The Main Fleet Detachment Returns to Sevastopol
In spring 1944, the rate of advance of the Soviet forces on all the
battlefronts heightened. The fleets fighting in co-operation with the battlefronts stepped
up their operations too. The character of naval operations changed. Their purpose was to
liberate the coast and cities and towns located on it. GHQ now paid more attention to the
fleets. In its directives to the fronts the Supreme Command clearly determined the role to
be played by the fleets. Stalin once said to me:
"The time has come for the fleets to conduct more active operations at sea."
He said this, when the army was preparing for the liberation of the Crimea.
Situated in the heart of the Black Sea the Crimea was of great strategic importance. No wonder the Nazis clung to it so desperately.
To make the Navy's aid to the land forces more effective the command of the Black Sea Fleet proposed to move the fleet air arm's and motor torpedo boats' bases to an area close to Kar-kinit Bay. The proposal was approved. Soon after the Kin-burn Spit was cleared of the enemy a newly-formed naval base-the Ochakov Base-was established at Skadovsk. The base had several coastal defence batteries and a low-level attack aircraft unit. Early in March the 2nd Novorossiisk MTB Brigade under V.T. Protsenko was moved to Skadovsk. Though the weather was unfavourable, the motor torpedo boats covered nearly 500 miles in 20 hours. Somewhat later another group of motor torpedo boats was shifted there. The MTBs conducted active operations off Odessa and Ochakov, and later off Ak-Mechet and Yevpatoriya. They even attacked enemy shipping off the Romanian coast.
At the same time the 1st MTB Brigade (14-16 units) moved to an operational base established at Anapa. The motor torpedo boats operating from it attacked enemy shipping off the southern coast of the Crimea.
The submarine brigade based at Poti, Ochamchire and Tuapse was also active on the enemy's sea routes.
On April 11, GHQ, Supreme Command, approved the directive on the liberation of the Crimea. Permit me to quote it in part:
"GHQ, Supreme Command, assigns the following missions to the Black Sea Fleet for 1944:
"1) Its forces shall constantly attack enemy shipping in the Black Sea. In the immediate future its main task shall be to close the enemy's sea lanes off the Crimea. In pursuit of this task the fleet shall employ submarines, tactical and torpedo bombers, and on the close approaches-bombers, low-level attack planes and motor torpedo boats.
"2) The fleet shall be ready to land behind the enemy lines tactical descents from a battalion to an infantry regiment. "3) The fleet shall protect the coast and coastal flank of the Army. It shall aid the flank units of the Army in attack by supporting their advance with coastal defence battery Fire and Fire of small ships' guns.
"4) The fleet shall persistently extend and consolidate its operational zone by eliminating minefields, sweeping channels and manoeuvre areas and keeping them cleared of mines.
"5) The fleet shall protect friendly shipping en route, in particular by providing reliable antisubmarine cover.
"6) The fleet shall systematically sweep channels above all for shipping and shall later clear all areas of mines.
"7) The big surface ships shall be carefully prepared for operations to be executed on GHQ's instructions in the event of changes in the situation.
"8) The fleet shall be prepared to move its ships to Sevastopol and to organise the defence of the Crimea.
"9) The fleet shall make preparations for the formation of the Danubian Naval Flotilla and moving it to a new base."
This directive was based on proposals worked out by the Naval Staff. I was invited to GHQ, when the directive was examined by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. As far as I remember nobody raised any objections. But then the question of employment of big ships was brought up. J.V. Stalin pointed out specifically that we should not take any risks with them. It was then that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief asked me about the ships of the fleets. I could not help feeling that he took the Navy's affairs close to heart.
Out of the 650 operational aircraft of the fleet air arm 400 were earmarked for participation in the Crimean Operation. They were employed for mine-laying near Sevastopol and in the Sulina Canal. They attacked enemy shipping at sea and in the harbours of Sevastopol, Feodosiya, Kiik-Atlam and Sudak. They bombed troop concentrations near Armyansk, Ishun and Kerch.
All types of aircraft were used for attacks on enemy shipping. The fliers employed a new, so-called masthead, dive bombing method. It was distinguished for its accuracy and effectiveness against convoys steaming at a low speed, as a rule. The number of hits scored with the help of this method was five to one as compared to the horizontal bombing technique.
Reconnaissance planes would normally inform the submarine crews on enemy shipping. The routes determined the submarine patrol zones.
The motor torpedo boats were active too. They usually conducted raids in darkness. First, in darkness the probability of Luftwaffe attacks on them was lower and, second, it was easier to ambush or trap enemy ships. The MTBs were assisted by reconnaissance planes too.
Several MTBs were outfitted with rocket shells. The famous Katyusha rocket mortars proved to be an effective weapon at sea as well.
The active operations conducted by the Black Sea Fleet's arms increased the enemy's losses. The former German Admiral Friedrich Ruge admitted that "in the course of the evacuation 50 vessels were lost, including many small ones, partly in the fortress. Most of them were lost as a result of air attacks. The losses were particularly heavy when the steamships Totila and Teja were sunk". It should be mentioned that the Nazi admiral considerably cut down the German losses at sea. In actual fact 78 Nazi fighting ships and transport vessels were sunk. The loss of the transport vessels Totila and Teja with over 4,000 Hitlerites aboard was particularly perceptible.
The fighting on the sea routes reached its peak in the period from May 5 to 12, when the defeated German units herded in Sevastopol and Point Khersones. The Soviet Army was finishing them off ashore and the fleet was annihilating them at sea.
I arrived in Sevastopol, as soon as it was liberated. I shall never forget its ruins as long as I live. Every stone evidenced that the defenders of the city had put up a heroic resistance in 1941-1942. The ruins were still smouldering after recent fighting and piles of captured equipment were lying on the beach. But the fleet's construction units were wasting no time: they were busy restoring the jetties.
The fleet command was eager to receive permission for the main detachment to return to Sevastopol. But the officers of the Naval Staff insisted on a thorough removal of mines from all the harbours and channels. The fleet had a big and dangerous job on its hands. Electromagnetic mines were giving us a hard time. When sweeps were ineffective they had to be destroyed with the help of mechanical devices or depth charges.
At last the day and hour the fleet had been waiting for such a long time came. The battleship Sevastopol, the cruisers and destroyers set sail. They had been thoroughly cleaned up and had been given a fresh coat of paint. Taking up their stations in the cruising order they headed for Sevastopol under the flag of the fleet commander. The cruising order was several miles long. The entry of the main fleet detachment into the Northern Harbour at about 2 p.m. on November 5, 1944, stirred the pulse and gladdened the hearts not only of but also of all the inhabitants of the Hero City.
While I was with the Black Sea Fleet, I learnt that on June 6, 1944, the
Allies landed in Normandy. So they opened the Second Front after all. At last! They
certainly took their time. When our armies drove the enemy out of our country and some had
even crossed the state frontier, our Allies realised that they could not afford to wait
any longer. The war might be won without them and all the laurels would go to the
But anyhow this was a joyous event. Someone brought a map of Europe and began to mark it with a pencil. It was a pleasure to watch spearheads aimed at Berlin not only from the East, but -also from the West.
I returned from the Black Sea theatre to Moscow in the middle of June 1944. I asked the chief of the Naval Staff to give me all the available details on Operation Overlord. We carefully followed the developments in Normandy. The chief of the Naval Staff even kept a special operations map. Sometimes he would start his daily report with the news on the Allied advance in France. But the Allies were making slower and slower progress with every passing day. Finally our interest in the map disappeared.
We could not help wondering why their advance stopped. The Allies had spent a long time preparing for the operation. The British and the Americans had massed a tremendous force.
First the Allies promised to open the Second Front in 1942. Then they postponed it till 1943. Finally, at the Teheran Conference it was decided to open it on May 1, 1944. In December 1943, they appointed the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force which was to execute Operation Overlord-General Dwight D. Eisenhower, US Army. He was endowed with very broad powers. Elsenhower's deputies were British officers - Admiral Ramsay, General Montgomery and Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory.
Operation Overlord is regarded as the biggest amphibious landing operation in the history of wars. And that is really so. Its assault wave alone was supported by 6,939 fighting ships,
transport vessels, landing ships and landing craft. Close to three million officers and men were trained for this landing. To put it in a nutshell the Allies built up an overwhelming superiority in manpower and equipment. In the West the Germans had only about 500 fighting aircraft. In contrast to this the Allies had 11,000 aircraft of different types.
The Allies were in no hurry. Their advance was very, very cautious. The war was fought for practically another year. Our forces had to rescue Field-Marshal Montgomery's forces when they got into serious trouble in the Ardennes.
The biggest battles were fought on the Soviet-German Front. Victory was forged in the East.
Liberation of the Karelian Isthmus
During the severe siege of Leningrad the Baltic Fleet sent half of its
officers and men to the battlefront. Now that the enemy had been buried back from the city
the fleet had to prepare for the conduct of major naval operations. We were granted
permission to return some of the crew members from Army units to their ships. The fleet
badly needed trained ratings.
Though the Leningrad Front had cleared Leningrad Region of the enemy, early in March 1944 it went over into the defensive for the time being. The flank of our armies rested against the shore of Narva Bay. On GHQ's instructions the forces were preparing to liberate the Soviet Baltic Republics. To accomplish this mission it was necessary to redeploy them and build them up.
Early in March, GHQ discussed the operations to be conducted by the Baltic Fleet in the summer navigation period of 1944. The Supreme Commander-in-Chief asked me about the composition of the Baltic Fleet and the condition of the ships. I gave him the information he needed. It was clear that the fleet was to conduct active operations at sea. To get the details about the fleet's capabilities in the Baltic theatre of naval operations the Supreme Commander-in-Chief proposed to summon Admiral V.F. Tributs, Baltic Fleet commander, to Moscow. The Naval Staff was instructed to prepare the necessary materials and charts.
Having reported through A.N. Poskryobyshev on the arrival of the Baltic Fleet commander, I was told that we would be received at the Kremlin in the evening. Poskryobyshev said:
"Please, be on the spot."
The Supreme Commander-in-Chief received us at about 1900 hours. Before hearing Admiral Tributs' report Stalin briefly dealt with the changes on the battlefronts and the prospects for our offensive. Then he stated his view on making fuller use of the fleets. He said:
"The sailors now have the possibility to show what they can do at sea."
Stalin, apparently, implied that until then the possibilities for the Baltic Fleet were limited.
We then switched over to the discussion of the situation in the Baltic. Stalin listened attentively to V.F. Tributs' report. The Baltic Fleet commander assured the Supreme C-in-C that, as soon as the Gulf of Finland was cleared of ice, the fleet would be ready to put to sea to engage in operations. Both the crews and the ships, inasfar as their technical condition was concerned, were ready for action. The main obstacle to navigation was still the mine hazard. The entire Gulf of Finland from Tallinn to Kronstadt was cluttered with mines. In addition, if we undertook naval operations, we should provide for the possibility of naval activity on the part of the German fleet.
Having analysed the situation Admiral Tributs and I decided that above all the fleet air arm should attack enemy shipping. In areas where our ships could be employed, they would support the Army with gun fire and land descents. This would be very helpful in the liberation of the Karelian Isthmus and the islands of Vyborg Bay.
The Supreme Commander-in-Chief approved our proposal. A larger part of the fleet's forces (i. e. not only the ships, but also the air arm which until then had mainly been employed on the battlefront) was to be used at sea. He made it clear that in a short while the fleet would have to support the Army's flank from the sea. He warned us that we should not take any unnecessary risks with the ships. It was vital to clear the channels of mines, and this would require time.
The Supreme Commander-in-Chief formulated the following missions: attacks on enemy shipping, protection of our sea routes, and protection of the coast cleared of the enemy. The Baltic Fleet was to concentrate its efforts on these missions in the summer navigation period in 1944. At this meeting it was also decided that all naval matters would be dealt with by the People's Commissariat of the Navy.
I would like to make it clear that in the beginning of the war the fleets were subordinated to commands of fronts. They were required to carry out missions in the interests of the army. In this context the role of the People's Commissar of the Navy was a rather difficult one. In those days it was the front command, and only in some cases GHQ, that assigned missions to the fleets. But in addition to rendering support to the Army, the fleets had to accomplish purely naval tasks. This was something our Army commanders failed to understand. And in such cases we had to ask the General Staff to intervene.
From the day the war started the Naval Staff and I tried to outline our functions in control of the fleets which were operationally subordinated to Army commands. In practice this was not easy. During that period it was not opportune to press GHQ to change the established procedure. At least that is the way I felt about it. In 1944, the situation changed. GHQ and the General Staff could pay more attention to the theatres of naval operations. At an interview with Stalin I brought the matter to his attention. I asked if it was appropriate officially to appoint the People's Commissar of the Navy also the commander-in-chief of the naval forces. He would then bear full responsibility for their operations.
Though Stalin exhibited a favourable attitude towards this proposal, he did not immediately order me to draft a directive to the effect. He issued a pertinent order somewhat later- early in February 1945. But speaking to Admiral V.F. Tributs he clearly said:
"It will be the commander-in-chief of the naval forces who will assign missions on the conduct of operations at sea."
