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Soviet Navy - 1922-1937 - Basic Policy

The geographic position of the USSR compelled a naval policy which was necessarily different from those of other nations. Instead of having one principal fleet which can be shifted from place to place as necessity dictates, the USSR must have five separate fleets i.e. Baltic, Black Sea, Pacific, Northern, and Caspian.

The Soviet authorities had done what they could to combine these fleets as much as possible. In the late thirties, the Stalin Canal was completed - connecting, to a certain degree, the Baltic and Northern Fleets. Unfortunately, however, this canal was not sufficiently large to permit the passage of capital ships, or even of cruisers, but 3,000 ton destroyers and under could be shifted between the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean with comparative ease. Prior to the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Navy consisted of little else.

Because of the opening of the Northern Sea Route, naval units, for the short period of two or three months a year, could be transferred from the Pacific Fleet to the Arctic and Baltic Fleets and visa versa; this is not entirely satisfactory, however, and exposes ships to the perils of ice and bad weather, as well as taking a minimum of 1-1/2 -2 months.

Many attempts have been made to connect the Black Sea with the Caspian Sea. Prior to the outbreak of the war, construction on a canal between the Volga and Don Rivers was underway, but this would not have been of much naval value because of the shoals in the area of the mouth of the Volga. Even with constant dredging of a 25-mile strip, the depth of the river at this point is only 10 feet.

The possibility of digging out the dried-up Manych Canal, which crosses the Caucasus Peninsula, and allowing the water of the Sea of Azov to flow into it has been considered. The drawback of this plan is due to the fact that water in the Black Sea below a depth of 200 meters contains poisonous gases which would ruin the fisheries, first in the Sea of Azov, and later in the northern Caspian Sea.

Naturally, there was little possibility of connecting the Black and Caspian Seas with the Baltic—Arctic—Pacific group.

The necessity of maintaining strong fleets in each of her seas was amply illustrated during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, when it was seen that by the time the Imperial Fleet (Baltic) reached the Far East, it was of limited operational value, due to insufficient logistic support.

Consequently, in 1907 the first large-scale building program started. It was followed by the Naval Law of 1912, which provided for the following strength of the Baltic Fleet by 1930: (No information is at hand on programs for the other fleets, but it is presumed that they were to be of similar magnitude) 24 battleships, 12 battle cruisers, 24-light cruisers, 108 destroyers, 36 submarines.

At the outbreak of the World War in 1914, this program was well on its way. Seven dreadnought battleships were commissioned by 1917 and one more was still building; four battle cruisers were still building, eight pre-dreadnought battleships were in commission in addition to four obsolete battleships. Six armored cruisers and eight protected cruisers ?rere built by 1914, and ten light cruisers were still under construction in 1917; also, two-pre-dreadnought battleships and one protected cruiser were returned to Russia by Japan after the war was well under way. In 1914, the Imperial Fleet also consisted of about 120 destroyers and 20 more building as well as about 40 submarines and 30 more building.

Due to the World War, the Russian Civil War, Allied intervention and post-war scrapping, the Russian Fleet in 1922 consisted of four dreadnoughts, one of which was never restored, one armored cruiser, which disappeared about 1925-26, and eight uncompleted light cruisers only 3 or 4 of which were eventually commissioned (1927-1930), as well as about twenty destroyers and twenty submarines.

During the reorganization of the Hussion Navy by the Bolsheviks, two schools of thought existed regarding the strategical basis upon which changes should be made. A large number of former Czarist naval officers then still serving, supported the theory of "command of the seas", basing their ideas of new construction and-technical evolution of the future development of a powerful Soviet riavy on the lines of the western capitalist powers.

A second school of thought, headed by Trotsky, claimed that the naval theories of imperial days were wrong and bore no relation to Russia's geographic and economic conditions, and that a "defensive fleet" only should be built. This was brought about by an attempt to give a reason for the realization that the Russian shipyards were in such a state that not even the smallest building program, much less the construction of a battle fleet, could be launched for many years to come.

In formulating this policy, there was no profound naval thinking involved as the fundamental reason for the existence of a navy, to gain or dispute command-of the sea, was completely disregarded. No "defensive navy" ever has or ever, will fulfill this function. Therefore, it became apparent at the very offset that this policy was dictated by political expedi icy coupled with economic necessity* and that it would be discarded as soon as the reconstruction of industry pelmitted.

Consequently, prior to 1937 the USSR concentrated on the building of submarines and small surface craft. Submarines are used extensively for patrol and home defense purposes by the Russians and are not considered as purely offensive weapons. In 1937, the only new units which had been added to the Soviet Fleet since the World War were: 1 2900-ton destroyer leader, about 30 torpedo boats 600-800 tons each, and 60 or 70 submarines.




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