THE Soviet Navy has expanded more rapidly since World War II than any other branch of the Russian armed forces. About 200,000 to 300,000 men have been added to its strength, which now totals between 750,000 and 850,000 officers and men. Its submarine fleet is the largest in the world--in fact the largest in world naval history. The world's newest cruisers-- of the Sverdlovsk class--are Russian. The U.S.S.R. operates 3,000 to 4,000 naval aircraft. The Red Navy's chief, Nikolai Kuznetsov, Admiral of the Fleet, protégé of Stalin, has survived purge and struggle for power to become perhaps the sixth or seventh-ranking military figure in the Soviet Union--which means that Kuznetsov is a political as well as a naval figure. Kuznetsov has called the Baltic, with some reason, Russia's "mare nostrum," and he, Stalin, Malenkov and Bulganin have all stressed the Soviet determination to become a leading sea Power.

Russia is, in fact, well on the way toward that goal. She maintains what Admiral Robert B. Carney, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, has called the second largest fleet in commission.[i] She has a submarine construction capacity estimated at about one a week, and a cruiser construction capability of about 1½ to 2½ ships a year.[ii] She is purchasing merchant ships, fishing vessels and oil tankers (111,918 gross tons as of March 1955) from foreign builders and has a merchant marine that is now the tenth largest in the world (exclusive of satellite shipping).

Yet Russia's sea power has many anomalous features. Russian flagships are rarely seen on the high seas. Her newest cruisers are over-big for the Baltic yet are weakly gunned for blue water. Her Navy has no aircraft carriers, the capital ship of modern fleets. Her naval aircraft are all land-based. She possesses fleets of small craft, which never put to sea, for use on her numerous rivers and lakes. She has relatively few seagoing amphibious craft. The Russian Navy, like the Soviet nation, presents the West with "an enigma wrapped in mystery."


The Soviet Navy is, nevertheless, a political factor internally in Soviet Russia, and a power factor externally in the world struggle. More attention should therefore be paid to it. Much future history will be determined by the evolution of Russian maritime and naval thought. Will Moscow try to create a merchant marine for extensive export trade? Will the Soviet Navy develop into a high seas fleet, capable of projecting Russian power far beyond the continental "Heartland," over the 74 percent of the world that is water?

No sure answer can be found to these questions in a review of past Russian naval evolution.

Naval expansion and modernization is not peculiar to Communist Russia. Periodically in the days of the Tsars there were bursts of wartime activity, demands for warm-water ports, intensive naval construction, followed by long periods of inactivity and decline. Peter the Great, Catherine II and Alexander III stimulated Russian naval expansion. They enlisted foreign aid to build and direct their fleets, as the Communists today have recruited German submarine designers, naval architects and technicians. John Paul Jones, the hero of the infant American Navy, was summoned to Moscow by Catherine II to "fight the Turks in the Black Sea."

Yet save in Russia's warm seas the history of Russian naval expansion generally has ended in frustration. After the decline of Turkey and until the rise of Germany, Russia was able to command the Baltic and Black Seas. But the naval concepts of Maltzahn, Castex, Corbett and Mahan seem to have made singularly little impression on the Russian mentality, and most of the Russian attempts to produce a truly maritime force and a maritime strategy ended in defeat and sometimes in ignominy. There have been few defeats, for instance, as complete as Tsushima, which takes its place in history along with Cannae as symbolic of the battle of annihilation. The cruise of Admiral Rozhestvensky's fleet from the Baltic to its rendezvous with disaster off Japan revealed so many instances of confusion, ineptitude and land-lubberly qualities as to make the Russian Navy of that day almost a laughing stock among the seamen of the world.

The magnitude of the Russian naval disaster in the Russo-Japanese war can be dismissed as merely symbolic of the degeneration and decay of Russian institutions and Russian society in the last days of the Tsars. Yet so far the Communists have made a naval combat record which is not much more impressive. No Communist fleet has ever fought a naval battle; no living Soviet admiral has ever commanded a fleet in action at sea. The Soviet naval record in World War II was undistinguished except, paradoxically, on land. Soviet sailors and marines, organized for land fighting, joined in many of the most sanguinary battles around the Baltic and Black Seas, and seamen of the Baltic Fleet were among the most effective defenders of Leningrad. The Russian Navy participated in a considerable number of what Moscow has called "amphibious" operations in World War II. But all of them were short-range, inland-sea operations; most of them were what we in the West would call mass "river crossings." Even so, in the winter war against Finland a number of amphibious attempts failed, or were cancelled. In nearly every instance, those that succeeded were sea leapfrog operations over short or partially frozen stretches of water on the flank of the Army.

