RUSSIAN NAVAL AIRCRAFT

Grigorovich M.11

By 1900 the Russian Imperial Navy had adopted balloons to enhance scouting of enemy vessels. In the aftermath of Russia’s defeat in the Russo–Japanese War of 1904–1905, during which its Pacific and Baltic Fleets had been virtually annihilated, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, an admiral in the navy and cousin to Tsar Nicholas II, saw aircraft as a means of rebuilding Russian naval power. Impressed by Louis Blériot’s cross-Channel flight, Alexander reallocated funds that had been raised for building warships during the Russo–Japanese War to purchase airplanes from France, to train Russian pilots, and to build a naval air school in the Crimea. By 1912, the Russian Navy had organized air services for its Baltic and Black Sea Fleets.

By the time the war broke out in 1914, the Russians possessed a small number of Sikorsky S-10 Hydro floatplanes, which had entered service with the Baltic Fleet in the summer of 1913. The S-10 Hydro was based on a land-based racing prototype, but it had a slightly larger wingspan of 44 ft 11.3 in. (the top wing was approximately 16 ft longer than the bottom wing), a length of 26 ft 3 in., and a loaded weight of 2,381 lbs. Its 100 hp Argus inline motor could produce a maximum speed of 62 mph. They were used primarily for unarmed reconnaissance in the Baltic. Only sixteen were produced because the Russko-Baltiisky Vagonny Zaved placed a heavier priority on producing the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets.

Even though Sikorsky had developed only one seaplane that entered production, one of his leading rivals, Dimitry Pavlovich Grigorovich, would build a series of flying boats while serving as chief engineer of the Shchetinin works in St. Petersburg. At first Shchetinin produced licensed-built Farman and Nieuport aircraft, but after making repairs to a Donnet-Leveque Type A flying boat, Grigorovich designed a version of his own that closely resembled it. After the Grigorovich M.5 flying boat was introduced in the spring of 1915, production moved beyond the prototype stage with approximately 100 M.5s being constructed. The M.5 had a wingspan of 44 ft 8 in., a length of 28 ft 3.25 in., and a loaded weight of 2,116 lbs. Powered by either a 100 hp Clerget rotary engine or 100 hp Gnôme Monosoupape rotary engine set in a pusher configuration, the M.5 could reach a maximum speed of 65 mph and climb to a service ceiling of 3,300 m (10,826 ft). It had an endurance of 4 hours. The observer sat in the front cockpit in the nose of the hull and operated a free-firing machine gun (various types were used). Small bombs were also carried onboard. It was used primarily with the Russian Black Sea Fleet, operating out of Russian coastal bases or from Russian seaplane carriers, the hydrocruisers Imperator Nikolai I and Imperator Alexandr I, both of which could carry six to eight M.5s. Its slow speed made in vulnerable to enemy fighters, ultimately forcing it to be reallocated for service as a trainer. It would continue in this latter role until 1925.

Introduced in early 1916, the M.9 was by far the most successful of Grigorovich’s flying boats, with approximately 500 produced. With a wingspan of 52 ft 6 in., a length of 29 ft 6.25 in., and a loaded weight of 3,395 lbs, the M.9 was larger and heavier than the M.5. Because of Russia’s chronic shortage of engines, a variety were used on the M.9. The most common was the 150 hp Salmson Canton-Unné radial motor, which was set in a pusher configuration. Although it could reach a maximum speed of just 68 mph and it had a service ceiling of just 3,000 m (9,843 ft), the M.9 was extremely seaworthy and proved to be highly effective for reconnaissance, patrolling, and light bombing duties. It saw service in both the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, either operating from naval bases or from seaplane carriers. Although designed for a three-man crew, it normally carried just a pilot and one observer. It was protected with a pivot-mounted machine gun (a great variety were used) in the nose compartment, and it also carried small bombs. After the war, the M.9 was used effectively by the Red Army along the Volga during the Russian Civil War.

In 1917 Grigorovich introduced the M.11, which proved to be his last flying boat to be produced in great numbers. With a wingspan of 28 ft 8.4 in., a length of 24 ft 11 in., and a loaded weight of 2,041 lbs, the M.11 also provided some armor protection around the hull. Its 110 hp Le Rhône rotary engine, which was set in a pusher configuration, provided a maximum speed of 92 mph and an endurance of 2 hours 40 minutes. It would see service with both the Baltic Sea Fleet and the Black Sea Fleet. In addition, a few were modified with skis for use on frozen lakes. Approximately 75 were produced before the Russian Revolution disrupted production.

An upgraded version of the F.B.A Type C flying boat, powered by a 130 hp Clerget 9B rotary motor, entered production in early 1916. Most of these were sold to Italy and Russia.

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THE IMPERIAL RUSSIAN NAVY 1914

Hostilities came too soon for the Imperial Russian Navy, which had a target of 1917 to achieve a fully operational state. The nine years that followed the end of the disastrous war with Japan had been a long haul for the Baltic Fleet. Dispatched as reinforcements to the Far East, its most modern ships had been sunk or captured at Tsushima. While it did not experience violence on the scale of the mutiny in the battleship Potemkin and other Black Sea units in 1905, the rump of the Baltic Fleet was wracked by the popular upheavals of the day. Rebuilding was slow. Many of the units interned in Far Eastern ports during the war made their way back to the Baltic by 1906, but Russia’s financial situation and the disruption following the aborted revolution of 1905 practically paralyzed the shipyards for years. The battleship Slava, completed too late in 1905 to deploy, was the only modern capital ship in the Baltic until the return of Tsesarevich the following year and the completion of Imperator Pavel and Andrei Pervozvanny at the end of 1910. These ships had been modified in the light of war experience, but their pre-dreadnought design meant that they were no match for the first line of the High Sea Fleet. The cruiser force was in similar shape. Although completed in France and Russia between 1908 and 1911, Admiral Makarov and her two sisters were obsolete by the time of their commissioning. The only really useful heavy unit was the powerful armored cruiser Rurik, commissioned in Britain in 1908, but she was outclassed by the German battle cruisers, which possessed not only much more powerful broadsides, but also several knots’ speed advantage.

There was a building program under way, but its shape and size had taken years to settle. Even when funds became available as the economy expanded rapidly after 1906, the naval effort was divided between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, since Russia had to consider both theaters. Indeed, the Turkish threat became progressively more serious after 1910 as the Turks embarked on their own effort to acquire dreadnoughts. The first four battleships, which were to be the core of the future Baltic Fleet, were not laid down until 1909. Two, Sevastopol and Poltava, were complete but not yet fully operational. The second pair was not far behind, but all would require several months’ work before they were ready for combat. Four battle cruisers were at a less advanced stage of construction and the first could not be available until at least 1915. She would never be completed.

Russia’s limited ability to produce modern warships had been recognized by the order of two light cruisers from German yards, but these were now lost to the Imperial Russian Navy and would soon enter German service. None of the four light cruisers under construction in the Russian Baltic shipyards would be finished before the end of the war. The submarine force consisted of only eight obsolescent and unreliable boats in the frontline brigade and three even more elderly craft as training units. The Bars class were building, but their completion would be delayed because much of their machinery had been ordered from Germany. In fact, the only product of the new fleet plan already in service was the fast destroyer Novik, forerunner of what was intended to be a large class of the fastest and most heavily armed destroyers in the world.

The deficiencies reflected the difficulties of reforming the navy. Despite the starkness with which the service’s inadequacies had been demonstrated during the Russo-Japanese War, its reorganization was protracted and too dependent on individual personalities. While many, particularly in the junior ranks, were determined not to repeat the mistakes of 1904-5, there remained highly conservative vested interests, both within the navy and in the civil bureaucracy and a system dominated by committees whose accountability was, at best, ambiguous. Soon after the end of the Russo-Japanese conflict, the younger officers set up “study groups” to agitate for reform, paralleling a similar Young Turks movement in the army. They gained an important ally in the tsar himself. Nicholas II had received some naval training, including a period at sea, and his understanding of naval matters was more sophisticated than many of his advisers. The antique office of General-Admiral, usually occupied by a member of the royal family, was replaced by a minister of the navy shortly after the battle of Tsushima. With the tsar’s approval, a Naval General Staff was formed in 1906 to conduct long-range planning. The Naval General Staff’s numbers rapidly expanded from fifteen to forty. Its activities eventually subsumed much of the efforts of the study groups, probably because it involved the same officers.

