Russian Navy

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Russian Navy


the naval fleets and flotillas in Russia prior to the Great October Socialist Revolution.

The Russian Navy was created in the fourth to sixth centuries during the struggle of the Eastern Slavs against the Byzantine Empire. The flotillas of the Slavs consisted of small galleys that could be used on rivers and at the same time were quite seaworthy. Kievan Rus’ in the ninth to 12th centuries had flotillas with as many as several hundred vessels (galleys, two- and three-masted sailing vessels, and so forth). Men from Novgorod made voyages on the Baltic Sea—for example, during a campaign in 1187, when the fortress of Sigtuna (the site of the modern city of Stockholm) was taken by storm. The typical Novgorod vessel was a seagoing boat (about 30 m in length and 5–6 m in width, with two or three masts, weapons consisting of a battering ram and catapults, and a crew of 50–60). The fleet also consisted of smaller galleys, including flat-bottomed boats (ushkui) used on rivers and lakes and around the skerries, as well as other boats (kochi and nosady) used for transporting cargo. In the 16th and 17th centuries the cossacks waged wars against the Crimean Tatars and Turks, using galleys that the Zaporozh’e Cossacks called chaiki or chelny and the Don Cossacks called strugi. A vessel carried as many as 80 cossacks. The flotillas had from 80 to 100 vessels each.

From the 17th century the Russian centralized state struggled to gain access to the Baltic, Black, and Azov seas, and in the process, by the end of the century, considerable experience was acquired in using river vessels for joint actions with ground forces. From 1667 to 1669 an attempt was made to build seagoing vessels in the village of Dedinovo on the Oka River for defending the Volga trade routes to the Caspian Sea. The 26-gun ship Orel (1668) was built at Dedinovo, as well as a yacht, boat, and sloops.

A regular navy was created during the reign of Peter I the Great. In the Second Azov Campaign of 1696 against Turkey, Russia introduced into battle for the first time two ships of the line, four fire ships, 23 galleys, and 1,300 strugi, all of which had been built on the Voronezh River. After the capture of the fortress of Azov in 1696 and in response to a report by Peter I on building the Azov Fleet, the Boyar Duma decreed on Oct. 20, 1696, “that there be seagoing vessels.” This is considered to be the day on which a standing, regular Russian Navy was born.

During the Northern War of 1700–21, the Baltic Fleet was created. From 1702 to 1704 construction of a rowing (galley) fleet was started at the Sias’, Olonets, and Luga yards. A sailing fleet was later created for defending the captured coastline and for actions on the enemy lines of communication on the Baltic Sea. The fleet was made up of vessels built in Russia, as well as of those purchased abroad. From 1703 to 1723, St. Petersburg was the main base of the Baltic Fleet; later the base was moved to Kronstadt. In addition, bases were created in Vyborg, Helsingfors, Revel, and Abo.

Shipbuilding was at first administered by the Vladimirskii Prikaz (Vladimir Quarter), and later by the Admiralteiskii Prikaz (Admiralty Office), which superseded the former. The officer personnel of the fleet was made up of dvoriane (nobility or gentry), and the sailors were recruits. Service was for life. Children of dvoriane studied in the School of Mathematics and Navigational Sciences, which was founded in 1701. It was also the practice to send dvoriane for training in foreign navies and to hire foreigners to serve in the Russian Navy. In 1718 the Admiralty College was created, which was the highest naval body.

In 1722 the navy numbered 130 sailing vessels, including 36 ships of the line, nine frigates, three shniavy (light double-masted vessels for reconnaissance and messenger service), five bombardment ships, and 77 auxiliary vessels; the galley fleet had 396 vessels, including 253 galleys and skampavei (light, fast galleys) and 143 brigantines. The boats were built at 24 shipyards, including the Voronezh, Kazan, Pereslavl’, Arkhangel’sk, Olonets, St. Petersburg, and Astrakhan yards.

