Remembering Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, 200 years after his death
by Olivia Kroth
In September 2017, the Russian destroyer “Admiral Ushakov” and other war ships of the Northern Fleet went for drills to the Barents Sea. The group included anti-submarine aircraft, submarines and nuclear-powered guided-missile cruisers. Their task was to train cooperation at sea, check readiness of crews for emergency actions and prepare military exercises with weapon deployment. The drills involved more than 5.000 servicemen and over 300 equipment units (TASS, 14.09.2017). The destroyer named after Admiral Ushakov is a nuclear-powered missile cruiser, originally built for the Soviet Navy. The ship was commissioned, in 1980, and completely overhauled, in 2012. Today, it is outfitted with modern armament as one of the Northern Fleet’s leading destroyers. The name reminds us of one of Russia’s greatest admirals, Fyodor Ushakov, who was victorious in many sea battles and supervised the construction of Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Bust of Admiral Ushakov in Sevastopol
Fyodor Ushakov was born into a noble family in the village of Burnakovo in the Yaroslavl region, 100 miles north of Moscow, on the 24th of February 1745. His parents were religious people. At 16, Fyodor Ushakov enrolled in the Naval College of Saint Petersburg. He paid special attention to the subjects of arithmetic, history, navigation and was always at the top of his class. In 1765, Fyodor Ushakov graduated with the rank of midshipman and began serving on a galley of the Baltic Fleet. He took part in excursions from the Russian naval base of Kronstadt in the Baltic Sea to the Russian port of Arkhangelsk in the Barents Sea. The waters of the Baltic Sea and the Barents Sea were difficult to navigate, proving to be a hard test for the young sailor, who listened to experienced officers, thus learning how to survive under harsh conditions at sea.
Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kronstadt
When the first Russo-Turkish War (1768-1764) broke out on the Black Sea, Fyodor Ushakov was transferred to the Don Flotilla, in 1768. He served in the city of Taganrog on the neighboring Azov Sea, later as captain of a small ship on the Black Sea, where he took part in combat operations to perfect his commanding skills. He analyzed the battles and found his own strategy for offensives. When Crimea became part of the Russian Empire, Fyodor Ushakov personally supervised the construction of Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol, which would become the stronghold of the Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet. He also oversaw the building of docks in the city of Kherson on the Black Sea.
In the second Russo-Turkish war (1787-1792) Fyodor Ushakov realized that the Turks by far outnumbered his own troops. In 1788, he directed his offensive at the Turkish flagship of the first column which brought him success. This became his favourite pattern during future battles. Thanks to Fyodor Ushakov’s victories at sea, Russian infantry troops were able to attack the Ochakov Fortress, in July 1788. By the end of the year, the major Turkish stronghold had fallen into Russian hands. Due to his success, Fyodor Ushakov was elevated to the rank of Rear Admiral and placed at the head of the Black Sea Fleet. The Turks feared him, calling him deferentially “Ushak-Pasha.”
Ochakov Fortress falls into Russian hands, 1788
In July 1790, the crucial battle of the second Russo-Turkish War took place near the Crimean city of Kerch. It proved to be a great victory for Russia, due to the skillful tactics of Rear Admiral Ushakov. Most of the Turkish ships were damaged, the Turkish troops suffered serious losses. Fyodor Ushakov returned to Sevastopol “with flying colors” and was highly praised by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. He successfully finished the campaign, defeating the Turkish fleet near Tendra, in 1790, and near Cape Kaliakria, in 1791. In these battles he demonstrated the excellence of his innovative doctrines in the art of naval fighting. He routed the Turkish fleet, thus ending Turkish domination of the Black Sea, once and for all. Fyodor Ushakov’s victories at sea granted the Russian Empire permanent access to the Black Sea’s northern coast. Since then, Russia has been able to hold its own among other great seafaring nations.
Sea Battle of Tendra, 1790
Fyodor Ushakov participated in a total of 40 naval battles and lost none of them. In 1807, he retired to the Sanaksar monastery in Mordovia, 500 kilometers east of Moscow. He never married. His reclusive life ended on the 14th of October, 1817. Fyodor Ushakov was buried at the site of that monastery. In 1944, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR established the “Order of Ushakov”, one of the highest military awards in the Soviet Navy for generals and officers. In 2001, Fyodor Ushakov was canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. This was the first appearance of a navy officer who became a saint in the Russian church calendar. The legendary Admiral was paid homage for his spiritual valour. Russian Orthodox believers say that Fyodor Ushakov was sent to the Black Sea by God to win the battles against the Turks. It was there that his God-given talent as a naval commander fully manifested itself.
Фёдор Фёдорович Ушаков – Fyodor Fydorovich Ushakov (1745 – 1817)
Admiral Ushakov’s numerous lifetime achievements include the modernization of the Russian Navy, in the 18th century. His outstanding military operations are still carefully studied in naval academies worldwide today, 200 years later. Distinguishing features of Admiral Ushakov’s military tactics were the use of unified marching and fighting orders; close quarters to the enemy forces without evolution of a fighting order; concentration of effort against enemy flagships; maintaining a reserve of squadrons; combination of aimed artillery fire and maneuvering; chasing the enemy to its total destruction or capture. Admiral Ushakov gave great value to sea training of his staff. His innovative changes of naval tactics and maneuvering concepts were able to break the enemy’s naval lines.
Due to his merits, Admiral Fyodor Ushakov can be regarded as “Father” of Russia’s modern military Navy. Several Russian warships have been named after him. Many statues and monuments have been erected all over the Russian territory to honour his memory. He is also the “Father” of the modern Russian Black Sea Fleet and its naval base of Sevastopol in Russia’s Crimea.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow. Her blog: