It quickly became apparent in the first period of the war that logistics was the least thought-through element of Soviet military theory. Rear services (i.e., logistic) units were cumbersome, immobile, and unable to adapt to fluid conditions. Planning was fragmented, ineffective, and often disconnected from the operational concept it was supposed to support.

Some Principles of Logistic Support

By the end of the second period of the war, the Red Army was realizing in practice the demands of theory, conducting progressively deeper operations at a steadily rising tempo.37 During the third period, these operations were planned to achieve their goal in two to three weeks, though if they were developing successfully, provision was made for a transition to subsequent operations without any (or only the briefest) operational pause. Characteristically, an operation would start with a fierce battle—expensive in men, materiel, ammunition, and fuel—to penetrate the tactical zone of defense. Once the breakthrough had been achieved and the participating armies were conducting exploitation, logistic demands would fall dramatically, reflecting the reduced effectiveness of the defense (although there would be occasional smaller peaks in expenditure as enemy reinforcements arrived or obstacles had to be forced in the operational depth). The exploitation phase of the operation would not develop linearly. Rather, the breaching of the once continuous front line would lead to very fluid, dynamic combat spread over a considerable area. Formations would thrust deep into the enemy’s operational rear, bypassing centres of resistance, and the Germans would endeavor to cut off and destroy the spearheads, even as these were seeking to complete an encirclement or destroy retreating forces in parallel pursuit. Sudden, dramatic changes in the situation, with shifts in emphasis from one axis to another or even sometimes from attack to defense, would be common. In such circumstances, attrition would not take place relatively evenly across a defined front. Rather, there would be areas of intense but localized fighting and destruction and large passive sectors where logistic demands would be much lighter. The traditional logistic system would not be appropriate for such a battle space. Forward divisions or corps could not indent for supplies and collect them from dumps in secure rear areas, nor could they evacuate their casualties and damaged equipment rearward to semistatic hospitals and workshops. Formations would be unable to rely on constant resupply and would have to live off mobile stocks for at least a few days at a time. Medical and repair facilities would have to move well forward and set up in the areas that had seen heavy fighting and where casualties were concentrated. This understanding of the nature of combat led to the adoption of some principles of logistics that were contrary to Western understanding and practice.

The bulk of logistic assets was held at army and front levels. Such centralized control was seen as essential to operational flexibility. Centralized control enabled operational-level commanders to tailor their logistic allocations to conform to the importance of the mission, their forces’ strength, and the ground allocated to their subordinate formations. Commanders of higher formations who were familiar with the overall operational concept and situation could quickly shift resources from burned-out, stalled, or merely less successful divisions, corps, and armies and reallocate them to others that were making better progress. They also held transport reserves with which they could reinforce success and ensure that it did not become ephemeral because of insufficient supply to exploit it. Changing the emphasis from one axis to another would be far more difficult and slower in a decentralized system in which the “ownership” of transport and supplies was jealously guarded, whatever the operational vision of the higher commander.38

It was the responsibility of the higher commander to keep his subordinates supplied in accordance with the demands of the operational situation. The basic concept of resupply was not, in other words, “demand pull,” which in the first period of the war had resulted in excessive expenditure on less important missions, to the detriment of the main effort. It became one of “supply push,” whereby consumption rates were laid down by the front for each stage of an operation in accordance with the priorities it had established; allocations changed as and when the exigencies of battle led to modification of plans. This concept of forward delivery was easy to implement, as the bulk of transport was controlled at the operational level. Thus, a divisional transport company possessed only 45 trucks, a combined-arms army’s three to four battalions had up to 600, and a front’s three to five regiments mustered 3,500 to 4,500. This made it easier to switch emphasis between axes, open a new one, or simply cope with ever-lengthening lines of communication by re-allocating front assets according to shifting priorities. The system also enabled shortcuts to ensure a speedy response to pressing needs: for instance, tank army trucks could skip an echelon by delivering direct to brigades, bypassing corps. The system was hard on units and formations that were achieving success but only on a secondary axis; it was even harder on those that ran into difficulties and were accordingly de-prioritized. But it ensured the economical use of both stocks and transport in furthering the operational aim.

Successful operations inevitably ran into problems as supply lines lengthened, turnaround times and breakdowns increased, and cargo capacity ran short. Air resuppply could provide limited lift in an emergency, but suitable aircraft were lacking for any major, sustained effort. The Red Army insisted that formations improvise with self-help measures rather than simply relying on the senior commander to repair deficiencies. Some artillery units, for instance, had to give up their prime movers, and motorized infantry their trucks (riding instead on the tanks and SAUs). There was often large-scale reliance on impressing local animal-drawn transport. A typical example happened in the L’vov-Sandomir Operation when Third Guards Army’s dirt-road supply line to its railhead grew from 60 to 200 km (37 to 125 miles) between 20 July and 1 August; it supplemented its resources with around 7,000 supply-days of farm horses and carts. Thirteenth Army had much the same experience, and in each case 1 Ukrainian Front allocated 200 to 220 trucks from its reserve to assist until a new railhead could open at Rava-Russkaya.39 On occasion, peasants were compelled to carry artillery rounds or roll fuel barrels from one village to the next; Fifty-Third Army of 2 Ukrainian Front used locals and the personnel of a reserve rifle regiment to carry 340 tonnes of shells when it looked like the batteries would run short.

As with transport, most other rear services were centralized. Tactical formations held only enough organic rear services units to cope with routine, light combat situations. This conferred two advantages. With light logistic tails, they were more agile and maneuverable than if they had been encumbered with masses of vulnerable noncombat vehicles and personnel. It also ensured that specialist and scarce service support elements were used economically and to maximum effect. For instance, there was no point in giving a rifle division the means to deal with high levels of casualties if it was in reserve or deployed on a passive sector; a small medical battalion would suffice for day-to-day needs. If, however, that division and the rest of its corps were advancing in the expectation of carrying out an opposed river crossing in the near future, army and, if necessary, front would ensure the concentration of sufficient resources from their medical reserves to cope with the anticipated flow of casualties. The same applied to the recovery and restoration of damaged equipment. Mobile corps possessed enough technical support to cope with routine maintenance and some breakdowns. When they were committed to battle, higher-echelon recovery and repair units were directed to the area of the most intense fighting to collect and then repair damaged hardware in situ.

Calculating and Meeting Requirements for Supply

The Red Army made sustained and, in time, largely successful efforts to calculate and then update operational and battlefield norms, which if implemented effectively, would increase the chances of success.40 By the summer of 1943, they were generally successful in assessing the material needs of offensive operations. Plainly, these were determined by the strength of the formation, the scope and duration of its mission, and the level of resistance encountered. However, on average, front requirements in 1944 were assessed as follows: 3.5 to 4.0 units of fire per artillery weapon, tank, or SAU; four to six refills for vehicles and fifteen to twenty for aircraft fuel;41 and fifteen to twenty-five daily rations per soldier and horse. To achieve such an accumulation of supply, three to four weeks preparation time was allowed (a lengthy period that posed challenges to the maskirovka plan). To give an idea of the sheer volume and weight involved in such a buildup, the preparations of 1 Belorussian Front for the Belorussian Operation can be used as an example. The front amassed 2.5 to 7.7 units of fire (depending on caliber), four to seven refills for its vehicles and aircraft, and ten to fifteen days of food and forage. Moving these stocks required 17,939 rail wagons (the four fronts together needed 44,111 wagonloads). In the event, the operation exceeded its planned scope, as did its successors, and an additional 15,518 wagonloads were dispatched to Rokossovskiy’s front to sustain combat into August (the four together receiving 48,280).42 Accumulating the logistic resources required to accomplish front near missions required much work on infrastructure (which, like movements, had to be concealed) and impressive staff work, bearing in mind the simultaneous concentrations of troops and equipment. These problems, however, paled in comparison with the difficulties of supplying formations once the centre of gravity had shifted into the operational depth in pursuit of distant missions.

At issue was the rear services’ ability to keep pace with the tempo of the advance. The most efficient, most rapid means of moving large quantities of fuel and ammunition was by rail. Of course, the retreating Germans, whenever they were given the opportunity, did their usually efficient best to rip up track and demolish bridges. As the Soviets advanced, each front’s Directorate for Reconstruction and Obstacle Work used its three to four railway brigades and two to three mechanized battalions to restore one or two lines. By 1944, the rate of repair work had doubled compared with the second period and averaged 7 to 12 km (4 to 7 miles) of track per day; the rate was only 3 to 5 km (2 to 3 miles) per day through areas where the enemy had prepared defenses but went up to 20 km (12 miles) in the operational depth. Higher rates were a consequence of deploying more resources and also of an increased tempo in the advance. Combined-arms armies on principal axes averaged around 8 to 10 km (5 to 6 miles) per day in the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, 12 to 18 km (7 to 11 miles) in the Belorussian Operation, and 16 to 20 km (10 to 12 miles) in the Yassi-Kishinev Operation. In those same operations, tank armies averaged 23 to 27 km (14 to 16 miles), 22 to 30 km (13 to 18 miles), and 44 km (27 miles) per day, respectively, but with maximum daily rates up to twice those figures. The higher the rate of advance and the more active the Red Air Force, the more the enemy was deprived of the opportunity and time to inflict serious damage on the transport infrastructure and the faster rehabilitation proceeded. However, bridge repair, especially over sizable rivers, usually lagged days behind the reconstruction of track and accounted for the uneven pace of restoration between fronts. Moreover, getting a railway up and running at even minimal capacity involved more than the physical restoration of lines; stations, refueling facilities, signaling and communications, and other essential infrastructure features had to be provided. The switch from broad gauge to standard gauge further complicated matters once the offensive penetrated into East Prussia and Poland.

In the more successful operations of the third period, mobile formations advanced 300 to 350 km (185 to 220 miles) within ten to fourteen days—almost double that in the thrust from the Vistula to the Oder. Higher-formation dumps were left far behind. It would usually be many weeks before each front would achieve the required level of development for a forward relocation of its stocks and thus a continuation of the offensive on its axis: that is, it would have to make operational a couple of lines going forward and two or three laterally, together totaling 800 to 1,500 km (500 to 930 miles) of track and carrying forty to fifty trains a day. During the course of the initial operation, a front would work to restore one or two lines with an early capacity of eight to fourteen pairs of trains each day. Where conditions were favorable, such as on 3 Belorussian Front’s sector in Belorussia, railheads could catch up to within 70 to 130 km (40 to 80 miles) from the line of contact. Where conditions were less benign, as in the sectors of 2 and 1 Belorussian Fronts, the lag could be 150 to 380 km (90 to 235 miles) and more. Thus, rail transport generally played only a limited role in sustaining operations in the enemy’s depth. The Yassi-Kishinev Operation was an exception. There, the railway lines were taken virtually intact, and in their swift offensive into Romania, 2 and 3 Ukrainian Fronts captured about 2,000 locomotives and 56,000 wagons, enabling them to exploit standard-gauge railways from the outset; this contributed to the depth of advance achieved by Sixth Tank Army between 20 August and 25 September—about 1,000 km (620 miles).

The number of mechanized and motorized formations and units in the Red Army grew continuously as the war progressed. Operations developed increasing tempo and depth and became more complex and harder to predict, with their switches of axes and uneven evolution. There was therefore an increasing reliance on motor transport for logistic support at the operational level as a supplement to and, for lengthy periods, a substitute for the railways. Prompt road repair and maintenance were vital. Front Road Directorates controlled twelve to fifteen separate road-building and maintenance battalions and four to five bridge-building battalions. These were used for the creation of military roads going forward to army rear boundaries; there would be two or three roads on the most important axes, each some 300 to 400 km (185 to 250 miles) long, or sometimes longer in highly successful operations.43 Much attention was devoted not only to the engineering side but also to the efficient organization of command and control and the provision of refueling and vehicle recovery and maintenance points.

The greatest challenge facing motor transport troops was to ensure the uninterrupted resupply of tank armies and their subordinate elements during rapidly evolving, dynamic operations in the enemy’s depth. A tank army’s rear services were organized in two echelons. The first, tactical, mobile echelon followed directly behind the combat units. The second, lacking mobility, comprised the army dumps, which remained static until a reduced tempo or an operational pause enabled forward redeployment. Typically, tactical supplies on wheels would be divided as follows: ammunition—1 unit of fire carried on each combat vehicle or prime mover and by each soldier for small arms, with another 0.25 in unit, brigade, and corps transport, for a total of 1.75 units of fire;44 fuel—1 fill per vehicle, with another 0.5 refill in both unit and brigade transport and a third at corps; food—two daily rations carried by each man, with two to three in unit and three to four in brigade transport and an additional four to five at corps, enough for eleven to fourteen days. Army dumps usually held 1 to 1.5 units of fire, two to four refills, and fifteen to twenty rations to replenish mobile stocks. However, experience soon showed that the fighting troops could exhaust their stocks of fuel and, more rarely, ammunition before they could be replaced. To ensure against this and the possibility of a new mission being assigned for which supply had not been budgeted, more flexibility was needed. Extra transport was provided so that army dumps could form a mobile echelon and act as an emergency reserve for the immediate delivery of fuel. And as corps’ rear became separated from army dumps by much more than 100 km (60 miles), the latter formed advanced sections or delivered direct to brigades, bypassing the corps level in the interest of time. With deeper advances, army resources increasingly failed to guarantee continuous resupply, and the front responded by either reinforcing the most important formations with extra motor vehicles or delivering direct to corps.

Once supplies had to be hauled over distances of 500 to 600 km (310 to 370 miles) or more between front dumps and the troops in contact—a round-trip of four or five days—fronts had generally reached their culminating point. Even before that point was reached, army operations frequently suffered from enforced, temporary pauses as their logistic support failed to keep up. For instance, Third Guards Tank and Fourth Tank Armies failed to take L’vov from the line of march on 19 July when distance, congestion, and bad roads in the Koltuv corridor, together with high consumption rates, combined to create ammunition and especially fuel deficiencies. In the Vistula-Oder Operation, Second Guards Tank Army was halted, at one time or another, for a total of five days during the sixteen-day operation. Even if the advance was not brought to a complete halt, armies could be forced to check one of their corps, or corps to check one or two of their brigades, until more fuel could be brought up. Thus, on 25 January in the Vistula-Oder Operation, Third Guards Tank Army’s 9 Mechanized Corps had to limit its advance to two brigades; in the same operation, Fourth Tank Army was able to employ only a single tank brigade in its forcing of the Oder. On occasion, a continuation of the advance became possible, even though the system was failing, because significant stocks of fuel were captured. In the Lublin-Brest Operation, more than 30 percent of Second Tank Army’s consumption consisted of such trophy fuel, as did 25 percent of Second Guards Tank Army’s in advancing from the Vistula to the Oder. Such a development was, of course, more likely when surprise and, in consequence, a high tempo of advance were achieved. In the Yassi-Kishinev Operation, Sixth Tank Army captured the Ploiesti oil fields and refineries intact, and a further advance of more than 500 km (300 miles) by 2 Ukrainian Front was sustained by laying a 225 km (140 mile) pipeline. Of course, such windfalls were only that; they could not be factored into planning.



Maintaining Combat Capability

Fuel and ammunition shortages were not the only things that could bring operational exploitation to a premature end. Even more serious were insupportable losses, especially in armor. To avoid premature culmination, which would sacrifice the opportunities created by a successful breakthrough, the Red Army paid increasing attention to the repair and restoration of damaged equipment and the replacement of casualties. The system that evolved during the war is best illustrated through the example of keeping up tank and SAU numbers. Maintaining combat capabilities started before an operation began. Every effort was made to bring participating units and formations up to—and, if possible, over—strength, with their weapons and equipment ready for many days of intense usage. Factory-new tanks and SAUs would replace as many worn or outdated ones as possible (the latter would often remain in quiet sectors while their crews were shipped to the assembly area to pick up their new ones for the next operation). Others whose tracks and engines had already been subject to considerable wear and tear would, wherever possible, have at least their most timeworn items replaced. In practice, this was the main means by which the viability of formations was maintained. During the conduct of an operation, the provision of fresh replacements while operating at a high tempo in the enemy’s depth was not a practical option (unless there was an operational pause), even if they were available.

Planning for force regeneration during the course of an operation had to take into account uneven loss rates from two causes: combat (destroyed or, more commonly, damaged) and noncombat (mechanical breakdown or badly mired). By far the heaviest casualties from enemy action would be suffered during the breakthrough. Ideally, these losses would be incurred mostly by the combined-arms armies, with the mobile groups being used only to complete the penetration. Of course, if the operation did not develop as planned and a clean breach was not achieved, an attritional struggle would develop, the casualty rate would remain high, and the depth achieved would be limited; for example, in the Orel Operation, it took Fourth Tank Army ten days to penetrate the defense, and it lost 83.9 percent of its T-34s. During exploitation operations, by contrast, average daily loss rates would remain low. However, there would be increases, sometimes sharp ones, during the penetration of defense lines in the enemy’s depth, when drawn into fighting in built-up areas, when forcing major water obstacles, or (usually as the operation was culminating) during enemy counterattacks; for instance, in the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, over 50 percent of First Guards Tank Army’s losses were incurred during the establishment and subsequent defense of the Sandomir bridgehead over the Vistula. The incidence of noncombat losses depended substantially on the duration of the operation, the terrain it crossed, and the weather. Also important, however, was the state of equipment maintenance. The frequency and extent of mechanical failures were noticeably reduced as the war progressed and driver training and unit-level maintenance improved; for example, 334 tanks and SAUs of First Guards Tank Army failed in the Belgorod-Khar’kov Operation, but only 105 during the Vistula-Oder Operation, even though the army in the latter was 30 percent larger. Generalizing very broadly, 70 percent of the tanks and SAUs requiring recovery and repair had been battle damaged, and 30 percent had suffered technical malfunctions or become bogged down.

The system for restoring unserviceable tanks and SAUs and returning them to combat units was designed to cope with maneuver operations at a high tempo. At each level, responsibility for the regeneration of combat power rested with the higher commander. He distributed his assets to reinforce his subordinate formations according to the importance of their missions and the likely strength of the opposition, being prepared to switch resources to different axes as operational requirements dictated. At front level, a reserve was generally held to ensure that adequate facilities were available in the most critical area and at the most critical time.

Units possessed a minimal technical capability that was sufficient only for routine maintenance and the simplest of repairs. Thus, brigades would undertake work requiring no more than two hours. The mobile tank repair bases of corps and armies would establish technical observation posts in the areas where their units and formations had done their heaviest fighting. These would direct evacuation subunits and units in the collection of the casualties inflicted in the latest battle in order to concentrate them at damaged vehicle collection points (save those needing less than six hours of work, which were dealt with on the spot). The repair units would then arrive to work on the contents of these collection points. There was strict prioritization in the execution of repair work. Top priority went to those requiring running repairs needing no more than six to eight hours; then jobs taking up to twelve hours were tackled. Corps repair shops would then move on to repairs requiring twelve to eighteen hours if they remained in the area long enough. If, however, the operation was developing at a satisfactory tempo, they would have to hurry on to the next damaged vehicle collection point, possibly quite distant, usually leaving many relatively minor jobs undone. Army facilities would take their place, and once they had completed the easier jobs, they would start on medium repairs requiring one, two, or even three days. They too would frequently have to move on before completing all the medium repairs. Major repairs would be left to front workshops, but they rarely had time to get to these after catching up with the backlog of medium repairs that resulted from a high rate of advance. An example of the system at work is provided by the two damaged vehicle collection points leapfrogging forward to operate 40 to 50 km (25 to 30 miles) apart in the zone of First Guards Tank Army during the Vistula-Oder Operation. During the forty days of their involvement (which did not end with the army’s transition to defense), one moved three times and the other five times, spending from three to sixteen days at each location. Between them, they repaired 227 armored vehicles and eliminated lesser malfunctions in another 356; 88 were back-loaded to front workshops. Largely as a result of their work, on 1 February 1945 the army’s serviceable tank and SAU strength was 577, or 76 percent of its starting strength. (Second Guards Tank Army did not fare so well, ending up with 495 tanks and SAUs at the conclusion of the operation, 59 percent of its initial 838.)

Table 2 analyzes the armored vehicle losses and repairs of some tank armies during third-period operations selected to illustrate different operational conditions. Second Guards Tank Army in the Vistula-Oder Operation represents the ideal: the armored formation was inserted through a clean breach, and in a high-tempo exploitation to great depth, it forced intermediate defense lines before they could be defended. The tank armies of 1 Ukrainian Front, in contrast, had to complete the penetration before being able to conduct rapid operational maneuver, and this largely accounted for their higher losses. In the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, First Guards Tank Army not only had to complete the breakthrough but, even more significantly, had to engage in a prolonged and wearing fight to hold the Sandomir bridgehead against counterattacks. The East Prussian Operation, mounted as a supporting effort for the main offensive on the Warsaw-Berlin axis, had to gnaw through prepared, unsurprised defenses in depth, and losses were accordingly high.

Table 1

Table 1 above illustrates how, generalizing broadly from these and other operations of the third period, the total losses of tank armies averaged 70 percent or more, but irrecoverable losses were only about 25 percent of initial strengths. The evolved method of employing recovery and repair facilities made it possible for tank armies to rehabilitate and return to action most tanks and SAUs that could be repaired in the field (although, owing to the shortage of spare parts, a lot of repairable equipment was cannibalized as the operation progressed). In each of these operations, almost all tanks and SAUs that required running repairs and 80 percent of those needing medium repairs were restored to combat units. Indeed, it was not uncommon, as in the case of First Guards Tank Army in the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, for total losses to exceed the army’s initial strength. In the same operation, each of Third Guards Tank Army’s tanks and SAUs was out of commission two or three times, and they were returned to service just as frequently. Of course, a critical factor in the success of the recovery and repair system was battlefield success. When battles ended, the Soviet forces were left in possession of the scenes of carnage, allowing them to scavenge, sort, and classify every vehicle into every category from total wreck to minor mobility problems. For the retreating Germans, on the other hand, every fighting vehicle left on the battlefield was a write-off, no matter how superficial the damage.

Table 2

The treatment of human casualties followed the same principles that were applied to equipment. The system was calculated to contribute to the maintenance of combat power to the maximum extent possible; it could be described as austere. Thus, for example, ambulances were thin on the ground, and most wounded were taken to the rear in unsprung peasant carts or trucks returning from delivering ammunition. Medical battalions were concentrated on the axes where the greatest casualties were expected, and they moved from one area of fierce fighting to the next, leapfrogging forward. The policy was to treat as many of the injured as possible at each stage in the medical chain; the further back a man was sent, the more difficult it became to reintegrate him into a unit on recovery. At subunit level, only basic first aid was provided; even at unit (regiment and brigade) level, only those casualties were treated that could be returned immediately to combat. The rest were triaged, with the lightly wounded who would be fit for battle in a day or two being sent to divisional field hospitals, treated, and held there until they could be sent forward. Those with little prospect of proving useful during the course of the operation were sorted by injury and dispatched to specialized army or, in the most serious cases, front hospitals. At each stage, emergency aid would be given to save the soldier’s life and stabilize him, but therapeutic treatment was given at any stage only to those who could be expected to recover in a usefully short period of time; such prioritization was considered the greatest contribution the medical services could make to the restoration of combat effectiveness.

The Red Army found that, in offensive operations, it would generally lose one man killed or missing for every three medical casualties (i.e., wounded or sick; the latter usually representing, according to a rather conservative estimate, about 15 percent of the total). Of the medical losses, 81 percent were eventually returned to duty, so permanent wastage represented somewhat more than 40 percent of all casualties. In calculating manpower requirements, Soviet planners learned that, at army level, 65 to 80 percent of the losses incurred in an entire operation would usually be suffered during the breakthrough phase—the first three or four days. Such data informed the provision of medical resources. It was also important for planning on the operations side, as was the realization that, whereas the total casualty bill was largely a function of the enemy’s strength and preparedness, the proportion of Soviet casualties as a percentage of the total force decreased as the superiority ratio increased. Table 2 shows the rough correlation between superiority ratios and percentage losses during the penetration of prepared defenses; apparent inconsistencies can be accounted for by such factors as whether surprise was achieved and the level of enemy preparation. Most importantly, such analysis helped front-level commanders and staffs to establish the numbers of men necessary to sustain the advance through to the entire planned depth of the operation and achieve the assigned objectives.

Soviet forecasting of force requirements and probable loss rates, and therefore viability, improved over time. Front calculations became increasingly reliable, albeit consistently on the conservative side and only at the macro level. Although improvements in the organization and training of technical troops and medical services resulted in the return of increasing numbers of temporarily incapacitated equipment and, to a lesser extent, men to service, casualties still had considerable impact on combat capabilities. When a high rate of advance was being achieved, restored tanks and SAUs and wounded men treated at divisional level could not rejoin their original first-echelon units, which would be too far away by that time. Of necessity, they were used instead to restore units that had been temporarily withdrawn from combat or to augment second echelons or create reserves, usually by rebuilding units under the control of headquarters that had lost most of their combat power. Longer-term sustainability at army and front levels did not translate into the immediate viability of leading lower formations.

It was, for example, reckoned that a tank or mechanized corps would be approaching combat exhaustion by the fourth or fifth day of a penetration battle or the eighth to tenth day of operations in the enemy’s depth. Various methods were employed to sustain operational endurance, assuming, of course, there was no second echelon immediately available to assume the role of the depleted formation. Regrouping could solve some problems. Thus, when the headquarters of the still numerically viable 25 Tank Corps was destroyed during the Orel Operation, Eleventh Guards Army transferred the formation to 36 Guards Rifle Corps so that its armor could act under infantry command, providing close infantry support. Where the command and control apparatus remained intact but losses left units verging on combat ineffectiveness, the usual answer was to form improvised groupings. For example, during the Belgorod-Khar’kov Operation, the remains of 29 Tank Corps were reformed into a single composite brigade. An alternative approach was used during the Carpathian-Dukla Operation, when the commander of 4 Guards Tank Corps redistributed the assets of 3 Guards Motor Rifle Brigade between his tank brigades. During its actions in the enemy’s depth toward the end of the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, 25 Tank Corps was down to 15 percent of its tanks and SAUs, 50 percent of its artillery and mortars, 19 percent of its riflemen, and 40 percent of its communications equipment. To create a formation capable of forcing the Wisloka and preventing the enemy’s withdrawal to Krosno, the corps was regrouped into a composite 20 Guards Motor-Rifle Brigade and a tank battalion commanded by 162 Tank Brigade headquarters. Such improvised units and formations were able to shake down quite quickly into effective teams, thanks to a combination of uniform training and simple tactical drills. Nevertheless, the very fact that such ad hoc creations were proving necessary was a warning to senior commanders that their culminating point was nigh.


In the third period, the Red Army executed increasingly deep and continuous operations, more and more frequently mounting successive operations without pauses between them as conservatively calculated goals were achieved at lower than anticipated cost. This was made possible by the evolution of a logistic system well suited to achieving distant objectives at a high tempo. It was designed to support operational maneuver rather than linear-attritional combat. It was austere, with only essentials being resourced. Above all, perhaps, senior commanders laid down clear priorities for the logistic effort and generally eschewed the temptation to pursue all desirable aims simultaneously, thus risking culmination across a broad front with no critical objectives achieved. Secondary tasks were undertaken only through sequenced operations once the main ones were attained.

