Black Sea Fleet Goes Over Into the Offensive
In the beginning of 1943 Germany announced three days' national mourning
for the 6th and 4th Armies that were wiped out or taken prisoner at Stalingrad. Though
nobody could yet predict the end of the war, it would be fair to say that many people in
the West no longer doubted that we would win. Hitler and his clique alone were unwilling
to accept their inevitable defeat. The Nazi ringleaders were feverishly seeking for a way
out of the crisis. They mobilised all their resources and called up all the Germans that
were left over from the last "total mobilisation".
The character of operations in our naval theatres and also on the battlefronts underwent a change. Until then the fleets were under operational control of the fronts. When GHQ issued orders through the front commands or directly to the Military Councils of the fleets, it demanded that the sailors should above all defend the coasts together with the Army units and support the coastal flanks. When the situation was particularly bad, the Navy would form marine brigades in pursuit of orders from the Supreme Command. These formations fought like infantry on land. When our armies went over into a sweeping counteroffensive, the threat of enemy attacks on the flanks of our coastal armies from the sea no longer existed. The probability of enemy descents being landed behind our lines was reduced to a minimum. We now had to acquire a new thinking. It was time to switch over from defence to offensive-mindedness.
It the context of the new situation the Naval Staff made a detailed analysis of the conditions on the coasts and in the theatres of naval operations, where it was necessary to liberate naval bases and cities. A whole range of questions arose. What would the missions of the fleets be? Where would it be necessary (most probably) to land descents? What ships should be used in this situation?
In 1943, the Soviet forces were particularly active in the southern part of the country. That was why the Black Sea Fleet cooperated with the battlefronts in offensive operations before the other fleets started to do the same. Thus, the Black Sea Fleet helped liberate the Caucasus and then the Crimea.
One of the fleet's urgent tasks was to attack enemy shipping. On January 1, 1943, I sent a signal to the Military Council of the Black Sea Fleet. It read:
"According to available information, the Germans strongly rely on delivery of war supplies by sea from Romania to the Crimea and the Kerch Peninsula. Attacks on shipping at this time would effectively aid our forces fighting on the land front."
The Black Sea Fleet was ordered to conduct active operations against the enemy's sea routes.
My directive of January 30 and my order communicated by a telegramme of February 4 confirmed the urgent need to attack enemy shipping, employing surface ships and the air arm. I made special emphasis on stepping up the operations in the Kerch Strait to thwart enemy shipping between the Taman Peninsula and the Crimea.
In pursuit of an order of the commander of the North Caucasian Front who was the fleet commander's immediate superior the Black Sea Fleet displayed higher activity in that area. The losses of the enemy in transport vessels, fighting ships and aircraft increased. The fleet air arm launched regular raids on enemy airfields.
In the eastern part of the Black Sea the fleet employed mainly its surface forces and the air arm. In the western part it was the submarines, mine-laying aircraft, torpedo and conventional bombers that were active on the enemy's sea routes.
...Early in 1943, the Nazis were forced to pass to the defensive in the Northern Caucasus. GHQ ordered the Southern and Transcaucasian Fronts to encircle and wipe out the enemy force there. The main part was to be played by the Southern Front and the Black Sea Group of Forces (under Lieutenant General I.Y. Petrov). The latter conducted its operations in close cooperation with the Black Sea Fleet.
The sailors prepared for these engagements with great enthusiasm. Among other missions it was intended to liberate Novorossiisk, an important port.
In the latter half of November 1942, when the Battle of Stalingrad was raging furiously, I was summoned to GHQ and received by J.V. Stalin. He said that the General Staff was working on an offensive operation in the south. He asked me to prepare proposals on the fleet's operations. When I arrived at the General Staff, I learnt, as it frequently happened, that the plans had already been drawn up. The General Staff only wanted to know a few details. In the operation of Novorossiisk the ships and coastal defence batteries of the fleet were to provide Fire support to the Forty Seventh Army in the penetration of enemy defences. The fleet was to land a descent in proximity of Yuzhnaya Ozereika which was to assist the units of the Forty Seventh Army in the taking of Novorossiisk. The submarines and air arm were to disrupt the enemy's shipping between the Crimea and the Taman Peninsula. At the same time the fleet was to assure uninterrupted delivery of war supplies by sea along the Caucasian coast.
Though the plan for the landing of descents at Yuzhnaya Ozereika and Stanichka was worked out in a haste, it was thorough and detailed. It was decided that sailors would be in the assault wave. To this end I issued an order transferring the 255th Marine Brigade, the 323rd, 324th and 327th Marine Battalions to the Black Sea Group of Forces. The descents and ships engaged in exercises in daylight and darkness to achieve efficient cooperation between all the forces carrying out the operation.
The main descent was to be landed at Yuzhnaya Ozereika and the secondary descent at Stanichka. Rear Admiral N.Y. Basisty was charged with the transportation and landing of the main descent. His ships were to provide artillery support to the descent and protect the transport vessels.
On January 27, 1943, the left flank of the Black Sea Group of Forces (of the Transcaucasian Front) went over to the offensive before it was able to regroup its units. The Army was supported by the fleet air arm, six coastal defence batteries and the cruiser Voroshilov. But the assaults were unsuccessful. It also proved impossible to land the descent. The enemy had concentrated a large force on the shore. In addition, a strong gale was blowing and the sea was rough. The wave that had been landed was ordered to break through the enemy dispositions and force its way to Stanichka.
The landing operation at Stanichka was more successful. The arrival of ships there was a surprise for the enemy. The assaults of the descent were effectively supported by coastal defence batteries. Another reason why the landing went off successfully here was that the enemy's attention was focussed on beating off the assaults of Army units and our descent at Yuzhnaya Ozereika. Major Kunikov's detachment numbering 900 officers and men secured a foothold and consolidated the ground. The fleet commander took advantage of the situation to land the main body of the descent there. Thus, the secondary attack was turned into the main attack. By February 15, the beachhead was being held by 17,000 troops, tanks and artillery. It had a frontage of seven kilometres and a depth of three-four kilometres. Owing to lack of forces the descent was unable to develop the offensive. In addition, the situation was complicated by lack of support from land. The Forty Seventh Army failed to penetrate the enemy's defences.
The Naval Staff closely watched the developments and regularly reported the situation to me. Moscow tried to help, although it was difficult to do so. The fleet command was also doing its best to develop the offensive, but was unable to do very much.
Despite this, the descents landed near Novorossiisk played a big role. The beachhead at Stanichka which later became widely known as Little Land compelled the enemy to divert a large force.
On February 18, I was summoned to GHQ. I was ordered urgently to go to the Black Sea Fleet and to supervise the transfer of troops to Gelendzhik, which were to be moved to Little Land.
A group of generals under Lieutenant General S.M. Shtemenko, chief of operations department of the General Staff, immediately proceeded to General I.I. Maslennikov's headquarters. He was then preparing for an offensive. I went by car to Tuapse via Shapsug Pass. When I arrived there practically all the troops had been moved. The last units were already aboard the destroyers Nezamozhnik, Besposhchadny and Soobrazitelny on February 25.
We already knew that GHQ decided to build up the strength of the forces near Stanichka, because this beachhead offered an advantage for subsequent development of an offensive in the direction of Novorossiisk.
By the end of February, there were two-a descent and an infantry-corps in Stanichka. These formations expanded the beachhead bringing the frontline to the suburbs of Novorossiisk. The length of the frontage was now 45 kilometres.
I suddenly learnt that it was proposed to land another big descent there.
When Marshal G.K. Zhukov, General S.M. Shtemenko and I arrived in the Novorossiisk zone, Georgi Konstantino-vich studied at the staff of the 18th Army under General K.N. Leselidze the possibilities for further enlargement of the beachhead.
The forces in Little Land were engaged in heavy fighting. From a hill on the outskirts of Novorossiisk you could get a good view of the whole of Tsemesskaya Harbour. But you could not see the beachhead because it was enveloped in smoke. The roar of the artillery could be heard distinctly. Air engagements were being constantly fought overhead.
During the war, I seldom went to the battle zone together with Marshal G.K. Zhukov. But though I was in his company only a few times, I could not help seeing that he was a distinguished military leader. He had a knack for making a quick and accurate estimate of events and people. He would grasp the situation deeply and comprehensively. He would see the main point, he would trust people but also check them.
Marshal Zhukov and I increased the flow of supplies to Myskhako. The importance of that beachhead was already obvious. As Zhukov and General Shtemenko studied the possibilities for the penetration of the Nazi Blue Line (which the Germans were constantly fortifying) they pinned big hopes on the forces holding Little Land. That was why Zhukov wanted to know all the details about the flow of supplies to the beachhead by sea.
Although it seemed that Little Land was very close to us (only ten miles away from our shore), the space was covered by enemy cross Fire.
G.N. Kholostyakov, the base commander, said that every run to Myskhako involved serious difficulties. Ships and vessels (mainly small vessels and craft) would make their way there only in darkness. To conceal their movement smoke-screens would be laid. Special ships and craft would be assigned the mission of diverting the enemy's attention. Other methods were devised to allow the ships and vessels to slip through without detection. The vessels carrying troops and supplies would be covered by coastal defence battery fire and large forces of the fleet air arm.
Each venture of supply ships to Little Land was planned like a full scale combat operation. The transport vessels and craft, and escort ships would be carefully prepared for the move, and routes would be plotted to take the enemy by surprise. The time of departure would be changed each time, depending on the situation. Reconnaissance would plot the enemy batteries. The crews of coastal defence batteries would take advantage of the wealth of experience acquired by the defenders of Leningrad in counterbattery fire. Our batteries and the air arm would bombard the Nazi batteries. Sometimes short, but violent engagements would be fought. Gun fire, shell bursts, hundreds of flares and beams of numerous search-lights would illuminate the harbour brightly. It would seem that it was broad daylight. While our ships headed for Little Land and discharged their cargoes there, battles would rage at sea, on land and in the air.
Despite formidable odds, we managed to supply the beach-head with all that it needed and to build up a force there, which later helped liberate Novorossiisk.
The Army and fleet air arm fliers provided reliable air cover to the beachhead until they gained air supremacy over Novorossiisk.
Having appraised the situation that had taken shape G.K. Zhukov agreed with us that, at the moment, it was inexpedient to land another big descent on Little Land. In my presence he reported this opinion to GHQ over the phone. Moscow accepted it.
At the proposal of Zhukov it was decided to discontinue the attack on the North Caucasian Front in order to prepare the formations for further determined action.
Soon after I returned to Moscow I was summoned to GHQ on April 22 or 23. Stalin asked me who I thought fit for the post of Black Sea Fleet commander.
I knew that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief was displeased with F.S. Oktyabrski. But I did not know that he was so deeply displeased. The unsuccessful landing at Yuzhnaya Ozereika must have had something to do with it too. I knew I could not do .anything to help Oktyabrski. GHQ had already taken the decision on his removal. I proposed Vice-Admiral L.A. Vladimirski. Until then he was in command of the main fleet detachment. He was a determined and shrewd commander.
Before that throughout the war, not a single fleet commander had been removed from bis post. But Oktyabrski, owing to circumstances, was removed from that post only temporarily. In less than a year, in March 1944, he was reappointed to the post of commander of the Black Sea Fleet. During that he was commander of the Amur River Naval Flotilla.
The Siege of Leningrad Broken
When I arrived again in Leningrad by plane in November 1942, the city
was still in a grave situation. The food supply was still poor. You could see it in the
faces of the people that they were starving. There had been so much bombing and shelling
that the people in the streets no longer reacted to the appearance of separate Luftwaffe
planes and unending shell bursts. Though the city was besieged by the enemy, it was
actively working. The people realised that the immediate danger to the city was gone. The
city was receiving all the essential supplies, though in very limited quantities. The news
bulletins on the counteroffensive of Soviet forces at Stalingrad inspired the
Leningraders. Everybody knew that soon something was bound to take place here.
The Baltic Fleet commander, his staff and I discussed in detail the results of the recent summer campaign and drew up an outline plan of operations for 1943. We attached special importance to the operations of our submarines. We heard the reports of practically every submarine skipper.
Defying the dangers and hardships the submarine crews of the Baltic Fleet successfully attacked enemy shipping in 1942. In the course of that summer alone they sank 56 transport vessels with a total displacement of about 150,000 tons. The Nazis found it more difficult to employ their sea routes for supplying their forces. In the beginning of the war the German naval command complained to the Fuehrer that their convoys were being constantly attacked by the Soviet fleet air arm and ships. They were suffering heavy losses and the German fleet was unable to ensure the safety of the sea routes and thus render the necessary support to the land forces.
Sinking a big transport vessel with a cargo or a loaded tanker is a big achievement. Foreign authors, namely Brodey, Price and Cressno, have calculated that two transport vessels with a deadweight of 6,000 tons and a single tanker carrying 3,000 tons of fuel carry (during a single run) a large quantity of fighting equipment. To destroy all of that equipment and fuel after they have been distributed among the army formations would require 3,000 bomber sorties. To sink these vessels at sea only a few torpedoes are required. Though these calculations are, perhaps, not quite accurate, they are nevertheless impressive. Sinking a merchantman carrying weapons, tanks and other gear is effective aid to our forces Fighting on land.
We took good care of our submarines and tried to employ them with maximum effect.
In the Baltic the submarine crews had a tough time, particularly in the Gulf of Finland. The Baltic is a shallow sea. That is why mines are a tremendous hazard: a submarine cannot dive deeper to evade a mine or to reduce the danger of striking one. The submarine crews of the Black Sea and the North were at a great advantage in this respect. All they had to do was to go farther out to sea where it was deeper. Great depths removed the mine hazard. In the shallow waters of the Gulf of Finland it was easier for the enemy to detect our submarine and to depth-charge it from aircraft and antisubmarine ships. They were hunting for submarines round the clock. The submarine crews reported that when they snaked their way through a minefield, their submarines virtually crawled over the sea bed.
Despite all these difficulties the submarine crews surmounted all the obstacles to get out to sea and to sink Nazi shipping.
The enemy was constantly in dread of our submarines. He spared neither effort nor means to fight them. And he succeeded in many respects. What helped him was our geographical position. The Germans blocked the Gulf of Finland in the narrowest place, at Nargen-Porkkala-Udd, with virtually impenetrable antisubmarine barriers. Later we learnt that the enemy laid two rows of antisubmarine nets and dense minefields. To patrol this zone he assigned 14 patrol ships, 50 odd minesweepers and more than 40 patrol craft and submarine chasers. Unfortunately we learnt this too late. We were punished for underestimating the enemy's antisubmarine defences.
In spring 1943, we lost several submarines as they tried to force their way out into the Baltic.
In spring and summer 1943, the enemy managed to lock our submarines up. We would have been in a tough spot, if we had not had a "balanced" fleet in the Baltic. The missions the submarines could not accomplish at the time were carried out by other ships and the air arm. We did not give up attacks on enemy shipping in the Baltic. This mission was now mainly executed by torpedo bombers and mine-laying aircraft. Owing to the new conditions the People's Commissariat of the Navy asked the General Staff to limit the employment of the fleet air arm in support of the Leningrad Front. A.M. Vassilevski, Chief of the General Staff, agreed with us. From then on the fleet air arm decreased the number of sorties flown in support of the army to 15-20 per cent. The Baltic Fleet command was able to concentrate the efforts of the air arm on missions at sea.
Attacking enemy shipping was a formidable mission. Today our supersonic aircraft are capable of covering large distances in a very short time. But forty years ago it took a twin-engined bomber seven or even ten hours to fly a mission from Leningrad to the southern part of the Baltic Sea. The road home was just as long. Such a mission imposed a great physical and mental strain on the fliers. They would have to reach the area, find an enemy convoy, penetrate a dense curtain of fire and drive home the attack. It is not easy to hit a moving target at sea. The crew has to display skill and courage. The experience of the war showed that high altitude horizontal bombing was ineffective. The air arm employed torpedo bombers and dive bombers for attacks on shipping.
The fleet air arm conducted operations in the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Riga and the Gulf of Bothnia. Our air crews resorted to "lone wolf" tactics here. Each plane had to cover an average of 2,500 kilometres. Most of the route was either over enemy-held territory or his waters. Depending on the situation and proceeding from intelligence information the crew flying a mission would either climb to a great height or fly at hedge-hopping level. The fliers were ready at any moment either to evade an encounter with the enemy or to fight a forced engagement. In 1943, the air arm flew 95 such missions. The crews sank 19 enemy transport vessels with a displacement of about 39,000 tons and damaged six vessels.
In the Gulf of Finland which was closer to our air bases enemy shipping was mainly attacked by dive bombers and low-level attack aircraft. Here their score was more impressive. The fliers sank 23 and damaged 30 odd Nazi vessels.
The big surface ships of the Baltic Fleet could not yet be effectively employed. But the minesweepers and all sorts of craft were kept very busy. They swept mines, and executed reconnaissance and patrol missions. The brigade of motor torpedo boats conducted daring operations. Initially it comprised 23 MTBs, but then in the course of the year it received another 37 units. In the bay of Narva the MTBs inspired the enemy with fear. In the context of the sea blockade the conditions for the employment of these craft were extremely unfavourable. However, they managed to inflict serious losses on the enemy.
Having survived the siege and the blockade of Leningrad the Baltic Fleet was eager to take part in further fighting.
The officers and men of the submarines and the air arm who distinguished themselves in combat received their awards in the Hall of Revolution at the M.V. Frunze Naval School. It was my pleasure to congratulate them on the occasion and to wish them further success in fighting. L.A. Govorov, commander of the Leningrad Front, who was sitting next to me at the table in the presidium, whispered in my ear that the sailors would soon have a chance to distinguish themselves again. I guessed what the general was hinting at. The Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts were to go over into the offensive to raise the siege.
When I met L.A. Govorov later at the Smolny, he said that he pinned high hopes on the fleet, above all on its long range guns. I, naturally, replied that all the fleet's weapons that could be effectively used in support of the Army would be placed at his disposal.
Upon my return from Leningrad late in November I reported to GHQ on the condition of the fleet and its operations. I also mentioned the action bearing on beating off an enemy descent in the island of Sukho situated in Lake Ladoga. Stalin displayed an unusual interest in it. He asked me to unfold a map and inquired about the composition of the Ladoga Naval Flotilla and railway gun mounts in the area. I tried to answer his questions comprehensively realising that the interest was due to the fact that this was the area of contact of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts. Troops were already being brought there.
As in the past, Stalin did not let me in on the details of the forthcoming operation. The General Staff acquainted me with them later, when the preparations for the offensive were well underway.
The Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts were to raise the siege from the heroic city on the Neva River. The first attack was to be undertaken by the Sixty Seventh Army of the Leningrad Front with the support of the Baltic Fleet's guns and air arm. The purpose was to eliminate the so-called Shiisselburg-Sinyavino bulge held by the enemy.
But before the Sixty Seventh Army could attack it was necessary to reinforce it. The Navy was to transport all the necessary supplies. It was engaged in carrying out this job from December 13 till the beginning of January, when the lake was icebound. During this brief period over 38,000 officers and men and 1,678 tons of cargoes were carried from Kabona to Osinovets. Of course, the Ladoga Naval Flotilla under Captain 1st Grade V. S. Cherokov had to shoulder the main burden.
The 1942 navigation period was the hardest for the flotilla. In winter 1942, the lifeline across the icebound lake played a tremendous, if not a decisive, role in the saving of the besieged Leningrad. But delivery of supplies and carrying of passengers by ships which were started in spring were of no less importance. The naval flotilla and shipping lines on Lake Ladoga prepared for transport operations all winter.
