Potemkin

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Potemkin

, Potyomkin
1. Grigori Aleksandrovich . 1739--91, Russian soldier and statesman; lover of Catherine II, whose favourite he remained until his death
2. apparently impressive but actually sham or artificial

Potemkin

 

(Kniaz’ Potemkin Tavricheskii), a squadron armor-clad (from 1907, battleship) of the Black Sea Fleet, on which a sailors’ uprising broke out during the Revolution of 1905–07.

The Potemkin was built at the Nicholas Shipyard and commissioned in 1904. It had a water displacement of 12,500 tons and a speed of 29.6 km/hr (16 knots) and was armed with four 305-mm guns, 16 152-mm guns, one 475-mm gun, ten small-caliber guns, and five torpedo tubes. Its crew numbered 730 men.

In 1905 the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Organization of the Black Sea Fleet (the Sevastopol’ Seamen’s Central) prepared for a simultaneous uprising on all the ships of the fleet, planning that it would break out in the fall of 1905. But on the Potemkin, which was anchored away from the squadron near Tendra Island, where the crew was engaged in gunnery practice, the uprising began spontaneously and ahead of schedule. The action was triggered by the attempt of the ship’s commander to punish sailors who on June 14 had refused to serve rotten meat. The rebels killed the most hated officers and arrested the others. The Bolshevik G. N. Vakulenchuk, the leader of the sailors, was fatally injured in the melee. The crew elected a ship’s commission, headed by A. N Matiushenko. The Potemkin was joined by Torpedo Boat No. 267, which had accompanied it.

In the evening of June 14 the armor-clad, flying the red flag, arrived in Odessa, where a general strike was in progress. The workers greeted the news of its arrival with jubilation. However, representatives of the contact commission of the Odessa Social Democratic organizations representing Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and Bundists could not persuade the Potemkin crew to disembark a landing party, to help the workers arm themselves, or to act in coordination with them. Nor did the Odessa workers show the necessary resolve.

On June 16, Vakulenchuk’s funeral was held and turned into a political demonstration. The same day the Potemkin fired two artillery salvos at the section of the city where the authorities and the troops were located. Additional military units were dispatched to Odessa in order to suppress the revolutionary movement. The government issued an order to force the Potemkin to surrender or to sink the armor-clad. For that purpose, two ship detachments of the Black Sea Fleet were sent out, and on June 17, they made contact at Tendra. The Potemkin sailed to meet the combined squadron and, rejecting the proposal to surrender, passed through the ship formation. The “silent battle” ended in victory for the revolutionary ship; the sailors of the squadron refused to fire at it, and the armor-clad Georgii Pobedonosets went over to the side of the Potemkin. The squadron withdrew to Sevastopol’, and the revolutionary armor-clads set out for Odessa.

The Central Committee of the RSDLP made efforts to support the uprising on the Potemkin. But M. I. Vasil’ev-Iuzhin, who went to Odessa on V. I. Lenin’s directive to lead the uprising, did not reach the Potemkin. In the evening of June 18 the armor-clad, accompanied by Torpedo Boat No. 267 (the conductors of the Georgii Pobedonosets had surrendered the ship to the authorities), sailed for Constanţa, Rumania, for fuel and food supplies. There the ship’s commission issued on June 20 the proclamations To the Whole Civilized World and To All the European Powers, in which the sailors of the Potemkin announced their resolve to fight against tsarism.

The Rumanian authorities refused to give the necessary supplies to the Potemkin. On June 22 it arrived in Feodosiia but could not get coal and food there either. On June 23 the Potemkin sailed once more for Constanţa, where on June 25 the sailors surrendered the ship to the Rumanian authorities. Some of the Potemkin’s crew returned to Russia in 1905. They were tried and convicted. Most of the crew returned to the homeland after the February Revolution of 1917.

The uprising on the Potemkin, as V. I. Lenin pointed out, was of enormous importance. It was the first attempt to form the nucleus of a revolutionary army and was the first time that a large group of tsarist troops went over to the side of the revolution. The Potemkin remained an “unconquered territory of the revolution” (see V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 10, p. 337). The uprising on the Potemkin had a great effect on the spread of the revolutionary movement in the Russian Army and Navy.

The Rumanian authorities returned the armor-clad to the tsarist government. In October 1905 it was renamed Sv. Panteleimon. In April 1917 the ship was again called the Potemkin and in May 1917 it became the Borets za svobodu. The armor-clad was blown up by interventionists in Sevastopol’ in April 1919. After the Civil War of 1918–20, it was raised from the sea bottom, but since it had been greatly damaged, it was dismantled.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 10, pp. 335–50.
“Vosstanie na bronenostse ‘Potemkin’: Dokumenty.” Istoricheskii arkhiv, 1955, no. 3.
Kardashov, Iu. P. “Novye svedeniia o vosstanii na bronenostse ‘Potemkin.’” Voprosy istorii KPSS, 1965, no. 11.
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