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 http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96531052?accountid=14826
SECOND BATTLESHIP REBELS. (1905, Jul 02). New York Times (1857-1922). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96531071?accountid=14826