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"THE COUNTRY WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN A PARADISE BECAME A DEN OF FIRE..."

Дата публикации: 23 ноября 2021
Автор(ы): Alexander MAKARYCHEV
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Рубрика: ВОЕННОЕ ДЕЛО
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №5, 2014, C.63-70
Номер публикации: №1637656894


Alexander MAKARYCHEV, (c)

by Alexander MAKARYCHEV, Kaliningrad Regional Museum of History and Arts

 

At the end of 2013 in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I of 1914-1918 which is marked in 2014 the Kaliningrad Regional Museum of History and Arts sponsored a set of exhibitions devoted to this event. Assistance in replenishment of exhibitions was provided by the Russian State Archives of the Navy, Central Naval Museum, Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps (St. Petersburg), Archives of Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire (RF MFA) and State Central Museum of Modern History of Russia (Moscow).

 

After the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 was over, an exhibition of the captured weaponry and combat equipment was arranged in the Kaliningrad Region (the northern part of East Prussia which then joined the USSR), and in 1946 on its basis the Regional Museum of Local Lore, History and Economy was established. In 1977 the museum achieved status of a historical and arts museum, and in 1991 it settled in the Stadthalle (city concert hall), a fine three-storeyed building built in 1912 by the Berlin architect Richard Seel (monument of architecture of the 20th century). Its collection of artifacts numbers above 120,000 storage units and describes history and nature of this Baltic region.

 

The permanent display of the museum includes unique archeological findings, decorations, coins of different years, weaponry and household items, engravings, portraits, rare books, etc. and allows to trace formation and development of the region from antiquity to our days. Temporary exhibitions acquaint visitors with works of local, Russian and foreign artists. A special section deals with World War I which left an indelible trace in East Prussia*. The showcases and stands display photos of military commanders, operation maps, national and German awards, cold steel and fire arms, soldiers' letters, front-line items, posters of Russian and

 

See: A. Makarychev, "From Konigsberg to Kaliningrad", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2014-Ed.

 
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German artists, photos of local cities damaged by shelling, etc.

 

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1, the museum organized a number of exhibitions devoted to this event. It is important to point out that the Kaliningrad Region is the only place in the present territory of Russia where combat operations took place at that time. Here on August 7*, 1914, the

 

* All dates are given in Old Style.-Ed.

 

first battle near Gumbinnen (today the city of Gusev) was conducted at the Eastern Front, which resulted in the victory of our troops. Practically simultaneously in this region an important event took place also at the theater of naval (Baltic) operations. The Russian cruisers Bogatyr and Pallada captured the German light cruiser Magdeburg, which ran around in the Gulf of Finland near the Osmussaar Island (today Estonia). One of its signal-books was handed over to the British Admiralty, which helped decipher the German naval

 
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code (used for transmission of secret documents by signals) and in the end promoted victory of the Entente.

 

When the operations started, the Baltic Fleet (4 battleships, 6 armored and 4 light cruisers, 13 destroyers, 50 torpedo-boats, 6 minelayers, 13 submarines and 6 gunboats) was replenished with 4 new dreadnoughts of the Sevastopol type and also destroyers of the Novik project and submarines of the Bars series, noted for high combat characteristics. To prevent an enemy break-through to the Gulf of Finland, the Russian Command created the Central Mine-and-Artillery Position (above 2,000 mines were installed between the Nargen Island and the Porkkala Udd Peninsula*) and another 3 positions for defense of the Gulf of Riga. Our seamen conducted systematic military operations also near the enemy seacoasts and on its naval communications including in the area of ports Danzig (Gdansk, Poland), Pillau (Baltiysk), Memel (Klaipeda, Lithuania), and Libava (Liepaja, Latvia).

 

* Nargen Island (today Naissaar, Estonia); Porkkala Udd Peninsula in Finland.-Ed.

