The genius of strategic bureaucracy
Commander of the Red Banner Baltic fleet Admiral V.F. Tributs
The year 1941 became a time of tragedy and defeat for the Baltic Fleet. The Tallinn transition allowed the evacuation of fleet forces from bases in the Baltic states, but was accompanied by great damage. At the same time, the Germans and their allies suffered minimal losses, and most importantly, they practically did not use surface ships to inflict losses on convoy ships with sea mines and aviation. And then there were bombings of the fleet in the bases of Kronstadt and Leningrad, land battles and a blockade.
But the fleet remained intact and combat-ready. In 1942, the Germans and their allies decided to stick to the tactics that had already worked before - keeping the fleet locked in bases, while using minimal surface forces, minefields and anti-submarine nets. At the same time, Baltic submariners broke through barriers and in 1942 operated on enemy communications in the Baltic.
The fleet headquarters was very proud of the actions of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet submarine. Although the effectiveness of the actions of our submariners was frankly overestimated by the Navy command, and the Germans did not even switch to a convoy system in the Baltic in 1942, the activity of our submarines for the opposing side did not go unnoticed.
People's Commissar of the Navy of the USSR N. G. Kuznetsov and the commander of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet, Vice Admiral V. F. Tributs among the personnel of the submarine "Shch-406", Leningrad, November 1942. "Shch-406" broke into the Baltic Sea in 1942 and began operating on enemy communications, conducting a number of successful torpedo attacks. The same was expected in 1943, but in the summer of 1943 the submarine was lost in German minefields.
The Germans and Finns made an unequivocal conclusion - it is necessary to strengthen anti-submarine defense and commission new anti-submarine barriers... Which was done.
In 1943, with the beginning of navigation, the command of the Baltic Fleet intended to continue the practice of submarines breaking through obstacles and developing their operations on enemy communications in the Baltic. But from the very beginning everything did not go according to plan. Of the three first-echelon submarines that left for the breakthrough, not one broke through and only one returned - Shch-303.
As it turned out later, the Shch-303 crew returned at the cost of incredible effort from the submariners, and most importantly, with the most valuable intelligence information about the state of the enemy’s anti-submarine defense and its strengthening. But at first this fact was not very appreciated. The task was different - to break through. Is it done? No, bad.
"Shch-303" in 1942.
A little later, understanding began to dawn that something in the enemy’s anti-submarine defense system had indeed changed dramatically. In July 1943, an aerial photograph was taken of the new anti-submarine barrier - a double network between the islands of Naissaar and Filingrund. Numerous confirmations began to appear that the group of anti-submarine vessels had been strengthened.
And the command in Moscow demanded results. The successes of 1942 had to be repeated at all costs. And Admiral Tributs was generally in agreement with Moscow’s opinion. He proposed a number of measures to ensure a breakthrough of the second echelon of submarines, and then reconnaissance of anti-submarine defense by several submarines. The plan was approved by Moscow and its implementation began.
The plan provided for attacks on anti-submarine defense ships by Red Banner Baltic Fleet aviation, attacks by the “mosquito fleet”, laying mines and bombing barrage networks in the hope of destroying them. And in general, these measures produced virtually no results. The Germans and Finns suffered losses from mines, but they were insignificant; the Red Baltic Fleet aviation did not achieve any special results, and most importantly, the networks were not damaged at all. The ensuing “reconnaissance” cost the Red Banner Baltic Fleet two more submarines – “S-9” and “S-12”.
German high-speed barge that took part in the sinking of the Shch-408, May 1943. The photo was taken from a Finnish minelayer.
At the headquarters of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet they began to understand that the situation had not just changed a little, but had become radically different, and 1942 could not be repeated in any way.
It is worth noting that the pre-war Soviet doctrine of the use of submarines said that insurmountable anti-submarine barriers do not exist and cannot exist. So for the Baltic officers in 1943, the world was simply turned upside down when the awareness of objective reality came.
At the same time, Moscow demanded results, and the opinion there was unequivocal - a breakthrough is possible, and it must be carried out. The few alternative opinions were not taken into account. An officer of the 1st Department of the Organizational and Mobilization Directorate, Captain-Lieutenant A.I. Krukovsky, prepared a report on his own initiative in July 1943, which stated that further attempts to break through Red Banner Baltic Fleet submarines into the Baltic would only lead to unreasonably high losses and should be discontinued. The higher authorities liked the conclusions drawn in this document so much that Krukovsky was transferred to another job with a demotion... The initiative is punishable.
Savior of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet submarine - Commander of the Leningrad Front, Colonel General Leonid Aleksandrovich Govorov, Leningrad, 1943. The general examines the PaK 36(r) anti-tank gun captured from the Germans - a captured Soviet F-22 divisional gun converted by the Germans. Govorov, as an artilleryman, was definitely interested in this.
The commander of the Baltic Fleet already understood that it would not be possible to overcome the anti-submarine defense, and further attempts would be expensive. Sooner or later, the losses will reach such a level that Moscow will pay attention to them and order to stop attempts at breakthroughs, but then they will begin to look for someone to blame. And considering that not so long ago Tributs himself reported that a submarine breakthrough was possible, it is clear where the culprit will be found. We had to somehow get out of the situation, saving the submarine... and ourselves.
As of 1943 and until November 1944, on the basis of a directive from the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, the Baltic Fleet was transferred to operational subordination to the Leningrad Front. That is, dual power arose, there was command in Moscow and at the same time there was command right there on the spot in Leningrad. And orders from both “instances” were subject to execution. This is what Tributs decided to take advantage of.
First, the classic “initiative from below” was depicted. The commander of the submarine brigade of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet, S. B. Verkhovsky, prepared a report, which, almost unchanged, was transferred to the document prepared by the Military Council of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. The general meaning of the document was something like this: a breakthrough is impossible for objective reasons, we propose to stop, but the submarines are in full readiness, so if you order, we will continue. And then this document went to two authorities at once - to the headquarters of the Leningrad Front and to Commander Kuznetsov in Moscow.
From left to right: member of the Military Council Major General N.K. Smirnov, fleet commander Admiral V.F. Tributs, chief of staff Rear Admiral M.I. Arapov, Leningrad, spring 1943.
Naturally, the document ended up at the headquarters of the Leningrad Front earlier.
What worried the command of the Leningrad Front in terms of interaction with the Red Banner Baltic Fleet?
Yes, a lot of things, but first of all, support for naval aviation and artillery. What we didn’t care about (from the word at all) was the breakthrough of submarines somewhere out there and what they would or would not do off the coast of Sweden or Finland. So Colonel General Govorov endorsed the document without any problems. That is, by the time a similar document landed on Kuznetsov’s desk, the decision on the fact had already been made, and no matter what resolution he imposed, the submarines would have remained in the bases. Brilliant.
Who in reality was the brilliant schemer, whether Tributs himself, or one of the members of the Military Council of the fleet, and whether everything in reality was exactly like that, or whether it was just a coincidence of circumstances without anyone’s intent, we will no longer know. One thing is for sure, knowledge and understanding of how the bureaucratic apparatus works and the ability to see loopholes in it can even be no less important in war than military leadership talent.
And the Baltic submariners nevertheless reached the enemy’s communications, and it was the officer of the Baltic Fleet who carried out the “attack of the century”, but this, as usual, is a completely different matter story.
- Alexander Sychev
- www.sovboat.ru www.balticvaryag.ru www.russiainphoto.ru www.waralbum.ru
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