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The Battle of Gangut — in the historical sources of the Presidential Library

31 July 2017

August 7 marks the 303 years since the Battle of Gangut — one of the most significant victories of the Russian Navy, having influenced a strengthening of Russia's status as a naval power. The Presidential Library stock is regularly added with historical documents, maps, books and public video appearances that help to understand the geopolitical meaning of the occurred more than three hundred years ago events.

“First of all, Tsar decided to seize the shores of the Gulf of Finland, which belonged to us from the beginning, — according to the digitized copy of 1914-year book of V. Goncharov entitled The Battle of Gangut, — but were captured by the Swedes on the hard time of interregnum. However, the army alone could not seize a shoreline, which is always protected with enemy’s large fleet. Russia was in desperate need of a naval force capable of fighting against the Swedes in their very own nature.”

And the ever-busy Tsar, endowed with a gift of strategic foresight, began to build a navy.

In 1703, the Russians managed to push the Swedes out of the mouth of the Neva River. Here Peter I at once laid the city of St. Petersburg, the capital of the future Russian Empire, and the first harbor in the Gulf of Finland. Before that, Russia had a single port on the White Sea — Arkhangelsk, where Peter I also organized the shipbuilding. And all this in the circumstances of the Great Northern War, which has begun in 1700 and lasted almost 21 years.

“In the spring of 1714, there were two fleets assembling in Kronstadt — the shipboard and the rowing types. Tsar Peter, who started his service under the name of Peter Mikhailov from the bombardier and rose to Shautbenaht (Rear Admiral), commanded the naval fleet, General Admiral Count Apraksin — the rowing one,” — as M. A. Lyalina explains the preparation for the march to Sweden in her 1900-year book The feats of Russian admirals, which is available on the Presidential Library website.

Everything proved that a decisive battle for Russia's western borders and its status as an influential maritime power is being prepared.

“On July 20, 1714, — Goncharov writes, Tsar arrived at the rowing fleet. Our forces at Gangut were now up to 13,500 troops of infantry and about a hundred ships, with one thousand of “naval service,” that are, sea men in fact.

Tsar’s arrival refreshed everything.”

The battle took place at Cape Gangut on August 7 (July 27 old style) 1714. The only time in the new and modern history of Russia, head of the state himself — the Emperor Peter I directly led the naval forces in the battle. Preparing for the battle was for the Russians a primarily heavy physical labor, which is described in detail in aforementioned book by Goncharov Gangut Battle: “After a thorough inspection of Gangut cape Peter the Great decided that it was possible to make a detour of the enemy fleet on the galleys, but not seagoing, but over the land, pulling vessels from the southern coast of the Gangut Peninsula to the north. Pulled ships were to appear in the enemy’s rear, inshore beyond the peninsula.”

“On July 23, Tsar finally outlined the most convenient line of “peddling at about 1,5 mile in length,” — Goncharov continues. — One and a half thousand workers immediately started cutting the forest and setting up wooden tracks for rolling the galleys over the mangles along the isthmus. With his usual energy, Tsar got down to this work…

Here is the description of the battle itself: “The sea became a complete calm, which took away the main advantage of the Swedes, which consisted in sudden movement.

Peter the Great, assessing the favorable situation for him, instantly made a new plan and immediately started implementing it. Attacking armed with heavy artillery the enemy ships directly would be suicidal. To go boarding with the enemy — too, because the Swedish ships, having high sides, were almost unapproachable for our low-sided galleys. There was only one way — to break past the Swedes outside their shots, that is, to bypass the enemy ships from the sea.”

Firmness and composure of the Russians, the author says, were striking in all the steps of this ingenious combination of Peter. Having completed the most difficult part of the operation —breaking through a strong enemy squadron, the Russians now only had to destroy the detachment of the forward group of ships. The Swedish artillery of a larger caliber, regretfully, weakened the numerical superiority of the Russians (100 galleys and shipboards vs. 10 Swedish ships with 116 guns). The only one thing remained — boarding fight, but the high boards of the enemy ships was prevented even this.

“At 2 pm on July 27, a blue flag flew up on the Russian admiral's galley, and a cannon shot was heard — a signal for battle.” Ehrenschold (Nils Ehrenschiöld)opened the deadly fire in response. “Calm was dead, and a heavy powder smoke covered the entire fjord. <…> Tsar encouraged his fleet to the new feats, appearing in the most dangerous places. “After boarding, “the deck of each galley was covered with dead and wounded.” “The battle on the deck went hand-to-hand, chest-to-chest. The ranks of the defenders of the Swedish frigate were drifting away. Ehrenschold, wounded again, fell overboard and was raised in an unconscious by the Captain of the Ingermanlade Regiment Bakeyev and taken to the galley of Veide — to Tsar.

The delighted Tsar kissed his worthy captive in a bloody forehead and personally cared about bringing Ehrenschold, who passed out from the loss of blood, back to life.

At this time, the battle, which lasted about 3 hours, was over. <…> Our lost: 127 people killed and 341 wounded. Swedes had 352 killed, the rest of them was captured along with their ships.”

The result of the Gangut victory was a recognition of Russia as a sea power, which fleet hereafter began to develop at a rapid pace, raising the importance of its state to the world level.