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Imperial Russian Navy

The Church of Rome fell for its heresy; the gates of the second Rome, Constantinople, were hewn down by the axes of the infidel Turks; but the Church of Moscow, the Church of the New Rome, shines brighter than the sun in the whole universe... Two Romes are fallen, but the third stands fast; a fourth there cannot be.
Philotheos (Filofei) 1525

In the matter of sea power Russia has been at a disadvantage through being obliged to maintain two separate navies - the Baltic fleet and the Black Sea fleet. This unusual condition came from closing the Dardanelles to Russian warships.

The Russian navy was reorganised in the time of Paul (1797), who took the title of Admiral-General, and showed a warm interest in naval affairs. It was composed of 12 ships of the line with 100 guns each, 36 with 74 guns, 12 with 66 -guns, and, in addition, 45 frigates. This action of Paul was primarily directed against England ; less activity was shown when Alexander came into power ; for, from the beginning and during the greater part of his reign, he sought the support of England, paying special attention to the land-forces and not taking any great interest in the fleet.

In 1817 the construction of steam vessels in Russia was first begun. At the end of 1825, the Russian navy was in the following position. The Baltic Fleet, for the most part in a very poor state, numbered 5 ships of the line, 10 frigates, and 15-20 smaller ships nominally fit for service ; the Black Sea Fleet, which was in a relatively better condition, possessed the following vessels regarded as fit for service : 10 ships of the line, 6 frigates, 12 smaller vessels ; the Caspian flotilla numbered 5 small war vessels and 6 transports ; the entire Okhotsk, or Pacific, flotilla consisted of 7 transport vessels.

Nicholas I, whose political views were hostile to Turkey and England and who was stimulated by the easy victory at Navarino (1827), directed special attention to the fleet and built a number of new war-ships, by 1830 the Baltic Fleet numbered 28 ships of the line and 17 frigates, the Black Sea Fleet 11 ships of the line and 8 frigates ; however, the efficiency of the greater part of these vessels, particularly of the ships of the line, was more than doubtful ; and the nautical skill of the crews, and especially of the officers, left much to be desired.

After the Crimean War - 1855-1875

The Russian command of the Black Sea was not actually asserted till the Turkish war of 1827-28, and twentyseven years later Russian sea-power in these waters was shattered by the Crimean War, not to be fully restored until the great naval movement of 1882 began to take effect.

With the war of 1854-55 the era of the wooden ship and the smooth-bore gun practically ended. The success of the armourclad floating batteries employed by the French at Kinburn in October 1855 led to the conversion of the Napoleon into La Gloire in 1859, and Great Britain followed in 1861 with the Warrior, built entirely in iron.* The American War, and the memorable action of the Monitor and Merrimac in Hampton Roads, gave a fresh turn to the design of warships, which by a chequered process of evolution led to the 20,000-ton steel battle-ships of the Great War.

This vital change, which conferred immediate potential advantage upon Great Britain, entailed great difficulties in Russia. Some wooden screw vessels were built after the Crimean War, and the Sebastopol and Petropaulovski were converted into armourclad frigates. Ten monitors were ordered in 1863, when Western intervention on behalf of Poland seemed probable. Between 1860 and 1875 five sea-going armourclads, the largest being the Peter the Great, of 8,750 tons, and twenty armoured coast-defence vessels, ranging from the Admiral Spiridoff, of 3,740 tons, to the Ooragan, of 1,410 tons, were launched for the Baltic fleet. During the same period the Novgorod, of 2,700 tons, and the Admiral Popoff, of 3,590 tons, were launched at Nicolaiefi" for the Black Sea squadron. The reconstruction of the Russian fleet thus for a time proceeded slowly, and coast-defence craft predominated.

On October 29th, 1870, when Germany and France were in the throes of a great conflict, Prince Gortchakoff s note demanding the abrogation of Clause II. of the Treaty of Paris was presented to Europe. The Black Sea Conference was assembled, and, as a result of the deliberations concluded on March 13th, 1871, all restrictions on Russian naval activity in the Black Sea were formally removed. In this country the repudiation of the famous clause was widely regarded as a gross breach of faith, and a blow delivered against the sanctity of all treaties. Russia, said Lord Stratheden and Campbell in the House of Lords, has "openly proclaimed defiance of international engagements." The philosophic historian of the future will probably adopt other views, and will deride the idea of the professional diplomatist that a great nation could be expected to indefinitely acquiesce in the artificial restrictions sought to be imposed by the Treaty of Paris.

Russia was not conquered in 1854-55, had during a century and a half made enormous sacrifices in order to secure freedom of action in the Black Sea, and felt justified in reasserting that freedom as soon as she felt ready to accept the risk of war.




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