The Supreme Commander-in-Chief wanted to know in detail which ships were still in commission, how the fleet commander intended to protect the coast cleared of the enemy, and what ships the enemy could use in that area.
When we switched over to the employment of the fleet air arm Stalin made a point we both remembered. He said: "He who has air supremacy enjoys supremacy on the seas". We knew from experience that these words were valid. We then studied the map on the table. It graphically revealed the situation in the Baltic. Our fleet was still cramped in the Gulf of Finland. However, the spearheads on the map showing the future attacks held a promise of new vistas being opened up for us.
Judging by the spearheads on the map, in spring and summer 1944, our armies were to drive the Germans out of Tallinn and Riga, force the Finns to withdraw at least beyond Vyborg and to compel them to conclude a peace with us. In the past, the Mannerheim government was tempted by the Fuehrer's promises. It was only in 1944 that the more far-sighted political leaders proposed to rectify the mistakes Finland had made and to establish peaceful relations with the Eastern neighbour. The Finnish progressives were right in counting on the magnanimity of the Soviet people.
I remember Stalin specifically asking about the fleet's assistance to an offensive in the Karelian Isthmus. V.F. Tributs explained that the enemy still threatened our ships from the northern and southern shores of the Gulf of Finland. "He will soon lose these territories," Stalin remarked. "As to the artillery of the forts," Tributs continued, "its power is limited by its range of fire." "Show it to me on the chart," Stalin asked. Tributs pointed to the approximate fire areas of the forts. "This will also be of great help to the Army," the Supreme Commander-in-Chief said. Tributs departed from Moscow in high spirits.
While preparations were being made for the Vyborg Operation, I flew to
Leningrad twice to meet Leonid A. Govorov, commander of the Leningrad Front. He and I
worked hand in hand to achieve close Army-Navy co-operation.
Leonid A. Govorov carefully appraised our possibilities. Our main concern was effective Army-Navy co-operation. The commander of the Leningrad Front acquainted Tributs and me with the plan of the operation. The main task was: the Twenty First and Twenty Third Armies with the support of the Thirteenth Air Army and the Baltic Fleet were to destroy the permanent fortifications and develop the offensive on the coastal flank in the direction of Vyborg. Two hundred and forty artillery pieces whose calibre ranged from 120 to 406 mm (naval ordnance accounting for more that half of them) were to smash the strongest weapon emplacements.
The Ladoga Naval Flotilla under Rear Admiral V.S. Cherokov was to assist the Twenty Third Army in the attack with fire of the ships' guns. The flotilla was also to execute a diversion landing of a descent in proximity of Nikulyasy-Konevets. At the preparatory stage (from May 23 to June 8) the Baltic Fleet was to transport the Twenty First Army which had been in GHQ's reserve from Oranienbaum to Point Lisii Nos where it would reinforce the Leningrad Front. In the course of the operation the fleet was to support the attack and cover the coastal flank.
At the same time all arms of the fleet were to disrupt enemy shipping at sea, in the skerries of the Gulf of Finland and on Lake Ladoga and to destroy his fighting ships and transport vessels.
The Twenty First Army was moved by the ships of the Kronstadt Naval Defence Area. The ships put to sea at a late hour in the night making use of all means of concealment. The movement of five divisions of the Twenty First Army-about 22,000 officers and men and some 400 motor vehicles- enabled the command to redeploy the forces before the operation began. This helped ensure the element of surprise in the Karelian Isthmus. On June 9, i. e. after the formations of the Twenty First Army had been shifted, the artillery and air forces of the front and the fleet started to destroy the forward and most formidable defence line. The artillery bombarded it for ten hours. The air forces executed two massed raids. As a result, practically all (176 out of 189) of the enemy's permanent weapon emplacements were smashed.
After taking Vyborg the Leningrad Front planned further attacks on the enemy. To build up the strength of the forces fighting in the Karelian Isthmus the Fifty Ninth Army was moved there. Its task was to seize the islands in Vyborg Bay in co-operation with the fleet and to gain a foothold on its northern shore. But the fleet could conduct operations here only after the islands of the Bj5rk Archipelago were cleared of the enemy. He had installed a rather big artillery group there. The Nazis had heavily mined the approaches to the islands, namely the Bjorkesund Strait. The garrisons of the islands numbered up to 3,000 officers and men.
The Military Council of the Leningrad Front decided that the Baltic Fleet could clear the Bjork Archipelago on its own. On June 21, the fleet commander landed a reconnaissance detachment in the island of Piisari where, according to information available to us, the defences were weaker. The seizure of this island enabled us to control the entrance to Vyborg Bay.
It would be fair to say that, though we landed small descents in the islands of Vyborg Bay, they, beyond doubt, contributed to the success of the entire operation. Suffering heavy losses the enemy was forced to leave the islands and the northern shore of Vyborg Bay.
The operations of the fighting ships and air arm at sea were successful. In March-June 1944, the Baltic Fleet with its air arm sank 22 enemy ships, including four floating batteries, and damaged some 40 fighting ships and other vessels.
In defending Vyborg Bay the Nazis employed not only surface ships, but also submarines. But our crews were on the lockout for them. A submarine chaser managed to sink a Nazi U-boat. It settled in a shallow area and we salvaged it later.
This was an invaluable prize. The U-boat was armed with the latest German torpedoes with acoustic homing devices.
We did not conceal our prize from our Allies. Winston S. Churchill asked J.V. Stalin to permit British specialists to inspect the German U-boat. The Supreme Commander-in-Chief asked me for my opinion. I said that there was no reason to deny the request of our Allies. A pertinent reply was sent to the British premier. I ordered Admiral V.F. Tributs, Baltic Fleet commander, to allow the British experts to see the captured U-boat. The British officers warmly thanked us for granting their request, especially for the information about the German acoustic torpedoes. This made Stalin suspicious. He thought that we had disclosed an important secret to them. Tributs and I felt uneasy after that. Stalin warned us that the Allies shared their military secrets rather unwillingly with us. But this time everything went off rather smoothly.
When the enemy was routed in the Karelian Isthmus the zone of our fleet's base was somewhat expanded. Kronstadt was absolutely safe now. The ships gained access to the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland. But the fleet's operational zone had practically remained without change. To extend it it was necessary to clear the Estonian coast and to shift the fleet air arm's bases to the West.
Lake Naval Flotillas
On June 21, the commander of the Karelian Front first ordered the right
flank forces of the Seventh Army to go over into the offensive. One day later the other
formations assumed the offensive too. This order reached the commander of the Ladoga Naval
Flotilla, when it was engaged in combat exercises. V.S. Cherokov, Ladoga Naval Flotilla
commander, foresaw that the operation might be launched at any hour. So he ordered the
descent-the 70th Separate Marine Brigade- to embark and conducted landing drills. The
flotilla departed from Novaya Ladoga on June 22. At daybreak, on the following day, the
fire support ships started to bombard the shore. Bombers and low-level attack planes
struck at the enemy's weapon emplacements and other fortifications. Soon the landing ships
carrying the marines headed for the shore. The descent accomplished its mission. After
landing in the estuary of the River Tuloksa, the marine brigade rendered effectual
assistance to the forces attacking in the area.
A group of armoured boats of the Ladoga Naval Flotilla continued to render fire support to the attacking troops. Meanwhile converted tenders carried troops across the River Svir. From June 21 to 28, the flotilla moved across the river 48,000 officers and men, 212 tanks, 305 motor vehiches, 446 artillery pieces, some 1,500 horse-drawn vehicles, 1,770 horses and 3,350 tons of other cargoes.
Meanwhile the ships and craft of the Onega Naval Flotilla transported the 368th Infantry Division to the right bank of the Svir. Then they landed tactical descents in Lakhtin and Uiss Bays.
It seemed that the liberation of the Karelian Isthmus and of Karelia predetermined the fate of Finland as Nazi Germany's satellite. However, the Finnish reactionary ruling clique rejected the Soviet armistice terms. It forced its army to fight in the interests of the Hitler Reich. Finland's further behaviour- either resistance or surrender-largely depended on the stability of the Nazi German forces in the Baltic Republics. Addressing a High Command meeting at his headquarters in East Prussia on June 18, Hitler said:
"A defeat in the Baltic countries would bring about the following results:
"-loss of Baltic oil shale resources essential for the Navy (in 1944 close to 30,000 people, including 13,000 prisoners-of-war, were employed at the Baltic shale carbonisation plants in proximity of Rakvere-Iohve. They produced up to 50,000 tons of shale oil a year.- N. K.)',
"-withdrawal of Finland-the only nickel supplier- from the war. (Finland supplied up to 10,000 tons of nickel a year-N .K.),
"-loss of Sweden as a supplier of nine million tons of high quality ore a year." The reader has probably seen that, in keeping with the requirements of general strategy, the Navy spared no pains to assist the Army. We created naval flotillas wherever they were needed for the conduct of the war - on the Dnieper, the Danube, the Volga and the Amur Rivers, on Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega. Sometimes they were formed where we had had no intention to fight, for instance on Lake Chudskoye in 1944. These flotillas or detachments immediately took part in the Fighting. The flotillas that had been formed before the war were, of course, better equipped. They had specially built river monitors and craft. Those that were created in the course of the war were not equipped so well. But even hastily converted civilian vessels manned by brave and proficient crews made a sizable contribution to the defeat of the enemy.
No wonder, even the former Nazi generals admitted in their memoirs that the Russian naval flotillas on rivers and lakes fought actively and successfully.
Off the Shores of the Baltic Republics
Our forces entered the Baltic Region on July 9, 1944. Later it became
known that, when this happened, a meeting held at Hitler's headquarters adopted the
"Even if Army Group North is forced to retreat, the main aim will be to prevent the Russians from forcing their way to the Baltic Sea. Everything should be subordinated to it."
The German Naval Command was instructed to blockade the Russian Baltic Fleet in the Gulf of Finland. To this end the Nargen position and, above all the islands of the Moonsund Archipelago should be firmly retained.
The Nazi command feared most of all lest our fleet should penetrate the Hogland Mine and Artillery Position. The Germans, therefore, hastily strengthened it. According to information available to us, from January to September 1944, the enemy laid close to 15,000 mines and antiminesweeping explosive floats. Together with the mines laid earlier the total amounted to over 30,000. During the war the enemy scattered some 66,500 mines in the Gulf of Finland.
Mines in the gulf endangered not only our ships, but German ships too. On August 18, 1944, four German destroyers struck mines the enemy had laid. Three of them were sunk and one was seriously crippled. When the Nazis attempted to lay offensive mine fields on the approaches to Tallinn, two of their destroyers were sunk by those mines.
The Baltic Fleet air arm moved to new airfields closer to the battlefront. This enabled it to increase its range of action. Our fliers constantly harassed enemy ships, while our minesweepers cleared channels in the southern part of the Hogland Position.
Finlands's withdrawal from the war was quite a relief to the Baltic Fleet. The Nazis foresaw this step. So on July 5, a few days before Finland surrendered, the German fleet was ordered to work out a plan for the seizure of the island of Ho-gland and Aland Islands held by the Finns.
As a result of the Baltic Offensive Operation the Leningrad Front was to liberate Tallinn. The Baltic Fleet was to support the offensive on land with the fire of its ships' guns, cover the crossings on Lake Tyoploye and land descents on Lake Chudskoye. To accomplish these missions the fleet employed the air arm, several brigades of river ships and craft, motor torpedo boats and skerry ships and craft.
The Second Strike Army was moved across Lake Tyoploye by a brigade of river ships. In two weeks it transported 135,000 troops, more than 2,000 artillery pieces and mortars, over 9,000 motor vehicles and many tons of other cargoes.
On September 22, the Leningrad Front with the Baltic Fleet's support liberated Tallinn and several nearby islands. On the following day its armies appeared on the shore of the Gulf of Riga. One day later our descent cleared the island of Vormsi and after that our forces took the island of Virtsu (Werder). These islands were of special importance, because we could now observe the developments in the Moonsund Archipelago. We could also establish a base for some of our ship formations.
The liberation of Tallinn was an important event in the life of the Baltic Fleet. Though all the harbours were mined (in the beginning only small ships could use Tallinn as a base) and the city was badly damaged, we were able to control the outlet of the Gulf of Finland.
The Nazis concentrated large forces for the defence of the Moonsund Archipelago, because they covered the coastal flanks of the groups concentrated in Kurland and Memel.
To protect the coastal flanks of the Kurland and Memel groups the enemy formed two groups of ships. The first comprised the heavy cruisers Admiral Scheer and Admiral Nipper, four destroyers and many other support ships, and the second-the heavy cruisers Prinz Eugen, Lutzow, the light cruiser Leipzig, three destroyers and three torpedo boats. In addition, there were motor torpedo boats, submarines, artillery and landing barges.
Our forces were mainly made up of motor torpedo boats, motor minesweepers and other small craft-90 units altogether. By the time the operation was launched the air arm was based near the combat area.
In pursuit of a directive issued by GHQ the Leningrad Front Military Council decided to clear the Moonsund Archipelago of the enemy not later than October 5. It counted on the Baltic Fleet's effective assistance. The latter was to move troops, transport supplies for them and land descents.
It was intended, first, to capture the islands of Vormsi and Muhu (Moon) and then the islands of Hiiumaa (Dago) and Saaremaa (Osel).
By the morning of October I, the island of Moon was wholly in our hands. But then the weather interfered with further action. The enemy took advantage of the pause to strengthen the islands' defences. He moved a whole infantry division to the island of Osel to reinforce the garrison. It had been brought from Kurland. As a result, the element of surprise-an important tactical advantage-was lost. This protracted the entire operation. Instead of being accomplished in six days, as originally planned, it was carried out in 56 days. Hard battles had to be fought in the peninsula of Sorve for quite some time.
We failed to isolate the enemy forces defending the peninsula. Our ships were unable to approach it on account of the mine hazard. We also had to take into account possible massed Luftwaffe attacks. If our ships had got too close to the Sorve Peninsula, enemy artillery would have shelled them.
Admiral Tributs called me over the phone several times. He was distressed because the front command accused the fleet of lack of resolve. I felt I had to approach GHQ. GHQ said:
"Do not take any risks with the big ships. Employ the air arm, motor torpedo boats and submarines."
I instructed the fleet commander accordingly. When I called General M.I. Samokhin, fleet air arm commander, he reported that most of his units were committed to action in the Sorve Peninsula.
After fierce fighting the island of Osel was cleared of the enemy on November 24. On that day the enemy was driven out of the Sorve Peninsula too. Thus, the whole of Estonia was liberated.
I arrived at Arkhangelsk by plane. By then the White Sea Naval Flotilla
had expanded quantitatively and improved qualitatively. They received many ships and other
vessels. The latter were all manned by excellent crews. During the war new bases were
established in the North. This made the Arctic sea routes safer and strengthened the
The White Sea Flotilla formed an organisational component of the Northern Fleet. In 1944 it continued to protect the sea routes in the White Sea, the eastern part of the Barents Sea and particularly in the Arctic. During a single navigation period the ships of the White Sea Flotilla made close to 1,800 sorties to escort convoys.
To disrupt traffic on our sea routes the Nazis would sometimes concentrate up to 40 submarines in Northern Norway. Out of this number eight prowled in the patrol zones on the approaches to the White Sea and on our coastal routes in the Arctic. The U-boats laid mines, attacked our convoys with new acoustic target-seeking torpedoes and attacked small ships.
Y.A. Panteleyev, commander of the White Sea Flotilla, once personally assumed command of an escort force to bring in safely to Arkhangelsk two of our most powerful icebreakers- the Stalin and the Severity Veter. They had completed a tour of duty in the eastern part of the Arctic. Now the ships were needed in the White Sea because of the coming winter, when it is icebound. You cannot navigate the White Sea in winter on account of the ice. The icebreakers were to be protected by eight destroyers, five submarine chasers and five minesweepers. The commander of the White Sea Flotilla flew his flag on the flotilla leader Baku. The escort force sailed. Though a whole gale was blowing, the ships made a rendezvous with the icebreakers at Kara Strait and formed a screen around them. This was in late autumn. It would be appropriate to recall that it is dark round the clock at this time of the year. The sonarmen were reporting on contacts with enemy U-boats. The fighting ships frequently had to leave their stations to depth-charge the probable area. U-boats usually ambushed their victims in narrows or near points and capes. That was why Y.A. Panteleyev decided to follow a route that would avoid the more dangerous areas. The sonarmen reported fewer contacts until at last there were none. The convoy arrived safely at its destination. The crews endured the rigours of escort duty during a stormy polar night beating off prowling U-boats.
In 1944, the White Sea Force accomplished a somewhat unusual mission. It had to assist the British Royal Air Force. The Tirpitz-the biggest German battleship-had taken refuge in Alten Fjord, a harbour surrounded by high cliffs. British bombers could not get to it with a sufFicient bomb load because of their inadequate radius of action. That was why Vice-Admiral G. Miles, head of the British Mission in Moscow, asked me, if the Royal Air Force could take advantage of our airfields for shuttle operations. It was proposed that bombers taking off from Great Britain, should drop their loads onto the German battleship and land near Arkhangelsk. Then they should take off from Arkhangelsk, drop their bombs onto their target to land at home. It was not in my competence to take decision on such a matter. I therefore referred it to the government. They gave their consent to the request. Panteleyev, commander of the White Sea Flotilla, and commander of the Northern Fleet air arm were responsible for providing support to these operations. The Tirpitz had long been a source of trouble for the British.
But it was not easy to sink this armoured monster. The British, therefore, decided to employ heavy Lancaster bombers which were to drop six-ton bombs-the heaviest they could take off with. Forty Lancaster bombers landed on our airfields. They employed our navigators. The RAF bombers flew many sorties and suffered losses. But finally they sank the Tirpitz. The British were in raptures. The King of Great Britain awarded many of the participants in this heroic action with British orders. Among them were several Soviet fliers. Y.A. Panteleyev, commander of the White Sea Flotilla, who was responsible for the shuttle operations on the Soviet side was also honoured with a British award.
I spent several days at Vayenga. We worked with A.G. Golovko, commander of the Northern Fleet, at his headquarters. I had meetings with fliers, surface ship, submarine and motor torpedo boat crews, and marines. The Northern Fleet did not yet know that it was to take part in a major strategic operation.
GHQ, Supreme Command, worked out the Petsamo-Kirkenes Operation. It was to be executed by the Karelian Front and the Northern Fleet.
In Admiral Golovko's office in Polyarnoye I was acquainted with the situation and heard the reports of several formation commanders.
General of the Army Kirill A. Meretskov, commander of the Karelian Front, and Admiral Arseni G. Golovko, commander of the Northern Fleet, discussed the GHQ order. Admiral Golovko received instructions from me too. The officers of the Naval Staff and People's Commissariat of the Navy worked together with those of the fleet. The logistical department provided material and technical support for the fleet's actions.
Meretskov and Golovko coordinated their plans for joint action. In keeping with these plans the marine brigades supported by the air arm and ships were to penetrate the enemy's defence line in front of the Northern Defence Area, throw back the enemy troops and only then to land descents on the coast. The descents were to take the Titovka-Prorovaara Highway and thwart the enemy's retreat from the line on the Zapadnaya Litsa River. Then, joining hands with the units of the Fourteenth Army, the marines were to develop the offensive in the direction of Petsamo.
The Fleet was to transport the formations of the Fourteenth Army from Murmansk to the western shore of the Kola Inlet and to bring up supplies for them.
The Karelian Front started its offensive on October 7. The main attack forces penetrated the enemy's defences, crossed the Titovka River, and our units advanced a considerable distance to the west. The fleet landed a descent in Malaya Volokovaya Inlet. It rapidly advanced southward. It was only after that that the main body went over into the offensive. When our forces broke through the enemy defences in the isthmus of the Sredni Peninsula, the enemy started a hasty withdrawal because he feared that his troops might be surrounded.
That same day a message was sent to the commander of the Northern Fleet. It read:
"The People's Commissar of the Navy considers it highly desirable for the fleet to contribute to the seizure of our future naval base and major inhabited locality in the North."
It was not fortuitous that the chief of the Naval Staff used the expression "the People's Commissar of the Navy considers it highly desirable" instead of regular navalese. The point is that the Northern Fleet was conducting an operation in cooperation with the Karelian Front. In such a case I preferred to give recommendations rather than to issue categorical orders.
This message actually assigned a new mission to the Northern Fleet. Initially it was not intended to liberate the port of Liinakhamari situated on the western shore of the Pechenga Inlet. Now the fleet was to land a descent here in order to assist our forces in the early liberation of Petsamo and to prevent the remnants of the defeated German forces from withdrawing to Norway.
The Northern Fleet now had the honour of taking the port of Liinakhamari on its own. Its command offered a daring plan. It was known that the enemy covered the long narrow fjord leading to the port with a large number of guns of various calibres. All of his batteries were installed in reliable shelters. Therefore, neither the air arm nor gun fire could neutralise them. It was decided to land a descent with the help of fast and highly manoeuvrable craft-motor torpedo boats and small submarine chasers. The descent was to be landed directly onto the jetties inside the harbour.
The breakthrough into Liinakhamari again demonstrated the excellent qualities of our marines. Our fast MTBs and submarine chasers forced their way through curtains of fire. Holding their weapons in their hands the marines were on the decks of these craft. They were the very same men who were landed on the bank of the Zapadnaya Litsa River in the deeply frozen rocky hills of the Musta Tunturi Range only three years before. They had taken part in other landing operations and each of them had accumulated a wealth of fighting experience.
The enemy held the entire fjord under heavy fire. However, there is some truth in the saying about the bullet fearing a brave man. The losses were very small.
The element of surprise and such factors as speed and daring did the trick. The descent overwhelmed the enemy. The German commander of Liinakhamari Base was only able to radio to Kirkenes: "Bolshevik craft have forced their way into the base. I am hastily withdrawing."
The enemy put up a fierce resistance. Fighting went on for several days. But the Nazis could not change the course of events. On October 15, the units of the Karelian Front and of the Northern Fleet took Petsamo and continued their advance along the coast. In the course of their offensive the Northern Fleet landed three more tactical descents.
After the liberation of Liinakhamari the Northern Fleet acquired a convenient base in Varanger-fjorden.
The chief of the Naval Staff and I carefully analysed the situation in the North. It had improved considerably. The whole of the coast from the Pechenga Inlet to Bjok Fjord was cleared of the enemy. The enemy lost his naval bases and airfield sin and near Varanger-fjorden. The threat to Allied convoys decreased. The British Admiralty started to form big convoys again. They were now made up of from 30 to 50 vessels. They arrived in one group instead of two, as in the past.
It is true that when the Germans lost their bases in France and Belgium, they shifted many of their U-boats to the North. They now appeared more frequently in the southern part of the Barents Sea. But they could not inflict serious harm on the convoys any more. Special hunter-killer groups of surface ships and submarines were formed to conduct active operations against enemy U-boats along the convoy routes. They were successful in hunting for and destroying U-boats. Thus, although 15 enemy U-boats were deployed along the route of Convoy JW-58 and although it was attacked by dozens of Luftwaffe planes, the convoy arrived at our ports without losing a single transport vessel.
By the end of 1944, the Allied and Soviet fleets wholly controlled the Northern Theatre of Naval Operations. Soviet submarines alone sank 20 enemy transport vessels and 10 fighting ships.
The fleet air arm launched massed raids of German convoys with mounting frequency. There were cases, when up to 800 aircraft took part in successive attacks on enemy shipping. For instance, as a result of a concentrated attack on an enemy convoy off Point Kibergnes, every ship was sunk. In the course of 14 minutes over 120 aircraft swept over it. In a year the air arm sank or damaged over 90 Nazi vessels and ships.
The Northern Fleet's incessant attacks on enemy shipping caused the Germans to reinforce their escort screens. Quite often a single transport vessel would be protected by 10 fighting ships. In addition, they installed many batteries on the coast. These measures alone enabled some of the convoys to reach their ports of destination. To penetrate the escort screen our motor torpedo boats had to attack it in several waves delivering successive blows at the transport vessels. Just like the air arm the motor torpedo boats switched over to massed attacks. In most cases the fleet command would strike combined blows at enemy convoys employing several arms simultaneously, i. e. the air arm, submarines and motor torpedo boats. The fleet commander personally took charge of such operations. The forces would be concentrated in the Rybachi and Sredni Peninsulas. When an enemy convoy appeared, it would simultaneously be attacked by submarines, aircraft and motor torpedo boats. Such tactics proved to be effective.
As I have pointed out above, the Northern Theatre of Naval Operations enabled us to maintain contact with our Allies. To give the reader an idea of the scope of shipments I shall quote a few figures. In 1941, only 45 transport vessels arrived by the northern sea route. In 1944, 248 transport vessels used it. During the entire period of the war a total of 42 Allied convoys arrived at our ports. They comprised 813 transport vessels. The losses amounted to 58 transport vessels. They could be regarded as moderate considering the fierce attacks on the routes.
On the Danube
In pursuit of a decision taken by GHQ the Danubian Naval Flotilla (under
Rear Admiral S.G. Gorshkov) was formed in April.
The Yassy-Kishinev Operation was launched on August 20. The Second and Third Ukrainian Fronts went over into the offensive. At the same time the Black Sea Fleet air arm bombed Constanta, Romania's main naval base.
According to intelligence reports, there were 150 fighting ships, auxiliary vessels and other craft in Constanta harbour. About 50 fighting ships and other vessels were based at Sulina. To put it in a nutshell, the main forces of the enemy fleet were moored in these two harbours.
The attack was carefully planned. It was decided to bomb Sulina first. Four groups of 11-2 low-level attack planes (about 30 in all) protected by fighters were sent there. While the enemy was busy beating off that attack, separate aircraft of the 5th Mine-laying and Torpedo Bomber Regiment dropped smoke bombs on Constanta to blind the enemy's antiaircraft batteries. Most of the Nazi fighters were shifted to Sulina. The main body of the air arm took advantage of this circumstance. The 13th Dive Bomber Division (comprising 59 aircraft) covered by 77 fighter planes attacked Constanta. The attacks were executed by three waves. Close to 70 fighting ships and other vessels were either sunk or damaged. Serious damage was inflicted on the harbour facilities. The fleet air arm continued tc bomb Constanfa and Sulina till August 25. Both these fascist ports were actually paralysed.
