Friday, June 19, 2015


Vasilii Perov, Pugachev Administering Justice to the Population
(1875. Oil on canvas. The History Museum, Moscow)

Religious traditionalists abhorred Peter I, identifying him as the Antichrist. The several revolts of his reign all included some elements of antagonism toward foreigners and foreign innovations such as shaving and Western dress, along with more standard and substantive complaints about the encroachment of central authority, high taxes, poor conditions of service, and remuneration. The most serious were the musketeer revolt of 1698, the Astrakhan revolt of 1705, and the rebellion led by the Don Cossack Ivan Bulavin in 1707–1708.

The revolts began in outlying areas among Cossack communities and also involved townspeople and non-Russians. Each successive revolt, however, began further from the centre of Russia, and rebel activities were increasingly restricted to outlying regions. In 1606–7 the rebels led by Bolotnikov (among whom there were few peasants) reached Moscow, but this was the last time the old capital was threatened by a revolt from outside the city. There were peasant uprisings and mass murder of noble landowners in the mid-Volga region, 400 miles east of Moscow, during final stages of the Razin and Pugachev revolts in 1670–1 and 1773–4. The Don Cossack rebellion led by Bulavin in 1707–8 sparked off some peasant revolts in adjoining parts of southern Russia, but was mostly a Cossack affair. Old Believers who lived in outlying regions figured among the rebels under Razin, Bulavin and Pugachev. Ukrainian peasants also joined with Cossacks in massive revolts in 1648 and 1768. All the revolts, especially that lead by Pugachev, provoked considerable alarm and panic among the nobility and state authorities, but all were put down by military force and mass repression. By the end of the seventeenth century, and certainly after the suppression of the Pugachev revolt, most peasants in central Russia recognised the futility of mass violence.

Also known as “Peasant wars”; peasant uprisings in broad usage, were a number of rural-based rebellions from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, a typical form of protest in Russia against socioeconomic, religious, and cultural oppression and, occasionally, against political power holders.

Peasant uprisings in the narrow sense belong to the period of serfdom. Most of them followed a significant worsening of the conditions of the peasantry. The four major rebellions of this period were led by: 1) Ivan Bolotnikov, 1606–1607; 2) Stepan (“Stenka”) Razin, 1667–1671; 3) Kondrat Bulavin, 1707–1708; and 4) the largest of all, by Yemelyan (“Yemelka”) Pugachev, 1773–1775. The leadership in each case was largely symbolic, as an inherent feature of peasant wars was anarchic spontaneity with little organization, subordination, and planning.

The geographic center of the uprisings was in Southern Russia, between the Don and the Volga rivers and between the Black and the Caspian seas. However, they spread over wider territories and, in the case of the Bolotnikov rebellion, involved a battle in the vicinity of Moscow (which the rebels lost, in December 1606). The key initiative was played by Cossacks (Razin and Bulavin were Cossack atamans, and Pugachev a prominent Cossack as well). The rank and file included serfs and free peasants, as well as ethnic and religious minorities (e.g., Tatars in the Razin rebellion and Bashkirs in the Pugachev rebellion; ethnically Russian Old Believers in the Razin, Bulavin, and Pugachev rebellions). The Bolotnikov uprising, as part of the Time of Troubles, also involved impoverished or discontented gentry, some of whom, however, parted company with the rebels at a crucial stage. The religious and cultural aspect of the uprisings reflected discontent with top-down autocratic reforms along foreign patterns. Some also view the uprisings as a cultural response of the Cossack frontier to excess regulation by the imperial center.

Rebel demands are known from their own documents (e.g., “Seductive Letters” issued by Razin) and government reports. These demands involved land redistribution, the change of peasants’ status from serfs to Cossacks, and often the elimination of the privileged classes. None of the uprisings was directed against the institution of monarchy; some rebels allied themselves with contenders to the throne (e.g., Bolotnikov with one of the Pseudo- Dmitrys and then with another self-styled tsarevich, Peter), while Bulavin and Pugachev claimed their own rights to the tsar’s scepter. On the territories occupied by rebels, peasants were declared free of servitude and debt, and Cossack-style self-rule was decreed. The uprisings were characterized by mass casualties and brutality on both sides. All of them were violently suppressed and their leaders executed; in the longer run, they may have spurred policy changes and reform efforts emanating from the top.

