The Poseidon drone is estimated to be between 20-25 meters long and might weigh about 100 tons. Screenshot from Vesti Pomoriye by Covert Shores
In his annual public speech in February this year, Norway’s Chief of the military intelligence, Lieutenant General Morten Haga Lunde, showed the slide with the Poseidon drone onboard “Akademik Aleksandrov”. Lunde said he feared more accidents involving reactor-powered weapons systems in Russia.
“We should expect development and testing of new, advanced weapons systems in the areas east of Norway. Several of these will have nuclear propulsion systems,” he stressed.
Wether or not this summer’s Arctic voyage included work on the Poseidon drone or affiliated subsea installations is not known to the public. The Northern Fleet’s press service is not allowed to talk directly to foreign journalists.
The Poseidon (“Poseidon”, NATO reporting name Kanyon), previously known by Russian codename Status-6, is an autonomous, nuclear-powered, and nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle under development by Rubin Design Bureau, capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads.
The Poseidon is one of the six new Russian strategic weapons announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 1 March 2018.
The bus-sized Poseidon is designed to destroy coastal targets with a multi-megaton warhead.
Russia’s giant nuclear-tipped Poseidon torpedo will undergo more tests this year.
With almost an unlimited range, the Poseidon would speed toward targets on America’s coastline, exploding a 2-megaton warhead next to them.
The Poseidon will be launched from a class of specialized submarines.
Russia’s intimidating nuclear-powered torpedo is running toward new key tests this year, with a planned deployment for later this decade. The “tsunami apocalypse torpedo,” the first of its kind, is designed to travel across the world’s oceans to deliver a knockout thermonuclear blow against a coastal target or city.
Russian state television accidentally leaked the existence of the Poseidon 2M39 torpedo, originally named Status-6, in 2015. A Russian Ministry of Defense document showed the weapon and described it as achieving:
“[T]he defeat of the important economic facilities of the enemy in the vicinity of the coast and causing assured unacceptable damage to the country through the establishment of zones of extensive radioactive contamination, unsuitable for implementation in these areas of military, economic, business or other activity for a long time.”
The Truth About Russia’s Apocalypse Torpedo
Initial leaks described the nuclear-powered Poseidon as a giant torpedo—or a large uncrewed submarine, take your pick—that measures 6.5 feet wide and 65 feet long and travels at speed of up to 70 knots. Nuclear power also gives the torpedo plenty of range, and experts believe the Poseidon can travel across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on its own to deliver its payload. The torpedo’s high speed will make it difficult for U.S. forces to intercept.
Early reports also suggested the Poseidon carried a 100-megaton thermonuclear warhead, which would pack twice the punch of Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. When detonated near an enemy coastline, such a large warhead would inundate a coastal city or enemy port with a radioactive tsunami, contaminating the area and rendering it uninhabitable for decades to come.
Recent estimates, however, have revised Poseidon’s payload down to a (relatively) paltry 2 megatons. That may not trigger a radioactive tsunami, but it’s still powerful enough to do serious damage to a coastal target. Two megatons is the equivalent of 2,000 kilotons, while the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a mere 15 kilotons. (A kiloton is the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT.)
Western officials are reportedly concerned about the Poseidon, per CNN, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked his defense minister for an update on the weapon’s recent “key stage” tests. According to Russian state media, the Poseidon will undergo further testing later this year.
Russia is reportedly building 30 Poseidon torpedoes, and will deploy them on four specially fitted submarines. Two submarines will reportedly serve with the Atlantic-facing Northern Fleet, while two others will serve with the Pacific Fleet. Each Belgorod-class submarine will carry six Poseidon torpedoes. Russia could also deploy the torpedoes in special capsules, where they would be activated remotely.
Russia launched the first Belgorod-class sub in 2019, and is preparing to launch another this year. In February, a commercial imaging satellite detected the sub at the port of Severodinsk, with its bow-mounted Poseidon launch tubes wide open.
While critics initially derided the Poseidon as a myth or a bluff, it’s clear now that Russia is deadly serious about putting this apocalyptic weapon into action. But will the country ultimately build 30 torpedoes and the four subs needed to carry them? That’s a good question.
(c. 1639-1709), Hetman (Cossack military leader) of Left-Bank Ukraine, 1687 to 1708.
Hetman Ivan Mazepa was raised in Poland and educated in the West, returning to Ukraine in 1663 to enter the service of the Polish-sponsored hetman Peter Doroshenko during the turbulent period of Ukrainian history known as the Ruin. In 1674 he transferred his allegiance to the Moscow-appointed hetman Ivan Samoilovich, whom he replaced when the latter fell from favor during Russia’s campaign against the Crimean Tatars in 1687. He owed his promotion partly to the patronage of Prince Vasily Golitsyn.
In the 1680s to 1700s Mazepa remained loyal to Russia. In 1700 he became one of the first recipients of Peter I’s new Order of St. Andrew. But he did not regard himself as permanently bound, as he governed in princely style and conducted a semi-independent foreign policy. In 1704, during the Great Northern War against Sweden, he occupied part of right-bank (Polish) Ukraine with Peter I’s permission. However, Mazepa was under constant pressure at home to defend Cossack rights and to allay fears about Cossack regiments being reorganized on European lines. The final straw seems to have been Peter’s failure to defend Ukraine against a possible attack by the Swedish-sponsored king of Poland, Stanislas Leszczynski. Mazepa clearly believed that his obligations to the tsar were at an end: “We, having voluntarily acquiesced to the authority of his Tsarist Majesty for the sake of the unified Eastern Faith, now, being a free people, wish to withdraw, with expressions of our gratitude for the tsar’s protection and not wishing to raise our hands in the shedding of Christian blood” (Subtelny).
At some point in 1707 or 1708, Mazepa made a secret agreement to help Charles XII of Sweden invade Russia and to establish a Swedish protectorate over Ukraine. In October 1708 he fled to Charles’s side. Alexander Menshikov responded by storming and burning the hetman’s headquarters at Baturin, a drastic action which deprived both Mazepa and the Swedes of men and supplies. Mazepa brought only 3,000 to 4,000 men to aid the Swedes, who were defeated at Poltava in July 1709. Mazepa fled with Charles to Turkey and died there.
Peter I regarded the defection of his “loyal subject” as a personal insult. Mazepa was “a new Judas,” whom he (unjustly) accused of plans to hand over Orthodox monasteries and churches to the Catholics and Uniates. In his absence, Mazepa was excommunicated, and his effigy was stripped of the St. Andrew cross and hanged. He remains a controversial figure in Ukraine, while elsewhere he is best known from romanticized versions of his life in fiction and opera.
The Cossack Hetmanate, which survived under the suzerainty of the Muscovite tsars only on the Left Bank of the Dnieper, served as a construction site for a number of nation-building projects. One of them, closely associated with the name “Ukraine” and a view of the Hetmanate as a distinct Cossack polity and fatherland, became the foundation for the development of modern Ukrainian identity. Another, associated with the official Russian name of the Hetmanate, “Little Russia,” laid the basis for what would later become known as “Little Russianism,” the tradition of treating Ukraine as “Lesser Russia” and the Ukrainians as part of a larger Russian nation.
Both intellectual traditions coexisted in the Hetmanate before the last major Cossack revolt, led by Hetman Ivan Mazepa in 1708. Mazepa’s revolt targeted Muscovy and the official founder of the Russian Empire, Tsar Peter I. It ended in defeat as the Russians overcame the Swedish army, which Charles XII led into Ukraine. The Battle of Poltava in 1709 profoundly changed the fate of the Cossack Hetmanate and Ukraine as a whole. The loss for Charles was a double loss for Mazepa and his vision of Ukraine as an entity separate from Russia. In subsequent years, the Little Russian interpretation of Ukrainian history and culture as closely linked to Russia would become dominant in the official discourse of the Hetmanate. The idea of Ukraine as a separate polity, fatherland, and indeed nation did not disappear entirely but shifted out of the center of Ukrainian discourse for more than a century.
In the last decades of the seventeenth century, the Muscovites kept Left-Bank Ukraine under their control thanks not only to their superior military force but also because they turned out to be much more flexible than their competitors. While the tsars used the election of every new hetman to whittle away at the rights and privileges given to the Hetmanate under Bohdan Khmelnytsky, they also knew when to relent. In 1669, in the midst of the revolt led by Petro Doroshenko, Moscow agreed to return to conditions close to those granted to Khmelnytsky. It did so at a time when the Poles were reducing the much less substantial body of Cossack privileges in effect on their side of the river. The result was not hard to predict. The Left Bank attracted new settlers from the Cossack lands under Polish rule and kept growing economically, while the Right Bank turned into a virtual desert. The tsars allowed their Cossacks more rights, but they also got to keep them as subjects.
In relatively short order, the Left-Bank economic expansion led to the economic and cultural revival of Kyiv. Classes resumed at the Kyivan College. The professors who had fled the city in the 1650s now welcomed a new generation of students. New subjects were taught, new poetry written, and new plays performed. Ukrainian baroque literature, initiated in the early seventeenth century by Meletii Smotrytsky, reached its peak in the writings of poets such as Ivan Velychkovsky and in the prose of Lazar Baranovych, a former professor at the college who became archbishop of Chernihiv. His student Simeon Polotsky brought the Kyiv baroque literary style to Moscow, where he helped lay the foundations for the emergence of Russian secular literature. The introduction of Kyivan texts, practices, and ideas into Muscovy in the second half of the seventeenth century would cause a split in that country’s Orthodox Church. While the tsar and the patriarch backed Peter Mohyla–style reforms, conservatives rebelled and united around the leaders of the Old Belief. It was no accident that the name applied to them by the official church, raskol’niki, or schismatics, came from Ukraine.
But cultural influence flowed in both directions. While Kyivan clerics brought Western cultural models from Ukraine to Muscovy, they also borrowed from the arsenal of Muscovite political ideology. Key to that ideology was the notion of the Orthodox tsar as the linchpin of a new political and religious universe. The Orthodox intellectuals of the commonwealth, long without a king of their own, embraced the opportunity to enter an idealized Orthodox world inspired by the Byzantine vision of symphony between an autocratic ruler and the one true church. In the end, however, practical considerations outweighed idealism. As early as the 1620s, the newly consecrated Orthodox bishops, hard pressed by Warsaw, had turned to Muscovy as a source of support and a possible place of exile. The desire for the tsar’s protection only increased after the Pereiaslav agreement (1654) and reached its peak after the Truce of Andrusovo (1667), which divided Cossack Ukraine in half.
