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Naval strength of the Russian Empire
Material posted: Publication date: 16-11-2017

Traditionally, the term sea power is applied to countries such as USA and UK due to its geographical location was prone to creating a strong naval force, with which he projected his power and influence over some regions of the world. Opposite to these countries – France, Germany, etc. – are traditionally called continental, implying highest priority for their military forces in the land theater of hostilities. These countries normally referred and Russia. However, on closer scrutiny, the history of Russia, we may find that this statement is controversial. The Russian government has access to three seas and 2 oceans, and its territory includes a large number of rivers and lakes, so marine component played a major role in its history.

Conceptually, the term "sea power" was introduced only in the late XIX century thanks to the efforts of the two naval theorists of the American Alfred Thayer Mahan ("Influence of sea power on history 1660-1783", 1890) and the British Philip Howard Colomba ("Sea war, its basic principles and experience", 1891). Key elements of the theory were the following items:

  • to achieve domination, the state must establish control over Maritime space ("the power of the sea decides the fate of history" and "who owns the sea owns everything"[1]);
  • to establish control over them is possible through the total defeat of the main enemy forces at sea in the decisive battle; in the case when the enemy fleet was not entirely destroyed, the remnants of his forces to block its ports to ensure their victory;
  • in addition to the Navy of great significance state control over strategically important points (e.g. the Panama canal, etc.), the presence of naval bases and developed economy, which together will support the national Navy;
  • the denial of the importance of the war on enemy communications – the key is the destruction of the main enemy forces in a pitched battle, after which will be provided protection of national trade;
  • in the end, Mahan to reduce everything to the following formula - SP = N + MM + NB, i.e. sea power (Sea Power) = Navy (Navy) + merchant Navy (Merchant Marine) + naval bases (Naval Bases).

However, it would be incorrect to assume that prior to the development of the concept of "sea power", the European States not took a similar view in the context of its naval activities. In the XVII century French poet A. M. Lemierre said "Le trident de Neptune est le scepter du monde", i.e. "the Trident of Neptune is the sceptre of the world." The best example in this case would be the confrontation between England and Holland (1652-1674), England and France (1689-1815.), the fate of which was decided at sea and later led Britain for Maritime supremacy.

The theory of Mahan-Colombes had a serious impact on naval theorists and practitioners around the world – in France, Germany, Italy, and even Japan were ardent supporters and no less ardent opponents. But the concept of "sea power" was awarded in the Russian Empire. Just after the publication of the 1894 translation of the work of Colombe, in Russia, in the fields key publications – "Marine collection", a fierce debate on the role of naval forces in Russian history and the debate surrounding the need or lack of need for a strong Navy for the Empire.

The question of whether to include advanced naval fleet of Russia, despite its apparent absurdity, arose in the nineteenth century, in the Wake of the defeat of the Russian Empire in the Crimean war (1853-1856) and the subsequent dissolution of the black sea fleet, in the execution of the articles of the Treaty of Paris on the neutralization of the Black sea. The ground for such thoughts was founded in the reign of Emperor Alexander I, with the submission of the Minister of the naval forces of Admiral P. V. Chichagov, who believed the fleet "burdensome luxury role models", and the Russian people are not able to seamanship.[2]

However, in the Empire there were those who thought otherwise. Russian historian I. E. Ahrens in his "Sea power and history", analysing the Maritime activities of Russia, comes to the conclusion that Russia is a continental country, but at the same time, and sea power[3]. In 1907 the work of A. F. Ritika and A. L. Bubnova, under the auspices of the League of Fleet renewal[4], "Russia and its sea. A brief history of the sea perspective", which examined the history of the Russian state through the prism of Maritime history. The authors come to the conclusion that the Navy plays a great role to play in the collision of military-economic interests of world powers in the early twentieth century, Relying on Navy, Russia will always have the opportunity to participate in a "political concert" of great powers, because his actions may extend to any point of the globe.[5] In 1912 was published the work of a senior naval Lieutenant E. N. Kvashnin-Samarin "Maritime idea in the Russian land" in which the author, in the manner of Mahan, analyzed marine and commercial policy of the Novgorod Republic, the struggle for the heritage of the Livonian Order and domination on the Baltic sea, policies of individual tsars (Ivan IV, Boris Godunov and Alexei Mikhailovich), etc., and then came to the conclusion about the naturalness of the fleet for Russia, about its General historical necessity, and not just need it in a specific historical moment.[6]