The most famous Pugachev rebellion was distinguished by the fact that its leader claimed to be Tsar Peter III (the actual tsar was murdered a decade earlier, in 1762, in a coup that brought his wife, Catherine II, to power). He issued his first manifesto in this capacity in September 1773. Pugachev promised to give peasants “back” their freedom “stolen” from them by the gentry, making them into Cossacks. The army of his followers counted about twenty-five thousand people. This rebellion was the first one of the manufacturing era, and was joined by serfs laboring at the manufactures in the Urals. Its suppression was followed in the short run by the strengthening and further spread of the institution of serfdom, as well as the incorporation of Cossacks into the state bureaucracy. During the nineteenth century, peasant uprisings never rose to the scale of wars. A major uprising in 1861 in the Kazan region reflected discontent with the conditions attached to the emancipation of the serfs.

Peasant guerrilla culture in Russia (as in some other countries) involved the operation of a parallel, or shadow community beyond the reach of the state, abruptly revealing itself in mass action. Guerrilla tactics followed by peasant rebels played a role in the twentieth-century revolutions (both on the Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik side), due to the numerical and cultural influence of peasantry (or recent peasants among urban workers and the intelligentsia). These tactics were also employed in defense against foreign invasions (the 1812 Patriotic War and World War II).

Scholars emphasizing the continuity of peasant resistance over centuries view the revolutions of 1905–1907 and 1917 as a resumption of peasant wars, in a different socioeconomic environment. Some of them consider the 1917–1933 period as “the Great Peasant War” suppressed by Josef Stalin through artificially organized famine and collectivization of the peasantry.

Peasant wars figured prominently in Russian folklore and modern arts. Alexander Pushkin, in characterizing a “Russian rebellion” as “senseless and merciless,” perpetuated the view of peasant wars as destructive explosions, characterized by savage brutality on both sides, after seemingly endless patience of the oppressed. Revolutionary democrats of the Populist tradition cultivated a heroic image of peasant rebels, while orthodox Marxists dismissed them as anarchists and enemies of the modernizing state.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600–1800. New York: Norton. Graziosi, Andrea. (1997). The Great Soviet Peasant War: Bolsheviks and Peasants, 1917–1933. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Longworth, P. (1973). “The Last Great Cossack Peasant Rising.” Journal of European Studies 3. Pushkin, Alexander. (1987). Captain’s Daughter. New York: Hyperion. Pushkin, Alexander. (2001). The History of Pugachev. London: Phoenix. Raeff, Marc. (1970) “Pugachev’s Rebellion.” In Preconditions of Revolution in Early Modern Europe, eds. Robert Forster and Jack P. Greene. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press. Wolf, Eric (1969). Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper & Row.

Voyage of the Baltic Fleet, (1904-1905)

Voyage of the various units of the Baltic Fleet, known collectively as the Second Pacific Squadron and the Third Pacific Squadron, from the Baltic Sea to the Tsushima Straits during the Russo-Japanese War. This almost eight-month voyage, from 11 October 1904 to 27 May 1905, is considered one of the epics of naval history. The decision to dispatch the Baltic fleet to East Asia was made in June 1904 when the vulnerability of the Pacific Fleet stationed mainly in Port Arthur became evident, especially as the Japanese Third Army began to close in on the fortress. The decision was followed by the appointment of Vice Admiral Zinovii Rozhestvenskii, the chief of the naval general staff, as commanding officer of the force. He was assisted by Rear Admiral Dmitrii von Felkerzam, who was to command the 2nd Battleship Division, and Rear Admiral Oskar Enkvist, who was to command the 1st Cruiser Division. After lengthy preparations the assembled fleet, now called the Second Pacific Squadron, left its base at Kronstadt on 30 August and began maneuvers in the Baltic Sea. During the following six weeks, Tsar Nicholas II vacillated over whether to dispatch the fleet; his indecisiveness peaked during October when he changed his mind three times. Finally, on 10 October 1904, he reviewed the armada at the port of Reval [present-day Tallinn, Estonia]. The next day the force of 42 warships and 12,000 officers and sailors left for Libau [Libava, present-day Liepaja in Latvia], and after coaling it departed on 15 October for a voyage of 33,000 kilometers [18,000 nautical miles] to an unknown destiny.

