If you mention the Battleship Panteleimon, the average modeler will probably say, "Battleship Pantie What?" However, if you mention the Battleship Potemkin, you will hear an instant acknowledgement – rotten food, cruel officers, massacre on the steps of Odessa, mutiny. Anyone who has seen the unique silent film by Sergei Eisenstein will have their knowledge and ideas about that ship embedded in their mind by the forceful Soviet propaganda film. The names are different but the ship is the same. From her commissioning in 1903 until going to the breakers in 1922, this particular battleship served almost all of her service career under the name Panteleimon. The focus of this article is on her career as the Panteleimon.
Laid down in 1898 at the Kniaz Potemkin-Tavricheskii, the she was named to commemorate the minister of Katherine the Great who helped found the Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet. Prior to her construction, most of the battleships of the Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet were not designed to the best contemporary standards. That changed with the Potemkin. With a standard displacement of 12,582 tons, she was armed and armored to be equal to the battleships of the other major naval powers of the time.
Commissioned in 1903, the Kniaz Potemkin-Tavricheskii was brand new when the Russo-Japanese War erupted. Locked into the Black Sea by Turkey, neither she nor the rest of the Black Sea Fleet took any part in the war. However, they did suffer the effects of this disastrous war for Russia. The Battle of Tsushima occurred May 27/28, 1905. One month later and half a world away from this calamity for Russia, the reverberations were made manifest in the Black Sea Fleet. On June 27, 1905 Kniaz Potemkin-Tavricheskii was away from the rest of the fleet for firing practice. Outrage about rotten meat on the accompanying torpedo boat No. 267 spread to the battleship. The inept handling of the event by the officers was the spark that ignited unrest into mutiny. The Kniaz Potemkin-Tavricheskii raised the red flag of revolt and for the next eleven days steamed about the Black Sea looking for comrades or a safe harbor. In the end she found neither.
On July 8, 1905 she was turned over to the governmental authorities in the port of Constanza, Romania. A special crew was selected to go to Constanza and return the Kniaz Potemkin-Tavricheskii to the fold of the Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet. The battleship arrived back in Sevastopol on August 9, 1905. Under the old Russian calendar, the day was July 27, the day when the Orthodox Russian Church celebrated Saint Panteleimon. In the eyes of the Russian authorities, the name Kniaz Potemkin-Tavricheskii had been tainted by the mutiny. What better name to rechristen her than the name of the Saint whose feast day was celebrated when the battleship was brought back to the orthodoxy of the Imperial Russian Fleet. Panteleimon it would be. For the next twelve years she sailed under that name.
The Russian Black Sea Fleet was confident that it could handle sea control of the Black Sea. After all, what opposition was there? The only other country with any significant presence in the Black Sea was Turkey. All Turkey had for a Navy was a haphazard assortment of antiques that could easily be swept aside by the existing Russian forces. Turkey ordered two modern dreadnoughts from Great Britain and Russia countered by laying down four modern dreadnoughts at the yards at Nikolaev. In July and August 1914, the empires of Europe teetered toward war, the consequences of which, they had no idea. The bubble of Russian complacency in the Black Sea burst on August 10, 1914.
On that day the correlation of forces of the Black Sea changed dramatically. The Imperial German battlecruiser Goeben, along with the light cruiser, Breslau had been showing the flag of the High Seas Fleet in the Mediterranean in July 1914. With the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Ferdinand at the hands of a Serbian extremist, governments throughout Europe began making a series of disastrous decisions that resulted in World War One. Britain wanted to make sure the Goeben could not break out of the trap of the land encircled Mediterranean Sea. The British Mediterranean Fleet, including a squadron of battlecruisers, along with the battleships of the French Mediterranean Fleet, were instructed to prevent the Goeben from slipping past Gibraltar. They were to maintain contact and shadow her, pending an official declaration of war.
As the last hours of peace ticked off, the small German force made a totally unexpected move. They steamed east, rather than west. Caught off guard and off balance, the Franco/British naval forces could not bring the Goeben to action. On August 10, 1914 Goeben and Breslau entered the Dardanelles. In 1914 the Royal Navy was at its lowest superiority over the High Seas Fleet. In order to have an instant increase of forces, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, sought to purchase the two Turkish dreadnoughts that were finishing construction in Britain. One the Sultan Osman I was complete and on trials. Churchill made sure that this battleship would not leave British waters, prior to the outbreak of the war. When Turkey refused to sell the battleships to Britain, Churchill had them seized and they became the HMS Agincourt (Ex-Sultan Osman I) and HMS Erin.
These battleships had been a huge financial drain upon the government and people of Turkey. When these symbols of the Turkish national strength were arbitrarily seized by Britain, Turkey boiled over with anger. In an extraordinarily shrewd move, Imperial Germany offered Turkey the Goeben and Breslau as gifts to Turkey to compensate their good friends for the piratical behavior of perfidious Albion. Of course it was all self-serving. The Goeben under the German flag at Constantinople in a neutral Turkey would be at best interred and of no future value or service to Germany. There was no way that they could steam back to Germany. Why not take advantage of the Turkish outrage and give them to Turkey, while at the same time they stayed officered and manned by the German crews. On August 16, 1914 the Crescent Moon flag of Turkey fluttered up the masts of Goeben and Breslau with Goeben becoming Yavuz Sultan Selim and Breslau becoming Medilli.
In September, although Turkey was still neutral, the Goeben and Breslau sortied into Black Sea looking for Russian ships to sink. At the same time the Russian Black Sea Fleet sortied to the Bosporus, looking to sink the new nominally Turkish warships, however no contact was made. On October 27, 1914 all of the seaworthy Turkish/German warships steamed to the Crimea to launch a preemptive attack on the Russian Fleet. A torpedo attack was launched upon the Russian ships in Odessa harbor on October 29. Goeben proceeded to Sevastopol to sink the Russian ships in this, the prime port of the Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet. However, alerted by the attack on Odessa, land batteries drove her off. After this attack Russia declared war on Turkey on November 5, 1914.
For the next year, naval combat in the Black Sea was a series of chess moves. Goeben was the queen, by far the most powerful warship on the enclosed chess table that was the Black Sea. However, she did not have supporting pieces. The Breslau was a light cruiser and the balance of the Turkish fleet had not improved with age. Russia had numbers. Although the Russian Fleet did not have a queen, with their predreadnoughts, they did have bishops, knights and castles. The standard Russian tactic was for the battleship brigade to steam en masse. To separate any one, two or even three predreadnoughts from the whole, invited destruction by the Goeben. In short, in numbers there was safety. The battleship brigade consisted of five predreadnoughts, Evstafei, Ioann Zlatoust, Panteleimon, Tri Sviatitelia and the second class battleship Rostislav. Goeben could not handle all five but if she could find three or less, she would go for them. Russia had to maintain a fleet in being until her Black Sea dreadnoughts could come into service. The history of the Panteleimon in this period of history is in large part as one piece of the Russian battleship brigade.
