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Kronstadt in World War II.

 Before the tragedy.

In the late 1930s Kronstadt lived the life of the fortified city and was the base of the Baltic Fleet. That time Kronstadt was an important  training center of the USSR’s Navy. The Kronstadt Shiprepairing Plant (Navy Plant)  produced overhaul and repair of surface ships and submarines of the Baltic Fleet.  All forts and  batteries of the city were under reconstruction.

In April 1939, the new commander of the Baltic Fleet commander  V. Tributs, was appointed. It was the officer who commanded at the most important naval theater of the  World War II for the Soviet Union - the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland.

  Vladimir F. Tributs

The war between Finland and Soviet Union started in November 1939. Kronstadt was converted into the front-line town with a special regime.  Baltic Fleet ships, as well as powerful guns of Kronstadt forts supported the Soviet troops on the Karelian Isthmus. After this war many sailors and officers were recommended for promotion.

The civilian population of Kronstadt was 35 thousand. Entrance and departure to the city were strictly regulated. The supply of the city was organized better than in many other cities of the Soviet Union. Salary at the city enterprises was higher than in the neighboring Leningrad. However, Navy officers had an income several times more than well-qualified workers.

Recreational life was actively developing  in the city. Movies, amateur clubs and sports  were popular among the residents.


When the Baltic republics joined to the USSR, Kronstadt became an ordinary navy base. The main forces and staff were relocated to Tallinn (the capital of  Estonia). In 1940-1941 6 destroyers, more than 10 submarines, escort vessels, torpedo boats, minesweepers were a part of the Baltic Fleet.  Kronstadt was the training base  for new sailors.

The Baltic Fleet before the Nazi Germany attack:

Battleships – 2

Cruisers – 2

Destroyers – 21

Torpedo boats – 67

Escort vessels – 7

Gunboats – 2

Minelayers – 4

Minesweepers – 30

Armored vessels – 4

Submarine chasers – 20

Submarines – 71

Aircrafts – 594

Coastal guns  - 313

Antiaircraft guns – 352.

Battleship "Marat" (former "Petropavlovsk") in Kronstadt, 1937.


The Beginning.

Beginning on 22 June 1941, over 4 million soldiers of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a 2,900 km (1,800 mi) front, the largest invasion in the history of warfare. In addition to troops, Barbarossa involved 600,000 motor vehicles and 750,000 horses. The ambitious operation, driven by Adolf Hitler's persistent desire to conquer the Soviet territories, marked the beginning of the pivotal phase in deciding the victors of the war.

At 23:37 June 21-st  1941,  the operational readiness of fleet number 1 was announced by Baltic Fleet Commander Vice Admiral V. Tributs according to the order of the People's Commissar of the Navy. Several hours later the first German aircrafts began mining the fairway near Kronstadt. The duty officer (first lieutenant S. Kushnerev) ordered to open fire on the enemy planes and several aircraft were shot down or damaged. 27 Nazi planes took part at the first attack, 3 of them were destroyed by the anti-aircraft guns of the 1st  Air Defence Regiment of the Baltic Fleet. This Regiment was situated on the southern forts.

76 mm (2.99 in) Anti-aircraft guns. 1941.


The rumors about the war were supported by official statements. All sailors were transferred to ships. The Navy plant began the arming and renovation of civilian vessels for military purposes. The civilian population engaged in activities to help deflect the air raids and fight fires. The townspeople enlisted in volunteer corps.

 The volunteer corp is going to front. Kronstadt, Andreevskaya str. 1941.

The war had just begun.

The pre-war fleet deployment plan suggested a covering the northern and north-western land front, installation of mine fields and disrupting on the enemy's communications. However, the rapid advance of the German army changed those plans. Sailors protected the ground troops with artillery fire, performed landing operations and transplanted naval infantry to combat on land. In the eastern part of the Gulf minefields were exhibited.

 Minesweeper T-209.