According to the conditions of the truce, Kyiv, located on the Right Bank of the Dnieper, was supposed to become a Polish possession after a two-year grace period. But the prospect of submitting once again to the rule of a Catholic king terrified the Kyivan clergy. They summoned all the powers of persuasive rhetoric they had acquired at the Kyivan College and the Jesuit schools of Europe to convince the tsar that the city of Kyiv should stay under his control. They succeeded only too well. Inokentii Gizel, the archimandrite of the Kyivan Cave Monastery and one of the leading figures in the campaign to “persuade the tsar,” wanted to keep Kyiv under tsarist rule while maintaining the independence of the Kyiv metropolitanate. Things worked out otherwise. In the 1670s, the tsar retained his control over the city, but in the next decade Muscovite officials and their supporters in Ukraine succeeded in transferring the Kyiv metropolitanate from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to that of Moscow. The transfer took place in 1685, and so the Kyivan clergy received the tsar’s protection at the cost of their independence.
The battles over the fate of Kyiv gave birth to one of the most influential texts of the premodern Russian Empire, the first printed “textbook” of Rus’ history, published at the Cave Monastery under Gizel’s supervision. The book had a long, baroque title: Synopsis, or a Brief Compendium of Various Chronicles About the Origin of the Slavo-Rossian Nation and the First Princes of the Divinely Protected City of Kyiv and the Life of the Holy, Pious Grand Prince of Kyiv and All Rus’, the First Autocrat, Volodymyr. It appeared in 1674, when Kyiv was preparing for an Ottoman attack and the Poles were demanding it back from Muscovy. In the Synopsis, Kyiv figured as the first capital of the Muscovite tsars and the birthplace of Muscovite Orthodoxy—a city that simply could not be abandoned to infidels or Catholics. References to the Slavo-Rossian nation, which, according to the authors of the Synopsis, united Muscovy and the Cossack Hetmanate in one political body, further supported this argument. This was the foundation of the myth still accepted by most Russians today about the Kyivan origins of their nation. In the seventeenth century, however, the Muscovite elites were not yet thinking in terms of national affinity. Russian empire builders would fully appreciate the innovation of the Kyivan monks, who treated the inhabitants of Muscovy and Ukraine as one nation, only in the nineteenth century.
The crisis caused by the partition of Ukraine between Muscovy and Poland forced not only the Kyivan clergy but also the Cossack officer stratum to come up with a new model of identity. The Cossack elite no longer had to defer to the clergy in that regard: the Kyivan College listed among its alumni not only priests and bishops but also Cossack officers, including a number of hetmans. If the clergy could not envision their homeland without an Orthodox tsar, the Cossack officers needed no tsar at all. They pledged their allegiance to a common Cossack “fatherland” embracing both sides of the Dnieper.
Until 1663, when the first de facto partition of Ukraine took place, the Cossack officers used the term “fatherland” to refer either to the entire commonwealth or to the Kingdom of Poland. At the time of the Union of Hadiach (1658), they were lured back to the suzerainty of the Polish king by appeals to return to their Polish fatherland. But things changed after the partition. First one hetman and then another began to argue in their circular letters or universals for the unity of their Ukrainian fatherland—the Hetmanate on both sides of the river. After the Truce of Andrusovo all of them, including Petro Doroshenko and Yurii Khmelnytsky, referred to the interests of the Ukrainian fatherland as their supreme object of loyalty, superseding any other allegiances or commitments. The Cossack fatherland was more than the Zaporozhian Host—a much more traditional object of Cossack loyalty. It included not just the Cossack Host but also the territory and inhabitants of the Hetmanate. They called that fatherland Ukraine. After 1667, the Cossacks began to refer to it as Ukraine on both sides of the Dnieper.
The last Cossack hetman who tried to unite the Left and Right Banks under his rule was Ivan Mazepa (1639–1709). The banknotes of independent Ukraine depict only two of all the Ukrainian hetmans. The first is Bohdan Khmelnytsky, whose image appears on the five-hryvnia note, and the second is Ivan Mazepa, depicted on the ten-hryvnia bill. Mazepa is arguably better known outside Ukraine, especially in the West, than Khmelnytsky: Voltaire, Lord Byron, Aleksandr Pushkin, and Victor Hugo all wrote about Mazepa’s life and exploits. He came to figure in European operas and North American theatrical shows, gaining literary and cultural fame as both a ruler and a lover under the French spelling of his name—Mazeppa. During Mazepa’s hetmancy the notions of fatherland, Ukraine, and Little Russia became contested once again. The outcome of Mazepa’s rule was the formation of a new type of Little Russian identity.
Mazepa ruled the Hetmanate longer than any of his predecessors, for more than two decades (1687–1709), and died a natural death. That was an achievement in its own right. Two of his predecessors had been either killed or executed. The two hetmans who ruled immediately before Mazepa were accused of “treason,” arrested by Muscovite voevodas, and sent to Siberia. Members of their families were also persecuted. To lose the hetman’s office, personal freedom, or life itself, one did not have to conspire against the tsar or try to join the Poles, Ottomans, or Swedes. It was enough to fall out of favor with the Moscow courtiers.
Mazepa’s life trajectory reflected the general fate of Cossackdom in the last decades of the seventeenth century. A native of Left-Bank Ukraine, the future hetman came from a noble Orthodox family. Educated at the Kyiv Mohyla College and a Jesuit school in Warsaw, he studied the craft of artillery in western Europe. After coming back, the young Mazepa began his diplomatic and military career at the court of the Polish king. He later joined Hetman Petro Doroshenko, but the Zaporozhian Cossacks allied with Muscovy captured him. According to the story first related to western European readers by Voltaire and then repeated by others, Mazepa ended up with the Zaporozhians as a result of an affair that turned catastrophic. He allegedly became the lover of the young wife of a prominent Polish official who, upon learning of this, ordered that Mazepa be stripped naked and bound to a horse that was released into the wild steppes. According to that story, Zaporozhian Cossacks found Mazepa half dead and nursed him back to health. Whatever the truth of the story, the Zaporozhians certainly gave a boost to Mazepa’s career with the Cossacks. They sent their catch to Hetman Ivan Samoilovych, who enlisted the highly educated and well-traveled officer into his service.
Mazepa was part of a large group of Cossack notables, rank-and-file Cossacks, townsfolk, and peasants who migrated from the Right Bank to the Russian-controlled Left Bank of Ukraine in the last decades of the seventeenth century. The political stability of the region, coupled with the relatively broad autonomy granted to the Hetmanate by the tsars, helped revive the economy and cultural life, which, as in the times of Peter Mohyla, centered on Kyiv, the metropolitan see, the Cave Monastery, and the Kyivan College. After assuming the hetmancy, Mazepa did his best to promote the continuing economic revival of the Hetmanate and the flourishing of its religious and cultural life.
The Battle of Poltava (8 July 1709) was the decisive victory of Peter the Great (Peter I of Russia) over the Swedish Empire forces under Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld, in one of the battles of the Great Northern War.
It was the beginning of the Swedish Empire’s decline as a European great power, while the Tsardom of Russia took its place as the leading nation of north-eastern Europe. The battle also bears major importance in Ukrainian national history, as Hetman of Zaporizhian Host Ivan Mazepa sided with the Swedes, seeking to create an uprising in Ukraine against the tsardom.
Hetman Mazepa commissioned the restoration of churches that had fallen into disrepair during the long Cossack wars. Among them was the St. Sophia Cathedral, first restored by Mohyla, as well as the Dormition Cathedral and the Holy Trinity Church in the Cave Monastery—all parts of the architectural legacy of the Kyivan Rus’ era. He also commissioned the construction of new churches, including the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God in the Cave Monastery and numerous churches in Kyiv and in his capital, the town of Baturyn in the northeastern corner of the Hetmanate, close to the Muscovite border. Most of the churches outside the Cave Monastery did not survive the 1930s: demolition crews destroyed them one after another as the Bolsheviks tried to turn Kyiv into a truly socialist capital. But those within the monastery built by Mazepa, as well as part of its walls, still stand and attest not only to the generosity but also to the wealth of the hetman. It was the first commissioning of new buildings in Kyiv since Mohyla. The style of the architectural monuments of that era became known as Cossack or Mazepa baroque.
Unlike any previous hetman, Mazepa was able to concentrate in his hands both economic and political power. This was due to the unprecedented support he was getting from the very top of the imperial pyramid. Tsar Peter I considered Mazepa his loyal servant. During Peter’s contest for power with his half-sister, Princess Sofia, Mazepa took the side of the future tsar. Subsequently, Peter made him the first recipient of the Order of St. Andrew, a prestigious award created by the tsar himself. When the Cossack officers complained to the tsar about their hetman and customarily accused him of treason, Peter sent the denunciations back to Mazepa, contrary to the well-established tradition of Muscovite rulers using such denunciations to undermine the Cossack hetmans. Peter showed even more trust in Mazepa by allowing him to execute his accusers among the ranks of the Cossack elite.
The Peter-Mazepa alliance came to a sudden end in the autumn of 1708, at the height of the Great Northern War (1700–1721) fought by Muscovy and Sweden, assisted by their respective allies, in the Baltics. At the start of the war, Sweden appeared to have the upper hand. After defeating Muscovy’s ally Augustus the Strong of Poland and forcing him to step down, the young and ambitious king of Sweden, Charles XII, began his march on Moscow. Peter was in retreat, using scorched-earth tactics to slow his enemy’s advance.
Such destructive measures exacerbated the old grievances of the Cossack elites, pushing them away from Peter and toward Charles. The Cossack colonels had complained for years to Mazepa about Peter’s use of Cossack regiments outside the Hetmanate, especially to dig canals in and around St. Petersburg, the future capital of the Russian Empire, which the tsar had founded in 1702. There the Cossacks died like flies from cold and disease. Moreover, Peter’s introduction of new taxes and administrative reforms threatened to turn the Hetmanate into a regular province of the Muscovite state, not its privileged enclave. All that, argued the colonels, violated the protectorate agreement concluded by Bohdan Khmelnytsky with Muscovy.
Mazepa corresponded with the Polish allies of Charles XII and explored his foreign-policy options but refused to act. Only when the Swedish king decided to make a detour to Ukraine on his way to Moscow, and the tsar refused to help with any troops—Mazepa was supposed to defend the Hetmanate on his own and burn the towns and villages in Charles’s path—did the hetman yield to the demands of the colonels and switch sides. Muscovy was not performing its primary function—the defense of the Hetmanate—under the numerous agreements with the Cossack hetmans. It was time to think of another option even in Left-Bank Ukraine. The Cossack officers began to study the conditions of the fifty-year-old Union of Hadiach. In November 1708, with a group of trusted courtiers and a small detachment of Cossacks, Mazepa left his capital of Baturyn and joined the advancing army of Charles XII.