The Danubian Naval Flotilla was then conducting operations on the Dniester River. The flotilla effectively assisted the Army, when the commander of the Third Ukrainian Front ordered his forces to cross the estuary of the Dniester River. First a descent made up of the 3rd Motorcycle Regiment, a part of the 1st Guards Fortified Area Garrison, amphibious battalion, the 83rd and 255th Marine Brigades of the Forty Sixth Army was landed. Numbering some 8,000 officers and men with tanks, artillery pieces, and mortars the descent effected the crossing in the night of August 21-22.
To surround the coastal enemy group it was necessary to straddle its routes of retreat. The Danubian Naval Flotilla was then assigned another mission, namely to force its way into the delta of the Danube and to land descents behind the enemy lines.
In the evening of August 23, the ships and craft with the descent sailed from Odessa. At daybreak they arrived at Zhebriyany. After a brief engagement the descent took the village. This was a surprise to the enemy forces which were trying to avoid encirclement. They were advancing from the direction of Lake Kunduk. Here the descent fought an arduous battle. As a result, the combined German-Romanian force laid down arms on the following day. Close to 5,000 officers and men were taken prisoner.
The detachment that was to effect the breakthrough entered Kiliya (the northernmost mouth of the Danube) at daybreak on August 24 under cover of motor torpedo boats and the fleet air arm. The enemy offering no resistance, it started moving upstream. In the morning it reached Vilkovo and opened fire at enemy troops crowded at a crossing on one of the banks. The descent was landed in the port. After a short engagement the enemy fearing encirclement, retreated. The marines that had been landed at Zhebriyany entered the northern outskirts of Vilkovo. Two thousand enemy officers and men were captured there.
The Black Sea Fleet commander split up the forces conducting operations on the Danube into two groups. The Danubian Naval Flotilla was to move upstream to aid the Third Ukrainian Front in crossing the river. The forces belonging to the newly-formed Reserve Naval Base (under Captain 1st Grade A.V. Sverdlov) were to consolidate the seizure of Vilkovo. Then they were to take Sulina and ensure safe navigation in the delta and lower reaches of the Danube.
On August 26, the flotilla took Tulchea and on August 27, a detachment of 16 armoured boats and the 384th Separate Nikolayev Marine Battalion captured the port of Sulina. The Romanian River Naval Flotilla having surrendered, the Soviet forces established complete control over the lower reaches of the Danube. The enemy's coastal force was thus completely surrounded.
In establishing control over the delta of the Danube the Black Sea Fleet quickly redeployed its forces which advanced at a rapid rate. The commands of the separate forces displayed their ability to conduct operations independently until they established direct contact with the Army. This enabled the Black Sea Fleet to reach important ports on the Danube and to take them before the formations of the Third Ukrainian Front got there.
During the fortnight from August 24 to September 8 the flotilla transported across the Danube a total of 179,000 officers and men and large quantities of equipment.
Our units advanced rapidly too. The fascist naval forces on the Danube were unable to stop them.
Having crossed the Danube the Third Ukrainian Front was making rapid headway on the coastal sector. Its forces reached Constanta and the Romanian-Bulgarian frontier ahead of the schedule laid down in the GHQ directive.
On August 28, the Soviet command proposed that the commander of the Romanian Fleet should surrender in 24 hours. He accepted the Soviet terms on the following day. A group of operations officers of the Black Sea Fleet air arm staff arrived at Constanta by air. At the same time the tanks of the Third Ukrainian Front entered the town. On August 30, a detachment of patrol craft and motor torpedo boats carrying a marine descent arrived there from Sulina.
Though Romania had withdrawn from the Nazi bloc, the reactionary Bulgarian government continued to pursue a pro-German policy. Under the guise of neutrality they aided the Nazis. This compelled the Soviet government to declare war on Bulgaria on September 5.
In pursuit of GHQ instructions the Third Ukrainian Front prepared to enter Bulgarian territory. The Black Sea Fleet supported it with fleet air arm units, the Danubian Naval Flotilla, motor torpedo boats, submarines and marine units. In keeping with a plan approved by the Black Sea Fleet Military Council on September 2, 1944, the fleet's submarines, motor torpedo boats and air arm were to lock up the German ships trapped in Varna and Burgas. The fleet's gunnery ships were to assist the advance of the coastal flank. It was to land descents to take the ports of Varna and Burgas.
GHQ attached special importance to the liberation of Bulgaria. Marshal G.K. Zhukov was to fly to the headquarters of the commander of the Third Ukrainian Front. I was ordered to go with him. When we were already airborne Georgi Konstantinovich told me that before the take-off he had a talk with Georgi Dimitrov. The latter assured him that there would not be any war.
"The Bulgarians," he said, "will welcome the Soviet forces with bread and salt in keeping with our old Slav custom, and will not open artillery or machine gun fire at them."
Dimitrov said that the Bulgarian Communists had conducted work in Bulgarian army units on a large scale and that the guerrilla forces were ready for action.
On August 30, Marshal Zhukov and I arrived at Fetesti The Third
Ukrainian Front headquarters were situated not far from Chernavodsk Bridge in Fetesti.
F.I. Tolbukhin, commander of the Third Ukrainian Front and I had a business-like talk. He acquainted me with the situation and briefly with the front's future operations. I, for my part, told him in what way the Black Sea Fleet could help him. We agreed with Tolbukhin that I would keep him abreast of the fleet's preparations through Rear Admiral S.F. Belousov, naval liaison officer at his staff. At the same time he promised to inform me about the D-day as soon as he received the GHQ decision. Zhukov remained in Fetesti, when I left for Constanta where the operations group of the Black Sea Fleet staff had established itself. Although we did not expect Bulgaria to offer any serious resistance, it was decided to prepare small descents which were to be landed at Varna and Burgas. The Black Sea Fleet fully controlled the Black Sea and its ail arm achieved air supremacy.
I remained in Constanta awaiting a signal from the staff of the Third Ukrainian Front. On September 7, I called Marshal Zhukov over the telephone. But he still had no information on the D-day. The staff of the front informed me only on September 8. The message was: "We are beginning."
The fleet command proposed that, before our ships arrived at Varna and Burgas, small descents should be moved there in Catalina flying boats. Though there was some risk involved, I gave my consent, and anxiously waited for the first reports to come in.
Everything worked out as Georgi Dimitrov had predicted. The Soviet sailors were welcomed with bread and salt.
An uprising took place in Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, nearly simultaneously with the entry of our forces on September 9. It was headed by the Bulgarian Workers' Party.
The reactionary government was overthrown. The newly-formed government headed by K. Georgiyev declared war on Nazi Germany.
In actual fact, on September 9, all hostilities in the Black Sea ended. The fleet engaged in minesweeping operations, restoration of the liberated bases, ensurance of regular shipping and salvaging of vessels.
Acting in co-operation with the Ukrainian Fronts the Danubian Naval
Flotilla was engaged in fighting in the upper reaches of the Danube.
In the period from September 28 to October 21, it took part in the Belgrade Operation.
From October 18 to 20, heavy fighting was going on in Belgrade itself. The armoured boats of the 1st Guards Armoured Boat Squadron and the artillery units of the shore detachment of the Danubian Naval Flotilla rendered fire support to the Fifty Seventh Army, the 4th Guards Mechanised Corps and Yugoslav divisions which were storming Belgrade. Soon the enemy suffered defeat there. The enemy had a formidable force of 20-odd divisions in that area.
After the liberation of Belgrade and the whole of Yugoslavia the formations of the Second and Third Ukrainian Fronts were redeployed. They were preparing for the Budapest Operation. The Danubian Naval Flotilla took an active part in these preparations. Its ships and craft carried the Army units and formations across the river and transported them to other places. In the period from October 18 to 25 they moved to the left bank of the Danube at Dubrovica-Grocka 18,500 officers and men, 400 artillery pieces and mortars of the Fifty Seventh Army. In proximity of Belgrade they transported the whole of the 44th Guards Mechanised Corps and the First Bulgarian Army across the Danube. The flotilla also moved a lot of troops, motor vehicles and other cargoes from Belgrade to Novi Sad.
On December 12, Rear Admiral G.N. Kholostyakov was appointed commander of the flotilla.
The Budapest Operation ended on February 13, 1945. The Soviet forces liberated the capital of Hungary and routed the enemy force. In the course of the operation the Danubian Naval Flotilla executed a series of important missions in support of our Army. But it particularly distinguished itself in the last thrust-in the Vienna Operation. On March 20, defying fierce enemy fire, the ships and craft forced their way upstream to land a marine battalion not far from Tata behind the enemy's lines. The descent had a tough time. In four days it beat off 18 assaults but held its ground firmly till our Army units arrived.
On April 13, Vienna was cleared of the Nazis. The Danubian Naval Flotilla was awarded the Order of Kutuzov, 2nd Class, for its part in the Vienna Operation. This was not the first award it was honoured with. It was cited 11 times in the Supreme Commander-in-Chiefs Orders of the Day for successful action in the offensive on the southern flank of the Soviet-German Front. The flotilla was awarded the Order of the Red Banner, Order of Nakhirnov, 1st Class, and Order of Kutuzov, 2nd Class. Seven thousand officers and men were honoured with government awards.
The Crimean Summit
When I was at GHQ in January 1945 I learnt that the heads of government
of the Anti-Hitler Coalition were to hold a meeting at Yalta in the Crimea.
I arrived in Sevastopol a week before the conference was opened. I was to check the fulfilment of instructions about preparations for meeting Allied planes and ships.
At Yalta I met Colonel General A.I. Antonov, first deputy chief of the General Staff. When the summit was opened he was already promoted to the rank of general of the army. On February 2, J.V. Stalin and V.M. Molotov arrived in the Crimea by special train. They immediately went to their residence. On the following day we welcomed the British and American delegations.
I was to meet Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Cunningham, Royal Navy, and act as his host. We knew one another by hearsay. Our fleets co-operated in the Barents Sea, protecting Allied Convoys to and from Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. I was told that he was a man of domineering nature and resolution. I expected to meet a tall strong man of robust health. But I saw a man of medium height, advanced in age, with tired bloodshot eyes.
The conference was officially opened on February 4, when the first plenary meeting was held. The heads of the delegations, their assistants, advisors and interpreters took their seats at a big oval shaped table in Livadia Palace.
Although everybody realised that victory was not far off, the most important question on the agenda was how to defeat Nazi Germany as quickly as possible. The Nazis were still putting up a desperate resistance. More than that, they were threatening the Anti-Hitler Coalition with a new and formidable weapon (they were indeed feverishly working on new deadly weapons). Therefore, protraction of the war might have brought about terrible consequences for mankind. It was important to make haste to bring the war to an end.
The delegations were also concerned about matters outside Europe. The United States was waging war against Japan, and victory was still far off there. It therefore wanted to know whether the Soviet Union would also enter the war against Japan.
The delegations in whole met at the same table only at plenary meetings. In the intervals between plenary meetings Army and naval representatives worked separately. They formulated their opinions and reached agreement on proposals for ending the war in the East and West with minimum losses and as quickly as possible. Then these proposals were submitted to and approved by the heads of the delegations.
At the first plenary meeting General of the Army Aleksei I. Antonov reported the situation on the Soviet-German Front. He said that the Soviet offensive planned for late January and February was launched ahead of time. This was conditioned by the unexpected German offensive in the Ardennes. It was appropriate to remind the Allies that our offensive helped save the American armies from defeat. Aleksei Innokentyevich would take a look on the map laid out on the table. He pointed to the zone of advance of the Soviet forces. It extended from the Neman River to the Carpathian Mountains-a distance of more than 700 kilometres (approximately 450 miles). Three fronts-the First Byelorussian, the Second Byelorussian and the First Ukrainian-were forging ahead simultaneously.
The speaker took note of the striking power of the Soviet armies. Having penetrated the enemy's defences they were advancing at an average rate of 25-30 kilometres a day.
After General Antonov's report the report of General Geogre C. Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff, produced a faint impression. He said that the German bulge in the Ardennes was being eliminated and that the Allied forces had reached the line they had held. This meant that they were holding their initial positions, and not advancing.
We expected that Field Marshal Alan F. Alanbrooke would speak on behalf of the British delegation. But it was Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Cunningham who made the report. There was a familiar note in his report about the difficulties in fighting against German U-boats. He pleaded for help in this struggle. Staling that German U-boats were mainly being built in Danzig, the admiral ended his speech expressing one wish: as a representative of the naval department, he would like to ask the Soviet forces to take Danzig as soon as possible. Roosevelt asked Stalin how soon this would take place and whether Danzig was within the range of Soviet artillery. The head of the Soviet delegation replied that Danzig was not yet within the range of Soviet guns. The Soviet command hoped soon to get close enough to Danzig to bombard it with artillery and to take it.
Stalin's reply gave special satisfaction to Winston S. Churchill.
The Army and naval leaders held meetings of their own. One of them took place on February 6.