The Soviets’ logistic reach was extended by the very fact that they accomplished high-speed offensives. The Red Army was routinely left in possession of the battlefield, with all that implied for recovery and repair. The faster the advance, the less chance the enemy had to carry out a scorched-earth policy as he retreated. Railway lines and bridges were often taken intact or with only superficial damage. The enemy sometimes lacked the time necessary to evacuate or even destroy the supply dumps he needed to offer continued effective resistance; captured fuel often extended the reach of advancing Soviet formations. Moreover, consumption fell as the tempo rose. Compare a tank army achieving a rate of advance of 16 to 45 km (10 to 30 miles) per day with one making only 4.5 to 13 km (3 to 10 miles) per day. At the higher rate, it would use only one-third the amount of fuel consumed at the lower rate to cover 100 km (60 miles). It would also expend only one-sixth the amount of ammunition. It suffered less than one-third the number of personnel casualties, and although tank and SAU losses were running close to two-thirds, the vast majority were simple, quickly repairable mechanical breakdowns. Such is the difference between pursuit of an enemy incapable of serious resistance and fighting through a balanced defense conducted by a determined foe. Success bred success—for both the commanders and the logisticians who had the conceptual and organizational readiness to exploit it.

Soviet Naval Air in the Black Sea 1943

Il-4T 5th GMTAP, Black Sea Fleet

Pe-2 (205th series) 40th BAP, Black Sea Fleet

A-20DO 30 RAP, VVS Black Sea

Though varying in intensity, air activity was more effective and dangerous than submarine activity all through the year. Off the part of the coast held by the Soviets (with the naval bases of Poti and Batumi) it made operating increasingly difficult for the German submarines. Their main task was attacking the Soviet coastal traffic, especially that carrying supplies to the forces at Novorossiysk and Mount Myshako. When the submarines attempted to move close in- shore by night, they were picked up by intersecting searchlights stationed on the coast, and then attacked from the air, after the plane had illuminated them with a kind of star shell. They attributed their detection to the noise of their diesel engines, which must have been picked up with listening gear on the shore. By switching over to electric drive, they sometimes escaped the searchlights, but as soon as planes came they had to dive.

In this context, it should be mentioned that contrary to Soviet assertions, not a single one of the six German submarines was lost at sea to enemy action. When the Germans retreated from the coast of the Black Sea in August 1944, one submarine was put out of action by bombs dropped from the air on the naval base at Constanta. Two were scuttled by their crews at Constanta; the last three operated until their fuel was exhausted. Then their crews scuttled them off the Turkish coast.

Soviet air attacks on warships, convoys, and ports were frequent all through the year. The planes used bombs, torpedoes, and often their guns at close range. The impression on the German side was that the Russians carried out naval reconnaissance with torpedo planes for the double purpose of reconnoitering and also attacking when suitable targets were sighted. The convoys had to watch constantly for attacks by single planes with torpedoes. They generally came from the direction of the sun. In most cases, the torpedoes missed, but now and then they hit a target. A war diary (probably Admiral Black Sea) said on 22 January: “The vigorous employment of the Air Force, and particularly of aerial torpedoes, represents a substantial threat to the still inadequately protected convoys.”

Besides reconnaissance and torpedo attacks, the third task of the Soviet planes was to drop magnetic mines into the shipping channels. The results of these various activities are illustrated by the events of a few days in January 1943:

20 January: Repeated torpedo attacks by single planes on convoys along the Rumanian and Bessarabian coast. No success reported.

21 January: Air attack on Anapa with 88 bombs (war diary: “The importance of that port for our supplies is recognized”).

22 January: Attack by several torpedo planes on a convoy assembling off Sulina. Steamer Kolosvar (1,200 GRT) takes one bomb hit on her stern, is towed to the beach, and later towed into Sulina. Planes flew out of the sun, in misty weather, and launched torpedoes at an altitude of 40 meters, distance 400 meters. One plane fired its guns shortly before dropping false recognition signal (war diary, Naval Special Duty Detachment).

Verkehr mit Kleinfahrzeugen (MFP) in the Black Sea

24 January: MFP-323 [Marinefährprahm (MFP)], en route to Feodosiya towing a minesweeping coil (for magnetic mines) struck an ELM (Englische Luft-Mine, a magnetic mine dropped by plane) and sank. Only two men were rescued. In February 1943, the Soviet landing forces at Novorossiysk were strongly supported from the air. When the bridgehead near the town was cut off from the beach, planes attempted to supply it, but could not save it.

The Kerch area and the German warships there, whether carrying supplies or laying mines, were often attacked from the air. On 25 February, naval ferry barges laying protective minefields south of the entrance to the Kerch Strait were repeatedly bombed and gunned. On the same day, bomb attacks in several waves hit the town and port of Kerch. Two days later near Kerch, MFP-353 was severely damaged by bomb hits. Ten men were killed, five wounded.

Other regions were not neglected. On the same day, Italian MTBs returning from a night operation against the traffic under the coast between Tuapse and Gelendzhik were repeatedly attacked by planes, but suffered no damage. Off the southern tip of the Crimea, a single plane attacked a convoy of towed barges with bombs and guns, but the gunfire of the escorting MFPs prevented it from doing serious damage. On 1 March, the supply traffic across the Kerch Strait was again the target of several attacks. After a direct bomb hit on her stern MFP-176 was a total loss. MFP-273 was severely damaged. On 9 March, MFP-371 (without cargo) struck a mine near Kerch and sank with her entire crew. The necessary minesweeping operations hindered the ferry traffic across the Strait. In the foIIowing weeks, bomb attacks and minelaying in the Kerch Strait were continuous. On 22 March, a motor barge carrying ammunition blew up after a bomb hit; MFP-331 and a tug were damaged.

In themselves and in comparison with what was going on in other theaters of war, these events seem no more than mere incidents. However, they added up, and the scale of operations was· different here. Except for the few Rumanian destroyers, which never undertook offensive operations, there were no large warships at the disposal of the Axis powers, and very often, no planes for reconnaissance and protection. The Soviet Navy was fully aware of this situation and did its best to damage the supply traffic and the German-held ports. Submarines and particularly airplanes were its weapons.

In the following months, Sevastopol was bombed many times. Some ships were damaged; one used as accommodation for the crews of the MFPs was sunk (not three transports, as the Soviets claimed). At sea, there were so many attacks that only a few examples can be given. Apparently, the tactics differed considerably in quality. On 31 -March, in an attack on the escorted minelayer Grafenau (a converted steamer), two torpedoes were dropped from a height of 80 to 100 meters, but they expended themselves on the surface. Then in a second pass, two more were dropped, this time from a height of 20 to 30 meters. The torpedoes were outmaneuvered and one plane was shot down. On 10 April a war diary observed: “The fact that no losses occurred in most of the aerial and bombing attacks on supply steamers is to be attributed to the circumstance that those attacks were not carried out vigorously enough, and that the relatively heavy antiaircraft fire forced the attacking planes to turn away too soon.”

This was noted after an unsuccessful attack on a convoy with towed barges west of Feodosiya. But it was also noticed that combined attacks of the Soviet planes improved. On the same day an attack of this kind on the tanker Prodromos (800 GRT) was carried out with unusual tactical skill. While two bombers came in at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 meters, two others attacked from the direction of the sun at a height of only 100 meters. At first, they dropped bombs on an escorting gunboat but missed; then they dropped five bombs close to the bow of the tanker. Just when the ship turned to port to avoid the bombs two torpedo planes made a surprise attack from starboard and dropped three torpedoes at a distance of about 500 meters. All the torpedoes jumped high out of the water: one was a surface runner. Only by skillful maneuvering did the tanker escape bombs and torpedoes. Then the planes attacked again with their guns, in three waves closely following each other.

The German Air Force was very interested in the cargo of the tanker. As a consequence, on her next trip three days later, the Prodromos was escorted for the first time not only by gunboats, but also by fighter planes.

All through April attacks continued, most of them unsuccessful. In the first half of May, very low visibility protected the convoys. On 18 May, the 88th Anapa convoy was first attacked near Anapa by a submarine with two torpedoes, which expended themselves on the surface, then three hours later by four bombers and four fighters with bombs and guns. The convoy suffered no serious damage.

On 19 May, the 89th Anapa convoy of four MFPs was attacked by seven or eight planes with bombs and guns when it approached its destination. MFP-309 and MFP-367 with cargoes of ammunition and guns took a number of bomb hits and sank when the ammunition exploded. The survivors were picked up by MFP-126, which was also damaged, and MFP-144, which escaped unhurt. Two of the attacking planes were shot down. But half the convoy was wiped out! This showed clearly how dangerous attacks on this vital supply line could be.

Little is known about the situation of the Soviet Naval Air Arm regarding material and supplies, or personnel, training, and losses. It can be assumed that the number of planes increased considerably in the course of the year, as it did in the Baltic. According to a report of the 1st German MTB [Motor Torpedo Boat] Flotilla, new types of planes and equipment were being used by the Russians. From the late fall of 1942 on, Anglo-American convoys traversed the Barents Sea almost without loss and carried great amounts of war material to Murmansk. After the Axis powers lost North Africa in the spring of 1943, the passage through the Mediterranean was free, and supplies went to the Persian Gulf and from there unhampered to the Soviet forces.

1st MTB Flotilla reported:

20 May 1943. Moonlit night. Very fast planes, apparently Mosquitos, attack the flotilla returning from the Caucasus coast (where the MTBs had operated against the coastal traffic), followed by 8-10 bombers. Attack tactics: In the approach the planes, firing 2 guns, come to within 25 meters of the boats and drop 15 to 20 fragmentation bombs when pulling up. They also drop 4 to 6 light bombs (about 30 kg) which are suspended under the wings. When withdrawing they fire with 3 or 4 machine guns rigidly mounted in the tail, or in some cases with movable machine guns. MTB 8-72 received 15 hits, all of them 20-mm armor-piercing shells. 8-49 also hit, developed a big cloud of smoke. Two men slightly wounded, both 20-mm AA guns hit; but remained serviceable. The radio operated only on emergency power. Hits in 2 tanks in compartment No. 6 and- holes below the waterline, repaired by damage control group. A two-engined plane is hit several times by shells from the 20-mm guns of 8-72 while making its approach. One landing gear is extended, parts of the other fall into the water beside the MTB. The plane steadily loses altitude and plunges into the water about 1,000 meters away. Fighter protection is requested. One ME-110 (German fighter) does not manage to find the flotilla until the afternoon. 8-49 is brought in despite severe damage.

The same unit reported on a day attack:

4 June 1943. No casualties or damage by dive attack out of the sun by 3 YAK-4s, 12 bombs dropped. When defensive fire is opened, one man parachutes out of a plane and is taken prisoner. One hour later two Douglas Bostons drop bombs from an altitude of about 1,500 meters and fire their guns when withdrawing. MTB 8-26 damaged by bomb fragments, 2 men seriously wounded, 3 slightly. One plane shot down. One hour later another attack by 3 Douglas Bostons, which dropped 18 bombs but missed. Aircraft fire again as planes withdrew.

The attacks on the convoys to the port of Anapa continued. On 27 May, the 97th convoy was attacked. MFP-328 was sunk. In the immediate vicinity of the port, MFP-332 with a cargo of 80 tons of gasoline for the Air Force was attacked by 16 bombers. and fighters and caught fire. She was beached and burned out; her crew was saved. Six of the attacking planes were shot down by antiaircraft fire and fighters. Three days later, all nine bombers attacking an Anapa convoy were shot down by antiaircraft guns of the ships and by fighters. During the month of May 1943, the Soviet Naval Air Arm undertook about 120 attacks on ships at sea and on ports and unloading places.

On 3 June, a convoy entering Akmechet was attacked by bombers, whose target was evidently the tug Hamburg. The ship was damaged and had to be beached, but was able to leave after five days. Immediately afterwards, the port was heavily attacked. According to the war diary of the Naval Special Duty Detachment the reason probably was that the tug looked similar to “Ship 19,” a ship specially equipped for submarine hunting, which had had a brush with a sub- marine a few days earlier.

During the air attacks on the convoys a new kind of aerial torpedo was observed that ran on the surface and detonated after a certain distance. It was supposed that these torpedoes were meant to damage shallow-draft vessels like the MFPs, which were difficult to hit with normal torpedoes (war diary of the 3rd Flotilla of motor minesweepers). There is no proof, however, that they were not simply defective.

Attacks continued all through the summer against the same targets. On 5 June, the MTB base at Ivan Baba suffered heavy casualties and considerable destruction when hit by bombs. On 12 June off Feodosiya five bombers attacked a convoy composed of two steamers protected by two Rumanian gunboats and two MFPs. The planes flew out of the sun and were discovered too late. Three bombs hit the steamer Birgit (1,970 GRT) forward-she sank slowly, bow first.

On 17 June, 18 planes attacked a convoy of towed barges near Kerch. One barge was hit and sank after its cargo of ammunition exploded. As it drifted burning, six planes attacked it with 30 bombs. On 19 June, a group of German artillery carriers and RA-motor minesweepers bombarded the port of Yeysk on the Sea of Azov. Six Russian planes attacked them repeatedly at low altitude. They opened fire at a distance of about 1,000 meters; the motor minesweepers answered with all their guns at 500 meters. According to the Ger- mans’ observation the Russian pilots had not the nerve to fly into that hail of fire. Their own gunfire, which at first was well aimed, became inaccurate. One of the Russian planes was shot down.

On 25 June, the 123rd Anapa convoy was attacked just outside the port by twelve bombers covered by six fighters. The defense was prepared: German fighters were in the air and shot down six of the attacking planes. The convoy did not suffer any damage. On its way back, it was attacked again. This time there were no fighters present. MFP-142 was hit and her cargo of old uniforms caught fire. She was towed back and the fire was extinguished.

During June 1943, Soviet planes repeatedly mined the shipping channel at the mouth of the Danube.

On 7 July, Feodosiya and Yalta were attacked from the air. At Feodosiya fourteen planes dropped 50 to 60 bombs. One harbor defense boat was sunk; a slip with a Rumanian gunboat on it was damaged; beyond this only some buildings were hit. Yalta was bombed by five planes. MFP-144 was damaged and had to be beached; a fishing cutter sank. Yalta was attacked again on 19 July – motor minesweeper R-33 sank.