For the sake of secrecy, Mazepa conducted no anti-Peter agitation in the Hetmanate before his sudden departure from Baturyn. That was a prudent decision with regard to Mazepa’s personal security, but it was a major problem for the revolt. Upon learning of Mazepa’s defection, Peter sent a corps to Ukraine under the command of his right-hand man, Aleksandr Menshikov, but no Cossack forces had been mobilized to stop him. The Muscovite troops were able to take the hetman’s capital of Baturyn by surprise, seizing military supplies and provisions that Mazepa had prepared for his own army and the Swedes. Even more damaging was the effect of the capture of Baturyn on Ukrainian society in general. Menshikov not only took the town but also ordered the massacre of its population. More than 10,000 defenders and citizens of Baturyn, including women and children, died at the hands of their captors. Archaeologists working there today (Baturyn is a major tourist attraction as well as an excavation site) keep finding skeletons of those who perished. Menshikov’s message was loud and clear: the tsar would not tolerate defections.
The battle for the loyalty of the Cossacks and the inhabitants of the Hetmanate had begun. It was carried on mainly through proclamations issued by Peter, to which Mazepa responded in kind. The so-called war of manifestos lasted from the fall of 1708 to the spring of 1709. The tsar accused Mazepa of treason, calling him a Judas and even ordering that a mock order of St. Judas be prepared for awarding to Mazepa once he was captured. Mazepa rejected the accusations. Like Vyhovsky before him, he regarded relations between the tsar and the hetman as contractual. As far as he was concerned, the tsar had violated the Cossack rights and freedoms guaranteed to Bohdan Khmelnytsky and his successors. His loyalty, argued the hetman, was not to the sovereign but to the Cossack Host and the Ukrainian fatherland. Mazepa also pledged his loyalty to his nation. “Moscow, that is, the Great Russian nation, has always been hateful to our Little Russian nation; in its malicious intentions it has long resolved to drive our nation to perdition,” wrote Mazepa in December 1708.
The war of manifestos, along with the decisive actions of the Muscovite troops and the election of a new hetman on Peter’s orders, caused another split in Mazepa’s ranks. Terrified by the prospect of retributions, the Cossack colonels who had earlier pressured Mazepa to rebel failed to bring their troops to him. Many joined the Muscovite side. There was little support for Mazepa on the part of rank-and-file Cossacks, townspeople, and peasants. The populace preferred the Orthodox tsar over the Catholic, Muslim, or, in this case, Protestant ruler. When the time came for a showdown between Charles and Peter, there were more Cossacks on the Muscovite side than on the Swedish one.
In early July 1709, a Swedish corps of 25,000 faced a Muscovite army twice as large in the fields near the city of Poltava. Cossacks fought on both sides as auxiliaries—a reflection not only of the fact that their loyalty was suspect but also that they were no match for regular European armies: the once formidable Cossack fighting force was a thing of the past. Between 3,000 and 7,000 Cossacks backed Mazepa and the Swedes; at least three times as many flocked to the Muscovite side. The enemy’s numerical superiority was never an issue for Charles XII, who had defeated much more numerous Russian and Polish forces in the past. But this battle was different. A winter spent in hostile territory had weakened his army. Charles XII, who usually led his troops into battle in person, had been wounded a few days earlier and delegated his duties not to one commander but to a number of officers, creating confusion in the Swedish ranks at the time of the battle.
The outcome was a decisive victory for Muscovite arms. Charles XII and Mazepa had to flee Ukraine and seek refuge in Ottoman Moldavia. Ivan Mazepa died in exile in the Moldavian town of Bender in the fall of 1709. It took Charles five years to get back to his kingdom. Historians often consider the Battle of Poltava a turning point in the Great Northern War. By a strange turn of fate, the military conflict for control of the Baltics was decided on a Ukrainian battleground, undermining Sweden’s hegemony in northern Europe and launching Russia on its career as a great European power. But the consequences of Poltava were nowhere as dramatic as in the lands where the battle was fought.
The Muscovite victory opened a new stage in relations between the Kyivan clergy and the tsarist authorities. In the fall of 1708, the tsar had forced the metropolitan of Kyiv to condemn Mazepa as a traitor and declare an anathema against him. After the battle, the rector of the Kyivan College, Teofan Prokopovych, who had earlier compared Mazepa to Prince Volodymyr, delivered a long sermon before the tsar condemning his former benefactor. What Mazepa would have considered treason was a declaration of loyalty in Peter’s eyes. Prokopovych would later become the chief ideologue of Peter’s reforms. He would support the tsar’s drive for absolute power and develop an argument for his right to pass on his throne outside the normal line of succession from father to son: Peter tried his only male heir for treason and caused his death in imprisonment. Prokopovych was the primary author of the Spiritual Regulation, which replaced patriarchal rule in the Orthodox Church with the rule of the Holy Synod, chaired by a secular official. He was also behind the idea of calling Peter the “father of the fatherland,” a new designation brought to Muscovy by Prokopovych and other Kyivan clerics. They had earlier used it to glorify Mazepa.
The spectacular imperial career of Teofan Prokopovych reflected a larger phenomenon—the recruitment into the imperial service of westernized alumni of the Kyivan College, whom Peter needed to reform Muscovite church culture and society along Western lines. Dozens and later hundreds of alumni of the Kyivan College moved to Muscovy and made their careers there. They assumed positions ranging from acting head of the Orthodox Church to bishop and military chaplain. One of the Kyivans, Metropolitan Dymytrii Tuptalo of Rostov, was even raised to sainthood for his struggle against the Old Belief. They helped Peter not only to westernize Muscovy but also to turn it into a modern polity by promoting the idea of a new Russian fatherland and, indeed, a new Russian nation, of which Ukrainians or Little Russians were considered an integral part.
If Peter’s policies intended to strengthen his authoritarian rule and centralize state institutions offered new and exciting opportunities to ecclesiastical leaders, they were nothing short of a disaster for the Cossack officers. Mazepa’s defection added urgency to the tsar’s desire to integrate the Hetmanate into the institutional and administrative structures of the empire. A Russian resident now supervised the new hetman, Ivan Skoropadsky. His capital was moved closer to the Muscovite border, from the destroyed Baturyn to the town of Hlukhiv. Muscovite troops were stationed in the Hetmanate on a permanent basis. Family members of Cossack officers who had followed Mazepa into exile were arrested and their properties confiscated. More followed once the Northern War ended with a Muscovite victory in 1721. Tsar Peter changed the name of the Tsardom of Muscovy to the Russian Empire and had himself proclaimed its first emperor. In the following year, the tsar used the death of Skoropadsky to liquidate the office of hetman altogether. He placed the Hetmanate under the jurisdiction of the so-called Little Russian College, led by an imperial officer appointed by Peter. The Cossacks protested and sent a delegation to St. Petersburg to fight for their rights—to no avail. The tsar ordered the arrest of the leader of the Cossack opposition, Colonel Pavlo Polubotok, who would die in a cell of the St. Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.
Mazepa had gambled and lost. So did the state he tried to protect. We do not know what the fate of the Hetmanate might have been if Charles XII had not been wounded before the battle and the Cossacks had supported Mazepa in larger numbers. We can say, however, what kind of country Mazepa’s successors wanted to build and live in. Our knowledge comes from a document called Pacta et conditiones presented to Pylyp Orlyk, the hetman elected by the Cossack exiles in Moldavia after Mazepa’s death. Needless to say, they did not recognize Skoropadsky, elected on Peter’s orders, as their legitimate leader. The Pacta, known in Ukraine today as the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, is often regarded as the country’s first constitution, adopted, many say with pride, even before the American one. In reality, the closest parallel to the Pacta would be the conditions on which the Polish Diets elected their kings. The document tried to limit the hetman’s powers by guaranteeing the rights of the Cossack officers and the rank-and-file Cossacks, especially the Zaporozhians, many of whom had followed Mazepa into exile.
The Pacta presented a unique vision of the Hetmanate’s past, present, and future. The Cossack officers gathered around Orlyk, who had been Mazepa’s general chancellor, traced their origins not to Kyiv and Prince Volodymyr—a foundational myth already claimed by Kyivan supporters of the tsar—but to the Khazars, who were among the nomadic predecessors of Kyivan Rus’. The argument was linguistic rather than historical, and, while laughable today, it was quite solid by the standards of early modern philology: “Cossack” and “Khazar” sounded quite similar, if not identical, in Ukrainian. At stake was a claim to the existence of a Cossack nation separate and independent from that of Moscow. Orlyk and his officers described it as Cossack, Ruthenian, or Little Russian, depending on circumstances. Most of Orlyk’s ideas remained unknown or unclaimed by his compatriots. At home, in Ukraine, the Cossacks were fighting hard to preserve whatever was left of their autonomy.
The Cossacks in the Hetmanate regarded the death of Peter I in February 1725, a few weeks after the demise of the imprisoned Cossack colonel Polubotok, as divine punishment for the tsar’s mistreatment of them. They also viewed it as an opportunity to recover some of the privileges usurped by the tsar. The restoration of the office of hetman topped the Cossack agenda. In 1727 the Cossack officers achieved their goal by electing one of Peter’s early opponents, Colonel Danylo Apostol, to the newly reinstated hetmancy. They celebrated this restoration of one of the privileges given to Bohdan Khmelnytsky by rediscovering a portrait of the old hetman and reviving his cult not only as the liberator of Ukraine from Polish oppression but also as a guarantor of Cossack rights and freedoms. In his new incarnation, Khmelnytsky became the symbol of the Hetmanate elite’s Little Russian identity, which entailed the preservation of special status and particular rights in return for political loyalty.
What exactly was that new identity? It was a rough-and-ready amalgam of the pro-Russian rhetoric of the clergy and the autonomist aspirations of the Cossack officer class. The main distinguishing feature of the Little Russian idea was loyalty to the Russian tsars. At the same time, Little Russian identity stressed the rights and privileges of the Cossack nation within the empire. The Little Russia of the Cossack elite remained limited to Left-Bank Ukraine, distinct in political, social, and cultural terms from the Belarusian territories to the north and the Ukrainian lands west of the Dnieper. The DNA of the new polity and identity bore clear markers of earlier nation-building projects. The Cossack texts of the period (the early eighteenth century saw the appearance of a new literary phenomenon, Cossack historical writing) used such terms as Rus’/Ruthenia, Little Russia, and Ukraine interchangeably. There was logic in such usage, as the terms reflected closely interconnected political entities and related identities.
