The Russian Battleship Marat

In the interwar period the battleship “Marat” was considered a symbol of the naval power of the Soviet Union.

She was the most-described and filmed ship of the Country of the Soviets. In her 40-year service, rich in events, she survived four wars, but only in one of them - the Civil War - she used her main guns in an engagement with enemy warships. Only once in her career. In other conflicts, she served as a monitor rather than a battleship, shelling mainly land targets and carrying out counter-battery fire. At the end, she fell victim of the destructive power of German dive bombers. From that moment, she was a battleship only on paper. Mutilated and devoid of propulsion, she was still biting at the Germans from her remaining guns, and after the war, young pupils of the maritime craft appeared on board. Though it sounds absurd, even her reconstruction as a battleship was considered. This misconceived idea was not fortunately realized and the wreck - because it became one in the final period of service - finally went for scrap.

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From “Petropavlovsk” to “Marat”
The story of “Marat” began on 3 June 1909, when her keel was laid at the Baltic shipyard in St. Petersburg in the presence of the Tsar’s family. On 27 August 1911, she went into the water as the “Petropavlovsk”. She was built on an open slipway simultaneously with the battleship “Sevastopol”. After only 4 hours of sea trials, the new Russian warship sailed to the main base of the Baltic Fleet in Helsingor (Helsinki). There, together with three sister ships of the Gangut type (“Gangut”, “Sevastopol” and “Poltava”) she formed the 1st Battleship Brigade. It was December 1914, a great global conflict had been going on for several months. The Baltic Fleet of Russia limited its activity mainly to the Gulf of Finland. In combat operations, “Petropavlovsk” practically did not participate. In the autumn of 1915, “Petropavlovsk” twice (on 19 October and 23 November) put to sea to cover a minelaying operation. Each time she managed to avoid encountering German ships. These were the last combat operations of the ship in World War One. She spent the next two years in base without participating in combat operations. So throughout the war she had no chance to fire a single shot in anger.

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The February revolution of 1917 found “Petropavlovsk” in Helsingfor. The Bolsheviks grew more and more among the members of the battleship’s crew. Some of the sailors took an active part in the Bolshevik revolt on 7 November (25 October) in 1917. In early spring 1918, after signing the Brest peace, the fleet had to leave its base in Finland and a large part of its crew was demobilized. “Petropavlovsk”, along with many other ships of the Baltic Fleet, found herself in the first group of the so-called “Ice March” to Kronstadt. During the aforementioned voyage (12-17 March 1918), “Petropavlovsk” sailed 180 miles, following the icebreaker “Yermak”. On the ships’ path there were ice fields up to 3 m thick, and the crews’ complement ranged from 20 to 40%. Difficulties in the voyage were due to damage to the forward part of the ship, temporarily patched. On arrival, the ship was put into reserve and the crew was demobilized or sent to the front of the civil war.

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In connection with the appearance in November 1918 of a new opponent - the Royal Navy - the Bolsheviks formed the Active Detachment (the so-called DOT). In its composition next to “Petropavlovsk” there were: the old battleship “Andrei Pervozvannyi”, the cruiser “Oleg”, four destroyers and several smaller vessels. The operations against the British continued until the end of the navigational season of 1919. The direct participation in them of “Petropavlovsk” took place only on 31 May 1919. On this day operating on the waters of the Koporska Bay, she shielded light forces during a minelaying operation. When reconnoitring the bay waters, the destroyer “Azard” found the enemy. Retreating to the battleship “Azard” brought behind her eight destroyers from the British Baltic Forces of Rear Admiral W. Cowan. “Petropavlovsk” fired 15 of 305 mm rounds and 94 of 120 mm rounds, without scoring any hit. The fight remained unresolved but it was recorded in history as the only battle in the whole service of “Petropavlovsk” (and also the Baltic dreadnoughts) against enemy ships. After this, “Petropavlovsk” was withdrawn to Kronstadt and she no longer took part in the combat operations against the Royal Navy.

 

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On 13-15 June 1919, during the offensive of General Yudenich to Petrograd, the battleship participated in suppressing the rebellion of the crews of the forts of Krasnaya Gorka and Seraya Loshad. In these days, together with her old predecessor, “Andre Pervozwannyi”, she was shelling the rebels for three days, firing 568 of 305 mm rounds. After the rebellion had been suppressed, the ship was put into Kronstadt for maintenance until the spring of 1921. In the meantime, on 18 August 1919, British torpedo boats attacked ships gathered in Kronstadt. One of the main targets of the attack was the “Petropavlovsk” but she did not suffer any damage.
In February 1921, the battleship became the centre of the anti-Bolshevik rebellion in Kronstadt. On 28 February 1921, the “Petropavlovsk’s” crew rebelled against the Bolshevik authorities. Under the slogan “Soviets Without Communists”, the uprising of Kronstadt sailors began. The roles were now reversed. Now “Petropavlovsk” and “Sevastopol” were exchanging fire with the Krasnoflot Fortress (until 15 August “Krasnaya Gorka”), acting on the side of the opponents of the communist authorities. Over two weeks, a total of 394 of 305 mm and 940 of 120 mm rounds were fired. Due to the lack of advanced observation posts and fire control, the fire was ineffective. On 18 March 1921 the uprising was bloodily suppressed, and “Petropavlovsk” was damaged by a shell which hit midships. Many sailors fled to Finland, others were captured and executed.

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On 31 March 1921, a plaster bust of Jean Paul Marat, one of the leaders of the Great French Revolution, was erected in the battleship’s mess. It appeared there in connection with the change of the name of the battleship. The Bolsheviks, like any dictatorial power, did not tolerate opponents, and the name “Petropavlovsk”” from the moment of the Kronstadt uprising did not suit them well. Conferring in the shadow of the Kronstadt events the 10th Rally of the Bolshevik Party decided to reactivate some of the warships. Specially for this purpose, the appointed commission recommended the “Marat” for renovation in the first place. Of all the four Baltic dreadnoughts, she was in the best technical condition. On 21 April 1921, she officially entered the line, becoming the flagship of the Naval Force of the Baltic Sea. On 1 August 1922, the ship, renovated and fragrant with fresh paint, appeared in the Great Roadstead of Kronstadt. Starting from the summer campaign of this year, she participated in all manoeuvres and long-distance cruises of the Baltic ships for the entire next decade. The aforementioned renovation was also used to reinforce the anti-aircraft armament of the ship. Six 76.2 mm anti-aircraft guns were installed, three each on the tops of the fore and aft 305 mm turrets.
On 20-27 June 1925, during the first long-distance training cruise of the Naval Force of the Baltic Sea, on the battleship “Marat”, the People’s Commissioner for Military and Maritime Affairs, Mikhail Vasilievich Frunze, raised his flag. The cruise was designed to practice team sailing and get familiar with the theatre of future activities. The sailing region included the Baltic Sea from the Luga Bay to the Bay of Kiel. Within 7 days, “Marat” and accompanying ships (battleship “Parizhskaya Kommuna” – ex „Sewastopol” and destroyers “Karl Marx”, “Lenin”, “Stalin”, “Uritskyi”, “Engels” and “Azard”) sailed 1,730 miles.

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