The organizational principles of the navy, the methods of training and educating personnel, and the methods of conducting combat were generalized in the Naval Regulations of 1720, taking into consideration the experience of foreign navies. In the development of the Russian naval art, a major contribution was made by Peter I and his comrades-in-arms, such as F. M. Apraksin, Akim Seniavin, Naum Seniavin, and M. M. Golitsyn. The basic principles of conducting war at sea were subsequently developed by G. A. Spiridov, F. F. Ushakov, and D. N. Seniavin. In 1752 the Naval Cadet School was founded.

In the second half of the 18th century, in connection with the more active Russian foreign policy and the Russo-Turkish wars for domination of the Black Sea, the Russian Navy was strengthened. In 1763, upon the proposal of a commission consisting of S. I. Mordvinov, I. G. Chernyshev, Spiridov, and others, the administration of the navy was reorganized and set forth in the Regulations on the Administration of the Admiralties and Fleets, which was developed by the commission and approved in 1765. The command of the fleets and the squadrons was taken away from the Admiralty College and turned over to the flag officers, who were subordinate to the College. Under the flag officers, chancelleries or offices were set up, and these were the rudiments of the fleet staffs. The table of organization of the cadets of the Naval Cadet School was expanded, and the school programs for the cadets were revised.

In the second half of the 18th century, Russia created a strong navy. For the first time, squadrons were sent out from the Baltic Sea to distant theaters of war (for instance, the Archipelago Expeditions). The squadron of Admiral Spiridov, having destroyed the Turkish Navy in the battle of Çeşme in 1770, won superiority on the Aegean Sea. In 1771 the Russian Army captured the shores of the Kerch’ Strait, as well as the fortresses of Kerch’ and Enikale. After the Russian Army reached the Danube in 1771, the Danube Naval Flotilla was formed for defending the mouth of the Danube. In 1773 a detachment of vessels from the Azov Flotilla, which was re-formed in 1771, entered the Black Sea.

The Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74 ended in victory for Russia, which gained the shores of the Sea of Azov and of the Black Sea between the Bug and Dnestr rivers. The Crimea was declared independent under a Russian protectorate and in 1783 was incorporated into Russia. In 1778 the new port of Kherson was established at the mouth of the Dnieper, and there in 1783 the first ship of the line of the Black Sea Fleet was launched. By 1784 a squadron of ships had already been created. Owing to the naval art of Admiral F. F. Ushakov, who established the principles of new maneuvering tactics, the Black Sea Fleet won a number of major victories over the Turkish Navy.

In terms of the number of combat ships, the Russian Navy in the second half of the 18th century and the early 19th was in third place behind Great Britain and France. The Black Sea Fleet in 1787 numbered five ships of the line and nineteen frigates, and the Baltic Fleet in 1788 had 23 ships of the line and 130 frigates. At the start of the 19th century, the Russian Navy consisted of the Baltic and Black Sea fleets and the Caspian, White Sea, and Okhotsk flotillas. In 1802 the Ministry of Naval Forces was formed (renamed the Naval Ministry in 1815). In 1804 the fleets had large permanent units called divisions, which were divided into brigades; the divisions were assigned to specific bases. In 1826, Russia built its first armed steamer, the Izhora (the power of the engine was 73.6 kilowatts, or 100 hp, and the armament totaled eight cannon).

From 1827 the strategic leadership of the navy was directed by the Naval Staff, which from 1831 was called the Chief Naval Staff. (It was eliminated in 1836 and re-created in 1855.) Under the naval minister were created the Admiralty Council (1827) and the Scholarly Committee. In 1836 at the Izhorsk yard the first paddle-steamer frigate of the Russian Navy was built, the Bogatyr’ (water displacement, 1,340 tons; power, 177 kilowatts, or 240 hp; armament, 28 cannon). Russian sailors from 1803 through 1855 completed more than 40 distant and around-the-world voyages, which played an important role in the opening up of the Far East, exploring the world ocean, and studying the Pacific theater.

The insufficient technical and economic development of Russia placed it far behind the European nations in the building of steamships in the first half of the 19th century. By the start of the Crimean War of 1853–56, Russia had the Baltic and Black Sea fleets and the Arkhangel’sk, Caspian, and Kamchatka flotillas (a total of 40 ships of the line, 15 frigates, 24 corvettes and brigantines, 16 steam frigates, and other vessels). The total personnel of the navy reached 91,000 men. Some of the ships were armed with bombardment artillery (heavy cannon that fired spherical bombs); there was a high level of development of mines. At the same time, the reactionary serf-holding system had a negative effect on the development of the navy. This was particularly apparent in the Baltic Fleet, where there was excessive parade drilling.

In the Black Sea Fleet, thanks to Admirals M. P. Lazarev, P. S. Nakhimov, V. A. Kornilov, and V. I. Istomin, the sailors were taught the art of fighting, and they maintained the traditions from the time the squadron was commanded by Admiral Ushakov. The battle of Sinop of 1853 against the Turkish Navy was a demonstration of the high level of military training and the valor and heroism of the sailors of the Black Sea Fleet, as well as Nakhimov’s innovativeness in tactics. During the heroic defense of Sevastopol’ in 1854–55, the sailors of the Russian Navy showed how all the forces and means could be used for an aggressive defense of a base from land and sea. Under the conditions of the Treaty of Paris of 1856, Russia was deprived of its right to maintain a fleet on the Black Sea. In conjunction with the use of new means of combat, the wooden sailing vessels lost their significance. In the 1860’s the sailing fleet was gradually replaced by a steamship fleet.

After the Crimean War, Russia turned toward building armored steamships. According to the designs and under the direction of Russian engineers and technicians, chiefly at Russian yards, coastal defense battleships, monitors, and floating batteries were constructed. The ships had powerful artillery and heavy armor but insufficient seaworthiness, as well as a slow speed and a rather limited range. In 1861 the first iron-clad vessel was built, the gunboat Opyt. In 1869 the keel was laid for one of the first seagoing battleships, the Petr Velikii (commissioned in 1877), which marked the beginning of a class of fleet battleships. In 1870, Russia commenced construction on the first ships of a class of armored cruisers. (They were commissioned from 1875 to 1877.) Russian shipbuilders, such as A. V. Stepanov and S. K. Dzhevetskii, created minelayers and submarines from the 1870’s to the 1890’s. Major contributions to the development of the tactics of the armored steam fleet were made by Admiral G. I. Butakov and A. A. Popov, who was also a major shipbuilder. In 1871, after the lifting of the restrictive clauses of the Treaty of Paris of 1856, the Black Sea Fleet was reestablished. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, only armed steamships and mine boats were used on the Black Sea and the Danube; for the first time the idea of using mine-artillery positions was carried out, and this was developed in all subsequent wars.

A Russian shipbuilding program that was formulated in 1881 for 20 years planned for the building of 24 fleet battleships, 15 cruisers, and more than 140 ships of other classes. In the 1880’s there appeared large-unit staffs, consisting of flag officer specialists, navigators, artillery officers, mine specialists, and mechanics. The squadron was considered the basic large unit of ships. Divisions and brigades were abolished. A squadron consisted of ships of different classes formed into detachments.

Of important significance for the navy was the invention of the radio in 1895 by the Russian scientist A. S. Popov. The radio facilitated the control of forces in combat over great distances. Admiral S. O. Makarov made a significant contribution to the development of the Russian Navy and its tactics.

In 1898 the Russian Navy, which consisted of the Black Sea and Baltic fleets and the Caspian and Siberian flotillas, had 14 battleships, 23 coastal defense battleships, six armored cruisers, 17 cruisers, nine minelaying cruisers, 77 destroyers, 96 torpedo boats, and 27 gunboats. By the end of the 19th century, the conversion to the new armored fleet was completed; instead of smoothbore, muzzle-loading cannon, the ships were armed with steel rifled guns that were breech-loading, and the mine and torpedo weapons were improved. All of this necessitated changes in the system of staffing the fleet and a reorganization of fleet training. The increase of technical equipment on the ships required drafting more skilled personnel from among factory and plant workers, and this contributed to the spread of the revolutionary movement in the navy. To improve the technical knowledge of the officer personnel, courses in the technical disciplines were expanded in the Naval Cadet Corps, and special naval schools were opened, including engineer, artillery, and navigation schools. The officer classes at the Naval School were reorganized as the Academic Training Course, and in 1877, as the Naval Academy.

