100 years ago, on October 20, 1916, in Sevastopol on one of the most modern Russian ships fleet, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet battleship "Empress Maria", there was an explosion of a powder cellar, after which the ship sank.
There could be much more victims if during the explosion that occurred in the battleship's nose gun turret the crew did not stand on the deck praying. In addition, some of the officers were on shore leave. "Empress Maria" was the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, where the Vice-Admiral A. V. Kolchak, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, was at the time of going to sea.
In a telegram from Kolchak to Tsar Nicholas II, it was reported: "Your imperial majesty is most grateful:" Today is at 7 hour. 17 min. the battleship "Empress Maria" died in the roadstead of Sevastopol. In 6 hour. 20 min. There was an internal explosion of the nasal cellars and a fire of oil began. Immediately began flooding the rest of the cellars, but to some it was impossible to penetrate because of the fire. The explosions of the cellars and oil continued, the ship gradually got into a nose and at 7 an hour. 17 min. overturned. Saved a lot, the number of them turns out. "
A special commission was set up to investigate the tragedy, but she could not figure out the causes of the explosion. Until now, historians have no single opinion about the cause of the tragedy: whether it was a diversion or just a tragic accident.
In the First World War, the enemy of the Russian Empire on the Black Sea was the German-Turkish fleet. Before the war, the Black Sea Fleet in all respects had complete superiority over the Turkish naval forces. Our fleet was superior to the enemy in terms of the number of pennants, firepower, combat training, officers and sailors, etc. It consisted of: the 6 battleships of the old type (so-called battleships, or dodrednownuts) - the flagship of the fleet "Evstafy "," John Chrysostom "," Panteleimon "(the former" Prince Potyomkin-Tavrichesky ")," Rostislav "," Three Saints "," Sinop "; 2 Bogatyr type cruisers, 17 destroyers, 12 destroyers, 4 submarines. The main base was Sevastopol, the fleet had its own shipyards in Sevastopol and Nikolaev. The 4 was built by powerful modern battleships (dreadnoughts): “Empress Maria”, “Empress Catherine the Great”, “Emperor Alexander III”, “Emperor Nicholas I”.
The Turks had only a few more or less combat-ready ships: the 2 armored cruisers “Medgidiye” and “Gamidiye”, the 2 squadron battleship “Torgut Reis” and “Hayreddin Barbarossa” (the battleships of the “Brandenburg” type), the 8 fighters of the French destroyers, and the Xydin Barbarossa battleships (Brandenburg type battleships), the XNUMX fighters, and the French destroyers. At the same time, the Ottomans practically did not have their own shipbuilding industry, there was not enough money, no naval personnel, there was no military training, discipline was low. Before the war, the Turkish government tried to update the fleet by ordering new ships in France and England. But the war with Italy, the two Balkan wars and the beginning of the First World War thwarted these plans. There was no money in the treasury, and the British confiscated the ships that were built in England for their own benefit.
As a result, the withdrawal of the Turkish fleet from the Bosphorus Strait to the battle with the Russian fleet was in principle impossible. However, although the Black Sea Fleet was significantly stronger than the Turkish naval forces, it was forced to stand idle. In St. Petersburg, they were afraid to provoke Turkey’s entry into the war on the side of Germany and gave instructions to avoid aggressive actions that could cause a war with the Ottoman Empire. Although the experience of the war with the Japanese showed the erroneousness of passive tactics, the tsarist government, after 10 years, “attacked the same rake,” the fleet commander A. A. Ebergard was bound by government directive.
Meanwhile, Germany has changed the balance of power on the Black Sea. 10 August 1914, two newest German cruisers arrived in Turkey: the heavy Geben (called the Sultan Selim) and the light Breslau (Midilli). The commander of the German Mediterranean Division, Rear Admiral V. Souchon, led the combined German-Turkish forces. “Goeben” was more powerful than any old type Russian battleship, but together the Russian battleships would have destroyed it. Therefore, in a collision with the entire squadron, “Goeben” left, using its high speed. Under pressure from Germany, the Turkish "military party" took up, and the Ottoman Empire decided to go to war.
