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The Battle of the Gulf of Finland was a naval action during the Baltic War in 1909 fought between warships of the German High Seas Fleet and the Russian Baltic Fleet. It was the last decisive naval action of the war, with the battles preceding it being inconclusive and fairly unimportant affairs.
Frustrated by lack of success or decisive results, Kaiser William II ordered Admiral Reinhard Scheer to sortie from Wilhelmshaven and hunt down and destroy the Russian Baltic Fleet. Admiral Tirpitz gave Scheer a number of cruisers, destroyers, several pre-dreadnoughts and more modern dreadnoughts, and the newly-minted battle cruiser Seydlitz. His job was to destroy the Baltic Fleet in it's entirety "when the opportunity presents itself with minimal losses and damage to the German fleet," or to damage the fleet to a point where the fleet would be forced to port for an extended period of time in the face of overwhelming odds. Scheer departed Wilhelmshaven on June 2, entering the Baltic proper on the 4th, where they encountered two Russian armored cruisers that were promptly driven away by long-range gunfire. The fleet continued east until reaching the Gulf of Finland, several hundred miles west from the Baltic Fleet's main port near St Petersburg. The two fleets met on the 7th and fighting went on through the night until the early morning hours of the 8th, where the severely bruised Russian fleet retreated after her flagship Sevastopol suffered a direct hit and was severely damaged.
The exchange, although not totally one-sided, is easily identified as a sweeping German victory, having annihilated a large portion of Russia's naval power in the Baltic and forcing the remnants of the fleet into port for the rest of the war. The victory was widely published throughout Germany almost immediately following the clash, claiming of the destruction of the entire Russian navy and the inevitable fall of the Russian Empire.
Background and planning
Soon after the commissioning of the battle cruiser Goeben in early 1908, Russia's suppression of rioters in southern Finland led to an outcry by nations across Europe, with claims of brutality and cold-blooded murders sweeping across Europe and against Russia. Emperor William II was advised by many subordinates and senior officers of the Kaiserliche Marine, as well as several of his own secretaries and good friends, that they could use Russian brutality as an excuse for furthering the power and influence of the Empire. This was helped by the fact that an army Lieutenant Colonel, Bruno Fuchs, was on leave in Helsinki and was wounded during one attack by Russian troops.
The Finnish in Helsinki were demanding that, after a malfunction of machinery in a factory and the deaths of six workers, higher salaries and increased safety and maintenance of the machinery they worked with. When their demands were not met by the government and the Tsar, many of them took to the streets and protested. After several weeks of these protests, they started to grow out of control, where government buildings were vandalized and people wounded. The Tsar responded by sending in a battalion of soldiers to put down the riots and to restore order to the city. As the troops held a perimeter around the governor's building, a shot rang out, and the ensuing five minutes brought the deaths of over 70 civilians and the wounding of over 300 more. Acts like these happened several times repeatedly, with many beginning to call the events the "Finnish Uprising".
Newspapers abroad began branding the Finnish as "brave and resolute", not giving in to Russian demands to put down their cause. As the death toll slowly crept upwards, Germany and Austria-Hungary - two nations of the Triple Alliance - demanded that the Tsar listen to the worker's demands and increase their job quality. After ignoring the central European empires and continuing to kill civilians, Germany declared war on Russia on March 25, 1909, with the intent to "force upon Imperial Russia the status quo, excepting the negotiating and accepting of terms proposed by the workers and civilians of Helsinki, and their working environments which are so fatally neglected by their Tsar and their Government."
After the conception of the Hoffmann Plan, which dictated that the navy was required to destroy the Russian Baltic Fleet preceding a naval landing in southern Finland, Admiral Reinhard Scheer led a squadron of the High Seas Fleet - including the new battle cruiser Goeben' and over half a dozen battleships - into the Baltic in search of his enemy on March 29.