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Mediterranean Sea Battles

The Adriatic
The Dardanelles and Athos


Emperor Paul I, General-Admiral of the Russian fleet since early youth, openly criticized Catherine II's decisions regarding the navy. After ascending the throne, he changed practically everything in the Russian Navy, beginning with the uniform. An officer's full-dress uniform became more modest, dark-green instead of white and without gold braid. Strict observance of this new uniform soon became law. Fighting vessels were painted black and white and important alterations were introduced into ship construction. Quarterdecks were connected to forecastles by means of a through-deck and hulls became more spacious. On 1 January 1798, new staffs were confirmed and the fleet was officially divided: 45 ships of the line were stationed in the Baltic and fifteen in the Black Sea. The fleets were supplemented by 29 frigates, nineteen and ten respectively, as well as numerous rowing fleets, which, for the most part, consisted of gunboats.

That same year new navigation schools were established to replace the "navigator's companies," and in St. Petersburg and Nikolayev maritime academies were opened for shipbuilding and design.

In 1798, the winds of politics being unpredictable, Russia and Turkey became unlikely allies after the French seized Malta and Napoleon began his Egyptian campaign. According to the treaty between Russia and Turkey, the Russian fleet was granted the right to pass freely through the Bosporus into the Mediterranean. This allowed Vice-Admiral Fyodor Ushakov's squadron to pass through the Dardanelles and, after joining the naval forces of the Turkish Admiral Kadyr Bey, to head for the French-occupied Ionian Islands. The allied fleet numbered ten ships of the line (including four Turkish), five Russian and four Turkish frigates, and three Russian and eight Turkish small craft. Not long afterward, two ships of the line from the Black Sea Fleet and three ships of the line and a frigate from the Baltic Fleet joined Ushakov. From September to November, detachments of Ushakov's fleet seized, one after another, French fortifications on the islands of Cerigo, Zante, Cephalonia, and Saint Mauro. In addition, the Russian fleet successfully blockaded a key enemy position, the fortress on Corfu.

During this time a separate detachment of four frigates and ten gunboats, under Commander Alexander Sorokin, joined the British fleet off the coast of Egypt. Ushakov made a landing on Corfu and delivered the first blow to Vido Island. On the morning of 18 February 1799, after a signal from the 84-gun flagship Svyatoy Pavel [St. Paul], seven ships of the line and ten frigates bombarded the island's coastal batteries. The batteries were seized, and 2,000 assault troops stormed the island, capturing 422 French troops. The damaged 54-gun enemy ship Leander retreated to the walls of the citadel. On the same day the Russian-Turkish force stormed the first group of forts on Corfu. The situation became hopeless for the French, and the ommandant hoisted a white flag. The Russian victors captured 636 guns and mortars, the Leander, the frigate La Bruin and 14 small craft. All 2,931 defenders of the garrison were taken prisoner.

The Allies had scored an important victory, and the Russian fleet now possessed a strategically located base in the Mediterranean. Ships were immediately dispatched from Corfu to attack French supply routes and assist Allied forces in Italy. In only nine days Sorokin's detachment took the towns of Brindisi, Mola and Bari, and Vice-Admiral Pavel Pustoshkin's squadron blockaded Ancona.

On 9 May in Italy, Sorokin landed an assault force under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Grigory Belli, captain of the frigate Shchastlivy. Belli's detachment, though containing only 547 men and 6 guns, played an important role in the ensuing battles. On 3 June 1799, the Russian force joined with the Naples troops in the liberation of Naples. In September Ushakov arrived, having left Captain Voinovich in command of the blockade of Ancona and Vice-Admiral Pustoshkin to command the blockade of Genoa.

After Naples and Ancona, the Russian goal was Malta, which was under siege by the British without any noticeable success. Although Great Britain was Russia's ally against Napoleon, the English were concerned about the Russian fleet's growing strength in the Mediterranean. England was especially troubled by Russia's newly-attained strategic position in the Ionian Islands. In addition, Britain refused to recognize the Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem on the island of Malta, the Grand Master of which was Emperor Paul I. The British began to delay operations on Malta, not accepting Russia's offer of assistance. Although Russia had no plans for involvement in the Egyptian campaign, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, commander of the British squadron, even attempted to dispatch Ushakov and his Russian forces to Egypt. A compromise was reached, and it was decided to send the squadron of Vice-Admiral Victor Kartsov. Ushakov was senior to Nelson in rank, and in the anticipated operations on Malta the British would have to follow the Russian officer's orders, an arrangement that further rankled the British.

In any event, the Malta campaign did not materialize. In late December 1799, Ushakov received an order to cease action in the Mediterranean and return with his fleet to the Black Sea. Only a few Russian vessels remained on Corfu, while the Ionian Islands became a republic under Russian control.

