Cornelius Cruys

Cornelius Cruys (14 June 1655 – 14 June 1727) was a Norwegian–Dutch admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy, and the first commander of the Russian Baltic Fleet.

When in the Netherlands, Peter the Great dined often with Giles Schey the leading Dutch admiral of the day, a pupil of de Ruyter’s, and tried to persuade the Admiral to come to Russia to supervise construction of the Russian fleet and to take command when it put to sea. He offered Schey all the titles he might want, a pension of 24,000 florins, more for his wife and children in case they preferred to remain behind in Holland, and promised to make the arrangements himself with William. Schey declined, which did not in any way diminish Peter’s respect for him, and proposed another admiral to Peter as a man capable of supervising and commanding a navy. This was Cornelius Cruys, born in Norway of Dutch parents. With the rank of rear admiral, he was Chief Inspector of Naval Stores and Equipment of the Dutch Admiralty at Amsterdam, and in this capacity had already been advising the Russians in their purchases of naval equipment. He was exactly the kind of man Peter wanted, but, like Schey, Cruys showed little enthusiasm for Peter’s offer. Only the united efforts of Schey, Witsen and other prominent persons who understood that Cruys in Russia would have a powerful influence on Russian trade persuaded the reluctant Admiral to accept.

More important, the Russian Great Embassy had recruited 640 Dutchmen, among them Rear Admiral Cruys and other naval officers (eventually, Cruys persuaded 200 Dutch naval officers to come to Russia), seamen, engineers, technicians, shipwrights, physicians and other specialists. To carry them and the equipment purchased back to Russia, ten ships had been chartered.

In 1698 at Voronezh, in the shipyards sprawling along the banks of the broad and shallow river, Peter found the carpenters sawing and hammering, and he found many problems. There were shortages and great wastage of both men and materials. In haste to comply with the Tsar’s commands, the shipwrights were using unseasoned timber, which would rot quickly in the water. On arriving from Holland, Vice Admiral Cruys inspected the vessels and ordered many hauled out to be rebuilt and strengthened. The foreign shipwrights, each following his own designs without guidance or control from above, quarreled frequently. The Dutch shipwrights, commanded by Peter’s orders from London to work only under the supervision of others, were sullen and sluggish. The Russian artisans were in no better mood. Summoned by decree to Voronezh to learn shipbuilding, they understood that if they showed aptitude, they would be sent to the West to perfect their skills. Accordingly, many preferred to do just enough work to get by, hoping somehow to be allowed to return home.

By spring, the fleet was ready. Eighty-six ships of all sizes, including eighteen sea-going men-of-war carrying from thirty-six to forty-six guns were in the water, in addition, 500 barges had been built for carrying men, provisions, ammunition and powder. On May 7, 1699, this fleet left Voronezh and the villagers along the Don saw a remarkable sight: a fleet of full-rigged ships sailing past them down the river. Admiral Golovin was in nominal command, with Vice Admiral Cruys in actual command of the fleet. Peter took the role of captain of the forty-four-gun frigate Apostle Peter.

In 1706, Peter himself, sailing far out in the gulf, sighted a Swedish squadron headed in his direction and returned immediately to report the news by agreed-on cannon signals to Vice Admiral Cruys, the Dutch officer in command of the Russian fleet. Cruys, however, refused to believe the Tsar’s report and was convinced only when he saw the Swedish ships with his own eyes. Some time after that, Peter touched on the episode with ironic humor. Cruys, reporting on naval matters, complained to Peter of the general ignorance and insubordination of his fleet officers, saying “His Majesty, with his skill, knows the importance of perfect ‘subordination.'” Peter responded warmly, “The Vice Admiral [Cruys] is himself to blame for the want of skill of the naval officers as he himself engaged nearly all of them. … As concerns my skill, this compliment is not on a very firm footing. Not long ago, when I went to sea and saw the enemy’s ships from my yacht and signaled according to custom the number of ships, it was thought only to be amusement or the salute for a toast, and even when I myself came on board to the Vice Admiral, he was unwilling to believe until his sailors had seen them from the masthead. I must therefore beg him either to omit my name from the list of those whom he judges skillful, or in future cease from such raillery.”

In the spring of 1710, Peter plucked the military fruits of Poltava. Russian armies, unopposed by any Swedish army in the field, swept irresistibly through Sweden’s Baltic Provinces. While Sheremetev with 30,000 men beseiged Riga to the south, Peter sent General-Admiral Fedor Apraxin, newly made a Count and a Privy Councilor, with 18,000 men to besiege Vyborg in the north. This town at the head of the Karelian Isthmus, seventy-five miles northwest of St. Petersburg, was an important fortress and an assembly point for Swedish offensive threats against St. Petersburg. A Russian attempt on Vyborg from the land side in 1706 had failed, but now there was something new in Peter’s favor. His growing Baltic fleet, consisting of frigates and numerous galleys, the latter craft propelled by a combination of sails and oars and ideally suited for maneuvering in the rocky waters of the Finnish coast, was available both to transport men and supplies and to keep Swedish naval squadrons at bay. As soon as the Neva was clear of ice, in April, Russian ships sailed from Kronstadt with Vice Admiral Cruys in command and Peter, in his new rank as rear admiral, as Cruys’ deputy. The ships made their way through the ice floes in the Gulf of Finland and arrived off Vyborg to find Apraxin’s besieging army cold and hungry. The fleet brought provisions and reinforcements, raising Apraxin’s strength to 23,000. Peter, after studying the siege plans and instructing Apraxin to take the town no matter what the cost, returned to St. Petersburg in a small vessel, narrowly escaping capture by a Swedish warship.

Cruys performed well in Russia and came be regarded as the architect of the Russian Navy. After his return to Russia the Tsar put his Azov Flotilla under the command of Admiral Fyodor Alexeyevich Golovin, a Russian nobleman who was the successor of the Swiss Franz Lefort. Golovin was assisted by Vice-Admiral Cruys and Rear-Admiral Jan van Rees. Cruys became the first “Russian” mayor of Taganrog from 1698 to 1702.

In 1711, he made the first maps of Azov Sea and Don River. He was commander of the Russian Baltic Fleet from 1705, and masterminded the construction of Kronstadt fortress, which was essential in the Great Northern War against Sweden and many years later against the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Cruys worked for the tsar for more than 25 years and reached the highest Russian naval rank of admiral in 1721. He died at Saint Petersburg in 1727.