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Cherbourg, torpedoes and a Tsar in the playground

Not a great match. We think the small cream building with a grey roof is in the original postcard. Lots of Cherbourg is lovelier than this!
Not a great match. We think the small cream building with a grey roof is in the original postcard. Lots of Cherbourg is lovelier than this!

Unsettling times

The first few years of the new century were not comfortable for heads of state in Europe.

Everyone was looking hard at the newly unified German Empire.  Now the many Germanic principalities have stopped squabbling between themselves they are putting a lot of energy into building rather more military power than seemed absolutely necessary.

The German Empire had already flexed an unwelcome bit of muscle.  Over in Morocco they had given France a sneaky stab in the back by supporting Moroccan attempts at independence.

Imperial eagle and symbol of the new German Empire.  not cuddly.
Symbol of the new German Empire; the Imperial Eagle. Not cuddly.

A giant mountainy playground

France was not happy.  Memories of the nasty Franco-Prussian war of 1870/1 and miserable defeat were still fresh.  France decided it was time to buff up the old Franco-Russian Alliance from 1894.  This Alliance had given both countries a bit of a boost at a time when Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy basically wouldn’t be their friends.  This is Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, a giant mountainy playground.  There is more to it but you get the idea.

Anyway, France lent Russia cash, and outwardly they appeared to be friends.

The Tsar is not a fan of the French

However Tsar Nicholas, who had inherited absolute power, didn’t really like the French.  They were a Republic with lots of silly ‘voting’ and unlike most other European countries, he wasn’t related to any of their top bods.  So when German Emperor Wilhelm II said he wanted to be friends and start an alliance with Russia, plus France if they must, against Britain and Japan, Tsar Nicholas. was all for it.

His advisers did not agree and for lots of reasons the Tsar did not get his way. Times were changing and he didn’t really understand why.  He was stuck with the Alliance without clever Wilhelm and Germany.  Then to add to his misery up popped an invite for the family to visit La Belle France.

Some French are not fans of the Tsar

Naturally in France quite of few Republicans were unimpressed with any agreement with an absolute ruler and it decided to keep the Tsar away from the politics of Paris.

Tsar Nicholas II is grumpy

The invitation said ‘Cherbourg’ and mentioned some nice new Torpilleurs (torpedo boats) the Tsar may like to have a look at.  Tsar Nicholas harumphed, servants packed and he quickly arranged to see some of his relations in England afterwards so he could have a good moan. Edward VII was always up for a bit of gossip.

Tsar Nicholas II and his posse arrive in Cherbourg.
Tsar Nicholas II and his posse arrive in Cherbourg.

So the scene is set, eventually, around the time of our Torpilleur postcard.  Only we know that in a few short years the Tsar would give his whiskers for a holiday in Cherbourg rather than be facing some disgruntled and armed peasants.

In 1909 he seems a bit grumpy.

Empress Alexandra, M. Fallieres the President of France and two Imperial daughters.
Empress Alexandra, M. Fallieres the President of France and two Imperial daughters.

Gifts and 21 gun salutes

But it all started well.  L’Ouest-Éclair ‘The West Lightning’ No. 3853, (thanks WikiManche!) clearly the Hello Magazine of its day, tells us that on 31st July following a 21 gun salute and much cheering by the locals, Tsar Nicholas is presented with a rack of twelve guns, the Empress a perfect sheaf of orchids, the two child duchesses a doll house with two floors with a dining room lit by electricity, some dolls and trinkets.

'What is that peasant doing?' Tsar Nicholas II glaring at the paparazzi during the Cherbourg submarine show. All images from our 1909 copy of 'Illustration' magazine.
‘What is that peasant doing?’ Tsar Nicholas II glares at the paparazzi during the Cherbourg submarine show. All images from our 1909 copy of ‘Illustration’ magazine.

A gala dinner with lots of speeches on board the La Vérité is not interrupted by a demo on dry land by revolutionary socialists that is described as a ‘pitiful success’.

"Yes i know it's a gun we have them in Russia you know' Tsar Nicholas is yet to be impressed.
‘Yes I realise it’s a gun we have them in Russia you know’ Tsar Nicholas fails to be impressed.

The Spectator reports all is dandy

In London the Spectator kept an eye on events in Cherbourg and reported:

Onboard the Imperial yacht ‘Standart’ last Saturday to visit the President of the French Republic. M. Fallieres, who had come to Cherbourg for the purpose, was accompanied by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, War, and Marine.

The Tsar was accompanied by M. Isvolsky, with whom M. Pichon, the French Foreign Minister, had a long conversation.

At the dinner on board the French battleship La Vérité (Truth) in the evening both the Tsar and M. Fallieres used very cordial language in speaking of the Franco-Russian Alliance; indeed, the Tsar has never before spoken with so much warmth and impressiveness.

There was nothing in the speeches to which any other Power could take exception. Britain was not mentioned, and we are glad to think that there is, therefore, no visible excuse for talking of a campaign between France, Russia, and Britain to hem in Germany.

On 1st August The West Lightening reveals all of Cherbourg is decorated but the Tsar stays on the Imperial Yatch for church service.

Nice fireworks! Cherbourg celebrates.
Nice fireworks! Cherbourg celebrates.

Rotten revolutionaries

The hard hitting San Francisco Call reveals:

Cherbourg, 1 August 1909. The final day of the visit of Emperor Nicholas to France was attended with beautiful weather.  

The sensation of the day was the distribution by the.socialists at the barracks of’ the Cherbourg .regiment of 2,500 copies of .a manifesto against the emperor’s visit.

Tsar Nicholas II and the President on board the Galilee 'Non M. Le Tsar, s'il vous plaît ne pas tirer sur cherbroug'
Tsar Nicholas II and the President on board the Galilee ‘Non M. Le Tsar, s’il vous plaît ne pas tirer sur Cherbroug’

As two Russian’s are arrested The West Lighting keeps readers updated with the news that Tsar Nicholas has met some Crimea veterans.

Oh, so he’s gone then

2 August and it is all over.  The imperial yacht is on its way by 6am. We are not even sure if the Tsar set foot on French soil.  We do know he would never return.

An unhappy Alliance

The Franco-Russian Alliance was assured but Germany felt very annoyed to be excluded, Britain felt smug to get on better with Russia than France and as we all know it was not going to end well for any of them.

Of all the world leaders who led their countries to WW1 horror just five years later, the Tsar was the only one not to die much later in peacetime, in their own warm bed.

For Tsar Nicholas II it all ended on 17 July 1918 when he was shot with his family in Yekaterinburg.  The world would never be the same again.

The Naval Review at Cherbourg 1909 for Tsar Nicholas II.
The Naval Review at Cherbourg 1909 for Tsar Nicholas II.

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