On February 18, 1918, the Ice cruise of the Baltic Fleet began, which took place in two stages (from Tallinn (Reval) to Helsinki (Helsingfors), and from there, in March-April, to Kronstadt). Carried out in the most unfavorable conditions under the command of a courageous naval officer – captain 1st rank Alexei Shchastny, this grandiose operation saved the prospect of sinking from German captivity, on which the pseudo-allies of Russia, the British, insisted, 236 Russian ships. First of all – 6 battleships, 5 cruisers, 59 destroyers and 12 submarines. By the beginning of World War II, not many new warships appeared in the USSR. Therefore, it was these ships of the former imperial fleet, especially the tsarist battleships with their powerful long-range guns, that prevented Hitler from taking Leningrad in many ways. It was they, especially the Novik-class destroyers, who fought hard against the Nazis in the Baltic and in the northern seas, and were in the fleet after the war.
Let us recall today this unparalleled feat (the salvation of the fleet took place in conditions of revolutionary decomposition of crews and terror against naval officers, the flawed technical condition of ships, difficult ice conditions), for which the Russian patriot Shchastny paid – due to behind-the-scenes international intrigues – with his life. Probably, this deeply religious man and nobleman understood that instead of gratitude from the Bolsheviks for preserving the fleet they and the country needed, death awaited him.
How the Baltic Fleet was saved
The facts on the surface are as follows. Due to the transition of German troops to the offensive on February 18 along the entire front that had collapsed thanks to the Bolshevik revolution and their approach to Tallinn, the Russian ships stationed in its port began to leave on February 19 for Helsinki under the leadership of Shchastny. The latter left on February 25, the day the Germans entered the city. However, in March a similar situation developed in Helsinki. According to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed on March 3, 1918 (Article V), Bolshevik Russia was obliged to transfer its military ships “to Russian ports and leave there until a general peace is concluded, or immediately disarm.” In the second case, this meant that the Russian armada had to remain in place under the supervision of an “insignificant team” of sailors and at any moment could be captured by the Germans who were taking possession of Finland.
Baltic Fleet, Ice cruise, 1918. Photo: Mary Evans Picture Library / Globallookpress
It is clear that the fleet had to be rescued again, and this was again entrusted to Shchastny. On March 12, accompanied by two icebreakers, four battleships and three cruisers departed from Helsinki, which arrived in Kronstadt on March 17. On April 4, the second detachment of the Baltic Fleet left the Finnish capital (two battleships, two cruisers, two submarines), which arrived in Kronstadt on April 10, with the exception of the submarine that returned due to a breakdown. From April 7 to April 11, Shchastny, officially appointed on March 5 as the chief of the Baltic Fleet’s Naval Forces (Namorsi), with the help of four icebreakers, withdraws from Helsinki – right under the noses of German troops approaching the city – the bulk of Russian ships: 45 destroyers, three destroyers, ten submarines, six minesweepers, five minelayers, eleven patrol ships, 81 auxiliary vessels. On April 20, this armada, without losing a single vessel during the passage, safely arrived in Kronstadt.
“Gratitude” to Shchastny
And already in May 1918, by order of the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs Lev Trotsky, Shchastny was arrested and under the “verdict” of the Revolutionary Tribunal – “for crimes in office and counter-revolutionary actions” – June 22, 1918 was shot. Captain 1st Rank Shchastny did not admit his “guilt” at the “trial”. The body of the hero, who distinguished himself back in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 in repelling the attack of Japanese destroyers on Port Arthur and in the Battle of the Yellow Sea, was buried in a mass grave on the territory of the All-Russian military Bratsk cemetery near the All Saints Cathedral on the Falcon in Moscow.
The heroic Namorsi, twice – in Tallinn and Helsinki – who saved the Baltic Fleet, the Bolsheviks shot him because he saved him for the third time – already in Kronstadt and Petrograd.
The fact is that the greatest threat to the Baltic Fleet was not the Germans, but the British, who put pressure on Shchastny in every possible way so that he would sink his ships in Finland. These main organizers and sponsors of the Russian revolt experienced an irrational fear that, by capturing the Baltic Fleet, the Germans would strengthen at sea, and then Britain would not be good. This is the first thing. And secondly, they generally wanted to leave Russia without a navy, so that it would be accommodating – with or without the Bolsheviks – in the future.
