In 1905, the Russian Fleet ranked third in world tonnage, ahead of the Hochseeflotte, just after the French Navy, and in competition with the US Navy. It was, however, divided between three fleets, three strategic areas and seas: the Baltic Sea Navy at Saint-Petersburg (and part of the Northern fleet at Polyarni), the Black Sea fleet at Odessa, and the Pacific in Port Arthur. The Japanese attack of this port in 1905 cost the Russian their entire fleet AND the Baltic fleet sent by the Cape of Good Hope (a seven month odyssey) as a reinforcement.
The Baltic fleet arrived from its ling trip around the world, only to suffer the most severe and humiliating defeat of its history at Tsushima. The Russian people were struck by storm, and the resentment of this dramatic episode led to a veritable revolt, first drowned in blood according to the old feudal methods (like the bloody Sunday of St. Petersburg in 1905). There was also very serious crises in the military such as the attempted uprising of the Black Sea fleet as a result of the Potemkin mutiny.
Then the Tsar tried to coax the population by carrying out some reforms such as the creation of a democratic constitution and the founding of the elected Russian parliament, the Duma. This facilitated the creation of uncensored political leagues and trade unions. Nevertheless, there still remained a lot of autocracy in the behavior of the Tsar, a phenomenon inseparable from the powerful old bureaucracy still in place. From 1909, considerable efforts were made to move from a deeply agricultural country to an industrial power. Russia experienced an economic boom until 1913.
Railways were also developed considerably, while agricultural productivity also increased and an industrial network developed around large cities, well helped by Western companies. With 169 million inhabitants for an immense territory, the largest in the world, Russia was however a colossus with feet of clay. Only 15 per cent of this population was made up of workers and citizens in general, but the remainder was still backwards, composed by almost slave-like status serfs, the country being linked by bad pathways at the mercy of the weather.
Slava class battleships
The three fleets began to be painfully reconstituted after the disaster of 1905. Fallen to the sixth place in the world, the Russian fleet could only rely on the remains of the Baltic fleet and the Black Sea Fleet. In 1907 an ambitious program of rearmament was undertaken by the Tsar. Meanwhile the HMS Dreadnought had entered the scene and new concepts of naval warfare appeared. A Ministry of Marine was instituted for the occasion, and a new staff was established. Initially, the admirals demanded the re-establishment of a Pacific fleet for a new war against Japan, which seemed to them inevitable. Similarly, in the face of the Hochseflotte threat, a fleet of the Baltic was also indispensable. This plan referred to two squadrons for these two fleets, that of the Black Sea remained unchanged. (The obsolete and immobilized Turkish fleet no longer posed a threat).
Borodino class battlecruiser artist impression
This first naval plan naturally foresaw the integration of Dreadnoughts battleships, but also battle cruisers, which would make Russia the third country to dispose of it after the British and German fleets, and while Japan was preparing to make even. Each squadron had to count no fewer than eight dreadnoughts, four battle cruisers, nine cruisers and 36 destroyers, but the draft, which was submitted to the Duma vote, was nevertheless restricted to a single Baltic squadron which ultimately did not pass the law Subsequent funding.
Moreover, the second plan of 1908 reduced these forces to 4 dreadnoughts and 3 submersibles for the Baltic, and 14 destroyers and 3 submersibles for the Black Sea. This new project did not receive the approval of the Duma. The Bosnian crisis however allowed the Tsat to raise a budget of 12 million rubles for this program, but the strengthening of the weak squadron of the Pacific was forbidden to concentrate on the German threat and the central empires. A war against a Japanese fleet now almost twice as powerful as in 1905 would have been disastrous.
At the same time, a major public plan to build shipbuilding capacity was launched, particularly to deal with the construction of emergency dreadnoughts and battle cruisers, but the inertia of the bureaucracy led to the construction of Foreign aid in the reconstruction of the fleet was also important. In order to form a block of the Balkan countries turned against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia encountered the Ottoman Empire, which announced the considerable strengthening of its fleet, including the British battleship (former Rio de Janeiro). The Russian government negotiated for a time the purchase of its two dreadnoughts in Brazil, but at that time the plan for strengthening the Black Sea fleet was finally voted, and three dreadnoughts were laid down.
In 1911, in the face of cooling diplomatic relations with Germany, the Admiralty undertook a plan to reinforce the Baltic with three squadrons, but received from the Duma only permission to build four battle cruisers, 4 cruisers, 36 destroyers, 12 submersibles. The Pacific squadron would be reinforced by 2 cruisers and 6 submersibles. In the absence of a reinforced fleet, it was decided to lock the Reval-Porkkala line with coastal mines and batteries. In the end, four dreadnoughts were started in June 1909, three in October 1911, and one later in January 1915. Four ambitious battles were also ordered in December 1913 and eight cruisers, two of them in Germany. In the end, the battle cruisers of the Borodino class were never completed, as were the battleship Imperator Nikolai I and three cruisers, while two others of the Amurski class ordered in Germany were requisitioned in 1914 and integrated into the Hochseeflotte. On the other hand the new destroyer standard defined in 1911 with the launch of the Novik would make Russia the holder of the best buildings of this type in the world.
In 1914 the fleet included:
-14 Battleships (no dreadnought will be completed until December 1914): 2 Battleships class Imperator Pavel I, 2 class Ioann Slaloust, Slava, Rostislav, Tsesarevich, Pantelimon (formerly Potemkin), Tri Svititelia, Dvienadsat Apostolov, Imperator Alexander II, Sinop and the Petr Veliky.
-19 Cruisers: The 2 cruisers-class Rossia, 3 class Bayan, Rurik, the two cruisers mining class General Admiral, Minin, cruiser-school Pamiat Azova, 2 cruisers class Pallada, 4 class Bogatyr, The Askold, the Almaz and the Zhemtchug.
-103 destroyers: This is first and foremost the top 10 Novik and Bespokoiny classics, first launched in 1911 and others built in 1912-14 and brand new at the beginning of the war. It was also Pruitki, Beztrashni, Boiki, Grozni, Zadorni, Tverdi, Lovki, Bditelni, Storozhevoi, 8 Ukraina, Bukharski, Gaidamak, Kondratenko, and Shestakov.
-23 Torpedo boats: In 1914, Russia had a handful of torpedo boats called the high seas, the others having been scrapped after 1905. There were in service the old buildings No. 132, 260, 252, 253, 256, 104, 212, 213, 6 of the Pernov class, 9 of the Cyclone class, remaining of the immense fleet, the second fleet of torpedo boats in the world behind France, because they came from the same doctrine of the “young school”.
-35 Submersibles: Russia was also a pioneer in this field, and in 1905 there was a large force of such buildings. There were few casualties, so the number in 1914 remained high: 2 Karp class, 6 class Nalim, 7 class Beluga, Kefal and Delfin, to which were added the 4 newest Kaiman, Minoga, Akula, Pochtovy, Krab (first submersible minesweeper), 3 MS handheld Holland class, 3 Morzh, 3 Narval.
-30 gunboats: The most recent were the 2 Ardagan, and the 8 river monitors of the Shkval class, the 7 Kalmyk, the 2 Buryat. It also included the oldest Mandzuhr, Gorzyashchi, Khrabi, Khivinetz, the 3 Kubanetz and the 4 Gilyak.
-7 Miscellaneous: These were the 2 Amur, the Volga, the 2 Bug, the Volkhov rescue vessel, the 2 Dozorny class and the 2 Konvoir.
Borodino as launched
The Russian fleet at war (1914-17)
With the assassination of Franz Ferdinand of Austria, Russia was in a cruel dilemma: Either she “let go” her ally in the Balkans Serbia, but avoided war (and retrospectively an immense massacre in Europe) Or it entered into a conflict with Austria-Hungary (and necessarily Germany) for which it was not prepared. By remaining the ally of Serbia she kept the upper hand on the Balkans and remained a useful ally for France and Great Britain. The alliance with France had the merit of dissuading the Reich from undertaking a war on two fronts. We know what happened next.
By supporting Serbia and being mobilized against the central empires, the Russian army was unprepared. The navy, likewise, was in full plan of rearmament, and confronted in the Baltic with much superior forces. At least in the event of a war against the Hochseeflotte, the cordial entente between France and Great Britain guaranteed an intervention by the Royal Navy against the Hochseeflotte in the west. The construction plan for the fleets was established until 1917. All modern units – battleships, battle cruisers, cruisers and destroyers, were under construction. In an emergency the available Baltic forces had to confine themselves to a defense policy in order to prevent a landing on the flanks of the frontier armies.