In defining the relationship between these terms and the phenomena they represented, the best analogy is a nesting doll. The biggest doll would be the Little Russian identity of the post-Poltava era; within it would be the doll of the Cossack Ukrainian fatherland on both banks of the Dnieper; and inside that would be the doll of the Rus’ or Ruthenian identity of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At its core, Little Russian identity preserved the memory of the old commonwealth Rus’ and the more recent Cossack Ukraine. No one could know, in the aftermath of the Battle of Poltava, that it was only a matter of time before the Ukrainian core emerged from the shell of the Little Russian doll and reclaimed the territories once owned or coveted by the Cossacks of the past.
The icebreaker has to become operational in 2027 when the economic crisis is likely to end and the competition of the global players for Polar resources and the shortest Northern Sea Route from the Pacific to the Atlantic would resume.
Historically, Russia enjoys a priority in the Arctic development, but other countries may ignore it if there is nothing to back the claim. The Russian Defense Ministry copes with the task and is rebuilding military infrastructure in the Arctic. Another argument is a powerful icebreaker fleet to ensure full-scale activities in the Arctic in conditions of global warming.
An unequalled group of icebreakers has ensured Russian economic interests in Arctic latitudes until recently. The United States and China announced the construction of icebreakers and ice-class vessels, including warships for Arctic operations.
Iceberg Design Bureau produced the project of a new Russian nuclear icebreaker. It will be powered by RITM-400 reactor created by OKBM Africantov bureau in Nizhny Novgorod. It is a leading enterprise of Rosatom nuclear corporation.
Project 10510 icebreaker will lead big-displacement vessels with a deadweight of over 100000 tons and a width of over 50 meters along the Northern Sea Route year-round. The propulsion is provided by four four-blade fixed-pitch propellers. The Leader can break 4.3-meter thick ice at the minimal stable speed of 1.5-2 knots. The speed in 2-meter thick ice is 12 knots. The food stocks allow the icebreaker to sail for eight months. The crew comprises 127 men. The life cycle is 40 years, the displacement is close to 71380 tons.
The Leader is the first icebreaker in the world capable of operating in the Northern Sea Route year-round. Rosatom plans to build three icebreakers by 2033. The Industry and Trade Ministry estimated the first Leader to cost 127.5 billion rubles. The construction of two other icebreakers is to be jointly financed by the federal budget and Rosatom. Concession is another option, as all Arctic developers, including private enterprise, are interested in the protection of their Arctic interests, expert Vasily Dandykin said.
The lead nuclear icebreaker “Arktika”, project 22220 (LK-60Ya), built at Baltic Shipyard JSC (part of United Shipbuilding Corporation JSC) for Atomflot FSUE, is entering the first stage of sea trials. St. Petersburg, 12.12.2019 (c) JSC United Shipbuilding Corporation
The Leader is to be the most powerful vessel of the class in the world. Besides, three icebreakers of project 22220 are being built in St. Petersburg and the lead one is undergoing trials. They belong to the third generation. The fourth-generation Leader does not fear 4-meter thick ice along the whole Northern Sea Route which will be in demand after the crisis. It is the shortest and cheapest way from Asia to Europe.
“It is clear that the Leader and other icebreakers will lead not only tankers and container carriers along the Northern Sea Route. The year-round navigation gives the Defense Ministry an opportunity to redeploy forces from the west to the east and back in a period of threat. It is important on the background of growing military ambitions of the United States and NATO. The Leader icebreaker is thus a major argument for Arctic claims,” Dandykin said.
Much depends on the shipbuilding industry which lost a lot after the Soviet collapse and is experiencing hard times. However, the revival trend has shaped out. The Arktika icebreaker has to begin operations shortly followed by the Sibir and the Ural icebreakers which have been floated. The Yamal and the 50 Years of Victory icebreakers operate in Arctic latitudes. The Ilya Muromets diesel-electric icebreaker of project 21180 and the Ivan Papanin ice-class escort ship of project 23550 were built for the Navy.
The construction of the Leader icebreaker by Zvezda Shipyard means the enterprise is capable of building supertankers and aircraft carriers, the Zvezda said.
Zvezda shipyard (planned)
FSUE Atomflot (planned)
RUB 125.57 billion
69,700 tonnes (68,600 long tons)
209 m (686 ft)
47.7 m (156 ft)
13 m (43 ft)
20.3 m (67 ft)
Two RITM-400 nuclear reactors (2 × 315 MWt) Four turbogenerators (4 × 37 MWe)
Capturing of Swedish 44-gun frigate Venus by Russian 22-gun cutter Merkuriy of June 1, 1789.
Captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus.
The spring of 1789 was marked by two single-ship actions on the part of a young Irish-born Lieutenant, Commander Roman Crown, that were to have long-term consequences for Russian naval history. As commander of the 22-gun two-masted cutter Merkurii, Brown captured a 12-gun Swedish tender, ironically named Snapupp, on 29 April (10 May), a useful but unremarkable feat. He then performed the remarkable feat of surprising, engaging and capturing the much more powerful Swedish heavy frigate, the 40-gun Venus, on 21 May (1 June) of the same year. Crown would rise to become a Russian admiral in the coming years, with a record of proven valour and high accomplishment that extended into the 1820s. The captured Venus would be taken into the Russian navy under the command of the heroic young officer who had captured her. In Russian service under Crown’s command, she would accomplish great deeds against her nation of origin, fighting at Revel’ in 1789 and Vyborg in 1790 and then assisting in the capture of the Swedish 64-gun Rättvisan in the immediate aftermath of the battle. Her stout construction and excellent design characteristics would be incorporated into the designs of nearly two score Russian heavy frigates built during the nineteenth century. As for Lieutenant Commander Crown’s first command, the Merkurii, she lent her name to a 20-gun brig built in 1820 and destined for even greater fame than her name-ship by single-handedly engaging a Turkish 120 and a 74 in a four-hour battle in 1829 and emerging heavily damaged but intact.
Although the Greek Ionian Islands had been granted formal independence after the withdrawal of Russia from the war with France, they remained de facto Russian colonies. A small squadron of Russian warships made up of two ships of the line, a single battle frigate, three corvettes and two brigs remained stationed at Corfu after Ushakov’s departure. The heavy ships were veterans of Ushakov’s campaign and the small craft were all captured or converted vessels picked up in and about the Adriatic. In order to reinforce this squadron in the face of growing problems with the French, a moderately sized squadron was dispatched from the Baltic in 1804 under the command of Commodore Aleksei Greig, son of Samuel Greig. Greig’s squadron was comprised of a single Russian-built 74 and three elderly Swedish veterans of the 1788–92 war, the 62-gun Retvizan, the 44-gun Venus and the 24-gun rowing frigate Avtroil. It is unclear whether these Swedish veterans were sent because of their excellent and sturdy construction or because they were simply odd numbers in the Russian Baltic fleet. Regardless of their advancing age, they all served with distinction through the coming campaigns, with Venus acquiring the highest honours and suffering the most unusual fate.
Venus 44/50 Karlskrona
Constructor F. Chapman
Laid down 31.3.1783 Launched 19.7.1783 Captured 21.5.1789
Dimensions 156 ft x 40 ft x 17 ft 6 in (Swedish measurement)
151 ft 6 in x 38 ft 10 in x 15 ft 9 in (Russian measurement)
Armament Captured 26/30 x 24pdrs, 14 x 6pdrs (Veselago)
Swedish heavy frigate captured on 21.5.1789 by Russian cutter Merkurii. Attached to Vice-Adm. Kozlyaninov’s squadron at Copenhagen in 1789. Fought at Revel’ on 2.5.1790 with 1 killed and 2 wounded and 737 rounds fired. Fought at Vyborg on 22.6.1790, capturing 2 Swedish galleys. On 3.5.1790, assisted by Iziaslav (66), she captured the Swedish Rättvisan (64). Cruised in the Baltic in 1791, 1793–4, 1795–7 and 1798. To England in 1799–00. Cruised in the Baltic with naval cadets in 1801. Repaired in 1804. To the Mediterranean as flag to Commodore Greig (Adm. Greig’s son) in 1804. Involved in the capture of Tenedos in 1807. Engaged in the pursuit of Turkish squadron on 9.5.1807, leading the Russian attack and engaging a Turkish line of battle ship. Dispatched by Adm. Seniavin on 9.11.1807 in search of Commodore Baratynskiy’s division. Damaged, repaired at Palermo, blockaded by the British, and placed in Neapolitan custody to avoid bloodshed. Crew evacuated to Trieste.
A term applied to large and heavily armed 24-, 30- and 36pdr frigates found in significant numbers in both the Baltic and the Black Sea fleets. These larger ships were more numerous in both theatres than the smaller standard 18pdr frigates; but their respective popularity in the Baltic and the Black Seas arose from rather different tactical requirements and emphases. In the Black Sea, where the type was first introduced, heavy frigates were not regarded as traditional cruisers suited for scouting and raiding, but were rather the direct descendants of the previously described battle frigates and were intended to supplement the line of battle against similar Turkish ships. In the Baltic, on the other hand, heavy frigates were quite ironically the direct design descendants of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus, specifically designed by Fredrik Henrik af Chapman to take its place in the line of battle, and captured by the Russians during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–91. Russian heavy frigates built along the lines of the Venus were utilized in traditional frigate roles and not as battle line adjuncts as was the case with the Black Sea heavies.
During the period between 1770 and 1860, a total of 85 heavy and battle frigates joined the two Russian fleets, almost all of them armed with 24pdr cannon and ranging between 141 ft and 174 ft in length.
Arkhangel Mikhail class (3 ships)
Arkhangel Mikhail 44 Arkhangel’sk
Constructor M. D. Portnov
Laid down 14.7.1790 Launched 24.5.1791
Dimensions 151 ft 6 in × 38 ft 10 in × 15 ft 9 in
Armament LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)
FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs
Arkhangel Mikhail class. Based on the design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Departed Arkhangel’sk on 8.7.1792. Damaged and forced to winter at Bergen. Joined Adm. Kruz’s squadron in the summer of 1793 and cruised in the North Sea. Arrived at Kronshtadt on 15.9.1793. To England in 1795–6. Wrecked while returning home on 25.10.1796 off Porkkala-udd on the coast of Finland. No casualties.
