W.L. Clowes on the 1854-56 Russian ("Crimean") War (1/4)
The most serious and protracted naval operations of the period under review - those consequent on the outbreak of war with Russia in 1854 - have now to be described. First, however, it will be well to say something concerning the situation which led to that outbreak.
In 1851 the Ottoman Porte appointed a mixed commission for the purpose of examining into the long-existing differences between the Latin and the Greek Churches as to the possession of the Holy Places in Palestine. The commission ultimately decided in favour of the Latin claims; and Russia, ever a staunch champion of Orthodoxy, promptly protested. The difficulties which thus arose revived in the minds of Russian statesmen the idea of cutting up the Turkish Empire and annexing as Russia's share a large and rich portion which should include Constantinople; and it seemed to the Emperor Nicholas that the moment was favourable for the pursuit of the project. Austria was bound to him by ties of gratitude: Germany, and especially Prussia, suffered still from the effects of the revolutionary crisis of 1848; and France was not free from domestic preoccupations. Great Britain remained to be reckoned with; but the Tsar believed that he could arrive at a satisfactory understanding with London. So soon, however, as his plans became known to the cabinet of St. James's, co-operation and countenance were plainly denied him; nor did he meet with better success in Paris. Nevertheless, he was unwilling to abandon a project, the realisation of which appeared both glorious and facile. A bold stroke, he considered, might serve him as well as an alliance. He decided to act ere the Powers should agree upon a line of common action, and, if possible, to confront and confound their opposition with his accomplished triumph. On May 5th, 1853, therefore, Prince Menschikoff, at Constantinople, demanded "substantial and permanent guarantees on behalf of the Orthodox Church," and required that every Orthodox subject of the Sultan should be placed forthwith under the protection of the Tsar. For the Porte, to submit was to surrender its independence. On May 18th, diplomatic relations between the two countries were broken off; and three days later the Sultan was informed that Russia purposed to occupy the Danubian Principalities until such time as the Ottoman government should see fit to accept Menschikoff's ultimatum in its entirety.
The British fleet in the Mediterranean was then commanded by Vice-Admiral James Whitley Deans Dundas, C.B., who had his flag in the Britannia, 120, Captain Thomas Wren Carter. It was at once ordered to assemble at Malta; and it was very soon afterwards directed to proceed thence to Besika Bay (it sailed on June 8th, and arrived on the 13th. Besika Bay is on the coast of Asia Minor, between Lemnos and Tenedos), where it should have found awaiting it a French squadron under Vice-Admiral de Lassusse, who, on March 23rd, had left Toulon, in the first instance, for Salamis. Lassusse, unfortunately, underrated the seriousness of the political situation, and, instead of using his steamers to tow his sailing ships to the rendezvous, began to make his way slowly thither under sail only. His late arrival, at a moment when neither Great Britain nor France wholly trusted the good faith of the other, created so bad an impression that he was immediately recalled, and superseded by Vice-Admiral Ferdinand Alphonse Hamelin. The allied fleets, when at length they had joined one another in Besika Bay, consisted of seven British and nine French ships of the line, and eight British and four French frigates, besides smaller vessels. Neither of the flagships was a steamer; and in large steamers, indeed, the British contingent was then woefully deficient. The French, however, had with their squadron the powerful screw 90-gun ship Napoleon, which made herself exceedingly useful when, on October 22nd, at the invitation of the ambassadors at Constantinople, the fleet began to move up the Dardanelles.
The Russians had entered the Danubian Principalities at the end of July; and the Sultan, Abdul Medjid, had been forced by Turkish public opinion to declare war on October 4th. Operations began at once; and, in view of the possibility that, with a fair wind, the Russian fleet from Sebastopol might hazard a sudden raid upon Constantinople, the allied fleets at the end of October entered the Bosphorus, and anchored off Beikos, opposite Therapia. In the meantime, the ambassadors of Great Britain, France, and Prussia, meeting at Vienna under the presidency of the Austrian minister of foreign affairs, tried in vain to bring about a good understanding between Russia and the Porte. Austria and Prussia effectually baulked the efforts of the other Powers to secure fair play for Turkey; and the Tsar was led to suppose that, so long as Austria and Prussia inclined in his favour, Great Britain and France would hesitate ere they took an active part in the quarrel. Indeed, the work of the conference at Vienna seemed at one moment to promise Russia the attainment of her objects; for it was instrumental in stopping the victorious advance of Omar Pacha upon Bucharest. At that time the Porte deemed it advisable to send supplies by sea to its troops in Asia Minor. The business of conveying these was entrusted to Vice-Admiral Osman Pacha, and a sailing squadron consisting of one 60-gun ship, six frigates (two of 52, one of 50, one of 44, one of 38, and one of 36 guns), three corvettes (two of 24, and one of 22 guns) and two small craft. The vessels were, for the most part, weakly armed, ill-manned, and in indifferent order; and they were quite unfit to attempt any operation which might expose them to attack by a division of the well-equipped Russian fleet from Sebastopol. As it happened, the Russian commanders in the Black Sea had been specially directed to prevent the shipping of supplies to Asia Minor.
Osman put to sea in the course of November, and, soon afterwards, anchored off Sinope. Vice-Admiral Nakhimoff (Paul Stepanovitch Nakhimoff, 1803-1855, sailed round the world with Lazareff in 1820, fought at Navarin, and died at Sebastopol of a wound received in the defence of the place) apprised of his presence there, despatched from Sebastopol three vessels, which reconnoitred the Ottoman squadron, ventured well within range of the feeble batteries which defended the roadstead, and then returned with all speed. Osman should have been warned of his danger by the appearance and behaviour of the hostile scouts, and should have sought refuge elsewhere; but, trusting to the protection which he supposed to be afforded him by the presence of the allied fleets in the neighbourhood, he remained where he was. Unfortunately for him, Dundas and Hamelin had orders only to defend Constantinople against an attack from seaward, and to prevent a Russian disembarkation anywhere in its vicinity. They had no authority to act as convoy to Osman; and, unless they convoyed him, they could not protect him. On November 30th, Nakhimoff appeared before Sinope with six ships of the line, two frigates, and three steamers. He had left four other frigates in the offing, and had stationed fast dispatch vessels at intervals in the direction of the Bosphorus, so as to gain speedy news of any movement on the part of the allies. Summoned to surrender to superior forces, Osman answered with a broadside. In the action which followed, the Turks fought with most dogged bravery; but their very determination rendered their destruction the more complete. Few of their inferior guns could penetrate the stout scantling of the Russian ships of the line; and the gallant Ottoman squadron, while doing very little damage to the enemy, was annihilated. Nearly all the officers and men perished with their ships. A hundred or so gained the shore by swimming, and about as many were taken, among the latter being Osman, who was mortally wounded.
The disaster of Sinope startled Europe, discredited the Vienna conference, which had restrained Turkey but had failed to hold back Russia, and, by exasperating public opinion, precipitated the active interference of Great Britain and France. Their fleets were at once directed to enter the Black Sea, and to prevent any further enterprise of the Russian navy against the Ottoman flag; and it was decided that any Russian men-of-war which should refuse, when encountered, to return to their ports should be forcibly dealt with. The paddle frigate Retribution, 28, Captain the Hon. James Robert Drummond, was despatched to Sebastopol to communicate this decision to the Russian authorities. It was foggy when she arrived off the fortress; but Drummond, reducing speed and sounding carefully, pushed on; and, when the fog lifted, the Russians were astonished to find him at anchor in the centre of their harbour. They declined to receive his message until after he had shifted his berth to a point out of range of the sea batteries. He therefore weighed, and, while picking up a new anchorage, contrived, with the assistance of his very efficient officers, to make a most useful plan of the defences. The episode deserves to be remembered. When there is any danger of the outbreak of war, no military port should be left open as Sebastopol was. Look-out vessels and guard-boats should render all unsignalled approach impossible; for an unscrupulous power might easily find it to its advantage suddenly to begin hostilities during a fog, and to win an initial success by blowing up in their own harbour half-a-dozen ships of its negligent enemy.