In August 1941 the Luftwaffe began bombing Kronstadt regularly. Almost all of the male population of the city who did not  work in munitions factories, were enlisted to the Home Guard. They joined the battle against the Nazis in the suburbs of Leningrad. Baltic sailors carried out the following tasks: setting minefields, trawling enemy mines, and transporting cargo and people. In late August The Red army in the Baltic States was in a critical situation. Tallinn - the main base of the fleet was in danger and a decree  to relocate  the fleet from Tallinn to Kronstadt was given. By the time the Soviets had decided on a maritime evacuation of Tallinn, over 200 Soviet civilian and military vessels had been assembled in the harbor of Tallinn. Many of the Soviet vessels belonged to the former Estonian and Latvian navies. An evacuation of Tallinn by the Soviets would not be an easy undertaking, for the Germans had long since anticipated a Soviet breakout. To increase their chances of neutralizing the Soviet Navy, the German army laid minefields extensively in the Gulf of Finland and on the approaches to Tallinn.

 Cruiser "Kirov". 1941.

Daily Luftwaffe attacks against the ships in Tallinn harbor did not make life any easier for the Soviet evacuation effort. Tallinn had to be evacuated by the Soviets as soon as possible. Soviet evacuation plans, as co-ordinatd by Vice Admiral Drozd, called for the assembled ships to depart Tallinn in seven staggered sailings: one primary battlefleet, four lesser sized convoys, a screening squadron, and a rear guard squadron. Each of these components was to carry as many Soviet Army personnel, Soviet/Estonian Communist Party members and refugees as possible. The first ship to hit a mine and sink was the steamer Ella, and a few moments after her, several other ships hit mines, while German bombers and Finnish coastal artillery opened fire. In the attempt to force the passage the Soviet Navy lost 5 destroyers, 2 torpedo boats, one patrol vessel, 3 minehunters, 3 submarines, 2 gun boats, 2 smaller warcraft and 15 transports; one flotilla leader, 2 destroyers, one minehunter and one transport were damaged. Later that evening the armada was attacked by Finnish and German torpedo boats, and the chaotic situation made organized mine sweeping impossible. Darkness fell at 2200 and the Soviet armada stopped and anchored at midnight in the heavily mined water.


Early on 29 August Ju-88 bombers attacked the remains of the convoys off Suursaari, sinking 2 transports. Meanwhile the undamaged ships made best speed to reach the safety of the Kronstadt batteries. The heavily damaged Kazakhstan disembarked 2300 men of the 5000 on board on Steinskär before steaming of to Kronstadt. In the following days ships operating from Suursaari rescued 12,160 survivors.

 Ship during an air raid. 1941.

The Soviet evacuation of Tallinn succeeded in evacuating 165 ships, 28,000 passengers and 66,000 tons of equipment.

On September 1st, 1941, Kronstadt again became the main base of the Baltic Fleet. In the city there had to be created a plan of defense by land, air and water, which would not allow German troops to destroy the main forces of the Baltic Fleet. Kronstadt played a key role in stopping the Nazis on the outskirts of Leningrad.

During September 1941, German troops occupied part of coast of the Gulf of Finland between Oranienbaum and Leningrad. Several airports were occupied by the Luftwaffe. In these circumstances massive and intensive air raids on Kronstadt began. From September 21 to 28 September 1941, the Luftwaffe produced the most massive air raids. From 100 to 300 aircraft appeared in the sky every day. The Nazis had a goal to destroy the city and the fleet completely.

Destroyed workshops of Kronstadt Navy plant.1941-1942.

On September 23 st, after the dropping of a 500-kilogram bomb, the ammunition of the battleship “Marat” detonated. Pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel wrote in his memoirs that he attacked the "Marat" twice on September 16, he dropped to the deck of "Marat" bomb weighing 500 kg, on September 23 - 1000 kg bomb with special detonators with the slowdown of detonation. But witnesses told that the cause of the explosion was the detonation of ammunition of the ship because of a 500-kg bomb.

 The deck of battleship "Marat", destroyed during the air raid on September 23, 1941.

The city was seriously damaged, one of two battleships and number of other vessels were shot down, but air raids didn’t attain their goal of  destroying the city. On the 20th of September, additional anti-aircraft artillery and fighter planes came to Kronstadt and therefore the  Luftwaffe was forced to stop its attacks.

Kronstadt on fire during the Luftwaffe air raids in September 1941.

By October, the front in the Leningrad area stabilized. German troops occupied Pushkin, Pavlovsk, Peterhof, and Strelna. The only suburbs that had not been occupied during war were Kronstadt and Oranienbaum on the southern coast of the Finnish Gulf. This jumping-off place will serve as the point where the enemy will attack and the siege of Leningrad will be broken.

Artillery and land defense of Kronstadt.

The basis of the defense consisted of a 120 mm (4,72 in) cannon. On the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland (Fort Krasnaya Gorka and others) had 12 artillery guns of  caliber 203-305 mm (7,99 – 12 in) , 16 guns of caliber 100-152 mm (3,93 – 5, 98 in). On the island there were several 254-mm (10 in) guns. Also on the ships there were guns of various calibers.

 254-mm (10 in) gun in Kronstadt.

To prevent the enemy landing, 13 artillery batteries in Kronstadt and 9 batteries beyond the city, (but on the island Kotlin,) were organized. The main lookout was located in Naval Cathedral. Visual range reached 45 km. The coastal defense of Kronstadt included two infantry regiments.

 In Kronstadt, there was an extensive network of railways. In the autumn of 1941, several rail cars were converted into armored train. The train  was armed with anti-aircraft guns and machine guns. The task was to help ships and anti-aircraft artillery of forts and quickly move to the most dangerous sections of the defense. German Army and Air Force constantly tried to suppress the artillery of forts and fortified area, but unsuccessfully.

152 mm (5.98 in) gun. The Petrovsky park, Kronstadt. 

Special attention of the command  was focused on the coordination with troops of the 23

Army which defended the northern approaches to Leningrad and the troops of the Seaside  Task Force, located in the South and defending Oranienbaum.

In late November and early December the Gulf of Finland freezes. Therefore, there was a question about the organization of the land defense of the island. The German troops were just 12 kilometers from Kronstadt.  Storm of the city by Tukhachevsky (during the Kronstadt rebellion) in 1921 showed that the island was very vulnerable when it was surrounded by ice.

In these conditions the ice patrols were organized, part of a 45-millimeter (1.77 in) guns were taken from the ships to device emplacements on ice.

  45-millimeter (1.77 in) gun on the ice. 

In November 1941, the German infantry and tanks in a large group tried to attack Kronstadt on the ice, but they were discovered and retreated. In winter the Finns tried to do same, but also without success. The ice defense of Kronstadt improved constantly. At the same time the supply of the city  and evacuation of wounded was organized across  the ice.

 The machine-gunners. Ice defense of Kronstadt. 1941. 

The base of submarines.

When the war began the Baltic Fleet had 72 submarines. On August 10, 1941, the German submarine U114  was sunk  by the Soviet submarine Shch-307 (The Shchuka class submarine ). This was not the only victory of the Soviet submarines during the first months of the war. However, the combat losses were extremely high. Many submarines were blown up during the retreat from Tallinn and other Naval bases. In 1941 the Baltic Fleet lost 21 submarines.

After the evacuation of Tallinn, the submarine subdivision had been organized in Kronstadt. By the end of 1941, 82 naval operations were made.. Hitler was enraged, because Soviet submarines disrupted many of military supplies of strategic materials from Sweden to Germany. The Germans tried to block completely the exit from the Gulf of Finland by antisubmarine nets and mines. Despite of all efforts of the enemy, the Baltic submariners continued to attack the enemy ships. In 1942, 29 German vessels were sunk. Submarines cooperated with reconnaissance aircrafts in searching for  military ends.

          Soviet submarine ShCh-311 of the Baltic fleet.

But the Soviet submarines had broken through the mine barrages in the Gulf of Finland too easily in 1942. To keep Soviet submarine force away from the Baltic shipping stronger efforts were planned. The barrages would be larger and in addition a double submarine net would be laid from Porkkala to Naissaari, operation "Walross".

 It was assembled and guarded mostly by the Germans. Not a single Soviet submarine managed to break through this obstacle and so shipping in the Baltic Sea was relatively safe.

 The Shtsh-class boat had failed, and now it was time for the larger and more powerful S-class boats to try breaking into the Baltic Sea. The boats S-9 and S-12 sailed in the beginning of August. Neither of them reached the Baltic Sea. Both of them were lost in the middle of August somewhere in or between "Seeigel" and "Nashorn" barrages. Having lost four submarines (Shch -406, Shch-408, S-9, S-12), the commanders decided to stop raiding the Baltic. Of the five boats sent to the  Baltic Sea not a single one succeeded and only one returned (Shch-303). No ships were lost to submarines in 1943.  The blocking of the  Gulf of Finland had been a 100% effective anti-submarine operation.

 Loading of torpedoes into the submarine. Kronstadt.

Thus in 1943, the Soviet submarines were blocked in Kronstadt. But in 1944, when Finland was defeated and provided several bases to the Soviet Navy, the submarine warfare in the Baltic Sea reached a new and final stage. In 1944, 24 transport ships, tug, minesweeper were wrecked by submariners. Several enemy warships were damaged. Not only torpedoes and guns, but also mines were used actively by the submariners.

Warehouse of torpedoes at Arsenal. Kronstadt.

The final year of the war, 1945, was marked by a number of major victories. On 30 January 1945, at thr Stolpe Bank of the Pomeranian coast, the Soviet submarine S-13 which was commanded by Alexander Marinesko sank the 25,484-ton German liner “Wilhelm Gustloff”, overfilled with civilians and military personnel, with three torpedoes. Recent estimates calculate that over 9,000 people were killed, the worst loss of life in maritime history. On 10 February 1945, S-13 sank another German transport ship “Steuben”. 3,300 civilians and military personnel from the ship died, and 300 survived. Most of the dead were civilians and refugees. But these ships were legitimate military targets. Because they were under a military flag and accompanied by a naval escort. This victory in the Soviet Union, was called by propaganda as "The Attack of the Century".

Alexander Marinesko

During the war the loss of the submarine forces of the Baltic Fleet were 38 submarines and 1447 people. The price of the victory was connected with huge losses.

Sailors on land theaters of military operations.

The Baltic Fleet sent to the land front of more than 125 thousand people. 83 thousand people fought directly on the Leningrad front. For the protection of Leningrad 10 brigades of marines, 4 regiments, more than 40 separate battalions and companies were formed.

 Platoon of the marines.

By October, the front in the Leningrad area stabilized. German troops occupied Pushkin, Pavlovsk, Peterhof, and Strelna.  In the beginning of October in order to displace the enemy from Peterhof in Kronstadt landing operation was prepared. For the landing five companies total of 510 people (477 sailors from ships, 43 people from the fleet staff) were formed. They were armed with 314 rifles, 40 machine guns, 20 mine throwers. On October 5, 1941, at 4.30 AM  the marines began landing on the territory of the Lower Park of Peterhof. They were found soon and in a few hours lately fall in battle. This was an example of courage and heroism of the sailors who fought until the last bullet. The same time it was an example of the  poor command management to prevent the occupation of Leningrad. Leningrad was saved by the cost of such victims. Not only the power of the Kronstadt guns, but also the courage of sailors and officers on the land fronts stopped the Nazis.

Brigades of the sailors took part in the Battle of Leningrad during the years of war. The 260 Separate Brigade of marines took part in breaking of the Siege of Leningrad, as well as in the attack on the North-West in 1943-1944.

Anti-aircraft security.

At the beginning of the war Kronstadt was defended themselves with the First anti-aircraft artillery regiment. The  majority of the weapons were situated in forts. They were armed with obsolete guns of  1915 year model and up-to-date 1937 year model guns. The caliber of the guns was 76 mm (2.99 in).

Anti-aircraft gunners. 

In August 1941, the airfield for naval aviation was built  on the island of Kotlin. The challenge for the city and the Navy became the raids of the Luftwaffe in September 1941. The anti-aircraft artillerists would not leave guns for hours, and planes and pilots were constantly in the air. However, in September 1941, the attacks of the German planes on Kronstadt were repulsed. On the 20th of September, additional anti-aircraft artillery and fighter planes came to Kronstadt and the Luftwaffe  had to stop its attacks.

The Polikarpov I-16 fighter aircrafts on the Kronstadt airfield.  

 High-speed fighters arrived in Kronstadt in 1942.  In addition  anti-aircraft batteries were rearmed with new guns. This significantly increased the effectiveness of the fighting against the enemy in the air.

 Torpedo boats and minesweepers.

 In the beginning of the war 210 ships embarked  a course for the Gulf of Finland  to aid the defenses of Leningrad and Kronstadt. The main task  of minesweepers  was the protection of navigation and communications between Kronstadt, Leningrad, Oranienbaum, the island of Gogland and other points.

Commander of the Minelayer "Ural" (right)  captain of the second rank                 I. Karpov.