Arkhangel Rafail 44 Arkhangel’sk
Constructor M. D. Portnov
Laid down 14.7.1790 Launched 24.5.1791
Dimensions 151 ft 6 in × 38 ft 10 in × 15 ft 9 in
Armament LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)
FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs
Arkhangel Mikhail class. Based on the design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Sailed to Kronshtadt in 1794. To England in 1795–6. Operated off Holstein in 1797. Repaired in 1798. To Holland with troops with Rear-Adm. Chichagov’s squadron in 1799. Returned to Kronshtadt on 26.9.1800. Carried cargo between Baltic ports in 1802–3. Broken up in 1804.
Schastlivyi 44 Arkhangel’sk
Constructor G. Ignatyev
Laid down 19.12.1796 Launched 19.5.1798
Dimensions 151 ft 6 in × 38 ft 10 in × 15 ft 9 in
Armament LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)
FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs
Arkhangel Mikhail class. Based on the design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. To England with Vice-Adm. Thate’s 2nd Division on 3.7.1798, arriving at the Nore on 8.8.1798. Operated in the North Sea 1798–1800. Returned to Kronshtadt on 21.7.1800. Cruised in the Baltic with naval cadets in 1801–3. Cruised to Dogger Bank with Rear-Adm. Lomen’s squadron in 1804. Participated in Vice-Adm. Thate’s landing of over 20,000 troops on the German coast in 1805. Training duties in Kronshtadt Roads in 1806. Cruised with Adm. Khanykov’s squadron in 1808 and returned to Kronshtadt in 10.1808. Stationed in Kronshtadt Roads as a guard ship in 1809. Blockship in Kronshtadt Roads in 1810–12.
Feodosii Totemskii class (2 ships)
Feodosii Totemskii 44 Arkhangel’sk
Constructor G. Ignatyev
Laid down 9.8.1798 Launched 24.9.1798
Dimensions 150 ft × 39 ft × 16 ft
Armament LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)
FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs
Feodosii Totemskii class. Based on an amended design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Departed Arkhangel’sk for England with Vice-Adm. Baratynskiy’s squadron in 9.1799. Returned to Revel’ in 9.1800. Cruised in the Baltic in 1803–4. Landed troops on the German coast with Adm. Thate’s squadron in 1805. Cruised in the Baltic with Adm. Khanykov’s squadron in 1808 and returned to Kronshtadt in 10.1808. Floating battery in Kronshtadt Roads in 1809–11. Broken up in 1819.
Tikhvinskaya Bogoroditsa 44 Arkhangel’sk
Constructor G. Ignatyev
Laid down 19.8.1798 Launched 22.7.1799
Dimensions 150 ft × 39 ft × 16 ft
Armament LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)
FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs
Feodosii Totemskii class. Based on an amended design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Departed Arkhangel’sk for England with Vice-Adm. Baratynskiy’s squadron in 9.1799. Returned to Kronshtadt in 9.1800. Cruised in the Baltic with naval cadets in 1801–3. Cruised to Dogger Bank in 1804. Landed troops on the German coast with Adm. Thate’s squadron in 1805. Fire watch ship at Revel’ in 1807. Cruised with Adm. Khanykov’s squadron in 1808. Returned to Kronshtadt in 10.1808. Stationed in Kronshtadt Roads in 1809. Fire watch ship at Riga in 1812. Broken up in 1819.
The Russian Frigate Pallad.Pallada (Russian: Паллада) was a sail frigate of the Imperial Russian Navy , most noted for its service as flagship of Vice Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin during his visit to Japan in 1853, which later resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Shimoda of 1855, establishing formal relations between the two countries. In addition to her diplomatic mission, her crew also conducted numerous geographical and natural studies in the Far East. She was scuttled by her own crew in the Crimean War due to the poor condition of her hull in 1855.
At a time when Russian imperial expansion eastwards across Siberia was still in its infancy, there were few major Russian settlements on the Pacific coast that might merit the attention of the allied fleets. The only sizeable Russian towns in the region were Okhotsk and Petropavlovsk, along with the fur and fish trading port of Sitka in Alaska. Smaller fishing and trading settlements hardly merited attention, as did the local communities on Sakhalin Island or around the estuary of the River Amur, former Chinese territory which had only recently been brought under Russian control. The port of Petropavlovsk, situated on the Kamchatka Peninsula and sheltered in Avocha Bay, was the largest Russian settlement on the Pacific coast. Founded as recently as 1740 by the Danish explorer Vitus Behring (1681–1741), after whom the Behring Sea and Strait were named, the port recalled his two ships, St Peter and St Paul. It was developing as an important fishing and whaling port, a base for voyages into the Arctic seas to the north and as a link with Russian trading settlements in Alaska. In 1854, it was also an anchorage of the Russian Pacific squadron, the Okhotsk flotilla.
Had it not been for the fact of a Russian naval presence in the northern Pacific the region might well have been left alone by the allies, since it was so remote and of little economic significance. Added to that, British (and presumably French) knowledge of the region was minimal and sea charts just about non-existent. Nevertheless, a Russian naval squadron did exist, though its exact size and location were unknown, and would have to be dealt with, since there was some concern that if unmolested Russian warships might ‘injure’ British whalers or traders operating in the Pacific or moving to and from the USA, China and Australia. It was therefore decided in the summer of 1854 that Anglo-French naval forces would indeed operate against Russian interests in the region. The aim, as in the other naval theatres, was to seek out and destroy Russian warships (in this case the small Okhotsk squadron), to attack shore-based military targets and to disrupt trade, which largely meant the fishing and whaling industry and trade with Russian Alaska.
The Russian naval presence in the northwestern Pacific was, not surprisingly, very small. Her fleet in the China and Japan seas in 1854 was commanded by Rear Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin, a highly experienced explorer, diplomat and naval officer who had under his immediate command only the aged 60-gun frigate Pallada (or Pallas), the frigate Aurora and the armed transport Dvina. The last named had only recently refitted in Portsmouth! Putyatin knew very well that his enemy could deploy a far greater force against him and wisely sought to avoid a naval engagement. The frigate Pallada he sent for safety far up the River Amur, whilst the Aurora and Dvina were dispatched to the shelter of Petropavlovsk where they could not only find a refuge but also help in the defence of the port if required.
The allied squadron deployed to operate in the north Pacific was drawn from warships usually on the China Station or patrolling the American Pacific coast, which could be rapidly diverted for active operations against Russian interests. The chosen ships gradually assembled in the Marquesas in May and June and finally concentrated at Honolulu late in July 1854, where in a leisurely manner they completed their repairs and took on water and provisions. The combined force comprised:
President (flagship), a 50-gun frigate under Captain Richard Burridge. Pique, a fifth-rate frigate under Captain Sir F.W.E. Nicolson, Bart. Trincomalee, a Leda-class frigate under Captain Wallace Houstoun.7 Amphitrite, a Leda-class frigate, under Captain Charles Fredericks. Virago, a paddle-steamer under Commander Edward Marshal.
La Forte (flagship), frigate under Captain de Miniac. L’Eurydice, frigate under Captain de la Grandie`re. L’Artemise, corvette under Captain L’Eveque. L’Obligado, brig under Captain Rosenavat.
The French contingent was under Rear Admiral Auguste Febvrier- Despointes (1796–1855) but overall command lay with the British Rear Admiral David Price commanding the British squadron in the Pacific. Having duly received his orders from the Admiralty, on 9 May Price issued instructions from President, then at Callao in Peru, to his subordinate commanders requiring that ‘we should forthwith commence and execute all such hostile measures as may be in our power . . . against Russia and against ships belonging to the Emperor of Russia or to his subjects or others inhabiting within any of his countries, territories or domains’. Having detached the Amphitrite, Trincomalee and Artemise to cruise for commerce protection off the coast of California, the allied squadron still mounted over 200 guns, with 2,000 men and was what one writer called ‘a very respectable force of ships to meet the Russians with’. Setting off from Honolulu on 25 July in search of enemy warships, the allies headed first for the Russian fur-trading port of Sitka in Alaska, hoping to locate the Russian squadron there. When nothing was found, the combined fleet turned for the Kamchatka Peninsula and on 28 August 1854 arrived in Avocha Bay.
Such is the distance between St Petersburg and Petropavlovsk that the military governor of Kamchatka in 1854, Rear Admiral Vasili Zavoyko, had only heard that a state of war existed between Russian, Britain and France in mid-July. Although Petropavlovsk already had some established fortifications, the Admiral lost no time in strengthening its defences, realising that the port would be an obvious target for a naval attack. He ordered the construction of new entrenchments, batteries, banks and ditches and enrolled local men into a form of ‘town guard’. Merchant ships already in the bay were dispersed and the only Russian warships in the port, the recently arrived Aurora and Dvina, were withdrawn deeper into the bay, moored in such a way that their guns would serve as additional batteries defending the approaches to the port. The Aurora took shelter behind a large sand spit, additionally defended by an 11-gun shore battery and both ships’ crews were landed to join the defenders. Nevertheless, Zavoyko had only 67 heavy guns and less than 1,000 armed men (including the naval contingent) to defend the entire town. He could then do no more than wait for an enemy to appear.
Having found no worthy targets in Alaska or at sea over the past five weeks, Admiral Price arrived off Petropavlovsk on 29 August and went aboard the steamer Virago to reconnoitre the port. He found it defended by four small batteries and a larger work, Fort Schakoff, mounting five heavy guns and itself defended by flank batteries, each of twelve 36-pounders. Holding a council of war aboard President, Price decided to attack the port on 30 August. Early that morning, the ships were cleared for action and the President, Pique, La Forte, L’Eurydice and L’Obligado entered the harbour. But after only a few rounds had been fired at the Russian defences, a disaster occurred. Just after the firing began, Admiral Price retired to his cabin below decks on the President and shot himself in the heart; he died some hours later. Whether it was the accidental discharge of his own pistol, as was tactfully suggested at the time, or the suicide attempt of an officer overwhelmed by his responsibilities and sense of inadequacy will never be known. On 1 September his body was taken by Virago to be buried on the nearby island of Tarinski.