The allied fleets entered the Black Sea on January 3rd, 1854, and proceeded to Sinope, where the wreckage of Osman's squadron was still visible in the shallows. From Sinope two divisions, one (Agamemnon, 91, screw (flag), Capt. Thomas Matthew Charles Symonds; Sans Pareil, 70, screw, Capt. Sidney Colpoys Dacres, and two steam frigates) under Rear-Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons, and the other under Rear-Admiral Lebarbier de Tinan, convoyed to the coast of Asia Minor a number of Turkish steamers laden with the needed troops and supplies for the garrisons there; and Trebizond, Batoum and Fort St. Nicholas were successively visited. The divisions then returned to Sinope, whence the body of the allied fleets withdrew presently to the Bosphorus, only the steamships being left to show the flags in the Black Sea, where, in the opinion of Dundas and Hamelin, it was unwise to expose sailing vessels unnecessarily at such a season of the year. A little later, when Greece betrayed an inclination to interfere in the quarrel between Russia and the Porte, Lebarbier de Tinan left Beikos and assumed command in the Archipelago.
Since the beginning of the year there had been fighting on the Danube, where, at length, the Turks had been driven back. The Russians had 180,000 men in the field: and it was rapidly becoming clear that Omar Pacha, in spite of the bravery of his troops, could not withstand them. On February 27th, accordingly, Great Britain and France summoned Russia to evacuate the invaded Principalities, declaring that a refusal would be considered a casus belli. The Tsar declined to obey; and, on March 24th, the fleets in the Bosphorus unmoored, and headed for the Bulgarian coast, arriving off Kavarna, near the village of Baltchick, on the 26th. They were thus stationed in order to be of assistance to the retreating Turks. War had been regarded for some weeks as quite inevitable, when, on March 27th, it was formally declared against Russia by Great Britain and France, the two Powers immediately afterwards concluding with the Porte a treaty of alliance offensive and defensive. The news of the declaration reached Dundas on April 9th, and Hamelin on April 14th. Before the latter date the Furious, 16, paddle, Captain William Loring, had been sent to Odessa (Odessa was already informally blockaded by the Retribution, 28, paddle, Capt. Hon. James Robert Drummond, and Niger, 14, screw, Com. Leopold George Heath) to bring away the British consul; and her boat, on leaving the Russian coast, had been fired at by the forts on April 6th. In the meantime, troops had begun to be despatched eastward; and on April 17th, the first detachments (French, escorted by a squadron under Vice-Admiral Bruat, from Toulon) reached Gallipoli, which, lying at the eastern end of the Dardanelles, had been selected as a suitable base for operations which were to have as their first object the defence of Adrianople and Constantinople. Dundas and Hamelin moved at once from Kavarna Bay to Odessa, before which, on April 20th, they anchored in positions as close to the town as the shallowness of the water would permit them to take up. The Furious's boat, when fired at by the batteries, had been flying a flag of truce. General Osten Sacken, governor of Odessa, declined to make reparation or satisfactory explanation; and, in consequence, it was decided by the Admirals to bombard the place.
The situation of Odessa has been compared with that of Brighton. The line of cliffs, however, upon which the town stands, has a slight inward curve, and forms a shallow bay with a radius of about three miles. The cliffs face N.E., and towards the north they fall away into low sandy mounds and flat steppes. Stretching out from below them, at the S.E. end of the town, is the long fortified Quarantine Mole, with a lighthouse at its extremity. Within the mole lay many ships of all nations. Orders were given that these should be respected as much as possible. The military port was protected by another pier known as the Imperial Mole. The attacking force was as follows :-
|Capt. Lewis Tobias Jones
|Capt. William Loring
|Capt. James Johnstone McCleverty
|Capt. Henry Wells Giffard
|Capt. Hon. James Robert Drummond
|Capt. William Robert Mends
|Capt. de Poucques d'Herbinghem
|Capt. Warnier de Wailly
The rest of the allied fleets lay off the town at a distance of about three and a half miles, the Sans Pareil, 70, screw, Captain Sidney Colpoys Dacres, and the Highflyer, 21, screw, Captain John Moore, being, however, kept ready as a reserve.
At 5 A.M. on April 22nd, signal was made for the steamers and boats in the above list to attack the works on and near the Imperial Mole, which protected the military port. The Samson (the name is uniformly misspelt Sampson in the Navy Lists), Tiger, Vauban, and Descartes, forming a first division, led in, and opened a fire which was at once returned. The four vessels circled off the forts at a range of about 2000 yards, but, it would appear, effected little damage. On the other hand, the Vauban was set on fire by red-hot shot from the batteries, and was obliged to retire temporarily from the action. Thereupon (at 7 A.M.), the Furious, Terrible, Retribution, and Mogador were ordered to join the three ships which remained engaged; and presently both divisions anchored, in hopes of bettering their practice. A great improvement was at once apparent; and, ere long, a red-hot shot from the Terrible blew up a magazine on the Imperial Mole, and caused great devastation. The Vauban, having extinguished the fire, soon rejoined her consorts. Several ships in the military port burst into flames, and were ultimately destroyed; and, in the confusion, most of the British and French merchantmen which had lain within the Quarantine Mole escaped and put to sea. The rocket-boats did much damage to the storehouses in the dockyard, and burnt most of them. They also, assisted by the steamers, drove off a Russian field-battery which had suddenly opened upon them at close range from behind the shelter of some sheds on the low shore. To make a diversion, the Arethusa, late in the action, engaged the south side of the Quarantine Mole, and fought it under sail until she was recalled. The bombardment continued until 5.30 P.M., when, as it was desired to spare the town, which was then threatened by the advancing flames, the order was given to cease fire. The French appear to have lost no men, except in the Vauban, where 2 were killed and 1 was wounded: the Terrible, which was much cheered on her return to the fleet, had 2 killed and 5 wounded: the Retribution had 3 wounded: and the Samson had 5 wounded. Captain McCleverty remained throughout on the paddle-box of his frigate, which received twelve shot in her hull.
The allied squadrons put to sea, and, after having reconnoitred Eupatoria on April 28th, appeared on the following day before Sebastopol. Ten ships of the line, eight frigates or corvettes, and five steamers were seen at anchor in the road; and four other ships of the line, besides small craft, were distinguished in the harbour, basins, and docks. The Russians made no sign of movement.
In the early days of May a British and a French division, under Sir Edmund Lyons and Commodore Vicomte de Chabannes respectively, were detached to the eastern shores of the Black Sea. The force consisted of the French auxiliary screw ship of the line Charlemagne, 90, and the steam frigates Mogador and Vauban, and of the Agamemnon, 91 (flag), Captain Thomas Matthew Charles Symonds; Samson, 6, Captain Lewis Tobias Jones; and Highflyer, 21, Captain John Moore. All along the eastern coast were Russian military stations, most of which served merely as posts to keep in check the still unconquered tribes of the then recently occupied territory in the neighbourhood. In the majority of cases, the authority of the Russian garrisons extended very little beyond the range of their guns; and the places, in consequence, had to be fed and supplied by way of the sea. The declaration of war by Great Britain and France had, however, closed the sea to Russian transports, and had been quickly followed by the evacuation and destruction of all the stations except Anapa, Soujak Kaleh, and Redout Kaleh. Of those three posts, the two first were too strong for attack by Sir Edmund Lyons's little squadron. Enquiries at Soukhoum Kaleh, which had been already abandoned, showed that the Russians desired to preserve Redout Kaleh as long as possible as a doorway for supplies to their force at Kutais. Lyons therefore left Soukhoum Kaleh on the morning of May 18th.
"As we passed Redout Kaleh," he says, "we observed a body of about 1000 infantry under arms, and that the few guns on the sea defences were manned. If we had opened our broadsides we could have obliged the enemy to retire; but he would, no doubt, have returned to occupy the place on our disappearing, and I, therefore, went on with the squadron as fast as possible to Chourouksoo, in hopes of inducing the General commanding there to aid me with a sufficient number to occupy and maintain the place. ... He sent an express to Selim Pacha... who placed at my disposal a battalion of 300 infantry and three field-pieces, which were immediately embarked. ... At 4 p.m." (on May 19th) "the squadron reappeared off Redout Kaleh, where the troops were disembarked, under cover of the steam-vessels, about two miles from the batteries, and at the same time a summons was sent to the commander of the Russian forces... under a flag of truce, and in charge of Lieutenant Maxse (Frederick Augustus Maxse, Lieut, of May 14th, 1852; Com. March 10th, 1855; died an adm. on the retd. list 1900). ... After a delay of nearly half-an-hour, Lieutenant Maxse left the shore without an answer; and consequently the Agamemnon and Charlemagne stood in, as close as the depth of water would permit, and opened their fire on the quarter occupied by the Russian troops, as well as on the sea defences, which tried an ineffectual fire on the boats. The enemy soon retired out of reach of the ships' guns, and the Turkish troops, advancing along the beach, took possession of the batteries, when the firing ceased."
