and air forces. Kozhanov attached primary importance to the submarines, the fleet air arm and the motor torpedo boats.
The experience of the Great Patriotic War showed that the views Kozhanov persistently instilled in the officers and men of the Black Sea Fleet were sound. Ivan Kuzmich himself did not have the chance to take part in the war. In 1937, he was arrested. The people who knew him could not understand why. In 1939, K.Y. Voroshilov said to me: "I do not think he was an enemy of the people." But I.K. Kozhanov had perished and what happened could not be rectified.
We Are Growing Stronger
In 1935, the fleet planned many exercises and large-scale manoeuvres. The cruiser departed from the refit yard in March which was much earlier than usual. Without wasting time I requested permission to moor on the roads of Yevpatoriya to engage in combat training of a single ship. It was wonderful. The whole crew was aboard and none of the officers or men went on shore leave. Even the most foxy types who always managed to find a pretext to go ashore in Sevastopol stayed aboard and attended to their duties. In these conditions work made good progress and one month later you could not recognise the ship. All the faults we had accumulated in winter were removed. The young recruits were already efficient in their jobs. The ship was ready for manoeuvres with the entire brigade.
We once went on a preparatory cruise under the fleet commander. As far as I remember this was early in September. This was the most favourable time on the Black Sea. The air was warm and clear. The few clouds that appeared from the shore melted before our eyes. The planned exercise of ship formations with the air arm promised to be a success.
At the appointed time a group of senior Naval Staff officers arrived from Moscow with E.S. Pantserzhanski at the head. Having been accommodated aboard they spent several days checking the fleet's readiness for the exercise. Pantserzhanski was an old and experienced sailor. He gave us a lot of useful advice on combat training and the maintenance of ships. He knew where to take a look and what to check. You could not deceive him by showing a clean upper deck.
He found quite a few faults. And this was not surprising because, as chief of the Combat Training Department, he had accumulated a wealth of experience.
When most of the ships went into refit in winter, the commanding officers had theoretical training. They studied the errors of past exercises and planned new cruises. The fleet staff conducted operations war games. This meant that several days running we would engage the potential enemy in battles on the chart. The country had numerous potential enemies in those days. Nazi Germany and fascist Italy were indulging in sword rattling. On several occasions our diplomatic relations with Great Britain became complicated. We, therefore, had to watch the Bosphorus. The formerly friendly relations with Kemal-Pasha were deteriorating with every passing day.
We were learning to administer a rebuff on any force that risked attacking the USSR. The country started building up the Navy later than the other fighting services. This, of course, affected its fighting capabilities. There was a shortage of efficient fighting hardware and of fighting units. Despite this, in the mid-1930s, the Black Sea Fleet had an adequate number of submarines, motor torpedo boats and a rather strong air arm. The command regarded them as the main fighting components. The surface ships also trained for the fulfilment of their missions. But their role was not overestimated. As a fleet commander I.K. Kozhanov had a sober view of the possibilities for the employment of torpedoes by submarines, motor torpedo boats and aircraft. He made a sound appraisal of these potentialities and tried to develop effective tactics. Ivan Kuzmich was an ardent advocate of concentrated attacks. He would say:
"If we learn to launch joint attacks at the right place and the right time, we need not fear squadrons of big ships."
During my tours of duty first as senior watch officer and then as executive officer I knew practically all the commanding officers of the ships and formations by their first names. I talked to many of them. On some occasions we spent our shore leave together. But I was never in close contact with them. As commanding officer of the Chervona Ukraina I not only observed the actions of my comrades from the bridge, but also came to know them rather well at officer training classes. Each of us would pass a sort of examination displaying his maturity, experience, resourcefulness and ingenuity. At these classes the eyes of your comrades would be fixed on you and it was impossible to escape them. They would immediately know what you are worth and what you are capable of.
Joint mine-laying operations carried out at night are an unforgettable experience.
Observing blackout in total darkness the cruisers sailed in close formation. It was possible to throw a hauling line from the bows of one cruiser to the stern of another. (We employed this procedure to pass on written messages.) The crews would be at their action stations. You could hear only the orders of the commanding officer and the splash as the mines were dropped overboard.
In 1935, the Chervona Ukraina successfully completed her combat training programme. She won the first place in the fleet. As commanding officer I was awarded the Order of the Red Star. Late in January 1936, a group of Black Sea Fleet sailors went to Moscow. Officers and men from all the fleets assembled in the Sverdlov Hall where Mikhail lvanovich Kalinin presented the awards. Addressing us Mikhail lvanovich said:
"The time has come for the Navy to contribute more to the country's defence."
And indeed the Navy was rapidly expanding. In the middle of August 1936, the cruiser brigade sailed from Sevastopol and after a two day exercise cast anchor on the roads of Yevpatoriya. We used to have torpedo practice there. The roads were open, they were unprotected from the winds. The formation commanders liked to spend a week or two there. The advantage was that the ships were far away from the main base. No shore leave was permitted and everybody was aboard round the clock.
It was a time of mounting world tensions. The Japanese militarists were kindling provocations in the Far East. The country was quickly building up the Pacific Fleet. Many of the commanders I knew were transferred there.
The developments in Western Europe were disturbing too. The fascist countriesGermany and Italywere overtly preparing for war.
When the fascists rebelled in Spain on July 18, 1936, we tended to ignore the reports on the events in that country. We failed to realise straight away that the developments in the Pyrenean Peninsula could cause serious repercussions elsewhere. But with every passing day the papers gave these events more and more space. And our attitude towards them changed. In August, every review of political events for the men carried information on the struggle between the Republican forces and the rebels. The crew wanted to know what was happening in the Spanish Navy.
By then I was in command of the cruiser for nearly three years. I felt I was an organic element of the crew and of the ship. But I also had a feeling that I would soon part with them. My superiors hinted that the autumn personnel shifts would not bypass me. As I was standing on deck one evening I asked myself where fate would take me to. V. Bilevich, signals officer, interrupted my reflections saying: "An urgent message for you."
In those days we were constantly receiving signals from I.S. Yumashev, cruiser brigade commander, and his staff. We were assigned missions, the staff would be telling us to hurry up with the fulfilment of the plans and demanding progress reports. But this particular message was not from the brigade staff. It was signed by the fleet commander. I ran through the text with my eyes, then reread it carefully. It read: "You have permission to leave for Moscow today." Why Moscow? And why so urgently? Why did the fleet commander address the signal directly to me bypassing my immediate superior? What puzzled me most of all was the word "permission". I had not requested anybody's permission. It did not even occur to me to ask permission.
Then it occurred to me that the signal service must have made a mistake.
I should have inquired the cruiser brigade commander, but the flag cruiser was still at sea. I sent a radio message and prepared to sail to Sevastopol. The message said: "Today." I had no time to waste.
The unexpected return to the home base pleased the men. While I was on the bridge, my ear caught men cracking jokes and laughing. The men were relaxing on the forecastle deck. Meanwhile I tried to solve the puzzle.
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