In 1902 the Naval Technical Committee (NTC) opened preliminary hearings on the new 20-year shipbuilding program, the previous program having been finished with the construction of the Borodino class. Although the program of 4 battleships was accepted without much discussion and had Tsar Nicholas II approved financing quickly, the NTC had no design proposals for the new ships, and no firm ideas about their combat tactics and performance targets.
In January 1903 the NTC reviewed three possible strategies for the new battleships. The first relied on building more Borodino-class battleships, which were perceived as the state of the art in naval architecture. The second strategy called for enlarging the Borodino, improving its protection and stability, and replacing 6-inch secondary armament with 7.5 or 8-inch quick-firing guns. The third strategy proposed development of a radically new battleship type, superior to any foreign adversary. The idea of a all-big-gun battleship was ruled out from the start, as the Navy tacticians considered an increase in the number of 12-inch guns to be overkill.
As-is copying of the Borodino class was also deemed unsafe: Borodino and her sister ships, then nearing completion, turned out overloaded by at least six hundred tons. The NTC conservatively chose the middle road: enlarging the Borodino. NTC chairman Vice Admiral Fyodor Dubasov parted with ambitions and approved construction of a perfectly conventional battleship displacing 16,500 tonnes, armed with four 12-inch main guns and 8-inch secondary guns, at the cost of thinner armor. Nicholas II, determined to expand the Navy, endorsed Dubasov's choice without reviewing it in depth. Displacement of 16,500 tonnes effectively became a law, a universal constraint that ruled over any engineering and tactical considerations and that was never met in practice owing to poor design and project management.
After obtaining the tsar's signature Dubasov and Pavel Tyrtov discussed the configuration with chief executives of state-owned shipyards. The conference agreed to arm the new ships with proven but already obsolescent 12-inch/40-calibre main guns and 8-inch/50-calibre secondary guns that had yet to be designed and built. Upgrade of the main guns to 50-calibre barrel length was not even considered: Tyrtov made it clear that the matters of armament are clearly subordinate to keeping displacement within the limit. In March 1903 Tyrtov agreed to remove the forecastle and lower the freeboard, sacrificing seagoing to the displacement constraint. Gun placement was simplified, and became inferior to the Borodino class.
In March–April 1903 the NTC's consultants reviewed the drafts of the hull and found it to be superior to Navarin and Poltava but inferior to the original Borodino. Dmitry Skvortsov (1859–1910), the builder of Borodino, warned about unacceptable drag of the proposed shape. Alexey Krylov, then chief of the Navy's ship model basin, performed towed scale model test and came to the same conclusion. Krylov, who was preparing for a sea voyage to Port Arthur to pursue his own academic interests, did not blow the whistle. After the October Revolution Krylov wrote that the hull of Andrey Pervozvanny was so poorly shaped that it required twice as much engine power as more efficient hulls, but in 1903 he kept this conclusion to himself and submitted a critical but very carefully written report.
Krylov's planned departure forced the NTC to hasten official approval of the drafts. Their presentation on July 4 [O.S. June 21] 1903 ended in an embarrassment: the NTC intended to award the contract for one of two new ships to Baltic Shipyard, but did not even inform its master builder Sergey Ratnik about the project's existence. Ratnik, the builder of Alexander III and Suvorov, was confident that the new design was inferior to its predecessors. It had no displacement reserve compared to 246 tonnes of Borodino class and the British standard of at least 4% of standard displacement. The NTC overruled his objections and approved the draft for construction.
In the end of July Ratnik appealed to the NTC again, arguing that the mechanisms and systems overlooked by the designers will add five to six hundred tons to the ship's weight. The NTC dismissed his complaint and proceeded with the flawed design. In line with Russian practice of the period, it was a collective work signed off by a ring of designers and bureaucrats. No one dared to take the lead and assume full responsibility.
In August 1903 the NTC finalized its drafts with only marginal improvements. On August 29 [O.S. August 16] 1903 the Ministry of the Navy awarded construction contracts to the New Admiralty of the Port of Saint Petersburg (Andrey Pervozvanny) and Baltic Shipyard (Imperator Pavel I). The new projects were officially christened on August 22. Andrey automatically assumed the role of the lead ship, Baltic Shipyard was instructed to trail behind the New Admiralty.