To go against the will of London, on which it largely depended on whether the Bolsheviks would manage to retain the seized power, Lenin, Trotsky and Co. did not want to at all, to lose the powerful Baltic Fleet – too. As, incidentally, and to have heroes like the respected sailors Shchastny, who was not a Bolshevik.
The devilishly cunning red leaders found an “ideal” way out of this situation. They decided to use Shchastny one last time to thwart the British intention to end the Baltic Fleet already in red Russia, and then – to eliminate the noble hero, writing off the next salvation of the fleet on, they say, an uncontrollable lone idealist and thus hiding the ends in the water.
What is the essence of the intrigue?
So, fearing the capture of Petrograd by the Germans now and wanting to deprive Russia of the fleet in the Baltic for a long time, the British again demanded that the Soviet leadership, with whom informally they had the closest relations, destroy the ships. They were even willing to pay for it. For the crews of the destroyers of ships, the British offered to transfer a decent amount of money to the bank operating in Petrograd. As a result, 12 days after the completion of the Ice Campaign, the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs Trotsky sent Shchastny a “secret” order … to prepare the fleet for the explosion.
Trotsky and Lenin knew very well that Shchastny would never agree to carry out such orders, that their content would surely seep into the midst of “revolutionary sailors” who would be indignant at the plans of the Soviet authorities to blow up ships behind their backs.
At the fleeting trial of Shchastny, Trotsky frankly stated: the task of the first was “to skip information about monetary contributions to the fleet to the broad masses of it, to arouse suspicions that someone wants to bribe someone behind the back of the sailor masses for some actions that are publicly and they don’t want to speak openly. ” This revolutionary fanatic, closely associated with American capital, admitted that “in this way Shchastny made it absolutely impossible to undermine the fleet …”, and that London was behind this whole dirty story, since “the British offered gold, for it was a matter of do not hand over the fleet to the Germans. ”
In addition, Trotsky, of course, accused Shchastny of “persistently and unswervingly deepening the chasm between the navy and the Soviet regime,” coup “. It is clear that there was a lie and that they simply decided to blame the honest and decent serviceman Shchastny for another failure to comply with British instructions: we, they say, wanted to do everything as promised, but he ruined everything, for which he was severely punished. Death. This style will soon become the norm. Stalin had a Leninist school.
Thus ended the life of the savior of the Baltic Fleet, whose feat was hushed up in the USSR and who was “rehabilitated” only in 1995. Shchastny himself, of course, was not in the least mistaken about the role prepared for him, believing that his death was a small price to pay for saving the fleet, which was worth huge money and technological efforts.
In his suicide note, he wrote:
In a revolution, people must die courageously. Before I die, I bless my children Leo and Galina, and when they grow up, I ask them to tell them that I am going to die courageously, as befits a Christian.
His son lived until 2002. In his suicide letter of thanks to his lawyer, Shchastny called his case “hopeless in the moment he was going through” – he had no illusions.
The executed, we repeat, understood everything perfectly and would be very pleased that the Bolsheviks even after his death, being backed by the British to the wall, still did not allow them to destroy the Baltic Fleet. This is the fourth attempt in a row was entrusted by London to the legendary British spy Sidney Reilly, who was for the time being entered the high Kremlin offices (they were occupied by former wards of the British special services) and had a real Cheka identity card in the name of Georgy Reilinsky. This type, originally from Odessa, after the execution of Shchastny, showed up to the Red General Mikhail Bonch-Bruyevich, who commanded the defense of Petrograd, with a detailed diagram of how to “correctly” place Russian warships at the mouth of the Neva so that “German” submarines would not send them to the bottom. Nodding, apparently, Reilly’s head, who perfectly understood Bonch-Bruyevich with the permission of his superiors … instructed to transfer the ships to an area completely inaccessible to submarines and torpedo boats. Excessive precaution? Not at all. In August 1919, British aircraft and torpedo boats unexpectedly attacked the Baltic Fleet base in Kronstadt in the early morning, sending to the bottom and damaging some of the minor ships that were standing there.
Of course, the British, as well as the Germans, on whom they depended to an even greater extent until November 1918, whether the Bolsheviks would retain power over Russia or not, figured out that they were being led by the nose. Therefore, a few months later, after a series of dramatic intrigues, the Black Sea Fleet, in order not to offend either the Germans or the former “allies” – the British and French, the Bolsheviks had to, imitating the disobedience of some of the crews, divide into two approximately equal parts. And one intended for the latter – to flood in Novorossiysk. But this is another story, only indirectly related to the Ice campaign.