1859-08-10 REVIEW OF THE RUSSIAN FLEET AT CRONSTADT
London Times, 10 August 1859, p. 9: REVIEW OF THE RUSSIAN FLEET AT CRONSTADT. (From our own correspondent.) St. Petersburg, July 25.
There are few subjects more interesting to the English public than the naval power and strength of Russia. The interest is increased by the mystery in which the question is shrouded, and by the exaggeration which that mystery has induced. One party at home -- forgetting that "security is mortal's chiefest enemy" -- judge of the Russian fleet by its performance, or rather non-performance, during the late war. They talk of ships skulking behind the ramparts of Cronstadt or sunk in the harbour of Sebastopol. They can imagine no danger from a navy which was unable to protect its own coasts from ravages and insults, and they fancy that what has been in the past must be in the future.
On the other hand, the alarmists rush into the opposite extreme. They see the Russian fleet issuing from Cronstadt, "forty sail of the line," according to an estimate lately made by an intelligent English post-captain. These are to be united to the French Channel Squadron in irresistible numbers; the funds fall, a panic seizes the city, and the sea no longer remains the "water-walled bulwark" of Great Britain.
The truth lies between the extremes. The Russian fleet is neither what the hopes of the one nor the fears of the other party have created. Since the close of the war the attention of the Grand Duke Constantine -- the most active-minded man in all Russia -- has been applied to the development of the navy. He has visited every dockyard in France, and has made himself practically acquainted with all improvements in construction and machinery. It is to his influence that Russia owes the Mediterranean port lately ceded by Sardinia. The fleet is consequently no longer confined to the Baltic, where naval manoeuvres were impossible during eight months of the year, and where summer sailors only could be reared. Steam vessels have been constructed on the best models and at great expense, both in England and America. During the war but one screw frigate, the Palkane, remained motionless behind the batteries of Cronstadt, hopelessly regarding the magnificent steam fleet of Great Britain. On Saturday, the 23d inst., the Emperor, accompanied by the Grand-Duke Constantine, Grand Admiral, reviewed a fleet of 21 vessels, all propelled by steam, and the greater part screws.
The fleet was formed in two lines, stretching in a south-easterly direction from the new fort now in course of construction as far as the Custom-house.
The following is a list of the ships: --
LINE OF BATTLE
Ilia Mourometz Olaf
Posadnik Standarte (T. yacht)
In addition to these was a numerous flotilla of gunboats, nearly the whole of which are screws. In the inner harbour lay the old sailing vessels, now dismasted hulks, but which had hoisted the Russian flag on a pole at the stern, in honour of the occasion. The day was lovely, a gentle breeze just ruffling the surface of the water.
The fleet presented a most imposing spectacle as it lay motionless in the harbour, and though there was nothing in its aspect to inspire terror to an Englishman who had seen the review at Spithead, still there was quite enough to present ample food for reflection. The whole of these ships had been built since the war, and they were but the advanced guard, so to speak, of the main body which is to succeed them. Many, such as the Sinope, Constantin, Generale-Admirale, and Ilia Mourometz, are admirably constructed, and the whole of them are on good models. Precisely at half-past 12 the Emperor and the Grand Duke Constantine, accompanied by a numerous suite, embarked on board the Imperial yacht Alexandrine, moored off Peterhof, and started for Cronstadt. Two other steamers conveyed the Imperial family and the dignitaries of the Court. The Imperial cortége slowly approached the fleet, and as it hove in sight the yards were manned in very fair style. The yacht then steamed down the lines, and on nearing each ship successively, the Emperor, in a loud tone of voice, saluted the crews, to which they replied with a tremendous hurrah. Having passed along both the lines the Imperial yacht took up a central position, and hoisted a signal, by which His Imperial Majesty thanked the officers and crews for the excellent appearance presented by the fleet. The Imperial standard was then run up on board the yacht. This was replied to by a salute from the flagship, followed by one from the whole squadron. The forts replied to the vessels, and when the smoke cleared away the fleet re-appeared gaily dressed with flags, each ship bearing the Imperial standard at the main. The Emperor then took boat, and minutely inspected the Constantin and the Sinope, after which he returned to the yacht. He was dressed in full naval uniform, as was the Grand Duke Constantine. At half-past 3 they returned to Peterhof.
Thus finished the first review of the Russian steam fleet. It will be observed that no manoeuvres were attempted, and in this a wise discretion was shown. There is no doubt that the crews are raw, and not by any means equal to those composed of "cabmen, pickpockets, and tailors" over whose presence in the English navy Sir Charles Napier so pitifully laments. What the Emperor wished to see was the "great fact" of a steam navy at Cronstadt, and he saw it. In the process of time the crews will be disciplined, and a respectable squadron will be kept for that purpose in the Mediterranean. As yet Russia could afford but a very sorry contingent in case of naval war, but if during the next 20 years she makes she makes such progress as she has acquired since the peace, she will be almost as formidable with her naval as she has long been with her military power. Russia is at present busily engaged in industrial enterprises, and particularly in the construction of railways. Twenty thousand men are at work between St. Petersburg and Warsaw; on the southern lines considerable progress has been made, and the day is not far distant when there will be railway communication between Moscow and St. Petersburg and the Baltic provinces on the north, Warsaw on the west, and Odessa and the Crimea on the south. Russia will then be immensely strengthened, whether for offensive or defensive purposes. For the moment she unquestionably desires peace, which is, indeed, almost a necessity for her. Deeply engaged in these industrial undertakings, weakened in purse, in men, and in material by the Crimean war, she has another and much more important cause for avoiding war -- she is in the midst of one of the most important social revolutions which has ever occurred in the history of the world, one the result of which, whether for good or evil, will be enormous. She is engaged in emancipating her serfs, on which subject I will give you ample details in a future letter.
Provided by Stephen McLaughlin