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The World's News (NSW) Saturday, December 2, 1905

This article is titled: The Russian Pirate-Warship. MANNED BY MANIACS.
The True Story of the Kniaz Potemkin

 

Never in fiction has there been written a more soul-stirring narrative than the true story of the Russian battleship Kniaz Potemkin during the days of her rebellion in the Black Sea. It is from the diary of Ivan Senimott, one of the quartermasters, which reached New York last month, and was specially translated for the "World," and thus given publicity for the first time.

Protest to the Officers.

According to this interesting document, the trouble first arose over the soup, which the men said was made from tainted meat. They refused to eat it.  Gelerovsky, the second in command, and a sub-lieutenant came upon the scene.  "What is the matter?" asked Gelerovsky. "why have you flung away your soup?" "The meat the soup is made of was rotten," answered Kazlenkio, one of the men.

Gelerovsky returned to the officers' quarters and sat down to dine with the captain and some other of the principal officers. He ate nothing.

"Gblerovsky, said Captain Golekoff, "why are you eating nothing?" Gelerovsky looked straight into the eyes of his superior; then, rising and making the military salute, he answered:

"How can anyone eat and drink, captain, when there are 800 men on board this vessel, who have nothing to eat or drink?"  All the officers turned toward Gelerovsky, who was pale and trembling.  One of them, a young man struck, his champagne glass on the table, saying:

"If they won't, eat, let them drink! There is plenty of water in the Black Sea."

The glass was shattered as he uttered those words. Thereupon Gelerovsky said, gently:

"If  this sort of thing goes on," perhaps it is we who may have to drink the waters of the Black Sea."

The sailors were mustered on deck, and Captain Golekoff found that what his subordinate had reported was correct. Dr. Smernoff, on the other hand, reported that the meat was perfectly fresh and wholesome. The captain commanded that those who would eat the soup, should pass to the right, and those who were not willing should pass to the left. All but 30 men passed to the right.

"Guards, surround these men," commanded the captain. "

"Down with Tyranny."

 

Some of the marines went aside for their guns and returned to surround our comrades. The captain had immense white cloths spread on the deck, saving, in a loud voice:—

"We are going to have those sailors shot, but that is no reason why the deck should be soiled with their blood." The 30 sailors were formed in line, and a picket of fusiliers advanced: The captain ordered them to fire, but the men grounded arms, saying: "We cannot kill our comrades." Then, the captain, turning to Gelerovsky, said:

"You see now what your words have led to; you have taken the part of those sailors, and now they obey no longer! You are the cause of the lack of discipline on board my vessel!"

On receiving this rebuke, Gelerovsky himself gave the order to fire. At that moment Matiutschenko, a sergeant major, with hair in disorder, livid face, and eyes standing almost out of his head, hurried on deck. He had a gun in his hand, and, throwing himself on Gelerovsky, he shouted:—

"Ah! You are going to shoot these men, then! You want to murder more innocent people, do you?  Well, we have had enough of it! We want to make an end of this barbarous and atrocious Government! Hurrah for Russia free! Sailors, instead of firing on your brothers, fire on your officers! You have numbers on your side! You will be masters!  Down with tyranny!"

                                     

The Crisis.

Gelerovsky, calling for silence, drew his revolver, fired at Matiutschenko, but; missing him, hit Vakulenchuk, who, maddened with pain, hit the officer with the butt end of his gun, and then leaped into the sea. Some of his comrades jumped overboard and saved him.

Matiutschenko raised his gun and shot Gelerovsky; who fell wounded on the deck; then revolvers and other guns were leveled at him. This was the signal for revolt. The drum major threw his drum Into the sea, crying:— "Long live the revolution!"

Matiutschcnko next killed the artillery captain, and a midshipman and a sailor slew the electrician.  A search was made for Captain Golekoff, and Matiutschenko found him trying to conceal himself in the cabin. The captain, a white-bearded old man, fell on his knees and begged for mercy.

"What are you going to do?" he cried. "Are you going to kill an old man like me? You do not know what you are doing. You must be mad!" Matiutschenko replied, "Recommend your soul to God, for you must die in a moment."

The captain sprang to his feet and began to make the sign of the cross. He had hardly completed it when he was slaughtered. Matliutschenko then returned to the deck, shouting, "The captain is dead, and we are the masters now."

Then the maddened sailors began running in every direction, questioning one another, and screaming; some of them leaped into the water; several of the officers did the same, passing over the rope barricades, panic-stricken by this new reign of terror.

Matliutschenko shouted: "They are going to Odessa. They will tell everything that has happened. We must kill them."

Shots were fired at them from the upper decks, and in several spots, the waves were reddened with their blood. Signals were made to us from torpedo boat number 267, inquiring about the things that were taking place on board. Pogoisnetz directed the gunners to fire two cannon with blank cartridge at it.  Then he made signals to it to advance. When the torpedo-boat was near us the officers were ordered to come on board and were arrested. Those of our own officers who had not been killed were also arrested. One officer protested. 

                                  Three Officers Join the Mutineers.

"If you want to speak to me," said Matliutschenko, "take off your epaulets and trimmings and be my equal." Then the whole of the officers was so degraded, but three of them tore off their trimmings, saying, "We are with you in our hearts." These three remained on board, one Alexeief, who was much liked, being against his will elected captain. The other officers were sent to Odessa. After this Matiutschenko gathered the men on deck and said:—

"We are now going to- declare war on all Russians who are not for liberty. The revolutionists "will follow us."

Then followed uproar, until the vessel became like an inferno. The doctor was done to death next day in a most savage manner and thrown overboard. The chaplain was killed. The engines were put under pressure, and the vessel steamed for Odessa. Bread, tobacco, and coal were obtained, Vakulenchuk's body (he had subsequently died of his wound), was sent ashore, and in the evening Matiutschenko ordered the red flag to be hoisted on the vessel, and it was saluted to the strains of the Marseillaise."

Night had fallen.  Matiutschenko tramped up and down, proclaiming the end of the rule of the Czar, other men rushed about like maniacs.

                                 ''An Ironical Selection."

"I have not been able, to sleep," writes Senimoff in his diary. "On the deck, even near the place where I am sitting, there were pools of blood, and I could not keep my eyes away from them.

Then the next day, he continues: "I am onboard a ship commanded by lunatics. Students have come aboard with work men and women; they have excited Matiutschenko and his comrades, who certainly did not need further encouragement.

"A piano was placed on deck and a strident played a musical composition of Tschaikovsky, 'Tragic Moments.  What an ironical selection! Is it possible that the piece was chosen purposely?

"After it was finished there was singing, and then dancing. During all this time the body of Vakulenchuk was lying in state at Odessa.

"At half-past 2 It was carried to the grave, followed by an immense procession. After returning from the funeral the Russian students came on board the Potemkin and said to Matiutschenko:—

"Now you must bombard Odessa." A gun was loaded with a blank cartridge and fired at the city. The students were dissatisfied and insisted on having it shelled.

"Matiutschenko, with a bottle in his hand, blessed the cannon. Then two shells were fired at the Military Club, and two houses were demolished.

"A mighty anguish. Nobody slept, except a sailor named Ossip Kisselof, who is quite persuaded that everything which has occurred on board the Potemkin has been done by order of the Czar, and who never stops saying, 'Your Father, the Czar, will be well pleased with this, won't he?'

"I tell you I am the companion of maniacs."

                                   The Black Sea Squadron. 

When the Black Sea squadron came along a signal cannon was fired. It was expected that the sailors of the fleet would join the mutineers. But they did not, and Matiutschenko at once prepared for battle. After an exchange of signals, however, the fleet disappeared from the horizon.

Next day the sailors began to quarrel among themselves, and the squadron made its second appearance. It consisted of five battleships, seven torpedo-boats, and four destroyers.

"The Potemkin lit its fires and signaled that if the squadron advanced it would be fired on. The squadron advanced, notwithstanding,  and Matiutschenko gave the signal for bombardment. The crew refused to obey. They said:—

 

" Wait until they fire first. If they beat us we'll blow up the vessel.' 

"Then there were evolutions, the squadron surrounded us; we broke through the circle; we were surrounded again, and then the Pobiedonostseff drew near us and the sailors aboard shouted: 'Hurrah! hurrah! we are with you!'

"And then the squadron retired, and the Pobiedonosteff remained near us. Matiutschenko thought it might only be a ruse. He signaled to the Pobiedonostseff: 'Send your officers to us and unite with us.' The sailors of the Pobiedonostseff obeyed, degraded their officers, landed some of them on the coast, and imprisoned others in the cabins. The squadron in the distance telegraphed: 'What are your intentions?'

"We answered: 'If you want to know, come and find out.' "A torpedo-boat left the squadron, and steamed toward us; the chaplain apparently was standing on deck. But even before parleying with us it changed its course and withdrew. Then the squadron vanished."

The Pobledonostseff subsequently returned to the harbor of Odessa and surrendered. Then the revolutionists assembled in the officers quarters of the Potemkin and it was decided to take the vessel to Costanza.  These are the last entries in this remarkable diary:—

"While I was writing In a cabin Matiutschenko came up to me and said:—

"You are writing down your recollections.  Don't attempt to deny it, I know it. Well then, write that you have seen Matiutschenko weeping because he feels it is harder to persuade a man that liberty is necessary than it is to bore a tunnel through a mountain.

"I turned around, and I saw that Matiutschenko was actually weeping! All Is over! We have abandoned the Potemkin. We are in Roumania! Was this what Matiutschenko wanted? We arrived at Constanta in the night. The harbormaster came on board, and negotiations began immediately. We were visited by a Bulgarian doctor named Rakovsky; he advised us to surrender; he assured us solemnly that there was no danger of our being delivered up to the Russians.

"At last Matiutschenko said: 'All right, then, we surrender. We were next directed to pack up what belonged to us and prepare to land.  When we came on deck the crowd on shore cheered us, I am puzzled to know why. An hour after we had landed Pogoisnetz handed each of us 24 francs. An Armenian gave me an old tattered costume in exchange for my uniform. I Ivan Senimoff have got a situation as a shop boy with a fruit dealer; he lodges me, and gives me three francs a day, besides."