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:
DIRECTIVE TO THE MILITARY COUNCILS OF THE NF, RBBF, BSF, COMMANDERS OF THE PINA AND DANUBE FLOTILLA ON THE TRANSITION TO HIGHER COMBAT READINESS
No. zn / 87 June 21, 1941 23.50
Move immediately to operational readiness No.1
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.