Imperial Yacht Standart: Nicholas II’s Palace on the Seas

Elegant style yachts were once the norm among many of the world’s most important rulers. The British, the Royal Houses of Europe, and even the Americans have all at one time or another provided their leaders with beautifully appointed yachts that served for both recreational as well as official purposes. But few of these highly specialized ships can compare with the Imperial Yacht Standart, reserved exclusively for the use of Russia’s last emperor Nicholas II.

This handsome “ship of state” was a graceful seagoing vessel and was considered the most perfect ship of her type in the world. She was named after the famous frigate of Peter the Great, launched in 1703. Built to the Tsar’s own specifications, she was constructed in Copenhagen in 1895 by the Danish firm Burmeister-Wain. The shipyard still maintains a thriving existence but the plans no longer exist for the Standart due to the destruction of the shipyard brought on by two world wars.

Across the North Sea, however, a copy of the plans for the former Imperial Yacht are held in the archives of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. After a visit to Cowes, the future King Edward VII asked for the plans of the Standart. The plans had been preserved in 1895 by the Admiralty Office when plans for a new British royal yacht were under construction.

PHOTO: plans for the Imperial Yacht Standart

The Standart was a superb, black-hulled 5557-ton yacht measuring 401 feet in length and 50 feet wide, making it the largest private ship in the world. She was much larger and faster than that of the other Imperial Yacht’s, the Alexandria and the Polar Star reaching speeds of up to 21.18 knots. Anchored in a Baltic cove or tied up at Yalta, the Standart was as big as a small cruiser. She had been designed with the graceful majesty of a great sailing ship. She combined elegance and comfort and met all the requirements of a floating palace. A large gilded bowsprit in the shape of a double-headed eagle, lunged forward from her bow and three tall masts towered above her two white funnels. White canvas awnings stretched over smooth decks shielding the passengers from the sun, while informal wicker furniture on the main deck invited relaxation. Also on the main deck was a large dining saloon that could seat up to seventy-two guests at one long table for luncheon or dinner.

PHOTO: the Imperial Yacht Standart at Yalta (above), and Sebastopol (below)

Below deck was found a formal reception salon and drawing rooms panelled in mahogany, polished floors, brass and elegantly hung crystal chandeliers and velvet drapes. The Imperial Yacht even had its own chapel for the private use of the Imperial Family.

The Tsar’s Private Study was furnished in dark leather and simple wooden furniture. The Tsarina’s drawing room and boudoir were done in her favourite English chintz. On the walls could be found the indispensible icons or “windows to heaven” along with many photographs of her relatives and family.

Today there are hundreds of photographs in existence of the Standart taken by the Tsar and his family, their relatives and aides, whom at the time were making the most of the latest craze of Russia’s upper classes–photography.

PHOTO: a large bowsprit, covered with gold leaf, lunged forward from her bow

PHOTO: view of the deck of the Imperial Yacht Standart

Many of these photographs were family photos and never meant for public viewing. They were stuck neatly in old family albums and memory books. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, hundreds of these “windows on the past” have been published in handsome coffee-table books. To date, the most luxurious of these books has to be Русские императорские яхты каталог 17-20 век (Russian Imperial Yachts: 17th-20th Century) containing nearly 400 photographs [published in 1997, this Russian language book is now out of print].

Among these “pioneer” photographers was General Count Alexander Grabbe, who was often asked to accompany the Imperial Family when they sailed on the Standart to the Crimea and the islands of the Finnish archipelago. A selection of his photographs of the Imperial Yacht were published in 1984 by his son Paul Grabbe in The Private World of the Last Tsar: The Photographs and Notes of General Count Alexander Grabbe. A keen photographer, Grabbe’s photographs show the Tsar and his family onboard the Standart as a happy and carefree family, relaxing, playing games, dining with royalty, roller-skating and dancing.

Just before sailing and prior to the arrival of the Imperial Family, the ship was polished and cleaned from top to bottom. Sailors busied themselves above and below deck, checking the lifeboats and adjusting the awnings on the main deck. Officers and crew assembled on deck, all of whom saluted the Tsar as he came on board.

PHOTO: Nicholas II’s study (above) and chapel (below)

On the Standart, Tsar Nicholas II followed a daily routine. Early each morning he came on deck to check the weather. He also liked to make the rounds of the ship’s company as well as greet the Imperial Yacht’s warrant officers. It was not uncommon to see the young Tsesarevich Alexis, wearing a sailor’s uniform, accompany his father during these rounds. The Tsar was interested in navigation and he liked to discuss this subject with his Flag Captain, Admiral Nikov or as well as checking the yacht’s course with Captain Zelenetsky. The Tsar worked for two days each week while at sea, receiving and sending dispatches by the courier boats that arrived daily from the mainland.

When the Standart sailed, she was a glorious and spirited vessel and she attracted attention wherever she went. When the Tsar and his family were on board, a large household staff of footmen, stewards, butlers and cooks attended to their every need, in total she carried a crew of 275. The yacht was manned by a crew from the Russian Imperial Navy. Also on board was a platoon of marines as well as a brass band and a balalaika orchestra. In order to communicate with the mainland and other ships of the Russian Imperal Navy, the Standart was also equipped with radio, a novelty in 1912.

“This relationship of the Imperial Family to its entourage was very friendly and informal,” Count Grabbe recalls. “They were especially cordial with the officers of the Standart. These young men were exemplary–charming, modest, possessed of a great deal of dignity and tact, and incapable of intrigue.”

PHOTO: Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna relaxing on the deck of the ‘Standart

PHOTO: the Imperial Family in the dining room of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart

The yacht was commanded by Rear-Admiral Lomen, who was responsible for the safety of the Tsar from the moment Nicholas II set foot on board any vessel, whether a yacht, a dreadnought or a launch. “The whole of the naval administration stood in mortal fear of the Admiral,” recalls A.A. Mossolov. “It is true that he asked a great deal, and if he was annoyed he could be extremely rude. He claimed that onboard the yacht the Tsar himself was under his orders! Off duty he was pleasant and sociable.”

The actual Commanding Officer of the Standart was Captain Tchaguin, and the second in command, Commander Nikolai Sablin. Both had the satisfaction of being thought of very highly by Their Majesties. In the letters which she wrote to the Tsar when he was at General Headquarters, the Tsarina frequently mentions Sablin.

Life at sea seemed to bring the best out in all the members of the Imperial Family. A.A. Mossolov recalls in his memoirs, “The Empress herself grew gay and communicative onboard the Standart. She joined in the children’s games, and had long talks with the officers.”

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra with her four daughters on the deck of the ‘Standart

PHOTO: Minister of the Imperial Court (1897-1917) Count Vladimir Frederiks with
Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, on the deck of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart’. 1911

The officers were certainly in an exceptional situation. Almost daily, the Tsar invited these officers to dinner and after the meal liked to play billiards with them or enjoy a game of dominoes. In return the Imperial Family accepted invitations to tea in the mess. On such occasions the Empress usually sat nearby, sewing, the Tsesarevich ran about with his playmates, while the Grand Duchesses, surrounded by all the young men, scattered throughout the yacht. “We form a united family,” the Empress used to remark on these memorable and happy voyages.”

The family vacations to the Crimea and their cruises on the Standart were a welcome change for the children in particular.

When the Imperial Family went onboard the Standart, each of the five children was assigned a diadka, a sailor charged to watch over the the child’s personal safety. The children played with these diadkas, played tricks on the them and teased them. Gradually the young officers of the Standart joined in the children’s games. As the Grand Duchesses grew older, the games changed into a series of flirtations, all very innocent of course. “I do not, of course, use the word ‘flirtation’ quite in the ordinary sense of the term,” remarks Mossolov, “the young officers could better be compared with the pages or squires of dames of the Middle Ages. Many a time the whole of the young people dashed past me, but I never heard the slightest word suggestive of the modern flirtation.” Moreover, the whole of these officers were polished to perfection by one of their superiors, who was regarded as the Empress’s squire of dames. As for the Grand Duchesses, even when the two eldest had grown up into real women, one might hear them taking like little girls of ten and twelve.

PHOTO: Nicholas II relaxing on the deck of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart

“The girls loved the sea,” Count Grabbe comments, “and I well remember their joyful anticipation of these cruises on the Standart, which opened broader horizons for them, brought them new contacts, and permitted an intimacy that was other wise impossible. To be at sea with their father–that was what constituted their happiness.”

The Tsesarevich Alexis also loved the excursions on the Standart as well. He enjoyed accompanying the Tsar while he carried out his duties on board the Imperial Yacht. He loved to play games such as shuffleboard. On sunny afternoons it was not uncommon to find an exhausted Alexis stretched out and fast asleep under one of the many lifeboats on the main deck. At times, his haemophilia restricted his movements severely and photographs show the young Tsesarevich walking with the aid of a cane. Due to his illness, a favourite sailor was assigned to watch over Alexis. At first it was the sailor Andrei Derevenko who for some time was patient and conscientious in watching over his Imperial charge; his behaviour toward Alexis, however, became excessively mean after the Revolution. Fortunately, the Tsesarevich also had another sailor-attendant–the loyal Klimenty Nagorny. This sailor was later killed by the revolutionary army that overran Russia after World War I.