At the same time, political developments following the establishment of the Russian parliament, the Duma, in 1906 put a spotlight on naval and military reform. From 1907 liberal elements within the Duma became increasingly vocal, but it was not until 1911 as a result of their pressure that the energetic Vice Admiral Ivan Grigorovich took over the navy portfolio and momentum developed for real reform elsewhere in the naval administration. In that year the Naval General Staff was placed under the minister, which meant that the navy’s planning and administrative elements were under one authority. Similarly, although he was a key figure within the Baltic Fleet as a junior flag officer from 1906 onward, it took the accession of Vice Admiral Nikolai von Essen to the post of commander in the Baltic in 1908 to bring about really substantial improvements within the fleet itself. One of the relatively few senior officers to distinguish himself in the war with Japan, von Essen’s dynamism put new life into his people and ships. There were other factors. Apart from the tsar’s continuing strong personal support, the Duma found the navy’s officials much more cooperative than those of the War Ministry and was thus more inclined to provide them money. Grigorovich himself proved particularly adept at working with the Duma’s financial committees. By 1911 the navy was receiving more funding for new ships than was the army for its reequipment. The funding was not only official: in this more hopeful environment, popular support also grew. A National Committee was formed that raised enough subscriptions to pay for a substantial number of extra destroyers and submarines.

The Russian navy and its design elements were not unsophisticated. It is arguable that the technical and innovative capacities of its expert personnel were considerably greater than the ability of Russian industry to support their intent. This forced the Russians to purchase much of their equipment overseas, which allowed them to acquire emergent technology, such as the new fire control systems being developed in Britain, and combine it with their own devices, but left them hostage to situations in which a supplier such as Germany became an enemy. The effect in 1914 on the shipbuilding program would be devastating. It was also awkward for torpedoes, since substantial Russian purchases were made from the Whitehead factory at Fiume (modern Rijeka) in Austria-Hungary, and much of the Russian local effort to that point had been the licensed assembly of components. Nevertheless, Russian torpedo and gunnery standards were not behind those of their adversaries and some of their thinking, such as automatic torpedo salvo firing and triple torpedo tubes, the provision of higher gun elevation to extend the range, triple turrets, and the quality of weapon design were in the forefront of development. The Russians were also acutely aware of their industrial vulnerability and had made substantial efforts to establish local armament works, including a cooperative venture with the British firm of Vickers, as well as improving their shipyards. This work had consumed almost as much money as the shipbuilding programs themselves.

The Baltic Fleet had its own difficulties. There were formidable challenges for training in the eastern part of the sea. The key challenge was environmental. As the Baltic iced up from December-and sometimes earlier -navigation became impossible and remained so until at least April. This meant that the ships had to remain at their bases, with limited opportunities for practical training, a situation exacerbated by the cold and hours of darkness. Admiral von Essen did his best to train all year round, operating in ice-free waters to the west for as long into winter as he could, but it was no easy matter. The problem was partly solved, particularly for basic training, by the dispatch of squadrons to cruise in southern European waters over the winter months, but this alternative was not available to the torpedo craft and submarines, which were lucky to experience a seven-month window of operations annually. Even the long daylight hours of summer caused problems, since they limited the ability of the torpedo forces and the offensive minelayers to practice in tactically realistic settings. Climate had another effect, since the more temperate Black Sea was a better location for experiments. This meant, among other things, that the bulk of the early aviation effort was not available to the Baltic Fleet, although an aviation element was formally established in the Baltic in 1912.

Many of the ratings had limited education and this, combined with the lack of modern equipment in the fleet, created difficulties in developing collective expertise. There were too many conscripts and the annual turnover of ratings represented another challenge for the maintenance of unit efficiency. Efforts to encourage junior sailors to reengage and to recruit boy seamen as future long-service petty officers helped, but were not enough. There also remained great gulfs between officers and sailors, and there is evidence that the gap widened in the decade after the 1905 disturbances, perhaps because of mutual uncertainty and suspicion. The events of 1905 had highlighted the potential of the navy as a seedbed of dissidence to the revolutionary forces in Russia and there was constant concern as to the possibility of internal subversion. Although many of the younger officers possessed a much more professional outlook than their predecessors and their training curriculum had greatly improved since 1905, the system of discipline remained harsh and the disparity between the living conditions of the wardroom and the lower deck was extreme-the sailors appearing to exist on “bowls of soup and black bread.” Just as in the other navies, relationships in the small ship and submarine forces were much closer than in the battleships and cruisers, but a British submarine officer in 1914 was horrified to see “the [Russian] officer of the watch spit in a rating’s face when he was brought up as a defaulter.”

The key Russian advantage was in mine warfare. Russian mines caused the majority of Japanese losses in 1904-5. Von Essen had been appointed to command the Baltic mine and torpedo craft force in 1906 and continued to oversee its improvement after he assumed leadership of the whole Baltic Fleet. Systematic development of new and increasingly effective mine types continued until the outbreak of war, together with regular purchases of additional war stocks-5,000 in 1912 and 4,200 in 1914, of which 1,800 were intended for the Baltic. By the outbreak of war, there were some 7,000 mines available in theater. Von Essen was not satisfied with a purely defensive role and agitated for years for minelaying raids into the southern part of the sea to be an integral component of the fleet’s operational concept. This had yet to be formally incorporated into the war plans, but high hopes were held for the offensive capabilities of the new large destroyers, such as Novik, that combined the capacity to lay mines with a formidable gun and torpedo armament, as well as the new submarines.

There was another strength. The Russians had already developed relatively sophisticated techniques in signals intelligence, with ships’ radio personnel being trained in interception and simple analysis. Basic direction finding and interception had been practiced during the prewar maneuvers. Realizing its vulnerability, the Russians, like the British but unlike the Germans, were relatively circumspect in their own employment of wireless. Organizational capacity for higher-level work came in the form of the Observation and Communications Service established by Captain A. I. Nepenin, who was to be one of the key figures in the Baltic conflict. This was intended as a control and observation system to link the coastal defenses at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland with the seagoing units, particularly the minesweepers, but it also included a signals intelligence element to support the higher command. This would prove extremely useful when the major German code books passed into Russian hands after the grounding and capture of the light cruiser Magdeburg.

Much would depend for the Russians on the success of their land campaigns. The defensive mindset of the Russian high command in the theater could be overcome only if there was reasonable confidence as to the security of Saint Petersburg. This had yet to be achieved and the absence of that security would restrict fleet operations for months to come

Ukraine and Russia

Military Mobilizations: Ukraine and Russia March 2014

September 25, 2018 — As the standoff between Ukraine and Russia intensifies, a military build-up by both countries is threatening to spread the conflict from ground battles in eastern Ukraine into the Sea of Azov.

Ukraine has deployed two armoured artillery boats to the Sea of Azov as part of plans to set up new naval base before the end of the year.

For its part, Russia has reportedly redeployed at least 10 warships and up to 40 patrol boats to the Sea of Azov in recent months.

The military buildups have been triggered by Moscow’s construction of a bridge between Crimea and mainland Russia.

Moscow’s building of the Kerch Strait Bridge in 2015 has cut cargo shipments to the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk by 27% and 47% respectively, costing Kiev between $20 million and $40 million every year.

Around 80% of Ukraine’s exports pass through the Kerch Strait.

On September 15, U.S. special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker said that Washington would consider providing more armaments to Kiev.

Volker said the U.S. is concerned about the expansion of Russian naval operations in the Sea of Azov, which borders Ukraine, Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

The separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine have long threatened the Azov port of Mariupol; taking the city would be a key step toward their establishing a land corridor between Crimea and Russia.