The retreating enemy set fire to the magazines, storehouses, and commercial town, as well as to the neighbouring villages of Poti and Agysoo. The allies, therefore, were left with only the military quarter to occupy. This was quickly made defensible, and was then left in charge of the Turks, for whose support the Samson was detached. While on the coast the combined divisions captured two Russian brigs bound for Kertch, with men and munitions from some of the abandoned fortresses. Among the officers who rendered good service upon the occasion, Sir Edmund Lyons particularly mentions Lieutenant William Rue Rolland (Com. Nov. 13th, 1854), first of the Agamemnon, who superintended the embarkation and disembarkation of the troops.
In the course of this expedition, Lyons and de Chabannes had several conferences with the Circassian leaders, and with the representative of the famous patriot Schamyl; and the people along the coast were armed and were encouraged to co-operate with the allies. Unfortunately the Circassians were disunited, and the Turks were unpopular among them; so that little good was effected by the negotiations. The detached forces rejoined the fleets off Kavarna on May 28th.
In the meantime, the main part of the combined fleets had cruised, chiefly off Sebastopol, returning to Kavarna on May 20th. The ships had had few difficulties to contend with, except such as arose from the state of the weather. They had, however, been seriously hampered by thick and persistent fogs, and had, on several occasions, narrowly escaped damage by collision; and fog was actually responsible for the loss of one vessel, the Tiger.
The Tiger, 16, Captain Henry Wells Giffard, with the Niger, 14, Commander Leopold George Heath, and Vesuvius, 6, Commander Richard Ashmore Powell, had been detached on May 11th to cruise off Odessa. Almost immediately she became separated from her consorts, owing to the fog. Said Mr. Henry Jones Domville, her Surgeon:
"On the morning of the 12th, at 6 A.M., I was awoke by the crash of the ship going ashore; and, when the dense fog cleared a little, we found ourselves about five miles S.E. of Odessa. Guns were fired to attract the attention of the other steamers, but without avail. About 9 o'clock the guns from the shore commenced firing. In less than ten minutes the Tiger was on fire in two places, and the Captain and others were frightfully wounded. We could only use one gun, the others having been thrown overboard, or removed, to lighten the ship. I performed four amputations before I left the ship, which I did almost the last, in care of the wounded. Poor Captain Giffard lost his left leg, and has a severe wound in his right. My knowledge of French proved a great blessing; for some of the Russian officers understood it; and I was able to send into the town for medicines, etc. ... A Midshipman who lost both his legs and is a relative and namesake of the Captain, died on the beach, and one man on the road... ." It should be added that, immediately after having struck, the Tiger got out her boats, and laid out anchors astern, in addition to lightening herself; and that she was practically defenceless when, upon discovering her position, the Russians opened upon her from the heights at short range with field-pieces. She therefore had no course but to surrender. Before surrendering, the survivors endeavoured to burn their ship. The enemy treated the people very well, and gave them permission to remove their effects; but, upon the appearance, a few hours later, of the Niger and Vesuvius, the Russians, fearing lest the vessel might be recovered, reopened fire upon her, and succeeded in blowing her up. In trying to prevent this, the Niger had three men slightly wounded. Captain Giffard died of his wounds, and was buried at Odessa with military honours on June 2nd. Fatal injuries were also received by Midshipman George Giffard, two seamen, and a second-class boy; and three other persons were wounded.
On June 1st, Vice-Admiral Dundas blockaded the mouths of the Danube. This was the first sound strategical move of the allied commanders in the Black Sea. The attack on Odessa had been merely a punitive operation, involving a certain amount of loss to the enemy, but not striking at his vitals. The raid to the eastward was faultily conceived, seeing that most of the garrisons had been withdrawn safely before it was attempted, and that it was not preceded, as it should have been, by a rigorous blockade of such ports as Sebastopol and Kertch, whither, in view of the smallness of the allied forces on the coast, many of the fugitive Russians were able to make their way by sea, and whence those who remained at Anapa and Soujak Kaleh still had a chance of drawing occasional supplies. The blockade, on the other hand, of the Danube mouths, threatened the communications of the Russians who had been advancing southwards, and who were already held in check before Silistria by Omar Pacha at Shumla.
By the end of May about 32,000 French troops, under Marshal Saint Arnaud, and about 18,000 British, under Lord Raglan, had been disembarked at Gallipoli. As has been explained, that place had been selected for their concentration on account of its proximity to Adrianople and Constantinople; but, by the end of May, those cities were no longer in danger of sudden attack, and the armies at Gallipoli were, in consequence, useless in that quarter. Raglan and Saint Arnaud came to the conclusion that they could be best employed if they were transferred to Varna; and, at the request of those officers, Dundas and Hamelin took measures to facilitate the carrying out of the movement. The ships of the line were retained off Kavarna to cover the projected landing, and to protect the base, while the steam frigates of the two squadrons were despatched to the neighbourhood of Sebastopol to watch the motions of the Russian fleet, and to prevent interference from that quarter.
ADMIRAL SIR JAMES WHITLEY DEANS DUNDAS, G.C.B.
(From an engraving by W. J. Edwards, after a photograph.)
The blockade of the Danube led to several small encounters between British vessels and forces of the enemy. On June 2nd, for example, the Niger, 14, screw, Commander Leopold George Heath, was able materially to annoy the Russians on Lake Adjalieh; and, towards the end of June, the works in the Sulina mouth were bombarded, and partially destroyed, by the Firebrand, 6, paddle, Captain Hyde Parker, and Vesuvius, 6, paddle, Commander Richard Ashmore Powell. It was then supposed that the Russians had almost entirely abandoned the vicinity. On July 7th, Captain Parker pulled up the stream in his gig, followed by a second boat belonging to his own ship, and by a third containing Commander Powell. He seems to have believed that no enemy was near; but he was nevertheless fired on from a stockade. Having put back, he again advanced with the other boats, and, landing, pluckily led an attack, in the course of which he was shot through the heart. Powell, succeeding to the command, easily drove off the enemy. Parker, who was much regretted, was but thirty years of age. On July 17th, boats from the Vesuvius, and the Spitfire, 5, paddle, Commander Thomas Abel Bremage Spratt, went up to the scene of Parker's death, destroying all the stockades. They then pushed on to the town of Sulina, which they burnt, leaving only the church and the lighthouse.
On June 11th, the Furious, Terrible, and Descartes, all commanded as before, appeared off Sebastopol and discovered in the road twelve ships of the line, four sailing frigates, two steam frigates, and various small craft. Certain vessels which had been noticed on the occasion of previous visits seemed to be absent; and, as it was imagined that the missing craft might have proceeded to the Gulf of Perekop, the division went northward in search of them. On the return of the allies, some days later, the Russians made an ingenious but unsuccessful effort to lead the three frigates into a trap, and to cut them off, but declined action so soon as it appeared that the nature and object of the ruse were detected. Several days afterwards the division again offered battle to a superior Russian squadron of six steamers off Cape Khersonese, but without result. It was observed, during the cruise, that the enemy had organised an excellent look-out service along the coast, and noted and reported every movement of the frigates; and it became evident that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to take the Russians by surprise.
The transfer of the army to Varna was effected without much difficulty. One French division marched overland; other divisions made their way to Constantinople and embarked there for their destination, going on board the squadron of Vice-Admiral Bruat, which, towards the end of June, anchored off Kavarna, and thenceforward became part of Vice-Admiral Hamelin's command. All the British troops were carried round in hired transports, under the convoy of Dundas's squadron, which was thus left unencumbered, and ready for action on the voyage. It was, of course, much more costly to employ merchantmen than to utilise the men-of-war as troopships; but the troops profited by having more room, and somewhat greater comfort; and the naval officers and seamen enjoyed the immense advantage of having nothing to distract their attention from the fulfilment of their proper duties.
