(C)Voyenizdat Publishers, 1975 (Russ. ed.).
Alarm Bells Clanging
...Just like many of my comrades I could not imagine that the enemy would be able to wedge deep into our country. However, I thought that he would possibly attempt to take Libau coup de main. That was why, when I visited this base before the war, I contacted the command of the Baltic Military Area to discuss the defence of Libau from the land. It was the duty of the fleet to cover the Army's deployment from the sea. Similarly the land forces were to defend the naval bases from the land. Unless the Army covered the deployment of the fleet, it would be unable to carry out its combat missions. Later developments confirmed this as the enemy made rapid headway towards Riga and Tallinn. Though the fleet was in a condition of heightened readiness, when the enemy attacked, though it had laid minefields and though the coastal defence batteries were outfitted with powerful pieces, these factors taken together were not enough to stop the enemy's advance. The ships had to leave their bases and to withdraw eastward. Here is an account of the events in Libau. At 0400 hours on June 22 the Nazis launched an attack in proximity of Polangen (Palanga). At the same time the Luftwaffe started to bomb the airfield at Libau. The enemy's 291st Infantry Division quickly advanced along a coastal highway in the direction of the town. The Soviet 67th Infantry Division which was not yet manned to wartime establishment and the shore units of the naval base put up a heroic resistance. In the morning of June 22 our ships started to lay mines at the entrance to the base. The submarines were dispatched to their patrol zones. Some of the ships were moved to Windau (Ventspils) and Ust-Dvinsk (Daugavgriva).
Although the enemy was unable to take Libau coup de main because the Soviet 67th Infantry Division supported by the coastal defence batteries managed to beat off the initial onslaught, the Nazis forced their way to Tosmare Shipbuilding Yard by the end of the day on June 25. As senior officer of the ships in refit the commanding officer of the destroyer Lenin issued an order to demolish the ships that were unable to sail. This was a sound decision. That same day the ammunition and Fuel depols were blown up too. On June 25 and 26, the defenders continued to Fight for the town and base. In the evening of June 26 the division and naval base commanders were ordered to withdraw. They were able to accomplish the withdrawal only in part. The roads to Windau were already straddled by the enemy. The defenders of Libau continued to offer resistance in separate parts of the town for another five days. The last rounds were fired only on the sixth day.
Libau could have hardly held out in face of Nazi superiority in numerical strength, in quality of equipment (aircraft and tanks) and in combat experience. However, the town could have resisted the enemy for a longer period of time.
We had underestimated the importance of defending the bases from the land and were now paying for our error. Although Libau was being defended by an adequate force comprising an infantry division, coastal defence artillery, ships and the fleet air arm, we failed to employ it with due effect. The division was defending a frontage of 200 kilometres. The division commander and the naval base commander established the sectors each was responsible for and the fortifications each was to build just before the Nazi attack. The fire support tables were drawn up at the very last moment, when the division commander assumed command of all the forces defending the base. Battalions made up of naval personnel and civilians were formed with a great delay. That was why Libau held out for only a short time, despite the heroism displayed by its defenders.
I consider it my duty to repeat that the local command cannot be held responsible for this. The People's Commissar of the Navy and the Naval Staff should have displayed greater firmness in the organisation of defence of the naval bases from the land.
The changes on the battlefronts were so quick that all the preliminary operational calculations were wholly impracticable. The Baltic Fleet was compelled to execute missions to meet the situation which was extremely unfavourable for us. The Germans' rapid advance to Riga and further to Pskov and Tallinn compelled them to make broad use of the sea routes. In the first half of July our reconnaissance planes sighted separate transport vessels and small convoys proceeding to Riga along the coast via the Irves Strait. Of course, the most effective weapon against transport vessels was torpedo bombers. They were trained for this type of warfare over a period of many years. But owing to emergency circumstances the bulk of the fleet air arm was being used against the enemy's tank columns heading for Leningrad. In addition, it provided cover for the Eighth Army fighting in Estonia. It also bombed Nazi army units heading for Tallinn, the Baltic Fleet's main base.
During the first few weeks of the war the situation in the Baltic was nerve racking. The army command frequently issued orders to General M. I. Samokhin, fleet air arm commander, bypassing the commander of the Baltic Fleet. Under such circumstances the air arm's purely naval missions were disregarded. Admiral V. F. Tributs, Baltic Fleet commander, would report on this abnormal state of affairs which placed the fleet in a most difficult situation. We would reply to him in set phrases:
"Hold Tallinn, Hanko and the islands of Oesel and Dago till the last possibility."
