Mutiny on the Black Sea 10


Rotten Borsch? That sounds like something that prisoners in Siberia should be eating. In 1905 though, that was the standard food for enlisted soldiers on board the Battleship Potemkin. Most would be so inclined that sailors in the Tzar’s Imperial Fleet would be given top of the line food, considering there past supremacy on the high seas. But in May of 1905, things were not looking to well for the Russian Navy. After the crushing defeat of the Russian Armies against the Japanese, the Tzar had ordered the best fleet in his Navy to sail halfway around the world to engage the Japanese on open water, where surely they would be victorious. Instead, the Japanese had ample time to prepare for the attack, and crushed the Russians at the Battle of Tsushima. People around the country, and world for that matter, were shocked at the result. How could a perceived world class power not be able to destroy this small Island, who most have never paid much attention to in the first place? Across the Russian Empire, people were frustrated, they had been humiliated on an scale big enough that the entire world knew about the events that took place.

On the Battleship Potemkin, reactions to the crushing defeat of the Navy had a monumental affect on its soldiers. It was demoralizing unlike anything they had ever heard before. Why did their “comrades” have to go and die, what did they get out of the conflict? The mutiny did not occur strictly because of the rotten meat in the borsch, but rather an accumulation of  so many other small things that just together the sailors could not put up with. While the soldiers were eating the rotten borsch, the officers had fresh meat in theirs. It is a simple example of the class system within Russia. At this time, if you were a noble, landowner, or officer in the military (often times you were all three) then people knew it. Often times status would be flaunted. People across the country were starting to get fed up with this, and the War in Japan was just the tipping point. Russian sailors on board the ship had enough, and instead of eating the food they organized a revolt, killing several officers and taking over the boat.

Things heated up when the mutiny controled Potemkin sailed for Odessa, a large port in southern Ukraine. Since it was clear that the boat was no longer under the control of its officers, it was inspiration to the people in Odessa (who were currently beginning a major strike in the city) to press onwards and go full force with a strike. Mobs of upwards of 12,000 were thought to be rioting in the street when the Army arrived, which used machine guns and multiple rifle volleys to “mow down the mob”. Rarely in history do events such as this inspire the people to become more loyal to the crown. This event enraged other ships in the Black Sea Fleet, as they began to try to mutiny as well. The battleship eventually had to leave the city and seek asylum in Romania, but its impact on the 1905 Revolution and the strike within Odessa was huge. It served as a rallying cry in the 1917 Revolution, giving people hope that an uprising could work.

Western accounts of this incident were hard to come by, due to extreme censorship of the telegrams being sent. Those who received the telegrams, according to the papers, had to piece together messages in order to get a fuller understanding of what was really happening. The Revolution as a whole though turned out to be a stepping stone for 1917, and actually had some immediate consequences like the creation of the Duma, as Freeze talks about. In the end though, the mutiny has gone down in infamy as one of the most important ship uprisings ever for its impact on future Russian History.



ODESSA’S PERIL FROM MUTINEERS. (1905, Jul 02). New York Times (1857-1922). Retrieved from

SECOND BATTLESHIP REBELS. (1905, Jul 02). New York Times (1857-1922). Retrieved from

10 thoughts on “Mutiny on the Black Sea

  1. Eric Schneider Sep 9,2013 6:08 pm

    I did not know that the military revolted against the government, though it is not too hard to imagine. I wonder if other units throughout the military mutinied against the government. The mutiny was a symbol for the people of Odessa, did it participate at all? Great post really liked the topic, though would have liked to know a little more about the other incidents and the effect it had on the populace and what eventually happened to them. Also was their purge among the ranks because of this?

  2. bfulcer Sep 9,2013 8:13 pm

    This might be the most interesting post I’ve read so far. I’m surprised that more people don’t know about this story. I took a film class in the fall last year and we learned about a movie called “Battleship Potemkin” that was made in 1925 and was really controversial (especially in Russia) at the time. The defeat against Japan in 1905 was a massive blow to the confidence of the Russian military and the country as a whole. The mutiny on the Potemkin was one of the many examples of social unrest in 1905 that illustrate the changes to come in early 20th century Russia.

  3. mwill17 Sep 9,2013 9:19 pm

    It’s hard to think that a mutiny ended up becoming such a huge catalyst for the 1905 Revolution. I would have thought a factory uprising would have been more influential. I can see though how multiple military defeats could serve as fuel for the fire so to speak for the Revolution as well as how the workers could have gained confidence from it considering how the military is expected to be disciplined and loyal to the government.

  4. Ben Midas Sep 9,2013 11:10 pm

    For anyone interested in this topic, I would recommend watching the Sergei Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin. It is on Netflix and, in my opinion, the best film ever made.

    Also, great post!

  5. samt1 Sep 10,2013 1:06 am

    I found this very interesting. Especially when the sailors revolted against their own Czar instead of trying to seek revenge on the Japanese. I guess loyalties only go so far when you are eating rotten food regularly. What surprised me the most was the fact that they were able to sail and take refuge in Asylum. I would think that the remaining fleet loyal to the Czar would hunt them down. Great topic and a very interesting read.

  6. hgiannoni Sep 10,2013 1:07 am

    After reading articles on the Russo-Japanese war, this article served to further reinforce the idea that the general state of the Russian navy was in complete disrepair and that it is now no surprise that they were routed by the Japanese at the Battle of Tsushima. With a mutiny on the Potemkin by the sailors due to general negative living conditions, other ships must not have been far off from their own mutinies. Furthermore, the class tension on the warship mirrors the tension that was on the mainland not only within the military but even throughout general Russian society. Interesting read.

  7. samt1 Sep 10,2013 1:08 am

    Sorry I meant Romania

  8. carastombock Sep 10,2013 2:24 am

    This was an awesome read! In my post this week I mentioned the mutiny aboard this ship and how that (and many other factors) fit together to force Nicholas II into issuing the October Manifesto. I didn’t get to research the mutiny in much detail and this was really great! It helps me to understand my topic even more, plus it’s just interesting!

  9. brandonlapointe Sep 10,2013 2:46 pm

    This was a great read! I really like your presentation, and depth in the material. I’m impressed by the peoples reaction in Odessa, and their tenacity to continue striking after so many of them died in the streets. Do you know what happened to the sailors later on?

  10. jackscher Sep 12,2013 2:12 am

    I did know about this event; very informative post. I particularly liked your first sentence, it really drew me in!

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