Who blew up "Empress Maria"
Further events developed very quickly. In March 1911, the State Duma of the Russian Empire passed a bill supporting the Black Sea Fleet, and in May 1911, the bill was signed by Emperor Nicholas II. From the state treasury, colossal funds for those times were allocated for the strengthening of the Black Sea Fleet - 150,8 million rubles. 30 July 1910, the maritime minister, Vice-Admiral Stepan Voevodsky, approved the terms of reference for the design of the three dreadnoughts, which were to be built and sent to the Black Sea. 11 June 1911 of the year at the Russian shipbuilding plant “Russud” laid down three battleships - the “Empress Maria”, “The Emperor Alexander III” and “The Empress Catherine the Great”. Named after the widowed empress Maria Feodorovna - the wife of the late Emperor Alexander III, the ship "Empress Maria" was the main one among the three dreadnoughts who entered service with the Russian fleet. By the way, this type of battleship was named in honor of this battleship.
October 6 1913, the battleship Empress Maria, was launched, but its completion was somewhat delayed. In 1914, World War I began, but only by the beginning of 1915, the battleship was finally completed. The commissioning of "Empress Maria" radically changed the balance of power in the Black Sea. By the time the ship was completed, the Russian Empire was already at war with the Ottoman Empire. The emergence of a powerful new battleship contributed to the serious strengthening of the Russian positions. The ship began to take part in combat operations, covering the actions of the 2 th brigade of the battleships, which in the autumn of 1915 fired on the Bulgarian ports. From 5 February to 18 April 1916, the battleship took part in the famous Trapezund landing operation.
In the summer of 1916, the Empress Maria became the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Empire. This decision was made by the newly appointed new commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Vice Admiral Alexander Kolchak. The personnel officer of the Russian fleet, Alexander Kolchak, had an impressive service experience by the time he was appointed commander of the Black Sea Fleet. Back in 1894, he was released by the midshipman from the Naval Cadet Corps, served on various ships, in parallel carried away by oceanography and quickly turned into a prominent oceanographer, and then a polar explorer. Kolchak's naval career, which had to serve as a lieutenant for more than ten years, went uphill in the 1911-1912 years. He supervised the 1 th operational part of the Naval General Staff, which was responsible for planning operations on the Baltic Sea, then was appointed acting. the chief of the operational department of the headquarters of the commander of the naval forces of the Baltic Fleet, and later - the flag-captain of the Baltic Fleet for the operational unit. In September, 1915 of the rank 1 of Kolchak received the Mine Division of the Baltic Fleet, and in April 1916 was promoted to rear admiral. 28 June 1916, he was promoted to vice-admiral and was appointed commander of the Black Sea Fleet.
According to the memoirs of contemporaries who served in the Russian imperial fleet, Kolchak was one of the best naval officers of his time. The ship "Empress Maria" fully corresponded to the status of such a commander, but it was precisely the flagship battleship that caused one of the biggest losses and failures of the Black Sea Fleet during the command of Kolchak.
7 (20) October 1916, the battleship "Empress Maria" in the North Bay of Sevastopol, flew into the air. Preserved eyewitness accounts of those terrible events. Around the 6 hours of the 20 hours of the morning, the sailors who were in the casemate No. 4 noticed a strong hiss from the bow tower of the main caliber. Then from the hatches and fans poured clouds of smoke and the flame began to erupt. The sailors immediately reported on the fire to the watchman's chief and rushed to flood the turret section with water, from where they were blowing smoke, but it was too late. There was an incredible force of explosion, which immediately dared and destroyed all the sailors who were in the sink of the ship. Another explosion tore up the steel mast of the battleship and threw up the armored cabin, and then the bow stoker. They began to explode the cellar, where there were 130-millimeter shells. The explosion of the on-duty fireman left the ship without vapors, and they were required to launch fire-fighting pumps. Therefore, the senior mechanical engineer of the ship ordered his subordinates to pick up couples in the seventh stoker, where midshipman Ignatiev rushed with several lower ranks.
In the meantime, a new order followed - to flood the cellars of the second tower and the cellar of 130-mm guns. On the battery deck, where many sailors died, the flames flared up more and more, and the ammunition cellar could explode at any time. The bilge mechanic, Senior Lieutenant Pakhomov, and his subordinates ran to the battery deck littered with the bodies of the dead, and managed to release the rods and put the keys, but at that moment they were caught in flames. The burned Pakhomov managed to complete the task and jump out onto the deck, but his subordinates did not have time - a terrible new explosion thundered. In the seventh cabin, the sailors, led by the midshipman Ignatiev, were able to light the fire in the fire chambers and raised the pair, but just at that time the ship began to lurch strongly. Michman Ignatiev, trying to fulfill the order, ordered the sailors to run upstairs, hoping to close the valves and get out after the subordinates. But only a few sailors were able to leave the cabin, the rest, including midshipman Ignatiev, were still there when the ship overturned.
One of the main documentary evidence of these terrible events is the logbook of the battleship Evstafy, which stood that day not far from the “Empress Maria”. According to journal entries, the first big bang under the bow turret on the flagship took place in 6 hours 20 minutes in the morning, and already in 6: 25 there was a second explosion, in 6: 27 - two small blasts, in 6: 32 - three blasts one after to others, in 6: 35 - another explosion, after which the rowing boats were lowered and sent to the "Empress Maria". Two explosions followed in 6: 37, three more explosions in 6: 47, another explosion in 6: 49, one more explosion in 7: 00, after which the port boats began to extinguish the fire. However, in 7: 08, another explosion thundered; in 7: 12, the Mary's nose sat on the bottom, and in 7: 16, the Empress Maria lay on the starboard. After that, the ship sank very quickly at a depth of more than 18 meters. In 8: 45 7 in October 1916, the Black Sea Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Kolchak telegramme reported to Emperor Nicholas II about the death of the Black Sea Fleet flagship of the battleship Empress Maria on the Sevastopol roadstead. Already in 11: 30 of the same day, Emperor Nicholas II replied to Vice Admiral Kolchak: “I am grieving for a heavy loss, but I firmly believe that you and the valiant Black Sea Fleet will bravely endure this test. Nikolai.
Soon, the number of dead and wounded during the explosion was calculated. It turned out that 225 people were killed on the battleship, including a mechanical engineer, two conductors and lower ranks. 85 people were seriously injured. It should be noted that Vice-Admiral Kolchak during the explosions and fire on his favorite battleship showed great courage. Already after 15 minutes after the first explosion, the fleet commander arrived on a boat to board the ship "Empress Maria". He personally climbed the battleship and commanded the localization of the fire, trying to save other ships and Sevastopol from the fire. Kolchak was very worried about the tragedy at the Empress Maria, although the emperor himself and other dignitaries assured the vice-admiral that they would not in any way blame the fleet commander for this terrible event. Perhaps it was the emperor's encouraging words that influenced the vice-admiral, who couldn’t "fail" for a long time because of the tragedy - after all, the Black Sea Fleet at that time was involved in hostilities.
In the same year 1916, work began on raising the sunken battleship. It was a very difficult and quite expensive financial task. Engineer Alexei Krylov proposed a very interesting project, according to which compressed air would be supplied to the compartments of the ship, which would force out the water and ultimately lead to the ship's ascent. In November 1917 of the year, during a storm, the ship surfaced aft, in May 1918 of the year surfaced completely. In the flooded compartments, divers worked, who were able to unload ammunition, and when the ship was driven off to the dock, artillery was removed from it. Unfortunately, the events of the Civil War did not allow either to restore such a valuable ship, or to understand the reasons for the terrible tragedy. Ten years after the October Revolution, in 1927, the battleship "Empress Maria", in the past - the pride and flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, was dismantled for scrap.
The tragedy on the battleship "Empress Maria" in any case caused and raises many questions. There is still no unambiguous version of the causes of the explosion. Meanwhile, Admiral Kolchak himself, who was already arrested by the Reds during the Civil War in 1920 and testified, argued that there was no evidence that the ship could take off due to a planned sabotage. Therefore, the main versions of the causes of the tragedy remained the spontaneous combustion of gunpowder or negligence in dealing with projectiles.
An interesting version was stated by midshipman Vladimir Ouspensky, who commanded the main caliber turret on the battleship "Empress Maria" and on that ill-fated morning who was the watch officer of the ship. Michman, who published his memoirs in the Bulletin of the Society of Officers of the RIF, reported that, together with Lieutenant Engineer S. Shaposhnikov, 2 a year after the tragedy, when the ship was in the dock, he discovered a sailor's little box in which there were two stearin candles, a box of matches, a set shoemakers' tools and two pairs of shoes, and the shoes were nailed into chopped strips of smokeless powder. If in the first tower there was also such a skilled sailor, then it is likely that the powder, which had lain for a year and a half in an airtight case, could identify the ethereal vapors that flashed from the burning candle. Combustion of four pounds of gunpowder in a small room of the tower could lead to an explosion of 599 canisters.
However, the version of the sabotage trail in the tragedy on the "Empress Maria" is also widespread. It is known that the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria - two enemy countries of the Russian Empire in the First World War, which had access to the Black Sea, did not have special units of sea saboteurs. Combat swimmers, capable of sinking enemy ships using sabotage, were just starting their journey at that time, and their homeland was Italy, a country located in the Entente camp. Germany remained - a country that did not have access to the Black or Mediterranean seas, but had an extensive intelligence network, modern technologies and the ability to send their spy saboteurs to the Black Sea. When the Italian battleship "Leonardo da Vinci" exploded in Taranto in August 1915, the Italian military counterintelligence came out on the trail of the German intelligence services, more precisely, the espionage and sabotage organization that planned and carried out the explosions on enemy ships. Diversions were carried out by means of special instruments with clockwork mechanisms, which made it possible to organize a series of explosions in several parts of the ship at once.
Seventeen years have passed since the terrible tragedy on the battleship "Empress Maria", when in the 1933 year in Nikolaev there were several sabotages at the city shipyard. Operational staff of the OGPU quickly enough came to the trail of alleged saboteurs and soon detained a certain Victor Werman, who worked in the UK. It turned out that back in the distant 1908 year, this man was recruited by German intelligence, and then, after the defeat of Germany in the First World War, began to cooperate with British intelligence agencies.
Thus, in the 1916 year, Verman, who was at that time in Nikolaev, was performing German intelligence missions. The Vice-Consul of Germany in Nikolaev, Hauptmann Winstein, who was hastily left for Germany shortly before the outbreak of the war - in July 1914, led the espionage activities on the Black Sea Fleet. The Werman group included engineers of the Nikolaev shipyard Schaeffer, Linke, Feoktistov, and electrical engineer Sgibnev, who once studied electrical engineering in Germany. The members of the group arrested by the OGPU confessed to undermining the battleship "Empress Maria", and it turned out that Verman was the customer of the sabotage, promising to pay thousands of rubles to the performers on 80, and directly organized the sabotage of Feoktistov and Sgibnev. However, this version has not been recognized as official until now.
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