Battle of Navarino
The 20th of October 1827 AD
Navarino, the last great sea-battle fought solely under sail, was an unlikely clash. Not only were we not at war with the Ottoman Empire whose fleet was destroyed in the encounter; but our sailors fought alongside the French and Russians, none of these allies truly sharing aims.
The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars pushed most of Europe into a reactionary period. Europe’s monarchies sought to guarantee their survival and borders. The fly in this status quo ointment was the Greek question: Christian Greece was fighting for independence from the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Orthodox Russia was drawn to help, with potential Near East gains an added incentive; the British wanted no change; the French were attracted to Greek freedom, opposed Britain on principle, and feared Russian ambitions.
Ottoman massacres in Greece, liberal support for their cause ( Byron famously dying for it), and a new Tsar changed the game. The three Powers decided to impose an armistice in Greece and make it autonomous under Ottoman suzerainty. The Greeks agreed; but Egyptian commander Ibrahim Pasha’s atrocities continued, and his naval forces manoeuvred contrary to allied wishes.
Vice-Admiral Codrington, a Trafalgar veteran commanding the allied fleet, decided to block the Ottoman ships in Navarino Bay on the west coast of the Peleponnese; he forever protested peaceful intentions, but undoubtedly had pro-Greek sympathies. It appears British sailors sent to stop Ottoman preparations on a fire-ship were fired on, and in a chain reaction this became a full exchange of broadsides. Though Codrington only commanded 28 ships they were bigger, better armed, and manned by experienced warriors; the Ottomans overall had more guns on their 70 vessels, but many were manned by inexperienced pressed-men.
Firing continued from early afternoon until evening. The allies lost no ships; only eight enemy vessels remained serviceable. Codrington suffered fewer than 200 dead; the Ottomans perhaps 2000.
Codrington returned a national hero but resented by the government: sent to negotiate peace he had fought a set-piece battle.
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