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Obstacle course shipbuilding

A role of personality in history by no means is always positive. It happens that a personality clothed with authority hinders development of entire industry branch vitally important for the country

This period in the history of Russia is marked by activity of a number of experienced and talented shipbuilders. For example, Pyotr Titov, the main naval architect of Society of French-Russian Factories, built several ships and developed a few advanced technological processes. Or Nikolay Kuteynikov – shipbuilder Aleksey Krylov considered him the most learned naval architect of the national fleet. The future academic Krylov himself was busy with calculations of strength for the ships. Designer Erast Gulyayev and engineer Nikolay Subbotin were preparing their projects. Oceanographer Stepan Makarov substantiated fundamentals of subdivision of ships. Young shipbuilders studied in Russian teaching facilities, and the best of them were sent abroad to learn the foreign ways of shipbuilding. There was no need to invite foreigners to the domestic state-owned plants.

What was first worked out on paper abroad before launching production, they started building in Russia at once

On the other hand, capacities of the Russian industry were not sufficient yet for provision of the shipbuilding with all what was needed. Part of mechanisms and armour plates had to be ordered abroad. Artillery was manufactured inside the country. As the national industry developed, it was less and less necessary to apply to the foreign manufacturers. For instance, the hull and mechanisms of the cruiser Admiral Nakhimov were made by the Russian plants. Interestingly, the cruiser itself was built with sailing equipment, which was later removed. During Russian-Turkish war, warfare on the Black Sea and preparation for fight against the enemy navigation, it was necessary to resort to mine yawls, auxiliary cruisers, and so on. Such improvisation of our innovators allowed compensating shortage of forces for fighting the enemy. So, after the war the question arose as to which fleet should be created in Russia. In preceding decades development of shipbuilding was greatly influenced by Alexander Popov, and in the 80s this role was taken over by Ivan Shestakov.

Marine agent

Ivan Alekseyevich belonged to an ancient and not so rich noble family. He studied in Sea Cadet Corps, was a bright student, but was not commissioned as an officer – at first because he was too young (he brilliantly stood the test when he was not even fifteen), and then because of a clash with tutors. Fired from the school in 1836, he was accepted to the Black Sea fleet as a cadet. Shestakov became a warrant officer after participation in sea journeys and warfare at the shores of Caucasus. Voyages on Black and Mediterranean Seas gave the young seaman experience and rewards. In 1841-1843 he was an aide-de-camp of Admiral Lazarev. Then, as a commander of cutter Skory, Shestakov carried out hydrographical works at the seaside of Caucasus and Anatolia. Based on these materials, he later prepared “Sailing directions for the Black Sea”. In 1850 the seaman supervised building of steam schooner Argonavt in England and brought the vessel to Nikolayev. In 1852 he was dispatched for supervision of building of corvettes Vityaz and Voin at an English shipyard, but at beginning of the Crimean war these ships were repurchased by the English government. In 1854 Shestakov was appointed a member of Steamship Committee. He was watching over construction of propeller-driven battle-boats and corvettes, took part in repulsing the attack of allied fleet on Kronstadt. In 1856 the seafarer was sent to the USA to watch over construction of propeller-driven frigate General-Admiral, based on his drawings. Shestakov brought the frigate to the Baltics. In 1859-1861 he was in command of a squadron of four propeller-driven frigates in Mediterranean Sea, at the coast of Syria. In autumn 1862 he was appointed a member of Shipbuilding Technical Committee, and in 1863 – assistant of the main commander of Kronstadt port. He equipped cruiser squadron of Rear Admiral Stepan Lesovskiy bound for the coast of North America. Because of a conflict with the Chief of Naval Ministry, the Adjutant General Nikolay Krabbe he spent a few years on leave abroad, and when he came back he served as a town governor of Taganrog for a while, and then – governor of Vilno. In 1969 Shestakov was retired, but in 1873 he was accepted to the fleet again, appointed temporary marine agent in Austria and Italy. He reported the latest information about foreign inventions and novelties in marine affairs. In 1881, upon coming back from abroad, Shestakov was appointed a chairman of shipbuilding department of the Marine Technical Committee. On this position he prepared a twenty-year program of strengthening of the fleet, which was approved in 1882. It was himself who had to implement it at the post of the Chief of Naval Ministry. Under a passive General Admiral, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, he acted as the actual head of this department. Having the freedom of action, Shestakov took independent decisions selecting the types of ships, and shipbuilders just carried out his injunctions.

20 years of imitation

A special meeting took place in August, 1881 dedicated to bringing the fleet out of the state of stagnation and weakness revealed during the war of 1877-1878. For the first time development of the fleet was considered in connection with political situation. It was decided to create the Black Sea fleet capable of dominating the sea and storming ashore Bosporus. In the Baltics, the fleet had to prevail over other Baltic states, ensure defence of the national coastline and be ready for active advancement. In the Far East, Siberian flotilla had to track the fleets of China and Japan. In case of threat from their side, squadrons from the Baltic and Black Seas had to join the Siberians.

Not to have an agency capable of analysing the contemporary condition of fleets and their construction activities is meaningless

On the basis of this decision, the twenty-year shipbuilding program of 1882 was adopted. It provided for construction of nineteen armour-plated ships of the first class and four such ships of the second class, twenty-five cruisers and a lot of small vessels in addition to the existing ships. Finances were allocated, suggesting extraordinary amounts except for the main Naval Ministry budget.

The program didn’t contain precise requirements to the armour-plated ships of the Baltic fleet. They had to act in various seas, but their displacement was limited to 8400 tons. Displacement of Pyotr Velikiy was 10000 tons, but this armour-plated ship that was the first one in Russia wasn’t taken as a basis. Shestakov summoned admirals and naval architects and proposed to them taking English and French specimen for the basis. He gave a task to design an ocean armour-plated ship with the armour minimum thickness of 254 mm, 280-mm artillery guns, a large coal reserve, speed up to 15 knots, draft 7.92 m maximum (to use the Suez Canal) and full effective lateral area. By all these characteristics, English armour-plated ships of Imperieuse type were the most suitable. Foreign cruisers were taken as a basis just in the same manner. Thus, only a prototype for battle-boats wasn’t found. At the same time it was necessary to define at which existing shipyards modern ships could be build, and what improvements should be made at the enterprises. In case of inability of the national enterprises to master manufacture of engines, the specimens, just like the armour, had to be ordered abroad.

Reform without plan

At the same time with drawing up a shipbuilding plan, management of marine department was undergoing reform, too. In the course of it Marine Scientific Committee, Marine Technical Committee, Main Department of Shipbuilding and Supplies and Main Naval Headquarters were created. All of them were related to shipbuilding, but none was responsible for feasibility studies on development of new equipment.

That’s when Admiral Likhachyov criticized such a situation. He stressed that it was meaningless not to have an agency capable of analysing the contemporary condition of fleets and their construction activities. He wrote: “Nobody really knows which exactly ships are needed for the military goals of the country, and, obviously, it is nobody’s special responsibility.” The Main Naval Headquarters didn’t have enough specialists for analysing information about foreign shipbuilding. They used to take some foreign ship as a model and conclude that it would be good to build at least one like this. After that the Marine Technical Committee developed a project, which was later re-made not once. The building process started that lasted a long time. Eventually, the ship became outdated already in the process of creation.

Likhachyov proposed creating a naval general headquarters capable of formulating a maritime strategy based on which composition of the fleet and the ways of its development would be determined. The shipbuilders, in their turn, would receive from such a headquarters science-based tasks for designing of ships.

Admital Shestakov rejected Likhachyov’s proposals. He was creating a management system where he took the main decisions as the Chief of Naval Ministry himself. The Main Department of Shipbuilding and Supplies, being in charge of credits, slowed down efforts of the Marine Technical Committee on re-equipment of the fleet, preferring cheap prices to fastness of execution.

Constructor of a ship had one engineer and ten-fifteen clerks, draftsmen and other helpers, with whom he carried out the entire organization of construction. Engineer Subbotin reported that up to sixty draftsmen worked in drafting room of a French factory, whereas there were barely as many as three dozen in Petersburg, Kronstadt and Nikolayev. What was first worked out on paper abroad before launching production, they started building in Russia at once. As a result, remaking epopee lasted for several years, and special role in initiation of remaking belonged to the Chief of Naval Ministry.

Armour-plated ships in the dark

In summer 1882 Shestakov encharged the Black Sea shipbuilders with a task of presenting a project of armour-plated ship without masts-and-spars within one week: with service speed of 15 knots minimum, equipped with 76-millimeter deck and 457-millimiter board armour in its middle part. It had to be armed with three or four 381-millimeter cannons in barbette carriages on lowering mounts and six 152-millimeter guns at least. Admiral changed the task many times. One time he commanded to come back to the type of Pyotr Velikiy, with pear-like breastwork instead of an oval one, - the armour-plated ships would have to break through Bosporus. Two twin-barrel gun mounts were situated side by side in the fore part, and one mount aft. Thus, the ship was able to fire four 305-millimeter guns in all directions. In case of long hits and plunging fire, artillery mounts without turrets would remain unprotected. Proposal of Lieutenant Rasskazov to make the casemate smaller and place two guns on each of its angles was not accepted. And even with maximum reduction of protection of the weapons, displacement of the ship would be more than 10 thousand tons against the planned 8 thousand.