Russian 1917 battleship project
The Black Sea fleet, on its side, was to defend the Bosphorus, and Sebastopol, with minefields. In February 1915 the Ministry of the Navy unblocked a special bug for the emergency construction of 23 additional submarines for the Baltic, 22 for the Black Sea and 41 for the Pacific. With the needs of the men of the front, they began to cancel certain constructions and redefined as top priority the completion of a battle cruiser, 4 cruisers, 13 destroyers and 6 submersibles. Those planned for the Pacific fleet were canceled, Russia having received friendly assurances from the Japanese. A little later, during 1915, 50 barges of unloading for the Caucasian front were built.
In East Prussia, the Tsar’s troops would soon yield and retreat, Russia losing the territories of Poland, despite the popular demands of the press and the Duma to constitute a war government similar to that of the Great Western Nations. As economic conditions deteriorated and inflation increased, the Tsar persisted in maintaining the supreme command and overseeing operations. A feat of arms, however, is to be credited to the Russian fleet, when in September 1914 the Russian cruisers Pallada and Bogatyr of the Baltic fleet defeated the cruiser Magdeburg, forcing him to run aground, Crew while retrieving a document of considerable value, the Signalbuch der Kaiserlichen Marine, which detailed the encodings and encryptions of messages from the high command to the fleet.
A key document that the two Russian officers Smirnoff and Kredoff were going to deliver to Churchill via Scapa Flow aboard the cruiser HMS Theseus. The Germans did not discover the possession that the English had possession of this document until mid-1918. The scenario will be repeated with the U-Boats and Enigma during the second world war.
Gangut class dreadnoughts
On the other hand, the Russian Fleet had a remarkable leadership both in the Baltic and its exits from anchorages of mines and light units prevented the Germans from an offensive on the coast as planned. An operation in coordination with the Royal Navy made it possible to neutralize metal convoys and food from suede, a German attempt to get around the blockade. Under the leadership of Admirals Eberhardt and Kolchak, the Russian fleet dominated the Turkish fleet largely and condemned it to inaction despite the presence since August of the powerful battle cruiser of Admiral Souchon, The Yavuz. The Caucasus supply convoys and the Russian offensive sorties threatened and inflicted severe defeats on the Turks as far as the Bosphorus itself, not to mention the destruction of the Turkish merchant fleet.
Bars class submarines
In addition, the Russian Fleet had a remarkable conduct in the Baltic, where its exits from anchorages of mines and light units prevented the Germans from an offensive on the coast as planned. An operation in coordination with the Royal Navy made it possible to neutralize metal convoys and food from suede, a German attempt to get around the blockade. In the Black Sea, under the leadership of Admirals Eberhardt and Kolchak, the Russian fleet dominated the Turkish fleet largely and condemned it to inaction despite the presence since August of the powerful battle cruiser of Admiral Souchon, The Yavuz. The Caucasus supply convoys and the Russian offensive sorties threatened and inflicted severe defeats on the Turks as far as the Bosphorus itself, not to mention the destruction of the Turkish merchant fleet. In May 1916, the construction sites were overflowing, and large units were completed or in the process of being completed. 298 million rubles were disbursed for the construction in 1917-18 of 55 submersibles. The betting of other dreadnoughts was abandoned.
However, the internal situation had deteriorated considerably. Demonstrations of workers demanding bread were punished with cowardice by the Tsar’s guard in Petrograd, and the first months of 1917 were very agitated. In March, the Tsar had to leave Petrograd while mutinies of soldiers were asked to open fire on the demonstrators, who degenerated into an insurrection.
Finally the Tsar was forced to abdicate in favor of a provisional government whose first decision, in agreement with the allies, was to continue the war. A major offensive was planned for June, while the yards were ordered to abandon the construction of the less advanced ships and concentrate on the others. However, the offensive was quickly defeated and the German counter-attack forced the Russian armies back to retreat. Tensions and desertions multiplied in regiments that were undermined by Bolshevik activists.