On 13 July, the 140th Anapa convoy was attacked by seven bombers with bombs and guns. The planes evidently were armored, for the 20-mm. antiaircraft shells were deflected. The bombers came in twice, at an altitude of no more than 300 to 400 meters. Nevertheless, they damaged only one MFP slightly. One bomber was shot down.

Three days later, the 142nd Anapa convoy was attacked by nine bombers and three fighters. They came in very low, only 100 to 150 meters high, dropped 80 to 100 small and medium bombs and fired their guns during the approach and the retreat. Some men were killed or wounded by fragments. The only direct hit sank an unmanned landing boat towed by a steamer. The antiaircraft guns of the escorting MFPs brought down two planes; German fighters accounted for another six.

On 26 July, the 152nd Anapa convoy was attacked by 15 bombers with about 80 bombs and the usual gunfire. None of the ships was damaged; one man was killed, one wounded. Then the planes were intercepted by German fighters, which brought down ten of them. This was probably the reason why another group of 21 planes sighted to seaward of the convoy did not attack.

The war diary of the Sea Commandant Caucasus for July 1943 remarked:

The steadily increasing bomb attacks in the last three months on naval ferry barges (MFP) and convoys with tows, bound for Anapa and Temryuk, and in the Kerch Strait, were mainly carried out by armored ground attack planes, against which the 20-mm AA guns were able to score successes only when the planes were in a favorable position and when armor-piercing ammunition was used. The MFPs scored 6 kills, mostly with their 75-mm guns. The fighter cover now available in this area brought down 28 of the attacking planes in July.

In August, there were several attacks on Anapa convoys (Nos. 163, 166, and 167), but they caused only minor damage, and no losses.

S-Boot S-47 [sister ship of S-46]

S-Boot S-28

On 24 August, 1st MTB Flotilla reported:

Attack by 4 bombers and 6 fighter-bombers in continuous independent passes with aircraft weapons, rocket bombs and fragmentation bombs. One plane fires a type of rocket which explodes at an altitude of 100 to 150 meters and scatters an incendiary composition (not phosphorus), which started some fires on the forecastle of MTB S-46, but they could be extinguished with water.

On the same day, the senior officer of the flotilla reported an un- successful night attack on his unit:

Star shells over the boats. One plane fires a green flare, then aircraft weapons. Ten minutes later attack with bombs, at least 10 to 15 drop among the boats. After another ten minutes renewed bombing, 5 hits on MTB S-28. Only the insufficiently shielded exhaust of the airplanes can be made out, at first with the night glass, then with the naked eye against a cloudless starry sky. Estimated altitude between 500 and 800 meters. Half an hour later, again bombs and aircraft weapons fire.

The Russians apparently employ sea reconnaissance planes with locating gear (radar). They fire green flares after identifying the MTBs. These flares home in the bombers, and they maintain contact even after the bombing attack is ended.

On 29 August 1943, the same unit reported:

First wave of planes replaced by new ones so that on an average 10 to 12 planes participate in the attack, which they carry out in close order. Getting in position at an altitude of about 1,000 meters, the enemy dives to about 50 meters over the water. Armament: 20-mm guns, 27-mm guns, and slow-firing 37-mm gun. Result: Maximum speed of the MTBs reduced to 20 knots by hits mostly of 20-mm guns. More or less severe damage on boats. Request for fighter protection, especially urgent since 4 boats are to be employed again on the same day.

These detailed reports are cited to give a picture of Soviet air activity in this theater of war. In the beginning of September 1943, its tempo changed as the over-all situation on the Russian fronts compelled the German armies to fall back here, too. At the same time, the Russians felt strong enough to take the offensive. The German decision to retreat across the Kerch Strait and the Soviet decision to attack along the Black Sea coast coincided.

The Battle for Novorossiysk

Marines detachment of Major Caesar Kunikov, shortly before the night of February 4, 1943, when they took part in the landing operation and seized a bridgehead south of Novorossiysk, known as “Malaya Zemlya”.

In February of 1943, the Russians mounted their first amphibious invasion of the war. Operation Morsky was to be a combined land and naval offensive with the objective of capturing the port of Novorossiysk before rolling up the coast to Anapa and from there cutting the German line of retreat from the Taman Peninsula.

The operation began badly; and did not get better. Were it not for the successful establishment of a beachhead at Alexina, the effort would have been a complete waste. Could more have been achieved? Or did the Russians do all that was possible with their very limited resources?

The German summer offensive of 1942 achieved a level of success similar to the opening months of the war. The Soviet forces deployed from Voronezh to the Black Sea were so severely mauled that no effective resistance was mounted against the German exploitation until the closing months of 1942, when German spearheads had reached the Caucasus Mountains, the Maikop and Grozny oil-fields, the outskirts of Stalingrad and the verge of the Caspian Sea.

Western military opinion, particularly that of Churchill, again wrote off the Russians, just as they had the previous year when the panzers were at the gates of Moscow. They were even more in error this time!

In late November of 1942, the Soviet counter-attacks went in. The most significant success was the envelopment and eventual destruction of von Paulus’ 6th Army at Stalingrad. Elsewhere, south of Stalingrad, the Germans were relentlessly driven back, in considerable disorder. The axis of the Russian advance precluded the chance to trap major parts of the German 17th Army which staggered back to the relative safety of the Taman Peninsula and the depots at Anapa and Krasnodar.

Unwilling to surrender the initiative, Soviet armies continued to press the foe, heedless of their dwindling resources and ever- lengthening supply lines.

German resistance stiffened. Most of Army Group A slipped through the Rostov Gap before the Russians could close it. Along the Black Sea Coast a combination of good defensive terrain, secure supplies and the general exhaustion of the advancing Russians, stalled and finally stopped the Russian drive on the outskirts of the port of Novorossiysk.

The Soviet plan to recapture the entire Taman Peninsula, simultaneously destroying all of 17 Army, received the codename Gory-Morsky.

Operation Morsky, the naval component of the offensive, was designed to capture Novorossiysk, primarily through the use of an amphibious invasion behind the German front line. With the fall of the town, the assaulting forces would advance along the coast, overwhelm the depot at Anapa and then drive northwards to prevent a German escape across the Kerch Straits.

The plan was overbold. The elements of the 47th Army available to launch the overland attack on Novorossiysk were already tired, some units were exhausted, from earlier attempts to break the German positions. Supplies of all types, but particularly artillery ammunition, were scarce.

The amphibious forces were no better off. With Odessa, Sevastopol and Novorossiysk in German hands, the Russians had no proper naval facilities for the remaining units of the Black Sea Fleet. Perforce, they used the bombardment capability of their two operational cruisers and five destroyers with understandable caution. Severely damaged warships just could not be repaired.

A miscellaneous collection of gunboats, minesweepers, patrol boats and self-propelled barges were assembled to transport the three marine brigades and supporting units which would make up the two waves of the invasion force. They could not be assembled on time.

The landward offensive got underway on February 3rd, one day ahead of the proposed amphibious assault. By early afternoon, what little impetus the attack had achieved was already lost. The 47th Army could not make any impression on the fortified defenders from the German V Korps. 

In the early hours of February 4th, paratroopers from the 90th Special Landing Force, supported by air strikes, dropped at Vasilevka and Glebovka. The main landing site a little beach to the south of Yuzhnaya Ozereyka, was protected by several shore batteries which, unaffected by the preliminary naval bombardment, opened up a withering fire on the approaching transports. Many were sunk or damaged. Some troops did get ashore and eventually drove the Rumanian defenders from the town.

Fortunately, events developed more favourably at the secondary invasion site· the town of Alexina.

In the next three days, Axis reinforcements including a Kampfgruppe from the 13th Panzer Division, cleaned up all but the beachhead at Alexina, now stiffened by the survivors of the abortive landing at Yuzhnaya Ozereyka and the arrival of a fresh brigade brought in by night across Tsemesskaya Bay.

Both sides did what they could to build up their forces; not much in either case, given the demands of other, and more important, sectors. A German counter-attack on the 12th reduced the Soviet perimeter but at a terrible cost and it was not until April, some two months later, and with the arrival of the 4th Mountain Division, that another attack was mounted. It also failed.

In September the deadlock was broken. A Soviet offensive aimed at Mefodyevka in conjunction with an amphibious assault on Novorossiysk itself, crushed the brittle German defense and reunited the Malya Zemla (Little Land) with the mainland. The Russian beachhead had survived for 225 days.

The Little Land: The Battle for Novorossiysk

February 4-9, 1943

Stalin had been unhappy with the progress of North Caucasus Front on Krasnodor and impatient to see more success, he ordered General Ivan Petrov, commander of the Black Sea Group of Forces, to break the stalemate by a surprise invasion from the Black Sea. This would unhinge the German defense and quicken the offensive.

Almost immediately, things went wrong – with a bombardment from the Black Sea Fleet that merely alerted the defense – and the invasion itself was running far behind schedule. So began the battle of Novorossiysk.

CSS: Novorossiysk is the first game in the Nemesis series covering company level battles on the Eastern Front. With added special rules to cover the unique type of warfare on the Eastern Front, players will battle over the fate of the Kuban with tanks, amphibious invasions, paratroopers, naval ships and artillery.

GOTENKOPF, the Taman bridgehead

“Blue Line” – a system of German defense fortifications “Gotenkopf” on the Taman Peninsula during the Great Patriotic War (WWII). According to the Soviet documents, the construction of B. L. was started in January 1943 on the basis of the existing field entrenchment built by the Soviet troops in summer 1942. The main defense strip was to 6 km wide and behind it the well-fortified line extended for 40 km. The left wing of B. L. started near Verbyanaya Bar, passed over the near- Azov mouths, along the banks of the Kurka and Adagum rivers as far as the Kievsky village. Then it turned southward and crossed Varenikovsky, Moldavansky, Crimean, Nizhnebakansky and Verkhnebakansky villages. The southern wing of B. L. passed over mountains from Neberdzhaevsky village to Novorossiysk. B. L. was defended by the units of the 17th Army. The total number of the German group on Taman reached 400,000 people. Having moved from the Caucasus to Taman, the 17th Army and a part of the 1st Tank Army shortened significantly the front line and, as a result, they created denser battle lines on the peninsula. Maintaining their presence on the Taman Peninsula, the German com- mand, on the one hand, covered Crimea and, on the other, had a base area for resuming offensive actions on the Caucasus. The German troops on Taman succeeded to draw in the considerable forces of the Red Army that were unable to take part in the spring military actions in Ukraine. On September 1943 the troops of the North-Caucasian front commanded by General I. E. Petrov started a new offensive for liberation of Novorossiysk and Taman Peninsula. In the course of these battles the Soviet troops took hold of B. L. and on October 9 forced completely the German troops from the Taman Peninsula. Liberation of Taman and Novorossiysk improved significantly the possibilities for the Black Sea fleet basing and facilitated the struggle for return of the Crimea.

Georgiy Nikitich Kholostyakov (1902-1983) – Vice Admiral in the USSR Fleet. In 1915 he worked as unskilled laborer. He took part in Civil War in Russia. In 1925 he finished the Naval Hydrographic College. From 1926 to 1938 he served on different submarines in the Far East. In 1938 he was arrested, accused of treason and condemned to 15 years in a correctional labor camp. He was sent to a labor camp on the Olga Bay shore of the Pacific. Later his case was reconsidered and he was returned his rank. In autumn 1940 he was appointed commander of the Third Brigade of submarines of the Black Sea Fleet. Later he was promoted to Captain First Rank. Kholostyakov was appointed the Chief of submarine division of the fleet and in July 1941 he headed the Naval Base in Novorossiysk. He supported the Kerch- Feodosiya military operation in late 1941. He took part in land-based defense of Novorossiysk. After retreat of the Soviet troops he moved to Gelendzhik from where the artillery of the Novorossiysk Naval Base gunned Novorossiysk, thus, preventing the Germans from using the port. In 1942 he was promoted to Rear Admiral. In 1943 he was in charge of the landing operation in Novorossiysk. In September under Kholostyakov command two more landing operations were conducted. The German troops left the Taman Peninsula. At night on November 1 he organized landing at Eltigen near Kerch. Regardless of the overwhelming superiority of the Germans the landing troops made strong footing on Ognennaya zemlya and defended this land for more than a month and then broke through the German positions and united with the main Soviet forces. In 1944 he acted as Commander of the Azov Flotilla replacing S. G. Gorshkov in this position. He organized two more landings-on the Tarkhankut Cape at night on January 10 and in the Kerch Bay on January 23. In December 1944 he was appointed to the Danube Flotilla and commanded its last operations. In 1950 he graduated from the General Staff Academy with a gold medal. In 1950-1951 he in the rank of Vice Admiral commanded the Caspian Military Flotilla and then received an appointment to the Pacific Ocean. In 1953-1969 Kholostyakov was Deputy Chief of the Military Training Department of the Navy General Staff. He took other positions of importance. In 1965 he was awarded the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. In 1969 he resigned. The memorial museum of Kholostyakov is opened in Baranovichi, Belorussia. He was also awarded many orders and medals.

Sergey Georgievich Gorshkov (1910-1988) – admiral of the USSR Navy. In 1926 he became a nondegree student of the physical-mathematical faculty of the Lenin- grad University. In 1927 he entered the M. V. Frunze Naval School. After finishing in 1931 of this school he served as a navigator on a destroyer of the Black Sea Fleet. In 1932 he was transferred to the Pacific Fleet. In June 1939 he was appointed the Brigade Commander of the torpedo boat squadron of the Black Sea Navy. From 1940-the commander of the cruiser brigade of the Black Sea Navy. In 1941 he finished the courses for command staff advancement at the Naval Academy. He was promoted to First Rank Captain. Commanding the detachment of assault landing ships he showed bravery during the landing operation at Grigorievka near Odessa. In 1941 he was promoted to the Rear-Admiral. He took command during the Kerch- Feodosia operation and during evacuation of the troops of the Crimean front in 1942 he commanded the defense of the Kerch Strait. After loss of bases on the Sea of Azov he organized pullout of a part of military ships and transport ships with their cargo. Using the forces of the Azov Navy, Kerch and Novorossiysk naval bases he took part in defense of the Taman Peninsula until the ships left the Sea of Azov and the troops retreated for defense of Novorossiysk. He commanded the Novorossiysk defense and was the last to leave it. In 1943-1944 he commanded the Azov Navy for the second time. In spring 1943 he commanded some landing operations. Among the major naval operations there were landings in Mariupol, Osipenko and Temryuk; support from the sea of the forces of the North-Caucasian front during liberation of the Taman Peninsula and, at last, a major operation in November 1943 on landing of the Detached Maritime Army on the Kerch Peninsula and its support on the conquered base area. In 1943 during the Kerch-Eltigen operation he commanded the preparation and landing of the marine forces and then crossing to Crimea of the troops of the 56th Army. From April 20 to December 12, 1944 he commanded the Danube Fleet that supported the Soviet troops in their attack of German Army in Eastern Europe. He commanded the actions of the fleet during forced crossing of the Dniester mouth, liberation of Bulgaria and Romania. In September 1944 he was promoted to the Vice-Admiral. In 1944 he successfully commanded the fleet during the Belgrade and Budapest operations. From 1945 he commanded the squadron of the Black Sea Navy. From November 1948 he was the Chief of the naval staff, in 1951-1955-the commanded of the Black Sea Navy. In 1955 he was appointed the First Deputy Commanded-in-Chief and in 1956- Commander-in-Chief of the Navy and USSR Deputy Naval Minister. In 1967 he was awarded the rank of the Naval Admiral of the USSR. G. advocated development of submarine fleet and guided-missile ships. He was the author of such books as “Naval Might of the State” and “In the Southern Maritime Flange. Autumn- Spring 1941” describing the army and naval operations near the coasts of the Black and Azov seas. For the achievements in the Navy development he was conferred the USSR State Award (1980) and Lenin Award (1985); he was twice Hero of the Soviet Union (1965, 1982). He was awarded many orders and medals of the Soviet Union.

Kerch-Eltigen Operation – a landing operation of the troops of the North- Caucasian Front (commanded by General I. E. Petrov) on seizure of the Kerch Peninsula that lasted from 31 October to 11 December 1943, during the Great Patriotic War. After success of the Novorossiysk-Taman operation the Soviet command put the task to seize the Kerch Peninsula and to create there a base for Crimea liberation from German Army. For this purpose two landing units went ashore. One of them landed to the northeast of Kerch, but could not take hold of the city because of the tough resistance of the Germans, but it managed to consolidate its positions on the seized area and to organize defense. The second landing unit got established to the south of Kerch, near Eltigen. After fierce battles in the early December the Germans liquidated this landing area. On 6 December the remaining landing troops attempted a breakthrough trying to reach the base to the north of Kerch. After marching for 25 km in the rear of the German positions they came to the southern outskirts of Kerch and seized the Mitridat Mountain dominating this area and organized an all-round defense. But they failed to organize interaction with the northern unit. After receiving an order about evacuation on 10 December the Eltigen unit forced its way to the coast and was transferred by sea to the Taman Peninsula. The Kerch landing area held out till the Soviet troops launched an offensive in Crimea in spring 1944. It played a very important role in seizure of the Kerch Peninsula. The Soviet Army lost in this operation more than 27,000 killed.

Mi-8/17 Multipurpose Helicopter

The Mi-24 attack helicopter, which the soldiers called the ‘Crocodile’, stars in most films about the Afghan war. It carried a crew of three and eight passengers or four stretchers. A sinister-looking beast, it could mount a variety of formidable weapons to use against people, buildings, and armoured vehicles. The Mi-8 transport helicopter, the ‘Bee’, was the workhorse of the 40th Army. It came into service in 1967: more were said to have been produced than any other helicopter in the world. With a crew of three, it could carry twenty-four passengers, or twelve stretchers, or a load of three thousand kilograms. Little more than a decade after the Soviet war was over, the Americans hired Mi-8s to supply their special forces because they were particularly well adapted to operate in the high mountains of eastern Afghanistan. The aircraft were flown by Russians – sometimes by the same men who had flown them during the Soviet war. But this time they were flown not by military crews but – because Russia was now a capitalist country – by the employees of a commercial company called, appropriately enough, Vertical-T. When one of these helicopters was shot down in 2008, the Russian Ambassador in Kabul contacted the Taliban for the return of the bodies. ‘You mean they were Russians?’ said the Taliban. ‘We thought they were Americans. Of course you can have them.’

Designed by Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, the Mi-8/17 series the most successful in the history of Russia’s helicopter industry. Mi-8/17 series helicopters have won respect and admiration from helicopter operators around the world thanks to their advanced flight capabilities, high level of reliability and adaptability, ability to operate in a wide range of climatic conditions (from -50 to +50 degrees Celsius) and ease of operation and maintenance.

The Mi-8/17 boasts an ever-expanding range of operational capabilities thanks to Russian Helicopters’ ongoing upgrade programmes. The helicopters can be fitted with a wide range of additional equipment to tackle a variety of missions.

The basic Mi-8/17 model is the cargo helicopter, which can transport up to 4,000 kg of various kinds of cargo either inside the cabin or on an external sling.

The passenger helicopter can carry up to 26 passengers. The helicopter boasts low levels of noise and vibration, is fitted with cabin climate-control systems, and has emergency exits that meet the latest safety standards. Everything is designed to ensure passenger in-flight comfort and safety.

The VIP model is designed to accommodate 7-14 passengers with enhanced levels of comfort. The helicopter’s interior is customisable to customers’ needs and wishes. The helicopter boasts the largest cabin in its class, and is ideally suited to luxury-class equipment. The VIP model can be fitted with entertainment systems, satellite links and special communications equipment in line with client needs.

The search-and-rescue model can fly search-and-rescue operations around the clock in all weathers. The helicopter is fitted with special equipment including searchlights, winches, speakers and radiolocation systems. This model is used by Emergencies Ministries in countries across the world.

The Mi-8/17 flying hospital is designed to offer medical assistance in remote and hard-to-access regions. Special on-board equipment provides life support and first aid to patients during the journey to hospital. Special sheeting used inside the cabin can be disinfected quickly and to high medical standards.

The firefighting model is designed to tackle blazes using a helicopter bucket on an external sling, which can deliver up to 4,000 litres of water and target the burn zone with a high degree of accuracy. The helicopter can also deliver firefighting crews and special equipment to firefighting areas.

Mi-8/17 helicopters are built at Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant and the Kazan Helicopters, both Russian Helicopters companies. More than 12,000 Mi-8/17 helicopters have been produced to date – a record for twin-engine helicopters anywhere in the world. They have been supplied to more than 100 countries worldwide and racked up total flying time of about 100 million hours.

The following models are currently in production: Mi-8AMT, Mi-8MTV-1, Mi-171, Mi-171A1 and Mi-172. 


On June 9, 1961, the first Mi-8 Hip prototype, with a single AI-24V turboshaft and four-bladed main rotor system, lifted off for its maiden flight. On September 17, 1962, the Hip B, modified with two TV2-117 1,482-horsepower turboshafts mounted atop the fuselage, and a five-bladed main rotor system measuring 70 feet in diameter, took flight. The Mi-8 went into full production in 1965, and by 2000 fifty-four countries operated the more than 10,000 Mi-8s manufactured by the Rostov and Kazan production facilities in Russia and by foreign licensees. Designed as a medium-lift transport helicopter, the Hip, in its many variants, fulfilled a miscellany of mission requirements, including troop and cargo transportation, air ambulance, attack helicopter, airborne command post, fire fighter, and civilian carrier.

Constructed of light alloys, the Hip featured a “bus-shaped” fuselage with a rounded nose and glassed-in cockpit that accommodated a pilot, copilot, and flight engineer. The cabin housed twenty-four passengers, 8,800 pounds of cargo, or twelve stretchers. A large sliding door on the forward port side and rear-opening clamshell doors simplified loading large cargo. Removable interior seats and an internal winch capable of lifting 350 pounds that doubled as a rescue hoist facilitated cargo handling. Additionally, Mil equipped the aircraft with a cargo hook capable of carrying slingloads up to 6,500 pounds. A long tailboom extended from the upper portion of the fuselage and swept up to a tapered vertical fin that housed the gearbox and tailrotor, attached to the left side (right on the export versions).

External racks attached along the center of the 61-foot fuselage were designed to hold auxiliary fuel pods or weapons systems. Variants of the Hip carried a combination of 57-mm or 80-mm rockets, AT-2 Swatter or AT-3 Sagger ATGMs, 12.7- or 23-mm gun pods, or either 4  500-pound or 2  1,000-pound bombs. In 1967, Mil introduced the Hip E and F ground support helicopters, each mounting a flexible 12.7-mm heavy machine gun under the nose and carrying 192 57-mm rockets. Combat troops could also fire their individual weapons from the windows of the helicopter. In later models Mil installed the upgraded Isotov TV2-117A engines, which produced 1,700 horsepower each. Generally a Hip cruised at 122 knots, had a service ceiling of 14,700 feet, and hovered Out of Ground Effect (OGE) at 2,600 feet. All Mi-8s rested on a fixed tricycle landing gear, with dual wheels at the nose. Total production estimates ran as high as 15,000 units of the Mi-8 and its export version, the Mi-17.

Designed to replace Mi-4, first flown in June 1961; used by Soviet and Russian forces and Aeroflot. Military versions denoted by round windows and armed with machine guns and 57-mm rockets. Later version designed and equipped for ECM operations. Introduced in August 1975, Mi-17 employed Mi-8 fuselage and Mi-14 engines; latest version with upgraded engines is Mi-17 Hip H.

More than 10,000 of all variants manufactured.

Specifications (Mil-17-1A2)

General characteristics

    Crew: 3 (two pilots and one engineer)

    Capacity: 24 troops / 12 stretchers / 4,000 kg (8,818 lb) cargo internally / 5,000 kg (11,023 lb) externally slung.

    Length: 18.465 m (60 ft 7 in)

    Height: 21.25 m (69 ft 9 in)

    Empty weight: 7,489 kg (16,510 lb)

    Gross weight: 11,100 kg (24,471 lb)

    Max takeoff weight: 13,000 kg (28,660 lb) normal

                13,500 kg (29,762 lb) with under-slung load

    Powerplant: 2 × Klimov VK-2500PS-03 turboshaft engines, 1,800 kW (2,400 hp) each for take-off

                2,000 kW (2,700 hp) emergency rating

    Main rotor diameter: 21.25 m (69 ft 9 in)

    Main rotor area: 354.7 m2 (3,818 sq ft)

    Blade section:NACA 23012[157]


    Maximum speed: 280 km/h (170 mph, 150 kn)

    Cruise speed: 260 km/h (160 mph, 140 kn)

    Range: 800 km (500 mi, 430 nmi)

    Service ceiling: 6,000 m (20,000 ft)

    Hover ceiling OGE: 4,000 m (13,123 ft)

    Rate of climb: 8 m/s (1,600 ft/min)


    up to 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) of disposable stores on six hardpoints, including bombs, rockets and gunpods.

Mi-8 / Mi-17 Hip Multimission Helicopter

Damansky Island (Zhenbao Island)

The Damansky Island (Zhenbao dao) is located in the Ussuri (Wusuli) River. It is about 200 meters to the Chinese side and 300 meters to the Russian side. The total area of the island is 0.74 square kilometers. Its middle part is a swampland with forests in the surrounding areas. Originally, it connected to the Chinese side, but water erosion separated it to form an independent island in 1915. Zhenbao in Chinese means “treasure,” a name given to the island because a huge ginseng root was discovered there in the nineteenth century by a Chinese fisherman. The Chinese claim that it has been under the administration of Hulin County, Heilongjiang (Heilungkiang) Province. This tiny island gained international fame due to the Sino-Soviet border conflict in 1969.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the former Soviet Union shared a nearly 7,000-kilometer-long border. During the 1950s, the “brotherhood” between the two Communist states seldom reminded them of their territorial disputes. After Joseph Stalin’s (1878-1953) death, Nikita Khrushchev’s (1894-1971) de-Stalinization led to a bilateral ideological rift. In 1960, Khrushchev was accused by the Chinese of “emasculating, betraying and revising” Marxism-Leninism, while he labeled Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) (1893-1976) as “an ultra-leftist, an ultra-dogmatist and a left revisionist.” After Leonid Brezhnev (1906- 1982) took power in 1964, the ideological schism caused border clashes. The Chinese denounced the Soviet Union for being a new Tsarist regime just like the Old Russian Empire that seized over 1.5 million square kilometers of Chinese territory through unequal treaties imposed by Russia on China. With no intention of compromise, Brezhnev assumed a hard stance toward the border disputes by denying any treaties signed between the two countries were unequal. The subsequent negotiations on border issues brought no results. On the contrary, according to Chinese sources, the Soviets invaded Chinese territory 4,189 times between October 1964 and February 1969. On Damansky Island, as the Chinese claimed, the Soviets violated their territorial integrity 16 times from January 1967 to February 1969.

The military clash over Damansky Island occurred in March 1969. No third observer objectively reported it, and conflicting claims were rendered by the two sides. Each accused the other of provocation and aggression. However, a careful review of their existing sources reveals that the two countries fought three major battles on March 3, March 15, and March 17 respectively. These were not accidents, as both countries had stationed forces along the border for a long time in preparation for war.

On March 2, one group of Chinese soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) camouflaged itself in snow in the wooded area in preparation for an ambush, while another group marched toward Soviet soldiers. As they got close, the Chinese opened fire. Both sides dispatched reinforcements, and the fighting lasted until late after- noon. Each inflicted casualties on the other side. The Soviets brought in four military vehicles yet were forced to withdraw.

