Russian cruiser Zhemchug
Zhemchug was the second vessel in a two-vessel protected cruiser
Protected cruiser
The protected cruiser is a type of naval cruiser of the late 19th century, so known because its armoured deck offered protection for vital machine spaces from shrapnel caused by exploding shells above...

s built for the Imperial Russian Navy
Imperial Russian Navy
The Imperial Russian Navy refers to the Tsarist fleets prior to the February Revolution.-First Romanovs:Under Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich, construction of the first three-masted ship, actually built within Russia, was completed in 1636. It was built in Balakhna by Danish shipbuilders from Holstein...

. Her name can be translated to mean “Pearl”.


Zhemchug was ordered as part of the Imperial Russian Navy’s plan to expand the Russian Pacific Fleet based at Port Arthur and Vladivostok
The city is located in the southern extremity of Muravyov-Amursky Peninsula, which is about 30 km long and approximately 12 km wide.The highest point is Mount Kholodilnik, the height of which is 257 m...

 to counter the growing threat posed by the Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

 towards Russian hegemony in Manchuria
Manchuria is a historical name given to a large geographic region in northeast Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria usually falls entirely within the People's Republic of China, or is sometimes divided between China and Russia. The region is commonly referred to as Northeast...

 and Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

Operational History

Zhemchug was laid down at the Nevsky Shipyards
Sredne-Nevskiy Shipyard
The Sredne-Nevsky Shipyard was founded before the end of the 19th century in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 1917 it employed 17,000 people. It established a branch in Nikolaev in the early years of the 20th century to assemble ships which had been built in St. Petersburg and transported to the Black...

 in Petrograd, Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 on June 1, 1902 in the presence of Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich
Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia
Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia was the sixth child and the fourth son of Alexander II of Russia and his first wife Maria Alexandrovna . Destined to a naval career, Alexei Alexandrovich started his military training at the age of 7...

. However, construction was delayed due to priority given to completion of the .

She was launched on August 14, 1903 in the presence of Tsar
Tsar is a title used to designate certain European Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism...

 Nicholas II
Nicholas II of Russia
Nicholas II was the last Emperor of Russia, Grand Prince of Finland, and titular King of Poland. His official short title was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias and he is known as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church.Nicholas II ruled from 1894 until...

. Construction continued to be plagued by delays, including flooding in November, and an ice storm in December. However, with the start of the Russo-Japanese War
Russo-Japanese War
The Russo-Japanese War was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea...

 in early 1904, construction efforts were greatly accelerated. Mooring tests were completed by July 26, 1904 and speed trials were held on August 5. Zhemchug was formally commissioned on August 29, 1904 and was assigned to the Second Pacific Squadron of the Russian Pacific Fleet. On September 27, 1904 she participated in a naval review
Naval Review
A Naval Review is an event, where the whole of the US Navy is paraded to be reviewed by the president or the Secretary of the Navy. It often includes delegates from other national navies. It is more regular and frequent than its British equivalent, the Fleet Review, and often occurs on a Navy...

 off Reval
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It occupies an area of with a population of 414,940. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn's Old Town is in the list...

 attended by Tsar Nicholas II, and departed for the Far East the following day.

During the Russo-Japanese War

Under the overall command of Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky
Zinovy Rozhestvensky
Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky was an admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy. He was in command of the Second Pacific Squadron in the Battle of Tsushima, during the Russo-Japanese War....

, Zemchug was part of the Second Pacific Squadron intended to relieve the Japanese siege of Port Arthur
Battle of Port Arthur
The Battle of Port Arthur was the starting battle of the Russo-Japanese War...

. However, she separated from the main squadron at Tangiers and transited the Suez Canal
Suez Canal
The Suez Canal , also known by the nickname "The Highway to India", is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Opened in November 1869 after 10 years of construction work, it allows water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigation...

, and rejoined the main fleet at Madagascar
The Republic of Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa...

. During the transit of the Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...

, she acted as a scout for the main fleet and was frequently on detached duty. Conditions during the voyage were appalling, with the ship overloaded with coal for the voyage, even in the crew compartments, and the crewmen suffering from the unaccustomed tropical heat, poor food and poor hygiene and frequently mechanical failures. One crewman ran amok off Madagascar and had to be shot.

The Second Pacific Squadron took part in the decisive Battle of Tsushima
Battle of Tsushima
The Battle of Tsushima , commonly known as the “Sea of Japan Naval Battle” in Japan and the “Battle of Tsushima Strait”, was the major naval battle fought between Russia and Japan during the Russo-Japanese War...

 from May 27–28, 1905 as part of Admiral Oskar Enkvist
Oskar Enkvist
Oskar Adolfovich Enkwist or Oskar Enquist was an admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy, noted for his role in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.-Biography:...

's cruiser division, and Zhemchug was one of the first ships to open fire on the Japanese Combined Fleet
Combined Fleet
The was the main ocean-going component of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Combined Fleet was not a standing force, but a temporary force formed for the duration of a conflict or major naval maneuvers from various units normally under separate commands in peacetime....

. She took severe damage in the battle, taking 17 hits, with 2 officers and 10 crewmen killed and 32 crewmen seriously wounded. However, she managed to escape sinking or capture after the Russian defeat, and together with the cruisers and , she reached the neutral port of Manila
Manila is the capital of the Philippines. It is one of the sixteen cities forming Metro Manila.Manila is located on the eastern shores of Manila Bay and is bordered by Navotas and Caloocan to the north, Quezon City to the northeast, San Juan and Mandaluyong to the east, Makati on the southeast,...

 on May 21, 1905 and was interned on May 25 until the end of the war.

She was repaired in October 1905, and returned to active service.

With the Siberian Flotilla

During the 1905 Russian Revolution, Zhemchug’s crew mutinied
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

, and joined the riot in the streets of Vladivostok. On the suppression of the unrest, the crew was arrested and court-martialed
A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of...


From 1905–1910, Zhemchug remained based at Vladivostok, but was in poor repair and could make only short patrols or occasional trips to Korean, Japanese or Chinese ports. She was in overhaul for most of 1910. In 1911, she was appointed flagship
A flagship is a vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships, reflecting the custom of its commander, characteristically a flag officer, flying a distinguishing flag...

 of the Siberian Flotilla. She was placed on reserve status in 1912, and was used as a guard ship
Guard ship
A guard ship is a warship stationed at some port or harbour to act as a guard, and in former times in the Royal Navy to receive the men impressed for service...

 at the foreign concessions at Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...

 and Yangzi River from 1913–1914, protecting Russian citizens and economic interests. She returned to Vladivostok in May 1914, and was assigned Commander Baron I A Cherkassov as captain.

World War I service

At the start of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Zhemchug was part of the Allied
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 (British-French-Japanese) joint task force pursuing the German East Asia Squadron
German East Asia Squadron
The German East Asia Squadron was a German Navy cruiser squadron which operated mainly in the Pacific Ocean between the 1870s and 1914...

 under Admiral Maximilian von Spee
Maximilian von Spee
Vice Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee was a German admiral. Although he was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, the counts von Spee belonged to the prominent families of the Rhenish nobility. He joined the Kaiserliche Marine in 1878. In 1887–88 he commanded the Kamerun ports, in German West...

, and operated in the Bay of Bengal
Bay of Bengal
The Bay of Bengal , the largest bay in the world, forms the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean. It resembles a triangle in shape, and is bordered mostly by the Eastern Coast of India, southern coast of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to the west and Burma and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the...

 together with the Imperial Japanese Navy cruiser . On October 28, 1914 she was moored at Penang
Penang is a state in Malaysia and the name of its constituent island, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca. It is bordered by Kedah in the north and east, and Perak in the south. Penang is the second smallest Malaysian state in area after Perlis, and the...

, when attacked by the German light cruiser Emden
SMS Emden
SMS Emden was a light cruiser of the Imperial German Navy in World War I. The Emden raided Allied shipping in the Indian Ocean early in the war, sinking or capturing thirty Allied merchant vessels and warships before being run aground by her captain to prevent her from sinking, after engaging the...

 in what was later called the Battle of Penang
Battle of Penang
The Battle of Penang occurred on 28 October 1914, during World War I. It was a naval action in the Strait of Malacca, in which the German cruiser sank two Allied warships.-Background:...


Zhemchug arrived in Penang on October 26 for repairs and to clean her boilers. Against the advice of Admiral Martyn Jerram
Martyn Jerram
Admiral Sir Martyn Jerram GCMG KCB was a Royal Navy officer who went on to be Commander-in-Chief, China Station.-Naval career:Jerram joined the Royal Navy in 1871....

, commander-in-chief of the Allied Fleet, Commander Cherkassov had given most of his crew shore leave, and left the ship with all torpedoes disarmed, and all shells locked away save for 12 rounds stowed on deck. Commander Cherkassov was at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel
Eastern & Oriental Hotel
The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is a colonial-style hotel in Penang that was established in 1885 by the Armenian Sarkies Brothers. The sea-fronting hotel is known for its luxurious accommodation and restaurants. The address is at 10 Lebuh Farquhar.The Eastern Hotel was founded by the brothers in 1884...

 in George Town with a lady friend. The remaining crew were having a party on board rather than keeping watch. Emden arrived at Penang disguised as a British warship, then raised the Imperial German naval flag, sank a French destroyer and opened fire on Zhemchug at point-blank range with a torpedo and her main batteries. The torpedo hit near the aft funnel, blowing off the fantail
Fantails are small insectivorous birds of southern Asia and Australasia belonging to the genus Rhipidura in the family Rhipiduridae...

 of the cruiser and destroying the aft guns. To their credit, Zhemchug’s crew managed to load and return fire with the front guns, but missed the German raider and struck a merchant ship in the harbor instead. Emden’s second torpedo then struck Zhemchug at the conning tower, breaking the ship in two. The explosion killed 89 crewmen, and wounded 143 others and the ship quickly sank.

A court-martal held in Vladivostok found Commander Cherkassov guilty of gross negligence and sentenced him to 3.5 years in prison. His executive officer
Executive officer
An executive officer is generally a person responsible for running an organization, although the exact nature of the role varies depending on the organization.-Administrative law:...

 Lieutenant Kulibin, was sentenced to 18 months. The sentences were later commuted to 18 months by Tsar Nicholas II, but both officers were stripped of their rank, decorations and status as members of the Russian nobility
Russian nobility
The Russian nobility arose in the 14th century and essentially governed Russia until the October Revolution of 1917.The Russian word for nobility, Dvoryanstvo , derives from the Russian word dvor , meaning the Court of a prince or duke and later, of the tsar. A nobleman is called dvoryanin...

. The bodies of 82 crewmen were buried in Penang; the other seven bodies were never recovered. The ship’s 5-inch guns were salvaged by the Russian cruiser in December 1914.
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