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Wednesday 16 October 2019

BOOK REVIEW #7: Admiral Gorshkov: The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy

Welcome to my seventh book review, Admiral Gorshkov: The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy, by Norman Polmar, Thomas A Brooks, and George E Federoff.

Admiral Gorshkov:
The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy
In October 2005 the Russian MoD placed an order with Severnaya Verf for the construction of the lead ship of a new class of high-tech frigates. That stealth frigate was the first large surface combatant being built for the Russian Navy in 15 years, years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The launching of this new combatant as well as some years later the launching of the first Borei class ballistic missile submarine, marked the Russian determination to restore Russia to great power status. The name that was given to the lead ship, and thus to the whole class, was Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Gorshkov (Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov). Who was Gorshkov? Sergey Georgyevich Gorshkov (Russian: Серге́й Георгиевич Горшков; 26 February 1910 – 13 May 1988) was an admiral of the fleet of the Soviet Union. Twice awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, he oversaw the expansion of the Soviet Navy into a global force during the Cold War. He is one of the most famous Russian and Soviet commanders who will be remembered as the man who designed and built a potent high-seas fleet that could challenge the supremacy of the U.S. Navy during the Cold War!

In this great book, the authors Norman Polmar, Thomas A. Brooks and George E. Fedoroff, record in detail the life and work of the Soviet Admiral who was commander-in-chief from January 1956 to December 1985. During those approximately 30 years, the Navy rose to become a serious challenge to the U.S Navy and NATO forces. Joining the Navy at 17, a decision opposed by his distinctly academic family, he rose and survived amidst revolutions, two world wars, repeated purges, plots, and endless intrigues to build and lead one of the great navies of the world. The man behind this achievement is not other than Admiral Sergei G. Gorshkov, one of America’s greatest adversaries during the Cold War.

Thomas A. Brooks
Norman Polmar
Few words about the authors of this exciting book. Norman Polmar is an analyst, consultant, and author specializing in naval, aviation, and science and technology issues. He has been a consultant or advisor on naval-related issues to three U.S. senators, the Speaker of the House, and the Deputy Counselor to the President, as well as to the Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Thomas A. Brooks retired from the U.S. Navy as a Rear Admiral. Brooks was a career intelligence officer, serving in assignments afloat and ashore, including in Vietnam. He served as Director of Naval Intelligence from 1988 to 1991. Upon retirement from the Navy, Admiral Brooks began a second career with AT&T, holding a senior position with the firm until 2001. Subsequently he was a faculty member at the National Defense Intelligence College for nine years, where he taught courses on intelligence history, warning, and industry-intelligence relationships. George E. Fedoroff is the Senior Intelligence Officer for Russia matters within the Office of Naval Intelligence, where he has worked since 1971. Since 1976 he has been a member of the U.S. Navy delegation to annual U.S.-Soviet/Russian Navy Incidents at Sea Agreement compliance reviews, and from 1991 through 2013 he participated in the annual multi-national meetings and at-sea exercises involving the Russian Navy. Fluent in Russian, he has acted as interpreter for the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and participated in visit exchanges between senior U.S. and Soviet/Russian naval officials, numerous ship visits, meetings, and symposia on naval issues.
Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Gorshkov
This is a book about a man and his ability to change a culture and to create a powerful navy that was radically different from traditional navies, one that could even challenge the mighty US Navy. He was able to accomplish this despite strong opposition from the nation's army-dominated power structure. Stalin had always favored a ‘big navy’ comprising battleships and heavy cruisers to stamp the Soviet presence on the world’s oceans. On Stalin’s death in 1953 his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, wanted all the capital ship plans scrapped and attention given to missile-armed submarines. Gorshkov accelerated the several naval missile programs initiated under the Stalin-Kuznetsov regime. His target was specific: the US aircraft carriers that operated nuclear strike aircraft that could reach targets in the Soviet Union. Unfinished destroyers were armed with modified Army missiles and became the first Soviet missile destroyers (Kildin and Krupnyy destroyer classes). Despite the Khrushchev’s opposition to large surface vessels considering them expensive and vulnerable in the modern naval warfare, Gorshkov managed to put in service a large number of them, arguing that the large surface vessels were needed to support the undersea fleet. "The underestimation of the need to support submarine operations with aircraft and surface ships cost the German High Command dearly in the last two wars", he stated. Moreover, Gorshkov combined both “schools” and took up the strategic and tactical missile concept with a specific target: the US Navy’s aircraft carriers threatening the Soviet Union with nuclear-armed aircraft. Gorshkov initiated building programs for missile carrying destroyers, cruisers and long-range naval aviation as well as land attack missile and ballistic missile submarines for strategic missions.