Rozhestvenskii's critical hurdle was logistic. He needed at least 3,000 tons of coal a day without entering neutral ports, closed to his armada by international law. Moreover, the majority of the principal coaling stations en route to Asia were in the hands of Great Britain, Japan's major ally. Russia turned instead to its allies, France and Germany. Although the two powers were reluctant to intervene, a German company, the Hamburg-America Line, leased the Russians scores of colliers for the transport of coal; for its part, the French government allowed the fleet to anchor briefly at a number of ports in its colonies. Before the fleet crossed the straits into the North Sea, tension rose due to nonsensical rumors of an impending Japanese ambush by torpedo boats. When the fleet reached Dogger Bank during the night of 21-22 October 1904, it encountered some vessels that it identified as enemy torpedo boats. The Russians opened fire and even hit each other. In the morning the enemy turned out to be a British fishing boat, and apart from the sheer embarrassment the matter nearly developed into a serious international conflict with Great Britain. Only the patience and determination of British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour and Foreign Minister Henry Lansdowne could calm the public cry for revenge, and the Dogger Bank Incident was eventually resolved at the International Court at the Hague. 

The ships reached the Spanish port of Vigo on 1 November 1904, and after negotiations they were granted their first refueling. At the next stop in Tangier the armada split up. Five of the older and least reliable warships, the battleships Sissoi Velikii and Navarin, and the cruisers Svietlana, Zhemchug, and Almaz, along with several transports, took the shorter route through the Suez Canal under the command of Felkerzam, while the larger and newer vessels steamed southward to round Africa. On 20 November the first of two detachments intended to reinforce the Second Pacific Squadron left Libau under the command of Captain Leonid Dobrotvoskii, to join Rozhestvenskii's armada. The detachment took the short route via the Suez Canal. It comprised 10 ships, led by the two new cruisers Oleg and Izumrud. 

The main force headed undisturbed to Dakar and refueled there on 16 November, and then reached Gabon on 1 December, Great Fish Bay six days later, and Angra Pequena in German South West Africa on 16 December. The next day they departed for the long sail to Madagascar. On their way, after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, they received the grim news of the fall of Port Arthur. The loss of the main Russian naval base in East Asia and the destruction of the First Pacific Squadron left Rozhestvenskii with an impossible dilemma. He could not return, but with no bases from which to operate, his force was obviously inferior to the Japanese Combined Fleet. The Russian naval base at Vladivostok could not serve as a substitute since it lacked naval facilities and supplies. Morale among the crews diminished further, while Rozhestvenskii shut himself away, exasperated at the intention to send the Third Pacific Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov, which he felt would be futile in the ensuing engagement with the Japanese. Rozhestvenskii met Felkerzam's detachment at Nossi Bé in northern Madagascar on 9 January 1905, and on 14 February he was also joined by the small detachment of Dobrotvoskii. Aday later the Third Pacific Squadron left Libau, just as the distressing reports from the battle of Mukden arrived. 

Although he was instructed unequivocally to wait for Nebogatov's squadron, Rozhestvenskii left Madagascar on 16 March and proceeded to Singapore, passing there before thousands of onlookers on 8 April 1905. Unable to coal or even anchor in British ports, the Second Pacific Squadron refueled at sea and proceeded northward. On 14 April it anchored in Cam Ranh Bay, off the coast of Annam in French Indochina (today Vietnam). In this last stop before battle, Rozhestvenskii was ordered to wait for the arrival of Nebogatov, who meanwhile had passed through the Suez Canal, coaled in Djibouti, and proceeded to the Straits of Malacca in a search of ships of the Second Pacific Squadron. During the long stay at this last stop before battle, morale had never been so low and mutiny broke out on the Orel. The lengthy anticipation of the arrival of Nebogatov's ships led to a storm of anti-French demonstrations in Japan and mounting diplomatic pressure on Paris. France indeed wanted the Russian armada to leave but had little power to persuade it to do so. Finally, on 9 May 1905 the Third Pacific Squadron joined the main armada; now the joint force, which had grown to 52 vessels, was ready to leave. This was no secret since the voyage received constant coverage by the international press. Furthermore, using an intricate net of military intelligence, the Imperial Japanese Navy followed closely the advance of the Russian armada, although it did not know the Russians' exact course to Vladivostok. Admiral Togo Heihachiro, commander of the Combined Fleet, assumed that Rozhestvenskii would pass through the Tsushima Straits. Accordingly he sent a multitude of warships and fishing boats to locate the Russians as they approached the straits. 