The unfortunate Rear Admiral Price (1790–1854) was typical of the gerontocracy which dominated the Royal Navy in the 1850s and whose employment in the Baltic and elsewhere was to cause such comment. Universally regarded with respect as a courteous and tactful man, Price was quite out of his depth as the commander of a combined squadron on active service. He was then 64 years old, had been a post captain for nearly forty years before his recent promotion to rear admiral and had seen no service at sea for over a generation. Operations in the Pacific, 1854–5 91 a brave and resourceful officer, seeing extensive action during the Napoleonic Wars, from Copenhagen in 1801, through numerous naval clashes with the French and during the American War in 1814. But thereafter he had led a quiet life, with six years in retirement (1838–44) as JP for Brecon. Returned to service, from 1846 to 1850 he was superintendent of Sheerness Dockyard, being promoted rear admiral in November 1850, and then for some unaccountable reason, apart from the merit of his long service, given active command of British naval forces in the Pacific in August 1853. The tragedy of his sudden death at Petropavlovsk naturally caused the complete disruption of the planned attack. As next senior British naval officer, overall command of the British ships was quickly transferred to Captain Sir Frederick Nicolson of the Pique, who postponed the attack and ordered the immediate withdrawal of the squadron. Thereafter, the French Admiral Auguste Febvrier-Despointes directed operations; he too was to die aboard his flagship La Forte in 1855.
At 8.00am on 31 August, the allied squadron once again sailed into the harbour and began the bombardment of Petropavlovsk in earnest. But indecision ruined any chance of success. Fearful of serious damage to the ships, the French Admiral kept them at long range – in fact too far to do any serious damage to well-defended batteries. The main target was the large 11-gun battery, which was actually silenced by fire from La Forte and President. The Russian ship Aurora returned a damaging fire from behind her defended position, though she suffered quite severely from the allied response. Finally, a landing party from Virago under Captain Charles A. Parker, RM actually captured one 3-gun shore battery and spiked its guns before withdrawing. But by nightfall little had been achieved and the squadron again withdrew; overnight, the Russians repaired the damage to their batteries ready for the next onslaught.
In council with his officers, Febvrier-Despointes decided to launch a combined land and sea assault on 4 September. Whilst the warships bombarded the Russian defences, a Naval Brigade of 700 sailors and 100 marines drawn from the Pique and the Eurydice, nearly half of the entire manpower of the allied squadron, would be landed to seize gun positions north of the port prior to an attack on the town itself. This force was placed under the command of Captain de la Grandie`re of L’Eurydice, with Captain Burridge of the President and the marine contingent again under Captain Parker. The three warships President, Virago and La Forte would occupy the attention of the shore batteries (which incidentally did a great deal of damage to the ships’ masts and rigging), whilst the shore parties carried aboard Virago dealt with the guns at close quarters and would then attack the town. The main landing beyond the town initially went well, though the site was badly chosen, overlooked as it was by a hill which turned out to be well defended. Gunfire from President and Virago silenced two shore batteries and the immediate land objective, the Russian Battery No. 4, was quickly taken. However, it was found simply to have been abandoned by its small crew under Lieutenant Popoff, who withdrew to No. 2 battery, having spiked its three guns. The warships maintained their previous long-range barrage, especially at the Aurora and at the large No. 2 battery under Lieutenant Prince Maksutoff but the shore party soon got into difficulties and the entire attack collapsed. In face of the strong enemy landing, Russian defenders had been positioned on a wooded hill overlooking the route of the advance and in concealed positions in thick brushland. As the Naval Brigade and marines pushed inland towards No. 2 battery, impeded by dense brambles and undergrowth, they were met with heavy and accurate fire from concealed positions, followed by a counter-attack by Russian sailors. Captain Parker and two French officers, including Captain Lefebvre of L’Eurydice, were amongst the first killed and nine other British and French officers were quickly wounded. With these losses amongst their leaders and under heavy and concentrated fire, the rest fell back and a retreat to the shore was ordered. By the time the fighting stopped, 107 British and 101 French sailors and marines had been killed or wounded in what was an ignominious repulse. The survivors regained the ships by 10.45am and although a desultory firing continued until nightfall, nothing significant was achieved. The ships withdrew beyond range in the evening to repair and to treat the wounded and overnight the Russians again re-occupied or repaired their damaged gun positions.
Needless to say, this setback in the Far East was greeted with a mixture of amazement and derision in Britain, where the failure to achieve anything concrete against so remote an enemy was scarcely credited. The reputation of the Russians as defenders and as opponents capable of supplying and holding on to even the most remote Imperial outpost was greatly enhanced and greatly admired. There is no doubting the bravery of the officers and men on both sides – the casualties amongst the allied officers perhaps indicating a rather reckless disregard for their own safety – but it is equally clear that the landing was badly thought-out, with little accurate information on the nature and strength of the enemy positions they were attacking. The Russians proved to be determined and effective defenders – apparently much to the surprise of the officers of the allied fleet, who seem to have expected a complete collapse and withdrawal by the Russians.
The fleet withdrew to repair and after the allied dead were buried on Tarinski Island on the 5, 6 and 7 September the squadron simply left the area, its commanders considering it too weakened to renew the attack. The Russians reported 115 casualties – 40 killed and 75 wounded, amongst whom was Lieutenant Prince Maksutoff, mortally wounded – and damage to the town’s fish warehouse and 13 other buildings from the naval bombardment. Although Virago and President managed to capture the Russian trading schooner Anadis and the 10-gun transport Sitka on 7 September, these were slender rewards achieved at great cost. The British element sailed for winter stations in Vancouver and the French to San Francisco.
There were no further naval operations in the Pacific that year. The debacle in August and September forced a complete restructuring of the allied squadron made available for operations in the Russian Pacific and the deployment of new warships to the theatre. Rear Admiral Henry William Bruce, commanding Britain’s Pacific Squadron, was appointed to the command in November 1854 but nothing was done until the better weather of the spring of 1855. There were two British squadrons available to provide ships to tackle the Russian presence in the Pacific. The Pacific Squadron generally patrolled the western coasts of the Americas whilst the other was the established China Squadron under Admiral Sir James Stirling. Between them, they would provide a larger force for operations against the Russians and initially put under Admiral Bruce the President, flagship, the Pique, Trincomalee, Dido, Amphitrite, Brisk, screw, Encounter and Barracouta. The French element, commanded by Rear Admiral Martin Fourichon after the death of Febvrier-Despointes, comprised, as in 1854, La Forte, L’Eurydice and L’Obligado with L’Alceste.
In April 1855, Admiral Bruce ordered the Encounter and the Barracouta simply to watch Petropavlovsk and report the movement of Russian ships, if any. The city had in fact been heavily re-fortified in the early months of 1855 but the allied plans for a renewed and successful attack were suddenly rendered obsolete. The defenders of the city, under Admiral Vasili Zavoyko, were well aware of the danger they faced from a renewed onslaught by a much more powerful force. In a remarkably audacious and resourceful move, they cut passages through the ice to release their trapped ships and under cover of snow and dense fog on 17 April 1855, the entire Russian garrison of about 800 was withdrawn from the town and carried southwards to safety in the estuary of the Amur River in the Aurora and Dvina and any other available merchant ship. The remaining civil population to the number of about 1,300 people fled overland to take refuge in the inland village of Avatcha, far from the danger of naval gunnery. The town’s guns were spiked, removed or buried. It was all swiftly, efficiently and effectively carried out, without the allied observers even being aware of the movement.
When in May 1855, the new allied squadron under Bruce sailed into the harbour of Petropavlovsk, it was immediately clear that the town was deserted – apart from two American traders who hoisted the ‘Stars and Stripes’ as a friendly signal. Landing parties destroyed the remaining batteries and gun platforms and burned the arsenal and magazines, but did no damage to private property – unlike the fate of the unfortunate town of Kola in the White Sea. A stranded Russian whaler found in the inner harbour was burned but no attempt was made at any stage to follow the Russian ships into the Amur, since they were reported to be very well protected. Having nothing else to achieve at Petropavlovsk, Bruce and Fourichon directed their ships to Sitka but since it was found to be undefended and with no Russian shipping in port, it was left unharmed. The British press later leveled special criticism against the commanders of the Encounter and the Barracouta for allowing the entire garrison of Petropavlovsk to escape by ship along channels that were not even marked on the Admiralty charts. They did not, however, face any investigation by the authorities.
Despite the change of commanders and an increase in strength, the allied Pacific campaign of 1855 was to be another depressing failure, characterised by a round of seemingly pointless (and certainly ineffective) patrols in largely unknown waters. They simply could not find the Russian Pacific Squadron – or at least, could not close with it – and unlike allied ships in the Baltic and Azoff seas made little attempt to damage the largely insignificant local trade or local communities. Sporadic naval operations by various ships drawn off the China station continued throughout the year. In April, HMS Spartan was detached to patrol the Kuril Islands, with no result, and ships cruised in Japanese and Korean waters searching for Russian vessels. Allied warships visited the Japanese port of Hakodate and from there sailed north, examining largely insignificant settlements on scattered islands; at Urup in the Kuril Islands, they seized the possessions of the Russian-American Company. More alarmingly, Commodore Elliott, with the 40-gun Sybille, the screw Hornet and the Bittern, reported sighting a Russian squadron in Castries Bay on 20 May. They were identified as the ships Aurora, Dvina (both recently escaped from the Amur), Oltenitza, the 6-gun Vostok, and two other unidentified armed vessels. With his three small ships – and no charts or knowledge of the those waters – Elliott did not feel strong enough to enter the bay to try to ‘cut out’ the enemy vessels and apart from Hornet lobbing a few long-range shells at the Dvina, nothing could be done. Having failed to frighten or induce the Russian ships out of the bay to fight in the open sea, Elliott dispatched the Bittern to bring up reinforcements and spent a fruitless week cruising with Hornet and Sybille trying to watch the Russians in Castries Bay. By the time Bittern returned with part of the China Squadron under its Admiral, Sir James Stirling, the Russian vessels had escaped back into the Amur, simply bypassing Commodore Elliott’s slight blockade – a fact that caused some caustic comment in London. The Pique, Barracouta and Amphitrite, joined by the French vessels Sibylle and Constantine, were then detached under Elliott to patrol the Sea of Okhotsk, unsuccessfully searching for the vanished Russian ships.
Admiral Bruce’s squadron, having cruised to no great effect in the estuary of the Amur and then amongst the Kuril Islands in August and September, simply dispersed as winter set in; most of the British vessels headed once more for the dockyards on Vancouver Island, Britain’s nearest Pacific port, whilst the French again sailed for San Francisco. The last act of the Pacific campaign, if it can be called such, was the seizure by Barracouta of the brig Greta, out of Bremen but under US colours, which was found to have on board most of the crew of the Russian frigate Diana. The 50-gun Diana had had an exciting time. Laden with ammunition and other supplies intended to re-supply Petropavlovsk, she had come all the way from Cronstadt in 1854, eluding the allied blockade of the Baltic in its early days. After an epic journey around the world, she was eventually wrecked off the coast of Japan in November 1854 and her non-arrival at Petropavlovsk was another other reason for the town’s abandonment in May 1855. Greta was sent under Lieutenant R. Gibson to Hong Kong and claimed as a prize.