Admiral Rodionov, chief of the Department of Construction, estimated that the lead ship could be launched in the spring of 1906 and be ready for a shooting practice in the spring of 1907. By the end of 1903 this schedule was already broken by a confusion over working drawings. Both master builders (Skvortsov for the New Admiraly and Ratnik for Baltic Shipyard) complained about poorly executed drafts. Ratnik noticed that the bilge keels added by the NTC did not fit into existing drydocks of his yard. He again alerted the admirals of the inevitable overload and demanded redesign of belt armor to match the expected rise in waterline level. According to Skvortsov, the proposed technology called for unnecessary breaks in construction schedule because deck armor could only be ordered and made to measure after completion of underlying structure. He proposed replacement of armor deck with softer steel which could be cut on site, saving a whole year of idle time, but the NTC insisted on following the original plan.
Actual work on Andrey Pervozvanny commenced on March 2, 1904; work in Imperator Pavel I commenced on October 14, 1904. Contracts for steel were awarded to Putilov (structural steel) and Izhorsky Plant (armor plates). Coal-firing boilers and steam engines were ordered from the Franco-Russian Plant of St. Petersburg. In an inexplicable twist of the NTC bureaucracy, engines for two sister ships were ordered to different specifications. They turned out extremely inefficient compared to the French engines of Tsesarevich.
By this time all active admirals who could intervene and call the NTC to answer were either killed in the opening stages of the Russo-Japanese War or heading to the Battle of Tsushima. Skvortsov continued to fight the NTC chaos alone. In October–December 1904 he persuaded the NTC to replace practically useless hand-cranked firefighting pumps with Worthington steam pumps He argued that the arrangement of bilge pumps of different capacities, favored by the NTC, was inadequate to the purpose, and persuaded the designers to use standard 500 tonne-per-hour pumps. These small improvements did not change the already obsolete design, and construction proceeded at a slow pace, frequently interrupted by redesign proposals, change orders, rework and inevitable delays. After the completion of Andrey Pervozvanny its builders identified seventeen distinct stages of its design.
In line with Russian tradition Andrey Pervozvanny was formally laid down in May 1905, after more than a year of construction work. The ceremony coincided with the beginning of a six-month hiatus (May–October 1905) caused by the 1905 Russian Revolution. It became the last of its kind for a whole generation of naval bureaucracy: none of the admirals present ever laid down or launched another ship. Dubasov became the Governor-General of Moscow, and de facto retired after an assassination attempt in April 1906. Admiral Kuzmich, the newly appointed Chief of the Port of Saint Petersburg, was killed by terrorists in May 1906. General Admiral Grand Duke Alexey, Chief of the Ministry of the Navy Fyodor Avelan and Chief Inspector of the NTC Nikolay Kuteinikov, blamed for the losses of the Russo-Japanese War, retired in the summer of 1905. Baltic Shipyard cancelled the laying-down ceremony of Imperator Pavel I altogether: officially, Pavel was laid down and launched on the same date, September 7 [O.S. August 25] 1907.
The sinking of Petropavlovsk in April 1904, which was blamed on a detonation of its naval mine magazines, compelled the NTC to reconsider the use of mines. Russian battleships carried their own stock of naval mines to protect themselves at anchorage, even when accompanied by minelayers and destroyers (as was the case with Petropavlovsk). The NTC hastily stopped the practice, banning mines from new ships and demanding "safe handling" from the rest of the Navy. Later the NTC banned mines from the battleships altogether; the function was delegated to cruisers and destroyers. In December 1904 the NTC also agreed to strip the new battleships of their stern torpedo tubes, but kept the bow and side-firing tubes. In the summer of 1905 torpedo armament was reduced to only two side-firing tubes.
In 1905 the NTC flooded Skvortsov with a chain of conflicting and poorly formulated change orders influenced by war-time experience. The war demonstrated the uselessness of keeping small-calibre guns on capital ships; in May 1905 the NTC removed the 47-mm guns but instead added equally useless 75-mm guns in an upper deck casemate. The 75-mm guns were replaced with 120-mm guns in another round of redesign. Concentration of larger guns in the central citadel compelled the NTC to redesign the middle 8-inch guns, moving them one deck above their original placement. Another war reality, loss of control after direct hits against the bridge or the conning tower, caused the addition of a second conning tower. All hull portholes were replaced with solid armor, making Andrey Pervozvanny and Imperator Pavel I the least comfortable even for commissioned officers. These changes inevitably added more steel to an already overloaded ship; the NTC compensated overload with "optimization" of turret armor, further delaying completion.