Hidden by low visibility, Rozhestvenskii chose indeed to traverse the Tsushima Straits en route to Vladivostok. He divided his warships into two columns. In the eastern column, which was nearer to the island of Tsushima, were all seven principal battleships of the fleet, as well as a cruiser. The secondary column, sailing a parallel course, included all the other vessels, led by the outdated battleships under the command of Nebogatov. The death of Felkerzam three days before the passage through the Tsushima Straits left Nebogatov second in command, although he was not informed of this. On 26 May 1905, the Japanese armed merchant cruiser Shinano sighted the Russian armada and called for additional forces by radio. The following morning, Japanese warships tailed their opponents like a distant shadow, and their number increased continually toward noon. Soon afterward, the decisive battle of Tsushima began to unfold.

One of the three fleets of the Imperial Russian Navy at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War. Being far from the naval arena at the outbreak of the war, the majority of the warships of the fleet were dispatched to assist the besieged Pacific Fleet and were eventually sunk or captured at the battle of Tsushima. The origins of the Baltic Fleet date to the early 18th century, when Peter the Great established his new capital on the Baltic at the end of the war with Sweden and began to establish Russia as a naval power. While the fleet had been the backbone of the Imperial Russian Navy ever since, it remained heavily dependent upon foreign commanding officers throughout the 18th century. After the death of Tsarina Catherine, and especially during the reign of Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825), the Fleet was weakened, although it played a limited part during the Napoleonic Wars in denying the French armies a supply route for their troops. Following the Crimean War in 1854, Russian warships were forbidden to sail into the Black Sea, and Kronstadt, the main base of the Baltic Fleet, assumed its earlier predominance. 

In the latter half of the 19th century, the fleet expanded to become the third largest in the world and comprised many new and modern warships purchased or constructed with huge budgets. At the same time, slight emphasis was placed on training crews, which left them far behind European fleets of similar size. Crews remained ineffective due to limited training and social disaffection while their ships lay idle in port for many months of the year. During the Russo-Japanese War the fleet was divided into two squadrons, known as the Second Pacific Squadron and the Third Pacific Squadron, which were sent to East Asia under the command of Vice Admiral Zinovii Rozhestvenskii. The long voyage of the Baltic Fleet ended upon arrival at the Tsushima Straits, where it was virtually destroyed in the battle of Tsushima. The fleet also suffered from social unrest, and later in the same year its main base was afflicted by a mutiny known as the Kronstadt Rebellion. 

The rebuilding of the fleet began only in 1909 with the laying down of four new battleships. Despite some ambitious construction programs in the next years, only the four ships whose construction began in 1909 and one new destroyer were ready in time for World War I. The naval war in the Baltic from 1914 to 1917 was fought mainly by small boats and was distinguished above all in mine laying. The fleet played little role in the civil war as a naval contingent, but four years later, dissatisfied with the Soviet regime, the sailors of Kronstadt mutinied again and were suppressed harshly. In the 1920s the fleet was reduced to a small coastal defense force, but in the next decade it began to benefit from larger budgets. In World War II the fleet delayed the German invasion to Russia, but for the remainder of the war its ships were bottled up between Kronstadt and Leningrad [St. Petersburg], although it assisted somewhat in the defense of Leningrad. After the war the fleet regained its old bases and acquired new, ice-free bases in former East Prussia. It resumed the construction of a large blue-water fleet, and by the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 it had been built into a large and modern fleet with the emphasis on nuclear submarines.

Russia and Sweden’s Struggle for Supremacy: 1705–90

A Russian Galley of 1719 Campaign: these big beasts were 40m (130ft) in length, 7m (23ft) abreast and 1.5m (5ft) deep, and included 25 pairs of oars, 2-4 guns, 90 crew and 200 soldiers. They could make five knots by oar.

