Greek War of Independence: Battle of Navarino

Battle of Navarino. Public Domain

Conflict:

The Battle of Navarino was fought during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829).

Date:

Admiral Sir Edward Codrington defeated the Ottomans on October 20, 1827.

Fleets & Commanders:

Britain-France-Russia

  • Admiral Sir Edward Codrington
  • Admiral Henri de Rigny
  • Admiral Login Geiden
  • 10 ships of the line, 10 frigates, 4 brigs, 2 schooners

Ottoman Empire

  • Ibrahim Pasha
  • Amir Tahir
  • Moharram Bey
  • Capitan Bey
  • 3 ships of the line, 17 frigates, 30 corvettes, 28 brigs, 5 schooners

    Battle Summary:

    Beginning in 1821, the Greek War of Independence began as a rebellion by Greek nationalists against the ruling Ottoman Empire. After six years of fighting, the Greeks appeared to be on the point of collapse as Sultan Mahmud II had begun employing the Western-trained army and navy of his vassal Muhammad Ali of Egypt against the rebels. As incentive, the sultan promised the Peloponnese to Ali's son Ibrahim Pasha if the Greeks were defeated. Arriving in Greece, Ibrahim conducted a brutal scorched earth campaign and initiated programs of ethnic cleansing.

    The Ottoman treatment of the Greeks aroused the anger of Russia who saw itself as the protector of Orthodox Christians in the Balkans. Due to its location, Russia was unable to directly aid the Greeks except by sending forces through the North Sea and Mediterranean. They were prevented from doing so by the British who initially wished the situation to simply play out.

    As the conflict continued both Britain and France came under increased pressure to take action as public opinion in both nations heavily favored the Greeks and their rebellion became a cause célèbre.

    On July 6, 1827, Britain, France, and Russia signed the Treaty of London which called upon the Ottomans to suspend hostilities and grant the Greeks autonomy.

    Citing a disruption of trade for their involvement in the conflict, the Three Powers included a secret clause in the treaty stating that if the Ottomans did not comply within a month they would send consuls to the Greeks, essentially giving them diplomatic recognition. In addition, the allies instructed their naval squadrons in the Mediterranean to enforce the treaty and prevent supplies and troops from reaching Ottoman forces in Greece.

    In early August 1827, the main Ottoman fleet departed Alexandria and rendezvoused with other Ottoman forces at Navarino Bay in western Greece on September 8. Four days later, the British naval commander in the Mediterranean, Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, met with Ibrahim and received promises that that offensive operations would cease. These assurances were quickly ignored as the Ottoman fleet twice sortied to support land operations. On both occasions, Codrington intercepted them and fired warning shots, forcing them to turn back.

    On October 13, Codrington was joined by French and Russian squadrons off Navarino. As Codrington was senior, the other commanders, Admiral Henri de Rigny and Admiral Login Geiden, agreed to serve under his command. Five days later, after failed attempts to contact Ibrahim, Codrington made the decision to enter Navarino Bay with the combined fleet.

    Prior to entering the bay, Codrington issued strict orders that no ship was to fire unless fired upon. The Ottoman fleet was anchored in three lines forming a crescent, with its smaller ships and fireships on the flanks.

    As the Allies entered the bay, Ibrahim sent Codrington a note ordering him to withdraw. This was ignored and the allies continued their approach. While passing a fireship on the Ottoman left, the frigate HMS Dartmouth noticed its crew preparing to ignite it. Dartmouth's captain dispatched a boat to tell the Ottomans to cease. This was met by musket fire from the Ottomans which was returned by Dartmouth. As this was occurring, the French flagship, Sirene approached and contributed additional musket fire to the fight. Shortly thereafter, an Ottoman corvette fired on Sirene with its main guns, beginning the battle.

    As fighting broke out across the bay, the allied fleet moved to engage the Ottoman ships. Aboard his flagship, HMS Asia, Codrington found himself between the ship of the line Fatih Bahri and the heavy frigate Guerriere . Determined fire from the British gunners soon disabled both Ottoman ships. For four hours the two fleets battered each other, with the allies' edge in training and equipment showing. As the fighting died out, over three-quarters of the Ottoman fleet had been sunk, with the remainder disabled or burning. Only eight remained in usable condition.

    Aftermath:

    The Battle of Navarino proved to be a one-sided victory for the allies. While several of the allies' ships were badly damaged, none were sunk. In the fighting, Codrington's fleet lost 181 killed and 480 wounded. For Ibrahim Pasha the battle cost him his entire fleet as well as approximately 3000 killed and 1109 wounded. The Battle of Navarino is most noteworthy for being the last major naval battle to involve sailing warships. Following the clash, Ottoman forces in the Peloponnese were cut off from their supplies and reinforcements. A turning point in the war, the troops returned to Egypt the next year. In 1829, after eight years of fighting, the Ottomans capitulated and Greece finally achieved its independence