Kynda-class, the first Soviet missile cruisers

Submarines became the hallmark of the Soviet Navy
Small missile ships and a significant number of heavily armed surface combatants were built to defend the homeland and the submarines respectively. Advanced-technology submarines became the effective and reliable means to deal with the US Navy. Submarines became the hallmark of the Soviet Navy. Almost all well-known Soviet submarine classes were built in the Gorshkov-era: Zulu, Golf, Hotel, Echo, November, Yankee, Romeo, Charlie, Victor, the giant Deltas and Typhoons as well as the radical designs Alfa, Papa and Mike, boats many years ahead of their time and thus difficult to master and operate. Large surface vessels carrying an impressive armament capable to protect not only themselves but also whole flotillas, such as Kynda-class cruisers, the first major surface combatant ships initiated under Gorshkov, Krestas I & II with helicopter facilities and increased anti-aircraft capabilities, the Kara cruisers, all operating as ASW command ships for ASW forces dedicated to protect the Union's submarines. The 173-meter Karas was just the beginning of a new era of large missile vessels. In late '60s the Moskva class helicopter carrier-missile cruisers, the progenitors of true aircraft carriers for the Soviet Navy, entered service. The ultimate hermaphrodite ships, the Kiev class, the first major step in Soviet aircraft carrier development, followed some years later. In 1980, the first Kirov class battlecruiser, the largest warship built since World War II by any nation except for aircraft carrier type ships, entered service with the already massive Soviet Union fleet. Slavas followed shortly after while the launching of Kuznetsov missile carrying aircraft carrier in 1985 became the capstone of Gorshkov’s efforts. After almost a half century of Soviet discussions about aircraft carriers, Gorshkov was able to bring that type of warship into the Soviet fleet. In view of the cost of these kind of ships and opposition from political and military leaders, Gorshkov's success was remarkable. 

The ultimate Kiev-class heavy
aircraft cruiser Baku/Gorshkov
Soviet Navy 1955-1985
Gorshkov was a man with a vivid appreciation of the role and value of navies but with his own, unique ideas about the kind of navy the Soviet Union required and the role that the navy should play in Soviet military and national strategy. The authors inform us that Russia had little tradition of being a high-seas naval power and had no political support to build a major, ocean-going fleet, as the Soviets had an army and strategic missile-oriented political-military leadership. The Soviet navy was essentially a maritime force supporting the army and fought as such during the World War II. After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Soviet leaders realized that as a super-power, the Soviet Union had to pursue naval parity if not superiority. Admiral Gorshkov was the man who moved things in that direction. Gorshkov focused on naval strategy and doctrine primarily for the Soviet Union and heavily based on new technological developments. Under this charismatic leader, the navy’s former primary coastal defence role was expanded to a large blue water navy, a potent, innovative and offensive-type long range armed force. This truly fascinating book lays out the tradition, background, experiences, and thinking of the man as they relate to the development of the Soviet Navy that Gorshkov commanded for almost three decades and that was able to directly challenge the maritime dominance of the United States—a traditional sea power. His influence persists to this day, as the Russian Navy that is at sea in the twenty-first century is, to a significant degree, based on the fleet that Admiral Gorshkov built.

This is a 304-page book with more than 150 unique photographs! The Admiral Gorshkov: The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy is available as hardcover here ($39.95 or $23.97 member price). This is definitely one of the best history books I have read so far and the definitive source for the phenomenal transformation of the Soviet Navy to a global power!

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