1917


Russian sailors not only fought in the Baltic and Black Seas but also in the Mediterranean and Pacific. By 1914, together with Allied ships, the Siberian cruisers Askold and Zhemchug had already begun escorting transports and pursuing German raiders. The campaign ended badly for the Zhemchug. After hoisting the British ensign and mounting a false funnel, the German cruiser Emden, took the Zhemchug unawares and sank her at the port of Penang. The Zhemchug's Commander Ivan Cherkasov was reprimanded and demoted for his carelessness.

The fate of the Askold proved more fortunate. In late 1914 she was already fighting in the Mediterranean, and in December, commanded by Captain Sergey Ivanov, the Askold captured the German transport Haifa and destroyed two Turkish steamships. During the next year the Askold joined the newly formed Allied British-French fleet to fight in the Dardanelles. In 1915, the cruiser sailed approximately 17,000 miles. In late 1916, after repairs at Toulon, the Askold joined the Arctic Flotilla.

This flotilla emerged from the detachment formed in September 1914 to defend the port area of Arkhangelsk. A new port, Romanov-on-Murman, was constructed on the shore of the Gulf of Kola and became the terminus of the railway that extended into the polar region. Thus, a convenient and secure communication link was established between Russia and the Allies. The recently formed Arctic Flotilla aimed to ensure the protection of this vital searoute and included ships from the Pacific Fleet: the Chesma, which had been purchased from Japan, and the cruiser Varyag [Viking]. The Siberian Fleet contributed the minelayer Ussury and six destroyers. Afterwards, Vice-Admiral Ludvig Kerber was appointed Commander-in-Chief over the northern fleet. The first Russian naval success in the far North was on 20 October 1916. The destroyer Grozovoy, under Lieutenant Korneyev, sank the German submarine U-56 in a battle in the Barents Sea.

By early 1917, the Russian fleet was again a formidable force and included 558 combat ships, a number of launches, and over 500 auxiliary transport vessels. In construction were fifteen battleships, fourteen cruisers and 269 naval planes. The personnel of the Fleet totalled 168 thousand officers and men.

However, the political crisis in February 1917, immediately affected the Navy's efficiency. In February 1917, Emperor Nicholas II abdicated and the Provisional Government came to power. At Helsinki and Kronstadt, the largest Baltic ports, sailors began to riot. Dozens of admirals and officers were killed, including the Commander of the Baltic Fleet, Vice-Admiral Adrian Nepenin, and the Chief Officer of the Port of Kronstadt, Admiral Robert Viren. The effectiveness of the Baltic Fleet fell sharply. Germany took advantage of the political turmoil in Russia and began a series of attacks aimed at the weakest link in Russia's fleet, its submarines. Within a short time six had been destroyed, including the Bars, Lvitsa, Gepard and Yedinorog.

In late September Germany undertook a large-scale landing operation on the Moon Sound Islands. Vice-Admiral Eggard Schmidt arrived with more than 300 vessels carrying 25,000 assault troops. The Commander of the Baltic Fleet, Rear Admiral Alexander Razvozov, could call up only two battleships, three cruisers, three gunboats and 21 destroyers under Vice-Admiral Mikhail Bakhirev. Nonetheless, the smaller Russian force mounted strong resistance to the German squadron. Unlike the army, the navy remained loyal to the increasingly embattled Russian government.

In Kassar Bay the Eleventh Destroyer Division of Commander Georgy Pilsudsky distinguished itself in battle. Fighting alongside the gunboat Khrabry, the destroyers Pobeditel, Zabiyaka, Konstantin and Grom resisted an attack by thirteen German destroyers and the battleship Kaiser. The Grom was lost in the fight, but while under enemy fire, the Khrabry, managed to break through to the burning Grom and save her crew. Lieutenant Anatoly Waksmouth was the last to leave the deck of the Grom. At Kassar Bay Russians damaged six German destroyers while three others-B-98, B-111 and S-64- struck mines and were damaged.

In an unequal fight at Kuivaste the 4-gun battleship Slava, under Captain Vla-dimir Antonov, fought the German dreadnoughts Koenig and Kroneprinz, each armed with ten 12-inch guns. The Slava had to be scuttled because of the damage it incurred during the battle. However, the enemy could not intercept the Russian ships retreating from the Gulf of Riga, and the Battle of Moon Sound ended.

The Battle of Moon Sound was the last fought by the Russian fleet under the ensign of St. Andrew. The Black Sea Fleet of Vice-Admiral Kolchak maintained its morale and continued to blockade the enemy's coast until the summer of 1917, when revolutionary upheavals reached the Black Sea.

In Petrograd, on 25 October 1917, Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik cohorts seized power. The new government brought the war to a close, and, in December 1917, an armistice was signed with Germany. By the Decree of the Council of People's Commissars, 29 January 1918, the Russian Fleet was declared dissolved and the creation of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Fleet was proclaimed.