To the North and East

The Crimean War was the first in the history of Russia in which battles took place simultaneously on all the seas and oceans adjacent to the Empire. The Tsar's various fleets entered the war at different levels of preparedness; the Baltic Fleet had, for example, been totally unprepared. The first and second divisions, seventeen ships of the line, six frigates and twenty armed steamers had been ice-bound at Kronstadt. The third division, consisting of eight ships of the line, a frigate and three steamers, was wintering at Sveaborg. The small gunboats of the rowing fleet were protecting Vyborg, Rochensalm, Riga and the Abo Skerries.

On 16 March 1854, the British fleet, under Vice-Admiral Napier, cast anchor in the Kiel Bight. After receiving fresh reinforcements, Napier approached Gangut with nineteen ships of the line and 26 steamers. The blockade of Russian ports and coasts began. In May, the Russian Admiralty resolved not to send the Baltic Fleet to attack the British fleet before the arrival of the French. There were several sound reasons for this deci-sion: first, the superior quality of the enemy forces, especially their thirteen screw-propeller ships of the line, and, second, the fact that a successful engagement would be impossible without combining the Kronstadt and Sveaborg squadrons. Finally, the Baltic Fleet had no united command. General-Admiral Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich had insufficient experience, and the Sveaborg division refused to acknowledge the authority of the aged Admiral Rikord, who commanded the first and second divisions from the 110-gun ship Emperor Peter I.

On the first day of summer the British forces joined the French, who had nine ships of the line, six frigates and nine steamers. The Allies, however, did not possess a sizeable landing force, and Napier and French Vice-Admiral Parseval-Deshen rejected the idea of attacking the Russian fortresses in the Baltic.

In late June, however, the Allies decided to storm the small unfinished fortress of Bomarsund on the Aland Islands; 120,000 shells were fired and an entire army division took part in the attack. Bomarsund fell to the enemy. Other such attacks were not so successful, and the poorly planned attempts to take Gange, Ekenes, Gamle-Karlebo and Abo were repulsed.

The next year Rear Admirals Dandas and Peno replaced the more timid Allied naval commanders. In early June 1855, they brought more than 100 ships to Kronstadt, including twenty screw-driven ships of the line and four screw frigates. The disparity between Allied and Russian vessels was now even more obvious; to battle the fleet of Dandas and Peno, the Baltic sailors had only one screw-propeller frigate, the Polkan. Although they were bolstered by an additional sixteen mortar floating batteries and sixteen screw-propeller gunboats, the Allies still refused to attack Kronstadt. The fortress's recently refurbished, batteries posed a threat to the French and British. Part of the Russian resistance was also credited to the deployment of newly created blockade mines. Although these early mines were primitive in design and their explosive force was too weak to penetrate the thick hull of an enemy ship, that is, their charge was insufficient to cause sinking, they had a psychological effect, and during a reconnaissance mission, four allied steamers suffered mine damage. Dandas and Peno restricted themselves to the bombardment of Sveaborg.

More than 1,000 enemy guns tested the strength of the fortress for two days. Despite the shelling, the sailors of the 120-gun ship Russia, led by Captain Viktor Poplonsky, defended the entrance to the harbour. The Allies fired over twenty thousand shells but were unable to defeat the Russian batteries. In the North, the British and French were unable to obtain a single significant victory in either the Arctic Ocean or the White Sea. Nor did they attempt to attack Arkhangelsk, having been driven off by defensive firing from Solovetsk Monastery.

By the time hostilities began in the Pacific, Captain Gennady Nevelskoy had secured the estuary of the Amur and the coast of the Far East. Meanwhile, the naval port at Petropavlovsk, a main objective of Allied attacks, was defended by only 1,016 troops, including the crews of the 44-gun frigate Aurora and the 10-gun transport Dvina. In August 1854 a British-French squadron, composed of three frigates, a corvette, a brig and a steamship, entered Petropavlovsk's Avachinsk Bay. The garrison of Major-General Vasily Zavoyko fought in earnest from the coastal batteries, while the frigate Aurora blocked all enemy attempts to enter the harbour. After the bombardment, on 24 August, the British-French fleet decided to attack. A large force of ground troops landed and enemy artillery commenced, but the defenders did not waver. The landing troops were driven back to the sea.

The successes of the Russians in the Baltic did not substantially affect the course of the war; its outcome was decided far to the south, in the Crimea. Unopposed in the Black Sea after the fall of Sevastopol, the Allies took Kerch in 1855, raided the Russian coast, and forced Kinburn to surrender. Ascending the throne after Nicholas I's death, Alexander II began peace negotiations. A treaty was concluded in Paris on 18 March 1856, stripping Russia of its fleet and coastal fortifications on the Black Sea. In exchange for Kars, the Allies returned the devastated port city of Sevastopol to Russia.