The patrol service "small hunters" (the MO class, their primary function originally was anti-submarine warfare) and patrol boats used.  There  were not enough modern ships and often civilian tugboats and other vessels were converted for military service. These ships were very vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. The Luftwaffe tried to mine the water ways, so the struggle against mines became one of the main task of the Kronstadt group of minesweepers. In addition, the Kronstadt group of transport and military vessels evacuated the Soviet soldiers from beleaguered garrisons of Hanko, Gogland and others.

The "small hunters". 

When the Germans blocked the Gulf of Finland, it became impossible to fight in the Baltic Sea. Many of the torpedo boats were reconfigured into mine-layers and minesweepers. Between 1942-1943, the fighting against the enemy mines was the main task of sailors.

Launching of torpedo boat. Kronstadt. 

The torpedo boats based in Kronstadt, often engaged with the German mine-layers west of the island of Gogland. The small Soviet torpedo boats operated actively and successfully and ensured the success of the Navy in the final stages of the war.

Workers and civil population of Kronstadt during the war.

The Naval plant and the Arsenal factory were the largest and the most important enterprises of Kronstadt. The Naval plant's main responsibilities involved reparation and reconfiguration of ships. The main task of the Arsenal factory  was the reparation of mines, torpedoes, and artillery shells and other weapons. When the war started, the working day was prolonged to 12 hours. Hundreds of workers joined the People's volunteer corps and took part in the Battle of Leningrad.

The Luftwaffe and hard artillery brought down thousands of bombs and shells to the Naval plant and the Arsenal factory. The German air raids in September 1941, damaged the Baltic Fleet ships and infrastructure of the Plant. Several sections of the plant were destroyed, the docks were showered with falling bombs, and dozens of  workers and engineers were killed. Nevertheless the plant continued its work. In the difficult conditions of the Siege, the workers persevered with their work. Often the working day lasted for 18-20 hours.

 Ship in dry dock. Kronstadt

The inhabitants of Kronstadt actively participated in the construction of fortifications and fighting fires.

Civilians in the cities of Kronstadt and Leningrad suffered from extreme starvation, especially in the winter of 1941–1942. For example, from November 1941 to February 1942 the only food available to the average citizen was 125 grams of bread, of which 50–60% consisted of sawdust and other inedible admixtures, this was distributed through ration cards. For about two weeks at the beginning of January 1942, even this food was available only for workers and military personnel. In conditions of extreme temperatures (down to −30 °C (−22 °F)) and city transport being out of service, even a distance of a few kilometers to a food distributing kiosk created an insurmountable obstacle for many citizens.

In these most severe conditions continued in the city life. In order to survive people needed not only bread and warmth, but also moral support. In these the most severe conditions life in the city continued. People was needed not only bread and warm, but also moral support. In 1942-1943, when the food situation had improved, teams of people with creative talents were organized in the forts and on the ships.

 Sailors in jazz-band, 1942. Kronstadt.

Musical and theater groups organized concerts. Those short moments of leisure played an important role in improving morale and fighting spirit of the sailors and workers.


During the war great number of military divisions were formed in Kronstadt. They had shown themselves to be heroes on the battlefields for their Fatherland.

The last operation of the Baltic Fleet became the landing on the Bornholm island. The German garrison commander Gerhard von Kamptz refused to surrender to Soviets, as his orders were to surrender to the Western Allies.  On 9 May the Soviet troops and sailors landed on the island, and after a short fight, the German garrison (about 12,000 strong) surrendered. Soviet forces left the island on 5 April 1946.

 The German prisoners of war.  Kronstadt. 

With an intense struggle millions of people - soldiers and sailors, workers and civilians helped defeat the Nazis. We can conclude that the defense of Kronstadt and its role in World War II was large. It was thanks to the power of the Kronstadt Fortress that the destruction of Leningrad (the main industrial and cultural center of the Soviet Union) was successfully prevented. Sailors of the Baltic Fleet and the residents of Kronstadt had made a significant contribution to the victory of the Soviet Union and the countries in the anti-Hitler coalition in World War II.

Kronstadt mariners, members of the Victory Parade in Moscow. June, 1945.

Kronstadt was conferred the status of “City of Military Glory” by the President of the Russian Federation Dmitriy Medvedev on April 27, 2009, for “courage, endurance and mass heroism, exhibited by defenders of the city in the struggle for the freedom and independence of the Motherland”.

 The Order of Victory.



Text: Roman V. Shaposhnik.

Photos:  book   "Kronstadt. The War. The Siege". Saint-Petersburg, 2005.)