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The Russian Baltic Fleet

Click here to view photo (300k)Russian Fleet Panorama
flash embedded photo (300k)

By James Burbeck
One afternoon a few years ago, I was sifting through a pile of old books and ship photos when I stumbled onto a neatly folded panorama image. Everything I had seen in this stack of old papers were pre-dreadnought era images and subjects, so I felt a sudden curious sensation, wondering what sort of image or map was saved within those folded sheets of yellowing paper. But nothing prepared me for the rarity that I was about to see. As I unfolded it, an image of a broad line of ships steaming at sea revealed itself in my hands. I immediately recognized the ships as Russian battleships of Admiral Zinovii Petrovich Rozhdestvenski's Baltic Fleet. And equally obvious was the fact that the photo was taken after the fleet had departed from its home in Russia on that long and now famous journey around the world. In the very center of the panorama was Oslyabya, ill-fated leader of Rozhdesvenski's second battleship division. Oslyabya was a sort of early battlecruiser and she was the first ship sunk at the battle of Tsushima. Behind her in the panorama marched a line of clearly recognizable Borodino class battleships, obviously the famous Suvarov, Borodino, Alexander III and Orel. Toward the rear of the clearly visible ships was the old battleship Navarin, her four crowded amidships funnels clearly identifying her. Off the horizon to the right a long line of supporting ships disappeared into obscurity. It was clear that this photo, this beautiful yard-long panorama was possibly one of the rarest things I had ever held, certainly one of the most interesting for people who know about this important period in history. I was fortunately able to scan one full copy of this rare plate for presentation at WTJ. Since then I have held it until the anniversary of the war which led to the making of this historic image.

The first task presented to me was establishing when and where the photo was taken. This was potentially simple because the entire margin above the length of the photo held a line of Japanese/Chinese kanji symbols, some of which were clearly dates. But I already believed that the photo was of more than casual historic importance because of the awnings I could see spread above the decks of the battleships. Those awnings I felt, would probably not have been deployed while still in European waters. Also, of the ships I could see in the photo, several did not join the main fleet until long into their voyage. So I had the feeling that the photo was probably taken in the tropics, long into the voyage and closer to the fleet's day in battle at Tsushima. In my own opinion, there was only one location between Europe and Tsushima where someone could have gone to the trouble of taking such a complex photo of the Baltic Fleet underway in the tropics, and that one place was probably Singapore. I even mentioned this to several people, that I felt the photo must have been taken off Singapore. There seemed no other place for it to have been done. It was not long before I was able to have the text translated, and so it was with some excitement that I waited for my friend to decipher the mysterious text for me. To my great pleasure he muttered "Oh, it says 'Russian Fleet passing Singapore, April 1905'."

Viewing the Image
The original plan for this image was to include it in an article about the Battle of Tsushima. However, there are numerous articles which already cover this well known battle, and adding another pile of words to an already long list seemed like an unnecessary exercise. Instead the image has been embedded in a flash graphic format to allow zooming and panning regardless of screen resolution size. Simply click on the Russian Fleet Panorama link and a popup box will appear at the upper left of your screen. Javascripting must be enabled on your system in order for this to work. Once the image appears, it may be re-sized to the maximum width of your monitor screen by using the mouse cursor and standard windows resizing functions. To zoom the image, right-click anywhere on the photo and select the Zoom In option. Once zoomed, the image can be scrolled or panned at will. Right-clicking anywhere on the photo also allows use of the Zoom Out and Restore All commands.

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