 

In the summer of 1915, a force of cruisers Bayan, Admiral Makarov, Oleg and Bogatyr conducted a successful battle near the Gotland Island (Sweden) against the German cruisers Augsburg, Bremen and Roon. Meanwhile, the naval forces of the Gulf of Riga (battleship Slava, destroyers Novik and Amur and several torpedo-boats) repelled the enemy attempt to break through the minefield in the Irbensky Strait (between the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea). Our seamen put up a good fight. For example, near the Kynö Island (Kihnu, Estonia) the gunboat Sivuch II together with Koreyets, a ship of the same class, joined unequal battle with the German cruiser Augsburg and two torpedo-boats, joined by battleships Pozen and Nassau, but it was sunk and for this act of heroism it was called the Baltic "Varyag"*.

 

The Russian submariners more than once intercepted the German ships which carried iron ore from neutral countries and sank them in the Gulf of Bothnia. The

 

* In the course of Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, after an unequal battle with the enemy squadron our armored cruiser Varyag was considerably damaged by enemy shells but it did not surrender to the enemy and was sunk by its crew-Ed.

 
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surface ships rendered substantial assistance to the ground troops which defended the coastal area of the Gulf of Riga by systematic shelling of the German positions and making landings.

 

When in the autumn of 1917 our ships and coastal artillery held back the superior enemy forces near the Moonzund Archipelago, they wiped out 10 enemy destroyers and 6 mine-sweepers, damaged 3 battleships and 13 destroyers and torpedo-boats. It was the last battle of the Russian seamen in World War I and after that they left the Gulf of Riga. But the German Command also stopped their offensive operations and withdrew its ships from that area. Thus, the Baltic Fleet prevented the German supremacy in the sea and retained fighting efficiency up to the end of operations. In total our losses made up 36 ships while Germany lost 102.

 

The visitors can be acquainted with these events at the exhibition War on the Baltic Sea prepared by the Kaliningrad Museum in cooperation with the Russian State

 
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Archives of the Navy and Central Naval Museum (St. Petersburg). The exposition displays a report to the Minister of the Navy Admiral Ivan Grigorovich with a list of documents found on board of the cruiser Magdeburg captured by our seamen in 1914. There are also cables to the naval department of the Supreme Command General Headquarters which informed about a loss of the cruiser Pallada of the Baltic Fleet in the same year (probably the enemy shell got into its bomb or mine cellar) and the gunboat Sivuch II sunk by the enemy in 1915.

 

Displayed here is also a report on the last battle of the battleship Slava on October 17, 1917 in the Moonzund Strait as well as photos of the battle. On that day during an artillery "duel" with the German dreadnoughts König and Kronphnz Wilhelm, the fore gunturret of the Russian ship broke down for technical reasons, and a bow draught reached 10 m. The chief of naval forces of the Gulf of Riga Vice-Admiral Mikhail Bakhirev ordered to scuttle the ship (and thus to block the seaway) and then to torpedo it from the destroyer Turk-menets-Stavropolsky.

 

The photos of the Russian surface ships, submarines and national aircraft, the documents on operations of the British submarines in the Baltic Sea help perceive the atmosphere of heroic everyday life of our seamen in those stormy days. Interesting specialized exhibitions on the same subject were also sponsored on the basis of private collections. Personal badges and articles of uniform were displayed at one of the exhibitions, while the main awards of the Russian officers and seamen of the period of World War I were demonstrated at another exhibition.

 

Based on the materials of the Foreign Policy Archives of the Russian Empire now at the disposal of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Kaliningrad Museum organized an exhibition "From the History of Diplomacy of World War I of 1914-1918". The exhibition gave an insight into the relations which developed at that time between Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, Serbia and Austro-Hungary. Copies of secret cables to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Sazonov were among the most interesting exhibits. For example, the cable from the Russian Ambassador in Vienna Nikolai Shebeko informed about assassination of the successor to the Austro-Hungarian throne archduke Franz Ferdinand and his spouse duchess Gogenberg by Serbian Gavrilo Princip. Another cable from the Russian charge d'affairs in Serbia Vasily Shtrandtman dealt with an address of Serbian prince-regent Alexander to Emperor Nicholas II. The young monarch asked for assistance in view of an ultimatum of Austro-Hungary with a request to investigate the crime with its participation and punish the guilty. The tsar left a curious note on the cable: "It is a very modest and worthy cable. What reply shall I give to him?".

 

The copy of Sazonov's report (September 7, 1914) to the tsar on a conversation of the Russian Ambassador to London Alexander Benkendorf with the King Georg V of Great Britain is of great historical importance. The question was that making peace with Germany was inadmissible until "the might of the latter was not broken down completely". Nicholas II wrote on the margins: "I share every idea of the King. I ask count Benkendorf to categorically assure His Imperial Majesty of the fact that despite any obstacles or losses Russia will fight against its enemies to the end."

 

The exposition gives a chance to trace development of diplomatic, political and military relations between the Entente states and the German bloc, and a process of transition from negotiations to "the language of guns". The exhibition visitors can also clearly visualize personal attitude of the Russian ruling circles, first of all, of the Emperor Nicholas II, to the positional or trench warfare. The latter implied the tactics which the fighting armies for the first time in history were forced to use in 1914 at the Western Front (and in 1915 at the Eastern Front) due to a gross lag in technology of offensive arms from means of defense. Under such conditions the warring parties tried mainly to hold their positions as active operations proved to be ineffective. At that time the

 
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German leadership hoped that it deprived our army of ability to conduct major offensive operations. But the tsarist government assured the allies of a firm intention of Russia to continue the war to the victorious end.

 

The exhibition "The Last War of the Russian Empire" was based on the collections of the Kaliningrad Regional Museum which included household items, documents, uniform, ammunition, weaponry, artworks and posters of those years. The exposition "gem" was a set of documents devoted to one of the best performers of folk songs and romances of that time Nadezhda Plevitskaya. In November of 1914 she accompanied her husband, lieutenant of the Cuirassier regiment Vladimir Shangin, to the front, and she got a job as a nurse in a field hospital of the city where his military unit was located.

 

The singer's unique voice helped a lot of wounded soldiers to recover. Her recollections "My Life With a Song" win over by simplicity and sincerity: "Sometimes my songs worked as a medicine. Once a nurse came from the officers' department and asked me to help her soothe a seriously wounded patient who was apathetic even to morphine. Sitting on his bedside I hummed quietly songs and he fell asleep. I sat for a long time motionless as he held tightly my hand...". The central place in the exposition belongs to a gramophone of the end of the 19th century and records of songs of Plevitskaya which allow to better understand the Russian spiritual life of that time including its musical culture.

 

The photo exhibition "Belarus in World War I" which showed events of that period through the eyes of participants and witnesses was compiled by our staff members from copies of the photos provided by the Belorussian National Historical Museum (Minsk), other collections and individual collectors. In the autumn of 1915 the enemy tried to penetrate deep into the country and occupied a substantial part of this region where above 2 mln people found themselves under German occupation. But due to staunchness of Russian soldiers, the enemy was stopped on the military line Dvinsk-Postavy-Smorgon-Baranovichi-Pinsk. This frontline was preserved until the end of the war in 1918.

 

The exposition materials were grouped into the following four sections: the burden and hardships of people left on the pavement and forced to abandon their homes; army life in a rare lull in fighting; hospital physicians and attendants facing an unprecedented number of the wounded; battlefields, burnt down houses and graves of soldiers. Nobody could have remained indifferent to photos of exploded ground, a village on fire, a woman crying at a cemetery, a group of refugees with children...

 

The visitors got interested in small displays, rather complexes of unique items, provided temporarily for viewing by citizens of the Kaliningrad Region whose forefathers participated in operations in the territory of Eastern Prussia such as photos, decorations, documents and personal effects carefully kept in family archives.

 

"The World War I in Posters" impressive exhibition was prepared on the basis of museum pieces of the State Central Museum of Modern History of Russia (Moscow), which possessed one of the largest collections of works of such genre in the world. The global military conflict of 1914-1918 called into being a powerful revival of this perhaps the most popular kind of graphic art. In our country the following prominent painters were engaged in the work on wall graphic art: Viktor and Apollinary Vasnetsov, Leonid Pasternak, Ivan Bilibin, Konstantin Korovin*, Valentin Serov, Lev Bakst, Konstantin Somov, Mikhail Vrubel and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky.