Transportation of troops and supplies by ships across Lake Ladoga was designed to ensure the penetration of the siege. The bringing in of troops and supplies by water transport was of strategic importance. During the summer and autumn the ships and craft of the flotilla transported vast quantities of cargoes. The front and the fleet were reinforced with some 300,000 officers and men. In addition, close to 780,000 tons of food and ammunition were delivered across the lake. At the same time 300,000 tons of industrial equipment, 271 steam locomotives with tenders, and 1,600 fully loaded freight cars were moved from Leningrad. The flotilla and shipping lines had to exert tremendous effort.
The lifeline across the icebound lake in winter and across the water in summer complemented each other. They enabled Leningrad to survive the siege and helped pierce the enemy ring around the city.
The lifeline was also a frontline. Engagements were being constantly fought on the ice, on water and in the air over the lake. The enemy committed large forces to action to cut this only lifeline that connected the heroic city with the country. But despite his efforts, he failed.
When the time was ripe for the destruction of the enemy's fortifications, the front and fleet commands put the long range naval ordnance on the job. The guns of the ships and coastal defence batteries were trained on their targets. The enemy dispositions were at a relatively close range. That was why the fleet could employ the ordnance ranging from 100 mm to 305 mm.
To penetrate the siege the naval guns fired 29,101 rounds at the enemy. Marshal L.A. Govorov expressed a high opinion of the fleet's performance. He commended the naval gunnery officers for their skill which enabled them quickly to hit the targets.
The coastal defence batteries also did their job well. Our efforts to create them and develop coastal artillery before the war were thus rewarded.
The fleet air arm fought very well. General M.I. Samokhin was in command of the fleet air arm practically during the whole of the war. The fliers had to execute missions in very difficult conditions, sometimes in snow storms with zero visibility.
At long last the day came when the Leningrad and the Volkhov Fronts joined hands. The officers and men of both fronts joyfully bugged each other when they met on the battlefield. This meant that the siege was broken.
The Country's Main Waterway
After the victorious Battle of Stalingrad the enemy was buried westward
from the Volga. But he tried to cling to every inch of Soviet soil. Spring presaged
serious developments in the area of the Kursk Bulge. With every passing day the Red Army
was getting more and more aircraft, tanks and other fighting equipment. The battlefronts
were constantly thirsting for fuel. The Baltic and Northern Fleets having started active
operations, their demand for fuel soared. Owing to this the Volga was still a strategic
waterway for the delivery of oil from Baku.
Our success in the war against Nazi Germany largely depended on the shipping on the Volga. The Germans were no less aware of this than we. In spring 1943, the battlefront was far west of Stalingrad and the Volga. Despite this, the enemy continued to threaten this strategic route. Our attention was then focussed on Astrakhan, where the navigation season started earlier and where a large number of oil tankers had assembled. Luftwaffe bombers appeared there from time to time to attack our oil carrying convoys. That was why, in April, the government sent P.P. Shirshov, People's Commissar of the Merchant Marine, and Z.A. Shashkov, People's Commissar of Inland Waterway Shipping, to Astrakhan. GHQ ordered me to go there by plane too. We pooled our efforts to ensure an uninterrupted passage of convoys along this route. They were protected against the mine hazard and air attacks.
A Luftwaffe Geschwader was assigned the mission of laying mines in the Volga and bombing convoys near Astrakhan.
It would be appropriate to mention that after the Battle of Stalingrad we paid less attention to the Volga. Very soon we were punished for our negligence. The Germans detailed over 100 aircraft of the Fourth Air Fleet for operations over the Volga. As soon as the river was free from ice in early spring these planes started to lay mines on the channels. Late in April-early in May several oil carrying barges were destroyed by mines. The fuel burnt as it spread over the surface of the water.
The movement of convoys slowed down. Forty oil tanker barges assembled in proximity of Kamenny Yar.
This gave rise to anxiety not only in the People's Commissariat of the Navy, but also in the State Defence Committee.
Once A.N. Poskryobyshev, head of Stalin's secretariat, called me over the phone:
"You are urgently wanted. Navigation on the Volga is being discussed."
The members of the State Defence Committee and General Staff were assembled in Stalin's office.
As soon as I entered the reception room Poskryobyshev told me to proceed to Stalin's office.
As usual, Stalin was pacing along the long table, while he listened to a report. Taking a telegramme from the table he turned to me and said:
"I think it is not at all necessary to explain the strategic importance of the Volga route and the shipping on it."
I assumed that the telegramme was about the disruption of shipping on the Volga.
Having asked me several questions Stalin ordered me to go to that place, appraise the situation and take urgent measures to ensure the movement of convoys.
As was his rule, he asked me when I planned to take off for Stalingrad. I asked him permission to delay my departure for 24 hours, because it was necessary to consult A.I. Mikoyan and Z.A. Zhashkov, the People's Commissar of Inland Waterway Shipping. From that moment I wholly concentrated my attention on the fulfillment of the State Defence Committee's assignment.
The commander of the Volga Naval Flotilla was then replaced.
GHQ assigned the flotilla more complicated missions. The commander was to control the German mine hazard on the stretch from Astrakhan to Kuibyshev in very limited time. I thought it would be expedient to assign this task to a more experienced admiral.
I selected Rear Admiral Yuri Aleksandrovich Panteleyev for the job.
On May 8, Z.A. Shashkov, the new commander of the Volga Naval Flotilla and I departed for Stalingrad by plane. Shashkov and I discussed questions of mutual interest. While I was in Moscow, the Naval Staff proposed to increase, as soon as possible, the number of minesweepers to assure the reliable passage of vessels from Astrakhan to Gorky. It was Shashkov who could provide the vessels and help convert them into minesweepers.
While I was on the Volga, Admiral L.M. Galler was acting People's Commissar. Every day he reported to me that the General Staff wanted to know what the situation was and how many fuel carrying convoys had proceeded upstream. The fighting on the battlefronts was assuming ever greater proportions and the fuel reserves were melting. Once General A.V. Khrulyov, chief of the Red Army's Logistical Establishment, reached me over the phone. He had one request to me: more and more fuel.
In very limited time some 200 civilian vessels, tugs and craft were converted into minesweepers. Every suspicious place had to be swept dozens of times, because the enemy's magnetic mines were fitted with counting devices and we did not know, when they would explode. Over four hundred lockout posts were established on the river banks. The lockouts watched for every Luftwaffe plane and every mine the enemy dropped. Thousands of volunteers offered help. Among them were light keepers and local inhabitants. These measures proved to be effective. Vessels were no longer destroyed by mines.
Several hundred lockout posts were established along the Volga within a week. But this was only a beginning. We were faced with more difficult tasks.
Not only the Naval Staff, but also the General Staff and even the State Defence Committee displayed interest in the movement of these convoys.
The Naval Staffs daily operations summary submitted to GHQ covered the situation on the Volga.
It was necessary to strengthen the antiaircraft defence of the convoys. To this end 200 separate antiaircraft platoons were hastily formed. They would accompany the convoys and sometimes individual barges carrying cargoes of specal value. In addition, 15 bank-based antiaircraft batteries were formed to protect the convoy anchorages.
The flotilla not only had to escort the convoys, but also to watch and protect the channels. This mission was assigned to 25 well-armed antiaircraft ships and 55 craft of various types. We thus forced the enemy to drop his bombs or mines from greater altitudes to the detriment of accuracy. The Luftwaffe scored fewer hits. The mines would usually fall outside the channels. The naval flotilla escorted every convoy from Astrakhan to the port of destination. The escort ships and craft would beat off Luftwaffe attacks on vessels with valuable cargoes.
The air raids on Saratov and Engels were the enemy's last attempts to gain control over the Volga. In those days Ribben-trop said:
"As soon as we gain control over the country's main transport artery-the Volga-we shall deal at our most dangerous enemy a blow from which he will not be able to recover."
But he was indulging in wishful thinking. The enemy's attempts were foiled. Our Supreme Command was just as aware as Ribbentrop of the strategic importance of this transport artery and took timely measures to protect it. The officers and men of the Volga Naval Flotilla realised this too. They often took mortal risks to assure uninterrupted flow of supplies on the Volga. Though we lost several minesweepers in fighting the mine hazard, the flotilla commander reported to me that " not a single fuel tanker barge was destroyed by mines". In June, the shipping plans were fulfilled only 70 per cent. However, in July, they were carried out in full. It gave me pleasure to report to A.I. Mikoyan on the transportation of supplies. In summer 8,000 vessels navigated the river. They delivered seven million tons of oil products. This showed that the Volga Naval Flotilla lived up to its duty in the trying summer of 1943. In the middle of August Stalin once asked me:
"What is the situation on the Volga?" "Not bad, I think," I replied.
The Supreme Commander-in-Chief commended the sailors on their performance. He said:
"They too have contributed to the victory on the Kursk Bulge. Pass that on to them."
The Nazis could not stand the strain in the fight for the Volga route, so they gave it up. To tell the truth, it once seemed to us that if the enemy laid another one or two hundred mines he would be able to stop the traffic on the river. Nobody else but us knew this.
In autumn 1943, the channels of the Volga were quite safe. But the flotilla continued to sweep the suspicious areas.
It is difficult to say who distinguished himself in this dangerous undertaking. Everybody took risks. It would be appropriate to mention that a sizable portion of the minesweeper crews was made up of girls who served as ratings. The commanding officers said that as far as courage went they were no inferior to men. The minesweepers continued to clear the Volga of mines for a long time. Meanwhile the battlefront moved farther and farther westward.
Landing a Descent in the Port of Novorossiisk
The preparations for another offensive in the Northern Caucasus lasted
In the latter half of August, A.I. Antonov, deputy Chief of General Staff, invited me. He gave me a general outline of the operation without mentioning any dates. He said I would, apparently, be summoned to GHQ.
When I returned to my office, the chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral L.M. Galler and I unfolded a map to form a concept of the future battle for the liberation of Novorossiisk. We had all the information we needed about our forces in the Black Sea zone.
That same evening I was summoned to GHQ. It was said that Novorossiisk was a highly important port. GHQ wanted to know what aid the Black Sea Fleet could render to the Army in the liberation of the town. I set forth our preliminary estimates.
"No need to hurry," I was told. "Go to the south and study the situation there, on the spot."
I knew that Stalin was very strict about matters of secrecy with respect to forthcoming operations. I, therefore, did not even ask about the details of the plan. I decided to learn what I could from my officers who served at the General Staff (this was a reliable way of getting to know something). But it turned out that they did not know anything either.
On August 19, I departed by plane for Krasnodar, where Colonel General I.Y. Petrov, commander of the North Caucasion Front, had established his headquarters.
Before piercing the German Blue Line it was intended to liberate Novorossiisk. Our forces were to launch surprise attacks on the enemy's forces in the town simultaneously from three directions-from the east, south-west and south. The attacks were to be precipitated both from the land and sea. The eastern group of the Eighteenth Army was to attack from the east, its western group, including the 83rd Marine Brigade, was to strike from the south-west, i. e. from the Myskhako beachhead. And from the sea the fleet was to land a descent. The fleet staff and the staff of the Novorossiisk Naval Base were diligently working on the plans for the operation. The main question was where the descent should be landed and what ships should carry out this mission. We adopted a daring ram to break through the obstacles and to destroy the breakwater with torpedoes. The MTBs were to carry one wave of the descent and to land it directly on the jetties. I ordered the fleet command and the command of the Novorossiisk Naval Base to use the time they had for drills and coordination of all matters with the army command. K.N. Leselidze, commander of the Army, knew the value of Army-Navy cooperation. He saw to it that the Army and naval officers formed a partnership.
The fleet command selected about 150 MTBs, craft and motor launches which were formed into detachments for landing the descent, support of the landing and medical support. One hundred and forty eight aircraft were to support the descent.
In the night of September 9-10, the landing troops embarked in Gelendzhik. When the ships and craft assembled at the line of departure several hours later, the artillery preparation began. The air arm stepped up its attacks. At the same time the support ships headed for the objects of attack. Nine motor torpedo boats of the penetration group attacked the weapon emplacements on the breakwaters and approached the harbour booms. There they landed the assault groups, quickly demolished the boom defences and signalled that the entrance to the port was open. At that moment 13 motor torpedo boats attacked the enemy's shore installations. Several minutes later the third group of MTBs rushed into the harbour at full speed. They fired torpedoes and the jetties and descent landing areas.
After a four minute interval craft carrying the descent started to enter the harbour. The assault wave managed to beat off the enemy's desperate attacks. About 4,000 officers and men were landed ashore.
While the landing operation was underway, the eastern and western groups of the Eighteenth Army went over into the offensive. But they were unable to effect a breakthrough. This placed the descent in a most difficult situation. The enemy launched a series of counterassaults committing tanks and assault guns to action. The assault wave fought heroically. Supported by gunfire and aircraft the landed troops firmly held their ground.
To develop the success achieved Vice Admiral L.A. Vladimirski, the fleet commander, ordered the follow up force to be landed in the night of September 10-11. This descent helped the eastern group penetrate the enemy's defences in the direction of the main attack. Fearing encirclement, the Nazis withdrew. On September 16, Novorossiisk was wholly cleared of the enemy.
The liberation of Novorossiisk played a big role in the battle of the Caucasus and in the developments on the whole of the southern flank of the Soviet-German Front.
The Novorossiisk Operation was a very complicated one, which was difficult to carry out. I have already pointed out that the enemy fortified his defence positions both from the land and the sea. He built up a strong perimeter defence system. The Nazis turned Novorossiisk into a powerful fortress. A distinguishing feature of the Novorossiisk operation was that the town was stormed simultaneously from the land and the sea. The fleet played an outstanding role in it. Out of 6,000 officers and men forming the descent two out of every three, i.e. 4,000, were sailors. Matters bearing on cooperation of forces attacking from all directions-both from the sea and the land, including from the Little Land beachhead-were carefully thought out and elaborated. Novorossiisk was liberated by various arms of the Army and Navy. It should be mentioned that they acted simultaneously, and their actions were well coordinated.
On the day Novorossiisk was liberated I was at the Kremlin. J.V. Stalin felt pleasure and satisfaction as he listened to the radio announcer Yuri Levitan reading the Order of the Day of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. Then we watched the artillery salute from the window. The Supreme Commander-in-Chief was smiling. "Good show", he said stroking his moustache. Late in January 1943, I brought the question of restoring the Azov Naval Flotilla to GHQ's attention. The northern coast of the Sea of Azov was already in our hands. The Southern Front was preparing to advance in the direction of Mariupol and further on to the Isthmus of Perekop. The North Caucasian Front was planning to liberate the Taman Peninsula. Both these fronts would need naval assistance.
The Supreme Command having given its consent, I signed an order to the effect on February 3, 1943. All the ships and craft of the former flotilla were to be returned to it. Most of them were forced to leave the Sea of Azov. They were now at various bases on the Caucasian coast.
Rear Admiral Sergei G. Gorshkov was again appointed its commander.
In August-September 1943 the Black Sea Fleet landed several tactical descents. The Novorossiisk-Taman operation was completed on October 3, 1943.
The Frigid Latitudes
Though it cooperated with the Fourteenth Army of the Karelian Front, the
Northern Fleet, as distinguished from the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets, was directly
subordinated to the People's Commissar of the Navy. The point is that its main mission -
ensurance of the safe passage of Allied convoys - was a purely naval one. To get the
convoys safely to our harbours it was necessary to defend them against enemy attacks. The
fleet had to create the required operational conditions in the entire naval theatre. This
was a formidable task. Our Allies contributed to its accomplishment. Realising the
strategic importance of our northern sea routes the Nazis concentrated a big fleet there.
It comprised ships of all types, and a sizable Luftwaffe force of several hundred
From the very first days of the war the Northern Fleet was put to a gruelling trial. Together with the Allies its ships escorted convoys, launched attacks on enemy harbours and shipping. It fought side by side with the Army to prevent the enemy from taking the fleet's main base from land.
The Soviet command hoped that Great Britain which had a very powerful Navy would render the Northern Fleet effective aid at least off Varanger Fjord. Most of the enemy's ships passed through it. But even during the most difficult period the British Navy limited its aid to several minesweepers and two submarines. However, we did not reproach the British for this, because we knew they were having a hard time too. Every ship was committed to action.
Allied convoys were usually formed in Loch Ewe, Scapa Flow (Scotland) and Reikjavik (Iceland). In the beginning each convoy was made up of six-ten transport vessels. Starting from March 1942 the number of merchant ships increased to 30 or even 40. The escort screen would be made up of destroyers, corvettes, frigates, minesweepers and submarine chasers. Sometimes convoys were covered by support forces made up of battleships, cruisers and aircraft carriers.
The British Naval Mission to the USSR had its offices in Polyarnoye and Arkhangelsk where they had radio stations to maintain contact with the Admiralty and the British naval base in Iceland. Before a convoy sailed the command of the Northern Fleet would be notified of its composition, the time of departure and the route. The Allied forces would protect the convoys along the larger leg of the route. The Northern Fleet would join the escort screen on the approaches to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. [To be more exact, the Northern Fleet reinforced the escort screen from the meridian of 20 degrees East.] Fighters would provide air cover, while Soviet destroyers and antisubmarine ships took up their stations in the escort screen.
In the North the sea routes largely depended on the natural conditions. The British reluctantly sailed when the polar day set in and the sun shone round the clock. As a rule, the losses in transport vessels increased. The polar night was our ally because it assured concealment.
The Naval Staff kept track of the convoys and took measures to assure their safe passage. In 1943, the attacks on our shipping somewhat slackened. The enemy's main weapon against the convoys was U-boats. Owing to the situation on the battlefronts which had become worse for the Germans, they were forced to shift a large number of bombers from the North to other sectors.
In January-February three Allied convoys entered Soviet ports without losing a single transport vessel.
For safety's sake the British command decided to split each convoy into two parts each comprising 13-19 transport vessels. They would sail with an interval of four-eight days. Both parts of a convoy would be protected by a close support force of two-three cruisers and several destroyers. In addition, five-six British and Soviet submarines would appear in patrol zones off the Norwegian coast.
Though the first three convoys reached their ports of destination without losses, the Allies said they would send no more for the time being, because the polar day was coming. No war supplies came from the Allies for seven months. The Soviet government were compelled to state to the Allies that the further delay of convoys was totally unfounded. This could be regarded as an attempt to evade the obligations they themselves had undertaken.
The Allies started to send convoys again only in November. Until February 1944 they split them up into two parts. Taking into account that German capital ships were based in Alten Fjord the British command sent a more powerful force to protect the convoys. They would be covered not only by a close support cruiser force, but also by a distant force comprising a battleship, cruiser and several destroyers.
In December 1943, it was necessary to deal with a few matters in the Northern theatre of naval operations, in particular those bearing on Allied and internal convoys and sea routes. On GHQ's instructions I flew to Polyarnoye. The Luftwaffe now seldom appeared over the fleet's main base.
The main source of anxiety was the German battleship (or battle cruiser) Schomhorst. All of our attention was concentrated on the protection of convoys sailing from Iceland to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. We had met one incoming convoy and saw off a west-bound one. Several British destroyers were moored in Polyarnoye. The ships and air arm of the Northern Fleet were getting ready to protect the transport vessels in the most dangerous zones.
It was then that the British distant covering force comprising the battleship HMS Duke of York, the cruiser HMS Jamaica and four destroyers drew into the Kola Inlet. It was soon followed by the cruiser close support force which covered Convoy PA-55A. Soon they put out to sea with a west bound convoy. In the morning of December 26 the British Admiralty informed its ships in northern waters that the battleship Scharnhorst was no longer in Alten Fjord. This alerted everybody. It was clear that the German ship was on the high seas. We received signals from convoys with anxiety. Vice-Admiral Burnett, commanding officer of the British cruiser close support force, reported that he had sighted the German battleship. The Scharnhorst twice attempted to attack Convoy PA-55B. The support force foiled these attempts. Meanwhile the distant cover under Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser was steaming in the Norwegian Sea. When Admiral Fraser learnt about the German battleship he hastened to close in with her. The Scharnhorst was caught between two fires. She was unable to escape from the trap. In the engagement fought near North Cape the Scharnhorst was badly mauled and sunk. It follows that stronger protection of convoys with distant cover was justified. Nazi Germany lost its last battleworthy capital ship. This lessened the danger to convoys from enemy surface ships. But despite this, the convoys were provided with adequate protection. A close support force of three-four cruisers continued to cover them.
When the convoys drew closer to our shores, to a distance of about 30 miles from Teriberka, they would break up into a Murmansk- and Arkhangelsk-bound groups. British ships would escort the Murmansk-bound group into the Kola Inlet, while the ships of the Northern Fleet would accompany the White Sea group to Arkhangelsk. After the transport vessels of the latter group discharged their cargoes the ships of the Northern Fleet would take them to the Kola Inlet where west-bound convoys were formed.
In 1943, the enemy suffered heavy losses from our air arm and submarines in the North.
The Northern Fleet submarine crews secured considerable success. Their operations were an unpleasant suprise for the Nazis. In 1942, we lost several submarines. It seemed that our submarine force would become weaker. But this did not happen. Our submarines went on patrol off the Norwegian coast. They protected Allied convoys and attacked enemy shipping.
When the Arctic navigation season was at its height in summer, two more patrol zones were established for the submarines off Point Zhelaniye north of Novaya Zemlya. The purpose was to block the way for German surface raiders to the Kara Sea.
Our submarine crews hunted for enemy shipping even in Varanger Fjord. But the enemy installed formidable antisubmarine obstacles. A.G. Golovko complained that most of the submarines were lost in Varanger Fjord. We weighed all the advantages and disadvantages and decided against sending submarines to that limited zone, unless there was an urgent need.
During the first four months of 1943, Soviet submarines sank or damaged more than 40 enemy vessels. This achievement was largely due to a careful study of the accuinulated fighting experience. Intelligence was now more effective. The crews were more proficient in the use of sonar equipment in the search for enemy convoys. Quite frequently on a dark night a submarine, having detected a convoy with the help of its sonar equipment, would surface at a very close distance from enemy transport vessels to fire a salvo at point blank range. The submarine skippers were experts in enemy tactics. Nazi convoys tried to keep as close inshore as possible, because they feared air and surface attacks. So our submarine crews would draw closer inshore to attack enemy convoys where the Nazis least expected them. The heavy losses the Nazis suffered off the northern Norwegian coast caused them to detail large forces for the protection of their convoys. They laid additional antisubmarine minefields and strengthened their antiaircraft defence. They also strengthened their escort screens. As a result, each transport vessel would be escorted by three or four fighting ships.
I have already mentioned the fact that by the beginning of the war we had not been able to complete the construction of many ships. When the war broke out they were on the shipbuilding ways.
Though we were now able to reinforce the fleet air arm with an adequate number of aircraft, there was little we could do about ships.
It should be mentioned that some of our biggest shipbuilding yards had to be evacuated. Many factories and plants that supplied components and equipment to them were evacuated too. The war made it necessary to concentrate the country's effort on the manufacture of weapons for the land forces fighting on the battlefront. It became extremely difficult to build ships. We lacked production capacities, metal and power supply. N.V. Isachenkov, chief of the Shipbuilding Department, and his staff managed to complete a few ships, despite the difficulties. This enabled the Navy to get a few more ships during the most critical period. Thus, in 1942-1944, the Navy received two light cruisers, six destroyers and patrol ships, 29 submarines, some 450 patrol craft, close to 300 minesweepers, over 1,100 auxiliary ships and other vessels. I remember how the 100-ton minesweepers were designed and built. Though it was a strenuous task, we demanded that the designers should produce good, battleworthy ships. The naval architects produced the design of such a ship in a very short time. Though the lines of the hull were mainly intended to make the construction works easier, the ship proved to be rather fast, manoeuvrable and steady. Our industry built five such ships each month.
We were building submarines too. Eight Malyutka (Baby)-class submarines were delivered by rail to the Northern Fleet directly from the yard. Practically all of them were built on the voluntary contributions of the working people. One of them was built on money collected by sailors' wives and widows. They named it Mest (Vengeance).
To compensate for the loss of bigger submarines, we had to transfer a few from other fleets.
Four S- and one L-class submarines arrived in the Kola Inlet from the Pacific Fleet. To get there they had to circumnavigate the world, crossing the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. As soon as they completed their voyage, the crews immediately joined in the fighting.
The fliers were executing increasingly difficult missions. During the early period of the war the Northern Fleet air arm mainly fought engagements over Soviet territory and Allied convoys, when they were near our shores. In contrast to this, in 1943, the torpedo bombers would ever more frequently attack enemy shipping at a great distance from their bases. We now had as many aircraft as the enemy - approximately 300. The enemy enjoyed a superiority in manoeuvre, because he had many more airfields in North-Eastern Norway. I shall name only a few: Lakselven, Hebukten, Luostari, Tromso, Bode and Bardufoss. Our airfields were situated at a much greater distance from the enemy's sea routes. Despite this, the fleet air arm fliers fought determinedly for air supremacy. They attacked the enemy's airfields more frequently. Sometimes they would launch raids on several airfields simultaneously. Once in a while air engagements would be fought right over the main base or over convoys, involving large air forces from both sides.
Torpedo bombers would employ daring "lone wolf" tactics. Only the most experienced crews would fly such missions. They would hunt for and attack enemy ships alone without any cover. We should pay tribute to the skill of the torpedo bomber crews. When they flew "lone wolf" missions they practically suffered no losses.
The fleet air arm command steadily improved the tactics of attacking enemy convoys. It would employ more and more frequently combined conventional bomber and torpedo bomber attacks. Our fighter planes whose range was shorter would meet the conventional and torpedo bombers at a prearranged point to escort them home. They thus prevented the enemy from pursuing the bombers on their return route. The air arm would resort to demonstration raids to divert the enemy's attention from the units launching the attack on the main target.
In the latter half of 1943, the air arm conducted operations in co-operation with motor torpedo boats and submarines, which assured success too.
In the course of the year the Northern Fleet air arm sank and damaged 40 enemy transport vessels.
The fleet also had a brigade of destroyers. On January 4, 1943, the fleet commander issued an order demanding that it should prepare the ships for hit-and-run raids, offensive mine-laying and attacks on enemy ships in co-operation with the submarines, air arm and motor torpedo boats. The brigade was also to improve its proficiency in individual and group torpedo attacks, and in gun firing in daylight and darkness.
In addition to destroyers, motor torpedo boats and small submarine chasers were employed against enemy shipping. These craft laid mines on the approaches to Petsamo and west of it to block the entrance to the enemy's naval bases. Our coastal defence batteries were always ready to open fire at enemy transport vessels entering Petsamo.
I could not help admiring the organisation of intelligence service in the North. Air reconnaissance was highly efficient. Reconnaissance aircraft regularly monitored the enemy's sea routes. Unfortunately the aircraft were not yet outfitted with radar which would have been of great aid in darkness or in fog. Submarines on reconnaissance missions were not always able to communicate their observations quickly. The fleet command would, therefore, land from submarines scouting parties at some point or in an uninhabited island. The scouts would engage in observations and radio their findings. They were selflessly assisted by Norwegian patriots. A rather large group of Norwegians worked in contact with the fleet's intelligence division. Radio intelligence was effective too. It frequently helped establish the time of departure of Nazi convoys and ships and the exact take off time of Luftwaffe aircraft even in darkness. It would be fair to say that among other intelligence units radio intelligence held a firm lead in the discovery of enemy convoys.
In those days there were practically no land routes in the North. The Kirov Railway and the White Sea-Baltic Canal were not functioning, because they had been straddled by the enemy. Cargoes for Arkhangelsk were shipped by sea from Murmansk. Areas east of Arkhangelsk were mainly linked by the Northern Sea Route. Transport vessels carrying imported goods from the Far East were using this route; in Arkhangelsk these cargoes were shifted on to the railway. Cargoes bound for the Far East were also delivered by that route. Ships carried food and ammunition for the Fourteenth Army to Motovski Bay. Our naval bases in Novaya Zemlya and in the Kara Sea received supplies by sea too.
Northern coastal shipping played a highly important role. This is evidenced by the fact that during the war transport vessels moved about 1,200,000 reinforcements for the army and the fleet and delivered over 1,6 million tons of cargoes.
In describing the events of the war we frequently mention the names of the officers and men who took a direct part in the fighting-members of crews of surface ships and submarines, fliers, coastal defence artillery crews and marines. But we seldom refer to the officers and men whose modest efforts supported the combat operations and daily life of the fleets. What I have in mind are the personnel of the logistical establishment. I must say that they made a heroic contribution to the war effort.
During the entire war period the Naval Logistical Department was headed by Colonel General S.I. Vorobyov (he was my deputy for logistical support). I always respected him.
I addition to the other forms of support, the logistical establishment and services were responsible for fuel, provisions, clothing and equipment supply. The personnel of this service delivered fuel to the ships and aircraft, fed and clothed the officers and men. When I write about the heroic performance of a submarine, surface ship or air crew, I maintain that it owes, in part, its success also to the men that fuelled the ship or aircraft, delivered torpedoes and bombs, and provided the coastal batteries with ammunition. Even during the most trying days of the siege of Leningrad, and defence of Sevastopol, Odessa, Tallinn and the peninsula of Hanko all the arms of the fleets were adequately supplied with fuel, ammunition and food. It should be mentioned that we had withdrawn from territories where our depots and industries were located. Despite this the logistical support personnel lived up to their duty with honour. They often risked their lives in equal degree with regular fighting personnel. For instance. General M.I. Moskalenko, chief of the Baltic Fleet logistical establishment, was among the last officers to leave Tallinn.
Out of the officers who headed the Black Sea Fleet logistical establishment I best remember Rear Admiral N.F. Zayats and Lieutenant General M.F. Kumanin. When Odessa and Sevastopol were besieged by the enemy the officers and men of the logistical service had to display outstanding resourcefulness to supply the fighting men with all they needed.
The chief of the Northern Fleet logistical establishment was Engineer Rear Admiral N.P. Dubrovin. Though the Northern Fleet did not have to abandon its bases like the other fleets, it had to cope with plenty of specific difficulties. The Northern Fleet conducted its operations in an ocean theatre extending over a distance of hundreds of miles. The bases had to be adequately supplied with ammunition, fuel and food. In appraising the operations of the Northern Fleet we must pay tribute to the selfless personnel of the logistical service.
Assault on the Crimea
In autumn 1943, the enemy forces blockaded in the Crimea could receive
supplies only by sea. It was imperative for the Black Sea Fleet to disrupt enemy shipping.
This mission was assigned not only to the air arm and motor torpedo boats, but also to the
The destroyers patrolled the zone between point Chauda and Point Ai-Todor. They would sail from Tuapse in the evening, appear on the enemy's routes by midnight, and part to engage in a search for enemy ships for two or three hours. They would then shell shore targets and assemble at dawn to return home under fighter cover. The last raid was executed in the night of October 5-6. It is my duty to give the details of this extremely unfortunate operation in which we lost three fighting ships. I was touring the Black Sea Fleet at the time so I know everything about it.
On October 5, 1943, the Black Sea Fleet commander ordered the main fleet detachment to detail the 1st Destroyer Division to execute a raid on the enemy's sea routes off the southern coast of the Crimea and to bombard the ports of Feodosiya and Yalta where intelligence had located a large number of ships and craft. The operation was to be carried out in the night of October 5-6 in co-operation with the air arm and motor torpedo boats. The mission was assigned to the flotilla leader Kharkov, and the destroyers Besposhchadny and Sposobny. All the available long range fighters were to provide air cover. Before the ships sailed Vice-Admiral L.A. Vladimirski, the fleet commander, personally briefed the captains.
When darkness set in, the destroyers put out to sea from Tuapse. Off the Crimea's southern coast the ships parted. The Kharkov headed for Yalta, the Besposhchadny and Sposobny for Feodosiya. At this hour, the ships were, apparently, sighted by enemy reconnaissance planes which continued to shadow them. At a distance of eight miles from Feodosiya our destroyers were attacked by enemy motor torpedo boats and shelled by his coastal defence batteries from positions near Koktebel. In a brief engagement the destroyers damaged two enemy motor torpedo boats. Realising that the Nazis were on the lockout the commanding officers of the detachment decided against bombarding Feodosiya. The Besposhchadny and the Sposobny headed for the rendezvous point. Meanwhile the Kharkov approached Yalta and bombarded the harbour from a distance of 70 cables. The enemy's coastal batteries returned fire, but failed to score any hits on her. Having fired several rounds at them, the flotilla leader steered away from the shore and soon joined the destroyers. It was already dawning. The ships should have hastened their withdrawal to get within reach of our fighter cover. At that moment the long range fighters that covered the ships shot down a German reconnaissance plane. The commander of the detachment ordered the Sposobny to rescue the German fliers. The other ships were to protect her against a possible submarine attack. This took nearly 20 minutes which proved to be fatal. When the ships were assuming cruising order, they were attacked by Luftwaffe dive bombers from the sun. The destroyers were covered by only three fighters. The fighter pilots displayed heroism, they shot down two planes-a Junkers-87 dive bomber and a Mes-serschmitt-109 fighter. But the enemy enjoyed overwhelming superiority. The remaining bombers managed to score three hits on the Kharkov which was now dead in the water.
I was at Admiral Vladimirski's command post. The fleet commander was doing his best to help the ships. He sent nine more fighters-all that were in standby condition.
But it was too late. The ships were attacked by another wave of 14 dive bombers. Two Junkers bombers attacked the Kharkov and the Sposobny that was lowing her. The Sposobny manoeuvred around the damaged flotilla leader, trying to protect her with antiaircraft fire. Several near misses ripped the seams of the destroyer's shell plating on the starboard side of the stern part. The crew tried to control the leak. Meanwhile 10-12 dive bombers attacked the Besposhchadny. Being badly damaged, she was dead in the water too. The detachment commander, who was on board the Besposhchadny, ordered the Sposobny to take both ships in tow alternately. The ships were 90 miles off the Caucasian coast. The crew of the Kharkov mana-ged to repair one (out of three) engines which enabled her to maintain a speed of 9-10 knots (measure of speed for ships- one nautical mile-1,850 metres-per hour). The Sposobny took the Besposhchadny in tow. The tatter's crew worked heroically to control the damage. But the Nazis sent five more Junkers bombers under cover of 12 fighter planes. The Sposohny immediately put on full steam. Manoeuvring, she opened fire. The crew of the Besposhchadny displayed an indomitable spirit in beating off the attacks. But, being dead in the water, she was a sitting duck. Hit by several bombs, the Besposhchadny sank. The commanding officer of the Sposobny radioed the situation to the base. But the message, to our great regret, did not reach the addressee. The fleet commander was, therefore, unable to take effective measures. While the ships were rescuing the crew of the Besposhchadny, another wave of Luftwaffe bombers sank the Kharkov. As soon as the German bombers departed the Sposobny started to rescue the crew of the Kharkov. But then the Luftwaffe launched its biggest raid. Twenty five dive bombers showered their bomb loads on her. Two direct hits caused the Sposobny to go underwater.
Motor torpedo boats, patrol craft, minesweepers and seaplanes were sent out to rescue the crews.
I shall never forget the tense atmosphere at the fleet command post. Reports and orders followed one another. But all the efforts proved futile. The fleet lost three splendid fighting ships and several hundred officers and men. I met G.P. Negoda, destroyer division commanding officer, in Tuapse. He miraculously survived, although he had spent several hours in the cold autumn water. I wanted to have a talk with him. But he was still in a state of shock and the conversation languished.
Later I interviewed a few survivors. It was clear that raids in waters off enemy-held shores were a tremendous risk which required a most cautious approach.
In war losses are unavoidable. But the case of the three destroyers cannot be justified. When I returned to Moscow, I frankly reported everything to Stalin, admitting my fault. He bitterly reproached me, but I had deserved this. Since the ships bombarded the Crimean coast with the consent of General I.Y. Petrov, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief reprimanded him too. But Vice-Admiral L.A. Vladimirski, the fleet commander, got it worst of all. It was a stern lesson which we remembered all our lives.
I have already mentioned that early in October 1943 Marshal A.M.
Vassilevski acquainted me, at the staff of the Southern Front, with a plan for the capture
of the Crimea. He had reported it to GHQ, Supreme Command.
After October 20, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief ordered me to go to the Black Sea Fleet.
"Do not spend too much time there", he said and added, "Timoshenko is there."
He thus hinted that I should meet the GHQ representative. I got to Krasnodar by plane. When I met I.Y. Petrov, he complained that the Black Sea Fleet was unable to gain full control over the Kerch Strait, that the number of landing craft was not adequate and that, owing to their size, they heavily depended on the weather.
The fleet commander L.A. Vladimirski was in Gelendzhik. I repeated the instructions I had received at GHQ. I confirmed that the main mission of the Black Sea Fleet and of the Azov Naval Flotilla was to support the planned operation and that every effort should be concentrated on its fulfillment. Having settled all the matters in Gelendzhik I proceeded to the staff of the Azov Naval Flotilla. On both sides of the highway from Novorossiisk to Temryuk I saw damaged or absolutely serviceable German artillery pieces, tanks and motor vehicles. Yes, indeed, in the Taman Peninsula the Nazis had suffered a heavy defeat. They were compelled to leave all of their heavy equipment behind.
In the Taman Peninsula I met Marshal S. K. Timoshenko, GHQ representative. General I.Y. Petrov, Vice-Admiral L.A. Vladimirski and I worked on questions bearing on Army-Navy co-operation. As GHQ representative Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko was endowed with great powers. He competently settled all matters. It should be mentioned that at the time there were no serious differences between the Army and fleet commands. They appeared later, when the fighting started. In most cases they were due to lack of time for preparations for the operation.
In this respect the Kerch-Eltigen operation was conducted in more favourable conditions. The enemy was locked up in the Crimea and his fighting capabilities had been seriously sapped. Anticipating our attack the Germans were strengthening their defences along the entire Crimean coast. They took special pains to fortify the Kerch Peninsula as the most probable landing area. We had every reason to expect active intervention on the part of the German fleet.
That was why the command of the Black Sea Fleet gave thought not only to the transfer of troops, but also to the protection of the landing ships and craft against German surface and air attacks in the assembly areas.
In the middle of October, I was summoned to GHQ. The preparations for the operation were well underway. I was to report on the readiness of the Black Sea Fleet for the execution of the missions assigned to it. I was ordered personally to effect control over the preparations of the ships and units for the landing of the descent.
The Black Sea Fleet and the Azov Naval Flotilla were to land descents against enemy opposition in the Kerch Peninsula and then to bring in reinforcements, arms and ammunition till the end of the operation. The descents were to be made up of marine units and crack formations of the Eighteenth and Fifty Sixth Armies.
In keeping with the GHQ directive the landing operation was only the first stage of our Army's offensive for the liberation of the Kerch Peninsula. The main purpose of the operation was to secure two footholds in the Kerch Peninsula in order to concentrate the main bodies of the Fifty Sixth and Eighteenth Armies there. The Army descent comprising three infantry divisions with supporting units was to be landed north-east and east of Kerch to secure a foothold in the area of Vardovka, Baksy and Opasnaya. The Eighteenth Army was to capture a beachhead in the area of Kamysh-Burun, and Point Takil. The landing area for a descent comprising an infantry division with supporting units was Eitigen, a settlement situated south of Kamysh-Burun Harbour. That was why the operation was named the Kerch-Eltigen Operation.
