Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President Transmitted to Congress December 5, 1905
Ambassador Meyer to the Secretary of State.
St. Petersburg , July 6, 1905 .
Sir: I have the honor to hand you herewith the official account of the troubles at Odessa and the mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin. It appears that the original version given out by the press that the officer shot down a sailor on account of complaining of the food is not correct. On Tuesday, June 27, the crew of the ship, on the ground that the meat brought by the torpedo boat from Odessa was of bad quality, refused to take their food. On the order of the commander the crew was assembled on the quarterdeck, where the first officer asked those who took no part in the protest to step to one side. This was done by the majority of the crew, and the first officer commenced to write the names of the malcontents. Taking advantage of this moment, the minority seized the guns and began to load them with cartridges. The order to fire on the mutineers, which was given by the first officer, was not carried out, and this same officer, seizing a gun from the nearest man, fired, wounding mortally one of the sailors. Then the mutineers fired, killing the officers, hunting [Page 770] them all over the ship, even firing on those who had thrown themselves into the water.
Later on, when the fleet arrived from Sebastopol, while they were unwilling to join the Potemkin, they refused to fire upon their comrades on the mutinous ship. The Potemkin is still roaming about the Black Sea, having touched at the port of Constance in Roumania, also at Feodocia in Russia, and is now reported again to be off Odessa. There is no doubt that she is being controlled by a revolutionary committee of twenty, who are reported to have gone on board in the harbor of Odessa.
I have, etc.,
Report on the troubles at Odessa, from Official Messenger, July 21–24, 1905.
The fermentation among the workmen of the city of Odessa and in other localities of that district, which has been noticeable for some time, was crowned on June 25 by a meeting of delegates elected from various mills and factories with the object of deciding the question of calling a general strike. Among these delegates, according to information in the hands of the police, were members of the local committee of the social-revolutionary party, in consequence of which all the participants of the meeting were subjected to arrest, and on one of them was found a letter from a member of the revolutionary fighting organization, named Gilerovich, in which was communicated the intention to kill one of the local police commissioners, named in the letter. And on the following morning two individuals were arrested near the police station, one of whom, Monis, handed the other two revolvers and the sentence of death of the commissioner. On June 27 Margulis, a social-revolutionary, was arrested in the street, and in his lodgings were found fourteen revolvers with cartridges; and in the evening of the same day one Mordka Tzipkin, known to the police, being arrested by a policeman while he was carrying a bomb which he intended to throw at the troops stationed on the Cathedral Place, threw the bomb to the ground and was killed, together with the policeman who was trying to arrest him.
Discontented with the arrests which were made, the workmen, on June 26, began to assemble in a crowd near the Gen factory, and, in reply to the demands of a police commissioner that they should disperse, they threw stones. When the commander of a Cossack sotnya also addressed the workmen with the same request, they knocked him off his horse with stones and injured him. The Cossack officer warned the crowd many times that after three signals of the cornet he would give the order to fire. However, the crowd continued its tumult, and after the second signal shots even began to be fired from the roofs of neighboring houses. Then, at the order of the commander of the sotnya, twelve Cossacks on foot fired a volley into the crowd, killing two workmen and wounding one. During the day crowds of workmen marched about the city, and in various places in the city disorders took place intermittently, accompanied in some cases by forcible stopping of work in the factories, the building of barricades in the streets, turning over street cars, and firing on the police, who were obliged to reply in the same manner. Five policemen were wounded. Toward evening of the same day the striking workmen began to show greater audacity. They occupied at two points in the city the railroad line, extinguished the fires on four locomotives, held up a passenger train, driving out the passengers and breaking the windows in the cars. At night the crowd dispersed, and the railroad lines were occupied by two companies of soldiers. During these two days the troops, although they were challenged, did not resort to the use of arms, and order was preserved by the police, Cossacks, and military patrols.
Together with the movement among the inhabitants of the city, a peasant movement has been noticeable spreading in the Odessa district. However, there has as yet been no personal violence or outrage of the property of landowners. The disorders in the villages consist of demanding exorbitant increases in wages, that only local agricultural workmen be employed, and in forcibly removing those workmen who do not belong to the locality. However, as in Odessa itself, the excitement in the district is kept up by outside influences.
The increased excitement among the working population of the city of Odessa, which became an open uprising on June 28, accompanied with murders, pillage, and arson, facilitated the following events:[Page 771]
At 4 o’clock in the morning of June 28 the battle ship Knyaz Potemkin-Tavricheski, of the Black Sea fleet, steamed into the harbor of Odessa from the Bay of Tender, and a boat came off from her bearing the body of a dead sailor. The sailors in the boat laid the body on the wharf, with a slip of paper pinned on the breast stating that sailor Omelchuk had been killed by an officer for having expressed his discontent with the food; that all the officers of the battle ship had been killed by the crew, and that the battle ship would fire on the city if the administration of the port should make any attempt to take away the body or to approach the ship. Thousands of workmen began to move from the city to the place where the body was laid, and their excitement steadily grew, especially under the impression produced by fiery speeches made beside the corpse by agitators, who, from a specially arranged platform, spoke to the crowd of the necessity of seizing the present occasion to attain the objects for which the revolutionaries were striving. When the assistant procurator of the Odessa district circuit and the chief of the port came in a small boat to verify the fact of the murder and take testimony, they were met by threats and abuse from the sailors and forced to return.