In those days we could not give him any other instructions. We were fighting a strong and experienced enemy who had made thorough preparations for the attack. Our officers and men fought heroically. They were doing all they could to stop the enemy. But they lacked fighting experience. You needed time to acquire it. This in turn called for strenuous effort. In addition, the price you had to pay in blood was high. But this effort and losses were not in vain. Had not the defenders of Libau fought so gallantly, had not the units resisted the enemy so fiercely in Estonia, Tallinn would not have held out a whole month. Had not the defenders of Tallinn and later of the islands of Oesel and Dag5, and the peninsula of Hanko fought so selflessly, it would have been harder to defend Leningrad during the critical months of September and October 1941.
In the situation that had taken shape we had no alternative but to employ the Baltic Fleet air arm against ground targets. Though it is a pity, it could not be used for attacks on enemy convoys. In this particular case we could not approach the matter speculatively. We could not discuss what should or should not be done from the standpoint of combat regulations and manuals. The unusual situation frequently made it necessary to take unconventional decisions.
Despite our blunders, the Navy played an extremely important role in protecting the Army's flanks. Neither in the beginning of the war nor later did the Nazis land a single descent behind the Red Army's lines. This was not fortuitous. Nor was it a miscalculation of the German command.
When a naval base formed a flank of an army it was always staunchly defended. This was an important factor. When the Nazis ran into stiff and prolonged resistance on land, it would slow down the rate of progress of the entire battlefront. No wonder Hitler who was aware of this demanded in August-September, 1941 that Antonescu should take Odessa as quickly as possible. While Odessa offered resistance it exercised an influence on the course of battles waged by the German group of armies in the southern sector.
In July-August, 1941 the German fleet was not as active as we expected it to be. A German fleet comprising the biggest battleship Tirpitz, a heavy cruiser and several light cruisers appeared in the Abo-Aland skerries in the very end of September. At approximately the same time a Nazi cruiser formation was concentrated at Libau. We logically assumed that the German navy would act in close co-operation with the army precisely here, in the Leningrad sector. We feared that it might land descents. We expected the big enemy ships seriously to interfere with the evacuation of Tallinn by sea. Why was the German navy so passive then? I was unable to find a direct answer to this question in West German war memoirs. But Friedrich Ruge, a Hitler admiral and, later, Commander-in-Chief of FRG's Naval Forces, touched upon it in his Der Seekrieg 1939-1945. He pointed out that in drawing up Plan Barbarossa Hitler and his generals pinned their hopes on a successful Blitzkrieg without the navy's active support.
Ruge maintains that the Soviet navy carried out non-naval missions. It took part in operations together with the land forces. In Ruge's opinion, this reflected the weakness of our Navy. He maintained that it was incapable of executing purely naval missions. In actual fact this was one of our Navy's strong points. In Odessa, Sevastopol, Tallinn and Hanko the Navy did what our general strategy required it to do. It fought the enemy at sea, in the air and on land. This is precisely why our naval air arm considered it more essential to strike at targets on land than on the sea. When the need arose the fleets released several hundred thousand officers and men to form marine units which fought brilliantly practically on all the battle-fronts. They inflicted heavy losses on the Nazi Wehrmacht. In analysing the reasons why the German navy was so passive I am inclined to think that the Germans were above all afraid of suffering heavy losses from our torpedo bombers, submarines and minefields. During the first few days of the war 20 submarines of the Baltic Fleet were already deployed in their patrol zones. It would also be appropriate to note that Hitler was highly sensitive to the loss of big ships.
We too could not afford to ignore such a factor as the prohibitive cost of a big ship which could not be replaced during the war. I recall the sense of anxiety as we watched the battleships moored on the open roads off Tallinn. We were eager to shift them to a safer place, namely Kronstadt. The conditions were much the same in the Black Sea. But in contrast to the German capital ships our big ships would be committed to action, when the situation required it. Thus, we used the battleship Sevastopol to bombard the enemy's dispositions around the besieged Sevastopol and in other places. The battleships Marat and Oklyabrskaya Revolutsiya of the Baltic Fleet employed their powerful guns in the defence of Leningrad. First they would fire at the enemy manoeuvring in the limited area near Kronstadt and later, while moored alongside the jetty.
When the Baltic Fleet was forced to withdraw from Libau to Kronstadt in 1941, it stood up to a tough trial. The fleet coped with many critical situations later. Though the winter of 1941-1942 was an ordeal, I think the general situation then was not as bad as during the early months of the war. It was precisely then that our men were subjected to the most rigorous test. It would be fair to say that they stood up to it with honour.
The Baltic Fleet was trained for naval warfare over a period of many years: for attacks on enemy shipping, for fire fighting and torpedo attacks at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland, for defence of naval bases from the sea and defence of the coast against enemy descents. When the war broke out the fleets had to aim their guns in the reverse direction, so to say.
The situation compelled the naval command to abandon the plans that had been worked out in peace time and concentrate wholly on fighting the danger from the land.
Our naval bases were not adequately prepared for fighting when the war broke out. The directions of the enemy spearheads came as a surprise. These factors caused us to make mistakes in the defence of our bases and fortified areas. Sometimes they put us in an extremely precarious situation. Thus. late in June, when the enemy captured Riga the detachment of light forces was compelled to use harbours which lacked the necessary facilities. After that the ships withdrew through the shallow channel of the Moonsund Strait. To enable the cruiser Kirov and other ships to navigate the Moonsund channel the Baltic Fleet command had to deepen it under the enemy's very nose. The Nazis were too much in a hurry to announce that they managed to lock a large Red naval force in the Gulf of Riga.
In my memory the latter half of July was filled with anxiety for the Baltic Fleet.
Though our men were fighting valiantly we were forced to leave one naval base after another. Those hard times vividly revealed all the weaknesses in the preparation of our fleets for war. They were particularly evident in Army-Navy cooperation, in the construction of special ships, development of special weapons for the fleets and in many cases in the level of combat training.
During the fighting for Libau the Army and Navy did not immediately achieve a common understanding on cooperation between the fighting services on this concrete sector. The situation was much the same in the case of Tallinn too. Contrary to the plans worked out in peace time the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet was made responsible for the defence of Tallinn from the land. But the land forces were subordinated to the fleet command with great delay.
And now I would like to deal with ships and fighting equipment. It is a fact that only a balanced naval force will secure maximum effect in war. A balanced fleet must comprise an adequate number of surface ships and submarines of all types. It was the direct duty of the People's Commissar of the Navy and the Naval Staff to assure the needed balance. I cannot shift the responsibility for the failure to achieve such a balance either on the higher authorities or blunders of the fleets.
The shortage of minesweepers and sweeping gear was particularly painful for the Baltic Fleet. The naval command was well aware that mines were a grave hazard in the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea. We realised that no sortie was possible without minesweepers. If anybody asked us what the Baltic Fleet needed above all, we would have said without a moment's hesitation: minesweepers, sweeping gear, and modern mines to fight the enemy. In actual fact it worked out differently. And I must admit this.
While paying serious attention to big ships, we took our time in building fast minesweepers. And we did not build enough of them. Another unforgivable mistake was that after the war broke out in Europe, when the danger of Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union became imminent, we failed to reinforce the Navy with civilian vessels which could be converted into minesweepers. As a result, when the war started the Baltic Fleet had only 20 fast minesweepers instead of at least 100. Shortage of minesweepers made it impossible to employ big ships with due 'effect. In addition, when the fleet fought its way from Tallinn to Kronstadt, it would have lost fewer ships. Summing up the results of the first month of the war the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet decided that mines were the main danger. The need for minesweepers was so desperate that the Council ordered to commandeer every vessel in Leningrad fit for duty. If that proved impossible the order was to take over 15-20 seagoing or river tugboats, including paddle-wheel craft.
The Germans were, apparently, aware of this. No wonder they did not want to take risks with their big ships. In pursuit of Plan Barbarossa Hitler decided way back in February 1941 to make broad use in the Baltic of all his minelayers, motor torpedo boats and some of the light forces. In theory we expected this, but in practice we were not ready to fight enemy mines. We should have sounded the alert, as soon as we learnt about the advent of German electromagnetic mines and about the heavy losses the British had suffered from them in 1939-1941.
In addition to minesweepers, we were short of antisubmarine ships and special patrol vessels. It hurts my heart to read over again a wartime document: "The fast minesweeper Krambol is on patrol duty." Only an urgent need could have compelled the fleet command to employ a minesweeper on patrol duty.
The Baltic Fleet suffered badly from inadequate antiaircraft defence of its ships. It was not always possible to provide fighter cover, whereas the Lender antiaircraft guns were already obsolescent by then. The conditions for combat training were unfavourable. It was only shortly before the Great Patriotic War that the Soviet Baltic Fleet acquired bases outside Kronstadt which was icebound for four to five months a year. In November, the ships were usually moored at the jetties or at the repair yard in the iced-in Kronstadt. The ships did not put out to sea. The officers and men trained ashore. In autumn the men who had completed their active service were demobilised and replaced with draftees. Officers' annual leave and personnel shifts were timed to this season.
The situation in the fleets changed only in 1940. The experience of the Finnish campaign showed that it was necessary to go to sea all year round and to train for war in conditions close to those of actual combat. Having acquired bases at Tallinn, Libau and the Hanko Peninsula the Soviet Baltic Fleet was no longer icebound in winter. Its ships could ply the Baltic waters all year round. There being little time left before the outbreak of the war it proved impossible to work cardinal changes. It takes years to acquire and accumulate experience, especially experience in training men. It is far more difficult to educate and train competent officers and ratings than to build ships.
