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The Russian Black Sea Fleet was stronger than the Turkish Black Sea fleet for most of the 19th century. But the successful flight of two German ships to the Black Sea greatly strengthened the Turkish fleet in 1914.

Was the Russian Black Sea fleet strong enough to support Russian land operations on the Turkish shore in 1915 and later? If yes, did they do so and where? If no, was it because 1) it was too weak in "absolute" terms (e.g. compared to artillery on shore) or 2) too weak relative to the (reinforced) Turkish fleet?

This link suggests that the naval balance of power was a relatively "seesaw" affair, but is short on dates and details.It also doesn't say anything about how Russian naval power would have "stacked up" against shore based defenses.

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Yes, lots of times

First thing to understand is that Russian Black Sea Fleet remained more powerful then Ottoman fleet, even with the inclusion of SMS Goeben (Yavuz Sultan Selim). SMS Goeben was battlecruiser, and main advantage of this ship was speed, i.e. it was faster then Russian per-dreadnought battleships (like for example Potemkin), and even more modern dreadnought battleships (like Imperatritsa Mariya). In theory, Goeben would also have advantage in firepower over elder Russian battleships, but as witnessed during Action of 10 May 1915 and during Battle of Cape Sarych, Russians sortied their five pre-dreadnoughts (Evstafi, Ioann Zlatoust, Panteleimon (former Potemkin), Tri Sviatitelia and Rostislav) in a unified squadron, and Goeben could not do much against their combined guns. Other German ship (SMS Breslau) was simply a light cruiser that would be vulnerable to Russians if traveling alone. Ottomans had two more pre-dreadnoughts of their own (Turgut Reis and Barbaros Hayreddin). However, this ships were slow and obsolete themselves (plus poorly maintained), and could not hope to outrun or flee from Russian fleet if they encounter it. Therefore, Turks did not dare to sortie with them. Overall, Turkish strategy basically relied on a single ship (Goeben) to do hit-run attacks on poorly protected Russian targets, and force Russians to sail with their ships in a single squadron, therefore somewhat curtailing their sheer advantage in firepower.

However, this does not mean that Russians did not use this firepower against Ottomans, and did not support their troops during Caucasus campaign, right until 1917, October revolution and dissolution of Russian Empire. As mentioned, Russians had quite a few pre-dreadnoughts and latter dreadnoughts. They would usually sortie them together, with some of the battleships standing as covering force in case of Turkish ships appear, and some of them opening fire on shore targets. For example, on November 17th 1914, Russian fleet bombarded Trebizond. On April 3rd, April 25th, May 2nd, May 3rd and May 9th 1915 Russian fleet bombarded forts on Bosphorus. On October 1st 1915 they struck Zonguldak and Kozly. On October 27th 1915 target was Varna (and again in May 1916) etc ... During 1916 Russian ground forces captured Trebizond, again with the help of Russian Navy. There were also raids against Ottoman shipping right up to 1917.

Overall, Russians held superiority in Black Sea theater of war, until their own internal troubles and divisions caused both their army and navy to collapse. Black Sea Fleet did operate somewhat cautiously (probably influenced by events in 1905 Russo-Japanese war) but reasonably successful in that period, and mostly held Turks in check while providing support for actions of their own ground forces.

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Question:
Was the Russian Black Sea fleet strong enough to help with land operations on the southern shore in World War I?

Short Answer:
Russia didn't have much of a Black Sea fleet in WWI. Russia didn't have much of a Navy left in general. What they did have they mostly used in the Baltic Sea to protect St Petersburg(their best port) and prevent a landing on the flanks of their army. For the Black Sea Russia relied on minefields not ships to protect the Bosphorus, and Sebastopol. Still the bar for "help with" when matched with the allies fleets of Britain, France and later the United States pitted against the very weak Turkish fleet the answer to your question would be yes.

After The Battle of Cape Sarych November 14, 1914
The Russians realized that they would need to keep their pre-dreadnought battleship squadron intact if they were to successfully engage Yavuz, thereby restricting their coastal operations. They also concluded that only a handful of their newest destroyers were suitable for independent operations in the Black Sea, as their cruisers were too obsolete to wield successfully against the Ottoman battlecruiser


Detailed Answer:
At the end of the Russo-Japanese War (1905) Russia fell from the 3rd greatest navy power to the sixth. Japan destroyed both the Baltic and Pacific fleets at the Battle of Tsushima. Russian fleet was virtually annihilated, losing eight battleships, numerous smaller vessels, and more than 5,000 men, while the Japanese lost three torpedo boats and 116 men.

Tsar Nicholas II created an ambitious plan to reconstruct his navy in 1906 but that was voted down by the Duma. He then reduced his plan scaling it way back to just 4 dreadnauts and 3 submersibles in 1907 but that too was voted down by the Duma.

Russia didn't get started on rebuilding their navy until 1911 when the Duma finally authorized funds for new ships. The problem was Russia didn't have the capacity to build as many ships as the Imperial Navy was calling for. So Russia had them built in foreign facilities, including in Germany. When World War I did break out in 1914, these foreign orders were used not by Russia but often drafted into service by the countries which was producing them.

