“ … for as there is no man so self-sufficient as not to need the continual help of another, so neither is there any country which does not at some time or other need the growth and productions of another.”—Sir Philip Medows, 1689.
The American-built fleet of over six hundred units now traversing the seas under the flag of the Soviet Union is the first, and the only, fleet of its kind in existence. Included in this fleet are small naval Vessels, river craft, and, most important of all merchant vessels. At a time when the needs of the Soviet Union were urgent, the United States, under the provisions of the Lend-Lease Act, furnished the Soviet Union with what now amounts to about one-fourth of her merchant fleet. Two-thirds of the Soviet merchant fleet is over ten years old; the remaining one-third is United States built. When consideration is given to the fact that about half of the lend-lease ships are types built during the first World War, the Present state of the Soviet merchant marine stands out quite plainly. Within this context then one may seek, and find, an answer to the question: Why is the Soviet Union unwilling to return the lend-lease ships?
The Soviet Union is unwilling to arrive at any agreement which, by its terms, will strip their merchant marine of the most efficient units they possess. This unwillingness is all the more apparent when the case the two icebreakers is considered. Until recently these two vessels were reported as, fast in the ice off the tip of the Taimyr Peninsula. Just how the vessels managed to remain, for two years, in an ice pack along the main track of the Northern Sea Route, usually open to navigation annually from July to November, is a mystery. Naturally, no impartial observer was permitted to view the scene, and it proves interesting indeed to See the condition of the ships that they have returned to United States possession as promised. The Soviet Union has been pressed for a settlement of outstanding lend-lease claims, including the return of the merchant fleet, for over four years—with negative results. Why?
Failure of a Plan
In part, the answer to the refusal of the Soviet Union to negotiate the return of the lend-lease ships lies in the fact that the planned economy has failed to produce a shipbuilding industry capable of providing the ships needed in order to satisfy the economic and military needs of the country. Putting it another way, when a higher production priority is assigned to other elements of the shipbuilding industry—armaments, naval construction—neither facilities, materials, nor manpower remain for the construction of merchant shipping. The hope in Russia was to produce enough steel by 1950 to equal the production of steel in the United States in 1929—an amount approaching about one-third of United States production today. With steel in short supply, diversion of available quantities of this basic commodity to other planned construction would stop all merchant ship construction at once.
Also, in part, the answer lies in the fact that Soviet transportation as a whole is a compound of a series of geographic and climatic conditions not capable of being cured without vast expenditures of tight commodities—material and experienced manpower. Railroads are overburdened. Shallow rivers require constant dredging. Frozen waterways and harbors defy icebreakers and explosives for more than half the year. These difficulties, and the fact that Russian rivers flow from north to south, or vice versa, defeat the purpose of the transport services, for neither raw materials, finished products, nor passengers, can be moved as required or needed. Delays in transportation, and the necessity for backtracking, or rerouting, traffic to accommodate not only the seasons but the industrial sites as well, detract from the utility and dependability of transportation. The mere maintenance of existing facilities is a continual drain on the economy. One finds, in Russian publications, many references to the need for the transference of some of the burden on the railroads to other modes of transportation. The inference is that more water transportation should be used. As will be seen, the use of water transportation in the Soviet Union has increased, but not to the extent planned or needed.
Water transportation has, historically, dominated the Russian economy. Towns were built at water junctions and, as the country developed, railroads were built, not for the purpose of tapping new areas but, rather, for the purpose of connecting the already existing trade centers with the centers of trade and commerce in Europe. Freight traffic moved along the internal water systems. As industrialization increased, particularly after the 1917 Revolution, it became apparent that something was missing.
That something was maritime trade, and its mobile tool, the merchant vessel. Traditionally, the merchant vessel is thought of as the means of bridging the vast distances of the seas, carrying the exports of a country and returning with the products of other lands in order to enrich the life and swell the industries of the mother country. In time of war, however, the merchant vessel serves another, and, perhaps, more important purpose. In time of war, the merchant vessel becomes the life-line, the severance of which can result in a nation perishing from starvation. The Soviet Union found itself, upon the outbreak of World War II, in a position where needed supplies had to come via the sea or not at all. There was no alternate means of obtaining the armaments and supplies which, in the final analysis, contributed so greatly to the final victory.
