The Dardanelles and Athos


Having failed to defeat the Russians on land, Napoleon decided in 1806 to achieve victory through a series of complicated diplomatic maneuvres. 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 Russi-an pursuers.

Russia's victory over the Turks was indecisive. Nevertheless, while analysing, 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 d'etat. 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 centre 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 defence 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.