The main attack was to be launched in the Yenikal Peninsula (it was to be executed by the descent of the Fifty Sixth Army) and the secondary attack in the direction of Eitigen (it was to be carried out by the Eighteenth Army). As soon as they were landed the forces were to fulfil a pincer movement in order to take the eastern part of the Kerch Peninsula, the port of Kerch and Kamysh-Burun Harbour. It was intended to use these harbours for the shifting of all the other forces of the Eighteenth and Fifty Sixth Armies. The landing of the descents and the movement of the Fifty Sixth Army's five echelons were to take about 15 days and those of the Eighteenth Army-30 days.
Though the Black Sea Fleet enjoyed superiority, the narrow and shallow Kerch Strait created many difficulties for it. The big ships could not navigate the strait owing to the mine hazard and threat of air attack. By then the Germans had concentrated several dozen high speed landing barges near Kerch. I have pointed out above that these small vessels which had been specially built for operations in narrows had good armour plating and rather powerful ordnance. The armament of our craft was inferior and we could not afford to ignore this factor.
In many cases we used civilian ships and craft, including rowing boats, as landing vessels. They were hardly suitable for such missions. Particularly in rough weather.
In a short period of time the Navy assembled and prepared an armada of small ships, craft and rowing boats. The sailors were to pilot these vessels to the shore and land together with the assault wave to secure a foothold. This implied that they would have to withstand the most powerful counterassaults of the enemy.
Of course, the assault wave that was to gain a foothold on the shore was not made up of marines alone. The front command carefully selected men who would be capable of enduring the unsparing rigours of the initial rush.
It was planned to land the descent in the night of October 27-28. But then the weather suddenly changed for the worse. The landing was postponed till November 1, 1943. But this time too it proved impossible to land the descents simultaneously. The sea was too rough. The landing north of Kerch was cancelled and the vessels returned to their base.
Despite formidable odds, the landing in Eitigen was successful. When darkness set in on October 31, the detachments embarked in Taman and near Lake Solyonoye. The equipment was loaded simultaneously. This took a lot of time. The vessels were ready for departure only at 2350 hours. A total of 5,752 officers and men forming the assault wave of the Eighteenth Army boarded the vessels with their weapons and ammunition.
Since the units of the Fifty Sixth Army were unable to land that night, the enemy concentrated at daybreak all of his reserves on the beachhead secured by the Eitigen descent. His infantry and tanks launched ferocious assaults against our descent. However, thanks to artillery and air support our assault wave managed to beat off the enemy onslaught. Nevertheless the frontage of the foothold shrank to four-five kilometres and the depth to one and a half-two kilometres. Our success depended on whether we would be able to build up our force in minimum time.
When darkness fell on November 1, we landed several follow-up waves. Though we suffered losses in the landing operation, we managed to land another 2,370 troops. The beach-head was now being held by 9,500 officers and men.
On November 2, the enemy lodged 20 assaults without success. The following night more reinforcements were brought in. Building up pressure on land the enemy blockaded the descent from the sea. A storm made matters worse. It was impossible to deliver cargoes to the beachhead. The fleet auxiliaries tried to force their way through the enemy blockade. The air arm precipitated massed bombing and low-level attacks on enemy ships. Our artillery heavily bombarded Kamysh-Burun Harbour where the German fast landing barges and craft were moored. As a result, a part of them was destroyed. But we were not able to break the blockade completely. Every time our ships and craft headed for Eitigen they ran into fierce enemy opposition.
In the night of November 2-3, we landed a force in proximity of Gleika, Zhukovka and Opasnaya. The enemy was forced to move a part of his forces there. This somewhat eased off the pressure on the Eitigen descent. But as soon as the Nazis managed to stop the advance of our forces east of Kerch, they renewed the assaults against the Eitigen units with mounting intensity. The descent under V.F. Gladkov, Hero of the Soviet Union, beat off all the assaults and held its ground till December 1. But then the enemy shifted to Eitigen the 6th Romanian Cavalry Division and a composite German regiment. Paying a high price in blood he managed to penetrate our descent's defences. Our units were running out of ammunition.
By then the Eitigen descent had accomplished its main mission. It had ensured the successful landing of the Fifty Sixth Army's force on the sector of the main attack. The officer in command of the operation ordered the descent to withdraw from the beachhead. But the ships were unable to approach the embarkation area. The descent, therefore, penetrated the dispositions of the enemy's covering detachment and tried to enter into contact with the main body by land. On December 7, the descent entered Kerch.
The appearance of Soviet forces in Kerch was a shock to the enemy. When the Nazis recovered from it, they launched an attack on Mount Mithridates where the descent organised a perimeter defence. However, our units were forced to withdraw to the port and organise a defence on the water-front.
The Azov Naval Flotilla played a big role in the Kerch-Eitigen Operation. Its ships and craft landed the units of the Fifty Sixth Army. The assault wave was made up of sailors and crack Army units. They were to secure a foothold on the beach to assure the landing and advance of the follow-up waves.
The crews that transported the descents in rough weather under enemy fire displayed admirable fortitude.
In the night of November 1-2, the Naval Flotilla landed a descent north-east of Kerch. Then the follow-up waves were sealifted to the beachhead.
The movement of the Fifty Sixth Army to the Kerch Peninsula was completed only by November 20. That same day GHQ, Supreme Command, issued a directive on the reorganisation of the North Caucasian Front into a Separate Coastal Army.
The Azov Naval Flotilla sealifted a total of 75,040 officers and men, 2,712 horses, over 450 artillery pieces (including 152-mm howitzers), 187 mortars, 764 motor vehicles (including 58 with rocket mortar mounts), 128 tanks, 7,180 tons of ammunition, 2,770 tons of food and other cargoes.
Heavy equipment was transported by small ships. This only added to the difficulties. But the crews managed to solve practically all the problems they faced. They were effectively assisted by Army engineers. Both services seemed to work miracles in loading and unloading heavy artillery pieces and tanks. Though the enemy went to extremes to disrupt the sea-lift, he failed to do so. The newly formed Coastal Army was preparing to launch an offensive.
This marked the end of the Kerch-Eltigen Operation. The Separate Coastal Army organised defence positions in preparation for a decisive offensive.
What were the results of this difficult operation? The descents inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. When the Separate Coastal Army captured the Yenikal Peninsula, the Nazis were compelled to shift a sizable part of the Crimean force from the Perekop sector to stem its advance. The Coastal Army thus rendered effective support to the attack of the Fourth Ukrainian Front from isthmus of Perekop. Isolated in the Crimea the Nazis were being attacked in two sectors simultaneously-the northern and eastern.
The Kerch-Eltigen Operation was of considerable scope. It was executed by a group of armies, the Black Sea Fleet and the Azov Naval Flotilla. It demonstrated the need for effective Army-Navy co-operation. Though there were weaknesses in co-operation, the concerted efforts of the fighting services and arms assured success.
Enemy Thrown Back From Leningrad
When the war broke out the departments of the People's Commissariat of
the Navy and Naval Staff worked round the clock. This work schedule was introduced by
Stalin for the whole of the central administration. You could be summoned to GHQ, Supreme
Command, or the General Staff at any hour of the day.
If it was more or less "quiet" in the theatres of naval operations Admiral I.S. Isakov, chief of the Naval Staff, or Rear Admiral V.A. Alafuzov in his absence would report the situation to me twice every day. If battles were being fought the reports would be made more frequently. Sometimes, afflicted with uneasiness, I would go to the operations department to watch the developments on the charts or maps.
That was the case, when our forces prepared to break the siege of Leningrad. The Baltic Fleet was to accomplish two important missions: to move troops to the Oranienbaum beach-head and to bombard the enemy's fortifications on the sector of attack with all of the fleet's coastal defence batteries and ships' ordnance.
In the operation for the liberation of Leningrad Region the Baltic Fleet was to help move the Second Strike Army from Leningrad via Point Lisii Nos to the Oranienbaum beach-head. The Soviet forces held this area from the very beginning of the war. GHQ, Supreme Command, maintained that it was best suited for launching one of the main attacks, because the enemy least of all expected a blow from there. In the course of the attack it was easier to move reinforcements to that beach-head. The front and fleet commands thoroughly discussed the question of making the most effective use of the fleet. They studied the targets that should first be destroyed or neutralised by the Baltic Fleet's coastal defence batteries, ships' guns and air arm.
The forces were redeployed in a most complicated situation. Though the siege had been raised, Leningrad was still blockaded from the sea. The Gulf of Finland was in enemy hands. The Nazis were doing their utmost to fortify the shore they held. Their batteries were trained on Kronstadt. The enemy's guns were adjusted to fire at every square metre of the Gulfs surface.
Lifting General I.I. Fedyuninski's Second Strike Army to the Oranienbaum beachhead was a feat of heroism.
Everybody-the sailors, infantrymen, inland waterway personnel and dock workers-displayed an indomitable spirit. In Leningrad the distinction between the front and rear was obliterated. Everybody-both servicemen and civilians-took part in the defence and liberation of the city. The fleet sealifted some 50,000 troops, 211 tanks and 670 artillery pieces.
The Baltic Fleet air arm and coastal defence force rendered considerable support to the Army. Out of the 197 large-calibre artillery pieces positioned in the zone of attack of the Second Strike Army 84 were naval guns. They materially helped shatter the enemy's permanent fortifications especially at the initial stage of the offensive. The naval guns kept under fire the whole of the main and, in part, the second line of defence. The air arm strike force comprised 52 tactical (including 22 torpedo) bombers, 71 low-level attack planes, 175 fighters, 21 reconnaissance and spotting aircraft. Based on shore and island airfields the air arm was closer to the battlefield. Since the aircraft could approach the battlefield from the Gulf of Finland, they found it easier to force their way through the enemy's antiaircraft defence system. The fleet air arm launched raids on targets from Volosovo and Luga to Tallinn and Riga.