29-30 in October the German-Turkish fleet delivered an artillery strike on Sevastopol, Odessa, Feodosia and Novorossiysk. This event received the name - "Sevastopol wake-up." Thus, the fighting in the Black Sea began unexpectedly for the Russian Empire. The Black Sea Fleet was taken by surprise by the enemy. However, the German-Turkish forces could not do much harm to the Russian fleet: the forces were dispersed, and there was not enough firepower.
Almost immediately, the Russian fleet made a return “visit”: the fire of the Cahul cruiser destroyed the huge coal storages in Zonguldak (Zunguldak), and the battleship Panteleimon and the destroyers sank several enemy troop transporters and minesweepers. In addition, the destroyers under the cover of the battleships laid mines near the Bosporus. In November, the Russian squadron enters the search for enemy ships, shells Trabzon and encounters German cruisers on the way back. The battle at Cape Sarych 18 in November 1914 was reduced to a shootout between the battleship Evstafy and Geben. Both ships were damaged ("Goeben" had to be put on repairs). The Germans could not fight with the entire brigade of Russian battleships and, taking advantage of the speed, the German cruisers were able to break away from the Russian squadron and leave.
In December, the Goeben exploded on a Russian mine near the Bosphorus Strait, the area of the port side was 64 square. meter, and right - 50 square. meters, "sipped water" from 600 to 2000 tons. Specialists from Germany had to be called in for repair, the restoration work was basically completed by April 1915. However, at the very end of 1914, 5 of German submarines crossed the Mediterranean from the Mediterranean, which complicated the situation at the Black Sea theater.
In 1915, the Black Sea Fleet consistently increased its advantage: the Russian squadron made trips to enemy shores, artillery strikes were made at Zonguldak, Trabzon and other ports. Dozens of enemy steamboats, sailing ships with military cargoes were sunk. Destroyers began to be used for reconnaissance of Turkish routes, hydroaviation, Russian submarines began to patrol the area of the Bosphorus.
In early April, 1915 failed the plan of the German-Turkish command to attack Odessa. It was assumed that Odessa will become the base for the Russian troops (Bosphorus operation) and Sushon wanted to destroy the Russian transports. However, the case was spoiled by Russian minefields. The cruiser "Medzhidiye" hit a mine. He did not drown completely, it was too small a depth. The crew removed the destroyers. The German-Turkish detachment retreated. In the summer the Turkish cruiser raised. In Odessa, they carried out an initial repair, then in Nikolaev a major overhaul, re-equipped and a year later in June 1916, the ship entered the Black Sea Fleet, like the Prut. As part of the fleet, he participated in several operations, in May 1918 was captured by the Germans, transferred to the Turks, and there, thanks to Russian repairs, he served in the service of the Turkish fleet right up to the 1947 year.
Plan for the Bosphorus Operation
After the Crimean War in the Russian Empire, they worked out various options for waging war with Turkey. After the Russian-Turkish war 1877-1877 it became finally clear that we need a strong fleet. It is extremely difficult to take Istanbul by land forces alone: too long a distance from the Danube and the Caucasus to the Ottoman capital, besides being protected by strong fortresses and natural barriers. Therefore, with the revival of the Black Sea Fleet, the idea of a Bosporus operation arose. The idea was tempting - to decapitate the old enemy with one blow and to realize the century Russian dream, to return the ancient Constantinople-Constantinople to the bosom of the Orthodox Christian world.
To implement this plan, a powerful armored fleet was needed, an order of magnitude stronger than the Turkish naval forces. The fleet was built from 1883, armadillos of the “Empress Catherine the Great” type were laid, the 4 ship was built in total, and two of them participated in the First World War. In addition, the navy and the Volunteer Fleet (for the transport of troops) were intensively developed. Armadillos had, if necessary, to crush the enemy fleet and smash land fortifications, batteries.
The idea of the operation returned during the First World War. The appearance of the German ships pushed back these plans. When Russia's allies launched the Dardanelles operation (February 1915 of the year), plans to seize the Bosporus resumed. The Russian fleet systematically conducted demonstrative actions against the Bosphorus. If the Allies succeeded in the Dardanelles, the Black Sea Fleet would have to occupy the Bosphorus. Russian troops were forced to Odessa, a demonstrative load on the transports was carried out. Vigorous activity created the appearance of preparing a large-scale landing operation. However, before the commissioning of new battleships, the success of this operation was in doubt. In addition, the German 1915 offensive of the year did not allow for the allocation of large forces for the operation.
Real opportunity only appeared in 1916. The Caucasian Front conducted a successful Erzerum operation, taking the largest Turkish stronghold and base in the Caucasus, and then succeeded in other battles. The southwestern front successfully launched the Lutsk operation (Brusilovsky breakthrough), the Austro-Hungarian troops suffered a heavy defeat. German troops were tied up on the French front by heavy fighting at Verdun, and then on the Somme. The Russian Headquarters had the opportunity to allocate power for the landing. In addition, as part of the Black Sea Fleet, there were now two newest dreadnought - "Empress Maria" and "Empress Catherine the Great", which neutralized the "Geben".
In general, from this time on, the Russian fleet gained a great superiority over the enemy; it constantly bombarded the Turkish coast. With the advent of new submarines in the fleet, including a minelayer such as the "Crab", it became possible to cross the enemy's communications with the help of them. The novelty of the Russian fleet was the interaction of submarines and destroyers of the destroyers, which increased the effectiveness of the blockade of the Bosphorus and the coal regions of Turkey.
Thus, in 1915, the Black Sea Fleet strengthened its superiority and almost completely controlled the sea. Three brigades of battleships were formed, destroyer forces were active, submarine forces and naval forces were increasing their combat experience aviation. Conditions were created for the Bosphorus operation.
In 1916, Russia received a number of unpleasant "surprises" at the Black Sea theater: 14 (27) of August Romania entered the war on the side of the Entente, but since its armed forces were highly questionable in combat capability, they had to be strengthened by Russian troops. The Black Sea Fleet now assisted an ally from the Balkan coast and the Danube. The underwater threat to the fleet intensified, the German submarine forces in the Black Sea grew to 10 submarines. The Black Sea Fleet did not have anti-submarine defense, so it had to be built on the approaches to Sevastopol.
Also, the Black Sea Fleet continued to solve the previous tasks: blocked the Bosphorus; supported the right flank of the advancing Caucasian front; violated the enemy’s maritime communications; defended his bases and communications from the enemy’s underwater forces; supported the Russian and Romanian troops.
One of the main tasks was considered blockade of the strait. Using the mine experience of the Baltic Fleet, it was decided to close the Bosphorus mine. From July 30 to August 10, a mine-fencing operation was carried out, 4 barriers were delivered, only about 900 min. Until the end of the year, more 8 mines were installed, with the task of strengthening the main barrier and blocking coastal waters (for interfering with small vessels and submarines). For the protection of minefields from minesweepers, a patrol of destroyers and submarines was established. In the minefields, the enemy lost several warships, submarines, dozens of transports. The mine blockade violated Turkish shipping, Istanbul began to experience difficulties in providing food and fuel. But the complete blockade of the Bosphorus failed to be implemented.
The Black Sea Fleet also actively supported the Caucasian Front. The ships supported the ground forces with artillery, landed distracting landings, sabotage groups, covered them from a possible strike from the sea, and carried out supplies of supplies and reinforcements. The transport of troops and supplies was carried out by a special transport flotilla (in 1916, the 90 ships). The ships of the Black Sea Fleet supported our troops during the Erzerum and Trapezund operations.
"Empress Maria" in 1916 year
The ship was laid in 1911 in Nikolaev at the same time with the same type of battleship "Emperor Alexander III" and "Empress Catherine the Great". The ship was named after the widowed empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of the late Emperor Alexander III. He was launched on 6 on October 1913 of the year, arrived in Sevastopol on 30 on June 1915 of the year.