In spite of the obvious successes in its development, inherent in the Russian Navy were numerous shortcomings caused by the general reactionary nature of the autocratic system in Russia. As a consequence of the rottenness of tsarism, which had conducted an adventuristic policy in the Far East, as well as the mediocrity of the tsarist admirals, the main forces of the Russian Navy were destroyed in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05.

The defeat of tsarism accelerated the onset of the first Russian Revolution of 1905–07. The major revolutionary actions in the navy were the revolt on the battleship Potemkin and the cruiser Ochakov in the Black Sea Fleet in 1905, the Kronstadt uprisings of 1905 and 1906, and the Sveaborg uprising of 1906.

The reconstruction of the Russian Navy commenced in 1906. In that year the Naval General Staff was created, and it was given operational-strategic functions (development of shipbuilding programs, the working out of war plans, and the operational training of the fleet). The administrative and economic functions were carried out by the Main Naval Staff as the apparatus of the naval minister. On the basis of a critical study of the experience of the Russo-Japanese War, progressive naval leaders in Russia as a whole accurately perceived the new trends in the development of navies and correctly assessed the role of new combat forces and weapons in a future war.

The navy received new ships of all classes built by such outstanding shipbuilders as A. N. Krylov and I. G. Bubnov. On the eve of World War I, Russia had nine battleships, 14 cruisers, 71 destroyers, and 23 submarines. According to the design of the Russian shipbuilder M. P. Naletov, the first minelaying submarine, the Krab, was constructed. Russian designers created battleships of the Sevastopol’ type, which were armed with 12 305-mm guns located in four turrets, as well as antimine artillery and torpedo tubes. An outstanding type of destroyer (Novik) was developed, as well as the world’s first minesweepers and the most advanced types of mines and sweeping gears. There was further development in the theory and practice of conducting offensive combat at sea and at a mine-artillery position and of defending the water area of a base.

During World War I, the Russian Navy was reinforced with modern ships, including nine battleships, 29 destroyers, and 35 submarines, and naval aviation made its first appearance. The Arctic Ocean Flotilla was created. During the war the ships of the Baltic and Black Sea fleets disrupted the enemy lines of communications and defended their own sea communications, protected the coast against enemy invasion, and supported the coastal flanks of the army. Particularly successful exploits included the laying of active minefields by the Baltic Fleet in 1914–15, the defense of the Gulf of Riga, and the operations of the Black Sea Fleet to assist the flank of the Caucasus Army in 1916 and blockade the Bosporus. For the first time in the Russian Navy, a task force (squadron) was created consisting of uniform tactical formations and including aviation ships (aviation transports). Tactics were enriched by the experience of using destroyers and submarines.

During World War I and under the influence of the Bolsheviks, the revolutionary movement grew in the navy, and during the February Revolution of 1917 the sailors went over to the side of the insurgent people. During the preparation and implementation of the Great October Socialist Revolution, detachments of revolutionary sailors and combat ships of the Baltic Fleet, along with the workers and soldiers, formed the armed assault force of the revolution. From the cruiser Aurora came the shot that signaled the storming of the Winter Palace. In January 1918 the old Russian Navy was disbanded, and the Soviet Navy was created.


Istoriia russkoi armii i flota, vols. 1–15. Moscow, 1911–13.
Veselago, F. Kratkaia istoriia russkogo flota: (S nachala razvitiia more plavaniia do 1825 g.), 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
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Boevaia letopis’ russkogo flota. Moscow, 1948.
Naida, S. F. Revoliutsionnoe dvizhenie v tsarskom flote 1825–1917. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948.
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Moiseev, S. P. Spisok korablei russkogoparovogo i bronenosnogoflota: (S 1861 g.po 1917 g.). Moscow, 1948.


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