RPN
                 FROM THE HISTORY OF RUSSIA’S PACIFIC FLEET

DEFENSE OF PETROPAVLOVSK

 

From the history of fleet
    Lieutenant-Captain Izylmetiev, commander of the frigate “Aurora ” stood on the deck of his vessel and tookin ata glance the rapidly darkening roadstead of the Peruvian port of Caliaonot far from Lima, the nation’s capital. He was not in the best ofmoods,and the reasons were several: “Aurora’s” shabby state(the frigate hadmade a long way from Plymouth, England, via the stormy Atlanticto Peru),and the unpleasant unexpectancy to see the Anglo-French squadronon theroadstead, and the fear that that “rendezvous” would provefatal for the“Aurora”.
   It was April 1854. Already for over halfa year, Russia was at war with Turkey, whom Britain and France supportedand encouraged in every way. The Russian Government and Russian naval personnel,for that matter, had no doubts that the British and French would imminentlyattackRussia themselves. And this happened. After the rout and actualdestructionby the Russians of the Turkish fleet in the Battle of Sinopon November 18,1853, the situation on the Crimean theatre of militaryoperations became abruptly complicated for the Turks. So, in April 1854Britain and France rushed tothe aid of Turkey and declared war on Russia.
      When the “Aurora” arrivedin Peru, the news had not yet reached Lima. But the British and French, on the one hand, and Russian sailors on the other, justly assumed thatthe news of outbreak of hostilities would reach Caliao imminently. Thatis why Isylmetiev and the frigate’s entire crew did everything possibletoleave Peru as soon as possible before the news broke. Repair work onthe “Aurora” continued unabated even at night, and even became more intensive.In several days, the crew had to perform so much work that would underdifferent circumstances require at least one month. Meanwhile, tower mastmenfrom British and French vessels watched “Aurora” from spyglasses so as“not to miss some Russian guile”. British Rear-Admiral Davis Price andFrench Rear-Admiral Fevrier de Point tried to control the actions of “Aurora’s” crewmen by paying two “friendly visits” as it were on board the Russianfrigate to cast an experienced glance at her cabins and tackle tofigureout whether the Russians would need much time for re-pairs.
  But, when the British and French “friends” approachedthe “Aurora”, Isylmetiev would order the boatswainto put the deck in disorderby lowering the whip so that the end would hangloose, to spread the oldperforated canvas (the sail allegedly under repair),and to carelesslythrow about the tools. But first and foremost to watch thatthe sailorswould go about their work unhurriedly. The British and Frenchadmiralswould leave the frigate seemingly at ease that the Russians stillhavemountains of work to do.
    But de Point and particularly Pricewere not such simpletons after all. Awaiting from day to day the dispatchon the start of hostilities between their countries and Russia, they stilldecided to attack the “Aurora” in the very year future, on Wednesday, April14, 1854.
    The day before, Isylmetiev thoroughlyinspected the warship and remained satisfied: his men had done everythingnecessaryand what they could cope with. The masts and sails were fixed,the guy ropesreplaced, and the grooves in the body fully caulked. On the eveningof the same day, he visited the British flagman, the fifty-cannonfrigate“President”. Price was politesse personified. Isylmetiev andhisofficers responded in kind. Four hours later, on the night of the 13thand 14th of April, under the cover of dark and the pre-sunrise fog, the“Aurora”raised anchor and, first by means of boat oars and later, havinghoisted hersails, to sail into the open Pacific. At sunrise, the roadsteaddisappearedbeyond the horizon, and the men on the Russian frigate sawonly the duskyline of the Andes and the sun rising above them. The “Aurora”set course to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski.
   At the end of May 1854, the news of thewar with Britain and France finally reached Petropavlovsk. Major-GeneralV. S. Zavoiko, military governor of Kamchatka and Commandant of Petropavlovsknaval base, received the official report from Russia’s Consul General inthe United States in the middle of June. True, back in March 1854, an Americanwhaling boat delivered to the Governor a friendly letter from KameameaIII, King of the Hawaiian Islands, warning him that has authentic informationof a possible attack in summer on Petropavlovsk by the British and French.
   So, without losing time, Zavoiko immediately began erecting coastal fortifications in Kamchatka to prepare for defense by the peninsula’s small garrison. The resources involved were catastrophically meager, and the work proceeded at a very slow pace. When at noon of June20, 1954 the corvette “Olivunts” delivered to Petropavlovsk the instructions of Muraviov-Amursky, Siberian governor-general, on urgent preparation ofthe port for defense, Zavoiko decided to turn for help to the city’s population, the crews of naval ships and the indigenous population.