Laid Down - Decmber 15, 1897; Launched - September 13, 1900; Commissioned - 1903; Broken Up - 1903
Dimensions: Length -378 feet 5 inches (115.3m); Beam - 73 feet (22.3m); Draught - 27 feet (8.2m); Displacement - 12,582 tons
Armament - Four 12-Inch/40 (305mm); Sixteen 6-Inch/45 (152mm); Fourteen 3-Inch (76mm); Six 47mm QF; Five 18-Inch (456mm) Underwater Torpedo Tubes
Armor: Belt - 6 inches to 9 inches; Casemates - 5 inches to 6 inches; Turrets - 10 inches; Deck - 2 1/2 inches to 3 inches; Conning Tower - 9 inches
Machinery - Two Vertical Triple Expansion Engines (VTE), Twin Screws; Designed shp 10,600; Actual shp 11,300; 22 Belleville Boilers; Maximum Speed - 16 knots; Range - 1,750 nm @ 16 knots; 3,400 nm @ 10 knots; Complement - 26 Officers, 715 Enlisted
On November 4, in anticipation of a declaration war the next day, the Russian force sortied to mine the Bosporus and to shell the Turkish coal producing port of Zonguldak. The Goeben, which was up near Sevastopol hurried south to intercept the Russian battleships but couldn’t make contact. The Russian squadron encountered three Turkish steamers carrying troops, armaments and munitions and sank them with gunfire. On November 7 the Russian squadron steamed back into Sevastopol, well satisfied with their success. The next Russian sortie occurred November 15 through 18. This time the target was the eastern coast of Turkey. Trebizond is shelled but no Turkish ships were found. Goeben, instead of steaming east towards the Russians, goes north from the Bosporus to the Crimea to cut off the Russian squadron’s return. On November 18, 1914 Goeben met the five battleships of the battleship brigade twenty miles south of Yalta. In a 14 minute engagement, Goeben comes to realize that she cannot take on all five of the predreadnoughts together. Goeben is hit 14 times but the Russian flagship Evstafei is badly damaged in return. Realizing that their safety is in their numbers, Russian operations are curtailed, pending repairs to the Evstafei. The next Russian sortie is from December 11 to 13, with a Turkish transport sunk by a destroyer.
December 20-25, 1914, its time to go back to the Bosporus for more mining and general mayhem. Before the Russian squadron arrived, the Goeben, unaware of their approach, steamed east escorting transports to eastern Turkey. The mine laying was accomplished without being observed by the Turks but a secondary mission to sink blockships loaded with stones is broken up by the Breslau. As Goeben hurried back west, she struck two of the newly laid Russian mines, was seriously damaged and out of action for several months. The mines further claimed a Turkish auxiliary minesweeper and torpedo gunboat.
With Goeben sidelined 1915 looked good for the Black Sea Fleet. In contrast to the Baltic Fleet, which sat statically behind mine fields, the Black Sea Fleet was continuously engaging in offensive operations at a high operational tempo. Off they went again, January 2-6 in search of more Turkish ships to sink and to bombard the Turkish coast. They sortied to attempt to intercept Breslau and the old Turkish cruiser Hamidiye which were escorting a transport carrying guns for a land battery for Zonguldak, which was previously shelled by the Russians. The total net was one steamer and 51 sailing ships. Two more sorties on January 14-19 and 24-27 are aimed at the eastern coast in an effort to engage Breslau and Hamidiye. The cruisers evaded the Russian force and the Black Sea Fleet had to be content with sinking another three sailing ships. In early February Russian sorties accounted for another two steamers and 63 sailing ships. Towards the end of the month the Russian Fleet prepared to land 37,000 troops on the Bosporus, if the French/British assault on the Dardanelles was successful. However, the Franco-British attempt to force the Dardanelles, through naval action alone, was a disastrous failure and the landings were cancelled.
March saw the battleship brigade back at their old occupation of shelling the coal producing centers of coastal Turkey and on March 7, they accounted for seven Turkish steamers and one sailing ship. The sortie against the Bosporus of March 28-30 saw two Russian seaplane carriers accompany the battleship brigade. They were used for spotting and dropping small bombs. They only managed to shell some lighthouses before fog caused them to move down the coast for another go at the coal centers.
Goebencame back out to play on April 3 off of the Crimea. The five ship battleship brigade goes to intercept and chases their old adversary all the way back to the Bosporus. On April 25, as allied forces come ashore at Gallipoli, the battleship brigade appears off of the Bosporus to engage the land batteries. May 2 saw Panteleimon and Tri Sviatitelia again engage land batteries guarding the Bosporus with aircraft from the Nikolai providing reconnaissance and a screen. On May 9 the same duo separate from the rest of the force in order to accomplish the same mission that they had the week before. Knowing of the separation of the battleship brigade, Goeben steams after Evstafei, Ioann Zlatoust and Rostislav. Goeben fails to score a hit, is hit twice in return and is followed back to the Bosporus. May 15 and June 7 saw additional sorties by the old Russian predreadnoughts against the Turkish coast. July 10, 1915 marked a change. The first of the Russian dreadnoughts, Imperatritsa Mariya, arrives at Sevastopol. (Click for Review of the Combrig Imperatritsa Mariya) The Russian Black Sea Fleet had more than held their own with the predreadnoughts. Now Russian dreadnoughts were coming on line. The naval situation looked very good for Russia.
