The Sea Power of the State - 1976
Prior to the 1970s few Russian ships were sighted beyond their own territorial waters. But in just fifteen years the Soviets built their navy to a position where it now rivals the United States Navy. They have promoted a naval construction program second to none. Throughout the world’s waterways, wherever one might look, there is a distinct possibility of seeing the Russian flag. In the Mediterranean, the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, the Soviets are making their presence known. These are the obvious signs of a new, assertive Soviet Navy.
If there is a common denominator underlying these events, it was the leadership of one particular individual: Soviet Admiral of the Fleet S.G. Gorshkov. Called by some the twentieth-century Alfred Thayer Mahan, Gorshkov managed to survive Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev to become one of the dominant figures in the Soviet military. Yet he was more than just a theorist he was, in fact, the architect of this new, assertive navy.
Thus, when the Naval Institute Press published Gorshkov’s writings in two different books, Red Star Rising at Sea and The Seapower of the State, a unique opportunity became available to read the thoughts of this remarkable admiral. For those who are involved in naval operations as well as those who are interested in the developments of Soviet military policy, these Gorshkov writings provide an unprecedented look into the inner concerns of a top Soviet strategist.
Gorshkov was trying to influence the army-dominated Kremlin to begin thinking in terms of sea power. For the most part, Russians have considered themselves a land power in which the navy’s primary role was that of supporting the army. As the time approached for negotiation on SALT I, Gorshkov set out to ensure that if there were to be cuts in the military, the navy would not suffer. Thus the Morskoi Sbornik articles detailed how sea power was needed to balance the total Soviet military posture.
Beginning with Peter the Great, Gorshkov details how this Russian tzar used a powerful navy to defeat the Swedes in the Great Northern War. In other essays, the author traces various naval exploits during the Crimean War, the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and World War II. In each case, Gorshkov tries to show that sea power was an important element in the conflict.
In these essays, there was little doubt of Gorshkov’s basic theme. Time and time again, he interjects the same rhetoric: ‘‘Historically Russia is a maritime nation destined for greatness." With one of the largest coastal shorelines in the world, noted Admiral Gorshkov, Russia has always been a nation with an intense concern for the sea.
The "Sea Power of the State" was first published in 1976. The U.S-translated edition appeared in 1979. Considerably more detailed than any of the essays, the book covered a variety of Soviet naval subjects. Again, the dominant theme involved a rationalization for the development of Soviet sea power.
Gorshkov details how various historical precedents establish a rationale for sustaining a powerful fleet. He uses World War II as an example and describes how Russia entered the battle without a sufficiently balanced fleet. In particular, Russia had only three battleships and very limited amphibious capability. Yet, throughout the Black Sea area, the Soviet Navy was called on several times to make amphibious landings in support of army engagements. As a World War II commander in the Black Sea, Gorshkov was acutely aware of the problems associated with a fleet that did not have a balanced mission capability.
In the future, battles involving fleet against fleet will be of secondary concern while battles involving the fleet against the shore will assume greater importance. With the advent of carrier aviation and submarine ballistic missiles, the fleet will play significant roles in direct attacks against enemy home bases in a modern war. While the main effort of the fleet will concern the strategic role, a secondary mission will involve the disruptions of the enemy’s naval strategic nuclear capability.
He noted that practically every recent major liberation movement has had to overcome some type of imperialist naval presence. In essence, peacetime use of the Soviet Navy in support of liberation movements and other diplomatic concerns is constantly expanding. Thus, the fleet has a significant role to fulfill as an instrument of the state policy and diplomacy.
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