13-15 October 1915, the battleship covered the actions of the 2-th brigade of battleships in the Zonguldak area. In November, 1915 covered the 2 brigade from the sea during the shelling of Varna and Euxinograd. From February 5 to April 18 assisted the Trabzon operation. During the hostilities, it became clear that the battleships of the "Empress Maria" type justified the hopes placed on them. During the first year of service, the ship made 24 combat trips, sank quite a few Turkish ships.
In the summer of 1916, by decision of the Supreme Commander, the Black Sea Fleet was headed by Vice Admiral Alexander Kolchak. The admiral made the "Empress Maria" the flagship of the fleet and systematically went on it at sea. Having laid a glorious initiative, in the fall of 1916, the battleship was installed in the Sevastopol preventive maintenance raid. However, this autumn has become fatal for the "Empress Maria".
October morning 20 1916 of the year did not foreshadow trouble, began a normal day. Above the North Bay every day was a wake to the crews of ships. On the battleship, everything went according to a certain usual routine. Suddenly in 6 hour. 20 min. the neighborhood shook a powerful blast.
Captain 2 of rank A.Lukin wrote: “In the washbasin, putting the heads under the taps, the team snorted and splashed, when a terrible blow slammed under the bow tower, knocking down half the people. The fire jet, enveloped in poisonous gases of yellow-green flame, burst into the room, instantly turning the life that prevailed here just into a pile of dead, burned bodies ... " The terrible force of a new explosion tore a steel mast. Like a coil, threw armored cabin to the sky. A nosy fireman on duty blew up. The ship plunged into darkness. The ship was burning, bodies lay in heaps. In some casemates stuck people barricaded with an avalanche of fire. Come out - burn. Stay - drown. Torn cellars 130-millimeter shells. Within an hour, another 25 explosion occurred. The crew fought for its ship to the last, many heroes died trying to put out the fire.
The frightened Sevastopol ran to the embankment and witnessed a terrible picture. Standing in the raid in his native bay, the battleship "Empress Maria" was dying. The ship lurched on the starboard side, rolled over and sank. The wounded were located right on the beach and were given first aid there. There was black smoke above the city. By the evening, the size of the disaster became known: 225 seafarers died, 85 was seriously injured (sources cite various figures). So, the most powerful ship of the Black Sea fleet was lost. It was the largest loss of the Russian Imperial Navy for all the years of the First World War.
Tragedy shook the entire Russian Empire. The commission of the Maritime Ministry, headed by a military officer, a member of the Admiralty Council, Admiral N. M. Yakovlev, took up the causes of the ship’s death. A well-known shipbuilder, one of the authors of the project of the Black Sea battleships, an associate of Admiral S. O. Makarov, academician A. N. Krylov, who made a conclusion, which was approved by all members of the commission, became a member of the commission. Three major versions of the death of the battleship were put forward: 1) self-ignition of gunpowder; 2) negligence in handling fire or gunpowder; 3) malicious intent.
The commission was inclined to the second version (negligence), since the gunpowder was, in the opinion of all the battleship gunners, high-quality. As for malicious intent, the commission considered this version unlikely. Although violations were found in the rules for access to artillery cellars and lack of control over the workers on the ship. The Commission noted: "... On the battleship" Empress Maria "there were significant deviations from the statutory requirements for access to the artillery range. In particular, many of the hatches of the tower did not have locks. During the stay in Sevastopol, representatives of various factories worked on the battleship. Familial checking by craftsmen was not made ... ". As a result, none of the hypotheses put forward by the commission found sufficient facts to confirm.
In addition, the Sevastopol gendarme department and the counterintelligence of the Black Sea Fleet Main Headquarters, initiated by the sailors at the end of 1915, were investigating the causes of the explosions. But they could not reach the true cause of the death of the flagship. The revolutionary events finally stopped the investigation.
Already in 1916, work began on raising the ship, according to the project proposed by A. Krylov. The ship was raised in 1918 year and taken to the dock. However, in the conditions of civil war and revolutionary chaos, the ship was never restored. In 1927, it was pulled.
