Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ship of many names: Russian Cruiser Pamiat Merkuria/Komintern

The Khobi River is a moderate-sized body of water that winds its way through the rustic countryside of the nation of Georgia. The river ends its journey at the eastern end of the Black Sea. Sitting on the south side of river mouth is an unattractive oil depot, constructed around 2006. Otherwise, the coast is pretty sparse and empty. Lying in shallow water, not far from the oil depot is the rusted hulk of a ship. Unbeknownst to perhaps most visitors, this ship was witness to some critical events in the history of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. 
The wreck of the cruiser Pamiat Merkuria/Komintern at the mouth of the Khobi River.
In the early 1900s, the Russian Navy began construction of four protected cruisers of the Bogatyr-class. The ships were pretty typical of the times, 439 feet/134 meters in length, and carrying twelve six-inch guns. One of the ships was the Pamiat Merkuria, which translated to 'Memory of Mercury'. She is not to be mistaken for an earlier, unprotected cruiser by the same name. But her actual naming requires a bit of explanation.

Komintern sometime between 1924 and 1935.
She was laid down as Kagul in 1900 at Nikolayev Shipyard, in the Black Sea city of Mikolayev. She had a  sister ship named Ochakov. But both of their names were changed during construction that has led to some confusion. Kagul became Pamiat Merkuria, and Ochakov becoming Kagul. There is some conflicting information as to when Pamiat Merkuria entered service. Several online sites state she came into service in 1905, but Conway's states she was completed in 1907. Wikipedia's page on Bogatyr-class cruisers indicates there was a mutiny during the 1905 Revolution that delayed the completion of Pamiat Merkuria. Whether this mutiny was on the ship or at the shipyard is not clear. But the 1905 Revolution was a pivotal event in Russian History, and laid the foundation for future instability in Russia, that would ultimately lead to full scale revolution.

Pamiat Merkuria spent her entire career in the Black Sea. Her career was uneventful until the outbreak of World War One. In November 1914, the Turkish Navy sortied into the Black Sea with their new acquisitions from Germany, the battlecruiser Goeben and the cruiser Breslau. Pamiat Merkuria was escorting a fleet of Russian battleships and they clashed with the Turkish ships on 18 November. Pamiat Merkuria would have additional encounters with Breslau during the early years of the war. She later shelled Turkish forts in the Bosporus and German-held oil facilities in Romania. 
Wreck of Komintern, taken in 1973. (citation)
 In 1917 Russia slipped into revolution. Pamiat Merkuria was taken by Bolshevik forces. She was hulked and then captured by German forces in May 1918. She later was taken over by White forces during the Russian Revolution, before finally being recaptured by Soviet forces, damaged and in poor condition. The Soviets refurbished the ship and recommissioned her as a training ship with the new name Komintern.
The wreck of Pamiat Merkuria/Komintern is still visible to left.
With the outbreak of World War Two, Komintern was pressed into service to provide naval gunfire support and troop transport. She was also converted to a minelayer. Komintern was involved in the epic battles for Odessa, Sevastopol, and Kerch. On 16 July 1942 she was lying at the eastern Black Sea port of Poti, when she was attacked by German aircraft. She was damaged beyond repair and was then stripped and used as a hulk. She was towed north of Poti to the mouth of the Khobi river, where on 10 October 1942 she was scuttled as a breakwater. Her wreck is still visible, lying just off shore.

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