After the Luftwaffe launched an air raid on Sevastopol at daybreak on June 22 the Black Sea Fleet deployed its forces and laid minefields in a relatively "normal" situation.
After the war we were seriously criticised for this. Some people said that we laid mines close to our bases, though there was no special need for this. The laying of minefields in the Black Sea gave rise to particular doubts. Vice-Admiral I. D. Yeliseyev wrote to me:
"When we learnt that our enemy in the Black Sea were the Romanians and Germans, we should have refrained from laying mines. The point is that there was no serious threat from the sea. Minefields were a source of great trouble to us, because it was mainly we who used the sea."
Though this view is not unfounded, I cannot wholly agree with it. Had there been no minefields close to Sevastopol even a weak enemy could have approached our base in hours of darkness to lay mines in our waters. The entire zone of Sevastopol would have been regarded as a dangerous area and the fleet would have had to engage in exploratory sweeping operations all the time. An enemy destroyer could have approached the main base of the Black Sea Fleet in darkness or in a fog to bombard it. It is difficult to say what would have caused us more troubleour own mines (we knew where we had laid them) or the potential danger of the enemy entering our waters because they were not protected by mines.
One thing is indisputable, namely that careful thought must be given to mines. You should never forget that mines are a threat not only to the enemy, but to your own ships too. You should also remember that sooner or later you will have to sweep them and that rough seas frequently tear them off their inchors and they start floating on the surface.
I maintain that from the standpoint of operations defensive minefields laid off our bases not only in the Black Sea, but also in the Far East were necessary. In theory friendly minefields are not a serious hazard to navigation. At the same time they are a good guarantee against the appearance of enemy ships in these zones in darkness or in fogs. However, even if you know the exact location of channels through the minefields they constitute a certain danger or an "inconvenience" to friendly fighting ships and transport vessels. But this danger would increase immeasurably, if enemy surface ships or submarines were able to lay mines near our bases. The trouble created by friendly minefields mainly stemmed from defective equipment. As a result, mines would be torn off their anchors and would appear on the surface. The existence of minefields made it necessary to adhere to the safety channels.
Mines are a powerful defensive weapon. They are, of course, a source of additional difficulties. But this does not mean that you should not make use of such a weapon. To refuse to use it only because you have to display special care means to admit your incompetence. All warships carry ammunition which is a source of danger.
The Black Sea Fleet command took the initiative into its hands from the first day of the war. The fleet air arm bombed vital targets in Romania. Having beaten off the first attack from the Romanian bank the Danubian Naval Flotilla landed a descent on it. The submarines proceeded to their patrol zones off the Romanian and Bulgarian coasts to attack enemy shipping and warships.
The German armies advanced along the entire battlefront. Early in July we feared that the enemy would threaten the ports and naval bases from the land. The developments that took place in the Baltic could also occur in the Black Sea. It was obvious that the fleet's main task was to support the flank of the army fighting on the coast. Just like in the Baltic, in many cases, we were faced with circumstances we failed to foresee in time of peace.
The Soviet Black Sea Fleet developed rapidly. When the Great Patriotic War broke out it had a battleship, six cruisers, 17 flotilla leaders and destroyers, two patrol ships, 47 submarines, 84 motor torpedo boats and a number of auxiliary ships. The fleet air arm had 625 aircraft. The fleet was being built up to assure our supremacy in the Black Sea.
Just like in the case of other fleets one of its main tasks was to support the army's coastal flank. As the war drew closer we paid increasing attention to the Black Sea Fleet's co-operation with the forces of the Odessa Military Area. The last exercise the fleet conducted on the eve of the war was wholly devoted to the achievement of such co-operation. It is true that the fleet and army worked on co-operation in more active missions, because we assumed that we would Fight not only defensive battles but also execute offensive operations. The exercise was conducted in the north-western part of the Black Sea. The experience acquired in it proved most beneficial already in the early months of the war. Our forces could have benefited even more from this exercise had we known that the war would break out so soon and had we made a more sober appraisal of the opposing force. In the Baltic we could not imagine that we would lose Libau not to speak of Riga. Similarly, in the Black Sea theatre of operations we could not conceive of defending Odessa from the land. Though the fleet had returned to its bases one day before the war and the ships' weapons were fully ready for combat, it would be fair to say that the theme of the exercise did not meet the situation that could have taken shape with the opening of hostilities.
As the German Group of Armies "South" drove eastward it seized one Soviet coastal town after another. The Nazi Wehrmacht boasted that the Soviet Black Sea Fleet would soon "die a land death" because it would lose all of its bases. But the fleet continued to fight inflicting increasingly powerful blows on the enemy.