No sooner had the allied armies been assembled at Varna than they learnt that the Russian Marshal Paskievich had unexpectedly raised the siege of Silistria, and had retired, leaving free the right bank of the Danube. Thus the troops once more found themselves in a position where they could be of little immediate use. Yet, although the Russians were withdrawing from the Turkish provinces in Europe, the Tsar showed no inclination to treat. The question then arose whether the allies should remain in Turkey, so as to protect it against renewed invasion, or should adopt a bolder policy, and carry the war into the enemy's country, so directing, instead of merely waiting upon, the course of events. It was not deemed wise to attempt to follow up the retreating foe; for south-western Russia had already been the grave of a far greater force than Great Britain and France were prepared to throw into it in the summer of 1854; and it would take many months to collect the troops and transport necessary for a successful advance inland to the north-east. On the other hand, the allies were supreme afloat; and operations supported by the fleets promised comparatively easy victories. Moreover, at Sebastopol, a well-fortified base, lay a strong Russian fleet which, so long as it was "potential," was a continual source of anxiety to Turkey and her friends. One of the Russian steam-frigates, the Vladimir, indeed, as late as July, made a daring cruise from Sebastopol, sank several Turkish vessels off the Asiatic coast, and towed back with her two others. It was considerations such as these which led the military leaders to decide upon the invasion of the Crimea. Dundas himself was opposed to the project; but the authorities in London and Paris adopted the proposals of the generals; and on July 6th orders were received that the invasion should be undertaken. Vast preparations of all kinds had to be made; and on July 24th, Vice-Admirals Dundas and Bruat put to sea with a considerable force to reconnoitre the coasts of the Crimea, and to determine at what point or points the disembarkation of the troops should be effected. The squadron was accompanied by Generals Brown and Canrobert, representing respectively Raglan and Saint Arnaud, and by several engineer and artillery officers from both armies.
VICE-ADMIRAL EDMUND, LORD LYONS, BART., G.C.B., D.C.L.
(From an engraving by D.J Pound, after a photograph by Kilburn.)
On July 25th, the military commission went on board the Fury, 6, paddle, Commander Edward Tatham, in which Sir Edmund Lyons hoisted his flag, and, escorted by the French steamer Cacique, 14, approached the Crimean coast, the squadron remaining in the offing. On the following day, the shore, from Eupatoria to Cape Khersonese, was very carefully examined, special attention being paid to the beach near the mouths of the Alma and the Katcha, and numerous soundings being made in order to discover how much protection to the disembarking forces could be afforded by men-of-war of deep draught. The reconnoitring ships were ultimately joined by the Terrible; and, when off Sebastopol, excited some movement among the ships in the road. These seemed about to weigh and proceed in chase; but they ceased their preparations so soon as they noticed the presence of the combined squadrons. The commission returned to Varna in the Agamemnon, which re-anchored off Baltchick on July 28th. Dundas and Bruat showed themselves on the south coast of the Crimea, and their steamers entered the bays of Balaclava and Kaffa in order to confuse and deceive the enemy; but the whole squadron returned to Kavarna on the night of the 30th. During its absence, Odessa had been reconnoitred and alarmed.
Up to the beginning of July, the general health of the expedition had been satisfactory. Cholera had then begun to show itself, not only in the camps and hospitals on shore, but also in many of the transports which were then arriving almost daily from France. Marshal Saint Arnaud appears not only to have failed to cope with the danger when it manifested itself, but also to have courted it by sending troops in the hottest season of the year to the pestilent district of the Dobrudscha. Thousands of these were brought back in a dying condition by the French war steamers, which were despatched to their assistance; and thus the fleets became seriously infected. In one day, August 10th, sixty-two seamen died in the Ville de Paris, 120, and the Montebello, 120; but, up to that date, the British squadron had been comparatively exempt from the scourge; and Vice-Admiral Dundas, in hope of checking its progress, took all his ships to sea on August 12th.
"On the morning of August 14th the crews were tolerably healthy: before the close of that day more than 50 seamen of the Britannia were no more. Within three days 112 men of that ship were consigned to the deep. ... The Admiral returned with the fleet to Baltchick Bay, and removed the remaining sick to the Apollo troopship, Captain Johnson (The Apollo, 8, was nominally a storeship, and was commanded by Master George Johnson). ... The ships of the squadron were cleansed and fumigated, and thenceforward the cholera disappeared from on board. Up to August 25th, when the disease may be said to have ceased, the French fleet must have lost more than a thousand seamen. The flag-ships of the allied fleets had been anchored close together; and in those vessels the mortality greatly exceeded that of the others. The Ville de Paris lost 140 men, the Montebello 230, the Britannia had a total loss of 120; of the other ships, the greatest mortality was in the Trafalgar, Albion, and Furious." ("British Fleet in the Black sea", Maj.-Gen. W.M. Brereton, 1856)
The plan of the allied generals, if plan it may be called, was to disembark an army on the shores of the Crimea under the protection of the combined fleets; to march upon Sebastopol, beating or driving back the troops encountered on the way; to seize the place; and to embark again. The idea, in other words, was to carry Sebastopol by a coup de main, which was to be executed with extreme rapidity and vigour. But the plan was based neither upon knowledge nor upon reason. "A total want of information existed, either as to the military strength of the enemy in the Crimea, or of the land defences of Sebastopol. All that was known with certainty was derived from the fleets after their repeated reconnaissances of the harbour, that the sea defences were enormously strong, and that the Russian fleet amounted to sixteen sail of the line, eleven war steam-frigates ... and other vessels of war." (Brereton)
Some time before, moreover, Saint Arnaud had expressed his opinion that, safely to carry out the proposed operation, the allies should have 100,000 men. In August they had not half that number. In addition, only half of the British battering train had arrived; no part of the French siege artillery had reached Varna; and, while the British were short of means of land transport, the French were totally deficient in proper means of transport for troops by sea.
Certainly Dundas, and apparently Hamelin also, fully realised the difficulties and risks of the project. Each represented to the generals that it was intended to land upon a stretch of coast possessing no good ports, and that the fleets would lie exposed to the mercy of the first of the storms of autumn; that the victualling and supplying of the army would be much hampered by this lack of good ports, and by the dangers of navigation in the late season of the year; and that, should the army meet with serious reverses, it would be impossible to disembark it in face of the enemy, without making disastrous sacrifices. Yet the naval chiefs cooperated loyally with their military colleagues; and when, on August 26th, at a council of war, it was formally determined to set out at once upon the expedition, Dundas stated that the fleet was fully prepared to convey the army to, and land it at, whatsoever point should have been determined on for the disembarkation.
Dundas, unfortunately, was hardly the officer for a position of so much hard work and responsibility. In 1854 he had been for fifty-five years in the Navy, and, previous to his advancement to flag-rank, he had been a Post-Captain for thirty-four years. Of honourable and kindly nature, but only of moderate energy and ability, he had been enabled by family and political influences to obtain the Mediterranean command when, at a time of profound peace, he had sought for congenial occupation for an inadventurous old age. But he had an active and capable second in Sir Edmund Lyons. Nevertheless, the work of transportation, though it was accomplished with success, was done in a bungling and foolhardy manner. The French army began its embarkation on August 31st, and completed it on September 2nd. On September 3rd, when Hamelin was ready to sail, the British were still unprepared. The French, in consequence, waited until the 5th, when fourteen of their sailing vessels, absolutely unconvoyed, put to sea in advance. Until the 8th, those ships were entirely without protection, and would have been an easy prey to any brace of roving Russian steam-frigates. The mass of the fleets and transports did not leave Baltchick Bay until September 7th. The French embarked about 28,000 men; the British about 24,000.
Says Brereton, "Transports sufficient for the latter were available; but the French army" (or, more accurately, the greater part of it; for the French disposed of three steam and forty-nine sailing merchantmen) "had necessarily to be embarked on board the line of battle ships of that nation, each of which received from 1800 to 2000 soldiers in addition to its crew, amounting to from 800 to 1000 seamen. So crowded, indeed, were the line of battle ships of our allies, that, had the Russian fleet, at any time of the voyage from Varna, quitted their harbour, the contest must have been sustained by the English ships, of which only one line of battle ship, the Agamemnon, was a steamer (there were, of course, numerous steam frigates and tugs, etc.), for the Sans Pareil, though nominally a screw vessel, was too defective in her machinery to have been depended upon. Not a gun could have been fired from the French line of battle ships; in fact, their decks were so crowded that it was difficult even to an individual to make his way through the dense masses of soldiers upon them. It has, indeed, been subsequently made known that the Russian Admiral urged Menschikoff to be permitted to engage the allied fleets upon their voyage. The English naval Commander-in-Chief was fully alive to the disadvantage he was under, and often remarked: 'If the Russians have the spirit of mosquitoes, they will now leave their harbour and try the issue.' The convoy amounted to several hundred transports, full of troops, without means of defence, and depending upon the war vessels for protection."
