Today marks the 112th anniversary of the mutiny of sailors aboard the Russian Battleship Potemkin. This incident, taking place during the middle of the Russo-Japanese War, sparked a wave of mass political and social unrest, and was one of the first acts of the Russian Revolution of 1905. The revolution led to Consitutional Reform, with the creation of the Duma, the multi-party system and the Russian Consitituion of 1906.
Major General Mungo Melvin mentions the mutiny in his latest book, Sevastopol's Wars: Crimea from Potemkin to Putin:
In the early hours of 27 June, the crew of the Potemkin discovered maggots in rotten meat and refused the soup made from this source. When ordered to consume the disgusting broth against their wishes, the crew declined. In turn, the ship’s second-in-command, Ippolit I. Gilyarovsky, allegedly threatened to execute the crewmen involved. This incident provided the last straw for the mutineers led by Grigory N. Vakulinchuk and Matyushenko. In the resulting struggle for control of the Potemkin, eight out of eighteen ship’s officers were killed; Vakulinchuk was mortally wounded. Under Matyushenko’s command, Potemkin made for Odessa, arriving at the port that evening.
At that time Odessa was experiencing a general strike so the circumstances appeared opportune for combined revolutionary action between sailors and workers. Yet the social democrats of the city and the crew of the Potemkin could not agree on an effective course of action. On 29 June the funeral of Vakulinchuk turned into a political demonstration gone ugly. Despite the memorable portrayal in Sergei Eisenstein’s revolutionary film of 1925, Battleship Potemkin, there was no shooting on the famous steps that led up from the port. None the less, there were a great many casualties in Odessa, possibly reaching the thousands. The city, however, did not fall to the revolutionaries.
The mutiny gained further notability from the film Battleship Potemkin (1925). Directed by the pioneering film theorist Sergei Eisenstein, his stylistic approach to the mutiny made Battleship Potemkin a cinematic triumph, with the 'Odessa Steps Sequence' becoming one of the most celebrated sequences in cinema. Below is a clip from the revolutionary propaganda film, showing the beginning of the mutiny. The full film can be viewed on Youtube by clicking here.
Battleship Potemkin. Dir. Sergei Eisenstein. Mosfilm, 1925.
Sevastopol's Wars by Mungo Melvin is available to order through our website by clicking here.