by Norman Polmar, Thomas A. Brooks, and George E Fedoroff,
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2019. Pp. xx, 364.
Illus., notes, biblio., append., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1682473309
The Man Who Built the Soviet Navy
Preoccupied with technology, and fascinated by the technical specifications of weapons, we easily forget that wars are won or lost by soldiers, sailors, and airmen. The military leaders of our adversaries often appear as rigid, unsmiling, and medal-bedecked portraits on organization charts, but we need to remember that they are people not so different from ourselves, although they may be shaped by cultures and experiences that are different and often incomprehensible to us.
Admiral Sergey Georgievich Gorshkov (1910-1988) commanded the Soviet Navy for almost thirty years. Although many of the ships built under his tenure have long since been scrapped and others are rusty, barely floating hulks, the modern Russian Navy is, in large part, his creation. Thanks to the Russian obsession with secrecy, many details of his personal life are obscure, and his own voluminous writings were couched in the arcane language of Soviet doctrine, heavily larded with Marxist-Leninist jargon. This new biography, by noted naval writer Polmar, retired U.S. Navy Admiral and career intelligence officer Brooks, and longtime civilian intelligence officer Fedoroff, places Gorshkov’s remarkable career in historical context, as viewed through the lenses of Russia’s 20th century struggles and the Cold War.
Born to a family of teachers in the waning years of the Tsarist regime, Gorshkov enlisted as an officer candidate in the Soviet Navy at the age of 17. He survived Stalin’s bloody purge of the Russian officer corps in the 1930’s, and served in the Black Sea Fleet during the Second World War, rising to the rank of Vice Admiral in 1944, Admiral in 1953, Fleet Admiral in 1967 (roughly equivalent to five-star rank in the US Navy), and “Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union” in 1967.
The authors’ concluding assessment (p. 216) is worth quoting:
“It can safely be said that the Russian Navy of the foreseeable future will not attain the size, stature, or relative capabilities of Admiral Gorshkov’s navy…To restore the order of battle to something approaching the Gorshkov fleet would require a very expensive long-term shipbuilding program. Even if Russia were able to afford such a program, Putin’s stated goal of ‘reasonable sufficiency and effectiveness at a cost the country can afford’ would seem to preclude such expenditures.”
Admiral Gorshkov, a volume in the Naval Institute Press “Blue and Gold” series, is likely to be of great interest to readers who are modern naval wargamers, naval officers, defense professionals or analysts focused on Russia.
Our Reviewer: Mike Markowitz is an historian and wargame designer. He writes a monthly column for CoinWorld and is a member of the ADBC (Association of Dedicated Byzantine Collectors.) His previous reviews include To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, The Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy, ca. 500-1204, Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200, Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium: The Material for History of Nikephoros Bryennios, The Power Game in Byzantium: Antonina and the Empress Theodora, Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD), D-Day Encyclopedia: Everything You Want to Know About the Normandy Invasion, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War, Loyal Sons: Jews in the German Army in the Great War, Holocaust versus Wehrmacht: How Hitler's "Final Solution" Undermined the German War Effort, Governments-in-Exile and the Jews During the Second World War, Constantine XI Dragaš Palaeologus, Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium, and The Emperor in the Byzantine World.
Note: Admiral Gorshkov is also available in several e-editions.
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