According to statements made by one of the officers of the ship who was saved and by a sailor who jumped overboard in the night and swam ashore, the happenings on board the Knyaz Potemkin are outlined as follows:
The battle ship left Sebastopol on Sunday, June 25, under the command of Captain Golikoff, for Tender Bay for gun practice, together with torpedo boat No. 267, under Lieut. Klodt von Jurgensburg. On Tuesday, June 27, the crew of the ship, on the ground that the meat brought by the torpedo boat from Odessa was of bad quality, refused to take their food.
At the order of the commander, the crew was assembled on the quarter deck, where the first officer, Captain Gilyarkovsky, asked those of the crew who did not refuse their food, and therefore took no part in the protest, to step out in front. The majority of the crew stepped out, and the first officer began to write the names of the malcontents forming the minority. Taking advantage of this moment, the latter seized guns from a pyramid and began to load them with the cartridges they had on them. The order to fire on the mutineers, which was given by the first officer to the watch, was not carried out, and the officer, seizing a gun from the nearest man on watch, fired two or three shots at one of the sailors, wounding him mortally. Then the mutineers began to fire volleys at the officers, hunting them out all over the ship. In this way the commander of the ship was killed, along with the others. Some of the officers threw themselves overboard, but here, too, they were overtaken by death, since, according to witnesses, they were fired on in the water, and even a 47-millimeter gun was used.
Besides the commander of the ship, the first officer, Gilyarkovsky, Lieutenants Neupopoeff and Tun, Midshipman Grogorieff, Ensign Liventzoff, Doctor Smirnoff, and about 30 sailors were murdered. The remainder, including the commander of the torpedo boat, upon which the battle ship fired volleys, were terrorized by the mutineers, who arrested the officers still remaining alive.
A committee was formed on the battle ship, composed of 20 sailors, who took over the command of the ship and decided to go to Odessa, in the offing of which they arrived on the evening of June 27, and the next morning they sent off a boat with the corpse of the sailor. On the 29th the port steamer Vyecha entered the harbor of Odessa, and at a signal from the Potemkin cast anchor under the stern of the battle ship. Knowing nothing of the mutiny, the commander of the Vyecha went on board the Potemkin to present his report to the commander, as being the first officer in the port. On arriving on board the battle ship, the commander of the Vyecha was disarmed and forced, together with his other officers, to go ashore. In Odessa the Knyaz Potemkin seized two coal steamers, private property, and which they had loaded with the help of about 300 workmen of the port. At the same time the mutinied crew forced all the workmen in the port to stop work, as well as those on private steamers, and in a short time the normal activity of the port ceased, and it fell completely into the hands of the insurgents.
The mutiny on the ship of war gave the revolutionaries a favorable opportunity to agitate among the masses, and they successfully exploited this incident to incite further disorders in Odessa. Not confining themselves to incendiary speeches, the agitators going on board the battle ship in boats assured the mutineers that the troops of the whole Odessa garrison had laid down their arms and that all the ships of the Black Sea fleet had gone over to the Knyaz Potemkin. According to an eyewitness, two students took an especially active part in the discussions which took place in the admiralty.
The results of the inciting of the port workmen by the anarchists, on the one hand, and of the mutinied crew on the other, were not long in making themselves evident. Although by this time the authority of the city had been transferred to the commander of the troops of the Odessa district, it was impossible to restrain the thousands of workmen in the port, as, if the troops had resorted to arms, they would have been subjected to a raking fire from the guns of the battle ship. The port was thus in the hands of the mob, who began to plunder [Page 772] everything without exception—warehouses, private depots, harbor buildings, steamers—throwing goods into the sea, intoxicating themselves with wine from demolished wine kegs. With the approach of darkness incendiarism began, which soon spread to a terrible extent. Almost the whole port district was burned to the ground, as the crowd did not allow the firemen to extinguish it. According to the reports of the local authorities, two railroad depots were destroyed, as well as the warehouses of the Russian Steamship and Trading Company, the agency and warehouse of the Danube Steamship Company, a sleeper and lumber warehouse on the Platonovsky pier, an electric plant, the Odessa port station, the administration of the port captain, also rolling stock, and many other buildings. Many of the rioters, dead drunk, are said to have perished in the flames. At the same time the agitators endeavored to direct the mob, which had lost all reason, against the troops and police. Several times during the night the crowd, firing revolvers, advanced toward the troops, but each time dispersed at a volley from the latter. Six soldiers were wounded by the explosion of a shell and one killed. The exact number of killed and wounded rioters has not yet been ascertained, but it is several hundred men. Exact information will be published later.
On the following day, June 29, by an order from the Emperor, in the city and district of Odessa martial law was declared, the city was surrounded on all sides by a ring of troops, and the disorders ceased. The losses from damage done to property by the mob, excited by the revolutionaries, amounts to millions. The representatives of foreign powers did not suffer, as, by order of the commander of troops of the Odessa district, each of the eighteen foreign consulates in the city of Odessa was guarded by a special detachment.
At 7 o’clock in the evening, June 29, the battle ship Knyaz Potemkin-Tavrichesky, after having sent ashore nine of the captured officers, retired half a mile to the west of its original anchorage and fired three blank shells (the salute fired, according to the statutes, when a sailor is buried), and then two shots which destroyed the roof and a part of the walls of a house on Nejinsky street, but injured no one. The next day, June 30, at 7 o’clock in the morning, the Black Sea fleet, under the flag of the eldest flag officer, consisting of four battle ships and five armored torpedo boats, arrived at Odessa. The fleet, in line of battle, advanced toward the docks, while the Knyaz Potemkin went out to meet them, with decks cleared for action. When the Potemkin ranged alongside the battle ship George the Victorious, the crew of the latter met them with an ovation, and when the fleet turned to go back at the order of the admiral, the crew of the George rushed to the bridge and prevented the ship from maneuvering. Then a boat was let down from the George, in which were placed the commander of the ship and all her officers, after being disarmed, and conducted ashore, with the exception of Lieutenant Grigorkoff, who committed suicide. During this about 30 persons in civil costume were observed on the deck of the Potemkin. Before the discussion between the officers and the mutinied crew was finished torpedo boat No. 267 brought on board the George the Victorious, according to statements of the latter’s crew, Hebrew students and sailors from the Potemkin, who took command of the ship and advised the men to throw the officers overboard, which the latter refused to do. At the suggestion of revolutionaries who appeared, a commission of 20 men was appointed to take charge of the ship, while the boatswain, evidently against his will, was made commander. However, differences arose among the crew of the George the Victorious, and it was only under the influence of agitators who came on board that a part of the sailors insisted on following the Knyaz Potemkin. On the arrival of the two battle ships in the harbor of Odessa the Potemkin even threatened to bombard the George the Victorious with her heavy guns if she should start for Sebastopol to join the fleet. Finally, not submitting to the revolutionaries, a part of the crew of the George the Victorious gained the upper hand, and when at 4 o’clock in the afternoon of July 1 both ships weighed anchor, the latter entered Odessa port at full speed, and the outsiders who were on board entered a boat and went on board the Kynaz Potemkin, which went to sea with them, heading in a southwesterly direction.
The crew of the George the Victorious at once sent the boatswain and some sailors to the commander of the troops of Odessa district to declare their submission and with the request that the staff of officers be returned to the ship. General Karangozoff, commander of troops, who was ordered on board the battleship, was met by the crew, drawn up on the quarterdeck, and on July 2 General Kakhanoff sent in a report to His Majesty that the crew of the George the Victorious expressing their complete repentance for their audacious actions, place their hopes in His Majesty’s mercy; the crew, having delivered up 67 of the most guilty, took their oath of allegiance with tears of repentance. After this the commander and the officers of the George the Victorious again took up their duties.
According to a telegram sent by Vice-Admiral Kriger to the director of the navy department, on board the transport Prut, when leaving Tender, the crew mutinied, seized the commander and officers, killing Ensign Nestertzeff and Boatswain Kozlitin. The Prut arrived at Sebastopol, where the crew repented and liberated the commander and officers and asked them to take command over them. The Prut was ordered to Kamysheff Bay, where investigations will be made.
The Knyaz Potemkin, after leaving Odessa, put in to Constance, in Roumania, together with the torpedo boat No. 267, the crews still in full mutiny. On arriving at the port the [Page 773] ship fired a salute, which was not replied to. The commander of the port immediately went on board the battleship, on which he found 600 sailors and not one officer. The crew declared themselves insurgents and handed the commander of the port a letter giving the reasons for the uprising, requesting that they be allowed to take provisions and coal for their further journey, which was refused them. The Roumanian authorities proposed to the sailors to quit the ship and the guns and hand them over in complete order to the Roumanian authorities, informing them that they would only under these conditions agree to consider them as deserters, and not subject to extradition. After consulting together the crew refused these conditions, stating that they would go to the Russian coast for coal and provisions. However, in the morning the torpedo boat made an attempt to enter the port, but was stopped by two shots from a Roumanian cruiser. On the same day at 1 o’clock in the afternoon the battleship Knyaz Potemkin, taking the torpedo boat in tow, weighed anchor and departed in the direction of Batum.
According to the latest telegrams the Potemkin was last seen at Feodocia and is now on her way to Odessa again. It is not stated whether the torpedo boat is with her. The Black Sea fleet has gone to Kerch. Fears are entertained that the Potemkin will continue to sail about the Black Sea and force undefended ports to furnish her with coal and provisions, creating at the same time riots like that at Odessa. It is feared that the English fleet may enter the Black Sea to subdue the mutineers.