For the Russian army, this battle turned into another major defeat after previous defeats. It was all the more bitter because of the Russian enemy intelligence preparing for the islands of Ezel and Dago (now Saaremaa and Hiiumaa), Russian intelligence was known until the hour of its landing, and the Baltic Fleet was ready to fight this time and heroically defended the islands as close approaches to revolutionary Petrograd.
Prehistory Situation in the country
Russia, after the February coup, continued to plunge into turmoil. A. Kerensky, who actually became a dictator of Russia, worked for the “backstage world”, fulfilling the task of destroying Russia at Stakhanov's pace. Part of the conspiratorial feudalists who became “rightist” (in the Russian empire were monarchists, traditional Black Hundreds), this camp included Cadets, Octobrists, the big bourgeoisie, a considerable part of the generals, tried to seize control in order to stabilize and restore order. The right wing of the feminists believed that the main goal of the coup was fulfilled - the autocracy was destroyed, the power seized by the owners of capital and large owners. It is necessary to stabilize the situation, “calm down” the mob, victoriously end the war and build “New Russia”. And for this, a “strong hand” was needed. A talented general, popular among officers and soldiers, L. Kornilov was prophesied for this role.
However, the left wing of the revolutionaries, continued to carry out the plan of the owners of the West for the complete destruction of Russia. The masters of the West needed a semi-colony, the collapse of big Russia into many "independent" republics and national Bantustans, which could be easily plundered. Strategic zones and cities were subject to occupation. Russia was divided into spheres of influence.
As a result, the Kornilov troops, which were to take control of Petrograd, failed. The troops, finding themselves without decisive leadership and without clear objectives, were quickly laid out and disarmed. A conspirator generals arrested. 14 September 1917, Alexander Kerensky appointed himself as the new Supreme Commander and in order to overcome the government crisis he changed the structure of the government, creating the so-called “Council of Five” or Directory (similar to the Great French Revolution). The Directory, in addition to Kerensky, included four more ministers - Finance Minister Mikhail Tereshchenko, War Minister General Alexander Verkhovsky, Maritime Minister Rear Admiral Dmitry Verderevsky and Minister of Post and Telegraph Alexei Nikitin. On the same day, 14 of September, the Directory declared Russia a republic (having eliminated the Russian empire de jure), legalized the defeat of the tsarist police apparatus, the abolition of penal servitude and exile. A broad political amnesty was declared, under which the Bolsheviks were accused of organizing the July insurrection. It was also promised to introduce all other political freedoms characteristic of democratic countries to convene a Constituent Assembly.
Thus, the collapse of the "old Russia" was continued, unrest and chaos gained momentum. The “right” flank of the Februaryists was completely discredited and crushed, including even the liberal party of the Cadets that participated in the Kornilov revolt. As these and subsequent events showed, the “rightists” (in fact, the Liberal Democrats, capitalists and proprietors, and their hangers-on) had minimal support in the workers' and peasant masses of Russia. The masses mostly supported the Left, a socialist project. This predetermined the future defeat of the "white" armies and governments. Tips and the Red Guard (in her hands got a large number weaponsissued by Kerensky himself, on the contrary, restored their positions lost after the July insurrection, exposing themselves as true “defenders of democracy”. Bolshevization of the Soviets took place, and the Bolsheviks, consistently and not particularly hiding, prepared for a new uprising. On September 22, the Bolsheviks took control of the Petrograd Soviet - Leo Trotsky, recently released from the prison of Kresty, became its chairman. Vladimir Lenin and Grigory Zinoviev, who were hiding from the authorities of the Provisional Government, were also elected members of the council.
The growth of the national separatist movement continued. In Kiev, put forward the idea of a law on the federal structure of the state. In connection with the threat of the seizure of Petrograd by German troops (the fall of Riga), the evacuation of a number of ministries from Petrograd to Moscow began (foreign affairs, public education, confessions, posts and telegraph). The most important archives of the ministries were sent even further to the cities of the Volga region. At the same time, the Provisional Government, fearing panic, avoided the very term “evacuation” and spoke only of the “unloading” of the city. Army decomposed completely. The authority of the generals, after the failure of the revolt of Kornilov, finally collapsed. The soldiers controlled the headquarters of the fronts and military districts and themselves appointed commanders.
