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Admiral Popov

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History

Philip M. Bosscher

Admiral Popov 

This experimental circular ironclad, a remarkable type of warship, was the result of a quest for a gun platform of maximum stability. To obtain this goal, the Glasgow shipbuilder John Elder patented a “circular floating battery” in 1867, though it was never built. The Russian naval constructor Aleksandr Aleksandrovic Popoff (1821–1891) designed Nowgorod (2,500-ton displacement) and Vitse-admiral Popoff (3,600 tons) for the defense of the Dniestr estuary and the Straits of Kertch. These ships were launched from the New Admiralty Dockyard in Saint Petersburg in 1873 and 1875, respectively. They were, according to Fletcher, “circular only at the water-line,” with projections at opposite sides, to facilitate steering and provide a bow. According to Hovgaard, the central feature of Vitse-admiral Popoff was a circular armored breastwork (18 inches thick, the same thickness as the armor belt at the waterline), 7 feet high, in which were mounted two 12-inch “disappearing” guns weighing 40 tons. There were 8 smaller guns, mounted in the unarmored superstructure surrounding the breastwork or barbette. Under the flat bottom were 12 external box girders or keels, about 12 inches square, parallel to the ship’s longitudinal axis. Three sets of engines provided motive power for six screws, for a maximum speed of eight sea miles per hour (Hovgaard). In practice, the ships proved a failure, mainly because they were impossible to control when going downstream or trying to turn. Also, the engines proved unsatisfactory because they were complex and demanded excessive power to maintain even moderate speed. So the ships seem to have been soon relegated to harbor duties.

Nevertheless, the Russian navy continued to experiment with this type of ship. In 1879/1880, Elder built Livadia, ostensibly to provide Emperor Aleksandr II, who was prone to seasickness, with a comfortable means of conveyance. She had a displacement of about 4,500 tons and had an entirely flat bottom, the lower blades of the three screws protruding nine feet below the hull. On her trial run she easily exceeded the designed speed of fourteen sea miles per hour. So the model experiments conducted by the Netherlands naval constructor Dr. B. J. Tideman had proved their worth. During the voyage from Scotland to the Black Sea, she met very rough weather in the Bay of Biscay. Nevertheless, she remained “remarkably steady,” rolling not more than four degrees. In 1883 Livadia was discarded as an imperial yacht and renamed Opyt (Experiment). Her end came as late as the Bolshevik period, when she was broken up after having served as a repair ship for the Black Sea Fleet.

[See also Navies, Great Powers, subentry on Russia and the Soviet Union, 1700 to the Present.]


Dirkzwager, J. M. Dr. B. J. Tideman, grondlegger van de moderne scheepsbouw in Nederland. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1970.Find this resource:

    Fletcher, R. A. Warships and Their Story. London: Cassell, 1911.Find this resource:

      Hovgaard, W. Modern History of Warships. London: Spon, 1920.Find this resource:

        Philip M. Bosscher