Readiness for Action, Condition One
An Unexpected Appointment
In December 1938, I was summoned to Moscow to attend a meeting of the High Naval Council. As soon as I arrived I was received by M.P. Frinovski, newly-appointed People's Commissar of the Navy.
When he was appointed many servicemen were surprised. Though P.A. Smirnov, Frinovski's predecessor, had no naval education, he knew the Army and Navy, because he had been a political officer for a long time. But Frinovski had a vague idea about the Navy. Before he became People's Commissar of the Navy, he worked at the NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) where he was in charge of the frontier guard service. It was a mystery why he was made People's Commissar of the Navy, particularly when the country was building up a big navy.
Whenever Frinovski had to solve naval questions, he had to rely wholly on his deputies.
The meetings of the High Naval Council devoted much time to the construction of ships. The decision of the Party and government on a big sea- and ocean-going navy opened broad horizons to our naval forces. Questions bearing on fleet missions appeared in a new light. There were many new problems connected with the construction of big shore facilities. It was necessary to produce new Combat Regulations of the Naval Forces and a Manual for the Conduct of Naval Operations. It was not an easy task to prepare for the handling of a big fleet, to master it and to learn to control it. Mass personnel shifts and promotion of young leaders were effected. To put it in a nutshell, there was a lot of work to accomplish.
The international situation was becoming more tense. In Spain, which had become a centre of political developments a bloody struggle came to an end. Hitler was demanding "Lebensraum". His Eastern ambitions were to the taste of the Western leaders who made one concession to him after another. They hoped to settle their differences with Hitler at the Soviet Union's expense, and their secret diplomacy was working along these lines. It was clear that Nazi Germany was our most probable potential enemy.
Experience showed that in such a situation it was a risk to draw up long term new construction plans. A big navy was not ships alone. It would comprise naval bases, docks, ship repair yards, educational establishments and a lot more. It would take quite a few years and tremendous funds to build it up. Of course, the proposed programme could not be accomplished in a single quinquennium.
To tell the truth, we sailors did not give serious thought to the time when the future war could possibly start. The attention the government were paying to the Navy pleased us. The main subject of the talks with the fleet commanders was ships. The government gave their consent to build them before the entire programme was approved. These ships were already on the slipways.
The Council conducted its meetings for several evenings. In addition, we tried to settle our routine questions at the People's Commissariat. In those days the offices in Moscow worked till late in the night. The People's Commissar could receive you at two o'clock in the morning and there was nothing unusual in this. It was particularly hard on us who were from the Far East because of the difference in time zones. While you were waiting in the reception room it was tough fighting sleep. After all it is morning in Vladivostok. But every cloud has a silver lining. This was the most convenient time for telephone calls. The people of Moscow were asleep, the line was not engaged, and everybody was at the office in Vladivostok.
The High Naval Council did not discuss all the matters that troubled us. Speaking to a limited number of persons Frinovski hinted that there would also be a meeting with the government, which would issue policy instructions for the future.
I departed from Moscow in the beginning of January. All my thoughts were already in Vladivostok. I was eager to get back to work as quickly as possible. But the journey in the Trans-Siberian Express took more than a week. This is always a trying experience. During the first few days you relax from the commotion and telephone calls. But then you get down to reading official papers. And if you have any time left after that, you start reading fiction. Despite this time drags wearily. But after a journey you could not help admiring the vast expanses of our Homeland, its wealth and inexhaustible possibilities.
As the train departed from Moscow it was thawing. When we got to Irkutsk it was -45° C. The air seemed to scratch your lungs. It was difficult to breathe. Having passed the station Yerofei Pavlovich the train turned southward. In Khabarovsk it was clear and there was plenty of sunshine. The frost was mild. On the approaches to Vladivostok I saw icicles on the roofs. The sun was already high and I felt the breath of spring.
Though I had brought big plans to Vladivostok, I did not have mich time there. Late in February 1939, I departed for Moscow again to attend the Eighteenth Party Congress. This meant nine days in the train. In those days flights were not usual.
I was travelling with Shtern. We discussed many questions en route. We recalled Spain. The country was plunged into a tragedy. The Republican forces were withdrawing towards the French frontier. The fascist plague was raging in the land.
The Congress opened on March 10. We entered the Grand Kremlin Palace in festive spirits. Delegates had come from all corners of the country.
Shtern and I were seated among the representatives of Maritime Territory. But we did not sit there for a long time. We were surprised to hear our names in the list of those who were to sit in the presidium of the Congress. We even looked at each other to make sure we had not heard the announcer wrong. But the neighbors were already telling us to go.
Lacking assurance we took seats in the last row behind the rostrum. We ascribed our election to the presidium as an expression of attention to the Far East. The incident at Lake Khasan had stirred up the whole country. The Congress opened its proceedings. J.V. Stalin made the report. Those who sat in the presidium drew closer to the rostrum to hear the speaker better.
In the intervals between sessions I would go to the People's Commissariat of the Navy to learn the news from the Pacific Fleet.
A strange atmosphere reigned in the People's Commissariat. M.P. Frinovski was attending the Congress. I saw him from my place in the presidium. He was sitting in the eleventh or twelfth row. But he was not seen at the People's Commissariat. There were rumours that he would soon be released. All routine matters were being decided by P.I. Smimov-Svetlovski, first deputy People's Commissar.
On one of the last days of the Congress V.M. Molotov came up to me and asked if I intended to speak.
Shaking my head in denial I said I was expecting my People's Commissar to speak.
"Suppose he doesn't intend to take the floor. I suggest you think this over," Molotov remarked.
In the evening I told Shtern about this. An old-timer in the top staff, a man with experience, he knew better what to do under the circumstances.
"There is something behind this," he observed. "If I were in your shoes I would draft theses for your statement. Just in case."
On the following day the chairman asked both of us whether we would like to speak in the debate. We agreed, and from that moment we lost our peace of mind. We were excited because we were to speak from the highest rostrum in the country.
During the interval Stalin passed by. Turning to me he extended his hand with a sheet of paper. "Read this," he said.
It was M.P. Frinovski's report requesting to be released from the post of People's Commissar of the Navy "because of incompetence in naval affairs". Appearing before us some time later Stalin asked: "Do you realise what this means?"
I did not have time to answer. It was clear that Frinovski would not address the Congress and that meant that I would be given the floor.
I remember well that the floor was granted to Sholokhov and I was requested to be the next speaker.
As I walked to the rostrum I tried to gain my self-control. I mentioned the aggressive intentions of the Japanese militarists, the incidents they provoked on our frontier. Then I said a few words about the Pacific Fleet. I assured the delegates that the sailors were prepared to live up to their duty to the Homeland.
Before the final sitting of the Congress a meeting of elders was held. The members of the previous Central Committee and many other delegates were invited. Among the latter were Shtern and I. The members of the Politbureau took their seats on the platform in the presidium. There were to be big changes in the composition of the Central Committee. In informing the meeting about them the members of the Politbureau explained why it was considered inexpedient to include one person or another in the Central Committee. The persons whose candidatures raised objections asked to be transferred to jobs of less importance. At the end of the meeting a list of candidates to a new Central Committee was submitted. Shtern's name and mine were in it. We again thought that this was a sign of attention to the Far East and its armed forces.
When the Congress was over I was in a hurry to return to Vladivostok. I had a lot of work on my hands. But I was not permitted to leave.
P.I. Smirnov-Svetlovski, acting People's Commissar, said to me: "Your departure is being delayed." He did not explain the reasons to me. That same evening or rather that same night I was taken out of bed and ordered to go to the Kremlin immediately. I had to make haste because there was a car waiting at the entrance to the hotel.
J.V. Stalin received me. When I entered his office he was standing at a long table. Several Politbureau members were seated at it. There were papers lying on the table in front of them. He did not speak straight away. He leisurely tapped his pipe against the edge of an ash tray. Then taking a big red pencil he wrote something on a piece of paper lying at the top. Taking a close look at me he invited me to be seated.
I approached the table with some hesitation. This was not the first time I saw Stalin. But I had never had the opportunity to study him so carefully and for such a long time at such close quarters.
He looked very much like his pictures, but not quite like them. I thought he was broader and taller. His quiet voice and slow gestures indicated great confidence in himself and sense of the power he wielded.
He looked at me intently for some time. To tell the truth I felt a bit scared under his gaze. Before that I had spoken with Stalin only in my imagination. When I failed to get something the fleet needed or when I received instructions I disagreed with I would think that if I were to report the matter personally to Stalin he would understand and help me.
And now I was in his office. I was not reporting to him. He was asking me questions and I was answering them. About my tour of duty in the Pacific, about our fleet. He wanted to know what I thought about the performance of the People's Commissariat of the Navy. For some reason Stalin displayed particular interest in my opinion of Galler and Isakov. I respected them both. They were experienced leaders and enjoyed prestige among the sailors. And that was what I told him.
"What do you think about working in Moscow?" he asked at the end of the interview.
I had no definite idea on that matter. I replied briefly: "I have never worked in the centre and have never wished to."
"You may go," Stalin said.
I returned to my room at the hotel at about three o'clock in the morning.
On the following day I was summoned to an extraordinary sitting of the High Naval Council. They did not inform me about the agenda.
The sitting was opened by P.I. Smirnov-Svetlovski who gave the floor to A.A. Zhdanov, Secretary of the Party Central Committee and member of the Council. Suddenly Zhdanow said:
"I propose to discuss whether the first deputy People's Commissar Smirnov-Svetlovski is fit for his post."
P.I. Smirnov-Svetlovski who was sitting in the chairman's seat darkened and lowered his head. There were no opinions. A.A. Zhdanov again took the floor:
"The Central Committee are of the opinion that the People's Commissariat of the Navy needs a new leadership. It is proposed to appoint Comrade Kuznetsov first deputy People's Commissar instead of Smirnov-Svetlovski."
Zhdanov cast a glance at me. All the other members of the Council were also looking at me. Several voices hesitantly supported the proposal.
That same day I received a red envelope with a decision about my appointment.
I had hardly known Smirnov-Svetlovski before that. I had seen him several times, when he as inspector attended exercises of the Black Sea Fleet. Then he received me on business matters twice. When I entered his office after the sitting of the Council, he asked me about the reasons for his release. What could I say? I knew only what he knew himself, and no more. I told him about the night interview at Stalin's office where his name was not even mentioned.
We decided to start the transfer on the following day. We met next morning as we had agreed. After working several hours we decided upon another meeting. I thought that the transfer procedure would take three days. But Pyotr Ivanovich did not come. I waited an hour, two and three hours for him. But he did not come. I was given the key to the safe.
It was only then I understood what Stalin meant when, on his orders, I called him over the phone. "Have you taken over?" he asked. "Not yet."
"You will have to hurry up or you won't have the time," Stalin said and hung up.
I was thus now the first deputy People's Commissar of the Navy. Nobody had yet been appointed to the post of People's Commissar. Somebody said that Frinovski was taking a rest at his country house. There was a pile of papers on the huge desk in the office, which called for immediate action. I went to A.A. Zhdanov to ask him what I should do. He said:
"It is up to you do decide. When you are in doubt about the bigger matters call me over the phone. I shall help you."
That was how I began my tour of duty in Moscow. If somebody asked me whether I was pleased to work in the centre, it would have been difficult to answer this question. Everything had worked out so unexpectedly.
In order to know what I should best begin with I invited L.M. Galler, chief of Naval Staff, and asked him to acquaint me in detail with the structure of the People's Commissariat, to tell me about the people working here and the situation in the fleets. However, I was not able to carry out the plan in full.
A.A. Zhdanov called me up and said that both of us were to go urgently to Vladivostok and Khabarovsk to deal with several matters of great importance.
I tried to explain to him that I had a lot of business to do in Moscow, but he interrupted me saying:
"Your paperwork can wait. I advise not to mention it at the interview with Comrade Stalin."
Our departure was planned for March 28 and I had no time to waste. At that moment I received a telephone call from Ivan Fyodorovich Tevosyan, People's Commissar of the Shipbuilding Industry. He insisted on an immediate meeting. He told me that over a period of several weeks nobody looked into matters of the utmost urgency connected with the approval of ship designs and trials.
Half an hour later Tevosyan was at my office. That was the first time we met. But already then I felt that we would work in harmony with Ivan Fyodorovich. And indeed we, sailors, were fortunate to have a man with the mind of a statesman, a man of tremendous working capacity at the head of the shipbuilding industry.
As we discussed the progress made in construction of fighting ships I acquired an increasingly clear idea of the programme for the creation of a big navy. At the time only few people knew about it. [Programme of naval construction in the Third Five-year Plan Period.] The hulls of gigantic battleships and heavy cruisers were growing on the slipways. The first cruisers of the Sverdlov class were being completed at the docks of shipbuilding yards. More and more destroyers and submarines were to be commissioned. Some were undergoing mooring trials, others were already sailing for final test runs. What I heard in the Far East and at the High Naval Council were only details of this programme. Tevosyan and I resolved only the most urgent matters. We agreed on a policy of further work. It was time for me to prepare for my journey to the Far East.
It was an interesting trip. I do not know whether A.A. Zhdanov had purposely intended to use the time in the train for work, but we were accompanied by G.M. Shtern and N.M. Pegov, Secretary of the Maritime Territorial Party Committee. We frequently met en route to discuss business or just to relax. We recalled the days we spent in Moscow. I spent long hours in talks with A.A. Zhdanov. Andrei Aleksandrovich displayed a lively interest in naval officers and men. He also wanted to know about the key men in the People's Commissariat of the Navy. And that was natural, because within the framework of the Central Committee he was in charge of naval affairs.
