“I already told them the meat is fine." - Eisenstein and the “Potemkin” Mutiny in 1905

27 June 1905, the famous mutiny aboard the Imperial Russian battleship “Potemkin” began off Odessa, immortalised in Sergei Eisenstein’s eponymous movie.

“I already told them the meat is fine. The maggots are nothing more than larvae eggs that flies had laid there. They simply need to be washed away with salt and water. The cook did this on my instructions. If the crew continues to refuse to eat, then it is they who are spoiled. That's it." (“Potemkin’s” ship’s doctor Smirnov’s report to Frigate Captain Giliarovsky)

A Soviet propaganda poster from the late 1920s, the red text above the matelot’s head reads: “Freedom for all people – 1905” and the banner’s text: “Glory to the people’s heroes of Potemkin”

It was the rotten meat in their borsht that finally did it for the men of the “Kniaz Potemkin Tavricheskiy”. Even threatened at pistol point by the battleship’s XO, Frigate Captain Ippolit Ivanovic Giliarovsky, a downright tartar, the crew refused to touch the pigswill and stubbornly stuck to eating Бутерброд, butterbrot. “Potemkin’s” commander, Captain Golikov, hesitantly called all hands, only 12 men came forward, the ship’s marines were called out and Giliarovsky had the “Potemkin’s” deck covered with tarpaulin to prevent any fouling that was to be expected since he planned to teach the obviously mutinous crew a lesson. He grabbed a marine’s Mosin-Nagant rifle, took aim and shot one of the ringleaders, Grigory Vakulinchuk, while the marines dispersed. The crew, having somehow obtained some of the ship’s rifles, returned fire, Giliarovsky was hit twice and then tossed overboard. Seven of “Potemkin’s” 18 officers, including Captain Golikov, were killed afterwards, a committee took over, a red flag was hoisted and the “Potemkin” steamed towards Odessa.

The "Potemkin" steaming ahead.

Riots had already broken out in Odessa in the wake of the Revolution of 1905, the army was advancing and five battleships of the Black Sea Fleet were dispatched, either to retake or sink “Potemkin”. The mutinous battleship left Odessa on June 29th and the operation ended in a fiasco for the loyalists since nobody in the whole two squadrons followed orders to fire at “Potemkin” – that were given hesitantly anyway, every single one of them was antiquated compared to the new “Potemkin” - and one other ship, the old “Georgii Pobedonosets” even joined the mutiny for a time, until loyal elements of the crew retook her two days later and ran her aground near Odessa. The “Potemkin”, in the meanwhile, sailed for Romania and her crew was finally granted asylum by the local authorities. “Potemkin” was scuttled in the harbour of Constanta. The men were interned there while their ship was refloated and put into service of the Imperial Russian Navy again to serve in the Great War. She was finally scrapped in 1923.

Dramatic still from Eisenstein's iconic movie

While the ship and her story became iconic for the Soviet historical narrative as well as a name familiar to every cineaste all over the world due to Sergei Eisenstein’s epochal silent movie “Battleship Potemkin”, the fate of most of the mutineers remained obscure, most of them returned to Russia and were distributed among various army units, the ringleaders that decided to go back to Mother Russia were court-martialled and shot, as they would have been under any other government in the world. One crew member of the “Potemkin” decided to try his luck elsewhere, though. Ivan Beshov actually wanted to go to America, ended up in Dublin, was imprisoned as a spy, worked in the docks after his release and finally decided to open a fish and chips shop in Howth – and made his fortune. Today, the Beshoff Bros fish and chips shops are well known in Dublin and Ivan lived to the ripe old age of 104 years and according to his grandson John lived life to the fullest: “Until his death my grandpa could outdrink any Irishman,” remembers John with a smile. “He ate a lot of boiled fish and meat, and alcohol didn’t affect him at all. It is strange that he never drank vodka, and only rarely beer. But he was incredibly keen on Irish whiskey. Moreover, he adored strong cigars and he was always smoking his pipe.”

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and Ivan Beshoff’s story on: