The Potemkin, commissioned in 1902, was commanded by Captain Golikov. On June 14, while at sea on artillery maneuvers, its sailors protested over the quality of meat that was brought on board that day for their supper. The ship's doctor inspected the meat and declared it fit for human consumption.
The sailors, dissatisfied with this verdict, sent a deputation, headed by Grigory Vakulenchuk, a sailor and a member of the ship's Social Democrat organization, to Golikov. There was a confrontation between the delegation and Commander Gilyarovsky, the executive officer, who killed Vakulenchuk. This sparked a revolt, during which Golikov, Gilyarovsky, and other senior officers were killed or thrown overboard. Afanasy Matushenko, a torpedo quartermaster and one of leaders of the ship's Social Democrats, took command.
On June 15, the Potemkin arrived at Odessa, where the crew hoped to get support from striking workers. At 6 a.m., the body of Vakulenchuk was brought to the Odessa Steps, a staircase that connected the port and the city. By 10 a.m., some five thousand Odessans gathered there in support of the sailors. The gathering was peaceful throughout the day, but toward evening there was rioting, looting, and arson throughout the harbor front. By 9:30 p.m., loyal troops occupied strategic posts in the port and started firing into the crowd.
On June 16, authorities allowed the burial of Vakulenchuk, but refused sailors' demand for amnesty. That day, the Potemkin shelled Odessa with its six-inch guns. On June 17, mutiny broke out on the battleship Georgi Pobedonosets and other ships of the Black Sea Fleet. However, by June 19 this mutiny was put down.
On June 18 the Potemkin set out from Odessa to the Romanian port of Constanza, where sailors' request for supplies was refused. The ship left the port the following day, but returned on June 25, after failing to secure supplies in Feodosia. The sailors surrendered the ship to Romanian authorities and were granted safe passage to the country's western borders.
The Potemkin mutiny was a spontaneous event, which broke the plans by socialist organizations in the Black Sea Fleet for a more organized rebellion. However, it tapped into widespread disaffection on the part of the Russian people over their conditions during the reign of Nicholas II. The mutineers found sympathy among the people of Odessa. While the mutiny was crushed, it, together with other events in the 1905 Russian Revolution, provided an important impetus to constitutional reforms that marked the last years of the Russian Empire.
See also: black sea fleet; revolution of 1905
Ascher, Abraham. (1988). The Revolution of 1905. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Hough, Richard. (1961). The Potemkin Mutiny. New York: Pantheon Books.
Matushenko, Afansky. (2002). "The Revolt on the Armoured Cruiser Potemkin. " <http://www.marxist.com/History/potemkin.html>.