Naval Manpower and the Baltic Military District

I første uge af april afholdtes ved University of Edinburgh — der vil være kendt for sine studier af sovjetiske militære forhold — et seminar med emnet Soviet manpower under ledelse af den tidligere formand for NATO´s Militærkomité, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Hill-Norton. Fra dansk side var indbudt orlogskaptajn Hans Garde, Forsvarsakademiet, til at deltage i seminaret. Nærværende artikel er indholdet af det papir, orlogskaptajnen fremlagde på seminaret. Den bringes derfor her i den originale engelske version.
Every ruler who has only a land army has only one hand, while he who has a fleet has both hands.
- Czar Peter I.
In his last book »The Sea Power of The State« Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergey G. Gorshkov 1) is using this quotation2) when he through a historical approach justifies the need of the Soviet Union for a navy. In the historical perspective St. Petersborg has been the center for the development of the navy. Leningrad still is, in respect to shipbuilding and naval education, but the Admiralty is today in Moscow and the operational tasks in this part of the world are executed by the Northern Fleet and the Baltic Fleet. The latter being almost entirely based within the Baltic Military District, which is the framework of this paper. Within this framework a few characteristics related to Soviet naval manpower will be looked at. For this purpose six headings will be used, corresponding to the six requirements to be met by Soviet officers, as they are established by the late Soviet Minister of Defence, Marshal of the Soviet Union A. A. Grechko3).
The Baltic Fleet.
Before turning to these points, a rough outline of the Baltic Fleet will make up the introduction to the subject. Writing in Red Star for 28 July 1946, Admiral G. Levchenko provided, in the words of Commander Robert W. Herrick, »the first of the pro-Army statements of the Navy’s postwar leaders . . . ’The Navy-Faithful Helper of the Red Army’«4). This help was given by flank protection and amphibious assults. However, most of the sailors fought the war on land, directly under the army’s command and the Soviets failed to use their sea power. Today, Admiral Sergei G. Gorshkov’s navy has clearly moved into the oceans in order to threaten the shipping on which the West depends and to contribute to the Soviet Union’s strategic delivery capability. However, the Soviet Navy’s traditional tasks remain: to gain command of the four fleet areas, particulary the Baltic, Black, and Barents Seas, and to provide flank support for land operations along the coastal axes.
These are historical tasks whose underlying nature has altered little, although their geographical scope has been somewhat extended, and it has been assumed that they can be carried out in a nuclear environment. The older Soviet warships gravitate to these traditional tasks which also employ the bulk of new constructions of escort size and smaller as well as a substantial share of the submarines. From a geographical standpoint, the impetus given Russian sea power by the victory in the Second World War was immense, especially in the Baltic. To a greater degree than ever before the Baltic has become a Russian lake, with the Soviet-dominated coastline now lengthended from 75 miles in 1939 to nearly 1.000 miles today. The expanded coastline includes commercial ports and naval bases, some of them, those in the south and west, normally ice-free. Even so the Soviet geographical is still basically less favourable than was Germany’s hardly admirable situation in the Second World War, for the latter at least had a coastline directly on the North Sea. The peninsula of Jutland, covering the Danish archipelago, breaks the otherwise long and unhindered European coastline from Leningrad at the farthest end of the Baltic to the Atlantic ports on the Bay of Biscay. But Jutland is not only an obstacle to coastal traffic along the Northern shores of Europe. It is also a gangway to Central Europe. It is a wedge of land driven in between the North Sea and the Baltic.
Because of this well-known geographical situation the Northern Fleet is gaining increasing Sovet attention, while the Baltic Fleet is no longer in an operational context »primus inter pares«. However, behind Jutland the Germans used the Baltic for supplying the armies on the Eastern Front during World War II. Today the Baltic serves as a supply route from the Soviet Union to her forces in Central Europe. If the Red Army were to start marching westwards, an extention of this route would be of great importance in a continental as well as a maritime context. Furthermore, the Baltic gives direct access to the major industrial centers in the Soviet Union as well as in the two other littoral Warsaw Pact countries. On the coasts controlled by the Pact, the capacity for shipbuilding and — repair has been developed to such an extent that it surpasses the entire Soviet capacity of the other fleet areas. The Baltic is therefore, extensively used for trials with new ships, tests of new weaponsystems and training of new crews.
As observed by George F. Kennan more than 20 years ago, ’It seems preposterous to the Russians that foreign planes and naval vessels should be able to approach with impunity within a few miles of their coastal installations. For these reasons they have shown and will continue'to show an extreme and almost pathological degree of sensitivity about their maritime frontier’5).
The present matitime activities in the Baltic and along the coasts are clear evidence of the truth in this statement. Examples of these activities are:
— increased maritime surveillance from ships and aircraft
— a farther and farther westward push of patrols in the Baltic and the Approaches
— the reactivation of the Soviet Marines in 1963 and the ever increasing scope of their operations in cooperation with Polish and East-German »Soldiers of the Sea«.
The Soviet Union’s maritime frontier in the Baltic coincide almost entirely with that of the Baltic Military District. So in this military district are situated the majority of the operational bases of the Baltic Fleet, the ships, the fleet aviátion, the naval infantry, the coastal defence and all the associated logistics. The responsibility for these forces is placed in a naval officer, the Com- mander-in-Chief, Baltic Fleet, Vice Admiral A. M. Kosov, as shown in Appendix I. Within the Soviet Naval Organisation his position is reflected in Appendix II and III, illustrating that although the shore establishments are situated within the military distict, the chain of command goes up to Admiral Gorshkov. This chain of command within the Nvy itself is particularly important in promoting the new image of an oceangoing Soviet Navy with missions beyond the shores of the Soviet Union. Because the Soviet military establishment has generally conceived the Navy to be an extension of the land forces, intended to function in liaison with land fronts, particularly in the Baltic Sea area.
Naval Manpower.
On this general background the rest of this paper will attempt to take the pulse on Soviet naval manpower. In a period of transition from a purely coastal navy to a blue-water navy also, the Soviet Navy is increasingly confronted with problems, the solution of which tend to emphasize the values} norms and goals common to most navies. The Russians are more and more accomodating themselves to the international maritime community. They are on the other hand also products of Russian heritage and the communist system, both of which are basicly continental.
In search of a balance between these viewpoints Marshal Grechko’s six requirements to officers will be used as points of departure in the order of priority, as established by the Marshal:
1. The Party and the People
2. Discipline
3. Initiative
4. Leadership and Management
5. Training and Knowledge
6. Educational Techniques.
In order to limit the scope somewhat, the officers’ corps will attract the main attention. Partly so, because of Marshal Grechko’s statement; »The officers from the basis, the backbone, of the Army and Navy. A lot of the combat preparedness and fighting efficiency of units and warships depends upon the standard of the officers’ training, their moral and political qualities and their efficiency. The Communist Party is aware of this and has been concentrating on training and educating its officers«6).
The Party and the People.
»Above all, Soviet officers must be totally committed to communist ideals and be utterly devoted to the Communist Party and the Soviet people«7). Certainly a key factor in the Soviet Navy is the omnipresent political infrastructure, as shown in Appendix IV. The naval-political organization gives the political officer all the needed opportunities to report on his military contemporaries and seniors. This is a constant source of irritation to the regular officers. On the other hand today’s political officer, the zampolit, is much more accepted in the wardroom, and by the crew than his predecessor, the political commissar, who ranked with the commanding officer and now and then overrode latter’s decisions, also in purely military matters. That dual command system is now replaced by the principle of one-man command. So, on larger warships the political officer generally ranks third, after the commanding officer and the executive officer. On smaller ships the duties of the executive officer and the political officer are often combined.
Thus, the naval and political leadership within a unit are formally exercised by one person — the commanding officer. This does, however, not mean that there has been any relaxation of Party control. On the contrary, it must be assumed that the principle of one-man command relies on the Party for its continued existance. It is evident that the armed forces have a far greater potential for the exercise of physical force than any other element in the Soviet state. No one should therefore doubt that the Party will ensure at all levels a proper mutual relationship between the Party and the armed forces.And the military authorities have to guarantee that the present level of Party control in the Nvay will not be jeopardized because of officers not being sufficiently devoted to the Communist Party.
An indication of the naval officers’ loyalty to the Party may be found in the fact that reportedly about 90 % of them have membership in the Communist Party or the Komsomol8). For comparison, members of the Party constitute in total only some 5% of the Soviet population9). These figures may on the other hand rather indicate that, although party membership is theoretically voluntary, a great deal of pressure is exerted on officers to affiliate. The expanded scope of fleet operation with many calls on foreign ports all over the world is often prixed by Soviet admirals. But the authorities in the Party are not quite so centent with the possibilities of decreasing political reliability. Apparently, they fear what they call ideological subversion. To counteract this, several different measures are taken aboard through political lectures and required readings, while naval personnel on their few hours shore leave go in groups often under the supervision of an officer.
