history of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, one can definitely say thattheperiod
from 1932 to 1941 was a time of intense war preparations. FromApril21, 1932,
when the Soviet government resolved to organize its NavalForcesin the Far
East till June 22, 1941, the leitmotif of naval life wasessentiallypreoccupied
with preparing warships and units for future battles.In fact,everything in
both the navy and the entire country, for that matter,wassubordinated to
Already in December1931,
a preemptive decision was taken to built for the Russian fleet inthe FarEast
twelve “Щ”-type (5th Series) submarines. They were builtatLeningrad
works and finalized in Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, where theywere delivered
in sections by rail. The main “Losos” submarinewas turnedover
to the fleet on September 22, 1933. Seven more submarinesof thisseries were
assembled in the Russian Far East till the end of1933.In subsequentpre-war
five-year periods more advanced submarines, projects“K”, “Л”,“Щ”
and “M”, werebuilt for the navy.
On March 30, 1932, the Staff of Soviet
Naval Forces in the Far East was formed, and First-Rank Fleet Flagman M.V.
Viktorov was appointed Commander-in-Chief. He participated inWorldWar
One. During the Russian Civil War, he first commanded a destroyerandthen
a battleship on the side of the Reds. Before arriving on the Pacific,M. V.
Viktorov was commander of Naval Forces in the Baltic and Black Seas.In 1937,
he was appointed Head of all Soviet Naval Forces. In the sameyear,he was
arrested by the NKVD, and in 1938 innocently shot as “enemyofthe people”,
which in those days was quite common in the USSR.
And before thattragedy,
for five years First-Rank Fleet Flagman Viktorov was responsiblefor all the
main concerns involved in organization of the Soviet Navy.In those years,
warships of various classes constituting the Navy’s nucleuswere delivered
via the Northern Sea Route from the Baltic and Black Seasto Vladivostok,then
Russia’s main naval base. At the same time, submarine,torpedoboat and
surface battleship crews, pilots and coastal defense servicemencameto Vladivostok
by the Trans-Siberian railroad. They arrived in largenumbers.Whereas in summer
1932 Russia’s Far Eastern Naval forces numbered5,875men, by the end
of the year they had already increased to 8,300.By that time,in addition
to coastal defense vessels and units, and variousnewly-organizednaval institutions
(naval training center, naval hospital,observation andcommunication service),
Russian naval forces in the FarEast already includedtwelve stationary and
railroad artillery batteries,six antiaircraft batteries,five air squadrons
and one air detachment witha total of 53 aircraft.
In 1933, naval construction
went at a considerably faster rate. In that year alone, the number of warships
in the Russian Far East had increased ten times! The fleet also receivedseveral
new heavy artillery batteries, dozens of new-type combat aircraft,and a number
of auxiliary ships. By the beginning of 1935, the naval forcesin the Russian
Far East had grown to such an extent as to actually representquite an organizationally
formed naval fleet. So, on January 11, 1935 theSoviet government decreedto
rename the nation’s naval forces in the FarEast into the PacificFleet.
Whereas in the thirties, the fleet’s
armament was the paramount task, for all personnel assimilation of newcombat
equipment was equally important. In late 1935, Commander of theFifth Naval
Brigade G. N. Kholostiakov suggested to test submarines formaximum-long performance
at sea. Submarine “Щ” was the first to pass thetest. It carried
four fore and two stern torpedo tubes and two 45-mm guns.
On January 11, 1936, the “Щ-117”
took to sea along a fairway made in ice to take up position on remote approaches
to the coasts of Primorye for further combat operation there. Generallyspeaking,
this task was not novel for Pacific submariners. But the submarinewas tostay
there not for ten-fifteen days, as would be normal, but forthe timeof its
full rated autonomous operation and longer. The naval commandhad notdetermined
the date when the submarine was to return to its base.
commanderwas N. P. Egipko, an experienced submariner. He and other crew commanders
undertook all measures, as they used to say then, to “squeeze out of
theequipment everything it can offer”. That year the winter was unusually
severe. Strong frosts made navigation in open sea difficult for the submarine.
Its body and antennas froze intensely, visibility was very poor, and thesubmarine
was strongly rocked. One night, a storm tore off a superstructuresheet and
damaged the hole of the stern tank. There was urgent need toopen the manhole
throat. Boatswain P. N. Sharonov and helmsman A. I. Pekarskyvolunteered to
do that when “the stormy sea was roaring and moaning”. Thewaves
crashed roaring on the superstructure and bridge. The ice-coveredlight panes
The two men descendedfromthe
bridge to the superstructure, and when the next wave subsidedthey felttheir
way to the tank. New and new waves of icy water rolledover the U-boat,and
at such moments Sharonov and Pekarsky, having inhaledas much air as theycould,
would “lie low” till the water ran off to thencontinueworking.
Their clothes were frozen and turned into a completeice shell. Butby morning,
they had nonetheless eliminated the defect.
