October Revolution in 1917


The Provisional Russian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Aleksandr Kerensky made furtive attempts to intensify the Russian war effort against Germany in summer 1917. The Provisional government gradually lost power to the counsels led by Bolsheviks which, under the leadership of V.I. Lenin, instigated a revolution in October 1917.


Provisional government and Tsentrobalt


The political vortex in Russia deepened further as the monarchists, led by general Lavr Kornilov, failed to carry out a counter revolution at the turn of August and September in 1917. After this, Kerensky was made the commander-in-chief of the Army and the de facto dictator of Russia. The Executive Committee of the Petrograd Counsel set up a Military Revolutionary Committee under Lev Trotsky, which in practice ousted Kerensky’s government, which had lost all support, and all power was transferred to the counsels. The October Revolution was bloodless and progressed peacefully.


In Viapori and the Baltic Fleet in summer 1917, power was in the hands of moderate Social Democrats, or Mensheviks, who supported the Provisional government, and the atmosphere was expectant. At a meeting of delegates of Tsentrobalt, or the Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet, held at Maria’s Palace – now the Presidential Palace – in Helsinki in October 1917, Bolsheviks led by Pavel Dybenko gained power. Before the October Revolution, Tsentrobalt sent 4,800 soldiers and seamen from Viapori and the naval port to Petrograd as a precautionary measure to support the revolution initiated by the Petrograd Counsel.


A navy that had lost its capability to fight


The situation in Viapori and in Viapori’s naval port was in disorder. In anticipation of a possible German assault, the Tallinn squadron of the Baltic Fleet had been evacuated to Helsinki in summer 1917, leading to a situation in which Katajanokka and the waters off Kruununvuori and Viapori were full of battleships of the line, cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats, mine layers and sweepers, submarines and various auxiliary vessels. However, in practice the Fleet was incapable of engaging in battle, as around half of the seamen had either on their own initiative left for Petrograd or had on orders by Tsentrobalt and other revolutionary committees been sent to the capital.


When the Finnish Civil War broke out in late January 1918, the majority of Viapori’s garrison and seamen remained in their barracks and vessels. According to orders received from Kronstadt, the cannons in Viapori and on the island off Viapori had to be deactivated by removing their sights and breeches. Similarly, all equipment used for charging mines with explosives had to be dismantled or, if necessary, destroyed. Lieutenant Colonel Nikolai Balzam, artillery commander in Viapori, partly outsourced the deactivation of the cannons to Ferro, an engineering office in Helsinki, which dismantled the cannon batteries in the Viapori’s central fortress and on the islands of Isosaari, Kuivasaari, Harmaja, Katajaluoto, Rysäkari and Miessaari in March 1918.

Russian warships off Katajanokka in 1914 Photo credits: Ivan Timiriasev/HKM

Text: Jyrki Paaskoski

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