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Admiral M.P. Lazarev

Written by Captain R.N. Mordvinov, Candidate of Naval Sciences

A famous Russian fleet commander Mikhail Petrovich Lazarev was born on 14 November 1788 in Vladimir province. From his youth up, it was his cherished dream to become a sailor, so his parents sent him to the Naval College.

In 1803, Lazarev, being among thirty best naval cadets, joined the crew for an over-sea voyage. Five years of that continuous voyage spent in the Northern and Mediterranean Seas as well as in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans was a superb naval training for Lazarev. Captains of the ships, to which Mikhail Petrovich was assigned, described him as “a young man of quick wits and disciplined behavior”.

On returning to Russia, being already in the rank of officer, Lazarev was engaged in military operations. He distinguished himself in the battle of 14 August 1808 nearby the Baltic port being on the ship Vsevolod which had to fight against two British battleships.

Serving on the brig Phoenix, Mikhail Petrovich took part in the Patriotic War of 1812.

In August 1812, when Riga was threatened by the hordes of Napoleon which sole purpose was to enslave the people of Russia, the Baltic Sea Fleet’ ships were to draw some of the French troops away from the city. Lazarev on the phoenix participated in a demonstrative landing operation and bombardment of Danzig. The task was successfully fulfilled – the French drew off some of their forces to Danzig thus reducing the pressure on Riga.

In the following year, 25-year-old Lazarev was appointed Captain of the newly-built ship Suvorov and embarked from Kronstadt to the Alaska shores thus undertaking a world cruise. Despite the most difficult navigation conditions, the young captain accomplished his mission with credit.

This voyage made Mikhail Petrovich a more mature man and experienced captain, and shortly afterwards he was assigned to a boat Mirny bound for a world expedition to the Southern Arctic Ocean. Together with a boat Vostok (under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Bellingshausen), the Mirny left Kronstadt in 1819.

Before sailing the squadron received an instruction of the Naval Ministry in accordance with which the ships were to survey the Island of Y. George situated in the latitude 55? South, from there to head for the Sandwich Land and, after rounding it from the east, sail down southwards; at that, Bellingshausen was to “sail as far as he possibly could; to do his utmost and apply every effort in order to come closer to the Pole discovering unknown lands”.

In respect of scientific and research part of this instruction, it was ordered to carry out various astronomical observations of tides, seconds pendulum length, inclination, atmosphere condition, sea currents, temperature and saltiness of the sea at different depths as well as observation of the ice, aurora polaris, etc. If some new land happened to be discovered, it was to be mapped.

The voyage took place in very difficult arctic conditions, namely, amidst icebergs and frequent storms. Owing to Lazarev’s and Bellinshausen’s perfect knowledge of sea science, never did the Vostok and Mirny lose one another and they managed to go through all the trials safe and sound.

The ships spent 751 days in that voyage, 527 of which they were under sails, and they sailed more then 50 000 miles. As a result of the expedition a whole number of islands were discovered, including a group of atolls named after the heroes of the 1812 Patriotic War such as Kutuzov, Slonimsky, Barklay-de-Tolly, Vitgenstein, Ermolov, Raevsky, Miloradovich, Volkonsky.

Not far from the Y. George Island the expedition discovered an island named Annenkov Island after the Mirny’s lieutenant. Three capes of this island, namely, Cape Paryadin, Cape Kuprianov and Cape Demidov, which were named after the officers participated in the expedition, were also mapped. Besides, they discovered a bay and named it after midshipman Novosilsky.

On 16 January 1820, the boats Vostok and Mirny, notwithstanding the trying ice conditions, eventually reached Antarctica. Several days later, on 21 January 1820, the Russian sailors managed to come close to the Antarctic mainland at a point with coordinates 69? 25" South. Afterwards, the ships entered the Pacific Ocean postponing the exploration of the continent to the following year. In October 1820, having repaired the ships and replenished food supplies, Bellingshausen and Lazarev headed for Antarctica once again. On 9 January 1821, they discovered the Island of Peter the First, and one week later, at the latitude of 68°43" South and longitude 73°10" West, they reached a mountainous shore later named the Alexander I Coast.

It means that the Russian sailors were the first to discover a new part of the world – the Antarctic – having, thus, refuted an English explorer James Cook’s statement that there was no continent in the south latitudes and that it could not exist except nearby the Pole in the most inaccessible region.

A week later the expedition came to the South-Shetland Islands. Our seafarers, having sailed along the entire length of the South Shetland’ south coast, proved that it comprised a ridge of high rocky islands covered with permanent snow.

The world cruise, undertaken by Vostok and Mirny, has greatly contributed to the history of geographical discoveries. Russia has consolidated her positions and gained priority in discovering some of the lands in the Antarctic.