The operations in 1855 were as limited and as unsuccessful – though less costly in lives – as those in 1854 and again caused an outburst of indignation in England. That such large, expensive and powerful fleets could do so little was beyond conception in Britain. The naval authorities on the spot were accused of ‘knight-errantry’ in pointlessly cruising distant, largely uncharted seas with no apparent goal, in dividing their forces up into squadrons too small to tackle any sizeable Russian force that remained and especially in allowing the flight of the Russian squadron in Castries Bay. A correspondent of The Times summed up the whole operation in October 1855:
The result of the expedition was most unsatisfactory and indeed, its commencement was of the same character. Petropavlovski, which was found 14 or 15 months back defended in such a manner as justified a hostile attack, actually repelled the allied forces; and this year when visited, it was disarmed and of course spared. The Russian settlements in the Amoor River turn out to be a mere myth. Finally, the Russian Pacific Squadron appears before our officers just to disappoint their hopes and, when the British Admiral is ready, eludes all pursuit. The Russian ships are, no doubt, at this moment snugly ensconced behind some choice sandbanks in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Unsurprisingly, there were no significant allied naval operations in the Pacific in 1856.
Johann Peter Krafft (1780-1856)-‘victory declaration after the battle of Leipzig, 1813’-oil on canvas-1813 Berlin-Deutsches Historiches Museum. The Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations, was fought between Napoleon and the three Allied armies that had been approaching the city for several days: the Army of Bohemia (Feldmarschall Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg), the Army of Silesia (General Gebhard Lebrecht von Blücher), and the Army of the North (former French marshal Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte, now Crown Prince of Sweden). Napoleon suffered a major defeat, which decided the campaign in Germany. He then fell back from Saxony to France.
Battle of Leipzig, October 16 actions.
Battle of Leipzig, 18 October actions.
Allied: 57,000 Prussians (Army of Silesia). Commander: Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher. 160,000 Austrians and Russians (Army of Bohemia). Commander: Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg. 65,000 Swedes and Russians (Army of the North). Commander: Crown Prince Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte.
French: 160,000 men. Commander: Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
The battle at Leipzig marked the beginning of true European cooperation against Napoleon. Allied victory broke his power, leading to the invasion of France and Napoleon’s abdiction the following year.
After Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Russia at the end of 1812, during which he lost the bulk of the half-million-soldier army with which he invaded, no one in Europe expected him to recover so quickly. He reached Paris well before the news of the Russian fiasco and was able to immediately build another army by robbing future conscription rolls. That meant that most of the enrollees in the new Grande Armée were barely of military age, but they were nonetheless enthusiastic. Napoleon transferred some veterans out of Spain to stiffen the ranks with experienced fighters and then marched east toward the countries that he had long dominated and who were now organizing against him.
As Napoleon previously had conquered one European country after another, he had forced them into alliance with him. In the wake of the Russian campaign, many of those countries withdrew from their compacts. Although that weakened Napoleon’s hold on northern and eastern Europe, he needed to fear his former allies only if they combined. In early 1813, that seemed somewhat doubtful, as Russia, Prussia, Austria, and a few German principalities such as Saxony eyed each other with suspicion. They looked past the immediate danger of Napoleon’s new army to which power might try to fill the vacuum left by the French emperor’s demise, and that fear of the future almost stopped any short-term cooperation. The primary figure attempting to coordinate an anti-French alliance was Austrian Foreign Minister Karl von Metternich. He had held his post since 1807 and had brokered a marriage between Napoleon and Marie-Louise, daughter of Austria’s Emperor Francis I. In 1813, however, to bring Napoleon down, Metternich was eager to subvert the alliance that he had arranged. Convincing Russia, Prussia, and the other European powers to agree was a slow process. Still, in March, he organized the Sixth Coalition: Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and Great Britain. Soon 100,000 men were in position between Dresden and Magdeburg.
Napoleon planned to reconquer these enemies in the same way he had conquered them in the first place, by attacking each separately before they could join and present him with overwhelming numbers. He had two major problems to overcome, however. The first was the inexperience of most of his army; the second was the lack of cavalry, most of which had perished in Russia. Without the cavalry, the gathering of intelligence was severely curtailed, and thus his ability to locate enemy forces and defeat them in detail was hampered. Still, he was active in late spring and summer 1813.
On 2 May, Napoleon defeated a Prussian force outside Leipzig at Lützen, but the lack of cavalry meant that he was unaware of an enemy force on his flank until they attacked. He beat them back and occupied Leipzig, but failed to win decisively. The French quickly marched on Dresden and captured that city and then fought the Russians nearby at Bautzen on 20–21 May. Again Napoleon drove his enemy from the field, but again was unable to destroy them. In the two battles combined, both sides lost about 38,000 men each. Soon Napoleon learned of large armies marching on his position from north, south, and east, so he negotiated a truce on 4 June that lasted just over 2 months.
In that time, he continued to mass and resupply his forces, as did his enemies. Metternich met with Napoleon for 9 hours on 26 June in Dresden, but no negotiated peace settlement could be reached. Metternich offered a lasting peace on the basis of Napoleon ceding almost all the territory he had captured outside France’s natural borders. That would mean giving up the desired French border of the Rhine River, as well as French conquests in Italy and Spain. Napoleon, not surprisingly, refused. Metternich later claimed that, to brand Napoleon as the aggressor, he made a reasonable offer that he knew would not be accepted. Napoleon knew he could not accept such an offer and remain emperor of France because his people would not allow their European empire to be taken away from them without a fight. By the time the truce ended on 16 August, both sides had amassed immense forces.
Napoleon had 300,000 men in Germany, but he placed a corps in a defensive position at the port city of Hamburg to threaten the Prussian rear and a corps at Dresden (southeast of Leipzig) near the Bohemian (Czech) border. In standard Napoleonic fashion, he had his remaining units spread out to live off the land as much as possible, but near enough together to support one another in case of attack. The allies decided that the best strategy would be to harry Napoleon’s subordinates, defeating them as often as possible while avoiding a major battle until overwhelming forces could be arrayed against him.
This they proceeded to do: Swedish Crown Prince Bernadotte (a former marshal of Napoleon) defeated Napoleon’s Marshal Oudinot at Grossbeeren, south of Berlin, on 23 August; Prussia’s Marshall Gebhard von Blücher beat Marshal Macdonald at Katzbach on 26 August. The enemy being in too many places at once, Napoleon exhausted himself and his men marching and countermarching to aid his subordinates. When he heard of an Austrian attack on Dresden, he forced his young army on yet another rapid move. He beat back the assault, but his worn out troops could not follow up the victory. More such battles took place in September and early October, and then the French withdrew back to Leipzig before allied pressure on all fronts.
On 15 October, Napoleon turned to face Blücher’s advancing Prussians from the north, but soon had to face about and deal with the larger Austrian Army of Bohemia approaching from the south. The Army of Bohemia numbered 160,000 Austrians and Russians commanded by Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg. When day broke on 16 October 1813, the field upon which Napoleon had chosen to deploy his men was covered with mist. Both sides had massed artillery, and that weapon did the most damage. The village of Wachau was the scene of most of the fighting, and it changed hands three times during the course of the day. By noon, Prince Karl’s troops held the town, and then Napoleon launched his own attack. The land across which the armies fought was crossed by a number of streams, marshes, and woods and was perfect for defense. Napoleon, however, wanted to break the Austro-Russian line with massed artillery and then turn left and roll up the allied armies arrayed in a semicircle to the east of Leipzig. Early in the afternoon, he began pummeling the Austro-Russian force with his artillery. After an hour, he ordered his cavalry under Marshal Murat to attack. Murat’s 10,000 men easily pushed back the first enemy troops they encountered, but Russian Czar Alexander quickly ordered his reserves to shift to the southern flank. When they arrived, the French cavalry was exhausted, and the Russian cavalry drove them off the field, restoring the Army of Bohemia’s lines.
As Napoleon attempted to break through in the south, he held the northern flank with minimal force. Marshal Marmont defended the town of Mockern against Blücher’s Prussians in a bitterly fought struggle. Neither Prussian nor French soldiers showed any mercy, and few prisoners were taken by either side. Marmont held the town most of the day, but in the afternoon a chance Prussian cannonball found a French ammunition wagon and the explosion not only demoralized the French troops but wounded Marmont so badly that he had to be evacuated. By day’s end, the Prussians were in possession of the ruins of Mockern.
When the sun set on 16 October, Napoleon had failed to break through the Army of Bohemia and found himself in danger of losing Leipzig to the Prussians. On the next day, however, little fighting took place. Both sides received reinforcement, however, so the battle was merely delayed. For the allies, the Swedes of Crown Prince Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte finally arrived. Had he made haste and been available on 16 October, the numbers may well have been sufficient for the northern French flank to have been overwhelmed and Napoleon trapped. His arrival, however, boosted the allied armies to 300,000 men and almost 1,500 cannon. After a halfhearted attempt at opening negotiations, Napoleon prepared to stage a fighting withdrawal. On 18 October, fighting was once again intense, and he pulled his forces back into Leipzig after a unit of Saxons under French command defected to the Prussians. That night, he ordered his men to retreat westward down the only road available, through the town of Lindenau, where the only available stone bridge across the Elster River was located. It was very narrow, however, and a bottleneck quickly formed. Napoleon ordered a force of 30,000 to remain as a rear guard, but they were unable to retreat across the Elster because of the premature destruction of the bridge. Many French troops died on the bridge or in attempts to swim across the river, and the rear guard was annihilated.
Napoleon’s star, already sinking after the Russian campaign of 1812, finally set at Leipzig. Going into battle with an army less than adequately trained hurt him badly, and the loss of more than 60,000 dead, wounded, and prisoners reduced his force to 100,000 as he retreated toward France. Harassment and desertion whittled that number down to 60,000 by the time he had reached Paris. He still held the throne, but it was only a matter of time before he was forced to step down. The allies, although they also lost about 60,000 men, could better afford such casualties. They also picked up more allies. Bavaria abandoned Napoleon on 18 October, and the Netherlands as well as the collection of principalities that Napoleon had organized into the Confederation of the Rhine both rebelled against his rule in November. On 8 November, the allies once again offered a peace settlement returning France to borders behind the Alps and well back from the Rhine, and foolishly Napoleon rejected the offer. Therefore, on 21 December 1813, the allied armies crossed the Rhine and invaded France. During the first 3 months of 1814, a string of battles was fought across northern France, climaxing in the battle for Paris on 30 March. Napoleon abdicated unconditionally on 11 April and was exiled to the small island of Elba in the Mediterranean.
