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Battle of the Navarino Bay

There are quite a few glorious pages in our Navy’s history. The victory in the Battle of Navarino, which took place 180 years ago today, is one of them.

In June of 1827, a mutual agreement was signed between Russia, England, and France, whereby the sides committed themselves to aiding the Greeks in their struggle against the Turkish oppression. Not long before that, a Baltic Fleet squadron, consisting of ten battleships, seven frigates, a corvette, and four auxiliary vessels, left Kronstadt and headed for England. On August 8, four battleships, four frigates, a corvette and two brigs, under the command of Rear Admiral L. P. Geiden, continued sailing into the Mediterranean Sea. The remaining ships returned to the Baltic.

Login Petrovich Geiden was born on August 25, 1772. In 1795, he entered service as Lieutenant-Commander of the Black Sea Fleet. Before then he served in the Dutch fleet. In 1808, in charge of three oar-propelled flotilla units, he displayed valor in the fight with a Swedish oar-propelled fleet. In 1813, he was awarded with golden arms and promoted to Commodore for shelling French batteries. In 1833 he was promoted to the full Admiral rank. He retired as the Chief Commander of the Revel Port. By the end of his service, his uniform was decorated with almost all of the highest orders of Russia.

Geiden's son, Login Loginovich, also participated in the battle. During the battle, he was on the frigate Konstantin, displayed personal valor and was awarded with the Order of Saint Vladimir of 4th Degree with the bow. In 1861, same as his father, he received the rank of full Admiral. Same as his father, he retired as the Chief Commander of the Revel Port and the city’s Military Governor. Login Loginovich died in 1901. He was the last of the sailors decorated with the Order of Apostle St. Andrew the First-Called…

By the beginning of October 1827 (old style), the unified Anglo-Franco-Russian squadron under the command of an English Vice Admiral, Sir Edward Cordington, blocked the Turko-Egyptian fleet of Ibrahim Pasha in the Navarino Bay. Rear Admirals Count Login Petrovich Geiden and Chevalier de Rigny were subordinate to the Englishman, Cordington. For long years Cordington has served under the command of the famous Admiral Horatio Nelson. In the Battle of Trafalgar, he was in command of a 64-cannon ship Orion.

The Russian squadron consisted of 74-cannon battleships Azov, Iezekiil, and Aleksandr Nevskii, 84-cannon ship Gangut, frigates Konstantin, Provornyi, Kastor, and Elena. Altogether, the Russian ships and frigates were armed with 466 guns.

The English squadron consisted of battleships Asia, Genoa, and Albion, frigates Glasgow, Cambrian, and Dartmouth, and several small vessels. All in all, the English had 472 cannons.

The French squadron consisted of 74-cannon battleships Scipion, Trident, and Breslau, frigates Sirene and Armide, and two small vessels. The French squadron had a total of 362 cannons.

The Turko-Egyptian fleet was moored (at two anchors) in the Navarino Bay, in compressed crescent formation, with the crescent "tips" extended from the Navarino fortress to the Sfakteria Island’s battery. Battleships (3 units) and frigates (23 units) made up the first line, corvettes and brigs (57 units) were in the second and third lines. Fifty transports and merchant vessels were anchored by the southeast shore of the Seas. Entrance into the Bay, about half a mile in width, lay exposed to fire from the Navarino fortress and the Sfakteria Island (165 guns). Both flanks were covered by fire ships (vessels, loaded with flammable and explosive material). Barrels containing combustible mixture were set in front of the ships. Headquarters of Ibrahim Pasha were located on an elevated point from where the entire Navarino Bay lay in full view.

Overall, the position of the Turko-Egyptian fleet was strong. However, one could note a certain crowding of the ships and vessels, and there were few battleships. Not counting the number of gun barrels, the Turko-Egyptian fleet had over a thousand cannons more, but in terms of its artillery power, the advantage lay with the Allied squadron, and a significant one at that. Ten battleships of the allies, armed with 38-pound guns, were much stronger than the Turkish frigates armed with 24-pound cannons, and especially stronger than the corvettes. The vessels in the third line, and especially those by the shore, could not fire because of large distances and the danger of hitting their own ships.

Once a light south-south-west breeze blew on October 8 (20), at eleven in the morning, the allies immediately began to line up in two columns. The English and French squadrons under the command of the Vice Admiral Cordington went into the right column. They lined up in the following way: Asia (flying the flag of the Vice Admiral Cordington, 86 cannons on board), Genoa (74 cannons), Albion (74 cannons), Sirene (flying the flag of the Rear Admiral de Rigny, 60 cannons), Scipion (74 cannons), Trident (74 cannons), and Breslau (74 cannons).

