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According to Peter Antill:

The naval Infantry performed a number of important landings in both World Wars including raids against the Turks around the Black Sea and the capture of Sakhalin Island and the Japanese-held ports in North Korea. However, they were disbanded in 1947 and remained so until 1961. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, the countries that had maintained a strong amphibious capability (the USA and UK) have been active in seaborne empire building (militarily and economically) and trade, and so for many years after the Russian Revolution, the Kremlin regarded marines as a symbol of imperialism. Secondly, the appearance of a Soviet ‘blue-water’ fleet is a fairly recent phenomenon. There have however, been many historical examples of the Russians using armed parties of sailors ashore. The 1st Separate Naval Infantry Brigade earned a fearsome reputation during the siege of Leningrad in World War Two. However, several factors came together at the start of the 1960’s which heralded the Naval Infantry’s resurrection. Firstly, there was a growing unease about the all-out nuclear strategy introduced by Krushchev in the 1950’s (which mirrored the unease in the USA over massive retaliation at the same time). Secondly, the study of US and British operations during World War Two, showed the utility of amphibious forces in conventional operations (as did the landings of the US Marines in Lebanon in 1958, and the Royal Marines at Suez in 1956). Thirdly, the Cuban Missile Crisis underlined the need for a more balanced Soviet Navy and fourthly, Admiral Gorshkov (who had been involved in amphibious operations during the war) took command of the Soviet Fleet and was determined to build it into a true ‘blue-water’ navy.


How accurate is this assessment? Did the Soviet Union disband its naval infantry (Морская пехота) purely for ideological reasons?

Antill cites Andres de Lionis's article for Jane’s Intelligence Review. However, I cannot find this article. Corroboration (or refutation) by other sources would be appreciated.

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    It is unlikely the reason was ideological, most likely explanation is the general demobilization of the Soviet military afterWWII and "turf wars" within Soviet military hierarchy. Incidentally, the last Soviet naval infantry brigade (prior to 1963) was disbanded only in 1956, the 14th brigade stationed in Kamchatka. – Moishe Kohan Apr 12 at 18:40
  • @MoisheKohan Thank you. Do you have any idea why Soviet naval infantry was revived in the early 1960s? – Rodrigo de Azevedo Apr 12 at 18:48
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    I would have to dig deeper into this: The Russian wiki page simply says that the "Soviet military leadership recognized their mistake." ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Moishe Kohan Apr 12 at 18:51
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    I guess you have to leave the wall of text, because that's how the quoted text was originally formatted. But really, some paragraph breaks would help. – Spencer Apr 13 at 16:09
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+50

The most serious discussion of the matter (that I could find) appears in the book

Кузин В.П., Никольский В.И. "Военно-морской флот СССР: 1945–1991." — СПб.: Историческое Морское Общество, 1996.

V.P. Kuzin, V.I. Nikolsky, "Soviet Navy, 1945-1991", St-Peterburg, 1996.

The book itself is rather thorough (well over 600 pages). The condensed version (as related to your question) is mine.

After USSR acquired nuclear weapons, the strategic thinking on the part of the Soviet political and military leadership (the authors mention Stalin, Khruschev and Zhukov) was that the next major military confrontation between USSR and the United States (and their allies) will be a major nuclear war. In this situation, Soviet Navy was given secondary role, primarily disrupting the lines of communication of its opponents and staging nuclear strikes. The priority was given to Soviet submarine fleet and nuclear-armed Navy aviation. This thinking resulted in disbandment of the Soviet Navy infantry, liquidation of various Navy vessels, etc, as obsolete (in view of the "new ways" to wage war). It was decided that Soviet military development will be asymmetric (vs. that of the United States), in particular, it was decided against building Soviet aircraft carriers, etc.

The attempts of the Soviet Navy leadership (Adm. Kuznetsov) to protect the Soviet Navy from the changes directed from above were unsuccessful: Adm. Kuznetsov was not very politically savvy, while his replacement, Adm. Gorshkov, was reluctant to challenge the political leadership. Gorshkov followed the letter of the directives given to him, in particular, reduction of the size of the Soviet Navy, but purposefully decided to do so by reducing the Navy Infantry while retaining as much fleet as he could.