Between January 14 and 30, the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts assisted by the Baltic Fleet completely broke the siege of Leningrad and inflicted a heavy defeat on the Eighteenth German Army. At this stage the naval ordnance powerfully aided the Army. The naval batteries fired a total of 24,293 rounds. The main targets were the enemy' batteries.
The fleet air arm co-operated with the Thirteenth Air Army of the Leningrad Front. The naval fliers flew about 1,100 missions only at the initial stage of the operation. The attacks of the low-level attack planes were particularly effective. They struck at the enemy's dispositions of the Peterhof-Strelna grouping.
P.I. Sudbin, chief of the Construction Engineer Department, started to call on me rather frequently. Only a short while ago construction engineer units which built bases and other important projects before the war hastily formed line battalions to beat off the enemy onslaught together with the infantry. But now they were returning to their regular job. As the coast was being liberated they restored the jetties that had been destroyed, installed coastal defence batteries and built airfields. Gripped with anxiety P.I. Sudbin was highly strung. He was constantly demanding manpower and materials. He was always arguing with other department heads. Despite this, his eyes betrayed joy. A builder by vocation he felt like a fish in water. I had to cool him off. I told him that before launching a project we should drive the enemy farther back.
During the war the government introduced new awards. In spring 1942, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet issued decrees establishing the Order of the Patriotic War, 1st and 2nd Class, the Order of Suvorov, the Order of Kutuzov and the Order of Aleksandr Nevski. In October 1943, when the Army started to liberate the Ukraine it introduced the Order of Bogdan Khmelnitski.
The sailors wanted to have orders of their own too. Visiting Stalin's office in the middle of 1943 I remarked that it would be expedient to establish awards for the Navy. Though he did not object, he did not support the idea either. However, I did not give up the idea. Our proposal was finally submitted to the State Defence Committee for discussion. It was approved. On March 3, 1944, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet issued a decree on the establishment of the Orders of Ushakov and Nakhirnov, 1st and 2nd Class, and of the Ushakov and Nakhirnov Medals.
Fourteen thousand men were awarded the Ushakov and 12,800-the Nakhirnov Medal.
When I toured the fleets I saw that the men were proud of their awards. If an officer was awarded the Ushakov or Nakhirnov Medal (which were meant for seamen), he regarded it as a high honour, as evidence of his personal bravery and direct participation in engagements together with his men. The marines and crews of coastal defence batteries held these medals in particularly high esteem. When I asked them why they prized these medals so highly, they always said that an Ushakov or Nakhirnov Medal graphically showed that they fought in the Navy. The sailors were always proud of their service regardless of whether they fought in a ship or ashore.
No wonder the sailors who fought ashore and wore khakis always had a striped seaman's shirt under their tunics. When they went into the assault, they would put on their peakless caps.
More Ships for the Northern Fleet
Late in July 1943, Italy surrendered. I was summoned to GHQ, Supreme
Command. My superiors wanted information on the composition of the Italian Navy which was
now a prize of the Allies. This was a difficult question to answer. We had exhaustive
information on the Italian Navy before the war. But we did not know which ships were still
in commission on the day of the surrender. The Naval Staff had to do a lot of work before
we obtained some approximate information.
When the Declaration on Italy was being adopted by the conference of foreign ministers of the USSR, the USA and Great Britain in Moscow, the Soviet delegation raised the question on the division of the Italian Fleet among the Allies. We already knew that by then it comprised more than 100 fighting ships. Our delegation laid a claim to one battleship, a cruiser, eight destroyers and four submarines. These ships accounted for about one third of the fighting capacity of the captured fleet.
Cordell Hull, US Secretary of State, and Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Minister, promised to convey our proposal to their governments. However, the Allies delayed their answer. We needed ships to carry on the war. At the Big Three Summit Conference in Teheran in December 1943 our delegation again reminded the Allies about the Italian ships. The Soviet spokesman added that, if for some reason, they could not be handed over to the Soviet Union as property, the USSR would be willing to accept them for temporary use and to return them after the war to the United Nations.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston S. Churchill agreed to this.
"Can we count on receiving these ships by the end of January next year?" Stalin asked.
The chief executive of the USA and head of government of Great Britain again gave their consent.
However, the actual transfer was being delayed. At long last Roosevelt and Churchill informed the Soviet side that they were willing to hand over for temporary use a battleship and a light cruiser. We reminded them about destroyers and submarines. The Allies plunged into silence again. It was only on February 7, 1944, that their reply arrived. They said that we would also receive eight destroyers and four submarines.
We were a bit taken aback, when we learnt that our painstaking efforts to get information on the serviceable ships of the Italian Navy were all in vain. The Allies said that at the moment it was inopportune to divide the Italian fleet, because it might vex the Italians. That was why the Allies were prepared to hand over for temporary use their own ships instead of the captured ones. The British were to transfer the obsolescent battleship HMS Royal Sovereign and equally battered destroyers-HMS St. Albans, Britton, Richmond, Chelsea, Leamington, Roxburgh, Georgetown and Lincoln, and four Ursula-class submarines. The Americans were handing over a cruiser-the USN Milwaukee-which was also by no means new.
I reported to GHQ that these were old ships. Stalin said: "You cannot count on receiving modern ships. Tell me, where do you want to employ them."
"The Northern Fleet. They will be of some use there. They can be employed for escort duty, antisubmarine warfare and shore patrol missions."
"All right. Transfer them to the North," he said. Our carefully worked out plan for the takeover of the ships was agreed with the British naval command. We pinned high hopes on the experience, discipline and resourcefulness of our men. And they were well justified. Though they did not know the language, our men quickly mastered the foreign equipment. The British wondered how our people managed to take over the battleship-the biggest ship-packed with all sorts of sophisticated mechanisms in 20 days. The British papers wrote that the Russians had sent engineers disguised as seamen.
Such opinions caused our men to laugh in their sleeves. The British were very friendly and were equally enthusiastic in helping our sailors. They were prepared to work with our men aboard the ships round the clock.
The official ceremony at which the battleship was transferred was held on May 30, 1944. At 1115 hours the Soviet man-of-war ensign was hoisted. From that moment the battleship was named Arkhangelsk.
Finally, the battleship Arkhangelsk, having paid honours to the British ships moored on the roads of Scapa Flow, put to sea in the evening of August 17. She was accompanied by a cruiser and destroyers.
GHQ asked for daily reports on the passage of the ships. I had to provide all the details bearing on it.
On August 24, the ships entered the Kola Inlet and cast anchor.
The USN Milwaukee was transferred to the Northern Fleet in the Kola Inlet where she was renamed the Murmansk.
Unfortunately, we lost one ship-the submarine B-1. The cause has not been established.
The British and United States' ships handed over to us "for temporary use" were efficiently mastered by their crews. They served faithfully till the end of the war.
When a peace treaty was signed with Italy on February 10, 1947, and under its terms 33 Italian ships were transferred to the Black Sea Fleet, those ships were returned to Great Britain and the United States. I have related this story in such detail because I remember it very well. In addition, Admiral of the Fleet Andrew B. Cunningham, RN, and Admiral of the Fleet Ernest J. King, USN, repeatedly referred to this event in talks at Potsdam. They wanted to know what our sailors thought about these ships. I had no reason to speak derogatorily about them. We had become accustomed to them. That is why I expressed a favourable opinion of these ships and thanked our Allies for their aid on behalf of our officers and men.
Under the Lend-Lease Act we received a certain number of small US-built ships. Their transfer was negotiated in Moscow. Gereral Deane, the US representative, said we would have to take over the ships in the USA and bring them to our harbours on our own. He pointed out that American crews did not venture too far out to sea in such small ships and craft. If they had to be moved across the ocean they were transported on the decks of merchantmen.
Vice-Admiral G.A. Stepanov, chief of the Naval Staff, summoned a group of officers to give thought to the matter. After weighing all the factors they arrived at a conclusion which was hardly comforting. The chances of a safe crossing of the ocean were rather slim. But we had to take the risk. I hesitated to sign the order for quite a long time. Having weighed all the "pros" and "cons" once more I signed it. I strongly counted on the skill and intrepid spirit of our officers and men.
The first group comprised 12 submarine chasers (we called them BOs-big hunters, though they had a displacement of only 150 tons). Their armament included several large-calibre machine guns, depth charge launchers and sonar equipment for detection of submarines. The group of submarine chasers was accompanied by 12 AM-class minesweepers.
B.V. Nikitin, division commanding officer, who brought the craft to the Kola Inlet recalled:
"The passage took over 20 days at sea. The crews were at their action stations practically all the time. Though the craft were undermanned, they formed a part of the escort screen of the convoy on the route from Iceland to the Kola Inlet. As soon as the submarine chasers reached Vayenga in the Kola Inlet, they engaged in the hunt for U-boats, because the fleet was short of antisubmarine vessels."
Thirty four submarine chasers and 24 minesweepers arrived by the same route in the Kola Inlet after the first group. They were brought in by the division commanders B.V. Nikitin, I.N. Gritsuk, and A.G. Yegorov.
The crossing of the Atlantic in such small craft in autumn was unprecedented. It involved risk and imposed a severe strain on the crews.
As my shabby Douglas plane approached Vayenga the first thing we saw was the rather large number of big fighting ships on the roads. A battleship, a cruiser and destroyers. A whole fighting squadron. More effective protection of convoys was always on our mind that is why the increase in the number of ships was particularly opportune. The Northern Fleet could now detail up to 40 fighting ships and two air formations to cover each convoy.
The tide of the war turned not only on land, but on the sea too. The losses of the convoys decreased. Our fighters and antiaircraft units offered reliable protection to the ports where the transport vessels discharged their cargoes.
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