As we had assumed the monarchy of Romania would become an ally of Nazi Germany. Our command decided to strike a blow at Constanta, the main base of the Romanian Fleet.
In the night of June 22-23, 1941, the Black Sea Fleet air arm launched its first raid on Constanta's military objectives. On June 23 it launched five more raids: three on Constanta and two on Sulina.
Several days later it attacked Ploiesti. GHQ, Supreme Command, attached special importance to Ploiesti. The point is that it supplied badly needed oil to Nazi Germany. That was why both the army air force and the fleet air arm bombed it. In July and August the Soviet air force destroyed several hundred thousand tons of oil. Its production dropped practically to zero for some time.
The Soviet air attacks on Ploiesti were of strategic importance. No wonder, on August 22, Hitler forwarded to Brauchitsch a note stating that it was above all necessary to take the Russian Black Sea coast and the Crimea with the airfields and that the coal pits in the Ukraine could wait. The note went on to say that a single successful Russian air attack on this vital source of oil might unforeseeably change the course of the war.
On June 25 two Soviet flotilla leadersthe Moskva and Kharkovset sail to bombard Constanta. They were supported by the cruiser Voroshilov escorted by two destroyers. The ships covered the distance in darkness to appear at daybreak off Constanta. At 0500 hours both flotilla leaders opened fire at targets ashore.
This was a bold operation. This was admitted by the German command in Romania. The Moskva and Kharkov fired 350 rounds at prearranged targets setting oil tanks on fire.
But we had to pay a high price for the success we secured. The mine hazard proved to be more formidable than we had thought.
It should be mentioned that the newly developed Nazi electromagnetic mines were a really formidable weapon in the early stage of the war. They sank quite a few British ships.
We faced the mine hazard in all the theatres of naval operations. In the Baltic Sea the Nazis laid minefields at the outlet of the Gulf of Finland even before the war. The cruiser Maxim Gorky struck a mine there. In the Black Sea the Soviet destroyer Bystryi struck a mine as she steamed out of Sevastopol. The enemy made use of conventional and electromagnetic mines (with counting devices). The existing sweeps were practically ineffective in combatting the electromagnetic mines.
The Navy's Mine-Torpedo Research Institute did its best to solve the secret of this new German weapon as quickly as possible and submitted a proposal for combatting it. But only highly qualified scientists rendered really effective aid to the Navy. We appealed for such aid and got it.
In August 1941, a group of scientists from the Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute, headed by A. P. Aleksandrov and I. V. Kurchatov came to the Black Sea Fleet. Working together with the fleet's mine experts the scientists often risked their lives as they dismantled the explosive devices of the German mines to establish the secret of this weapon and to offer effective countermeasures. Soon they managed to accomplish this task. The minesweepers were outfitted with new sweeps, while the bigger ships were being gradually provided with degaussing coils. As far as I remember it was the S-class submarines that were first degaussed.
Soviet scientists made an outstanding contribution to the victory over the enemy. And the government duly appreciated it. Many scientists were awarded orders and State Prizes.
Later I met lgor Vassilyevich Kurchatov at the Kremlin. He asked me how the fleet coped with the electromagnetic mine hazard. I was pleased to tell him that, thanks to the recommendations he and his colleagues had made, the fleet was effectively combatting enemy mines.
However, it would be wrong to assume that during their brief stay at the Black Sea Fleet the Leningrad research team helped resolve all questions bearing on German influence mines and on ways to combat them. The fight against the mine hazard lasted throughout the war.
In the course of the war the enemy employed more and more mines of new types, such as the acoustic, magnetic-acoustic and finally the pressure (hydrodynamic) mine. It was necessary to find antidotes for them. We enlisted the services of our best scientists. A special research team headed by N. N. Andreyev who later became a member of the USSR Academy of Sciences rendered practical aid in sweeping acoustic mines.
But let us return to the raid on Constanta at the opening of the war, i. e. before we developed reliable gear to combat German electromagnetic mines.
Our gun crews quickly straddled the targets. The ships withdrew at a high speed of 30 knots zigzagging on their course. As a result they lost their paravanes, i. e. devices for neutralising mines. The flotilla leader Moskva struck a mine. A deafening explosion split the ship in two and she sank. The Kharkov hastened to the aid of the officers and men in the water. But at that moment she was damaged by the fire of the enemy's shore batteries. Had the ships withdrawn at a lower speed to avoid the mine hazard, they might have suffered even more from the fire of the shore batteries. It appears that the Black Sea Fleet command should have formulated the mission in more precise terms, because this would have helped avoid unjustified risk, However, we had not yet developed such a flexible approach in combat control. We often had to adhere to the principle of accomplishing missions "at any price".