October 3, the War Minister Alexander Verkhovsky, wrote in his diary: “The further, the harder it is to work in an environment of sharp contradictions and the lack of a unifying national idea among the masses. The Omsk, Kazan, and Turkestan military districts are “self-determined,” they choose their own commanders themselves and do not accept those whom the Provisional Government appoints. An anarchic outbreak at once in three places of the Moscow District is suppressed today by force of arms, but the commander of the troops reports that if such an outbreak recurs, he will hardly be able to achieve the same results. ”
There were riots in the country, armed anarchist speeches. Thousands of people fled from the front, and in arms. Many soldiers poured into gang formations, another revolution was advancing - the criminal one. Marauders and deserters kept entire cities in fear, smashed wine shops and food depots. The old law enforcement system was completely destroyed by the Februaryists, and the new one was just being created, there were not enough experienced personnel, experience, information - the card files and archives were destroyed and burned. In the village, the peasants fought their own war — a peasant war that had been accumulated for centuries (for social injustice) broke out. Peasants burned estates by the hundreds, refused to hand over grain at government rates, smashed warehouses. In the cities there was a shortage of food, caused by a general collapse in general, and chaos in the transport system, on railways, in particular. In some places, especially in areas where there was a poor harvest, famine began.
On September 27, the All-Russian Democratic Conference of Representatives of Russian Parties and Public Organizations opened in Petrograd. The purpose of its convocation was an attempt to unite all democratic forces after the actual failure of the idea of the Moscow State Conference at the end of the summer. Then they honored General Lavr Kornilov, who later revolted. But the meeting did not have much success. Representatives of the Bolsheviks, who were rapidly gaining strength, pointedly left the meeting.
On October 8, following the results of the Democratic Conference held in Petrograd, the Third Provisional Government was formed. The posts of minister-chairman and supreme commander were kept by Alexander Kerensky, his deputy and at the same time the cadet Alexander Konovalov became minister of trade and industry, Foreign Minister Mikhail Tereshchenko, military minister Alexander Verkhovsky. Now the Provisional Government included the 4 Cadet, the 2 SR, the 3 Menshevik, the 1 Trudovik, and three non-party ministers.
Head of the Provisional Government A. Kerensky
The capture of Riga prompted the German command to seize the Moonsund Islands in order to strengthen the left wing of the Riga grouping and get a springboard for future operations in the Gulf of Finland (the seizure of Petrograd). 18 September 1917, the rate of the German High Command ordered the islands to be taken. The operation was called "Albion". The special expeditionary corps, subordinate to the command of the 8 Army, was to carry out the landing. It consisted of about 23 thousand soldiers, 54 guns, 12 heavy mortars and 150 machine guns. Corps commanded by General von Caten.
The landing was planned in Taga Bay, in the western part of the island of Ezel. Under cover of naval artillery, the forward detachment of 4,5 thousand men was to land, and then the main forces of the corps. To divert the attention of the Russians from the Taga bay, the Germans planned a demonstrative operation on the Svorb peninsula (also on Ezel), in which battleships were to take part. Further, the plan provided that after the seizure of this peninsula from land (a landing force landed in Taga bay) and the elimination of batteries on Tsereli, the German fleet would enter the Gulf of Riga through the Irbensky Strait. There, the ships will support with fire an assault landing on Ahrensburg, the main city of the island, and at the same time block the Moonzund Strait. Fearing the attacks of the Russian fleet from Kassar Reservoir (between the islands of Ezel, Dago and Mawn), the Germans planned to seize the Russian batteries at Cape Pamerort to ensure control over the isthmus.
Admiral Ehrhardt Schmidt (fifth from left) with his headquarters on the deck "Moltke"
To solve this problem, the German command created a special fleet compound under the command of Vice-Admiral E. Schmidt. It consisted of the Moltke cruiser, two battleships, two reconnaissance groups, four fleets and one semi-flotilla of destroyers. The overall composition of the group consisted of: 1 battleship, 10 battleships, 9 light cruisers, 58 destroyers, 6 submarines. This fleet was supported by more 80 minesweepers and minesweepers, dozens of auxiliary vessels. In general, around 300 warships and ships participated in the operation. Thus, taking advantage of the inaction of the British fleet, for the first time in the entire war the Germans concentrated in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea up to their naval forces.
