Battle of Navarino

Summary

The Battle of Navarino took place on 20 October 1827, during the Greek Revolution (1821-1832) in Navarino Bay, on the west coast of the Peloponnese peninsula in the Ionian Sea.

While the democratic governments of the United Kingdom and France, carried away by the philhellenism of their voters, sent forces to Greece, Russia remained hostile. [“The report of the Secretary of the Russian Embassy, Sergei Ivanovich Turkgeniev, who was the Ambassador”s principal associate in Constantinople.  Turgenev arrived in Petrograd on 5 September 1821 and immediately submitted his report to the Tsar”, “However, he considers the creation of a strong Greek state capable of substituting Ottoman power, even in the long term, dangerous for Russian interests.  Russia saved the Ottoman Empire from dissolution at that crucial moment, Turgenev writes. By denouncing the Ypsilanti movement, condemning the Greek revolt with its circulars to the local Russian consuls and assuring the Porte of its legitimacy, it prevented the generalization of the uprising throughout the European part of the Ottoman Empire and perhaps elsewhere.  Russia, writes Turgenev, had no intention of liberating the Greeks of the same faith from the Ottoman yoke in recent times”, ”Russia was ”a friend of the Porte”. …”, “According to Turgenev, all these measures of the Russian Foreign Minister, wise and lawful measures, were approved with expressions of gratitude by the Ottoman Government.” (Kyriakos Simopoulos: ”How foreigners saw Greece in 1821”, Volume I, Athens 1979, p. Only when it appeared that Greece would become an independent state (with the support of the United Kingdom and France) did Russia also decide to send a fleet to the battle of Navarino, just to avoid being left out. It should be noted that the Russian warships were outnumbered by British and French ships and that they were the last to enter the bay. France joined the other two powers in order to restore its leading role in European affairs after its defeat in the Napoleonic Wars. The governments of all three powers also accepted under intense pressure from their domestic public opinion to strengthen the Greeks, especially after the invasion of the Peloponnese in 1825 by the Ottoman vassal Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt and his army”s atrocities against the native population.

The powers agreed in the Treaty of London (1827), around the end of June, to force the Ottoman government to grant autonomy to the Greeks and sent naval squadrons to the eastern Mediterranean to enforce their policy and to suppress piracy that was damaging British trade in the East. In order to enforce the British government”s control of the British ports in the Mediterranean. The Greek side by an act of 21 June (old calendar) immediately accepted the agreement but Ibrahim, who in the meantime controlled almost all of the Peloponnese, asked for a deadline until he received orders from Egypt and Constantinople. He promised that his fleet would not leave Pylos until the orders he was awaiting came.

The commander of the Allied fleet was Vice Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, who since 1826 had been appointed Supreme Commander of the British fleet in the Mediterranean.

On the 6th of September (old calendar) a naval incident occurred between British and Turkish-Egyptian ships on the coast of Parnassis (where many years later the town of Itea was created and specifically at the then location of Skala Salona), where the steamship “Karteria” captained by Frank Hastings destroyed 6 small Turkish boats and an Algerian one. After this, on 19 September, a significant squadron of the Turkish-Egyptian fleet broke its promise and sailed from Pylos to punish the British ships. Admiral Codrington, rushing from Zakynthos with only two ships (part of his fleet had been sent to Malta for repairs), forced the Turkish-Egyptian squadron to return to port, but Ibrahim sent troops ashore where they carried out arson and destruction of crops in retaliation. Captain Hamilton, who landed ashore with a Russian officer, reported in a report to Codrington that thick smoke was rising, and women and children were starving to death with nothing more than grass for food. Some had taken refuge in the mountains where Hamilton promised to send some bread. He concluded with the estimate that “if Ibrahim remains in Greece, more than a third of the inhabitants will starve.” After this report the three admirals sent a letter of protest to Ibrahim, but received the reply that he was nowhere to be found.

The three leaders, Vice Admiral Codrington, Rear Admiral Derigny (Knight De Rigny) and Rear Admiral Hayden on 18 October (new day) decided that they should not remain spectators of the Ottoman violence. Earlier George Canning had given Codrington his own interpretation of the Treaty of London: “If your word is not heeded, use the guns”.

After this the admirals agreed that Ibrahim was in violation of the treaties and demanded that his ships sail to Egypt or Constantinople or else they would attack him. The Allied fleet entered Pylos on 820 October and began to take up battle positions. Codrington, on board his ship “Asia” (84 guns), received a message that “Ibrahim had not given permission for the allied fleet to enter the harbour”, to which he replied that “he had not come to receive orders but to give them” and that “if a shot is fired at the allied fleet he will destroy the Turkish one, and that he will not be sorry if he is given that opportunity.”

A British herald-flagged boat approached an Egyptian torpedo boat to ask it to leave. The Egyptians fired first and killed an officer in the boat. An exchange of fire ensued and more sailors in the boat were killed or wounded. A similar incident occurred at another location. Shots were also fired from the Ottoman fleet at the French admiral”s ship Sirene. Codrington sent the Greek Prime Minister Michael to ask the Egyptian admiral to remain neutral. After Michael delivered the message, while returning to the boat he was shot in cold blood by a Turkish sailor, who discerned that the English admiral”s emissary was Greek. Derigny, for his part, also asked the Egyptian frigate nearest to him not to open fire. However, the tension could no longer be controlled. The Turkish-Egyptian fleet, judging itself to have the upper hand, opened fire on Allied ships and the naval battle began across the array of ships. The Turkish-Egyptian fleet was outnumbered and at the same time supported by artillery from the surrounding garrisons.

