The Protected Cruiser Авро́ра

Lord Fluffy was looking out of his penthouse window in utter disbelief. He had gloried in the view across the bay with his two mighty battleships riding serenely at anchor. Now it was a junkyard. Wreckage littered the sea, one of his warships was sinking by the stern, the Texas was retreating, at a limp, towards the open ocean and a spreading grey-brown cloud was rising ever higher over the docks.

“What the hell? Where did that bloody cruiser come from?”

Thérèse was sorting through the papers on his desk while Lord Fluffy’s back was turned, photographing anything that looked important on her iPhone.

“According to your Pravda mole it’s probably the Bolshevik museum ship Авро́ра. A crew’s worth of Kronstadt sailors turned up the other night disguised as cleaning ladies. They overpowered the nightwatchman and slipped out of St Petersburg before anyone knew what was happening.”

Fluffy ducked, just a hunching of the shoulders and the merest hint of a bow, as two Chats Souterrain Grumman Ducks aimed straight for his window. But they zoomed harmlessly, low over the hotel roof and were gone. He looked round into the room where Thérèse was innocently disinfecting his telephone handset. They could hear distant gunfire in the outskirts of St Hellier.

“Get Mad Jack back here, two minutes. And I want my Roller outside in ten. We’ll take the Chinook to the Tyrany of Sark, re-establish command from there.”

It was a minute and fiftytwo seconds before Mad Jack, in shirtsleeves and carpet slippers, was standing before Mr Fluffy.

“Ah, Major Belvoir. You are in charge. Do not fuck up.”

“Car’s waiting downstairs, Lord Fluffy.” Thérèse Defarge hovered in the doorway holding two overnight bags.

“Shred everything, major,” said Mr Fluffy as he departed with his secretary.

And Major Mad Jack Belvoir of the Third (King’s Own) Hussars was alone in the vast, luxurious and deserted hotel room.

Author’s Note:

At 9.45 p.m on 25 October 1917 a shot fired from the fo’c’sle gun of the Cruiser Aurora (Авро́ра), pride of the Kronstadt Fleet, signalled the start of the assault on the Winter Palace and the beginning of the October Revolution. The round was a blank.

dogger_bank_russian_outrage_incident_1904_st_andrews_dock_hull_postcardSomewhat earlier and less auspiciously Авро́ра was involved in the infamous Dogger Bank Incident. On the night of 21/22 October 1904 she was accompanying the Imperial Russian Baltic Fleet en route to reinforce the 1st Pacific Squadron stationed at Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War. After negotiating a non-existent minefield, the Russian fleet sailed into the North Sea and whilst beset by fog (a traditional excuse) a fleet of Hull coleyfishtrawlers was sighted. Despite being more than 20,000 miles from Japan this was assumed to be a flotilla of Japanese torpedo boats. The officer class of the Imperial Navy left much to be desired. Sans further ado the Russian warships illuminated the trawlers with their searchlights and opened fire. The coleyfishtrawler Crane was sunk and its skipper and first mate killed. Four other trawlers were damaged, and six fishermen were wounded, one of whom died a few months later. The trawlers had their nets down and being Yorkshiremen their skippers were too canny to cut the warps. Consequently they were unable to flee. In the ensuing chaos Russian ships shot at each other. The cruiser Aurora, mistaken for a Japanese warship, was bombarded by seven battleships sailing in formation, causing damage to the ship, killing a chaplain, at least one sailor, and severely wounding another. During the pandemonium, several Russian ships signalled that they had been torpedoed and on board the battleship Borodino rumours spread that the ship was being boarded by the Japanese. Some of her crew donned life jackets and lay prone on the deck, whilst others drew cutlasses. Further losses to both sides were only averted by consequence of the extremely poor quality of Russian gunnery, the battleship Oryol reportedly firing more than 500 shells without hitting anything. The ‘battle’ lasted for some twenty minutes.

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