“... having the grandeur of character that a grand duke should possess ...” S.Yu. Witte
January 14, 2020 marks the 170th anniversary of Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, the first landlord of the palace on Moika 122, which nowdays houses St. Petersburg Music House.
There is still no consensus on the identity of this representative of the Romanov dynasty and his role in the fate of the Russian fleet.
The beginning of the naval career
It is known that immediately after his birth on January 2, according to the old style, Alexey Alexandrovich, at the request of his grandfather Emperor Nicholas I, was credited to the Guards crew, and his naval career began. In addition, the newborn Grand Duke was enrolled into the guards regiments Preobrazhensky and Jaegersky, and from the age of 3 in Ulansky. At the same time, he began to patronize the Moscow regiment.
The Tsarevich Alexander Nikolayevich was pushed up the military ladder rapidly. At the age of seven he was promoted to warrant officer and ensign, promoted to the rank of second lieutenant on his twelfth birthday, at the age of sixteen he became naval lieutenant and guards lieutenant. The number of regiments sponsored by him also increased: the Ekaterinburg infantry and the 77th Tenginsky regiment were added to the Moscow Life Guards. Alexei Alexandrovich accepted patronage over the latter in 1868, when his parents sent their son from St. Petersburg to the Caucasus to get acquainted with the life of the country, where, in Akhaltsikha, Tiflis province, the regiment was based.
The next advance in rank for Alexei Alexandrovich was due to tragic circumstances. In the same 1868, the Grand Duke was on a cruise around Europe aboard the frigate Alexander Nevsky on a cruise under the guidance of his mentor, Vice Admiral Konstantin Nikolayevich Posyet. The cruise began in the city of Poti and was supposed to end in Kronstadt, however, on the night of September 12 to 13, the frigate crashed on coastal cliffs in the Skagerrak Strait near Norway. For the courage shown during the rescue operation, Aleksei Aleksandrovich was rewarded a rank of staff captain and appointed an aide-adjutant.
In 1870, as a watchman, he navigated aboard the corvette Varyag from St. Petersburg to Arkhangelsk and further along the White Sea and the Arctic Ocean, visited the Solovetsky Islands, Novaya Zemlya, Catherine’s harbor in the Kola Bay, port of Verde, Iceland, Copenhagen.
In 1873, Aleksei Aleksandrovich visited Shanghai, Vladivostok, Nagasaki on the corvette Varyag, was advanced to Commander with the rank of fliegel-adjutant remained.
In 1874, the frigate Svetlana, under the command of the Grand Duke, sailed the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, and in 1875 it navigated to the Baltic and German Seas, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Greek Archipelago, in 1876 it repeats near the same route, and in 1877, it has been sailing for three months in the ports of North America.
Diplomatic mission to the USA and Japan.
In 1871, as a senior officer in the frigate Svetlana, he was sent overseas to meet with US President Ulysses S. Grant. After spending three months in the United States and becoming, according to newspaper reviews, “a friend of many Americans,” Alexey Alexandrovich, on the orders of his father, continued his journey.
The Russian ships went to Cuba, to Brazil, from there to Cape of Good Hope, to China and Japan, where the Grand Duke exchanged visits with the young Emperor Meiji, which was an important milestone in the development of relations between Russia and Japan.
The memory of the Grand Duke on a map of Russia
From Vladivostok, Aleksei Aleksandrovich traveled to St. Petersburg by land, spending three months for the trip. In memory of his visit, Aleksei-Aleksandrovskaya street in Tomsk was named, Alekseevsky real schools in Tomsk and Perm, and the main street in Vladivostok was renamed as Svetlanskaya.
Russian-Turkish war (1877 - 1878)
The Grand Duke, having received the rank of Rear Admiral and becoming commander of the Guards crew, leads the pontoon teams on the Danube. For the successful operation, he received the Order of Saint George fourth class and "bestowed with a gold saber for courage."
Over the ten years of his adult life from 1870 to 1880, the Grand Duke spent 1477 days in overseas sailing and at anchor, that is, as a naval officer, he was well prepared for leading positions in the naval hierarchy.
With the accession to the throne of Alexander III in 1881, Aleksei Aleksandrovich became a member of the State Council and Chief of the Fleet and the Naval Department, from 1882 - Vice Admiral, and from April 1883, Admiral General of the Russian Fleet.
Since 1882, under his leadership and with the participation of Vice Admiral Ivan Alekseevich Shestakov, a new shipbuilding program was approved and a number of reforms were carried out that determined the development of the fleet until the end of the XIX century.
The priority task was the revival of the Black Sea Fleet, as well as the preservation and expansion of the Russian fleet in the Baltic. The construction of the Alexander III ice-free port in Libava (Liepaja) began, the ports of Sevastopol and Port Arthur were arranged, the number of boathouses was increased and the docks in Kronstadt, Vladivostok and Sevastopol were expanded.
In addition, a naval qualification was prepared and put into effect, stipulating the conditions for the service of naval officers, a regulation was issued on remuneration for the long-term command of ships rank I and II, the corps of mechanical engineers and ship engineers were transformed, the number of crews was increased, and many armadillos and cruisers were built. By 1896, the fleet included 15 new squadron battleships, 3 coastal battleships, 10 cruisers, 14 gunboats and 72 destroyers, three of them - Catherine II, Chesma, Sinop - replenished the Black Sea Fleet. In 1897, 6 battleships, 4 cruisers and 22 destroyers carried service on the Black Sea. The fleet was actually recreated anew. In addition, according to the program for creating an oceanic armored fleet for 1883-1902, approved for 20 years, it was planned to build 24 armadillos, by 1896 11 had been launched, among them the Rurik, which was considered the strongest armored cruiser in the world at that time.
By the end of the 19th century, the Russian fleet took third place after Great Britain and France in the number of ships and became an important instrument of Russia's foreign policy. In the construction of the fleet, the formation of programs for its development, the lively participation was taken by the chief commander of the fleet and the maritime department, Grand Duke Aleksei Aleksandrovich, in all of whose track records in the column “Service salary" invariably read: "Does not receive." And the reign of Alexander III, although they call it peaceful, was largely due to the fact that the built fleet was in action and participated in naval parades around the world and demonstrated the power of the state in situations of brewing military conflicts.
Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)
At the end of the 19th century, the threat of war with Japan was growing, and there was a need to create a third fleet - the Pacific. On August 27, 1897, by the decision of the Special Meeting, chaired by Alexei Alexandrovich, a five-year shipbuilding program of 1898-1902 "for the needs of the Far East" was scheduled. The number of ships increased, their technical equipment was improved, but the level of training of sailors remained insufficient. Russia had a fleet, that sailed the seas, and sailed excellently, but it was not trained to fight at sea, which was fully manifested during the Russo-Japanese War. After the Tsushima defeat, Aleksei Aleksandrovich resigned from all posts.
He spent the last three years of his life in Paris. He died of pneumonia on November 1 (14), 1908. He was buried in the Grand Duke's tomb of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.
Regarding the death of Aleksei Aleksandrovich S. Yu. Witte, wrote: “He was a most beautiful person, who did no harm to anyone, very pleasant in all his relations, having the grandeur of character that a grand duke should possess...”