Russian ship sinking: it’s all relative

Not the Russian navy’s finest hour:

A Russian naval intelligence ship sank off Turkey’s Black Sea coast on Thursday after colliding with a vessel carrying livestock and all 78 personnel on board the navy ship were evacuated, Turkish officials said.

The rescued crew members of the Russian ship Liman were in good health after the collision with the Togo-flagged Youzarsif H, Turkey’s Transport Minister Ahmed Arslan said.

The incident took place in fog and low visibility 18 miles (29 km) from Kilyos village on the Black Sea coast just north of Istanbul.

A spokesman for Hammami Livestock which owns the Youzarsif H said there had been no loss of life on board the vessel. “It is considered a slight hit, for us,” he told Reuters in Lebanon, adding he had no information about the cause of the collision.

So, a lot of Russian surveillance equipment lost but no cows. I refer to this article as an excuse to cite my favorite story regarding the Russian navy: the Dogger Bank Incident.

The Dogger Bank incident (also known as the North Sea Incident, the Russian Outrage or the Incident of Hull) occurred on the night of 21/22 October 1904, when the Russian Baltic Fleet mistook a British trawler fleet from Kingston upon Hull in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea for an Imperial Japanese Navy force and fired on them. Russian warships also fired on each other in the chaos of the melée. Three British fishermen died and a number were wounded. One sailor and a priest aboard a Russian cruiser caught in the crossfire were also killed. The incident almost led to war between Britain and Russia.

Why the hell would the Russians think a British trawler in the North Sea was a Japanese warship? Because:

The Russian warships involved in the incident were en route to the Far East, to reinforce the 1st Pacific Squadron stationed at Port Arthur, and later Vladivostok, during the Russo-Japanese War. Because of the fleet’s alleged sightings of balloons and four enemy cruisers the day previously, coupled with “the possibility that the Japanese might surreptitiously have sent ships around the world to attack” them, the Russian admiral, Zinovy Rozhestvensky, called for increased vigilance, issuing an order that “no vessel of any sort must be allowed to get in among the fleet”, and to prepare to open fire upon any vessels failing to identify themselves. With ample reports about the presence of Japanese torpedo boats, submarines and minefields in the North Sea, and the general nervousness of the Russian sailors, 48 harmless fishing vessels were attacked by the Russians, thousands of miles away from enemy waters.

As military blunders go, this one is hard to beat. As The Times said the next day:

“It is almost inconceivable that any men calling themselves seamen, however frightened they might be, could spend twenty minutes bombarding a fleet of fishing boats without discovering the nature of their target.”

Hitting a boatload of cattle in fog off Turkey seems almost professional by comparison.

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9 thoughts on “Russian ship sinking: it’s all relative

  1. I roared with laughter when I read the story. Here’s a ship dripping with electronic equipment for tracking the movement of ships and planes defeated by a wisp of mist and a cow-carrier.

  2. If my history book was true, The Russians sent their fleet half way round the world to fight the Japs.
    The Brits refused them access to their coaling stations, but the frogs and maybe the Portuguese supplied them.

    Result, a fleet with more coaling ships than warships. Reminder of The Ascent of Drumgoogle (a very funny book, btw).

    And the Japs sent the whole lot to the bottom.

    Other answer:
    They were Hindu cows

  3. I suspect that the Russian ship was busy looking ‘further afield’ and missed what was right under their noses, as it were.

    It is a real problem for people who think their focus is on the bigger picture. Years ago I knew I guy who did a referee course at the FA and one of the things they showed the trainee officials was a video of horrific tackles right in front of referees. Apparently some refs are so busy surveying the whole field they cannot notice things incredibly blatant right in front of them.

  4. How easily wars can start.

    War is ‘unthinkable’ right up until the first shot is fired.

    EU take note.

  5. It was sheep, not cows.

    Ah, my bad!

    Reddit did a good job on it

    Yes they did!

  6. Years ago I knew I guy who did a referee course at the FA and one of the things they showed the trainee officials was a video of horrific tackles right in front of referees. Apparently some refs are so busy surveying the whole field they cannot notice things incredibly blatant right in front of them.

    Ooh, interesting. Yet more reason to use a TMO, then.

  7. I’m late to the party, I know.

    dearieme put it well. An intelligence-gathering ship, all eyes and ears, fails to notice a sheep carrier right by its side. (The freighter bore an Armenian name to boot, according to early, alas, erroneous reports). The seamen get fished out of the water by the Turkish coastal guard. No reports of the sheep. Pure comedy.

    The Dogger Bank incident can be viewed, retroactively, as a prelude to a disaster. Seven months later, having successfully made it to the Korean Sea, the Russian fleet was routed at Tsushima.

    Back in 1904, Admiral Rozhestvensky’s misguided order to fire on the trawlers was an understandable error. He had to rely on the warnings from St. Petersburg; considering the Anglo-Japanese treaty in force at that time, it was not inconceivable that Japanese torpedo ships could refuel at British ports. In contrast, the fact that the intense Russian fire only sank one out of the nine British trawlers and damaged the cruiser Aurora (soon to become the centerpiece of the Soviet 1917 myth) was a symptom of serious dysfunction, to put it mildly.

    Should the Russian naval command have recalled Rozhestvensky’s fleet based on that incident? Apparently, they had known from the start that the crews were poorly trained. Sergei Witte, the PM at the time, later wrote that more or less everyone had understood the Baltic fleet was doomed. Including (most likely) the fleet commander, who did a good job nevertheless completing the journey from Kronstadt to the Far East.

    One good thing that came out of the incident was the investigation. Britain and Russia agreed to have an international commission look into the matter. It held public hearings in France similar to a UK public inquiry. The press covered them in some detail so the public was not kept in the dark. It set a precedent that still gets an honorable mention in histories of international law.

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