Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet

Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet

 

(Tsentrobalt, TsKBF), a high-level elective revolutionary democratic body of naval enlisted men, established to coordinate the work of fleet committees.

On the initiative of Bolshevik sailors of the Helsingfors soviet and with the support of the fleet committees, an organizational meeting of Tsentrobalt was held on board the transport ship Viola in Helsingfors (now Helsinki) from Apr. 28 to 30 (May 11–13), 1917. The first committee comprised 33 members (31 according to other sources), including six Bolsheviks and four sympathizers. The Bolshevik P. E. Dybenko was elected chairman, and F. I. Efimov and R. R. Grundman, both unaffiliated, were elected deputies. The First Congress of the Baltic Fleet, held from May 25 to June 15 (June 7–28), adopted a charter, according to which Tsentrobalt was made a high-level body without whose sanction any order regarding the Baltic Fleet would be considered void. Tsentrobalt became the rallying point for all the revolutionary elements of the fleet fighting for the transfer of power to the soviets. After the congress, the committee was enlarged to 63 members. It was elected by secret ballot directly by the ships’ crews and by the personnel of fleet units on the basis of one delegate for 1,000 people; the term of tenure was three months.

Tsentrobalt directed all political work within the fleet, controlled (until October 1917) the work of command staffs and their assigned personnel (except in matters of operations and combat materiel), investigated counterrevolutionary actions by officers, fought for the maintenance of revolutionary order on ships and among the crews, and worked to improve living conditions and services for the sailors. It functioned under the guidance of the Helsingfors committee of the RSDLP(B) and of the military organizations attached to the Central Committee and the Petrograd committee of the RSDLP(B).

During the July Days of 1917, Tsentrobalt was extremely active in the demonstration, and it foiled the counterrevolutionary attempt of the Provisional Government to use part of the Baltic Fleet to fight the revolution. On July 4 (17), Tsentrobalt and the ship committees jointly decided to demand from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee the transfer of power to the Soviets; however, the committee’s delegation, headed by Dybenko, was arrested. On July 7 (20), Prime Minister A. F. Kerensky issued an order that Tsentrobalt be disbanded. The second committee, which was elected between July 10 and 11 (23–24), was also disbanded for having demanded the release of the imprisoned Tsentrobalt members. The third committee, which lasted from July 25 (August 7) to October 16 (29), was chaired by Grundman (until September 16 [29], when the Left Socialist Revolutionary P. M. Sutyrin replaced him), with A. V. Baranov and F. S. Averichkin (both Bolsheviks) as successive deputies. With the counterrevolution on the offensive and against the protests of the Bolsheviks, Tsentrobalt pursued a policy of compromise that did not reflect the views of the masses of the sailors. Nevertheless, under the influence of the Bolsheviks it adopted a political platform on August 7 (20) that was independent of the Provisional Government; it then participated in the struggle against the Kornilovshchina, which forced the Provisional Government to release the committee members who had been arrested during the July Days of 1917.

On September 19 (October 2) a joint session (chaired by Dybenko) of the Tsentrobalt plenum, the ship committees, and the sailors’ section of the Helsingfors soviet adopted a resolution not to recognize the authority of the Provisional Government and not to carry out its orders. After the Second Congress of the Baltic Fleet, held from September 25 (October 8) to October 5 (18), the fourth committee, which was elected October 16 (29), took office; it included Dybenko (chairman), V. P. Evdokimov, Baranov, N. A. Khovrin, Averichkin, P. D. Mal’kov, G. A. Svetlichnyi, and N. F. Izmailov, who served as acting chairman from October 27 (November 9) to November 14 (27).

Tsentrobalt assumed leadership in maintaining the combat readiness of the fleet and directing the defense of Petrograd. During the Moonsund Operation of 1917, the commissars of Tsentrobalt, Bolshevik organizations, and ship committees directed the defense of the islands against the German Navy. In October 1917 the committee, acting in concert with and under the guidance of the Bolsheviks of Helsingfors and the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee, became the combat staff of the Baltic Fleet in charge of preparing the armed uprising; it placed the cruiser Aurora at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee. On the night of October 24 (November 6), in accordance with the coded telegram “Tsentrobalt, send regulations,” the committee dispatched warships to Petrograd, including the Samson, Zabiiaka, and Amur, together with a party of sailors to aid the uprising of workers and soldiers; it later assigned additional forces for the suppression of the Kerensky-Krasnov Rebellion of 1917.

The sabotage among officers in the fleet that followed the October Revolution compelled Tsentrobalt to consider the reorganization of the command of the Baltic Fleet. On December 6 (19) the post of fleet commander and the fleet staff were abolished, and the committee assumed direction of the Baltic Fleet, forming to this end a military department. The fifth committee, elected Jan. 2 (15), 1918, fell under the influence of anarchists because of the dispatch of a large number of revolutionary sailors to fight for the establishment of Soviet rule in the provinces. On Jan. 31 (Feb. 13), 1918, Tsentrobalt was disbanded in connection with the organization of a new revolutionary command, the Council of Commissars of the Baltic Fleet.

REFERENCES

Protokoly i postanovleniia TsK Baltiiskogo flota 1917–1918. Moscow, 1963.
Baltiiskie moriaki v podgotovke i provedenii Velikoi Oktiabr’skoi sotsialisticheskoi revoliutsii, [Collection of documents.] Moscow, 1957.
Izmailov, N. F., and A. S. Pukhov. Tsentrobalt, 2nd ed. Kaliningrad, 1967.
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