Thursday, September 10, 2015

Naval actions at the siege of Ochakov (1788)

The Russian flotilla waited too long before retreating, and one of its vessels, the double-sloop No. 2, was overtaken by small craft and its commander, Saken, blew himself up.

This was a series of mainly small-ship actions which occurred along the coast of what is now Ukraine during the Russo-Turkish War (1787-92) as Russian and Turkish ships and boats supported their land armies in the struggle for control of Ochakov, a strategic position. The main actions at sea happened on 17, 18, 28 and 29 June and 9 July 1788. On 9 July also, the larger Turkish ships left and on 14 July they fought the Russian Sevastopol fleet about 100 miles to the south.

The Russians had a small sailing ship fleet, commanded by Alexiano, but finally taken command of by John Paul Jones on 6 June, and a gunboat flotilla (the makeup of which changed over the course of the fighting), commanded by Prince Charles of Nassau-Siegen. Both of these men had been made Russian Rear-Admirals, and were themselves commanded by the ineffectual Prince Potemkin. The Russian land armies were commanded by Suvorov.

The Turks had a large mixed fleet, commanded by Kapudan Pasha (admiral in chief) Hassan el Ghazi, part of which came in close to support the fighting, and part of which stayed out. It is hard to determine the makeup of this force accurately. Most of its ships were probably armed merchantmen, carrying around 40 guns, a few were probably larger. Different accounts give different numbers, but according to an 8 April list from Istanbul, the fleet consisted of 12 battleships, 13 frigates, 2 bombs, 2 galleys, 10 gunboats and 6 fireships. There were some xebecs (oared vessels of 30 or more guns) as well, but perhaps these were counted as frigates

On 19 March 1788, the Russian sailing fleet moved from its position near Cherson to Cape Stanislav.

On 21 April, Nassau-Siegen reached Cherson with his flotilla and on 24 April moved into the Liman.

On 27 May, the Russian Sevastopol' fleet under Count Voinovitch attempted to leave port but was forced back almost immediately by adverse conditions. If it had sailed, it might have met the Turkish fleet earlier than it did.

On 30 May Jones arrived, but left to confer with Suvorov about the building of a new battery at Kinburn (on the south coast, facing Ochakov) before returning on 6 June.

Meanwhile, on 31 May the Turkish fleet had arrived. The Russian flotilla waited too long before retreating, and one of its vessels, the double-sloop No. 2, was overtaken by small craft and its commander, Saken, blew himself up.

After a minor action on 17 June, on 18 June at about 7.30 am 5 Turkish galleys and 36 small craft attacked the inshore end of the Russian line, which was perpendicular to the coast. At first the Russians had only 6 galleys, 4 barges and 4 double-sloops to oppose them. At about 10 a.m. el Ghazi arrived with 12 more vessels, but Nassau-Siegen and Jones had advanced the offshore ends to bring their whole forces into action and at 10.30 the Turks withdrew with the loss of 2 or 3 vessels burnt and blown up. At about 11 a.m. firing stopped and by 12 p.m. the Russian flotilla had rejoined the sailing ships.

On 27 June at 12 p.m., the Turkish fleet steered for the left (windward) end of the Russian line but at 2 p.m. their flagship ran aground and the other ships anchored in disarray. Adverse winds prevented the Russians from attacking until about 2 a.m. on 28 June when it shifted to the NNE, but the Turkish ship had been refloated and the Turks tried to form a line. At about 4 a.m. all the Russians advanced and at 5.15 a.m. they were in action. The Turkish second flagship ran aground and Nassau-Siegen sent in the left wing of his flotilla to attack her. This left his right wing weak, and Malyi Aleksandr was sunk by Turkish bombs. However, the Turkish battleship was burnt, this fate also falling to her flagship later. At 9.30 p.m., the Turks withdrew under the Ochakov guns; el Ghazi decided to withdraw his sailing ships completely, but the new battery at Kinburn forced him so far to the north that 9 of his ships ran aground, and the next morning the Russian flotilla surrounded these and several small craft and destroyed them all except for one 54-gun battleship, which they refloated.

The Turks had lost 2 battleships and 885 captured on 28 June, and perhaps 8 battleships, 2 frigates, 2 xebecs, 1 bomb, 1 galley and 1 transport and 788 captured on 29 June. Russian casualties were 18 killed and 67 wounded in the flotilla, and probably slight losses in the sailing ships.

The Turkish fleet appeared near Pirezin Adası, west of Ochakov, on 1 July, to try to rescue the small craft, but decided not to pass the batteries again and on 9 July it put to sea to meet the Russian Sevastopol' fleet, which it fought in the Battle of Fidonisi to the south on 14 July.

On 9 July also the Russian army began to assault Ochakov and the Russian flotilla attacked the Turkish vessels there. Forces involved in this were as follows: Russian: 7 galleys, 7 double-sloops, 7 floating batteries, 7 "decked boats" and 22 gunboats. Turkish: 2 20-gun xebecs/frigates, 5 galleys, 1 kirlangitch (very similar to a galley), 1 16-gun brigantine, 1 bomb and 2 gunboats.

At 3.15 a.m. firing started. The 2 Turkish gunboats and 1 galley were captured by the Russians and the rest were burnt. Firing ceased at 9.30. Russian casualties were 24 killed and 80 wounded.


A 17th-century koch in a museum in Krasnoyarsk. Kochs were the earliest icebreakers and were widely used by Russian people in the Arctic and on Siberian rivers.

(c. 1610–1667), adventurer, explorer of Siberia.

Born in Vologda region, Yerofei Khabarov began his career managing a saltworks for the famed Stroganov clan. He traveled throughout western Siberia in the 1620s. He moved on to the Yenisei River, then the Lena, in the 1630s. He invested in farmlands and local saltworks. He also developed useful ties to Vasily Poyarkov, the administrator of Yakutsk and an early explorer of the Amur River basin.

In 1649 Khabarov turned to exploration. His goal was to follow up on Poyarkov’s earlier forays into the Amur region, seeking an easier and more reliable route than Poyarkov had been able to find. In March, Khabarov left Yakutsk with 150 men, following the Olekma River.

Over the winter of 1650, Khabarov crossed the Yablonovy Range, reaching the Amur River soon after. He ruthlessly pacified the local tribe, the Daurs. He also established a garrison on the Amur. In his reports to Yakutsk and Moscow, Khabarov advocated conquest of the Amur, both for the river’s strategic importance and the region’s economic assets: grain, fish, and fur.

In 1650 and 1651, Khabarov launched further assaults against the Daurs, expanding Russian control over the area, but with great violence. Khabarov founded Achansk, captured Albazin, and made his way down the Amur until the summer of 1651. By this point, he was encroaching on territory that China’s recently founded Manchu (Qing) Dynasty considered to be its sphere of influence. When the Daurs appealed to China for assistance, the Manchus attacked Achansk in the spring of 1652. Khabarov’s garrison was forced to withdraw, but for the moment, the Manchus did not press their advantage. Nonetheless, Russia and China would engage in many frontier struggles until the signing of the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689).

Meanwhile, word of Khabarov’s cruel treatment of the Daurs reached Russian authorities, and he was arrested in the fall of 1653. Khabarov was put on trial, but his services were considered valuable enough to have outweighed the abuses he had committed. He was exonerated and placed in command of the Siberian fortress of Ilimsk. In 1858 Russia’s new city at the juncture of the Amur and Ussuri rivers, Khabarovsk, was given his name.

Bassin, Mark. (1999). Imperial Visions: Nationalist Imagination and Geographical Expansion in the Russian Far East, 1840–1865. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Bobrick, Benson. (1992). East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia. New York: Poseidon.
Lincoln, W. Bruce. (1993). Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. New York: Random House.