- Head, M.A., S.J.
- WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1987 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Every night the Bolshevik troops attacked the weaker rear part of the fortress. Thousands were cut down, and thousands more were drowned when they fell through holes in the ice cut by the battleships’ guns. These holes quickly filled with snow and become hidden death traps to the struggling infantry. Every day artillery and aircraft battered the island until on March 16th a last huge assault was launched. Throughout the night the Bolsheviks pressed home their attacks and by early morning had gained most of the streets around Anchor Square in the centre of the city. The battle raged throughout the day as the sailors preferred to die fighting rather than in ‘the cellars of the Chela’. It was a butchery and few escaped over the ice to Finland.
A new commissar of Kronstadt, Dybenko, was brought in and given full power to ‘clean up the rebel city’. The rebels had planned to blow up the Petropavlovsk and the Sevastopol but someone saved the ships, as at the last minute it was found that the cables to the electric fuses had been cut. They also planned to evacuate the city and leave the Bolsheviks with an empty prize, but despite the interminable revolutionary meetings, no preparations for such an evacuation had been made.
Today, this revolution is largely forgotten. In Soviet history it is just another ‘white’ plot, but it was actually a revolution of the left. Its consequences for the Soviet fleet were catastrophic. Both the battleships were damaged and at the end of March 1921 the Soviets changed the names of the two ships, Sevastopol to Parizhskaya Kommuna, and Petropavlovsk to Marat, in an effort to block out their memory. For more than thirty years the Soviet government would place no trust in their fleet. Continuous purges robbed the fleet of its best men. Over 16 fleet commanders, including Dybenko, were executed, and larger numbers of more junior officers. Appointments went to the politically reliable officers and not to the competent, which in part explains the generally poor performance of the Russian major naval units in World War II. Sergei Gorshkov put an end to all that.
(Mr. Head is History Master of St. Ignatius College (Riverview) in Sydney)