Soviet Naval Personnel

However technically perfect the Navy may be, man is always the basis of naval forces, the ruler of all the weapons of warfare.
Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, S.G. GORSHKOV

The officers and men of the Soviet Navy occupy a respected position within Soviet society. Military service in the Soviet Union is characterized as a special form of service to the State and is rewarded by a continuous deluge of praise and commendation from Soviet public leaders and the press. The Navy is also given a special place of respect in Soviet eyes due to its close association with the revolution and connections with the Party, the 1921 Kronshradt rebellion notwithstanding. Finally, even more tantalizing to the average Soviet citizen, for whom travel to a distant foreign place is a virtual impossibility, is the opportunity which the navyman has to see the world in some of the most modern warships afloat.

The enlisted men are either two-year or three-year draftees; the latter term of service is required if the conscript is assigned sea duty. The Soviety Union does not draft women for military service. They are employed in clerical and support positions, and are not considered an integral part of the armed services as are service women of the United States.

Of approximately 443,000 uniformed personnel of the Soviet Navy, about 185,000 serve in ships and 59,000 are attached to naval aviation. In addition to the 12,000 man Naval Infantry force, another 8,000 are assigned to coastal defense activities, about 54,000 are engaged in various stages of training, and 125,000 are used to provide shore support. Additionally , a large number of civilians, perhaps as many as 30,000, form the crews of the majority of Soviet naval auxiliary ships.

Pre-Service Training

The 1967 Law of Universal Military Service provides for draft eligibility at age 18 and naval service of three years (two years if serving ashore, a term which is comparable to that of the other armed services ).

Pre-induction military training in the Soviet Union is under the control of the local military commission which organizes and administers the program. For those enrolled in the normal ten-year school program or a vocational technical school, military training is conducted in school during the 9th and 10th grades. Students who finish their education at the 8th grade level receive military training at their place of employment. This military training is a 140-hour program over a two-year period which includes military indoctrination, schooling in basic military skills, and weapons instruction.

In addition to compulsory training, paramilitary clubs and military specialist preparation courses are conducted by the DOSAAF (All-Union Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Air Force, and Navy). DOSAAF clubs and specialist courses are frequently oriented toward a particular service. The more general clubs prepare the inductee for military service, usually in the army, while specific courses are designed to provide the specialized training that would otherwise be conducted while the conscript was in the service. Thus, there are Navy clubs which teach sailing and seamanship, as well as the more intensive and specific courses for radio operators, helmsmen, and divers. This training not only aids the military in reducing in-service instruction time, but also offers to Soviet youth opportunities to participate in activities which are denied to other members of Soviet society.

Taken at face value, these pre-draft and paramilitary programs appear quite formidable. On the other hand, the Soviet press periodically voices relatively strong criticism of their quality. Nevertheless, even a broad brush introduction to military training and the attendant physical exercise must ease the burden of military preparation. Further, some DOSAAF -trained specialists, usually in the less technically demanding disciplines can adequately fulfill their fleet assignments without further specialist training.

Upon completion of their active navy duty the conscripts, about 130,000 yearly, are retained on the reserve lists until they are 50 years of age. This provides a large pool of semi-trained manpower, especially those men who are only four or five years removed from their active service.

Enlisted Men

The enlisted man of the Soviet Navy is a conscript with limited training and little career inclination. Conscripts are drawn from all the 16 republics within the U.S.S.R., and often those from Asian republics speak little Russian. Since conscripts are inducted into the services twice a year, this means that every six months about 15 percent of the naval enlisted strength is replaced by recruits.

Basic Training

The new inductee undergoes a nine-week basic training program, after which he is either sent to a specialist school or directly to a duty assignment. A small number of recruits that have previously completed a DOSAAF specialty are sent directly to sea duty from basic training, while those judged physically or intellectually substandard are assigned to shore duty (as librarians, storekeepers, etc.). Approximately 75 percent of the men entering the Navy undergo specialist training, after which they receive their first shipboard assignment.

Specialist Training

Soviet technical training is of four to six months’ duration. Specialists graduate with an apparent un~ derstanding of the theoretical complexities of their own specialty but with little practical training. Consequently , the more significant and practical training for the enlisted man is received after he arrives on board ship.

Once aboard, the enlisted man will be assigned to a more senior sailor who, along with the officers and warrant officers in his department, will train him as his replacement. The new specialist then begins his study for a class specialist rating of Master 1, 2, or 3. If a sailor passes his Master 3 specialist test, fulfills certain requirements of the Party youth organization (Komsomol), and has no disciplinary violations, he will be rated “outstanding” by his ship’s captain. The number and class of specialists and the number rated outstanding is considered a significant measure in evaluating a ship’s performance . It is not surprising, therefore, that over 90 percent of all seamen are rated Master 3 specialists by the end of their first tour of duty.

Rudimentary school instruction and limited time and facilities for intensive shipboard on-the-job training and testing leaves the Soviet specialist able to perform only the more routine functions of maintenance and general operation of a very limited range of equipment. To alleviate some of these shortcomings shipboard equipment is, for the most part, assembled from standard components and modules.

Training At Sea

On board training is viewed as the major method of “perfecting skills and knowledge” to maintain a high level of combat readiness. Training at sea revolves around communist competition which entails the achievement of specified goals and objectives set by the commanding officer and political officer in conjunction with the staff. Some objectives and goals are prescribed in terms of the number of men achieving a new or higher class specialization and the number of men rated as outstanding.

Competitive drills and exercises are conducted aboard ship. These involve the usual variety of situations from damage control to simulated or actual firing of weapons. Fleet and inter-fleet exercises involve units competing against each other. All competition is characterized by the great emphasis that is placed upon obtaining set quantitative goals. This has resulted in a number of abuses. Aside from outright cheating, other abuses involve the setting of unrealistically low goals which are easily achieved, or the more serious problem of “formalism” in which, after the goals are set, promises made to fulfill them, all the required speeches made, then the whole competition is just forgotten. A further problem involves drills and exercises which are conducted in a routine, mechanical manner, thereby lacking realism and constructive value.

Obviously, the true extent to which these problems exist in Soviet training cannot be determined. Yet, if the reports of the Soviet press can be considered an indication, it would appear that such problems are not rare in Soviet training.

Shipboard Life

On his first tour of service the Soviet draftee receives low pay, even by Soviet standards (3.8 rubles per month—4.8 if on sea duty—which at the official exchange rate equals $6.50/mo.), and leave totaling only up to 20 days over a three year period. During this term of service he is under close supervision and

subject to continuous political indoctrination. Sea duty can best be described as rigorous. Distant deployments often include long periods in open-water anchorages, and the infrequent liberty runs ashore in foreign ports are normally done in supervised groups during daylight hours. Living conditions aboard the modern classes of Soviet ships is, by Western standards, spartan but acceptable, whereas conditions aboard older classes, such as the PETYA and KOTLIN, are cramped and rather trying. Viewed in the relative terms of the standard of civilian housing in which many naval recruits previously lived, their shipboard accommodations are probably more than adequate.

Warrant Officers

The Soviet Navy faces a chronic shortage of senior enlisted personnel. The reenlistment rate averages under 10 percent, in part because of the national requirement that all males must serve on active duty in the Soviet armed forces. In an effort to overcome the aforementioned shortage, and to upgrade the status of a career serviceman the rank of warrant officer (Michman) was instituted in 1971. At completion of compulsory service the Soviet sailor, if considered capable, is offered additional specialist and military training in a two-year warrant officer school in return for a five-year reenlistment, including schooling.

The warrant officer is designated the principal interface between officers and enlisted men. In this capacity he is given more responsibilities than a senior petty officer and, as a result of his more extensive training and experience, he can relieve the officers of some of the more technical duties which the conscript is not qualified to perform. Benefits increase considerably as pay, privileges, and leave offered to the warrant officer approach that of an officer. In addition, he is also offered the opportunity to achieve promotion to officer ranks after a number of years of service.


The regular sea-going Soviet naval officer, a career man, is a volunteer who has been carefully selected, well trained, and highly specialized. He is more often than not a relative of a Party official or another naval officer and ethnically, a Great Russian.


The large majority of regular naval officers are now drawn from specialized naval schools. A small number begin as reserves after graduation from civilian universities and a few others win promotion from‘ the warrant officer ranks. A youth normally starts his career as a cadet at one of 11 higher naval schools after a vigorous selection program. The course of study is intense and lasts five years, with the graduates receiving a National Engineering Diploma and the rank of lieutenant. Some Soviet officers begin their naval careers at about age 15 upon entering the Nakhimov naval school system for young men, and then going into a higher naval educational institution upon graduation from the Nakhimov school.

The higher naval schools can be divided into two types: line and engineering. Six line schools graduate officers as specialists in one of three areas: navigation , weapons, and antisubmarine warfare, which correspond to three of the five to seven departments of a Soviet warship. Graduates from one of three other higher naval engineering schools and one radio electronics school are assigned to ship radio electronics and engineering departments. There is also a higher naval school for shore duty engineering specialists and one which trains political officers for service with the fleet. Other naval specialist officers such as medical, legal, and finance are trained in higher schools with their army counterparts. Naval aviation officers receive their basic flight training with the Air Forces.

Early Career

Upon graduation, a regular officer is assigned to a ship for duty in the department which corresponds to his specialty (navigation, engineering, ASW, etc.). The new officer usually spends the first three to six years of his career in the same department aboard the same ship or at least in the same class of ship. During this period the new officer earns a classification as a specialist in his technical pursuit. He must pass the examinations to stand watch and for certification as a supervisor as he progresses through positions equivalent to assistant division officer, division officer, assistant department head, to department head.


In the Soviet Navy the officer is both the manager of his unit and the major technical specialist. He is expected to be able to do virtually everything his subordinates can do, as well as to instruct them in their duties, and to care for their “ideological well being.” Because of the general low level of technical competence of his enlisted men, the Soviet officer tends, in some cases, literally “to do everything,” even the most routine maintenance. A Soviet junior officer’s duties as manager, technician, instructor, and loyal Party member give him quite a heavy work

load. Complaints are frequent, yet, in spite of these, the typical Soviet officer appears to fulfill his duties adequately.


The selection of a commanding officer is a highly subjective process based on the principle that the commanding officer of a ship should select and train his own replacement. During the early years of an officer’s service, his CO evaluates his performance and eligibility for command. As a vacancy occurs the ship’s captain appoints the officer of his choice as executive officer and organizes and supervises a program of study for his development. During this period of study the line officer matures from a narrow specialist to a broad generalist capable of command. Upon successful completion of the demanding command-at-sea test, the officer succeeds the CO in command of the ship, or is assigned to command another ship of the same or a similar class. The length of time in an officer’s first command varies with the individual and the ship, but averages between three to five years. Those not considered qualified for command and those in the engineering categories, who, by virtue of their specialty, are not considered for command, become career specialists. Officers in these fields continue to receive promotions while serving as department heads and on staffs afloat or ashore.

Senior Officers

Considerable emphasis is placed on post-graduate education, and after command at sea an advanced

degree is considered a prerequisite for posts of higher responsibility and flag rank. Officers with an average of six to eight years of experience, usually after their first command, take graduate training at the Grechko Naval Academy, an institution roughly equivalent to the US. Naval War College, or other schools offering advanced degrees. As an alternative to study in residence at a higher naval school, an officer can obtain an advanced degree by correspondence , requiring only limited residence.

After graduate work, the senior line officer generally serves on the staff of a group of ships of the same class that he commanded. Later, he rotates between fleets and other related tours are assigned to develop broader experience. Further, either immediately before or after promotion to flag rank, he will usually attend the joint service academy for general staff officers.

For those officers in “career specialties” the logical assignment after graduate training is to a position on the faculty of one of the naval schools or to a tour in one of the technical directorates (such as shipbuilding, mines, or torpedoes), as he proceeds toward flag-rank position in his area of expertise. From the brief discussion above several major deficiencies may be clearly discerned in the education and experience of the Soviet naval officer. He spends the first part of his career as a specialist in a very narrow field, restricted to one department in one class of ship. As a result, the junior officer lacks needed broad experience and versatility. Often it is only upon selection as executive officer that he begins to develop the broader experience necessary for more senior posts. Because of the strong emphasis on collective thinking and Party-enforced discipline , the junior officer is often seriously lacking in personal initiative, original thinking, and the willingness to take responsibility; leadership characteristics that are necessary for command. But for those chosen to move up the promotion ladder, the positions held, education received, and training taken from mid

for flag rank is both educated and experienced. The base pay for Soviet officers initially appears nominal, but taken in combination with the total allowances and benefits which accrue to a military officer in the Soviet Union, the real income is substantial . For example, naval officers are given signifi-cant additional pay for service in northern areas, for service in submarines and aircraft, for sea duty, and for command. Military officers are a prestigious and privileged class in the Soviet Union and receive extensive benefits, according to rank, well beyond those of the average citizen.