During the same expedition,
the crew also tested the U-boat for maximum stay underwater without regenerating
fresh air. It went off successfully. For the first time in the historyofunderwater
navigation by a submarine the entire crew took a bath. Fortunately,during
the expedition the seamen had earned to substitute each other attheircombat
stations. Eventually, the “Щ-117” crew brilliantly fulfilledall
their tasks to beat by 100% all the norms of autonomous navigationestablished
at the time for such types of submarines.
severalmore Pacific submarines performed similar autonomous navigations.In
August-September1936, five submarines and floating base “Saratov”
completed a big jointvoyage under the command of Captain G. N. Kholostiakov.
The submarinessailed for thousands of miles, practicing torpedo attacks,artillery
firingand other tasks. They visited Okhotsk, Magadan, Okha andBaikal Bay.
Basingon the experience of those submarines and that of “Щ-117”,
and after completingsome technical improvements, the Soviet Navy then established
a new normfor autonomous navigation for “Щ”-type submarines.
It amounted toforty days, a record at the time
In the same year of 1936,the
first expedition of surface warships from the Pacific fleet took placealong
the Northern sea route. Having sailed from Kronstadt along the Belomor-Baltic
Canal to Archangelsk, the destroyers “Stalin” and “Voikov”
(commanders:Lieutenant-Captain V. N. Obukhov and Captain M. G. Sukhorukov)
accompaniedby ice breaker “F. Litke” arrived at Novaya Zemlia
on August 1, 1936. Fromthere, together with steamship “Anadyr”
and tankers “Lokbatan” and “Maikop”the two destroyers
continued their voyage along the Northern Sea Rloute.The expedition, ledby
Academician O. Yu. Schmidt, completed their safepassage to the RussianFar
East, and on October 17, 1936 arrived in Vladivostok.
By the end of the 1930s,the
Russian Pacific Fleet had two brigades of warships, four brigades ofsubmarines,
one brigade of torpedo boats, several divisions of surfaceships, launches
and submarines. The fleet’s air force had several brigades,regiments
and squadrons of bombers, fighters and reconnaissance warplanes.Artillery
batteries were installed in various points along the coastline.
In June 1937, Flagman-Captain
G. P. Kireev became commander-in-chief of the Russian Pacific Fleet. Heserved
in World War One, and in Soviet time as commissar on the Baltic,member of
Military Revolutionary Council, Naval Forces on the Black andAzov Seas, and
deputy commander of Russia’s naval forces in the Far East.In the same
year of 1937, the NKVD arrested him, and in 1938 shot him.In 1937-1939m Second
Rank Flagman-Captain N. G. Kuznetsov commanded Russia’sPacific Fleet
(during World War Two, he was People’s Commissar for theUSSR Navy,and
after the war Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, PacificFleet Commander,
USSR Navy Minister, and Commander-in-Chief of the SovietNavy).
In March, 1939, SecondRank
Flagman-Captain I. S. Yumashev (later promoted to Admiral) was appointedPacific
Fleet Commander, and stayed in that capacity till 1947.
Such rapid changeoffleet
commanders, like also the repressions against them, were characteristicof
the second half of the nineteen-thirties. But against that quite gloomybackground,
too, the fleet continued its preparations for war. Significantin this respect
were the joint exercises of the Special Far Eastern RedArmyand the Pacific
Fleet. At that time, Russian navymen demonstrateda high levelof combat readiness
and naval skill. Their actions were assessedhighly byYa. B. Gamarnik, Deputy
Soviet Defense Commissar, and V. K. Blukher,Commander-in-Chief,Separate Red-Banner
Far Eastern Army, both presentat the exercises (and botharrested and shot
later by NKVD).
Again, in July-August1938the
Pacific Fleet’s readiness for war, this time real, not practice,was
sounded. At that time, the USSR was waging fierce land battles at LakeKhasan
against the Japanese, who had invaded Soviet territory. When actionbegan,
Pacific Fleet warships were put into enhanced combat readiness.Submarines
guarded Russia’s sea communications, and surface craft ensuredsupplies
of ammunition, armaments and food for armies active in the field,and evacuated
the wounded. On the seacoast, Russian naval personnel organizedseveral stations
for unloading transports, chiefly at Possiet. Warshipsof the Seventh SeaBrigade
under Captain S. G. Gorshkov (future Commander-in-Chief,USSR Navy)convoyed
transports that carried from Vladivostok to NovgorodskayaInlet troopsand
materiel, and wounded men back to Vladivostok, and patrolledthe watersoff
Furugelm Island and the estuary of Tiumen-Uly River.
In those very days, Pacific
Fleet airmen delivered crushing blows on concentrations of Japanese troops
on Zaoziornaya and Bezymiannaya Hills. Seventy-four Pacific navymen wereconferred
orders and medals for valor in battles at Lake Khasan.
on theeve of upcoming battles of World War Two showed that Russia’s
Pacific Fleethad both quantitatively and qualitatively turned into a naval
unit fullycapable of defending the nation on its Far Eastern sea borders.