The point originally selected for the disembarkation of the army was the mouth of the little river Katcha. On the voyage thither a signal was made from the French flag-ship to the effect that Marshal Saint Arnaud, who was very unwell, desired to confer with Lord Raglan and Vice-Admiral Dundas, who, in consequence, proceeded in the Caradoc, 2, paddle, Lieutenant Samuel Hoskins Derriman, to the Ville de Paris. While Raglan, who had lost a leg, remained alongside, Dundas visited the Marshal, who was too ill to speak, but who pointed to an unsigned paper, which the Vice-Admiral read. This paper represented that a landing at the Katcha would be too hazardous, as the British press and Parliament had made known to the enemy that it had been fixed upon as the point of disembarkation, and as the Russians were doubtless well prepared there. The paper went on to say that the season was too advanced for a siege of Sebastopol. Dundas took it to Raglan, in whose presence there was much discussion, but who declined to alter the decision at which he had arrived at Varna. He, however, agreed that the coast between Eupatoria and Sebastopol should be again reconnoitred with a view to determining whether a better point than Katcha could be found for the landing. Accordingly, while the fleet and transports anchored in twenty-two fathoms of water, out of sight of land, the Caradoc, and the Primauguet, 8, escorted by some steamers under Sir Edmund Lyons, took on board Lord Raglan, and representatives of the staffs of both armies, sighted Cape Khersonese on September 10th, and thence proceeded to the northward. Little change seemed to have been made in the situation at Sebastopol; but camps had been established near the mouths of the Katcha and Alma, and elsewhere; and, after careful survey and discussion, it was decided that the landing place should be Old Fort, an open beach about twelve miles south of Eupatoria, which was flanked by lagoons, and which could be swept by the fire of the ships. It was also decided to occupy Eupatoria, and to garrison it with 2000 Turks, and two infantry battalions, one British and one French.
In pursuance of these plans, the fleets and transports proceeded. On the 11th, and again early on the 12th, the French contingent dropped entirely out of sight; but the whole force anchored off Eupatoria on the 12th and 13th. The place, which was not defensible, was at once summoned, and, surrendering, was taken possession of (it was placed under the command of Capt. Thomas Saumarez Brock, R.N., and was held until after the fall of Sebastopol). On the 14th and following days the troops and the Marines were landed without opposition, under cover of the guns of the ships, and within sight of Sebastopol; and, while the disembarkation was in progress, a division of frigates (Samson, Fury, Vesuvius, and some French steamers) with troops on board, was sent to the mouth of the Katcha to deter the Russians from advancing northward. A camp there was shelled, and its occupants were forced to withdraw out of range. The advance southward along the coast began at once, the fleets keeping simultaneously within sight and range.
Long ere this there had been active naval operations in other quarters, to which attention must be temporarily directed.
As soon as war became imminent, the governments of Great Britain and France resolved to take action in the Baltic. France had sent to the Levant nearly all her immediately available ships, under Vice-Admirals Hamelin and Bruat, and Rear-Admirals Lebarbier de Tinan, Charner, and Bouët-Willaumez; and some time elapsed ere she could fit for sea another fleet, the command of which was given to Vice-Admiral Parseval-Deschènes. Great Britain had wider resources, and, as early as March 11th, 1854, was able to despatch from Spithead the following fleet:
|Duke of Wellington, scr
|V.-Ad. Sir Charles Napier, K.C.B
R.-Ad. Michael Seymour, Capt. of Fleet
Capt. George Thomas Gordon
|R.-Ad. Henry Ducie Chads, C.B. (B)
Capt. Richard Strode Hewlett
|R.-Ad. James Hanway Plumridge (W)
Capt. George Giffard
|Princess Royal, scr
|Capt. Lord Clarence Edward Paget
|Royal George, scr
|Capt. Henry John Codrington, C.B.
|St. Jean d' Acre, scr
|Capt. Hon. Henry Keppel
|Capt. William Ramsay
|Capt. Frederick Warden
|Capt. Hon. Frederick Thomas Pelham
|Capt. Rundle Burges Watson, C.B.
|Capt. Hastings Reginald Yelverton
|Capt. Astley Cooper Key
|Capt. Hon. Swinfen Thomas Carnegie
|Capt. Claude Henry Mason Buckle
|Capt. James Willcox
Previous to the departure of this fleet, the Masters of each ship proceeded to the Baltic in the steam sloop Hecla, 6, Captain William Hutcheon Hall, leaving Hull on February 19th, and rejoining Sir Charles, off Dover, with a mass of most valuable intelligence.
Never before had a large force, composed exclusively of steam-vessels, quitted England on a hostile mission. Large additions, of sailing as well as of steam-vessels, were subsequently made to the command.
Although there was no excuse for the inefficient condition in which this by no means very powerful fleet left England, there were excellent reasons for its despatch with the utmost speed; for it had become known that in January the Russian fleet in the Gulf of Finland had been increased to 27 sail of the line, and that, in addition, it included 8 or 10 frigates, 7 corvettes and brigs, 9 paddle-steamers, 15 schooners and luggers, and 50 or 60 gunboats. On March 10th, 18 of the ships of the line were at Cronstadt; and gigantic efforts were being made to get some of the best of them to Sweaborg through the ice (the Russians believed that Cronstadt would be first attacked, and that the forts there would repel the ships, whereupon the fresh vessels at Sweaborg would be able to complete their discomfiture). Napier's fleet made rendezvous on March 19th in Wingo Sound, on the Swedish coast, whence the Commander-in-Chief paid a visit to the King of Denmark. From Wingo Sound the ships sailed on March 23rd with a northerly wind, and, on the 27th, anchored off Kiel, having passed through the Belt without pilots, and having been joined on the way by Rear-Admiral Armar Lowry Corry (W), in the sailing line of battle ship Neptune, 120, Captain Frederick Hutton, with two other vessels of the line.
ADMIRAL THE RT. HON. SIR ASTLEY COOPER KEY, G.C.B., F.R.S.
Napier's instructions from the Foreign Office will be found set forth in the 'Baltic Campaign.' He was to take care that no Russian ship should pass by him into the North Sea; to turn his attention to the Aland Islands; not to engage on any desperate venture; if called upon, to protect Danish and Swedish territory from attack by Russia; and to look into Reval and other fortified places. It appeared to him that Kjöge Bay, near Copenhagen, was the best position from which, without dividing his fleet, he might watch both the Belts and the Sound, and thither, therefore, he proceeded, arriving on April 1st. On the 4th, after he received from London news of the declaration of war, he made the following much criticised signal to his command:-
"Lads, war is declared with a numerous and bold enemy. Should they meet us and offer battle, you know how to dispose of them. Should they remain in port, we must try and get at them. Success depends upon the quickness and precision of your firing. Also, lads, sharpen your cutlasses, and the day is your own!"
At that period France was represented in the Baltic by only a single vessel, the screw line of battle ship Austerlitz, 100, Captain Laurencin (she did not, however, join Napier till May 1st; vide infra). Some of the British frigates, and such small craft as were available, were immediately detached to blockade Riga, Libau, and other hostile ports, and to form a chain between Bornholm and the south shore of the Baltic, in order to intercept the enemy's trade; and a flying squadron of steamers, under Rear-Admiral Plumridge, was sent to reconnoitre the entrance to the Gulf of Finland. The Commander-in-Chief's hands were, however, somewhat tied by the fact that both troops and gunboats had been refused to him, and that he was already in strained relations with the Admiralty, in consequence of some expression which he had made use of at a dinner at the Reform Club before his departure; of the warmth with which he had criticised the inefficient manning of the fleet; and of the manner in which he had resented what he conceived to be the Board's rude treatment of him.
Scene of the operations in the Baltic, 1854-55.
The fleet weighed from Kjöge Bay on April 12th, and took up its cruising ground off Gottska Sandö (a small island not marked on the accompanying map, but lying near the "e" of "Baltic Sea") on the 15th. Plumridge having rejoined, the eight battleships, Duke of Wellington, Edinburgh, St. Jean d'Acre, Princess Royal, Cressy, 80, screw, Captain Richard Laird Warren, Hogue, Royal George, and Caesar, 91, screw, Captain John Robb, with several frigates, proceeded on the 16th towards Hangö and Sweaborg, while the rest of the fleet was entrusted to Rear-Admiral Corry, and left behind. But the prevalence of fog unnerved the Commander-in-Chief, who presently returned to his former cruising ground, instead of pushing on at once to the neighbourhood of Helsingfors. It should be borne in mind that the Admiralty at that time refused to allow local pilots for the fleet, although, as Napier urged, it would have been more costly to lose one ship than to employ a great number of pilots. It may be remembered, too, that Napier was then an old man, very different from the Napier of the days when Ponza was captured. It may even be supposed that Napier already knew, in substance, the views which were held at the Admiralty, and which were expressed by Sir James Graham, who, writing on April 10th, said :-
"I rely on your prudence in not knocking your head against stone walls prematurely, or without the certainty of a great success, or the fair prospect of attaining some most important object worthy of the risk and of the loss, which, when you attack fortresses with ships, are serious and inevitable."
