A digital image of the Tsarist-era Russian Navy cruiser Aurora (Russian: Аврoра) which served as an iconic symbol of the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, moored in the Neva River at St. Petersburg, Russia.

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Russian Navy cruiser Aurora

The Aurora

The Aurora’s keel was laid down at the “New Admiralty” shipyard in St.Petersburg on 23 May 1897. She was one of three Pallarda-class cruisers, built for service in the Pacific Far East. All three ships of this class served during the Russo-Japanese War. The cruiser was launched on 11 May 1900 and joined the Navy of Russia in July 1903. The ship measures 126.8 meters (418 feet 5 inches) in length, 16.8 meters (55 feet 5 inches) in width and weighs a staggering 7,600 tons. Maintaining a speed of 20 knots (23.3 miles per hour) it can travel independently for up to 1,440 sea miles.

Soon after entering service, in November 1903, Aurora was ordered to sail with a group of reinforcements to the Russian Pacific Fleet. However, she suffered from repeated mechanical failures and had to be repaired at several ports along the way. When word was received of the start of the Russo-Japanese War while at Djibouti, she was detached from the reinforcement fleet and sent back to the Baltic. After refitting, Aurora was ordered back to Asia as part of the Russian 2nd Pacific Squadron, a collection formed from the Russian Baltic Fleet, under the command of Vice-Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvenski. On the way to the Far East, Aurora was involved in the Dogger Bank incident when Russian vessels mistook British trawlers for Japanese warships in the North Sea and fired on them. Russian vessels also fired on each other. The Aurora sustained slight damage during this incident and her captain was killed. The crew used part of the Aurora’s penetrated armor to frame Captain Yegoryev’s photograph.

On 27 and 28 May (May 14–15 in the Julian calendar then in used by Russia) 1905, Aurora took part in the Battle of Tsushima Strait (between Korea and southern Japan), along with the rest of the Russian squadron. During the battle, her captain, Captain 1st rank Eugene R. Yegoryev was killed, along with 14 crewmen. The executive officer, Captain 2nd rank Arkadiy Konstantinovich Nebolsine, though wounded himself took command. After that Aurora, covering other, much slower Russian vessels, became the flagship of Rear-Admiral Oskar Enkvist, and with two other Russian cruisers broke through to neutral Manila, where she was interned by American authorities from June 6, 1905 until the end of the war.

In 1906, Aurora returned to the Baltic to become a cadet training ship. From 1906 until 1912 the cruiser visited many foreign ports; in November 1911 the ship was in Bangkok as part of the celebrations in honoring the newly-crowned King of Siam.

During World War I Aurora operated in the Baltic Sea performing patrols and shore bombardment tasks. In 1915, her armament was changed to fourteen 152 mm (6 in) guns. At the end of 1916, she was moved to Petrograd (renamed St. Petersburg) for major overhaul. The city was brimming with revolutionary ferment and part of her crew joined the 1917 February Revolution. A revolutionary committee was created on the ship, with Aleksandr Belyshev elected as captain. Most of the crew joined the Bolsheviks, who were preparing for a Communist revolution.

At 9.45 p.m on 25 October 1917 (Old Style – Julian calendar) a blank shot from her forecastle gun signaled the start of the assault on the Winter Palace (then the residence of the Provisional Government), signaling the beginning of the October Revolution. In summer 1918, she was relocated to Kronstadt and placed into reserve.
In 1922, Aurora was brought to service again as a training vessel. Assigned to the Baltic Fleet, from 1923, she repeatedly visited the Baltic Sea countries, including Norway in 1924, 1925, 1928 and 1930, Germany in 1929 and Sweden in 1925 and 1928. Until 1940 students of Naval colleges did practical work on the cruiser. The Aurora again visited several foreign ports. In 1924 the cruiser was awarded the Red Banner of the USSR Central Committee and in 1927 decorated with the order of Red Banner.

During the Second World War, the guns were taken from the ship and used in the land defense of Leningrad. During the siege (1941-44) the Aurora was moored at a pier in the Oranienbaum port (the town of Lomonosov) . Constantly shelled and bombed the hull was holed, and Aurora on September 30, 1941. In July 1944 the ship was raised and taken into a dock for repair. The ship herself was docked at Oranienbaum, and was repeatedly shelled and bombed.

In 1948 the Aurora was moored at the Petrogradskaya embankment of Leningrad and served as a training vessel until 1956 when she became a museum (a branch of the Central Naval Museum). Over the years since the Aurora been visited by more than 28 million people from 160 countries. In 1968 the Aurora was decorated with the Order of the October Revolution. In July 1992 the Saint Andrew Naval Banner – the symbol of Russian naval power – was raised over the ship again.

Aurora stands today as the oldest commissioned ship of the Russian Navy, still flying the naval ensign under which she was commissioned, but now under the care of the Central Naval Museum. She is still manned by an active service crew commanded by a Captain of the 1st Rank. The Aurora is now maintained by cadets from the nearby Nakhimov Navy School

In January, 2013, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu announced plans to recommission Aurora and make it the symbol of the Russian Navy due to its historical and cultural importance.