Who's Who - Nikolai von Essen

Nikolai Ottovich von Essen (1860-1915) was given command of the Russian Baltic Fleet preparatory to the First World War and ensured its dominance before his sudden death in 1915.

An energetic naval commander, von Essen was among numerous younger officers active in powering the reform of Russia's inadequate navy in the wake of their disastrous experience during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.  He was subsequently appointed supreme commander of the Baltic Fleet with the creation of the post in 1909.

By the time renewed war arrived in the form of World War One in August 1914 von Essen had brought his Baltic Fleet to an unusual state - for Russia - of war readiness.  Believing that his force was capable of assuming an offensive role he pressed his superiors to allow him to initiate aggressive actions against Turkish and German Baltic operations.

Caution won out however (with the Russian naval high command continuing to fear large-scale German action in the Baltic) and he was instructed to maintain a defensive posture in spite of the Russian fleet's manifestly growing naval superiority in the region.

Despite such restrictions he was nevertheless able to harry Turkish and German operations via the wide-scale deployment of mines until his sudden death from illness in May 1915.  He was succeeded by the competent Alexander Kolchak.

Russia mobilised 12 million men during the war; France 8.4 million; Britain 8.9 million; Germany 11 million; Austria-Hungary 7.8 million; Italy 5.6 million; and the USA 4.3 million.

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