PHOTO: view of the Imperial Yacht Standart

PHOTO: the Imperial Yacht Standart on the Neva, St. Petersburg

So it was, that when the warm months of the summer rolled around that the Tsar and his family set sail on the Standart for their vacation off the coast of southern Finland. For the Tsar, there was no greater relaxation than these restful, seaborne excursions on his beloved Standart. Here his family and found a secluded bay surrounded by small islands where they could relax and enjoy their time together away from the palaces and rigid rules that governed the Russian court. This charming spot was such a favourite of Nicholas II and his family, that they returned to it every year and the children even nicknamed it the “Bay of Standart.”

While anchored in the bay, the Imperial Family lived on board the Standart but every day they would get into small launches and head for their chosen island. The island was uninhabited, which offered them complete freedom to picnic, relax, and enjoy the out-of-doors without fear of being observed by prying eyes. It was also on this little island that a tennis court was built for the Imperial Family, tennis being a favourite of the entire Imperial household.

PHOTO: “the wreck of the Standart“, 1907

In 1907, an unfortunate incident took place that was later known as “the wreck of the Standart.” The incident occurred on a fine day in the Finnish fjords when all of a sudden the Imperial yacht was shaken by a jolt at a moment when there was not the slightest reason for expecting anything of the sort. Immediately afterwards the yacht was heeled over. It was impossible to tell what might be coming next. The Empress rushed over to her children. She found them all expect the Tsesarevich, who was nowhere to be seen. The anguish of the two parents may only be imagined; they were both beside themselves. It proved impossible to move the yacht. Motor-boats started off towards her from every direction.

The Emperor hurried up and down the yacht, and gave the order for everybody to go in search of the Tsesarevich. It was only after some time that he was discovered safe and sound. At the first alarm his diadka, Derevenko, took him in his arms and very sensibly rushed to the “hawse-pipes,” since they offered the best chance of saving the boy if the vessel should be a total loss.

The panic subsided, and all onboard descended into the boats. An inquiry followed. The whole responsibility fell on the pilot, an old Finnish sea-dog, who was in charge of the navigation of the vessel at the moment of the disaster. Charts were hurriedly consulted and showed beyond any possible question that the rock on which the yacht had grounded was entirely uncharted.

There remained His Majesty’s Flag Captain, who was responsible in principle for the safety of the Imperial Family. At the time of the accident the post was held by Admiral Nilov, the only master, under God, of the fate of the yacht.

He was in such a state of mind after the accident that the Tsar felt bound to go to him in his cabin. Entering without knocking, the Tsar saw the Admiral bending over a chart, with a revolver in his hand. The Emperor tried to calm him. He reminded the Admiral that under naval regulations he would have to go before a court of inquiry, but, the Tsar added, there could be not a shadow of doubt that he would be acquitted, for the accident was entirely unforeseeable. The Tsar carried away the Admiral’s revolver.

“There was an immediate conspiracy of silence at Court about the wreck of the Standart, recalls Mossolov. “Everybody knew that the slightest criticism of the officers of the yacht would have brought down punishment on the head of anyone who ventured to utter it.”

“The officers were chosen for special gifts; their task was to create an atmosphere of a fairytale, a charming idyll. It may be that in technical knowledge they were not absolutely up-to-date.”

Many a royal personage was made welcome on board the Standart, including Queen Alexandra, sister of the Dowager Empress Marie, accompanied by her husband, King Edward VII, King Gustav of Sweden and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

Despite the relaxed atmosphere of the excursions on the Standart, the safety and protection of the Imperial Family was still a top priority. The Tsar was so fearful of assassination that he had several cruisers accompany the yachts at all times. A warning, published in a Finnish newspaper in 1911, reads as follows;

“Notice to all mariners concerning seafaring regulations when the Russian Imperial Yacht is in Finnish waters: Fire will be opened on all commercial shipping and all yachts–whether motor, sail or steam-that approach the line of guard ships. All ships wishing to put to sea must seek permission not less than six hours in advance. Between sundown and sunrise, all ships underway may expect to be fired upon.”

Early in June 1914, as usual at this time of the year, the Tsar and his family went on a voyage to the Finnish fjords. The weather was hot, and stifling heat was interspersed with pouring rain. This year, Tsar Nicholas II was not to enjoy the picturesque landscape and relax with the serene joys of family life; since the end of June one piece of bad news had followed another. The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand–whom Nicholas and Alexandra had known very well–and the attempt on the life of Rasputin, disrupted the mental equilibrium of the Imperial couple. Within weeks, war was declared and the Standart, by order of the Tsar was placed in dry-dock, and he never again returned to the tranquility of the Finnish or Crimean coastline’s.

After the Revolution, the former Imperial Yacht was destined to be stripped of all its former elegance. In 1917, the Standart was renamed Vosemnadtsate Martza. In 1932, she was renamed Marti. Between then and December 1936, she was refitted as a drab, grey minelayer at the Marti Yard in Leningrad for service in the Soviet Navy. The heavy gun armament was fitted, as were mine rails. There were 4 rails on the mine deck, and 2 more on the upper deck. The mine deck could carry 580 mines, and 200 could be accommodated on the upper deck.

With the German invasion of Russia, the Marti laid some 3159 mines, and bombarded shore positions near Leningrad. On 23rd September 1941, Marti was damaged in an air attack at Kronstadt, but was quickly repaired to resume action on the 26th of the same month. In autumn 1941, some of her guns were used ashore at Leningrad.

After the war, Marti was refitted and converted to a training ship, renamed Oka. During the refit, the steam engines were replaced by diesels. She was scrapped at Tallinn in Estonia in 1963.

PHOTO: Nicholas II looking out to sea from the deck of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart

FURTHER READING + additional photos and videos:

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

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

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

© Paul Gilbert. 28 February 2023

Emperor Nicholas II and King Edward VII meet at Reval, 1908

PHOTO: Pyotr Stolypin, Queen Alexandra, Emperor Nicholas II, King Edward VII, Vladimir Frederiks, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, on the deck of the Russian Imperial Yacht.

On 9th June 1908, a meeting of the Russian Imperial and British Royal families took place in Reval [today Tallinn, Estonia]. The historic meeting marked the first visit of a reigning British monarch to the Russian Empire, although Edward had previously visited Russia as His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in 1866, when he attended the wedding of the future Russian Emperor Alexander III in St. Petersburg. The meeting at Reval in 1908, served as an important diplomatic purpose in the aftermath of the 1907 Anglo-Russian Entente, which settled colonial disputes and instigated the Triple Entente.

King Edward VII arrived on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert roadstead of the port of Reval. He was accompanied by his wife Queen Alexandra (sister of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna) and daughter of Princess Victoria of Great Britain. They were met by the Emperor, the Empress, their five children, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, and Queen Olga of the Hellenes (nee Russian Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinovna). In addition, the Emperor was accompanied by prominent members of his retinue, including Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, and the minister of the Imperial Court, Vladimir Frederiks.

On the morning of 9th June 1908, the hills and the wooded shores of the bay were crowded with thousands of well wishers. At 7 o’clock, the Imperial Train arrived in Revel from Peterhof. Crowds of children lined up to greet the Emperor and his family: “It is impossible to describe the delight of the children when the Imperial Family passed by. Their Majesties … were very touched,” the head of Nicholas II’s secret personal guard Alexander Spiridovich recalled. Passing the cheering crowds, the Imperial family proceeded from the train station to the port, where they boarded the Imperial Yacht Standart. Two other Russian Imperial Yachts were also in port, including the yacht of the Dowager Empress, the Polar Star and the smaller steam yacht Alexandria.

PHOTO: Nicholas dressed in the uniform of Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Scots Greys, on the deck of the Imperial Yacht Standart. His son and heir Tsesarevich Alexei is standing beside him. 9th June 1908

Prior to meeting the British king, Nicholas dressed in the uniform of Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Scots Greys. Nicholas II was appointed an honorary member of the distinguished regiment by Britain’s Queen Victoria in 1894, after he became engaged to Princess Alix of Hesse (Alexandra Feodorovna), who was Victoria’s granddaughter. King Edward, in turn, put on the uniform of the Russian Imperial Army, but it turned out to be clearly too small for him, but despite this, the king looked by no means impressive.

The British yacht Victoria and Albert anchored in the roadstead between the Standart and the Polar Star. The Imperial and Royal yachts were surrounded by British and Russian warships, also lying in the roadstead.

On board Nicholas greeted the British King by saying, “It is with feelings of the deepest satisfaction and pleasure that I welcome your Majesty and her Majesty the Queen to Russian waters. I trust that this meeting, while strengthening the many and strong ties which unite our Houses, will have the happy results of drawing our countries closer together, and of promoting and maintaining the peace of the world.”

An eyewitness recalled: “While the guests were very cordial towards one another, it was felt that Edward showed some condescension towards his nephew – he seemed to patronize him … he warmly hugged and kissed the Empress, and then carefully looked at the grand duchesses, who looked a little embarrassed. Then he went up to the heir [Alexei], took him in his arms and kissed him.”

The Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna was delighted to once again meet her beloved sister Alexandra, the British Queen, with whom she maintained a prolific correspondence throughout her life. A luncheon was served on the Dowager Empress’s yacht, the Polar Star, but no speeches were made at this affair. The menu was traditional for such occasions: Toulouse consommé, pâté, champagne lobster, truffle and grouse rolls, vol-au-vents, Nantes duck, vanilla peaches and frozen strawberry puree.

At five o’clock, tea was arranged on the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert. The Tsar arrived without his wife, since the Empress suffered from another attack of sciatica.

PHOTO: Imperial hosts and Royal guests gather for a state banquet in the dining hall of the Imperial Yacht Standart. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna can be seen in the center of the photograph, seated between King Edward VII [on the left], and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales [future King George V, on the right]

At 8 pm, the hosts and guests gathered together for a state banquet on the Imperial Yacht Standart. During dinner, the orchestra played works by Borodin, Wagner, Liszt, Grieg, Glazunov and Gounod, while the monarchs made official speeches, both in English. The King thanked the Emperor for the warm welcome, recalling his previous visit to Russia, when he was still Crown Prince, and expressed hope for the Anglo-Russian alliance to be strengthened: “I believe that this will serve to closer uniting the ties that unite the peoples of our two countries, and I am sure that this will contribute to a satisfactory peaceful settlement of certain important issues in the future. I am convinced that this will not only contribute to a closer rapprochement between our two countries, but will also help maintain peace throughout the world,” Edward VII said. The emperor answered in the same spirit.

Early in the evening, boatloads of German and Russian residents steamed about in the roadstead and serenaded the Imperial and Royal visitors with national folk songs. After the sun set and darkness set in, the warships were all illuminated, and the Imperial Yachts Polar Star and Alexandria displayed special electrical effects.

The following day, the Emperor and Empress received a delegation from Reval, after which they again received British guests at lunch, during which a misunderstanding occurred. The King turned to the Empress and joked about the terrible accent with which the Grand Duchesses spoke English. The criticism hurt the Empress, especially since the King himself spoke English with a clear German accent. But the conclusions were made and soon the Grand Duchesses were appointed a new English tutor – Charles Sidney Gibbes, who after the revolution would follow the Imperial Family into exile to Siberia.

The inevitable exchange of gifts took place that day. The King presented his nephew with a sword made by Wilkinson, on which were engraved the words: “To His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of All Russia from His Loving Uncle Edward, Revel 1908.” The Emperor, in turn, presented his uncle with a jade vase with cabochon moonstones and chalcedony.

PHOTO: King Edward VII and and Emperor Nicholas II, Reval. 1908

That evening, dinner was served on the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert. Shortly after the arrival of the Imperial couple, the King was faced with a dilemma. Who will accompany him to dinner: the Queen or the Dowager Empress? English protocol required that the Sovereign’s wife should precede the Dowager Empress, but this could offend Maria Feodorovna, who was also his wife’s sister. On the other hand, if the Empress was forced to take second place, she might well take the opportunity to leave. The King handled the situation with his usual aplomb. Taking both ladies by the arms, he declared: “Tonight I will enjoy the unique honour of inviting two Empresses to dinner.” After dinner, the King and his Imperial guests sat in comfortable chairs, coffee and liquors were served. There were also dances during which the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna danced with the British Admiral John Fisher (1841-1920). Around midnight, the Imperial couple, having said goodbye to the guests, left the Victoria and Albert and returned to the Standart.

At 3 o’clock in the morning, the Victoria and Albert weighed anchor and arrived in Port Victoria in Kent three days later.

CLICK on the IMAGE above to view an album of photographs of the meeting of the Russian Imperial and British Royal families at Reval, on 9th June 1908

© Paul Gilbert. 9 June 2022

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.


[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


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.


© Paul Gilbert. 15 December 2019

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


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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