The Battle in the Straits of Chios, 24 June 1770, 1848 Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817-1900)

Location: I. K. Aivazovsky Museum Feodosia Ukraine
Original Size: 220 x 190 cm

Oil Painting Reproduction

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The naval Battle of Chesma took place on 5-7 July 1770 near and in Cesme (Chesma) Bay, in the area between Asia Minor and the island of Chios, the site of a number of past naval battles between Turkey and Venice. It was part of the Orlov Revolt of 1769, a precursor to the later Greek War of Independence (1821-29), and the first of a number of disastrous fleet battles for Turkey against Russia.

The Russo-Turkish War had begun in 1768, and Russia sent several squadrons from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea to draw Turkish attention away from their Black Sea fleet, then only 6 battleships strong. Two Russian squadrons, commanded by Admiral Grigory Spiridov and Rear Admiral John Elphinston[1], a British advisor, combined under the overall command of Count Alexey Orlov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Fleet and went to look for the Turkish fleet.

On 5 July 1770 they came across it anchored in line just north of Cesme Bay, western Turkey. Details of the Turkish fleet are uncertain but it included 14-16 battleships including Real Mustafa of 84 guns, Rodos of 60 guns and a 100-gun flagship. In addition there were perhaps 6 frigates, 6 xebecs, 13 galleys and 32 small craft, with about 1300 guns in total. 10 of the battleships, of 70-100 guns, were in the Turkish main line with a further 6 or so battleships in the 2nd, arranged so that they could fire through the gaps in the first line. Behind that were the frigates, xebecs etc. The fleet was commanded by Kapudan Pasha Husameddin, in the 4th ship from the front (north end) of the line, with Hasan Pasha in the first ship, Real Mustafa, and Cafer Bey in the 7th. Two further battleships, probably small, had left this fleet for Mytilene the previous evening.

After organizing a plan of attack, the Russian battle line (see Table 1) sailed towards the south end of the Turkish line and then turned north, coming alongside the Turks, with the tail end coming into action last (Elphinston had wanted to approach the northern end first, then follow the wind along the Turkish line, attacking their ships one by one - the method used by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile in 1798). The Turks opened fire at about 11.45am, followed by the Russians slightly later. Three of the Russian battleships had trouble staying in position; Evropa turned around and came back behind Rostislav, Trech Svyatitelai circled the 2nd Turkish vessel before coming back into the Russian line, being attacked in error by Trech Ierarchov as she did so, and Sv. Ianuarii turned around before coming back into the line.

Spiridov, in Sv. Evstafii, had a close-range battle with Hasan Pasha in Real Mustafa, before the latter was suddenly seen to be on fire. Her mainmast came down and landed on Sv. Evstafiis deck, causing the Russian ship to immediately blow up. Shortly later Real Mustafa blew up as well.

According to Elphinston, who claimed the Russians were almost useless, Spiridov and Count Feodor Orlov (brother of the commander), had left Sv. Evstafii before the fighting became close-range. Spiridov ended up on Trech Svyatitelai. Sv. Evstafii's captain, Kruse, survived too. At about 2pm the fighting ended, as the Turks cut their cables and moved south into the bay, forming themselves into a defensive line of 8 battleships, a 2nd line, and the rest beyond.

During 6 July the Russians bombarded the Turkish ships and land positions and at about 12:30am on the morning of 7 July Orlov sent Samuel Greig (who transferred to Rostislav) to attack with Evropa, Rostislav and Ne tron menya forming a south-north line facing the Turks, and with Saratov in reserve, Nadezhda attacking the batteries at the eastern side of the bay entrance, Afrika attacking the batteries on the western side, and Grom near Afrika. At about 1:30 am or earlier (note: times were about 90 minutes earlier according to Elphinston), fire from Grom and/or Ne tron menya caused 1 Turkish battleship to blow up after her main topsail caught fire, and the fire quickly spread to other battleships. By 2am 2 Turkish battleships had blown up and more were on fire, and Greig sent in 3 fireships (the 4th, seeing the danger, stayed out), which contributed in a small way to the burning of almost the entire Turkish fleet. At about 4am boats were sent in to save 2 battleships which were not burning, but 1 of these caught fire while it was being towed. The other, Rodos 60, survived and was captured along with 5 galleys (or galliots?). Fighting ended at about 8am. Russian casualties on the 5 July were 14 killed, plus 636 killed in Sv. Evstafii, and about 30 wounded, and on the 7 July 11 killed. Turkish casualties were much higher. Husameddin, Hasan Pasha and Cafer Bey survived. Husameddin was removed from his position and it was given to Cafer Bey. This was the only significant fleet battle during the Russo-Turkish War.

The battle of Chesma was fought on the same day as the land Battle of Larga. It was the greatest naval defeat suffered by Turkey since the Battle of Lepanto (1571). This battle inspired great confidence in the Russian fleet and allowed the Russians to control the Aegean Sea for some time. The defeat of the Turkish fleet also sped up rebellions by minority groups in the Ottoman Empire, especially the Orthodox Christian nations in the Balkan peninsula, who helped the Russian army in defeating Turkey.
Catherine the Great commissioned four monuments to commemorate the victory: Chesma Palace and Church of Saint John at Chesme Palace in St Petersburg (1774-77), Chesma Obelisk in Gatchina (1775), and Chesma Column in Tsarskoe Selo (1778).

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