Napoleon had shown in those battles of early 1814 his traditional abilities to maneuver and win, but each battle depleted his already small forces. After Leipzig, it was a numbers game he could not win. Had he played his cards differently at Leipzig, however, the battle’s outcome could have been altered. Instead of leaving thousands of men defending Hamburg and Dresden, a concentration of forces could have given him the strength he needed to win. Marmont’s force holding the northern flank against the Prussians was woefully small, and with a greater attacking force against the Army of Bohemia in the south he might have broken through and won the battle. As stated earlier, the allies were cooperating but mutually suspicious; a defeat at Leipzig may have crumbled the united front and given Napoleon much more bargaining power.
The allied victory, however, strengthened Metternich’s hand and the result, in 1815, was the Concert of Europe, dedicated to maintaining a balance of power in Europe. That cooperative effort kept European countries from gaining too much individual power and kept them from fighting each other until the Crimean War in 1854. Not until the 1880s did that balance of power begin to fall apart with the ambitions of Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany. The victory at Leipzig not only proved that Napoleon could and would be beaten, but that European nations could and would profitably cooperate.
On July 14, 1728 – three and a half years after leaving St. Petersburg – the explorer Vitus Bering’s newly constructed ship, the St. Gabriel, stocked with enough food to sustain its crew of forty for a year, sailed from the mouth of the Kamchatka River. Following the coast of the peninsula northward for five days, Bering turned northeast, and on the next day encountered land again just above 60 degrees north latitude. This was the underside of the Chukchi Peninsula (not clearly delineated on his map), and with some perplexity he coasted along it for about two weeks. On August 1, he lingered to explore a bay, but a week later encountered eight Chukchi, who approached the ship in a hideskin boat. “When we invited them to come aboard,” recalled Bering, “they inflated the bladder of a large seal, put one man in it and sent him out to us to converse.” Later, the Chukchi brought their own boat alongside and through the two interpreters Bering had brought with him learned that the land, trending in a northeasterly direction, soon turned back to the west, and that there was an island nearby in the sea. On August 10, Bering sailed past it, noticing dwellings but no people, and named it St. Lawrence, “since it was his feast day.”
By August 13 the ship had rounded the southwesternmost point of the Chukchi Peninsula. A few days later, without realizing it, Bering passed through the narrow strait between Asia and America which now bears his name. Although in clear weather (at the strait’s narrowest point) it is possible to glimpse both continents at the same time, on that historic day fog hid the American coast, and as far as Bering knew, it was 1,000 miles away. Without pause he steered due north (into the Bering Sea), but after the Asiatic coast disappeared from sight on the 15th, he decided to consult with Spanberg and Chirikov as to whether to continue the voyage or return to Kamchatka before cold weather set in. It was Spanberg’s advice that the expedition sail on for no more than two days, “because we have reached 65 degrees 30’ of the northern region and according to our opinion and the Chukchi’s report have arrived opposite the extreme end and have passed east of the land.” And so, “what more needs to be done?” Chirikov, on the other hand, argued that they could not know with certainty whether America was separated from Asia unless they went “to the mouth of the Kolyma River,” or at least until their path westward around the peninsula was blocked by ice. So they ought to follow the land, if possible (and as their instructions required), to see if it led to America.
Bering agreed with Spanberg. The Chukchi had told him the coast turned north, then west, and was surrounded by the ocean – and in fact, as Bering could see, the coast bent away to the west as he proceeded farther north. It seemed pointless to him to verify the obvious, at mortal risk to his ship and crew. Further delay might oblige him to winter among the Chukchi on the peninsula’s forbidding coast, which, so far as he could tell, consisted of nothing but great ridges of snow-covered rocks quite bare of trees with which to build winter huts.
Bering turned south. Once again the coast of Asia came into view, but by an unlucky chance, as he threaded the strait, Bering failed a second time to see America through the mist, though he discovered one of the Diomede Islands. Four days later the crew bartered rather profitably with forty Chukchi who came out to the ship in boats – the Russians trading pins and needles for “a good Quantity of dry’d Flesh, Fish, Water contain’d in Whale Bladders, 15 Fox Skins, and four Narval’s Teeth.” Without further incident, on September 2, the St. Gabriel returned safely to port.
Despite apparent confidence in having accomplished his mission, Bering had misgivings, and throughout the winter he consulted with a number of Cossack veterans and others knowledgeable about the local geography. Advised by several that land was supposed to lie not far off the coast – as evidenced by birds flying eastward and unfamiliar trees floating in the sea – toward the end of June 1729 he steered the St. Gabriel due east from the mouth of the Kamchatka River, and explored the seas for a radius of about 130 miles. He might have ventured farther, but storms cut short his quest. That done, from Nizhnekamchatsk he sailed around Cape Lopatka at the peninsula’s southern tip – “which Thing was never done before” – crossed over to Okhotsk, and began the long overland trek back to St. Petersburg, where he arrived on March 1, 1730.
While Bering and his men had been in Kamchatka, a companion expedition of sorts, with tasks resembling those given originally to the Great Kamchatka Command, had been authorized by the Senate and the newly created Supreme Privy Council. Led by Afanasy Shestakov, a Cossack leader based in Yakutsk, it involved an army of fifteen hundred men (huge by Siberian standards) in a bid to strengthen Russian control over the entire northeast. Part of the force was placed under the command of Dmitry Pavlutsky, captain of dragoons in Tobolsk and Russia’s foremost Chukchi fighter, but the results of the expedition were not commensurate with the efforts made. Quarreling between Shestakov and Pavlutsky hindered the operation, and Shestakov’s attempts to pacify the Koryaks ended in disaster when he was killed in a battle in March 1730, and a contingent coming to his support was wiped out. Shestakov’s dried head was preserved long afterward by the natives as a trophy of their victory.
Encouraged by these developments, some Kamchadal leaders also began to consider ways to drive the Russians from their land. Bering, it seems, had left Kamchatka just in time. Although the area had never been free of lawlessness and misrule, the transport burdens placed upon the native population by his expedition had certainly contributed to the unrest. In 1731, rebellions occurred in the vicinity of Bolsheretsk and Verkhnekamchatsk; and then, around Nizhnekamchatsk, the Kamchadals coalesced under a baptized native named Fyodor Kharchin and captured the fort. A few survivors managed to make their way to a Russian ship about to sail for the Anadyr, and the crew hastily disembarked and dragged their cannon to the fortress walls. When the Russians began blasting through, the defenders panicked, and Kharchin himself made his escape disguised as a girl. Others, however, fought on, until a shot ignited the powder magazine and the entire fort blew up. Enraged by the rape of their women (mostly native concubines), the Cossacks killed their prisoners to a man. A month later Kharchin himself was seized, but some of his accomplices and their families chose mass suicide rather than fall into Russian hands.
In St. Petersburg, the authorities decided that Kamchatka was too remote from Yakutsk to remain under its effective jurisdiction, and transferred responsibility for the peninsula to Okhotsk. An official was also dispatched from Tobolsk to restore order; after investigating the causes of the revolt, he executed and otherwise punished with impartial justice a number of Russians as well as Kamchadals.
Meanwhile, after Shestakov’s death, Pavlutsky had taken over the expedition’s command and had made Anadyrsk his base for a conquest of the Chukchi. Although the Russians defeated these indomitable warriors in several battles, they could not subdue them, and the most tangible (yet elusive) result of the expedition turned out to be geographical – the search for the “Big Land” supposed to lie opposite the East Cape of the Chukchi Peninsula. Pavlutsky organized an expedition to find it, and placed the expedition under the direction of Mikhail Gvozdev, a metallurgist, with Ivan Fedorov as pilot. They appropriated Bering’s St. Gabriel for the purpose and assembled a crew of thirty-nine. Sailing from the mouth of the Anadyr in July 1732, they paused briefly at one of the Diomede Islands, and then continued eastward, apparently coming within sight of Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska. Drawing near, they saw that it was quite large and covered with forests of poplar, spruce, and larch. After skirting the coast for several days, they found “no end to it in sight.” At one point, “a naked native paddled out to the vessel from shore on an inflated bladder,” and through their interpreter asked them who they were and where they were going. They replied that they were lost at sea and were looking for Kamchatka. The native promptly pointed in the direction from which they had come. They did not make a landing, however, and because after their return they failed to collate their notes and make an adequate map, their voyage did not come to official attention until a decade later, in 1743. By then the priority of their discovery had become a technicality, since far more momentous events had transpired.
The natives in the Siberian northeast, moreover, were restless. Although the Kamchadals lacked heart for further resistance (and suicide had begun to compete with disease in reducing their ranks), between 1745 and 1755 the Koryaks carried out a number of successful raids on Russian outposts and burned the fort of Atlansk to the ground.
The Chukchi were harder to tame. They rejected yasak, survived numerous campaigns (led by Major Dmitry Pavlutsky) against them, virtually exterminated the Yukaghirs (whom they despised as Russian allies), drove off herds of reindeer kept by the Russians for transportation and food, and so forth. On the night of March 12,1747, Pavlutsky gathered ninety-seven Cossacks and thirty-five Koryaks together for a retaliatory strike, and at dawn on the 14th sighted six hundred Chukchi camped on a mountainside. Without waiting for reinforcements, he attacked. In a sort of Russian version of Custer’s Last Stand, the famous Chukchi fighter was quickly encircled and trapped. By evening he had fallen, along with most of his companions, as the attackers captured all their arms, a cannon, the company flag, and Pavlutsky’s marshaling drum.
Tribesman had about 500 men against Pavlutsky’s ninety-seven Cossacks. It was “bows against guns”, but the bows and spears were victorious. Most Russians were killed or wounded.
Pavlutsky covered the retreat and was among the last soldiers to die. He fought in close combat with a rifle in one hand and a saber in the other hand. When he was overpowered and thrown to the ground, he accepted defeat and opened up his steel cuirass to allow the enemies’ spears to pierce his heart.
When news of the defeat reached St. Petersburg, the Siberian Department dispatched five hundred dragoons to the Anadyr Basin, and their repeated onslaughts at last obliged the Chukchi to give way. In 1756, a Chukchi delegation came to Anadyrsk to sue for peace, and agreed to a token yasak of one fox skin per man. This was acceptable to the government, and gave it an excuse to abandon the fort at Anadyrsk, which had long been prohibitively expensive to maintain. Between 1710 and 1764, it had earned only 29,152 rubles, yet had cost the Treasury 1,381,000 rubles, including 841,760 just for supplies. In 1770, it was reduced to the status of a trading post.