The highest office in the Soviet Navy is that of Commander-in-Chief (CINC). The position, currently held by Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergei G. Gorshkov, carries with it responsibilities for the operation and administration of the Soviet Navy. In addition, as head of one of the five military services, he serves as a Deputy Minister of Defense , a political position, which in the United States is filled by the Secretary of the Navy. Thus, Gorshkov simultaneously holds positions which in the U.S. would be equal to Chief of Naval Operations and Secretary of the Navy. Directly below the CINC is the First Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Admiral of the Fleet N.l. Smirnov, who is the assistant to the CINC in the operational direction of the fleet.

At the next level are eight Deputy CINCs responsible for several different administrative, technical, logistical, and training functions. Additionally, there is a Navy Staff composed of the heads of several directorates which serves the CINC in policy and planning. Below this level are the fleet commanders . Each fleet is headed by a flag officer, with the fleet organizational structure quite similar to that of the CINC of the Soviet Navy.

Soviet flag rank officers tend to remain in their posts longer than their U.S. counterparts, with Admiral Gorshkov an exceptional case in point. His naval career spans 55 years of which almost 25 have been spent as CINC of the Soviet Navy. Most senior officers of the Navy serve long tours in their respective posts. However, there have been several changes at naval headquarters in Moscow during the past few years, which might provide a hint to Admiral Gorshkov’s successor. The front runners presently appear to be Fleet Admirals Yegorov and Smirnov, Chief of Main Naval Staff and First Deputy CINC, respectively.

Admirals in senior positions are generally in their late fifties and early sixties. A signficant aspect of the Soviet philosophy toward high-level positions is that long term assignments and specialization do not necessarily destroy flexibility or effectiveness in leadership.

Political Activity

All sectors of the Soviet military are subject to political indoctrination and close Communist Party monitoring which is even more extensive than in the civilian sector. Of course, a higher percentage of Soviet naval officers are Party members than in the civilian population. The stress upon political reliability is all-encompassing and of foremost importance . This stems from the concern of the Party to maintain a military force that is completely subordinate , thereby rendering it incapable of exercising military power for its own political ends.

Americans generally have difficulty differentiating between the Soviet State and the Communist Party, and hence the relationship of the Navy to the Party. The difficulty is, that for all intents and purposes, the State and the Party are indivisible. Their key leaders are virtually the same and their goals are identical . In essence, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party is the ruling body of the U.S.S.R. with the “state” organization primarily running the day-to—day business of the nation. Several members of the Politburo also serve on the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (or Congress), with the Presidium being the highest state body.

Over 90 percent of all naval officers are members of the Party or the Komsomol (Young Communist League). It is a rare officer who has not learned that demonstrating one’s political activity is essential to a successful career. Further, Party membership is essential to obtain command. The Party, with representatives at all echelons of command within the armed forces, is headed in the Navy by a four-star admiral. Each ship has a political officer (Zampolit) who has his own separate chain of command. His duties aboard ship are diverse: he directs the ideological indoctrination and monitors the political reliability of the officers and men; directs “socialist” competition; ensures that Party decisions are carried out; enforces discipline; and acts as both “chaplain” and social worker for the crew to promote morale.

The nature of Party control sets up groups within the command structure; the CO and line officers comprise one part, and the political officer and the party organizations the other. Problems and tension are sometimes created between groups as they perform their functions. On one hand, an officer’s military authority can be undermined since, as a member of the Party, he is as susceptible to party criticism and discipline as any other Party member. On the other hand, the Zampolit, while wearing the uniform of a naval officer, was in the past clearly not nautically qualified and, in many cases, was looked down upon by the professional naval officers . In recent years, however, there has been a trend toward giving the political officer practical naval experience as a line officer prior to his entry into the political field.

There is a significant commonality of interest between the Zampolit and the professional officers since both share responsibility for the successful operations of a ship and its performance in the “socialist” competition by which their careers are judged.