Battleship Empress Maria after docking and pumping water, 1919 year
Already in the Soviet period, it became known that Germany was closely watching all changes in the Russian fleet, including the new dreadnoughts. In Berlin, they feared that the Russians would take Constantinople, where the battleships were to play a decisive role in breaking through the Turkish defense. In the 1933 year, during the investigation of sabotage at the Nikolaev shipyard, the Stalinist Chekists discovered a network of German intelligence headed by V.E. Verman. The main task of the German spies was the disruption of the shipbuilding program of the military and merchant fleet of the USSR.
During the investigation, many interesting details came to light, dating back to the pre-revolutionary period. Verman himself was a scout with experience (he was a senior electrical engineer), he began his work back in 1908, when a large-scale Russian fleet restoration program began. The network covered all the major cities of the Black Sea, with particular attention being paid to Odessa, Nikolaev, Sevastopol and Novorossiysk. The group included many well-known people in the city (even the mayor of Nikolaev, a certain Matveyev), and most importantly, the engineers of the shipyard Sheffer, Lipke, Feoktistov and electrical engineer Sgibnev. In the early thirties, some members of the espionage group were arrested. During the investigation, they spoke about involvement in the explosion on the battleship. Direct perpetrators of sabotage - Feoktistov, Sgibnev and Verman - were to receive a “fee” on 80 thousand rubles in gold, and the head of the group, Verman, also the Iron Cross.
During the interrogation, Werman reported that German intelligence planned sabotage on the battleship, and led the saboteur group Helmut von Stitgoff. He was considered the best specialist in the field of mining and undermining ships. In the summer of 1916, Helmut Von Stitgoff began working at the Nikolaev shipyard as an electrician. It was planned to blow up the battleship right in the shipyard. However, something broke. Stitgoff urgently turned off the operation and left for Germany. But Verman's group continued to work independently and did not curtail its activities, it had the opportunity to access the battleship. Stitgoff command redeployed to the next task. In 1942, the honored saboteur of Germany von Stitgoff was shot by the secret police. The trail leading to the death of the battleship "Empress Maria" was erased.
In addition, there is a British trail. On the night before the giant's death, Commander Voronov was on duty at the main tower. His duties were: inspection and measurement of the temperature of the artillery cellar. This morning, the captain of the 2 rank, Gorodyskiy, was also on combat duty on the ship. At dawn, Gorodissky ordered his Voronov to measure the temperature in the cellar of the main tower. Voronov went down to the cellar and nobody saw him again. And after a while the first explosion thundered. The body of Voronov was never found among the bodies of the dead. The commission had suspicions about him, but there was no evidence and he was recorded as missing. Later it turned out that the lieutenant colonel of the British intelligence, John Haviland, and the commander of the battleship "Empress Maria" Voronov, apparently, is one and the same person. A British naval intelligence lieutenant served in Russia from 1914 to 1916, a week after the explosion, he left Russia and arrived in England as a lieutenant colonel. After the war, he retired, living the ordinary life of a rich gentleman. And in 1929, he died under strange circumstances.
Thus, it is possible that Germany was able to conduct a secret operation to eliminate the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet. Or our “partner” did it - Britain. As is well known, the British have long opposed the plans of Russia to seize the straits and Constantinople-Constantinople. It is known that in England, before all, a powerful reconnaissance and sabotage service appeared that waged a secret war against the rivals of the British Empire. The British elite could not allow the “shield of Oleg” to reappear at the gates of Constantinople. It would be the day of the collapse of the age-old machinations and intrigues of England against Russia. The straits were not supposed to go Russian at any cost.
The possibilities of English intelligence in Russia were no worse than the German ones; moreover, England often did her business by someone else’s hands. It is possible that the battleship was destroyed by the Germans, but with the secret support of the British. Given that the security service in the Russian Empire was poorly placed (in particular, high-ranking conspirators, Western agents and revolutionaries quietly prepared to overthrow the autocracy), and the weak organization of protection of important objects and structures was noted, .