Was it possible to execute the operation successfully and without losses? Rear Admiral L. A. Vladimirski, former commander of a fleet detachment, told me after the war that the shore bombardment mission should have been carried out by a cruiser and not flotilla leaders. The point is that the effective range of their guns was inferior to that of the cruiser's and, in addition, their shell plating was thinner. A cruiser firing from a range of 180-190 cables would have been outside the enemy's minefields. He further said that the command did not wish to take risks with a big unit. As a result, a different decision was taken. It should be mentioned that in peace time we trained cruisers for the execution of such missions. Our air observers were competent in fire adjustment. This enabled the cruisers to conduct fire at maximum range.
We learnt a lesson from the raid on Constanfa. In November 1942, it was the cruiser Voroshilov that bombarded the enemy naval base at Sulina. She executed the mission successfully and without losses, although the enemy offered stifler resistance than at Constanta.
As the situation on the southern flank of the battlefront became clearer the command of the Black Sea Fleet and the Naval Staff paid closer attention to the Danube and the naval base at Odessa.
The Danubian Naval Flotilla which was stationed on the state frontier was a component of the Black Sea Fleet. When the Romanians opened fire the ships of the Danubian Naval Flotilla immediately returned fire and landed small descents in Romanian territory. It seemed that the flotilla could continue to carry out its mission successfully. But two weeks later the situation on the battlefront in Northern Moldavia took a turn for the worse. Most of the flotilla's craft were ordered to engage in operations jointly with the 14th Infantry Corps. The estuary of the Danube was covered by units of inadequate strength. When the Army retreated in the first half of July the Upper Danubian detachment of the flotilla forced its way to Izmail against tough enemy opposition. N.O. Abrarnov, flotilla commander, later told me that the evacuation of Izmail left a bitter taste after the flotilla's successful operations in the first few days of the war.
On June 22, it was relatively quiet on our land frontier with Finland. However, this did not stop the Luftwaffe from bombing the Northern Fleet's ships and airfields.
Late in the evening Of June 22, I had a long talk over the telephone with Rear Admiral A. G. Golovko, fleet commander.
Arseni Grigoryevich was annoyed that the fleet was in a stupid situation. He was saying:
"The enemy is bombing us, but we are regarding Finland as a country which is not at war with us."
I tried to explain to him that it was the German Air Force that was attacking the fleet from Norwegian airfields. I said to him:
"Take advantage of the time to complete the deployment of the fleet and to lay minefields. Watch the situation at sea very carefully."
When Admiral I. S. Isakov, chief of Naval Staff, made one of his first reports, we discussed the question of whether Finland could be regarded as a neutral country and whether an enemy descent could be landed in the North. We recalled how the Germans employed the element of surprise in the seizure of Narvik. It is a fact that in the 1930s the Finnish government slavishly followed in the wake of policies pursued by some of the Western countries. Schutzkorps motor launch formations caused a lot of trouble not only for the Baltic Fleet in the Gulf of Finland and lake Ladoga, but also for the Northern Fleet in proximity of Petsamo and Murmansk. The Soviet government sincerely wished to maintain friendly relations with the neighbouring country. They, therefore, put forth moderate demands, when they concluded a peace treaty in 1940. But the militant circles in Finland sought to avenge themselves in an alliance with Hitler. Being fully informed we were sure that Finland did not enter the war simultaneously with Germany on June 22 only out of tactical considerations.
At a conference in J.V. Stalin's office in the evening of June 24 I reported on Finnish and German planes appearing over the Hanko Peninsula, on the bombing of our ships in Polyarnoye. I also informed the conference not only about the concentration of German forces on the Finnish-Norwegian frontier (the government already knew about it), but also about their movements towards our frontiers through Finland. What we feared was that the enemy might land a descent in the North.
On June 25, the commander of the Northern Fleet reported that the German 19th Mountain Infantry Corps was moving towards our frontier. Now there was no doubt that the enemy would soon attack us from Finnish territory. The attack was launched on June 29. From that day on war started to range in the vast expanses of the North. In addition to those in the Black and Baltic Seas, our armies acquired another coastal flank which rested against the Barents Sea in the Arctic.
...The Northern theatre of naval operations was distinguished not only for its severe climatic conditions. Thanks to the warm Gulf Stream from the Atlantic the south-western part of the Barents Sea is free from ice all year round. The fleet there could conduct operations even in winter. However, the northern and eastern parts of the Barents Sea, the White and Kara Seas are non-navigable in winter on account of the ice.
Frequent storms, particularly in autumn and winter, low clouds, fogs and snow storms handicapped the ships and aircraft. It would be fair to say, however, that fogs helped conceal the movement of convoys and landing of descents. The polar day and polar night seriously interfered with naval operations. The polar night handicapped visual search and reconnaissance, while the polar day practically ruled out concealment.
