Iosif Chvertkin was born in 1903 in the town of Bobrinets, south Ukraine, to a traditional Jewish family. His mother and three of his nine siblings perished during World War II. He graduated from a talmud-torah (a Jewish traditional school) at the age of eleven and, three years later, from a school for artisans. He worked as a farmhand on large farms or for well-off peasants. Because of this, in his official documents his "social origin" was marked "from the peasants" – a rare "social origin" for a Jew! In 1924, Chvertkin was drafted into the Red Navy, and after finishing his compulsory service, he decided that he would devote his life to the Navy. In 1931, he graduated from the Frunze Naval School in Leningrad, and in 1938 – from the Voroshilov Naval Academy.
Chvertkin's military biography is extensive. As the first officer on the cruiser "Voroshilov" he took part in attacks on the military harbor of Constanța, Romania in 1941 and, later, on other warships, he participated in attacks on other enemy harbors. As the second captain of the destroyer Svobodnyi, he took part in the defense of Sevastopol, Crimea during the siege of the city in 1941-42. In 1944 he took part in the capture of the Romanian navy (The ships were returned to the "friendly," i.e. Soviet aligned socialist Romania after the war, with Chvertkin presiding over the ceremony of their return). He also participated in other operations, including the convoying of other ships.
In June 1942, the destroyer Svobodnyi, of which Chvertkin was captain, was sunk by the Germans and Chvertkin was wounded. On May 1, 1943, the destroyer Zhelezniakov, of which he was then captain, along with another destroyer and with the support of Soviet bombers, attacked the German military air base at Anapa (in the Northern Caucasus on the Black Sea shore). The result was that at least 40 German planes were destroyed. For this achievement Chvertkin was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. After the war, Chvertkin recollected the attack as follows:
"Within a short time the whole airbase presented an amazing picture of burning and exploding planes. Our elation had no limits… it was a holiday for us! For me personally it was a revenge for the Svobodnyi and for my unforgettable mamma, for little Sima, and for Aron… And what a revenge!"
In addition to the Order of the Red Banner, Chvertkin was awarded the orders of the Red Star and of the Patriotic War, 1st class, as well as medals.
After the war, Captain First Class Iosif Chvertkin was appointed captain of the cruiser Voroshilov – the first Jew in the Soviet navy appointed to such a position. However, in a short time a naval personnel officer dismissed Chvertkin from this position. He said: "Russian ships [sic] must be commanded by Russian officers." It should be noted that in the USSR, on the principle, there were no, and could be no, "Russian ships" (or Ukrainian, Georgian, Tatar, etc. ships), as well as no "Russian officers" – only Soviet ships and Soviet officers.
Chvertkin emigrated from the USSR and has been living in Israel since 1990.