      He said: “I do hopethat not only the officers, soldiers and sailors, but residents in case of attack by the enemy would not remain idle viewers of the battle, butwould be prepared with all their vigor, without sparing their life, tooppose the enemy and inflict him every possible damage. I remain firmlyresolved, nomatter how numerous the enemy may be, that we would do everythingin our mightto defend the port and honor of Russian arms, and would fightto the lastdrop of blood: I am convinced that the flag of the port ofPetropavlovsk wouldin any event witness the feats and honor of Russianvalor.”

       And the residents of Petropavlovsk and surrounding settlements and nomad encampments, aswell as crews of naval vessels, enthusiastically responded to Zavoiko’sappeal. Most of them took part in building fortifications, and a specialvolunteer detachment was formed to incorporate besides civil servants andpeasants sharpshooter hunters from among local Itelmen (Kamchatka residents).

    In those sunny but alarming days of June, the frigate “Aurora” sailed into Avacha Bay. It completed the entirepassage via three oceans in then record speed to be at sea only 66 days.The trip from Peru was especially quick, when Isylmetiev, havingoutwittedthe British and French, took away the “Aurora” fromCaliao to Petropavlovsk.Despite the storms that obstructed the way almostevery mile, and courageouslyfighting the scurvy that had knocked down numeroussailors on the way,the crew arrived in Kamchatka just in time. Its threehundred members andforty-four cannons considerably strengthened the Petropavlovskgarrison.
     On July 24, the transport “Dvina” delivered from Petropavlovsk to De Castri Bay 350 soldiers from the Siberian line battalion, two bombing cannons, caliber 32 kg, and fourteen cannons, caliber 36 lb.  Lieutenant K. Mrovinsky, a military engineer, arrived on board the “Dvina” to subsequently head the construction of coastal batteriesin Petropavlovsk port. By the end of July, the port garrison together withship crews numbered 920 men (41 officers, 476 soldiers, 349sailors, 18Russian volunteers and 36 indigenous Kamchatka residents). Thecity’s entirepopulation of Petropavlovsk and its vicinities (about1,600 people) alsotook part in preparing the defense.
      The work for constructingseven shore batteries and establishing the cannons continued for almosttwo months round the clock. Petropavlovsk’s defenders erected fortifications,cut platforms in cliffs for the batteries unassailable to sea landings,removed cannons from warships, dragged them manually over steep hill slopesand established them on shore. The ports of frigate “Aurora” and militarytransport “Dvina” were anchored facing the harbor outlet. Again, the port cannons were removed from the ships to reinforce the coastal batteries,and the harbor inlet was blocked with a floating barrier.
      The batteries encompassedPetropavlovsk like a horseshoe. In its right end, in the rocky extremityof Mt. Signalnaya, there was a battery that defended the entrance to theinterior roadstead.Also to the right, on the isthmus between Mt. Signalnayaand Nikolaevskaya,another battery was installed. At the northern end ofMt. Nikolskaya, on thevery shore, a battery was put up to prevent an enemylanding in the rear andpossible attempts to capture the port from thenorth. Yet one more batterywas erected on the “horseshoe” bend. It wasdesigned to hold underfire the defile and road between Mt. Nikolskayaand Mt. Kultushkin lake incase the enemy would succeed in suppressingthe resistance of the coastalbattery. Next were three batteries that weresituated in a rare chain to theleft along the mother coast opposite theisthmus, in the base of the sandbar.

      At noon August 17, 1854, beacon advance posts discovered a squadron of six warships. An alarm signal sounded in Petropavlovsk, and the city’s defenders too up their positions in tense observation. A three-mast steamship separated from the squadronand began fathoming depths at approaches to the signal mountain and harborentrance. When a boat started from the port, the steamship retreated atfull speed.On the morning of August 18, the squadron entered Avacha Bay.The Britishships included the frigate “President” (52 cannons), the frigate“Pike” (44 cannons) and the steamship “Virago” (10cannons), and the Frenchvessels the 60-cannon frigate “La Forte”,the 32-cannon corvette “Euridica”and the 18-cannon “Obligado”.British Rear-Admiral Price was in commandof the combined squadron, and FrenchRear-Admiral De Point in command ofthe French detachment. The squadron hada total of 216 cannons, and itspersonnel numbered 2,600 officers and men.

    Tension on shore grew to thelimit. A sea battle was imminen.

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

Tel. (7-4232) 26-11-15 (Office)
       (7-4232) 46-26-42(Home).

Regional  Portal "Russia's Maritime Province"

webmaster@fegi.ru