At a critical moment of the battle, the Russian fleet consisting of eight ships entered the harbour. Detailed descriptions of the battle report that the ships were so close together that their rigging was engaged and the sailors even fired pistols. By 5 o”clock in the afternoon most of the Turkish-Egyptian ships had been destroyed or surrendered. The Ottoman losses were estimated at 6,000 while on the Turkish and Egyptian flagship alone the dead and wounded were about 1,000. On the Allied side the dead and wounded were 654 men of whom 272 were British, 184 French and 198 Russians. Derigny reported that “in history there has never been a greater fleet disaster”. During the battle the Asia had taken over 170 shots and had suffered damage to her rigging. Codrington received a musket shot that pierced his sleeve at wrist level and his watch and overcoat were destroyed by wood splinters. His son was also wounded.

The next day the allies demanded that Ibrahim, who had meanwhile taken refuge in the mountains of Messinia, raise the white flag in all the fortresses with the threat that if even one shot was fired it would be considered a declaration of war. The Ottomans accepted and an armistice was signed aboard the flagship Codrington.

The day after the battle he sent a letter to the Admiralty describing in detail the battle and the losses. He stated that the battle was necessary to meet the terms of the treaty and to stop the savage extermination carried out by Ibrahim.

Public opinion in Europe, which for years had watched the bloodshed of the Greek people and the apathy of the leaders of the great states, accepted the result of the naval battle with great joy and considered it a victory of the peoples in spite of the decisions of the political leaders. The French academic Pierre Antoine Lebrin (1785-1873) wrote:

The battle of Navarino was a feat of the peoples…The cannons of Navarino became the beginning of a new era and triumphantly announced the rise of public opinion and its elevation above the thrones…

The French government and the King of France, Charles I, felt a deep satisfaction: addressing the National Assembly, the latter said: “The unexpected naval battle at Navarino has turned out to be a day of glory for our navy”.

In Britain, many criticized Codrington”s decision as hasty, useless, anti-political, and judged it to extend Russia”s power in Eastern Europe. The government sent Rear Admiral Sir John Gore to ask Codrington a series of 10 questions to investigate the case. The questions came from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Dudley (of the Tory Party), and were forwarded through the Admiralty. These were served on Codrington on 4 December, together with compliments and the announcement that many of his officers had been promoted. Codrington replied by enclosing various documents, including confidential letters from Canning who advised him not to seek military engagement but if necessary to use the guns to enforce the peace treaty and prevent the supply of Ibrahim”s troops. Codrington adds that Ibrahim was threatening revenge and destruction to the entire Peloponnese and its civilian inhabitants. He encloses reports from subordinates, such as Hamilton”s, that recount Ibrahim”s actions.

So Great Britain distanced itself from the event: Prime Minister George Canning”s successors, the Wellington government, considering their predecessor”s policy too anti-Ottoman and aiming to strengthen the Ottoman Empire as a bulwark against Russia”s possible descent into the Mediterranean, described the naval battle and its outcome as an untoward event in its manifestos in January 1828. In 1828 Codrington was relieved of his duties on the grounds that he had allowed Greek slaves to be transported from the Peloponnese to Alexandria in Ibrahim”s departing ships. There had been an uproar in Parliament and public opinion when in the early months of 1828 information reached the British government that 5,500 Greeks, mostly women and children, were being sold into the slave markets of Alexandria, which embarrassed the British government. Codrington apologised, saying that he had not received orders to intercept ships and make registrations.

In opposition to this official stance of the government and the British press, the English theatre moved in the opposite direction, with performances that commemorated the victory of the three Allied fleets for a long period, from November 1827 and throughout 1828. The Turkish government reacted with anger and threats without resorting to extremes. This was because it believed that the naval battle would have no consequences and that if it committed atrocities it would be in conflict with half of Europe.

The combined Ottoman and Egyptian armada was destroyed by an allied British, French and Russian naval force. It is the last major naval battle in history to be fought entirely with sailing ships. Also never in the history of gunboat sailing warfare have so many ships, with so much firepower, been found concentrated in such a confined space.

The assembled fleets of the three great powers constituted a powerful naval force. Although they were numerically inferior to the combined Ottoman-Egyptian fleet, both in the number of ships and large vessels and in the number of guns, the tripartite side was superior in discipline, training and especially in experience in naval warfare – especially from naval battles between the English and the French. Moreover their guns, though fewer-1324 for the Triumvirate and 2240 for the Turco-Egyptians-were larger and therefore stronger in firepower.

The sinking of the Ottoman Mediterranean fleet saved the Greek Revolution from the collapse towards which it was headed after more than 6 years of unequal struggle of the Greek people against the forces that the Ottoman Empire was recruiting from the Balkans, Asia Minor, the Middle East, North Africa and even Western Europe (it is noted that during the naval battle many Egyptian ships had French officers on board). Later, two additional military interventions were required, by Russia in the form of the Russo-Turkish War (1828-9) and by a French expeditionary unit in the Peloponnese (known as the Moria Campaign), in order to achieve the withdrawal of Ottoman forces from central and southern Greece and ensure Greek independence.

The French, after a long period of marginalization following the defeat of Napoleon, were again finding their place among the powers of Europe, and Navarino was considered one of the proofs of the active role they were again called upon to assume in the management of European affairs. The victory was also for them a moral satisfaction in the value of their navy, ”so humiliated by the Trafalgar debacle”.

Sources

  1. Ναυμαχία του Ναυαρίνου
  2. Battle of Navarino