The official military doctrine (focus on a major nuclear confrontation with all the consequences for the Soviet Navy) was modified after the Caribbean Missile Crisis of 1962. Hence, the resurrection of the Soviet Navy infantry, etc.

I also checked Adm. Kuznetsov's memoirs "Hard Turns: From Admiral's Notes":

Николай Кузнецов, "Крутые повороты: Из записок адмирала." Молодая гвардия. 1995

While it contains wealth of information, I could not find anything specifically helpful with the question. Another place to look would be memoirs of Adm. Gorshkov, but I do not have access to these.

Edit 1. I looked up Peter Antill, the author of the paper you are referring to. His article cites no Russian sources. He wrote a fair number of books on military history. One of the books

Peter Antill (Author), Peter Dennis (Illustrator), "Stalingrad 1942 (Campaign)", 2007,

while dealing specifically with a major military battle on the territory of USSR, again cites no Russian sources. From this I can only conclude that the author cannot read Russian and, in particular, his writings are not based on primary sources. This is unprofessional (for a historian).

Thus, I would dismiss some of the stranger claims that he makes in the cited article, in particular, his claim that

so for many years after the Russian Revolution, the Kremlin regarded marines as a symbol of imperialism

and assertion of this as a reason for disbandment of the Soviet Navy Infantry.

To the contrary:

(a) Soviet political and military leadership was very pragmatic regarding military matters, and military needs would almost inevitably override ideological concerns. (Some of the most famous examples include renaming and downgrading the role of military "commissars" from 1942 onward and reintroduction of military shoulder marks in 1943: Until then, shoulder ranks were a symbol of the pre-revolutionary and anti-revolutionary military forces.)

(b) The depiction of October Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War in Soviet propaganda and historical works underwent a fair number of changes during Soviet times, but one of the constant symbols were "Revolutionary Sailors", storming the Winter Palace in 1917. For all practical purposes these sailors were acting as Naval Infantry in 1917. Furthermore, during and after the WWII, Soviet Navy Infantry fighting in defense of родина was invariably portrayed as heroic.

Characterizing portrayal of marines in Soviet propaganda as a tool of imperialism regardless of the context, is completely ahistorical.

Furthermore, the timeline presented in Antill's article is plain wrong:

However, they were disbanded in 1947 and remained so until 1961.

The mistake is repeated in this English language Wikipedia article (which, curiously, cites no sources for this mistaken information). In contrast, this article is reasonably accurate.

The disbandment happened in stages and concluded only in 1956, exactly the year when Gorshkov was made the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy (and Deputy minister of Defence). The last to be disbanded (see here) were:

  1. January 1956: The 1st Machine Gun Artillery Division of the Baltic Fleet (1 pulad).

  2. March 1956: The 14th Marine Brigade deployed in Kamchatka.

  3. November of 1956: the Vyborg Marine Corps School. Here is its brief history (until 1956):

In March 1944, People's Commissar of the Navy of the USSR, Admiral of the Navy N. G. Kuznetsov, raised the question of the need to create a military school of the marine corps, which was to prepare commanders of marine corps platoons under a three-year training program.

In the autumn of 1945, the Marine Corps School was opened in Vyborg, Leningrad Region. In January 1947, Fleet Admiral Kuznetsov was removed from command at the direction of Joseph Stalin due to a conflict of views on the further development of the Navy, some of his initiatives for the development of the fleet were abandoned. As a result, on April 1, 1947, the Vyborg Marine Corps School was disbanded.

In the summer of 1951, Admiral Kuznetsov was again appointed as the Minister of the Soviet Navy. As a result, by August of that year, the Vyborg Marine Corps School was created for the second time. The school trained platoon commanders in two specialties: machine gun and mortar artillery.

In view with the abolition of the Marine Corps, on November 15, 1956, the Vyborg Marine Corps School was disbanded, and all cadets were distributed to other military schools.

Coincidentally, the first major reduction in the Soviet Navy Infantry happened in 1947, after Kuznetsov's initial dismissal.

Back to Peter Antill's article.

While Gorshkov was indeed instrumental in "Naval Infantry’s resurrection," he could do very little in this regard until 1963 (not 1961!), when the process of rebuilding of the Soviet Navy Infantry had begun. The specific date for the latter in June 7, 1963, see again here as well as page 144 of

Вооруженные Силы СССР после Второй мировой войны: от Красной Армии к Советской. Ч. 1. В. И. Феськов, В. И. Голиков, К. А. Калашников, С. А. Слугин ; под науч. ред. В. И. Голикова ; Том. обл. обществ. организация ветеранов войны, труда, Вооруженных сил и правоохранит. органов, Нац. исслед. Том. гос. ун-т. - Томск: НТЛ, 2013.

The authors of the book refer to the disbandment of the Soviet Navy Infantry as "incomprehensible" and "erroneous," but, unlike the earlier book by Kuzin and Nikolsky provide no explanation.

However, in fairness to Antill, much of what he says in the article on the Soviet Navy Infantry is correct. I am not sure about the origins of mistakes in the article.

Edit 2. The disbandment of the Soviet Navy Infantry proceeded in several stages, beginning in 1947 and concluding in 1956. To put the early stages in a proper context, one should consider the fact that the USSR military underwent a general reduction in 1945-1948: Western parts of the country were in ruins, the current estimates of the total population loss are around 26 million (see here). The extent of the reduction of a particular part of the military depended on many parameters, not the last of which was the ability of its leadership effectively argue agains deeper cuts.

Turning specifically to the Soviet Navy: From 1939 through January of 1947 it was headed by Admiral Kuznetsov, who was an effective (some sources argue, great) military leader. From the descriptions that I saw in the literature, he was an honest man, who (after the early stages of the war) did not hesitate expressing views contradicting those of the political and military leadership (be that Stalin, or Bulganin, or Zhukov, or Khruschev). This did not always work in his favor (to put it mildly) and that of the Soviet Navy. Here is a partial timeline (much of which you can find in the Russian wiki page here) and a less detailed English Wiki page here.

  • In 1946 the Soviet Naval Ministry (Наркомат ВМФ СССР) was downgraded and became a part of the Ministry of Defense (Наркомат Вооружённых сил СССР).

  • Kuznetsov had a number of clashes with Stalin regarding the future of the Soviet Navy. For instance, Stalin favored building more heavy battleships (just when they became obsolete), while Kuznetsov favored a "balanced Navy," including building of aircraft carriers. (There are other examples.)

  • In January 1947 Kuznetsov was fired from his post of the head of the Navy (after offering to resign, to which Stalin's reply was "we will fire you when the time is right"). Kuznetsov was replaced by Adm. Yumashev, who was described by several sources as a drunkard, who was afraid to offer an opinion when asked. Cuts in the Soviet Navy and Navy Infantry contiunue (cf. the disbandment of the Vyborg Marine Corps School mentioned above.)

  • In January of 1948, on Stalin's orders, Kuznetsov together with three other admirals, were put on trial by the Naval Tribunal. Kuznetsov was demoted to vice-admiral, while the other admirals (Л. М. Галлер, В. А. Алафузов и Г. А. Степанов) received prison sentences of varying length. (Galler died in prison in 1950, the other two survived.) Kuznetsov was demoted to the rank of vice-admiral and sent to the Soviet Far East to serve first as the deputy head and then, from 1950, as the head of the Far-Eastern Navy.

In this situation, the Soviet Navy leadership was unable (for several reasons) to argue effectively against deep cuts in the Soviet Navy, including continuity disbandment of its Infantry and transfer of parts of the Navy Infantry to the regular Army. (This is a classic Army versus Navy turf battle, which Navy had lost.)

  • February of 1950: The Soviet Navy again became a separate ministry, still headed by Yumashev.

  • June of 1950: Beginning of the Korean War. The fact that this proxy war between the USSR and the United States was taking place in the Far East should have lead naturally to reevaluation of the role and the size of the Soviet Navy. Another thing to keep in mind that while most of the Soviet Navy (Baltic and Black fleets) was "bottled down" in their respective seas and its North Fleet was limited by partially frozen ocean, Soviet Far Eastern Fleet had the capacity (and need) to become a "deep-sea" fleet, with substantial Navy Infantry component. [All this is quite clear, but the influence of these factors on decisions by the Soviet political and military leadership is just my speculation, to be sure, one has to wait for opening of Russian/Soviet Archives.]

