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Sunday Battleship Blogging:Sevastopol

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The annihilation of the Baltic Fleet at Tsushima left Russia short of battleships. Although the Tsar was successfully persuaded not to dispatch the Black Sea Fleet to Asia, the two major Russian fleets had historically been distinct units, and transfers between them were rare. The construction of Dreadnought rendered all remaining Russian battleships obsolete anyway, so the Russians were forced to rebuild from scratch. Russia commissioned battleship designs from Italy and France, and finally settled on what amounted to a hybrid, although the new design resembled the Italian Dante Alighieri more than any other ship.

Sevastopol was laid down in 1909, but because of inefficiency and corruption at Russian naval yards, was not completed until November of 1914. She carried 12 12″ guns in four triple turrets, not superfiring. This meant that she had a 12 gun broadside but only a 3 gun end-on fire, a serious design flaw. Sevastopol displaced 24000 tons and could make 23.5 knots. The speed was the only plus element of the design, as Sevastopol had relatively light armor. It should be noted that this was an extremely poor design choice for a ship likely to operate in the Baltic Sea. There is no question that Sevastopol and her sisters were hopelessly outclassed by foreign competition upon completion. The British Iron Duke, the American New York, the Chilean/British Canada, the Austrian Viribus Unitis, the Japanese Kongo, and the German Konig were all completed prior to Sevastopol, and were all notably superior in design and performance. The design also failed aesthetically; Sevastopol and her sisters were probably the ugliest battleships ever built.

Adding to the Russian difficulties were problems of geography. The Russian Baltic Fleet was hemmed in by the far superior German High Seas Fleet, and consequently rarely left port. Sevastopol and her three sisters rusted in Petrograd for most of the war. The unstable political situation in Russia didn’t help, as maintenance and morale suffered. Sevastopol was laid up in late 1918, and not recommissioned until 1923. While in reserve, she was renamed Parizhskaya Kommuna (Paris Commune) in a victory of ideology over nationalism. After an overhaul, Parizhskaya Kommuna was returned to service. Because all of the dreadnoughts of the Black Sea Fleet had been sunk or captured during World War I and the Civil War, and because the Soviet state lacked the fiscal capacity to rebuild the Fleet, it was eventually decided to dispatch Parizhskaya Kommuna to the Crimea. After a refit in early 1929, PK embarked for Sevastopol.

The journey did not go well. The refit included a new bow design that did not perform well in heavy seas. PK nearly sank during a storm in the Bay of Biscay, and had to put into Brest for repairs. The Soviet authorities were embarrassed by the incident, and mandated that the repairs be conducted only by the crew. I suspect it also likely that the crew was mildly embarrassed to be sailing a ship named “Paris Commune” into a French port. PK put back to sea three days later, and almost sank again. Upon her return to Brest, adequate repairs were performed by French workers. PK arrived in Sevastopol in January of 1930.

In the Black Sea, PK was a big fish in a small pond. The only other capital ship in the area was the Turkish Yavuz, and PK probably could have stood her own against the aging German battlecruiser. PK was modernized between 1934 and 1938, and played an active role in World War II, operating against German positions in the Crimea and keeping the tiny Romanian Navy in check. In 1943 the Soviets noticed that Paris Commune was a ridiculous name for a Russian battleship operating in the Black Sea, and changed her name back to Sevastopol. The Germans had air superiority over the Black Sea for a time, and Sevastopol suffered bombing damage during the course of the war. After the war Sevastopol became a training ship, and was finally scrapped in 1957.

Trivia: What was the last veteran battleship of World War I sold for scrap by the Royal Navy, and why was she last?

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