When war came it was found that, despite the planned efforts of fifteen years—1925 to 1940—Russia was without the shipping necessary to carry the tremendous stocks of materials needed for the prosecution of the war. It was in Russia’s darkest hour that the United States began to Lend-Lease to the desperate Soviets the merchant fleet which the “grateful” nation now retains so tenaciously. Older types were transferred first, it being reasoned that, should the Japanese refuse to permit Russian-flag ships to pass through to Vladivostok and points further west, the loss of the relatively inefficient, overaged vessels would not be serious. As it turned out, the Japanese were not anxious to antagonize the Russians by refusing passage to the ships. As the building program in the United States began to yield more and more ships, newer types of ships were turned over. As a result the Russians ultimately received over 600 ships of various types from the United States under the heading of lendlease. As has already been noted, Russia’s failure to provide for her needs stemmed, in part, from the fact that facilities and experienced manpower were lacking. But there is, and has been, something else lacking in the Russian. That something has to do with the desire to become a sea-faring people—a desire usually found within those countries having a heritage of the sea. The Russia of Communism, despite claims made both here and abroad, is virtually lacking in such a heritage.
The Myth of Heritage
In the first place, Russia’s “urge to the sea” is more apparent than real. It is a manufactured urge, rather than an urge stemming from heritage. Russia, even under the Tsars, was predominantly an agricultural country and, despite the industrialization which has taken place under Communism, is still predominantly the same type of country. The Russians’ love for their rivers dates from ancient times, from the times of the burlaki, or barge-haulers along the rivers. But a “love” for the sea is straining for a word. In 1772, John Bell, an English traveler, reported that the Russians had a strong aversion to shipping and maritime affairs. Peter the Great, considered by historians to be the founder of the navy in Russia, was incensed because his beloved ships were referred to by the Russians themselves as the “Dutch Navy.” The very beginnings of this navy were laid down by hired Dutch experts and, despite the claims that they have built ships on original designs, the majority of present day Russian ships with good sea-keeping qualities are copies, or incorporate in their design the best features, of foreign hulls.
After the Revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks inherited the remnants of foreign owned yards and facilities, together with some merchant shipping. Russian yards had been destroyed, their location in the industrial areas of the west having made them particularly vulnerable to destruction by the contending forces during the years of strife. In the course of consolidating the gains of the Revolution, the Bolsheviks had little time for the languishing shipbuilding industry. Consequently, by 1925, when serious efforts to rehabilitate the facilities were begun, virtually everything not previously destroyed during the war was in a state of decay caused by neglect and inactivity. Those ships remaining to the new government suffered from lack of maintenance. Personnel experienced in their care and upkeep Were scarce and being over-age to begin with, the ships had to be scrapped as too expensive to either repair or operate. For one reason or another, the number of ships under Russian registry declined from 613 to 397 during the period from 1920 to 1925, the net loss approaching 200,000 gross tons.
At the same time that ships and yards were falling into decay, management and working personnel in the shipping industry were turning to other fields of endeavor under the edict that “no work—no eat.” The exact manpower loss to the shipping industry as a result of the period of “war communism” may never be known. There is evidence available which indicates that when the program for the rehabilitation of yards and ships was undertaken, in the mid-20’s, manpower was scarce. Foreign experts’—German, Italian, English—were hired to train and guide the cadres assigned to the yards and ships. It must be borne in mind that Russia’s maritime endeavors have been confined chiefly to the nation’s coastal waters and to the navigable rivers. In 1913 Russian bottoms handled but eight percent of the total sea-borne cargo entering and leaving Russian ports, and even this trade was with a limited circle of nations. There was little, if any, trade with the transoceanic nations. When the Bolsheviks took over, the lack of organization, inefficiency of operation of those units still able to go to sea, and unexpected competition from Italy in the Black Sea trade—the result of a trade agreement between the two nations—reduced Russian-flag ship participation in her foreign commerce to a point so low that, up to the outbreak of the second World War, Russian trade was a lucrative business for foreign shipping concerns. By the end of the First Five-Year Plan, when Russia was carrying but 8.8 percent of her own foreign trade, Yanson, the Director of the Foreign Trade Research Institution in Moscow, was quick to point out the short-comings of the shipping industry when he said that: “Both the foreign trade of the U.S.S.R. on a large scale, and the coastal commerce to a considerably smaller extent, are carried on by foreign shipping.”
This is not to say that some progress was not made. Russia did build ships, but she was unable to undertake the building required to give her the deep-water maritime fleet she has insisted she needs. Obviously the expenditures required to develop a shipbuilding plant capable of furnishing the needs of a nation are tremendous, particularly if the nation is one in which an armament plant is considered to be of greater urgency. But as a result of such a decision on the part of the planners, when war came Russia found herself without ships and without the plant to build them.
