RPN
FROM THE HISTORY OF RUSSIA’S PACIFIC NAVY

PRECURSORS

From the history of navy
    If you try to tell the storyof Russia’s Pacific Navy sufficiently fully and impartially, you should probably start with events dating back to almost 400 years ago, specifically to the first half of the 17th century, when Russians began emerging onthe shores of the Pacific to regularly study and explore them. Russianarchives, notably the Russian National Archive for Ancient Acts (RNAAA)contain documents confirming the reality of emergence of Russian discovererson the Pacific as early as in 1639-1641.

       In spring 1639, a detachment led by Ivan Yurievich Moskvitin, a Cossack from Tomsk, started from Butalsk jail (in Aldan, Siberia) eastward. The group reached the estuary of River Ulia approximately in August-September 1639 to found the firstRussian winter camp on the Okhotsk Sea coast.  From there, the Cossacksbegan their two sea voyages.  Moskvitin’s reports written in Tomskon September 28, 1645 informed that twenty of his men had sailed from theestuary of Ulia River to enter Okhota River on September 11, 1639. Thatday marked the beginning of Russian navigation in the Pacific.
     The voyage showed its participants that the boats they normally used were no good for overcoming severe andturbulent waters. Special sea vessels were needed. So during their lengthywinter stay on the Ulia, Moskvitin’s Cossacks built two special rafts,each 17 m long. These rafts are regarded unique “cradles of Russian shipbuilding in the Pacific”, the cradles of Russia’s Pacific Navy. In spring 1640,Moskvitin’s Cossacks made their second voyage on those rafts to visit ShantarIslands not far from the estuary of the Amur and northwest coast of Sakhalin.

       Vassily Danilovich Poyarkov was the next famous Russian discoverer who departed from Yakutsk for the Pacific. His expedition included 133 members. This is what Mikula Timofeev, one of his men, reported from Yakutsk: “From the estuary of theAmur we sailed by sea till River Ulia for twelve weeks. It took so longbecause we bypassed every little inlet, whereas if we went straight from the Amur estuary till Ulia, it would have taken us about thirty days infine sailing weather.”

       In those years, Russian discoverers also sailed “towards the sun” to the Pacific via the Northernsea route. In September 1648, Semen Ivanovich Dezhnev, an audacious Cossack,sailed on rafts from the Kolyma estuary with his detachment to discover the “Big Stone Nose” (now Cape Dezhnev) and pass the straight separatingAsia from America. That was a great geographic discovery.

       Some Poyarkov team members, having waited at Moskvitin’s camp for the cold weather and snowstormsto pass, finally joined another expedition of conquerors of the Arctic’sdeserted spaces led by Semen Andreevich Shelkovnikov. The latter was entrustedin 1647 to establish on Okhota River the first Russian jail, which he did.Thus, the efforts of “Russian Columbuses” resulted in the founding of Okhotsk,the first Russian naval port and town on the Pacific. For over a centuryit was the chief and only Russian naval port on the Pacific. Located ona seacoast unprotected from winds, Okhotsk subsequently ceded its roleof precursor of the Russian Pacific Navy to Petropavlovsk-on-Kamchatka, later to Nikolaevsk-on-the-Amur and finally to Vladivostok.

       However, in no way does this belittle the significance of Okhotsk, where in 1713 in accordwith Peter the Great’s edict experienced shipbuilders from Archangel arrived.  There, on Kukhtuya River near Okhotsk, Kirill Plotnitsky with aides IvanKargopoltsev and Bartholomew Fedorov built and launched the keelboat “Vostok” designed after similar North Sea vessels. This was the very first sea vessel built by
Russians on the Pacific, the harbinger of the futurenavy. A little later, this time in line with an edict by Empress Anna Ioanovna, the Okhotsk naval flotilla and its base were founded in Okhotsk. It tookanother ten years to build a naval base and city there The port initiallyhad five barracks, six ship stores, a shipyard and 33 residential buildings.

      In spring 1735, Okhotsk and its vicinities were unusually full of people. The taiga resounded with the ringing of saws and axes, and carts loaded with timber and other shipbuilding materials kept coming to seashore. You could see among the sailors andjoiners a dark-haired stocky man, confidently and calmly giving orders.That was Commodore Vitus Bering, the leaderof the Great Northern Expedition organized by the Russian Government. InJune 1740, two packet boats, the St. Peter andSt. Paul, built by Makar Rogachev and Andrey Kozmin, were launched.Those were fourteen-cannon brigs, single-deck two-mast ships with capacityof approximately 380 tons each. A voyage full of hardships, dangers anddiscoveries was in store for them.

A.V. BORODIN, Leading Editor, Institute of History,Archeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East, F. E. Branch,Russian Academy of Sciences, Colonel (Retired), Pacific Navy veteran.

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