 

The displayed wartime posters provided with clear images and an easy to memorize energetic text possess an enormous emotional impact. Their subject is rather diverse and always patriotic: support of morale among civil population, army and navy; representation of feats of arms of our soldiers; unmasking of the enemy intentions; caricatures of its rulers and commanders; appeal to the country citizens for assistance to the front.

 

*See: L. Lyashenko, "Music of Color", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2011.-Ed.

 
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Even today's visitors are greatly impressed by Pasternak's poster "Help to War Victims" (1914), which depicts a wounded soldier weary of war in heavy ammunition. The same appeal to their contemporaries was also made by Viktor Vasnetsov, who reproduced the folklore stories known to us from our childhood, for example, about a hero fighting against the three-headed serpent, and Korovin who used the image of the great commander prince Dmitry Donskoi, the first Moscow ruler who had started fighting for liberation of the motherland from the Golden Horde.

 

The exhibition of water-color drawings from the collection of the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps (St. Petersburg) represents a gallery of portraits of holders of the St. George Cross of the World War I period. These works were implemented on the decree of Emperor Nicholas II by an artistic team of five students of the outstanding painter of battle scenes Nikolai Samokish for a commission on captured items in 1916-1917. It was created in 1917 (on the basis of two previously existing similar galleries) for description of acts of bravery of our soldiers, trophies, old national and captured enemy colors, insignia and other artifacts for the whole period of the Russian army existence.

 

Among these paintings let's single out realistic portraits of the ensign of the 10th Finland infantry regiment Afanasyev, sergeant-major of the 7th Finland infantry regiment Dudnikov, sergeant-major of the 1st Lifeguards artillery brigade Shchelkunov, senior non-commissioned officer of the Life-guards Finland regiment Glumov and other holders of the St. George Cross, created by the gifted painter Vladimir Poyarkov.

 

The Kaliningrad Museum organized also an exhibition devoted to participation of the well-known representative of the Silver Age literature in World War I Nikolai Gumilyov (1886-1921) who fought in Eastern Prussia. "The country which could have been a paradise became a den of fire," he wrote in 1914, when he got to be called up to the front, though he was exempt from military service due to his bad eye sight. The poet was enrolled in the Life-Guards His Imperial Majesty Uhlan Regiment and on October 17, 1914, took baptism of fire in the battle of Vladislavov (today Kudirkos-Naumestis, Lithuania).

 

Thereafter Gumilyov participated in battles near the settlements of Shillenen (today Pobedino), Schirwindt (Kuruzovo), Pillkallen (Dobrovolsk) and the city of Lazdenen (Krasnoznamensk) in the territory of the present Kaliningrad Region and later described his frontline impressions in Memoirs of Cavalryman and a series of poems. He showed himself to be an expert rifleman and a brave soldier, was decorated with the St. George Cross of the 4th and 3rd degrees (1914 and 1915) and the St. Stanislaus Order of the 3rd degree with swords and bow (1917). The outstanding writer Alexander Kuprin noted: "It is not enough that he went to the present war as volunteer, he, and only he; could have poetized it. Yes, it is true that he was not devoid of... love for his country, of a sense of duty to it and a sense of personal honor. And so... he was always ready to pay at the price of his own life."

 

The exposition displays unique materials from collections of the Russian State Archives of Literature and Arts (Moscow) and the Museum of Anna Akhmatova in the Fountain House (St. Petersburg), connected with Gumilyov's biography and creative work in the war years. They include copies of the manuscript "Memoirs of the Cavalryman", poems, letters, addressed to his wife Anna Akhmatova in 1910-1918, rare photos, etc.

 

The abovementioned Kaliningrad exhibitions naturally reflect regional aspects of such scale event of the early 20th century as World War I, but they also help understand the role of Russia in the developments of those years and better learn national history.

 

Illustrations supplied by the Kaliningrad Regional Museum of History and Arts

Опубликовано на Порталусе 23 ноября 2021 года

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