Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov (1904–1974) was a stunning Naval Commander and statesman. He managed to save the Soviet fleet at the beginning of World War II, successfully commanded it through the period of the war, and contributed a great deal to its development in the years of peace.
Brave, assertive, and insightful, Kuznetsov lived a glorious life that was rich in both victories and defeats. This article presents several major highlights of his biography.
The start of his career
Nikolay Kuznetsov was born on July 11 (24) into the family of Gerasim Fyodorovich Kuznetsov, a peasant of the village of Medvedki, Velikoustyugsky Uyezd, Vologda Governorate. In 1917, Kuznetsov was hired as a delivery man in the Port of Arkhangelsk, and in 1919, at the age of 15, he joined the Northern Dvina Naval Flotilla. Young Kuznetsov had to add two years to his real age in order to be accepted there. Onboard with the Flotilla ships, he participated in battles on the Arkhangelsk Front during the Civil War.
Over the 20 years that followed, Nikolay Kuznetsov developed a long way from his humble start as a student of the Naval School, up to his lofty position as an Admiral of the Soviet Navy.
In 1920, Kuznetsov was sent to the preparatory school of the Naval School where he would later be transferred in 1922. After graduation from the Naval School in 1926, Kuznetsov started serving as a Commander of the Black Sea Naval Forces. The first placement of his service, in 1929, was Soviet cruiser Chervona Ukraina, where he subsequently held the positions of Battery Commander, Company Commander, and Senior Officer of the Deck. In 1932, he became the Executive Officer on cruiser Krasnyi Kavkaz, and returned to Chervona Ukraina as Commander in November 1933. In 1937, Nikolay Kuznetsov became Kapitan 1 Ranga (Captain 1st rank) and Deputy Commander of the Pacific Fleet, then in 1938, its Commander, and in 1939, he was appointed the People’s Commissar of the Soviet Navy. It was while in the post of People’s Commissar that he made a great contribution to the strengthening of the Navy’s military power prior to World War II. Kuznetsov was promoted to the position of Admiral for his service in June 1940.
World War II
Prior to the outbreak of the war, Nikolay Kuznetsov critically evaluated the international situation and realized that the existing strained relations with Germany would soon lead to open conflict. The day before Germany attacked the U.S.S.R. in June 1941, the Admiral ordered all fleets to operational readiness. During the night, between June 21 and 22, after a possible attack had been reported, all Soviet naval forces were ready to repel it. Before dawn, the German aircraft were met with the fierce fire of the Black Sea AA gunners. After the enemy raid on Sevastopol, Kuznetsov ordered all fleets to start setting mine barriers according to a predetermined plan, which significantly impeded the operational movements of the enemy forces. It can be safely assumed that the Admiral’s decisive actions allowed the fleet to avoid heavy losses. During the war, the Admiral constantly performed visits to ships and the fronts. Under his command, the fleet managed to prevent an invasion of the Caucasus from the sea. In 1944, Kuznetsov was given the rank of Admiral Flota (Fleet Admiral), and in 1945, he was honored with the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the highest distinction in the U.S.S.R.
But those were not all of Kuznetsov’s merits. The main post-war concern was to build a new, modern navy, and restructure it taking into account the experience gained from World War II. Under the Admiral’s direction, a ten-year shipbuilding program was laid out, in which Kuznetsov predetermined the Navy’s development.
Nikolay Kuznetsov had numerous ups and downs in his career due to various conflicts with the highest-ranking members of the Communist party. In January 1948, Kuznetsov and two of his colleagues had the absurd accusation leveled at them that they had delivered secret drawings and maps to the U.K. and U.S.A. at some point between 1942–1944. In accordance with the decision of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, Kuznetsov was demoted to Kontr-Admiral (Rear Admiral). He was sent to serve in the Far East for several years, and it was only after Stalin’s death that Kuznetsov had his rank of Fleet Admiral restored.
In 1953, Kuznetsov became Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Naval Forces. On March 3, 1955, he was given a Marshal’s star, and his rank was renamed Admiral Flota Sovietskogo Soyuza (Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union). In this period, Nikolay Kuznetsov’s main efforts were focused on the technological re-equipment of the fleet and development of naval aviation. He also participated in the early development stages of the first Soviet nuclear submarine and the introduction of missile armament.
Years in disgrace
By 1955, the Admiral’s independence of judgement and uncompromising upholding of the fleet’s interests had definitely worsened his already bad relations with the new General Secretary, Khrushchev, and Defense Minister Zhukov. In December of that year, when Kuznetsov was on sick leave, he was declared guilty of the destruction of battleship Novorossiysk, and was removed from his post under that guise. In 1956, Nikolay Gerasimovich was demoted to Vitse-Admiral (Vice Admiral) and dismissed, being derogatorily deprived of the right to work in the Navy.
Despite the forced retirement, Nikolay Kuznetsov continued to work for the benefit of the Navy and the country. He wrote many articles dedicated to the navy, and his memoirs are full of invaluable records about the war and naval history. Kuznetsov gave an extremely negative assessment of the party leaders’ methods for the management of the country’s defenses, which was the reason why a major part of his memoirs only came to light many years after his death. The Admiral’s historical and literary heritage, which he worked on during the last 18 years of his life, is unique both in volume and its significance.
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