By September 1905 all involved parties realized that the project had no chances of meeting the 16,500 maximum displacement, worse, the overload increased hull draft above the maximum depth of the Suez Canal. The NTC urgently commissioned Krylov to redesign the hull, making it wider but shallower. This theoretical work was still in progress when the NTC received the specifications for the new British Lord Nelson-class battleships and the HMS Dreadnought. The NTC considered arming Andrey Pervozvanny with 10-inch secondary artillery along the lines of Lord Nelson but eventually shelved the proposal.
In June 1905 the NTC finally approved Skvortsov's proposal to decrease deck armor, saving 130 tonnes of gross weight. This was only a prelude to a major redesign of the ships's protection scheme. In August 1905 Krylov and Skvortsov independently raised concerns about the ship's stability in combat. Skvortsov wrote that although the maximum roll angle was set at a respectable 30°, combat damage would reduce it to an unacceptably low 15°. The only solution, he wrote, was to extend belt armor upward, effectively armoring the whole freeboard surface. Skvortsov compensated the added weight with the removal of two 8-inch gun turrets and yet another redesign of the remaining turrets. The NTC, scared by the losses at Tsushima, approved the proposal. They were not yet aware of the effectiveness of counter-flooding system of the Borodino-class battleships. Counter-flooding enabled survival of Oryol but her crewmen were still held prisoners in Japan. Their experience materialized in a counter-flooding system designed by Skvortsov in the summer of 1906.
In October 1905 Krylov compiled a report on the Tsushima experience and recommended a substantial redesign of hull armor and counter-flooding system. He advised to increase upper hull armor to 6 in (152 mm) but the NTC discarded the proposal as too radical. The NTC formulated their own proposal in November 1906, when the hulls were already launched. It required virtual demolition of the hull above the waterline and rebuilding it anew. Skvortsov fiercely objected and the NTC reluctantly shelved their plans. The accepted changes were limited to reinforcement of casemate decks and boiler compartments, which were not complete until January 1908. The engines were installed in the summer of 1908, armor plates deliveries continued until March 1910. The central citadel remained incomplete and unarmored until the installation of the 8-inch guns, which were delivered in the spring of 1910.
The original 1903 design provided each ship with two conventional hollow cylinder masts. During the war, the NTC incorrectly assumed that a ship with only one mast would be less conspicuous in combat. The proposal has already been tested on the Novik, launched in 1900. Novik's experience was negative: a single mast severely limited its ability to communicate flag signals. Her successors, the Izumrud-class cruisers, were built with three masts but in 1905 the NTC returned to the old idea and ordered Admiral Makarov with a single mast. Plans to fit Andrey Pervozvanny with a single mast did not materialize although the NTC regularly raised this proposal until the outbreak of World War I.
Assessment of the damage incurred in the Battle of the Yellow Sea led the NTC to another incorrect conclusion. The NTC tacticians noted that a single artillery hit in the mast of Tsesarevich nearly knocked it down; a fallen mast would, most likely, disable the secondary artillery turrets of its central citadel. Lattice masts, introduced with the American South Carolina-class battleships, seemed to be a robust solution. However, they required substantial deck area to fit their wide bases. Instead of clearing deck space, the NTC designed the masts too narrow to be stable. Instead of Shukhov's hyperboloid profile, their structural beams were arranged in a weaker conical shape. Their deficiency was evident from the start, but the Navy needed something new to dispel the curse of Tsushima, and eagerly accepted the flawed novelty.
Andrey Pervozvanny and Imperator Pavel I became the only Russian battleships built with lattice masts. These masts, installed in 1910, turned out unstable and prone to vibration. They took up precious upper deck space, forcing the sailors to crouch under the beams; they were regularly overheated by exhaust fumes, making the signallers work unbearable. Despite those drawbacks, the captain of Andrey Pervozvanny fiercely defended them and objected to all alternatives proposed by the NTC. On the day when Austria-Hungary declared war against Russia, the captain of Imperator Pavel I, who held an opposite opinion, volunteered to replace the masts in three days. Fleet commander Nikolai Essen concurred, and by the middle of August 1914 the old lattice masts were largely gone. Both ships retained the lower baskets of their masts, cut at different heights.
