The Fleet Reborn

Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War was a heavy blow to her sea power. After the disastrous battle of Tsushima, Nicholas II attempted to institute sweeping reforms in the Naval Administration. He began by dismissing the Naval Commander-in-Chief, who was his own uncle, General-Admiral Grand Duke Aleksey Aleksandrovich. In his stead, Vice-Admiral Aleksey Birilyov was appointed Naval Minister Plenipotentiary. In 1906 Nicholas II established a Naval Headquarters with Captain Lev Brusilov in command. Subsequently, in 1905-1907, both Birilyov and Admiral Ivan Dikov, who replaced Birilyov shortly thereafter, gave first priority to the restoration of the order and discipline that had degenerated after mass mutinies of sailors.

On 14 June 1905, the crew of the newest battleship, Knyaz Potemkin Tavrichesky, rose in defiance, and the ship's commander, Captain Yevgeny Golikov, was killed. Led by Quartermaster Afanasy Matushenko, the sailors of the Potemkin, together with the crew of torpedo boat N-267, championed revolutionary activities at Odessa. Vice-Admiral Alexander Krieger tried to force the rebels to surrender but failed because of the unreliability of his own crews.

After sailing through the Black Sea, the Potemkin headed for Romania, where her crew abandoned her. The ship was returned to Russia and renamed Panteleymon. The mutiny on the Potemkin was, however, only one of a long succession of rebellious acts. In 1905-1907, the crews of the Black Sea training ship Prut, the cruiser Ochakov, the destroyer Svirepy, the Baltic cruiser Pamyat Azova and the destroyer of the Siberian Flotilla Skory also rose in rebellion. The November uprising of 1905 in Sevastopol, headed by retired naval Lieutenant Pyotr Shmidt, was only suppressed after a fierce battle in the Severnaya Bay.

With the help of army troops and guards loyal to the government of Nicholas II, mutinies both aboard ship and ashore were subdued, though with difficulty. Dozens of seamen were executed by firing squad, and hundreds were sentenced to hard labour. Some naval officers were rewarded for helping to seek out and punish rebellious seamen, while other officers became the victims of revolutionaries. Among those killed were Vice-Admirals Konstantin Kuzmich and Grigory Chukhnin.

The lessons learned at Tsushima resulted in some positive changes in the navy. The draft period for sailors was reduced to five years, the officers corps was renewed by the influx of new officers, and proposals were outlined to increase the fleet's budget. The State Council of Defence and the recently created State Duma were, however, not inclined to allocate funds to restore the navy. The Naval Department delayed building new battleships until 1909, and comprehensive renewal of the fleet's equipment was put off until 1913. According to government plans for 1908-1914, Russia had scheduled the construction of eight battleships, four battle cruisers, ten light cruisers, 53 destroyers and 30 submarines. Two light cruisers and six submarines were intended to augment the Siberian Flotilla, which replaced the Pacific Fleet in the Far East. A special naval committee was established to organize the construction of the large turbine destroyer Novik (1910-1913), which then set the trend for many future innovations in shipbuilding.

The projections and construction of the ships met the very highest requirements. Battleships of the Sevastopol-class, with a displacement of 26,000 tons, had a top speed of 24 knots and were armed with twelve 305 millimetre guns; 356 millimetre guns were designed for battle cruisers of the Ismail-class. The submarines of the Morzh and Bars-classes were designed to maintain a speed of sixteen to eighteen knots, each armed with twelve torpedo launchers.

However, new ships were commissioned only in the second half of 1914, and the majority, only between 1915 and 1917. With outdated equipment, the training of skilled crews, which in the Russian Navy had always been given the very highest priority, acquired even greater importance. Improvements in tactical training and maritime studies were assigned to Admiral Nikolay Essen, successor of the traditions of Lazarev and Butakov. Navigation under a variety of weather conditions, opening skerries and channels, and high level gun and torpedo training were all taught at the school. Great efforts to secure combat readiness were made by Admirals Lev Brusilov, Alexander Liven, Alexander Rusin, Andrey Ederguard, and Genrikh Tsyvinsky.

In the years preceding the war, the Naval Cadets Corps and Naval Engineers' School turned out midshipmen who were then promoted to officers' ranks for service in the Mediterranean. In December 1908, during one such cruise, the seamen of the battleships Slava and Tsessa-revitch, the cruisers Bogatyr and Admiral Maka-rov, and the gunboats Gilyak and Koreyets were the first to assist the Italian town of Messina after it suffered an earthquake. A special medal was designed to commemorate the event.

Eventually the Nikolayevsky Naval War Col-lege was granted full independence. Among the classes for officers was a specialized navigation course, and among the training units was the Training Detachment of Underwater Navigation. In 1910 at Sevastopol the Officers' Aviation School was opened for the preparation of maritime aviation. The graduates of the school were instructed in flying the M-5 seaplane, which, after 1915, operated from air-carrying transports-the predecessors of pre-sent-day aircraft carriers.