A whole range of factors, such as Allied convoys, transportation of war and economic supplies by the Northern Sea Route, the strategic importance of the ice-free port of Murmansk and vast natural wealth of the Kola Peninsula, caused us to pay special attention to the North during the war.
The peculiarities of the North Norwegian coast with its numerous fjords, high and steep cliffs washed by deep waters enabled the Nazi Navy to disperse its ships so that they were not exposed to undue dangers. In preparing for the attack on the Soviet Union the German command concentrated in Northern Norway and Northern Finland one Finnish and two German army corps which made up Army "Norway".
The operations plan provided for the seizure of Murmansk and Polyarnoyethe Northern Fleet's main base. The German forces were to take the Kirov Railway to isolate the Kola Peninsula from the country's central regions, to occupy Soviet Karelia and the entire coast of the White Sea, including Arkhangelsk.
The German High Command counted on a successful Blitzkrieg campaign in the North. It was to be executed mainly by the land forces and the air force. Bombers were to conduct massive raids on Polyarnoye and Murmansk, to destroy the locks of the White Sea-Baltic Canal to cut off the Northern theatre of naval operations from the Baltic theatre. At the beginning of the war the German naval forces there were small. They were mainly based at the ports and harbours in Varanger-fjorden, Petsamo (Pechenga) and Kirkenes in particular.
The Fighting aircraft of the Fifth Luftwaffe Geschwader, the Finnish Air Force and the Nazi air transport service had a sizable network of airfields in the Polar Region. A force of 170 aircraft, including close to 100 bombers, was assigned the specific task of conducting operations against the Soviet Northern Fleet.
The Soviet forces, namely the Fourteenth Army under Lieutenant General V. A. Frolov were defending a frontage of 300 kilometres. Two of its divisions (out of five) were fighting in the Murmansk sector.
The Northern Fleet supported the army's right flank which defended the Murmansk sector. The Northern Fleet was the country's youngest fleet. By the beginning of the war it had a relatively small number of ships, including only eight destroyers and 15 submarines. It lacked adequate base facilities. The ships had to be moored at Murmansk and the harbours of the Kola Inlet and Motovski Bay.
The Northern Fleet air arm was also small. It comprised only 116 mostly obsolescent fighting aircraft. In the beginning of the war they could actually use only three airfields.
Alternate airfields and landing fields were only being built. The fleet air arm actually had no striking aircraft.
When the enemy attacked us in the North he enjoyed superiority in land and air forces. The Northern Fleet only had a larger number of submarines. Both sides had an approximately equal number of surface ships.
When the threat to Murmansk became imminent, the Soviet Army and Navy ensured exceptional coordination of efforts. The landing of a marine descent and ships' fire support to the Army were highly effective. Though the German Navy could have offered powerful opposition, it failed to ensure the safety of the Nazi army's flank. In the middle of July we felt serious anxiety about Polyarnoye, the Northern Fleet's main base. However, when the situation on the land front was stabilised, the command of the Northern Fleet were able to employ their submarines and part of the air arm against the enemy's shipping proceeding to and from Petsamo and Kirkenes. They sank about a dozen enemy transport vessels (including a few troop ships). After that General Eduard Dietl, commander of the Army "Norway", began to beg for aid. And he got it. In the winter of 1941-1942 the Nazi command were already aware of the importance of the northern sea routes. Therefore, they transferred to northern Norwegian bases the battleship Tirpitz, three heavy and one light cruiser, quite a few destroyers, submarines and motor torpedo boats. The number of Luftwaffe planes was increased to 520.
The number of ships of the Soviet Northern Fleet was increased too. But these were mainly converted civilian vessels and craft. They were quickly adapted for patrol and escort duty, minelaying, minesweeping and depot service. Of course, many of them failed to meet the requirements presented to regular fighting ships. Several fighting ships were transferred from the Baltic in summer 1941 and others were moved from the Pacific in 1942-1943.
The Northern Fleet air arm was reinforced with aircraft from the Baltic, the Black Sea, from the Army air force, and also with planes supplied by our Allies. By November 1942, the Northern Fleet air arm comprised 318 fighting aircraft. It was already a potent fighting force.
But by then the enemy had increased his fighting forces too. He above all assured a considerable superiority in naval forces. In the Polar Region the German navy tried to ensure the safety of its sea routes along the coast of northern Norway and at the same time to attack our shipping.
Despite this, the Soviet Northern Fleet continued to sink enemy shipping, to protect Soviet shipping and to support the coastal flank of the Fourteenth Army.
I had met Admiral Golovko, one of the best educated officers of the Navy, commander of the Northern Fleet, before the war. I came to know him better when he fought as a volunteer in Spain. He later became commander of the Caspian Flotilla and then of the Amur Naval Flotilla. In July 1940 he was appointed commander of the Northern Fleet.
