While serving as a teen-age seaman on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War, the ship’s crew and air wing were aware of the dogged presence of our Cold War adversary, the Soviet navy.
The carrier was under constant surveillance by Soviet trawlers that shadowed us at sea and spied on the carrier’s combat operations against their ally, the North Vietnamese. Soviet surface warships, submarines and aircraft also conducted surveillance of the carrier.
I recall vividly when we sailed away from “Yankee Station” in the South China Sea in 1971, a Soviet TU-16 bomber aircraft performed a fly-over the carrier to let us know that via Soviet naval surveillance they knew we had been relieved by another carrier and we were departing the war zone.
Of course, we knew they knew, so the TU-16 was received and escorted in the air by several of Kitty Hawk’s fighter aircraft. It was a surreal moment. As the bomber flew over and took surveillance photos of the carrier, on the deck of the carrier were a couple of thousand sailors and airmen taking photos of the bomber as it flew over the ship.
The man in charge of the Soviet navy shadowing the Kitty Hawk and other U.S. ships during the Vietnam War was one of America’s greatest adversaries during the Cold War. He is largely unknown by the general public, so authors Norman Polmar, Thomas A. Brooks and George E. Fedoroff provide a valuable service by writing a book that chronicles the life and work of the prominent Soviet admiral.
In “Admiral Gorshkov: The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy,” readers discover how the Soviet navy rose to become a serious challenge to the U.S Navy and NATO forces during the Cold War, and how one man, Adm. Sergey G. Gorshkov was primarily responsible.
John Lehman, the secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, notes in his foreword to the book that Adm. Gorshkov had a vision of what kind of navy the Soviets needed to be a great power, and that the admiral also had the grasp of technology and its rapid development that was needed to guide weapons and warship procurement.
“Greatness in a leader moves history. That view is not accepted by economic determinists, communists or geopoliticians, who believe massive tides and forces, not individuals, determine outcomes,” John Lehman writes. “The life of Sergey Gorshkov refutes the latter view.
“Joining the Navy at 17, a decision opposed by his distinctly academic family, Gorshkov 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.”
Mr. Lehman goes on to write that after Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was humiliated by the American naval blockade during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, his successors in the Kremlin 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. The Soviet Government soon embarked on a building program developed by the admiral and his highly capable aircraft, warship, and submarine design bureaus,” Mr. Lehman writes.
Gorshkov was 45 when he took command of the Soviet navy in 1956. 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.
“Yet during his 29 years as commander-in-chief of the Soviet Navy, Gorshkov demonstrated a single-minded drive and dedication, exploiting new technologies to the benefit of the fleet, and taking advantage of the political contacts that he made during World War II. He thus was able to design and build a potent high-seas fleet that could in many respects challenge the U.S. Navy,” the authors tell us.
The authors also state that some naval experts and American naval leaders believe that the Soviet navy, in certain scenarios, might have been victorious against the American Navy.
The authors also tell us that since Gorshkov left the Soviet navy, the impact of his actions and views are still evident in the Russian navy, as we’ve seen a Russian cruiser sail into the Caribbean, the U.S. backyard, as well as Russian surface ships and submarines launching attacks against Syria.
I was interested particularly in reading about the role of the Soviet navy in both World Wars, and how Gorshkov dealt with Stalin and later Soviet leaders while building the Soviet navy.
“Admiral Gorshkov” is a well-researched and interesting book about a man and a navy that challenged the supremacy of the U.S. Navy during the Cold War.
• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.
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ADMIRAL GORSHKOV: THE MAN WHO CHALLENGED THE U.S. NAVY
By Norman Polmar, Thomas A. Brooks and George E. Fedoroff
Naval Institute Press, $39.95, 304 pages