Pearl Harbor of course, is a reference to the Japanese sneak attack that destroyed half the battleships of the U.S. Pacific fleet. Earlier in the war, the Germans managed to decimate the Russian Baltic Fleet during the evacuation of Tallinn, sinking about a third of their ships.

For some reason, the Germans were not nearly as successful at destroying the Russian Black Sea Fleet, even though it was weaker than the Baltic fleet. Their two main opportunities were the evacuation of Odessa, where they destroyed only a handful of ships, and the evacuation of Sevastopol, where they sank a number of smaller Russian ships, but not the battleship nor the cruisers.

The continued existence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet made it inadvisable for the Germans to try to ship supplies across the Black Sea. Did they make one or more attempts to "Pearl Harbor" the Black Sea Fleet that I have overlooked? Or was that basically impossible, given the logistics of bombing the Russian fleet in their new bases near the Turkish border?

Edit: Germany might have tried to "Pearl Harbor" the Russian fleet by running convoys in the northern part of the Black Sea/Sea of Azov, after establishing air bases e.g. on the Kerch Peninsula. One of two things might have happened: 1) The Russians would decline to come out and fight, allowing the German convoys to go through. 2) The Russian fleet might have opted for a policy of "mutually assured destruction," sinking one or two convoys, and being destroyed by German airpower. The Germans would have sacrificed one or two convoys to protect future shipments.

In the "actual" Pearl Harbor situation, the Japanese considered (and rejected) the idea of letting the American Pearl Harbor fleet head for e.g. the Philippines, and sinking it en route.

  • 1
    Range of Junkers-87 (Stuka) dive bombers was nowhere near long enough for such a mission I suspect. Oct 25, 2020 at 0:18
  • 1
    "decimate the Russian Baltic Fleet … sinking about a third of their ships". Why is this wrong?
    – fdb
    Oct 25, 2020 at 17:24

2 Answers 2


Admiral Kuznetsov's finest hour

June 1941 was a hectic month in Moscow. More and more reports from agents, spies, military attachés, aerial and other reconnaissance, were confirming the fact that Germany prepares for an attack on the USSR in the coming days. Much was written about Stalin's indecisiveness in those days, as he was getting more and more aware that war is looming, and on the other hand his disbelief that Hitler wants two-front war and his willingness to "avoid provocation" crafted by British or rogue German generals. Finally, as evening of June 21st was coming, it became increasingly clear that the attack would most likely start the following day. Stalin finally allowed People's Commissar of Defense Semyon Timoshenko to bring Red Army troops to full readiness, by issuing Directive No.1 of People's Commissar of Defense. However, even in this directive one can feel the spirit of indecisiveness. First order to the troops was to avoid provocations, and only after that to prepare troops for combat by dispersing, camouflaging etc... Anyway, the directive was issued by telegram. By the time it arrived (wee hours of the morning) it was too late to carry out what was ordered, considering the huge and inert structure and organization of RKKA.

But what about the Navy? At that time, People's Commisair of the Navy was young (only 36 years) and relatively inexperienced Admiral Nikolai Kuznetsov. Navy was always a stepchild of the Soviet armed forces (considering the geography of the country), far behind the army and air force in funding and attention. It didn't escape purges (that is how Kuznetsov became the head of it) but in years leading to the war it was mostly left to its own devices. Stalin probably didn't consider Kuznetsov to be much of a threat to his own power, so he left him with considerable autonomy in organization of the Soviet Navy.

Kuznetsov used this autonomy, so according to Russian sources, already on June 19th he ordered fleets under his command to go to readiness No.2 (heightened readiness). This includes severely curtailing shore leaves and keeping ships with full complement of armament, ammo and fuel. Similar measures were taken by naval aviation and crews of naval anti-aircraft artillery (both on shore near naval bases and ships). Note that this was a risky move: the Stalinist apparatus could consider this as falling into provocation. But at the night of June 21/22 Kuznetsov made even bolder move. Upon receiving news about aforementioned directive No.1 of People's Commissariat of Defense, he (as nominally different and independent commissariat) issued his own directive ordering readiness No.1 (full battle readiness). Text of this directive, much shorter and terse is:


Even more, before the telegram arrived he personally made telephone calls to commanders and chiefs of staff of the Northern Fleet, Baltic Fleet and Black Sea Fleet. Already around 03:00 June 22nd, first German planes appeared near Sevastopol. At 03:06 Chief of Staff of Black Sea Fleet Ivan Dmitrievich Eliseev ordered forces under his command to open fire on them. This is considered the first organized resistance of Soviet forces in the entire war - as a contrast, the Soviet army and VVS [air] forces at many places refrained from opening fire even as they were being bombed. Similar things happened at bases of the Baltic Fleet: despite German attempts, no ships were sunk or naval aircraft destroyed. Again, stark contrast with losses sustained by army and air force. Already at 06:00 Kuznetsov ordered deploying of defensive minefields, at 09:29 deployment of submarines against German and Romanian ships etc...

As a result of this, Soviet forces avoided Perl Harbor-like catastrophe. As the day of June 22nd dawned, Soviet ships were already underway, anti-aircraft crews were at their positions. German attempts of dawn and early morning attacks failed. And the rest is history: Soviet navy did suffer heavy losses during the war, but they never lost combat cohesion. In fact, what Kuznetsov did could be described as one of the decisive moments of the war. By not allowing the Black Sea Fleet to be destroyed early in the war, Kuznetsov effectively paved the way for slowing down German forces in the South in Odessa (1941), Sevastopol (1941/42) and Novorossiysk (1942), effectively creating a threat on the right flank of the Army Group A during its drive for the oil and forcing it to divert fighting to Caucasus mountains in the autumn of 1942.


Two parts for the answer:

Sneak attack at the beginning of the war:

Pearl Harbour was the biggest sneak attack of the Japanese plan. Smaller sneak attacks included raids on Philippinese airfields.

June, 22nd 1941 was a very big sneak attack over all the German-Russian front. The Luftwaffe had so much to do against Soviet air and land based assets for the attack to succeed, that destroying Russian naval assets in the Black Sea was the least of their concerns: Remember that the Japanese planned to attack islands in the Pacific Ocean, so they needed sea power. Germans planned to attack over land, they needed their airplanes to help their land forces before their naval forces.

Attacks focused on the Black Sea later in the war

There were some attacks later, you mentioned the attacks at Odessa and Sevastopol. But overall, the Luftwaffe had again more important things to do in Close air support and air interdiction against Soviet land forces.

The effort against the Russian Black Sea naval fleet involved German torpedo boats, German airplanes but also Romanian ships and airplanes, and Italian torpedo boats and pocket submarines. The Soviets defended themselves with similar assets, cruisers and battleships playing a marginal role: there were no such ships on the Axis side, so Russian big ships focused on land support.

  • 2
    This answer looks good, but sources would be an improvement...
    – Evargalo
    Oct 26, 2020 at 10:39
  • @Evargalo Well I don't mention any precised facts, just general consideration about the subject. A wikipedia article is the source Oct 27, 2020 at 18:11

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