He willingly answered all the questions I asked him. He gave me an insight into the foreign policy of the USSR. I must say that much of what he told me I heard for the first time. A new stage had set in international relations. Hitler was in a hurry to carry out his aggressive plans. Before the Spanish war was over, on March 15, he entered Czechoslovak territory. On March 22, he seized Memel on the Baltic. Mussolini tried to
keep up with Hitler. He was feverishly preparing for an attack on Albania. This happened on April 7, 1939.
Thus, storms were rapidly gathering on Europe's political horizons. We asked Zhdanov:
"Can these developments grow over into a big war?" "The joint efforts of the peace-loving countries must preclude this fatal course of events," he replied.
We returned to this topic several times. I could not help recalling my talk with Tevosyan. To accomplish our big ship construction programme we needed a lot of time. Will we manage in the time we still have? This question preyed on my mind and I asked Zhdinov:
"What will happen to our programme if the events suddenly take a dangerous turn?"
"Work on the programme shall be continued," be said. I do not know whether he gave this answer because he was sure of this or because he did not wish to discourage a new worker of the People's Commissariat.
In the Far East A. A. Zhdanov first wanted to see the proposed site for a future commercial port. We went to Nakhodka Harbour in a destroyer. Then we intended to proceed to Komsomolsk-on-Amur, but on April 15, we were suddenly ordered to return to Moscow. We were thus compelled to summon the people from Komsomolsk to Khabarovsk in order to meet them briefly in our train.
Andrei Aleksandrovich and I returned alone. We had more time for talks than on the way to Vladivostok. We spoke about Spain and the comrades that had fought there as volunteers. Zhdanov asked me about K.A. Meretskov, Y.V. Smushkevich, N.N. Voronov and D.G. Pavlov. Most of them had already returned and were holding high posts. He inquired about the leading workers of the People's Commissariat I knew well. The situation was not yet clear there. Frinovski was released from his post, but nobody was appointed to it.
I characterised Lev Mikhailovich Galler whom I knew well. He was a man with tremendous experience. He was held in great esteem by all sailors. He was an honest, sincere and indefatigable worker.
I was pleased to hear that Zhdanov's opinion coincided with my own. This was not surprising because Lev Mikhailovich devoted his whole life to the navy. He had served at sea for more than three decades.
When the October Revolution broke out he was commanding officer of the destroyer Turkmenets-Stavropolski. Galler was then captain 2nd Grade. He was one of the few officers of the imperial Navy that immediately sided with the Bolsheviks. His destroyer took part in the heroic ice cruise from Helsingfors to Kronstadt. It was not easy for a ship with a thin shell to make her way through heavy ice. Recalling the remote past Galler once said to me: "When we drew into Kronstadt we could count all her 'ribs'."
Though the ship's frames stuck out of the sides like the ribs of a worn out animal, the destroyer reached her destination.
L.M. Galler was commanding officer of the battleship Andrei Pervozvanny, when the garrison of the fort Krasnaya Gorka mutinied in 1919. The fort having opened fire at Kronstadt, the Andrei Pervozvanny set sail to be the first ship to return fire. Galler personally controlled the battleship's main armament. He took an active part in suppressing the mutiny.
In the 1920s Lev Mikhailovich was one of those who supervised the reconditioning of the Baltic Fleet. He became the first commanding officer of a battleship brigade. He was in command of the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna and the cruiser Profintern when they sailed from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The cruise was performed in winter 1930, under particularly unfavourable weather conditions. In the Bay of Biscay the ships endured a fierce storm. Heavy ocean waves rolled over the decks. The roll reached 38-40 degrees. In that storm close to 60 ships were lost. But our ships endured it, though it was fierce even for that region, and reached their destination. Before Lev Mikhailovich was transferred to Moscow he was commander of the Baltic Fleet.
A person with a record like that, who had displayed expert seamanship in the most difficult trials and who was a selfless worker could not but command respect. The routine guidance of the fleets in the People's Commissariat rested on his shoulders.
Several times Andrei Aleksandrovich would ask me about I.S. Isakov. He should have known him better than I. They had met in the Baltic. I had met Isakov only occasionally. Just like Galler he immediately sided with Soviet power after the October Revolution. He also took part in the famous ice cruise. I had met Isakov in the Black Sea in 1927. He was then second operations officer of the Geneeral Staff. Then he was transferred to the Baltic Fleet first as chief of staff and then as commander of the fleet. At the time, as deputy People's Commissar of the Navy for ship construction Ivan Stepanovich Isakov was on a mission to the United States.
I said to Andrei Aleksandrovich that in the fleets Isakov had earned a reputation of a well educated sailor and a commander with a strong will power. He enjoyed tremendous prestige. I recalled that during the night interview Stalin persistently-asked me about Isakov. I wondered whether the Kremlin regarded Isakov as a possible candidate who might replace Frinovski. Just like Galler I held him in high esteem. And said so frankly. I was under the impression that Zhdanov agreed with me.
When the train arrived in Moscow I went straight to the People's Commissariat from the railway terminal. I just had to engage in the normal routine. On April 27, I was summoned to the Kremlin. The results of our tour to the Far East were discussed. All the Politbureau members were present. Zhdanov reported his impressions of Nakhodka. "This is a real nakhodka (godsend) for us." It was decided straightaway to build a commercial port there.
Then Zhdanov reported on the developments in Maritime Territory and the Pacific Fleet. As I was about to leave Stalin addressed the other Politbureau members saying: "Perhaps, we should take a decision on the naval question." Everybody agreed with him.
I did not know what naval question he meant and it was not appropriate to ask.
Leaving the Kremlin I went home. When I returned to my office next morning, I saw a red envelope on my desk. It contained a Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet on my appointment to the post of People's Commissar of the Navy of the USSR.
I read the document with a sense of joy mixed with anxiety. Rapid ascension was dangerous not only for divers. Such rapid promotion was fraught with many dangers. I had known this when I was very young. I even asked to appoint me executive officer upon completion of Naval College in order to climb the ladder without overstepping any of the rungs. In my dreams I did not go beyond commanding officer of a ship. But in the last few years I was being promoted too fast. This could be due only to a sweeping wave of forced shifts.
However, time did not wait. I had to start carrying out my duties and not count on allowances. My duties were exacting and I felt it.
That evening I sat a long time in my new office and wondered what to begin with. What were the more important things?
Lev Mikhailovich Galler called me over the phone asking if he could submit his report to me.
He spent two hours with me. I wanted to ask the advice of this intelligent and experienced man. Brushing his reddish moustache he said:
"You should take advantage of the 'honeymoon' months." Casting a glance at me he added in an unofficial tone: "In the beginning your proposals shall be examined quickly. Decisions on them will be taken quickly too. Then it will be more difficult for you."
I took his advice into account, though I did not realise how right he was. After some time it became difficult to gain access to Stalin. And nobody undertook to solve difficult naval matters without him.
But during the "honeymoon" months I was frequently received "at the top" and managed to solve matters of extreme urgency without difficulty or delay. J. V. Stalin paid serious attention to the new construction programme and displayed a keen interest in the Navy.
Conferences on deliveries of equipment for shipbuilding on the basis of industrial co-operation were held practically every week. We, sailors, and I.F.Tevosyan, People's Commissar of the Shipbuilding Industry, were required urgently to submit ships' designs for approval by the government. It should be mentioned that some of the ships were already under construction. We were also to submit the plans for the construction of naval bases, ship repair yards, docks, depots and other facilities a big navy needed.
The officers and men of the fleets were effectively shaking down aboard new ships, in new aircraft and mastering the new coastal defence batteries. The commands sought to reduce to a minimum the winter interval in combat training. They tried to keep the ships as much as possible at sea or on open roads farther away from their home bases.
We all worked hard. We had a lot of work to cope with and enough energy. In May I left for the Black Sea. I visited Sevastopol and the roads off Yevpatoriya where the fleet was moored. Then I toured the bases.
In June I managed to go to the NorthArkhangelsk and Polyarnoye. Late in July A. A. Zhdanov and I went to the Baltic where the fleet was conducting a big exercise. We spent two days in Leningrad. A. A. Zhdanov showed me new housing construction sites on the Okhta and in Mezhdunarodny Prospekt. He added:
"We also discussed the possibilities for extending the city to the shores of the Gulf of Finland. The areas are good there but they are too close to the frontier."
These really good areas began to be built up after the Great Patriotic War, when the frontier was moved farther away from the city. Now Leningrad has approached the sea on a big expanse.
We went from Leningrad to Kronstadt. Andrei Aleksan-drovich did not forget his promise to participate in a cruise. As soon as we came aboard the battleship a detachment of the fleet weighed anchor. Navigating the narrow channel the ships steamed out into the sea. This was hardly the sea, because Kronstadt Bay is not wide at all, and you can see both shores from the ship. Leaving several dozen miles behind the detachment we sighted foreign islands. The ships were steaming past Seskar, Lavansaari and Hogland. Unfriendly eyes were watching them through range finders levelled at them. With my naked eye I saw men on the rocks of Hogland Island. Of course, they clearly saw everything that was happening aboard our ships.
On the following day we passed Tallinn and Helsinki. These places were connected with numerous events in the history of the Russian Navy. L.M. Galler and N.N.Nesvitski, fleet detachment commander, had served with the Baltic Fleet for many years. They showed us where minefields were laid during the First World War. They extended from Nargen Island (Estonia) to the Porkkala Peninsula (Finland). That was the main line of defence on the sea route to Petrograd.
Soon we sighted Odensholm lighthouse. The German cruiser Magdeburg was lost near it in 1914. The story is that the German cruisers Augsburg and Magdeburg attempted to attack our guard patrol at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland. But the operation was abortive. On August 26, 1914, the cruiser Magdeburg run aground near Odensholm lighthouse. The Germans withdrew losing 52 officers and men. The hull of the Magdeburg stuck out of the water for a long time after that. Examining the ship the Germans had demolished Russian divers located the body of a German signalman close to the ship's side. On the body they found the German secret cypherbook. It rendered an invaluable service both to the Russian Navy and Russia's Allies. The old salts recalled many events. But our attention was focussed on a particularly acute problem. The international situation was extremely tense. The Baltic Fleet, our biggest, had no exit. Even its moorage on the roads of Kronstadt could be seen from the Finnish coast. What should be done in the event of war?
Before reversing the course the fleet detachment doubled the Swedish island Gottland and swung south. One exercise followed another. It was a pleasure to be on the bridge and watch the splendid performance of the ships executing all the manoeuvres. But the Baltic is not a big sea, and one day later we returned to the roads of Kronstadt. We sighted the dome of the Naval Cathedral from afar. It was built on the money collected by the seamen. Before the Revolution it witnessed the arduous drills of recruits in Yakornaya (Anchor) Square.
When we saw the dome from the sea, it aroused a warm feeling of homecoming. Yes, indeed the smoke of homeland is sweet and pleasant.
A critique of the cruise was conducted at the Fleet Club. The slogan "for the first broadside" I described above was picked up then. It did not yet imply readiness of the whole Fleet for action, but was a stage towards this goal.
Addressing a rally in Petrovski Park A. A. Zhdanov said it was important to keep the powder dry. Nobody could possibly imagine that the day of the Nazi German attack on Poland was not far off.
Europe at War
It was obvious that the danger of war in Europe was mounting and that Nazi Germany was our most probable potential enemy. Encouraged by the hesitant and hypocritical policies of the Western powers Hitler overran Czechoslovakia and Austria and was preparing for new conquests. His appetite was growing. Hitler could be stopped only by coordinated and energetic joint action. It is known that in this context the Soviet government proposed to Great Britain and France to conclude a triple pact. Talks were started way back in April 1939. They were being conducted in Moscow, London and Paris. They were transferred to Geneva, when the diplomats assembled there to attend the meetings of the Council of League of Nations. In the middle of 1939 a crisis ensued. The Nazis flagrantly began to threaten Poland. But the three powers had not yet worked out the terms of the mutual aid pact. To expedite the work the Soviet government proposed forthwith to conclude a military convention which would give real force to the pact.
Great Britain and France accepted the Soviet proposal rather cooly. But in the end agreed to send their military missions to Moscow to conduct the talks.
I would like to deal With these talks. I participated in them myself. In addition, Ivan Mikhailovich Maiski, our ambassador to Great Britain, told me a lot about them.
The decision on the talks of the military missions was taken on July 23, 1939. Two days later Lord Halifax, Foreign Minister, invited Maiski and told him about it. But Maiski had already been informed about the decision by a message from the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. He expressed satisfaction at this and asked how soon the talks could be opened.
Maiski recalled that Halifax thoughtfully looked at the ceiling and replied that, perhaps, they could be started seven or ten days later.
This reply augured no good. The situation in Europe was extremely tense, and there was not a moment to be lost. Maiski wanted to know at least who the members of the mission would be. But Halifax refrained from saying anything definite on this question.
A whole week passed before Neville Chamberlain announced to Parliament that the cabinet appointed Sir Reginald Drax head of the British Mission. No one could be less suited for the job. Drax, ADC, was an old admiral in retirement who had long lost all contact with Britain's Armed Forces. The other members of the delegation were Air Chief Marshal Charles Burnett and Major General Heywood who carried no weight in the British forces either. Had Chamberlain's cabinet seriously decided to conclude a military convention they would never have selected these personalities.
