This was what it was all about ! Not for him the glory of a Poland reborn under a Habsburg king. Nor of a Paris bombarded, shattered and triumphantly entered. Nor even of the South German states swallowed up by the victorious empire of the North.
No, for Royal Navy Captain Iain Stewart, later of His Majesty's Ship Bellerophon, the five-year conflict had brought glory in the sight now unfolded beneath him. Ten great grey hulks swung lazily at anchor, rust evident, decay and disrepair barely hidden by the work their remaining crews carried out to relieve their boredom. For here lay the defeated remnants of the Imperial Russian Navy, surrendered to their enemy by the terms of the Treaty of Stockholm. Captain Stewart knew that many of his countrymen would see the almost identical scenes in the Humber as of greater import. For there the French Admiral Marceau has surrendered the Atlantic Fleet of the Second Empire.
But Stewart's war had not been against the forces of Napoleon IV, but against those of Tsar Nicholas II. The Bellerophon had been flagship of the British Empire's Baltic Squadron, fighting since 1916 the Baltic Fleet of Admiral Nikolai Essen. That worthy was now dead, killed when an Anglo-Swedish force had seized Helsingfors in late 1919. But the final victory had only come in May, now four months past. The navies of the victorious powers - Sweden, Britain and the North German Empire - had blockaded the Russian fleet in Reval and Kronstadt. With unrest breaking out across the empire, not least in the three fleets that the Tsar had spent so much on building up, Russia could only sue for peace.
Captain Stewart saw again in his mind's eye the sour faces of the Russian officers as he had stepped off the Bellerophon in Saint Petersburg. The Tsar himself had signed Armistice with them. A little over a month later he was gone, forced to abdicate after a palace revolution had brought his brother to power.
Thus it was Tsar Michael II's name which graced the Stockholm Treaty, though he had remained in Russia, deputising the task to his cousin Dmitri and First Minister Prince Yusupov. Whilst chaos reigned in the streets of the cities, and Guard Units and Cossacks put down mutinies within the shattered army, Russia had signed away its navy.
That in the Pacific had already been broken by Admiral Milne's Anglo-Chinese force, the defeats at Pusan and Gorshkov Bay leaving few major ships to surrender at Vladivostock.
The Russian Black Sea Fleet had had the best of the war, at first keeping at bay, and later fighting to the edge of defeat the British, North German and Ottoman forces which despite the best efforts of Admiral Moore had never been able to mould effectively into a coherent unit. In defeat the Russian Black Sea Fleet had mutinied en masse, scuttling its ships rather than surrender them. In turn, Odessa and Sevastopol were now occupied by Anglo-Turkish forces. The scuttled ships would be raised, repaired and handed over to the Ottoman Empire. Not until then would the occupying forces leave. Such was the level of humiliation that the Russian Empire had had to agree to at Stockholm.
But Captain Stewart knew that the greatest humiliation had been in the Baltic. As Flag Captain to Admiral Packenham he had seen first-hand the professionalism of the Russians, the sturdiness of their ships and their tactical skill, especially while Admiral Essen had remained alive. Of the three Russian fleets the Baltic Fleet had had the most money spent on it, attracted the best officers from the academies and had been under the personal patronage of the Tsar.
Of its twenty super-battleships, three lay incomplete in the River Neva, two rested on the seabed at Helsingfors, and two had been lost at sea - the Osliabia to mines off Kronstadt, and the Gangut at the 1918 Battle of Bornholm. The Treaty of Stockholm had required the surviving ships surrendered to North German ports. Two were at Danzig, and ten here at Kiel. The remaining vessel, bearing the name of the last Tsar had been blown up by her crew rather than sail from Reval. In retaliation for that act a North German force under Prinz Adalbert's personal command had seized the port, and after stripping it of every conceivable asset blown up the warehouses, the wharves and the docks. For the foreseeable future Russia would get no use out of its former base.
"I wager that you can name them all, even from this distance."
Captain Stewart turned to the new arrival and nodded. Major Charles Stockbridge had served as army liaison to the British Baltic Squadron and the two men had come to know each other well in the last four years.
"The twins in the centre are the flagship Rossiya - with the taller funnel - and the Petr Veliki. Towards the sea you have the four super-battleships of the Sissoi Veliki class. Coming towards the land there is the Tsar Aleksandr III there, " he pointed at a long slimmer vessel, her four funnels marking her off from the others, "-the only survivor from her class of four."
"Two sunk at Helsingfors and the Nicholas II at Reval" the Major smiled in being able to supply an answer.
"Indeed" Captain Stewart nodded, "then there are the Ushakov and Apraxin, another pairing."
"So the ugly brute nearest to us must be the Pobieda."
"Yes !" Captain Stewart sounded more impressed than he was - after all a 16"-gunned battleship with four turrets, three of which were afore, was not an easy ship to misidentify. Newest of the new the Pobieda had only entered service in November 1919. It was her three sisters which remained incomplete at Saint Petersburg.
"One whole class is unrepresented.", the Major observed after a moment's thought.
Captain Stewart was more genuine this time in his appreciation of the army man's observation, "The four original Ganguts. The nameship lost at Bornholm, the Osliabia off Kronstadt..."
"And", interrupted the Major, "the Peresviet and Tsesarevitch interned at Danzig."
"Exactly", Captain Stewart looked out to sea, his eyes not taking in what he saw as he looked into his mind's eye, "So many powerful names, so much history and tradition - so much PRIDE" he paused to look down at the Russian ships, "And it is all ours now."
A smile spread across his face.