The Aurora

Kate and the Aurora, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, 2008

Kate and the Aurora, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, 2008

Docked along the river Neva in St. Petersburg, Russia is the the Russian cruiser Aurora. Someone unfamiliar with Russian history might dismiss it as just an old boat that has been put on display. Those who know a bit of Russian history will recognize it as an important part of the story of the October Revolution of 1917. The Aurora was a required stop for Kate who needed a picture for her uncle, an avowed communist.

A shot from the Aurora was to serve as a signal for the Bolshevik Revolution. The revolution was delayed all day partly because of failure to find workable canons and a red signal lantern at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Orlando Figes in A People’s Tragedy; The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 describes the Aurora’s moment in history:

Meanwhile, at 6:50 p.m., the MRC delivered its ultimatum to the Winter Palace demanding the surrender of the Provisional Government. The ministers, who were at the time sitting down to a supper of borscht, steamed fish and artichokes, all felt a solemn obligation to be brave and resist for a long as they could, although some were concerned that the palace might be destroyed if the cruiser Aurora, anchored alongside the English Embankment, opened fire at it as had been threatened. They reasoned that the Bolsheviks would be widely condemned if they were made to overthrow them by force; so the ultimatum was refused. For a long time nothing happened – the Bolsheviks were still messing around with faulty field-guns and lanterns in the Peter and Paul Fortress – but at 9:40 p.m. the signal was finally given and one blank round was fired by the Aurora.  The huge sound of the blast, much louder than a live shot, caused the frightened ministers to drop at once to the floor. The women form the Battalion of Death became hysterical and had to be taken away to a room at the back of the palace, while most of the remaining cadets abandoned their posts. After a short break to allow those who wished to do so to leave the palace, Blagonravov gave the order for the real firing to begin from the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Aurora and the Palace Square. Most of the shells from the fortress landed harmlessly in the Neva. George Buchanan, the British Ambassador, who inspected the palace the following day, found only three shrapnel marks on the river side of the building, although on the town side the walls were riddled with thousand of bullets from machine guns.

Russian Naval Flag Flying from the Aurora, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, 2008

Russian Naval Flag Flying from the Aurora, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, 2008

Flying from the Aurora is the Stern Andrew’s flag of the Russian Navy. It was first drawn by Peter the Great. The flag was flown by the Russian Navy from 1712 to 1917, and again from 1992 to the present time.


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