- Nekrasov, G., Commander, RAN
- WWI operations
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1976 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Second Battle (Shortly after ANZAC landing)
On the 10th of May the BSF carried out yet another bombardment of the Bosphorus, with Panteleimon and Trisviatitela the constituted inshore force, when Goeben was discovered approaching from the east whereas she was believed to be south of Bosphorus. Souchon could not have wished for a better chance. Eberhard sent an urgent recall to Panteleimon and signalled his force to maintain 5 knots; Goeben was doing 25!
The battle opened at 0750 at a range of 17400 yards, and as Eberhard continued to alter course away from Goeben, the movement of the two forces resembled ‘wheeling’! In the meantime Panteleimon (17½ knots – her designed maximum speed was 16) proceeded to cross a reported minefield at her flank speed with the old Tri Sviatitela chugging further astern. Several times Goeben straddled Evstaffi, but her subsequent salvo would miss – perhaps she had overestimated the speed of Eberhard’s squadron!? Ten minutes after commencement of action the Russian forces were united, they increased speed and started to close on Goeben and score hits. After 22 minutes of firing Goeben broke off – she did not score a hit, but all those on the bridge of Evstaffi were soaked wet from several near misses. By now Eberhard’s reputation as a lucky Admiral was firmly established . . . Souchon’s big problem was that Goeben was irreplaceable. She could not be risked in a pitched battle.
At that time some troops were brought to Crimea for rest and deliberate rumours were planted that they were preparing for a Bosphorus landing. However, in 1915 the Russian Army could not mount such an operation.
In the Autumn of 1915 the war had intensified, Bulgaria declared war on the Allies, then Germany’s U-boats made their appearance and the first pair of Russian Dreadnoughts – Imperatrista Maria and Imperatrista Ekaterina joined the BSF. For operational purposes the Fleet was now divided into several ‘manoeuvering groups’ – we would now call them task groups. Two of them consisted of a dreadnought and a cruiser each and the third of the newer pre-dreadnoughts. During sorties each group was accompanied by a destroyer squadron, and one or two seaplane carriers.
On the 8th January 1916 Ekaterina encountered Goeben, although Ekaterina’s 12 x 12″ 50 cal guns could hurl a heavier broadside at a longer range, Goeben still had the superior speed. After some exchange of fire at the ranges of 20,000-25,000 yards Goeben retired.
In February the two Russian seaplane carriers, screened by the cruiser Kagul and 4 destroyers carried out independent bombardment of the shipping at Zunguldak, sinking a 7,000-ton collier. This was one of the first carrier-borne raids. The carriers came under attack from a U-boat and a seaplane was used to spot and direct the attack by escorts.
During 1916 the Russian Caucasian Army commenced an offensive against Turkey and the Black Sea Fleet was called to support the Army’s flank in Anatolia. A separate group was formed, consisting of two older battleships and some gunboats as well as a number of landing craft. This group, based on Batum, was under the command of Captain Rimsky-Korsakov. Several ‘tactical’ landings behind Turkish lines were performed. However Eberhard’s idea for a massive landing behind Turkish lines was rejected by the Army as being too risky. By this time Turks had seen the Russian threat to Bosphorus was a bluff and several divisions held previously in that area were redeployed. This prompted Eberhard to insist that time had now come to stage a surprise landing in Bosphorus and seize Istanbul, thus knocking Turkey out of the war.
The Tsar, who had assumed supreme command, agreed, but the Imperial HQ objected. Nothing happened. Rumania’s entry into the war provided another task for the BSF – transporting and supplying the Russian Army deployed in support of Rumania. Stavka and the Imperial HQ were consistently worried about the activities of the German U-boats and Eberhard was blamed for failing to cope with the new menace. The public opinion joined in hinting that an Admiral with a German name could be disloyal, or worse. It was the same slander campaign that was used against Admiral Prince Louis of Battenburg, RN, the First Sea Lord in 1914! In March the carriers struck again against the Bulgarian port of Varna. In April Trabezond was seized by an ambitious operation which involved transporting an army corps, under close escort of pre-dreadnoughts with dreadnoughts and seaplane carriers acting as a covering force. Not a ship was lost.
In June however Goeben and Breslau sortied again, shelling the port of Novorossiisk. The damage was negligible but the public and the Stavka staff blew up and demanded the dismissal of Eberhard. This time the Tsar agreed. Thus Souchon succeeded in toppling his formidable adversary. However, his new adversary was even worse. Eberhard was decorated and appointed as a full time member of the Imperial Council and was relieved by Vice Admiral Alexander Kolchak – then 43, arctic explorer, a gunnery fanatic, recently the commander of destroyer forces in the Baltic where he became an expert in hit-and-run tactics and a convert to offensive mining strategy, whose promotion to Vice Admiral jumped many other rear admirals, some of whom he had to now command.
Kolchak continued Eberhard’s strategy and prosecuted it with even more vigour. One innovation was an even greater emphasis on offensive mining, mainly against Bosphorus and Varna. Mines were laid at different depths but only within 5 miles of the coast – thus allowing big ships to approach for bombardment purposes. Soon after assuming command (in fact the very first day!), he ordered the fleet to sea to intercept the light cruiser Breslau. She was intercepted by Maria flying the C-in-C flag – Maria’s first salvo achieved a straddle but the Breslau immediately laid a smoke screen and departed at high speed with only splinter damage. There were few surface ship actions after that since by his intensive mining Kolchak succeeded in keeping the enemy surface ships out of ‘his’ sea. In addition to ordinary mines, a series of special anti-submarine mines called ‘little fish’ were laid outside enemy harbours, continuously maintained by landing craft, whose shallow draught allowed them to travel over the minefields with safety.
Apart from mining, the BSF continued to transport troops and supplies to Rumania, and to intercept enemy coastal traffic. There was a further raid carried out on Varna. Throughout his term of command Kolchak lost only one ship by enemy action -a transport – but his own Flagship Imperator Maria suffered a magazine fire at anchor at Sevastopol and sank. It was a bad blow, but not a crucial one for a new dreadnought – Imperator Alexander III joined soon after.
Kolchak sought and received the Tsar’s approval for an amphibious operation against the Bosphorus. The date was set for mid 1917, and in order to avoid argument about the availability and employment of troops he was directed to form a Naval Infantry Division, which, when reinforced by Naval Guards Regiments and the Baltic landing force, would constitute a force by approximately two divisions trained in landing operations. The new divisions were formed from volunteers and the officers, mostly from the army, all had combat experience, most had been wounded, some of them more than once.
Plans and training were being progressed, when in March 1917 the Revolution struck. Soon the discipline was abolished, the front started to crumble, BSF dispatched shock troops to bolster the front. This was a fatal move, for the new replacements were all revolutionaries. At first Kolchak by his oratory and dedication kept things in order, but in June 1917 a delegation demanded that he surrender his sword – Kolchak cleared lower deck and after a short speech hurled his sword over the side. He was soon relieved of his command. Such a blatantly conservative act could not be condoned! Very soon afterwards the Black Sea became a German-Turkish lake. Surely there is another lesson in this!
What happened later is another story.
What happened to the principal actors in this drama? Souchon lived and wrote a book. Eberhard starved to death in Petrograd soon after the Revolution. Kolchak fought on and became the Supreme Commander of all Russian White (or National) Forces and nominal head of the White Government. When the White cause collapsed he was shot by the Bolsheviks at Irkutsk, Siberia, and his body was last seen floating down a river towards the Arctic Ocean.