Swedish Gunboat: The Udemaa was a revolutionary design, with the guns stored amidships when moving. In battle, these could be rolled and placed into the fire position, combining the function of gunboat and galley.

With its brackish waters, indented shoreline and lack of tides, the Baltic is more of a vast inland lake than a real ocean, making for difficult sailing and navigation conditions. A semi-Arctic climate imposes yet further restrictions upon sailing fleets and their use. It took all the iron will and determination of Tsar Peter the Great to found the Russian Navy in 1705 with the naval base at Kronstadt, on the Gulf of Finland. To outflank Swedish defences in Finland, Peter built a powerful galley fleet to combine with his new Europeanized army in amphibious operations.

Galleys were cheap and easy to mass produce, could easily be manned by sailors and did not require experienced naval officers to command them. Furthermore in the Baltic, like the Mediterranean Sea, the winds were often fickle and the oar was often superior to the sail. The Petrine galley measured 40m (130ft) in length, 7m (23ft) in width, had a shallow draft of only 1.5m (5ft) and was equipped with 2-4 heavy guns and 18 lighter mounted guns. With a crew of 90 sailors and 200 troops manning 24 pairs of oars, the galley could make a speed of five knots, weather and sea permitting. The hold had enough room for 30 horses, although the crew had to sleep on shore during the night.The effort expended on the galley fleet was vindicated when the Russians defeated a Swedish fleet at Gangut (Hangö Head) in August 1714, paving the way for an outright Russian occupation of Finland.

Less than five years later, Peter gathered a massive galley fleet in the Åland archipelago. His aim was to capture the Swedish capital of Stockholm. The Swedish sailing fleet would be unable to pursue the shallow-drafted galleys and would be immobilized by the lack of wind power. Numbering almost 270 vessels, including 40 ships of the line and 123 galleys, the Russian fleet set sail in late July 1719 with 26,000 troops on board.The aim was to land near Stockholm with one corps while the rest of the fleet laid waste to the long easterly Swedish coastline. The coastal raids ravaged the towns and settlements, leaving thousands of Swedes without homes. However, the great fear for the Swedes was that the capital could be reached via the narrow and shallow Stäket Sound.To prevent this, the Swedes placed a floating artillery pråm (battery deck) at the northern exit of the Staket Sound and three heavily armed galleys in the middle passage.At the eastern entry to Staket, where the Russians were expected, the Swedes built defensive works mounted by stakes and a gun battery, and manned by 500 troops. On 13 August 1719, 7000 Russian troops landed as expected at Staket but were halted and driven back by a stout Swedish defence. This may have saved Stockholm, but the Russians captured the Baltic provinces with their ports at Riga, Reval, Pernau and Viborg, in addition to Kronstadt.

The Decline of the Baltic Fleet
When Peter died in 1725, Russia had a fleet numbering 34 ships of the line, 9 frigates, hundreds of galleys, sloops, gunboats and some 25,000 experienced men, and was the strongest naval power in the Baltic. Under the next six rulers, the Baltic Fleet was allowed to deteriorate to the point where it was weaker than the Danish Navy, despite Russia’s status as a European Great Power. Compared to the army, the Baltic Fleet played a very minor role during the Seven Years War - where it was, ironically, Sweden and Russia who allied against Frederick’s Prussia. This war showed that the key role for navies in the Baltic was not maritime at all but amphibious; coastal flotillas needed to cooperate closely with the army and, in turn, both services needed to collaborate closely with the navy. If that coordination could be perfected, amphibious operations could be of great value. In the Baltic, the navies were operating close to the coastlines and under the direct operational controls of the admiralties in the capitals. This stifled initiative and independence in the naval officers, even admirals, to the detriment of the operational efficiency and combat potential of the Baltic navies. The Russians and Swedes, in their coming war, would show a fatal obsession with linear battle formations and theoretical operational procedures at a time when the British and French navies were revolutionizing naval warfare in the west. Russian and Swedish naval officers lacked combat experience, self-confidence and professional esprit de corps when compared to their Western counterparts.

