Navarino


On 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 corvet 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 centre 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 honour 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.