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September 01, 2006

Reminder of the past

Some ships survive because they are unique, some because they are loved and some because they have stood at the cross roads of history. Into this last category must surely fall the Russian "Protected Cruiser" Aurora. Laid down in 1897 and commissioned in 1900 she has a fascinating history and is the sole survivor of her type as far as I can ascertain. Unusually she is also the holder of two "Decorations" for her service to the State. The first was awarded in 1924 and is the Order of the Red Banner of the USSR Central Committee, the second, awarded in 1927 was the Order of the Red Banner. The reason? This is the ship which triggered the "October Revolution" of 1917 when she fired on the Winter Palace, then the seat of the Provisional Government, in support of Lenin's Bolshevik movement. The 1924 decoration was replaced in 1968 by the Order of the October Revolution.

The Museum Ship RUS Aurora moored in the Neva River at St Petersburg opposite the Russian Naval Academy.

When launched the ship carried fourteen six inch guns and twenty four three inch guns, with armoured protection over her engine spaces and magazines. Her engines were originally able to propell her through the water at a top speed of 24 knots and she had a cruising range of just over 1,400 miles at 20 knots. As can be seen in the photograph, taken a few years ago by Mausi's father, her hull has a pronounced "tumblehome" - a feature of the old "wooden wall" sailing ships and adopted in European naval designs for warships as it provided additional strength to the hull, allowed better armour protection by presenting a sloped surface and reduced "top weight" thus improving stability. In this configuration she was part of the Baltic Fleet sent to relieve Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War and took part in the infamous Dogger Bank Incident in which the Russian Fleet fired on the Hull Trawler fleet after mistaking them for Japanese Battleships! She reached the Far East and took part in the Battle of Tsushima and was one of three cruisers that escaped destruction and capture, making her way to Manila where she was interned.

In 1906, repaired and returned to the Baltic she became a Training Ship, in which capacity she served until 1914 when she returned to Fleet patrol duty. In 1916 she was re-armed with most of the three inch guns removed and the remainder replaced by high angle anti-aircraft weapons. She then served until the fleet mutiny of 1917 (the Battleship Potemkin incident) and finally, under an "elected" Captain, fired the first shots in the Bolshevik Revolution.

After the Revolution she became once more a training ship and served in that capacity until the outbreak of hostilities in 1940. Moved from the Neva to the Port of St Petersburg, she was used as a floating artillery defence and anti-aircraft battery until finally sunk in 1943. She was raised in 1944 and fully restored in 1945 - 48, when she returned again to duty as a Training Ship, although now on a permanent mooring in the Neva River. In 1956 she became a Museum Ship and is still maintained and manned by the cadets from the Naval College across the river from her mooring. During the 1980's the ship's hull was found to be in a dangerous state and her plating badly corroded. She was substantially rebuilt during 1984 - 87 to original specification and the hull is now virtually completely renewed. New funnels and upperworks were also fitted during this reconstruction so the ship is now virtually new. Her original machinery is still installed and can be viewed by visitors for a fee.

In 1992 the Soviet flags were replaced on the ship with the Russian Naval banner of St Andrew, thus completing the cycle and restoring to her the colours she lost when the Red Banner was hoisted in October 1917.

Posted by The Gray Monk at September 1, 2006 11:15 AM

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Great post, Gray Monk! I am sure my father would have liked it as well and would have been very proud of his photograph being part of it.

Posted by: Mausi at September 1, 2006 08:52 PM