Oct 9, 2021
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Legendary battleship influenced key moments in Russian history

Exactly 110 years ago, on October 7, 1911, in St. Petersburg from the stocks of the Admiralty plant, one of the most famous ships of the Russian fleet, the battleship Gangut, was launched in a solemn ceremony. The ceremony was held with all sorts of solemnity: the Greek queen Olga Konstantinovna, the naval minister Ivan Grigorovich and many other dignitaries were present.

To the roar of the salute from the cruiser Bayan, the hull of the newborn dreadnought slid into the Neva. People shouted joyfully, drank champagne and wished the battleship a happy fate. It is unlikely, of course, that someone could have assumed that this ship would live for more than forty years, go through three wars – and spend most of its life path not under the flag of the Russian Empire that gave birth to it …

Big guns only!

At the border of the XIX-XX centuries, a unified type of battleship squadron was established in the world, which was considered the main striking force of any large fleet. The apotheosis of the era of battleships was the Tsushima battle, which took place in May 1905, in which the Japanese fleet utterly defeated the Russian 2nd Pacific squadron. However, the very next year, Great Britain, which was both the ruler of the seas and the trendsetter of naval technological fashion, in one fell swoop tore down the established figures from the board, at once devaluing the armada of squadron battleships. To replace the old monsters, she created a supermonster – Dreadnought, whose name became a household name.

The creation of Vice Admiral Jackie Fisher and engineer Philip Watts surpassed battleships decisively in everything: in size, speed and firepower. The ship became the focus of revolutionary scientific and technical solutions: its builders abandoned traditional steam engines in favor of much more powerful steam turbines and from medium caliber in favor of the All Big Guns concept. With its ten twelve-inch guns, the Dreadnought was equal in strength to at least two battleships.

This was how the next round of the naval arms race, which was then the main high-tech sphere in the world, was set. The possession of dreadnoughts was considered a symbol of high prestige, a sign of belonging to the club of great powers.

In 1908, a competition was held for the best design of the first Russian dreadnought – following the results of which the first place was awarded to the work of shipbuilders Ivan Bubnov and Alexei Krylov. It was this project (type “Sevastopol”), which, at the request of the Naval General Staff, made some changes, and was embodied in metal. On June 3, 1909, Sevastopol and Petropavlovsk were laid down at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, and Poltava and Gangut were laid down at the New Admiralty shipyard.

Sevastopoli was criticized a lot. The thickness of their armor belt of 100-225 millimeters was found insufficient: while in their German “peers”, the battleships of the Helgoland class, it reached 300 millimeters, and in the Koenig class, all 350 millimeters.

The main caliber also raised questions.

No doubt, twelve 305-mm cannons looked very cool – in the years 1906-1911. Moreover, the Russian fleet was one of the first to master the three-gun turrets – and the same British and Germans came to them only in the 1920s. But in 1914, the notorious “twelve inches” already seemed insufficient. After all, already in that very year, the British superdreadnoughts of the Queen Elizabeth project, armed with 381-mm caliber, began to be launched!

“Sevastopoli” were also scolded for the low-sided smooth-deck hull with an “icebreaker” stem, because of which the Russian dreadnoughts turned out to be very “wet” – they buried themselves in a wave even in the calm Baltic. That is why many experts advised using these battleships only as another element of the mine and artillery coastal defense.

Ship riot

The construction of the “Gangut” was planned to be carried out in 38 months, ending in August 1912. In reality, construction was completed only in November 1914. The fact is that, due to a lack of appropriations, the work proceeded at a snail’s pace, and after the battleship’s hull was launched into the water in October 1911, it froze for a while. When the construction of the “Gangut” ended, the First World War had been going on for several months.

Nevertheless, the authorities were very afraid to send expensive dreadnoughts into battle. Attributed to the 1st brigade of the battleships “Gangut” defended in Helsingfors, from time to time going out to practice artillery fire and maneuvers. The only exit to combat positions in a long time took place in August 1915 – the battleship covered the laying of minefields in the Irbensky Strait. Here, in a difficult fairway and fresh weather, the ship hit the ground, but fortunately, grave consequences were avoided.

And on October 19, 1915, on the battleship standing on the Helsingfors raid, indignation of the lower ranks of the team took place. The reason for the riot was similar to what happened on the Potemkin – the crew refused to eat the offered buckwheat porridge, since after the recent hard work of loading coal onto the ship, the sailors relied on pasta and meat. In addition, the patriotic crew was dissatisfied with the fact that the “Gangut” was not sent to combat operations in any way – in connection with which it was whispered that “treason” had penetrated into the ranks of the command and the officers. In the first place, the bearers of German surnames were suspected of betrayal – and there were a lot of those who came from the Eastsee nobility in the navy. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the senior assistant to the commander of the Gangut, who was extremely unloved by the team, bore the surname Fitingof.