It can, no doubt, be argued that it was unnecessary for Russia to build a merchant fleet—that the volume of foreign trade was insufficient to warrant the cost—that it was cheaper to charter the needed vessels than to build them or buy them. All these arguments have some validity, but they merely serve to point up the fact that a country without the foundations of a shipbuilding industry capable of expanding when needed, such as exists in western countries, finds itself in trouble. It is a costly and dangerous procedure to depend on chartering of ships for fulfillment of the requirements of a wartime economy. As a result of her policy, when Russia closed the gates to foreigners and foreign merchant vessels, there was nothing to fall back on until the United States, for reasons incorporated in the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, furnished not only the ships themselves, but carried materials in other ships to help ease the pressure on a nation fighting for its existence. And when the gates were closed, who was left to direct the expansion of old, or the construction of new, facilities under the pressure generated by war? The experienced managers had long since departed, either having left the country at the time of the Revolution or having been caught up in the succession of purges which have swept the Soviet Union at regular intervals. As a result of this combination of circumstances, Russia could not obtain the shipping she needed without outside help. Nor was she able to operate the shipping she had available. Just before the outbreak of World War II Russian writers were complaining that the coefficient of use of cargo ships employed along the Northern Sea Route was but 49 per cent. Ships capable of carrying 600 tons of cargo were assigned runs where the cargo turnover was but 30 tons, and some of the points touched yielded but one ton of freight. The situation was, at times, laughable. For example, one writer pointed out that it was cheaper to have a ton of freight hauled by reindeer than to have the same ton of freight hauled by ship!
The inherent suspicion and fear of the West, together with the limited facilities available for shipbuilding, have combined to produce Russian plans for small, shallow-draft vessels for use mainly in cabotage trade; i. e., trade between ports of the same state within the territorial waters of the state. This type of trade serves one other useful purpose, stemming from State control of trade. The right to trade is reserved to the national flag. Particularly is this true of Russian trade between the Baltic and the Black Sea, or between either sea and Siberian ports, as well as the trade between Russian ports on the same sea. The only break in this tradition, dating back to 1897, resulted from the Italian trade agreement previously mentioned.
The lack of adequate shipping for a nation of Russia’s world stature, together with the fact that she has failed to settle her lendlease debt to the United States, has undoubtedly been behind the failure of Russia to participate in the various Conferences on maritime affairs held under the auspices of the United Nations. The temporary United Maritime Consultative Council met in Washington in October, 1946—without the Soviet Union. The United Nations Maritime Conference met in Geneva from February 19 to March 6, 1948—without the Soviet Union. What were the purposes of these meetings? And why were they boycotted by the Soviet Union?
As defined by the Conference, the scope and purposes of the Provisional Maritime Consultative Council are:
- To provide machinery for cooperation among Governments in the field of regulation relating to technical matters and to encourage the highest standards of maritime safety;
- To encourage the removal of all forms of discriminatory action;
- To provide for the consideration of any shipping problems of an international character;
- To provide for exchange of information.
These purposes were incorporated in the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, which grew out of the Geneva Conference. The Organization will come into force on ratification by twenty-one nations, of which seven must each have a total gross tonnage of not less than one million.
From the purposes delineated above it becomes readily apparent that any Convention incorporating a means of inquiring into Soviet practises or facilities will find the Soviet Union opposed. In addition, in order for the Soviet Union to become a signatory to the Convention constituting the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, it would be necessary to substantiate any Russian claim as to the actual amount of shipping available—information which Lloyd’s has been guessing at for about twenty years.
No amount of propaganda can take the Place of experience gained over years of going to sea. Our forebears, proud builders of the famous Yankee-clippers, came by their heritage honestly and their heritage stemmed from the very factors which have made this nation of ours the leader it is today. A spirit of adventure, the desire to see new and strange places, the willingness to face competition in the trade marts of the world—all these qualities, fostered and developed under a spirit of independence of thought and enterprise by a form of government dedicated to evolutionary development of the freedoms men cherish—are the well-springs from which flow the heritage of the sea as we know it.
Compare if you can, any one of the above features with a comparable feature in Soviet Russia. Where is the validity of an argument that there exists any such heritage in Soviet Russia? There is, obviously, neither argument nor validity to any such claim.
The Lend-Lease Fleet
In the light of Russia’s failure to provide herself with the commercial fleet that she needs, it becomes possible to see why she is so unwilling to return the ships given to her so open-handedly by the United States.
Since the virtual repudiation of the principles of the United Nations on the part of the Soviet Union, we have witnessed the spread of Communism over a vast area of the world. Together with the spread of Communism there has taken place an expansion on the part of the Soviet Union to a point far beyond the dreams of the Tsars. The development of a substantial industrial and military base on the Pacific littoral is but one phase of this expansion. Russian influence is strong in the Baltic and, of course, throughout the area known as satellite.
As a result of this expansion, and because the trade boycott which came into being in , 1951 has created more economic damage to the Soviet Union than is readily apparent on the surface, Russia has been thrown upon her own resources for the purposes of satisfying the military and economic needs of not only Russia herself, but the satellites as well. In order to satisfy those needs every available bottom must be pressed into service to alleviate the demands on the rail transportation system, particularly the trans-continental Siberian railroad. For today that system is not only burdened with the needs of Russian forces in the Far East, but with the needs of Russia’s Chinese ally engaged in the struggle in Korea.
Indications are that at least half of all Russia’s available shipping, including the ships of the lend-lease fleet, are actively engaged in operations in the Far East. Russian writers have pointed out that the Northern Sea Route, the shortest route from the industrial heart of Russia in the West to the Far East, cannot accommodate deeply laden ships. But there is every reason to suppose that the Russian’s are not above loading ships to suit conditions of navigation encountered along the Route, regardless of the inefficiency involved. While it has not become apparent that Russian planes encountered in the Korean area are manned by Russian pilots, it is a reasonable conclusion that they are—at least—serviced by Russian ground personnel. These troops are in need of supplies and the only means for transporting what is needed is the Trans-Siberian Railroad—unless ships are used. Spotters in ports throughout the world enable the agencies collecting data on ships movements to determine the usual routes of Russian ships and from these reports it is apparent that most of our lend-leased vessels are actively engaged in the movement of supplies to the Far East, principally from Black Sea and Baltic ports. That these ships have been, and are being, sent on the 12,000 mile run from the Baltic to Vladivostok and other Pacific ports merely points up the need for all available transportation to do its part in servicing the Far East.
The importance of the Far East in the future plans of the Soviet Union was announced in 1946, at the beginning of the Fourth Five-Year Plan, which provided for an “increase of great construction projects in all the Federated Republics and economic regions of the U.S.S.R. and especially in Siberia and in the Far East.” At the same time the Soviets announced that it was the intention to double the pre-war merchant ship tonnage of about one and one-half million tons. This plan ended last year and analysis of the probability of the Soviet shipbuilding industry having met this goal indicates that the only way in which the planned figure could have been approached was by retention of the lend-lease tonnage. Negotiations during the period of the plan, between the United States and the Soviet Union, found the Russians willing to settle for some ridiculously small sum in order to retain the ships. It has been estimated that the building cost of the merchant ships alone was about $70 million—a figure which cannot be approached in today’s tight market in ships. Thus, one reason for retaining the lend-lease fleet may be the desire on the part of the Soviet Union to indicate to the unaware that the planned economy can produce what is planned for it. Failure comes hard for the Russians.
The acquisition of control of the economy of the several countries behind the so-called Iron Curtain has further enabled the Russians to concentrate on shipments to the Far East, for the ships of the maritime services of the satellites are able to carry on for the Russians in western waters. The Christian Science Monitor reported, March 1, 1950, that Soviet shipping was extremely active in Far Eastern waters, having moved about one-third of the cargo carried from Hong-Kong through the Nationalist blockade to Communist China in Soviet bottoms. At the same time, the tremendous military buildup in the Far East caused the strain on the Trans-Siberian Railroad to be increased to the point where shipments usually made by rail had to go by sea, and we find, in this fact, another reason why the lend-lease fleet is of such great importance to the Russians.
It has been estimated that, within the Far Eastern area, the Russian buildup has reached a ground strength of 40 divisions or more; that there are about 30 major air bases in use, in addition to countless air-strips; that there are at least eleven naval bases established. When it is realized that during the first fifteen months of the war in Korea the United States shipped, by water, over 10 million tons of general cargo and 8 million tons of petroleum products, not to mention the troops involved, it becomes readily apparent how necessary shipping is to any military operation. These figures do not take into account tonnage which would be needed to supply the means for building armament plants and military installations, work that is going on in the Russian Far East, so that in furthering this work the maritime fleet is of primary importance. Yet, despite this importance, Soviet data reveal that the fleet failed to meet its 1950 requirements. In fact, the maritime fleet made the poorest showing of all the transportation systems. Roughly, the goal of maritime shipping was 51 billion ton-kilometers; 38 billion ton-kilometers were actually recorded, 25 per cent less than the goal. Yet the increase in volume, as compared with 23 billion ton-kilometers in 1940, was considerable. However, even this increase was not enough to meet planned requirements, and it is difficult to see how the attained figure could have been reached without the lend-lease fleet. A second reason for retention of the fleet—sheer necessity—appears as a result of the Far Eastern expansion.
Thus it is that we find the Soviet Union, which is being pressed by the United States for the return of a fleet which was furnished at a time when the Soviet Union was in desperate straits, arguing that since the United States has given ships to other nations and has not required their return, neither should the ships given to the Soviet Union be returned. This specious argument merely attempts to cover up the facts that (a) the planned economy not only has failed to provide shipping adequate for the needs of the country but has failed to operate the shipping available at its peak efficiency and (b) that the lend-lease fleet is needed desperately to fit in with the plans for the military expansion in the Far East.
What can we do, in the face of these facts, to get delivery of the ships involved? Actually, very little. The Soviet Union is careful to keep the lend-lease ships out of United States ports, thus avoiding the almost certain action which could be taken under international law. It is almost certain that the only time we can expect return of the ships is when they are so worn out that they are of little further use to the Soviets. This is so because there appears to be little chance of the Soviet Union building up its Merchant ship construction facilities, as distinguished from naval ship construction facilities, within the present Five-Year Plan period. However, shipping is being accumulated under the Soviet flag as the result of reparations settlements and the raising and rehabilitation of sunken units within Soviet and Soviet-controlled waters. Purchases are also being made abroad within the provisions of trade agreements. But the world need in shipping, because of the international tensions generated by the actions of the Soviet Union, coupled with the militant aims of the Soviet Union which drive her to naval building, makes it unlikely that we will, in the near future, see the realization of Winston Churchill’s onetime hope—Soviet merchant and naval vessels on every one of the seven seas.
Lieutenant Commander Kassell is concluding his twenty-first year of active duty. Upon completion of five semesters at Cornell University, where he majored in the Russian language and Russian history, politics, and economics, he was assigned to the U.S.S. Bryce Canyon (AD-36) and later to the U.S.S. Sierra (AD-18) as Repair Officer. He is currently assigned to the U. S. Naval School, General Line, in Monterey. This is his third article in the Proceedings.
WARFARE UNDER CAPSTAN
Contributed by WARREN S. HOWARD
One of the most peculiar naval battles in history took place on the Yangtze river in mid-1842, when British steamers operating there tangled with a fleet of Chinese war junks. As the English closed, they were amazed to see that five of the junks were propelled by paddle wheels. The Chinese soon scattered for shore under the foreigners’ fire, the wheel boats thrashing the water furiously in their retreat, but the British managed to overhaul them. A hail of grape and canister drove their crews overboard, and the Englishmen boarded the deserted junks.
They found that each had two paddle wheels to a side, turned by capstans and cogs below decks, They carried two or three guns apiece. The British ships were paddle-wheelers too; but while the Chinese sailors turned up three and a half knots in their anxiety, the British steamers’ boilers and engines overdid them in this strange race.
It seems that the Chinese had gotten the idea for these craft by seeing British steamers nosing about their waters; lacking steam engines, they adapted the paddle wheel idea to what they did have—manpower. All five were lost in their first battle, since straining men could not compete with machinery, thus ending an interesting experiment in warship propulsion.
(The Proceedings will pay $5.00 for each anecdote submitted to, and printed in, the Proceedings.)
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ANYBODY HERE SEEN NEEDHAM?
Contributed by LIEUTENANT COLONEL FRANK MALLEN, U. S. Marine Corps Reserve
During World War II, moustaches and strange beards of all types appeared on men’s faces with impunity, particularly on the Pacific Islands.
On the big island of Hawaii, a Private First Class named Needham of the 2nd Marine Provisional Detachment distinguished himself with perhaps the longest and fiercest red moustache in the service. His slight appearance accentuated his proud adornment, which spread out so far from both sides of his face that it drooped at the ends from sheer weight.
One day a Marine appeared in the doorway of the crowded detachment barber shop, looked around at the men in the chairs and those waiting their turn, and asked:
“Anybody here seen Needham?”
Everybody turned toward him to say no, they hadn’t.
The Marine paused and looked around, as if doubting their word. Then he said:
“The hell you haven’t. You’re looking at him right now.”
It was Needham, his moustache gone.
(The Proceedings will pay $5.00 for each anecdote submitted to, and printed in, the Proceedings.)