Nevertheless it looks as if Napier's return may possibly have deprived his country of the advantage and glory of the capture of part of the Russian fleet at the beginning of the war; for it has never been satisfactorily established whether, at that time, the enemy's force lay outside or inside Helsingfors. Giffard, Plumridge's Flag-Captain, had seen it, at a distance, and believed that it was outside. And while Captain Bartholomew James Sulivan, of the Lightning, 3, paddle, reported that one native had told him that the Russians were inside, he also reported that another native had informed him that they had failed to get in through the ice at the harbour's mouth. If the Russians were indeed outside, Napier might have taken or destroyed them. He afterwards took the fleet into Elgsnabben, about forty miles from Stockholm, where the Austerlitz joined on May 1st. When, on May 5th, the fleet weighed from Elgsnabben, the Gulf of Finland was entirely free from ice, and there was no further chance of catching the Russians outside their ports. Napier returned off Gottska Sando, where, as far as can be judged, his presence was useless; and Rear-Admiral Plumridge, with a division of paddle-vessels, was despatched to harass the enemy in the Gulf of Bothnia, where, although he acted in pursuance of definite orders from home, his wholesale destruction of property unfortunately alienated the inoffensive and perfectly friendly inhabitants. The Amphion, 34, screw, Captain Astley Cooper Key, Conflict, 8, screw, Captain Arthur Cumming, and other craft, meanwhile blockaded the Gulf of Riga, where the former frigate distinguished herself by capturing a number of merchant vessels under batteries (The Amphion and Conflict captured Libau, on May 10th, without firing a shot, and took all the shipping in the port. On April 18th, the Conflict had lost her Captain, John Foote, who had been drowned, with four men, in his gig, off Memel).
Plumridge, in the Leopard, 18, paddle, Captain George Giffard, with the Vulture, 6, paddle, Captain Frederick Henry Hastings Glasse, Odin, 16, paddle, Captain Francis Scott, and Valorous, 16, paddle, Captain Claude Henry Mason Buckle, after destroying vessels and storehouses, etc., at Brahestad and Uleaborg, and capturing several gunboats, sent the boats of the Vulture and Odin, on June 7th, into Gamla Carleby, where there was a building yard, to summon the authorities to deliver up all the property there belonging to the Russian government. The demand was refused; and the officer who had made it was in the act of retiring to the ships, when fire was opened upon him from muskets and field-pieces, and several of his people were killed and wounded. As the frigates drew too much water to be able to approach, nine of their boats, manned and armed, carrying 180 officers and men, under Lieutenant Charles Arthur Wise, were sent in in the evening with the object of teaching the enemy a lesson. The Russians, however, had made the best use of the interval, and, collecting regular troops, had posted them in favourable positions among the houses. When near the shore, the British boats were suddenly surprised by a withering fire from both guns and small arms, and quickly suffered considerable loss. A prompt reply was made; but the enemy was so concealed as to be almost invisible, and, after an hour's hot action, it was found necessary to withdraw. The attacking force was obliged to leave a boat, with its gun and crew, in the hands of the foe (this boat, under Mate Nathaniel James Morphy, had 25 men on board), and, in addition, lost twenty-six officers and men killed and wounded (including Lieutenant Edward Murray Winter Carrington, Mate Charles Frederick Herman Montagu, and Mids. ----- Athorpe, killed) [the deaths column of the 'Hull Packet and East Riding Times' for 30 June contains the following entry: '7th Jun 1854 Henry Apthorpe, midshipman of H.M. ship Odin 3rd son of J.C. Apthorpe Esq., of Dinnington Hall, Yorkshire, from a wound in the lungs from a rifle ball, whilst nobly encouraging his men, under tremendous fire, in an unsuccessful attack on Gamla Carleby (Finland)']. The failure was due to ignorance of the Russian strength, and to an exaggerated estimate of the importance of the destruction of a few stores. Operations of the kind should never be attempted without adequate knowledge, and due consideration of the price that may have to be paid to attain a given result.
Other vessels made raids of the same kind, but with less disastrous results. On May 19th, Captain Hastings Reginald Yelverton, in the Arrogant, 46, screw, with the Hecla, 6, paddle, Captain William Hutcheon Hall, while examining the channel near Teverminne, was fired at from behind a sandbank, but easily dispersed the enemy. He then learnt that at Eckness, eight miles to the northward, lay three large merchantmen with cargoes on board. On the following morning, the two vessels, the Hecla leading, cautiously felt their way thither through narrow and intricate passages, and, while going up, were met by a fire from five field-guns and a mortar. The Arrogant, though she ran aground, finally dismounted two, and the Hecla three of these, the latter being brought off. Pushing on to Eckness, the two Captains came in view of their quarry. While Yelverton engaged the defences and troops, the Hecla ran alongside the only one of the merchantmen that was afloat, and, taking her in tow, carried her off. On their return, the ships were met by the Dauntless, 33, screw, Captain Alfred Phillips Ryder, which had been sent up to ascertain the cause of the firing; but her assistance was not required. They rejoined the fleet on May 21st, off Hango Head. In this affair, the Arrogant had 2 killed and 4 wounded; and the Hecla, 5 wounded, including Captain Hall, and Lieutenant Offley Malcolm Crewe Read. Lieutenant Henry Vachell Haggard, in addition to the officers already named, was specially mentioned as having distinguished himself.
Two days later, on May 22nd, the Dragon, 6, paddle, Captain James Willcox, was ordered to try the effect of her guns on Fort Gustafvard, an island work, mounting 31 guns, south-east of Hango Head, the neighbourhood of which had previously been partially examined and buoyed by Captain Bartholomew James Sulivan. The Dragon opened at a distance of about 1600 yards, and made excellent practice; but the enemy soon got the range of her. She should not have been sent in alone to engage so powerful a fort, and presently the Vice-Admiral ordered her to be supported by the Magicienne, 16, paddle, Captain Thomas Fisher, and Basilisk, 6, paddle, Commander the Hon. Francis Egerton; but ere both of them could be got into position by Captain Sulivan, who had the placing of them, the signal of recall was made. The Dragon had one man killed and another wounded, and, besides many shot in her hull, received one close to her shell-room under water. On the same day the Hecla fired a few rounds into a fort hard by mounting 11 guns, but sustained no damage. These attacks were ill-judged and useless. If made at all, they should have been made at long range, and by overwhelming force. Says Sulivan :-
"I had advised 2200 yards, and it was entirely his" (George Biddlecombe, Master of the Fleet's) "own doing that the distance was altered. The poor chief is really too shaky, nervous, and borne down by responsibility, to have such a charge on him. He has no plans or system; but the impulse of the moment alone guides him; and I trust we may have no serious thing to do, requiring careful plans and system."
Nevertheless, the lesson seems to have made no great impression upon Napier. In the early days of June, Bomarsund, the chief fortress in the Aland Islands, was reconnoitred by Captain Sulivan, the surveyor, in the Lightning, 3, paddle, with the Driver, 6, paddle, Commander the Hon. Arthur Auckland Leopold Pedro Cochrane, and was found to be immensely strong. Sulivan believed that "an attack by ships would be attended by a loss and risk too great to warrant the attempt, unless aided by a sufficient land-force to assist, first carrying the tower (i.e., the principal work, probably; the large fort mounted 92 guns in casemates. There were also, however, three 'towers', each pierced for 24 guns) by assault or by regular approaches." This view was practically the one which was ultimately adopted and acted upon; but not, as will be seen, until an ineffectual attack had been made by ships only.
In the meantime Vice-Admiral Parseval-Deschènes had quitted France on April 20th with eight sailing ships of the line, six sailing frigates, and three steamers, having on board 2500 men belonging to the marine infantry and artillery; but he was unable to join Napier, who was then in Baro Sound, until June 13th. The combined fleets, including all craft which had then assembled, anchored together in the Sound, as follows:-
|Duke of Wellington
|St. Jean d' Acre
|1) Flag of V.-Ad. Parseval-Deschènes
2) Flag of R.-Ad. Pénaud
3) Preceded V.-Ad. Parseval-Deschènes
On June 21st, the Hecla, Odin, and Valorous, of Rear-Admiral Plumridge's squadron, were sent in, in spite of what had already happened, to shell the main fort at Bomarsund. They succeeded in burning part of the wooden roof of the building; but as that existed only to keep off snow in winter, the damage done was incommensurate with the value of the shot and shell expended. Below the wooden roof the top of the work was bomb-proof. The ships left off firing for want of shell, and retired with five men wounded. It was on that occasion that Mate Charles David Lucas, of the Hecla, flung overboard a live shell that fell on deck. He was deservedly promoted to be a Lieutenant, as from the day of the attack, for his bravery, and, later, became one of the first recipients of the Victoria Cross. On the same day, Plumridge rejoined Napier.