The Adriatic

In March 1801 Alexander I was proclaimed Emperor of Russia and began his reign with a complete reorganization of the system of governmental administration. Ministries replaced the Collegia, while ministers took the position of presiding counselors. The Ministry of the Navy was created in addition to eight other ministries and, in 1815, was renamed the Maritime Ministry. The Ministry's Naval Policy Committee was established to aid the fleet's development. Count Alexander Vorontsov, who headed the Committee, believed that Russia was not destined to be a major maritime power and that maintaining a large navy was too great a burden for the State. This point of view was shared not only by Committee members Rear Admiral Pavel Chichagov and soon to be Naval Minister Nikolay Mordvinov but also by Emperor Alexander I himself.

On 14 January 1803 the Committee introduced new defensive staffs for the fleet. In addition, the committee decided to maintain 27 ships of the line, 26 frigates and 189 rowing vessels in the Baltic; 21 ships of the line, eight frigates and 140 rowing vessels were to be stationed in the Black Sea. Two more shipyards were constructed to build large vessels, the New Admiralty and Okhtenskaya.

The fleet did not have long to rest. In 1804 relations with Napoleonic France had completely deteriorated, and Russian seamen once again set out for the Mediterranean. Following three frigates and a transport, Captain Pavel Saltanov left the Black Sea for Corfu with four ships of the line and two infantry regiments. Under Commodore Alexey Greig, the Baltic Fleet was also sent to Corfu. In early 1806 Vice-Admiral Dmitry Senyavin entered the Ionian Sea with a large squadron and was appointed Commander-in-Chief of all naval and ground forces in the Mediterranean. Within a year Senyavin had under his command sixteen ships of the line and seven frigates as well as numerous small craft and transports. The port of Corfu served as an operational base while the admiral commanded an infantry division for land operations.

Russian ships engaged the French in the summer of 1805 while transporting troops to Naples. However, the Russian troops received little support from the Austrians, who had just been defeated by Napoleon and had lost particularly difficult battles at Ulm and at Austerlitz. The French and their Spanish allies were meanwhile routed at sea by Admiral Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar. The French defeat on this occasion noticeably increased the value of the Qatar region, ceded to Napoleon by Austria.

This region, including the fortified port of Bocca-di-Qataro and its harbor, provided an advantageously strategic position for the French in the Mediterranean. Furthermore, Qatar was located near the Ottoman Empire, a potential French ally.

However, the inhabitants of Qatar rejected the idea of French rule and revolted. Their rebellion forced the Austrians to violate their agreement with France and surrender the region to a detachment of Russian seamen under Commodore Belli. Vice-Admiral Senyavin correctly evaluated the explosive nature of the situation and, at his own risk, established a blockade of the Adriatic coast. Russian forces seized the most strategically significant part of the coast without the authority of the Russian Admiralty. By that time Belli's detachment had already managed to seize the fortress of Curzolo from the French. After 22 May the battle centered around the fortress of New Raguza. Here the Russian fleet and assault troops, together with troops from Montenegro, blockaded the French garrison. In September, Senyavin used the 74-gun flagship Yaroslav to stop Auguste de Marmont at Castel-Nuovo, helping Russian assault troops rout the enemy. Some 1,300 French soldiers were captured, de Marmont was trapped in New Raguza, and Senyavin was able to occupy the main points of enemy defense.

On 10 December, after a bombardment from sea, the garrison on the small island of Brazza capitulated. The victorious Russian admiral left the 12-gun brig Alexander with its 75 crewmen to guard the island. On the evening of 17 December, having waited until the main body of the Russian fleet had left, de Marmont sent the tartan Napoleon with three gunboats and small craft to capture the brig. In all, the French force consisted of 600 crewmen and 26 guns. The commander of the Alexander, Lieutenant Ivan Skalovsky, began to prepare his defenses. For three hours the brig's crew held off the enemy. One French gunboat was sunk, and the remaining ships hastened to make their escape.

In May of 1806, at the request of the French, the Austrians, detained several Russian merchant vessels at Trieste. Senyavin rushed without delay to rescue his compatriots, taking the ships Selaphail, Saint Peter, Moscow and the frigate Venus. Having trained his guns on the fortress, he demanded the release of the vessels within the hour, and, indeed, they were set free.

In February of 1807, after being informed of the outbreak of war with Turkey, Senyavin departed from Corfu for the Aegean Sea with the main body of the fleet and a number of ground troops. To defend the Qatar region, he left behind a detachment under the command of Commodore Ilya Baratynsky.

The Dardanelles and Athos

Saving failed to defeat the Russians on land, Napoleon decided in 1806 to achieve victory through a series of complicated diplomatic maneuvers. French diplomats persuaded the Turkish Sultan to violate the terms of both the Jassy Treaty of 1791 and the Constantinople Agreement of 1798 and, in return, promised Turkey the unconditional support of France. Thus, the French instigated the Russian-Turkish War of 1806-1812.