Crab minelayer submarine
A new stage was reached with mutinies against the orders of the Provisional Government and especially with Lenin’s return from exile, facilitated by the Germans, who considered it an opportune opportunity to undermine the war effort of the Provisional Government. On November 7, 1917, it was the start of a series of seizures of local power by the communists, aided by the workers and especially the soldiers. The taking of the palace of Petrograd was facilitated greatly by the Baltic fleet whose sailors mutinied and played a major role in the course of the events, as later in Kronstadt.
In the south however, Ukraine was in the hands of nationalists who demanded autonomy and rejected communism. As expected by the Germans, the Bolshevik government quickly demanded peace, supported by the vast majority of the people. As the allies cried for treason, the central empires eagerly proposed negotiations at Brest-Litovsk. The first proposal, considered too hard, was rejected by Trotsky, but the ensuing German offensive soon reached the gates of Petrograd. The Soviets had to accept the German conditions, which amputated Russia from considerable territories including Ukraine, Poland, the Caucasus, the Baltic States, Finland…
Battleship Imperator Nikolai I before the war (colorized photos)
Not having the means to refuse, the Soviets signed the act of capitulation, knowing that by preserving the territory of ancient Russia, they still had a considerable margin of evolution. In addition, the demands of the central empires on the Baltic and Black Sea fleets (disarmament under the control of Russian units in German or Turkish ports) were avoided, fearing that they might be seized by the Russian fleet, As for the French fleet in 1940, upset the maritime equilibrium on that date in the event of a change of flag. Indeed, the Baltic fleet, an armada of 211 ships, left Reval and Helsinki for Kronstadt in the middle of the ice with makeshift crews, a sea exploit in itself.
In addition, the Black Sea fleet remained in Sevastopol, the threat of a seizure by the now independent Ukraine being countered by the establishment of a local puppet government (the “Tauridian Crimean Republic”), The advance of the German troops forced the Novorossiksk to join Sebastopol, and on the spot remained on the quayside in completion or in the holds of shipyards many ships including 6 battleships and battle cruisers, 2 cruisers, 12 destroyers and 14 submersible ferrets seized By the Germans before the capitulation of November 1918.
Novik, lead destroyer (1913). This was a breakthrough in destroyer design.
The fate of the Russian fleet was then cruel: With the civil war between white men (large landowners (Kulaks), former Tsarist nobility, Ukrainians and generally most senior officers loyal to the former government) and red (Soviets Of peasants and workers, with many soldiers), Russia would face a combined offensive of the countries of the West (Great Britain and Germany in particular), but also the threat of Japan and even of the USA in the peaceful sector. Nearly all the fleet of the Black Sea was captured, and other ships scuttled at Novorossisk. With the German capitalism, the allies had their hands free for an offensive in various sectors of the front in support of the whites. A raid on Kronstadt in July 1919 ended the Royal Navy with the threat of the “Red” squadron established in the Baltic. Another squadron of captured vessels was operated by the whites and Admiral Wrangel in the Black Sea when the Crimea was taken over by the Reds.
Bedovyy and Bravyy – BOYKIY torpedo boats (1902-1907)
However, the intransigence and the division of the whites, just as a commitment of allies all relative gradually made the reds take back lost ground. Wrangel’s fleet was forced to withdraw to Constantinople, then Bizerta before being interned by the French, and whole armies dropped by the allies turned to the reds. At the end of 1920, the perilous counter-revolution came to its conclusion. In 1922, the Japanese withdrew from the Kamchatka and a “red” republic was created there. On the other hand, the hardening of the Soviets, which led to the single party and the creation of a political police, caused the separation of Kronstadt’s sailors, who in 1921 mutinied against the new orientation of the Bolsheviks. In 1923, the situation in Russia was appalling, both from the point of view of food supplies and the devastated industries and transport routes…
Imperator Aleksander III
-Line ships: first of all the commissioning in December 1914 of the four battleships of the Gangut class, then in 1915 and 1917 of the dreadnought battleships of the Imperatrista Mariya class. The Imperator Nikolai I was launched in 1916 but never completed. Finally, the Izmail, the most advanced of the battle cruisers of the Borodino class, launched like the others in 1915-16, was taken in hand for completion only very slowly, and was finally demolished belatedly.