The next movement of the fleets was towards Cronstadt. On June 22nd, Rear-Admiral Corry, with nine sail of the line, a frigate (besides two French frigates), and five or six steamers, was left to blockade Sweaborg, while Napier and Parseval-Deschènes, with twelve screw, and six sailing line of battle ships, and nine smaller steam-vessels, weighed to reconnoitre the great Baltic stronghold.
From the 24th to the 26th the allied fleets lay at anchor off Seskar Island, near the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland. On the latter day, while the larger ships remained about eight miles off Tolboukin lighthouse, Captain Bartholomew James Sulivan was given charge of a flying squadron of three steamers (Lightning, Capt. B.J. Sulivan; Magicienne, Capt. Thomas Fisher; and Bulldog, Capt. William King Hall) which went in to observe the Russian fleet and batteries, Captain Rundle Burges Watson, in the Impérieuse, with the Arrogant and Desperate, keeping near at hand as a support. On the following day Sulivan was joined by the French steamer Phlégéthon.
"There are," wrote Sulivan, "only sixteen sail of the line, and a heavy frigate, ready outside, and one in the basin. There are three more, as block-ships, to the north-east, not rigged, and, beyond them, to the north-east, three frigates ready for sea, and two frigates and one corvette block-ship. There is also one two-decker in dock. ... They have also in line this evening thirteen heavy gunboats. ... Their ships look rather slummy in their appearance; and, as they cannot evidently make up more than seventeen or eighteen sail of the line, it is impossible for them to come out. Our English screw-ships alone could destroy them. They are all placed to resist an attack, and evidently think of nothing else. The channel is certainly formidable, and quite impregnable."
Napier's conclusions, as given to Sir James Graham, were:-
"Any attack on Cronstadt by ships is entirely impracticable. In going in to the south the batteries are most formidable - all constructed of solid masonry; they are three and four-deckers of stone instead of wood, and ships going in would be raked by them the moment they came under fire, and would be sunk before they reached the ships, which are placed with their broadsides bearing also on the passage. ... I now turn to the north side of Cronstadt. That is certainly the weakest point. A landing might be made on the island of any number of men, and the town besieged: but you must expect the Russians will always outnumber you. If you fail, your army would be lost; and, if you succeed, it would probably be starved during the long winter. I presume, therefore, that will not be thought of. It may, however, be bombarded."
Upon the whole, it was wisely decided not to attempt anything of importance against Cronstadt; and it was determined, though not perhaps with equal wisdom, to make an attack upon the Aland Islands.
During that period, and for some time afterwards, the usefulness of the British fleet in the Baltic was seriously hampered not only by Napier's age and moral timidity, but also by the relative immobility of the French contingent, which, so far as its fighting ships were concerned, consisted almost exclusively of sailing vessels. On the one hand, it was deemed advisable, in the interests of international good feeling, that the French should, if possible, be given a share in every adventure. Indeed, Parseval-Deschènes said that if there should be any action while he and his fleet were out of the way, "all the paving-stones in Paris would not be enough to throw at his head". On the other hand, all movements were delayed by the necessity which existed for towing the great French sailing ships of the line. Never, perhaps, was the immense importance of homogeneity in a fleet more clearly illustrated. Cholera had broken out on board the ships, and, as the waters in the neighbourhood of Cronstadt were supposed to be "pestiferous," the fleets withdrew to Baro Sound, westward of Sweaborg, where they anchored on July 6th. There they waited, while Rear-Admiral Plumridge, with a slightly reinforced squadron, blockaded Bomarsund; and while 10,000 French troops, under General Baraguay d'Hilliers, in British and French transports, were sent northwards, to be employed in the projected operations. This corps sailed from off Calais on July 22nd. On July 18th, the combined fleets moved from Baro Sound towards Ledsund, which was reached on the 21st. There, by August 5th, all transports, with troops, munitions and stores, had assembled; and Baraguay d'Hilliers, who had preceded his command, having already reconnoitred Bomarsund, all was ready for the attack.
The Aland Islands consist of a group of 280 rocks and islets, about 200 of which are uninhabited. They enclose a perfect labyrinth of channels most difficult to navigate. The islands had been Swedish until 1809, when they had been taken by Russia, which, to protect its conquest, had erected on the largest of the islands, commanding Lumpar Bay, in the strait separating Aland from Presto, the strong fortress of Bomarsund. The fortress itself, in 1854, formed the segment of a circle, having a chord about a quarter of a mile in length, and presenting to the roadstead a casemated battery of 120 guns, in two tiers. The system of defence was made complete by a series of works commencing on the heights behind, the chief work on the north being Fort Nottich, and the chief one on the west being Fort Tzee, each mounting 14 guns. To the southwest was an unfinished new fort, and, nearly south of it, on Tranvik Point, was a 7-gun battery. The works were continued across the water, on a chain of islets, to Presto, where stood another 14-gun fort, nearly north-west of the main fortress, and somewhat less than a mile distant from it. All the forts were of granite, with guns in two tiers; and they were held by about 2500 men. The plan on the opposite page will further explain the nature of the position.
The ordinary channel, leading from the fleets' anchorage at Ledsund to Lumpar Bay, was commanded by the fire of the Russians; but by the exertions of Captain Sulivan, of the Lightning, and of Commander Henry Charles Otter, of the Alban, an uncommanded channel between Lumpar and Ango Islands was discovered and surveyed; and on July 28th the squadron of Rear-Admiral Chads (Edinburgh, Hogue, Amphion, Blenheim, Ajax) was taken through the sinuous and difficult passage, without the use of buoys or marks. Other vessels, both French and British, passed up later.
On August 6th, the fortress was reconnoitred within 600 yards. On the 8th, near the southern extremity of Tranvik Point, the French army (reinforced by 2000 French marines) under the protection of the guns of the Edinburgh and Duperre, was landed, while a battalion of Royal Marines, and 90 British sappers and miners under Brig.-General Jones, with 2000 French Marines, were simultaneously disembarked at a point about two miles north of the fortress. On the same day the 7-gun battery near the southern landing-place was attacked and destroyed by the Amphion and Phlogiston, Napier, with his flag temporarily in the Bulldog, watching the operations. The landing of three short 32-pr. naval guns, four field-guns from the ships, and a rocket tube, on the 10th, was superintended by Rear-Admiral Chads, whose people had to drag them for four miles and a half over execrable ground to the point which had been selected as the site for the British battery (see plan). In this arduous work, Captains George Ramsay (Euryalus), and Richard Strode Hewlett (Edinburgh), and Commander George William Preedy (Duke of Wellington), specially distinguished themselves. The French, on Tranvik Point, had fifty horses to help drag their guns (four long 16-prs., and four 13-inch mortars) to their station, 450 yards west of Fort Tzee.
(From 'Life and Letters of Sir B. J. Sulivan,' by kind permission of Mr. John Murray.)
On the 10th, while passing the fortress, the Penelope, 16, paddle, Captain James Crawford Caffin, went ashore under the enemy's fire, and had to throw her guns overboard ere, much mauled by the enemy's red-hot shot, she could be floated off. She was struck twenty-one times, and had 2 men killed and 3 wounded. The Hecla, Gladiator, Valorous, and Pigmy, with boats, went to her assistance, and also suffered somewhat. Happily no blame was attributed to Captain Caffin.
On the 11th more guns were landed from the fleet, and sent up to the British battery, in charge of parties of 200 men under Lieutenants Donald M'Leod Mackenzie (Edinburgh), Thomas Davies (Hogue), George Henry Clarke (Blenheim), and Walter James Pollard (Ajax) respectively. The French battery, being ready early on the 13th, began firing without waiting for the British; and on the same evening Fort Tzee was abandoned. In consequence, General Jones's battery was turned against Fort Nottich (the battery was manned by seamen and Marine artillerymen under Capt. William Ramsay, Com. George William Preedy, Lieuts. Leveson Eliot Henry Somerset, George Foster Burgess, and Morgan Singer, Capts. (R.M.) Henry Edward Delacombe, Thomas Dudley Fosbroke, William Lawrence Sayer, and Peter Brames Nolloth (Brev Maj.), etc.). It opened on the 15th at 950 yards, and breached the place in eight hours. Nottich then surrendered. The British naval loss was only 1 killed and 1 wounded. The enemy had 6 killed and 7 wounded: and 125 prisoners were taken.