The Andrei Pervozvanny-class ships were 454 feet (138.4 m) long at the waterline and 460 feet (140.2 m) long overall. They had a beam of 80 feet (24.4 m) and a draught of 27 feet (8.2 m). The ships displaced 17,320 long tons (17,600 t) at normal load and 18,580–18,902 long tons (18,878–19,205 t) at deep load. Their hull was subdivided by 17 transverse watertight bulkheads and the engine rooms were divided by a centreline longitudinal bulkhead. They had a double bottom and a metacentric height of 4 feet (1.2 m). The ships' crew consisted of 31 officers and 924 crewmen.
The ships had two 4-cylinder vertical triple-expansion steam engines with a total designed output of 17,600 indicated horsepower (13,100 kW). Twenty-five Belleville boilers provided steam to the engines at a working pressure of 285 pounds per square inch (1,970 kPa; 20.0 kgf/cm2). On sea trials, their engines produced 17,635–18,596 ihp (13,150–13,867 kW) and a top speed of 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h; 21.3 mph). They carried a normal load of 800 long tons (810 t) of coal that provided a range of 1,300 nautical miles (2,400 km; 1,500 mi) at a speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) and a maximum load of 1,500 long tons (1,500 t) that gave 2,400 nautical miles (4,400 km; 2,800 mi) at the same speed. Electricity was provided by four steam-driven dynamos as well as two others.
The main armament consisted of four 12-inch (305 mm) Model 1895 40-caliber guns mounted in twin-gun turrets fore and aft. These guns had a maximum elevation of 35° and could depress to -5°. Eighty rounds per gun were carried and they could fire about one round per minute. The guns could be loaded at any angle between +5° and -3°. They fired a 1,038-pound (470.9 kg) M1911 armor-piercing (AP) shell at a muzzle velocity of 2,702 ft/s (823.5 m/s). At maximum elevation the guns had a range 22,000 yards (20,000 m).
Eight of the fourteen 50-caliber eight-inch (203 mm) Model 1905 guns were mounted in four twin-gun turrets at the corners of the superstructure while six were mounted in casemates in the superstructure. The turret-mounted guns had a rate of fire of two rounds per minute and a maximum elevation of +25° while the casemate guns were faster at 2.8 rounds per minute, but could only elevate to +19°. Each gun was provided with 128 rounds. Their M1913 shells weighed 307 pounds (139.2 kg) and were fired at a muzzle velocity of 2,600 ft/s (792.5 m/s) to a range of 17,270 yards (15,792 m) at an elevation of +15°10'.
For close-range defense against torpedo boats, the ships carried twelve 120-millimeter (4.7 in) guns mounted in casemates above the eight-inch guns in the superstructure. The corner guns were positioned to give them a clear field of fire over the eight-inch gun turrets. They had a rate of fire of 10 rounds per minute and the ships carried a total of 2,628 rounds (219 per gun) for them. While their maximum elevation was +23°, they had a range of 11,007 yards (10,065 m) at +18° using their 45.1-pound (20.47 kg) AP shell.
Two underwater 450-millimeter (17.7 in) torpedo tubes were mounted, one on each side, and they were provided with six spare torpedoes. The ships would have used M1908 torpedoes that had three range/speed settings: 1,100 yards (1,000 m) at 34 knots (63 km/h; 39 mph), 2,200 yards (2,000 m) at 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph), or 3,300 yards (3,000 m) at 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph).
The sides of the hull were completely protected by Krupp cemented armour. The main waterline belt had a thickness of 8.5 inches (216 mm) abreast the engine and boiler rooms and tapered to a thickness of 6 inches (152 mm) at the lower edge. Abreast the main gun magazines the belt was 6.5 inches (165 mm) in thickness and extended to the bow using plates with a thickness of 5 inches (127 mm). Aft of the rear magazine the belt used 4.5-inch (114 mm) and 4-inch (102 mm) plates to the stern. The belt was 10 feet (3.0 m) high, of which 4 feet (1.2 m) was underwater, and was backed by wood. The upper strake of armour had a maximum thickness of 5 inches amidships and it was 8 feet 9 inches (2.7 m) high. It extended to the ends of the ship in plates 4 and 3.13 inches (80 mm) thick.