With the arrival of the first Russian dreadnought and the appearance of German U-Boats, predreadnought operations started to slow but they still occasionally sortied with Imperatritsa Mariya. Panteleimon and Ioann Zlatoust, supported by Imperatritsa Mariya, go after the coal center of Zonguldak again on October 1, sinking one steamer but doing little damage to ground facilities, in spite of expending 1,200 shells. On October 18 in an operation aimed at the Bulgarian coast, Panteleimon is attacked by the German U-7 without success. The second Russian dreadnought, Imperatritsa Ekaterina II, went on line in December. (Click for Review of the Combrig Imperatritsa Ekaterina II)
With the arrival of 1916, the old battleships are the second line. In January Panteleimon, Evstafei and Ioann Zlatoust are sent to support ground forces in the eastern Black Sea, however Panteleimon now spends most of her time riding anchor at Sevastopol. April 14-19 Panteleimon and Rostislav close to within two kilometers of Turkish troop positions and support a Russian breakthrough, which seizes Trebizond on the 18th. In May Panteleimon, this time with Evstafei and Ioann Zlatoust, is tasked to base at Batum to support land forces. Throughout the summer of 1916 the three predreadnoughts continued to sortie from Batum in support of Russian ground forces in a remarkable preview of battleship bombardment missions in the Second World War. The year 1916 saw the Black Sea Fleet with complete superiority of the Black Sea but that was of minimal value as long as the Bosporus was closed.
In February 1917 the Imperial Government collapsed and the democratic Kerensky regime is formed. Out go the tsarist names. Panteleimon is renamed Potemkin on April 13, 1917. She only carries this name until May 11, when she is again renamed, this time to Borets za Svobodu. She doesn’t see much action in 1917 but in early November, she with Evstafei and Ioann Zlatoust unsuccessfully attempted to catch the Breslau off of the coast of Romania. On November 8, 1917 the Black Sea Fleet learned of the Bolshevik Revolution and ceaseed offensive operations. Borets za Svobodu, along with the other predreadnoughts rusted away at Sevastopol until April 1918, when they were seized by Austro-German troops in violation of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. December 1918 saw the White Russian forces with western allies take over Sevastopol and the ships. The British destroyed all of the machinery on the battleships on April 25, 1919 and the White forces tried to sell what was left but found no takers. The Reds drove out the Whites in November 1920 and found Borets za Svobodu, as well as the other, once successful units of the Black Sea Fleet to be useless hulks. Borets za Svobodu was slowly broken apart between 1922 and 1924.
Although for most of her service live she served proudly and successfully as the Panteleimon, she will always be remembered by her first name. As a revolutionary icon of the Soviet Union and through a striking propaganda movie, she will always be the Battleship Potemkin. (History from The Russian Fleet 1914-1917 by Rene Greger and Warships of the Imperial Russian Navy, Volume I Battleships by V.M. Tomitch)
This spring Combrig released a 1:700 scale model of the Panteleimon, Ex-Kniaz Potemkin-Tavaricheskii. The battleship had a very striking look with her three evenly spaced funnels, high central superstructure and sweeping bridge wings. From the photographs you can judge the level of detail that Combrig has provided in this model. Two of the high points are the delineated shutters of the casemate guns and the 12-Inch (305mm) turrets. Combrig has shown a remarkable degree of skill in the undercut of turret openings for the barrels. The Combrig Panteleimon is ready now, on your command, on your feast day or on any other day for that matter, to join your battleship brigade.