Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017: The Potemkin’s little red brother
Here we see the modified Bogatyr-class 1st class protected cruiser Ochakov (Очаков) of the Tsarist Navy as she appeared when first commissioned. She went by several different names and flew a myriad of different ensigns in her time, including that of the first Red admiral and the last White Russian general.
Ordered as part of the Imperial Russian Navy’s 8-year building plan, the German yard of AG Vulcan Stettin won the contract to design and build a class of protected cruisers that, for the time of the Spanish-American War, were modern. The basic design was a 6,000-ton ship with a main battery of 152mm guns, a secondary battery of a dozen 75mm guns, six torpedo tubes (four on deck and two submerged), the capability to carry sea mines and make 23-knots. In short, the Tsar’s admiralty described these ships as “a partially armored cruiser, resembling a high-breasted battleship in appearance, and in fact is a linear, lightly armored ship.”
The cruisers of this type were rightly considered the best representatives of the class of medium armor deck cruisers of their day.
Only class-leader Bogatyr was built in Germany. Follow-on vessels Oleg and Vityaz were built in two Russian yards in St Petersburg, intended for the Baltic Fleet, while two others, Kagul (we’ll call her Kagul I, for reasons you will see later) and Ochakov were constructed in the Black Sea– the latter at the Lazarev Admiralty Yard in Sevastopol. As the five cruisers were built in five different yards spread across the continent, it should come as no surprise that they were all slightly different.
Laid down within 14 months of each other, they were envisioned to commission about the same time, however Vityaz was destroyed by fire on the builder’s ways in 1901 and scrapped, leaving the other four ships to enter service between August 1902 and October 1905, with the hero of our tale, Ochakov, named after a city in Mykolaiv region of Ukraine, joining the fleet on 2 October 1902 though, suffering from several defects in her electrical system and boilers, she was still in what could best be described as extended builder’s trails as late as November 1905.
OCHAKOV (Russian Protected Cruiser, 1902-1933). View made on the deck looking aft toward the ship’s twin 6-inch mount and the bridge. Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida, 1986. Description: Catalog #: NH 101049
Trapped in the Black Sea due to Ottoman control of the Straits, Ochakov, and Kagul I did not participate in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905 though sister Oleg fought at the Battle of Tsushima and managed to barely escape to be interned in the Philippines while Bogatyr sortied from Vladivostok for commerce raiding during the conflict.
Speaking of the Black Sea Fleet in 1905, something happened that you may have heard of:
Caught up in the anti-Tsarist backlash that resulted from defeat in the Pacific and loss of two out of three Russian fleets, the country was thrown into the what is described as the Russian Revolution of 1905. Some two months after the war ended, one of the darkest chapters of that unsuccessful episode was The Sevastopol Uprising.
There, one Lt. Pyotr Petrovitch Schmidt, from an Odessa-based naval family of German descent (his father fought at Sevastopol during its great siege in the Crimean War), was something of a rabble-rouser.
A graduate of the Naval Officers’ Corps in Saint Petersburg (53rd out of 307, class of 1886) he was soon dismissed to the reserves in 1889 after spending much of his time with the frozen Baltic Fleet on the sick list, but rejoined the warm Black Sea Fleet in 1892 only to transfer into the merchant shipping service in 1900, going on to command several steamers. Recalled to the colors for the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, he was given command of the coal transport Irtysh which was sailing for the Pacific to be sunk at Tsushima but before it left Russian waters he was thrown in the brig for insulting a fellow officer but later let out to rejoin his ship. However, by the time the fleet made it to Africa, he was back on the sick list and sent to the Black Sea Fleet to help hold it down for the duration of the war, nominally given command of Torpedo Boat No. 253.
Stripped of most effective officers and NCOs to man the other ill-fated Russian task forces and left with ships full of raw recruits and untalented leaders, the Black Sea Fleet in late 1905 was a powder keg of inefficiency that led to the famous mutiny of the battleship Potemkin in June, which was quickly put down and the ship recaptured, the 42 men considered to be in the thick of it thrown in the brig on the minelayer Prut.
Enter Schmidt, stage left.
He formed the “Union of Officers-Friends of the People in Sevastopol” and in October 1905 led a crowd to the Odessa city prison to protest the arrest of local revolutionaries and began distributing leaflets. This landed him in the jail alongside the other reds, but he was quickly released. He was cashiered at the rank of Captain 2nd Rank.
However, by 11 November, representative crew members from at least seven Black Sea Fleet warships were attending Schmidt’s group’s fiery meetings, with some calling for outright rebellion. The new sailors’ soviet elected him as their leader.
By 13 November, with an estimated 2,000 sailors and longshoremen in mutiny across Odessa, the officers of the Ochakov beat feet and left the mutineers in charge. The leaderless crew signaled that Schmidt should join them and he did, arriving at around 2 p.m. on 14 November with his 16-year-old son in tow and Imperial shoulder boards still on his uniform. Understrength– just 350 crew, with few senior NCOs and no officers, remained– the unfinished warship was clearing for an uncertain fight.
