Battleship 'Imperatritsa Mariya' Magazine Explosion

The second class, the three-ship Imperatritsa Maria-class, were true dreadnoughts.

Displacing 22,600 tons, armed with 12 X 12-inch guns, and capable of 21 knots, they tipped the balance of power in the Black Sea to the Russian Side, with the Imperatritsa Maria and Imperatritsa Ekaterina clashing on two occasions with the German battle cruiser Goeben. The Imperatritsa Maria exploded and capsized at Sevastopol in October 1916 as a result of yet another battleship magazine explosion. Both classes saw considerable action in the Russian Civil War, and a Bewildering series of name-changes reflected the varying fortunes of that struggle.

Russians received a heavy blow on 20 October 1916, when Imperatritsa Maria, anchored at the port of Sevastopol had a series of explosions and had to be flooded. The reason of these fatal explosions still remains a unknown and whereas a sabotage could be possible the most common explanation today is that it was a case of self-ignition of the cordite.

On the morning of 20 October 1916 a fire was discovered in the forward powder magazine while at anchor in Sevastopol, but it exploded before any efforts could be made to fight the fire. However, sailors led by Engineer-Mechanic Michman Ignat'ev had flooded the forward shell magazine before the explosion at the cost of their own lives. Their action probably prevented a catastrophic detonation, but all of the other magazines were flooded as a precaution. About forty minutes after the first explosion a second explosion occurred in the vicinity of the torpedo flat that destroyed the watertight integrity of the rest of the forward bulkheads. Imperatritsa Mariya began to sink by the bow and listed to starboard. She capsized a few minutes later, taking 228 sailors with her. The subsequent investigation determined that the explosion was probably the result of spontaneous combustion of the ship's nitrocellulose-based propellant as it decomposed.

Following a complex salvage operation, the ship was eventually refloated on 18 May 1918 and moved into Sevastopol's Northern Drydock on 31 May, still upside down. However, in the chaos of the Russian Revolution and Civil War, no further repair work was done although her 130-mm guns were removed. By 1923 the wooden blocks supporting her in place were starting to rot and she was floated out and grounded in shallow water in 1923. She was approved for scrapping in June 1925 and officially stricken on 21 November 1925, although the work did not begin until 1926 when she was refloated and moved back into the drydock. Her gun turrets, which had fallen out of the ship when she capsized, were later salvaged. Two of them were used as the 30th Coast Defense Battery defending the city during the Siege of Sevastopol during World War II.