The Legacy of Peter I


he successes of the Russian army and fleet persuaded the Swedes to bargain for peace. According to the terms of the Nistadt Peace Treaty, signed 30 August 1721, Russia was given possession of Ingermanland, Estland, Lifland and Karelia, along with the towns of Vyborg and Keksholm and all the islands in the Gulf of Finland, together with the Moon Sound Archipelago. In addition, Russia was acknowledged to be the most powerful state in the Baltic­and not without due cause. The Russian fleet now included forty-four combat units; ships of the line, the main striking force, numbered twenty-nine, and it is recorded that six of them were three-decked. The fleet was armed with 2,128 cannon, and the number of seamen and officers totalled 16,121. Moreover, the Maritime Academy continued to produce well-trained cadets. By comparison, the Swedish fleet came out of the Northern War with only twenty-one ships of the line.

The services of Peter I in battle were invaluable, but no less important was his role in such noncombatant endeavours as fleet organization. In 1718 the Admiralty Collegium, headed by the General-Admiral, was established in St. Petersburg to control the fleet. In 1720 the more complete Navy Regulations replaced the briefly-used, ten-year old Combat Instructions and Articles Pertaining to the Russian Fleet, compiled by Admiral Kruys. The new manual was written by one of the heroes of the Osel Island battle, Captain Zotov, and was personally edited by Peter I. The creation of the coastguard in 1722 was governed by the Regulations on Controlling Admiralties and Shipyards. The classification of ships was outlined in The Table of Ship Proportions, the appearance of which dates from 1724. Between 1724 and 1771 over ninety ships of the line and frigates were built for the Baltic fleet in compliance with the Table. Peter's Table of Ranks (1722) codified promotion and the gradation of officers; among them the ranks of non-commissioned lieutenant, lieutenant, lieutenant-commander, captain second rank (commander), captain first rank (captain), captain commodore, rear admiral, vice-admiral, admiral and general-admiral were determined. With only minor modifications, these ranks remained in effect until 1917. They were reinstated and used again between 1935 and 1940 as military grades.

As his fleet insignia Peter I designated a flag emblazoned with the azure blue oblique cross of Saint Andrew. First hoisted over Peter's mock flotilla in 1692, the flag became famous during the Northern War. According to an entry in the first volume of Peter's Navy Regulations: "Russian combat ships shall never strike their colours, pendants and topsails, under penalty of death."

On 11 August 1723, the Baltic Fleet, lying in formation off Kotlin Island, fired an imperial salvo to honour its illustrious precursor, the first little boat of Peter I­the one he had sailed in during his boyhood in his "Amusement flotilla." The botik [little boat] had been transported from Moscow to Saint Petersburg amid great pomp and honours in order to play a special role in the Kotlin ceremonies. The crew of the botik consisted of the highest ranks of Russia's naval command: among them Admiral Pyotr Mikhaylov, General-Admiral Apraksin, Vice-Admiral Prince Menshikov, and Rear Admiral Sinyavin, all of whom were honoured for setting an example of selfless service to their native land. The same year on Kotlin Island the Kronstadt Fortress was founded and became the key fortress of Russia's Baltic Fleet.

The last military undertaking of Peter I was the Persian campaign of 1722-1723, and he ordered the construction of 274 additional vessels to transport his numerous forces. The new fleet carried 22,000 troops down the Volga to Astrakhan in mid-summer with General-Admiral Apraksin commanding the ships and their cargoes. On 18 June the flotilla entered the Caspian Sea, and on 23 June Russian troops captured the fortress of Derbent without firing a single cannon. Following this victory, Lieutenant-Commander Fyodor Soymonov and his troops took possession of the town of Resht, which likewise offered no resistance. The might of the Russian fleet in the Caspian Sea was viewed with great alarm by Russia's neighbors. However, extremely stormy weather soon began to hinder the Russian fleet, thus preventing further victories.

In the following year, during the first two months of the summer, the Russian fleet participated in General-Major Mikhail Matyushkin's expedition against the Persian-held fortress of Baku. For four days the enemy was bombarded from sea and land; at length, much weakened by the incessant attack of the Russian naval force, the garrison surrendered.

The Persian campaign resulted in a peace treaty which gave Russia the towns of Derbent and Baku along with their surrounding territories and three bordering Persian provinces. For the first time in many years, Russian merchants could now benefit from the Volga-Caspian trade route and travel it without danger.

Beyond question, farsighted Peter I fostered in Russia's military a special respect for naval tradition and all fields related to ships and shipbuilding. Now Emperor Peter I, he ordered the renewal of shipbuilding in Tavrov and decreed the creation of a new shipyard in Bryansk. He intended to build yet another fleet and move it down the Don and Dnieper Rivers and into the Black Sea. However, sudden death relegated the Tsar's plans to the whims and ambitions of his successors.