In all these works viewed the main idea is that Russia needs a strong Navy. This was also proved by the history of the Russian state. In the XVIII century thanks to the presence of a strong Navy, Peter the great managed to destroy the Swedish power on the Baltic sea, and the appearance of the Russian squadron in the Black sea during the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774 ensured the domination of its waters and to facilitate the actions of the Russian armies fighting in the Crimea, the Caucasus and the Balkans. It is impossible not to mention directly diametrically episodes in Russia's history – the era of "Palace revolutions", when "the brainchild of Peter the great" forgotten, and the Russo-Turkish war of 1735-1739 years ended with modest success, because the army acted virtually alone, or the period of the Union of Napoleon and Alexander I (1807-1812). when in 1808-1809 the British ships dominated the Baltic sea, and Admiral D. N. Senyavin, even before the outbreak of hostilities, surrendered his squadron to the British in Lisbon. The mansion stood two conflicts – the Crimean war (1853-1856) and the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), in which the errors and General passivity of the Navy of the Russian Empire, all the initiative in the Maritime theater of hostilities was given to the enemy.

The wave opened the debate seriously began to deal with questions of naval policy and strategy, among which are such naval theorists as N. L. Klado, J. F. Volkovitskii, R. Zotov, S. O. Makarov, A.V. nemitz, V. Novitsky and M. A. Petrov. Among them stands out the Professor of the Nikolaev Naval Academy, who, after reading the writings of Mahan, commented on them as follows:

"In these chapters, there is no study about the nature of war, there is no formulated on the basis of this study the "principles", there is no study about the elements and types of environment, with the exception of the geographical element, no study about the moral and material elements of the conduct of the war, on the expediency of the battle, there is no doctrine of the plan (the plan), no classification operations, etc., in short, there is no rate strategy. And that is, given wrong and harmful tendency of the extraordinary influence on the conduct of strategic operations, the geographical element, and it is constantly necessary to remember when using this work as material for practical solutions in the field of strategy and to construct a theory of strategy."[7]

Examining the role and place of Maritime power in the history of Russia, in more detail, pay attention to how and how you used Navy in the major foreign policy events of the Russian state since Peter I, "the father of Russian Navy".

The time period

Foreign policy event

The value

The Reign Of Peter I

The second Azov campaign (1696)

The great Northern war (1700-1721)




The Russo-Persian war (1722-1723).




Spanish expedition (1725-1726).

Direct contribution to the capture of Azov.

The defeat of the Swedish Navy that put an end to the undivided domination of Sweden in the Baltic sea

Assist in the capture of fortresses on the Caspian coast and supply of ground forces

The first long-distance ocean expedition of the Russian fleet.

The era of Palace revolutions

The war of the Polish succession (1733-1735).





The Russo-Turkish war (1735-1739).


The Russo-Swedish war (1741-1743).


The seven years war (1756-1763)

The Russian squadron provided an additional supply to the troops besieging Danzig, and forced the French to withdraw their naval forces from the fortress.

Limited use of the rowing fleet in the siege of Azov in 1736.

Passive activity of the fleet and the avoidance of active hostilities.

Action against enemy communications, the support of coastal flanks of ground forces.

The reign of Catherine II

The Russo-Turkish war (1768-1774)






The Russo-Turkish war (1787-1791)



The Russo-Swedish war (1788-1790).

Part of the Azov flotilla in the capture of Crimea the establishment of the blockade of the Dardanelles and control over the Aegean sea and private sea landings in the territory of the Ottoman Empire.

Part of the Dnieper flotilla in the siege of Ochakov + control of the Black sea.

Fighting the Swedish fleet with varying degrees of success ended a serious defeat in the Second Rochensalmsky battle.

The Reign Of Paul I

The war of the Second coalition (1799-1802).

The capture of the Ionian Islands and help restore the power of the king of Naples.

The Reign Of Alexander I

The Anglo-Russian war (1807-1812).

The Russo-Turkish war (1806-1812)




The Russo-Swedish war (1808-1809)

Passive activity of the Russian fleet.

The establishment of the blockade of the Dardanelles and the entire Turkish coast + control of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The assistance of the land forces in the capture of the island of Gotland.

The Reign Of Nicholas I

The battle of Navarino (20 October 1827)


The Russo-Turkish war (1828-1829)


The Crimean war (1853-1856)

Promoting the victory of the Greek national liberation movement.

Domination in the Black sea and ensuring the blockade of the Turkish coast.

The defeat of the Turkish forces, but in the future the initiative of the sea passed to the enemy

The reign of Alexander II

The first American expedition (1863-1864)





The second American expedition (1876)


The Russo-Turkish war (1877-1878)


Providing diplomatic support to the government of A. Lincoln in the USA + a show of force on the Anglo-French trade routes.

Preparation to action on the British communications in the Pacific.

Assistance in the capture of several Turkish coastal FORTS (Batum, etc.) and crossing the Danube river

The reign of Alexander III and Nicholas II

The Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905)



The first world war (1914-1918)

The defeat of the main naval forces of Russia and transfer of the initiatives on the sea of Japan.

On the Baltic sea managed to keep the enemy within the Central mine-artillery position

On the Black sea managed to establish a blockade of the Turkish coast and to support the seaside flank of the land forces.


Thus, we can conclude that in almost all the major foreign operations of the Russian Empire, serious role and place occupied by the naval forces, and often the failure of the sea has a direct impact on the outcome of the conflict. Here you can select the war with Sweden in 1788-1790 gg., when defeat in the Second Rochensalmsky battle was nullified all the previous victories of the Russian fleet, and forced Petersburg to make peace on unfavorable conditions. Here you can select and the Crimean war in which the enemies of Russia could virtually unimpeded to supply its troops on the Crimean Peninsula, and also the war with Japan in which Japan received an opportunity to transport and supply their troops in Korea and Manchuria.

Awareness of the importance of the development of its Navy and keep it at a proper level too late called for the minds of the leaders of the Russian Empire. During the First world war, the key idea put forward by Mahanam, namely the decisive battle at sea, after which there would be a domination on him one way or another power, and did not happen. In fact, the only large-scale clash of fleets of the European powers – the German and the British at Jutland – tactically ended in victory for the Germans, but a strategic British victory, thwart the plans of Berlin to break the established London blockade. In Russia, the fleet is predominantly defensive function, the Bosphorus and the planned operation to seize Istanbul and was not implemented in the mind: the story of the revolution.

Based on the foregoing, you can deduce what real naval power has always been a major argument in international relations and in resolving inter-state disputes related to the use of the Maritime space. This is due primarily to the fact that only the Navy can conduct combat operations far from its territory in the World ocean, and in time of peace is in direct contact with the potential enemy. Moreover, the Navy is the most representative of the armed forces in the international arena. That is why today we can observe a "Renaissance naval forces" in Russia in the framework of the use of the Navy in the Syrian operations.


[1], Mahan A. T. Influence of sea power on history, 1660-1783. – M.: OOO "Publishing ACT"; SPb.: Terra Fantastica, 2002. – C. 4

[2]Arens, I. E. Sea power and history / E. I. Ahrens. - SPb.: B. I., 1912. - VIII, p. 52

[3]ibid., p. 53.

[4]a Public organization established in 1905 by major General of the Admiralty N. N. By beklemishevi set itself the task to find out the value of her Maritime power, to distribute in her sea of knowledge, and to assist the government in the creation and organization of Maritime forces.

[5]Rittich A. F., Bubnov, A. L., Russia and its sea. A brief history of Russia from the naval point of view. SPb., 1907, p. 138

[6]Kvashnin-Samarin, E. N. The Maritime idea in the Russian land. History of Petrine Russia from the naval point of view. / St. Leith. E. N. Kvashnin-Samarin. - SPb.: The Naval General Staff, 1912. - C. 5

[7]Dotsenko, V. D. founder of the theory of sea power // Mahan A. T. Influence of sea power on history, 1660-1783. – M.: OOO "Publishing ACT"; SPb.: Terra Fantastica, 2002. – C. 605

Nikulin, M. A.

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