On March 15, the Soviets sent 100 infantry and nearly 50 tanks and armored vehicles seeking retaliation. Three Soviet planes assisted the assault. The Soviet artillery bombarded Chinese territory up to seven kilo- meters beyond the border. The violent fighting lasted for nine hours, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. One foreign source claimed that Chinese casualties on that day were over 800. The Chinese claimed to have repelled Soviet soldiers from the island.

On March 17, the Soviets dispatched 70 soldiers to stop the Chinese from towing away a newly invented Soviet T-62 tank left by the previous battle on the ice near the Chinese side. The Soviets were not successful, and the tank was soon dragged out and put on display in Beijing to show off a Chinese victory.

The three days of heavy fighting shocked the world and made the tiny island famous. Both sides claimed victory and decorated their heroes with honors and promotions. Nobody knows the exact figure of casualties, even though the Russians set their loss at 58 dead and 94 wounded, and the Chinese announced their loss at 29 dead, 62 wounded, and 1 missing.

After Damansky, the skirmishes along the border continued, but none of them matched the scale of Damansky. Only after the informal meeting between Aleksei Kosygin (1904-1980) and Zhou Enlai (Chou Enlai) (1898-1976) at Beijing Airport in September 1969 did the military confrontation subside, thanks to their agreement to separate forces in disputed areas and to solve border problems by peaceful negotiations.

Some scholars consider the Damansky clash a modern war since both employed their most advanced weapons in the intensive fighting. It ushered Sino-Soviet relations into a two-decade ebb during which both saw each other as the arch enemy. The Chinese claimed that the Damansky battle enabled them to smash the Soviet attempt to launch a major war against China, while the Soviets argued that the clash thwarted China’s further territorial demands. The Damansky incident cast a shadow upon the two countries as their ideological and territorial disputes continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In a particular way, the Damansky clash changed Chinese relations with the West. Soon after it, secret talks between China and the United States resumed, which led to an eventual normalization of their diplomatic relations. Indeed, the small war over the island triggered a significant shift in global balance of power by shaping a new world order. After the clash, Damansky Island has been under Chinese control. In 1991, China and the Soviet Union signed an agreement to stipulate its belonging to China. In 1997, a Sino-Russian agreement endorsed Chinese ownership. In 2005, both the Chinese parliament and Russian Duma ratified a bilateral agreement to legalize Damansky as Chinese territory.

References Ginsburgs, George. Damansky/Chenpao Island Incident: A Case Study of Syntactic Pattern in Crisis Diplomacy. Edwardsville: South Illinois University at Edwardsville, 1973. Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. The Rise of Modern China. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000. Li, Xiaobing. A History of the Modern Chinese Army. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007. Luthi, Lorenz, M. The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008. Robinson, Thomas W. “The Sino-Soviet Border Disputes: Background Development and the March 1969 Clashes.” The American Political Science Review. (1972): 1199. Ryan, Mark A., David M. Finkelstein, and Michael A. McDevitt. Chinese Warfighting: The PLA Experience since 1949. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2003.

Tallinn disaster

Soviet cruiser Kirov protected by smoke during evacuation of Tallinn in August 1941.

Bombs start to fall near ships moored in Tallinn for the evacuation.

Reval Hafen 1.9.1941 (Tag der Eroberung)

The Port of Tallinn on 1 September 1941 after having been seized by the Germans.

Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs.

Soviet Convoy Tallinn to Kronstadt: Night of 27/28  August 1941

The major Soviet warship and transport losses came in August in one of the least known, although the worst, convoy actions of the entire war. The Soviets sought to relocate smaller warships from Tallinn to Kronstadt and to evacuate as many personnel by ship as they could before the Panzers arrived in the Estonian capital. In the German attack on the hastily formed Soviet convoy the Soviet Navy lost 18 small warships and 42 merchantmen and troopships, most to a night encounter with a dense minefield. The following day, as all major warships fled the convoy, Luftwaffe dive bombers struck floundering and exposed troopships and transports. Only two survived. Total loss of life was at least 12,000.

The evacuation of Soviet troops from the Estonian capital Tallinn is probably the largest destruction caused by sea mines in a single operation. Soviet minesweeper force was too weak and managed to clear only a narrow channel through the “Juminda” barrage. In the zone between Point Juminda and Kalbådagrund were 3 000 mines. To prevent minesweepers from sweeping channels in this barrage there was also a 150 mm battery on Point Juminda. Light forces threatened the evacuation convoys from the north. The Germans had also total air supremacy. The Baltic Red Fleet had earlier during the Summer used a route close to Estonian coast, but now it was forced to the middle of Gulf of Finland. Navy ships and transport vessels were to travel through a single narrow 150-mile channel.

Three large convoys carried most of the troops. A fourth convoy was made of smaller vessels. Many smaller vessels sailed alone. The total number of naval ships and small vessels was 153 and the number of transports and other vessels was 75. The ships and vessels were to be ready for departure on the roads off Tallinn between the net barrage and boom defence by 22.00 hours on 27 August. A force seven north-east wind delayed the beginning of the operation for more than 12 hours. The submarine chasers, launches, minesweepers and other small vessels could not sail in such weather. As a result, the evacuation fleet had to make its way through the mine barrages in darkness. The Baltic Red Fleets ships formed three task forces; the main force, covering force and rear guard. The main force was to protect the first and second transport convoys in the most dangerous section of the route, from Point Juminda to Suursaari island. The covering force was to protect second and third convoys between the islands of Keri and Vaindlo. The rear guard was to protect the third and fourth convoys from the rear. The small submarines M 98 and M 102 were sent to patrol areas south from Helsinki.

The first convoy had been planned to depart on 27 August at 22.00 hours. A convoy plan in shows three pairs of minesweepers in front, followed by a minesweeper and the merchantmen in a single line, three submarines followed the merchantmen and the two destroyers were the last ones. The flanks were covered by coastal patrol ships, MO-type patrol boats and a tug.

Minesweeper       Nr. 71, Krab                            First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 72, Dzherzhinski                              First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 57, Viesturs (former Latvian)                      Second pair, also T 298

Minesweeper       Nr. 91, Lyapidevskiy                              Second pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 52, Buyok                         Third pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 56, Barometr                  Third pair

Mobile base          Leningradsoviet                    

Headquarters ship               Vironia, former Estonian merchantman       2026 brt                 

Transport                VT-524 (former Latvian merchantman Kalpaks)         2190 brt                 

Transport                VT-547 (former Estonian merchantman Järvamaa)  1363 brt                 

Icebreaker             Kristjanis Voldemars           1932 brt                 

Floating workshop               Serp-i-molot                          

Transport                VT-511 (former Estonian merchantman Alev)            1446 brt                 

Transport                VT-530 (former Estonian merchantman Ella)              1523 brt                 

Transport                VT-563 (former Latvian merchantman Atis Kronvaldis)            1423 brt                 

Submarine             Щ 307                      

Submarine             Щ 308                      

Submarine             M 79                        

Destroyer               Svirjepyi                                   

Destroyer               Surovyi                   

Coastal patrol ship              Bayan                       Left flank, minesweeper without sweeping gear

Patrol boat            MO-507                   Left flank

Coastal patrol ship              Ametist (former Estonian Sulev)                      Left flank

Tug          OLS-7                        Right flank

Patrol boat            MO-208                   Right flank

Coastal patrol ship              Kasatka                    Right flank

The submarine Щ 301, motor mine sweepers KTЩ-1201, KTЩ-1206, KTЩ-1208, KTЩ-1209, KTЩ-1210 and KTЩ-1211, transport VT-505 (Ivan Papanin), salvage vessel Neptun, schooner Urme (in tow) were also included in the first convoy, total 36 vessels. One reference list only 32 vessels, he has not listed Щ 301, Ivan Papanin and Urme. Instead of Neptun he lists salvage vessel Saturn. One reference differs in the list of motor mine sweepers, KTЩ-1201, -1203, -1204, -1205, -1206 and list of patrol boats, MO-204, MO-207.

The plan of the second convoy in shows three pairs of minesweepers in front, followed by Azimuth, Moskva and merchantmen in a single line and the Tshapaev as last one. The flanks were covered by MO-type patrol boats and motor mine sweepers.

Minesweeper       No. 43 LVP-12                        First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       No. 44 Izhorets-38                                 First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       No. 42                     Second pair

Minesweeper       No. 47 Izhorets-69                                 Second pair

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1510                                 Third pair

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1511                                 Third pair

Netlayer                  Azimuth                 

Gunboat                 Moskva                  

Transport                VT-523 (Kazhakhstan)                         

Transport                VT-584 (former Estonian merchantman Naissaar)    1892 brt                 

Motor schooner  Atta (former Estonian)                       

Transport                VT-505 (Ivan Papanin)       3374 brt                 

Transport                VT-537 (former Latvian merchantman Ergonautis)                   

Netlayer                  Vjatka                     

Transport                VT-550 (former Lithuanian merchantman Shauliai)                  

Netlayer                  Onega                     

Transport                Everita                    

Coastal patrol ship              Tshapaev                                 

Patrol boat            MO-214                   Left flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1512                                 Left flank

Patrol boat            MO-200                   Right flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1514                                 Right flank

The transport VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka), tug KP-12 towing TK-121 and tug Tasuja towing sweeper No. 86 (Izhorets-33), patrol ship Shors, sweepers No. 84 (Izhorets-28), No. 88 (Izhorets-31) and No. 121 (Izhorets-71), motor mine sweepers KTЩ-1203, KTЩ-1204, KTЩ-1205 and KTЩ-1509 were also included in the second convoy. Transport VT-505 (Ivan Papanin) is included in the convoy plan but it is listed in the first convoy. Minesweeper No. 42 is included in the convoy plan, but it is not listed. The second convoy had according to and 34 vessels, but one reference lists only 21. Two references lists agree with the larger vessels, but some smaller vessels are not listed.

The plan of the third convoy was two pairs of minesweepers in front, followed by Amgun, the merchantmen in a single line and Kolyvan as last one. The flanks were covered by MO-type patrol boats and motor mine sweepers.

Minesweeper       Nr. 58, Osetr                          First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 33, Olonka                       First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 35, Shuya                         Second pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 83                       Second pair

Gunboat                 Amgun                    

Transport                VT-518 (Luga)                       

Transport                VT-512 (Tobol)     2758 brt                 

Transport                VT-581 (former Estonian merchantman Lake Lucerne)            2317 brt                 

Tanker                   TN-12                      

Transport                VT-581 (Balhash)                                   

Transport                VT-546 (former Estonian merchantman Ausma)       1791 brt                 

Transport                VT-574 (former Estonian merchantman Kumari)       237 brt  

Transport                VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka)              3974 brt                 

Transport                VT-529 (Skrunda)                                  

Salvage vessel      Kolyvan                  

Patrol boat            MO-501                   Left flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1104                                 Left flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1109                                 Left flank

Patrol boat            MO-502                   Right flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1101                                 Right flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1106                                 Right flank

The third convoy included also minesweeper Jastreb. The transport VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka) in the convoy plan is listed in the ships of the second convoy. According to, and the third convoy had 21 vessels, inluding the Vtoraya Pyatiletka. Minesweeper Jastreb is not in one reference’s list, but there is sailing ship Hiiusaar.

The fourth convoy was made of 11 smaller vessels. It had.

Coastal patrol ship              Ost                           

Coastal patrol ship              Razhvedtshik                         

Gunboat          I-8 armed tug           

Minesweeper       5M2 (Piksha)                         

Minesweeper       8M1 (Povodetsh)                                  

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1503                                

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1504                                

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1505                                

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1506                                

Salvage vessel      Saturn                     

Tug          LP-5                          

Barge      TT-1         Torpedo transport              

One reference adds to this list a large number of vessels: Submarine Щ 301, mine sweepers Izhorets-12, Izhorets-17 and TЩ-86, motor mine sweepers Jastreb, Vaindlo, Voronin, KTЩ-1208, -1209, -1210, -1211, motor torpedo boat TKA-121, survey ships Sekstant and Vostok, tugs Esro, Kaja, Paldiski, Venta, Vilma, KP-6, KP-17 and S-101, sailing ship Atta, VR-6, coastal ships Vaindlo and Vormsi, transport Everita and ice breaker Tasuja. There were 38 vessels.

The main Soviet battlefleet under the command of Vice-Admiral V. Tributs, departed Tallinn harbor at 14.52 hours. The cruiser Kirov was Tributs’ flagship.

Cruiser   Kirov                        

Flotilla leader       Leningrad                                

Destroyer               Gordyi                     

Destroyer               Jakov Sverdlov                      

Destroyer               Smetlivyi                                  

Submarine             Kalev (former Estonian)                     

Submarine             Lembit (former Estonian)                  

Submarine             S 4                            

Submarine             S 5                            

Icebreaker             Suur Tõll (former Estonian)               2417 brt                 

Mine sweeper     T-204 (Fugas)                        

Mine sweeper     T-205 (Gafel)                         

Mine sweeper     T-206 (Verp)                          

Mine sweeper     T-207 (Shpil)                          

Mine sweeper     T-217                       

The small vessels in the main force were motor torpedo boats No. 37, 73, 74, 84, 103, 113 and 114, MO-class patrol boats No. 112, 131, 133, 142, 202 and 204. The submarine Щ 405 may have been in the main force.

The covering force sailed under command of rear admiral Pantelejev.

Flotilla leader       Minsk                      

Destroyer               Skoryi                      

Destroyer               Slavnyi                    

Submarine             Щ 322                      

Submarine             M 95                        

Mine sweeper     T-203 (Patron)                      

Mine sweeper     T-210 (Gak)                            

Mine sweeper     T-211 (Rym)                           

Mine sweeper     T-215                       

Mine sweeper     T-218                       

The small vessels in the covering force were motor torpedo boats No. 33, 53, 91, and 101, MO-class patrol boats No. 207, 212, 213 and 510. The submarines M 98 and M 102 were in the covering force, but they were sent to patrol south from Helsinki.

The rear group was made of old destroyers and small patrol ships. The rear group was under command of rear admiral Rall.

Destroyer               Artyom                   

Destroyer               Volodarskiy                            

Destroyer               Kalinin                     

Coastal patrol ship              Burja                        

Coastal patrol ship              Sneg                        

Coastal patrol ship              Tsiklon                    

The small vessels in the rear group were motor torpedo boats No. 51 and 61, MO-class patrol boats No. 5, 195, 197, 204, 210, 211 and 232.

The first transport convoy sailed between islands Naissaar and Aegna at 12.15. A mine exploded in the sweeping gear of the first sweeper pair at 13.09 hours, four miles NW Aegna island. The second convoy passed Naissaar and Aegna at 15 hours and the third convoy 20 minutes later. The fourth convoy sailed at 14:15. The main force of Baltic Red Fleet weighed anchor and departed Tallinn harbor at 14.52 hours. It took the lead with the cruiser Kirov as flagship.

The Navy ships and convoys formed a line 15 miles long. The first convoy passed Keri island at 16 hours and was off Juminda peninsula at 1800 hours. Soon thereafter the ships sailed directly to the mines. The steamer Ella was first to sink. Then began German air attacks, artillery fire from Finnish coastal batteries and later in the evening torpedo attacks by German Schnellboots and Finnish patrol boats. All this caused confusion, the train of ships stretched and sailing through the 200 m wide swept channel became impossible. The sweeping equipment of many sweeper were damaged by explosions and drifting mines cut loose from moorings were great danger. The sunset was at 20.40 hours and at 22 hours the visibility was only a cable length. Warships were not giving much protection to merchant ships, as they were fully occupied with drifting mines.

On the evening of 28. August following ships were lost:

    At 18.05 VT-530 (Ella) from the first convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 18.20 tug LP-5 (S-101) from the fourth convoy that tried to rescue people from Ella hit a mine and sank.

    At 18.30 icebreaker Kristjanis Voldemars from the first convoy was sunk by bombs.

    At 19.40 the minesweeper Nr. 71 (Krab) sailing in the first sweeper pair of the first convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 20.11 submarine S 5 hit a mine and sank in 40 seconds.

    At 20.20 rescue vessel Saturn towing Vironia hit a mine and sank.

    At 21.45 Vironia hit a mine and sank. Vironia from the first convoy was damaged by air attack 18.30 and taken to tow by Saturn from the fourth convoy.

    At 20.30 gunboat I-8 hit a mine and sank.

    At 20.48 submarine Щ 301 hit a mine and sank.

    At 20.50 destroyer Jakov Sverdlov hit a mine and sank after 5-6 minutes.

    At 21.57 transport Everita from the second convoy hit a mine and sank. The ship had drifted slightly too much south from the sweeped lane.

    At 22.05 the minesweeper Nr. 56 (Barometr) sailing in the third sweeper pair of the first convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 22.15 coastal patrol ship Tsiklon from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 22.30 destroyer Skoryj from the covering force hit a mine and sank while towing the damaged flotilla leader Minsk.

    At 22.45 destroyer Kalinin from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 23.00 destroyer Volodarskiy from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 23.05 destroyer Artyom from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 23.00 VT-518 (Luga) from the third convoy hit a mine. As no towing was possible, the master decided to scuttle the ship.

    Barge TT-1 hit a mine and sank.

    The armed tug OLS-7 disappeared during the night.

Other ships lost on 28.8. are:

    VT-547 (Järvamaa) hit a mine and sank at 21.00 near Suursaari, or was mined and sank 29.8. at 17 hours west from Suursaari.

    Hiiusaar was bombed.

    Schooner Atta was torpedoed by Finnish VMV-17.

Before midnight the four convoys had to anchor in the middle of the barrage. The main force had sailed through the mine barrage and anchored north from Vaindlo. Flotilla leaders, four destroyers and few transports from I, II and IV convoys were north of Mohni lighthouse and the bulk of transports from the II and III convoys north from Juminda. On the morning of 29. August the ships continued their way. Bombers attacked again and sank several transport ships. Without air cover and anti-aircraft guns and their possibility to manoeuvre limited by mines, they were easy targets. During that day following ships were lost:

    At 05.30 tug I-18 was captured by Finnish patrol boats.

    At 05.30 tug Paldiski was captured by Finnish patrol boats.

    At 06.51 a vessel sank in mine explosion, it might have been the salvage vessel of the third convoy, Kolyvan.

    At 07.43 coastal patrol ship Sneg hit a mine and sank 30 minutes later.

    At 08.39 a ship was sunk by mine.

    At 08.41 another ship was sunk by mine. These two ships may have been transports Naissaar and Ergonautis from the second convoy.

    At 09.06 VT-501 (Balkhash) from the third convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 12.30 VT-512 (Tobol) was sunk by bombs.

    At 13.00 VT-546 (Ausma) was sunk by bombs.

    At 15.00 VT-524 (Kalpaks) was sunk by bombs.

    at 15.07 VT-520 (Evald) was sunk by bombs.

    At 17.40 VT-563 (Atis Kronvaldis) was sunk by bombs.

    At 18.10 tanker No 12 was sunk by bombs 5 miles east of Suursaari.

    VT-529 (Skrunda) was hit 5 miles NW Vaindlo and the ship was scuttled 30.08.

    VT-511 (Alev) was damaged by bombs and sank few miles west from Lavansaari.

    VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka) was sunk by bombs.

A number of ships were beached at Suursaari during 29.8.:

    The floating workshop Serp-i-molot was damaged by bombs and beached on southern end.

    VT-505 (Ivan Papanin) was hit by bombs and the ship was run aground on west coast of Suursaari.

    VT-581 (Lake Lucerne) run aground on south end of Suursaari after bomb damage.

    VT-550 (Shauliai) was hit by bomb and towed to Suurkylä harbour on Suursaari.

The main naval forces arrived to Kronstadt in the afternoon of 29.8. The only transport that survived was Kazakhstan. The ship was damaged by bomb 29.8. at 07:15 near Vaindlo and it arrived to Kronstadt 2.9.

Zubkov summarizes the losses during Tallinn evacuation as:

    22 navy vessels, these were 5 destroyers, 3 coast guard ships, 2 minesweepers, 2 submarines, one gunboat, one motor torpedo boat and 8 patrol boats.

    43 other vessels, including 19 transports, one tanker, one ice breaker, a floating workshop, 7 tugs and two rescue vessels.

by Jari Aromaa.

The History of the Russian Navy II

Top: M.P. Goncharov. BOD Admiral Isakov. 2012 Bottom: S. M. Ananko. Gloomy morning. 2012

Top: S. M. Ananko. TAVKR “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov” while practicing combat training tasks at sea. 2016 Bottom: S. M. Ananko. The heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great. 2016


Popularly known in the West as the “Red Fleet,” the Soviet Navy was divided by geography and ship and base disposition into the Baltic Fleet, Black Sea Fleet, and Pacific Fleet. It suffered a bloody purge in 1930, and was intermittently purged by Joseph Stalin after that. From 1935 Stalin ended debate over whether the Soviet Navy should deploy as a “Jeune École” fleet equipped only for “small wars” or deploy as a “Mahanian” blue water battlefleet that sought “command of the sea.” He chose the latter and thereafter launched a shipbuilding program that centered on battleships, heavy cruisers, and other large capital warships. Stalin insisted on building battlecruisers as well, a ship type for which he exhibited a pronounced preference against all professional advice. The purpose of the big ships was to gain mastery of the sea around the northern coastlines of the Soviet Union: on the Gulf of Finland, Baltic Sea, and Sea of Japan. That essentially clear, rational, traditional naval outlook was complicated by personal quirks and oddities of the views and personality of Stalin. Most important among his direct interventions was refusal to build aircraft carriers, a decision that reflected his limited understanding of how navies projected power.

Stalin at first looked to the United States for assistance in building a blue water fleet of battleships and battlecruisers. His request to commission a U.S. shipyard to build a battleship for the Soviet Navy was spurned. Stalin turned next to Adolf Hitler for technical aid, from the end of their partnership in conquering Poland in 1939 to the start of Hitler’s BARBAROSSA invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Stalin paid Hitler back by extending operational cooperation to the Kriegsmarine in its war with the Western Allies. A special naval base was set up for the Germans at Lista Bay near Murmansk that was used by the Kriegsmarine to facilitate the WESERÜBUNG invasion of Norway in April 1940, while several other Soviet ports were opened to German warships. The Soviets also aided transfer of a German auxiliary cruiser around Siberia to prey on Allied shipping in the northern Pacific. For this assistance the Kriegsmarine provided Moscow specialized naval equipment, ship schematics, and a partially completed cruiser in a form of barter exchange. This odd situation reflected Stalin’s long-term view of the need to build up Soviet naval power and misreading of the German Führer’s intentions. Stalin’s view contrasted sharply with Hitler’s belief that any short-term naval aid to Moscow would prove irrelevant once he unleashed his armored legions in the east.

The Baltic Red Banner fleet began the war with just two World War I–era battleships and two cruisers. These remained confined to the base at Kronstadt. It also had 19 destroyers and 65 submarines of varying quality, as well as a fleet air arm of over 650 planes. During the Finnish–Soviet War (1939–1940) the Baltic fleet moved to cut off Finland from sea lanes to Sweden, but no naval engagements ensued with Finnish surface ships. That changed with BARBAROSSA, as the Kriegsmarine joined the fight in the Baltic. The Germans moved dozens of minelayers, minesweepers, and other coastal warships to Finland before June 1941, and afterward established a major base in the port of Helsinki. Most naval action in the early part of the German–Soviet war in the Baltic was confined to laying sea mines, sweeping for mines, U-boat attacks, and aerial attacks by the Luftwaffe on exposed Soviet ships. There were several small Soviet and German amphibious clashes over a number of small islands. The major Soviet warship and transport losses came in August in one of the least known, although the worst, convoy actions of the entire war. The Soviets sought to relocate smaller warships from Tallinn to Kronstadt and to evacuate as many personnel by ship as they could before the Panzers arrived in the Estonian capital. In the German attack on the hastily formed Soviet convoy the Soviet Navy lost 18 small warships and 42 merchantmen and troopships, most to a night encounter with a dense minefield. The following day, as all major warships fled the convoy, Luftwaffe dive bombers struck floundering and exposed troopships and transports. Only two survived. Total loss of life was at least 12,000.

The naval garrison on Kronstadt held out for 28 months during the siege of Leningrad, then used its big guns to support the Red Army in the operation that finally broke the siege in January–February, 1944. Meanwhile, in 1942 the Soviet Navy went on the offense in the Baltic. It sent submarines deeper into the sea, where they enjoyed some success against German and Finnish shipping plying trade routes from Sweden and along the coastline of Germany. Several Swedish ships were sunk inadvertently, which moved the Swedish Navy to introduce a convoy system and on occasion to depth charge Soviet boats. The most successful Soviet naval operation in the Baltic was an amphibious lift of nearly 45,000 troops to Oranienbaum in 1944, during the offensive that lifted the siege of Leningrad. An even larger set of amphibious operations landed Red Army soldiers and Soviet Navy marines on a number of small, but key, islands in the Gulf of Riga in late 1944. The situation in the air was also reversed by 1944, as Red Army Air Force and Soviet Navy planes harassed and sank congested German shipping. From 1941 to 1945 the Soviet Baltic fleet lost one old battleship (to bombs), 15 destroyers, 39 submarines, and well over 100 minesweepers, smaller warships, and transports, as well as numerous landing craft. A modern battleship under construction before the war was locked in port by the siege of Leningrad and never completed.

The war began disastrously for the Soviet Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, which was bombed at anchor on the first day, June 22, 1941. Before that attack the Black Sea Fleet comprised a single modernized dreadnought, four cruisers, dozens of older and new destroyers, 47 old submarines, nearly 90 motor torpedo boats, and sundry coastal craft. It had 626 aircraft, mostly of obsolete types. The Black Sea Fleet was also responsible for the Caspian Sea, the Sea of Azov, and patrolling the lower Don and Volga Rivers. A 59,000 ton giant super battleship, the “Sovetskaia Ukraina,” was still under construction when the bombs started to fall, just like its sister ship in Leningrad. When Army Group South took the port of Nikolaev during the Donbass-Rostov operation, the “Sovetskaia Ukraina” was captured. Once the terrible siege of Sebastopol began, the Fleet’s main port was closed to naval operations and ships scrambled to relocate to ports farther east. The first Black Sea Fleet amphibious operation was a landing of 2,000 marines behind Rumanian lines near Odessa, a desperate action that failed to save the city. Instead, between October 1–16, 1941, an evacuation of over 86,000 soldiers and 14,000 other Soviet citizens was carried out from Odessa. The Fleet facilitated large-scale amphibious landings at Kerch-Feodosiia in December 1941. Without effective Kriegsmarine opposition in the Black Sea, the Soviets took the Germans in the Crimea by surprise. They came ashore in force, over 40,000 strong, at more than two dozen locations behind the main enemy force, which was investing Sebastopol. More troops were sent in via an ice road over the Kerch Straits. A larger amphibious and airborne operation was planned to retake the entire Crimean peninsula in January 1942, but it was canceled when the situation badly deteriorated. When the Germans assaulted in May with their main force, relocated from Sebastopol, the Soviet Navy evacuated survivors across the Kerch Straits.

