Admiral of the fleet of the Soviet Union and commander in chief of the Red Navy while also serving as deputy minister of defense (1956–1985). Born in Kamenets-Pedolsky, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire, on 26 February 1910, Sergey Gorshkov was commissioned in the Red Navy on his graduation in 1931 from the Frunze Higher Naval School. He then held a series of posts in the Black Sea and Pacific Fleets. He advanced rapidly in rank and responsibility, in part due to the openings at the top levels created by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s purges of the Soviet military.
Gorshkov developed a strong combat record in the Black Sea Fleet during World War II, leading naval and amphibious operations against German forces and commanding the Danube Flotilla in 1944 during Soviet advances into Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. He was promoted to rear admiral in October 1941. After the war he commanded a squadron of ships and was elevated to chief of staff of the Black Sea Fleet in 1948 and then to commander of that fleet as a vice admiral in 1951.
Transferred to Moscow, Gorshkov was promoted to full admiral and became first deputy chief of the Red Navy in July 1955. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev appointed Gorshkov commander in chief of the Red Navy in June 1956, a position he held until 1985. He also held a dual appointment as deputy minister of defense, and in 1961 he became a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). During his long tenure as its commander, he directed the substantial growth of the Red Navy and created a guiding philosophy that was presented in numerous articles and a book, The Seapower of the State (1980).
Gorshkov argued that a strong navy was a necessity for a superpower. It served as a symbol of power and as a potent military and political instrument. His leadership moved the Soviet military from an army-dominated structure with a continental orientation to a global military power with a significant maritime component.
Gorshkov developed a naval force that reflected his theories and the realities of Soviet geography and politics. His navy followed the commitment to modern technologies, especially to the missiles and nuclear weapons that came to dominate Soviet military planning in the 1950s. The submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) fleet was a key part of Soviet strategic nuclear forces. The Red Navy also developed an ability to protect the Soviet SLBM fleet operating in sanctuaries near Soviet home waters. This defensive posture was an extension of the traditional role of protecting the borders and coastlines of the homeland.
The Red Navy sustained the ability to support ground force operations, another traditional role of the Russian and Soviet navies. Gorshkov’s greatest accomplishment was developing an oceangoing fleet that could project power around the world, showing the flag in foreign ports. He oversaw the creation of the world’s second largest navy, establishing a highly visible global presence and challenging the U.S. Navy by threatening logistical routes and SLBM patrol areas. Gorshkov retired in 1985 and died in Moscow on 13 May 1988.
References Gorshkov, Sergei Georgievich. Red Star Rising at Sea. Translated by Theodore A. Neely Jr. and edited by Herbert Preston. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1974. ———. The Sea Power of the State. New York: Pergamon, 1980. Scott, Harriet Fast, and William F. Scott. The Armed Forces of the U.S.S.R. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2002. ———. The Soviet Art of War: Doctrine, Strategy and Tactics. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1982.