A.I. Antonov courteously proposed that Admiral of the Fleet William Leahy, as the senior ranking officer, should assume the duties of chairman. In addition, he was chief of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's personal staff. The preceding meetings of the heads of government instructed the Army and naval representatives to work out a plan of joint actions by Allied air forces over Germany. The situation that had taken shape demanded such action. By February 1945, Allied air raids on the capital of Nazi Germany became more frequent. The targets our bombers attacked and those bombed by the Allied air forces were close to one another. For instance, late in January 1945 1,000 US and British aircraft conducted a raid on Berlin. The bombers were protected by 600 fighters. Our armies getting closer and closer to Berlin, the Soviet Air Force, naturally, conducted operations there too. To avoid mistakes and grave consequences it was necessary to establish a bombline. This question unexpectedly sparked off a heated dispute. The parties concerned were unable to come to terms. They finally adopted an ambiguous statement which read as follows:
"(b) That day-to-day liaison should be established between a responsible officer of the Russian High Command and representatives of the British and American Missions in Moscow, in order to exchange information upon which we can regulate the action of the Anglo-U.S. strategic bombers in accordance with the development of Soviet operations on land."
The question of the US Air Force using airfields in European countries the Soviet Army had already liberated was also raised. The problem was not resolved either, because we felt that the Americans gave priority to political rather than to purely military aspects of the matter.
Today it is most appropriate to recall the decisions the Yalta conference passed on the German question. The Communique on the Crimean Conference of the Heads of Government of the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain read in part:
"It is our inflexible purpose to destroy German militarism and Nazism and to ensure that Germany will never again be able to disturb the peace of the world."
This fundamental principle was concretised in a comprehensive programme which, among other things, provided for the disbandment of the German armed forces, the elimination of the German General Staff and the abolition of all German industries that could be converted to war production.
In addition to the German problem, the participants in the Conference discussed important matters bearing on the postwar settlement. They worked out the fundamental principles governing the work of a United Nations Organisation which was to be founded. It was decided to convene at San Francisco, on April 25, 1945, a founding conference of the United Nations Organisation.
The Yalta Conference also adopted the well-known Declaration on Liberated Europe and discussed certain aspects of the problem bearing on Poland and Yugoslavia. The final part of the Declaration entitled "Unity for Peace and for War" was of paramount importance. The meeting in the Crimea "reaffirmed our common determination to maintain and strengthen in the peace to come that unity of purpose and of action which has made victory possible and certain for the United Nations in this war."
These lines again showed the tremendous force that stemmed from the unity of the peoples belonging to the Anti-Hitler Coalition. Herein lies the strength of any unity formed in pursuit of humane purposes. All progressive mankind still supports any effort for such aims.
By February 6, the heads of government reached agreement on the war in the Far East. At the final stage of the conference we, Army and naval leaders, were able to switch over from Western problems to problems bearing on the Far East. US Admiral Ernest King reported on the matter. He said it was first necessary to rout Germany as quickly as possible. He further stated "that continuous and unremitting pressure would be maintained against the Japanese forces. Efforts would be made to attain positions from which the final attack on Japan could be staged when the necessary forces became available from Europe". The American spokesman pointed out again that the early entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan would be extremely desirable.
The US and British delegations did not count on the war ending soon.
I remember Admiral of the Fleet Ernest King asking me, when the Second World War would end. I humorously replied that I was no Cassandra to make prophesies. In warfare there were many accidental developments. But in the end I remarked that Nazi Germany would lay down arms in the end of 1945 and Japan somewhat later. Admiral King called me an incorrigible optimist.
However, the developments upset all of our estimates. The Soviet people and their Armed Forces had acquired a tremendous power and a will to secure victory. They achieved what seemed impossible at the time. Early in May, they compelled the Nazi Reich to surrender unconditionally.
Addressing the meeting on February 6, in connection with operations in the Far East Admiral King said outright that, unless additional resources were found, it would be impossible to achieve victory over Japan in 1945.
That was why the Western Allies were highly pleased to hear the statement of our leaders to the effect that our forces would complete their preparations for an offensive in Manchuria two-three months after the cessation of hostilities in the West.
It is now on record that the Soviet Union faithfully lived up to its pledge.
I took advantage of the discussions on the Far Eastern problem to bring up the question of receiving fighting ships from the USA under the Lend-Lease Act. I had drawn up a list of the ships we needed and kept it in a folder, but the occasion to raise this question did not present itself. At an opportune moment I approached Stalin but he remarked that the time was not yet ripe for this.
Of course, the conference and everything else connected with it heavily taxed Stalin's time. Despite this, he managed to keep track of the developments on the battlefronts and to adopt decisions on the combat operations of the forces. Front and army commanders would report to Stalin at the Yussupov Palace in Koreiz. Stalin would interview them usually in the presence of General A.I. Antonov who always had situation maps and maps showing the future operations.
Several hours before the next regular meeting was held Stalin would assemble all the members of the delegation and give assignments to each of them. He would ask one to study such and such a question, another to find out something and still another to get in touch with a certain person. You could feel that he made thorough preparations for every meeting with the heads of government of the Allied powers. Stalin was endowed with an exceptional memory. Despite this, he would not rely on it. He would go over everything time and again, study the papers and notes, and hear the opinions of the members of the delegation.
Stalin's poise was admirable. When a dispute flared up, and Churchill was beside himself, Stalin would display reserve and self-control. When he spoke, his voice was calm. As always he would weigh every word carefully. And, of course, he would win the argument, because his unerring logic crushed all the crafty designs of the opponent.
Once Stalin invited us to supper as he would do in Moscow. A table was laid in a small, though beautiful panelled room. Suddenly the host displayed a special interest in naval matters. Having taken decisions on the western fronts he, apparently, switched his attention to Far Eastern affairs in his mind. The Allies, particularly the USA, insisted on the USSR's early entry into the war against Japan. This question was discussed at a meeting of the heads of government of the Allied powers. The Soviet Pacific Fleet was to take part in the combat operations. Stalin wanted to know about the condition of the fleet and its readiness for action. I informed him about the ships currently in commission and reminded him of the ships the Allies had promised to transfer to us. Stalin remarked:
"I remember this, and I shall speak to Roosevelt on the matter."
Though I do not know what they talked about, I was told on the following day that the question was solved in principle and that I should iron out the details with Admiral King. I wasted no time and met the American admiral on that very day to give him a list of ships we might need. He promised to reply as soon as he returned to Washington.
And Admiral King was as good as his word. The message from Washington said that the USA would transfer to us a certain number of frigates, minesweepers, submarine chasers, motor torpedo boats, landing ships and landing craft- altogether 250 units. Taking into account the forthcoming operations at sea these ships would be very useful to us. We lost no time forming crews which were sent to the United States to take over the ships. Why did we have to reinforce the Pacific Fleet? Before the Great Partriotic War broke out, our shipbuilding industry did not fully meet the needs of our rapidly expanding Navy. When the hostilities started we were forced to send all the ships we could spare to the Northern Fleet which was fighting a war, and not to the Pacific Fleet. The small ships the USA transferred to us in spring and summer 1945 were mainly used for the landing of descents in enemy-held harbours and islands. After the war the ships were returned to their owner.
During the Crimean Conference I visited Sevastopol several times. In addition to the assignments bearing on support of Allied ships moored in the Northern Harbour or those that brought small cargoes to Yalta, I, naturally, had some time for dealing with naval matters. The whole of the Black Sea and all of its coasts were cleared of the enemy. But an air raid could not be ruled out altogether. Therefore, the antiaircraft defence means were in a state of heightened readiness.
The Crimean Conference ended its work on Feburary 11. On the following day President Franklin D. Roosevelt left by car for Sevastopol. He intended to spend the night aboard the USN Catoctin before departing for home by air.
Winston S. Churchill left by plane several days later. He also visited Sevastopol to see the British cemetery of the Crimean War period, where one of his relatives-a Mariborough-was buried.
I was responsible for the guests while they were in Sevastopol and for their departure by air. Therefore, when the last Allied plane and ship left the Crimea I heaved a sigh of relief. Though such duties do not appear difficult, they are a source of anxiety all the time.
At GHQ, Supreme Command
Soon after I returned from Yalta A.N. Poskryobyshev called me late in
the evening. His tone was official. During working hours he spoke in such a manner even
with friends. He proposed that I should call at his office to see a document. It was no
use asking him what the document was about, so I went to the Kremlin.
"Hullo, sailor!" Poskryobyshev welcomed me with a broad smile as he patted a red folder with the palm of his hand. "Congratulations," he added.
He opened the folder and handed me a sheet of thick paper with the familiar stamp of the State Defence Committee. "Read it."
It stated that on February 2, a decision was passed on changes in the membership of GHQ, Supreme Command. A.M. Vassilevski, A.I. Antonov and I were now members of GHQ, Supreme Command.
The fact that I was now appointed member of GHQ hardly affected my duties. As People's Commissar of the Navy I attended meetings of GHQ and State Defence Committee. I would be summoned to give my opinion on naval affairs. Very often I addressed GHQ on my own initiative, when it was necessary to secure a decision of the government or the Supreme Command on the fleets. Sometimes I would call up Stalin if the situation required immediate attention. Though the Supreme Commander was very busy, he would always find time to hear me and give me an exhaustive answer. In the early months of the war, GHQ and the State Defence Committee worked at me Kremlin or in a mansion in Kirov Street. Kirovskaya metro station would be used as a shelter during air raids.
A short while ago, I went to this mansion to reconstruct in my memory the situation of that period. Stalin's office was in a small hall. The office of Marshal B.M. Shaposhnikov, Chief of the General Staff, was next door. The operations group of the General Staff was in a neighbouring building. Its officers could report on the situation on the battlefronts and on the latest reports received therefrom at any moment or, if necessary, to transmit the orders of GHQ to the fronts.
The Supreme Commander-in-Chief would arrive at the mansion in the evening. If there was no air raid, he would work there till late after midnight. In the event of an air raid everybody in the mansion would descend into the metro. When an air raid was announced, I twice eyewitnessed Stalin crossing the small yard in a leisurely pace to enter the door of a neighbouring house with a lift to the shelter.
In his work the Supreme Commander-in-Chief availed himself of the services of the General Staff. His deputies and actual assistants were G.K. Zhukov, A.M. Vassilevski and B.M. Shaposhnikov. At the final stage of the war A.I. Antonov was both a deputy and assistant too. Before a decision or directive was adopted, the Chief of the General Staff, GHQ representatives, the People's Commissar of the Navy, the commander of the front, fleet or army concerned would be summoned to GHQ. As a rule, Stalin would ask their advice.
As GHQ representatives who frequently visited the battle-fronts to carry out the Supreme Commander-in-Chiefs assignments G.K. Zhukov, A.M. Vassilevski, N.N. Voronov, S.K. Timoshenko and K.Y. Voroshilov would personally report to him and check the execution of GHQ directives on the spot. As a rule, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief would adopt a decision only after he heard the advice of those the missions were assigned to. I do not remember a single meeting of GHQ, when all of its members attended it. When I was present at a GHQ meeting, I always saw the Chief of the General Staff, front or army commanders. I well remember the exhausting autumn of 1941, when I spent many nights in Kirovskaya metro station. It was there that I met many army commanders.
In its work GHQ wholly relied on the General Staff which was a well-mated team. GHQ did not adopt a single important decision without the assistance of this body of highly qualified military specialists. During the most trying days in 1941 you would frequently see the Chief of the General Staff accompanied by several senior officers of the Operations Department. The Chief of the General Staff was both the rapporteur and the main advisor of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. He based his report on the information received from the fronts and an analysis of the developments.
As I have stated above, I do not remember all the members of GHQ attending a meeting of that body. Stalin preferred to ask the advice above all of those commanders who directly participated in the preparations for an operation or who were to execute the GHQ's directive. In war you cannot afford to lose a single minute. Very often questions bearing on operations require urgent decisions. It was, therefore, impossible and unnecessary to hold meetings attended by many officers.
Party and government leaders, people's commissars in charge of various industries and managers of big plants would sit at the same table with distinguished generals at GHQ or State Defence Committee meetings to obtain decisions on matters of common concern.
The whole country, the whole of the people were fighting the war. The people's commissariats of the aircraft and tank manufacturing industries, of armaments and ammunition and of other industries were, so to say, labour fronts with commanders and fighters of their own.
When GHQ or the Supreme Command planned a major offensive or defensive operation, it was necessary to supply the battlefront with aircraft, tanks, fighting ships, ammunition, food, clothing and a host of other items.
In coping with military and economic problems simultaneously GHQ and the State Defence Committee would, so to say, merge into a single state body which flexibly, effectively and quickly responded to the current situation. Whenever I went to the Supreme Commander-in-Chiefs office to deal with matters bearing on operations, I would practically always meet members of the State Defence Committee. They frequently attended discussions of large-scale military operations and would report on the readiness of industries to meet the planned requirements. I remember decisions being taken on people's commissariats for munitions directly at such meetings.
In solving matters of great importance it was Stalin's rule to summon the persons charged with the execution of the decisions to hear their opinions. Having heard their views he would immediately formulate the decisions in the presence of those who were to execute it. He would dictate the decision to the Chief of the General Staff or to Poskryobyshev.
Though I frequently saw front and army commanders in the Supreme Commander-in-Chief's office, he sometimes summoned fliers, tankmen and artillery officers to hear their views on new models of weapons being delivered to the front.