While the political reliability may be discussed, there are no reason to doubt the devotion to Mother Russia. The well-known russian patriotism is backed by an intensive propaganda campaign, glorifying Russian maritime traditions and not least, the Navy’s role in the Great Patriotic War. Admiral Gorshkov’s book are often quoted examples. Although, only the oldest and the highest ranking officers have combat experience and a memory of the war, it is well worth to remember that the naval officer corps is made up largely of Slavic peoples — Great Russians, Belorussians, and Ukrainians. Members of this ethnic group occupy virtually all positions of responsibility and authority in the Soviet Navy. And they come from that part of the Soviet Union that suffered most in World War II. It has been suggested that the Great Patriotic-War is so valuable as a propaganda device, because it lend itself to blurring the distinction between the devotion of ethnic Russians to Mother Russia and the attachment of minority nationalities to their own regions 10). These peoples are melded together in common loyalty to the broader entity of the Soviet Union. The patriotic pride in the national military victory over the Nazis and political commitment to the Soviet system are thus fused. This is, however, not necessary for the naval officers in the Baltic Fleet.
»Secondly, the Soviet officer is expected to show a high sense of discipline, and be efficient in carrying out orders of his superiors«!11). Discipline is a key word in Soviet terminology. It is often used by the leaders and it is of paramount consequence to members of the Party. The importance attached to military discipline is therefore natural — seen from a national as well a military point of view. At schools, aboard ships and ashore officers and men are trained to adhere strictly to rules and regulations. Automatic obedience is requireed. Even in small ships no deviations from the regulations are tolerated. Such are the official attitude to discipline. This harsh and often extremely formal discipline is pursued with reference mostly to its value in the last World War. There are, however, signs that certain changes may be under way. So, Admiral Gorshkov in his Navy Day interview in 1976 did point out »that the time has come in the Soviet Navy when a commander must understand and relate to his men, commanding by respect rather than by more traditional and harsher means« 12).
Navies are today manning complicated weapon systems with specialists. In order to attract qualified personnel in competition with civilian firms our navies have adjusted the regulations to be more in consonant with norms outside the military. The need for a similar development in the Soviet Navy may have been the reason for Admiral Gorshkov’s statement. And the mutiny in the Baltic may have caused it. Almost on the date of the famous shot from the Russian cruiser AURORA, with which the Baltic Fleet triggered the Revolution, a remarkable mutiny took place in Riga on 9 November 1975 onboard the large ASW ship STORO- ZHEVOY.
Before the mutiny the STOROZHEVOY has been mentioned in a rather lengthy article in Red Star 13). The ship had not done very well in the socialist competition between ships. During 1974 »The Minister of Defence, Marshal Grechko went to sea on board this ship and evaluated highly the mastery of the anti-submariners ... In a word, the STOROZHEVOY had all the requirements necessary to win first place in the ranks of outstanding ships . .. Yet, at the end of the training year it became clear that the ship could not do better than fourth place«. The article attributed the problems of STOROZHEVOY to a laxity of political awareness and morale and discipline aboard the ship. One article during 1975 related a successful ASW exercise by the STOROZHEVOY but gave no other indications of her standard. According to official information from the Swedish Ministry of Defence, it has been reported14), that the trouble began when the STOROZHEVOY’s crew was denied shore leave. The reason should have been that the entire Soviet fleet had been placed on alert at the height of the fighting in Angola. Led by the ship’s political officer, the crew should have locked the commanding officer and most of the officers in their cabins and set the destroyer on course for Sweden.
As the STOROZHEVOY passed through the Irbe Strait into international waters, Russian planes and naval pursuit vessels appeared and opened fire. The mutineers surrended, and the ship returned to Latvia, Where it was reported hidden in a protected harbour and quickly repaired. In April 1976, the STOROZHEVOY passed the Danish straits, en route via the Suez Canal to join the Pacific Fleet. On 10 August 1976, Vice Admiral V. V. Sidorov, First Deputy C-in-C Baltic Fleet, gave a press confernece during a naval visit to Copenhagen. Confronted with questions about the mutiny, he flatly denied any knowledge of disciplinary problems within the Baltic Fleet. »Mutiny on a Soviet warship in the Baltic is unthinkable « 15)
»Thirdly, the Soviet officer is expected to display initiative and be able to act on his own« 16). Late in 1975 Vice Admiral Sidorov wrote an article entitled »Competition: Experience, Initiative, One More Reserve«. He pointed out that in the competition between two units under equally experienced commanders, the success of one unit and the short-comings of another are often traceable to the difference in initiative between commanders17). The balance between strict discipline and the promotion of initiative seems to have tipped too much in favor of the discipline. Although, these factors are not exactly two sides of the same coin, the Soviet society and particularly the bureaucracy do not generally favour initiative. Within the armed forces the strict adherence to rules and regulations tend to develop an attitude of fear for responsibility and reluctante to take initiatives. When Marshal Grechko ranks the requirement for initiative after the requirement for discipline it seems to be in good harmony with the actual situation. But it surely is a problem for the Soviet Navy with expanding operations and changing missions, which require that Soviet naval officers and sailors are able to handle unusual situations without awaiting orders.
Consequently, Admiral Sidorov, as many other high-ranking officers, points to the importance of initiative. The traditional maritime belief in »the man on the spot« is increasingly gaining support in the Soviet navy. But there is a long way for a navy, in which »the commanding officer of the destroyer DOSTOYNY received a medal for having carried out the mission during a severe three-day storm while on a training cru ise« 18). in a blue-water navy, shiphandling in adverse weather is regarded as a prerequisite and not as an exception.
Leadership and Management.
»Fourthly, the Soviet officer must exercise his will as commander and be a good manager of his men« 19). From these words, used by Marshal Grechko, there seems to be quite a distance to the words with which Captain Roskill, R.N., opens a chapter on the management of men 20). He is of the same opinion as John Buchan who, in analysing the qualities of the great leaders, placed human sympathy very high. »We see it«, he wrote, »in Julius Caesar’s strange magnanimity, in Lee’s tenderness and chivalry, and in that something in Napoleon at his best which bound the souls of his veterans to him, and perhaps above all in the manysided genius of Nelson«. In conclusion, Captain Roskill points to the fact that human sympathy always works in both directions — the possessor of it attracting it also to himself.
Rear Admiral Sumner Shapiro, USN, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, Office of the Chief of Naval Opreations, states that »leadership is the Soviet naval officer’s most serious shortcoming«21). Amongst the many factors, contributing to this generally accepted low standard, lack of human sympathy is probably decisive. It is however, resulting from the very system. The regular Soviet naval officer is a planner and organizer. He is also very manually involved in poerating, maintaining and repairing equipment. The political officer on the other hand, is in charge of political education and, in general, personnel matters, welfare, and recreation. To a certain extent, it could be said that while the regular officer turns to the equipment the men turn to the political officer. The principle of one-man command is not synonymous with one-man leadership.
Training and Knowledge.
»The fifth requirement is that the Soviet officer should have the benefit of highly qualified professional training, have a good general education and an intimate knowledge of military technology«22).
The odd relationship that exists between the Soviet naval officer and his subordinates is probably also a reflection of the general education of the privileged naval officer corps. Since its founding in World War II, the Nakhimov School System has provided the navy with most officer candidates. Boys — most sons of Party leaders or naval officers — enter at the age of 7, and they complete their entire primary and secondary school education in these schools before entering one of the 11 naval academies, the so-called higher naval schools. Naturally, cadets are recruited from other schools also, but officers from the Nakhimov School System are reported to set the pace and the norms. Without any doubt, these officers are very dedicated to the navy and their fellow-officers. They are well educated, particularly in technical skills, but their possibilities are limited for understanding how life is outside the navy. From where the large number of conscripts come.
Educational Techniques.
»Finally, the Soviet officer must be fully versed in educational tech- niques«23). Indeed, reference to the lack of understanding between officers and sailors are often heard. Phrases like »loyalty to the collective«, »a collective atmosphere« and the crew is »a single combat family« are used 24). Sea training is believed to help solving this problem. In Admiral Gorshkovs words »long ocean voyages are the best school for enchancing naval training and the special and tactical training og personnel25). First Deputy C-in-C of the Soviet Navy, Fleet Admiral V. A. Kasatonov, in 1972 said: »Ocean cruises have become the main means of training our Red Banner fleets. In cruises, of vigilance the naval men get a general review of their learning, acquire sound knowledge and naval tempering, and practice solving operational training tasks under complex conditions of the seas and oceans« 26). it is justified by reference to how naval cadets were divided into two groups, one of which did much of its training at sea on long voyages and the other at the naval school. The former received higher grades on an examination that was given to both groups.