The Russians used mines and coastal artillery with considerable defensive effectiveness, particularly in the Baltic, but their old and obsolete heavy ships were immured in besieged bases most of the war, and the Communist torpedo craft--surface and sub-surface--scored but few successes. The Germans had no great difficulty with Russian submarines and the swastika was the dominant flag in the Baltic for most of the war.[iii]


The past history of Russian futility at sea cannot be taken, of course, as an exact guide to present Soviet naval capabilities or to future Soviet intentions.

Russia's military and political conquests on land during and since World War II and the changing character of naval war have given a new potential to Russian maritime strength. Kuznetsov's boast of a Russian Baltic "mare nostrum" is not an idle one; the Baltic today is dominated by Soviet air-naval power, a domination contested unequally by the small though efficient air and sea fleets of Sweden. Russia has a new port on the Arctic--Finnish Petsamo--and in the Orient she has access, through her Chinese ally, to warm-water ice-free ports. And her control through her Balkan satellites over the Danube estuary and of most of the western shore of the Black Sea make her hold on that strategic landlocked ocean more total than ever before in modern history. Strong Soviet air power plus the electronic eye of radar have reenforced the Soviet grasp on these contiguous waters and coasts and have added a defensive strength to Soviet naval surface strength unparalleled in any prior era.

But the same geographic handicaps that have always hobbled the development of Russian maritime power are still evident today, though to a lesser degree.

Russia is a continental Power; she forms, as the geopoliticians put it, a major part of "the Eurasian Heartland." She has, in land and air concepts, the military advantage of the "interior position." Her air forces and land armies operate outward against the Eurasian "rimlands" over shorter distances--as if from the center of a circle--while the "rimland" Powers must move around the circumference of that circle. But this very fact weakens and divides Soviet sea power. Her surface and sub-surface fleets must move over tremendous distances around the "rimlands" of two continents past coasts held (except in the Arctic) by other Powers. Her ships still have no clear and easy access to the high seas and her fleets must be distant, scattered and divided, with no easy means of shifting vessels from sea to sea or of reënforcing one fleet with another.

Geography is the Russian Navy's undoing. The Baltic, sea route to Leningrad and to the political heart of Russia, is landlocked, and its narrow entrances, the Skagerrak and Cattegat, lie beneath Danish, Swedish and Norwegian guns. They are shoal and are easily mined, and would offer at best a hazardous gateway in time of war into the Atlantic, even if Denmark were conquered by Russian land armies.

The White Sea and the Arctic, where Russian ports give upon the north, are open save to nature, but most of the Soviet northern ports are frozen part of each year, and in winter the pressing icefields narrow the lane of freedom to the Atlantic to dangerous dimensions.

Between the Baltic and the White Sea, the Stalin-White Sea Canal provides for about five months each year a water link for ships no bigger than submarines and small destroyers. But it is a tenuous passage easily blocked by the manacles of winter frost, by sea mines or by bombing with conventional or atomic weapons.

Far to the south lies another water approach to a vital area of the "Heartland"--the industry of the Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus. The Black Sea, landlocked like the Baltic, offers an even more difficult egress, for even if the Dardanelles were to fall to Communist armies the maze of islands in the Aegean and the close water of the Mediterranean would make a sortie by Russian surface ships or submarines a desperate adventure. But the Black Sea must be defended, and its defense poses a strategic problem separate and independent from the problems of the north. Small ships, it is true, can be transferred from Baltic and Arctic via the well-developed system of Soviet rivers and canals to the Black Sea and to the Caspian. But this process is limited and slow.

Soviet Siberia and the Far East present still a separate naval problem. For perhaps six to ten weeks in summer, sea communication along the Arctic coast between the Murmansk-White Sea area and the Bering Strait and the Pacific is possible, though difficult. Icebreakers and helicopters--the latter used to search out open leads in the ice packs--annually shepherd supply ships and merchant vessels to the Arctic settlements along this barren coast. Shoal water and the ever-present threat of the ice make this passage a precarious one but there is some evidence that the Russians have shifted submarines, destroyer-types and perhaps even a cruiser to Far Eastern waters by this passage.

Thus Soviet Russia has found no way by Marxist dialectics to overcome the geographic handicaps that hobbled Tsarist naval power. She must maintain four separate fleets--separated by vast distances and great obstacles and without any easy means of mutual reënforcement. Her present position can be likened to that of the United States in the days when it had a one-ocean Navy but needed a two-ocean fleet for the Atlantic and the Pacific. The American problem then was far simpler, however, than that of Soviet Russia now. The Panama Canal and even the route around the Horn or the Cape of Good Hope offered much surer connecting links for the transfer of ships from one ocean to another than any of the waterways available to Soviet Russia. And the American shipbuilding facilities were, and are, far greater than those of Soviet Russia.

