Battleship Potemkin uprising

From Academic Kids

The Potemkin uprising was a 1905 mutiny of the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin against their officers. It later came to be viewed as an initial step towards the Russian Revolution, and was the basis of the silent film Battleship Potemkin.


In 1905 The Central Committee of the Social Democratic Organization of the Black Sea Fleet started preparations for a simultaneous crew uprising on all of the ships of the fleet some time in the fall of 1905. However, at the time of planning Potemkin was away for firing exercises at Tendra Island and the rebellion broke out on its own on June 14, spontaneously and prematurely.

The uprising was caused by the captain of the battleship, who tried to inflict reprisals on his crew for their refusal to eat rotten meat. The rebels killed the most hated officers and arrested the rest of them. Grigory Vakulenchuk – the leader of the uprising – was fatally wounded during the fight. The seamen organized a Ship’s Commission led by Afanasiy Matyushenko. Potemkin was joined by the crew of the accompanying torpedo boat #267.

In the evening of that same day, the rebellious battleship came to Odessa with a waving red flag. The city workers were on a general strike. The news of the arriving battleship caused rejoicing among the workers. However, the representatives of the contact commission of the Odessa Social Democratic parties couldn’t convince the battleship crew to land troops and help workers to get weapons and act together. The workers of Odessa lacked initiative, as well.

On June 16, Vakulenchuk’s funeral turned into a political demonstration. Potemkin fired two shots at the part of the city where the authorities and the army had been located. Additional forces were drawn up towards Odessa in order to suppress this civil disorder. The government issued an order to either force the Potemkin crew to give up or sink the battleship. Two squadrons of the Black Sea Fleet were sent for this purpose. They gathered at the Tendra Island on June 17. Potemkin faced the joint squadron and - refusing to give up – went right through it. This “silent battle” ended victoriously for Potemkin: the crews of the joint squadron refused to fire at the battleship and one of the battleships – Georgiy Pobedonosets – joined Potemkin. The joint squadron went to Sevastopol. Rebellious battleships headed for Odessa.

The Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party tried its best to support the Potemkin uprising. However, Mikhail Vasilyev-Yuzhin, who came to Odessa at the request of Vladimir Lenin to lead the uprising, didn’t find the battleship at the port.

In the evening of June 18, the battleship left for Constanta (Romania) together with the torpedo boat #267 for fuel and supplies (by that time, Georgiy Pobedonosets had surrendered to the authorities). On June 20, the Ship’s Commission issued appeals “To all civilized world” and “To all European powers”, proclaiming the crew’s firm decision to fight against the Tsarist regime. Romanian authorities refused to issue necessary supplies to the battleship. The same refusal happened in the port of Feodosiya on June 22. On June 25, Potemkin returned to Constanta and its crew handed the ship over to the Romanian authorities. Some crewmen returned back to Russia in 1905, only to be arrested and convicted. The majority of the crew returned to Russia after the February Revolution in 1917.


Romanian authorities would later return the battleship to the Russian government. In October of 1905 it was renamed to St. Panteleimon. In April of 1917 the ship was renamed to Potemkin once again, however, in May they changed it to Freedom Fighter. In April of 1919, the interventionists blew it up in Sevastopol. After the Russian Civil War, Potemkin was raised from the bottom of the sea and dismantled because of irreparable damage.

Lenin wrote that the Potemkin uprising had had a huge importance in terms of being the first attempt at creating the nucleus of the revolutionary army, especially when a big part of the tsarist army sided with the revolution. Lenin called Potemkin an “undefeated territory of the revolution”. The Potemkin uprising had a big influence on the revolutionizing process in the Russian army and fleet.


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