The Pacific Ocean
An Appointment in the East
In August 1937, I was enjoying a holiday on the Black Sea coast. I had never rested at a health resort before. I had frequently seen Sochi, but only from the sea. Only once did I go ashore, but not spent more than an hour there. So I did not have a chance to tour the town.
But this time too I did not rest. R.P. Khmelnitski, chief of the secretariat, called me over the phone. He said that the People's Commissar of Defence ordered me to leave for Moscow without delay. He confidentially added: "You have been appointed to the POF." "POF, POF," I kept repeating to myself as I put down the receiver. What was it? Then it occurred to me that it meant the Pacific Fleet.
I reported to the new Chief of Naval Forces M.V. Viktorov and Chief of Naval Staff L.M. Galler. I knew they were experienced sailors with a good reputation. Until then I had met them only casually.
And now as I prepared to leave for the Pacific I expected a lot from my interview with Viktorov. He had come from there and had a good knowledge of the Pacific Fleet in the Far East. However, we did not have a heart-to-heart talk I had hoped for. Viktorov asked me how soon I would leave, and said very little about the Pacific Fleet.
"The fleet commander is Kireyev. I think you'll make a good team," he said. Hinting that he had urgent business on his hands he sent me to L.M. Galler.
Of course, Vladivostok as a city is attractive. Particularly when you are admiring it from the bridge of a ship entering Golden Horn Harbour in the evening.
Once an old sailor who had apparently visited the United States exclaimed:
"Look at the lights! Our Vladivostok looks like New York from here."
When I referred to Vladivostok I meant both the city and all the facilities of the Pacific Fleet's main base, which occupied a large area. Sevastopol with its small Northern and Southern Harbours could not compare with it. Everything was on a different scale in Vladivostok. No wonder the sailors would say that in the Far East two hundred miles was no distance at all.
In the first few days I studied the Far Eastern theatre with the help of charts. What struck me was the abundance of harbours, bays and islands near Vladivostok. But they impressed me even more, when I observed them from the bridge of a small patrol vessel.
When I arrived in Vladivostok the fleet was preparing for the final autumn exercise. It was late September, a most pleasant time in the Soviet Far East.
G.P. Kireyev, fleet commander, informed me about the plans for the exercises. Vladivostok was separated by a distance of 200 miles from Vladimiro-Olginsk District. The land, air and naval forces were deployed in the area for joint manoeuvres. The purpose was to conduct an exercise in simultaneous action by all available forces for the defence of the coast.
After the exercises I asked the fleet commander if I could familiarise myself with the theatre of naval operations. The coastal area was only being developed at the time. Kireyev did not object and I hastened to leave. Winter had not yet set in. I could enter all the harbours, including De Kastri.
I was pleased to see that the fleet was being rapidly expanded and that the government were taking steps to strengthen the defences of the entire Soviet Far East.
I was drawn into my duties more and more and was taking a closer look at the people I was working with.
I met quite a few old friends in this command. In those days the fleets were relatively small. The M.V. Frunze Naval School alone (which I myself had completed) was training command personnel for the Navy. Though it was impossible to know every officer who was graduated from it, I knew most of the ship and formation commanding officers by their second names. I knew the comrades who had served in the Black Sea Fleet rather well. Quite a few of them had been transferred to the Pacific. In keeping with a special decision of the Party and government officers were being transferred to the Pacific from all fleets. It was important reliably to protect the land and sea frontiers in the Far East. In terms of manpower strength the new fleet was now the biggest.
Duty in the Pacific Fleet in those days was extremely difficult and severe. Such factors as vast sea and land expanses, unsteady weather, lack of inhabited localities and elementary amenities, and strained international situation did not make life easier. But these circumstances turned the Pacific Fleet into an excellent school which educated and hardened the men. Those who did a tour of duty there proved to be excellent fighters in the Great Patriotic War.
Later I met Pacific Fleet sailors practically in all the fleets. After going through a rigorous course in the Far East many admirals and other officers continued to serve in the West before the war. They took part in the war there. When you speak with anyone of them, they will recall the good old days in the Far East. It cannot be otherwise, because we were all young and full of strength. Hard work and lack of amenities could not dampen our spirits.
Displaying concern for the security of our Far Eastern frontiers the government created a fleet in the Pacific theatre. A lot of work was accomplished in a short time, and the effort was well justified. Our superiority in submarines in the Pacific produced a sobering effect on the Japanese militarists. In the beginning of the Second World War the Japanese naval and army commands were engaged in a bitter argument about the direction of their attack. It is a fact that the Japanese militarists had long wanted to seize the Soviet Maritime Territory. But they could not bring themselves to do it. What largely deterred them was our powerful submarine fleet. That was why the submarines played a leading role in our fleet. The submarines of the Pacific Fleet were on patrol at all timesnot only in summer, when the weather was favourable, but also in winter, when fierce storms were raging. Sometimes the periods of patrol on the high seas were unusually long for those days. Such records are not announced or registered by international sports bodies. But if such competitions were conducted our submarine crews would surely have been world champions.
Service in M Malyutka (Baby) class submarines was particularly tough. Having a displacement of 200-250 tons and being equipped with two torpedoes they were obviously not built for plying the expanses of the Pacific with its storms and cyclones. Their crews had to show that they were as good as the others. It was considered "bad taste" to return home before the appointed time. But they were a splendid school for the officers and men who served in them. The officers of the submarines still remember that before an executive officer was made commanding officer of a big submarine, he was required to serve some time as skipper of a Malyutka. I was reproached for such practices, but all those who had served in a Malyutka for two years ardently supported this procedure.
A submarine officer who happens to read this book will, apparently, smile ironically. Malyutkas can hardly be regarded as submarines, he will think. But it would be fair to say that 400-500 ton coal burning torpedo boats were once formidable ships. Everything is good in its season. If there had not been Malyutkas, there would not have been nuclear powered submarines either. If the earlier commanders had not learnt to handle the Malyutkas, we would not have been able to employ modern submarines.
Our surface fleet in the Pacific was not big. It acquired cruisers and destroyers some time later. We had to use obsolescent patrol vessels, minelayers and motor torpedo boats that were not suitable for that big theatre. The officers and men who served in the 700-ton Squalls and Storms got it worst of all. The patrol ship would reach Peter the Great's Bay, and the sea would start tossing her angrily. These little ships had to go to sea in stormy weather far away from their bases.
The Pacific Fleet air arm was a powerful force. It was kept in a state for readiness at all times. The bombers had to perform flights from Vladivostok to Kamchatka, launch an attack on the "enemy" and return home. Even today this would not be an easy mission. In those days the slow TB-3 bombers would fly such a mission at the limit of their endurance. But they showed good performance. They would venture far out to seato the boundless water expanses.
Normally those who serve in the fleet refer to the coastal defence force as the rear. The Pacific Fleet started to develop precisely its "rear force" first, namely the coastal defence command. In the early 1930s, the international situation became very tense in the Far East. So it was decided to create a Pacific Fleet to defend this territory. The first thing that was done was to install railway artillery mounts. Then we started to build large calibre non-mobile batteries. While the fleet was weak it was the coastal artillery and the land forces that were responsible for the defence of this vast coast.
V. K. Blyukher
I met Marshal of the Soviet Union Vassili Konstantinovich Blyukher in the Far East.
I was first introduced to him during a fleet exercise. He came aboard the flagship in the evening. The fleet command reported to him in the wardroom on the results achieved during the first day of the exercise. While the land forces were deployed in proximity of Suchan and advanced northward towards the mountain pass to take the key positions, the submarines were to attack the "enemy". I was still in my "shakedown period" so I was sitting in the background listening to what the others were saying and observing what they were doing. The marshal's face was calm and courageous. Blyukher was listening to the report of A. Popov, chief of the fleet staff. Once in a while he would make a remark or ask a question. One could easily see that he had a good knowledge of the Pacific Fleet. Having ascertained the place where the fleet command expected a descent to be landed and why, Blyukher approved the actions of the fleet.
Addressing the marshal G.P. Kireyev, fleet commander, introduced me saying:
"This is the new first deputy commander of the fleet." I rose and said: "Captain 1st Grade Kuznetsov." The marshal asked where I had served before and where I had come from.
"This means that you have been on sea duty in the south. How do you like it here in the Far East?" I replied that my new appointment pleased me. On the following day Blyukher sailed with us and observed the ship manoeuvres. Going ashore in Nakhodka Harbour we climbed into cars which took us up the Suchan Valley. We had to cross the river several times, which was shallow at this time of the year. We observed tanks, artillery and mountain infantry units with pack animals on the march. They were straddling the mountain pass. According to the plan of the exercise the "enemy" was to have landed a 'descent in the Bay of Vladimir, which was to force its way into the Suchan Valley.
Everything was new to methe ground, the men and the equipment. I was studying the work of an army staff on the march and watching what the marshal himself was doing.
We heard the reports of several rounds fired at a close distance from us. Turning to me Vassili Konstantinovich surprised me with the question: "What sort of gun is firing?" "I would say it is a 120-mm piece," I replied. "No, that is impossible," he said with a smile, "because we have no such guns here. That was a three inch gun. But never mind," he obviously wished to save my face adding, "even our army comrades cannot identify the calibre of a gun by the sound. It is particularly difficult in the mountains. But you have to learn the art anyway."
I spent two days with Blyukher's staff. I could not help noticing that whenever he stopped in a town or village he would always display interest in the life of the inhabitants and in the way things were going on. Sometimes he would mildly reprimand the authority concerned, if something was wrong.
When we returned to Vladivostok we assembled at the Red Army and Navy Club for a critique of the exercise. Blyukher analysed every detail, I would say. He criticised the sailors for allowing the "enemy" to approach the coast so closely. He said that we should have employed the air arm and submarines at maximum range. He paid special attention to the operations of the air force and the submarines and also of the motor torpedo boats. The Pacific Fleet had plenty of them. Then he looked into joint Army-Navy operations. He attached special importance to co-operation between the two fighting services.
The experience of the Great Patriotic War showed that the gifted commander was right. In war nothing is more important and nothing is more difficult than cooperation between the arms of a service and co-operation between the fighting services. It is the duty of the command competently to assign missions to them and agree the plans for joint action. But to achieve an adequate level of competence in the art it is necessary to work a lot in peace time. In an exercise a commander can correct some of his operational errors. But it is different in actual combat. A blunder in organisation of co-operation may bring about grave consequences.
Late in January 1938, when I was already fleet commander I was summoned to Khabarovsk to attend a conference of senior commanders. It analysed questions bearing on combat training, discipline, and morale of the units. Though the fleet was not discussed, it was useful for me to hear the others and meet the people.
After the conference Blyukher invited me to his home. "Do you know your fleet now?" he asked. "I have learnt something about it," I replied. I told him about my tour of Sovetskaya Gavan, Olgo-Vladimirski District, the harbours and bays near Vladivostok.
"This isn't the Black Sea," Vassili Konstantinovich remarked humorously. Taking a pointer the marshal walked up to the map. "This is our Far Eastern theatre," he said. Returning to his chair he addressed me:
"And now I would like to hear what you have to say. What are your tasks in this situation, as you see them."
First I gave an appraisal of the Japanese Navy which could execute naval operations of practically any scale.
It looked as if the Japanese regarded the Kwantung Army as their main force in a war for the seizure of Maritime Territory. "They are, apparently, preparing to land descents," I remarked.
In those days we did not have the manpower or means to assure reliable defence of our sea frontiers. The operations of our submarine fleet and air arm were limited by range and time. That was why we could concentrate our forces on the land frontier with Manchuria and in proximity of Vladivostok. Sakhalin Island and Kamchatka were hardly covered. Though we did not mention this, we understood each other very well. We agreed above all to defend the vital areas.
I reported on the number of submarines and surface ships, aircraft and coastal defence batteries stationed in each area. Blyukher listened to me without interrupting. It looked as if he wanted to form a correct opinion of the new fleet commander who was so young.
I maintained that the fleet's main trump card was the submarines. We had nearly a hundred at the time. They were a powerful force. They could attack any enemy ship at sea either independently or in co-operation with the air arm. However, the fleet could deal the most effective blow at the enemy only if he ventured to approach our shores. Then we could employ all the weapons we had, including the motor torpedo boats, coastal defence artillery and the air arm.
When we went to another room, it was already late. I saw no members of the marshal's family. Only a young aide would appear, whenever Blyukher pressed the bell. He would then disappear behind the door.
At the tea table we no longer talked shop. The marshal asked how I established myself in my new home. Then he displayed keen interest in the events in Spain, particularly in the operations of the Spanish fleet. I told him about the fleet's cruise from Cartagena to Cantabrica in the north (I had taken part in it). About the protection of shipping at sea to assure the delivery of cargoes from the Soviet Union. Judging by his questions I saw that Blyukher closely watched the war in Spain, including the rout of the Italian corps at Guadalajara. He suddenly fired a question at me: "Did you know Vladimir Yefimovich Gorev in Spain?"
I mentioned all the army comrades I had met there. I saw V. Y. Gorev several times. Gorev, Soviet military attache, arrived at the end of August, 1936, together with our first Ambassador M.I. Rosenberg. I arrived a few days later by plane. It was precisely Gorev who gave me advice in the beginning (I have dealt with that above). I did not ask where Blyukher had met Gorev. Perhaps, they were together in China. But I do not wish to indulge in guesswork. Then Vassili Konstantinovich surprised me again saying: "This is not my first experience with sailors." I thought he meant the Pacific Fleet and the Amur Naval Flotilla. He knew these forces very well. But he recalled the Civil War and the sailors of the 1st Naval Kronstadt Regiment made up of the crews of the battleships Gangut and Petropavlovsk. He fought the armies of Kolchak with them in the Urals and Siberia.
The marshal glanced at his watch and rose. We returned to his study. Blyukher did not comment on my views on naval warfare. Instead he set forth his own concept. When I took out my notebook he remarked: "Please, don't take any notes."
The figures the marshal mentioned showed that he had a good knowledge not only of the Soviet Pacific Fleet, but also of Japan's naval forces.
"On the sea we are much weaker than on land," he observed. Then he agreed with me that it was vital reliably to protect and defend Vladivostok to the last man. "I fully agree with you that any naval base which has been lost even for several days shall be unserviceable for a long time," he added.
Blyukher attached special importance to intelligence and timely sighting of the enemy. He went on to say:
"Until now we have been waiting for the enemy to appear off our shores. We surrendered the initiative to him. The fleet must be more active now. You now have enough forces and other means."
Vassili Konstantinovich stated his views on naval operations in a very careful and tactful form. I realised that he reckoned with two real forces of the fleet, namely the air arm and the submarines. But he assigned pride of place to the air arm. He did not take the surface ships into account, perhaps, because they were still few in number. He maintained that motor torpedo boats were mainly an inshore weapon chiefly to be employed in darkness.
I did not object to his appraisal, although, in my heart, I wanted to give priority to the submarines.
The marshal repeated the word "flanks" several times as he pointed at Poset Bay and the Suchan Valley. Just like I he considered it improbable that the enemy would launch a head on attack on Vladivostok. The city was reliably protected by powerful fortifications and Russki Island. One could expect the enemy to land descents on the flanks. The Poset, America and Vostok Bays were large, they were convenient for landings and the defences were weak.
"Everything depends on skilful co-operation here," Blyukher said and mentioned all the possibilities of the Pacific Fleet and the land units.
He competently set forth the probable course of a possible landing operation. He said:
"If the fleet fails to accomplish its mission and the enemy seizes the coast, the land command will quickly muster their forces and will throw him into the sea."
He made special emphasis on "if the fleet fails to accomplish its mission," and cast a significant glance at me obviously desiring to touch me on the raw.
When Vassili Konstantinovich finished his description of possible operations on the land, I was absolutely sure that he had a clear idea of the fleet's possibilities, that he entertained no illusions about it and that he would assign it practicable missions. But he mainly counted on the land forces.
As our talk drew to an end he told me that large scale exercises would be held in one of the areas in autumn. Blyukher suggested that I should make thorough preparations for them.
Late in 1937, a separate People's Commissariat of the Navy was formed. In the Far East we did not immediately feel the impact of this measure. The Pacific Fleet enjoyed a great deal of leeway. As in the past, my immediate superior with regard to operations was the commander of the Far Eastern Army. However, with time the division between the fighting services made itself felt. In the past, the heavy bombers based on coastal airfields were under the Pacific Fleet commander. And now they were placed under army command. The bombers flew fewer sorties to the sea, and co-operation with the fleet was less effective. In the past, the fleet's mountain infantry regiments maintained closer contact with the army divisions and corps assigned to defend the coast.
In 1937-1938, winter was a time of troubles. The Japanese militarists were becoming more and more arrogant. They were constantly intruding into our territory and territorial waters to fathom our strength. The air arm and coastal defence batteries were held in a condition of heightened readiness at all times. Submarines were on patrol on the approaches to the Main Base round the clock.
As I became more accustomed to the duties of fleet commander (of which I knew little) I was confronted with more and more problems.
Large scale construction on the coast was also a source of worry. In an area extending several thousand kilometres from Vladivostok to Provideniye Harbour we were building air fields, bases and coastal defence batteries. The men suffered from the cold, complained about inadequate supplies, but despite this more and more troops were transferred here. Though the builders worked diligently, they could not possibly "patch up all the holes".
We heaved a sigh of relief, when Golden Horn Harbour and then the Gulf of the Amur were free from ice in March-April. One fleet formation after another sailed from Vladivostok to acquire bases in various parts of Peter the Great Bay.
While touring the Main Base of the fleet I went from one objective to another. One Sunday A.B. Yeliseyev, commandant of the coastal defence force, and I inspected the structures of the former fortress Vladivostok.
We went from one fort to another, and we thought there would be no end to discoveries. I found sites for batteries, adits and underground depots for ammunition. At Egersheld there were vast concrete vaults which the shipping lines' restaurant used as a cellar for perishables. It was cool there. There were also numerous discoveries in Russki Island. Thus, we located underground depots, foundations for old batteries, wells which the Japanese filled up when they left Vladivostok after the period of intervention.
We were shown the blueprints of the structures. They were in the form of books with descriptions of the fortress. You could see that the builders had put in a lot of effort.
Yes, indeed Russian engineers were master builders. You could see that the fortifications met the requirements of their time.
We could not afford to squander this wealth. Acting on my instructions a special commission produced plans for the employment of the unused space. The excellent vaults proved to be of great value to the fleet.
Late in July 1938, a conflict broke out at Lake Khasan at a relatively small distance from Vladivostok. Frontier incidents were constantly occurring in those days, and we were used to Japanese provocations. In the beginning we regarded that this was just another sally. However, the fact that it occurred so close to our Main Base alerted us. The Japanese intended to seize the hills Zaozyomaya and Bezymyannaya. Had they taken these heights they would have constituted a direct threat to Vladivostok.
On July 29, the enemy committed a big force to action, which compelled our frontier guard units to withdraw. Both sides were bringing up and committing to action more battalions, regiments and even divisions.
Corps commander G.M. Shtem, the chief of staff of the Far Eastern Army went to the scene of the Fighting. We only had a brief exchange over the phone. He asked me to ship to the area of Poset army units and equipment. He promised to keep me abreast of the events.
It was during the events of Lake Khasan that I last met Vassili Konstantinovich Blyukher.
On August 1, 1938, Blyukher phoned me asking urgently to take him by sea to the battlefield.
I ordered a destroyer to be prepared to set sail at a definite hour. Meanwhile I went to the airfield to meet the marshal. It was early when the plane landed. V.K. Blyukher arrived with P.I. Mazepov, member of the Military Council. Blyukher looked worried and tired.
He asked me about the sealift of troops and equipment. He also wanted to know whether there were many wounded. I told him that there were no delays in the shipments. There were only a few wounded officers and men who were now at the naval hospital.
We went straight to the jetty. On the bridge of the destroyer the marshal asked about the estimated time of arrival. Then he looked at distant objects, he was engrossed in thought, and when I asked him a question, his answer did not come straight away.
The country in the zone of action was difficult. It was difficult for the bigger units to reach it, because there was only one road (and that was bad) passing through a narrow poorly negotiable gorge. I knew all this. Perhaps, this was what preyed on the marshal's mind.
At what I thought was an opportune moment I asked him what his appraisal of the situation was and whether we, sailors, should take any special precautions.
"You should be on the alert," Blyukher said. He explained that it was necessary to be ready for any surprise. At the same time we should avoid action that might provoke the enemy.
In Maritime Territory autumn sets in August. It is a delightful season. There are fewer rainy and foggy days and more clear days. It is warm till November. On that day the morning mist dispersed quickly and the boundless seascape horizon became clearly visible. On the port side we saw the hills of Russki Island and on the starboard side only a narrow strip separated us from our troublesome neighbour. Poset Bay is broad. As a rule, there was nobody in it. But now you would run into transport vessels, barges and schooners.
When the destroyer cast anchor, a small launch was lowered. When it drew up at the ladder we bid each other farewell. Blyukher rejected my offer to accompany him ashore. "Thank you for bringing me here so quickly," the marshal said. "Attend to your duties."
Blyukher spoke to me once more over the telephone, while the battles at Lake Khasan were raging. August 6-7, 1938 proved to be decisive. He was worrying about the means of transportation. I went to Poset Bay to see how the cargoes were being discharged. There were serious complications, because the. bigger transport vessels could not go alongside. On some days we had to mobilise every fishing vessel of the neighbouring collective farm and to use them as lighters. But on the whole the cargoes were discharged successfully.
The fighting went on for more than a fortnight. We could not be sure that it would not grow over into a big war.
I was going over all of this in my mind as I returned to Vladivostok in the destroyer which had brought Marshal Blyukher to Poset Bay. When I saw our ships in Vladivostok harbour I realised the disastrous consequences of a sudden enemy air attack. Of course, as soon as the conflict broke out we took all possible precautions. But we could not stop at that. In the event of an air raid we simply would not be able to issue the necessary orders at the last moment. It was our duty to take care of every ship and every military unit. We should also display concern for the city and its inhabitants. What we needed was a standing operating procedure which should "click" the moment a definite signal was sounded with the help of a single code word, such as "Flame".
The idea of the fleet's operational readiness was not totally new to us. I had heard about it before, when I was serving with the Black Sea Fleet. But now this idea had to be given practical form.
Captain 1st Grade V.L. Bogdenko, chief of staff of the fleet, had been to Spain too. He was aware of the consequences of a surprise air attack on ships and on the base. He readily joined in the work. But it was M.S. Klevenski, operations officer, who made the biggest contribution here.
Realising the tremendous job he and the other officers of the operations division had on their hands he simply said:
"Would you, please, see to it that we are served meals at night and the assignment shall be fulfilled on time."
He had a remarkable capacity for work. Working with him was an ordeal not only for his subordinates who had to keep up with him, but also for his superiors. If he was faced with an urgent matter he would wake up the person concerned at any hour in the night.
During the Great Patriotic War Klevenski served in the Northern Fleet. A.G. Golovko, the fleet commander, would often grumble at him:
"It's that Klevenski with his projects again." It should be mentioned that Klevenski displayed a really keen interest in questions bearing on the fleet's fighting efficiency. Though his "projects" were not always successful, he always worked on them diligently and put all his heart into them. An excellent staff officer, he displayed concern for everyone but had no time to look after himself. He died at his post after the war.
At the height of the fighting at Lake Khasan we issued to the ships and units directives on operational readiness. They stated what each ship and formation should do, when the code signal was received. The first inspections showed that not all was as simple as it seemed. Many of the measures the operations division had planned took far more time to effect than initially provided. The readiness of a ship depended not only on its crew, but also on the work of the logistical establishments. How could a ship be in a condition of readiness, if ammunition did not arrive on time?
Quick dispersal of ships proved to be a most difficult problem. Blackout measures took a lot of time at the base. Though Vladivostok is not very big, it is scattered over the hills around Golden Horn Harbour. It was necessary to prepare the city for blackout, to explain the measures to the people, to carry out drills and sometimes sound alerts.
I remember very well that at the climax of the conflict I was warned about a possible enemy air raid on Vladivostok. The information was not quite reliable, it was not confirmed later. But when I received the warning I considered an air attack quite possible. I recalled what N.F. Zayats, commanding officer of the cruiser Krasny Kavkaz of the Black Sea Fleet, said:
"It is better to sound three false alarms than to miss one real one."
Of course, a false alarm is a nuisance, but it is a drill which helps check up on performance. If an alarm is sounded too late it may lead to irreparable damage. This was particularly dangerous with respect to the fleet.
Having alerted separate units I went to the air defence command post. S.F. Zhavoronkov, fleet air arm commander, was already there. He was already alerting antiaircraft units and the fighters. Standing on a high hill we saw the city in blackout and the numerous harbours. The fleet formations were leaving their regular moorages for their dispersal anchorages.
When it dawned and the danger passed we heaved a sigh of relief. However, the alert showed that there was plenty of room for improvement in heightening our combat readiness.
The fighting at Lake Khasan ended in the middle of August. The frontier was restored and the aggressor was repelled. But the experience of the battles did not permit us to dwell in complacency. We now knew that we needed a system of operational readiness conditions. We also knew that it would take some time to work it out and put it into effect. Constant drills alone would assure quick fulfilment of all the measures provided.
We were working on blackout measures for the base, delivery and receipt of ammunition, dispersal of ships and execution of the first combat operations.
I am going into these details, because the system of operational readiness conditions which was first introduced in the Pacific Fleet was later adopted by other fleets and played an important role, when the Great Patriotic War broke out. In the beginning the Naval Staff displayed mistrust towards our initiative. We were taking these steps at our own risk. The People's Commissariat demanded detailed information on what was being done and how. It would be fair to say that our reports did not meet with any objections.
Soon after the Khasan events Marshal V.K. Blyukher left the Far East. We did not think we would never see him again.
G.M. Shtem became the army commander. In the beginning I was tormented by apprehensions about our working relations. Would our friendship stand this test? But just like in Spain working with Shtem was a pleasure.
It was necessary to discuss our joint plans in detail. Grigori Mikhailovich came to Vladivostok. He unfolded a map in my office, showing the location of the units and ships. It was clear that a crisis, perhaps an even graver one than the Khasan incident, could occur at any moment. We discussed the plan for the defence of Vladivostok with particular detail. As in the past we thought that the enemy would hardly undertake a head-on attack. Powerful coastal defence batteries provided reliable cover from the sea. On the flanksPoset Bay and the Suchan Valleythe defences were weaker. We decided that the fleet facilities should accelerate the construction of coastal defence batteries there, while the army would bring in an adequate force.
Shtem frequently visited me at Vladivostok. He was usually accompanied by Brigade Commander M.M. Popov, chief of staff, and my friend P.V. Rychagov, army air force commander. He once said to me:
"I would like to visit your ships to get an idea of their fighting capabilities and to see everything with my own eyes."
Soon he had a chance to do so. His knowledge of the fleet later helped him draw up coordinated plans for joint army-fleet operations.
During my period of service I witnessed arguments and even complications between army and fleet commanders. They could not agree who should be the superior officer. These people wasted a lot of invaluable time in such squabbles.
It never occurred to Shtem or me to engage in such discussions.
Later, when we were both serving in Moscow, I was frequently entertained by Shtem's family. Grigori Mikhailovich took me on a tour of the capital. If Rychagov happened to appear in Moscow, he would join us and take all of us to the theatre. It was not easy to get tickets in those days. But Rychagov defied all difficulties. He would invite us to a performance that was "the talk of the town". "What about the tickets?" we would ask. "Don't worry about them," Rychagov would confidently reply and indeed he managed to get them somehow. His decorations, apparently? helped him. His Gold Star Medal of Hero of the Soviet Union and other Orders did indeed produce an impression.
Early in April 1938, we learnt that P.A. Smirnov, People's Commissar of the Navy, was to come to the Pacific. We were pleased to hear that, because in the first few months after the People's Commissariat of the Navy was formed we were confronted with a host of problems. But his arrival was a disappointment to all. His main mission, as he put it, was to "purge the fleet of enemies of the people". As a result we lost many good workers.
To say that this was solely due to Stalin's personality cult would be to oversimplify matters. Many of us were guilty of remaining silent, when the office we held obliged us to speak up. Many had to pay for being passive, when their own turn came.
After the war I was in the dock too. A slanderous letter started it all. In addition to myself, three other admiralsV.A. Alafuzov, L.M. Galler and G.A. Stepanov who faithfully and selflessly served the country throughout the war were put to trial too. Our attempts to prove with documents that the parachute torpedo was no longer a secret were futile. Nothing helped.
Alafuzov, Stepanov and Galler were sentenced to terms of imprisonment. I was demoted and sent to serve in the Far Fast again.
Back to CONTENTS