Black Sea Fleet


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Black Sea Fleet

 

a higher operational command, a component of the Navy of the USSR in the Black Sea.

The fleet was created in 1783 after the Crimea became part of Russia. Previously there had been naval shipbuilding on the Sea of Azov and at Kherson (from 1778). On May 2, 1783, 11 ships of the Azov Flotilla sailed into the bay at Akhtiar (Sevastopol’); together with the 17 ships of the Dnieper Flotilla that later joined them, they formed the nucleus of the new fleet. In 1785 the first table of organization was established for the Black Sea Fleet, with 12 ships of the line, 20 frigates, five schooners, 23 transport vessels, and a personnel complement of 13,500. The Black Sea Admiralty was created in Kherson for the direction of the fleet.

Throughout its entire history, the Black Sea Fleet has successfully carried out its assigned missions. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1781–91, in spite of the numerical superiority of the enemy’s navy, Russian sailors inflicted stunning defeats on the enemy in a battle at Phidonisi (1788), the Kerch’ naval battle (1790), a battle off Tendra Island (1790), and at Cape Kaliakra (1791). During the war, brilliant naval leadership was demonstrated by Admiral F. F. Ushakov, who commanded a squadron and, from 1790 to 1798, the Black Sea Fleet.

A shipyard was constructed in Nikolaev in 1789, and the Black Sea Admiralty was moved there from Kherson. In 1804 Sevastopol’ became the home port of the fleet. Between 1798 and 1800, during the war with France, a squadron of the Black Sea Fleet under Ushakov’s command saw action in the Mediterranean Sea, liberated the Ionian Islands, and captured the island of Kerkira (Corfu) by storm. In 1806 and 1807 a squadron under the command of Vice Admiral D. N. Seniavin, operating in the Aegean Sea, destroyed the Turkish fleet in battles in the Dardanelles (1807) and at Athos (1807).

In 1816, Vice Admiral A. S. Greig was made commander in chief of the Black Sea Fleet and its ports. He bolstered the combat readiness of the fleet by improving ships’ armaments, instituting annual maneuvers, and perfecting navigational and hydro-graphic support; much attention was devoted to the training of officers, and in 1822 the Naval Library was created in Sevastopol’. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–29 the fleet supported ground offensives in the Balkan and Caucasus military theaters. The brig Merkurii won eternal glory by defeating two Turkish ships of the line.

In 1831 the headquarters of the fleet commander in chief was created. Rear Admiral M. P. Lazarev was appointed chief of staff in 1832 and served as commander in chief of the Black Sea Fleet from 1833 to 1851. Under his leadership ships were renovated, powerful bombardment weapons were introduced as armaments, and an admiralty building and casemate batteries were built in Sevastopol’. By the mid-19th century the Black Sea Fleet had become the finest sailing fleet in the world and included 14 sailing ships of the line, six frigates, four corvettes, 12 brigs, and six steam frigates.

During the Crimean War (1853–56), a squadron under the command of Vice Admiral P. S. Nakhimov destroyed a Turkish squadron in the battle of Sinop (1853). During the defense of Sevastopol’ (1854–55), men of the Black Sea Fleet under the leadership of Admirals V. A. Kornilov, Nakhimov, and V. I. Istomin heroically fought on land. Some ships were sunk at the entrance to Sevastopol’ Bay to defend the sea approaches, and others provided artillery support to the ground forces.

The Treaty of Paris (1856) deprived Russia of the right of maintaining a fleet in the Black Sea. This limitation of the sovereign rights of Russia in the Black Sea was abolished only in 1871. The reestablishment of the fleet as an ironclad steamship fleet in the late 19th century is associated with the names of G. I. Butakov and S. O. Makarov. A shipbuilding program for the Black Sea Fleet was adopted in 1881. By the early 20th century the fleet included seven squadron ironclads, one cruiser, three mine cruisers, six gunboats, and 22 torpedo boats.

In the early 20th century, with the growth of the revolutionary movement in the country, the sailors of the Black Sea Fleet also initiated revolutionary activities. A crucial role in the awakening of political consciousness among the sailors of the fleet was played by Lenin’s Iskra and the first Social Democratic organizations, which were created in the fleet in 1901 and 1902. The Central Naval Committee of Military Organization of the RSDLP (”sailors’ central”) was formed in Sevastopol’ in April 1904; the committee established communications with the Bolshevik committees of Sevastopol’, Nikolaev, and Kherson. In June 1905 an uprising broke out on board the battleship Potemkin, and the Sevastopol’ mutiny of 1905 occurred on the cruiser Ochakov in November; both uprisings were brutally suppressed by the tsarist government. The names of the heroes of the uprisings—G. N. Vakulenchuk, P. P. Shmidt, A. I. Gladkov, S. P. Chastnik, and N. G. Antonenko—have been inscribed for eternity in the history of the revolutionary struggle.

By the beginning of World War I, the Black Sea Fleet had six battleships (pre-dreadnoughts), two cruisers, 17 destroyers, 12 torpedo boats, and four submarines. During the war the fleet added three battleships (one was lost in 1916), nine destroyers, ten submarines, and two seaplane transports. The fleet fought in the Black Sea against German and Turkish naval forces, supported the ground forces of the Caucasian Front along coastal axes, and disrupted the enemy’s lines of communication.

The sailors of the Black Sea Fleet greeted the victory of the February Revolution of 1917 with great enthusiasm. Despite pressure from the conciliatory parties in the soviets and the sailors’ committees, the sailors in the fleet continued to align themselves with the Bolsheviks. The Central Committee of the RSDLP(B) sent to Sevastopol’ such experienced party workers as Iu. P. Gaven and N. A. Pozharov. Within the fleet, as in the soviets, a fierce struggle was waged against the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists, and anarchists. On Dec. 16, 1917, the conciliatory soviet in Sevastopol’ was dissolved, and the newly created military revolutionary committee took power into its own hands. With the help of sailors of the Black Sea Fleet, Soviet power was established in January 1918 in Feodosiia, Kerch’, Evpatoriia, Yalta, Odessa, and Rostov.

During the Civil War of 1918–20, sailors of the Black Sea Fleet fought as part of the Dnieper, Azov, and Volga flotillas and in various units of the Red Army. Heroes of the Civil War included sailors A. V. Mokrousov, A. V. Polupanov, and I. A. Nazukin. The occupation of the Ukraine and the Crimea by German and Austrian forces prompted V. I. Lenin to order the transfer of the Black Sea Fleet to Novorossiisk. The revolutionary ships of the Black Sea Fleet carried out Lenin’s order in April and May 1918. However, because of the threat of capture by the German interventionists who had appeared at Taman’, the Soviet government ordered on June 18 that one battleship, nine destroyers, and several other vessels be scuttled near Novorossiisk and Tuapse. The ships that remained in Sevastopol’ were captured by German interventionists and Ukrainian nationalists. Soviet power was reestablished in May 1919, but the Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet were captured soon after by the White Guard forces of General A. I. Denikin. In May 1920 an order of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic created the Naval Forces of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, units of which fought against the White Guard flotilla. General P. N. Wrangel’s troops took with them to Bizerte more than 130 warships and other vessels during their retreat from the Crimea.

The Tenth Congress of the RCP(B) of 1921 adopted a resolution concerning the reestablishment of the Black Sea Fleet. Two destroyers, five gunboats, two submarines, and several minesweepers and minelayers were refitted in 1922. Restoration of the fleet was fundamentally completed by 1928, and the renovation of equipment was begun. During the winter of 1929–30 the battleship Parizhskaia Kommuna (later, Sevastopol’) and the cruiser Profintern (later, Krasnyi Krym) were transferred from Kronstadt to Sevastopol’. In 1936 the Naval Forces of the Black Sea and the Sea of.Azov became the Black Sea Fleet. After the first and second five-year plans (1929–37), the Black Sea Fleet received more than 500 new warships. In 1938 and 1939 the fleet received new leader-class warships (the Moskva and Khar’kov) and destroyers of the Gnevnyi type, construction was completed on new cruisers (the Voroshilov) and other ships, and air forces, coastal defense, and an air defense system were created.

The chiefs of the Naval Forces of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov (from 1935, commanders of the Black Sea Fleet) were A. V. Dombrovskii (1920), E. S. Pantserzhanskii (1920–21, 1925–26), A. S. Maksimov (1921–22), A. K. Vekman (1922–24), M. V. Viktorov (1924), V. M. Orlov (1926–31), I. K. Kozhanov (1931–37), P. I. Smirnov (1937), I. S. Lumashev (1938–39), and F. S. Oktiabr’skii (from August 1939).

