Baltic Fleet

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Baltic Fleet

 

a high strategic formation, part of the navy of the USSR. Created during the Northern War of 1700–21 according to the ideas of Peter I and under his direction. The first warships for the Baltic fleet were built in 1702–03 at the mouth of the Sias’ River on Lake Ladoga and on the Svir’ River. In October 1702 the rowing flotilla participated in the seizure of the Noteburg Fortress (later Shlissel’burg, now Petrokrepost’). The first squadron of the fleet was commanded by Vice Admiral K. Kriuis, and the entire fleet was commanded by General-Admiral F. M. Apraksin from 1723 to 1726. In 1703 the base of the Baltic fleet was founded at Kronshlot (later Kronstadt). In 1704 the construction of the Admiralty shipyard was begun in St. Petersburg; this was to become the shipbuilding center in Russia. The first Russian shipbuilders were the craftsmen F. M. Skliaev, G. Men-shikov, and I. Ramberg. The training of officers for the Baltic fleet was organized in Moscow in 1701 at the Navigation School (moved to St. Petersburg in 1715 under the name of the Academy of the Naval Guard; in 1752 it received the name of Naval Cadet School). In 1724 the Baltic fleet had 141 sail warships and several hundred oared vessels. During the Northern War, Vyborg, Revel (Tallin), Riga, the Moonzund Islands, Helsingfors, and Abo were taken with the help of the Baltic fleet. On the sea, the Baltic fleet won victories at Hankö (1714), Eel (1719), and Grenhamn (1720). The fleet approached the shores of Sweden, disembarked landing troops, and destroyed the garrisons of fortresses. As a result of the Northern War, Russia became a great sea power.

During the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), a squadron of the Baltic fleet aided the army in its operations in Pomerania and in the seizure of Memel’ (1757) and Kolberg (1761), blockading the Sund strait to prevent the English fleet from entering the Baltic. The strained international situation in Europe in the second half of the 18th century required a considerable increase in the fleet. From 1775 to 1800, 50 battleships, 31 frigates, 168 bombardier and auxiliary vessels, and 362 oar-powered ships were built.

During the Russo-Turkish wars of the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the Baltic fleet fulfilled important strategic missions. Squadrons of the fleet repeatedly undertook campaigns to the Mediterranean Sea to divert the enemy’s forces from the Danube and Black Sea theaters and to conduct military operations and aid the Greeks and Serbs in their liberation struggle. The Turkish fleet was destroyed by ships of the Baltic fleet in the Battle of Çeşme in 1770, the Battle of the Dardanelles of 1807, the Battle of Afon in 1807, and the Battle of Navarino of 1827. During the Russo-Swedish wars of the 18th century, the Baltic fleet actively defended the coasts of the Baltic and frustrated the Swedes’ attempts to seize Kronstadt and Petersburg by destroying the Swedish fleet at Gogland (1788), Ruotsinsalmi (1789), and Revel and Vyborg (1790).

Economic backwardness and frequent wars prevented Russia from creating a steamship navy before the Crimean War (1853–56). At the beginning of the war, the Baltic fleet had only 11 steam frigates against 42 paddle-wheel propeller ships in the English and French fleets. However, the Baltic fleet heroically defended the coast and prevented the seizure of Hankö, Sveaborg, and St. Petersburg. During the war on the Baltic, barrier mines, invented by the Russian scientist B. S. Iakobi, were used for the’first time. In 1861 construction of a steam-driven armored fleet (the gunboat Opyt) was undertaken, and in 1869 the first seagoing battleship in the world, the Petr Velikii, was begun. At the end of the 19th century the Baltic fleet included over 250 modern ships of all classes. The first ironclad squadron of the Baltic fleet was commanded by the outstanding scholar and naval commander Admiral G. I. Butakov. The organization of the Baltic fleet was changed: in 1860 military ports were divided into first class (Kronstadt, St. Petersburg) and second class (Revel, Sveaborg); in 1891 the men of the fleet were divided into two divisions. Shortly thereafter, new positions were introduced—commander in chief of the fleet and ports and chief of naval defense of the Baltic Sea; in mid-1908, chief of the naval forces of the Baltic Sea; and in 1909, head of the active fleet of the Baltic Sea.

Expeditions, scientific discoveries, and inventions occupy an important place in the history of the Baltic fleet. The expeditions of I. F. Kruzenshtern, Iu. F. Lisianskii, F. F. Bellingshausen, M. P. Lazarev, O. E. Kotsebu, F. P. Litke, G. I. Nevel’skii, and others made a major contribution to world geography. The scholars and shipbuilders Admiral A. A. Popov and Admiral S. O. Makarov; the shipbuilder P. A. Titov; the academician A. N. Krylov; A. F. Mozhaiskii, the inventor of one of the first airplanes in the world; A. S. Popov, the inventor of radio; S. K. Dzhevetskii, I. G. Bubnov, and N. N. Beklemishev, the inventors of the submarine; and M. P. Naletov, the inventor of the submarine minelayer, all began their careers in the Baltic fleet.

In the 19th century a revolutionary movement appeared in the fleet. Naval guard crews took part in the uprising of the Decembrists. In 1902–03, under the influence of the Leninist Iskra, the first social democratic circles appeared in the Baltic fleet. The Baltic sailors took an active part in the Revolution of 1905–07 (uprisings in Libau [Liepaja], Sveaborg, Kronstadt, Revel, Riga, and Helsingfors).

