The Cambridge History of Russia

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During these years a major shift occurred in the design and proposed deployment of

armoured cruisers. The earlier cruisers (Rurik, Rossiia and Gromoboi) were designed

as long-distance commerce raiders, with British trade as their obvious target. Equal

in size to battleships and incorporating many new technologies, they initially

aroused exaggerated fears in Britain which resulted in a very expensive class of

British armoured cruisers being built to match them.13 The armoured cruisers of the

Bayan class (the Bayan itself was launched in 1900) were, however, designed to

operate in more limited waters and to fight alongside battleships if necessary.14

Their likeliest enemy was seen as Japan, which had already built a number of similar

armoured cruisers. For this reason, in comparison to the earlier commerce-raiders

the new cruisers sacrificed long-range cruising capability in order to maximise

armour and guns for fleet actions. A similar evolution was evident among

Russia’s lighter (‘protected’) cruisers with earlier ships (e.g.

the Diana class of the 1895 programme) being seen primarily as commerce-raiders and

later ships (e.g. Variag, Askold, Bogatyr and Novik) being designed to operate

together with the battle-fleet. The structure and governance of the fleet and the

Naval Ministry were defined by the laws of 1885 and 1888. The ministry was comprised

of a number of chief administrations (e.g. medical: hydrographic) and committees

(e.g. the MTK) but its most important core institution was the Main Naval Staff,

which was responsible for the navy’s preparedness for war. The Main Naval

Staff, however,was swamped in various day-to-day administrative responsibilities.

Like many other navies at the time, Russia lacked a true naval general staff,

responsible for pre-war strategic planning and overall control ofwartime operations.

A proposal to establish such a staff was rejected at the end of the nineteenth

century and the small (twelve-man) strategic unit established within the Main Naval

Staff on the eve of the Japanese war had no chance of seriously affectingwartime

operations. The annualwar games at the Nicholas Naval Academy had some impact on

strategic thinking but although Admiral Makarov had intelligent and aggressive ideas

about strategy, the dominant tendency among Russia’s senior admiralswas

defensive – stressing the defence of key positions (e.g. Port Arthur during

the war with Japan) and seeing naval assistance to the army largely in terms of the

secondment of personnel and weapons. The staffs of the individual fleets saw

themselves as mere advisory bodies and showed little initiative.15 The prevailing

view of tactics was to fight in line ahead or in surprise encounter battles.The

squadron’s commanderwas supposed to controlmovements by flag, semaphore and

telegraph from his flagship. The ‘two-flag’ system was spreading slowly

at the turn of the century. S. O. Makarov, N. L. Klado and N. N. Kholodovskii all

published useful work on tactics but the point to stress is that the Russian navy

had no single and official tactical doctrine which could have provided a common

guide for senior officers. The fighting instructions which did exist were either

uselessly general (e.g. ship captains should obey the signals of the commanding

admiral as much as possible), extremely narrow (e.g. where to keep tubs of sand) or

absurdly pedantic (e.g. the requirement for officers to wear swords in combat). Not

until the war with Japan had already begun was the first true battle manual for an

armoured fleet issued. This was The Instructions for Campaigns and Battles written

by the new commander of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Makarov.16 Peacetime training was

organised in accordance with the Instructions for Preparing Ships for Combat and

with the schedules of individual naval units. It was in general carried out in port

and in training sessions devoted to individual, specific tasks. Mine-warfare

training units existed in the Baltic and Black sea fleets: the former also trained

radio experts. The first wireless stationswere set up on ships in the autumn of 1900

and in the course of 1901–2 almost all major ships received them. As the Far

Eastern fleet grew in size, the first training schools (for quartermasters –

in 1898) and training ships were set up there too. The largest training unit in the

Baltic fleet was devoted to gunnery. But the training concentrated on shooting at

much shorter ranges than was to be the practice during the Japanese war and was

therefore of limited benefit. In 1901 the Technical Commission of gunnery officers

in Kronstadt embarked on drawing up new rules for combat. These were completed in

1903, too late to be influential in training gunnery officers and sailors for the

Japanese war. On the other hand, the annual training cruises in the Atlantic were of

real use in raising preparedness for combat.17 Sailors were conscripted on the same

basis as soldiers though with longer terms of active service and shorter periods in

the first-line reserve (five years in each category). As the fleet grew in the first

years of the twentieth century, so did the number of conscripts: between 1900 and

1905 the number of conscripts in the fleet grew from 46,700 to 61,400. There were

roughly 15,000 first-line reserves and 40,000 much less well-trained so-called

‘naval militia’. In 1905–7 roughly 30 per cent of sailors were

said to be of ‘working class’ background, a far higher proportion than

in the army.18 Given the complexities ofwarships in the age of steam it made

excellent sense to conscript many skilled and literate men into the navy. But with

the rapid growth ofworker radicalism in the 1890s this carried obvious political

dangers. Men entering the fleet who were inclined to political radicalism were

likely to be encouraged in that direction by conditions of service. The five-year

term was one source of grievance, aswas very lowpay and the need to act as

‘batmen’ for officers. Food was often poor, the most recent Anglophone

study of the Potemkin mutiny stating that this was yet one more area in which the

navy’s leadership had tried to cut costs in the early twentieth century.19

Conditions aboardwere very cramped.Moreover, partly for reasons of economy but above

all because almost all portswere iced up in winter, crews spent the long winter

months in barracks ashore. Often ships’ crews were split up or diluted, under

the command of barracks’ commanders and officers whom they barely knew. Under

these conditions no sense of solidarity or esprit de corps was possible and even

supervision was difficult. Even the ships’ own officers and priests, however,

usually showed little awareness that the increasingly literate, skilled and

independent men who were now often being conscripted needed to be trained, led and

stimulated in different ways to old-time peasant recruits.20 All these factors fed

into the wave of mutinies that devastated the navy in the early twentieth century.

So too did the impact of defeat by Japan and the unnecessary deaths of thousands of

Russian seamen. The first mass protests occurred in 1902. If the June 1905 Potemkin

affair is the most famous event in this period, the mutinies in the Black Sea in

autumn 1905 and in the Baltic in spring 1906were larger in scale. In 1907 itwas the

turn for massmutinies in the Pacific squadron. Although on the surface calm reigned

in subsequent years, discontent and revolutionary propaganda was still very real. In

1912 the police pre-empted mass mutiny by large-scale and arbitrary arrests of

revolutionary activists among the sailors. Analysing the reasons for the dramatic

conflicts between officers and sailors in 1905–7, one senior admiral saw their

basic cause as the deep cultural and mental gulf between Russia’s educated

elites and the bulk of the population. In a short-service, conscript navy this chasm

was bound to be transferred from society as a whole into the armed forces.

Traditional suspicion and mutual incomprehension between the two groups had often

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