Imperial Russian Navy

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The Imperial Russian Navy was the navy of the Tsardom of Russia from 1696 to 1721 then Russian Empire from 1721 to 1917.


It was formally established in 1696 and lasted until being dissolved during the February Revolution of 1917. It developed from a smaller force that had existed prior to Tsar Peter the Great's founding of the modern Russian Navy during the Second Azov campaign. It was expanded in the second half of the 18th century and reached its peak strength by the early part of the 19th century, behind only the British and French fleets in terms of size.

Officers were drawn from the aristocracy of the Empire, who belonged to the state Russian Orthodox Church. Young aristocrats began to be trained for leadership at a national naval school. From 1818 on, only officers of the Imperial Russian Navy were appointed to the position of Chief Manager of the Russian-American Company, which was based in Russian America (present-day Alaska) for colonization and fur trade development. After the navy was initially staffed by paid foreign sailors, the government began to recruit native-born sailors as conscripts, drafted as were men to serve in the army. Service in the navy was lifelong.

The Russian Navy then went into a period of decline, due to the Empire's slow technical and economic development in the first half of the 19th century. It had a revival in the latter part of the century during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II, but most of its Pacific Fleet along with the Baltic Fleet which was sent to the Far East and was destroyed in the humiliating Russo-Japanese War of 1904.

The navy had mixed experiences during the First World War, with the Germans generally gaining the upper hand in the Baltic Sea, while the Russians took control of the Black Sea. The Russian Revolution marked the end of the Imperial Navy; its officers had mostly aligned with the emperor, and the sailors split to fight on either side. The surviving ships were taken over by the Soviet Navy when it was established in 1918 after the Revolution.