Fortunately, the outbreak of violence was avoided. The commander of the “Gangut” Mikhail Alexandrovich Kedrov persuaded the sailors to disperse. He explained that the deterioration in nutrition was due to the difficulties of the war and allowed the team to be given tea, canned meat and bread instead of dinner. Nevertheless, later 26 sailors, recognized as the most violent, were sentenced to hard labor – for a term of four to 15 years …

The remaining years of the war were not marked by anything remarkable for the “Gangut” – maneuvers, exercises, a couple more exits to combat positions. After the revolution, the Gangut, together with other ships of the Baltic Fleet, in order to avoid capture by the Germans, made in March 1918 the famous Ice Campaign from Helsingfors to Kronstadt. There, in conditions of a lack of fuel, he was put on lockdown at the Admiralty Plant, where he was for seven long years. Only on May 15, 1925, the flag and jack of the Naval Forces of the Workers ‘and Peasants’ Red Army were raised on the ship. And on July 7 of the same year “Gangut” was renamed “October Revolution”.

The former tsarist dreadnought joined the life of the Soviet fleet, actively participated in exercises and maneuvers. Since the “October Revolution” (or, as the crew members familiarly called it – “Oktyabrina”) by the beginning of the 30s already looked pretty outdated, it was decided to modernize the battleship, “squeezing” everything possible from its 23 thousand tons of displacement. In the course of several years of work on the ship, a high tower-like bow superstructure was erected, equipped with a more modern rangefinder system and anti-aircraft artillery, boilers were replaced, completely switching the battleship to oil heating.

Fire, steel and water

In 1939, the updated Oktyabrina took part in the Soviet-Finnish war, firing at enemy coastal batteries. The Great Patriotic War caught the ship in Tallinn, and on June 22, its anti-aircraft guns opened fire on German aircraft. But a few days later, the battleship was rushed to transfer to Kronstadt – thus it was saved from participating in the tragic Tallinn breakthrough, which took place almost two months later.

The front very quickly rolled up close to Leningrad. On September 5, the battleship opened fire for the first time with main-caliber guns to “process” the advancing German tanks and motorized infantry in the Krasnoye Selo area. In the following days, the “October Revolution”, supporting the troops, carried out from two to five daily firing from its 305-mm guns. Four 120-mm guns from the battleship and their combat crews (92 people) were sent to the land front.

Sometimes the enemy had to be fired at distances exceeding the peacetime standards. In order to “throw” shells to the enemy, part of the side compartments was flooded on the ship – in order to create a roll of 5-6 ° and achieve the required elevation angle of the guns.

On September 18, the battleship with the fire of its guns suppressed two enemy batteries with a caliber of 150 mm and 210 mm. And the commander of the German 8th Air Corps Wolfram von Richthofen ordered the forces of dive bombers to destroy the Soviet battleships.

On September 19, 21, 22 and 23, the Nazis launched massive raids on ships in the harbors of Kronstadt – 250 and 500 kilogram “goodies” were poured on them. By that time, a dozen 1000 kg PC1000RS armor-piercing bombs had been delivered to Luga from Germany. The bombing of September 23 was fatal for the battleship Marat of the same type as the Oktyabrina. One of the bombs detonated the ammunition of the main turret, and the bow of the ship literally flew into the air. Killed 326 crew members, including the commander of the “Marat”, captain 2nd rank Pavel Ivanov.

Oktyabrina turned out to be happier. These days, the battleship’s anti-aircraft gunners shot down several enemy aircraft, but on September 21 he himself was hit by three 250-kilogram bombs. A fire broke out on the ship, but the battleship continued to fire at the enemy, and emergency teams hastily extinguished the fire and stopped the flow of seawater. The ship was saved.

In total, in the fall of 1941, several hundred bombs fell near the battleship, and it came under fire from German batteries from the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. There were several more hits, the team suffered losses: for example, 26 anti-aircraft gunners from the battleship were killed in the battle on September 27. Fighting off air strikes, the “October Revolution” continued to hit the ground units of the Nazis. On October 15, 1941, from a distance of 85 kbt (15,700 meters), the battleship destroyed a 280-mm enemy battery that was firing at Leningrad. The battleship’s artillerymen conducted the last firing at the enemy’s forward units on October 22, 1941, after which it was transferred from Kronstadt to Leningrad.

Together with the city, the ship survived all the hardships of the blockade – it hit the enemy, itself received German bombs and shells, and was repaired by the crew. On April 16, 1943, the “October Revolution” again found itself on the verge of death, when another hit caused a fire near the cellars of anti-aircraft and anti-mine caliber. The seriously wounded Petty Officer of the 1st class Ivan Tombasov began to throw the ignited ammunition overboard. The very last shell exploded in the hands of 21-year-old Tombasov, but the ship survived again and continued to “delight” the Germans with twelve-inch “gifts”.

The last 79 shots at the enemy were fired by the battleship on June 9, 1944, when she was firing at the Finnish fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus. Two direct hits on enemy pillboxes were recorded. And after the war, the old honored battleship was retrained into a training ship. The ship served until March 1956, after which it went to the base of “Glavvtorchermet” in Leningrad – for cutting. It’s a pity – it deserved to be turned into a floating museum …

Vladimir Veretennikov

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