After his return to Russia, Mikhail Petrovich was promoted to the rank of Captain Second Rank and was made Captain of a frigate Cruiser.

On the Cruiser he undertook the third circumnavigation (1822-824). Lazarev’s favorite students Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov and future Decembrist Zavalishin were the watch officers on the frigate.

In 1826 Mikhail Petrovich was appointed Captain of a new battleship Azov which had been built in Arkhangelsk. Lazarev steered her to Kronstadt to join the Baltic squadron. Here Mikhail Petrovich had the luck to serve under the command of an outstanding Russian Admiral Dmitry Nikolaevich Senyavin who respected him very much and had a high opinion of his capabilities.

In 1827, being the captain of the ship Azov, Lazarev was appointed Chief of Staff of the squadron which was to undertake a cruise to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Battle of Navarino
The Battle of Navarino

On 20 October 1827, a famous Battle of Navarino took place in which the Russian, British and French squadrons were engaged. However, it was the Russians who bore the brunt of that bloody battle and it was owing to their heroic, selfless efforts that the Allied Turkish-Egyptian Fleet was utterly routed. The formidable enemy lost one battleship, 13 frigates, 17 corvettes, 4 brigs, 5 fire ships, and other vessels.

Captain Lazarev was the life and soul of the Russian squadron. He was the person who gave battle orders to the squadron ships. The Azov, which was under Lazarev, was in the very centre of the arched battle line consisting of four battleships. It was exactly the place at which the Turks concentrated their main blow. The battleship Azov had to fight against five enemy ships simultaneously, and all of those ships were destroyed by Azov’s accurate gunfire. Together with Lazarev fought future heroes of the Sebastopol defence – lieutenant P.S. Nakhimov, midshipman V.A. Kornilov, and naval cadet V.M. Istomin.

Admiral Nakhimov
Admiral Nakhimov

For her excellence in the Battle of Navarino the battleship Azov was awarded the highest award, namely, the Ensign of St. George. Lazarev was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and was awarded an order. Later on, Nakhimov wrote: “…Before this battle I did not know the true worth of our captain. One should have watched him during battles and admired his prudence, presence of mind, and rationality to understand what a remarkable person and talented commander he was. No words can describe his praiseworthy deeds, and I am more then sure that he was one of the greatest captains the Russian Fleet had ever had”.

After the Battle of Navarino, Lazarev, being the Chief of squadron staff, cruised nearby the Archipelago and participated in the Dardanelles blockade, after which he took command of the squadron, formed of ten ships, and transferred it from Archipelago back to Kronstadt.

The world cruises and archipelago expeditions of the XIX century were a superb school of life and unique experience as a result of which our sailors managed to hone their sea skills. Those cruises proved that, despite a temporary decline and even decay faced by the Russian Fleet after the war of 1812, it still could boast of well-trained personnel.

Beginning with 1830, Lazarev had been in command of the ship subdivision of the Baltic Sea Fleet. In 1832, he was made Chief of Staff of the Black Sea Fleet; one year later he became Commander-in-Chief. Mikhail Petrovich held this position for 18 years.

In February 1833, M.P. Lazarev skillfully redeployed a 10000-strong Russian landing party to the Bosporus, which was with the purpose of demonstrating “friendly attitude” to Turkey during the ongoing Turkish-Egyptian conflict. The 1833 landing operation, which was notable for its high level of sea transfer organization, was a good school of naval practice for the sailors of the Black Sea Fleet.

The Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and the Army managed to achieve an even greater coordination of actions and understanding during the Caucasus war. The news of Russia consolidating her positions in the Caucasus was received extremely hostilely by capitalistic England which sought to make Caucasus with its rich, abundant natural resources her colony. Year after year, England had been consistently supporting Turkey and Persia to continue their attacks on Russia. British and Turkish agents had encouraged and organized a religious fanatics movement, one of the key slogans of which was the Caucasus’ joining Turkey. This movement, known as muridism, which was led by a British-Turkish agent Shamil, was, in fact, nothing but a radical and reactionary movement intended to undermine the established political and social order.

In order to both ruin the perfidious maneuvers and plans of the British and Turks and stop their attempts to help Shamil from the sea, the Black Sea Fleet under the command of M.P. Lazarev blocked the Caucasian coast. Lazarev assigned a detachment to conduct operations along the Caucasian coast which was later reinforced by the Black Sea squadron consisting of six armed steamships. In 1838, Lazarev chose a base site for the squadron at the Tsemes River estuary, which laid the foundations of the future Port of Novorossiysk.

The ships of the Black Sea Fleet under the command of Lazarev helped the land forces in taking various sectors of the Black Sea coast. In 1838, Lazarev landed a landing party in the region of Tuapse. During 1838-1840, the Black Sea Fleet’ ships under the direct command of Lazarev managed to land several landing parties of the troops under General Raevsky, which cleared the coast and the estuaries of the rivers Tuapse, Subashi and Pazuape from the enemy, at that, on the bank of the latter they built a fort named after Lazarev. The Black Sea Fleet sailors educated in the school of Lazarev, being put in the difficult conditions of the then almost unknown territory of the Caucasus, were able to demonstrate a surprisingly impressive art of coordinating their actions with the and forces and a bright example of such effective joint efforts can be the actions of the subdivision under Rear Admiral Stanyukovich, which was sent to secure an advance of the Russian troops under General Anreppe (successor to Raevsky) in the region of Sochi-Adler in 1841.

There were twelve Russian fortifications built on the territories occupied with the aid of the Black Sea Fleet ships, along the coast between Anapa and Sukhum-Kale in 1840. These fortifications would be successively attacked by Shamil’s gangs, which were instigated by the British and Turkish agents. By October 1841, an 11 000-strong detachment under General Anreppe was concentrated on the Cape Adler nearby the fortification of Holy Spirit in order to combat those gangs. Most part of this detachment was transferred there on the ships of the Black Sea Fleet. It also included a militia detachment formed of people of Caucasus and some native tribes which were supporting the Russian side in this armed conflict. Those militia units were from Abkhazia, Samurazakan, Tsibeld, Mingrelia, Guria and Imeretia. The troops were to conduct offensives along the coast from the Cape Adler to the Port of Navaginsk (Sochi).

In the very beginning of October 1841, General Anreppe together with Rear Admiral Stanyukovich made a reconnaissance of the coast where they were assigned to act. They managed to spot the most important obstructions on the coast, made by Shamil’s gangs out of huge ancient trees and a double row of plaited fences filled with soil. Ship artillery was to destroy those obstructions. In the night of 8 October a Russian land detachment moved forward along the coast. On the next day the Black Sea Fleet’ ships did the same maneuver. Steamships were towing a battleship Three Hierarchs (84 guns) and a frigate Agatople (60 guns). These ships were half kilometer ahead of the land troops. Every time they spotted another big obstruction on the shore, the Admiral would signal the troops to stop, after which the steamships would tow the ship and the frigate close to the shore so that they could easily destroy the obstructions with their gunfire and dislodge the enemy. After that the ships proceeded to move forward and to make it impossible for the enemy to return to the sectors of his former obstructions a schooner and a cutter would be sent to cruise between the land troop and the group of artillery ships. Apart from that, 18-gun brigs were sailing along the coast all the time lobbing shells into enemy coastal positions. There were armed Cossack boats and launches sailing close to the shore right ahead of the troops and behind them. Sometimes the boats and launches would pull in to the shore and launch canister fire at the enemy. They also had special unarmed boats to transport wounded soldiers and sailors. These boats also supplied the troops with drinking water taken from the ships of which they were in a bad need.

Thanks to close cooperation between land troops and ships and mutual readiness to help one another, they were able to destroy a large unit led by Hadji Berzeks, one of Shamil’s fellow-insurgents (the unit lost up to 1700 men in killed and wounded) and take several strategically important strong points on the Caucasian shore, which used to belong to Shamil. Thus, the Black Sea Fleet’ efficient activity under the skillful command of Mikhail P. Lazarev would constantly hinder the plans and intentions of the British and Turks in the Caucasus.

Lazarev was the first to organize a two-year-long expedition of the frigate Skory (“Fast”) and cutter Pospeshny (“Hasty”) with the purpose of making a thorough, detailed inventory of the Black Sea, which later formed the basis of the first-ever sailing directions of the Black Sea.

It was under his leadership that the Black Sea Sailing Fleet became the best in Russia. Great, impressive results were achieved in the field of ship-building. The construction of every large ship was under Lazarev’s personal supervision and strict control.

Under Lazarev the number of ships in the Black Sea Fleet reached the standard specified number. Ships artillery was significantly improved and modified. With due regard for all the technological advances and state-of-the-art technologies of that time, the Admiralty was erected in the city of Nikolayev; the process of construction of a shipyard near Novorossiysk was initiated.

Under Lazarev’s direct supervision plans concerning the Sebastopol Shipyards were drawn up and special sites for the purpose of docks construction were determined and prepared. The Hydrographical Depot, which had been re-organized following his instructions, printed and issued a large number of sea charts, maps, sailing regulations, instructions as well as a detailed atlas of the Black Sea. Various books on naval sciences were also printed in this depot.

Having a wealth of sailing experience himself, Lazarev was perfectly aware of the fact that it is only practice at sea that makes a real sailor. That was why under Lazarev it was quite uncommon for the Black Sea Fleet ships to stay in harbours.

One of Lazarev’s most distinguished training and teaching techniques of young officers and imparting practical skills of commanding behavior to them was a commonly used method of assigning young lieutenants as captains to boats, brigs, transports, frigates and even steamships. Lazarev would send those ships in various independent voyages, thus making young officers fully understand and realize the extent of responsibility they were faced with in an unassisted navigation.

Corporal punishments and drilling were very rare occurrences under Lazarev. Lazarev, who himself had received a superb, all-round education, possessed the wealth of practical experience gained in battles and required much both of himself and his subordinates, who would always hold him up as an example. He managed to tutor a pleiad of brilliant, talented sailors and fleet commanders, many of whom covered themselves with everlasting glory.

Lazarev demonstrated a unique ability of recognizing young talented boys and then bringing them up developing their capabilities further. Back in those days when he was in command of the Cruiser, lieutenant Nakhimov was assigned to the frigate in 1822 and since then, for almost thirty years, Lazarev would never lose the sight of him. When Lazarev was appointed Captain of the Azov, he took Nakhimov with him.

While being on the Azov, Lazarev’s attention was attracted to midshipman Kornilov and naval cadet Istomin. Later they also became his successors and closest associates and never abandoned him during his long time in service. All together they participated in the Archipelago expedition and the Battle of Navarino. In December 1829, Nakhimov, Kornilov and Istomin, together with Lazarev, transferred a group of ships from the Archipelago to the Baltic Sea where they continued to serve under Lazarev’s supervision. With Lazarev’s transfer back to the Black Sea Fleet, his favorite students and assistants followed him as well.

Lazarev could not but understand that the era of sailing fleet was coming to its rightful end and that it was steam-powered fleet that would replace the sailing one. Admiral Lazarev himself advocated the creation of a steam-powered fleet. Unfortunately, tsarist Russia’s technical and economic backwardness was a major hindrance to this transition. Nevertheless, Lazarev applied every effort to gradually equip the Black Sea Fleet with new steamships.

At that, Lazarev wanted those first iron steam-powered ships to be equipped with all the latest updates and devices that engineering technology of those times could only provide. Under Lazarev, for example, preparations for building a modern 131-gun screw battleship Bosporus were made (the ship was laid after Lazarev’s death in 1852 and was launched in 1858).

Paddle steam-frigate Taman’ 1849
Paddle steam-frigate Taman’ 1849

In 1842, Lazarev succeeded in securing the order for a construction of five steam-frigates for the Black Sea Fleet – the Khersones, the Bessarabia, the Crimea, the Thunderer, and the Odessa. In 1846, Lazarev sent his closest associate Captain Kornilov to the British Shipyards to personally supervise and control the construction of four steamships for the Black Sea Fleet (the Vladimir, the Elbrus, the Yenikale and the Taman’).

All those steamships and steam-frigates were built in England following the Russian technical project plans and design drawings. Some of those drawings were approved by Lazarev, others – by Kornilov. British naval engineers adopted lots of technical solutions from those project plans.

Special attention was paid by Lazarev to the sailors’ cultural growth and advance. Following his instructions, the Sebastopol Naval Library was reorganized; he also initiated the construction of Assembly House and many other public buildings.

The Black Sea Fleet sailors, educated and trained by Lazarev, headed by Nakhimov, Kornilov and Istomin demonstrated exceptional, unparalleled courage during the difficult days of the Sebastopol blockade; their selfless, brave feats of arms added lots of glorious pages to the heroic history of our Motherland. One of the greatest services that Lazarev has rendered to the Russian Fleet is the fact that he actually prepared the skilled personnel and cadres which later were responsible for the creation and transition to the steam-powered fleet. Lazarev was a true innovator and pioneer in the field of naval science. The School of Lazarev has educated and trained dozens of innovators of the future Russian steam-powered fleet, one of the most prominent of whom is outstanding Admiral Grigory Butakov.

* * *
Numerous geographical discoveries, made by Mikhail Petrovich Lazarev, are the world’s heritage. They have become the gold fund of the Russian science. Lazarev was elected the honorary member of the Geographical Society. The services rendered by Lazarev to his homeland, his impressive achievements in the sphere of the Black Sea Fleet strengthening and educating Russian sailors can scarcely be overestimated.

Our people have and will always remember this wonderful Russian Admiral ranking him, by right, as one of the greatest fleet commanders of our Motherland.