The Red Banner Baltic Fleet and naval infantry – Leningrad Front

Naval Infantry.
Heavy cruiser Maxim Gorky at Leningrad 1942.

The Red Banner Baltic Fleet (Krasnoznamyonnyy Baltiyskiy Flot, KBF) suffered heavy losses during the evacuation of Tallinn on 28/29 August, but by the beginning of the siege of Leningrad it still had enough warships left to provide considerable naval gunfire support to Soviet ground troops. The heavyweights were the battleships Marat and October Revolution, each with 12 305mm guns that could hurl 470kg high-explosive shells out to 24km, and the heavy cruisers Kirov and Maxim Gorky, each with nine 180mm guns that could fire 97kg shells out to 33km. Additionally, the incomplete heavy cruiser Petropavlovsk (ex-Lutzow), purchased from Germany in 1940, had two operational 8in. gun turrets. The KBF also had seven operational Gnevny-class destroyers, as well as a number of smaller warships. In addition, the KBF operated a railway battery with four 180mm guns, as well as a naval test range near Toksovo that had a single 406mm gun, a 356mm gun and two 305mm guns. Once the Germans mined the Gulf of Finland, the KBF could not risk moving around much and the fuel-oil shortage virtually immobilized the largest warships. Nevertheless, even from their anchorages the Soviet warships could bombard targets around Pushkin and Krasnoye Selo. On the receiving end, the Germans found the Soviet heavy naval gunfire discouraging but not very accurate. Amazingly, less than 30 per cent of Soviet naval gunfire used an observer – often it was just fired at area targets – which greatly diminished its effectiveness. Yet the KBF fired over 25,000 rounds against German ground troops during September 1941, which played a major role in stopping the enemy’s final lunge toward the city.

During the course of the siege of Leningrad, the KBF provided over 125,000 sailors to fight in ground units, comprising nine rifle brigades, one ski regiment, 38 separate battalions and 32 artillery batteries. The 1st Naval Rifle Brigade played a crucial role in holding Leningrad in 1941 but was virtually destroyed, while the 2nd, 5th and 6th naval rifle brigades helped to hold the Oranienbaum bridgehead. The 4th Naval Rifle Brigade was tasked with defending the ice road over Lake Ladoga in the winter of 1941/42 and spent virtually the entire winter on the ice.

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