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From Tri Svititelia to Imperator Pavel I
Part 3 of Imperial Russian Pre-Dreadnoughts
in Great War at Sea

By David Hughes
July 2015

Many Russians believed, noting the Crimean War, that the Black Sea Fleet was more important than the much larger Baltic Fleet. Its ships were designed with two aims in mind. One was to fight any Western squadron allowed to pass through the Dardanelles by the Turks, the other to fight shore batteries protecting Turkish ports and cities. One advantage was that long range was not needed, so that Black Sea battleships could allocate more tonnage to armor and guns than comparable Baltic Sea ships.

The oldest battleship with a counter in a Great War at Sea game is Tri Svititelia ("Three Saints," for Bishops Basil, John and Gregory who shaped the basics of Christian theology), laid down in 1891. She had the standard main armament of four 12-inch guns, each with a rate of fire of one round every 105 seconds, but she also carried an extraordinary range of other guns. There were eight 6-inch behind the central armour, with four 4.7-inch above them and unprotected, backed up by six 47-mm and eight 37-mm. Clearly the designers were concerned about the newly developed torpedo boats. She also had a monstrously thick armour belt – no less than eighteen inches of Harvey nickel steel. She fought Goeben twice before being laid up with the arrival of the first Black Sea dreadnoughts and was immobilised by the British to prevent her capture by the Bolsheviks.

Fleet flagship Rostislav, in happier times.


Three years later Rostislav (named after a medieval Kievan prince) was laid down. She was a contemporary of the already mentioned Peresviet class and, like them, was cursed with a weak 10-inch main battery whose guns had to be fired at reduced velocity to prevent barrel cracks. Her other guns were eight 6-inch and the usual range of light 47-mm and 37-mm. The armour belt was thinner than that of Tri Svititelia, but was still a hefty 14.5 inches of Harvey steel at its maximum. In 1905 she was the Black Sea flagship, chasing the Potemkin and fighting the other, less well known mutineer, the cruiser Ochakov. In passing, the cruiser does appear in Mediterranean, as the re-named protected cruiser Kagul. During the war, apart from one encounter with Goeben, she was engaged in providing support for the Russian army fighting the Turks in Anatolia. Like Tri Svititelia she was wrecked in 1920 to prevent the Bolsheviks' taking her.


Battleship Potemkin, the battleship.

Battleship Potemkin, the movie.

The next arrival was the most famous of all Russian battleships, Kniaz Potemkin Tavricheski, known not for battle success but instead for the film “Battleship Potemkin,” in which her 1905 mutiny was used to illustrate “Bolshevik heroism and Tsarist oppression.” This is really unfair, since, by now renamed Panteleimon she proved to be an effective warship, in particular punishing the German (technically Turkish) battle cruiser Goeben in 1915. She was larger (12,500 tons against 9,000 tons) than her predecessor and much more powerful, with four 12-inch, rather than 10-inch guns. Her secondary battery doubled in strength with sixteen 6-inch guns emplaced behind five inches of armour. The main belt had nine inches of Krupp armour, about equal in effectiveness to the thicker Harvey belt of Rostislav. As already mentioned she was active during the war. With the October Revolution she was predictably renamed, as Barets za svoboda ("Standard Bearer of Freedom"), an obvious reference to her mutiny. Despite this revolutionary fervour she was captured by the Germans and then given to the British, who rendered her ineffective in 1919.

The last Black Sea Fleet ships are the two semi-dreadnoughts of the Evstavi ("St. Eustace") class. Laid down in 1903, their construction was slowed down as the lessons of Tsushima were absorbed, only completing in 1911. The principal changes were the increase in elevation of the main guns, from 15 to 35 degrees, and an increase in the waterline protection at the extremes of the ship. Battle experience seemed to show that the "all or nothing" concept previously in effect (and later adopted by the United States Navy) was dangerously flawed in practice. Therefore the belt, 9-inch beside the engine-plant and magazines, was extended to the bow and stern, narrowing to three inches. The four 12-inch guns were supported by the same number of single 8-inch guns on the main deck, as well as twelve 6-inch guns in the central casemate. Evstafi fought Goeben in November 1915, hitting her once, but taking four 11-inch hits herself. Her sister-ship Ioann Zlatoust ("St. John Chrysostom") was in the same fight but neither dealt or took damage. Like most Black Sea ships both had their engines wrecked to prevent Bolshevik use in 1919 and were scrapped a few years later.


Andrei Pervozvanny, known as the "Sailor's Sakhalin" thanks to her lack of ventilation.

The last Russian ships considered are the two magnificent semi-dreadnoughts of the Andrei Pervozvanny (the disciple "Andrew the First") built for the Baltic Fleet, and laid down late enough to take advantage of the lessons of 1905. The most dramatic feature was the totally armoured sides, with no port-holes or scuttles visible, the ultimate answer to the Tsushima problem of ships being lost through damage outside the protected area. However, it reduced light and ventilation and was only plausible in ships whose crews spent most of the time ashore at Kronstadt. Like the Black Sea ships, 8-inch guns were added, but on a much more powerful scale. No fewer than fourteen guns were mounted, eight of them in two-gun turrets. Instead of 6-inch guns she mounted twelve 4.7-inch guns. These were a new design capable of an impressive ten rounds per minute each. Like the French Danton class it may be appropriate to modify their gunnery strength, in this case to 3-7-2. Note that their 12-inch guns were still only capable of one round in less than a minute, the best performance of any Russian pre-dreadnought, but still slower than that of most foreign navies.

Interestingly the guns in the 8-inch turrets had a much slower rate of fire than the single guns, the latter firing three rounds per minute to the two of a turret gun. Noting that even the miserly 7.6-inch belt of the Borodino class battleships had not been pierced at Tsushima, the thickest belt she was given was 8.5 inches, with two inches less allocated to the area along the main magazines. On the other hand, as already noted the hull from bow to stern was covered with at least three to four inches of Krupp steel. This innovative armour scheme was never tested as both the lead ship and her sister Imperator Pavel I (“Peter the Great”) were virtually inactive during the war. Both were broken up in 1924.

The best of the older pre-dreadnoughts were modernised before the war. Tri Svititelia and Panteleimon in the Black Sea and Slava and Tsesarevitch in the Baltic Fleet had their guns overhauled, with their maximum elevation increased to either 25 or 35 degrees, allowing them to exceed the range of the 11-inch guns used by most of the German ships that they faced. The Black Sea Fleet formed a three-ship battle squadron made up of the new Evstafi and Ioann Zlatoust and the upgraded Panteleimon, trained to combine fire on a single enemy, yet relying on information sent from Tri Svititelia. Rostislav was excluded as her 10-inch guns had different ballistics. Although innovative, under normal battle conditions it broke down, with the best shooting being made by ships relying on their own observation. Despite this, the Black Sea Fleet demonstrated that a pair of good pre-dreadnought battleships could match a dreadnought, even when firing at extended range. When playing a Great War at Sea scenario I do not penalize the newer (essentially from about 1904 on) pre-dreadnoughts at all when firing at a range of 3; others are penalized, by halving and then rounding up the primary value at that range. If detailed information is available, the determinants are increased gun elevation and modernised fire control, both of which were in the four best Russian pre-dreadnoughts, as well as all four semi-dreadnoughts.

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