In addition, 16 destroyers of the class Ilin, 3 Izyaslav and 3 kerch (out of 40 units built) were accepted in service. Similarly, 24 submersibles of the Bars class, and 17 of the AG class. (Units B, G, V and Z were planned for construction under the 1916 program and canceled). Finally, 2 Kopchik class guards, 5 Golub, 4 Filin, Voin mining anchor, 8 Demosfen class nets, 2 Berezina class, 4 Gruz minesweepers, 4 Patron, 3 Zashchnitnik, Many saw little service in the imperial fleet, captured by the whites or the reds.
Then, the numerous light vessels were built locally or ordered abroad: These are the 10 armored boats of Nikolson type, 12 SKA, 18 SK (of US origin), 18 MN (idem), 31 boats of the type N ° 511 (idem), 12 class BK, but also 10 mechanical class Tepolokhod, 18 class MT, 35 type A, 10 flotation gunboats Pulya class, 9 other armored model 1916 of 24 tons and 28 of 15 tons, But especially 80 armored gunboats built in the USA and issued in 1917. Finally, 7 Barsuk-type escorts. It should be noted that many civilian ships were used as auxiliary escort: 67 light vessels distributed between the Baltic, the Black Sea, the Arctic and the Caspian.
“ELPIDIFOR” type multipurpose ships (1918-1924)
Russia was one of the first countries to set up an amphibious naval force, with the construction of the 30 Elpidifor class vessels and above all the 50 Russcl class ships. Finally, cargo ships and other civilian ships were converted into a seaplane carrier: Orlitsa (1915), Imperator (Alexander I, Nikolai II converted in 1916), Regele Carol I (1916), and the three Rumania (1916).
Moreover, the battleship Poltava captured by the Japanese at the end of the war of 1905 was returned to Russia in 1916, taking the name of Chesma and being stationed in Vladivistok. This was also the case with the Peresviet and Variag cruisers. Then, the Turkish cruiser Medjidieh, which jumped on mines, was bailed out by the Russians and renamed Prut. Finally, a large number of small civilian ships (coasters, trawlers, tugboats) were converted into minelayers or auxiliary ASW nets (15 for the Baltic, 16 for the Black Sea, 3 for the Pacific), and minesweepers (42 for the Baltic, 66 for the Black Sea, 46 for the North Sea).
- Petr Veliki
- Sinop class
- Imperator Alexander II
- Tri Svititelia
- Slatoust class
- Imperator Pavel I class
- (wartime) Gangut class dreadnoughts
- (wartime) Imperatritsa Mariya class dreadnoughts
- (wartime) Borodino class battlecruisers
- General Admiral class
- Pamiat Azova
- Rossia class
- Bayan class
- Pallada class
- Bogatyr class
- Puilki class
- Beztrashni class
- Boiki class
- Vnimatelni class
- Grozni class
- Zadorni class
- Tvedri class
- Lovki class
- Bditelni class
- Storozhevoi class
- Ukrainia class
- Bukharski class
- Gaidamak class
- Kondratenko class
- Shestakov class
- (wartime) Ilin class
- (wartime) Izyaslav class
- (wartime) Kerch class
- (wartime) Bezpokoiny
- Kazatka class
- Beluga class
- Karp class
- Kaiman class
- Holland type
- Narval class
- (wartime) Bars class
- (wartime) AG class
- Anapa class TBs
- 214 class TBs
- Polangen class TBs
- 212 class TBs
- Misc. TBs
- Gilyak class gunboats
- Mandzhur, Grozyashchi, Khrabi, Khivinetz,
- Kubanetz class gunboats
- Ardagan class gunboats
- Shkval class gunboats
- Kalmyk class gunboats
- Buryat class gunboats
- Amur class minelayers
- Volga class minelayers
- Bug class minelayers
- Albatros class minesweepers
- (wartime) Kopchik, Golub, Filin class coastguards
- (wartime) Voin class minelayers
- (wartime) Demosfen, Berezina, Indigirka class netlayers
- (wartime) Fugas, Gruz, Patron, Zashchitnik, T class minelayers
- (wartime) Floatplanes tenders
- (wartime) Volkhov
- (wartime) Auxiliary cruisers
- (wartime) Elpidifor, Russud class assault ships
- (wartime) Nikolson class MBTs
- (wartime) SKA, SK, MN, 511, BK class PTs
- (wartime) Teplokhod, MT, A10 class minelayer MBTs
- (wartime) Pulya, N, 1916 class River PTs