Andrei Eberhardt Edit Profile
Choosing a career as a naval officer, Eberhardt completed the Naval College in St. Petersburg in 1878 and was commissioned a midshipman.
The young officer saw extensive sea duty over the next twenty-five years, mainly with the Russian Pacific Fleet; he advanced to the rank of captain in 1902. In 1896-1898 Eberhardt took a break from service at sea to serve as naval attaché in Constantinople. He commanded a battleship and held a series of senior staff positions in the Far East during the Russo- Japanese War, 1904/1905. In the era of postwar reform and reconstruction, Eberhardt rose to the peak of his profession, becoming deputy commander of the newly formed Naval General Staff in 1906. He took command of this important planning body in 1908 and remained until 1911 when he received charge of the Black Sea Fleet. Promoted rear admiral in 1907, Eberhardt rose to vice admiral two years later, and was named admiral in 1913.
Eberhardt's three years of peacetime service at the head of the Black Sea navy were colored by the rapid expansion of Turkish seapower. Russia's likely opponent in any future war in this area had purchased dreadnought battleships from Britain, and these were due to be completed in the summer of 1914. Eberhardt could not expect comparable vessels in his fleet until 1915. Moreover, the Turks were angling to buy up additional dreadnoughts, on order for various Latin American countries, in Britain and the United States. Another danger existed within the Russian fleet, illustrated by a mutiny that disturbed Eberhardt's crews in the summer of 1912. In the face of such problems, Eberhardt gained substantial success in training officers and crews. In late 1913 he accepted, with reluctance, a government plan establishing a defensive role for his fleet in a future war.
Russia's entry into a state of hostilities with the Central Powers left Eberhardt's fleet in limbo. The Goeben and Breslau, powerful German cruisers under Admiral Souchon, reached Turkish waters at the outset of the war. But Russia and Turkey remained, technically, at peace. Foreign Minister Sazonov refused Eberhardt's request to be allowed to treat Souchon's war vessels, probing the Black Sea behind the shield of the Turkish flag, as fair prey. To compound the confusion, Eberhardt was burdened with contradictory instructions in the event of hostilities; told to protect Russia's Black Sea ports, he also had the chore of supporting Russian armies in the Caucasus by blocking Turkey's sea lanes. The Goeben s ability to outrun and outgun any single vessel under Eberhardt's orders compounded the difficulties.
When Souchon shelled Odessa and Sevastopol in late October, Eberhardt was free to go into action. He proved himself more aggressive than his superiors. In late December 1914, the Russians drew blood. The Goeben struck a Russian mine near the Bosphorus with the result that the chief enemy threat in the Black Sea was crippled for months. But Eberhardt was required to use most of his limited store of mines to set up defensive fields to protect Black Sea ports. The shortage of mines plus the difficulty of laying them from destroyers in hostile waters continually frustrated Eberhardt's taste for bringing the war to the enemy.
In 1915 the Russian admiral was presented with a slightly wider field of action. With his ports now secured, Eberhardt was able to get the High Command to sanction offensive action: demonstrations to support the Anglo-French attack on the Dardanelles, action to cut the coastal coaling traffic vital to the Turkish capital, efforts to block passage of seaborne supplies to Turkey's armies in the Caucasus. Again, Eberhardt made his weight felt: summer 1915 saw Constantinople struggling with a severe coal shortage. The arrival of two Russian dreadnoughts, one in July, a second in October, seemed to tip the naval balance to the Russian side. But the appearance of German submarines in the Black Sea partly nullified this advantage. With Bulgaria fighting alongside the Central Powers, German submarines could dominate the western shores of the Black Sea.
Eberhardt did not get another chance. Short of destroyers and obligated to aid the Caucasus campaign in 1916 with amphibious operations, he failed to meet the submarine threat. He was also unable to cut off completely the important coastal routes to Constantinople. In late June the speedy German cruisers slipped through the Russian naval screen and shelled Sochi and Tuapse on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Talk of replacing Eberhardt with a younger and more aggressive leader, heard for some months in the Russian capital and at Supreme Headquarters, was then transformed into action. Admiral Kolchak, the rising star of the Baltic Fleet mining operations, replaced Eberhardt in July 1916. The old admiral was given the usual consolation prize of membership in the State Council. He was arrested briefly in 1918 and died in Petrograd, April 19, 1919.
Clearly an able and aggressive, if not especially imaginative, commander, he had had the misfortune to hold the Black Sea post when his forces were, at best, on a par with those of the enemy. Meanwhile, Eberhardt was loaded down with a multitude of difficult and overlapping tasks. Mitchell has called Eberhardt's displacement by Kolchak, an admiral for only two months, "highly questionable"; but it seems unlikely that Eberhardt could have mustered the energy and innovations that Kolchak brought to the Black Sea command.