As a sailor I would like to add that Stalin closely followed the situation on the fleets. Whenever I asked permission to conduct a large-scale operation at sea, he would repeatedly summon me to clarify naval matters. He frequently demanded detailed reports from me on Murmansk- and Arkhangelsk-bound convoys, on the takeover of British and American ships in Great Britain (in compensation for captured Italian fighting ships) and their movement to our bases. He also asked for such a report on the Baltic Fleet, when the situation in Leningrad became particularly dangerous in September 1941. I could quote many more examples on this score.
At a readers' conference someone asked me whether Stalin did not like objections. I could not say just yes or no. In some cases Stalin would not tolerate any objections at all. But in many cases he would patiently hear them out. He even liked people who upheld their own point of view. This is not solely my opinion.
Of course, there were cases when Stalin would interrupt a speaker. Sometimes even very sharply. But he would do so if he thought that the person in question was incompetent. Stalin liked to hear well-founded, convincing and carefully thought-out reports.
Stalin worked very hard. In the few minutes of leisure he had he could not remain idle. When the discussion in his office lasted too long, he would take a look at his watch and say: "Why, it's time for supper. Kindly join me." His apartment was in the same building in the Kremlin. He usually took advantage of a separate passage inside the building. We would descend to the cloak-room to put on our overcoats and enter his apartment through the archway in the yard.
As I climbed the red carpeted staircase to the first floor I was seized with curiosity. Though I did not expect to see a big, luxuriously furnished apartment I was extremely surprised by the modest furnishings. The small entrance hall was decorated with panels. A door led to the dining room directly from it. All the rooms were arranged along one wall with windows facing the Tsar Cannon and the Assumption Cathedral. They could be seen from the hall through the open doors of the dining room. In the bedroom there was a plain bed. There were no superfluous items in it.
I was under the impression that Stalin had long become accustomed to these furnishings and the clothes he usually wore (a semi-military jacket with a turn down collar, greatcoat and forage-cap) and did not like any changes. When he wore these clothes, I only once saw him in a new jacket of a darker hue. Late in the war he replaced his regular jacket with a marshal's service coat which he continued to wear even after he was created generalissimo.
The dinner set and choice of dishes were modest too. Having seated ourselves at the table everyone would serve himself with a plain dish. The discussion which was interrupted in the office would be resumed.
On May-day and Aviation Day we would be invited to Stalin's dacha. The gatherings were also of a semi-official character. Dinner would usually be served on a grass plot. A table for 40-50 people would be laid before the guests arrived. Cold hors d'oeuvres would be placed on it. Hot dishes would be waiting for the guests in pans with lids on a separate table. Every guest would take his plate and choose whatever he wished-borsch or fish soup. As a rule, the host would be the first to do so.
Even on great celebrations there would be no special delicacies on the menu. In the beginning various toasts would be proposed. However, a few minutes later the guests would be discussing official questions.
Dinner did not take a very long time. Only once I remember the guests played gorodki (kind of skittles) and billiards.
Stalin was, indisputably, a hospitable man. Discussions of business matters would be alternated by jokes or stories about past experiences. Stalin could crack a witty and amusing joke.
In his memoirs G.K. Zhukov characterised Stalin as a worthy Supreme Commander-in-Chief. The other military leaders were of the same opinion. Stalin was a man of great willpower who commanded authority. As a military man he was able to make a correct estimate of the situation on the battiefront, identify the key element, adopt a decision and see to it that this decision was fulfilled. It would be fair to say that in the course of the war he quickly grasped, comprehended the character and distinctive features of the war. He boldly promoted young and gifted military leaders, he would heed their
advice and display a keen interest in the details of the art of warfare.
I cannot undertake to produce a full, lifelike portait of this unusually complicated personality. One thing is unquestionable, namely that he did make mistakes, but it would be wrong to ignore the outstanding achievements the country made under his leadership. It would be an error to belittle Stalin's distinguished role in the Great Patriotic War. The well-known documents of the Central Committee, Communist Party of the Soviet Union, give an objective appraisal of Stalin's life and activity, his positive and negative features.
I spoke to many people who had met Stalin and worked with him. I do not remember a single person who did not give Stalin his due inasfar as his intelligence, knowledge and iron will were concerned. Stalin was a multifaceted personality. To appraise only one facet of this personality and to ignore the other features of his character would be evading the truth.
Drive for Berlin
Though the enemy fought desperately, the Soviet armies were getting
closer and closer to Berlin. Though Hitler and the other Nazi ringleaders knew that their
defeat was inevitable, they did not spare the lives of their men in order to stave off
their end for a few more days. The Western powers regarded the rapid Soviet advance as a
marvel. But it was only a logical outcome of the preceding period of the Second World War.
Victory was being secured by the most advanced social system, by the most life-giving
socialist ideology in the history of mankind. The Nazi Reich was getting its due for all
the atrocities and crimes it had perpetrated against the peoples of Europe.
In my account of the Crimean Conference I described how Churchill tried to find out from Stalin when the Soviet forces would take Danzig. There were many completed and unfinished German U-boats in that port on the Baltic. And it was German U-boats that were badly harassing the British government. Churchill admitted that, when the Battle of the Atlantic reached its climax, nothing troubled him more than the German U-boat threat. That was why he was anxious to see Danzig taken by the Soviet armies.
The capture of that city was not far off. The roar of our guns and Katyusha rocket mortars was already reaching the ears of its inhabitants. The enemy was already hastily fleeing from Danzig. Some 6,000 Nazis about half of whom formed the flower or the Nazi submarine fleet embarked the liner Wilhelm Gustloff. The escort screen was to assure safe passage from Danzig to Kiel. It should be mentioned that a Soviet submarine was lying in ambush for the convoy.
A whole gale was lashing at sea. The ambient temperature was minus seven degrees Centigrade. The conning tower, aerials and periscopes were quickly accumulating ice. The submarine commanding officer and his deputy for political affairs had spent several hours on the bridge.
Concealed by the haze the Soviet submarine conducted a vigorous search. An hour and then another hour passed. Suddenly they saw the silhouette of a very big ship. It was covered by an escort screen. This was the Wilhelm Gustloff.
One hour before midnight the S-13 attacked the enemy ship. The salvo of torpedoes she fired raced to the target. A powerful explosion caused the liner to go under.
The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff alarmed the Nazis. Germany officially went into mourning for three days. Hitler was enraged. He ordered the officer commanding the escort screen to be shot.
Though our Armed Forces were scoring impressive victories, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff was an extraordinary event.
Heinz SchOn, a German officer who was among the survivors wrote a book "Untergang der Wilhelm Gustloff (The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff) which was published in the FRG. He confirmed that the ship was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine not far from Danzig on January 30, 1945. More than 5,000 human lives were lost. The author wrote:
"If this case is regarded as a disaster, this was, beyond doubt, the greatest disaster in the history of seafaring. As compared to it even the loss of the Titanic which collided with an iceberg in 1913 was nothing at all." This was not the last prize of the S-13. As she was returning home, the S-13 torpedoed another big enemy transport vessel on February 9. This was the General Steuben with 3,600 Nazi officers and men aboard. Thus, while the S-13 was on a single patrol, her skipper Captain 3rd Grade Aleksandr lvanovich Marinesku and the crew sank 8,000 Nazis-nearly a whole division. A crack division made up of elite officers and excellent ratings of the submarine service, SS officers and men and several Nazi bigwigs. Acting in co-operation with the Army the Baltic Fleet
helped liberate the Baltic coast. After our forces took Danzig, and somewhat later Pillau, the Nazis were still holding Libau-a big port through which the German force trapped in Kurland was receiving supplies. In the beginning the German High Command sent reinforcements to Libau. But then it started to evacuate the troops and some of the equipment. The Baltic Fleet was assigned the mission of disrupting the enemy traffic on the sea routes.
The fleet commander and chief of staff rightly realised that the enemy's shipping was most vulnerable. The fate of the Kurland force was hinged on the enemy's communications and his ability to maintain them.
Though their estimate was correct, they detailed inadequate forces for fighting the convoys. They thought that the motor torpedo boats would accomplish the mission. But the enemy followed a route far out at sea. As a result, the shipping was out of the reach of the MTBs. It was decided to use the air arm against enemy shipping. It was to act in co-operation with the submarines and motor torpedo boats. The enemy's convoys were to be subjected to attacks along the entire route from the port of departure to the port of destination. In addition, the air arm was to launch massed raids on the port of Libau, when the convoys were being formed.
Naval railway mounts showed splendid performance on the Baltic coast. They made a sizable contribution to the liberation of Klaipeda (Memel).
The battles for Leningrad revealed the power of long range naval guns mounted on railway trucks. As long as there are tracks they are highly manoeuvrable. The naval railway batteries were characterised by a range that was superior to Army guns. They were able quickly to approach the frontline to strike at the enemy where the attacking Soviet forces needed them most. It should be mentioned that naval railway batteries assisted the Army in all the coastal sectors.
Naval railway mounts were employed with particularly good effect in the East Prussian Operation. Five battalions and three separate batteries of the 1st Guards Krasnoselsk Naval Railway Artillery Brigade comprising 47 130- and 180-mm guns were moved to the Baltic region. At Konigsberg and later at Pillau four naval artillery battalions and a separate battery were established on firing positions. They were to disrupt traffic in the Konigsberg Canal, bombard the railway junction and the harbour, destroy the more important targets and support the attacking forces in the penetration of enemy defences of the approaches to Konigsberg.
Our forces were already fighting in the streets of Berlin. Though the capital of the Nazi Reich is far from the sea, the Navy assisted the Army in taking the city. Later on, F.Y. Bokov, member of the Military Council of the 5th Strike Army, reminisced that the infantrymen were surprised to see Soviet sailors and their small craft fighting in Berlin.
"Where do you come from?" an infantry soldier asked a sailor.
"From the Dnieper River," he replied with a laugh. Yes, indeed, the naval craft were most helpful in the crossing of a canal in Berlin.
This was a detachment of motor boats and semi-planing craft of the Dnieper Naval Flotilla.
By the time the Berlin Operation was started the Dnieper Naval Flotilla moved more than 500 kilometres by rivers and canals to reach the Oder. Its craft and ships helped the Army cross this water barrier. They also rendered fire support and covered the crossings.
That was precisely how the Navy reached Berlin during the final battle of the Great Patriotic War.
...Grossadmiral K. Doenitz issued an order to the Navy to discontinue hostilities against the British and the Americans. His radio message did not say a single word about the Soviet Navy. This meant (and every captain of a German fighting ship understood it to mean) that the war against the Russians was still being waged.
When Germany was finally defeated it became known that Winston S. Churchill wanted to arm the remnants of the beaten German army and send it against the Soviet forces. Churchill discarded his mask of peace and showed that he hated socialism. Churchill was now Churchill himself again. In this case Bernard Montgomery only fulfilled the orders of Great Britain's most influential political circles. He himself would have hardly had the nerve to issue an order on a separate agreement with the German naval command before the act of Germany's unconditional surrender was signed.
Seeing that the British were kindly disposed towards them the Nazis willingly surrendered to them. Moreover they asked the British to land airborne troops in the island of Bomholm before the Russians got there.
On May 7, Doenitz circulated an order to all ships and other vessels in the Baltic to put to sea from ports and bases threatened by Soviet forces. This order was to be executed by 0001 hours on May 9. During these two days the Nazi command was eager to move all the forces and people it could to the British occupation zone. The ships and other craft that for some reason could not proceed to western ports were to be destroyed.
But that was not all. To make matters worse the German fleet continued to conduct hostilities against the Soviet forces even after the act of unconditional surrender was signed. Thus, at 0600 hours on May 9, German destroyers opened fire at Soviet aircraft which demanded their return to eastern ports. On May 9, armed German transport vessels that were in proximity of the island of Bornholm opened fire at Soviet motor torpedo boats.
At the final stage of the war the Baltic Fleet was to land a descent in the island of Bornholm which was being held by approximately 30,000 Nazi officers and men. I notified the Chief of the General Staff that it was necessary to take the islands of Bornholm and Rugen and asked him to detail two divisions from the Second Byelorussian Front.
On May 9, the Baltic Fleet command demanded in a radio message that the garrisons of the above islands should surrender. The Nazis having refused to lay down arms, the fleet air arm launched a raid on the dispositions of the German forces and on their ships. That same day a detachment of motor torpedo boats landed an infantry company in Bomholm. That was how about 100 Soviet officers and men appeared in the port of Rennes. The Germans outnumbered them many times to one.
The hostilities in the Northern Theatre of Naval Operations had not ceased either. Nazi submarines which were still at large attempted to attack our convoys. In the middle of May 1945, I talked over the phone to Admiral A.G. Golovko, Northern Fleet commander. He reported to me:
"We are still fighting the war. Yesterday we located another German U-boat."
Though the biggest salute of 1,000 guns had been fired in honour of Victory Day, we still had to reckon with the danger at sea.
At a late hour on May 8, A.N. Poskryobyshev, called me over the phone. A
man of few words even with his best friends, Poskryobyshev informed me that the act of
Germany's unconditional surrender was signed. He warmly congratulated me on the occasion.