Still another major geographic disadvantage confronts the Soviet "Big-Navy" advocates. Russian shipyards, generally speaking, are far removed from the main sources of Soviet industrial power.[iv] Unlike those in Britain or the United States, Soviet shipyards do not in most cases have the immediate "back-up" of steel mills, fabricating plants, coal mines, iron ore deposits, petroleum sources and the sizeable industrial complex essential to support a major maritime Power. Steel plates and parts must be brought, sometimes thousands of miles by rail, road or inland waterway, to the shipbuilding ports. In war this process would be strategically vulnerable and in peace it necessarily delays construction.


These geographic and industrial factors have influenced greatly the size, composition and organization of the Soviet Navy, which in each respect is in some ways unique.

The existing Soviet Navy is not a "balanced" fleet in the traditional concept of the term. Its heavy ships are of negligible importance. There are no aircraft carriers in commission or building, and contrary to many published reports it is probable that no battleships are under construction. Three obsolete battleships (one of them the former Italian Giulio Cesare, allotted to the Soviet Navy under the peace treaty) are assigned to the Baltic and Black Seas. They are of little importance except perhaps as static coastal defense weapons.

Soviet Russia has a sizeable cruiser and destroyer fleet consisting of about 24 cruisers, about half of them postwar, and 110 to 130 destroyer-types, most of them postwar. The new cruisers of the Sverdlovsk class, with an ostensible displacement of 12,800 tons, but believed to be about 5,000 tons larger, appear to be under-gunned (5.9 inch main battery) for their size, and they are equipped with old-style Italian optical rangefinders. However, they carry a heavy antiaircraft armament, torpedoes and mines; they are fast, have a long cruising radius, are rather well-armored and their bows are strengthened for ice navigation. They have a high freeboard, well-suited for the stormy seas of the North, and in the judgment of our naval authorities they are "first-class warships."

Some of the new Russian destroyer-types are also formidable and compare well with modern Allied types. A few of the Soviet destroyers displace between 2,000 and 4,000 tons, and are armed with 5.1 inch guns, torpedo tubes, mines and radar. Most are short-range, high-speed types, but some appear to have cruising ranges far greater than that necessary for the landlocked inland seas.

Numerically, Russia's submarine fleet is the largest in the world; perhaps 350 to 370 submarines are in service. Many of these are old, and much of the Russian submarine construction program since the war has been devoted to replacement of obsolete and worn-out hulls. Most of the Soviet submarines are small, short-range or medium-range types constructed for inland-sea or coastal operations. Some of these, as they have been replaced by newer vessels, have been transferred to the Navies of Communist States. There is some evidence, for instance, that the Chinese Communists are now operating three to five 200-250 ton Maliutki-type submarines from a base at Tsingtao.

About 100 of the Soviet submarines are believed to be long-range, deep-sea types. This is twice as many as Germany's total submarine fleet when World War II started. Recently the Soviet Navy standardized two types of ocean-going submarines, both of them snorkel-equipped; one is of about 1,500 to 2,000 tons displacement, the other of 800 to 1,200 tons. These submarines are powered, for the most part, with the conventional installations of Diesels on the surface and electric-batteries when submerged. But some probably are utilizing a modification of the German Walther hydrogen-peroxide chemical turbine for submerged cruising. The Soviet torpedoes are described as good, and most of the Soviet submarines are equipped for minelaying or can be so equipped. Soviet Russia has not yet built a nuclear-powered submarine.

Partially because their shipyards are far from their main centers of industry, partially to achieve strategic decentralization, the Russians have taken a leaf from the German experience in World War II. Submarine assemblies are built inland (some of them at Gorki) and are transported in sections, sometimes by rail but chiefly by inland waterway, to the shipbuilding assembly yards on the Baltic and Black Seas, on the Arctic Ocean and in the Far East. By these methods a capability of mass production has been achieved.

Another impressive element of Soviet naval strength is in aviation. All Soviet naval aviation (except for a few seaplanes) is land-based, but it is an integral part of the Soviet Navy, and the aircraft are under the operational command of each fleet commander. There are an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 planes of the same general types as those used to support the Russian land army--Mig 15s and Mig 17s, the medium attack bomber IL-28, and reconnaissance and patrol types. The IL-28 and some of the patrol types can extend Soviet air-naval power at least 500 miles seaward from the Russian coasts.