RUSSIA’S YURI DOLGORUKY (K-535)

Yury Dolgorukiy on its way to the Russian Northern Fleet, October 15, 2015.

Yury Dolgorukiy, the lead vessel of the Borei-class submarine

Yury Dolgorukiy during sea trials

Named after the founder of Moscow, Yuri Dolgorukiy, K-535 is the first of ten planned Borei-class ballistic missile submarines.

The vessel was first laid down in 1996 and built by Sevmash in Northwest Russia, and was planned to enter service in 2001.

Initially it was planned for the submarine to be armed with the R-39M missiles but after indifferent tests, the submarine was redesigned to take the Bulava missile instead. The Bulava missiles are 40ft long and have a range of up to 5,000 miles.

In 2007, the vessel was moved from the construction hall into a launch dock in Severodvinsk even though she was only about 80% complete.

It was thought that the submarine would be rushed through the rest of its production in order to be ready for the 2008 Russian presidential elections, even though most of the vessel’s equipment was yet to be installed which would normally take well over a year to complete.

Nevertheless, on 13 February 2008, Yuri Dolgoruky was launched, and its reactor was first activated on 21 November 2008. The following year, it started sea trials and by July 2010, the submarine had passed several trials including the buoyancy control and navigation systems. By the end of September 2010, all company tests were complete.

The first torpedo launch planned for the December was postponed due to icy conditions in the White Sea.

Commissioning, due in early 2011, was also put on hold due to technical defects. In June 2011, more sea trials took place and on 25 June, the first Bulava missile was successfully launched.

After successful state trials in early 2012, Yuri Dolgoruky was expected to be commissioned later in the summer, but more software problems again put the ceremony on hold. Until finally, on 10 January 2013, she joined the Russian Navy with the traditional raising of the St. Andrew’s ensign, which marked her introduction into the Russian Navy.

The submarine is now fully operational in the Northern Fleet – the fleet of the Russian Navy in the Arctic Ocean.

SPECIFICATION Length, 558ft, beam 44.2ft, draught 32.9ft, surface displacement 14,750 tons, submerged displacement 24,000 tons. Surface speed 25 knots, submerged 32 knots. Propulsion, 1x OK-650B nuclear reactor with 1x AEU steam turbine delivering power to 1x shaft. The vessel has an unlimited range and carries 130 crew.

ARMAMENT 16x Bulava Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs). 6x SS-N-15 Cruise missiles. 6x 21in Torpedo tubes.

RSM-56 Bulava

January 2, 2013 — The first of a new fleet of eight Russian ballistic missile submarines is due to enter service in 2013. Each boat will carry up to 16 Bulava ICBMs — intercontinental ballistic missiles — each with multiple nuclear warheads. The new weapons system forms the cornerstone of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Graphic shows facts and figures abouth the nuclear-powered submarine Yuri Dolgoruky and the Bulava missile system.

The Russian Navy is the only operator of the RSM-56 Bulava. As of 2017, 48 missiles are deployed on the Borei-class ballistic missile submarines:

    Yury Dolgorukiy

    Alexander Nevsky

    Vladimir Monomakh

Silesia Campaign 1807

On 6 January 1807, Breslau finally falls to Jérôme’s besieging army of Bavarians and Württembergers (now fighting as ‘IX Corps’). After thirty-one days the Prussian garrison under General von Thiele capitulates and marches into captivity. Heartened by this development, Napoleon orders sieges of Danzig, Graudenz, and Kolberg to commence. He raises a new ‘X Corps’ for the task: a medley of Saxon, Polish, French and German troops, some 26,000-strong.

Diplomatic attempts to persuade Tsar Alexander to accept the French status quo were equally unavailing. It was with some reluctance that Napoleon turned his mind to the problem of defeating Russia’s armies, for he recognized the magnitude of the task, and it was some time before a scheme formulated in his mind. At the time of the capture of Berlin he was claiming vaguely that “we must, sooner or later, encounter and defeat the Russians,” but later in October more information about Russian moves and intentions came to hand, information that persuaded the Emperor that it was desirable to lead his army over the Vistula before permitting them to enter winter quarters that year. If the French were cantoned along and to the east of that great river, the corps would be in a good position to cover the operations already in progress against the remaining Silesian fortresses and at the same time protect the planned sieges of the important ports of Danzig, Köslin and Strälsund on the Baltic coast. Furthermore, the fact that the army would have the River Oder and its fortresses to its rear would provide a road of retreat and a second line of defense should events in Poland go adversely.

In an attempt to secure accurate information of Russian intentions, on November 5 1806 Napoleon ordered Davout “to scour the country in advance” and make a reconnaissance with the 2,500 dragoons of General Beaumont’s division as far as Posen. At the same time, on the southern flank, Jerome Bonaparte was instructed to seize Glogau in Silesia. While these moves were being executed, new and crucial intelligence reached Imperial Headquarters on the 9th.

A force of at least 56,000 Russians had definitely moved westward from Grodno in late October, which made it quite possible that they could have reached the easternmost frontiers of Prussia by the end of that month, and might well arrive near the vital center of Thorn on the Vistula by mid-November. Two days later, Davout reported that there was no sign of the enemy near Posen, where he was in the process of setting up field bakeries. On the basis of these pieces of information Napoleon finally made up his mind. Although the exact position of the Russians and the real intentions of Austria were not yet clear, it was certainly in his interest to secure the most advantageous winter quarters from which to launch a decisive offensive in the spring of 1807. If the Russian commander, General Bennigsen, was to be forestalled on the Vistula and prevented from joining up with Lestocq’s Prussian corps in the vicinity of Warsaw, it behoved Napoleon to advance at once and occupy both Thorn and the Polish capital with the minimum of delay. Once he had gained the west bank of the Vistula, he could decide on the advisability of any further advance in the light of the information that would by then have come to hand; if necessary, he could turn to deal with Austria.

Orders were accordingly issued. The initial advance was to be made on a broad front behind a screen of cavalry with the intention of acquiring the earliest possible tidings of Russian dispositions. Eighty thousand men, comprising the corps of Davout, Lannes, Augereau and Jerome, under the temporary command of Murat, were designated for this task. To the north, the Vth and VIIth Corps would move from Stettin and Berlin respectively towards Thorn, while in the center Davout’s IIIrd Corps was to push on beyond Posen and make for Warsaw. To the south, Jerome’s command (the IXth Corps) was to advance from Glogau toward Kalisch in such a way as to secure the southern flank against any possibility of Austrian intervention (however remote this likelihood now appeared); while on his extreme right, General Vandamme’s division was to move on Breslau to seize the Silesian fortresses as occasion offered.

Napoleon orders Jérôme to press down the River Oder to Breslau, to take this important fort. Poland is peppered with fortified towns, and Napoleon knows that as his army advances, every one of these hostile islands of stone must be taken, otherwise his lines of supply and communication will remain vulnerable.

The extreme northern flank was entrusted to Mortier’s VIIIth Corps on the 11th, Louis Bonaparte being ordered back to guard Holland. Napoleon himself would, for the present, remain at Berlin organizing the rear areas and ensuring that the remaining corps of the Grande Armée, as they returned from pursuing Blücher, were sent forward along the correct roads in the second wave—namely, Bernadotte and Ney toward Thorn, and Soult (with his own command and the four cavalry divisions constituting Bessières’ Second Cavalry Reserve) in the direction of Warsaw.

