Baltic Sea Campaigns (1939–1945)

Baltic Sea Campaigns (1939–1945)

The Baltic Sea Campaigns (1939-45) describes operations of the Axis naval forces in the Baltic Sea and its coastal regions that also included combat operations in the Gulf of Finland during the Second World War, including in support of the land forces, and non-combat operations. It also describes the operations of the Polish Navy, and those of Finland, Sweden, and the planned Operation Catherine by the British Royal Navy for the control of the Baltic sea and its exit choke point into the North Sea.

Operations of the Soviet Union's Baltic Fleet see separate articles.

Polish Navy in 1939

The Polish navy participated in the Battle of the Gdańsk Bay in 1939. Most of the surface ships of the Polish Navy were evacuated to continue the war from Britain (Operation Pekin), But a few vessels remained in Poland and were sunk by German forces. Polish Submarines operated in the Baltic until either internment or escape to Britain (see Orzeł incident) in the Autumn of 1939.

The Axis/Soviet War

Finnish Navy

The Finnish Navy was a small professional force. Naval strength in 1941 consisted of:
* Two Coastal defence ships, ("Ilmarinen" and "Väinämöinen")
* 5 submarines ("Vesihiisi", "Iku-Turso", "Vetehinen", "Vesikko" and "Saukko")
* 4 sloops ("Turunmaa", "Karjala", "Uusimaa" and "Hämeenmaa")
* 2 Minelayers
* 12 Minesweepers
* about 18 Motor Torpedo Boats

The Red Baltic Fleet

The Soviet Baltic Fleet was the largest of the four fleets which made up the Soviet Navy during World War II and was commanded by Vladimir Tributz throughout the war. The Red Fleet took part in several bombardments during the Winter War against Finland. As a result of this war the Soviets gained territory in the Karelian Isthmus and a lease on the Naval base in Hango. In 1940 the Soviets occupied and annexed the Baltic states, thereby obtaining bases in Tallinn, Riga and Liepāja.

oviet Naval Strength June 1941

Operations against Soviet Union

Operations in 1941

The Soviet Navy was taken by surprise during the Initial German Invasion and suffered heavy losses during the evacuation from the Baltic States and Finland.

As its naval bases at Riga and Liepaja were lost, the Soviet Navy withdrew to Tallinn. By the end of August, German troops surrounded Tallinn and the Soviets were preparing an evacuation from the sea. As a countermeasure to this the German and the Finnish navy dropped 2400 mines, to add to the 600 mines already in the sea lanes outside Tallinn. German artillery was set up at Juminda peninsula and a couple of Finnish and German torpedo boats were put on alert. The Soviet evacuation consisted of 160 ships, which evacuated 28 000 people (including Communist leadership and their families, army and navy personnel and 10,000 Estonians drawn into forced labor)and 66,000 tons of materiel. The evacuation began on the night of the 27 August, at the same time as the first German troops entered the city. During the embarkation the Soviet navy was under constant attack by German bombers and artillery; particularly as the armada reached the heavily-mined Juminda peninsula. At midnight of the 28th the armada ran into the minefield of Juminda peninsula while being attacked by Finnish and German torpedo boats; casualties were heavy, 65 of the 160 ships were lost, and several more were damaged. 16,000 of the 28,000 evacuees perished.

The Germans deployed a large battlegroup to the Baltic in August /September 1941 to guard against a breakout by the Red Fleet. This group included the brand new battleship Tirpitz, cruisers and destroyers. The Finnish coastal defence ship Ilmarinen was sunk by mines during Operation Nordwind (1941). The Soviet Naval base at Hango was evacuated in November and December with heavy losses including the Liner Iosif Stalin

Shore Bombardment by the Baltic fleet was however important in saving Leningrad from the Initial German assault in September. The Battleship Marat was sunk by German Stukas in Kronstadt on 23 September but was partially salvage for use as a static battery. Many Baltic Fleet sailors fought on Land during the Siege of Leningrad.

Operations in 1942

During 1942 the Baltic fleet was confined to the innermost part of the Gulf of Finland by German Minefields. The Soviets maintained the Oranienbaum bridgehead and sent several submarines into the open Baltic to attack German / Finnish shipping with limited success, sinking 18 ships but losing 12 submarines.

Operations in 1943

In the Spring of 1943 the Axis completed an extensive mine and anti submarine net barrage across the Gulf of Finland effectively preventing Soviet submarines from raiding German Shipping or disrupting U boat training. Six Soviet submarines were lost trying to penetrate the barrage.

Operations in 1944

The Soviets began to defeat the Axis on Land in 1944 lifting the Siege of Leningrad and relieving the Oranienbaum Bridgehead in January. The axis maintained a minefield blockade until the Summer when the Finnish and Estonian Fronts collapsed, losing several minesweepers and the anti-arcraft cruiser Niobe in the process. Three German Elbing class torpedo boats: T-22, T-30 and T-32 were also lost by running into an axis minefield in August 1944.

After the allied invasion of Normandy (D day), Admiral Donitz decided to transfer the bulk of the German surface fleet into the Baltic in order to support the seaward flank of the German Army. The German cruiser Prinz Eugen bombarded the Red Army position near Riga and several U-boats infiltrated the Gulf of Finland, losing 6 boats to the Soviets

Following Finland's Armistice with the Soviets the Germans tried to seize strategic positions in Finland. In the Baltic this included Operation Tanne Ost

In late August September the Germans had to abandon their position in Estonia and managed to evacuate 91,000 soldiers and 85,000 civilian refugees to Germany by ship. This also enabled the previously impenetrable anti-submarine barrier to be circumvented. During the Moonzund Landing Operation the Red Army and the Baltic Fleet took the Baltic Islands in September and completed their operations in Estonia by the end of October. The Kriegsmarine opposed this offensive by bombarding the Red army, losing the destroyers Z35 and Z36 in December.

Operations in 1945

In 1945 the Red Army advanced further into Nazi territory and the German Navy was involved in evacuating refugees and bombarding the Soviets. The Soviet surface fleet remained in the Leningrad area, due to minefields and the poor condition of the ships but Soviet submarines were very active sinking the liners Wilhelm Gustloff, SS General von Steuben and SS Goya which were evacuating refugees from East Prussia with heavy loss of life.


* Ruge, Fredrich - The Soviets as Naval Opponents 1979, Naval Press Annapolis ISBN 0 850959
* Jackson, Robert -Battle of the Baltic 2007, ISBN 9781 84415 422 7

ee also

* Black Sea Campaigns (1941-44)

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