In addition to these principal elements of Soviet naval strength, Russia has a vast small-ship fleet composed of types described by La Revue Maritime as "the dust of the sea." Escorts, patrol boats, trawlers, minelayers, minesweepers, motor torpedo boats, small landing craft, icebreakers, etc., are probably numbered in the thousands.[v]

These small craft, and especially the fishing trawlers, which can be easily adapted to minelaying, add immensely to what is perhaps the major Soviet naval capability--minelaying. Soviet submarines, cruisers and destroyers are all fitted for minelaying, and in this form of naval warfare, so suitable to the defense of their narrow shallow seas, the Russians have always excelled. With German help, Soviet Russia has mass-produced improved models of the German-designed magnetic, acoustic, pressure and contact mines used during World War II; and, as we discovered off the Korean coasts, these mines can profoundly influence the art of war at sea and provide a formidable defensive girdle for any coast.

Between 750,000 and 850,000 men serve the Soviet Navy in uniform. Some of them--perhaps 200,000--are the "hard core" of permanent professional officers, petty officers, pilots and leading seamen. The rest are conscripts, who normally serve five years. Perhaps 240,000 to 280,000 men serve afloat, aboard ships and boats of the Russian Navy. Another 75,000 to 85,000 fly and maintain and support naval aircraft. The very sizeable remainder--the majority of the Russian Navy's personnel--are stationed ashore, in support, administrative and maintenance positions, manning antiaircraft and coastal batteries and coastal defense zones (which are the responsibility of the Navy up to 50 miles inland) and organized and trained as "naval infantry" or marines for amphibious operations and land fighting.

There is little evidence on which to judge the command ability and combat effectiveness of the sailors of the Red Fleet. But the tight political control that characterizes Soviet military organizations certainly extends to the Navy; political commissars as "Deputy Commanders" are prevalent, and "security" forces form a sizeable percentage of the total. Communist Party control is exercised at all levels. The Communists will never forget that the Red Revolution germinated among the sailors of the Tsarist fleet and that counter-revolution initiated by sailors represented the first real threat to Soviet power.

It is upon this large and unconventional force that Soviet Russia has spent perhaps $60 to $80 billions since 1945. About one-fifth of the annual Soviet defense budget goes to the Navy, and the British Admiralty believes that in about two years, more or less, the current construction program will build up the Soviet fleet to 30 cruisers, 150 destroyers, 500 submarines, 500 motor torpedo boats, 1,000 minesweepers, 4,000 naval aircraft and hundreds of other types.


The organization of the Soviet Navy is influenced both by Marxism and geography. Periodically, the Ministry of the Navy has been an independent department (as it was during World War II), only to be merged afterwards in the Ministry of Defense. Today, Marshal Zhukov, the head of the Ministry of Defense, includes the Navy under his over-all control, but Admiral Kuznetsov, the naval deputy and head of the Navy, has virtual administrative and operational autonomy within the framework of Party political control and over-all strategic concepts. An administrative and functional staff in Moscow is concerned with political indoctrination, naval education, personnel, supply, communications, naval medicine and justice. There are subordinate administrations for the naval infantry, naval aircraft and coastal defense and fortified areas. Operational forces are divided into four principal fleet commands--Northern, or Arctic; Baltic; Black; and Pacific, or Far Eastern--each with its own subordinate fleet air arm, and into at least nine "internal" or lake and river flotillas--the Caspian, Azov, Ladoga, Volga, Onego, Dnieper, Amur, Sungari and Danube.

The Northern, or Arctic Fleet, which has its principal base at Polyarnoe, near Murmansk, numbers about three Tchapayev-class cruisers (smaller than the Sverdlovsks, with twelve 5.9 inch guns), 25 to 40 destroyer types and perhaps 40 to 70 submarines. This fleet is considerably smaller than the Baltic Fleet, but in a strategic sense it is perhaps the most important of the four Soviet fleets. It is supported by a fairly extensive naval and air base complex in the Kola Peninsula-White Sea area. The White Sea freezes in winter, thus limiting the value of Archangel (Molotovsk) as a port, but the Gulf Stream keeps the northern coast of the Kola Peninsula ice free and year-round naval operations can be conducted, with safety, though not with comfort, from Polyarnoe, Varenga, Murmansk and Pechenza (Petsamo).[vi] A major industrial and mining area is under development to the east of the White Sea region in the Vorkuta-Pechora River area, and is of indirect support to the Kola complex. This region is connected by railroad (though inadequate) with the Leningrad area, and by the Stalin canal with the Baltic. Most important, the Kola Peninsula abuts on the undefended Arctic frontier of an exposed neighbor, Norway, and the sea route around the North Cape to the open Atlantic is usable throughout the year. In case of war, Russian naval, amphibious and land operations could secure northern Norway and safeguard the flank of this important access to the open Atlantic.

The Soviet Baltic Fleet, which really consists of two fleets, is by far the largest. The Fourth (or South Baltic) Fleet is based at Baltijsky (Pillau); the Eighth (or North Baltic) bases at Tallinn. Together these fleets include at least one of the old Russian battleships, perhaps eight to 14 cruisers of all types, 40 to 60 destroyer-types, 100 to 150 submarines and very sizeable numbers of motor torpedo boats and gunboats, patrol craft, minelayers and minesweepers--all supported by 800 or 900 naval aircraft. The Baltic Fleet benefits from three factors. It operates in a landlocked sea, the gateways to which can be easily closed and are controlled by weak Powers; there are scores of Russian air bases along its eastern and southern coasts which dominate the entire sea; and since the acquisition of bases and ports in the Baltic states, Poland and Eastern Germany the Russian Navy enjoys a plethora of harbors, repair and base facilities. These include Kronstadt (outside Leningrad); Finnish Porkhala, Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg); Tallinn; Libau; Rostock, Stralsund; Dantzig; Memel; Sweinmuende; Gdynia and Osel. (Most, but not all of these, are blocked by ice during the winter.) A new and advanced base at German Ruegen, only 80 airline miles from Copenhagen, was started some years ago, but apparently construction there has been halted or greatly curtailed. This whole area is supported by the Leningrad industrial complex and the industry and shipbuilding facilities of Germany and East Poland.

Defensively, the Baltic is strong, but offensively it does not offer easy access to the open seas. Even if Russian land armies conquered the Jutland peninsula and Southern Norway, the narrow straits leading from the Baltic to the open seas could be easily mined by planes operating from England, and the passage into the open ocean would be hazardous.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet, based at Sevastopol, consists of one or two old battleships, four to six cruisers, and a sizeable number of destroyer types and submarines. Important ports and bases include Odessa, Nikolayev, Zhdanov, Novorossiysk, Poti and Batumi, all of them open to navigation the year around. The Black Sea Fleet benefits from its proximity to the principal Soviet oil source in the Caucasus and to the major industrial complex of the Ukraine. In size, it is large enough to contain any naval threat posed by Turkey, just as the Baltic Fleet is large enough to overpower the efficient little Swedish Navy. But, like the Baltic Fleet, it would find access to the Mediterranean difficult even if Soviet land armies conquered the Straits.

The Far Eastern Fleets are organized in two fleets and one flotilla. The Fifth Fleet, based at Vladivostok, consists of at least two cruisers, numerous destroyer types and perhaps 45 to 50 submarines. The Seventh Fleet, based at Sovetskaya Gavan, includes one or more cruisers, a small number of destroyers, and perhaps 10 to 20 submarines. The Kamchatka flotilla, based at Petropavlovsk (a sub-command of the Seventh Fleet), consists entirely of submarines--possibly 20 to 30. This fleet has greater strategic possibilities than any of the others for three reasons. Petropavlovsk, with its great bay and important airfield, is the only Russian naval base that gives squarely upon the open ocean. Soviet planes and ships based on Petropavlovsk and the Kurile Islands can reach great-circle air and shipping routes across the North Pacific in a very brief period. The Russians now control the Kurile Islands, which lie like a barrier across the deep-sea entrances to the Sea of Okhotsk; unlike the Baltic or the Black Sea, their ships based on Sovetskaya Gavan, Vladivostok, Magadan and Aleksandrovsk (with repair and construction facilities at Komsomolsk and Nikolaevsk) can sortie at will into the open Pacific. And, finally, Soviet Russia now has access to numerous "warm-water" ports in Eastern Asia, ranging from Rashin, the former Japanese naval base in Northern Korea, to Port Arthur, Tsingtao, Shanghai, Canton and as far south as Hainan Island.[vii] The Far Eastern Fleet, moreover, can utilize the oil production of Sakhalin Island.

It nevertheless is under some major disadvantages. The greatest of these is its remoteness from the main centers of Soviet industrial strength in European Russia and in Central Siberia. The Maritime Provinces and Eastern Siberia have been considerably developed in successive five-year plans, and submarines can now be built--or at least assembled--in Eastern Siberian shipyards. But the extensive "back-up" essential to construct and repair ships and maintain and support major maritime operations is lacking. The Far Eastern Fleet is not self-sufficient and cannot be maintained for an indefinite period by the industries and resources available along the Siberian coast.[viii] This isolation is particularly important in the case of open-sea bases at Petropavlovsk and in the Kuriles; these are remote from any important industry, they must be supplied chiefly by sea, and they are harried by wind, fog and ice. Moreover, the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk, and even Vladivostok itself, are icebound for many months; for three and a half months Vladivostok is kept open to navigation only by the use of icebreakers. And all of the "warm-water" ports to which Russia has access further south either lie in shoal water near the continental shelf, where submarine activities would be hazardous, or are fenced off from the open ocean by an island rampart extending from Japan to the Southern Philippines. These disadvantages are offset--though not completely--by Russian continental-based air power in considerable strength which could make American surface operations westward of these island ramparts hazardous, though not impossible.


Such is the Soviet Navy--the navy of a country with the greatest seacoast in the world (most of it barren and worthless), a country with the greatest inland sea (the Caspian), a continental nation with reawakened maritime ambitions.

There is no doubt that a renaissance of Soviet sea power has started since World War II. It has been facilitated by the growth of Soviet industrial skills, the aid of German technicians and the expansion of Soviet industry and shipbuilding facilities incident to the five-year plans. It also has been aided by land conquests and political victories during and since World War II, in particular by the Communization of Poland, East Germany and the Danube delta, the acquisition of the Kurile Islands and Southern Sakhalin in the Pacific and the Communization of China. These have greatly broadened Moscow's naval horizon and have reduced--though not eliminated--the geographic handicaps under which Russian fleets of the past have labored. And the advent of air power has added great defensive strength and provided offensive capabilities to Soviet sea power.

The concepts that govern Soviet sea power seem still somewhat inchoate and contradictory. Some of the anomalies have already been noted, but there are others. There is little evidence, for instance, that Soviet naval air fleets have been trained to work in close coördination with Soviet submarines in attacks against shipping, the most difficult type of attack against which to defend a convoy. In the Baltic, in fact, Soviet naval aircraft apparently work with surface torpedo craft--particularly motor torpedo boats--in coördinated attacks, which are obviously pointed against the Swedish Navy. There is little evidence of the application of guided missiles to sea or naval air use. A Soviet submarine for launching guided missiles may be in existence, but there is no evidence of this. There are Soviet torpedo planes, but they appear to be "adapted" or modified types. Some of the Soviet cruisers, a few of the destroyer leaders, and many of the submarines are long-range types, but there do not appear to be any supply ships (similar to those which the Germans used in World War II) capable of replenishing the armed raiders in distant areas of the oceans. There is no evidence as yet of a really long-range or trans-oceanic amphibious capability. Most of the Soviet ships appear to be armed as "jacks-of-all-trades" with mines, torpedoes, antiaircraft and surface guns. There are few signs of the extreme specialization that has characterized naval development in the West, especially in the field of anti-submarine warfare. Helicopters for naval use are conspicuous by their absence. The part played by naval air logistics, meaning the use of planes for the transport of emergency naval supplies, is an unknown quantity in the strange equation of Soviet maritime power. The use of atomic weapons in conjunction with naval operations has been discussed in Soviet military magazines, but somewhat superficially; the design of the new Soviet ships does not appear to have been influenced to any considerable extent by the lessons of Bikini. And so on. . . .

What can be said, then, to be the governing philosophy behind the development of Soviet sea power?

First and foremost, it is a continental philosophy, a land concept, which now is complicated and influenced, however, by two other factors--the strategic concept of the naval guerre de course, and the desire for prestige.

Soviet naval thought is still to a major extent the prisoner of geography. To a nation which forms the bulk of the Eurasian Heartland, which through the centuries has seen the ebb and flow of conquest surge across its land frontiers, the ground army is still the principal element of military power.[ix]

Soviet Russia has reached her present position of world eminence not by sea power or air power but by land conquests joined with ideological infiltration. And similarly the greatest dangers to Russian régimes have been on land, from Napoleon and Hitler, or through revolutionary or counter-revolutionary movements.

Thus "Mother Earth"--the land army--is the dominant factor in Soviet strategic concepts, and the way in which the Soviet Navy is organized makes frank acknowledgment of the fact. Soviet marshals, not admirals, are the dominant figures in the Moscow military hierarchy, both politically and militarily. And the Soviet Fleet, with the greatest part of its personnel strength ashore in coastal defense zones and fortified areas, is the keeper of the sea flank of the army. As Stalin said during World War II, "the Red Fleet is the true helper of the Red Army."

"Command of the sea" is therefore a phrase which does not have much meaning to Soviet naval officers. And Mahan's concept that sea power is often the dominant factor in war is not accepted in Soviet military ideology. Rear Admiral Belli of the Soviet Navy has been quoted as follows: "War on the sea has historically never been an independent phenomenon, but always a part of a war as a whole. . . . From the experience of the Soviet and foreign armed forces . . . it is necessary to consider it completely confirmed that the combined action of land troops with air and sea forces is a foundation of the contemporary conduct of war."[x]

Combined operations, therefore, and particularly the extension of the flank of the army seawards, are envisaged as the primary mission of the Soviet Navy. Guns, torpedoes, bombs, surface ships, submarines and naval aircraft, naval infantry and all other means are used to protect the army's land flank against an amphibious turning movement by an enemy, and, on the offensive, to expedite and extend a land flanking operation against the enemy. Thus Admiral Isakov has written: "The main and most important task carried out by our Navy in all Soviet waters has been to protect the strategic flanks of the Red Army extending to the coasts against enemy landing parties and naval operations, and to direct its own blows against the enemy's flanks and rear."[xi]

Translated into more precise geographic missions, these concepts mean that the first and primary task of the Soviet Navy is the mission of coastal defense.[xii]

The control of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Barents Sea (and its approaches to westward of the North Cape), the Sea of Okhotsk and the Gulf of Tartary are the primary task of the Soviet fleets and represent the extent to which the phrase "command of the sea" has meaning to the Russian admiralty. Nor would this "control," it is important to remember, be exercised by surface ships alone, or even primarily. Air power from contiguous land bases and the occupation of dominating positions by land power would provide major control elements to which the surface ships would be accessories.

Short-range Soviet amphibious capabilities thus acquire a new and important meaning within this essentially defensive strategic concept. If war came, Soviet naval infantry, in conjunction with the Red Army, could be expected to occupy Danish Bornholm island, to make landings on the Jutland peninsula, South Norway, perhaps Sweden, Western Finland and Northern Norway. In the Black Sea, one of the primary Soviet objectives (to be accomplished, however, largely by land power with the help of naval infantry) would be seizure of control of the Dardanelles. The short-range Soviet amphibious capability might also be used offensively-defensively across the Bering Strait to Alaska and from the Kuriles and Southern Sakhalin to Japanese Hokkaido.


The essentially defensive nature of the "sea-flank" concept is modified, however, by the two other factors now influencing Soviet naval development.

Prestige is playing an important rôle in the Soviet construction program--particularly, perhaps, because of the dismal record of Russian naval power in the past and its manifestly inferior position today. Soviet newspapers consistently stress Russia's position as a "great" naval Power, and Stalin, Molotov and other Soviet leaders have emphasized again and again that Russia must have a navy consistent in size and composition with her global power. A modern Soviet cruiser "showed" the Red flag at the Coronation Naval Review at Spithead and a Russian squadron has visited a Swedish port in recent years. It is even possible that the size of the Sverdlovsk class of cruisers was dictated, in part, by considerations of prestige.

Despite this emphasis on naval prestige, the Soviet Government applies it with caution in practice. The interception by the Chinese Nationalist Navy of a Polish tanker bound for Communist China produced fulminations in Moscow but nothing more. A natural reaction of any major sea Power might have been to escort other Communist-flag tankers bound for China by one of the long-range Soviet cruisers.

The desire for prestige cannot entirely explain, however, the undoubted emphasis placed by the Soviets since the end of the last war upon the construction of a long-range cruiser and submarine fleet. It is very unlikely that the Russian cruisers and submarines are qualitatively comparable in over-all combat effectiveness to modern vessels of the United States Navy. Nevertheless, the Russians now have a capability, which is increasing, for conducting a guerre de course, or guerrilla war, against commerce at sea. This capability is as yet not as ominous as it has sometimes been painted. The geographic division of the Soviet Navy; the essentially defensive concepts that govern it; the lack of really good open-ocean warm-water ports--all these factors would militate against the conduct of a sustained and really effective submarine warfare campaign and against continuous cruiser raiding operations. The lack of supply ships, already noted, might be compensated for in Communist planning by assuming the availability of supplies in the hands of Communist sympathizers in many foreign nations. Nevertheless, air power, the atomic depth charge and new electronic and sonar developments would make a sustained raider campaign difficult, if direct attacks upon Allied convoys and surface shipping were its objective. This would also be true of a submarine campaign. Such attacks would yield initial successes, but once the Soviet submarines had advertised their presence by "kills" their lives could be made brief.

A more dangerous possible extension of the guerre de course--because more difficult to guard against--would be an extensive offensive minelaying campaign. This is well within present Russian capabilities; in fact, as noted above, the Soviet Navy excels at minelaying. Soviet submarines could well lay hundreds of mines without revealing their presence in shipping lanes along the continental shelf of the North American continent and off the coasts of Europe. The modern acoustic, magnetic and pressure mines are extremely difficult to sweep, and it cannot be forgotten that even in World War II British ports were closed periodically by German minelaying activities.

The missile-firing submarine--particularly when fitted with missiles with atomic capabilities--is also a potential strategic menace of no mean dimensions. It, too, might well be able to reach a launching position off our coasts without detection.

