The Iron Sailor – Admiral Stepan Makarov (1849 – 1904)
Admiral Stepan Makarov had already left the bridge and gone into the chart-house, he now came out again, went right out to the end of the bridge and took off his cap, waving it at us with a smile…. The men clambered on to each other’s shoulders to see “Little Grandfather.”
(Captain Vladimir Semenov, aboard the destroyer “Diana”)
There have been and always will be underestimated, unnoticed and simply shoved aside characters in the human history that despite their achievements have been buried without a tombstone. The fact that many of them have achieved something spectacular and above human comprehension doesn’t matter either, only the victors matter – the “victors” selected by the few.
Admiral Stepan Makarov is one of the unsung heroes that I’m talking about. The greatest admiral of the Russian fleet during the Tsarist period, who had to make something out of nothing, to make a neglected fleet a better and unmatched one. Of course, due many balks, he failed to do so and it resulted in defeat of the Russian fleet in the Yellow Sea, during the siege of Port Arthur and beyond that point.
Admiral Makarov was more than a military man –he was an inventor, an researcher and military tactician. He designed two big icebreaker steamships, “SS Baikal” (1897.) and “SS Angara” (1900.) that connected the Trans-Siberian Railway across Lake Baikal. Makarov designed them after his study of the similar vessels on the American Great lakes. He further left his mark on naval history by designing torpedo boats and devising tactics for them – he was also the first man to fire a torpedo during the war with Turkey on the ship called “Intibah” on January 16, 1877.
As a scholar of naval strategy, he established several important tenets of naval warfare that were, ironically, pushed aside by the Russian Navy, but implemented by the Japanese, bringing them a decisive victory in the Tsushima strait.
Admiral Stepan Makarov naval tenets:
- Makarov always stressed the importance of morale, making it the key factor of victory or defeat during battle.
- He always encouraged a more intensive usage of torpedo boats during conflicts.
- In Makarov’s opinion, the navy always needs to concentrate its attention on guns and artillery, rather than bulky armor. The firepower and precise use of ordnance are a strategic imperative, making armor a secondary concern.
- The education and training of personnel was also a key factor.
- When Makarov arrived in Port Arthur, he was shocked to learn that there was no cooperation between the land and naval units. In his works, the bond between these two main military branches was paramount in significance.
Needless to say, Admiral Stepan Makarov arrived too late to properly organize the navy around Port Arthur, and in its meager and poor state, posed no serious threat for the better trained Japanese sailors, under admiral Togo Heihachiro, who himself studied Makarov’s works.
Admiral Stepan Makarov perished with his flagship, the “Petropavlovsk” after hitting two mines on their return to the harbor. He, along with his 635 brave men that served onboard fell into the blue depths. The Russians were utterly defeated in this battle – Russia lost something more valuable and precious here, the lives of many brave sailors and a truly great man, both in skill and knowledge. The good Admiral was no more.
When Togo learned of this, he ordered the flag lowered half-mast and declared a day of mourning for the loss of an excellent commander and later, in 1913., the entire crew of the cruiser “Akitsushima” was present on the burial of Admiral Stepan Makarov, as his remains were given as a sign of good will back to Russia.
So, we’ll draw a line here – admiral Makarov was a man of great accomplishments, who was respected by both enemies and allies alike. His inventions influenced further developments in naval technology and oceanography as well as his hand-designed steam icebreakers connecting the greatest railway in the world – the Trans-Siberian Railway.