The Russian (leeward) squadron lined up in the following order: Azov (flying the flag of the Rear Admiral Count Geiden, 74 cannons), Gangut (84 cannons), Iezekiil (74 cannons), Aleksandr Nevsky (74 cannons), Elena (36 cannons), Provorny (44 cannons), Kastor (36 cannons), and Konstantin (44 cannons). The commanding officer Thomas Fellowes’ unit sailed in the following order: Dartmouth (captain Fellowes’ flag, 50 cannons), Rose (18 cannons), Philomel (18 cannons), Mosquito (14 cannons), Brisk (14 cannons), Alcyone (14 cannons), Daphne (14 cannons), Hind (10 cannons), Armide (44 cannons), Glasgow (50 cannons), Cambrian (48 cannons), and Talbot (32 cannons). Altogether, the Allied fleet included ten battleships, nine frigates, one sloop, and seven small vessels, carrying 1,308 cannons and 11,010 crewmen on board.

The Turks, besides holding a strong position, a fortress and batteries, also had three Turkish ships (86-, 84-, and 76-cannon ones, carrying total of 246 cannons and 2,700 crewmen), five double-decker 64-cannon Egyptian frigates (320 cannons), fifteen Turkish 50- and 48-cannon frigates (736 cannons), three Tunisian 36-cannon frigates and a 20-cannon brig (128 cannons), forty two 24-cannon corvettes (1008 cannons), fourteen 20- and 18-cannon brigs (252 cannons). In total, the Turkish fleet contained 83 combat vessels, more than 2,690 cannons and 28,675 crewmen. On top of that, the Turko-Egyptian fleet had ten fire ships and 50 transport vessels. When the Allied ships began to form columns, the closest to the Navarino Bay was the French Admiral with his frigate. His squadron was under the lee in the area of Sfakteria and Proti Islands. He was followed by the English, then, at a very close distance, by the ship of the Russian Admiral, in turn followed by all his squadron, in combat formation and in the appropriate order. Around midday, Cordington ordered the French ships to put about in sequential order and the English squadron to follow in their wake, while the Russian squadron had to let them pass. Cordington sent his flag officer to Geiden with orders to heave to, so that the French could pass ahead. After re-formation, having passed on the “Prepare for battle!” signal, Cordington, at one o’clock in the afternoon, started to lead the right column into the Navarino Bay.

Count Geiden, to his great regret, had to comply with the Vice Admiral's will, and so ordered to lower the main topsail on the topmast, deemed it necessary to further shorten the distances in the column, and gave an order to those in the rear to speed up. Cordington’s maneuver was later interpreted in various ways: some contended that he did it intentionally to expose the Russian squadron. The actual explanation is much simpler: the English Admiral thought it risky for two columns to enter the narrow strait simultaneously. Anything could happen – the ships could take ground, or the battle could start while the ships were entering the Navarino Bay. The maneuver to enter the Bay in succession, in one wake column, was simpler and less risky. Cordington decided in favor of this option, especially that no one knew when the battle would start. There was hope to avoid bloodshed altogether. By chance it so happened that it started at the moment when the Russian ships began to pull into the Navarino Bay.

As soon as the English squadron ships started to lower their anchors, the Turks opened running gun fire and killed the English truce envoy officer heading for negotiations with the Turkish Admiral. At the same time, the first cannon shot was fired from the Egyptian corvette at the French flagship Sir?ne, and the fortress batteries opened converging fire at the Russian squadron flagship Azov that was passing at the head of its unit through the narrow strait into the Navarino Bay.

Rear Admiral Count Geiden was on the afterdeck. Login Petrovich always maintained his composure in difficult and dangerous times. Maneuvering skillfully, he led all of his squadron into the Bay. The ships and frigates took their places, designated according to the disposition. The Vice Admiral Cordington sent a truce envoy to the Egyptian Admiral Moharram Bey, bearing proposal to seize fire at the Allied vessels, but this envoy was also killed. Then, the English squadron ships opened return fire.

The famous battle had commenced, in the course of four hours turning the Navarino Bay into pure hell. Everything was drowned in dense smoke, cannons boomed, the water of the Bay bristled with the falling cannonballs. Thunder, screams, and the cracking noise of falling masts and ship sides being torn by cannonballs drowned everything around… Neither the Turkish, nor the Egyptian Admirals doubted their victory. The Turkish coastal batteries thoroughly covered the only way out of the Navarino Bay into the sea with fire – the Allied fleet was trapped. It seemed that total destruction was imminent. The double advantage in power promised the Turko-Egyptian fleet an easy victory.