All this time, the Black Sea Fleet maintained a 240-mile lifeline into Sebastopol under constant and heavy Luftwaffe attack. By late 1942 the Fleet faced German and Italian small craft flotillas that were shipped overland and reassembled in the Crimea. The Soviets also faced at least six Axis submarines in the Black Sea, including one from Rumania. In February 1943, the Soviets carried out two amphibious landings around Novorossisk. The smaller landing established a beachhead that held on, and was successfully reinforced by sea. On September 10 the port fell when Black Sea Fleet leaders used over 130 small boats to enter and assault the harbor. However, in October the Fleet lost three new destroyers to land-based bombers, after which Stalin forbade its commanders to expose any surface ships to danger. More landings were made in German rear areas to block the Wehrmacht on its long retreat out of the east. These were mostly wasteful of Soviet lives and forces. Worst of all, the Soviet Navy failed to prevent evacuation of over 250,000 Axis troops of Army Group A across the Kerch Straits during September–October, 1943. That was mostly Stalin’s fault: he refused to expose any large surface ships to German bombing, lest they be lost. That lessened the victory at Sebastopol achieved by Soviet ground forces in May 1944: a flotilla of small ships and barges was massively bombed and shelled, but 130,000 German and Rumanians escaped who could have been stopped by the big guns of destroyers, cruisers, and the Fleet’s unopposed dreadnought that Stalin would not allow into action.

Pacific Fleet operations were minimal and strictly defensive until the Manchurian offensive operation (August 1945). Most submarines were therefore released for service in the North Sea. To get there, they made a remarkable voyage across the Pacific, down the coast of North America, through the Panama Canal, and across the Atlantic to Murmansk or Archangel. Not all survived the journey. Those that did took up duty scouting for and protecting arctic convoys from Britain. In September 1943, the Soviet Navy was denied any ships surrendered by the Regia Marina to the Royal Navy at Malta. They went to the British instead. The Soviets did acquire a number of German surface ships in late May 1945, along with a share in those U-boats that were scuttled by their captains or sunk by the Western Allies.

Soviet Navy – Post WWII

In the immediate post-war years the only naval units of even marginal significance were three battleships: a Russian vessel dating back to tsarist times and two British ships of First World War vintage, which had been lent to the USSR during the war. One of the latter was returned to the UK in 1949, having been replaced by the ex-Italian Giulio Cesare, which the Soviets renamed Novorossiysk.fn3 There were also some fifteen cruisers – a mixture of elderly Soviet designs, nine modern Soviet-built ships, a US ship lent during the war (and returned in 1949), and two former Axis cruisers, one ex-German, the other ex-Italian. There was also a force of some eighty destroyers, also of varying vintages and origins.

During the 1940s and 1950s these Soviet warships were rarely seen on the high seas, apart from a limited number of transfers between the Northern and Baltic fleets, which tended to be conducted with great rapidity. The only exception was a series of international visits, mainly by the impressive Sverdlov-class cruisers, which were paid to countries such as Sweden and the UK. The navy suffered a major setback in 1955 when the battleship Novorossiysk was sunk while at anchor in the Black Sea by a Second World War German ground mine, an event which led to the sacking of the commander-in-chief, Admiral N. M. Kuznetzov; he was replaced by Admiral Gorshkov.

In the early 1960s, however, individual Soviet units began to be seen more frequently in foreign waters, as did ever-increasing numbers of ‘intelligence collectors’, laden with electronic-warfare equipment. These ships, generally known by their NATO designation as ‘AGIs’, monitored US and NATO exercises and ship movements. The original AGIs were converted trawlers and salvage tugs, but, as the Cold War progressed and the Soviet navy became increasingly sophisticated, larger and more specialized ships were built, culminating in the 5,000 tonne Bal’zam class, built in the 1980s. In addition to such ships, conventional warships regularly carried out intelligence-collecting and surveillance tasks, particularly when Western exercises were being held. Apart from general eavesdropping on Western communications links and studying the latest weapons, such missions helped the Soviet navy to learn about US and NATO tactics, manoeuvring and ship-handling.

The Soviets also put considerable effort into espionage (human intelligence, or HUMINT, in intelligence jargon) against Western navies. This included the Kroger ring in the UK, which was principally targeted against British anti-submarine-warfare facilities, and the Walker spy ring in the USA, which gave away a vast amount of information on US submarine capabilities and deployment.

The growth and increasing ambitions of the Soviet navy were best illustrated by the size, scope and duration of its exercises. The first important out-of-area exercise was held in 1961, when two groups of ships – one moving from the Baltic to the Kola Inlet and the other in the opposite direction (a total of eight surface warships, four submarines and associated support ships) – met in the Norwegian Sea. There they conducted a short exercise before continuing to their respective destinations.

In early July 1962 transfers between the Baltic and Northern fleets again took place, coupled with the first major transfer from the Black Sea Fleet to the Northern Fleet. This was followed by a much larger exercise, extending from the Iceland–Faroes gap to the North Cape, which included surface combatants, submarines, auxiliaries and a large number of land-based naval aircraft. The activity level increased yet again in 1963, and the major 1964 exercise involved ships moving through the Iceland–Faroes gap for the first time, while units of the Mediterranean Squadron undertook a cruise to Cuba. By 1966 exercises were taking place in the Faroes–UK gap and off north-east Scotland (both long-standing preserves of the British navy) and also off the coast of Iceland.

In 1967 the naval highlight of the Arab–Israeli Six-Day War was the dramatic sinking of the Israeli destroyer Eilat by the Egyptian navy using Soviet SS-N-2 (‘Styx’) missiles launched from a Soviet-built Komar-class patrol boat. Not surprisingly, Soviet naval prestige in the Middle East was high, and the Soviets took the opportunity to enhance it yet further by port visits to Syria, Egypt, Yugoslavia and Algeria, employing ships of the Black Sea Fleet.

The following year saw the largest naval exercise to date; nicknamed Sever (= North) it involved a large number of surface ships, land-based aircraft, submarines and auxiliaries. The exercise covered a variety of areas, but the main activity took place in waters between Iceland and Norway. One of the naval highlights of the year, for both the Soviet and the NATO navies, was the arrival in the Mediterranean of the first Soviet helicopter carrier, Moskva.

Further exercises and deployments took place in 1969, but in the following year Okean 70 proved to be the most ambitious Soviet naval exercise ever staged. This involved the Northern, Baltic and Pacific fleets and the Mediterranean Squadron in simultaneous operations, with the major emphasis in the Atlantic. A large northern force, comprising some twenty-six ships, started with anti-submarine exercises off northern Norway between 13 and 18 April, and then proceeded through the Iceland–Faroes gap to an area due west of Scotland, where it carried out an ‘encounter exercise’ against units from the Mediterranean Squadron. The two groups then sailed in company to join the waiting support group, where a major replenishment at sea took place. Other facets of the exercise included units of the Baltic Fleet sailing through the Skaggerak to operate off south-west Norway, and an amphibious landing exercise involving units of the recently raised Naval Infantry coming ashore on the Soviet side of the Norwegian–Soviet border.

This was a very large and ambitious exercise, from which the Soviet navy learned many major lessons, one of the most important of which was the falsity of the concept of commanding naval forces at sea from a shore headquarters. Such a concept had been propagated for two reasons: first, because it complied with the general Communist idea of highly centralized power and, second, because it also avoided the complexity and expense of flagships. Once Okean 70 had proved this concept to be impracticable, ‘flag’ facilities were built into the larger ships, although the Baltic Fleet continued to be commanded from ashore.

The exercise which took place in June 1971 rehearsed a different scenario, with a group of Soviet Northern Fleet ships sailing down into Icelandic waters, where they reversed course and then advanced towards Jan Mayen Island to act as a simulated NATO carrier task group, which was then attacked by the main ‘players’. Again, a concurrent amphibious landing formed part of the exercise.

There were no major naval exercises in 1972, but in a spring 1973 exercise Soviet submarines practised countering a simulated Western task force sailing through the Iceland–UK gap to reinforce NATO’s Northern flank, while a similar exercise in 1974 took place in areas to the east and north of Iceland. Okean 75 was an extremely large maritime exercise, involving well over 200 ships and submarines together with large numbers of aircraft. The exercise was global in scale, with specific exercise areas including the Norwegian Sea, where simulated convoys were attacked; the northern and central Atlantic, particularly off the west coast of Ireland; the Baltic and Mediterranean seas; and the Indian and Pacific oceans. Overall, the exercise practised all phases of contemporary naval warfare, including the deployment and protection of SSBNs.

In 1976 an exercise started with a concentration of warships in the North Sea, following which they transited through the Skagerrak and into the Baltic. Although not an exercise as such, great excitement was caused among Western navies when the new aircraft carrier Kiev left the Black Sea and sailed through the Mediterranean before heading northward in a large arc, passing through the Iceland–Faroes gap and thence to Murmansk. NATO ships followed this transit very closely, as it gave them their first opportunity to see this large ship and its V/STOL aircraft.

The following year saw two exercises in European waters, the first of which was held in the area of the North Cape and the central Norwegian Sea. The second was much larger and consisted of two elements, one involving the Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea, while in the other ships sailed from the Baltic, north around the British Isles and then into the central Atlantic. Also in 1977 the Soviet navy suffered the second of its major peacetime surface disasters when the Kashin-class destroyer Orel (formerly Otvazhny) suffered a major explosion while in the Black Sea, followed by a fire which raged for five hours before the ship sank, taking virtually the entire crew to their deaths.

In 1978 the passage of another Kiev-class carrier enabled an air–sea exercise to take place to the south of the Iceland–Faroes gap. Similar exercises followed in 1979 and 1980. The 1981 exercise involved three groups and took place in the northern part of the Barents Sea.

There were no major naval exercises in 1982, but the following year saw the most ambitious global exercise yet, with concurrent and closely related activities in all the world’s oceans, involving not only warships, but also merchant and fishing vessels. In European waters, three aggressor groups assembled off southern Norway and then sailed northward to simulate an advancing NATO force; they were then intercepted and attacked by the major part of the Northern Fleet.

The major exercise in 1985 followed a similar pattern, with aggressor groups sailing northeastward off the Norwegian coast, to be attacked by a large Soviet defending task group which included Kirov, the lead-ship of a new class of battlecruiser, Sovremenny-class anti-surface destroyers and Udaloy-class anti-submarine destroyers, as well as many older ships. There was also substantial air activity, which included the use of Tu-26 Backfire bombers. Although not apparent at the time, this proved to be the zenith of Soviet naval activity, and in the remaining years of the Cold War the number and scale of the exercises steadily diminished.

These major exercises enabled the Soviet navy to rehearse its war plans and to demonstrate its increasing capability to other navies, particularly those in NATO. There were, of course, many smaller exercises, such as those involving amphibious capabilities, which took place on the northern shores of the Kola Peninsula, on the Baltic coast and in the Black Sea. It is noteworthy, however, that the vast majority of the exercises held in European waters, and particularly those held from 1978 onwards, while tactically offensive, were actually strategically defensive in nature, involving the Northern Fleet in defending the north Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea and the area around Jan Mayen Island.

Soviet at-sea time was considerably less than that of the US and other major Western navies. The latter maintained about one-third of their ships at sea at all times, while only about 15 per cent of the Soviet navy was at sea, reducing to 10 per cent for submarines. The Soviets did, however, partially offset this by placing strong emphasis on a high degree of readiness in port and on the ability to get to sea quickly.

Modern Russian Federation Navy

The 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union led to a severe decline in the Russian Navy. Defense expenditures were severely reduced. Many ships were scrapped or laid up as accommodation ships at naval bases, and the building program was essentially stopped. Sergey Gorshkov’s buildup during the Soviet period had emphasised ships over support facilities, but Gorshkov had also retained ships in service beyond their effective lifetimes, so a reduction had been inevitable in any event. The situation was exacerbated by the impractical range of vessel types which the Soviet military-industrial complex, with the support of the leadership, had forced on the navy—taking modifications into account, the Soviet Navy in the mid-1980s had nearly 250 different classes of ship. The Kiev class aircraft carrying cruisers and many other ships were prematurely retired, and the incomplete second Admiral Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier Varyag was eventually sold to the People’s Republic of China by Ukraine. Funds were only allocated for the completion of ships ordered prior to the collapse of the USSR, as well as for refits and repairs on fleet ships taken out of service since. However, the construction times for these ships tended to stretch out extensively: in 2003 it was reported that the Akula-class submarine Nerpa had been under construction for fifteen years. Storage of decommissioned nuclear submarines in ports near Murmansk became a significant issue, with the Bellona Foundation reporting details of lowered readiness. Naval support bases outside Russia, such as Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, were gradually closed, with the exception of the modest technical support base in Tartus, Syria to support ships deployed to the Mediterranean. Naval Aviation declined as well from its height as Soviet Naval Aviation, dropping from an estimated 60,000 personnel with some 1,100 combat aircraft in 1992 to 35,000 personnel with around 270 combat aircraft in 2006. In 2002, out of 584 naval aviation crews only 156 were combat ready, and 77 ready for night flying. Average annual flying time was 21.7 hours, compared to 24 hours in 1999.

Training and readiness also suffered severely. In 1995, only two missile submarines at a time were being maintained on station, from the Northern and Pacific Fleets. The decline culminated in the loss of the Oscar II-class Kursk submarine during the Northern Fleet summer exercise that was intended to back up the publication of a new naval doctrine. The exercise was to have culminated with the deployment of the Admiral Kuznetsov task group to the Mediterranean.

As of February 2008, the Russian Navy had 44 nuclear submarines with 24 operational; 19 diesel-electric submarines, 16 operational; and 56 first and second rank surface combatants, 37 operational. Despite this improvement, the November 2008 accident on board the Akula-class submarine attack boat Nerpa during sea trials before lease to India represented a concern for the future.

In 2009, Admiral Popov (Ret.), former commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, said that the Russian Navy would greatly decline in combat capabilities by 2015 if the current rate of new ship construction remained unchanged, due to the retirement of ocean-going ships.

In 2012, President Vladimir Putin announced a plan to build 51 modern ships and 24 submarines by 2020.[32] Of the 24 submarines, 16 will be nuclear-powered. On 10 January 2013, the Russian Navy finally accepted its first new Borei class SSBN (Yury Dolgorukiy) for service. A second Borei (Aleksandr Nevskiy) was undergoing sea trials and entered service on 21 December 2013. A third Borei class boat (Vladimir Monomakh) was launched and began trials in early 2013, and was commissioned in late 2014.