Napoleon’s decision to invade Poland was not wholly dictated by military requirements; there was also a strong political motive. During the past 35 years this unfortunate country had no less than three times been partitioned by its powerful and voracious neighbors, Russia, Prussia and Austria. The Emperor was well aware that he was now in a position to play the role of “deliverer,” and by reconstituting the ancient kingdom might hope to gain a cooperative ally in eastern Europe besides perhaps 50,000 troops to swell the Grande Armée. Once again, his motives were wholly opportunist; in his heart of hearts Napoleon evinced little true sympathy with Polish national aspirations. “Poland! So much the worse for them,” he once exclaimed. “They have allowed themselves to be partitioned. They are no longer a nation—they have no public spirit. The nobles are too much; the people too little. It is a dead body to which life must be restored before anything can be made of it. I will make officers and soldiers of them first; afterward I shall see. I shall take Prussia’s portion; I shall have Posen and Warsaw, but I will not touch Cracow, Gallicia or Vilna.” Indeed, Poland required careful handling; too brusque an approach might sting Austria into immediate hostilities, and Napoleon was equally eager not to overoffend the Tsar’s known susceptibilities and thus compromise any future chance of a negotiated settlement. In consequence he was careful not to make any direct promise of political freedom, nor did he call on the Poles to revolt against their present masters. Once Warsaw was in his hands, he contented himself with forming the six departments already wrested from Prussia into a semiautonomous political unit, setting over it a council of seven Polish noblemen. For the rest, Napoleon was very cautious. “I should like to make Poland independent, but that is a difficult matter,” he once confided to Bourienne. “Austria, Russia and Prussia have all had a slice of the cake; when the match is once kindled, who knows where the conflagration may stop…. We must refer this matter to the sovereign of all things—time.”

Battles continue in the Grand Army’s rear, with the campaign against enemy fortresses in Silesia and Pomerania. In the former province, Jérôme’s IX Corps – having marched south-east from Breslau to subdue Prussian garrisons at Brieg and Schweidnitz – is investing Kosel and Neisse.

Journal of the Operations of the Siege of Breslau

Peter I of Russia I

Peter I of Russia and Louis XV of France.

Peter I of Russia was one of the most creative rulers in history. Powerfully built and nearly seven feet in height, he worked on a grand scale, with dynamic energy, and the unlimited power of tsar was his by birthright.

Historians have justly criticized Peter for the brutality of his methods and the heavy human cost involved in his policies. But he was not a cruel man; his were the methods of the age. Moreover, revolutions demand sacrifices, and he devoted himself to making a revolution. His goal was to transform Russia into a great world power, accepted in the comity of European nations, an equal not only in military might but also in trade and industry, government and civilization. He went so far in achieving this vast purpose that he became, in the words of the historian Klyuchevsky, “the central point in our history, combining within himself the results of the past and the trends of the future.” He was, indeed, the founder of modern Russia.

Peter was only three and a half years old when his father, Tsar Alexei, died. During Sofia’s regency, Peter’s mother was uneasy, living in her apartments in the Kremlin. She and Peter spent more and more time at Preobrazhenskoe and other country residences. This suited the boy, who was already rebelling against the ceremonials and restraints of Kremlin life. The tsarevich’s passion was military games. In 1687, when only fifteen, he set up his “military headquarters” in Preobrazhenskoe and began enlisting sons of his father’s retainers; he soon had two regiments at full strength. Sofia and her chief minister, Vasily Golitsyn, were so deeply involved in their Crimean campaigns that they did not interfere.

Young Peter revealed an insatiable curiosity and an eagerness to learn, characteristics that endured all his life. His formal education ceased early, and his practical education began. He quickly mastered the skills of smith, carpenter, stonemason, and printer. When the Russian ambassador returned from Paris, bringing an astrolabe, Peter could not rest until he had found someone to instruct him in its use. None of his own people could, but in the Foreign Quarter, a Dutch merchant named Franz Timmermann explained it to him, and thereupon became his tutor in mathematics and military science.

Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, an incident occurred that would prove momentous for Peter and for Russia. Visiting a village near Moscow, he came upon a kind of boat he had never seen before. Timmermann explained it was an English boat and that with a new mast and sails it could move not only with the wind, but against the wind as well. Peter worked hard until the boat was repaired, and he learned to sail it. Soon afterward, he engaged two Dutch boat builders to teach him their craft, and together they built three yachts and two small frigates on the shores of Lake Pereslavl to the northeast of Moscow.

In January 1689, Peter returned to Moscow on the insistence of his mother. She had found him a bride, Evdokia Lopukhina, amongst the Russian aristocracy and was anxious that the marriage take place without delay. In this way, she was giving notice to Sofia that her regency was no longer legal. Dutifully the tsar married Evdokia on January 27, 1689. Later in the year, Peter returned to the lake for maneuvers with his new vessels. During his absence, Sofia’s power was gradually weakened. With her forced retirement to Novodevichy Nunnery in August, Peter returned to Moscow.

Peter found the city a stifling environment. Moscow and its patriarch, Joachim, were bitterly hostile to all foreigners. Sofia and Golitsyn were believed to have encouraged foreigners to come to Moscow, where they defiled the city, gathered all wealth into their own hands, and kept the Russian people poor. A violent outburst of xenophobia followed Sofia’s fall. A frenzied mob even seized a foreign emissary and burned him alive. In March 1690, Joachim suddenly died. In his testament, the patriarch demanded that the tsar, under sacred obligation, avoid contact with Lutherans, Calvinists, Roman Catholics, Tatars, and other heretics. He also condemned the wearing of foreign clothes and the employment of foreigners in the service of the state.

Joachim had hardly been buried when Peter ordered a suit of German clothes, and a few days later, Peter dined at the house of General Patrick Gordon. To the Muscovites, it was unprecedented and disgraceful for the tsar to eat in the house of a foreigner. Peter’s Western tutelage now began in earnest. He spent days in the Foreign Quarter learning about the countries of Western Europe and making friends that included General Gordon and François Lefort.

Gordon was a Scot from Aberdeen who had enlisted in the Russian service as a major in 1661, when Alexei was tsar. He was a brave, learned, and conscientious man who had gained the respect of the Russians, and by distinguished service, especially against the Crimean Tatars, attained the rank of general.

François Lefort was the son of a prosperous Swiss merchant who had rebelled against the joyless Calvinistic life of Geneva and had sought his fortune in Russia. He was pleasure-loving and idle, but his warm companionship appealed to Peter, who found in him the perfect drinking partner. Indeed, it was in the company of Lefort that the tsar acquired the habit of hard drinking.

Besides these men, his inner circle also included Andrew Vinius, a Dutch merchant, and Jacob Bruce, a Scottish adventurer. The remainder of his “company” was composed of a motley society of eighty to 200 members at a time, mainly from the Foreign Quarter. Muscovites were horrified to see their anointed tsar surrounded by this drunken crowd instead of the dignity and magnificence of the traditional court of his fathers.

In the midst of the orgies, however, Peter was planning military maneuvers for the spring of 1690 and a visit to Archangel, then Russia’s principal port for trade with the West. At the first thaw each year, ships from England, Holland, and Germany nosed their way through the ice floes of the White Sea. Archangel stirred in readiness for the furious activity of the brief summer, when goods, piled high in the markets and on wharves, had to be cleared before nine months of winter once again locked the White Sea in ice.

Peter had a new wharf built at Archangel, and he himself laid the keel of a ship to be constructed during the winter months. He also sent instructions to the burgomaster of Amsterdam – who on occasion acted as agent for the tsar – to purchase a forty-four gun frigate to be delivered the following summer. Peter was busy during the winter, turning blocks for the rigging and casting guns for the ship under construction. On January 25, 1694, however, his mother died. Learning of the death of the tsaritsa, Patrick Gordon hastened to Preobrazhenskoe, where he found Peter “exceeding melancholy and troubled.” But five days after her death, the tsar was at work again.

A subsequent visit to Archangel delighted him. On May 20, 1694, he launched the St. Paul, built at Archangel, and on July 21, the frigate he had ordered from Holland arrived. It was a sturdy vessel, richly equipped – as was fitting for the Russian tsar. With the St. Paul and the yacht St. Peter as escorts, he sailed as far as Svyatoy Nos at the entrance of the White Sea before turning back, well satisfied. Now he was restlessly planning ahead. He needed warm-water harbors from which he could trade more readily with the West.

On his return to Moscow, Peter plunged into preparations for large-scale manuevers. His two regiments staged mock battles outside the city, in what was really a test of their readiness for serious warfare against the Ottoman Porte, as the Turkish court was then known.

