World of Warships – Naval Fortress: Fort Alexander I

World of Warships – Naval Fortress: Fort Alexander I


Black walls of the legendary
Fort Emperor Alexander I overlook the Gulf of Finland
near St. Petersburg. This fortress never had
a chance to fight a battle, but it was on the front line of a war, a war against a most
devastating enemy—the plague. Just one and a half centuries ago,
neither high walls nor prayers could save people
from this terrible disease. Millions of lives were being lost. In the late 19th century, another
epidemic broke out in southern Russia. Here, behind the walls of Fort Alexander, researchers
of the Special Antiplague Laboratory started their battle
against this deadly disease. Isolated from the whole world, they were developing and producing vaccines
against plague, cholera, and typhus, which saved thousands of lives. However, initially,
this fortification near Kronstadt had a different purpose. It’s a classic casemated
naval fort of the era when smoothbore artillery was at its peak. The famous French Fort Boyard was
later built following the same principle. Fort Alexander protected the southern
fairway of the Kronstadt Roadstead. Each floor in the fort resembled
a deck of a ship of the line, built one on top another. From a bird’s eye view, this fortress,
which was bristling with cannons, looked quite menacing at the time. So, let’s fly! Naval Fortress The flooding of November 7, 1824, destroyed virtually all
earth and timber fortifications and pile-supported forts of Kronstadt. Laid down as far back
as the early 18th century, Forts Kronshlot and Citadel
were in a miserable state. St. Petersburg, the capital
of the Russian Empire, stood virtually unprotected from the sea. Emperor Nicholas I decided
not just to restore these fortresses, but to rebuild them in stone. He believed that Kronstadt, as the key
to the capital and the base for Russia’s Baltic Fleet, should become a most
powerful naval fortress, whose very look would repel the enemies. It would’ve been too expensive
to build a large fort, because the basement
is immensely expensive here. Only for the load-bearing structures,
more than 5,000 piles were driven in, while their total number exceeds 8,000. So you realize how expensive this is. Therefore, the most cost efficient,
cheap, quick, and simple way was to build several decks
and equip them with cannons. That way you get
a pretty good density of fire. So they decided to build
this powerful tower with three, even four floors and 137 guns,
which together with Fort Paul could fire
through the Big Kronstadt Roadstead. Fort Emperor Alexander I,
which defended the southern fairway, is located 240 meters to the west
from the line between Forts Emperor Peter I and Konstantin. It is an oval 90 by 60 meters,
stretching from north to south. The fort’s brick casemates,
covered with granite blocks, had three decks on its frontal side; the upper, fourth deck was an open one. At the rear, eastern side,
the casemates had two decks,
with loopholes at the bottom. The entrance to the fort from the mooring
was protected by a massive metal gate. Inside the fort,
you’d find two half-towers with ladders
and cannonball heating furnaces, as well as two magazines. Along its rear side, the fort had
a three-story building with a kitchen, forge, and watch room on the first floor, and barracks for soldiers and officers
on the second and third floors. The fort’s armaments
were more than serious. Right here, they had four 333-mm mortars,
which fired 80-kg rounds. A bit further—here—they had a position
for 273-mm Paixhans guns, the most powerful cannons
used by fortresses at the time. And that’s just a small selection
of all the fort’s weapons. Fort Alexander was constructed
when smoothbore artillery was at the peak of its evolution. New gunpowder types were being invented; the guns were being improved—
their range, power, ammunition. On other floors,
there were fifty 196-mm licornes, and fifty more guns of other calibers. The weight of a salvo from all the fort’s
guns amounted to about 2.5 tons. A well-positioned gun on the coast
is worth an entire frigate. The gun is standing on the ground,
it’s standing rigidly; here you have plenty of space
in the casemates to operate the gun— you can load and discharge it quickly. It’s not like on a ship,
where the decks are low, it’s pretty tight, and there’s a risk of fire,
since you have wood around you. However, it’s worth mentioning that wooden
ships weren’t the same in this regard. Thus, some English ships had
their sides up to 1.2 meters thick. So a cannonball couldn’t penetrate
them even in the case of point-blank fire. In this room, they had
cannonball heating furnaces. During a battle, rounds were to be heated
to a very high temperature here before firing. Why? The answer is simple: when a cannonball like this hits a ship,
it immediately causes fire aboard. And just think of what would happen
if a red-hot round hit the ship’s gunpowder magazine. A race was going on between attack weapons
and defenses… Cannons were forging ahead,
even smoothbore guns were developing: new ranges, new forces,
new gunpowder types… Ships were engaged
not only with cannonballs, but also bombs—
mortars were installed here too. Ships were also engaged with all kinds
of curious, exotic rounds, such as chain-shots. These are two halves
of a ball chained together, intended to cut the ship’s rigging. Since shrouds were used
to hold the masts up, if you managed to cut the shrouds,
the ship couldn’t move. By the summer of 1845, when
Fort Emperor Alexander I was commissioned, its combat positions
were equipped with 123 guns: thirty-two 152-mm cannons, twenty 173-mm cannons, four 152-mm carronades, four 173-mm carronades, fifty 196-mm licornes, nine 273-mm Paixhans guns, four 333-mm mortars. The garrison was manned by 786 people. The works were supervised
on the highest level, by Prince Alexander Sergeyevich Menshikov
and Emperor Nicholas I himself. Special attention was paid
to the fortress’s embrasures. Here you can see that an embrasure