The French government followed in the footsteps of their British colleagues. They appointed elderly General de Corps Joseph Doumenc head of the delegation. The other members were General Valin of the Air Force and Captain Willaume of the Navy.
At a luncheon the Soviet ambassador gave at the Embassy he had a significant talk with Admiral Drax.
Maiski:. Admiral, when do you intend to depart for Moscow?
Drax: This hasn't been decided yet, but it will be in the next few days.
Maiski: You are taking a plane, of course? There is no time to lose, because the atmosphere in Europe is tense.
Drax: Oh no. The two delegations with all the auxiliary personnel will include about forty people. They will have a lot of luggage. It is not convenient to fly.
Maiski tried to urge the admiral to go as soon as possible. He suggested that the mission should go in a fast cruiser. That would inspire confidence and heighten the delegation's prestige. But the admiral replied:
"It is not convenient to travel in a cruiser. We would have to evict a couple of dozen officers from their cabins. Why should we trouble people?"
In actual fact the mission departed for the Soviet Union as late as August 5, 1939. The government found a "comfortable" conveyance for themthe City of Exeter, a cargopassenger steamer with a cruising speed of only 13 knots. She arrived at Leningrad as late as August 10.
The British and French governments staged this farce only three weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War. But that was only act one. The policy of inexplicable delays was continued throughout the talks.
The City of Exeter moored at a berth of the Sea Terminal in Vassilyevski Island. The British and French delegations were met by top ranking officers of the Army and Navy in Leningrad. The guests were allowed to see all they wanted. William Seeds, the British ambassador, later reported that the Soviet authorities obviously went out of their way to meet the wishes of the guests.
The missions arrived in Moscow on August II. That same night the guests were invited to dinner at the mansion of the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs in Spiridonyevskaya Street. It was there that I met them personally. The heads and members of the delegations were seated at a round table without any special ceremony. The British and French ambassadors and representatives of the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs were also present.
Admiral Drax was in the focus of attention. He was a tall, spare and grey-haired man, prim and supercilious. He paid special attention to the observance of etiquette. He spoke slowly and pompously giving preference to subjects that were remote from the purpose of his mission. We had to listen to his endless comment on the recent regatta of sea-going yachts at Portsmouth. It seemed that Drax had come for a holiday and not to solve important questions of the utmost urgency.
The guests were received by K.Y. Voroshilov, People's Commissar of Defence. The Soviet delegation included B.M. Shaposhnikov, Chief of General Staff, A.D. Laktionov. Chief of the Air Force, I.V. Smorodinov, deputy Chief of General Staff, and myself. The guests saw that we extended a sincere and cordial welcome to them in Moscow and that we displayed an obvious desire to arrive at an agreement, at long last. Even the supercilious Drax reported to Lord Chatfield, Secretary of State for War, that the competent observers have been strongly impressed by the reception. It seemed that the time was ripe for starting fruitful talks.
At our meeting on the following day we presented our credentials which empowered us "to engage in talks with the British and French military missions and to sign a military convention on the organisation of military defence of Great Britain, France and the USSR against aggression in Europe." But we were to discover that our colleagues had not brought the necessary papers with them. The French General Doumenc produced a paper carrying no definite statement. It merely said that the general was authorised "to come to agreement with the High Command of the Soviet Armed Forces on all matters bearing on the entry into co-operation between the armed forces of both sides".
Admiral Drax was unable to produce any papers at all. He was not provided with written credentials vesting him with powers. Putting it mildly even a child could not take such light-mindedness for absent-mindedness or forgetfulness of the British admiral who was an ADC and British diplomats.
Having failed in his role Drax, however, was not in the least embarrassed. He said that if the talks were transferred to London he would produce the proper credentials in no time.
Somebody said it would be simpler to bring the papers to Moscow than to move the delegations to London. The remark produced approving laughter.
The question arose whether or not it was possible to open the negotiations. When the admiral promised urgently to request the necessary powers from his government, it was decided to continue the talks. But time did not wait. We had to find out what the intentions of our colleagues really were.
The parties exchanged information on the size of the armed forces. The French were the first to report. According to General Doumenc France could muster 110 divisions, 4,000
tanks, 3,000 large calibre artillery pieces (of 150 mm and bigger) and close to 2,000 first line fighting aircraft.
The British were unwilling to state what forces they had in the island. They mentioned only the forces they were ready to move to the continent. It turned out that, if war broke out, they would be able to send only six divisions, urgently form nine and later prepare for departure another 16 divisions. Nobody said concretely what the word "later" meant. As Air Chief Marshal Burnett put it, the Royal Air Force comprised 3,000 aircraft of different types.
Admiral Drax made a speech about the Royal Navy saying that the whole world knew its composition. It was, he said, stronger than the German Navy.
Marshal of the Soviet Union B.M. Shaposhnikov, Chief of General Staff, said that in the event of aggression in Europe the Soviet Union would provide 120 infantry and 16 cavalry divisions, 9,000-10,000 tanks, more than 5,000 large calibre artillery pieces alone, and 5,500 aircraft.
Germany was strong above all on land. It was expected that the Nazis would undertake aggressive action on the continent. Therefore, the largest force against the aggressor was provided by the Soviet Union. The next biggest force was French. To put it mildly, Britain with its six divisions ready for immediate action appeared very weak.
I recall B.M. Shaposhnikov asking me how long it would take to shift six British divisions to the continent. He added that he was not sure that the other divisions the British promised would be ready for action within the next two-three months. I replied that, if these divisions were really available the British Navy and Air Force could transport them to France by sea and air in a few days.
Though the British Army was weak the united forces of the triple alliance, had it been created, would have been far superior to Nazi Germany's armed forces. But the British and French ruling circles were not eager to stop Hitler. They still hoped to set him on us. Their desire to fish in troubled waters was stronger than their intellect. What they really wanted was to provoke a clash between the divisions the Soviet Union was prepared to muster against our common enemy and the fascist hordes. They wanted us to fight the war single-handed against Nazi Germany.
At the meeting on August 14 we asked the British and the French how they proposed to employ the huge Allied army, if Nazi Germany should attack Poland. Poland was the most probable victim of Nazi aggression. It was also necessary to give thought to Germany's possible attack on Romania and the Baltic countries.
Our partners started to beat the air. Resorting to delay tactics they refrained from taking practical decisions. The Soviet side asked the legitimate question:
"Would Poland and Romania allow Soviet troops to enter their territories?" The USSR had no common frontier with Germany.
The notorious government of colonels stated that Poland would not permit the transit of Soviet troops through its territory. Britain and France were unwilling to bring their ally to reason.
Was there any practical basis for concluding a convention, if the Soviet forces were refused the right to defend new victims of Nazi aggression, if they were refused access to areas where they could defend these victims? The talks were thus in a bhnd alley. While the British delegation resorted to all sorts of subterfuges, the cardinal question remained unsolved. It should be mentioned that as this question was being discussed our partners were unable to conceal their real intentions.
After the evening sittings the head of the Soviet mission would report on the progress to J.V. Stalin. Twice or three times B.M. Shaposhnikov and myself were present at these reports. Stalin would hear the results of the first few meetings and would recommend to Voroshilov to continue to determine the real position of Great Britain and France. As far as I can remember he was particularly interested in the attitude of our colleagues. He wanted to know whether they sincerely wished to conclude a triple alliance. He asked what sort of a man Admiral Drax was and how he behaved at the negotiations.
Unfortunately the more progress we made the fewer chances of success we had. On August 19-20, 1939 the talks reached a culminating point.
International tensions increased with every passing day. There was no time to waste. The British and the French promised to give us the final reply on transit of troops, but did not keep their word. On August 21, two sittings were held. In the morning the Soviet delegation again asked about the reply the other parties had promised it. But no answer was given. After an interval the head of the Soviet delegation read out a written statement which clearly stated who was responsible for torpedoing the talks. The statement read in part:
"In the last world war the British and American forces could not have co-operated with the Armed Forces of France, if they had been unable to conduct operations in French territory. Similarly the Soviet Armed Forces will be unable to participate in military co-operation with the British and French Armed Forces, unless they are allowed to enter the territories of Poland and Romania. This is a military axiom.
"In view of the above the responsibility for the delays in the military talks and for an interruption [Officially, the talks were only being interrupted and not broken off.] in them, naturally, rests with the French and the British sides."
The talks between the military missions of the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France which had entered a blind alley were ended.
Today, three decades later, the world sees the heavy price Europe had to pay for the position Britain and France adopted at the time. A lot depended on the results. It was the last chance to bring the aggressor to his senses.
It was necessary to get out of this situation. An immediate change in Soviet foreign policy was needed. The safety of the country depended on this.
Some falsifiers of history claim that the USSR was playing a double game. This is totally untrue. In spring and summer 1939, it conducted talks with Germany through regular diplomatic channels, which mainly dealt with trade transactions. Though the German government made attempts to foil our agreement with Great Britain and France, the Soviet government firmly repelled them. In the middle of August it became absolutely clear that the governments of Great Britain and France foiled the signing of a triple mutual aid pact. Owing to this the Soviet government had to seek for another solution.
On August 20, 1939, Hitler addressed J.V. Stalin and earnestly asked him to receive Joachim von Ribbentrop to sign a non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR. A reply was given on August 21, after the military talks with Great Britain and France failed through no fault of ours. Von Ribbentrop arrived in Moscow on August 23, and the non-aggression pact was signed the same day.
I was not let in on the details of the talks with Germany. Therefore, I did not expect, nor did anyone else expect that an agreement would be reached so quickly. But taking into account the complicated situation at the time it would be fair to say that we had no alternative.
Further delay was fraught with danger. This would have meant to play into the hands of those quarters that were eager to set Hitler on the East. Our government took that decision, only after they saw that it was impossible to come to agreement with Great Britain and France.
Our government were right in concluding an agreement with Germany. It is a pity that the war was postponed for only less than two years. It is a pity that we were not able to take full advantage of this very brief period. Though we had accomplished quite a lot, we did not carry out all we had intended to. Far from it.
On September 1, 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The big war in Western Europe had begun.
As I see it, most of our military leaders, and not only I, watched the Wehrmacht's rapid advance in Poland with anxiety. Of course, the Soviet Union had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. But was this piece of paper a guarantee against new gambles Hitler might plunge into because he was intoxicated by easy victories? Would he stop, when he reached our frontiers? We were aware of the fact that the Nazis arrogantly defied the treaties they had signed.
We know now that this anxiety was well founded. There were people in Germany who proposed immediately to start war in Soviet territory. This did not happen. And it is futile to guess what course the events would have taken, if Hitler had heeded their voices. Since there was a threat of attack, it was necessary to take energetic measures to meet it fully armed.
As soon as I learnt of Hitler's attack on Poland I awaited instructions on heightening the condition of combat readiness of the fleets and on taking measures in an emergency. No such instructions were issued.
The fleets were engaged in their usual routine. L.M. Galler, Chief on Naval Staff, reported the situation on the naval theatres twice a dayin the morning and in the evening. Special attention was paid to progress in combat training, movements of ships and other routine matters.
When my deputiesL.M. Galler, I.S.Isakov and I.V. Rogovcame to report to me talk on official matters would grow over into discussions on the international situation. We wondered how the events would develop. Would Great Britain honour its commitments to Poland? What would be the position of France which was separated from Germany by two lines of permanent defences the Maginot and Siegfried lines? We would lay charts and maps on the table and make all sorts of assumptions. The spearheads showing the advance of the German units were cutting deeper and deeper into Poland's flesh. The Luftwaffe was paving the way for the land forces with relentless air raids on peaceful cities. (We learnt about the numerous acts of sabotage and murders perpetrated by the Abwehr gangs of the two-faced Admiral Ca-naris only many years later.) We also wanted to know what was happening in the Baltic Sea. The theatre was small and it was essential carefully to watch the movements of the German fleet. We were not indifferent to Poland's fate. The notorious government of colonels was unfriendly to the Soviet Union. But the fact that the Nazi Wehrmacht obtained access to our frontiers was the greater evil. In addition, we could not remain unconcerned about the fate of the peoples inhabiting the Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia.
On the following day, after Great Britain and France declared war on Germany I went to B.M. Shaposhnikov, Chief of General Staff. As always he was good-mannered and genial. Having carefully covered up some papers that were lying on his desk B.M. Shaposhnikov offered me a chair and showed that he was prepared to hear what I had to say. I did not make him wait:
"Boris Mikhailovich, has the General Staff received any instruction in connection with the new situation in Poland and in the whole of Europe?"
"Do you intend to wage war against anyone, my dear friend?" he joked.
Then extinguishing his smile Boris Mikhailovich confidentially told me that our forces in the West were in a heightened condition of readiness for action. But he did not go into any further details. However, he added: "I have received no instruction with respect to the fleets." What he said was a first signal to me. The sailors should also display more initiative, if they did not want to be late.
In the evening Lev Mikhailovich Galler entered my office with charts of the Baltic Sea and maps of Poland. After reporting he cautiously asked if there was any news. What could I tell him? Shaposhnikov gave me no new information.
We closely watched the military developments. Neither Great Britain nor France conducted any active operations against Germany's western frontiers. I could not understand the character of that war. No wonder it was later referred to as the phoney war. We now know why it was phoney. Both sides hoped to end the conflict by concluding an agreement at the expense of the Soviet Union, i. e. to turn the war eastward.
On September 16, 1.1. Maslennikov, a senior official of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) in charge of the frontier guard units, called me over the phone requesting me to receive on a matter of great urgency.
A half an hour later Maslennikov was already sitting in my office. He told me that the frontier guard units were ordered to advance westward into Byelorussia and the Ukraine. In this connection he asked what the Dnieper Naval Flotilla would do in the frontier area.
What could I say? I did not want to admit that I was not even informed about the movements of our troops. I told him I would look into the matter and would inform the frontier guard command without delay.
Hardly had Maslennikov closed the door, when I called V.M. Molotov, Chairman of the USSR Council of People's Commissars, and asked him to receive me. He curtly assented.
I asked Molotov why our Commissariat was not even informed about the Dnieper Naval Flotilla's participation in a military operation. I received no intelligible answer.
After my talk with Molotov I wanted to report the situation to Stalin. But during those extremely busy days he would not receive me. Sometime later I complained to him that we were not informed on military operations, but Stalin quietly said: "When necessary, you shall be informed." Rear Admiral V.A. Alafuzov, deputy Chief on Naval Staff, was urgently sent to the Dnieper Naval Flotilla. I said to him:
"Take decision on all matters on the spot and report your decisions to the Commissariat."
Only several ships of the Dnieper Naval Flotilla took part in the liberation of the Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia. Other naval forces did not participate in the operations.
In the latter half of September I went to the Northern Fleet. V. P. Drozd, fleet commander, met me at Murmansk. We immediately went to Polyarnoye. There were many transport vessels on the roads. They were loaded with timber, but could not sail because the war had changed the situation in Europe.
There were many yellowish piles of sawn timber on the docks. Looking at them Drozd said: "We are badly in need of timber."
I phoned Anastas 1. Mikoyan from Polyarnoye. He readily agreed to supply the fleet with a certain amount of timber earmarked for export. Drozd was very happy about this, because now he could carry out his construction programme.
At a meeting of the Military Council and staff of the Northern Fleet we discussed the combat training plans which were now more purposefully geared to the international situation. It is true that we made no significant changes. We decided to limit the operating area so that the ships would not go too far from the main base.
In those days the German liner Bremen unexpectedly entered the Kola Inlet. Just like the Italian Rex before her the Bremen had a blue ribbon on her funnel to show that she was the world's fastest passenger vessel. The Bremen had no business in Murmansk. Of course, the war had driven her there. Since she was a non-combatant ship she had every right to enter our port. But after a while the Bremen departed from Murmansk just as unexpectedly. Taking advantage of the foul weather she ran the blockade to Germany.
On the High Seas
When the war broke out in Europe the Soviet government took special measures to fortify the western frontiers. In my opinion J.V. Stalin did not have too much faith in the pact with Germany. Nor did he trust Hitler. So in September 1939 talks were begun with the then bourgeois governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania about the possibility of stationing Soviet troops in their territories and about the provision of bases for our fleet.
Late in September ships of the Baltic Fleet were allowed to use Tallinn, Libau and Windau as bases. To provide air cover for the naval bases we later received the right to station aircraft in the islands of Oesel and Dago and to build coastal defence batteries.
This was extremely important for the fleet which, for a long time, had been locked up in Kronstadt Harbour. Our ships could now appear in the sea expanses of the Baltic. However, the situation on the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland gave rise to anxiety. All our attempts to improve our relations with our neighbour whose frontier was close to Leningrad failed. Incited by London and Paris the Finnish rulers displayed an increasingly hostile attitude towards us. Late in November 1939, they risked engaging us in an armed conflict.
The Finnish campaign started late in November. In the first few days after the outbreak of hostilities the Baltic Fleet landed descents in the islands of Hogland, Seskar and Lavansaari. The Baltic Fleet air arm stationed in Estonia, submarines based at Tallinn and Libau took part in the engagements with the enemy. The bigger surface ships bombarded the enemy's shore targets.
The young fleet commander V.F. Tributs was assisted by I.S. Isakov and L.M. Galler, deputy People's Commissars of the Navy. Isakov even sailed aboard the battleship Marat to bombard the enemy's coastal defence batteries in the island of Bjöorkö. The writers Leonid Sobolev and Vsevolod Vishnevski who had close ties with the navy also took part in the operations.
L.Z. Mekhiis and G.I. Kulik arrived at the staff of the Leningrad Military Area. They summoned Galler and Isakov and issued them incompetent instructions. While the fighting on land dragged on they laid unfounded claims to the fleet. They tried to force their recommendations on the fleet bypassing the People's Commissariat of the Navy and the Naval Staff. Later Admiral I.S. Isakov told me that he was summoned to the Smolny where these superior officers suggested that he should send Malyatka (Baby) class submarines to the Gulf of Bothnia. Isakov said this could not be done because of their limited endurance.
When I appeared at the staff of the Leningrad Military Area Mekhiis started to attack me too. He was a man of unusual energy, who could work for days and nights on end. But he was incompetent in matters of warfare. In addition, he ignored military regulations and manuals. In those days I hardly knew Mekhiis, but I firmly asked him not to issue any orders to the fleet without my knowledge. I also had a few brushes with G. I. Kulik. Mekhiis was, perhaps, the most unsuitable person for the role of a representative of the central authority on the battle-front. Being endowed with broad powers he tried to assume the functions of the commander, do everything as he saw fit, crushed everybody, but at the same time bore no responsibility for the outcome of combat operations. At a meeting held in April 1940, Stalin said to him:
"On the spot you would 'put' the commander in your 'pocket' and order him around at your own sweet will." Mekhiis took this rebuke rather for a compliment.
He acted in similar fashion even during the Great Patriotic War.
Here is a case in point. In April 1942, our forces were preparing for an attack in the Kerch Peninsula. S.M. Budyonny flew there on the instructions of GHQ, Supreme Command. I also had a few matters to attend to in Kerch, so we flew in the same plane. The Luftwaffe controlled both the strait and the town. V. Grachyov, our highly competent pilot, crossed the strait at hedge-hopping height. Performing a "hump" at the high coast he made a touchdown on the airfield. When we arrived at the staff of the front, it was in a state of confusion. D.G. Kozlov, front commander, was already in Mekhiis' "pocket". Mekhiis intervened in all that concerned the conduct of operations. P.P. Vechny, chief of staff, did not know whose orders he should carry outthose of the front commander or those of Mekhiis. Marshal of the Soviet Union Budyonny could do nothing either. Mekhiis was unwilling to obey his orders, saying that he received instructions. directly from GHQ, Supreme Command. Having inspected the naval base at Kerch and marine brigade, I proceeded to Novorossiisk and from there to Poti where the fleet was moored. Assooft as I got there I learnt about the enemy's attack in the Kerch Peninsula. Our forces were in acritical situation. Later I heard that during the battle Mekhiis rushed to and fro in a staff car under enemy fire in an attempt to stop the withdrawing troops. But it was a futile attempt. In such circumstances it is not the personal valour of an individual officer, but sound military organisation, firm order and discipline that play adecisive role. When the situation in Kerch developed into adisaster Mekhiis tried to shift the responsibility for it onto A.S. Frolov, commander of the Kerch naval base. He called me over the phone and demanded that I should bring Frolov to trial. Otherwise he would order the naval officer to be shot. "You wouldn't dare do that," I replied. G.I. Kulik also caused a lot of confusion wherever he was sent. I first heard about him in Spain where he was dubbed General No-No. He practically knew no Spanish, except the word "no". He would, therefore, use it out of place. When he returned to Moscow he was assigned to a high post and later was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union. In the beginning of the war the Germans surrounded his forces, but he managed to get out of the encirclement. Then he was sent as a representative of GHQ, Supreme Command, to the south. He signed several ill-considered orders. He was tried and demoted. But as far as I know, he learnt no lesson from this.
The campaign against Finland ended on March 12, 1940. In April, the government called a wide conference of military leaders on the results. Officially there were no naval items on the agenda. But after the conference we decided to discuss our weaknesses which made themselves evident in the course of the campaign in order to eliminate them. We established, among other things, that in the past the sailors were not taught, in adequate degree, to co-operate with the land forces. We had to make up for lost time during the war. Combat control was not adequate either. The air arm and submarines were not employed with due success. The powerful weapons we had did not always produce the effect needed in combat. To put it in a nutshell our combat training was conducted in conditions that were easier than in actual war. Our duty was to prepare the fleet for war with a far more experienced and a far more formidable enemy.
At the conference we critically discussed at length the lessons the Finnish campaign taught us. This, beyond doubt, was useful. I remember very well that the new People's Commissar of Defence and General Staff energetically worked to improve the quality of combat training. The slogan was: "To train the troops in conditions close to those of real combat." This idea was the keynote of the instructions we received and of the articles appearing in the press. However, such an important question as troop control by the high command was actually overlooked. It was not analysed. It is true that some officers attempted to criticise the People's Commissariat of Defence. For instance, L.Z. Mekhiis mentioned that the People's Commissariat and K.Y. Voroshilov, People's Commissar of Defence, had made errors and blunders. But he was sharply rebuffed. After that no one criticised the high command.
At a conference with the fleet commanders we analysed the shortcomings that revealed themselves during the winter campaign. We decided that in autumn 1940 all the fleets would conduct manoeuvres to check the level of combat training of the units and formations. Special attention was paid to the skill of the senior commanders in control of their ships and units. We tried to take account of the weaknesses that became evident in the course of partial mobilisation and when some of the formations were brought into a condition of full readiness for action.
After the Finnish campaign S.K. Timoshenko was appointed People's Commissar of Defence and General of the Army K.A. MeretskovChief of General Staff. Though it is a pity, a change in leaders did not bring about change in organisation. Questions of organisation have always been of the utmost importance in warfare. The quicker the technological progress, the more powerful the weapons, the greater the importance of organisation.
The experience we acquired during the Finnish campaign and the events that followed in Europe caused us to intensify combat training of the fleets. In spring the ships went to sea earlier than during the preceding years. The officers and men worked hard and their proficiency improved.
Efforts were made to reinforce the fleets with new ships, aircraft and coastal defence weapons. We were carrying out a crash programme and the outlays for defence were generous. The military situation in Europe urged the government to build up the defensive capacity of the country. Though forces were being expanded, the command did not pay due attention to maintaining them in a state of combat readiness at all times to meet an emergency. The conflagration of war could extend to our frontiers at any moment. A lot had changed in the Baltic theatre for us, sailors. We were establishing new naval bases, quickly building new airfields and coastal defence batteries. After the Finnish campaign we were fortifying the Hanko Peninsula, which was leased to us, and the islands in Vyborg Bay. In summer 1940, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in keeping with the will of their peoples, entered the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. During the same summer Bessarabia became reunited with Soviet Moldavia and Bukovina became a part of the Soviet Ukraine. We were to defend these republics, territories and regions which became inalienable parts of the Soviet Union. It was necessary to build naval and air bases and coastal batteries in these territories.
When the question of Bessarabia was being resolved in June 1940 and clashes could occur on the frontier with Romania, I went to Sevastopol to be closer to the zone of possible combat operations and to discuss with the Black Sea Fleet commander his plans of actions.
Admiral I.S. Isakov, my deputy, had gone to Odessa a few days before. He was to maintain liaison with the Red Army command. In those days S.K. Timoshenko, People's Commissar of Defence, was in the south. From Sevastopol I went to Odessa in a destroyer.
But the fleet did not have to take part in any operations. So I did not spend much time in the Black Sea. The condition of the Black Sea Fleet no longer created concern. There was no contact with the German Navy, the potential enemy. However, we already knew that the Nazis were extending their tentacles to Romania, but its naval forces were weak.
After Bessarabia and Bukovina were liberated a Danubian Naval Flotilla was formed. The naval base at Odessa was strengthened considerably to improve the defences of the entire north-western part of the Black Sea. In the south the conditions for exercises and drills were favourable. The sea was free from ice all year round. This meant that the ships could sail even in winter.
In August I went to the Baltic. Large scale exercises were being conducted in the outlet of the Gulf of Finland. The fleet staff had moved to Tallinn. Our defence in the Gulf of Finland was being planned similarly to the defence of Petrograd during the First World War. The pattern, of course, was modernised. The main mine position was on the meridian of Tallinn. Here the ships and coastal defence batteries were to engage the "enemy", if he ventured to force his way to the Gulf of Finland. Special attention was being paid to the new, modern, naval forces. The submarines were positioned far out in the Baltic Sea. The air arm intercepted the "enemy" far from our shores and delivered powerful blows on him.
However, we had a weak point. Porkkala which supported the mine position during the First World War now belonged to Finland. The Hanko Peninsula leased to us was located farther west. And this complicated matters. In addition, the Finnish coast overhung all of our routes from Tallinn to Kronstadt. No doubt in the event of war with Germany the then Finnish government would side with it.
The Baltic Fleet exercises were a success. We witnessed the fruitful results of the crews' efforts in rigorous training. New ships also took part in the manoeuvres. And they showed splendid performance. In the exercises we wanted to make use of the experience of the war in Europe. We tried to apply to our conditions the audacious practices of the Germans who landed descents in Oslo and Narvik in spring 1940. We believed that in the event of war with us the Nazis would attempt to seize some of the Soviet ports with the help of similar tactics.
We longed to learn about the air operations on the seas. The war in the West fully confirmed our viewpoint on the role of the fleet air arm in those conditions. Though Great Britain enjoyed great superiority in surface ships, but had no air supremacy during the early war years it was unable to work a radical change in the North and Mediterranean Seas. During that period the British command was more concerned about saving its capital ships from the Luftwaffe rather than about their effective employment. The British were learning to resist Luftwaffe attacks. They were taking feverish measures to improve the ships' and shore antiaircraft defence. The industries were manufacturing radar and antiaircraft weapons and the fleets were installing them in ships. We were short of both at the time.
Another new weapon was introduced in sea warfare in the Second World War, namely the electromagnetic mine. We displayed interest in it, we discussed it a lot, but did not take effective measures to acquire it. When the Great Patriotic War broke out we were not ready either to lay such mines or to sweep them.
After the exercises we conducted a critique with the formation commanders. Then L.M. Galler, V.F. Tributs, fleet commander, and I went to Libau. A detachment of light forces sailed at high speed in a fresh breeze. A cruiser easily ploughed the waves defying a head wind, but it was hard for destroyers. Their sharp stems plunged into the seas and the waves rolled over their decks.
In 1940, Libau was being rebuilt as a Soviet naval base. But we could not afford to ignore the lessons of history. What ships should be based there? This question was discussed at top level. It was proposed to send a battleship there. I strongly objected. Stalin heard me in silence, but did not issue any direct instructions. It was, therefore, decided to shift there a detachment of light forces, a submarine brigade and several other ships.
We realised that Libau was too small for these forces. When the threat of war mounted it was proposed to shift some of the ships to Riga. Since J. V. Stalin's opinion on the matter was known, I could not get myself to issue an order to this effect without my superiors' consent. We had to convene the High Naval Council and pass a special decision which was submitted to the government. However, no official reply was given. I secured J.V. Stalin's consent only after I personally reported the matter to him. We, therefore, shifted a part of the light force and submarines to a harbour near Riga only several weeks before the outbreak of the war. But even after that there were still too many ships in Libau. When the Luftwaffe launched massive raids and the land armies rapidly advanced to Libau, their situation became critical. They suffered heavy losses. When the situation in Libau became hopeless the ships in refit could not sail. So they had to be destroyed.
When I first visited Libau I could not foresee the course of events. But a sense of anxiety for the base continued to haunt me. An inspection of the harbour, commercial port and town did not allay my apprehensions. The harbour was small. There was too little room for so many ships. It was impossible to disperse them. After the war in Spain and the fighting at Lake Khasan the question: what would happen to the ships in the event of an air raid?weighed heavily on my mind.
Coastal defence batteries were being installed to defend Libau from the sea. Men were working round the clock. The base was well defended from the sea. But the approaches to it from the land were poorly defended. The base commander had no troops and the army units were stationed far away. The fleet commander and I decided to take steps to increase the garrison of the base. We did not succeed straightaway. But later the 67th Infantry Division was moved to Libau. However, the question of Army-Navy co-operation was not really solved. Both the People's Commissariat of the Navy and the People's Commissariat of Defence only issued general instructions on the matter. But to secure success in warfare it is important to think out and foresee every detail.
The day spent in Libau was packed with business. We proceeded to Riga in cars only late in the evening in order to reach Ust-Dvinsk in the morning. From there a destroyer was to take us to Kuressaare in the island of Osel.
We spent a whole day touring with S.I. Kabanov, base commander, the coastal defence batteries that were being installed. The work on some of them was nearing completion, whereas on others it was only half-way. Some of the batteries were being installed on concrete stands and other on temporary timber stands. On our way we visited an airfield that was under construction in the island. The long runways were practically ready to receive bombers. Who could imagine that one year from then DB-3F bombers of the Baltic Fleet air arm could take off from here to bomb Berlin?
Y.N. Preobrazhenski, Hero of the Soviet Union, bomber regiment commander, later told me that quite often the bombers would return from the mission with only a few kilogrammes of fuel in their tanks. He then added with pride:
"And still we were the first to strike at the lair of the Nazi beast."
Before going to the Baltic the government instructed me to inspect the Hanko Peninsula. I had already been there in spring. The Estonian presidential yacht Piker, an Estonian naval vessel, brought us to a deserted harbour squeezed between granite cliffs. Late in summer the Hanko Peninsula looked different. Heavy coastal defence batteries were quickly being installed there. A. B. Yeliseyev, the new base commander, was a coastal artillery officer. He was an experienced man who had had a thorough training. All the naval defences and a reinforced brigade were under his command. In the beginning the brigade commanding officer was Colonel V. V. Kryukov and then N. P. Simonyak. Thanks to the fact that there was a single commander all the efforts were well coordinated.
After the war with Finland, in spring 1940 the government Were faced with the question: which service was to be responsible for the defence of the Hanko Peninsula. I said the area should be under a single commander. It did not really matter whether he would be an army or naval officer. The main thing was to ensure unified control. Unfortunately, this principle did not win support in those days. I tried to defend it in the case of Libau, the Crimea, the islands of Osel and Dago (Hiiumaa). But in the case of the Hanko Peninsula B.M. Shaposhnikov, Chief of General Staff, raised no objection to my viewpoint. After some hesitation he even agreed to subordinate all the army units in the peninsula to the naval base commander and through him to the Baltic Fleet commander. Why? Chiefly because in most cases you could get there and deliver cargoes to it by sea. That is why it was decided that the Navy should be made responsible for the defence of the peninsula. Regardless of the reason this was a sound decision.
From the peninsula we returned to Tallinn. As usual after the tour a meeting of the Military Council and the operations division was convened. By then nobody doubted that the most probable potential enemy was Germany. We proceeded from this assumption in dealing with matters bearing on operations. Everything that had bearing on purely naval operations and preparations for them was the province of the Naval Staff. It was still unclear how Army-Navy co-operation would be organised in the event of war and in what form the fleet would be subordinated to the military area. We realised that the government or People's Commissariat of Defence should issue a relevant directive. But at the time no such directive was issued. It was Finally circulated in February 1941, when very little time was left for its execution.
We then hastened from Tallinn to Leningrad. Although it was now regarded as a deep rear base, the fleet maintained Firm contact with it. The sailors of the Baltic Fleet not only loved the city (they were always keen on going there whenever they had an opportunity). Many naval establishments, institutes and shipbuilding yards were there.
I.I. Nosenko, People's Commissar of the Shipbuilding Industry, was in Leningrad together with us. Though he was a hot-tempered man, you could always come to agreement with him. Ivan Isidorovich and I toured the shipbuilding yards. We tried to resolve numerous and inevitable disputes that arose between the Navy and the shipbuilding industry together on the spot. The personnel of the People's Commissariat of the Shipbuilding Industry tried to prove that completed ships should be accepted as quickly as possible. The sailors found that some of the mechanisms were faulty and demanded that the faults should be removed.
I would like to mention the new construction programme which we were unable to accomplish. There were reasons to criticise it both in the course of the war and after it. Though it consumed tremendous funds and metal, the programme failed essentially to increase our naval power in time.
The idea of launching a long term new construction programme occurred to top level naval leaders way back in the 1920s. After Mukievich was appointed chief of the Naval Department the first outline of this plan appeared. However, no practical decision was taken because of shortage of funds. In addition, our shipbuilding yards were only learning the art. Meanwhile the country was growing stronger and stronger. Its international positions were being fortified. It was an urgent need to increase its naval might. I believe the events in Spain also expedited the naval programme. We could not really take part in control of the seas that was effected by a decision of the Non-Intervention Committee because we lacked the necessary fighting units and depot ships. We vividly realised the importance of the seas for us and the urgent need for a powerful navy.
n the mid-1930s,the chief of the Naval Forces held a series of conferences in Moscow to discuss the role to be played by the fleet and by various types of ships. Though there was no clarity on these matters, experienced fleet commanders V.M. Viktorov, I.K. Kozhanov, I.S. Isakov, and L.M. Gallerand top ranking officers of the department V.M. Orlov, chief of the Naval Forces, and his assistantsI.M. Ludri, E.S. Pantserzhanski and P. I. Smirnov-Svetlovskihad, of course, given serious thought to the future of the Navy and had formed their own view. They, beyond doubt, exercised an influence on the programme that was taking shape.
Later L.M. Galler told me about a conference that took place late in 1936 or early in 1937. The government invited the fleet commanders, but they were informed about the subject of discussion only in Stalin's office. They were asked the following questions: what types of ships should be built and what armament should they have? What kind of enemy ships would the proposed ships most probably encounter in combat?
The fleet commanders unanimously expressed themselves in favour of submarines. But later opinion diverged. M.V. Viktorov, Pacific Fleet commander, said that the vast expanses of the Pacific theatre called for big ships. In his opinion the biggest of the Soviet fleets should be in the Far Fast. I.K. Kozhanov, Black Sea Fleet commander, stated that, in addition to cruisers and destroyers, it was important to build as many motor torpedo boats as possible. It is rumoured that J.V. Stalin remarked:
"You yourselves don't know what you need." In any case the first version of the programme was submitted by the People's Commissariat of Defence to the government in 1937. Then some of the proposed changes were accepted. After that the programme was submitted again. When it was approved, the industries started to carry it out without waiting for the details to be ironed out. What did the programme boil down to? It was decided to build battleships, heavy cruisers and other types of surface ships. This meant that a big navy was being created. In addition, a large number of submarines was under construction too. Provision had been made for an aircraft carrier, but its construction was delayed till the last year of the current five-year plan period. As far as I remember, they said it was difficult to design a ship of that type and to develop special aircraft for it. It is worth noting that by then aircraft carriers had become one of the most important types of surface ships. All the major sea powersthe USA, Great Britain and Japanwere building them. It is true that serious attention was still being paid to battleships in those countries. However, in the 1920s the USA carried out a series of trials which showed that aircraft could sink any ship regardless of its armour protection.
Of course, today it is easier to express an opinion on this programme, to criticise it and find faults in it than three decades ago. Time has resolved many of the doubts that pursued us in those days. But even then the naval leaders should have displayed foresight about the main trend in the development of the Navy. Perhaps, we should not pass a very severe sentence on the authors of the programme for not abandoning battleships. The time was not yet ripe for that. But one thing is indisputable, namely that they should have given more preference to the most modern types of ships. What is absolutely unpardonable is that the programme attached no importance to aircraft carriers. Let us imagine that the programme was completed in the latter half of the 1940s. The Soviet Union would have had several big fleets with battleships, but without a single aircraft carrier. Could they have sailed far from the shore?
It appears to me that I.S. Isakov and L.M. Galler who took part in drafting the programme realised fully the importance of aircraft carriers. But they were unable to uphold their view. Their opinion was not duly heeded.
I recall an interesting case. When I asked to increase antiaircraft weapons aboard the ships, somebody said: "We do not intend to fight close to American shores..." As I see it, this was due to the fact that the danger of air attacks on ships was underestimated. Much later we proposed to replace on some cruisers a main armament turret with an antiaircraft mount. This would have considerably increased the ship's air defence capacity. But this proposal was flatly rejected.
At the same time, Stalin for some inexplicable reason liked heavy cruisers. I did not know this for quite some time. At a meeting I made a few critical remarks about the designs of a heavy cruiser. When we left the office, A.M. Redkin, a leading official of the People's Commissariat of the Shipbuilding Industry, warned me:
"Don't raise any further objections to these ships." He confidentially explained to me that Stalin did not tolerate even slight criticism of heavy cruisers.
I already knew that Stalin was fond of battleships. In autumn 19391 was invited to his country home. K.A. Meretskov and I.S. Isakov had arrived from Tallinn. When all the official matters had been discussed, somebody raised the question of the Baltic theatre. I expressed doubt about battleships, not about the need for them in principle, but about their practicability for the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea which could be infested with mines.
Stalin rose from the table and started walking in the room. He broke two cigarettes and packed the tobacco into his pipe and Ughted it.
Casting a stern glance at me he started speaking forging every word:
"We shall collect the money needed kopeck by kopeck. But we will build a navy."
I reasoned that he had some plans of his own he did not wish to share with any one else. Perhaps, this was really so.
Work on the big new construction plan was launched in 1937-1938. Ships were designed and laid down in a very short time. Construction of ships assumed even greater proportions in 1939. Several hundred works produced equipment and armaments for the People's Commissariat of the Shipbuilding Industry. It took from three to five years to commission a big ship.
When Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939, the government should have taken a decision on the programme. We could have continued to build a big navy at the same rate only if we were dead certain that the war would not break out soon. Since we could not be certain of this costly programme which consumed vast resources should have been immediately discontinued. We did not submit such a proposal. This was my mistake.
No changes ,were made in our programme. On the contrary, the rate of ship construction was increased. This entailed tremendous outlays for the construction of naval bases, docks and industries.
Such was the state of affairs with the new construction programme. After the war I was repeatedly criticised for launching the programme so late and then for not discontinuing the construction of big ships, when Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939.
Work on the big ships was gradually being curtailed starting in spring 1940. But this did not yet mean that the programme was being radically revised. In those days the output of all types of weapons for the Army, such as artillery pieces and tanks, was being rapidly expanded. There was a shortage of metal and the production capacities were inadequate. In this connection it was decided temporarily to stop work on the battleships and heavy cruisers.
The programme was radically revised in October 1940. [The author's information is inaccurate here. Work on big ships was discontinued in July 1941.] After that only submarines and small surface ships were being built. Among the latter were destroyers and minesweepers. Industry was handing them over to the fleets which were commissioning them till the last day of peace. The incompleted battleships remained on their slipways.
Though the Navy and the shipbuilding industry shared common interests, disputes between their representatives were rather frequent. They would arise at an early stage of design works and would not always end even after the ship was commissioned. In some cases certain items of the acceptance report were not "closed" for years after commissioning. The more ships were laid down the more disputes would occur. Some of them would have to be settled by the government.
This was not surprising because, unless a ship was completed and accepted on time, the workers would not receive their bonuses. The Navy wanted to get the most modem ships fully outfitted for sailing. When I.I. Nosenko and I were in Leningrad we managed to find a common language and to work out a mutually acceptable solution. However, a short while later the government repeatedly discussed the supervision of construction and acceptance of newly completed ships. A.A. Zhdanov who was in charge of this area feared that if the People's Commissariat of the Navy alone was made responsible for the acceptance of ships without outside control, it might make concessions to the shipbuilders and thus negatively affect the fighting capabilities of the Navy. These misgivings were not unfounded. After a series of conferences in Zhdanov's office late in 1939 it was decided that the acceptance commission should be a state body which should act only on the basis of laws laid down by the government.
Experience has shown that the acceptance of costly fighting ships should not depend on the relations between two interested People's Commissariats. A big ship cost as much as a factory or an electric power plant. The state had to supervise its design, construction and acceptance. The failure of a single instrument or mechanism in combat could bring about disastrous consequences.
It was, therefore, agreed that the government would approve the ships' designs and see to it that they were meticulously executed. I maintained that this was a sound procedure. But the war disrupted it and the work on the ships was discontinued. After the war these matters again acquired importance. Though it appeared that all the parties were interested in giving the country the best possible fighting ships, in practice everything was far more complicated. When the draft of a new construction programme was examined after the war differences arose between the Navy and the shipbuilding industry. Proceeding from the experience of the war we proposed to switch over, as quickly as possible, to the construction of ships to new designs. The People's Commissariat of the Shipbuilding Industry tried to prove that in the course of next four to five years it would inevitably have to build ships the industry had already mastered. This was, of course, easier than building ships of new types.
Getting ahead of my story I would like to point out that in some cases, after the war, the Navy got ships built to old designs, whose faults had been revealed during the war.
The government held several meetings on this question. The parties criticised each other. For instance, my opponents accused me of presenting excessive demands to the ships' fighting capabilities. But it was rather difficult to resolve these differences.
It is unpleasant to recall and describe them. However, I learnt from many years of experience in contacts with the shipbuilders that such disputes were like a thunderstorm on a stuffy day. It always cleared the atmosphere. The result was that the Navy got better ships. As I see it, friendly relations are dangerous here. Businesslike disputes are healthy.
However, I would like to mention that despite the differences between the Navy and the shipbuilding industry they established businesslike relations. It gives me pleasure to recall ' some of the leaders of the shipbuilding industry, such as I.F. Tevosyan, A.M. Redkin and I.I. Nosenko, and many plant managers. But let us return to 1940.
Huge hulls of battleships were on the slipways of one of our shipbuilding yards. However, work on them was practically stopped. Recently launched cruisers were moored at the jetties. Work on them was being continued but at a slow rate. But destroyers and submarines were being completed in haste. Air hoses were heaped on the decks. The workers were simultaneously executing rivettingjobs and installing equipment. The government were drafting a decision on the revision of the new construction programme. The yards were already aware of this.
In those days I went to Leningrad. I was to inspect the new premises of the Shipbuilding and Naval Ordnance College. But I postponed this till a more opportune time. Rear Admiral I.I. Gren, commandant of the sea test range, invited me to witness the trials of a new twelve-inch gun. "It is the best gun in the world," he said. And as experience showed, this was no exaggeration. Adhering to my rule about visiting every fleet at least once a year I went to Murmansk late in September. I spent more time in the North than in 1939 and I remember this trip better.
The Northern Fleet was the youngest and smallest. It was born in 1933. The first fighting ships were moved there via the newly-built White Sea-Baltic Canal. They formed the nucleus of the future fleet and made their home at Polyarnoye. The naval base was only being built. The coast was mainly protected by coastal defence batteries from the sea. Though the runway on the airfield was not yet completed 1-16 fighters were already using it. The fliers were learning to co-operate with the ships.
I have known the North from an early age. If you go there, be prepared for any weather. It sometimes happened that an officer of the People's Commissariat of the Navy would leave Moscow in the end of May in whites. When he reached the Barents Sea it would be snowing there. The northerners would say:
"This isn't Sevastopol, you know."
This time the weather was relatively warm, the air was dry and the visibility was good. That did not often happen there. However, there was a light mist over the Kola Inlet. The warm waters brought by the Gulf Stream coming into contact with cool air created a mist. This meant that winter was approaching.
In the evening we had tea and salmon pie. We recalled how six or seven years before the Northern Naval Flotilla was formed. Its first commander was Zakhar Zakupnev, an old salt. Being overly tolerant he failed to cope with his duties. He was replaced by K. 1. Dushenov whom I knew well, because we had served together in the Black Sea Fleet and studied at College. The naval flotilla was reorganised into the Northern Fleet. There were more ships and Dushenov spared no pains to make real sailors out of the crews.
Only three years before the ships were moored at jetties that had not been completed in the former Yekaterininskaya Harbour. Polyarnoye was actually a big village and not a town yet. That evening we were having tea in the two-storeyed building of the fleet staff, which was built on a steep cliff. You could see all the jetties and entrances to the harbour from the windows of the building.
The outlays were mainly made for the construction of a base. On paper Polyarnoye was a big base and a town. But in actual fact there were only one or two jetties, several blocks of flats and barracks.
The fleet commander complained that the builders were having difficulties. They were short of building materials and manpower. And the long polar winter was approaching with snowstorms, northern lights and a few hours of dusk every day. It was difficult to build there, because the ground was rockymainly granite. But the prospects were comforting. The theatre had a splendid future.
On the following day the chief of staff of the fleet and I spent quite some time studying the chart of the Northern theatre. The expanses were vast. The sea frontiers extended over a distance of several thousand nautical miles. But the fleet was small. Since the times of Peter I Russia developed its naval forces mainly in the Baltic and Black Seas where political disputes had to be solved. That was why, though those theatres were small, they acquired decisive importance. But times had changed. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the future of our Navy would be in the North and the Far East from where it could sail into the ocean expanses. The government paid due attention to the issue.
But to build a big navy takes time. In 1940, we already had to give thought to war which could soon break out. It is true that we did not expect the Germans to conduct large-scale operations in the North. It was of secondary importance to them. However, it was essential to defend the coast, above all the Kola Inlet. That was what we were discussing.
I asked what was being done to fortify the Rybachi and the Sredni Peninsulas and what progress had been made in construction of coastal defence batteries. Rear Admiral A.G. Golovko, fleet commander, emphatically requested to increase the number of ships. Indeed, it was possible to transfer a few more ships to the North from the Baltic Sea via the White Sea - Baltic Canal next year. More motor torpedo boats could be easily transported by railway. It is true that some people believed it would be difficult to employ them in the stern Barents Sea. However, the experience of the war showed that these fears were unfounded. In the North motor torpedo boats showed that they were battleworthy all year round.
One of the reasons why we refrained from transferring many ships from the Baltic to the Barents Sea was that the base facilities were inadequate for them. But the main reason was not that. In those days we failed to appraise the strategic importance of the Northern theatre. When we realised its importance, it was difficult to rectify the situation. That was why during the war, when the Northern Fleet badly needed destroyers, submarines and motor torpedo boats, they were not available there. At the same time many ships were idle in Leningrad.
Having inspected the ships and shore installations in Polyarnoye we set sail. We had hardly passed Kildin Island when the destroyer began to roll heavily. Though only a mild wind was blowing from the shore, the sea was rough and the waves were high. Apparently, there was a storm somewhere far away in the Arctic Ocean, and the head-on rollers were a mere echo of the tempest. You could not help feeling the formidable power of the ocean which inspired respect for the men navigating these rough waters.
We paid special attention to the submarines. There were more submarines than any other ships in the fleet. In summer there had been an accident. During an exercise the fleet lost a submarine. It had hardly dived, when all contact with it was lost. A long and thorough search was conducted. But everything was in vain. The great depths made the search difficult.
We could only make guesses about the causes of the fatal accident. The conclusion was to improve the quality of training of the submarine crews and the organisation. Of course, this was a sound conclusion. But once bitten twice shy. We enforced excessive precautions which interfered with the training of the crews for arduous missions.
From what I saw in the North I formed an opinion that the fleet was weak and that it was important to expand it. Soon we discussed all matters concerning the Northern Fleet at a special meeting of the High Naval Council and worked out a lot of measures. But they were not executed with due energy and soon we had to pay for this.
In October 1940, the chief of Naval Staff and I reported to the Kremlin on the construction of coastal defence batteries. Large numbers of batteries, particularly on the Baltic shores from Kronstadt to Palanga and in the North from Arkhangelsk to the Rybachi Peninsula, were being installed. Our western sea frontiers were being fortified along their entire length. The state made sizable outlays and allotted large quantities of equipment for the purpose. Even some of the large-calibre guns that were originally intended for ships were being adapted as coastal defence pieces.
Large cranes were ordered in Germany for the installation of heavy artillery pieces. My report went on the record.
After making the report I was about to leave, when I was asked to stay. I went out into the reception room for a moment to discuss a few routine matters with L.M. Galler before he returned to his office at the People's Commissariat of the Navy. I waited wondering what my superiors might want to discuss with me. J.V. Stalin said:
"It seems to me that Isakov should be appointed chief of Naval Staff instead of Galler. Galler is a good executor, but he hasn't the necessary willpower. In addition, Isakov is more competent in operations, I believe."
By then I knew both of them well enough. L.M. Galler was an irreproachable executor and administrator. He had accumulated a wealth of experience in life and had been in command of ships and a fleet for a longer time than Isakov. But with time he became overcautious. He did not always act with due confidence or display the necessary initiative. Isakov was better equipped with theory and had greater willpower. I myself believed that I.S. Isakov was best fitted for the post of chief of Naval Staff.
"I think this will work out well," I replied. A pertinent decision was passed. I.S. Isakov was appointed chief of Naval Staff and L.M. Galler my deputy for shipbuilding.
I immediately informed Galler about my talk with Stalin. The change went off without a hitch. Galler was already advanced in age and he was not ambitious. An order is an order: that is how he received the news. He sincerely said: "I shall spare no pains to assist you in this work too." I.S. Isakov was pleased with the new appointment. The new post was more to his liking, because he was an active man.
In November 1940, a Soviet delegation headed by Vyacheslav M. Molotov was departing for Berlin. Many high standing officials were invited to see him off and I was among them.
The Soviet delegation was going to Berlin to protest against Hitler's incomprehensible and impermissible steps in Romania, Bulgaria and Finland. A diplomatic conflict was ripening and relations had become cooler. The non-aggression pact was failing to stand the test of time. However, only a few people were let in on the details. Only the folder of V.M. Molotov and of the officials working at the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs contained highly secret papers on German violations of the pact, and the theses of the talks which were to take place.
As soon as the train started moving all those who had come to see the delegation off went away. I went to the People's Commissariat to attend to some urgent matters.
In the Kremlin, I heard Stalin and Molotov saying that the attitude of the Germans towards us had changed for the worse. However, they did not attach great importance to this change yet.
I knew that we were supplying grain, oil and manganese to Germany. Our foreign trade officials were purchasing German equipment, instruments and mechanisms. The Navy was getting large floating cranes. It needed them for installation of the main armaments for ships and large-calibre coastal defence guns on their mounts. To put it in a nutshell, when I saw the delegation off I did not yet realise that its visit would be a turning point in our country's relations with Germany and that soon the pact would be a mere piece of paper. Hitler was already making speeches about gaining world supremacy and about Great Britain's inevitable defeat. When Molotov expressed his surprise about Germany sending a mission to Romania and concentrating forces in Finland the Fuehrer said that the mission had been sent to Romania at Antonescu's request and that German troops were being moved to Norway via Finland. But facts showed that this was not so. The Germans were concentrating forces on our frontiers.
Stalin began to vent annoyance with Hitler's behaviour more openly. He was saying that the Germans wanted more supplies from us, but were not living up to their commitments. In addition, they were causing trouble on the frontiers and this was suspicious.
Soviet naval officers who were on business in Germany reported that the authorities had imposed restrictions on their movements and that they refused to show some of the objectives they themselves had offered to tour.
Von Baumbach, German naval attache, who was even more polite than before, began to display an unhealthy interest in our naval forces. Once he asked me about the conditions of navigation of the Arctic Sea Route. I ordered my staff to repel such obtrusive curiosity.
In view of the international situation the government were executing energetic measures to build up the country's defence capacity. The outlays for defence were practically unlimited. The industry was sharply increasing the output of new planes, tanks, various types of artillery pieces and ships (with the exception of big ships). These measures played a big role in the war. Ultimately they assured victory, despite the difficulties connected with the transfer of industries to the East. Though we displayed concern for the defensive capability of the country, the People's Commissariat of the Navy and Naval Staff had not received any clear-cut instructions about raising the level of the fleets' operational readiness or about contemplated joint Army-Navy operations.
Late in 1940, I reported to the government about the stationing of ships in the Baltic. The winter was extremely severe. All the harbours, including that of Tallinn, were icebound. We were discussing the employment of Liepaja (Libau) by the Baltic Fleet as a base. Taking advantage of this I tried to find out what the top level leaders thought about the possibility of a conflict with Germany. I said that the fleet needed policy instructions on the question. Stalin curtly replied: "When the time comes, you will be duly instructed." The post I occupied made it binding on me to meet foreign diplomats. When France suffered defeat in summer 1940 General Ernest Petit, French military attache, visited the People's Commissariat of the Navy. I did not know him closely, but I had talked to him at diplomatic receptions. The general was a sociable person and I felt he was friendly towards the Soviet Union. He regarded Nazi Germany not only as a wartime enemy of France. He sincerely hated fascism.
General Petit bitterly lamented the national disaster of his country. When sovereign France ceased to exist he was compelled to leave his diplomatic post in Moscow and to return home.
General Petit had come to bid me farewell. When he entered my office his face was pale. I offered him a chair. I wanted to comfort him. I said:
"I understand that you have to leave for home in grief. But as a soldier, I hope, you will courageously endure the ordeal." Petit rose from his chair. There were tears in his eyes. He did not hide them. We bid each other farewell.
OrganisationKey to Victory
It is difficult to develop the most expedient and effective form of control of military affairs. It should wholly serve a single purpose, namely the defence of the Homeland. It is vital to develop in peace time a streamlined organisation which should function smoothly at all levels from top to bottom. Without such organisation success in war is impossible. What I mean is relations between the commands of various arms and fighting services, determined by regulations, cooperation between and coordinated action by all arms of the services, strategic, tactical and operational readiness of our forces for action designed to beat off an enemy attack at any moment. Everybody from the People's Commissar to the soldier (seaman) must know what to do in the event of an enemy attack.
Some of the readers might think that I am staling hackneyed, apparent truths. But I wish to deal with these truths which everybody knows.
Though it is a pity, we seldom raise this question and hardly mention the weaknesses of our former organisation. Perhaps, this is due to the fact, first, that this topic is a dull one and many of the authors of memoirs prefer to ignore it. Second, because some people wrongly think that matters of organisation belong to the realm of bureaucracy. However, it would be fair to say that the bureaucrat feels comfortable where proper order is lacking. I have frequently heard people say: "It is not really important who is subordinated to whom. Everybody is competent and everybody is trying to carry out his duties to the best of his ability." This is a grave misconception.
Questions bearing on the education of the personnel, conscientious fulfilment of duties by every soldier and seaman, organisation of service in army units and in ships have always been in the focus of our Party's attention. This fully applies to streamlined organisation of the central executive branch in charge of the Armed Forces. Though it is a pity, the top authority did not pay due attention to this question. Here are a few examples.
At a meeting held early in 1946 on matters which had no bearing on the above question Stalin suddenly asked:
"Should we not eliminate the People's Commissariat of the Navy?"
The question being raised so unexpectedly, nobody ventured to express his opinion. The General Staff was instructed to examine the matter and to report its views to the government. I also asked for time to look into the matter with the personnel of the People's Commissariat of the Navy and Naval Staff.
Proceeding from the experience of the Great Patriotic War we compiled a report. We were sure that modern warfare called for joint participation of all fighting services and arms which should be controlled from a single centre. We maintained that the way the question was raised was correct and that the merger of the People's Commissariat of Defence and that of the Navy was expedient. But each fighting service should enjoy an adequate degree of independence. We, therefore, stated that it would be correct to endow the former People's Commissar of the Navy (regardless of his future title) with broad powers, including the right to approach the government and other People's Commissariats. The General Staff should be the supreme unified operational body. All problems bearing on operations and planning of development of the fighting forces and weaponry in the event of war should be concentrated in the hands of the General Staff.
This report was submitted to J. V. Stalin, Chairman of the USSR Council of People's Commissars, but was never discussed. Soon I was summoned to the People's Commissariat of Defence and informed that the decision had been passed. On February 25, 1946 the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet issued a decree "On the Elimination of the People's Commissariat of the Navy". It stated that this body "shall be eliminated".
Four years later the People's Commissariat of the Navy was restored as the Ministry of the Navy. Many people failed to understand this. The experience of the war showed that the country should have a single body controlhng the Armed Forces. In the West, for instance in the USA, the authorities were persistently working on a new and more efficient form of military organisation. That there should be a unified control body was considered indisputable. Though we had set up such a body before the USA, we suddenly discarded the idea.
Having split up the Ministry of the Armed Forces into two ministries in 1950 we actually made a step backward.
It is true that there was friction within the unified ministry. But this was not because the organisation was basically unsound, but because it had not been duly developed. Some time later the ministries had to be merged again.
In my opinion, when the question of control of the Navy was decided in 1937, it was not necessary to create a separate People's Commissariat. After a thorough examination of all the pros and cons a more efficient form of control could have been devised. Unified control of all the Armed Forces should have been combined with an adequate degree of independence of the Navy. But since a separate People's Commissariat of the Navy was created more careful thought should have been given to the structure of both People's Commissariats which, in the event of war were to bear the burden of responsibility for the fate of the country.
The development of our national economy revealed that hasty reorganisation is always harmful. The more sophisticated the equipment and the greater its variety the bigger the number of new industries and the more difficult it is to combine them into an efficiently functioning organism. The more important it is to develop a scientifically sound organisation of the national economy. In this respect warfare presents even more rigorous requirements. The military establishment employs the latest and most sophisticated equipment and weaponry which can assure maximum success in combat. The military organisation should be developed and tried out in time of peace most thoroughly and in very rigorous conditions. It is put to a test only oncein time of war. It is too late to correct mistakes then, because you have to pay for them in blood.
Another example. Early in 1946, the Baltic Fleet was divided into two fleetsthe Eighth and the Fourth.
Late in January 1946, Stalin ordered me to call him over the phone. When he took up the receiver he said:
"It seems to me that the Baltic Fleet should be divided into two."
This was a surprise. I asked if I could have a day or two to think the matter over. He agreed. When I talked it over with my assistants I reported our view to Stalin. The Baltic theatre is small, therefore, it was more expedient to have one commander. Our ships based in Gulf of Riga could execute operations both in the southern part of the Baltic and in the Gulf of Finland.
Trough Stalin made no comment, I felt my answer displeased him. A week or two later a special meeting was convened on Stalin's instructions at the People's Commissariat of the Navy. It was attended by Anastas I. Mikoyan and Andrei A.Zhdanov. The votes split.
At the end of the meeting I assured Mikoyan and Zhdanov that we would carry out the order we received. But I considered it my duty personally to report once more to Stalin that it was inexpedient to divide the fleet. We parted.
On the following day I.S. Isakov, G.I. Levehenko and S.G. Kucherovmy deputiesand I were summoned to Stalin. As soon as we entered I knew we were in trouble. Stalin nervously paced to and fro. Without asking our opinions or hearing us he attacked us in anger: "Who do you take us for?"
Stalin dressed me down in exasperation. I could not stand this, so I said:
"If I am not fit for my job, please, release me." Dead silence set in in the office. Stalin stood still, then turning his eyes on me, he distinctly said: "When the time comes, we shall release you." The Baltic Fleet was divided into two. The mistake was rectified only as late as 1956.
Before the Great Patriotic War the Soviet Union was engaged in several military campaigns. Though they were of different character, the guidance was always the same. Stalin issued orders from his office. The others could act only in keeping with his decisions.
This procedure deprived the military leaders of their independence and caused them to await instructions from their superiors. In such conditions the military staff could not work along planned lines. Its functioning was characterised by fits and starts. Having carried out one order the lower echelons would be waiting for further instructions. Take the Finnish campaign, for instance. There was no permanent bodyGHQ or staffthat would coordinate the operations of the Army, Navy and Air force. J.V. Stalin would summon the People's Commissar of Defence and Chief of General Staff. Perhaps, one of the executors too. Policy decisions would be made there.
It sometimes happened that we were informed about planned operations, when there was not enough time to prepare for them. Once in a while K.Y. Voroshilov, People's Commissar of Defence, would invite me to tell me that such and such a decision had been taken.
In the course of the Finnish war it occurred to Stalin to send submarines to Abo, a port located deep in the skerries. The decision was taken without asking the expert opinion of naval officers. I was forced to report that such an operation was extremely difficult. I said:
"We can send submarines to the Gulf of Bothnia, though we would be taking risks. But to approach the outlet from Abo by a narrow channel manoeuvring between the skerries and escape observation is practically impossible."
Having dismissed me Stalin invited L.M. Galler, chief of Naval Staff, and asked him the same question. At first Lev Mikhailovich was a bit confused and gave no definite answer. But after a moment's hesitation he confirmed my point of view.
"To get to the immediate approaches to Abo is extremely difficult," he replied.
The mission to the submarine crews was changed. This particular case and a few others taught me that it was best to decide matters with Stalin, when he was alone in his office. He would hear you calmly and draw objective conclusions.
I noticed that Stalin would never call anybody by their first name and patronymic. Even at unofficial gatherings he would address a guest by his second name placing the word comrade before it. Everybody would address him as "Comrade Stalin". If a person who did not know this happened to refer to A.A. Zhdanov as Andrei Aleksandrovich, he would say:
"Who is Andrei Aleksandrovich?" (Though he knew it was Zhdanov.)
There was only one exceptionB.M. Shaposhnikov. Stalin always addressed him "Boris Mikhailovich".
But I seem to have digressed a bit... The Finnish war revealed serious weaknesses not only in the combat training of the Army and Navy. It also showed that the organisation of the body that controlled the military operations was not adequately developed in the centre too.
It is necessary to know who will head the Armed Forces in the event of warwhether big or small. Which body will he rely onon a specially created organ or the General Staff? These matters are not of secondary importance. The responsibilities of every organ for the preparation for and conduct of the war depend on how they are resolved. Had due attention
been paid to this echelon in peace time. a whole range of problems would have arisen, problems that should have been solved in advance, before the war actually broke out.
Though the winter of 1939-1940 taught us a severe lesson, we failed to draw the necessary conclusion from it. The situation in the central office hardly changed. It remained practically the same till Nazi Germany attacked us.
Personally, I reasoned that since no command body, in addition to the existing General Staff, had been created in peacetime, it would apparently be the working body of General Headquarters, Supreme Command, in time of war. And what about GHQ? I maintained that it would be made up of major statesmen. It logically followed that it would be headed by Stalin, and nobody else.
What would be the role of the People's Commissar of Defence and the People's Commissar of the Navy? I could not find the answer to this question. What happened in reality?
General Headquarters, High Command of the Armed Forces, with S.K. Timoshenko, People's Commissar of Defence, at the head was formed only on June 23, 1941, that is on the second day of the war. J.V. Stalin was only one of its members. On July 10 General Headquarters, Supreme Command, was established. On July 19, nearly a month after the outbreak of the war, Stalin was appointed People's Commissar of Defence. On August 8, Stalin assumed the post of Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
At the time I was not a member of GHQ, Supreme Command. But this did not affect my practical work. As in the past I would be summoned to GHQ on matters that had bearing on the Navy. I was made member of GHQ, Supreme Command, on February 17, 1945. Marshal of the Soviet Union A.M. Vassilevski, who had long held the post of Chief of General Staff by then, was approved as member of GHQ by the same decision.
Had GHQ been set up, say, a month before, i. e. before the outbreak of hostilities (there had been adequate reasons for doing so), the initial engagements, I think, would have been more favourable for the Soviet Armed Forces.
I cannot help recalling what a long time it took us, working in the dreadful conditions of our temporary withdrawal, to develop the organ for guidance of the war.
In those days the events unfolded at an unusually swift rate. The enemy was rapidly forcing his way to Moscow and Leningrad. Georgi K. Zhukov went to the battlefront. Soon B.M. Shaposhnikov was again appointed Chief of General Staff. Replacement of an officer occupying such a key post at such a grave, I would say, critical, moment was hardly opportune.
Late in June, I was summoned to S.K. Timoshenko's office where, after a rather long interval, I met Stalin. He was standing behind a long table covered with maps. I noticed they were not charts.
"What is the state of affairs in the Baltic?" Stalin inquired. I was about to unfold a chart of the Baltic Sea to report the situation. But at the moment he was only interested in the defence of Tallinn and the islands of Osel and Dago. He asked me whether we could remove the artillery from the islands to reinforce the land formations.
I replied that the chances for the evacuation of coastal defence guns were slim. I remarked that they would inflict heavier losses on the enemy, if they were left where they were, i. e. in the islands.
Stalin agreed with me. And that was the end of the interview. As far as I remember the question about artillery was raised in connection with the organisation of a defence zone in proximity of Vyazma. The Navy then transferred two artillery battalions for the purpose. Leonid A. Govorov, front artillery commander, personally showed where the guns were to be positioned. The naval gun crews prepared to meet the enemy together with the army units.
Till the end of July, or rather till the Luftwaffe's first air raid on Moscow, the members of GHQ sometimes met m Stalin's office in the Kremlin. As a rule, he would summon to a meeting of GHQ only those who, he thought, were needed. In actual fact one-man command was established in GHQ. The style of guidance of operations was not smooth according to military standard; I saw Stalin establish contact with the bat-tiefronts with the help of a common teletype installed in his office.
GHQ and the State Defence Committee set up on June 30 suffered from organisational troubles for quite a long time. This was inevitable during any shakedown period. However, later their performance improved. In a year or two GHQ or, rather, Stalin worked in closer contact with the front commanders. He would pay more attention to what they said. All the major operations, such as the Stalingrad, Kursk and sortie of the other operations were prepared jointly with the commands of the fronts (groups of armies). I witnessed on several occasions front commanders express views that were not in agreement with those of Stalin. In such cases he would suggest that the commander in question should consider the question once more before taking the final decision. Quite often Stalin would agree with what the front commanders said. I think he even liked people who had a view of their own and were not afraid to defend it.
In the course of the war the central command organ was subjected to many changes until it acquired the necessary flexibility. The General Staff found the role it should play and Stalin reckoned with its opinion. No decision would be passed before the Chief of General Staff made a report. But all these changes took a long time which is invaluable in war. We had to pay a high price for weaknesses in the command organisation during the first year of the war. Why did this happen?
In my opinion this was due to lack of clear-cut delimitation of the powers and duties of top level command personnel and top officials in the country. It was particularly important for them to know what role they were to play and the share of responsibility they were to shoulder for the destinies of the country. In those days we were sure that, if war broke out, operations would be started already in the first few hours or even minutes. We knew this from the experience of the First World War, the war in Spain, and mainly the Second World War which was started in 1939.
It was an axiom for the commanders that powerful air raids should be expected the moment the war began. This meant that communications and routes, particularly immediately behind the lines would be disrupted. The local command would have to act on its own without awaiting instructions from the superiors. All possible instructions should be issued in advance, i. e. in time of peace. Owing to the fact that the central command organ had organisational faults, many of the questions remained unsolved at the lower echelons too. Thus, many questions bearing on the functioning of the Navy were not clarified. It was not clear which front would exercise operational control over one fleet or another in the event of war. Nor did the fleets know how Army-Navy co-operation would be organised.
Before the war all of us regarded J.V. Stalin as an incontestable authority. For instance, it did not even occur to me to question the validity of his actions. When I started to work in Moscow and became competent in matters of naval policy some of his decisions puzzled me. In one of my reports I spoke of the need of antiaircraft weapons for modern fighting ships (this point was made at Naval College). Stalin remarked that "we have no intention of fighting near America's shores". He rejected my proposals. Being aware of the fact that aircraft could sink a ship at a distance of 1,000 kilometres from your home shores, or 50 kilometres from them or even in harbour, I could not admit that the great leader was right. Though it is a pity, there were far more cases when Stalin expressed such views on naval matters. There were fewer cases with respect to the Army which Stalin knew better.
It was then that I started to question in my mind the validity of some of Stalin's decisions on naval matters. It would be fair to say that after experiencing confusion during the early days of the war Stalin was fit for his position in the years that followed. He managed to comprehend the character of modern warfare and heeded the advice of his military leaders. It is untrue that he estimated the situation on the battlefronts and took decisions on operations by using a globe. I could cite many examples when Stalin studied the situation on the battlefronts together with the commanders. When necessary he knew the dispositions of the forces, including the regiments. He always carried a notebook in which he would list the available forces, output of basic products and reserves of food supplies.
In discussing Stalin's miscalculations and blunders before and in the beginning of the war we should not forget the positive role his personal authority played in the critical days of our country's history.
I would like to deal in greater detail with the organisation of the central body of the Naval Forces.
The Navy has always, even when it was made up of wind-jammers, functioned in specific conditions, i. e. on the seas and oceans, where it had had to struggle with the elements. Owing to this it needs a particularly high level of organisation. The more advanced the ship the more attention the officers and men have to pay to their duties, theory and practice of naval warfare.
When the People's Commissariat of the Navy was set up the fleets in all the theatres were already an elaborate system which combined surface ships, submarines, the air arm, fleet air defence force, coastal defence and marine corps. The formations comprised battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, minesweepers, all sorts of craft and depot ships. The air arm was made up of various types of aircraft from shore-based fighters to flying boats. The coastal defence force which originally included only batteries designed to defend the coast from the sea alone acquired in the late 1930s a wide range of weapons for the defence of naval bases not only from the sea, but also against air attacks and in some cases against attacks of land forces.
After the Civil War the country started to recondition the fleet.
I have already said that at the time our sailors and army comrades had many ideas about the future of our Navy. The party and government arrived at a sound decision. They proposed to build a navy that would be able to defend our sea frontiers without overtaxing the country's economic potential.
The Department of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Navy formed an organic subdivision of the People's Commissariat for Military and Naval Affairs. Late in 1937, it was decided to form a separate People's Commissariat of the Navy.
When I was appointed People's Commissar of the Navy the newly formed Commissariat was in a shakedown period. The point is that when the People's Commissariats were divided the authority concerned had not worked out a statute which would clearly determine the functions and powers of each body. Thus, no document stated that the People's Commissariat of Defence was our superior command organ or laid down the principles of cooperation of the fleets with their military areas (fronts). Nor were there any instructions on the relations between the naval base commanders and the commanders of army units. This state of affairs was a source of misunderstanding between the fleet and army commands.
Even in time of peace some of the army commanders would give different definitions of the term "operational control" (or "operational subordination"). Thus, they would issue orders to naval units that had no bearing on operations.
We, sailors, had to produce a special document which defined the term "operational control" of naval forces by the army command. During the war this document was amended and some of the clauses were formulated in more precise terms. But it did not cover all matters. Far from it. In addition, this document was binding only on the Navy. It was as late as March 31, 1944, that a directive signed by Stalin was issued. This document clearly stated in what cases the fleets came under the operational control of the front commands. It also pointed out that the People's Commissar of the Navy was at the same time Commander-in-Chief of the Naval Forces.
Though it is a pity, the authors of many memoirs hardly mentioned the role of their staffs. It is a fact that before any operation was launched staffs of all levels worked on it carefully looking into every detail. It is not my intention to belittle the tremendous role of a gifted commander, but we should not forget the contribution his staff made to success.
I, personally, attached outstanding importance to the Naval Staff which was made up of highly educated and competent officers. I regarded it as the "Navy's brain".
The duty of the Naval Staff is to study, analyse and sum up all questions that have bearing on the Navy as a whole. It should know how many ships a fleet should have, what types of ships should be built and what weaponry the fleets will require. Having received the basic data from the government the Naval Staff formulates the missions of the Navy within the framework of all the Armed Forces and offers an optimal version for their accomplishment. In my opinion, unless you have a staff of such highly qualified specialists, you cannot solve a single important question. We paid special attention to streamlining our central command body and the fleet staffs. However, the war revealed certain weaknesses which had to be removed in the course of combat operations.
In dealing with the organisation of the Naval Staff it is essential to say a few words about the role played by its chief. I always believed that the chief of Naval Staff should also be the first deputy People's Commissar of the Navy. He is always abreast of all the developments in the fleets, above all those on which an urgent decision may be necessary. It is, therefore, he that should take the decision. The experience of the war confirmed the validity of this principle. When the ministry was unified soon after the war it held a meeting of top military leaders on new regulations and manuals. All who attended it unanimously said that the chief of staff would be acting commander (in the absence of the commanding officer) even if the latter had an official deputy.
It is a fact that the busy job of chief of staff trains and tests the real deputy commander.
In the beginning, i. e. before the war L.M. Galler was chief of Naval Staff. He was replaced by I.S. Isakov. Both of them, without special authorisation, carried out the functions of first deputy People's Commissar of the Navy. Nobody else, even the officially appointed deputy could lay claim to this role.
The point is that hardly anybody could replace them because of their superior experience and knowledge.
When I served aboard a ship there was a time when, for purposes of training commanding officers, the temporary post of alternate commanding officer or second executive officer was introduced. This only created confusion.
If you want to be an excellent commanding officer of a ship, you first have to serve as executive officer. There is no other way.
And now briefly about the organisation of the air arm, coastal defence command and logistical establishment. The government attached due importance to the role of the air arm in naval warfare. No sea-going force would conduct an exercise without co-operation with the fleet air arm. That the People's Commissariat needed a central naval air arm command which would effect guidance of all the fleet air arms was not open to doubt. But the People's Commissariat of Defence objected to this. They said that you would have enough on your hands with the ships and that aircraft would create additional difficulties. They proposed that the naval air arm should be placed under army air force command. I had to submit several reports to explain why we needed a naval air arm of our own. The government supported us. Life has shown and continues to show that this decision was right. During the war only the formations of the fleet air arm effectively co-operated with the ships. However, it is also a fact that big air formations which did not belong to the fleet air arm took part in naval operations. It is also true that, in an emergency, the fleet air arm assisted the Army command.
The Second World War bore out the viewpoint of the People's Commissariat of the Navy on the naval air arm. It is a fact that in Germany Hermann Goering refused to subordinate any Luftwaffe formation to Admiral Raeder. Lack of understanding between the Luftwaffe and Navy repeatedly resulted in failures at sea. However, this was not the only reason of their failures.
S.F. Zhavoronkov was commander of the naval air arm throughout the war. An old party member he had taken part in the Civil War. He learnt to fly at a mature age and mastered the art of air warfare. When I first met him he was squadron leader of the Black Sea Fleet air arm. Then we both served in the Far East. As commander of the Pacific Fleet air arm he was an exacting superior and a good organiser. He was respected but feared too. During the battles at Lake Khasan we discussed in detail questions bearing on co-operation between the air arm and the ships. We always managed to find a common language. When the need arose to fill in the post of commander of the naval air arm I did not have to look for anybody. S.F. Zhavoronkov was the best man for the job.
That was before the war. The naval air arm expanded rapidly. Frequent exercises and manoeuvres could not be conducted without the fleet air arm. During the war the Nazi Luftwaffe launched more and more raids on the naval bases. S.F. Zhavoronkov took effective countermeasures. He also effected guidance of all antiaircraft weapons and facilities. His good businesslike relations with the chief of air defence A.I. Sergeyev were a great help here.
We were faced with another difficult question. Should all antiaircraft weapons form an organic part of the naval air arm? When I served in the Pacific Fleet unidentified aircraft were constantly intruding into our air space. I realised that the most effective weapon against enemy air raids was fighters. But their success depended on timely warnings. Protection of ships at sea against air attacks was also largely the responsibility of fighters.
In those days fighters were the most effective weapon. We wondered whether we should divide our fighter force between the fleet air arm and the air defence force or concentrate all the antiaircraft weapons in the hands of the fleet air arm commander. When we discussed the problem in Moscow, the majority favoured concentration of all antiaircraft weapons in the hands of the fleet air arm commanders. Our repeated exercises convinced us more and more that it would be right to unify the fleet air arm with air defence commands. This form of organisation proved its viability during the war. However, with the advent of new attack and defence weapons after the war it was necessary wholly to revise the former system.
When the People's Commissariat of the Navy was established the question of the coastal defence arose too. Coastal defence weapons developed into an arm of the Navy. The appearance of new weapons and possibility to launch surprise attacks on separate installations from the land with the help of airborne troops caused us to view the role of coastal defence in war from a totally new angle.
Historically coastal defence was an arm of the Navy. However, sometimes it was wholly withdrawn from the Navy. On the eve of the Second World War the coastal defence command radically changed as an arm. In addition to coastal defence batteries, marine units, and antiaircraft weapons, it included land units of different types, such as land artillery, infantry and tanks. To put it in a nutshell, the Navy acquired a ful lfledged arm forming an organic component which is prepared and trained for action against the enemy in co-operation with fleet formations.
At a conference of the coastal defence command held in Moscow in autumn 1939, if I am not mistaken, I decided to ask the advice of some experienced commanders on matters of organisation. I must say that the Navy had an excellent team of coastal defence artillery specialists. They had all taken part in the Civil War. They were well aware of the radical changes that had taken place in coastal defence warfare. This warfare was developing more and more into combat of combined arms.
Innokenti Stepanovich Mushnov, chief of the coastal defence command, and A.B. Yeliseyev, his deputy, were stalwart veterans of the arm. To tell the truth, I thought they would limit their duties to coastal defence batteries. But, on the contrary, just like all the participants in the conference they demanded "full powers" to assure the defence of bases from the sea, air and land. To be able to accomplish this mission they demanded that Army units be placed under their command, and the entire range of Army weaponry, including tanks.
I agreed with them, but L.M. Galler warned me that B.M. Shaposhnikov, Chief of General Staff, was of a different opinion. According to Galler, the General Staff maintained that instead of placing all the means for perimeter defence of bases under coastal defence command it would be more expedient to station combined arms formations closer to the shore and to subordinate the coastal defence batteries to Army command. Admiral Galler talked the matter over with Shaposhnikov and came to "peaceful" terms with him. We were not summoned to the Kremlin to discuss the matter and we approved the proposal of the Naval Staff.
And now briefly about the Navy's logistical establishment. During the war it was headed by S.I. Vorobyov. A long-time coastal veteran, he developed a taste for logistics. He was an excellent manager and everybody felt it. Occasionally he would complain about an "inferiority complex": he would say that the logisticians could not compete with real sailors. But we always emphasised that the logistical branch played a tremendous role in all naval operations. A force could not sail without a tanker or tug. No sailor ever questioned the importance of quick refit jobs for combat operations, of timely delivery of ammunition and food supplies.
The Navy is a highly elaborate organism, and every component is equally important.
In studying questions of organisation we invariably tried to uphold the principle of centralised command. The fleet (or flotilla) commander enjoyed full powers in his theatre of naval operations. All the arms of the Navy were under him.
Having served many years in the Navy I arrived at the conclusion that the fewer chains of command and the simpler the organisational structure the clearer were the duties of every serviceman.
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