The Fates of the Russian Imperial Yachts ‘Standart’ and ‘Polar Star’

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Photograph by Gunnar Lönnqvist from the collection of the Helsinki City Museum

A rare photograph of the two former Imperial Yachts, ‘Polar Star / Полярная звезда’¹ (left) and ‘Standart / Штандарт’¹ (right) together in dry-dock in Helsingors (Helsinki) in early April, 1918.

With the outbreak of World War I, both yachts were placed in dry-dock. They left Helsingfors for Kronstadt, only days before the Germans attacked. The fates of both the ‘Standart’ and the ‘Polar Star’ are equally sad.

‘STANDART’

The Imperial Yacht ‘Standart’ was built by order of Emperor Alexander III, and constructed at the Danish shipyard of Burmeister & Wain,² beginning in 1893. She was launched on 21 March 1895 and came into service early September 1896. It later served Emperor Nicholas II and his family.

In 1917, the ‘Standart’ was seized by Revolutionary sailors, and took part first in the February and then in the October Revolution.

The ‘Standart’ was then stripped down and pressed into naval service. It was renamed three times: ‘18 Marta’ (‘18 March,’ from 1918-1936), and later ‘Marti’ (in honour of André Marty, from 1936-1948), and ‘Oka’ (from 1948-1963). She was scrapped at Tallinn, Estonia, in 1963.

‘POLAR STAR’

The Imperial Yacht ‘Polar Star’ was built by order of Emperor Alexander III at the Baltic Shipyard on 20 May 1888. She was launched on 19 May 19 1890, and came into service in March 1891. It later served the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, who used it annually to sail to Denmark and England.

During the First World War, the yacht was docked in Petrograd, and in early June 1917 moved to Helsingfors. In 1920, the ‘Polar Star’ was mothballed.

In the early 1930s, the former Imperial Yacht was converted into a floating submarine base for the Soviet Navy. Numerous changes were made to the yacht’s exterior, but the interior decoration of many rooms were preserved. On 20 August 1936, the naval flag of the USSR was hoisted on the yacht.

In 1954 it was converted back into a floating ship, in 1961 as a target ship for testing anti-ship missiles. In November 1961, the ‘Polar Star’ was sunk in the Gulf of Riga, after being hit during a naval exercise. The final fate of the former Imperial Yacht remains unknown, although according to some reports, it was scrapped in the early 1970s.

© Paul Gilbert. 21 October 2019

NOTES

¹ The Imperial Yachts ‘Polar Star / Полярная звезда’ (left) and ‘Standart / Штандарт’ are easily distinguished by their funnels and the double-headed eagle figurehead, located on the bow of each vessel.

The two funnels of the ‘Standart / Штандарт’ are placed wider apart, whereas those of ‘Polar Star / Полярная звезда’ are closer together. The magnificent carved double-headed figurehead of the ‘Standart / Штандарт’ is much more elaborate than that of the ‘Polar Star / Полярная звезда’.

² Burmeister & Wain remain in business to this day, The blueprints for the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart’ have been preserved in the archives, a copy of which is also in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. 

‘Ten years in the Imperial Yacht Standart’ by Nikolai Sablin

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Since the fall of the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, there have been hundreds of new Russian language books published on the life, reign and era of Emperor Nicholas II.

Sadly, very few of these titles will ever be translated into English. The reasons are many, but most importantly are the cost of translations (which can cost thousands of dollars), and a limited English language market. These two factors alone make such publishing endeavours economically unfeasible.

One interesting fact about the Russian publishing, is that the number of copies printed is indicated in each book. For instance, only 3000 copies of the title listed below were published in Russian. This is also an indication of the limited market such books have even in Russia.

In the years leading up to the 400th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty in 2013, and the 100th anniversary of the death of Nicholas II and his family, a plethora of new titles were published in English. Sadly, the number of new titles are becoming fewer and fewer, and it may be the specialty publishers such as my own publishing business – which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year – who will be left to carry on the tradition.

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Commander of the Imperial yacht ‘Standart’ Nikolai Pavlovich Sablin (1880-1937)

One of the many books which I would like to see an English edition is ‘Десять лет на императорской яхте Штандарт‘ (Trans. ‘Ten years in the imperial yacht Standart’) by Nikolai Sablin

These are the memoirs of Nikolai Pavlovich Sablin (1880-1937), who served as commander of the Imperial yacht ‘Standart’ of Emperor Nicholas II. The author describes events between 1906-1914, of which he was a direct witness and participant. His memoirs reflect the last decade, not yet overshadowed by the horrors of the First World War and revolutionary upheavals, which also became the last years of the prosperity of the Russian Empire.

The memoirs of N.V. Sablin acquaints the readers with details of the private life of the imperial family and their immediate environment, as well as little-known aspects of state affairs. The book contains interesting information about the official visits of Nicholas II while sailing on the ‘Standart,’ meetings with the heads of state and representatives of the reigning houses of Europe, gala receptions hosted on board the imperial yacht, and the important political decisions made during these voyages.

The episodes of yachting life, the mood of the officers of the fleet and society in general, subtly noticed by Sablin, convey a bygone era. His observations and humour make his personal memoirs a very interesting story, yet another page from the life and reign of Nicholas II, which has been sadly neglected by Western historians. The 382 pages of text is accompanied by more than 200 photographs, many of which were taken by Sablin himself and are published for the first time in this book.

© Paul Gilbert. 27 August 2019