Vyborg and Gangut

harles XII had now to demonstrate his skill at withstanding a formidable Russian assault. The Swedish king recovered from the heavy defeat at Poltava and advanced 41 ships of the line into the Baltic. But Russia had powerful allies: once again Danish vessels came to aid the Russian forces. With the assistance of Russia's allies Peter managed to concentrate his forces in the North.

The Russians marched to Vyborg under the command of General-Admiral Fyodor Apraksin. It was early spring, and the army moved across an ice-field from Kotlin Island. Soon afterwards, when the ice had mostly melted away, the army was followed by the fleet of Vice-Admiral Kruys, which escorted numerous transports laden with siege artillery and military supplies. In the lead snow, the Lizetta, was Peter I, who, as Pyotr Mikhailov, had ascended to the rank of Rear Admiral following the battle of Poltava. On 9 May the transports approached Vyborg, and the unloading of guns, provisions and ammunition was hurriedly begun in order not to meet with Swedish ships on the return voyage. This operation was successfully completed, and, after the Kruys squadron had left for Kronstadt, the Russians began to bombard Vyborg. The bombardment lasted until 12 June, when the Swedish garrison surrendered. Less than a month later the Russian troops celebrated a new impressive success: Field Marshal Sheremetev captured Riga. After Riga his army forced the surrender of Dinamunde, Pernau, and Revel­other important strongholds on the Baltic coast.

On 4 October 1710, in a heated battle in the Kjoge Bay, ships of the Danish fleet forced Swedish war vessels into a shoal. Although the Danes themselves lost a vessel, the Swedes were compelled to abandon and set ablaze two of their own grounded warships, the 86-gun Tre Kroner and the 80-gun Prinsessa Ulrika. Receiving news of the Danish victory at Kjoge, Peter saw that friendly relations with such northern allies as the maritime Kingdom of Denmark would continue to play a meaningful role in Russia's future.

In 1710 Russia's first three 50-gun ships were launched from the shipyards of New Ladoga and Olonets. This was an important event, since, following the Prut Treaty and the elimination of the Azov fleet, the centre of Russian naval activity had now shifted to the coast of the Baltic Sea. Within two years the 54-gun ship Poltava, was launched from the Admiralty. She was followed by the even larger Saint Catherine, Shlisselburg, Narva and Ingermanland.

In 1715 in Saint Petersburg, the Sea-Guards Maritime Academy (Naval Academy) was established, replacing the Nautical School which had opened fourteen years earlier in Moscow.

The first segment of the Baltic fleet met with Tsar Peter's approval. It was comprised of 27 ships of the line (the largest warships), six frigates, and six snows. A hundred galleys, indispensable in skirmishes, were also included, and their usefulness was proven in 1712­1713 by the victory of a galley fleet under Rear Admiral Ivan Batsis in Finnish waters.

The army of Peter I was, for the most part, successful. Assured by his accomplishments, Peter resolved to capture Finland and the Aland Archipelago in order to attack Sweden. In May­June of 1714 General-Admiral Apraksin moved his entire galley fleet, consisting of 99 scampavias (small galleys), to Helsingfors. He was accompanied by the fleet of Rear Admiral Pyotr Mikhailov, which included nine ships of the line and five frigates. Off Helsingfors the two Russian fleets separated. Peter headed toward Revel with the larger force, while Apraksin made for Abo (modern Turku). Near Gangut Peninsula, however, the Swedish squadron of Admiral Gustav Wattrang blocked Apraksin's ships.

The Russian fleet had been considerably reinforced by ships at Revel, but when an epidemic of plague broke out among his seamen, Peter could not risk a decisive battle with the forces of Admiral Wattrang. Apraksin's galley fleet had to break through to Gangut on its own.

Peter made for Tvarminne, where Apraksin's galleys were concentrated, on the eastern coast of the peninsula. Upon his arrival the Tsar ordered a portage of several scampavias across the narrow Isthmus of Gangut in order to confuse the enemy. Upon learning of the Russian portage, Wattrang decided to send out a small unit under the command of Schoutbynacht Nils Ehrenskold. At the same time the Swedish admiral divided his main forces. A detachment of eight ships of the line and two cruisers under Vice-Admiral Lillie set out for Tvarminne to attack the Russian galleys. Almost complete calm slowed the progress of the Swedish fleet, and Peter was quick to take advantage. On the sunny morning of 26 July the vanguard of the Russian galley fleet passed by Wattrang's ships still lying off the coast and blocked Ehrenskold's unit in the skerries west of Gangut. Wattrang then towed his ships farther from the coast and joined Lillie.

However, the Swedish admiral could not aid Ehrenskold’s unit, which had taken a defencive position at the end of Rilaks Fjord. The Russian ships rushed to the attack. Ehrenskold had the advantage in artillery but was inferior in strength. In the course of the battle all the Swedish ships were captured. The 18-gun Elephant, six galleys and two skerry boats became trophies of the Russian fleet. Rear Admiral Ehrenskold was himself taken prisoner.