Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, August 27, 2018

An American Admiral Quells a Russian Mutiny

Black Sea Fleet Mutineers at Sevastopol

When Nicholas II abdicated on 15 March 1917, the creation of Provisional Government failed to stabilize the situation. A wave of political activity followed across Russia. Unsurprisingly, Sevastopol did not remain immune from such developments. On 19 March elections to a soviet (council) of deputies took place in the city. At the same time, sailors’ committees were formed on the ships of the Black Sea Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Alexander Kolchak.

The Bolshevik cause received a massive boost with the arrival of Vladimir Lenin in Petrograd to popular acclaim on 16 April 1917. He had returned from exile in Switzerland courtesy of a German sealed train. Under his leadership and alluring promises of "peace, land and bread," the Bolsheviks fomented popular concerns and anti-war protests—all carefully preparing the ground for their revolution later in the year. Kolchak sensed the impending catastrophe, predicting that he would soon have "to deal with the historical disgrace of a senseless mutiny during wartime." On 22 April Sevastopol witnessed mass crowds of people welcoming home former sailors released from either exile or prison, including those who had participated in the mutinies of 1905.

Bending to the demands of the crews, on 13 May Kolchak ordered the renaming of battleships with imperial names such as Imperator Alexander III, which became the Volya (Will). By the early summer, discipline within the Black Sea Fleet was fast breaking down. 

Rear Admiral James H. Glennon
On 20 June a delegation from the United States Navy, headed by Rear Admiral James H. Glennon, visited Sevastopol, an important port of call on a tour of naval bases to determine how best to support the Russian war effort against Germany.  Having inspected a number of coastal defense batteries and other shore installations, Glennon encountered ships "full of idle sailors in dirty white uniforms milling aimlessly around." A mutiny was already well under way. A Russian officer described what ensued:

Admiral Glennon had gone to a large public meeting attended by several thousands of seamen and soldiers…He told the men about the great American democracy, about the discipline in the American navy, about the traditions of freedom coupled with self-restraint which alone made democracy possible, called on them to desist from insulting their officers, urged that they return their weapons, and pressed upon them the necessity of accepting the rudimentary forms of discipline without which the Fleet would become worthless. He also spoke of Kolchak in terms of high praise, and pleaded with the men to be loyal to him. Glennon’s speech was superbly translated and made a deep impression on the meeting. Probably this was an instance unique in all naval history that a foreign officer made a speech that helped to quell a mutiny.

Although the American visitor, at great personal risk, intervened to save the lives of a number of Russian officers, Glennon could not restore them to their positions of authority. 

Two days later he departed Sevastopol by train bound for Petrograd. A dejected Kolchak, recalled by the Provisional Government for "failing to maintain discipline," made the same journey. He was lucky to be alive, having survived a violent confrontation with sailors aboard his headquarters ship, the Georgii Pobedonosets.

Sources:  Mental Floss and History Today


  1. The mutiny at Sevastopol is depicted in the Russian movie адмирал (Admiral). It is Kolchak story during the war and revolution.

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