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Thu Jun 27, 2019, 06:16 AM

114 Years Ago Today; sailors start a mutiny aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin.


The Russian battleship Potemkin (Russian: Князь Потёмкин Таврический, romanized: Kniaz Potyomkin Tavricheskiy, "Prince Potemkin of Taurida" ) was a pre-dreadnought battleship built for the Imperial Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet. She became famous when the crew rebelled against the officers in June 1905 (during that year's revolution), which is now viewed as a first step towards the Russian Revolution of 1917. The mutiny later formed the basis of Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent film The Battleship Potemkin.

After the mutineers sought asylum in Constanța, Romania, and after the Russians recovered the ship, her name was changed to Panteleimon. She accidentally sank a Russian submarine in 1909 and was badly damaged when she ran aground in 1911. During World War I, Panteleimon participated in the Battle of Cape Sarych in late 1914. She covered several bombardments of the Bosphorus fortifications in early 1915, including one where the ship was attacked by the Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim Panteleimon and the other Russian pre-dreadnoughts present drove her off before she could inflict any serious damage. The ship was relegated to secondary roles after Russia's first dreadnought battleship entered service in late 1915. She was by then obsolete and was reduced to reserve in 1918 in Sevastopol.

Panteleimon was captured when the Germans took Sevastopol in May 1918 and was handed over to the Allies after the Armistice in November 1918. Her engines were destroyed by the British in 1919 when they withdrew from Sevastopol to prevent the advancing Bolsheviks from using them against the White Russians. She was abandoned when the Whites evacuated the Crimea in 1920 and was finally scrapped by the Soviets in 1923.


The mutiny

During the Russo-Japanese War of 190405, many of the Black Sea Fleet's most experienced officers and enlisted men were transferred to the ships in the Pacific to replace losses. This left the fleet with primarily raw recruits and less capable officers. With the news of the disastrous Battle of Tsushima in May 1905 morale dropped to an all-time low, and any minor incident could be enough to spark a major catastrophe. Taking advantage of the situation, plus the disruption caused by the ongoing riots and uprisings, the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Organisation of the Black Sea Fleet, called "Tsentralka", had started preparations for a simultaneous mutiny on all of the ships of the fleet, although the timing had not been decided.

On 27 June 1905, Potemkin was at gunnery practice near Tendra Island off the Ukrainian coast when many enlisted men refused to eat the borscht made from rotten meat partially infested with maggots. The uprising was triggered when Ippolit Giliarovsky, the ship's second in command, allegedly threatened to shoot crew members for their refusal. He summoned the ship's marine guards as well as a tarpaulin to protect the ship's deck from any blood in an attempt to intimidate the crew. Giliarovsky was killed after he mortally wounded Grigory Vakulinchuk, one of the mutiny's leaders. The mutineers killed seven of the Potemkin's eighteen officers, including Captain Evgeny Golikov (ru), and captured the torpedo boat Ismail (No. 627). They organized a ship's committee of 25 sailors, led by Afanasi Matushenko, to run the battleship.

Captain Golikov

Ippolit Giliarovsky

The committee decided to head for Odessa flying a red flag and arrived there later that day at 22:00. A general strike had been called in the city and there was some rioting as the police tried to quell the strikers. The following day the mutineers refused to supply a landing party to help the striking revolutionaries take over the city, preferring instead to await the arrival of the other battleships of the Black Sea Fleet. Later that day the mutineers aboard the Potemkin captured a military transport, Vekha, that had arrived in the city. The riots continued as much of the port area was destroyed by fire. On the afternoon of 29 June, Vakulinchuk's funeral turned into a political demonstration and the army attempted to ambush the sailors who participated in the funeral. In retaliation, the ship fired two six-inch shells at the theatre where a high-level military meeting was scheduled to take place, but missed.

Matushenko, the leader of the mutiny, is seen to the left of centre. Photo taken July, 1905, after arrival at Constanța officer at left is in Romanian uniform.

The government issued an order to send two squadrons to Odessa either to force the Potemkin's crew to give up or sink the battleship. Potemkin sortied on the morning of 30 June to meet the three battleships Tri Sviatitelia, Dvenadsat Apostolov, and Georgii Pobedonosets of the first squadron, but the loyal ships turned away. The second squadron arrived with the battleships Rostislav and Sinop later that morning, and Vice Admiral Aleksander Krieger, acting commander of the Black Sea Fleet, ordered the ships to proceed to Odessa. Potemkin sortied again and sailed through the combined squadrons as Krieger failed to order his ships to fire. Captain Kolands of Dvenadsat Apostolov attempted to ram Potemkin and then detonate his ship's magazines, but he was thwarted by members of his crew. Krieger ordered his ships to fall back, but the crew of Georgii Pobedonosets mutinied and joined Potemkin.

The following morning, loyalist members of Georgii Pobedonosets retook control of the ship and ran her aground in Odessa harbor. The crew of Potemkin, together with Ismail, decided to sail for Constanța later that day where they could restock food, water and coal. The Romanians refused to provide the supplies, backed by the presence of their small protected cruiser Elisabeta, so the ship's committee decided to sail for the small, barely defended port of Theodosia in the Crimea where they hoped to resupply. The ship arrived on the morning of 5 July, but the city's governor refused to give them anything other than food. The mutineers attempted to seize several barges of coal the following morning, but the port's garrison ambushed them and killed or captured 22 of the 30 sailors involved. They decided to return to Constanța that afternoon.

Potemkin at anchor with the Romanian flag hoisted on her mast, Constanța, July 1905

Potemkin reached its destination at 23:00 on 7 July and the Romanians agreed to give asylum to the crew if they would disarm themselves and surrender the battleship. Ismail's crew decided the following morning to return to Sevastopol and turn themselves in, but Potemkin's crew voted to accept the terms. Captain Negru, commander of the port, came aboard at noon and hoisted the Romanian flag and then allowed the ship to enter the inner harbor. Before the crew disembarked, Matushenko ordered that the Potemkin's Kingston valves be opened so she would sink to the bottom.


My takeaway from this, besides being the spark that ultimately led to the Russian Revolution, is that it inspired one of the greatest films of all time, Battleship Potempkin, Sergei Eisenstein's epic silent film (jump to 4:38 for the beginning of the steps scene):

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Reply 114 Years Ago Today; sailors start a mutiny aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin. (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Jun 27 OP
ProfessorGAC Jun 27 #1
Dennis Donovan Jun 27 #2
pecosbob Jun 27 #3

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Jun 27, 2019, 06:49 AM

1. Reminded Me Of The Odessa Steps Scene...

...in Eisenstein's movies as soon as I read the post title.
Watched that movie in a film appreciation class in the 70s.

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Response to ProfessorGAC (Reply #1)

Thu Jun 27, 2019, 07:06 AM

2. It's a beautifully-filmed epic...

I still watch it from time to time.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Jun 27, 2019, 09:14 AM

3. Fin d'siecle

Within fifteen years virtually every absolute monarch in Europe had been deposed.

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