Then they went to get the Potemkin‘s locked up leaders:
Having thrown out the Admiral’s flag on Ochakov and gave the signal: “I command the fleet, Schmidt”, with the expectation of immediately attracting the whole squadron to this insurrection, he sent his cutter to the “Prut” in order to release the Potemkin people. There was no resistance. “Ochakov” received the sailors-convicts on board and went around with them the whole squadron. From all the courts, there was a welcome “Hurray.” Several of the ships, including the battleships Potemkin [which had been renamed St. Panteleimon, the patron saint of accidents and loneliness] and Rostislav, raised a red banner; at the latter, however, it only fluttered for a few minutes.
By the morning of the 15th, Schmidt fired off a telegram to Tsar Nicholas II:
“The glorious Black Sea Fleet, sacredly devoted to the people, demands Your Majesty to immediately call a meeting of the Constituent Assembly, and no longer obeys orders of Your ministers. Commander of the Fleet P. Schmidt.”
While he initially had seven other warships answering his signals, and his little red fleet was a sight that no doubt gave every Bolshevik a lump in their throat, they really had no chance.
Over the course of the day, one by one the ships took down their red flag, leaving only the cruiser and a destroyer as the only rebels. Gen. Meller-Zakomelsky, the Tsar’s commander ashore, trained every gun in the harbor– including some 12-inch pieces– on the Ochakov and the gunners were loyal. An ultimatum was issued. The battleship Rostislav, with her 254mm guns and Vice Admiral Alexander Krieger aboard, closed to within 900m of the cruiser.
At 1600, the shore batteries and Rostislav opened fire, riddling the cruiser with at least 2 254-mm and 16 152-mm shells. She was able to get six shots off in return, which missed. A fire soon broke out on Ochakov, and Schmidt stopped the fight, lowered the national ensign and red flag, then hoisted a white one. It was all over in 20 minutes. Schmidt and 35 of the sailors thought the key to the uprising were carted off in chains.
In March 1906, Schmidt and three men from Ochakov (sailors AI Gladkov, NG Antonenko, Quartermaster S. P. Priknik) were executed by a firing squad on windswept Berezan Island at the entrance of the Dnieper-Bug Estuary by the crew of the gunboat Terets.
Thrown into a shallow grave, it was unmarked until 1924 when the Soviets began erecting monuments to the people’s heroes of 1905. Of the other 300~ survivors of her red crew and the men that were recycled from the Potemkin mutineers, 14 were exiled to Siberia, 103 imprisoned at hard labor at terms several years, and 151 sent to labor battalions to serve the rest of their original enlistment.
As for Ochakov, her magazines flooded to prevent her from going in one quick puff of smoke, she smoldered for two days but did not sink. Towed into the yard for repairs, the blackened ship had 63 shell holes in her hull and superstructure and several compartments with human remains.
To erase her memory from the fleet, the ship was extensively reconstructed and, oddly enough, given the name of her sister– Kagul, which was, in turn, renamed Pamyat’ Merkuriya in March 1907.
Returning to the fleet, Kagul II as we like to call her (ex-Ochakov), was a much different ship. She proved relatively effective, rebuilt with lessons learned from her plastering by the fleet in 1905 and from against the Japanese.
She also became a test bed for seaplane use for reconnaissance and scouting purposes.
Russian Navy Curtiss Floatplane being hoisted aboard the Cruiser KAGUL (1902-1933) in February 1915, in the Black Sea. Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drapshil of Margate, Florida, 1984. Description: Catalog #: NH 100152
Russian Navy Curtiss F-type flying boat serial number 15 seen in the Black Sea, with the cruiser KAGUL (1902-1933) in the background. Information accompanying this photograph indicates that it was taken during the 28 March 1915 operation off the Bosporus. Description: Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida, 1984.Catalog #: NH 100153
When the Great War came, the two cruisers served as the eyes of the Black Sea Fleet and hunted for the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau, bombarded fired the Turkish coast, covered minelaying expeditions (and themselves laid several of their own mine barriers) and captured or sank a number of Ottoman and later Bulgarian coasters.
Unidentified personnel seen on deck aboard the protected cruiser KAGUL (1902-1934) in The Black Sea on 20 March 1915. A twin 152mm/ 6-inch, 45-caliber gun turret appears in the center. Description: Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983 Catalog #: NH 94406
AMALIA (Turkish Merchant Ship) Photographed in the Black Sea at the time of capture on 4 May 1915 off the Rumelian coast. This 430-register ton merchant ship was carrying a cargo of petrol. This view was taken from aboard the Russian cruiser KAGUL (1902-1932) which made the capture while on a raiding cruise. Description: Courtesy of Boris V. Drashpil Catalog #: NH 94798
Photographed in Port at Novorossiysk on the Black Sea on 27 March 1916 (old style calendar, 13 days behind present western dating). Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1893 Catalog #: NH 94408
After her Great War redemption, again came the revolution.