By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, the Black Sea Fleet was well equipped for the time. It had one battleship, six cruisers, 16 leaders and destroyers, 47 submarines, two brigades of torpedo boats, several divisions of minesweepers and patrol and antisubmarine vessels, fleet air forces (more than 600 airplanes), and a strong coastal defense.

The high level of combat readiness of the Black Sea Fleet frustrated the enemy’s attempt to disable the main forces of the fleet during the first days of the war. Fleet aviation delivered strikes on Constanta, Sulina, and Ploieşti. The Black Sea Fleet fought in the defense of Odessa (1941) and the heroic defense of Sevastopol’ (1941–42); the commander in chief of the fleet headed the Sevastopol’ Defense Region. Of major importance was the Kerch’-Feodosiia Landing Operation of 1941–42, which was carried out with the active participation of the Black Sea Fleet.

In 1942 and 1943 the Black Sea Fleet fought in the battle for the Caucasus. Submarines from Batumi and Poti traversed 600 miles in order to disrupt the enemy’s lines of communication, and surface ships, aviation, and the marine infantry fought for Novorossiisk and in the area of Tuapse. Heroic chapters in the history of the Black Sea Fleet include the landing operations in the area of Iuzhnaia Ozereika and Stanichka (near Myskhako) in February 1943, the defense of the Malaia Zemlia, the Novorossiisk-Taman’ Operation of 1943, and the Kerch’-El’tigen Landing Operation of 1943. The Azov Flotilla, which was a part of the Black Sea Fleet, participated in the liberation of ports on the Sea of Azov through its support of ground forces. Ships and units of the Black Sea Fleet fought in the liberation of the Crimea, Nikolaev, and Odessa and in the Iaşi-Kishinev Operation of 1944. The Danube Naval Flotilla, which was also part of the Black Sea Fleet, saw action from the lower reaches of the Danube to Vienna.

During the war the title “guards” was awarded to 18 ships and units of various sizes of the Black Sea Fleet; 59 ships and units were awarded orders of the USSR. More than 200 sailors of the fleet received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. For special merit in combat, the Order of the Red Banner was awarded the fleet by the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of May 7, 1965.

Commanders of the Black Sea Fleet during the war were F. S. Oktiabr’skii (August 1939–April 1943, March 1944–November 1948) and L. A. Vladimirskii (April 1943–March 1944). Members of the military council were N. M. Kulakov (May 1940–December 1943) and I. I. Azarov (1941–March 1943, February 1944–May 1947). Chiefs of staff were I. D. Eliseev (April 1941–January 1944) and I. F. Golubev-Monatkin (February 1944–December 1945).

In the 1950’s and 1960’s important changes took place in all the combat arms of the Black Sea Fleet. Reinforcement of the fleet with new ships and the provision of the newest combat materiel, missile weaponry, and electronic equipment have permitted the assignment of entirely new missions to the Black Sea Fleet. The ships of the fleet complete long voyages and cruises into the Mediterranean Sea and various regions of the world, during which they conduct combat training missions and ensure defense of the state interests of the USSR at sea. The Black Sea Fleet demonstrated a high level of combat proficiency during the Okean (1970) and lug (1971) training exercises and in dozens of cruises to various countries of the Mediterranean and Atlantic. Especially high marks in combat training were gained by the crews of the cruisers Mikhail Kutuzov and Dzerzhinskii, the antisubmarine cruiser Leningrad, the missile cruiser Groznyi, the large landing vessel Voronezhskii Komsomolets, and the destroyers Naporistyi, Plamennyi, and Nakhodchivyi.

In the postwar period, the Black Sea Fleet has been commanded by Admirals N. E. Basistyi (1948–51), S. G. Gorshkov (1951–55), V. A. Kasatonov (1955–62), S. E. Chursin (1962–67), V. S. Sysoev (1968–74), and N. I. Khovrin (since 1974).

REFERENCES

Chernomorskii flot. Moscow, 1967.
Istoriia russkoi armii i flota, vols. 5,8,9. Moscow, 1911–13.
Boevaia letopis’ russkogo flota: Khronika vazhneishikh sobytii voennoi istorii russkogo flota s IX v. po 1917 g. Moscow, 1948.
V’iunenko, N. P. Chernomorskii flot v Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine. Moscow, 1957.
Grechko, A. A. Bitva za Kavkaz, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1969.
Boevoi put’ Sovetskogo Voenno-morskogo flota, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1974.

N. I. KHOVRIN

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