Sweden had a few inherent advantages that were to give her the edge in naval warfare against Russia. After 1721, Sweden became a maritime trading nation in her own right with a considerable merchant fleet that could provide a useful pool of experienced sailors in time of war. Furthermore, Sweden, unlike her Russian foe, never allowed her sailing ships to deteriorate - even at the nadir of Sweden’s military misfortunes in the 1740s, the building and repair of battleships were maintained. Having been at the receiving end of an attack by Russian galleys in 1719, the Swedes also built up a respectable flotilla of galleys based at the naval fortress of Sveaborg in Finland and at Stockholm. The Swedish Admiralty at Karlskrona was also turning out a larger number of professionally trained naval cadets and encouraging their cadets, as well as their officers, to join the Western navies for experience.

The Russian Navy staged a remarkable recovery under the rule of Catherine II, who sought to establish Russian hegemony over the Black Sea. Although she had no practical knowledge or hands-on experience of naval matters like Peter I, Catherine had a sound grasp of strategy and was just as ruthless in pursuing her aim of expanding Russia to the west and south. The full extent of Russia’s naval recovery and new-found power was demonstrated in 1769-1770, when a fleet was sent, with some British assistance, to the Mediterranean. The expedition was a great success since the Russian Fleet managed to defeat and sink most of the superior Turkish Navy in a single battle at Chesme on 8 July 1770. There were rich pickings for Russia in the south, but the real danger lay in the northwest with Russia’s old enemy, Sweden.

Skärgårdsflottan: Sweden’s Secret Weapon
One of Catherine’s few and most damaging mistakes was to allow her talented and ruthless cousin, Gustavus III, to take absolute power in Sweden in August 1772. He was to prove a formidable enemy, both to Russia and to her ally, Denmark-Norway. The king worked hard to rebuild the Swedish Navy in order to assist the new coastal fleet to take Zealand and force Denmark to cede Norway to Sweden. With Norway in his grasp, the king hoped to expand Sweden’s maritime trade and power yet further.

The building of a skärgårdsflotta, or coastal fleet, had been underway since the disastrous 1741-43 war against Russia - when the lack of just such a fleet had enabled Russia to take Finland a second time. While the Karlskrona Admiralty wanted large ships of the line, the government back in Stockholm pushed for a strong coastal fleet. This fleet was to be under the command of the Army, with majors in charge of ships. Rejecting the Mediterranean-style galley, the Swedes sought something that could combine sails and oars with a large number of guns. The typical galley was poorly armed, weak in structure and used too many sailors and oarsmen. Sweden, with Finland, had barely 2 million inhabitants, which severely limited the pool of manpower for the coastal fleet. Luckily, the Swedes had an outstanding ship designer and architect in Fredrik Henrik af Chapman - the son of an immigrant British naval engineer. Chapman designed a special ‘coastal frigate’ (skärgårdsfregatt) that could sail or be rowed underway but which had the same number of guns as a frigate. It was far superior to the galley in most aspects and would wreak havoc on the Russian galleys at Svensksund. It was most vulnerable while underway - when it could not fire its guns - but it had huge potential.

Chapman, now Chief Naval Engineer, designed three types of coastal frigates of varying size and artillery strength. The smallest Pojama-class galley was least interesting from a design point of view. The Udema-class galley was designed such that its guns were stowed away amidships on the gundeck while the vessel was underway and rolled into place only when it was prepared for battle. The other two lighter classes, Turuma and Hemmema, were more conventional ‘coastal frigates’ without the stowing capacity.

With the King’s enthusiastic backing, these new ships were mass produced with amazing speed and cost efficiency. All of the new coastal ships combined a low silhouette with high firepower for such small vessels, good manoeuvrability, and fairly good sailing performance, offering relatively high speeds when propelled by oars. In battle, they could be used for supporting fire or landing troops. Their only drawback was the need for a naval escort when underway, their low radius of action and dependence on transport ships for supplies. With 14 benches for oars, the galley had a crew of 48-60 men, not counting troops. It was armed with several 181b (8kg) and 24 (11kg) guns. Thanks to another of Chapman’s ingenious innovations, these guns had an unobstructed field of fire since the upper parts of the stern and helm was detachable. In this, Chapman was about two centuries ahead of his time.