On 15 March 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated after a week of riots and mutinies by the Imperial Guard in Petrograd. The Baltic Fleet, Northern Fleet, and Pacific Squadron followed suit in swearing allegiance to the Provisional Government, as did the Black Sea Fleet. Memories of the 1905 Mutiny in Odessa and Sevastopol were still strong and, at the end of the month with a red flag on her mast once more, Kagul (II) became Ochakov again, her sailor’s committee in charge.
With the decline of the Russian war effort against the Central Powers, and Lenin and Co removing the Provisional Government in November, the country dropped out of the conflict with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. Ceded to German/Austrian control as part of the pact, Ochakov was captured by the Germans in May and remained in nominal service to the Kaiser until the British arrived on 24 November, two weeks after the Armistice.
Turned over to the anti-Bolshevik White Army forces, the largely crewless warship became part of Lt. Gen. Anton Denikin’s Armed Forces of the South of Russia, which led to the cruiser being renamed after that force’s early leader, General Lavr Kornilov (who himself was zapped by Red artillery in April 1918).
In 1919, after Denikin’s attack upon Moscow faltered, he fell back to the Black Sea and evacuated the remnants of his forces from Novorossiysk to the Crimea where Lt. Gen. Piotr Wrangel took over the force, our cruiser included.
The endgame of Wrangel’s effort came in November 1920 when 140,000 soldiers, Cossacks, monarchists and general White Russian diaspora left the Crimea on everything that could float. Wrangel, on his yacht Lucullus, led the working ships of the Black Sea Fleet including two battleships, two cruisers (including our subject), 15 destroyers/escorts, and five submarines first to Constantinople and then to Bizerte in French North Africa where they arrived in December.
There, the fleet in being remained for four years under RADM. Mikhail Berens until its disarmament after the recognition by France of the Soviet Union on 29 October 1924, when her old Cross of St. Andrew was hauled down as ownership had been transferred to the Soviets. After inspection by emissaries from Moscow, Ochakov/Kornilov never left Tunisia and was instead sold as scrap in 1933. Some of her guns were later likely used in French coastal defenses.
GENERAL KORNILOV Possibly photographed at Bizerte, where the ship spent 1920 to 1932 as a unit of the White Russian “Wrangel-Fleet.” From the P.A. Warneck Collection, 1981; Courtesy of B. V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida. Catalog #: NH 92158
Of her sisters, Bogatyr was scrapped in Germany in 1922 after the Reds sold her for spare change along with a number of other Baltic Fleet vessels while Oleg was written off by the Bolsheviks as a combat loss 17 June 1919 after she was torpedoed and sunk by Royal Navy speedboat CMB-4 commanded by Captain Augustus Agar at Kronstadt. As for Kagul I (Pamiat’ Merkuria) she was unable to sortie with Wrangel’s last fleet and, captured at Sevastopol, was renamed Komintern and refitted with material salvaged from Bogatyr and Oleg, later fighting the Germans in WWII until her loss in 1942.
The name Ochakov was celebrated in the Soviet Union, going on to grace a Kara-class cruiser in 1969. Based in the Black Sea (where else?) she was decommissioned in 2011 but later sunk as a blockship to piss off the Ukrainians in 2014.
The more things change.
Displacement: 7800 fl
Length: 439 ft. 8 in
Beam: 54 ft. 6 in
Draft: 20 ft. 8 in
2 shaft vertical triple-expansion steam engines
16 Normand-type boilers
Speed: 23 knots
Endurance: 5320 (10) on 1194 tons coal
Complement: 30 officers and 550 sailors
12 × 152mm (6 in/44cal) Obuhovsky/Canet guns (2 twin turrets and 8 single guns), 2160 rounds
12 × 75mm (3in/48cal) 11-pounder guns, singles, 3600 rounds
8 × 47mm Hotchkiss guns, single
2 × 5-barrel 37 mm guns Hotchkiss guns
6 × 17.7 in (450 mm) torpedo tubes
292 M08 Sea mines
10x 130mm/53cal singles
12 × 75mm (3in/48cal) 11-pounder guns, single
2x 64mm landing guns
8 × 47mm Hotchkiss guns, single
2 × 5-barrel 37 mm guns Hotchkiss guns
2 x Maxim machine guns
6 × 17.7 in (450 mm) torpedo tubes
292 M08 sea mines
Deck: 80 mm (3.1 in)
Turrets: 127 mm (5.0 in)
Casemates: 80 mm (3.1 in)
Conning tower: 140 mm (5.5 in)
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