in the fort is all made of granite. It consists of about 15 to 18 parts, which are precisely fitted to one another. These granite parts
are designed in such a way so that they press
against each other, and when an external force affects them, its impact is distributed
throughout the entire wall. Later on, moorings
were arranged at the fort and a building for the barracks
was completed. Though the most important thing
for any military installation is its reliability and functionality, Fort Alexander also had
some beautiful decorations. Look at this ladder. This elegant, intricate design
is rather typical for a bank or a rich house in St. Petersburg,
but in no way for a fortress. The emperor was so impressed
by its beauty that he ordered special wooden shields be made to cover the ladder during a battle. When the fort was being commissioned, of course, the emperor
personally visited it and inspected everything here. And when he was aboard his yacht
on the way back, the fort fired a salvo. To be frank, I really wish
I could see that. By the way, the fort did fire
its guns a number of times, as they used to hold exercises
for the whole fortress. This must have been beautiful. But unfortunately, we didn’t have
a chance to see this and never will. The chance to test
the strength and firepower of the new fortification
occurred in 1853, when the Crimean War broke out. The main hostilities took place
in the Black and Mediterranean Seas, but soon the war reached
the Kronstadt Roadstead— the Anglo-French squadron
approached St. Petersburg… From secret sources, it became known that the commander of the Anglo-French
squadron, Admiral Napier, was planning to send
his small ships for a dummy attack
on Kronstadt from the north and, making use of the turmoil,
lead his main forces through the southern fairway. But Fort Emperor Alexander I was waiting
for him there in full combat readiness. Besides Alexander, the southern fairway
was defended by Forts Kronshlot, Emperor Peter I,
and Emperor Paul I, which was under construction. Alexander’s mooring was disassembled
to prevent the enemy from deploying a ground force. A minefield was laid between Forts
Alexander and Paul—a total of 105 mines. The Russian emperor achieved his goal: Fort Alexander became the key element
in the defense of St. Petersburg from enemy ships, and the adversary simply didn’t dare
assault the Kronstadt Fortress. In the second half of the 19th century, smoothbore cannons
were replaced by rifled artillery. The guns’ range of fire increased, so did the destructive power
of the new rounds. In this arms race, Fort Alexander
suffered a devastating defeat. It’s worth mentioning one experiment… In Sweden, they have
a fortress called Vaxholm. It has about the same design
as our Fort Alexander. In the 1860s, the Swedes
held an experiment: a gunboat approached the fort
at a distance of about 600–700 meters and started firing at it. At first, she was firing
red-hot cast-iron cannonballs. These rounds left 20–25-centimeter craters. Then she began to fire a 9-inch rifled gun, and with the third shot
the round penetrated the wall— this two-meter thick,
brick wall covered with granite. All forts suddenly became outdated. It turned out that they were unable
to resist the shells fired by rifled guns. Engineers came up with a palliative
solution, let’s call it so. They proposed to put a meter-thick
layer of sand on the roof and cover it with a concrete pillow
of about 70 centimeters to one meter thick. Theoretically, this was sufficient
to block one hit from a 9-inch shell. But it turned out that this solution
could not be implemented here. The reason is that when Fort Alexander
was constructed, the bending of its vaults began to change, they became lower. And so Alexander’s vaults
simply couldn’t hold this pillow. In 1896, the fort was stricken
from the military registry. At that time, an epidemic of plague
broke out in Russia. The country was in great need
of a laboratory that could make antiplague vaccines. And it was decided to use
Fort Alexander for this purpose. Its location was perfect
for setting up a laboratory. While previously the fort
served as a reliable barrier in the path of external adversaries, now it was to contain a dangerous
adversary within its walls. The access to the fort
was strictly limited. All connections with the outside world
were via a small steamer. The researchers—probably,
with some dark humor—called her Microbe. Among ordinary people,
the Plague Fort aroused true primal fear. Citizens of Kronstadt even feared the winds
blowing from the direction of the fort. In Russia, it was the first laboratory,
the only laboratory of the kind, because one could work
on such a dangerous agent as the plague only here, in a safe place. It was the third laboratory in the world
by the number of serums and other medicines produced. And it supplied them all over the world. This is what makes our fort remarkable. It earned a reputation
not through firing and killing people, but through saving people. A special station for preparing
the antiplague vaccine was launched in the fort
in the summer of 1899. Dozens of doctors were carrying
out medical experiments in this lab— risking their lives, completely isolated
from the rest of the world. Even despite stringent safety measures, two outbreaks of plague
took the lives of two doctors. It must be mentioned that a huge
number of people in our country today owe their lives to this laboratory. That’s because they all have grandparents
and great-grandparents, who were at war and, let’s say, other places
with cholera outbreaks (for example, the cholera
epidemic in Odessa, which was cured using the medicines
produced here, in the Plague Fort). So they owe their lives to this laboratory. Fort Emperor Alexander I held
important roles during its history. It was a formidable gatekeeper
that deterred attacks with the demonstration
of its granite embrasures; and it was a healer
who defeated the deadly disease. Today, the fort’s role
is simply to remain what it is: an example of fortification art and one of the most remarkable
fortresses of Kronstadt.