In the early stages of the campaign the War Ministry of Russia planned to end the conflict at once with a crushing blow to the heart of Turkey, its capital Constantinople. Chichagov had hoped for a two-pronged attack. The Black Sea Fleet was to land on the Bosporus coast, while the Mediterranean fleet, under Senyavin, was to break through the Dardanelles with its assault troops and attack the Turkish capital from the Sea of Marmara. It was assumed that the British would come to Russia's aid.

The Black Sea Fleet, however, proved to be ill-prepared for war, and the landing did not take place. Arriving at the entrance to the Dardanelles on 24 February 1807, Senyavin met with the rather battered squadron of British Admiral John Darkworth. Darkworth had broken through the Strait on his own the day before, outmaneuvered the Russians and claimed victory for Britain. However, the Turkish sultan unexpectedly rejected the British ultimatum to surrender. Returning through the Dardanelles, the British lost 600 men in a heavy battle with the sultan's coastal batteries.

Senyavin again proposed an attack with the combined British and Russian forces, but Darkworth refused and instead withdrew to Malta. Senyavin realized that he lacked the necessary strength to attack and, therefore, merely blockaded the Dardanelles, cutting off supply routes to the Turkish capital. Tenedos Island became the base for the blockaded Turkish fleet after Senyavin bombarded its fortress and landed 1,500 troops.

The blockade began to create serious difficulties, disrupting trade in the Aegean and causing severe shortages in Constantinople. The Turks had no choice but to break through the blockade by force. In early May a veteran of Kaliakria, Kapudan Pasha Seyit-Ali, attempted to support a landing on Tenedos with his eight ships of the line and six frigates. On 10 May Russian seamen started in pursuit of the Turkish fleet, while, at the very entrance to the strait, Russian gunners, firing grapeshot, forced the enemy to abandon the attack. Over 1,000 Turkish sailors were killed or wounded, and only darkness saved the ships from their Russian pursuers.

Russia's victory over the Turks was indecisive. Nevertheless, while analyzing, in the aftermath, the events that had occurred during the poorly organized battle, Admiral Senyavin learned that many of his commanders had become distracted during the initial maneuvering and had allowed many badly damaged Turkish ships to escape.

The Admiral thereupon ordered that, should his squadron re-encounter Turkish warships and be directed to attack, each enemy flagship would be fired upon and attacked by two Russian warships until the enemy ship was either demolished or taken captive. In Constantinople food riots had sparked a coup detail. Sultan Selim III was replaced by Mustafa IV, who immediately demanded a second assault on Tenedos.

On 16 June, leaving the Dardanelles with his vessels, Seyit-Ali landed 6,000 troops on Tenedos. Lieutenant-Commander Dodt arrived to aid the Russian defenders and Senyavin himself temporarily joined the effort, but was soon forced to start in pursuit of the Turkish fleet. On 19 June the Turks were consequently intercepted between Lemnos Island and Mount Athos. Seyit-Ali prepared nine ships of the line, supported by five more frigates and five small craft. Senyavin attacked this battle line with ten ships of the line, six of which were ordered to attack the three Turkish flagships in the center of the line. Captain Dmitry Lukin's 80-gun Raphael damaged the 120-gun ship of Seyit-Ali, the Messudie, and broke through the enemy's defense line. Coming under Turkish fire, the Raphael used accurate broadsides to damage the 84-gun Sed-ul-Bahr and two frigates. Although Captain Lukin and 66 sailors perished, the Raphael, now headed by Lieutenant-Commander Alexey Bychensky, managed to escape.

Aboard the 74-gun Tverdy [Steadfast], Admiral Senyavin barred the way to the leading Turkish ship, forcing it to withdraw. The Kapudan Pasha's battle line had been broken, and he took flight aboard the Messudie. The fastest Russian vessels were dispatched in pursuit, and during the night Commander Rozhnov's 74-gun Selaphail captured Admiral Bekirbey's Seid-ul-Bahr. The next morning four of Greig's ships of the line separated the Turkish Besharet-Nyuma, as well as a frigate and a corvette, from the Kapudan Pasha's main forces. All three were set ablaze; Seyit-Ali was forced to burn the lagging 84-gun Tausu-Bahri and a frigate in order to gain enough time to escape into the Dardanelles with his remaining vessels. In the Battle of Athos, 19-29 June 1807, the Turks lost over a third of their fleet. In August 1807, in compliance with the Tilsit Treaty, the Ionian Islands and the Qatar region, were awarded to France following Russia's defeat at Friedland.


In 19 September 1807, Russia made its departure from the Mediterranean. The Tilsit Treaty put an end to the Russian fleet's brief but significant stay off Corfu. With ten ships of the line and three frigates, Vice-Admiral Senyavin proceeded through the Straits of Gibraltar to the Baltic. With six ships of the line, four frigates and small cruisers, Commodore Baratynsky remained in Corfu to officially transfer control of the island to the French.

In the early spring of 1826, the new Emperor of Russia, Nicholas I, recalled the disgraced Senyavin, promoted him to the rank of full admiral and charged him to lead a squadron consisting of nine ships of the line, seven frigates, one corvette and four brigantines, and to join the British and French fleets in an attempt to help the Greeks throw off the yoke of Ottoman oppression. On 8 August 1827, Senyavin reached Portsmouth. From there he turned back to the Baltic, leaving behind a squadron of four ships of the line, four frigates and five small cruisers under Rear Admiral Login Geiden.

On 1 October, off the Ionian Islands, British Vice-Admiral Edward Codrington took command of the combined squadron of three fleets. The Allied Armada then proceeded to the Bay of Navarino.

In the Bay of Navarino the Ibragim Pasha's Turkish-Egyptian Fleet - the Turkish squadrons under the command of Tagir Pasha, the Egyptian force under Mukharem Bey - sat waiting for the allies with three ships of the line, 23 frigates, 42 corvettes, fifteen brigs and 50 transports. The entrance to the bay was guarded by 145 cannon mounted on coastal batteries.

The Turks had a skilful advisor, the Frenchman Letellieu. Letellieu suggested a clever battle plan to Admirals Tagir and Muharem. The Turkish ships would form a giant horseshoe with their ships of the line and frigates, subjecting the attacking allied fleet to withering cross-fire. In the meantime, the allies sent an ultimatum to Ibragim Pasha demanding an end to combat operations against the Greeks.

The Turks rejected the ultimatum, using Ibragim's absence as an excuse. Then Codrington, Geiden and French commander de Reney resolved to cast anchor at Navarino, directly opposite the Turkish-Egyptian fleet, and force the Turks to submit to the allied demands by a massive demonstration of force. On 8 October 1827, the allied vessels proceeded into the Bay of Navarino at noon. Following Codrington aboard the 80-gun Asia, the British ships formed the vanguard. The French sailed behind the British. With his flag on the 74-gun Azov, Admiral Geiden sailed behind and to the left of the British.

As soon as the Asia had dropped anchor and lowered a boat with an envoy, the Turks opened fire. Codrington ordered immediate retaliation and the battle began. The Azov, commanded by Captain Mikhail Lazarev, sailed towards the center of the battle line. Two large enemy frigates and a corvette were damaged and sunk by the Azov's fire. Two more vessels, the admiral's frigate and a ship of the line, caught fire and exploded. The Azov herself was riddled with 153 holes; the Russian seamen aboard the Gangut, Ezekiel and Castor distinguished themselves in battle though their ships were also badly damaged.

The allied forces supported each other during the course of battle. The Azov supported the Asia in a duel with Muharem Bey's 96-gun ship, and the French Breslau, in its turn, assisted the flagship of the Russian squadron. Within four hours the Battle of Navarino ended with the complete routing of the Turkish-Egyptian fleet, which had lost all its ships of the line, 22 frigates and 7,000 sailors. Only one battered frigate and fifteen small cruisers survived.

Not all the allied governments were pleased with such a victory. Because of his role in supporting the Russian fleet, the British condemned some of Codrington's decisions. The complete annihilation of the Turkish-Egyptian fleet was regarded, in a sense, as disadvantageous because it further strengthened Russia's position in the Mediterranean. Shortly after the battle Admiral Codrington was recalled to London.

The Russian Emperor, however, was more appreciative. All three allied admirals were awarded the Cross of St. George and Lazarev was promoted to Rear Admiral. The Azov was granted a newly established decoration, the Ensign of St. George. According to tradition, this ensign could be passed on to other vessels named in honor of the Azov.

The Russian squadron recovered from the battle and repaired its ships at Malta. Following the outbreak of the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829, Vice-Admiral Geiden took Rear Admiral Pyotr Rikord's detachment under his command. The squadron now numbered eight ships of the line, seven frigates, one corvette and six brigs. Geiden and Rikord managed to blockade the Dardanelles and impede the Turkish fleet's operations against the Greeks. On 21 April 1828, Lieutenant-Commander Ivan Sytin, aboard the 36-gun frigate Castor, captured the 20-gun Egyptian corvette Star of the East off the fortress of Madon. In January the Egyptian corvette Lioness and the brig Kandia were captured off Crete by Captain Ivan Butakov's ship Tsar Konstantin.

After the war's end, Geiden's squadron returned to the Baltic, leaving Rikord behind with a detachment of seven ships. In the summer of 1833 this detachment also returned to Russia.

The above materials are by kind permission of publishing house "Alexander PRINT"