Friday, 9 August 2013

The Cruiser Aurora

The cruiser Aurora has a special place in Russian history – she is reputed to have fired the blank shot that signalled the start of the Russian Revolution – and has been preserved as a museum and training ship ever since she was re-floated and restored after the Second World War.

Aurora was one of three Pallada-class cruisers that were built in St. Petersburg for service in the Pacific Far East, and all three ships served their during the Russo-Japanese War. Aurora was one of the ships that formed the Russian 2nd Pacific Squadron (commanded by Vice-Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky) that was sent to the Far East after the war had started. She took part in the Battle of Tsushima and helped to escort some of the slower ships that survived the battle to Manila in the Philippines, where she was interned until the war was over.

During the First World War the Aurora took part in operations as part of the Russian Baltic Fleet, and in 1915 she was re-armed. When the Russian Revolution started in 1917, most the ship's crew joined the Bolsheviks. The ship then took no further active part in the Revolution or the Civil War that followed.

In 1922 Aurora was recommissioned as a training ship, and she remained in this role until the siege of Leningrad began in September 1941. At this point her main guns were removed and used as part of the land defences of the city and to arm an armoured train. The ship, which was docked in Oranienbaum on the outskirts of Leningrad, was repeatedly attacked and on 30th September 1941 she sank whilst at anchor. Aurora was raised and repaired after the war, and in 1957 she was moored at her present location and became a museum ship. Between 1984 and 1987 she was restored by the the Admiralty Shipyard in Leningrad, and most of the underwater hull of the ship was replaced.

Her specifications were:
  • Displacement: 6731 tons
  • Length: 416 feet
  • Beam: 55 feet
  • Draught: 24 feet
  • Propulsion: Three x triple-expansion reciprocating steam engines powering three screws
  • Speed: 19 knots
  • Complement: 590
  • Armament (1903):
    • 8 x QF 6-inch guns (8 x 1)
    • 24 x QF 75mm guns (24 x 1)
    • 8 x 37mm guns (8 x 1)
    • 3 x torpedo tubes (two submerged, one above water)
  • Armament (1917):
    • 14 x QF 6-inch guns (14 x 1)
    • 4 x QF 76mm/3-inch anti-aircraft guns (4 x 1)
    • 3 x torpedo tubes (two submerged, one above water)
On the day of our visit it was Russian Navy Day and the Aurora was a very popular attraction … so popular – in fact – that it proved impossible to go aboard her in the time that was available. I therefore had to content myself with taking as many photographs of her starboard side as was possible!

Aurora … as seen from forward on the starboard side

Aurora … as seen from aft on the starboard side


Midships and stern

Bridge, compass platform, and control tower

Midships, showing her funnels, ventilators, boats, and three of her starboard 6-inch guns

Aft superstructure, showing some of the ship’s 76mm/3-inch anti-aircraft guns and one of her starboard 6-inch guns

Aft superstructure, showing some of the ship’s 76mm/3-inch anti-aircraft guns and her rearmost 6-inch gun

Foremost 6-inch gun, showing the plaque that commemorates the firing of the blank shot that signalled the start of the Russian Revolution

Various photographs of Aurora’s starboard 6-inch guns

Aurora’s 76mm/3-inch anti-aircraft guns

Aurora’s 45mm anti-aircraft guns

Aurora’s steam pinnace


  1. Very nice ship, thanks for the vicarious tour! Too bad you couldn't get on board.

  2. Laughing Ferret,

    It was my pleasure to share my photographs with my regular blog readers.

    Navy Day was not the best time to go to visit Aurora ... but one day I hope to get aboard her and to take some more photographs.

    All the best,


  3. Very interesting stuff - I've coincidentally just come off the Belfast so this is very interesting to see a slightly older Russian version. I went to St Petersburg a few years back but it was the tricentennial, so I had similar issues!

  4. Colonel Scipio,

    I am pleased that you enjoyed this blog entry.

    Belfast is an interesting ship to visit ... but it is an ambition of mine to actually stand on the deck of a ship that took part in the Battle of Tsushima ... and I doubt if I will ever make it to Japan to visit the Mikasa.

    All the best,


  5. Bob,
    When my wife and I visited, we were able to go on board. They have various exhibits inside, its pretty interesting. We had a Catholic priest from the US with us, he had been living in St. Petersburg for several years working with Russian priests. He spoke the language, and spent the day with us. He told us the Aurora is a great favorite with school children. The day we went there were people in historical costume on the dock offering to have your picture taken with them. My wife insisted that I have my picture taken with two young ladies in pretty impressive hussar costumes. I am not sure how that related to the Aurora, but we got the picture anyway.

    I do recommend going inside it if you get back there. Did you walk around Zayachy Island? Its a short walk from the Aurora and is a pretty interesting fort.


  6. The Cruiser Aurora and the blank shot (the live ordnance was locked up) fired signaled a the beginning of a horrendous Russian civil war that lasted well over a decade, leaving a dictatorship in its wake that lasted 75 years and a 40 plus year Cold War. There are plenty of wargame ideas in that one sentence alone to launch a dozen game companies (and did). I had a reprint of Jane’s Ships 1898 and got a kick out of those pre-dreadnought ships. In the 70s we played a few Span Am scenarios along with a Havana Harbor shootout. We never got around to the Russo Japanese War though.

    I have always wanted to visit the Aurora as well as go to all the museums. The only other ship I wanted to visit as badly was the US ship Olympia, which I only saw briefly while crossing over a bridge on the way to the airport. I never got back out that way again.

    More familiar to modern folks is the Soviet film Battleship Potemkin (1925) with the abortive 1905 mutiny. Despite being propaganda, it is a masterpiece of film making and direction by Sergei Eisenstein. That and the movie Alexander Nevski (1938) show his genius in film making.

  7. Bob

    Thanks again for the great photos. I am jealous that you got so close to her.


  8. Bill,

    What a great story! The young ladies in (abbreviated) hussar costumes were about when we were there ... and were doing brisk business with the tourists.

    My wife and I hope to return to St Petersburg within the next five years, and hopefully we will be able to go aboard Aurora then.

    We had no opportunity to visit Zayachy Island during this trip ... but we did visit the Peter and Paul Fortress the last time we were there.

    All the best,


  9. CoastConFan,

    I was told - by a Russian - that the gunners who fired the famous shot from the Aurora were actually drunk at the time ... and did not intend to signal anything to anyone!

    I love the warships of the per-dreadnought era, and have wargamed battles from both the Spanish-American and Russo-Japanese Ware. I also have the reprint of the first Janes annual, and the illustrations are much better than the later photographs that were used.

    I would love to visit the USS Olympia ... and the Huascar and Georgios Averoff. Perhaps I will ... one day.

    Coincidentally they were showing THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN on late night TV earlier this week. I missed it this time, but hope to see it when they inevitably show it again soon.

    All the best,


  10. Peter Douglas,

    One day I might actually make it aboard Aurora. In the meantime the photos I have taken will have to suffice.

    All the best,


  11. Very jealous of this. I have been to St Petersburg twice and glimpsed the Aurora but never got any pictures! I have been on board the USS Olympia though and love the ships from this period.

  12. Legatus Hedlius,

    I had been to St Petersburg twice before ... and this was the first time I managed to get close to Aurora.

    What I like about the ships from this era is their apparent simplicity of design and outline ... and yet when you get up close they are incredibly complex and cluttered.

    It was also an era of eccentric and 'one-off' designs, which mean that modelling a fleet of ships is never boring.

    All the best,



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