In the meantime Captain the Hon. Frederick Thomas Pelham, of the Blenheim, had landed a 10-inch pivot gun, and mounted it amid the ruins of the 7-gun battery which had been destroyed on the 8th. He made excellent practice against the main fortress, and, though he occupied a position of some danger, escaped without loss (with Capt. Pelham were Lieut. Francis Arden Close, and (actg.) Mate Leveson Wildman, both of whom were favourably mentioned). On the 16th, when the French had established themselves on Presto Island, and were nearly ready with the whole of their breaching battery, a heavy fire was opened by Pelham, who was supported by the French mortars on shore, by the French squadron, and occasionally by the 10-inch guns of the Edinburgh, Ajax, Arrogant, Amphion, Valorous, Sphinx, and Driver. No great amount of damage was done to the fortress; but the officer in command, General Bodisco, perceived that his position was desperate; and, at about mid-day, he exhibited a white flag. Captain William King Hall, of the Bulldog, and Commander de Surville, Parseval-Deschènes's aide-de-camp, with two of the French general's staff, were sent ashore to parley, and, as a result, it was agreed that the garrison should lay down its arms. The capitulation of Bomarsund was immediately followed by the surrender of the fort of Presto. Prisoners to the number of 2255 were taken, and were divided between the allies, the British share being sent at once to Ledsund, whence they were conducted to the Downs by Commodore the Hon. Frederick William Grey, C.B., of the Hannibal, 90, screw. The dispatches announcing the success were carried home by Napier's Flag-Lieutenant, John de Courcy Andrew Agnew, who was, in consequence, made a Commander on August 23rd. Among other promotions immediately consequent on the capture of Bomarsund were those of Commanders the Hon. Arthur Auckland Leopold Pedro Cochrane and Henry Charles Otter, to be Captains, and of Lieutenants Donald M'Leod Mackenzie, George Henry Clarke, Thomas Davies, and Francis Arden Close, to be Commanders. Bomarsund was destroyed, after Sweden had refused to accept it. Subsequent movements on the part of the fleets caused the Russians to blow up their fortifications at Hango.
Directions were despatched to Napier on August 29th, and to Parseval-Deschènes on August 30th, ordering a retirement from the Baltic. Napier had previously sent the Odin, Alban, Gorgon, and Driver to reconnoitre Abo; and, as he considered that it might be successfully attacked, he asked the French Vice-Admiral to join him in the enterprise. The latter, however, refused, on account of the badness of the weather. Reval, Sweaborg, and Hango were also reconnoitred. With respect to Sweaborg, Brig.-General Jones thought that it might be taken by combined sea and land operations, while the French General Niel was of opinion that the fleets alone could render it untenable in less than two hours. On September 12th, Napier received from home a dispatch which allowed him a certain amount of discretion as to the time of withdrawal; and he at once met Vice-Admiral Parseval-Deschènes and Rear-Admirals Penaud, Chads, and Seymour, in order to discuss the idea of undertaking further operations (Rear-Adms. Plumridge, and Henry Byam Martin, C.B. (who had succeeded R.-Adm. Corry), were at the time absent on detached service). It was then decided unanimously that, owing to the lateness of the season, nothing could that year be attempted against Sweaborg or any fortified Baltic port, save at great risk. On September 17th, by which date some of the French ships had begun to go home, Napier received a further dispatch, asking for opinions on General Niel's plan for attacking Sweaborg with ships alone. Parseval-Deschènes saw no reason to modify his views, and declined to attend further councils of war; and, although Napier again reconnoitred Sweaborg on. September 23rd, and sent home a report which was intended to facilitate operations in 1855, he did not attack. Towards the end of the month Parseval-Deschènes went home (his first service had been in the Bucentaure, at Trafalgar. On Dec. 2nd, 1854, he was raised to the rank of Admiral). Napier himself still remained, chiefly off Nargen; but, on September 27th, he sent part of the fleet, under Plumridge, to Kiel.
British expectations had not been satisfied by the work of the Baltic fleet in 1854. Napier was, perhaps, a weak officer in his old age, and may have been blameworthy; but the Admiralty of that day was far weaker, in that it allowed itself to be forced by disappointed public opinion into inviting the Commander-in-Chief, at that late period, to undertake a venture which he and his colleagues had declared to be unfeasible a month earlier. On October 4th, there was sent to him a dispatch recommending him to choose a day and opportunity for an attack on Sweaborg, and containing the following passages:-
"You anticipate an attack by the Russian fleet, if many of your vessels are crippled or destroyed. We are always reminded that the Russians are most unwilling to navigate the Gulf of Finland in line-of-battle ships when autumn has commenced; and Cronstadt is always locked up by ice fourteen days before Sweaborg is closed. The attack, therefore, on Sweaborg might be made towards the end of October, with least danger of attack from the Cronstadt portion of the Russian fleet. ... This order is founded on your own last report. The final decision must rest entirely on yourself. If the attack on Sweaborg, in present circumstances, be desperate, it must on no account be undertaken by you. If, calculating the ordinary chances of war, and on full consideration of the strength of the enemy's fortress and fleets, you shall be of opinion that Sweaborg can be laid in ruins, it will be your duty, with the concurrence of the French Admiral, not to omit the opportunity."
The responsibility was thus left to Napier. The Admiralty had been induced to send him the order, partly by popular clamour, and partly by the receipt of an unfounded report that Sebastopol had fallen before an attack by the Black Sea fleet. Plumridge had been told to hurry back; Parseval-Deschènes had been directed to postpone his departure; when, on October 9th, having learnt that Sebastopol had not fallen, the Admiralty ordered Napier not to attack Sweaborg. It is scarcely surprising that the Commander-in-Chief lost his temper. Having quitted Nargen on October 19th, he reached Kiel on the 22nd, leaving only a few ships to the northward under Captain Rundle Burges Watson, of the Impérieuse; but not until December 4th, when there was danger of its being frozen in, was the fleet ordered to be wholly withdrawn for the winter. On December 16th, Napier anchored at Spithead, and on the 18th he had a stormy interview with Sir James Graham. He was immediately, and rather curtly, directed to strike his flag; nor did he succeed in obtaining any public inquiry into his conduct. By way of protest he refused promotion to the highest class of the Bath (Napier to Sir Chas. Wood, July 5th, 1855: to H.R.H. Prince Albert, of the same date. Lord Palmerston, speaking on the Navy Estimates, 1855, took a view different from that of Graham. "In my opinion," said he, "it is only due to him (Napier) to say that nothing has occurred in the course of the last year which, in the slightest degree, diminishes the high character which he has attained in the service of his country. ... He secured the country against all the evils which might have arisen if the Baltic fleet of Russia had been permitted to quit its ports and scour the sea ... ").
Such was the first year's campaign in the Baltic. Beyond the destruction of Bomarsund, and the blockade of Russian ports, it effected little or nothing. The fiasco may be attributed to three principal causes - causes which also influenced the results elsewhere. Firstly, the officers then available for responsible commands were, almost without exception, far too old to sustain the anxieties and fatigues of naval warfare under steam, without rapidly losing their efficiency. Secondly, there was at headquarters a conspicuous lack of information concerning the enemy's dispositions. And thirdly, even had the enemy's dispositions been fully known to the Admiralty, the fleet was materially incapable of doing the peculiar kind of work which the situation demanded. The commands of Napier and Parseval-Deschènes in the north, and of Dundas and Hamelin in the south, were made up mainly of craft of the heaviest draught and armament, and largely of sailing ships with necessarily limited powers of manoeuvring in narrow waters. In the first year of the war, neither Great Britain nor France was able to employ light-draught steam gunboats, and bomb or mortar vessels, because neither Power possessed anything of the sort. Yet such vessels were absolutely requisite for effective operations in the bays, and among the islands, of the Baltic, and in the shallow outlying parts of the Black Sea. In the following years hundreds of craft of the kind were hurriedly and wastefully built or purchased. Scores of them, nevertheless, were not ready until long after they had ceased to be pressingly needed. Had there been less ignorance at headquarters, and had the allied navies been fully prepared for any work which might have been thrust upon them, it is certain that the struggle would have been far briefer, far less costly, and far more decisive than it actually was.
Source: Clowes, William Laird: "The Royal Navy: a history from the earliest times to the death of Queen Victoria", Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1903, volume 6, 395 - 503.