Nikolai Kuznetsov (admiral)

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Nikolai Kuznetsov
Nikolai Kuznetsov 3.jpg
Native name
Николай Герасимович Кузнецов
Birth nameNikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov
BornJuly 24, 1904
Medvedki, Vologda Governorate, Russian Empire (now in Kotlassky District of Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia).
DiedDecember 6, 1974(1974-12-06) (aged 70)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Allegiance Soviet Union
Service/branch Soviet Navy
Years of service1920–1956
RankAdmiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union
Commands heldSoviet Pacific Fleet, Soviet Navy
Battles/warsSpanish Civil War
World War II
AwardsHero of the Soviet Union

Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov (Russian: Никола́й Гера́симович Кузнецо́в; July 24, 1904 – December 6, 1974) was a Soviet naval officer who achieved the rank of Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union and served as People's Commissar of the Navy during the Second World War. The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is named in his honor.


Early years and advancement[edit]

Kuznetsov was born into a peasant family in the village of Medvedki near Veliky Ustyug, Vologda Governorate, Russian Empire (now in Kotlassky District of Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia). His father was a Serbian immigrant who settled in Russia before the turn of the century.[1]

In 1919, Kuznetsov joined the Northern Dvina Naval Flotilla, after adding two years to his age in order to be eligible to serve. In 1920 he was stationed at Petrograd and in 1924, as a member of a naval unit, he attended the funeral ceremony of Vladimir Lenin.[2]

That same year he joined the Communist Party.

Upon graduation from the Frunze Higher Naval School in 1926, Kuznetsov served on the cruiser Chervona Ukraina, first as watch officer and then as First Lieutenant. In 1932 he graduated from the Naval College after studying operational tactics. Upon graduation, he was offered one of two options – a desk job with the general staff or a command post on a ship.

Kuznetsov successfully applied for the post of executive officer on the cruiser Krasnyi Kavkaz . Within a year the young officer earned his next promotion. In 1934 he returned to the Chervona Ukraina, this time as her commander. Under Kuznetsov, the ship became an outstanding example of discipline and organization, quickly drawing attention to her young captain.

From 5 September 1936 to 15 August 1937, Kuznetsov was the naval attaché and chief naval advisor to Republican Spain. Serving during the early stages of the Spanish Civil War, he developed a strong dislike of fascism.

On returning home, on January 10, 1938, he was promoted to the rank of flag officer, 2nd rank, and given command of the Pacific Fleet. While in this position, he came face to face with Stalin's purge of the military. Kuznetsov himself was never implicated, but many of the officers under his command were. Kuznetsov resisted the purges at every step, and his intervention saved the lives of many Soviet officers.

On 28 April 1939, Kuznetsov, still only thirty-four, was appointed the People's Commissar (Minister) of the Navy, a post he would hold for the duration of the Second World War. In 1939, despite the Stalin policy against the Nikolaevsky Engineering Academy, Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov ordered the return of the Naval Engineering faculty from Moscow, and created the Military Engineering-Technical University to educate engineers for the construction of naval bases.[3][4]

The Second World War[edit]

Kuznetsov played a crucial role during the first hours of the war – at this pivotal moment, his resolve and blatant disregard for orders averted the destruction of the Soviet Navy. By June 21, 1941, Kuznetzov was convinced of the inevitability of war with Nazi Germany. On the same day Semyon Timoshenko and Georgy Zhukov issued a directive prohibiting Soviet commanders from responding to "German provocations". The Navy, however, constituted a distinct ministry (narkomat), and thus Kuznetsov held a position which was technically outside the direct chain of command. He utilized this fact in a very bold move.

Shortly after midnight on the morning of June 22, Kuznetsov ordered all Soviet fleets to battle readiness. At 3:15 am that same morning, the Wehrmacht began Operation Barbarossa.[5] The Soviet Navy was the only branch of the military in the highest state of combat readiness at the start of the initial German push.

In the following two years, Kuznetsov's primary concern was the protection of the Caucasus from a German invasion. Throughout the war, the Black Sea remained the primary theater of operations for the Soviet Navy. During the war years Kuznetsov honed Soviet methods of amphibious assault. In May 1944 he was given the rank of Admiral of the Fleet – a newly created position initially equated to that of a four-star general. In the same year, Kuznetsov was given the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. On May 31, 1945, his rank was equated to the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union with a similar insignia.

The first fall[edit]

From 1946 to 1947 he was the Deputy Minister of the USSR Armed Forces and Commander-in-Chief of the Naval Forces.

In 1947 he was removed from his post on Stalin's orders and in 1948 he, as well as several other admirals were put on trial by the Naval Tribunal. Kuznetsov was demoted to vice-admiral, while the other admirals received prison sentences of varying length.

In 1951 Stalin ended Kuznetsov's pariah status, once again placing him in command of the Navy (as the Minister of the Navy of the USSR), but without restoring his military rank, which was returned to him upon Stalin's death in 1953. In the same year, he became the First Deputy Minister of Defense of the USSR. In 1955, Kuznetsov was made Commander-in-Chief of the Naval Forces. His rank was raised to Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union and he was awarded the Marshal's Star.

The second fall and retirement[edit]

His newfound prominence brought him into direct conflict with Marshal Zhukov, with whom he had clashed during the war years. On December 8, 1955, using the loss of the battleship Novorossiysk as a pretext, Zhukov removed the Admiral from his post. The commission that inspected the ship's loss was headed by Vyacheslav Malyshev and its findings were used by Zhukov, minister of defense at the time, to blame Kuznetsov. In February 1956 he was again demoted to the rank of vice-admiral, retired and expressly forbidden "any and all work connected with the navy."

During his retirement he wrote and published many essays and articles, as well as several longer works, including his memoirs and an officially sanctioned book, "With a Course for Victory", which dealt with the Patriotic War. His memoirs, unlike those of many other prominent leaders, were written by him personally and are noted for their style.

Kuznetsov also authored several books on the war, on Stalin's repressions, and on the navy which were published posthumously. In these he was highly critical of the Party's interference in the internal affairs of the military, and insisted that "the state must be ruled by law."

Rehabilitation and legacy[edit]

After the retirement of Zhukov in 1957, and of Khrushchev in 1964, a group of naval veterans began a campaign to restore Kuznetsov's rank, with all benefits, and to make him one of the General Inspectors of the Ministry of Defence. Invariably, these requests fell on deaf ears, particularly on those of Kuznetsov's successor, Admiral Gorshkov. Not until July 26, 1988 did the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR reinstate Kuznetsov to his former rank of Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union. Kuznetzov is now recognized as one of the most prominent men in the history of the Soviet and, today, of the Russian Navy.

Dates of rank[edit]

Personal ranks for the Russian Navy were abolished in 1918, and were only restored in 1935, excepting the various ranks of admiral which were not restored until 1940.

  • Enlisted seaman (1919–1922)
  • Naval cadet, M.V. Frunze Higher Naval School (1923)
    • Graduated with honours
    • Appointed assistant ship commander 4th rank (Junior Lieutenant/Ensign) (5 October 1926)
  • Successively senior assistant ship commander (Executive Officer) 3rd rank (Senior Lieutenant/sub-lieutenant)
    senior assistant ship commander 2nd rank (Captain-Lieutenant/Lieutenant)
    ship commander 2nd rank (Captain 3rd rank/Lieutenant-Commander) (1926–1929)
  • Senior Assistant Ship Commander (Executive Officer) 1st Rank (Captain 2nd rank/Commander) (1932)
  • Captain 1st Rank (Captain) (August 1937)
  • Flag Officer 2nd Rank (2 February 1938)
  • Fleet Flag Officer 2nd Rank (3 April 1939)
  • Admiral (4 June 1940)
  • Admiral of the Fleet (31 May 1944)
  • Rear Admiral (10 February 1948)
  • Vice-Admiral (27 January 1951)
  • Admiral of the Fleet (13 May 1953)
  • Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union (3 March 1955)
  • Vice-Admiral (demoted) (17 February 1956)
  • Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union (restored posthumously) (26 July 1988)

Honours and awards[edit]

Soviet Union
  • Cross of Grunwald, 1st class (Poland, 1945)
  • Knight's Cross of Polonia Restituta, (Poland, 1945)
  • Medal "For Our Freedom and Yours" (Poland, 1967)
  • Medal "For the Liberation of Korea" (1945)
  • Golden Order of the Partisan Star (Yugoslavia, 1946)
  • Order of National Liberation (Yugoslavia, 1946)
  • Order "For Service in Battle" (Mongolian People's Republic, 1972)


"My whole life has been the Soviet Navy. I made my choice when young and have never regretted it."

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Текст приказа Н. Г. Кузнецова".
  4. ^ Кто и как ошибался в надписях на петербургских памятниках? [Who and how was wrong in the inscriptions on the Petersburg monuments?]. 24 March 2009. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  5. ^ Kirchubel 2007, pp. 33–34.
  • Kirchubel, Robert (2007). Operation Barbarossa 1941: Army Group Center. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-107-6.
  • Kuznetsov, Admiral Memoirs of the Wartime Minister of the Navy Moscow Progress Publishers 1990 ISBN 5010025566

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Mikhail Petrovich Frinovsky
People's Commissar of the Soviet Navy
Succeeded by
Joseph Stalin(as People's Commissar for the Armed Forces)
Preceded by
Mikhail Petrovich Frinovsky
Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy
Succeeded by
Ivan Yumashev (admiral)
Preceded by
Ivan Yumashev (admiral)
Minister of the Navy
Succeeded by
Nikolai Bulganin(as Minister of Defence )
Preceded by
Ivan Yumashev (admiral)
Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy
Succeeded by
Sergey Gorshkov