The front and sides of the main gun turrets were 8 inches (203 mm) thick and their roofs were 2.5 inches (64 mm) thick. Their barbettes ranged from 4 to 5 inches in thickness. The armour plates on the front and sides of the secondary gun turrets were 6 and 5 inches thick, respectively, and their roofs were 2.5 inches thick. Their barbettes were protected by armour 4 inches thick. The casemate for the single 8-inch guns consisted of 5-inch armour plates on the sides while the transverse bulkheads protecting the guns ranged from 4 (on the centreline) to 5 inches in thickness. The gun shields for the single guns were 3.5 inches (89 mm) thick. A 2-inch (51 mm) centreline bulkhead divided the casemate and the armour protecting the funnel uptakes ranged in thickness from 0.625 to 1 inch (16 to 25 mm). The greatest thickness of deck armor was 1.5 inches (38 mm).
In June 1910 both ships, still missing their eight-inch guns, were commissioned into the Armed Reserve of the Baltic Fleet. The decision permitted the Navy to bring their crews to full strength. In the end of July Andrei Pervozvanny sailed to its sea trials with 583 men on board, Imperator Pavel I sailed to her trials in September–October with even fewer men. As predicted by theory, they turned out very "wet" ships even in calm seas. At 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph) bow waves swept over all open decks and flooded the lookout cupolas and optical sights of main gun turrets, effectively prohibiting fire at high speed. Ivan Bubnov recommended fitting Andrei's protruding bow ram with a scoop-shaped fairing, which would decrease bow wave height from 6.7 metres (22 ft) to 4.3 metres (14 ft) and eliminate flooding, but the NTC shelved the proposal.
The powerplants of both ships performed well at the speed trials, but post-trial examination of Imperator Pavel I revealed unacceptable defects of its Belleville boilers, engine cylinders and crankshaft bearings. The NTC had no funds to replace defective boilers and postponed the repairs until the next year. The ships returned into the drydocks of Kronstadt. Their captains hoped to install all missing guns and equipment in time for the 1911 navigation. This did not happen: the Navy committed all available financing to the dreadnought program; Andrey Pervozvanny and Imperaror Pavel I were not properly completed until the autumn of 1912.
Andrey Pervozvanny and Imperator Pavel I saw very limited seagoing service in 1910 through 1912; their few voyages within the Russian Baltic waters were trials, rather than active duty. Their combat readiness was crippled by shortage of personnel. Absence of proper portholes and limited capacity of electrical fans made living conditions unbearable, thus commissioned officers evaded transfer to the "ugly sisters" at all costs. The NTC seriously considered cutting portholes through the armor, but found it too expensive to be done. The enlisted men sabotaged the system by jamming the fan switches in "on" position, which caused frequent electrical failures. The Navy "fixed the problem" by building steel lockers around the switches but could not contain the discontent of the sailors.
On June 21 [O.S. June 8] 1912 officers of Imperator Pavel I received first warnings of a mounting conspiracy among enlisted men, who allegedly planned an open mutiny on the night of July 24–25. In the few days preceding the strike the sailors openly disobeyed and taunted their officers but refrained from violence. Only a minority of the enlisted men (around 160) subscribed to the mutiny; the majority remained loyal and kept the officers informed. On July 24 the ringleaders were arrested, more arrests followed throughout July and August. 53 sailors of Imperator Pavel I were sentenced to terms ranging from six months to sixteen years. Attempts to spread the mutiny to Andrey Pervozvanny were foiled at the very beginning.