In June, 1983 laying of three ships took place in Nikolayev and Sevastopol. But Shestakov proposed changing the armament. Soon he gave it up, demanding to change armouring instead. The armour, lowering mounts for guns and engines for the two Sevastopol ships were ordered in England. Machines for the third ship were made at the Baltic Shipyard, and the cannons had to be cast at Obukhov Plant based on English models.

The ships were laid in 1883. But in December, 1885 Shestakov demanded making changes, which brought about significant alteration. As a result, all the three armour-plated ships (Ekaterina II, Chesma and Sinop) were different both in appearance and in armament. Adjustment of divers machines became a problem. Speed of the ships was different, too. And installation of the guns heavier that the planned ones on Ekaterina II resulted in deck damages during shots. Out of the three ships commissioned in 1888-1889, two had to be excluded from the Black Sea fleet and given to the port in 1907. Out of the trio only Sinop underwent modernization and took part in the first world and civil wars.

Armour-plated ship Georgii Pobedonosets, built for the Black Sea fleet after the fashion of Sinop, was also redesigned repeatedly on the instructions of Shestakov’s successor, the General Admiral, Chief of Naval Ministry Chikhachyov. This ship was laid in 1891 at the factory ROPiT in Sevastopol and was commissioned only in autumn of 1893, and tests and finishing works were not completed before 1896. But because of the design defects, the ship of this type was nipped in the bud.

On the Baltic Sea, German armour-plated ship Helgoland was chosen as a prototype in 1882. Beside two 305-millimetr guns in the fore turret, the armament included 229-millimeter guns in casemates. The latter were adopted as the largest of those with possibility of manual loading. In the course of designing, both Shestakov and the Marine Technical Committee were proposing many changes. The armour-plated ship Imperator Alexander II was laid in the New Admiralty of Saint Petersburg on June 18, 1886 and launched in the next year. It was commissioned in 1890, but corrections and tests continued until 1893. Particularly, remarks of the Vice Admiral Makarov on subdivision of the ship had to be taken into consideration.

The second armour-plated ship, Imperator Nikolai I, Shestakov prescribed in 1884 to make smaller than the former one, taking Brazilian ship Riachuelo as a prototype, which was built in England. However, placing the armament and mechanisms required increasing displacement compared to the prototype by one and a half times. In 1885 the project was approved, and Shestakov entrusted the Baltic Shipyard with construction. It started preparation, but in autumn the Chief of Naval Ministry transmitted the order to the French-Russian Factory on Galerny Island, instructing it to build after the fashion of Imperator Alexander II. On Shestakov’s comments, changes in the project were made also later. Finally, the ship laid in 1886 was launched in 1889. In 1893, when Imperator Nikolai I left for New York to take part in celebration of 400-year anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, a leak was detected in the fore section.

Ivan Shestakov’s main idea of building small and inexpensive armour-plated ships led to failures

Came problems with designing and building of Baltic armour-plated ship Gangut, though Chikhachyov had replaced Shestakov by that time. The ship had a big overload (930 tons), and draft reached 7.11 meters instead of 6.55. In 1897 it hit the rock and sank on the Trangsund roadstead. This catastrophe only made it compelling to accept methods of testing of watertight bulkheads proposed by Makarov.

When the ship Twelve Apostols (Dvenadtsat Apostolov) was designed, the final variant was also different from initial requirements set by Shestakov. Particularly, he instructed in 1886 to arm the ship with one 305-millimeter and four 229-millimeter guns on three turrets, with the ship displacement of 7-8 thousand tons. Later the number of turrets was reduced to two. Project of naval architect Gulyayev was taken as a basis. It was decided to build two sister ships for the Black Sea. Construction of Twelve Apostols was started in Nikolayev Admiralty on February 24, 1888. Proposals of the ship constructor Ratnik were not accepted, and soon the work stopped. Shestakov found out that the shells of 229-millimeter cannons were not able to break through 356-millimeter armour and ordered replacing them for 305-millimeter ones. Ratnik created the armament design consisting of four 305-millimeter and eight 152-millimeter guns, though amount of the latter had to be reduced twice, and 305-millimeter guns had to be placed in barbette turrets instead of the closed ones not to violate the design displacement. Because of all the changes construction slowed down a few times, and each time part of the workers with nothing to do had to be dismissed. The ship was launched on September 1, 1980, but due to defects had to be sent to Sevastopol for completing construction. The armour was ordered from England, and engines – from the Baltic Shipyard. It took another two and a half years to finish the ship and test it in voyages. Because of insufficient steam capacity of the English boilers, it was possible to reach the speed of 15.15 knots in extreme mode only.

Shestakov’s main idea of building small and inexpensive armour-plated ships led to failures. Nevertheless, he encharged the chief commissioner of Society of French-Russian Factories, engineer du Buis with designing such a ship. On February 11, 1888 he submitted a project of armour-plated ship with displacement of 6431 tons. But the Chief of Naval Ministry got information that Wert type three-turret ships were built in Germany, and all of their 280-millimeter guns could deliver fire from one board. The French-Russian factory revised the project. The ship displacement came close to 10000 tons, as in case of Wert, but the ship still belonged to monitor type, with a low board. The main armament consisted of two double-gun turrets of 305-millimeter guns fore and aft. Such arrangement became traditional for Russian armour-plated ships.

After Shestakov’s death in the autumn of 1888 changes in the project, as well as on the armour-plated ship Navarin that was laid later, in 1889, continued. After all the changeovers, the ship was commissioned in 1896. Ironically, the monitor type ship was used away from the Baltics, and perished after travelling far to take part in Tsushima battle.

Destiny of torpedo boats

During the period of Shestakov’s rule, his approaches influenced construction of other ships, too. Cruisers built within that period were of various types. Shestakov made changes amending the earlier specifications. The ships were seldom ordered abroad. Cruiser Admiral Kornilov, built in France on the basis of design appreciated by Shestakov and the General Admiral, was laid in 1885 in Saint-Nazaire, and commissioned and moved to Kaliningrad in 1888. The cruiser was on service until 1911. Interestingly, this project also underwent changes initiated by Shestakov.

Russia can be considered the first country which successfully used torpedo boats during Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. However, it did not have an industrial base for building larger torpedo boats, which the leading countries of Europe – England, France and Germany – were creating after successful attack by Lieutenant Makarov on Batum roadstead.

In the end of the 19th century the domestic industry gradually mastered building of torpedo boats, although the core of the torpedo fleet consisted of foreign ships yet

The first torpedo boats were ordered abroad. The first torpedo boat Batum built in England in 1880 had speed of 16 knots. Construction of the next torpedo boat, Sukhum, was ordered to the English John I. Thornycroft & Company, famous with its speedy vessels. During trials in England, the torpedo boat reached a speed of 18.3 knots (17.8 with full load). At the same time, Shestakov ordered three types of torpedo boats to three French shipyards. Poti and Gelendzhik built there along with Sukhum and Batum made up the first torpedo detachment on the Black Sea. On the basis of these models, far from being perfect, the first domestic torpedo boat Kotlin was ordered to the Baltic Shipyard, designed by the naval architect Gulyayev. On the same principles, building of three torpedo boats started in the New Admiralty of Saint Petersburg, and one – in Nikolayev. It was the first series of ships in Russia. Since Izhora Plant, producing engines, had no experience of building such machines, the speed of torpedo boats built in the Baltics didn’t exceed 15 knots. The next torpedo boat was built in England. Handed over by the English in 1886, Vyborg reached the speed of 18.2 knots with the full load of coal, and after it arrived at the Baltics, with Russian coal – 16.2 knots. Torpedo boats were ordered to the company of Normann in France and the shipyard of Schichau in Germany. Their speed already exceeded 20 knots. In 1886, two torpedo boats were ordered to Nevsky Plant. They were to be divided into six parts and sent by railway to the Far East. Speed of Yanchikhe and Suchen came close to 19.6 knots. They were assembled in Vladivostok in 1888.

Thus, the domestic industry gradually mastered building of torpedo boats, although the core of the torpedo fleet consisted of foreign ships yet. Shipyards especially for building the series of torpedo boats had not been founded.

Under personal supervision of Shestakov, based on French models a project of torpedo cruiser was developed, which had to repulse attacks of hostile torpedo boats. The development was headed by the manager of Baltic Shipyard, Mikhail Kazi. It was on this shipyard that the torpedo cruiser Leytenant Ilyin was built. The factory machines using domestic coal were not able to reach the contractual speed of 22 knots, and the same was the situation with torpedo cruiser Kapitan Saken built at Nikolayev Admiralty – it made only 17.7 knots. In 1888 torpedo cruiser Kazarsky was ordered to the German factory Schichau. After commissioning in 1890, it showed average speed of 21.16 knots. But for that the armament had to be sacrificed. Following its model, the new Chief of Naval Ministry Nikolay Chikhachyov ordered torpedo cruisers Voyevoda and Posadnik to Schichau. Their speed during test was more than 22 knots.

On the type of Kazarsky, it was decided to build torpedo cruisers Vsadnik, Gaydamak and Abrek in the firms of Creighton in Finnish Abo, and cruiser Griden – in Nikolayev Admiralty. The structure was improved during designing and construction. Afterwards Creighton’s plant received more orders for building torpedo boats. Their design was improved on the basis of comparative trials. Eventually the boilers of torpedo boats started switching from coal to oil burning. Torpedo boats were also built at Putilov and Izhora Plants. The country gradually gave up on ordering ships abroad and developed its own shipbuilding.