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The International Action of Memory
Vladimir N. Kuznetsov,
Lieutenant-colonel (Res.), President of the "Admiral Kuznetsov's Fund", member of the Presidium of the International `Peace to the Oceans' Committee
I had the honour to take part in the International Action of Memory named after Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union N.G. Kuznetsov, my father, in September-October, 1996. Our family is proud that the Action was named in his honour. After decades of official oblivion, his name has now taken a worthy place among the glorious commanders of the Russian Navy. It turned out during my conversations with participants in the Acton, including those from abroad, that his name is still remembered by scientists, scholars and workers in culture and the arts, as well as officials in all countries we visited.
The Action of Memory organized by the International "Peace to the Oceans" Committee aboard the M/S "Astra", visiting places of fierce naval battles of World War II and calling at European ports, was very timely.
First, it was a token of homage to the participants in World War II and Resistance fighters who had been buried in the cold waters of the Baltic and North seas and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as in Denmark, Norway, Germany, Holland, Britain, France and Spain. This Action was carried out under the UN flag and demonstrated once more that we still remember the horrible war and that's why we cherish peace on earth and are fighting for it.
Secondly, it was a good present, in the year of the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy, to more than 150 war veterans, Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia, retired generals, admirals and officers who were brought together on board our ship, and who could talk freely with war veterans in other countries. They shared their reminiscences at numerous meetings and "round tables", saw how people live in other countries and made trips to ten most beautiful cities of Europe, including London and Paris. They could hardly do that on their own.
During the Action I had an opportunity to tell its participants about my father and show rare photographs and documents from the family files, and also books written by him which are now bibliographical rarity.
A film was shown "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union" made by the Central Popular Science Film Studios in Moscow with the help of the General Headquarters of the Navy. It was shown only once on the First Programme of Central TV, on February 23, 1992.
I answered numerous questions about my father's life and work. He wrote about himself in his book "Sharp Turns", which was finished shortly before his death and published only in 1995. The very title of the book is symbolic. I'd like to quote from it.
"My whole life is linked with the Soviet Navy. I made my choice when I was young and never regretted it. I hadn't too great ambitions; my dream was to become the commander of a ship, no difference--big or small...
"However, as fate had it, I was now placed high above, now thrown back, too low, and had to begin virtually from scratch. Proof of that is changes in my rank. During the years of my service I was twice rear admiral, three times vice admiral, once admiral of the fleet and twice had the highest rank of Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union.
"In my book `On a Faraway Meridian' I wrote that one fine day I received an order to immediately leave for Moscow and from there fly directly to Paris and Madrid.
"I stayed in Spain for a year (my father was the naval attache and the chief naval adviser.--V.K.). I made friends with Spanish seamen, took part in naval missions and did not think of changing the place of service until the end of the civil war. Then another `sharp turn'. I was summoned to Moscow to report, given a short leave and then got posted to the Far East. I hurriedly left for Vladivostok. A sharp lift, like the one of a deep-sea diver, involving great, and therefore dangerous, loads was made not on my own free will. I had to fulfil the order. For several months only I held the post of a deputy commander of the fleet, and then was appointed Commander of the Pacific Fleet.
"In the summer of 1938 military hostilities broke out at Lake Khasan. I remembered Spain, the city of Cartagena and thought about the higher cleared- for-action state of our ships. Perhaps, it was then that I began to think about taking measures to create an operative ready-for-action system. It came in very handy on the fatal night of June 22, 1941..."
It was precisely the system suggested and introduced by my father that enabled the Soviet Navy to meet the day of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War fully armed, and not to lose a single warship. But I continue to quote...
"Another sharp turn. The People's Commissariat of the Navy was being organized. I was a member of the Chief Naval Council and in December went to Moscow for its meeting. One night I was summoned by Stalin and we talked about the Navy and its problems. The next day I was appointed first deputy of the People's Commissar of the Navy. Hardly had I time to familiarize myself with all and sundry problems that in March 1939 I was sent to Vladivostok to consider matters involved in the projected construction of the new port of Nakhodka there. When I returned to Moscow at the end of April I was appointed People's Commissar of the Navy.
"By the time of the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War I found myself at the top of the hierarchy in the Navy--I was the People's Commissar of the Navy of the USSR in the rank of admiral. I am a convinced supporter of the consecutive order of going up the ladder, whereas I myself moved up along it too quickly.
"In the first months of my new job in Moscow I felt it was too early for me to hold such a high post, but gradually I became more sure of myself and felt I would cope with it.
"I should admit that I stubbornly defended the interests of the Navy and even dared object to Stalin himself, when I felt it was necessary and useful for the cause. And I `broke my neck' because of this. As a consequence, I was brought to the court of honour in 1948, court martialed and demoted to the rank of rear admiral.
"...The People's Commissariat of the Navy was abolished in 1946.
"Several months before my removal from the post of the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy I already felt that something was brewing. It's difficult to explain why... But I was ready to work at the newly-formed organization.
"I write about all this in order to prove that the real reason for firing me was not my disagreement with the new form of supervising the Navy, but my stubborn desire to express my views dictated by the real needs of the Navy which I knew quite well. Besides, I did not conceal my displeasure with failures to adopt the necessary measures, and argued too hotly, defending my position... In short, I became an `unperson' and had to be fired."
After the court of honour and the decision of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court, my father, in the rank of rear admiral, was sent to Khabarovsk.
But in 1951 he was returned to Moscow and reappointed Minister of the Navy. After Stalin's death his former rank was restored to him and he even got a marshal's star.
In May 1955 N.G. Kuznetsov sent a written request to relieve him of his post for health reasons (he had a heart attack), but did not get a reply. After a big explosion on board the battleship "Novorossiisk" in Sevastopol, in which many people died, he was fired from the post of the first deputy Minister of Defence and the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy in November 1955, and in February 1956 he was demoted to the rank of vice admiral and sent to retirement without the right to return to active service in the Navy.
"I was removed from active service in the Navy," he wrote, "but no one will be able to make me renounce my serving the Navy."
And he served the Navy by his literary activity until his death in 1974. He wrote books "On a Faraway Meridian", "On the Eve", "A Course to Victory", "Sharp Turns", dozens of articles about the Navy and people who devoted their lives to serving it. He outlined his views on the organization and building up of the Navy and its interaction with other arms of the service.
He died on December 6, 1974, after a surgical operation and was buried in the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow.
He was reinstated in his highest rank of "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union" on July 26, 1988, having received it posthumously for the third time.
As I've already said, my father was removed from the Navy in 1956. The following 32 years were practically devoted to attempts to rehabilitate his honest name, and dozens of decent people joined us in these efforts. They wrote letters to the highest authorities demanding that his rank be restored to him. That was done only in 14 years after his death.
Father's name was given to the flagship of the Russian Navy--the aircraft-carrying battleship, now called "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov". The Military Naval Academy was named after him. A memorial plaque has been put on the wall of the building housing the General Headquarters of the Russian Navy. A street in his native town of Kotlas in the Arkhangelsk Region also bears his name. A small memorial museum has been opened in the village of Medvedki near Kotlas. A river motorship on the Northern Dvina has his name. There are expositions dedicated to him in various museums.
Our family is grateful to the International "Peace to the Oceans" Committee for making special Admiral Kuznetsov medals for the Action.
Nikolai G. Kuznetsov had three sons: Victor, Nikolai and me. His wife and our mother, Vera Nikolayevna, has always been his loyal and loving friend. To this day she has been doing everything in her power to preserve the memory of him, together with her daughter-in-law, she prepares his books for second and third editions and works on his files. His grand and great grandchildren are growing.
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