The entire weight of the war rested on the army. The fleet was assigned only modest tasks, according to its capabilities. The fleet's main responsibility was to transport Russian troops across the Danube while protecting its Black Sea ports using mines.
Fourteen steam launches with supply boats, a reserve of 750 mines and 1,500 crewmen were required for the operation. Formally, they were under the command of the 27-year old son of the Emperor and commander of the Guards' Company, Rear Admiral Grand Duke Aleksey Alexandrovich. In fact, however, his direct subordinates, Captains Modest Novikov, Ivan Rogula, and Vladimir Schmidt, commanded the operation.
To prevent the Turks from interfering, soldiers were ferried across the Danube, Russian seamen laid anchored mines and fired at the enemy from coastal batteries. On 29 April 1877, one such battery peppered the Turkish turret corvette Lutfi-Dzhelil with gunfire until it exploded and sank.
The next blow to the Turkish flotilla was dealt by torpedo boats. On the night of 12 May, Lieutenants Fyodor Dubasov and Alexander Shestakov sank the monitor Seifi using pole mines.
Russian torpedo boats attacked Turkish vessels day and night. On 8 June, while laying mines from the Shutka [Joke], Lieutenant Nikolay Skrydlov laid siege to enemy steamers in broad daylight and forced the enemy to withdraw.
Three days later Russian torpedo boats fought against the Turkish armoured boat Podgoritsa in a daring attack. By 15 June, the Russian Navy had achieved its principal goal: the main body of the Russian Army had crossed the Danube safely.
The struggle with the Turks on the river continued, however. Russian seamen lured the gunboat Sunna into a mine field, where it exploded and sank. The next day two more enemy ironclad vessels were damaged by cannon fire. Russian seamen now shared equal credit for the army's success and, in early 1877, after a series of victories, found themselves at Adrianopol close to the Turkish capital.
In the Black Sea, the forces of the Russian Navy centred upon the defence of Odessa, Ochakov, Sevastopol, Balaklava and Kerch. A mere eight fast steamers were used to disrupt the enemy's lines. The steamer Vesta, under Lieutenant-Commander Nikolay Baranov, withstood a five-hour battle against the large armoured ship Fetkhi Bulend on 11 July 1877. In this heavy engagement every fourth member of the Russian steamer's crew was either killed or wounded; the Vesta nevertheless managed to inflict damage on the enemy ship and escape pursuit. Contemporaries compared the victory of the Vesta with the feat of the legendary Mercury.
The successes of the steamship Grand Duke Konstantin, under Lieutenant Stepan Ma-karov, have also been recorded in the annals of marine history. An officer of great talent, energy and intellect, Ma-karov constantly searched for and studied the newest and most advanced military methods. Accordingly, he became Russia's first officer to command a steamer with four torpedo boats. Makarov's idea was to lower the boats into the water near an enemy port and attack docked enemy vessels with mines during the dark of night. Makarov tried to launch the first such attack at Batumi in the spring of 1877, but the attempt failed because of a defective vane mine. Makarov consequently took two large torpedo boats and raided Sulin in late May. This time the operation was a success; Lieutenants Vladimir Rozhdestvensky and Leonid Pushchin severely damaged the armoured Idzhalaie with their mines.
In Batumi, in December of the same year, Makarov used torpedoes called "self-propelled Whitehead mines," but again his first attempt failed, and the torpedoes did not hit the ironclad. However, on 14 January 1878, a torpedo attack was successful for the first time. Torpedo volleys launched from the Konstantin, as well as from the Chesma and Sinop, commanded by Lieutenants Izmail Zatsarenny and Otton Shcheshinsky, hit and sank the Turkish steamer Intibakh. Deterred by the torpedo attacks, the Turks began to limit their activities in the Black Sea.