To reinforce the fleet in the Far East during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05, the 2nd Pacific Squadron and later the 3rd Pacific Squadron were hurriedly formed from various ships of the Baltic fleet, in part new and unused and in part obsolete. The battleships of these squadrons, in a campaign unprecedented in the history of war, crossed from the Baltic Sea to the Sea of Japan in difficult circumstances, but they were destroyed at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. In 1909 the reconstruction of the Baltic fleet was undertaken. At the beginning of World War I (1914–18), the fleet included four battleships, six armored and four light cruisers, 13 destroyers, 50 torpedo boats, six minelayers, 13 submarines, and six gunboats. During the war, the Baltic fleet was supplemented with four new battleships, destroyers, and submarines. The Baltic fleet systematically carried out active minelaying operations along the enemy’s coasts and across its naval communication lines. The Baltic fleet displayed a high degree of creativity in the formation of mine and artillery positions and prevented the breakthrough of the German fleet into the Gulf of Finland. The enemy lost 53 military and 49 auxiliary ships; the Baltic fleet lost 36 warships. In the period 1914–17 the Baltic fleet was commanded by Admiral N. O. Essen (from 1909), Vice Admirals V. A. Kanin, A. I. Nepenin, and A. S. Maksimov, and Rear Admirals D. N. Verderevskii and A. V. Razvozov.

A center of the Bolshevik organization of the Baltic Fleet—the Main Ship Committee of the RSDLP (Bolshevik), headed by I. D. Sladkov, T. I. Ul’iantsev, and N. A. Khovrin—was created in Kronstadt in 1915. During the February Revolution of 1917, the Baltic sailors went over to the side of the popular uprising. The Baltic fleet was under the strong influence of the Bolsheviks (by the summer of 1917 there were over 12,000 in the Baltic fleet). On April 30 the central committee of the Baltic fleet, Tsentrobalt, was formed. In September and October of 1917 the Baltic fleet fought heroically against the German fleet in the Moonzund Operation, defending the approaches to revolutionary Petrograd. The Baltic sailors, with the workers and Red Guards of Petrograd, made up the decisive striking force of the October armed uprising. After the victory of the October Revolution, the Baltic sailors took active part in the Civil War; they formed the fighting nucleus of the Soviet naval forces in various sea and river theaters. As many as 20,000 Baltic sailors fought on land fronts. From February to May 1918 the main forces of the fleet carried out the heroic Ice Campaign of the Baltic Fleet from Revel to Helsingfors and then to Kronstadt to save the Baltic fleet from seizure by the Germans. The fleet (commander, A. P. Zelenoi; members of the Revolutionary War Council, A. Z. Baranov, V. I. Zof, and F. S. Averichkin) took an active part in the defense of Petrograd in 1919, sinking 18 and damaging 16 ships of the English interventionists.

In 1920 the Council for Labor and Defense adopted a resolution on strengthening the Baltic fleet, and more than 700 communists and former sailors were returned to the fleet. In 1928 the Baltic fleet was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. During the five years preceding World War II the Baltic fleet was supplemented with dozens of new ships, naval aircraft, and long-range weapons for coastal defense. During the 1930’s the Baltic fleet provided the basis for the creation of the Northern and Pacific fleets. During the Russo-Finnish War of 1939–40, the Baltic fleet came to the aid of the soldiers on the Leningrad front in the offensive on the Karelian Isthmus and occupied the islands of Gogland, Lavansaari, and Seskar. From 1922 to 1941 the Baltic fleet was commanded by M. B. Viktorov, I. K. Kozhanov, A. K. Vekman, L. M. GaUer, A. K. Sivkov, I. S. Isakov, G. I. Levchenko, and V. F. Tributs.

At the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), the Baltic fleet had two battleships, two cruisers, two destroyer leaders, 19 destroyers, 65 submarines, 48 torpedo boats and other ships, and 656 aircraft. During the war the Baltic fleet (under the command of Vice Admiral Tributs), in cooperation with the army, defended Hankö, Tallin, and the Moonzund Islands in 1941; from 1941 to 1943 it actively participated in the heroic defense of Leningrad and, from 1944 to 1945, in the destruction of the German fascist troops in the Leningrad region, the Baltic, East Prussia, and East Pomerania. Tens of thousands of sailors from the Baltic fleet fought on land fronts in brigades of sailors. During the war the aircraft, submarines, surface ships, and coastal artillery of the Baltic fleet destroyed 581 warships and auxiliary ships and 624 transport ships with a gross tonnage of approximately 1.6 million. More than 100,000 Baltic sailors were awarded orders and medals, and 137 men won the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

On May 17, 1954, the Kronstadt naval fortress was awarded the Order of the Red Banner, and on May 7, 1965, the Red Banner Baltic Fleet was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for the second time. After the war the Baltic fleet was commanded by Admirals G. I. Levchenko, V. A. Andreev, A. G. Golovko, F. V. Zozulia, N. M. Kharlamov, V. A. Kasatonov, A. E. Orel, and V. V. Mikhailin (since 1965),

Today, as a result of new achievements in technology and armament, the Baltic fleet is made up of modern warships. Submarines and surface ships, aviation, and coastal rocket units of the Baltic fleet vigilantly defend the shores of the Soviet motherland and with the other fleets secure its interests on the seas.

REFERENCES

Veselago, F. F. Kratkaia istoriia russkogo flota. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
Flot v pervoi mirovoi voine, vol. 1. Moscow, 1964.
Achkasov, V. I., and B. A. Vainer. KrasnoznamennyiBaltiiskiiflot v Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine. Moscow, 1957.
Baltiiskii flot: Istoricheskii ocherk. Moscow, 1960.
Boevoiput’ Sovetskogo Voenno-Morskogo Flota, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.

IU. A. PANTELEEV