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Analysis & Opinion

British monument to Russian glory

21:49 28/07/2006
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Alexander Yurov) - Landelfoot is a tiny village in Western Scotland off the coast of the Irish Sea. Few people in Russia have heard of it. But a monument to the legendary Russian cruiser Varyag was inaugurated there on July 30, the day of the Russian Navy.

"Auf Deck, Kamaraden, auf deck!

Heraus zur latzen Parade!

Der stolze 'Warjag' ergibt sich nicht,

Wier brauchen keine Gnade!"

* * *

"All on deck, comrades, all on deck,

This is our last decisive battle,

We'll fight aboard the Varyag till we die,

But it really won't matter...

The lyrics belong to poet Rudolf Greintz, German by origin, but the Russian version came to be perceived as truly popular verses. The cruiser was commissioned in 1900. It was the first armored cruiser to be built "for the needs of the Far East." On February 25, 1902 the cruiser reached the roadstead of Port Arthur, where it was based for two years. A year later, on December 28, 1903 it made its last voyage to the Korean port of Chemulpo. On the roadstead there it learned about the start of the Russian-Japanese war. Surrounded by a Japanese squadron on all sides, the cruiser made a decision not to surrender, and made for the open sea so as not to prejudice the British, French, Italian, and American warships on the roadstead.

At 10.45 a.m. on January 27, 1904 Captain Vsevolod Rudnev addressed the entire crew lined up on the deck: "Surrender is out of question. We shall not surrender either the cruiser or ourselves, and we shall fight as long as we can, to the last drop of blood." At 11.20 a.m. the crews of the foreign ships, lined up on the decks, paid homage to the courage of the Russian sailors. The battle did not last long. One of the first Japanese rounds hit the ship. Fires flared on board after subsequent rounds. The fire-control tower and several guns were destroyed. At 12.20 the Varyag suddenly ran aground and was exposed to Japanese artillery. Its fate was sealed. A big round hit the ship and exploded below the waterline; water started pouring in.

But for some reason, it became afloat again, and Rudnev ordered the crew to get ready for retreat. But it was not easy to get back to the roadstead. Listing to port, the cruiser was massively gunned by the Japanese. The third smoke funnel was hit but nonetheless the Varyag managed to leave the gunned area, and move in the direction of the roadstead. The Japanese had to stop fire for fear of hitting the international squadron. The battle was finished in a quarter of an hour. The losses were heavy - 33 dead and 97 wounded. The crew decided to sink the ship rather than let the enemy have it.

At 6.10 p.m. she ceased to exist - the Varyag leaned on her left side and went underwater. The Russian fleet lost two more warships. The survivors were brought to Shanghai by European ships, and eventually returned home. This is the known part of the Varyag's legendary history. But her story did not end after the battle at Chemulpo. Almost immediately after the battle the Japanese salvaged the Varyag and named her "Soya". After complete overhaul in 1907, she existed for another nine years until the Japanese agreed to sell her to Russia. On March 22, 1916 the cruiser got its legendary name back, but her condition left much to be desired. In early 1917, the Varyag was sent to the U.K. for overhaul but never came back.

The cruiser was sold for scrap after the October revolution. But she was not destined to disappear forever. When the Varyag was being towed off the Scottish coast in 1920, she ran aground, and in 1925 sank for good in the Irish Sea less than half a mile from Landelfoot.

Mikhail Slipenchyuk, deputy chairman of the organizing committee on inaugurating the Varyag memorial plaque in Scotland, said that the idea to commemorate the Varyag's final abode came from the media. TV journalist Alexei Davydov reminded Russia of her dramatic history three years ago. "We thought it was very important not to let the heroic Varyag disappear without a trace," Slipenchyuk explained. "Now there is a place where she is buried, and we felt we should commemorate this. People should have a chance to bow to the legendary cruiser."

Sergey Poltavchenko, the Russian President's envoy to the Central Federal District, made a decision to support the initiative, and headed the organizing committee. But the action was not limited to the memorial plaque in Scotland. On that day, a national contest was launched for the best monument to the symbol of Russian glory. It will replace the plaque. In the future, the local authorities and Russian businessmen will take care of the monument.

The history of the cruiser is full of drama. It was not very long, but her feat is a source of inspiration for all Russians.

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