The Soviet Navy’s use of the Imperial Yacht “Standart” during WWII

PHOTO: the former Imperial Yacht Standart, refitted for wartime use during the Soviet years

It seems that royal yachts are today a thing of the past. In the Russian Empire, the last was the Imperial Yacht Standart of Emperor Nicholas II. A magnificent ship that survived its owner by more than 40 years and left it’s mark on Russia’s nautical history. Why was it renamed several times? Why was the luxury yacht converted into a warship? What combat missions did she perform during the Great Patriotic War? And why did Stalin dislike this ship?

PHOTO: Emperor Wilhelm II and Emperor Alexander III

Competition between two emperors

The history of the Imperial Yacht Standart began in Denmark at the Burmeister and Vine shipyard. On 29th August 1893, Alexander III, together with Empress Maria Fedorovna and Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich [future Emperor Nicholas II], arrived on the Imperial Yacht Polar Star in Copenhagen, where the Emperor ordered the construction of the ship.

“There was an unspoken competition between Emperor Alexander III and Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. When Wilhelm built himself the ocean yacht Hohenzollern, Alexander III decided to outdo him with an even more splendid vessel,” claims the Russian marine writer Vladimir Shigin.

On 1st November [O.S. 20 October] 1894, Alexander III died. The sovereign never stepped on board the new yacht, however, he did manage to give her a name in honour of the first ship of the Russian fleet, and the beloved frigate[1] of his ancestor Peter the Great. Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich had no idea that he would inherit not only this ship, but the entire Russian Empire the following year. The new Emperor Nicholas II travelled to Copenhagen for the launching ceremony of the Imperial Yacht Standart on 21st March 1895.

In August 1907, Nicholas wrote to his mother, that ” . . . he [Wilhelm II] so much liked the Standart that he said he would have been happy to get it as a present and that after such a yacht he was ashamed to show the Hohenzollern.”

The Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna replied: “I am sure the beautiful lines of the Standart would be an eyesore to Wilhelm. Still, his joke about how happy he would be if the yacht were given him as a present was in very doubtful taste. “

“I hope he will not have the cheek to order himself one here, this would really be the limit, though just like him, with the tact that distinguishes him!”[2]

PHOTO: views of the elegant and state of the art Imperial Yacht Standart

Floating palace

On 8th September 1896, the Standart made its first trip [without sea trials] to England. The British called the yacht a “floating palace”. Black lacquered body, furniture made of fine wood, and embossed leather [instead of wallpaper], were used for its construction and interior decoration.

The state of the art Imperial Yacht had 3 masts, a displacement of 5480 tons, a length of 128 m, a width of 15.8 m, a draft of 6.6 m, a design speed of 22 knots, 24 boilers and 2 propellers. Armament – eight 47-mm guns. The sharp clipper-head bow of the Standart was decorated with a gilded double-headed eagle. The crew numbered 373 officers and sailors, for whom the Emperor knew each one by name.

On the main deck (above the engine room) were the imperial cabins. Each block of cabins for the Emperor, Empress and Empress Dowager consisted of a living room, bedroom and bathroom. The same deck housed the dining room, the saloon, the cabins of the grand dukes and princesses, the yacht officers and the ship’s wardroom. On the lower deck there were cabins for children of the imperial family, rooms for servants, crew quarters and showers. The same deck housed a radio room, dynamo enclosures, workshops and some storerooms. Below this deck, in the bow of the yacht, there was a cargo hold and a powder magazine, and in the stern – refrigerators for perishable provisions. For the crew, much better living conditions have been created than on previous Imperial yachts.

PHOTO: Pavel Dybenko and his common-law wife Alexandra Kollontai 

What happened to Standart after the revolution?

In 1917, those very sailors, personally selected by Nicholas II, took part first in the February and then in the October Revolution. The central revolutionary organ of the Baltic sailors, Tsentrobalt[3], set up their headquarters in the former Emperor’s study. Not only did they loot the ship’s expensive wood and silk, they even took the Romanovs’ family silver. “The chairman of Tsentrobalt Pavel Dybenko and his common-law wife Alexandra Kollontai slept in Nicholas II’s bedroom. That is, they enjoyed all the benefits of the Imperial Yacht’s previous owners, the very same ones the Bolsheviks condemned and accused of living better than the common Russian people”, – writes Vladimir Shigin.

In the spring of 1918, the Standart took part in the Ice Campaign[4], following an order issued by Vladimir Lenin to save the Baltic Fleet from anti-Bolshevik forces.

In 1918, having lost its guards status and renamed March 18 (in memory of the first day of the Paris Commune), the yacht was mothballed and laid up for many years in the Military Harbour of Kronstadt.

Between 1933-36, the former imperial yacht was converted into a minelayer in Leningrad. By order of the commander of the Naval Forces of the Baltic Sea Lev Mikhailovich Haller (1883-1950) of 22nd January 1934, renamed Marty, after the French communist and secretary of the Comintern[5] – André Marty (1886-1956).

On 25th December 1936, Marty officially became part of the KBF[6]. The ship was equipped with the latest devices for laying 320 mines, powerful artillery weapons (four 130-mm main guns, seven 76.2-mm universal guns, three 45-mm anti-aircraft guns and two coaxial machine guns). New steam engines were installed, providing a speed of over 14 knots and a cruising range of up to 2,300 miles.

In 1938, the ship became the flagship of the Baltic Fleet’s barrage and trawling formation. In 1939, the ship laid mines off the coast of Finland, for which she received a commendation from the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet. In the summer of 1941, Marty’s crew won the Red Banner Challenge of the People’s Commissariat of the Navy .

PHOTO: the Standart was renamed after the French communist Andre Marty

Naval battles with the participation of Marty during the Second World War

The Marty entered combat duty on 23rd June 1941. On 25th June, while performing a combat mission, Marty sank an enemy submarine. In September of the same year, it repulsed a German air raid. The ship withstood bombardment of ten enemy bombers.

In early November 1941, the Marty took part in the evacuation of the defenders of the Hanko Peninsula. Despite the damage sustained by a mine explosion, Marty took on board and transported to Kronstadt 2,029 soldiers, 60 guns, 11 mortars, shells and food, and about 800 tons of cargo.

On 3rd April 1942, Marty was one of the first in the fleet to receive the honorary title of Guards Units[7]. The Marty was awarded the honour again in 1948.

In 1948, the very same French communist Andre Marty, whose name the ship bore, criticised both Stalin and the CPSU[8], in an article, published in the newspaper L’Humanité[9]. This was enough for the name of the Frenchman to be removed from all factories and ships, and a new name was chosen for the hero ship.

Traditionally, all mine layers in the Russian fleet, have been named after large Russian rivers or lakes. Thus Marty was renamed Oka, and was converted to a floating barracks. Under it’s new name, the former Imperial Yacht served in the Soviet fleet until the end of the 1950s,

PHOTO: A still from the Soviet film “Мичман Панин” [Warrant Officer Panin]. 1960

The film “Warrant Officer Panin

The Oka embarked on its last voyage in the summer of 1960, when it was used as the auxiliary cruiser Elizabeth for the Soviet film Мичман Панин [Warrant Officer Panin] [10]. The film sounded the Imperial hymn God Save the Tsar one can only imagine the parallels? Thanks to the creators of the film, the ship can be seen in detail, including the engine room and the partially preserved interior decoration of the ship.

After filming, the ship was sent to its home harbor at Libau [today, Liepāja in Latvia] in the Baltic, where during exercises it served as a target for the testing of anti-ship missiles. In the mid-1960s, the former grand and luxurious Imperial Yacht was dismantled for scrap. Thus, one of the most famous Russian ships sunk into history.

NOTES:

[1] The frigate Standart was the first ship of Russia’s Baltic fleet. Her keel was laid on 24th April 1703 at the Olonetsky shipyard near Olonets. She was the first flagship of the Imperial Russian Navy and was in service until 1727.

[2] Excerpted from Dearest Mama . . . Darling Nicky: Letters Between Emperor Nicholas II and His Mother Empress Maria Feodorovna 1879-1917, published privately in 2021.

[3] The Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet (Tsentrobalt) was a high-level elective revolutionary democratic body of naval enlisted men for coordination of the activities of sailors’ committees of the Russian Baltic Fleet.

[4] The Ice Campaign was an operation which transferred the ships of the Baltic Fleet of the Imperial Russian Navy from their bases at Reval [Tallinn], and Helsinfors [Helsinki] to Kronstadt in 1918.

The Campaign was carried out in difficult ice conditions in February-May 1918. As a result of the operation, 236 ships and vessels were rescued from capture by German and Finnish troops and redeployed, including 6 battleships, 5 cruisers, 59 destroyers, 12 submarines.

[5] The Communist International (Comintern), was an international organization founded in 1919 that advocated world communism, controlled by the Soviet Union. The Comintern resolved to “struggle by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the state”

[6] The Red Banner Baltic Fleet ( KBF ) was an operational-strategic formation of the Navy in the armed forces of the USSR during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45).

[7] Guards units were elite units and formations in the armed forces of the former Soviet Union. These units were awarded Guards status after distinguishing themselves in service, and are considered to have elite status. The Guards designation originated during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, its name coming from the Russian Imperial Guard, which was disbanded in 1917 following the Russian Revolution.

[8] The Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

[9] L’Humanité is a French daily newspaper. It was previously an organ of the French Communist Party.

[10] Click HERE to watch the film on YouTube [in Russian].

© Paul Gilbert. 14 December 2021

125th anniversary of the first voyage of the Imperial Yacht “Standart”

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the first voyage of the Imperial Yacht Standart [Shtandart].

It was on 8th September 1896 [after sea trials], that Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna first travelled by sea on board what many considered the “most perfect ship of her type in the world”. The Imperial couple were accompanied by their first-born child Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna.

The Imperial Yacht made its first long voyage to Europe stopping at Copenhagen (Denmark) – Plymouth (England) – Cherbourg (France), before returning to Kronstadt, its primary port.

The ship, built by special order at the Danish shipyard Burmeister & Wein, served the Imperial Family until 1914, when the Great War began, it was pressed into naval service. She was scrapped at Tallinn, Estonia, in 1963.

The hull of the yacht was made of riveted steel. The vessel had two decks – upper and main, as well as two platforms at the ends – fore and aft. In the middle section of the Standart, under the engine and boiler rooms, there was a second bottom, which was divided by watertight compartments.

The bow superstructure consisted of two tiers and had a navigating bridge. In the first tier of the bow superstructure, the navigator’s room and two cabins for the commanding staff were located. The second tier of the bow superstructure was the wheelhouse.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II, on the deck of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart’, colourized by Olga Shirnina [aka KLIMBIM], who consults with Russian historians and other experts to ensure the correct colours of the uniforms worn by Emperor Nicholas II 

The large aft superstructure was finished with mahogany, it housed a dining room for official receptions seating up to 70 people, a study and the emperor’s reception room. The flat upper deck was lined with American teak planks. On the main deck were the imperial apartments, which included a common living room, separate offices and separate bedrooms of the Sovereign, Empress and Dowager Empress, dining room, salon, cabins of the Heir, cabins of the Grand Duchesses, officers of the yacht and the ship’s wardroom. The bow platform housed storerooms, workshops, showers and crew quarters, below there was a cargo hold and a powder magazine. On the aft platform there were playrooms for the Imperial children, rooms for servants, a radio room, showers, and below – refrigerator chambers for perishable provisions.

The yacht’s life-saving accessories included 2 large mahogany steam boats, 2 powerboats, 2 large 14 row boats, 2 10 row boats, 2 six-oared yales and 2 8-row boats.

The yacht was powered by steam-sailing, with 24 boilers and two steam engines with an indicator capacity of 6000 hp each, which rotated two bronze screws.

The armament of the yacht consisted of 8 single-barreled 47-mm Hotchkiss cannons, which were located in the bow of the upper deck on both sides.

On the 125th anniversary marking the first voyage of the Imperial Yacht, a model was recently donated to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs Museum at Ganina Yama, near Ekaterinburg.

Other models of the Standart are on display in the Imperial Yacht Museum in Peterhof, which has a small room dedicated to the vessels; the Central Naval Museum in St. Petersburg; and at the Burmeister & Wain Museum at Copenhagen

CLICK on the LINK(S) below to read more about the Imperial Yacht Standart:

Exhibition: Imperial Yacht Standart and the Family of the Last Russian Emperor + VIDEO – published on 15th December 2019

The Fates of the Russian Imperial Yachts ‘Standart’ and ‘Polar Star’ – published on 21st October 2019

‘Ten years in the Imperial Yacht Standart’ by Nikolai Sablin – published on 27th August 2019

© Paul Gilbert. 27 November 2021

Exhibition: Imperial Yacht Standart and the Family of the Last Russian Emperor

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NOTE: All of the articles pertaining to Nicholas II and his family which were originally published in my Royal Russia News blog, have been moved to this Nicholas II blog. This article was originally posted on 15 February 2018 in my Royal Russia News blog – PG

The following exhibition ran from 26 January to 4 April 2018

The exhibition Imperial Yacht Standart and the Family of the Last Russian Emperor, opened on 26 January at the Central House of Artists in Moscow. The exhibition is based on memories and original photographs from the personal archive of Captain 2nd Rank Nikolai Pavlovich Sablin (1880-1937), who served on the Imperial yacht Standart from 1906 to 1914.

A significant part of these historic images were photographed by the co-owner of the photographic studio “K. E. von Gan and Co., the famous Russian photographer AK Yagelsky, who had the title of Court photographer of His Imperial Majesty. Yagelsky also owned the right to conduct filming of the imperial family. The exposition includes photographs of the photographic studio K. E. Von Gan and Co., as well as unique newsreel footage taken on board the imperial yacht. In addition to the photographs, original letters of Emperor Nicholas II written on board the ship, watercolours and a collection of postcards dedicated to the Imperial yacht, a yacht logbook and a number of other unique documents will be on display.

The photos taken on board the yacht Standart are not widely known to the general public and are associated with the inner life of the royal family, moments not intended for an outsider’s eye and therefore very sincere and direct.

***

The exhibition was first shown at the State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSPHOTO in St. Petersburg, from 2 August to 24 September 2017 and in Smolensk from 18 October to 15 December 2017. Click on the VIDEO above to view highlights from the St. Petersburg venue.

The exhibition Imperial Yacht Standart and the Family of the Last Russian Emperor, runs until 4th April 2018, at the Central House of Artists in Moscow.

Click HERE to visit the ROSPHOTO site for more information and photographs of the Imperial Yacht Standart – in Russian only.

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© Paul Gilbert. 15 December 2019

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