Russia was still at war with the Turks and the Crimean Tatars since no armistice had been signed after Golitsyn’s second Crimean campaign. The Poles, supported by the Austrians, had been complaining about Russian inaction. Furthermore, Ivan Mazepa, hetman of the Ukraine, was reporting acute unrest among the Zaporozhsky Cossacks and urging Peter to send an army into the Ukraine to reassert the tsar’s authority. All were sound reasons for launching a campaign against the Turks and the Crimean Tatars. Peter was thinking of his navy. He could realize his ambition in the Baltic, which was closed to him by Sweden, or in the Black Sea, dominated by the Turks (against whom he was already committed). He decided to make his objective the capture of the fortress of Azov – commanding access from the north to the Sea of Azov, which would offer numerous harbor sites.

Preparations for the Azov expedition, begun in January 1695, only a few months before the campaign was to be launched, were hasty and inadequate. Peter was overconfident, believing that his troops would readily vanquish the Turks. Patrick Gordon, one of the generals, acted with great courage and distinction. He boldly remonstrated against Peter’s decision to storm the fortress. As Gordon had warned, the assault failed and losses were heavy. But, far from resenting this opposition, Peter acknowledged his error and made no excuses. Defeat and the first experience of real warfare matured him, and at once, he prepared for a new attack.

The first Azov campaign had failed largely due to the lack of a fleet to blockade Turkish supplies. Peter decided to create a galley fleet during the winter months of 1695-96. It was a formidable undertaking; the Russians, familiar only with the primitive barges that plied the Volga and Don, had no experience in building seagoing ships. But Peter did not recognize obstacles of this kind. He chose the town of Voronezh, which had direct access to the Don, as the site of the shipyards. Using a galley brought from Holland as a model, he supervised and encouraged the workmen, who had been hurriedly assembled. He called for a fleet of twenty-five armed galleys, thirty smaller warships, 1,300 river barges, fire ships, and other vessels. More than 30,000 carpenters and workmen labored day and night.

By mid-June, twenty-two Russian galleys were anchored off the mouth of the Don, where they effectively blockaded Azov. The Russian army had taken up siege positions. At the same time, 15,000 shovel-wielding troops were building up a massive earth rampart, which they moved forward until they were close enough to fire over the walls into the fortress. Soon the mountain of earth was rolling over the walls. The Turks tried to clamber up the rampart to counterattack, but were promptly repelled. On July 19, 1696, the Turks surrendered.

Peter and his victorious army entered Moscow to celebrations that bewildered the Muscovites. Instead of the traditional holy icons, the procession of Church dignitaries, and the magnificent thanksgiving services in all the cathedrals, Peter had ordered the construction of a triumphal arch supported by massive figures of Hercules and Mars, through which secular processions passed. Again the tsar was emphasizing the break with the Muscovite past.

He now inaugurated a plan to send young Russians abroad to learn seamanship, shipbuilding, and navigation – not just by observation but by application. Since Peter could not lag behind his own people, he, too, would study in Western Europe. Russians were horrified when the first sixty-one young noblemen received their orders to go to England, Holland, and Italy. They believed the countries to the west were sinister, and that the tsar was condemning their sons to be corrupted by seducing them from the Orthodox way of life. Worse yet was Peter’s decision to go abroad himself; a tsar had never ventured beyond his own frontiers except on rare occasions in wartime. They feared that he would disappear in the West or undergo some evil transformation.

Peter’s tremendous energies were in full spate. By the end of 1696, 6,000 troops, with their families, were colonizing Azov; a labor force of 20,000 men was being recruited in the Ukraine to build a town and a harbor at Taganrog, thirty-five miles to the west on the Sea of Azov; and a program was underway for creating the Russian fleet. Responsibility was firmly laid upon the landowners, who, singly or in groups, had to build and maintain one warship for every 10,000 serf households they possessed.

By March 1697, Peter was ready to leave Moscow. He was anxious to travel informally in order to avoid the time-consuming ceremonial of state visits. He appointed an embassy to the courts of Western Europe, whose ostensible purpose was to negotiate a grand alliance against the Ottoman Porte. The entourage of more than 250 persons included twenty nobles and thirty-five other “volunteers;” the tsar, having enrolled under the pseudonym of Peter Mikhailov, was in the latter group.

Traveling through Prussia, Peter was impatient of every delay that kept him from reaching Holland. On the advice of Dutchmen in the Russian service, he made straight for Zaandam, where he was plagued by crowds of people curious to set eyes on the Russian tsar. (He was so distinctive in appearance that his disguise was easily penetrated.) The crowds, and the fact that Zaandam offered only limited facilities to study shipbuilding, caused him to move to Amsterdam. Driven by insatiable curiosity, he inspected the buildings, scientific collections, and institutions of that city. But he was excited most of all by the proposal of the East India Company to build a new frigate according to his specifications. Soon Peter was settled in the house of a ropemaker in the Company’s yards and hard at work on the new ship, which was launched on November 16. But he had already become restless; Dutch methods disappointed him, for the shipwrights worked by rule of thumb and had no systematized basic principles they could transmit.

Peter suffered another disappointment in Holland. The Russians had hoped to form a grand military alliance against the Turks, but they soon learned that the rest of Europe sought peace with Turkey, since war over the Spanish succession was already threatening. Nor was the Russian embassy able to obtain financial aid or equipment from the Dutch States-General.

The embassy had failed completely in its political purpose. Peter, however, concentrated on his studies in shipbuilding. He was delighted with the unexpected gift from William III of a magnificent yacht, the Royal Transport. On January 8, 1698, he sailed for London.

By the close of the seventeenth century, London was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe. The Great Fire of 1666 had destroyed the area between the Temple and the Tower, but new mansions of brick and stone had quickly risen from the ashes. Acclaimed English architect Sir Christopher Wren ingeniously had directed the design and construction of fifty-one churches; his masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral, towered over all. But Peter was most impressed by the forest of masts of the ships loading and unloading along the docks of the Thames, which to him were the greatest evidence of London’s vitality and wealth.

Peter was lodged in a small house on Norfolk Street off the Strand. Here William III called on him informally, and Peter visited Kensington Palace to return the call. But he had come to England to study shipbuilding, and in February, he moved to Deptford, then the center of important docks and building yards. The host government had rented for him the house of John Evelyn, the diarist. Sayes Court was a fine house with magnificent gardens, but Evelyn’s bailiff was soon reporting that the house was “full of people and right nasty.” Indeed, the damage done by Peter and his entourage was so extensive that Sir Christopher Wren was called in to make a report, and Evelyn subsequently received a large sum in compensation.

Peter spent many hours in the shipyards. A journeyman-shipwright commented that “the tsar of Muscovy worked with his own hands as hard as any man in the yard.” This was the crucial stage in his apprenticeship, for he was mastering the principles that underlay what he had learned in practice in Russia and Holland. Yet he found time to discuss theology with a group of Anglican churchmen, and to negotiate an agreement for the export of Virginian tobacco to Russia. Earlier, traffic in the “ungodly herb” had been sternly forbidden. Since 1634, its use had been punishable by death, though the usual penalties were flogging with the knout, slitting of the nostrils, and chopping off noses. Tobacco had, nevertheless, been smuggled into the country, and smoking was becoming popular. Peter took the opportunity to legalize it, both to stress the break with the past and also to create a new source of taxation. The deal provided him with ready funds to pay for the equipment he needed.

William III was a generous host. Besides the gift of the Royal Transport, he allowed Peter full access to naval, military, and other establishments. Peter spent hours at Greenwich Observatory, Woolwich Arsenal, and the Tower of London, which then housed the zoo, the city museum, the Royal Society, and the mint. He closely studied the English currency and methods of coining, then the most advanced in Europe. (Two years after his return to Russia, he would completely reform Russia’s monetary system on the English model, issuing coins of several denominations, all at weights close to the real value of the metal.) A highlight of the visit was the fleet maneuvers in the Solent, which the king ordered for Peter’s benefit toward the end of March. The tsar was very impressed.

