VLADIVOSTOK FORTRESS: HISTORY AND TODAY
I assume every Vladivostok resident saw old fortifications at some point of his life. Specialists admire grand fortress of "city of ours" (famous phrase of Lenin referred to Vladivostok). The Times newspaper wrote in 1919: "Vladivostok fortress is the best of all coastal fortifications worldwide, its buildings can be called a miracle of engineering art." Well, the reporters tend to exaggerations. Professionals also considered Vladivostok stronghold one of the best - which is practically unapproachable - coastal fortresses.
As a matter of fact, the cannons of our fortress never fired at enemy during their 100 years long history. According to prominent navy theorist Nikolay Klado, "the fortress that never has to fight the enemy because the opposite side does not consider challenging it reasonable accomplishes its goal the best way." This phrase is perfect in respect of the fortress of the Golden Horn bay.
HISTORICAL DIGRESSION. (Yeah, I know all this stuff with bunch of old names is complicated even for a Russian. Sorry folks--Max)
End of 1956. Russian Far East is developing. New administrative units merge, old ones break down. Thus, Primorye Territory becomes major unit of South. It contains old Kamchatka, Ud, and Amur Territories. The center of new territory becomes Nikolaevsky post which gets renamed to Nikolaevsk-na-Amure. Kamchatka governor 1st rank captain Kozakevich was appointed a military governor of Primorye Territory and a commander of Siberian (former Okhotsk) fleet and the Pacific Ocean ports. Aigun treaty between of 1859 confirmed the territory of Primorye as it is now. That time the General - Governor of East Siberia N.N.Muraviev-Amursky was sailing from Japan to Posiet. He decided to take a look at a huge bay of Peter the Great. He just could not help noticing well-covered Golden Horn Bay. A year later a military post got set up at that point. Two more years later, in 1962, it was given a new name - Vladivostok.
Vladivostok was officially declared a fortress of 4th class on August 30, 1889. A banner of sea fortresses was raised accompanied by salute volleys. Although, Vladivostok started to look like a fortress right after its foundation: 70 cannons were delivered from Kronstadt on a German schooner "Emma and Matilda". They were intended for defense of South-Ussuriysk area in general, and Vladivostok particularly. A platoon of mountain artillery was located in the suburbs of the post, Tigrovaya and Batareynaya mountains.
Actually, the first coast guards batteries appeared at Goldobin, Egersheld, and Shkot peninsula (places in Vladivostok) in the mid 70s of the last century. The fortress itself consisted of 25 cannons of various types by 1878. Difficulties in political situation all over the world contributed to understanding the importance of military post. We mean worsening of relations with our old enemy Turkey, attempts of USA and UK to take over Peter the Great Bay, and spreading of British influence in neighbor China... it is being known that Russian government did not intend to set up a sea port in Golden Horn Bay. The basic point of South Ussuriysk area exploration was setting up a navy base in Posiet of Vladimir bays. We wont discuss all details of alteration in plans. It might have been a conflict of personal ambitions or some high tactical decision... Anyhow, a military post was removed from Nikolaevsk-na-Amur to Vladivostok in 1871, and a major thing was coming to Vladivostok of one person - Colonel P.F. Unterberger, a chief of engineering department of East Siberian military district.
Sometimes it is impossible to evaluate place of a person in history, and a man himself does not have a clue about his destiny. In a few years Unterberger would become a General - Governor of Amursk Territory and famous explorer of the Far East. First of all he checked all 12 Vladivostok batteries, mine fields of the bay and came to the conclusion that the post was "extremely lacking" defensive means. He made up a report stating the obvious fact that Vladivostok was a pretty remote from a place where the troops of Regular Army were staying at. That's why it was supposed to defend itself absolutely independently for a long while. Mr. Unterberger proposed to build up fortifications providing all-round defense, deliver modern artillery, and concentrate suitable amount of infantry units with all necessary supplies and ammo. Thus, Pavel Unterberger is considered a founder of coastal fortress in Vladivostok.
It took him a year to draw up a detailed plan of independent defense; a military engineer Shirokov came from Khabarovsk and started to built fortifications. By the way, he received 25 thousand rubles only, which was not a large amount of money. He ordered to build lunettes by the military hospital, at a hill by Uliss bay and Tumen hill (where the private cottages are now), and citadels "Srednee" (middle) at Eagle Nest hill and Vstrechnoe (opposite) at Dak mountain - it is at a point of present Medical University. Most of the fortifications got built in 1879, but they were not armed by that time. Captain Shirokov was the only man on the Earth who knew how he had managed to keep within the estimate, but the credits he received were increased later on. Several more batteries got built at cape Cooper (Marine Academy), and cape Burny ("Metalworker" plant). They were made of soil, and intended for defense of Amursky bay against possible descent in Semenovsky scoop. Nowadays, there is a public club "Vladivostok Fortress", which keeps the old citadels in order. Everyone who is interested in history of our city is welcomed to come over there, they will tell you everything you might want to know, show you the old maps and schemes, casemates, underground communications tunnels, and some exhibits.
LUNETTE-a fortification opened from the back side, contains of one or two axles with a ditch in front of them, and axles on the side. Something like letter a giant "n".
CASEMATE- a large room inside the fortress protected from bombs and missiles, soldiers are supposed to hide in there during the battle.
1880. An important event in city's life: a Pacific squadron under command of vice-admiral Lesovsky arrived over here from the Baltic Sea. That was caused by tensions with China and Great Britain. A British squadron was getting ready to hostilities in Singapore, Chinese emperor Tsishi ordered to concentrate huge detachment in a neighbor province. The conflict was just about to happen. Vladivostok contained 10 million rubles worth of property, so it needed really strong defense. That is why the squadron ships delivered the newest 9 and 11 inches coastal cannons that were set at the mentioned fortifications. Vice-admiral Lesovsky wisely proposed to include Russky island in a defense complex. Looks like words were accompanied actions before the Revolution: a new fortification got built right opposite the entrance to Golden Horn Bay a year later. Besides that, two more artillery companies were put together in addition to one that had already been in Vladivostok. All smooth-bore cannons got replaced with rifled ones.
Of course, all constructions of the last century were made of soil and wood. So, now we can see just some tiny accidents of the ground. Although, former citadels showed up once more with a sensation: one more building of a Medical University was building at a point of former Vsrtechnaya stronghold about 15 years ago. Accidentally they found an old dug-out filled with grenades and shrapnel balls for 4-feet cannons. All this could explode any minute, and a gas station was standing just several meters away. So there was like a big mess: evacuation, cordons, mine clearing, and so on. By the way, the ammo was declared Japanese, which was not true. I guess it was some kind of ideological maneuver.
Year 1888: guess what's happening? Yes, sure, new batteries. Novosiltsevskaya and Larionovskaya were built at Russky island, two more - at Nazimov peninsula. Thus, the defense line was moved to Skryplev raid. Colonel K.C.Tchernoknijnikov, a chief of engineering service, noticed the importance of hills of Sedanka valley, and Russkih hill (which is at Russky island). He worked out the first plan of defense from land invasion in the 90s. The plan included construction of five temporary fortifications at mountain heights south to Pervaya Retcka. Another part of this program was digging a channel from Bosphorus strait to Novik bay, that allowed possibility of maneuvers in case of tight siege. The Colonel also planned to build continuous line of barbed wire around Goldobin battery, and replace it with a grand citadel - the center of all defense complex. This was a turning-point in fortress' history - 1895 was the year when independent isolated citadels were built instead of coastal batteries. That is why Vladivostok is a unique coastal fortress with dual defensive systems: one was building in the end of the last century, another one - before World War I. Surely, they incarnated various notions of coastal fortress, in accordance with achievements of engineering.
Huge things should be seen from distance... Now, a century after the construction of first fortification, we can not even call them real fortress intended for long-term defense. The walls of concrete forts were rated at 6" missiles; the constructions themselves could be easily seen from any distance because of their high walls. Though, the citadels took lots of space (5-7 hectares) and were surrounded by deep ditch ditches, they did not have enough casemates, just a couple of shelters inside the perimeter, isolated from each other. French, German, and Belgian forts of that time looked much more impressive: mighty solid structures connected by tunnels, and armored steel towers for artillery. This does not mean that Colonel Tchernoknijnikov and his associates were not qualified fortificators. They were limited in financial respect and time. Besides that the likely enemies' armies did not have heavy artillery and experience of fortress siege.
The Colonel began realization of his project, not waiting for final approval from the capital. The works started upon receipt of credits from the government. Meanwhile, the situation at Far East has become aggravated because of the war between China and Japan in 1894-1895. Russian troops in East Siberia were ready for action. Vladivostok garrison held tactical exercise which has shown complete unfit of fortifications for defense from aggression from land.
All shortcomings were described in a report "Notice of present state and needs of Vladivostok fortress" by General-Lieutenant Dukhovsky. That report was shown to czar, who decided to assign money for project of long-term defense of the entire Vladivostok. This decision and project approved in 1896 greatly advanced fortification works.
Having signed the Simonoseksk treaty in 1895, Japan had to give up its claims for Liaodung peninsula (Port Arthur) under pressure from Russia, Germany, and France. Russia supported China in its struggle with Japan, not without a selfish motive, of course. Treaty with China of 1896 allowed Russia building a railway through Manchuria (KVJD in Russian ) Chinese-Eastern Railroad. There was no Trans-Siberian railroad yet, so the freight was going by Amur, and then by Ussuriysk railroad from Khabarovsk. Czar's government managed to rent Port Arthur for 25 years. Thus, Port Arthur with its advantageous strategic location became a major Navy base at the Pacific Ocean.
When Russia acquired Port Arthur as a perfect naval base, Vladivostok fortress construction got delayed. Indeed, there is always lack of funds. The money that were primarily intended for Vladivostok were given to Port Arthur. Nevertheless, the construction was going on: Three northern forts started to look like real reinforced citadels, old coastal batteries got concrete "shirt", a central military road got built, too. By the way, it is in good condition today. One can easily identify it by granite borders in contrast to recent concrete borders.
However, the building of new forts got stopped by Military Minister General-Lieutenant A.N.Kuropatkin in January 1899. He ordered to build long-term defensive line 3-5 kilometers away from the bay, which did not protect the city at all. Local engineers pointed at stupidity of its decision, but they always know it better in the capital. Yeah, right...
New time, new people... A famous military engineer Colonel K.I.Velichko, Professor of Nikolay's Engineering Academy, arrived to Vladivostok in 1899 to work out a new project of defense. He was the man who designed Port Arthur's fortifications. That is why the fortresses of two cities are so alike, though Vladivostok's were improved after Port Arthur's fall.
Thanks to K.C.Tchernoknijnikov, the chiefs of Vladivostok fortress decided to leave forts Northern and North-Eastern as a front line. That was a really wise decision in respect of future opposition with Japan. Vladivostok was supposed to be a major naval base in case of war with Japan. Actually it was protected just by 23 coastal batteries, and just 80 cannons out of 400 were suitable for fortress defense. Ussuriysky bay and Russky island did not have any fortifications at all. On the other hand, 116 cannons protected Port Arthur from sea, and eight - from land attack...
That was the disposition by the beginning of war...read about it in the next issue.