  • Summer of 1951: Kuznetsov is reinstalled as the head of the Soviet Navy. (Prior to Yumashev's firing, Stalin allegedly described him as an ineffective drunkard.) Shortly thereafter, the Vyborg Marine Corps School is "resurrected."

    • 1953: Death of Stalin. Zhukov returns to Moscow as a Deputy Defense Minister, and becomes Khruschev's invaluable ally in the struggle for power on the top of the Soviet leadership (until 1957).
  • 1953-1955: Further reductions in Soviet military forces (from about 6 million to about 3 million). Repeated clashes between Kuznetsov on one side and Bulganin, Zhukov and Khruschev on the other side (some of these clashes go back to the 1940s), regarding Soviet Navy issues. Kuznetsov continues to argue in favor of a "balanced fleet," including aircraft carriers. Heavy battleships, so liked by Stalin, are used as scrap metal. In February of 1955 Bulganin (who was earlier the minister of Defense) becomes the Soviet prime-minister, while Zhukov becomes the minister of Defense. Relations between Zhukov and Kuznetsov deteriorate completely.

  • October 1955: Meeting of Soviet political and military leadership in Sevastopol regarding the future of the Soviet Navy.

I discuss the meeting in detail here since, I think, it was critical in the process of disbandment of the Soviet Marine Corps in 1955-1956.

On pages 324-325 of the book

В. Н. Булатов. Адмирал Кузнецов. - М.: Молодая гвардия, 2006

one finds a report (based on recollections of Adm. Yamvokoy) of the following curious discussion during this meeting:

When one of the Navy officers tried to argue for need in landing craft, Khrushchev asked "What are you planning to use them for?" To which he got the reply: "How about planting Soviet flag on the shores of the United States?" In response, Khrushchev asked Zhukov if Soviet military had any plans of invading the US soil. In view of the negative answer ("Нет!"), Khrushchev proclaimed "You see, since we are not planning conquer America, there is no need in landing crafts!"

Quoting from page 16 of the same book by Kuzin and Nikolsky, describing the meeting:

Жуков: "Авианосцы в ближайшее время строить не нужно. Наше стратегическое положение иное по сравнению с вероятным противником, для которого авианосцы являются насущной потребностью... Не следует развивать строительство десантных судов. Их применение может носить вспомогательный характер."

Zhukov: "There is no need to build aircraft carriers in the near future. Our strategic position is different from that of the likely adversary for whom the aircraft carriers are an urgent need ... No need to build landing craft either. Their use may be auxiliary in nature."

  • December of 1955: Kuznetsov is fired as the head of the Soviet Navy (and is replaced by Gorshkov).

  • February of 1956: Kuznetsov was again demoted to the rank of vice-admiral, forcibly retired and expressly forbidden "any and all work connected with the Navy."

1956: Conclusion of the disbandment of the Soviet Marine Corps:

Page 17 of the book by Kuzin and Nikolsky:

Учитывая пожелания Н.С.Хрущева, руководство ВМФ в лице адмирала С.Г.Горшкова начало прямое уничтожение ранее построенных надводных кораблей, самолётов, боевой техники и оружия, как "не соответствующих новым взглядам на ведение войны". Вместе с десантными кораблями была ликвидирована и морская пехота. Только после Карибского кризиса отношение политического руководства страны к флоту несколько изменилось.

Given the wishes of N. Khrushchev, the leadership of the Navy (Admiral S. G. Gorshkov) began the direct destruction of previously built surface ships, aircraft, military equipment and weapons, as "not consistent with new views on warfare." Together with the landing ships, the marine corps was also disbanded. Only after the Caribbean crisis did the attitude of the country's political leadership towards the fleet changed somewhat.

Ibid, page 525:

Однако в середине 50-х гг. в соответствии с указаниями политического руководства страны МП была ликвидирована. К сожалению, Главком ВМФ адмирал С.Г.Горшков не проявил присущей ему изворотливости и формально выполнил это указание. Ему не удалось даже сохранить хотя бы часть ее сил.... Всё сокращение провели за счет МП, которую расформировали, большую часть офицеров, имеющих боевой опыт, уволили.