On April 25, Peter sailed for Amsterdam, where more than 700 officers, seamen, engineers, and craftsmen – engaged in Holland and England to serve in Russia – were assembled. Vast quantities of arms and equipment lay piled high on the docks. Ten ships had to be chartered to transport men and materials to Archangel.

Peter himself was in no hurry to return to Russia. He planned leisurely stopovers in several other European capitals. His visit to Vienna proved disappointing. He became enmeshed in imperial etiquette and, moreover, was thwarted in his efforts to dissuade the imperial government from continuing its unilateral peace negotiations with Turkey.

On July 15, however, as he was about to set out from Vienna for Venice, dispatches came from Moscow telling of another Streltsy rebellion. He had disregarded the earlier reports of mutiny that had reached him in Amsterdam, but the latest dispatch, which had taken a month to arrive, told of four regiments marching on Moscow. He hurried preparations for the return journey to Russia. Soon after departing Vienna, a courier brought the news that his general, Boyar Shein, had put down the revolt, executing 130 Streltsy and holding 1,860 in custody. But Peter was resolved to deal personally with the Streltsy, and he did not turn back to visit the much-admired naval power of Venice.

En route, Peter had a meeting with Frederick Augustus, elector of Saxony and Poland’s king. Both monarchs agreed that Sweden was their chief enemy. Frederick Augustus was anxious to win popular Polish acclaim by recovering the province of Livonia, which the Poles had surrendered to Sweden under the Treaty of Olivia; Peter was eager to regain Russia’s access to the Baltic. The tsar now adopted the policy of a northern league against Sweden, which Ordin-Nashchokin had promoted during his father’s reign.

The western tour had broadened Peter’s knowledge and understanding, and had hardened his will to transform his country. Everything in the West – the technical superiority, the intellectual vitality, and the culture and dignity of the way of life – contrasted with the spirit and conditions in Russia. As he traveled toward Moscow, Peter translated his ideas into practical plans.

On the evening of August 25, 1698, Peter slipped quietly into the capital, without the usual ceremonies. He remained there briefly and then rode off to Preobrazhenskoe, where he spent the night among his trusted regiments. The news of his return spread swiftly, however, and by dawn next morning, crowds of people had gathered to pay homage. When they prostrated themselves before the tsar, he lifted them up; he wanted obedience, but not the old servility. Then he surprised everyone by producing scissors and cutting off the long beards of those present. Only the patriarch and two very old boyars were spared. Orthodox Russians cherished their beards as part of their faith, believing that salvation was impossible without them. The patriarch had thundered from the pulpit, “God did not create men beardless, only cats and dogs. The shaving of beards is not only foolishness and a dishonor, it is a mortal sin.” The beard was, indeed, a powerful symbol of old Muscovy, and with this assault on beards and then on the cumbersome national costume, Peter launched a new campaign for the modernization of Russia.

Three days after his return, Peter divorced his much-neglected wife, Evdokia. Staunchly Orthodox and conservative, she was wholly out of sympathy with his plans and activities. Evdokia was carried off to the Suzdal-Pokrovsky Nunnery, where in the following year, she became a nun under the name Helen. Their seven-and-a-half-year-old son, Tsarevich Alexei, was given into the care of Peter’s sister, Tsarevna Natalya.

Next Peter dealt with the Streltsy. He was angry to find that the generals, whom he had left in command of the army, had been perfunctory in investigating the reasons for the rebellion and that they had executed the ringleaders, thereby destroying important testimony. He intended to prove that Sofia, locked away in Novodevichy Nunnery, and the Miloslavsky had somehow instigated the uprisings. He recalled with cold, savage anger the Streltsy terror that had been visited upon the royal family when he was a child. Fourteen torture chambers were prepared in Preobrazhenskoe, and interrogations – accompanied by the usual flogging and flaying, breaking of arms and legs, and application of fire – continued for several weeks. More than 900 of the Streltsy lost their lives by beheading, hanging, or breaking on the wheel. For nearly five months, Moscow resembled a charnel house. No conclusive evidence was found to confirm that Sofia and her faction had been complicit in the rebellion; interrogations continued into the following year. Finally, in June 1699, Peter disbanded Moscow’s remaining regiments, dispersing the men and their families to distant parts of the country.

While the Streltsy purge was under way, but after the main executions, Peter went south to the shipyards at Voronezh on the river Don. The building of the fleet was progressing, but the extensive new shipyards were beset with problems. Shortage of labor was acute, and not even harsh punishments deterred the peasant-laborers from fleeing. Corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency also hindered the work. For once, Peter was despondent, writing: “A cloud of doubt covers my mind, whether I shall ever taste these fruits or whether they will be like dates which those who plant them never gather.” But putting these worries behind him, he laid the keel for a sixty-gun ship, the Predestination, and the work continued.

Peter I of Russia II

In the spring of 1699, Peter was under pressure from Frederick Augustus to attack Sweden. The monarchs of Denmark and Poland believed the time was ripe for war. Young Charles XII, who had succeeded to the Swedish throne on the death of his father in 1697, was reportedly wild and unstable. His nation had long been the dominant power in the Baltic, and its enemies now prepared to seize the territories that they claimed as their own.

Peter had, however, consistently refused to engage in war in the north before he had secured peace with the Turks in the south. Since the sultan could not be hurried, it was not until August 1700 that Peter received news that a thirty-year armistice with Turkey had been signed.

The next day, Peter declared war on Sweden, opening the Northern War. He was impatient to recover Ingria and Karelia, but he decided that his first step should be to take Narva, an important trading town on the Narva River, about ten miles from its entry into the Gulf of Finland. He ordered an army of 64,000 into siege positions outside Narva, but delays held the Russian strength to less than 40,000 men. Hopes of early capture of the town were diminished by the sturdy resistance of the Swedish garrison even after two weeks of bombardment.

Meanwhile, Peter was disturbed to learn that Charles had forced the Danes to come to terms and that Frederick Augustus had raised the siege of Riga and retreated. Then he received reports that Charles had landed at the Baltic port of Pärnu and was en route to relieve the Narva garrison. Peter hurriedly entrusted the supreme command of the Russian forces to a Frenchman in his service, the duke of Croy, and he withdrew to meet with Frederick Augustus. Eight hours after his departure, Charles took advantage of a sudden snowstorm to hurl his army of 8,000 men against the Russian positions, gaining a swift and complete victory in late November.

Peter’s hasty departure had the appearance of retreat in the face of the enemy. Many in Western Europe believed him guilty of cowardice. Charles was contemptuous. Driven by pride, and hungry for military glory and the excitement of war, he observed criteria that were remote from Peter’s standards. Peter was a realist. He had declared war on Sweden to gain certain objectives, but he was not prepared to risk himself in battle with Charles when his army was still untrained and untested. He had, moreover, half expected defeat at the hands of the veteran Swedish troops, and he saw it not as a dishonor but as a stage in the development of his army.

The magnitude of the disaster at Narva nevertheless astonished him. He had lost all of his artillery and was forced to recognize that his army was little more than a horde of untrained peasants, incapable of standing against Western troops. But he made no recriminations, and in a fury of activity, he set about creating a new military machine.

Charles did not follow up his victory by marching on Moscow, as expected. In his contempt for the tsar and the Russians, he felt confident that he could deal with Russia when he was ready. He posted small detachments to defend the Baltic states of Livonia and Ingria, and he spent the next six years occupying Poland.

Charles thus gave Peter the respite he needed to train his army in battle. During the years 1702 and 1703, Peter conquered Ingria, and in the following two years, he captured Dorpat and Narva – proving his troops were equal to the Swedes. But the aura of invincibility still surrounded Charles and his army, and Peter’s great duel with him was yet to come.

Civilian prisoners taken in 1702, after the capture of the ancient fortress-town of Marienburg, included a seventeen-year-old Livonian girl called Catherine Skavronskaya. She belonged to the family of the peasant Samuel Skavronsky, but was possibly illegitimate. Her mother died when she was three, and, apparently destitute, the child was taken into the home of the Lutheran pastor of Marienburg, Ernst Gluck. Sometime before the arrival of the Russian army, she had married a Swedish dragoon; but he was at once recalled to his troop, and she never saw him again.