The troop transports were 19. They were divided into four units with one light cruiser at each. The 10-I fleet of the submarine fleet, the 7-I and 16-I destroyer semi-flotilla also guarded the transports. 19 transports could not simultaneously land the entire invasion corps with weapons and supplies, so the delivery was divided into two stages. In addition, more than a hundred combat aircraft and 6 airships provided support and air cover. The float base of hydroplanes was "Saint Helena". Air reconnaissance data allowed to find two convenient landing sites in Taga Bay - on the east and on the west bank. This allowed the landing on two sites simultaneously.
The landing plan was as follows: first, subunits stationed on battleships (one company on each ship) landed under the cover of ship artillery, then troops arrived on destroyers and minesweepers. The paratroopers of the first wave reached the coast in motor boats and boats. Only after the creation of a wide and deep bridgehead on the shore would the main forces of the corps have landed. September 23 transports were concentrated in Libau and active exercises began - the troops were preparing for the landing force. The next day, ships of the High Sea Fleet (Hochseeflotte), the main navy of the German Navy during the First World War, arrived in the eastern part of the Danzig Bay. They were allocated to participate in the Moonsund operation. All preparations planned to complete October 6.
The cruiser Moltke on the German postcard 1912 of the year
Island defense system
The archipelago of four large islands (Ezel, Dago, Moon and Worms) and many small islands have been constantly strengthened since the beginning of the war. So, on the islands 57 of powerful guns were installed: 8 guns of caliber 305 mm, 5 guns - 254 mm, 32 - 152 mm, 4 - 130 mm and 8. The Moonzund Mine Artillery Position consisted of minefields, 120 coastal and 9 anti-aircraft batteries. The islands were defended by General Ivanov's reinforced infantry division — about 12 thousand infantry and 10 thousand cavalry. The commandant of the Moronsund fortified area was Rear Admiral Sveshnikov, his headquarters was located in Ahrensburg. The defense of the most important sector - the Svorbe peninsula was commanded by the captain of 2 rank Knupfer.
Russia had significant naval forces in the Gulf of Riga area: the 2 of the old battleship, the 3 cruisers, the 3 gunboats, the 26 large and medium destroyers, the 7 small, the 3 British submarines, many minesweepers and auxiliary vessels. There are more than a hundred warships and ships. Vice-Admiral Mikhail Koronatovich Bakhirev commanded these forces. The main task of the Russian fleet was to protect the Strait of Irbene and interact with the army.
However, despite the impressive Russian coastal and naval forces, the defense of the islands and the Gulf of Riga had a number of significant drawbacks. The weakest point was the bay of Taga on the west bank of Ezel. The bay was practically the only place where the landing of an enemy landing on the island was to be expected. Wide enough and deep, this bay was accessible to the Germans, as other places convenient for landing from the Gulf of Riga were inaccessible due to the mining in the Irbensky Strait. The most reasonable thing was to create the most powerful defense here. But the bay was protected only by two batteries (8 mm caliber 152 guns) and a small minefield. True, the defense of the bay was tried to be strengthened with the help of destroyers and submarines that came on duty from the Kassar reservoir. The lack of fortifications from the land on the Svorbe peninsula was also a major drawback. This made three batteries defenseless at Cape Tserel.
The general disintegration of the Russian armed forces and the situation in the field of command also had a negative effect on the defense of the islands. A week before the start of the battle, Vice Admiral M.K. Bakhirev and Rear Admiral V.K Stark (the commander of the destroyer squad) resigned, explaining their decision by the incompetent intervention of ship committees in the operational plans of the command and the decline of discipline on ships. Resignation is not accepted. At the beginning of the battle for the islands, Rear Admiral Sveshnikov fled to Gapsal (Hapsalu), and Rear Admiral Vladislavlev (chief of staff of the submarine division) hid in an unknown direction.
To be continued ...