However, in the mid-50s, in accordance with the instructions of the political leadership of the country, the Navy Infantry was disbanded. Sadly, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Admiral S.G. Gorshkov, did not show his usual resourcefulness and formally complied with this instruction. He could not even partially save the Navy Infantry.... The whole reduction was carried out at the expense of the the Navy Infantry, which was disbanded, most of the officers with combat experience were fired.

  • 1960: Year of Africa. Beginning of proxy wars in Africa between US and USSR.

  • 1962: Caribbean Missile Crisis. As the result, beginning of a major revision of the Soviet military doctrine (from "inevitable nuclear confrontation" to "peaceful coexistence").

  • 1963: US involvement in the Vietnam war begins in earnest. Realization on the part of the Soviet leadership that they need to be able to "project" the Soviet political and military power around the globe by less than nuclear means. Resurrection of the Soviet Marine Corps.

[Relation of last three items to the Soviet Navy and its Marine Corps is again conjectural and a conclusive discussion will have to wait until opening of the archives.]

  • October of 1964: Khrushchev is dismissed as the head of the Communist Party and the state.

  • 2nd half of 1960s. Continuing build-up of the Soviet Navy and its Marine Corps. Admiral Gorshkov "rediscovers" that he liked aircraft carriers after all.

Quoting again the book by Kuzin and Nikolsky (page 18):

Тем более, что после ухода с политической арены вначале Г.К.Жукова, а затем и Н.С.Хрущева, военно-политическое и научно-техническое давление на ВМФ политического руководства страны сильно ослабело. Практически за весь период нахождения у власти маршала Л.И.Брежнева он только однажды высказался относительно американских ударных авианосцев в том смысле, они являются "оружием агрессии', что явилось основанием для многочисленных доброхотов утверждать, что де Генсек дал прямое указание подобных кораблей не строить. В таких условиях развитие флота в значительной степени зависело от личностных качеств его руководства, т.е. уровня компетенции и дара предвидения, широты мышления, военного и общетехнического интеллекта.

Moreover, after G.K. Zhukov and then N.S. Khrushchev left the political arena, the military-political and scientific-technical pressure on the Navy of the country's political leadership was greatly weakened. (For almost the entire period in which Marshal L. I. Brezhnev was in power, he only once spoke out about American aircraft carriers in the sense that they are a “weapon of aggression”, which was the basis for rumors that the General Secretary gave a direct order that such ships should not to build.) In this situation, the development of the Navy depended to a large extent on the personal qualities of its leadership, i.e. level of competence and the gift of foresight, breadth of thinking, military and general technical intelligence.

However, arguably, none of the Soviet-built ships were "true" aircraft carriers. The whole discussion of the aircraft carriers, however, is only tangentially related to the question and I include it here in view of the comments.

Lastly. The more I read on the matter, the more sympathetic I find Kuznetsov. He died in 1974. In the last chapter of his last book, "Hard Turns: From Admiral's Notes," which was published only in 1995, he professes his deep dislike of the authoritarian style of the Soviet leadership, and laments lack of democracy and of rule of law. This is quite unusual for a Soviet (ex) military official of his rank.

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    The HUGE problem with this answer is that the Soviet naval infantry was disbanded by 1947-1948 while the first Soviet nuclear test happened in 1949. As far as I know the mentioned reductions of the Soviet navy happened in the second half of 1950s, i.e. much later. – OON Apr 13 at 11:00
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    @OON The Soviets would be extremely remiss to delay thinking about the new strategic picture until after they had replicated the success of the Manhattan project. They were trying to catch up. – Eric Hauenstein Apr 13 at 13:30
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    @OON: Nope: the last Soviet naval infantry brigade (prior to 1963) was disbanded only in 1956, the 14th brigade stationed in Kamchatka. While the general reduction in Soviet Naval infantry started around 1947, it can be attributed to the general demobilization of the Soviet military after WWWII. As I said, I will add more details to the answer, including the timeline of reduction in the Soviet Naval infantry, when I have more time. – Moishe Kohan Apr 13 at 14:36
  • The quoted bit in there about not making aircraft carriers does seem wrong on its face, since I believe they actually made 3. – T.E.D. Apr 14 at 13:04
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    @gktscrk: Thanks: When I have more time. I am also hoping to get Gorshkov’s memoirs, because these might provide more insight into the affair. What is the link to your question about Soviet paratroopers? – Moishe Kohan May 30 at 20:53

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