Kuznetsov, Nikolai Gerasimovich

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(19041974), commissar of the navy and admiral of the fleet of the Soviet Union.

A native of the Vologda area, from a peasant background, Kuznetsov was born on July 11,1904. He joined the Red Navy in 1919, served during the civil war with North Dvina Flotilia, and fought against the Allied Expeditionary Force and the Whites. He served in the Black Sea Fleet beginning in 1921, became a Communist Party member in 1925, and graduated from the Frunze Naval School in 1926 and the naval Academy in 1932. He served as assistant commander of the cruiser Krasnyi Kavkaz (19321934), and as commander of the cruiser Chervona Ukraina (19341936). Kuznetsov served as naval attaché in Spain and was the Soviet advisor to the Republican Navy during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1937. After returning from Spain, he served as the first deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet (commissioned August 15, 1937) and as commander of the Pacific Fleet from 1938 to 1939.

Kuznetsov was recalled to Moscow in March of 1939 and was appointed as the first deputy. Days later, on March 12, 1939, he was appointed commissar of the Navy. He held this position until 1946, leading the Soviet Navy during World War II with mixed results. The Navy did not perform well against an enemy whose naval interests were elsewhere, and it remained in a defensive mode for most of the war, suffering heavily at the hands of the Luftwaffe. The Soviet retreat from the Baltics proved to be a fiasco, but the Navy performed better in the evacuation of Odessa and Sevastopol. Two landings in Kerch in 1942 and 1943 ended in disaster, but the blame was not confined to the Navy. The Volga Flotilla played a significant part in the defense of Stalingrad, and the stationary Baltic Fleet provided artillery support in the Battle of Leningrad. Throughout 1944 and 1945, a number of landings took place behind the enemy lines, which resulted in little gain and heavy losses.

The outspoken Kuznetsov may have offended Stalin, although he blamed the Navy's shortcomings on Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov, the political commissar of the Navy before the war. In February 1946, Stalin divided the Baltic and Pacific Fleets into four separate units, a decision Kuznetsov opposed. The end result was the removal of Kuznetsov. He was forced to face a Court of Honor, where several admirals were accused of passing naval secrets to the Allies during the war. Kuznetsov was reduced to the rank of rear admiral on February 3, 1948, and was sent to the reserves, but was called back and appointed as deputy commander in chief in the Far East for the Navy on June 12, 1948. On February 20, 1950, he was reappointed to his old job of commander of the Pacific Fleet. Stalin, encouraged by Lavrenti Beria (head of the secret police), also recalled him, and once again named him commissar of the Navy on July 20, 1951. He kept this position even after Stalin's death.

On the night of October 29, 1955, the Soviet Navy suffered its greatest peacetime disaster when the battleship Novorossisk blew up in Sevastopol, with the loss of 603 lives. Kuznetsov was blamed for this disaster, and was removed from his position. On February 15, 1956, he was once again reduced in rank and forcibly retired. Kuznetsov's reputation was rehabilitated only in 1988, fourteen years after his death and after a long campaign by his widow. During his roller-coaster career, he was rear admiral twice, vice admiral three times, and admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union twice. He was deputy to the Supreme Soviet three times, and served the Eighteenth Party Congress in 1939. He was also declared a Hero of the Soviet Union on September 14, 1945. The Soviet naval policy changed after Kuznetsov, who was mainly a surface-ship admiral, to emphasize an oceanic navy that was heavily dependent on a large fleet of submarines, missile cruisers, and even the occasional aircraft carrier.

See also: baltic fleet; black sea fleet; military, imperial; pacific fleet

Michael Parrish