I lost no time dictating a message of congratulation to the military councils of the
fleets. I wanted to Find warm words to share my joy with those who were fighting the enemy
on the forward edge and at sea.
People were rejoicing everywhere over Victory Day on May 9. The first to call me was Admiral of the Fleet I.S. Isakov. General I.V. Rogov, chief of the Political Directorate, and Admiral S.G. Kucherov, chief of the Naval Staff, entered my office after him. As the latter was making the morning report on the situation on the fleets, he was constantly interrupted by telephone calls. It was impossible to adhere to the regular routine. And, putting it frankly, I did not want to. I heard reports only on the most important matters and signed only the most urgent telegrammes. All the fleet commanders considered it their duty to call me over the high frequency phone to congratulate me on Victory Day.
Victory is meaningful, it has many facets. It was gained by the whole of the people. It was forged by the fighters who displayed an intrepid spirit on the battlefronts, by men and women who operated their machines round the clock to supply the armed forces with weapons, by the collective farmers who grew crops, by scientists, engineers and designers. Everybody's effort brought this long-awaited day closer.
Victory is a memorial to those who did not return home from the battlefields defending Moscow, Leningrad, Sevastopol, Odessa and Stalingrad, who did not spare their lives defending every inch of Soviet soil.
The word Victory was uttered by everybody. It expressed the people's feeling of joy and pride for their Homeland. It shall always have these connotations.
The celebrated date of May 9, 1945, shall never fade in mankind's memory even in the ages to come. It shall always be a symbol of the might and invincibility of the socialist state. It shall serve as a warning to those who might forget the lessons of the past and attempt to unleash another war.
In the middle of May, I was summoned to the Kremlin. The question of moving forces to the Far East was being discussed. A.I. Antonov, Chief of the General Staff was reporting on the matter. I reported on the measures the People's Commissariat of the Navy was taking to reinforce the Pacific Fleet. The meeting decided to celebrate the Victory over Nazi Germany with a military review in keeping with an age-old tradition.
Several days later, the Naval Staff agreed with the General Staff the question bearing on the composition of the naval regiment which was to take part in the Victory Review. The honour of commanding that composite regiment was conferred on Vice-Admiral V.G. Fadeyev, an old mariner who took part in the heroic defence of Sevastopol.
I do not intend to describe the Victory Review. It was an unforgettable event. The moment when the marching Soviet soldiers flung the colours of the defeated Nazi formations at the foot of the Lenin Tomb was indelibly engraved in my memory.
I cannot help recalling another celebration. While the Potsdam Summit Conference was still holding its proceedings, Navy Day was being marked. On July 20, I was instructed to sign an Order of the Day on the occasion. I maintained that in Victory Year it would be more appropriate for the Supreme Commander-in-Chief to sign it. S.G. Kucherov, chief on the Naval Staff, who was present at Potsdam drafted it. The most difficult part was the appraisal of the Navy's contribution to the war effort. After discussing the wording it was decided that the words-during the Great Patriotic War the Navy lived up to its duty to the Homeland with honour-were most proper. On the following day I submitted the draft to Stalin. He reread the text several times. Paying special attention to the words "the Navy lived up to its duty to the Homeland with honour" he signed the document without a single amendment. When the Order of the Day was published, I received reports from the fleets that it was welcomed with enthusiasm.
In the first half of June 1945, General of the Army A.I. Antonov called me over the phone to tell me to be prepared to go to Berlin.
At Potsdam, I saw many of those who had attended the Crimean Conference. The USSR was represented by J.V. Stalin and V.M. Molotov, Great Britain by W.S. Churchill and A. Eden, and the United States by H.S. Truman and J. Byrnes (Secretary of State). General A.I. Antonov and I were members of the Soviet delegation. Admiral of the Fleet E. King, USN, and Admiral of the Fleet A. Cunningham, RN, whom I had met at Yalta arrived too.
We frequently met for talks in between the meetings. We jointly rejoiced over our Victory over Nazi Germany. Our relations were friendly, really allied relations. The differences that arose between the higher political and diplomatic representatives did not yet affect us. Admiral Ernest King and I repeatedly discussed the forthcoming joint operations in the Far East.
Before leaving Moscow I was informed that the division of the captured German ships would be discussed at Potsdam. It was Stalin who told me this when I was summoned to GHQ. General A.I. Antonov and I discussed this question in greater detail.
Stalin displayed a keen interest in the development of the Soviet Navy. It was he who advanced the idea about building a big sea- and ocean-going fleet. But the outbreak of hostilities caused us to scrap the new construction programme that had already been launched. But even before the war was over Stalin gave thought to the Navy's future. In April 1945, he asked me whether the People's Commissariat of the Navy was working on a new construction programme. He ordered me to submit to him the programme in outline form at the earliest opportunity. He also added:
"How are we going to use the captured German fleet? Give thought to that too."
The Naval Staff preliminarily established the number and location of the surviving German fighting ships and other vessels. I took this information with me to Potsdam.
These preparations were not in vain. The question of the captured fleet was brought to the attention of the Conference already at one of its first sittings. It was Stalin who raised it. Churchill's immediate response showed that he was touchy about it. He believed that it would not be right at all to divide the captured German fleet equally among the Allies. His argument was that the British had suffered tremendous losses at sea. In addition, by the time of the surrender most of the German fighting ships were moored in British harbours or in German, Danish, Norwegian and French ports occupied by the British Armed Forces.
This sparked off an argument. I had never seen Stalin so angry. Churchill even jumped up nearly causing his chair to fall. The blood rushed to his face. He fired gruff, fuming retorts. Stalin proposed to postpone the discussion of this question. I kept the pertinent papers in a folder I always carried with me. Several days passed and it seemed that the delegates had totally forgotten about the division of the German fleet. Being unable to stand the strain any longer I asked Stalin, when the question would be raised again. Stalin calmly replied:
"It can wait, there is no hurry. I hope that soon there will be changes in the British delegation. We shall then return to this matter."
His insight proved valid again. After the general elections in Britain Churchill returned home. He was replaced by Clement R. Attlee.
At long last the heads of government of the Allied powers returned to the division of the captured fleet. I was not present at the meeting when the discussion took place. I only read about it in the Communique which said:
"The Conference agreed in principle upon arrangements for the use and disposal of the surrendered German fleet and merchant ships. It was decided that the Three Governments would appoint experts to work out together detailed plans to give effect to the agreed principles."
This wording aroused concern in me. Unless the Conference passed a firm decision on the matter, it might be delayed infinitely. At an opportune moment I shared my apprehensions with Stalin. He agreed with me, and the heads of the delegations instructed the naval representatives to reach agreement on the matter straightaway, at the Conference, and to submit to them a document for approval without delay.
In the evening of July 31, the top naval representatives who were members of their respective delegations held a meeting. It was attended by Admiral E. King, Admiral A. Cunningham and myself. Diplomatic advisors and naval experts were present too.
We first had to decide on who would be chairman. I had intended to propose Admiral E. King, USN, for this role. The point is that he was least interested in the division of the captured ships. However, he forestalled me by pronouncing my name. He said that Admiral Kuznetsov was senior to the others in rank and was, in addition. Minister of the Navy.
I realised that this would give us an additional chance of achieving a successful solution.
"I shall accept this honour and perform the duties of chairman only on one condition," I said, and looking at my astonished opposite numbers added: "namely that we shall not leave this room until we have reached a definite decision."
My remark induced smiles. Everybody agreed to this. Although I did not expect it, neither the American, nor the British admiral raised any forcible objections. But to everybody's surprise Robertson, a British diplomat, violently protested. He showered arguments in support of his view. I hardly had time to refute them.
It looked as if we were in a blind alley. Then I proposed to divide the fleet into approximately equal groups and to draw lots so that nobody should feel hurt.
It was already long past midnight. Admiral E. King was tired. He said he was prepared to accept any solution that would help finish everything as quickly as possible. Admiral A. Cunningham did not object either. Even Robertson agreed. We asked the experts to draw up a list of approximately three equal parts of the captured fleet. We left the room for a snack. I managed to catch a moment to report the decision to Stalin. Having heard me he said: "This is acceptable."
It turned out that it was not easy to divide the German fleet into approximately three equal parts. We had to form a tripartite commission for the purpose. It was made up of Admiral G.I. Levehenko, Soviet Navy, Rear Admiral V. Parry, USN, and Vice-Admiral G. Miles, RN.
We summoned G.I. Levehenko to Potsdam. When he arrived the commission started to work on the matter. On August 14, it met in Berlin. Studying the documents it established the composition of the captured fleet, which ships were serviceable and which required refit. The commission divided the ships into three, approximately equal, parts. Then lots were cast. In this case nobody felt hurt. Each got what he drew.
When Levehenko returned to Moscow to report on his work I asked how Admiral Miles, RN, whom I had known for quite some time acted.
"Oh, he was quite nice about the whole thing. He even offered his service cap to draw lots. We put pieces of paper rolled up tight and each drew one from it."
The Allies divided some 500 fighting ships, including 30 submarines (it was decided to sink the rest, because they were unserviceable). 1,339 fleet auxiliaries were also divided. These figures show that the game was worth the candle and that we did not waste our time when we vigorously argued at Potsdam. Without going into details I would like to point out that the USSR got 155 fighting ships, including a cruiser, four destroyers, six torpedo boats and several submarines. The fleets employed them as auxiliaries and training ships.
The division of the former Nazi fleet was a measure intended to prevent the rebirth of German militarism and its revenge-seeking spirit.
The main aim of the Potsdam Conference was to establish peace in Europe and to work out measures that would ensure peaceful coexistence of its peoples.
War in the Far East
Though our Army taught a lesson to the Japanese at Lake Khasan in 1938
and on the Khalkhin Gol River in 1939, the militarist government of Japan was waiting for
an opportune moment to resume hostilities against the USSR together with Germany.
In keeping with their plans, the Japanese imperialists wanted to seize the whole of the Soviet Far East, Siberia, and also Kamchatka. The Japanese intended to establish their main naval base in the North Pacific in Avachinskaya Harbour. Their press made no secret of this. The Japanese militarists built up two bases for an attack on the USSR. One was in Manchuria and the other in the Kuriles and Sakhalin.
Throughout the war against Nazi Germany Japan constantly violated the treaty on neutrality. It acted as a potential ally of the Reich. Thus, as early as December 8, 1941 in flagrant defiance of international law the Japanese government declared the strait of La Perouse, the Sangar and the Korean Strait their "naval defence zones". By doing so it placed under control of its armed forces the Sea of Japan and all the exits from it. In December 1941, the Japanese sank the Soviet merchantmen Krechet, Svirstroi, Perekop and Maikop and seized the Simferopol and Sergei Lazo.
Though the Pacific Fleet dit not conduct any operations till August 1945, it not only improved its fighting efficiency, but also made a sizable contribution to the victory over Nazi Germany. During the war supplies from the USA were delivered through Vladivostok. The Pacific Fleet protected the transport vessels against friendly and Japanese mines. Sometimes they were endangered by the Japanese fleet. So the Pacific Fleet escorted them. Japan was in no haste to enter into the war against the Soviet Union. Though it postponed its entry into the war, it did not give up the idea of attacking its neighbour. Our forces had to be constantly on the alert and keep a sizable army in the Far East.
The command of the Pacific Fleet maintained the fleet in a state of heightened readiness. The Naval Staff carefully followed the situation in this vast theatre of naval operations. Vice-Admiral I.S. Yumashev, commander of the Pacific Fleet, was worried about the coast and not without reason. I constantly warned him against being caught by surprise. The People's Commissariat of the Navy and the Naval Staff were eager to pass on to the Pacific Fleet the fighting experience accumulated in the western theatres of naval operations. The fleet commander asked for more ships to reinforce the fleet. But we had none to give him. On the contrary, we forced him to give some of the Pacific Fleet's submarines and aircraft to reinforce the Northern Fleet.
As the situation grew worse in the West, the Japanese became increasingly arrogant and aggressive. They compelled our Supreme Command constantly to keep an adequate land force in the Far East. Thus, although Japan was not in a hurry to attack our country, its aggressive provocations were a form of indirect aid to Nazi Germany.
By summer 1945 Japan's military and economic potential was seriously weakened. But the Japanese government intended to conclude peace on advantageous terms by putting up a stubborn resistance. The US-British armed forces developed their offensive in the Pacific at an extremely slow rate.
It was not fortuitous, therefore, that both at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences the Allies insisted on the USSR's early entry into the war against Japan.
No exact date and hour of our entry into the war was mentioned at the Potsdam Conference either. But I knew that energetic preparations were underway and that the war in the Far East would begin in the first half of August.
While the Potsdam Conference was holding its proceedings A.I. Antonov, the Chief of the General Staff, asked me at a meeting of the Soviet delegation about the readiness of the Pacific Fleet for action. I only asked him, when he wanted the fleet to be ready. Aleksei Innokentiyevich replied evasively. He simply said that the D-day was approaching. I assured him that the Pacific Fleet and the Amur Naval Flotilla had completed, in the main, their preparations. The Navy had one request, namely that it should be warned several days in advance before the opening of hostilities. I was promised that my re quest would be granted.
The preparations for the operation were being made in deep secret. Measures were taken to conceal the movement of troops and equipment. Many of the top officers proceeded to Vladivostok under assumed names.
