Battle of Navarino

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The Bay of Navarino; the historical Italian name for the Bay of Pylos, lies on the south-west coast of the Greek Peloponnese. Two battles have been fought within its shores.

First battle

In 425BC the Athenian general Demosthenes defeated Spartan forces during the Second Peloponnesian War in what is now known as the Battle of Pylos.

Second battle

On 20 October 1827, during the War of Greek Independence, a pro-Greek coalition force of British, French and Russian ships under the command of Admiral Sir Edmund Codrington overcame a Turkish/North African force under Ibrahim Pasha which had been anchored in the Bay.

The Turks were anchored in a semi-circle within the bay – the allies came into that semi-circle and moored to prevent them leaving the harbour. Small arms fire from the Turks brought about a response with cannons by a British frigate and general firing began. The battle lasted four hours and was a complete success for the coalition.

The coalition had gone into battle with 12 ships of the line, 8 frigates and 6 other vessels. The Ottoman fleet had 7 ships of the line, 15 frigates, 26 corvettes, and 17 other miscellaneous craft. One Ottoman ship of the line was lost during the battle, along with 12 frigates, nearly all the corvettes and many of the smaller vessels. Casualties numbered about 4000. (These numbers vary slightly according to the source.) Allied losses were negligible

Despite the victory, Admiral Codrington found himself in trouble. In the overall scheme of things, the engagement had been meant to hold the Ottoman fleet at bay – keep it out of the action so to speak – not to bring it to battle. Indeed, Codrington and Pasha had actually discussed the diplomatic niceties of the situation – a major reason for Britain and France's engagement in Greece's struggle was the two nations' reluctance to have Russia gain too much power from the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. Less than 30 years later, the Crimean War was fought on these very grounds. In some quarters it was thought that the Royal Navy frigate that had reacted to the musketry with cannon fire had brought on the melee deliberately. Codrington, who had been chosen by the Admiralty for his diplomatic skills as much as his naval ability, found himself back in London facing charges of disobeying orders. He avoided official admonishment but was kept relatively close to home for the remainder of his career – commander of the Channel Squadron before being given command of the Plymouth Naval Base.

Navarino’s importance lies in its being the last significant naval engagement wholly between sail-driven vessels – though most of the vessels on both sides were at anchor for most of the battle.

References

  • "The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea" (1976)