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Ivan Konstantinovich Grigorovich

military , politician , admiral

Ivan Konstantinovich Grigorovich as Imperial Russia's last Naval Minister from 1911 until the onset of the 1917 revolution.


Ivan Grigorovich was born on February 7, 1853, Saint Petersburg, Russia.


He graduated from the Naval College in 1874 and served in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877/1878.


He then embarked on a steady climb through the navy's officer corps in a succession of sea commands in the Baltic and Far East. Grigorovich took one notable break from sea duty, serving as naval attaché in Great Britain, 1896-1898. In 1903 he took command of the newly constructed battleship Tsarevich, built in France, and sailed it from Toulon to the Far East. He was decorated for heroism at the start of the Russo-Japanese War; then, as a newly promoted rear admiral in March 1904, he was placed in command of the shore installations at Port Arthur. He held this post through the siege of Russia's Far Eastern stronghold, and he was decorated again, this time in recognition of his growing reputation as an administrator.

The years of rebuilding Russian naval strength after the debacle against Japan brought new luster to Grigorovich's reputation. Appointed chief of staff for the Black Sea Fleet in 1905, he left to take command of the Baltic port of Libau in 1906. In 1908 he took charge of Kronstadt, the most important of Russia's naval bases. The next year Grigorovich began service as assistant to the minister of the navy. In 1911, promoted admiral, he became minister of the navy.

Grigorovich proved to be both an able administrator and a skilled cabinet bureaucrat. He enjoyed good relations with Duma deputies (notably Octobrists) interested in expanding the navy; at the same time, he managed to retain the support of Tsar Nicholas II. The admiral quickly won the Duma's approval for a massive building program, which would provide Russia with seven new battleships and a comparable number of cruisers and destroyers; the program was to last until 1930. An even more impressive show of his political skill can be found in Grigorovich's ability, unique among the ministers serving in July 1914, to remain in office until the March Revolution in 1917.

Grigorovich's policies called for concentrating Russian naval strength in the Baltic, bolstering the fleet there with expanded and modernized bases such as Reval. In Admiral von Essen, Grigorovich had a Baltic Fleet commander more than able to put Russian resources to maximum use. But even this dynamic team could not offset the superiority of German naval resources. Fear of a German offensive strike into the Gulf of Finland, followed perhaps by an amphibious landing near St. Petersburg, dictated a defensive strategy based on massive mine fields. In the Black Sea the picture was similarly cloudy before 1914. Turkey threatened to tip the balance away from Russia by acquiring foreign built battleships. In the summer of 1912 mutinies broke out in the Black Sea Fleet, and these echoes of the revolution of 1905 brought Grigorovich personally to the scene to deal with this internal menace.

The outbreak of World War I blurred Grigorovich's role. The navy came under the supervision of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, Russia's generalissimo. And the potent Baltic Fleet, with a view to possible German amphibious landings in the Finnish gulf, was placed directly under the command of the local Sixth Army. Essen bridled at the consequent restrictions placed on his offensive tendencies; until his death in 1915, he sent his smaller war vessels off on offensive mining operations. His successors, Kanin and Nepenin, pursued this policy, but with diminished verve. In the Black Sea the presence of the German battle cruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau tipped the scales in favor of the enemy in 1914. The following year, German submarines appeared to keep the Russians insecure. The Black Sea force found itself saddled with a variety of missions: from cutting off Constantinople from coastal vessels delivering fuel to interdicting Turkish seaborne supplies for the armies in the Caucasus to mounting naval demonstrations to the north of the Dardanelles. Not until the arrival of the young Admiral Kolchak in the summer of 1916 did Russia begin to dominate the Black Sea. In all this, Grigorovich found himself in a tangle of conflicting interests: a military High Command that looked almost exclusively to land operations and a diverse set of admirals, some of whom welcomed a passive posture and others who bridled at it.

As a cabinet member Grigorovich is credited with quiet and effective support of the needs of the navy. He avoided the bitter ministerial infighting that seriously disrupted the Russian government. To his friends in the Duma, he seemed a liberal, and in the summer of 1915 their trial balloons raised his name as an alternative to the aged reactionary premier, Ivan Goremykin. Nonetheless, Grigorovich carefully skirted direct clashes with the crown. In September 1915, citing his military oath of loyalty to the tsar, he joined Goremykin in refusing to sign the protest launched by most cabinet members against Nicholas' decision to take direct command of the armies.

Additional indications that Grigorovich sought to arrest, and perhaps reverse, the disastrous course of Russian affairs were evident in 1916. He opposed the plan of Minister of the Interior Aleksandr Protopopov to concentrate most essential government functions under that incompetent reactionary. In the tumultuous Duma session of November 14, Kadet leader Paul Miliukov had attacked Premier Sturmer and, by implication, Empress Alexandra. Along with the war minister, General D. S. Shuvaiev, Grigorovich visited the Duma at once to ask for continued support for their efforts. In the judgment of some historians, he thus deliberately distanced himself from the hidebound conservatism of Sturmer. Grigorovich also visited the tsar to warn of the growing unrest to be found in the Russian fleet and in the shipyards. The tsar did not respond.


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Grigorovich was politically sympathetic to the Octobrist Party and was nominated as a candidate for Prime Minister in 1916; however his candidacy was rejected due to objections from dowager tsarina Maria Feodorovna over Grigorovich’s liberal views.


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