The Russian commander, Field Marshal Boris Sheremetev, sent Gluck, along with his family, to Moscow to act as the tsar’s translator. But Sheremetev kept the comely and full-figured Catherine for himself. She next caught the eye of Alexander Menshikov, the son of a humble pie vendor, whose meteoric career had taken him to the innermost circle of the court. Much to Sheremetev’s annoyance, Menshikov took Catherine into his house. There Peter made her acquaintance, and it was the beginning of an intimate relationship that endured until his death.

In every way, Catherine proved to be the ideal mate. She was a woman of opulent charms, generous, and good-natured, who provided the stability and affection to which Peter could return for renewal. She possessed the amazing physical stamina needed to keep up with him, common sense, and a simple honesty, which kept her from being carried away by her exalted position, first as mistress, then as his tsaritsa and empress.

About the time of their first meeting, Peter chose the site of a new fortress and port, called St. Petersburg after his patron saint. The foundation was laid on May 16, 1703. Peter’s choice was extraordinary. The estuary of the Neva River, at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland, was desolate, marshy, and unhealthy. The winters were long, dark, and bitterly cold; the summers were short and hot. Although his decision appeared hasty and impetuous, Peter was confident that he would ultimately defeat Sweden and secure Russia’s access to the Baltic. He was equally sure, in spite of the opposition of his people, that the Neva estuary was the true site for his city.

History has endorsed his decision. Peter was, in effect, transplanting Novgorod, which had been, with Kiev, an early center of Russian trade and kinship with the West. St. Petersburg was to become the capital of a reformed and reorientated Russia. Its rivalry with Moscow symbolized the conflicting currents of Russian life: Moscow stood for the old traditions and the sanctity of Orthodoxy; St. Petersburg represented the new, Westernized Russia.

Peter became obsessed with St. Petersburg. The obstacles to building a new city were enormous. Labor and materials had to be brought hundreds of miles overland to the marshy estuary. Hundreds of thousands of carpenters, peasants, and even troops were drafted, but the hostile climate killed them off at an alarming rate. Shovels, picks, and other tools needed to build the canals and raise the level of the land were lacking, and men often had to scrape earth with their hands and carry it great distances.

The fortress of Saints Peter and Paul, designed with six bastions, was the first major building that Peter started and supervised. Then, his ambitions growing, he looked west to Kotlin Island, about eight miles from the city and dominating the approach to the estuary. He decided to make this island a channel redoubt. A fortress, renamed Kronstadt and armed with a battery of fourteen cannons, was quickly erected. He posted a garrison there and wrote out their orders, which began with the uncompromising instructions: “Hold the citadel, with God’s help, and if necessary to the last man.”

Peter continued to rebuild his army, recognizing that the trial of arms with Charles could not be held off indefinitely. He was under constant strain, and he suffered bouts of illness, but nothing diminished his working tempo or his tremendous energy. The new army barely resembled the hastily trained and ill-equipped forces with which he had tried to besiege Narva. The infantry of 40,000 men and the 20,000-man cavalry were now experienced, and well-equipped with small arms and artillery manufactured in the foundries that he had established in the Urals and the armament works that he had greatly expanded at Tula. New methods of recruiting and training also ensured adequate reserves.

Peter had been playing for time and avoiding head-on conflicts with the Swedes. He was constantly on guard against one of Charles’s famed lightning attacks. Indeed, Charles almost caught up with the Russian army at their winter quarters at Grodno in March 1706, and only the breaking of the ice on the Neman River – delaying the Swedes and allowing the Russian army to withdraw – prevented a decisive battle being fought then.

At this critical stage, Peter was distracted by internal rebellions, which forced him to detach troops from his main army. In July 1705, uprisings against the tsar’s officials broke out in Astrakhan at the mouth of the Volga. Many Old Believers, men from disbanded Streltsy regiments, and other malcontents had settled there, and they had been incensed by the extortions of the tsar’s governor. Peter did not underestimate the seriousness of this outbreak. Astrakhan was more than 1,000 miles from the Polish front, but rebellion could spread swiftly to Azov, to the Cossacks of the Terek and the Don, and sweeping northward, it might threaten Moscow. At once, he set aside his plans to drive the Swedes from Courland and sent troops to quell the rebellion in the south.

Peter was now waiting with his army in Kiev in readiness for Charles’s invasion. He was astonished to learn that the Swedes had turned westward against Saxony. Menshikov was sent with troops to harry the Swedes in Poland, and on October 18, 1706, near Kalisz, the Russians severely defeated a large Swedish force. Peter was en route to Narva when he was informed that Frederick Augustus, whom he had supported for so long, had just signed a secret agreement with Charles, renouncing his alliance with Russia. Peter now stood alone against Charles.

Discontent and rebellion again threatened. Peter’s projects, so numerous and on such a vast scale, had imposed intolerable burdens on the nation. The army had taken more than 300,000 men in the first nine years of the Northern War. The fortification of Azov and the naval base at Taganrog required 30,000 laborers a year in the period from 1704 to 1706. The building of the Volga-Don canal – Peter’s attempt to link St. Petersburg with the Caspian Sea – needed 30,000 men, and the English engineer in charge complained that he could obtain only 10,000 men for the work.

Taxes multiplied, and peasants escaped conscription and taxation by fleeing to the open lands beyond the Urals and to the south. Rumors spread that Peter was a changeling or the Antichrist, not the true tsar. Most Russians continued to labor and to obey, but threats of uprisings in the frontier settlements were ever present.

Peter had issued strict orders that Cossack leaders must surrender all runaway peasants and deserters who had joined them after 1695. His orders were ignored, and Cossack settlements expanded greatly in size. Finally, he sent Prince Yury Dolgoruky with troops to the Don, where the threat seemed greatest, to enforce obedience. The Cossacks regarded this as a denial of their traditional liberties.

On the night of October 9, 1707, Kondraty Bulavin, the hetman from the Ukraine, led a rebel Cossack force against Dolgoruky’s camp, killing him and his men. The victorious Bulavin declared that he would capture Azov and Taganrog, freeing the labor force, and that he would then march on Voronezh and Moscow. But loyal Don Cossacks attacked and scattered Bulavin’s army. Bulavin took refuge among the Zaporozhsky Cossacks, whose territory served as the southern buffer between Russia and the Crimean khanate. The Zaporozhsky Cossacks, as a whole, were not prepared to declare war against the tsar, but individually Bulavin was allowed to recruit volunteers. Leading his new army, he defeated a detachment of the tsar’s troops from Azov and also the loyal Don Cossacks, who had forced him to flee earlier.

The rebellion surged dangerously. Voronezh and the vast region of the upper Don were threatened. Peter sent a strong force under the command of Vasily Dolgoruky, brother of the prince killed by rebels in the previous year, and ordered him “to extinguish this fire once and for all.” Briefly, the tsar even considered rushing to the Don to conduct operations personally. In April 1708, Bulavin captured Cherkassk; but by this time, many Cossacks had grown dissatisfied with his leadership and were plotting against him. Moreover, he made the mistake of dividing his army into three parts, dispersing them in different directions. Vasily Dolgoruky crushed one of the rebel forces in the north, and a second, advancing to attack Azov, was turned back. Bulavin lost heart and shot himself. The revolt was at an end, and the Cossacks hurried to reaffirm their loyalty.

Charles, unpredictable to his own generals and to his enemies, had been expected to invade Russia in the spring of 1707. His army, rested and brought to full strength, comprised 19,200 infantry, 16,000 dragoons, and 8,450 cavalry. In August 1707, however, when Charles at last marched, he moved slowly, reaching the Vistula River at Christmas, and then turned northeast.

In January 1708, Charles suddenly rushed to the Neman River with a small detachment of troops. He nearly overtook Peter at Grodno, but had to give up his pursuit because the country through which he was passing had been scourged by the retreating Russians. Charles now established his headquarters near Minsk. All assumed that his bold plan would be to advance by way of Smolensk and, hurling his army into the heart of Russia, dictate his terms in the tsar’s capital.