This was the hour of glory for the Russian fleet and for its commander, Rear Admiral Count Login Petrovich Geiden. A deluge of fire came down on the ships of the Russian and the English squadrons. The flagship Azov had to fight five enemy ships at once. The French ship Breslau, helped it out of the dangerous position. Having recovered, the Azov opened an all-weapon fire at the flagship of the Admiral Moharram Bey’s Egyptian squadron. Soon, this ship caught fire and was blown to pieces by the explosion of its powder magazines, setting fire to the other ships of its squadron.

Not for a minute did Count Geiden lose his cool during the battle. He directed the battle, giving concise, specific, and wise orders. Login Petrovich has always been a cheerful person, full of joie de vivre. In the most difficult of times he made jokes, raising the fighting spirit of his officers. The Azov ship’s commanding officer, Captain of the 1st Rank Mikhail Petrovich Lazarev, also carried himself in a praiseworthy manner. The officers and sailors put up a worthy fight. Among them was the future hero of Sinop and the defense of Sevastopol, young Lieutenant Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov.

This is how Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov described the beginning of the battle: “At 3 o’clock we came to anchor in the designated spot and used the spring to position us alongside the enemy's battleship, the double-decked frigate flying the Turkish Admiral flag, and another frigate. Opened fire from the starboard side… the Gangut, covered with smoke, drew off the line a bit, then becalmed and was a whole hour late to its spot. At this time, we were enduring fire by six vessels, the very same vessels that were supposed to capture our ships… It seemed that hell spread out in front of us! There was not a single spot not showered by chain shots, cannonballs, and case shots. Had the Turks been hitting us more in the hull rather than in our masts and spars, I am confident that we would have lost over half of our crew. One had to fight with truly an extraordinary courage to be able to withstand all that fire and defeat the enemy…”

Russian sailors selflessly fought the enemy, at the same time remaining compassionate people. They threw rope to the drowning Turks and hauled them onto the deck of their ships. “By God!” happily repeated Login Petrovich his favorite words. To the officer who stood by his side with a loudspeaker for voicing his orders throughout the entire battle, Count Geiden would joyfully note, “Our sailors are as kind as they are brave!” All the ships of the Russian, French, and English squadrons put up a brave fight. The Azov sank two Turkish and one Tunisian frigate and one corvette, and grounded an 80-cannon ship, which later had to be burned by the Turkish crew. The most powerful ship of the Russian squadron, the Gangut, under the command of the Captain of the 2nd Rank Aleksandr Pavlovivch Avinov, sank two Turkish vessels and one Egyptian frigate. The Turko-Egyptian fleet fought back with all its might, but all its most powerful flagships were destroyed by the Allied fleet.

Altogether, more than fifty enemy ships were destroyed in the battle. The remaining ships cluttered into a corner of the Navarino Bay right by the shore and were burned by the Turks themselves, who did not wish to surrender.

The English squadron’s flagship Asia, who lost almost all of its sails and sustained a large number of hull breaches, as well as two Russian ships, Gangut and Azov, were the most damaged in the Battle of Navarino. All the masts were broken on the Azov, and it sustained 180 hull breaches. The English sustained the largest human casualties. Two truce envoys and one officer were killed; three officers were wounded, including the Vice Admiral Cordington’s son. Of the Russian officers, two were killed and 18 wounded. Among the French officers, only the Breslau’s commanding officer was lightly wounded. Altogether, the allies had 175 people killed and 487 wounded. The news of the Battle of Navarino terrified the Turks and delighted the Greeks. The superstitious Greeks were strongly impressed by the chance coincidence – the Battle of Navarino day coincided with the day of their ancestors’ battle by the Salamis Island that took place in 480 B.C.

In 1851, as a sign of the Nation’s eternal gratitude, the Greek Chamber of Deputies decreed to inscribe the names of Admiral Lord Cordington, Count de Rigny, and Count Geiden on marble plates in the assembly hall, with an image of laurel crowns above them.

Admiral Count Login Petrovich Geiden served in the Russian fleet for 54 years, 10 months, and 25 days. In his old age, he was gravely ill. In the fall of 1894, when the pains grew intolerable, Login Petrovich received communion from the hands of a pastor, uttering these simple words: “I am dying Christian, in friendship and accord with all people…”

In one year, on October 5, 1850, Count Login Petrovich died surrounded by family, a little before his golden anniversary. On October 8, on the anniversary of the Battle of Navarino, the deceased hero, decorated with all his honorable insignia, in mournful festivities was taken to a Dom Cathedral for last rites…

On the photo: Admiral L.P. Geiden.

Source: "Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star)", author: Andrei GAVRILENKO