«Honor to the all-Russian Navy! On the night of 26 we attacked the enemy Navy of Turkey… defeated it, destroyed, burned, sank, turned to ashes, and became the lords of the entire Archipelago».
Russian squadron commander admiral G. A. Spiridov
On June 26 (July 7), 1770 during the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774 took place one of the most known battles of sailing fleet. The Russian squadron under the commandment of Admiral G. A. Spiridov and captain commander S. K. Kreig defeated the Turkish Navy which outnumbered it twice. It happened in Chesma bay, Chios strait of Aegean Sea near the western coast of Turkey.
In 1769 in order to draw the Turkish forces from the main theater in the south of Russia, the government decided to send from St. Petersburg to Mediterranean Sea a squadron of ships. Vice-admiral G. A. Spiridov was assigned the commander. The general direction of the expedition was in the hands of count A. G. Orlov.
In February 1770 the Russian squadron approached the coasts of Greece. The first victory of the Russian Navy was the battle near Chios Island. In spite of the enemy’s great numerical superiority, the Russian seamen managed to board and defeat the enemy flagship. After this defeat, the enemy squadron, deprived of its leader, withdrew in disorder to Chesma bay waiting for reinforcement.
By the time of the beginning of Chesma battle the Russian squadron included 9 linear ships, 3 frigates, one bombardier ship, 17 auxiliary vessels. On the whole the squadron disposed of 740 guns and 6 500 men. The Turkish fleet under the commandment of Ibrahim Khasan-pasha comprised over 16 linear ships, 6 frigates, about 50 auxiliary vessels with the total number of guns over 1 400 and 15 000 men. The fleet deployment was quite tense so that only the vessels of the front line could apply their artillery in full measure.
At nightfall of June 25 (July 6), 1870 the front line Russian ships dropped anchor at the entrance to Chesma bay and opened fire against the enemy ships. The Turks, deprived of maneuvering, could not deploy their forces.
During the battle some fire ships were sent against Turkish Navy. One of them, led by lieutenant Ilyin, coupled with 84-cannon Turkish vessel and got exploded with it. The fire spread from the burning vessel to the rest of Turkish ships. The fire lasted for 7 hours.
By the dawn of June 26 (July 7) Turkish squadron was completely destroyed. 15 linear ships, 6 frigates and a large number of minor ships had burnt down; 66-cannon ship ‘Rodos’ and 5 galleys were taken prisoners. 10 000 Turkish seamen and officers were killed. The Russians lost 11 men only.
The battle of Chesma had a great military and strategic impact. Owing to this victory the Russian Navy had seriously damaged Turkish communications in archipelago and established an efficient blockage of Dardanelles.
In the rescript addressed to Orlov, Catherine II wrote: “Our Navy under your reasonable and brave commandment delivered this significant blow to Ottoman pride. The whole world acknowledges that this victory gained you an excellent glory and honor. You and the squadron under your commandment are crowned with laurels”.
In memory of Chesma battle a medal was struck to award all the participants of the battle. Count Orlov was conferred with the Order of St. George 1st class and received an honorable addition to his family name – of Chesma; Admiral Sviridov was given the highest order of the Russian Empire, the Order of Saint Andrew the First-Called; Counter-admiral Greig received the Order of St. George 2nd class.
In honor of the victory in the town of Gatchina was raised Chesma obelisk, in Tsarskoye Selo – The Column of Chesma, in St. Petersburg the Chesma palace and Chesma church were built. The names of admiralty ships – participants of the battle – had been given to new linear ships, built in Admiralty stocks, for a long time after.
Lit.: Андреевская В. П. О подвигах русских моряков. СПб., 1911; Тарле Е. В. Чесменский бой и первая русская экспедиция в Архипелаг // Е. В. Тарле. Сочинения. Т. 10. М., 1959. С. 11-91; [Электронный ресурс]. URL: http://militera.lib.ru/h/tarle4/index.html; Чесменский бой. СПб., 1883; 26 июня 1770 г. Чесменский бой [Электронный ресурс] // История Военно-морского флота России и Советского Союза. Б. д. URL: http://www.navy.su/daybyday/june/26/index.htm.