In the long run it was intended to build up a big fleet in this vast theatre which had an outlet to the ocean. But this was a task of the future. Meanwhile big shipbuilding yards were only being constructed.
We tried to compensate the shortage of ships in the North with a larger number of coastal defence batteries. When Admiral Golovko and I toured the theatre we concentrated our attention on the installation of these batteries. The battery positions were in out-of-the-way places with few and very poor roads. We were able to reach some of the sites only in tractors. Some of the batteries were in operational condition, others were being installed and still others existed only on paper.
War in the northern theatre was relatively "quiet", quieter than in the Black Sea or the Baltic. There the tension was extreme, because the fleets were forced to abandon their best bases. This made it far more difficult to conduct all operations at sea. Fortunately, the Northern Fleet did not have to go through anything like it. Despite this, the operations of our "right flank man" were nevertheless instructive.
During the first week of the war in the Polar Region the sides "exchanged" air attacks. In that sector the Nazis went over into the offensive only in the last few days of June. This enabled the Fourteenth Army and the Northern Fleet to make more thorough preparations for the onslaught.
Despite his numerical superiority, particularly in the air, the enemy managed to advance less than 30 kilometres in the Murmansk sector. By August 1941, the Germans were exhausted and were no longer able to advance. Our forces stopped the enemy along the Zapadnaya Litsa River. The Nazi regiments that sought to seize the Sredni Peninsula were stopped even before thaton July 15. It is true that they managed to cut off from the mainland the Sredni and Rybachi Peninsulas which covered the entrance to the Kola Inlet. The Soviet sailors and infantrymen firmly held both these peninsulas.
When the battles in this sector of the battlefront reached their climax, the question of British aid arose. I met Rear Admiral Geoffrey Miles, head of the British Naval Mission in Moscow, two or three times to discuss it. We even mentioned the possibility of co-operation between the Soviet and British navies and air forces in the North. I even cracked a joke to the effect that the British were familiar with the region, implying that their forces landed there during the period of intervention in 1918-1920. Admiral Miles reciprocated saying that they could put the experience to good use. Then switching over to a serious tone he promised to contact the Admiralty.
But soon the situation in the Murmansk sector improved and the question of sending a British naval squadron to the North was abandoned. British ships and air units appeared there later, when the situation on the battlefront in the Polar Region became stable. Soon British and US convoys started to move to our shores. While paying due tribute to Allied aid and the indomitable spirit of the Royal Navy and British merchant fleet, I would like to clarify a few points and establish the truth.
In the Murmansk sector the Soviet forces stopped the enemy largely thanks to the effort of the Northern Fleet. It supported the Fourteenth Army with artillery fire and its air arm. It landed descents, transported troops, fighting equipment, ammunition, fuel and food by sea.
In the very beginning of the war the Northern Fleet formed marine units. Early in July, naval volunteer detachments were heroically fighting with the Fourteenth Army. In landing operations they were frequently employed as the assault wave. The descents the fleet landed on the flank and in the rear of the attacking enemy effectively aided the army in the fighting. When our forces were engaged in heavy fighting on the Zapadnaya Litsa River in July 1941, the fleet landed three descents, several reconnaissance and saboteur groups in Motovski Bay. The descents were made up of sailors who displayed outstanding heroism.
The biggest descent of 6,000 officers and men was landed in proximity of Point Pikshuyev on April 28, 1942. The Nazis were then preparing to launch another offensive on Murmansk. The active operations of the Fourteenth Army and this big descent (which took the enemy by surprise) foiled the enemy's plans.
When the battles were particularly fierce the Northern Fleet's guns and air arm rendered support to the Fourteenth Army. The fleet's destroyers, patrol vessels and even patrol craft bombarded the enemy's attack formations. In 1941 alone the ships fired close to 7,500 rounds. The coastal defence batteries were active too. They conducted aimed fire at the enemy's dispositions from the Sredni Peninsula and the eastern bank of the firth of the Bolshaya Zapadnaya Litsa.
Though the Northern Fleet's air arm was small in the beginning of the war, by late 1941 it had shot down or destroyed on airfields 119 Luftwaffe plants. The fliers of the Northern Fleet air arm displayed equal valour in fighting over sea and land. The fleet air arm was used to render support to the army. While launching attacks on the Nazi army and airfields and providing air cover to friendly land forces, the Northern Fleet air arm also flew reconnaissance missions, protected the bases, airfields and other military objectives, convoys and landing ships at sea and descents in the process of landing. The air arm bombed enemy bases and attacked Nazi shipping on the sea routes. In 1941-1942, the Northern Fleet air arm made close to 27,000 sorties. Most of them were in support of the friendly land forces.
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