From Minsk, however, Charles advanced to the Berezina River, and then to the Dnieper. At Golovchina, he found the Russian army drawn up in strong positions. He attacked at once, and after bitter fighting, the Russians withdrew. Again he had won a victory, but it had been costly in men and equipment, and indecisive, for the Russians had fallen back in good order. In August, Charles crossed the Dnieper and marched eastward, harried by Russian light-horsemen.

Charles had expected that the tsar would not dare lay waste to his own subjects’ lands as he had done in Poland, but the Swedish army found the same vista of smoldering grass and burning villages beyond the frontier. Peter’s scorched-earth policy was yielding results. Charles summoned a war council. His generals were united in urging him to fall back to the Dnieper, but the king rejected such tactics as tantamount to retreat. He moved farther south. He sent orders to General Adam Lewenhaupt to join him with reinforcements and enough supplies to sustain the entire army for three months. Lewenhaupt was appalled. He knew that a large force of the Russian army stood between them. Loyally, he set out to obey orders. He crossed the Dnieper, and then, on September 28, at the village of Lesnaya, he met Peter. In the ensuing battle, Lewenhaupt suffered complete defeat and lost the supply train.

Charles’s advance was predicated on the support of Mazepa, who had negotiated secretly to betray the tsar. Peter was worried that the old hetman would persuade the Cossacks – whose rebellions had just been quelled – to follow him, and that the Crimean Tatars would join with them. But Swedish expectations were not realized. When at the end of October 1708, Mazepa entered the Swedish camp, he was followed by only about 2,000 Cossacks, instead of his usual complement of 20,000 to 30,000 men. Loyalty to the tsar and fear of reprisals had dissuaded most Zaporozhsky and Don Cossacks from going over to the enemy.

The climax of the Northern War was yet to come. The winter of 1708 was exceptionally severe. The rivers of Europe were frozen, and in the Ukrainian steppes, the cold was even more intense. In spite of the savage conditions, Charles marched his army farther to the south. The bravery and endurance of the Swedes were heroic. Then, in mid-February, freak thunderstorms and heavy rains melted snow and ice, turning the ground into a quagmire. Charles decided to take Poltava, a small but important trading town on the Vorskla River. He began the siege early in May 1709. The Russian army gathered on the opposite bank of the river, and Menshikov sent word to Peter that battle was imminent.

Peter rejoined his army early in June and assumed supreme command. Two weeks later, he crossed the army over the river and took up positions within a quarter of a mile of the Swedes. On the morning of June 27, the two armies clashed in general battle. The Swedes fought with great spirit, but they were now opposed by a sturdier enemy. Throughout the battle, Peter showed terrific courage, his tall figure conspicuous among the Russian troops as he drove them to greater efforts. Charles, who had suffered a severe wound in the foot, was carried on a litter wherever the fighting was most fierce so that he could encourage his men. But the Swedes were near the end of their strength and yielding ground. Charles, weak from fatigue and loss of blood, was hoisted onto a horse to order the retreat. On the battlefields, 3,000 Swedes lay dead; 2,800 were taken prisoners. The remnants of the Swedish army retreated southward toward the Dnieper, but, overtaken by the Russian cavalry, they surrendered. Charles, Mazepa, and a small band of survivors made their escape in boats across the river and found refuge in Turkish territory.

Peter was jubilant. He attended a thanksgiving service on the field of battle, and then he celebrated. The Swedish generals and officers were brought to his tent, where he showed them courtesy and praised their bravery. He stood up and gave a tribute to his mentors in the art of war. “Who are your teachers?” a Swedish general asked. “You are, Gentlemen,” the tsar replied. “Then well have the pupils returned thanks to their teachers,” the Swede commented.

Peter wrote at once to all who were close to him, giving them the news. He asked Catherine to come to him in Poltava. In his letter to General-Admiral Fedor Apraksin, he expressed concisely what he believed to be the chief outcome of the battle: “Now, with the help of God, the final stone in the foundation of St. Petersburg has been laid.”

Eager also to raise Russia’s prestige, Peter sent a stream of battle reports to Russian ministers abroad. In the chancelleries of Europe, the significance of this decisive victory was readily understood. A new power had arisen, displacing Sweden and changing the balance of Europe. Fear and suspicion of the new colossus began to condition the policies of Western European countries toward Russia.

However, Peter realized that Charles would not capitulate or come to any terms but his own; he might succeed in persuading the Turks to declare war on Russia and in invading the Ukraine with Turkish and Tatar support. Charles, supported by France and by the Crimean Tatars, was, in fact, bringing every pressure to bear in Constantinople. Through Peter Tolstoy, his ambassador to the Ottoman Porte, Peter demanded that Turkey expel Charles, still in refuge there. The demand was rejected, and on November 20, 1710, the Turks formally declared war on Russia. Tolstoy was then imprisoned in Constantinople’s Tower of the Seven Bastions. The following February, the Russians declared war against the enemies of the Cross. A few days later, Peter, accompanied by Catherine, went south to join his army at the river Pruth.

This campaign against the Turks was another chastening experience for Peter. He embarked on it hastily and in a mood of overconfidence. He planned to strike deep into Turkish territory, and with the support of the Orthodox Christian peoples of Wallachia, Moldavia, and the Balkans, take command of the Black Sea. However, when the campaign opened, the Christians did not rise against the Turks.

Early in July, beyond the Pruth, the Turks attacked the Russian army, but were repelled with heavy losses. The Russians then began to withdraw, only to be engaged in further desperate fighting. Peter’s army of 38,000 men was now surrounded by the Turkish army of 120,000 troops, supported by 70,000 Tatars. The Russians were exhausted by the heavy fighting in sultry heat. Fortunately, the vizier commanding the Turkish army did not appreciate the strength of his position. He, too, was eager to come to terms, especially since the Janizaries, the palace guards, who had suffered most in the fighting, refused to attack the Russian positions again. Finally, to Peter’s great relief, peace conditions were agreed to on July 12. The vizier had demanded far less than the tsar had been prepared to concede. Though Peter gave up all that he had won in his campaign of 1696 – including the strongholds of Azov and Taganrog on the Sea of Azov – he was spared the humiliation of being imprisoned, along with Catherine, by the Turks. Peter and Catherine returned to St. Petersburg; he was determined now to force an early peace with Sweden that would ensure Russia’s position in the Baltic. He needed such a treaty to compensate for the losses in the south and to erase the bungled Pruth campaign.

However, peace with Charles would evade Peter for ten more years. He might have succeeded earlier if he had concentrated all his forces against Sweden. But he was more cautious after the Pruth campaign. Peter nevertheless achieved some positive results. In 1713, he dispatched a fleet of ninety-three galleys, sixty brigantines, and fifty large boats – carrying in all 16,000 troops – to capture Finland. The expedition succeeded brilliantly. Naval supremacy was achieved in a major victory the following year. Toward the end of June 1714, the Russian fleet anchored about six miles to the east of Cape Hango, where a small Swedish fleet of sixteen warships, five frigates, and other smaller vessels barred the approaches to the Aland Islands and the Swedish mainland. On July 26, the Russian fleet outmaneuvered the Swedes off Cape Hango and then pursued them into Rilaks Fjord. Peter called on the Swedish admiral to surrender his outnumbered forces on honorable terms. The offer was rejected, and the Russians attacked. Fierce fighting raged for hours, but the Swedes were beaten; Russians now held the Aland Islands, a mere twenty-four miles from Sweden.

Peter regarded this naval victory as equal in importance to his land victory at Poltava. But this further proof of the emergence of Russia disturbed the rest of Europe. England and Holland, in particular, were alarmed that Russia would challenge and even take over their Baltic trade. Rivalries were further complicated by the fact that France had become the ally of England and Holland at the end of the Spanish Succession War. In 1714, when the elector of Hanover became King George I of England, he set out to drive the Swedes from northern Germany. Peter assumed that he would welcome alliance with Russia, but George refused.