Russian Imperial Navy: Reconstruction before WWI
The re-armament program included a significant element of foreign participation with several ships (including the cruiser Rurik) and machinery ordered from foreign firms. After the outbreak of World War I, ships and equipment being built in Germany were confiscated. Equipment from Britain was slow in reaching Russia or was diverted to the Western Allies' own war effort.

During WWI Russia used what ships they had in the Baltic to protect the flanks of their army as well as protecting their best harbor in St Petersburg. Their Pacific Fleat was never rebuilt, In the Black Sea they used mines to protect the Bosphorus, and Sebastopol .

The Russian Navy
By supporting Serbia and being mobilized against the central empires, the Russian army was unprepared. The navy, likewise, was in full plan of rearmament, and confronted in the Baltic with much superior forces. At least in the event of a war against the Hochseeflotte, the cordial entente between France and Great Britain guaranteed an intervention by the Royal Navy against the Hochseeflotte in the west. The construction plan for the fleets was established until 1917. All modern units – battleships, battle cruisers, cruisers and destroyers, were under construction. In an emergency the available Baltic forces had to confine themselves to a defense policy in order to prevent a landing on the flanks of the frontier armies.

The Black Sea fleet, on its side, was to defend the Bosphorus, and Sebastopol, with minefields.

In February 1915 the Ministry of the Navy unblocked a special bug for the emergency construction of 23 additional submarines for the Baltic, 22 for the Black Sea and 41 for the Pacific. With the needs of the men of the front, they began to cancel certain constructions and redefined as top priority the completion of a battle cruiser, 4 cruisers, 13 destroyers and 6 submersibles. Those planned for the Pacific fleet were canceled, Russia having received friendly assurances from the Japanese. A little later, during 1915, 50 barges of unloading for the Caucasian front were built.

Now given all this Russia still had a black sea fleet and from 1915 had control of the Black Sea.

Imperial Navy
The Black Sea fleet was used mainly to support General Yudenich in his Caucasus Campaign.

  • November 2, 1914 Russia bombed and blockaded the ports city of Zonguldak.
  • November 14, 1914 The Battle of Cape Sarych two modern Ottoman warships, a light cruiser and a battlecruiser engaged a Russian fleet including five obsolescent pre-dreadnought battleships in a short action.
  • August 1915, a Russian submarine and two Russian destroyers attacked a Turkish convoy of four transports escorted by a cruiser and two destroyers. The Russian ships sank all four transports without losing a ship.
  • summer of 1916, the Ottoman army, under, Vehip Pasha, was ordered to re-take Trebizond. The Ottoman forces tried to march along the coast in June but the Russian fleet was able to reduce the speed of their advance to a crawl using naval bombardment to harass marching troops and destroy their supply columns.
  • 1916, the Russian fleet mined the exit from the Bosporus, preventing nearly all Ottoman ships from entering the Black Sea. Later that year, the naval approaches to Varna were also mined.


From Comments

from @rs.29
Well, not true. Baltic Fleet had 4 battleships in WW1, but neither was operational at the start of the war (Gangut class) . Black Sea fleet had 5 older battleships immediately available, and latter received 3 more . Overall, Baltic Fleet did have priority, but saying that Russia concentrated remaining navy in Baltic is completely wrong. As for mines, all sides used them to great effect in WW1

Yes 5 pre-dreadnought class battlesships described as obsolete at the beginning of the war. these 5 battleships were not able to defeat a single modern battlecruiser (battle cruisers being faster but less heavily armored or gunned than battleships in the Dreadnaught age) in the Battle of Cape Sarych and were not able operate independently in the Black Sea at all because they were too vulnerable to attack when not clustered.

Battle of Cape Sarych (see Analysis ).
(Russia's Navy) concluded that only a handful of their newest destroyers were suitable for independent operations in the Black Sea, as their cruisers were too obsolete to wield successfully against the Ottoman battlecruiser.

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  • -1 Russia certainly had Black Sea Fleet in WW1 (started with 5 pre-dreadnoughts, and numerous other ships, latter added some dreadnoughts ). At Tsushima they lost ships from Baltic Fleet , not Black Sea Fleet. Russian Navy was hurt badly, but was still stronger then Ottomans in Black Sea. – rs.29 Jan 29 at 18:17
  • @rs.29 as I said, Russia concentrated most of their remaining navy in the Baltic in WW1. It was where they were most vulnerable and faced the greatest threat. Also as I stated the burden in the question is so slight that of coarse the answer is yes. The facts are though as the given source states in the Black Sea Russia relied on mines not its navy to protect its assets. Lastly in the age of dreadnoughts, pre-dreadnought ships weren’t meaningful capital ships. – JMS Jan 29 at 18:43
  • Well, not true. Baltic Fleet had 4 battleships in WW1, but neither was operational at the start of the war (Gangut class) . Black Sea fleet had 5 older battleships immediately available, and latter received 3 more . Overall, Baltic Fleet did have priority, but saying that Russia concentrated remaining navy in Baltic is completely wrong. As for mines, all sides used them to great effect in WW1 . – rs.29 Jan 29 at 18:54

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