Certainly, a change in the ratio of practical to theoretical training has taken place in the last few years. So, recent graduates from the naval academies have spent about 10 month in active naval units27). Again, however, much of this time the cadets spend in special training ships. And the time at sea does of course for the Baltic Fleet depend very much on the rather rough weather and the ice conditions during the winter-months. Finally, a particular responsibility of the Baltic Fleet should briefly be mentioned: That of cooperations with the two other Warsaw Pact navies in the Baltic. The almost annually executed amphibious exercises are much published. They demonstrate a high degree of interoperability and coordination in such complicated operations.In Admiral Gorshkov’s words: »Combat training of Soviet sailors takes place in close cooperation with navies of . . . the Warshaw Pact. Joint maneuvers . . . have become a great school for sea training28).
On the background of those six qualities, listed by Marshal Grechko, this paper has looked at Soviet naval manpower. Four conclusions are to my mind note-worthy. First, the content and especially the order of priority seem to be different from western naval standards of what is required of officers. Secondly, examples of the situation within the Baltic Fleet have been used to illustrate how well these qualities are performed. It has certainly not been the intension to show that the Baltic Fleet and the Soviet Navy have a serious lack of professionalism or great operational weaknesses. We should not believe so. But on the other hand, they have problems, constraints, and weaknesses. Their most published shortcomings are in the requirements 3 and 4: Initiative and leadership. But their problems might well be of a more serious character in requirement 2: Discipline. The reported mutiny in a peacetime fleet and the flat denial hereof might well be the indications. Thirdly, the Soviet military leaders advocate requirements 5 and 6: Training and educational standards as was to improved performance. Ocean voyages is in this context of special importance. But the basic problem, which is not raised in public in the Soviet Union, is probably much more concerned with requirement one and the relationship between the Party and the Navy. Fourthly, the Russians are more and more accomodating themselves to the international maritime community. The Soviet Navy has expanding operations and new missions with a need to trust »the man on the spot«. Although developed from the dual command system to the principle of one-man command the relationship between the Party and the Navy continue to create problems because the formal and real leadership do not completely coincide.
1) Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union S. G.Gorshkov: The Sea Power of the State, 1976. Swedish edition, Marinlitteraturförenin- gen nr. 63, p. 9.
2) Naval Regulations, St. Petersburg, 1720, p. 2.
3) Marshal of the Soviet Union A.A. Grechko: The Armed Forces of the Soviet Union, Moscow, 1977. pp. 192 (Marshal Grechko).
4) Commander Robert W. Herrick, USN: Soviet Naval Strategy, Annapolis, 1968, p. p. 88.
5) Commander M. G. Saunders, RN (ed.): The Soviet Navy, London, 1958, p. 12.
6) Marshal Grechko, p. 184.
7) Ibid, p. 194.
8) Herbert Goldhamer: The Soviet Soldier, London, 1975, p. 262.
9) Pravda, OCT 13, 1974, p. 2.
10) Hedrick Smith: The Russians, London, 1976, p. 372.
11) Marshal Grechko, p. 194.
12) Captain William H. J.Manthorpe, Jr., USN: The Soviet Navy in 1976, Proceedings, May 1977, p. 211.
13) Captain William H. J. Manthorpe, Jr., USN: The Soviet Navy in 1975, Proceedings, May 1976, p. 211.
14) Time, May 17, 1976.
15) Berlingske Tidende, August 11, 1976.
16) Marshal Grechko, p. 194.
17) The Soviet Navy in 1975, p. 211.
18) The Soviet Navy in 1976, p. 210.
19) Marshal Grechko, p. 195.
20) Captain S. W. Roskill, RN: The Art of Leadership, London, 1964, p. 124.
21) Captain Sumner Shapiro, USN: The Blue Water Soviet Naval Officer, Proceedings, February 1971.
22) Marshal Grechko, p. 195.
23) Ibid, p. 195.
24) The Soviet Navy in 1976, p. 211.
25) Ibid, p. 212.
26) Goldhamer, p. 108.
27) Captain James W. Kehoe, USN: Naval Officers: Ours and Theirs, Proceedings, February 1978, p. 53.
28) The Soviet Navy in 1976, p. 208.
PDF med originaludgaven af Militært Tidsskrift hvor denne artikel er fra:
PDF icon militaert_tidskrift_107_aargang_apr.pdf