Closer to the end of the Conference J.V. Stalin asked me whether I intended to go to the Far East? I said that after the Conference I intended to visit the Baltic Fleet for a day or two.
"You cannot afford any delays," the Supreme Commander-in-Chief remarked.
He thus confirmed what I guessed. Now I knew that the war was at the doorstep.
At Potsdam, I learnt that I was to coordinate the operations of the Pacific Fleet and of the Amur Naval Flotilla with those of the Army.
On August 8, 1945, Radio Moscow announced the Soviet government's decision to enter the war against Japan. The Soviet Union's aims were just and noble. The purpose was to eliminate the last focus of aggression and to bring closer the end of the Second World War. It was intended to drive the Japanese invaders out of Manchuria and Korea and thus to assist the Chinese and Korean peoples in their fight for liberation from imperialist slavery, and also to recover Russia's own lands-South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. I was soon on my way to Chita in a plane. The plan worked out by GHQ, Supreme Command, provided for a swift advance in three sectors - from Maritime Territory, from Khabarovsk Territory and from Trans-Baikal region. The idea was to split up the Kwantung Army and to rout it.
Marshal A.M. Vassilevski was to effect guidance of the whole campaign. The Trans-Baikal Front under Marshal Rodion Y. Malinovski was deployed on Manchuria's western frontier, the Second Far Eastern Front under General of the Army M.A. Purkayev-on the north-eastern frontier, and the First Far Eastern Front under Marshal K.A. Meretskov - on the eastern frontier. One of the flanks of this front rested against the coast of the Sea of Japan. The commandel of the Pacific Fleet was Admiral I.S. Yumashev and the commander of the Amur Naval Flotilla was Rear Admiral N.V. Antonov.
The Soviet government declared war on Japan on August 8. The hostilities were opened in the night of August 8-9.
The Soviet forces attacked simultaneously in three sectors. They advanced across virtually impassable ground in mountainous country.
Battles were fought on a frontage of 5,000 kilometres. The Navy immediately took part in the hostilities. By then the Pacific Fleet had two cruisers, one flotilla leader, 12 destroyers and torpedo boats, 78 submarines, 204 motor torpedo boats, landing craft, minesweepers and other ships. The fleet air arm had more than 1,500 aircraft. By August 1945, the Japanese Fleet had up to 500 Fighting ships. Although its main forces were engaged in operations against the US Fleet, we knew that the Japanese could quickly move their ships to the Sea of Japan.
Even before the USSR entered the war against Japan the Soviet and US commands delimited the zones of naval, air and land operations. The boundary between the zones was 90-120 miles from the mainland in the Sea of Japan and 15-25 miles from our coast washed by the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.
An operational readiness, condition one, was announced for the Pacific Fleet at dawn on August 8, 1945. The merchant ships took refuge in prearranged harbours. Escorts were provided for convoys. In addition to the minefields laid in 1941, new ones appeared.
As soon as hostilities started the fleet landed several descents in the Korean Peninsula. The fleet and the North Pacific Naval Flotilla were ordered to defend the entire coast and attack enemy shipping. The nearest ports to which transport vessels delivered reinforcements and supplies for the Kwantung Army were Yuki, Rasin and Seishin. The fleet was prepared to land descents there at a moment's notice. Intelligence reported that these ports were strongly protected by coastal defence batteries. The port of Seishin was heavily fortified. It had a garrison of 4,000 officers and men and powerful coastal defence batteries.
Dive bomber and low-level attack plane divisions supported our descents. Soviet motor torpedo boats launched attacks simultaneously with the bombers.
Both the attacks from the sea and the air raids were daring and effective. By August 11, the situation for the landing of descents in the ports of Yuki and Rasin was favourable. Though the weather was bad, the descents were landed in the course of two days. These two ports being in our hands, it was possible to take Seishin. To carry out this mission a larger force was required. The descent comprised the 335th Infantry Division, 13th Marine Brigade and 355th Marine Battalion of the Pacific Fleet.
The seizure of Seishin took a lot of fighting. The Japanese committed to action more and more reinforcements. The assault wave made up of the 355th Marine Battalion had to beat off 14 enemy assaults in the night of August 14-15 alone.
Despite the fanatical resistance put up by the enemy, the marine descent units and the 335th Infantry Division took Seishin naval base on August 16.
On August 15, Marshal A.M. Vassilevski, Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Forces in the Far East, ordered Admiral I.S. Yumashev, commander of the Pacific Fleet, and General of the Army M.A. Purkayev, commander of the Second Far Eastern Front, to liberate the northern islands of the Kuril Chain.
The idea was to surprise the enemy by landing a descent in the north-eastern part of Shumshu Island, launch the main attack in the direction of Kataoka Naval Base and to seize the island. Using it as a jumping off ground it was intended to take the islands of Paramushir and Onekotan.
While the Pacific Fleet was executing these operations Marshal A.M. Vassilevski arrived in Vladivostok by plane. Having heard the report of the fleet commander, he emphasised the need to complete these operations as quickly as possible. The marshal visited several ships. Aleksandr Mikhailovich had a warm talk with the crews. I witnessed the warmth with which the men welcomed this illustrious military leader.
Before returning to Moscow I inspected the Amur Naval Flotilla. Its four brigades of river ships and two armoured boat brigades-some 200 units altogether-actively contributed to the rout of militarist Japan. I could not help admiring the monitors. These small but well-designed ships were particularly suitable for close cooperation with the land forces. They were able to get far behind the enemy lines to ensure the crossing of troops, land descents and render them fire support.
Rear Admiral N.V. Antonov was the commander of the Amur Naval Flotilla.
The flotilla's main forces started their operations on the Sungari River. Having helped the land forces in the taking of Chiamussu and Sansing, the flotilla headed for Harbin. The latter was captured on August 20. Before taking part in this offensive operation the flotilla helped the Fifteenth and Second Armies cross the Amur. This took nearly a week. Its ships and craft landed descents in the taking of Sakhalyan, and moved troops from Blagoveshchensk to Sakhalyan. When the latter was taken, the flotilla landed a descent in the fortified sector of Aihguncun. The enemy defences were particularly strong there.
As our ships moved up the Sungari River, they had to negotiate serious barriers in some places. In one case they ran into a mass of logs and rafts the Japanese had floated from the upper reaches of the river. In another case they had to force their way through the demolished frames of a railway bridge. Despite these barriers, the crews found channels and continued to make headway to their destinations. On the way the Amur Naval Flotilla captured and disarmed the Japanese Sungari Naval Flotilla.
The Amur Naval Flotilla made a sizable contribution to the rout of the Kwantung Army (750,000-strong) in several days.
While I was in the Far East, I talked with Stalin over the phone on two occasions. Having heard my report he playfully asked me: "Are you still fighting at sea?"
At that moment our forces were being landed in the island of Kunashir, the last island of the Kuril Chain. In the same playful spirit he warned me not to land in Hokkaido. "We shan't, unless ordered otherwise," I replied. Several days later I was summoned to the telephone again. The Supreme Commander-in-Chief wanted to know when I was taking off for Moscow.
"Don't stay there too long. We must get down to the new construction programme," he added.
The government were already giving thought to our Navy's future.
During the war I visited several of our big shipbuilding centres. It made my heart bleed to see our battleships and heavy cruisers on the slipways or at jetties of the yards. Their completion was far off. They were being built in pursuit of a big programme which the war prevented us from completing. We were, therefore, unable to commission them. Way back in the 1930s I had doubts about battleships. How would we be able to bring them out of the shallow Baltic Sea or the locked up Black Sea, if war should break out unexpectedly?
I was only an apprentice as People's Commissar then. Once I guardedly asked Stalin about this. He apparently thought I had in mind the prohibitive cost of battleships. Casting a stern glance at me he said:
"We shall collect the money kopeck by kopeck to build them."
I realised that he was unwilling to discuss the matter. I must admit now that I should have defended my point of view with greater persistence. We should have paid less attention to battleships and heavy cruisers and more attention to ships of other types, including aircraft carriers, at least medium and small carriers.
The experience of the war revealed the mounting role of the air force both on land and sea. The huge battleships were practically defenceless in the face of air attacks. Dozens of fighters were needed to provide effective air cover. In Pearl Harbour American battleships fell victim to Japanese air attacks. Later the Americans employed them in the ocean only together with aircraft carriers. Since the Tirpitz could not be afforded air cover at sea, the Nazis were forced to hide her in Norwegian fjords until British Lancaster bombers finished her off with six-ton bombs. It appears that it was not only the USA, but also Great Britain and Germany that realised the new role of aircraft carriers. But it was not easy to build such sophisticated ships in the course of the war.
The USSR's war against Germany was above all a land war. We did not need ships that were bigger than cruisers. Our battleships were employed only from time to time.
As far as the naval air arm was concerned, it was employed on a large scale and very effectively throughout the war. Its performance frequently decided the outcome of an engagement both on land and at sea. It struck telling blows at enemy shipping, ports and naval bases. When our fleets had enough aircraft, their air arm carried out missions normally executed by ships alone in the past.
The submarines, particularly those of the Northern Fleet, added many valorous exploits to the Soviet Navy's war record.
Our new construction programme was only a rough draft then. In Moscow I put my immediate assistants and above all the chief of the Naval Staff to work.
Gradually our ideas assumed the form of figures in the draft programme. Time made serious amendments to it. But the main ideas remained valid, because they were based on the wealth of war experience.
They Navy was to form a balanced force suited for the missions it shall be called upon to accomplish as a component of the country's Armed Forces. This factor alone will determine the balance between surface ships and submarines, the various types of ships, types of aircraft and other armaments. It should be borne in mind that the situation has changed and, therefore, the means of warfare have changed too.
This is now being taken into account. The Soviet Navy is being developed with account of the experience of past wars and on the basis of scientific forecasts.
When I arrived in Moscow, the papers published a Decree of the USSR Supreme Soviet, dated September 14, 1945, awarding a large group of officers and men of the Pacific Fleet, the Amur Naval Flotilla and North Pacific Naval Flotilla with orders and medals. My name was in the list too. The Supreme Soviet conferred on I.S. Yumashev, N.V. Antonov and me the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
Several days later Mikhail I. Kalinin presented me with the Gold Star Medal and the Order of Lenin. This was, of course, inspiring. At the same time I realised that this was a token of appreciation not only of my personal effort, but also of the heroism of the Soviet officers and men-of the entire Soviet Navy which lived up to its duty to the socialist Homeland. The award obliged me to redouble my effort.
Now that several decades have passed since the war some historians in
other countries have gone to extremes to belittle the role of the Soviet Armed Forces in
the rout of Nazism-mankind's ruthless enemy. They have also misrepresented the war effort
of the Soviet Navy. "Soviet Naval Strategy. Fifty Years of Theory and Practice"
by Commander R.W. Herrick, USN, ret., an intelligence officer, (put out by the United
States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, 1968) with a foreword by Admiral Arleigh
Burke, USN, ret., is a case in point. Without a twinge of conscience the author claims
that the Soviet Navy was unable to adapt its strategy to combining strategic defence with
tactical offensive action. The American historian Raymond L. Garthoff reasons along the
same lines. He refutes all that was said by American political and military leaders before
him, when nobody could challenge the obvious role of the Soviet Armed Forces in the war
against the enemy and when it was impossible to question facts.
In actual fact, during the Great Patriotic War the fleets not only beat off the enemy's surprise attack, but also went over to decisive offensive operations in all the theatres. From the very beginning of the war the operations of the fleets were conducted in coordination with the general strategy of the Soviet Armed Forces. It could not have been otherwise. We, sailors, had been taught to act in this way before the war. This line was laid down in our operational-tactical documents and pursued in all our large- and small-scale exercises.
When the situation demanded it, the Navy, i.e. fighting ships, air arm, coastal defence and marine units, acted in co-operation with the land forces and rendered them all possible aid in the coastal sectors. All operations were conducted in pursuit of missions assigned by the Supreme Command.
During the Great Patriotic War the Soviet fleets destroyed close to 1,300 enemy transport vessels with a total displacement of more than three million tons and over 1,200 enemy fighting ships and auxiliaries.
The naval air arm flew a total of 384,000 sorties and destroyed about 5,000 enemy aircraft. The fleets landed more than 100 descents of an overall strength of close to 330,000 officers and men. Up to 2,000 fighting ships and craft, and several thousand auxiliaries took part in the landing operations.
It is a fact that the enemy did not land a single descent on our coast. This was due to the active operations conducted by our fleets and their constant readiness to beat off any enemy attack from the sea. Had our fleets been passive, as the American authors R. Herrick and R. Garthoff tried to prove, the Nazi Navy would surely not have missed an opportunity to attack the coastal flanks of our battlefronts.
During the war the Soviet Navy moved by sea and across other water barriers close to 10 million troops and civilians and over 94 million tons of cargoes. This was also the Navy's contribution to the nation's war effort.
The Homeland duly acknowledged the feat performed by the Soviet Navy. All the fleets and practically all the naval flotillas were awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Several hundred thousand officers and men of the Navy were awarded orders and medals for their heroism and courage in action. Later generations of Soviet sailors have upheld and increased the glory of our Navy in keeping with the established naval tradition.
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