In addition to its defensive capability, then, the Soviet Navy possesses a limited capability for the conduct of a form of naval warfare traditionally practised by inferior sea Powers--the minelaying campaign, the attack by stealth, surprise and speed upon convoys and commerce, and raids or blows upon enemy coasts. This present capability may well increase. In fact, the Soviet construction program indicates that it will. But it will reach really dangerous proportions only if two or more of the following developments occur:

(1) If Soviet long-range planes with an operational radius of at least 1,000 miles and a capability for effective attack upon shipping learn to coördinate their operations with Soviet submarines.

(2) If Russia acquires new open-water naval, submarine and air bases on the coasts of Western Europe by land conquests (as Germany did in World War II).

(3) If the industrial facilities of Soviet Siberia are strengthened so greatly as to be capable of the self-sufficient support of a very much more powerful Far Eastern Fleet.

(4) If a breach in the Western Pacific island chain is achieved by Communist conquest or political action so as to provide Soviet Russia with a warm-water port fronting on the open Pacific.

The achilles heel of Soviet Russia's deep-sea power today is her naval base complex. Her most important and best bases are bottled up in narrow seas; the few that give access to the open ocean are subject to the vagaries of Arctic weather and are vulnerable to atomic or conventional bombing attack by land-based or ship-based aircraft.

Soviet Russia's naval might cannot be dismissed as a factor in her present global power. But it is not a major factor. Her submarine strength and in particular her minelaying capabilities deserve increasing respect. But it is still true today as it was in the days of the Tsars that if Russia is to challenge the United States or Great Britain for primacy upon the high seas she must, besides strengthening her maritime power with increased export trade, acquire warm-water ports fronting upon the open oceans of the world and expand her shipbuilding industry and the vast industrial complex to support it.

[i] This ranking requires qualification. The United States, by any standard the world's leading sea Power, and Britain maintain large reserve fleets of ships in "mothballs" in addition to ships in active commission. Soviet Russia has no such reserve. She probably operates more ships in active commission than Britain does but the total British fleet is much larger.

[ii] A British Admiralty estimate gives Soviet Russia a capability of six cruisers annually.

[iii] Control of the Baltic and Black Seas by the Germans waxed as their armies and air bases advanced into Russia and waned as they retreated. In these narrow seas this control was more dependent upon air superiority than surface superiority; nevertheless, German vessels used the seas for their own purposes for the greater part of the war, while denying such free use to the Russians.

[iv] Polish and East German shipyards have nevertheless added materially to Soviet shipbuilding capabilities.

[v] Satellite naval strengths are chiefly in small craft. Of these the Polish Navy is the most important; it mans a considerable number of minesweepers and motor torpedo boats, plus a few submarines and destroyer types. It has been virtually integrated into the Soviet Baltic Fleet.

[vi] Sea traffic to the Murman coast is very limited, however, from December through February.

[vii] Submarines, presumably Soviet, have been reported in the coastal waters of Hainan Island.

[viii] This judgment is open to challenge, and not all observers would agree. It is beyond challenge, however, that the Soviet Far East cannot maintain and support fleets in any way comparable in size, complexity or strength of the U. S. Seventh Fleet (assigned to the Western Pacific), which forms only a part of the U. S. Pacific naval power.

[ix] A leading British authority on the Russian Navy has stated in a letter to the author: "1 do not believe that the Russian philosophy of sea power can be changed artificially over a comparatively short period of time, as the Soviet leaders are endeavoring to do at the moment. It is a formidable, though also fairly simple, problem to build fleets of warships and naval aircraft, but it is a very different thing to instill the sort of spirit which will prevent, should occasion arise, a repetition of the disasters of Port Arthur and Tsushima. The Russians are incorrigibly land-minded, with a notable exception of the limited race of northern seamen which operates the icebreakers in the Arctic. They have tried to create weapons of sea power at least three times in their history . . . [but] they have only succeeded in enforcing sea power where their opponent had been worn down by other means. . . . There can be no comparison, for the foreseeable future, with German U-boat efficiency."

Allied officers who commanded convoys to Murmansk during World War II have confirmed this Soviet "land-mindedness." Soviet escort vessels rarely accompanied Allied convoys more than 20 to 30 miles from port.

[x] Raymond L. Garthoff, "Soviet Military Doctrine." Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1953, p. 362.

[xi] ibid. p. 365.

[xii] It is for this reason that the Soviet Navy's river and lake flotillas used in conjunction with land armies form so important a part of the Russian naval organization.

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  • HANSON W. BALDWIN, Military Editor of The New York Times; author of "The Price of Power," "Great Mistakes of the War" and "Power and Politics"
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