25 Comments on "World of Warships – Naval Fortress: Fort Alexander I"


  1. It would make an amazing holiday resort which would make enough income to preserve the naval fort rather than let it fall into disrepair

    Reply

  2. I'd really like to see one about Fort Sumter. Again, not a modern fort…but one that is incredibly historical.

    Reply

  3. It would be good if you could do more on the fortifications around the UK , we were even firing big guns across the channel at the Germans and they at us during WW2 .

    Reply

  4. Es una pena ver el destino de estos tipos de edificios, me pregunto que hicieron con el armamento que habia en el fuerte

    Reply

  5. And again Wargaming has gave us some great piece of work.
    Ironically more serious and accurate than any History or nat geo documentary.
    Really good job guys, keep on going.
    Keep history alive.

    Reply

  6. AHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHA
    HHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHA
    HAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHHAAHHAHHAHHAHHA
    HAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHA Polish line hahahahah

    Reply

  7. Do they take suggestions for these videos?
    I don't know how the fortifications around Karlskrona compares to other forts, but it is interesting to note that the entire town was founded by King Karl XI for the sole purpose of acting as a naval base. A pirate captain was asked about where the best place to found it would be, in exchange for a pardon. Karlskrona is in the middle of a large "skärgård" with lots of islands and the main approach is guarded by the small Drottningholmen and the big Kungsholmen. A barrier is built in the water so that smaller vessels like fishing ships can cross freely, but big warships are forced to move closer to the bigger Kungsholmen. Since the forts are located on islands they are also built to defend against assaults from land.
    I think that Karlskrona could serve as an interesting example of not a singular fort, but rather of the considerations taken when building a whole town to be defensible against naval attacks. The large number of islands makes it absolutely necessary to be familiar with the area to be able to fight effectively, making Karlskrona into the perfect place for a naval base.

    Reply

  8. Огромное спасибо за фильмы, за нашу историю, которую вы не даете забыть.

    Reply

  9. Could you do a video about the Norwegian fort Oscarsborg and the sinking of the german heavy cruiser Blücher? =)

    Reply

  10. 78. "Wheresoever you may be, death will overtake you even if you are in fortresses built up strong and high!" And if some good reaches them, they say, "This is from Allah," but if some evil befalls them, they say, "This is from you (O Muhammad )." Say: "All things are from Allah," so what is wrong with these people that they fail to understand any word?

    79. Whatever of good reaches you, is from Allah, but whatever of evil befalls you, is from yourself. And We have sent you (O Muhammad ) as a Messenger to mankind, and Allah is Sufficient as a Witness. (Q.S. 4 : 78-79)

    Reply

  11. Hello! We invite all to visit our excursions to the forts of Kronstadt http://seafort.spb.ru/

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *