Meetings with the Allies
A British Military Mission arrived in Moscow early in July 1941. Though I met Rear Admiral Geoffrey Miles more frequently than any of the other officers. General Mason Macfarlane was the first to pay me a call. It was a hot day in July, and though he paid me a formal call, he wore shorts. That was why I remember him so well. I knew that in summer British officers were allowed to wear shorts. But I was a bit taken aback when I saw the general. I asked him (humorously, of course), if his trousers were not too short for him.
On July 12, I was summoned to the Kremlin, because an Anglo-Soviet agreement was to be signed. Later I learned that during the last few days Sir Stafford Cripps, the British Ambassador, had had two talks with J.V. Stalin.
General Macfarlane attended the ceremony. After the agreement was signed Stalin had a long talk with General Macfarlane, head of the British Military Mission. They discussed concrete problems bearing on the conduct of the war against Germany. The agreement provided for mutual aid and, in addition, the parties pledged not to conclude a separate peace.
The agreement, among other things, dispersed our doubts about Rudolf Hess, Hitler's envoy, and his mission to Britain. The British refused to collude with the Fuehrer. The Moscow agreement blasted Hitler's intentions to fight alternately in the West and the East. Now he would have to fight on two fronts simultaneously.
In a speech he delivered over the radio in the evening of June 22 Winston S. Churchill said:
"No one has been a more consistent opponent of Communism than I have for the last twenty five years... "We have but one aim and one single, irrevocable purpose.
We are resolved to destroy Hitler and every vestige of the Nazi regime... Any man or state who fights against Nazidom will have our aid... That is our policy and that is our declaration. It follows, therefore, that we shall give whatever help we can to Russia and the Russian people."
It was already at our first meeting that Rear Admiral Geoffrey Miles and I discussed joint protection of convoys which were then being planned. He said he would immediately report to the Admiralty the considerations prompted by our exchange. Then we touched upon mutual technical information. We could benefit from British naval experience and equipment in two areas. The British had acquired a wealth of rather sad experience in fighting German electromagnetic mines. In addition, their fighting ships were outfitted with more advanced RDF gear. Admiral Miles kindly agreed to ask his superiors about the transfer of information on these matters to us. He was positive about an early reply. Then he spoke about British achievements in underwater sound-ranging apparatus (sonar equipment). Having experienced the effect of enemy submarine attacks during the First World War the British conducted purposeful research in antisubmarine warfare over a long period of time. Thus the ASDIC—an underwater sound-ranging apparatus for determining the range and bearing of a submerged submarine—was developed.
Getting ahead of my story I must say that we did not get any serious aid from the British in fighting the mine hazard. They gave us access only to non-secret mines which were of no serious value to us.
As far as we were concerned we did out best to help our Allies, when we acquired specimens of German mines and torpedoes.
With time shipment of war supplies from Great Britain to Arkhangelsk and Murmansk increased. A special group of British convoy commanders was formed in the North. Its activities were directed by Admiral Geoffrey Miles, head of the British Mission. After a strenuous and dangerous voyage which was often accompanied by heavy losses the commodores of convoys would come from Arkhangelsk to Moscow where I had the pleasure of receiving them and expressing our gratitude to them. We would sit round a table in the recreation room to pay tribute to the men that brought the convoy to the port of destination. These were experienced sailors who had been called up for service in time of war. The temporary rank of commodore, a status between our captain 1st grade and rear admiral, was conferred on them. These aged officers who were performing an arduous duty deserved a higher status. But the conservative trends in the British Navy, apparently, made it impossible to violate the established tradition.
In summer 1941, we wanted to know the USA's stand on the war in Europe. In those days America had not yet openly sided with Great Britain and the Soviet Union. But its increasing aid to the former was bound, sooner or later, to draw it into an open conflict with the Axis powers. It should be mentioned that the worsening of relations with Japan deprived America, for the time being, of freedom of action.
Moscow was expecting the arrival of an envoy from the USA. He was Harry Hopkins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's personal envoy, an influential person who won fame during the Second World War. He arrived in Moscow late in July 1941. I cannot help remembering Harry Hopkins' visit because he arrived at Arkhangelsk and later departed for Great Britain from that town. It was my duty to assure the safety of this arrival and departure.
One evening I was summoned to GHQ which was in a mansion near Kirovskaya metro station. There were several people, including myself, in Stalin's office, when an air alert was sounded. We all went to the shelter. To get there we had to go out into the yard and to proceed to a lift in the neighbouring building along a planked footway. The lift was to take us to the metro station.
On the way Stalin continued to tell us about his talk with Harry Hopkins, which had taken place earlier in the day. Stalin quoted Harry Hopkins as saying that America "Would, apparently, be forced to enter the war". I remembered these words. I wondered whether they were prompted by thoughts about war with Nazi Germany (by then America's relations with Germany were on the brink of a military conflict) or whether Harry Hopkins foresaw the failure of the talks with Japan that were then going on in Washington. Would America enter the war? This was a highly important question at the time.
Later I learnt that Stalin and Hopkins paid serious attention to the nomenclature and quantity of cargoes to be shipped to the Soviet Union and to the protection of convoys en route.
On August I, Hopkins was in Arkhangelsk where he had a talk with Rear Admiral M.M. Dolinin, commander of the White Sea Naval Flotilla. The latter reported to me: "...Hopkins again notified me that convoys would be bringing large quantities of cargoes to Arkhangelsk. He wanted to know whether we could assure the simultaneous passage of 20 transport vessels to the White Sea in winter."
In the evening of August 1, Harry Hopkins departed for the British Isles in a plane. Thanks to his purposeful assistance a conference of Soviet, British and US representatives was held in Moscow in September-October 1941. The conference took decisions on the pooling of efforts by three great powers to secure victory over Nazi Germany and on aiding the USSR with war supplies.
At the time President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted the British Armed Forces in Europe to engage more actively in the fighting. To a certain degree this stand was conditioned by Harry Hopkins' influence. It is a fact that Winston S. Churchill held a different view. The second front was opened as late as summer 1944.
We had several river naval flotillas. This showed that the General Staff and People's Commissariat of the Navy attached serious importance to joint operations in the event of war.
Proceeding from common strategic plans our river naval flotillas were trained, even before the war, to fight in close co operation with the land forces. This was above all an achievement of our operations staffs.
Only a few hours after the Luftwaffe launched fierce attacks on Soviet frontier posts and on Brest Fortress in the morning of June 22, 1941, the ships of the Pinsk Naval Flotilla were already heading for Kobrin via the Dnieper-Bug Canal to assist the Fourth Army of the Western Front fighting in the Brest sector.
The People's Commissariat of the Navy closely followed the developments in the Western frontier region. As a rule, the chief of Naval Staff would first report on the situation in the Baltic, on the Danube and in the Western sector—the area in which the Pinsk Naval Flotilla conducted its operations. By June 24, we realised that the flotilla's plans worked out in time of peace were impracticable. Fighting fierce rearguard battles the Fourth Army was withdrawing from Brest north and south of the Dnieper-Bug Canal. The Luftwaffe having destroyed the locks, the water level in the canal was dropping. Fearing that it might reach a critical mark Rear Admiral D.D. Rogachyov, flotilla commander, decided to withdraw the craft and ships to the Pripyat River.
Thus, the formations of the Pinsk River Naval Flotilla were at the limiting points of two enemy army groups — South and Centre—that were advancing along the Pripyat River. The latter also formed a natural dividing line between two of our fronts—the Western and South-Western. The flotilla was withdrawing together with our land forces. Having concentrated its forces at Mozyr the flotilla helped the Army unit? cross the river.
In the latter half of July, the Nazis appeared on the bank ol the Dnieper River in the Kremenchug-Cherkassy area. The flotilla did its best to help our units put up a stiff resistance.
In August, our forces were threatened with encirclement at Kiev. In the middle of the month, the monitor Zhemchuzhin and the gunboats Verny and Peredovoi were in proximity of Kremenchug. They were fiercely shelled by the enemy on several occasions.
By the end of August, the entire bend of the Dnieper from Cherkassy to Kherson was in enemy hands. The flotilla command now knew that there was no hope for further withdrawal. Despite this, the officers and men continued selflessly to assist the land forces, particularly when it was necessary to move the troops to the left bank of the Dnieper north of Kiev. In its Order of the Day the Military Council of the South-Western Front commended them for their splendid performance. The Order read in part:
"You have accomplished your missions in keeping with the Soviet naval tradition."
In the period from September 15 to 19, the flotilla fought its last engagements near Kiev. Four monitors and several craft fired at the German troops crossing the river till the last round. When the ships and craft ran out of ammunition, the crews demolished them hoisting the signal: "Prefer destruction to surrender." The enemy did not capture a single ship of the Pinsk Flotilla.
The crews began to fight on land. To cover the withdrawal of the Thirty Seventh Army at Nezhin the first detachment of 640 officers and men was to hold up the attacking enemy at all costs. By the end of the day on September 13, only several dozen officers and men were alive. Withdrawing to Borispol they joined an Army unit.
In its Order of the Day, dated September 10, 1941, the Military Council of the South-Western Front stated that in war against Germany the officers and men of the Pinsk River Naval Flotilla demonstrated outstanding courage and valour. They fought the invaders without sparing their blood or their very lives. Dozens of them were recommended for government awards. In the stern year of 1941 it was difficult to earn an award. Very few orders and medals were awarded in those days.
On October 5, 1941, I signed an order on the disbandment of the Pinsk River Naval Flotilla. I did this with a heavy heart. All of the flotilla's ships and craft were lost in bloody battles with the enemy, and the officers and men that had survived the ordeal were now fighting on land.
The Moonsund Archipelago and the Hanko Peninsula
The Moonsund Archipelago is situated at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland. It has an eventful history.
Late in June Stalin asked me whether it would be possible to shift some of the coastal defence batteries to the Moscow sector to reinforce the defences on the approaches to the capital.
No one could then foresee the bitter fate the defenders of the islands would have to experience two-three months later. Nobody knew that they themselves would need every gun they had. However, even late in June we were aware of the role the Moonsund Archipelago would play in the defence of the Strait of lrben and of the entrance to the Gulf of Finland, if the German fleet were to try to force its way into it or to land a descent on the islands. I, therefore, asked Stalin not to weaken the islands' defences. In addition, I said it would be extremely difficult to move heavy coastal artillery pieces. Stalin agreed with me. While we were anxiously scanning the Western horizons of the Baltic, we did not realise that the main threat would come from the land. And an island base was to provide cover to the shore. There were hardly enough men and weapons to defend the archipelago. Though the coastal defence artillery was rather strong, it was not adequately supported by a land force to defend a rather long coastline.
Before the actual fighting started the islands had a garrison of 23,663 Army and naval officers and men. They were equipped with 142 field, coastal and antiaircraft artillery pieces, 60 mortars, and 795 machine guns. To beat off enemy descents the island forces had six motor torpedo boats and 12 fighter planes.
Taking into account the overall length of the coastline and area of the islands it would be fair to say that the garrison was inadequate for the mission assigned to it. The small number of craft and planes and total lack of mobile (tank and artillery) units made it extremely difficult to organise an effective defence of the islands. In addition, after Tallinn was evacuated the Moonsund Archipelago and the Hanko Peninsula would have to rely on themselves alone. They could not expect supplies from Kronstadt.
Despite these difficulties, the defenders of the Moonsund Islands were determined to fight for every inch of their ground. They intended to hold as many enemy units as possible to help the Leningrad Front.
One month after the war broke out the islands were already threatened from land, because the enemy was already attacking Tallinn and had nearly reached Virtsu on the mainland. A.B. Yeliseyev, commandant of the island defence area, and Rear Admiral Drozd, commander of a detachment of light forces, were ordered quickly to land a descent of at least 300 officers and men at Virtsu to push the enemy back to Pamu.
The mission assigned by the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet was brilliantly accomplished. After the landing operation at Virtsu the enemy made no attempt to seize the islands for nearly two months. But as soon as the last Soviet ship drew out of Tallinn, the German command hastily started to prepare for the seizure of the islands. The Nazis assigned the mission to a big force comprising two infantry divisions, two combat engineer and one pontoon regiment, a Finnish battalion, an artillery support group, 60 aircraft, a destroyer flotilla, two motor torpedo boat and two minesweeper flotillas, a submarine chaser flotilla, seven floating batteries and 350 landing ships and craft.
After prolonged artillery bombardment on September 8, the Nazi forces landed in the island of Vormsi (Worms). Though the garrison was made up of two understrength companies, it put up a courageous resistance. The descent in Svibju Harbour was driven out into the water. However, the enemy managed to gain footholds in other areas. Having suffered crippling losses the defenders fought to the last round. The remainder of the garrison withdrew to the island of Hiiumaa.
On September 9 and 10, the German Air Force and artillery bombarded the defences in the island of Moon (Muhu). The enemy fired up to 15,000 artillery rounds and dropped close to 3,000 bombs.
In the morning of September 14, the enemy landed descents at Kuivastu and Kalaste in the island of Muhu. The garrison made up of an infantry battalion and two understrength construction-engineer companies offered the enemy a stiff resistance. The descent at Kalast,e was practically wiped out. However, the forces were unequal. The enemy gained a foothold at Kuivastu. In the course of the day he reinforced the assault wave with four more battalions to launch an attack.
That same morning the Nazis undertook a diversionary attack on Keigusta Harbour on the south-eastern shore of the island of Saaremaa. Their purpose was to divert our command's attention from the main attack and to prevent it from shifting reinforcements from Saaremaa to Muhu.
When the diversionary attack was undertaken by a landing force, the enemy dropped an airborne descent of 125 officers and men in the rear of one of our coastal defence batteries in the peninsula of Kybosaar. It had continuously harassed him. But the gun crews soon wiped out the airborne descent.
The defenders of the islands fought without a break for three long days suffering heavy losses. On September 17, they withdrew to the island of Saaremaa via the Orissaare dike which they demolished.
Fierce fighting raged against superior enemy forces in various sectors for six days. The inferior Soviet forces withdrew to the Salme-Meldrum line at the Sorve Peninsula.
By then the ranks of the defenders of the Sorve Peninsula shrank to about fifteen hundred officers and men who were running out of ammunition. This being the last organised defence line, they had nowhere to withdraw. Therefore, the command of the Baltic Defence Area, proceeding from instructions received from the Baltic Fleet Military Council, decided to leave the Sorve Peninsula and to shift the defenders to the island of Hiiumaa in motor torpedo boats and motor fishing craft.
While the battles for the islands of Muhu and Saaremaa were still going on, the enemy made preparations for the seizure of the island of Hiiumaa.
On October 18, I received orders to evacuate its garrison to the Hanko Peninsula and the island of Osmussaar. The operation was started in the evening of October 19. By October 22, 570 officers and men were withdrawn. The remaining part of the garrison continued to fight gallantly. It was to be moved to the island of Osmussaar in craft from the Hanko Peninsula. However, the craft that departed from there on October 22, were unable to force their way to Hiiumaa. The officers and men that remained there fought to the last round.
Thus, the relatively small garrison of the Moonsund Archipelago fought for a month and a half deep in the enemy rear. When the fighting for Leningrad reached its peak, the garrison held two enemy divisions with supporting units (a total of more than 50,000 officers and men), considerable air and naval forces.
The defence of the Moonsund Archipelago actually assured support to the battlefront's flank resting on the Baltic Sea shore. The Naval Staff was fully aware of this. The Naval Staff and I shared the view that it was vital to hold the coastal sectors, such as the Moonsund Archipelago, to the last man and the last round. We realised that such a policy involved a grave risk of loss of garrisons. But circumstances forced us to give priority to the general strategic task in the war against Nazi Germany.
Under Article Four of the Peace Treaty with Finland, signed in 1940, we obtained a 30-year lease of the Hanko Peninsula and about 400 islands around it for the establishment of a naval base.
From the standpoint of defence the main weakness of the base was its small area, namely 115 square kilometres. The fact that all the defence facilities had to be located close to each other made them vulnerable to enemy fire in the event of hostilities. The entire area of the base was exposed to Finnish artillery fire. The skerries "overhanging" the base from the north were a particularly great danger to it. When the Finns handed over to us the Hanko Peninsula and the islands of Vyborg Bay under the terms of the Treaty, they removed their coastal artillery batteries to install them in islands bordering the base on the north.
When the war broke out the Hanko Peninsula had a garrison of 25,000 officers and men. The base had a submarine brigade, and a motor torpedo boat brigade. The harbour defence patrol had a detachment of seaward patrol craft. Air defence was assured by a fighter regiment. By June 22, a sizable part of these forces was far away from the base carrying out combat training missions off Tallinn and Riga.
The base was to be defended from the land by the 8th Separate Infantry Brigade. It was also responsible for the defence of the peninsula against descents. On the First day of the war with Germany close to 6,000 women and children were evacuated from the Hanko Peninsula to Tallinn.
At 1800 hours on the same day the Nazi planes bombed the peninsula. The base's antiaircraft artillery opened fire. Though an alert had been sounded, the raid was somewhat of a surprise. The garrison had yet to acquire a wartime mentality. The men just had to realise that this was war, not manoeuvres or exercises, that peace was in the past. The garnson put in a lot of effort into the construction of new fortifications, and dispersal pens for tanks and other vehicles. The morale was high. There was no room for low spirits.
Taking off from Finnish airfields on June 23, the Luftwaffe launched another raid on the base in the Hanko Peninsula.
At noon on June 26, at least 10-12 medium- and large-calibre batteries from the Finnish side fired at the centre of the town of Hanko.
Our garrison was compelled to engage the enemy. This marked the beginning of the heroic defence of the peninsula.
The Finns made several attempts to attack the base from the land, but all the assaults were beaten off.
Having suffered failure the Finns decided to bombard the base. Practically every day they shelled it. The ironclads Vainamoinen and Ilmarinen also bombarded the peninsula of Hanko. Air raids were conducted continuously.
In September, our craft laid mines in the narrow parts of the channel near the island of Ere. On September 18, the Ilmarinen struck them and went under. After that Finnish ships stopped bombarding the Hanko Peninsula. The garrison continued to fight heroically. But the situation in the peninsula was steadily growing worse. After the withdrawal from Tallinn and the Moonsund Archipelago the peninsula of Hanko was in the deep rear of the enemy lines. In winter it became increasingly difficult to bring supplies to the base. In addition, it was vital to concentrate more and more forces in the Leningrad sector. Having weighed all the circumstances, GHQ, Supreme Command, decided to evacuate the naval base of Hanko. Situated at a distance of 220 miles from Kronstadt the peninsula of Hanko was encircled by the enemy. It was an extremely challenging task to evacuate the garrison.
The mission was assigned to Rear Admiral V.P. Drozd, commander of the main fleet detachment. Knowing his indomitable spirit and excellent command abilities I was sure he was the best man for the job. Therefore, when I learnt that Drozd was selected, I immediately gave my approval.
The Gulf of Finland was virtually infested with mines. No wonder we suffered serious losses in the course of the operation. Despite this, out of 25,000 officers and men some 22,000 were moved to Kronstadt by December 2, 1941, to take part in the defence of Leningrad.
The Hanko Peninsula was evacuated at the right time. I remember GHQ displaying concern about the course of the operation. It feared that the frosts might complicate matters.
The German High Command intended to seize all of our towns and cities on the sea—from Odessa to Tuapse—from the land. This decision cannot be regarded as a hasty one, as a decision that was taken without careful thought. Hitler and his generals arrived at it after a sound appraisal of our possibilities in the Black Sea. Had our Black Sea Fleet been weak the Nazis, probably, would have attempted to seize Odessa by launching a combined attack from the land and sea as early as August 1941.
The Black Sea Fleet played a big role in these battles. Its ships and coastal defence batteries rendered fire support to the besieged city. More than that, the fleet brought in supplies for the Coastal Army and the naval units fighting ashore. Though a relatively small number of ships directly took part in the fighting, the fleet with the battleship and cruisers was based at Sevastopol which was not far away. This circumstance prevented the Germans from taking risks with the weak Romanian fleet.
Despite Hitler's persistent demands to take Odessa as quickly as possible, the Germans were unable to achieve their aims within the time set by the schedule. Even the desperate efforts of Antonescu, Hitler's faithful servant, proved futile.
As soon as the Nazis saw that they could not take our naval bases here from the land, they started to shift naval forces to that theatre. The Nazi command moved close to 400 warships and merchant vessels to the Black Sea. Among them were six submarines, 16 motor torpedo boats, 50 landing ships and craft, 23 minesweepers and 26 submarine chasers.
Such an expansion of the Romanian fleet was a source of serious trouble to the command of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet during the battles for the Crimean Peninsula, Kerch Strait and Caucasian coast.
When the war started, the command of the Black Sea Fleet ordered Rear Admiral G.V. Zhukov, Odessa Naval Base commander, immediately to build fortified lines and to prepare to beat off enemy attacks. This order exercised a certain influence on GHQ, Supreme Command, when it decided to charge the Black Sea Fleet with the defence of the city and appointed a sailor, the naval base commander, commander of the defence area. The timely preparations for fighting and well organised co-operation between the Coastal Army and the fleet made it possible to contain 17 enemy divisions and seven brigades for a long period of time. The people of Odessa not only helped build fortifications around the city, but also rendered active assistance in the course of the fighting. This port has always maintained close ties with the Black Sea Fleet. The sailors of the merchant marine were put on a naval footing, as soon as the war began.
The People's Commissariat of the Navy agreed with the Black Sea Fleet Military Council that it would be wrong to abandon Odessa with its coastal defence batteries. Although the shore units were small, they were made up of staunch and well trained fighters. As I made a report to GHQ, Supreme Command, I was able to establish the view of the General Staff. The latter said that my line was correct and confirmed that it was necessary to hold Odessa. A senior officer of the Staff promised to report my opinion to Stalin.
On July 26, I sent a message to the Fleet Military Council ordering it to warn Rear Admiral G.V. Zhukov, Odessa Naval Base commander, that the city should be defended as long as possible. At the same time I ordered the Council to prepare the coastal defence batteries for fire at land targets. They were to act in co-operation with the ships and the air arm. The preparations for such action were made in time.
Odessa was on the enemy's southern flank. Supporting an army's flank resting against the coast is an important task of a fleet of any country both during an attack and during a forced withdrawal. That was why the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea Fleets considered it highly important to ensure the security of the armies' flanks resting against the shore.
In the beginning it was the Fourth Romanian Army that was to take Odessa. Hitler demanded that this mission should be accomplished not later than in August 1941.
The German command hoped to take Odessa at a much earlier date. This was important not only for the taking of the Crimean Peninsula, but also for success in the southern sector. However, the ferocious resistance the defenders of Odessa offered came as a surprise to the enemy. Although the Romanian divisions were reinforced with German units and although crack Luftwaffe pilots attacked the ships of the Black Sea Fleet, which helped hold Odessa, the city's defenders continued to beat off one enemy assault after another. The resistance the heroic Coastal Army and naval detachments put up till October 16, 1941, exercised a powerful influence on the entire course of the war. No wonder the defence of Odessa was in the spotlight of the Soviet and foreign press in August-September 1941.
As I see it, the role of Odessa's big port was determined not only by the delivery of fuel. Odessa which was a soar behind the German and Romanian lines deprived the enemy of confidence not only at sea, but on land too.
The attempt of the Romanian Army to take Odessa on its own failed ignominiously.
Odessa was able to hold out for such a long time largely thanks to effective co-operation between the fighting services.
It would be fair to say that the Coastal Army would not have been able to defend the city so long, if it were not for the sailors. The relatively small naval units could not have manned all the defence positions or held them for any length of time either. I am not referring to the ammunition and food the ships of the Black Sea Fleet supplied the defenders of the city with. During the siege the coastal defence batteries also played a big part. At the same time the Soviet fighters invariably displayed an indomitable spirit.
During the early period of the siege there were two commands in Odessa: command of the Separate Coastal Army under Lieutenant General G.P. Sofronov (who was subordinated to the command of the Southern Front) and command of the Odessa Naval Base under Rear Admiral G.V. Zhukov (who was subordinated to the commander of the Black Sea Fleet). In the beginning the naval force comprised an old cruiser—the Komintern—and several obsolescent destroyers and gunboats. But soon it became obvious that this force was inadequate for the job. So once in a while the cruisers Chervona Ukraina, Krasny Krym and Krasny Kavkaz and also quite a few destroyers would assist in the defence of Odessa. It should be mentioned that, until GHQ, Supreme Command, decided to form an Odessa Defence Area, the actions of the fleet and army commands lacked coordination. But in the middle of August the attacking enemy cut off the Coastal Army and naval base units defending Odessa from the main body of the Southern Front. It was now necessary to decide which service should be charged with the defence of Odessa. When I was summoned to GHQ, Supreme Command, I said that without the support of the Black Sea Fleet the defence of the city would not be steadfast. J.V. Stalin asked me:
"Who, personally, will be placed in charge of the defence?" I said that Rear Admiral G.V. Zhukov, naval base commander, was already there. But no final decision was then taken on the matter. GHQ sent a message to Odessa which read in part:
"Odessa shall not be surrendered. It shall be defended to the last possibility. The Black Sea Fleet shall help fulfil this mission."
The telegramme was dictated personally by Stalin. It was decided to set up an Odessa Defence Area subordinated to the Black Sea Fleet Military Council. G.V. Zhukov was appointed commander of the defence area. Early in October, General I.Y. Petrov who had until then been in command of the 25th Chapayev Division replaced G.P. Sofronov as commander of the Coastal Army.
GHQ issued a directive on the establishment of the Odessa Defence Area on August 19. Although the decision was taken with some delay (because Odessa was in a state of siege since August 8), it, nevertheless, clarified all the matters bearing on the organisation of defence.
GHQ, Supreme Command, frequently maintained direct contact with G.V. Zhukov. But it was the Naval Staff that effected guidance of the fleet's actions in the defence of Odessa. The fleet was ordered reliably to protect the sea route to Odessa and to form a detachment of ships for regular support of its defenders. Over 8,000 naval officers and men were fighting on the fortified lines around the city. The ships of the main fleet detachment under Rear Admiral L.A. Vladimirski made over 150 sorties to support the defenders with gun fire. When the situation became particularly grave after September 20, the fighting ships landed a descent in proximity of Grigoryevka. As a result of the descent's daring action and an attack launched by the forces of the defence area the territory in Soviet hands was expanded. Thus, the port of Odessa was no longer within range of the enemy's artillery. But the enemy continued to force his way to Odessa.
During the early months of the siege, when the circumstances were particularly difficult, GHQ would not always issue orders and directives in the conventional form. Sometimes a message from GHQ would not contain a categorical demand to stop the enemy or to hold the ground. Instead it would be written in the form of a request to the local command and the troops to hold out till the reinforcements arrived or for so many days or weeks.
Odessa received such a telegramme in the middle of September 1941. It read:
"Kindly convey the request of GHQ, Sureme Command, to the officers and men defending Odessa to hold on for another six-seven days till the arrival of aid in the form of air support and armed reinforcements... J. Stalin."
I know that it was personally the Supreme Commander-in-Chief that dictated this text.
No wonder such appeals from the Supreme Command immediately evoked a response in the hearts of the rank-and-file fighters. GHQ did not hide from the men that it was short of reserves and fighting equipment. But such a word as "requests" helped build up the morale of the fighters. The result was that increasingly effective blows were dealt at the enemy.
The message I have quoted above played a tremendous role in the defence of Odessa. The garrison managed to hold a large Nazi force at the city's walls for a long time.
Late in September, the situation in Odessa was not yet critical. Thanks to the fleet's support the city could continue to defend itself for a long time. But the threat to the Crimean Peninsula from the isthmus of Perekop compelled GHQ to commit the whole of the Black Sea Fleet and Coastal Army to the defence of the Crimea, of Sevastopol in particular. It was expected that the enemy would try to force his way into the peninsula.
The enemy had his eye on Sevastopol and was endangering the lifeline with Odessa. Its defenders were ordered to withdraw to the Crimea. GHQ, Supreme Command, adopted a decision on the evacuation of Odessa on September 29. The conference at GHQ was discussing the situation on the approaches to the Crimea and on the Southern Front in general rather than what was happening in Odessa. When it was over, I forwarded a telegramme to the Black Sea Fleet Military Council. It read:
"I hereby order you without delay to prepare for the evacuation of Odessa."
The People's Commissariat of the Navy knew that it was extremely important for the local command to be informed about possible plans as early as possible. It, therefore, sent pertinent messages on decisions taken by GHQ or the General Staff as soon as it got news of them.
On September 30, I sent a telegramme to the Black Sea Fleet Military Council with practical instructions. Considering the experience of the evacuation of Tallinn it was necessary to reckon with the possibility of a quick enemy breakthrough into the Crimea and, therefore, with the urgent need to abandon Odessa. However, in practice it proved possible to draw up a detailed plan for the evacuation of the city.
On October 5, I received a GHQ directive confirming the decision on the evacuation of Odessa. I immediately forwarded to the Fleet Military Council the following message: "Evacuate Odessa fully in keeping with the orders." On October 6, I radioed:
"Instruct Zhukov not to delay the evacuation. Withdraw troops and weapons above all. Employ all available transport in pursuit of this task."
These repeated reminders on the need to evacuate the city within the time set by GHQ were sent because the situation in the isthmus of Perekop was growing worse with every passing day and it was essential quickly to move reinforcements to the Crimea.
As distinguished from Tallinn Odessa received orders on evacuation well in advance. The fleet command and command of the Odessa Defence Area had more than two weeks — from October 1 to 16—to prepare for the withdrawal. The enemy pressure here was relatively weak. Though the enemy enjoyed superiority, he feared the defenders of the city, because they put up a heroic resistance and were ready to launch a counterassault at any moment. It was precisely then that our units inflicted several painful blows at the enemy. The enemy did not notice the withdrawal. When the last echelon departed from the harbour, the Romanians made no attempt to enter the city, because they feared the defenders.
Though the situation at Perekop was extremely serious, GHQ was reluctant to issue the order on the abandonment of Odessa whose defenders were conducting heavy but successful battles. And this is quite understandable. I know that Stalin deliberated on the evacuation of Odessa. He ordered me to ask the Black Sea Fleet Military Council whether it would be expedient to leave a part of the force, up to two divisions, to retain the city and to hold enemy troops there. A telegramme to this effect was duly sent to the addressee on October 4. I asked the Military Council to state its view on the matter with account of the fact that the promised division from Novorossiisk would not arrive.
The Naval Staff and the Black Sea Fleet Military Council reported to me that such a half-measure would be inexpedient. Later events showed that, if the evacuation of Odessa had been delayed and if a part of the defending force had remained there, this would have negatively affected the defence of Sevastopol, and, of course, the fate of the defenders of Odessa.
By mid-October more than a hundred thousand officers and men were moved from Odessa. Our fighting ships and merchant vessels performed, respectively, 152 and 129 runs, which were later called "passages through fire". The operation reached its culmination in the evening of October 15. The harbour was full of ships—cruisers, destroyers and transport vessels. The covering force—some 30,000 officers and men—left the battle positions avoiding detection by the enemy who continued to shell them for several hours. The units boarded the ships and transport vessels practically without losses.
The heroic defence of Odessa lasted 73 days. Both its defenders and the whole of the country faced further harassing trials. But the point is that the Soviet people were inspired with a mounting faith in victory. In contrast to this, though their armies were still strong, the hopes the Nazis pinned on success in the Blitzkrieg were waning.
The sailors of the Black Sea Fleet, officers and men of the Coastal Army and the people of Odessa performed an unfading feat in its defence which added a bright page to the record of the Great Patriotic War.
Odessa holds a place of honour among the other hero cities. A memorial to the Unknown Seaman with an Eternal Flame has been erected there in honour of the everlasting memory of those who fell in the defence of the city.
A Difficult Autumn
In the middle of August I asked permission to go to Leningrad. But when I was about to leave the events in the Black Sea area (the Germans launched an attack on Odessa) caused me to delay my departure. When I was summoned to GHQ on some matter late in August, I reminded my superiors about my intention to visit the Baltic Fleet. Having secured their consent I issued orders by telephone from GHQ about preparing an aircraft by morning. However, as a result of a discussion of the situation at Leningrad by the State Defence Committee and GHQ, Supreme Command, it was decided to send V. M. Molotov, A.N. Kosygin and N.N. Voronov there too.
In Leningrad we were met by K.Y. Voroshilov and A.A. Zhdanov. Both were extremely concerned about the situation, because the enemy was fiercely forcing his way to Lake Ladoga in order to seal the ring around the city.
The Baltic Fleet formed seven marine brigades and quite a few other special marine units. The overall number of Baltic Fleet sailors fighting on land (including a marine brigade subordinated to the command of the Karelian Front) exceeded 125,000. They showed excellent performance. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Marine Brigades won outstanding glory on the Narva-Kingisepp-Luga, and Kotly-Koporye and river sectors.
On that day I visited the cruiser Maxim Gorky. Nobody aboard had thought that it would be necessary to send so many ratings to the land battlefront. But the threat to Leningrad from land continued to mount and it was necessary to mobilise all the available fighting forces.
In the morning of August 30, I proceeded to Kronstadt via Oranienbaum. We left Oranienbaum in a motor launch. Though Kronstadt looked bleak, it warmed the heart of every sailor as in the past, because he felt at home there. As my launch approached Peter I Harbour I could not help noticing that the traffic there was unusually lively. Launches and tugs were pursuing their courses. The battleship Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya was moored on the roads, another battleship—the Marat—was moored with its stern to the jetty in the harbour.
In Kronstadt I saw officers and men from ships that had been sunk by mines en route from Tallinn. They were awaiting appointments. They were courageous people who were capable of enduring all the hardships and, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives. But on that day they were in low spirits.
The fleet command reported to me in detail on the evacuation of Tallinn and on the fleet's breakthrough to Kronstadt. I gathered from the report that, though the situation was extremely grave, the command retained control of the fleet formations till the very end. The fleet had not fled from the enemy. It had executed an orderly withdrawal. In that critical hour the command of the fleet and the main fleet detachment displayed an indomitable spirit and staying power. And I was aware of this.
The sector of the front which gave rise to serious concern late in August, because the fate of Kronstadt and, therefore of the fleet, largely depended on it, was the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland in proximity of Fort Krasnaya Gorka. We went there on the following day. On the way we ran into separate groups of soldiers who were heading for Leningrad often without arms. It was precisely then that our Eighth Army was retreating under heavy pressure of superior enemy forces. On September 6, it was holding defence positions between Koporye Bay and Ropsha (15 kilometres south of Peterhof). Later, thanks to the marines, and fire support by the guns of the forts and ships it was possible to stop the Germans on that line. As a result, the front was stabilised here for quite some time. When I was there the situation was unstable.
Fort Krasnaya Gorka and the area near Oranienbaum remained in our hands during the entire siege of Leningrad. They rendered effective aid to the battlefront first in defence and then in the attack.
The period from late August to early September in Leningrad gave rise to the most serious concern. The Nazis exerted heavy pressure on the defenders. The Army, Air Force and Navy could think only of saving the city. Training their guns on the shore the ships conducted area fire at enemy concentrations. Instead of seeking targets at sea our torpedo bombers bombed tank formations. Naval units were hastily formed out of ratings taken directly from their ships. Armed with rifles and wearing cartridge belts over their shoulders the men would go into the assault in their naval pea-jackets and caps defying all the needs of camouflage. They reminded us of the Civil War sailors. They ignored all orders about discarding their pea-jackets. They were eager fighters and they wanted to look like the seamen of the Revolution. The fate of the city of Lenin and of the Baltic Fleet was at stake.
After inspecting the coastal defences of Leningrad and the Lake District I was sitting in Admiral I.S. Isakov's office in the Smolny. (He had been appointed deputy commander-in-chief of the North-Western Sector.) Suddenly the city telephone rang. Taking up the receiver I heard an anxious female voice saying:
"The Germans have appeared on the bank of the Neva at the Ivanov rapids."
On the previous day I studied a map of that part of the river. It was precisely there, but on the other bank, that the Navy was erecting coastal defence batteries. The telephone message meant that the enemy was very close to the city, practically on its border.
I immediately called the HQ. The Military Council was holding a meeting. Lieutenant General M.M. Popov, commander of the Leningrad Front, received my communication with doubt. Though it was a pity, the report proved to be true. Two launches were sent to reconnoitre the situation at the Ivanov rapids. They soon reported that enemy mortars opened fire at them. The Nazis who had forced their way to the bank of the Neva remained there during the entire siege of Leningrad. They engaged our coastal defence batteries on the other bank in position warfare.
Leningrad was in mortal danger. The Baltic Fleet that had just effected a breakthrough from Tallinn to Kronstadt was ordered to concentrate on beating off the enemy. The fleet's long-range large-calibre guns rendered an invaluable service to the battlefront. To help accomplish a general strategic mission the ships trained all their guns on the enemy's motorised columns that were trying to penetrate into the city. To this end the battleship Marat, the cruisers Maxim Gorky and Petropavlovsk, the flotilla leader Leningrad, and the destroyers Opytny and Smetlivy were moored in the estuary of the Neva River and the harbours of the city's commercial port. Out of the Kronstadt group of ships the battleship Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya, the cruiser Kirov, flotilla leader Minsk, the destroyers Silny, Surovy, Svirepy, Slavny, Stoiky, Gordy and Steregushchy also took up assigned firing positions.
Twenty four 12-inch, eighteen 180-mm (not counting the 203-mm ordnance of the cruiser Petropavlovsk) and over fifty 130-mm guns of the battleships, cruisers, flotilla leaders and destroyers were in standby condition. This was a great force. A battleship's broadside weighed six tons. In a minute the ship could shower the enemy with 50 tons of shells.
The situation compelled us to moor the main forces of the fleet in Leningrad and Kronstadt. But this did not mean that they were idle. The guns were always available and, when necessary, detachments were formed to fight on land.
All the efforts of the Army and Navy were concentrated on the defence of Leningrad. A powerful fleet of battleships, cruisers and destroyers was carrying out missions that were actually alien to it. It helped beat off enemy assaults on the city from the land. The guns of ships, coastal defence batteries and naval railway artillery mounts shelled the enemy on land.
Early in September 1941, battles were raging on the immediate approaches to Leningrad. The ships of the Baltic Fleet, including the battleships Marat and Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya, fired at the enemy's panzer columns.
Conducting highly accurate fire the 305-mm guns of the battleships were a source of serious trouble to the enemy. No wonder he committed large Luftwaffe formations to action against our ships. And, of course, the battleships were their main targets. As soon as our ships beat off one wave of Luftwaffe bombers another would follow in its wake. The Marat was first hit with a heavy bomb on September 16. She was anchored in the boot basin of the Morskoi Canal and her guns were firing at the attacking columns of the Nazis. However, the Luftwaffe conducted particularly massive raids on her on September 21-23. She was then moored in Peter I Harbour in Kronstadt. When a bomb hit one of the powder rooms a terrific explosion occurred. As a result the bridge and the entire system of armoured stations were raised into the air and thrown overboard. The battleship was badly mauled. The entire forecastle, a turret and the bridge were destroyed. The Marat settled on the bottom. But three other turrets remained intact, and two months later they reopened fire at the enemy. The Marat never put out to sea after that. Though she remained moored till the end of the war, she continued to fight and to inflict heavy losses on the enemy.
The Luftwaffe launched raids on the ships practically every day. They were particularly massive after September 20. September 21, was an unfortunate day for the battleship Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya. Moored in the Morskoi Canal she was rendering fire support to the land forces at noon. A heavy bomb struck the forecastle ripping up the upper deck. However, the battleship did not withdraw from action. She continued to fight the enemy.
Our salvage and rescue service did a lot of good work at the time.
During the Great Patriotic War the EPRON was already an efficient rescue and salvage organisation. Manned with experienced technicians and divers it had salvage and rescue vessels and other essential equipment. On June 22, 1941, it was incorporated in the Navy.
During the war the service was active in all the theatres of naval operations. It would be fair to say that it had to shoulder an even heavier burden after the war. It raised sunken ships, cleared harbours, repaired damaged jetties and restored hydraulic engineering structures. Here are a few figures illustrating the scope of work handled by the service. The officers and men of the service saved from sinking 1,586 fighting ships and transport vessels with a total displacement of close to two million tons.
The service also helped deliver food supplies to the besieged Leningrad—by sea in summer and by the ice-bound Lake Ladoga in winter. The divers recovered many tanks, artillery pieces, motor vehicles, large quantities of ammunition and food from the bottom of Lake Ladoga. They worked under the ice, in stormy weather and quite often under enemy fire. No landing operation was executed without the service's support. The rescue and salvage crews would refloat the ships and vessels that had run aground and patch damaged ships and craft on the spot. In less than a month early in 1942 the divers laid pipelines on the bottom of Lake Ladoga to supply Leningrad with petrol and crude oil.
When I returned to Moscow, it did not yet feel the immediate threat of an enemy attack. It led a busy, though quiet, life in the daytime. As a rule, the Luftwaffe would launch raids after darkness set in. As soon as the air raid warning was sounded women and children hastened to the metro stations and bomb shelters. Meanwhile the city would prepare to beat off the air attack. By then the People's Commissariat of the Navy had several buildings. The Staff and signal service were in the metro. This made it possible to continue work without interruption.
Upon arrival I did not have the time to hear the report on the situation, when I was summoned to the Kremlin. It should be mentioned that the call came at an unusual hour—at about noon. Normally I would be invited in the evening.
In the evenings and all through the night GHQ worked at a mansion not far from an underground shelter. In the day-time, when air alerts were seldom sounded, everybody worked in their regular offices in the Kremlin or respective People's Commissariats. When I was summoned, J.V. Stalin was in his regular office.
When I entered his office, he was alone speaking with somebody over the phone. After he replaced the receiver I attempted to report to him the situation in the Baltic. But Stalin interrupted me saying:
"Do you know that Voroshilov has been replaced by Zhukov in Leningrad?"
I said I did not. He then explained to me that the decision had been taken the day before and that, apparently, G.K. Zhukov was already in Leningrad. After pacing his office he sat down on the sofa at the wall with the window. This was unusual for him. Stalin then asked me several questions. He wanted to know what ships we had in the Baltic, where they were and whether they were contributing to the defence of the city. I unfolded several charts showing the situation. The islands of Osel and Dago, and the peninsula of Hanko in the west, and the islands of Hogland, Lavansaari and a few others in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland were still in our hands. But the entire expanse of water and the shores between them were in enemy hands. I tried to discuss the situation in the Baltic. But Stalin interrupted me. Approaching a map showing the frontline at the border of Leningrad he raised the question on account of which I was so urgently summoned to him.
Stalin maintained that the situation at Leningrad was extremely serious. As he paced his office he asked me several questions about the composition of the Baltic Fleet. He said: "Not a single fighting ship should fall into enemy hands." Asking me whether I had understood him Stalin emphasised that, if this order were not fulfilled, those responsible would be severely punished. I realised that the time was not ripe for the discussion of this question, so I waited for further instructions. He said:
"Draft a telegramme to the fleet commander and order him to prepare for the demolition of the ships, if the need arises." "I cannot sign such a signal," I blurted out. Stalin, obviously, had not expected such an answer from me. He stopped for a moment and looking at me in surprise he asked: "Why?"
"Comrade Stalin," I began in the usual manner, "the fleet is under the operational control of the Leningrad Front. That is why a directive needs your own signature." Then I added: "To assign a task of such importance a special authority is required. Instructions given by the People's Commissar of the Navy do not carry enough weight."
After a moment's thought Stalin ordered me to go to the Chief of General Staff and to draft a telegramme which is to be signed by two persons—Marshal B.M. Shaposhnikov and myself. I could not object to that. Boris Mikhailovich said what I thought he would say. "Why, my dear friend!" he exclaimed in surprise, when I repeated Stalin's order to him. "This is a purely naval matter. I shall not affix my signature to it." "But this is Comrade Stalin's order," I repeated. He changed his tone. We began to discuss the matter to arrive at the best solution. We decided to draft a telegramme together and then to go to Stalin together to persuade him to sign it.
Stalin agreed, but kept the document. It is common knowledge now that Winston S. Churchill knew about the critical situation of Leningrad and the possible destruction of the Baltic Fleet. If the Soviet ships were to be demolished in Leningrad he proposed to compensate for part of the damage. The Soviet government then replied that, if the fleet were to be destroyed, the USSR should be compensated for the loss at Germany's expense after the war.
[Correspondence Between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR and the Presidents of the USA and the Prime Minister of Great Britain During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, Vol. I, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1957, p. 25.]
One can easily imagine how the command of the Baltic Fleet felt about the execution of the directive on preparations for the destruction of the ships. But war is war. Though it made them sick at heart, the command and staff of the fleet produced a detailed plan, appointed reliable persons to execute it, and made provisions for the prevention of panic and negative sentiments. September was indeed a grim month for the Baltic Fleet.
Holding out Till the Last Possibility
The defence of besieged Sevastopol and of the Caucasian coast which was situated rather far away from the naval bases was a heroic feat. GHQ, Supreme Command, and the General Staff did not limit themselves to the issue of directives. They carefully studied the state of affairs in Sevastopol both in the context of the general situation on the battlefront and of the conditions on the southern flank.
The role of Sevastopol as a naval base which formed an element of the entire defence system of the Black Sea coast was repeatedly discussed before the war. The fleet was responsible for the defence of the coast from the sea. But the fleet command exercised authority only over separate coastal areas where ships had bases and where coastal defence batteries were being established. Among these the main were Sevastopol, Odessa, Kerch, Novorossiisk, Batumi and Poti. The experience of the siege of Sevastopol in the 19th century and of the Second World War in Europe showed that it was necessary to organise a perimeter defence system around the city. Already then (i. e. before the war) the ground was reconnoitred and the defensive lines were plotted. But we proceeded with the organisation of positions only after the war began. As the Germans drove towards the city we had to put more effort into the works. The fleet Military Council put increasing numbers of servicemen and local civilians on the job. The main defence line was being built at a distance of ten to twelve kilometres from the city. The rear defence line was to be somewhat closer, i. e. at a distance of three to six kilometres from the city. By the time the enemy forced his way into the Crimea the works were well underway. What was accomplished was largely due to the efforts of General A.F. Khrenov. The Coastal Army could not have put up such a tough resistance, if all the defence lines had not been duly fortified with engineer works. General A.F. Khrenov, future deputy commander of the Sevastopol Defence Area for engineer support, personally inspected all the defence lines on land and ensured the fulfilment of all top priority works. Hundreds of permanent and earth-and-timber weapon emplacements were completed, but not manned because the fleet was short of manpower. Naval units manned only some of the fortifications. In September-October 1941, there were only about 5,000 officers and men on the defensive positions. But to assure the reliable defence of the city at least 10,000 were needed.
Sevastopol had a powerful coastal defence system. It comprised eleven large- and medium-calibre batteries (not to mention batteries of a smaller calibre) which could conduct fire at sea and land targets. The main fleet detachment could be employed too. It was made up of a battleship, several cruisers and destroyers. The fleet air arm was battleworthy too. Its main weakness was shortage of airfields. The ground near Sevastopol made it impossible to build good runways of the required length. But if the enemy undertook an offensive on Sevastopol from land, the army and naval units manning the defensive lines would play the main role in the city's defence. Without them all the efforts of the ships and coastal defence batteries would have been futile.
Army formations were needed badly. Though the sailors were eager to defend their city, though they were brave and gallant fighters, they had not been duly trained for fighting on land. This applied above all to the command personnel. No wonder I.V. Rogov, my deputy, sent me a telegramme from Sevastopol staling that the "seamen detailed to fight on defence positions on land asked for an experienced Army commander".
Not only we, but also the enemy was aware of the strategic importance of Sevastopol. Sevastopol acquired particular consequence for the Nazis, when the battlefront reached the Sea of Azov.
GHQ, Supreme Command, gave thought to Sevastopol, when the battles for Odessa were still going on. Sometimes questions bearing on the defence of Sevastopol would be decided with the command of the fronts. But, as a rule, the General Staff studied and prepared pertinent proposals together with the Naval Staff. A study of the correspondence between the People's Commissariat of the Navy and the command of the Black Sea (which was very lively during the harassing trial Sevastopol stood up to) has given me a better idea of the vast volume of work accomplished by the city and the fleet to enable the garrison to brave the siege for such a long time.
The storm of events developed somewhat unexpectedly and rapidly. Leaving the besieged Odessa belund its lines the Eleventh German Army forged ahead to the Crimea. The direction of the enemy attack—on the isthmus of Perekop— became evident in the beginning of September. The threat to Sevastopol steadily mounted. On September 12, 1941, Coastal Defence Battery No. 725 located at Perekop fired its first salvo at the enemy.
The isthmus of Perekop the enemy had approached became, so to say, Sevastopol's outpost area. Being narrow the isthmus made it possible to build elaborate fortifications to thwart the enemy's breakthrough into the Crimea. But the enemy's approach was not expected. Therefore, the necessary measures were not taken at the right time.
The fleet command offered to reinforce the Fifty First Army holding the defences in the isthmus with naval units. The 122nd Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment comprising three artillery battalions was sent to the forward defence line. Eight medium-calibre coastal defence batteries were installed on the shore of the Sivash and on Perekop positions. The fleet placed under the Fifty First Army an armoured train manned exclusively by naval personnel. An air task force of the Black Sea Fleet air arm was assigned to support the army. When a critical situation developed on the Ishun positions in the latter half of October, the 7th Marine Brigade was sent there.
The command pinned high hopes on the Coastal Army which had been evacuated from Odessa. A part of it was already committed to action. But the main body was still on the march to the scene of the fighting in the isthmus of Perekop.
Having penetrated the Ishun positions the Eleventh German Army appeared in the plains. Its formations launched attacks on Saki and Bakhchisaray to prevent our forces from withdrawing to Sevastopol and Alushta, and to straddle the highway to Kerch.
The Fifty First Army was retreating to the Kerch Peninsula. It was ordered to defend it staunchly. The Coastal Army was instructed to retreat to Sevastopol.
Engaging the enemy in rearguard action the Coastal Army and marine units forced the enemy to detour. This slowed down his advance on Sevastopol.
On October 30, Rear Admiral I.D. Yeliseyev, chief of staff and acting commander of the Black Sea Fleet, convened a conference at Sevastopol of the formation commanders, commissars, heads of political departments and chiefs of the fleet's services. The conference worked out a whole range of measures intended to strengthen the city's defences.
By October 30, the forces defending the main base comprised two battalions of a local infantry regiment, the 2nd and 3rd Marine Regiments, crews of permanent weapon emplacements and several artillery subunits. A total of 12,000 troops including nearly 700 officers. The coastal defence batteries were in stand-by condition.
To beat off the enemy's first onslaught it was necessary at least to double the strength of the defenders. The immediate reserves were the Black Sea Fleet's training detachment, coastal defence artillery school, the air arm's airfield units, and a school of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. These commands were immediately ordered to form marine battalions. They had an overall strength of 3,500 officers and men.
On October 31, the 8th Marine Brigade (with a strength of close to 3,500 officers and men) was to arrive from Novoros-siisk and a battalion of the Danubian Naval Flotilla was to be moved from the Tendra Spit defence sector. But even these reinforcements were insufficient. The defenders were short of about 5,000 officers and men. It was necessary to form as quickly as possible more units out of garrisons evacuated to Sevastopol. But there were not enough weapons to go around.
On October 30, an event occurred that marked the beginning of the heroic 250-day defence of Sevastopol. Coastal Defence Battery No. 54 located in proximity of the village of Nikolayevka somewhat north of the city opened fire at an advancing enemy panzer column. This took place at 1635 hours. The enemy halted his advance for a while. But then bringing up fresh reinforcements he renewed the assault. Soon the other defenders of Sevastopol engaged the enemy. Coastal defence batteries successfully continued to beat off enemy assaults.
After fierce battles with the attacking enemy in the north of the Crimea the Coastal Army had suffered serious losses in power. It received replacements. Being badly understrength and suffering from overfatigue it could not stem the enemy onslaught. Addressing the Black Sea Fleet Military Council on November 5, General Ivan Y. Petrov, commander of the Coastal Army, admitted that his "army could hold Sevastopol only on the basis of the defence works created by the fleet."
Units that had just arrived in Sevastopol, several thousand officers and men of the Sevastopol garrison and the 7th Marine Brigade were incorporated in the Coastal Army. Ignoring battle fatigue the gallant officers and men of the Coastal Army manned the perimeter defence lines.
Early in November 1941, the Military Council was instructed to move from Sevastopol the fleet's forces that were not essential for the city's defence.
But these orders were not carried out overnight. On November 4, the fleet commander sent a signal to J. V. Stalin and the People's Commissar of the Navy staling that the situation had seriously worsened. He, therefore, proposed to shift from Sevastopol the fleet's main fighting units and to disperse them at the naval bases on the coast of the Caucasus. The fleet commander proposed that Rear Admiral G.V. Zhukov should be appointed commander of the defence of the main base and endowed with powers of a deputy fleet commander. All the land units should be subordinated to him. The fleet commander further requested permission to transfer the Black Sea Fleet command post to Tuapse as originally planned.
The telegramme being addressed to Stalin, I could not reply to it without the latter's instructions. Since I was in Arkhangelsk, it was rather difficult to obtain them from the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
I returned to Moscow in the evening of November 5. I exchanged views with the chief of Naval Staff on the organisation of the defence of Sevastopol.
On November 6, F.S. Oktyabrski, Black Sea Fleet commander, sent another signal. This time it was addressed to Stalin alone. He wrote that the situation in Sevastopol being critical, he moved practically all the submarines and main surface forces from the main base to bases on the Caucasian coast. The signal further read:
"I have appointed Rear Admiral G.V. Zhukov my deputy for defence of the main base."
In conclusion he stated that the fleet command post would be shifted to Tuapse.
Having discussed in detail with the senior officers of the Naval Staff and Admiral L.M. Galler the situation in Sevastopol, I arrived at the conclusion that in these conditions the fleet Military Council alone could effectively control the defence of the city. I remember we mentioned the ships that should be left at Sevastopol. I thought it right to withdraw the gunnery ships last, though they had to take the risk of being destroyed by the Luftwaffe. After the war, when the defence of Sevastopol was already history and experience showed that ships' guns were needed for the defence of the Caucasian coast, I was criticised for my wartime actions. But even today I think that the steps I took were correct.
I was sure that the fleet commander alone could effectively direct guidance of Sevastopol's defence. I, therefore, requested the General Staff urgently to look into the matter. It was up to GHQ to approve our decision. B.M. Shaposhnikov, Chief of General Staff, agreed with me.
A draft directive initialled by B.M. Shaposhnikov and myself was forwarded to Stalin's secretariat for approval by GHQ.
On November 7, a telegramme was forwarded to G.I. Levchenko. It was signed by Stalin, Shaposhnikov and the present author. To hold the enemy in the Crimea and to prevent him from invading the Caucasus via the Taman Peninsula GHQ, Supreme Command, ordered the Black Sea Fleet to defend Sevastopol and the Kerch Peninsula. Henceforth this was its main mission. Sevastopol was not to be surrendered under any circumstances.
Vice-Admiral F.S. Oktyabrski, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, was placed in charge of the defence of Sevastopol. He was subordinated to Vice-Admiral G.I. Levehenko. It was proposed that the fleet chief of staff should be appointed deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet with headquarters at Tuapse.
By then the Coastal Army under Major General Ivan Y. Petrov had taken up the defence positions. The units of the Coastal Army and the Black Sea Fleet now formed a single whole. They augmented each other. The valour of the sailors who were prepared to give up their lives for the beloved Sevastopol combined with the courage and combat experience of the men of the Coastal Army and competent command of army officers made itself felt as soon as Ivan Y. Petrov assumed command.
I feel obliged to explain why I insisted on the establishment of a Sevastopol Defence Area under the commander of the Black Sea Fleet. Though the fleet had to carry out many missions, the defence of Sevastopol was the cardinal one. The fleet Military Council alone could commit to action and effectively employ all of the fleet's resources for the defence of the main base. Over quite a long time the Council effected guidance of the organisation of the city's defences, the training of coastal defence forces and ships of the main fleet detachment in competent co-operation for beating off enemy attacks both from the sea and land.
To meet the contingencies of a situation we had to act differently every time. Early in November 1941, Admiral I.S. Isakov, chief of Naval Staff, said it was necessary to make more effective use of the ships' ordnance in the defence of Sevastopol. I agreed with him. The situation here was very much similar to that which had taken shape at Tallinn in August 1941. There we took a grave risk deliberately and kept the big ships in the harbour of Tallinn, even though they were wholly exposed to enemy artillery fire. Ships are meant for fighting and not for reviews.
On October 29, a state of siege was announced in Sevastopol. The storm launched on the fortified city on November 11 raged till November 21. The enemy precipitated assaults on our positions round the clock. Though there were shortcomings and weaknesses in the defence the heroic defenders— fighters of the Coastal Army and Black Sea Fleet sailors— foiled the attempts of the Eleventh German Army to take the Hero City coup de main. It was stopped at the walls of Sevastopol.
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