By August 1913 the battleships were deemed safe, in all senses, for their farthest voyage ever, to England and France. Yet the ships again harbored active Bolshevik militants – the future Red Army commander Pavel Dybenko, the future chief of the Red Black Sea Fleet and naval historian Nikolay Izmaylov and the future chief of the whole Red Navy Ivan Sladkov. In October 1916 the crew of Imperator Pavel I, demoralized by boredom and Bolshevik propaganda, refused to obey orders and demanded better rations and easing of service. The Navy preferred to appease the sailors, and the ringleaders escaped punishment. Fifteen years later Leonid Sobolev, former officer of Imperator Pavel I, described the explosive environment and Bolshevik propaganda on board of his ship in The Big Refit; in an act of self-censorship he changed the name of his "lead character" to Generalissimus Suvorov.
In June–July 1914 both ships represented the Empire in joint naval reviews with friendly British, French and Dutch forces in the Gulf of Finland. Sweden had not yet declared its neutrality, and on August 10 [O.S. July 28] 1914 Imperator Pavel I, the predreadnoughts Slava and Tsesarevich and the armored cruiser, Rurik, sailed out to Stockholm to intimidate the Swedes. The diplomats called the fleet back, and Imperator Pavel I missed her chance to score her first kill against a weak German scouting flotilla operating in the same area. In August–September the battleships actively sailed north of the Gulf of Riga but failed to intercept the German cruisers Augsburg and Blücher.
The sinking of Pallada on October 11 [O.S. September 28] 1914 effectively put both Andrey Pervozvanny-class ships out of action for the rest of the war. All battleships were ordered to return to safety of Finnish bases and stay there until the Navy could cope with the submarine threat. Slava and Tsesarevich returned to action in the Battle of the Gulf of Riga in 1915, but Imperator Pavel I remained moored in Helsingfors. Andrey Pervozvanny was called out for active operations twice, in April and November 1916. The first operation, a raid on a German convoy near the Swedish coast, was a moderate success; the second ended in a humiliating retreat after Rurik struck a mine laid by the German submarine UC 27.
During the outbreak of the February Revolution both battleships were moored in Helsinki. The enlisted men, demoralized by idle life and revolutionary propaganda, have already been organized for a mutiny by a well-entrenched core of conspirators. Exact history of the fleet revolt has been sanitized by Soviet historiography in the wake of the Kronstadt rebellion. It is known that the revolt of March 16 [O.S. March 3] 1917 was coordinated from Imperator Pavel I. Sailors of Imperator Pavel I took control of the ship, killed the officers who stood in their way and signalled instructions to other ships. The two battleships accounted for the majority of casualties of this day. The captain of Imperator Pavel I did not even try to subdue the sailors and save his officers; he survived the mutiny and was killed by the Cheka in 1921. Captain of Andrey Pervozvanny, on the contrary, opposed the revolt; he survived in emigration until 1952. The commander of the battleship squadron refused to confront the sailors and was killed on shore.
The enlisted men almost completely subscribed to communism: by the end of April 520 sailors of Imperator Pavel I were carrying Bolshevik party cards. On June 9 [O.S. May 27] 1917 Imperator Pavel I was renamed Respublika. The ship provided quarters to civilian Bolshevik functionaries who felt unsafe among the ethnic Finns of Helsinki. The disorganized crew demonstrated formal allegiance to the Russian Provisional Government and even sailed out for a gunnery practice on orders from Alexander Kerensky. In August 1917 Respublika escorted Slava to her last station at Moon Sound. Slava perished during Operation Albion, but neither Respublika nor Andrey Pervozvanny dared to rescue her.
In April 1918 the two battleships fled from hostile Helsinki, the Ice Cruise to Kronstadt became their last voyage. Respublika was hulked in September 1918 and saw no action ever. Andrey Pervozvanny, although neglected by its revolutionary crew, remained in active service. In June 1919 Andrey, captained by Lev Galler, and Petropavlovsk gunned downed the rebels of the Krasnaya Gorka fort. The British fleet, which was cruising nearby, did not do anything to support the anti-Bolshevik mutiny. Two months later, August 16, 1919, the British raided the harbor of Kronstadt with a joint air and torpedo boat strike. One torpedo hit Andrey Pervozvanny armor belt, killing one sailor and flooding an isolated watertight compartment. Repairs continued slowly until the Kronstadt rebellion of 1921 and completely stopped after its suppression due to a lack of resources. The Bolshevik government had no interest in resurrecting the troublesome capital ships. Both Andrey Pervozvanny-class battleships were sent to the breaker's yard in November–December 1923.