Battle of Navarino


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The beautiful town of Pylos is on the southwest coast of Peloponnese, in a large bay known as Navarino Bay, as Navarino was the Italian name of Pylos.

The bay is almost closed by the long and narrow islet of Sfaktiria and a smaller rock called Tsichli Baba. The town is built like an amphitheatre so the rock formations are visible from nearly all buildings.

Pylos has a rich history dating back to the Mycenean period when it was the kingdom of Nestor. Ruins of Nestor`s palace were found a few kilometres away from Pylos.

After that it was under Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman rule. It was finally liberated in 1827 after a battle known as the Battle of Navarino.

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The Second Battle of Navarino (the first in 425 BC, then and now called Pylos, when the Athenians defeated the Spartans) was not only the last battle of sailing ships and the most one-sided battle in naval history but it was perhaps the most important battle in the history of Modern Greece

Had it not been won by the combined British, French and Russian fleets against the Egyptian and Turkish fleets there might not have been a Greece.

In 1825 the Greek War of Independence against the Turks had been going on for four years, when the Sultan asked his vassal Mohammad Ali, who ruled Egypt, to end the rebellion once and for all.

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Ali sent his adopted son Ibraham Pasha, an Albanian, who then conquered the fortress of Neokastro and made it his base, and began a program of exterminating or removing the Greeks of the Peloponese to replace them with Muslims from Africa.

This was unacceptable to British Foreign Minister George Canning who sent a fleet under Admiral Codrington to stop the genocide.

On July 6 1827 the Treaty of London was signed and France and Russia also sent their ships to convince the Turks that a reconciliation was in their best interest.

The Greek government in Nafplio proposed an armistice but the Turkish government refused.

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In early August 1827, the main Ottoman fleet departed Alexandria and met with other Ottoman forces at Navarino Bay in western Greece on September 8.

Four days later, the British naval commander in the Mediterranean, Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, met with Ibrahim and received promises that that offensive operations would cease.

These assurances were quickly ignored as the Ottoman fleet twice sortied to support land operations.

On both occasions, Codrington intercepted them and fired warning shots, forcing them to turn back.

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On September 12th the Egyptian fleet was anchored in the large bay of Navarino along with a Turkish and Tunisian squadron and was warned by Codrington to cease hostilities towards the Greeks.

Ibraham did indeed stop his naval activities but continued to burn villages and kill the Greeks on land.

The admirals of the allied fleets sent a letter to Ibraham but it was returned by his officers who said they did not know where he was.

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On October 13, Codrington was joined by French and Russian squadrons off Navarino. As Codrington was senior, the other commanders, Admiral Henri de Rigny and Admiral Login Geiden, agreed to serve under his command.

Five days later, after failed attempts to contact Ibrahim, Codrington made the decision to enter Navarino Bay with the combined fleet.

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Codrington's combined fleet consisted of 12 ships of the line, eight frigates and six other vessels, while the forces of Ibrahim Pasha numbered seven ships of the line, 15 frigates, 26 corvettes and 17 other vessels, including transports.

Although outnumbered, the allied force enjoyed superior fire power to its opponents.

Before entering the bay on October 20th, Codrington issued strict orders that no ship was to fire unless fired upon. The Ottoman fleet was anchored in three lines forming a crescent, with its smaller ships and fireships on the flanks.

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On entering the bay with their fleet the British were joined by the French and the Russians.

So now Navarino bay had several hundred warships staring at each other at point-blank range.

The Egyptian commander sent Codrington an order to withdraw to which the British Admiral replied that he had not come to receive orders but to give them.

He anchored his ship alongside the Warrior, the Egyptian flagship.

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Clearly the whole endeavor was meant as a bluff and the British expected the Egyptian-Turkish fleet to either pull up anchor and leave or sit down and sign some kind of non-aggression treaty.

But when the Turks shot Lieutenant GWH Fitzroy and some of his crew as they sailed towards them in a small boat to deliver a message, the frigate Dartmouth opened fire as did every British, French and Russian ship.

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By evening sixty of the seventy-two enemy ships were sunk and over 6000 Egyptians and Turks were dead.

The British, French and Russian's combined losses were 177 dead, 515 wounded and only a few ships damaged.

The destruction of the fleet left the Turks unable to control the Peloponnese or bring in supplies and they were forced to leave, effectively opening the door for the creation of the modern Greek state.

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The Turkish defeat was so complete that in 1828, they began to evacuate Greece, and in 1832 Greece won its independence after nearly 400 years of Turkish rule.

In Navarino Bay there three memorial monuments in honour of the alliance.

The main square of Pylos, Three Admirals' Square, has as its centrepiece a three-sided marble monument, with profiles of Admirals Codrington, Heyden, and Rigny on the three sides.

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The Russian Memorial is found on the island of Sfaktiria, it is a modest memorial Plaque under very high eycalyptus trees.

In the same place there is an impressive wooden Russian style chapel of St. Nicolas, which was built in 1997, next to the Greek church of the Ascension.

The French Memorial is located on the top of the island of Tsihli Baba, overlooking the entrance to the bay and Neokastro. The French Republic built it in 1890 and it is a white marble column.

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The British Memorial is on Helonaki island at the centre of the bay. The memorial has a plaque naming all the ships that took part in the battle.

There is a small lighthouse at the end of the Helonaki island. The island gets its name from the Greek because it is turtle shaped.

The memorials can be viewed by taking a boat trip around Navarino Bay which allows visitors to view all the sites.

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The battle is commemorated each year on 20 October by all-day celebrations in Three Admirals' Square in Pylos, hosted by the Mayor of Pylos.

The Russian, French and British governments send representatives to the ceremonies, and in the case of the Russians, a warship and its crew.

On 20th October 2016, the Black Sea Fleet major amphibious ship (MAS) Azov was in the port of Pylos, where Russian seamen together with the crew of the Greek frigate Navarinon took part in the events dedicated to the 190th anniversary of the Navarino Sea Battle.

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In the parade through Pylos, led by a band, all the schools in the area march into the square, each group led by a child carrying a placard with the name of the school and another carrying the Greek flag.

The schools are followed by the Red Cross organisation, the Fire Brigade representatives, Greek dance groups, a Greek Naval band, the Greek Navy, Army and Air Force and the Russian Naval Contingent.

The service in the square is conducted by priests of the Greek Orthodox Church. The National Anthems of Greece, Russia, Great Britain and France are played by the band and wreaths are laid at the memorial.

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In 2018 a British sailing ship, Rhea of Nyborg 1900, was invited by Pylos to lead the sea parade of ships for the Navarino celebrations.

They also took part in the evening re-enactment of the Battle>.

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All the groups then leave the square and parade past the mayor of Pylos, dignitaries and the large crowd gathered along the side of the road.

The Russian and Greek Naval ships are in port from the 18th October and there are certain times in the day when the public are allowed to go on board.

Also on Sfaktiria Island is the tomb of Paul Marie Bonaparte, the nephew of the victorious army commander Napoleon.

In March 1827 he secretly left Italy, and under an assumed name, went to Greece to take part in the Greek War of Independence.

On 6 September 1827, on board the flagship frigate Hellas, Bonaparte was mortally wounded while cleaning his own gun and died the day after. He was 18 years old.

After the end of the war in 1832, Bonaparte was buried in a mausoleum on the island of Sfakteria, close to the French sailors who fell in the Battle of Navarino.

Also on the island of Sfakteria is a monument to Santore Santarosa, a philhellene and former Military Minister of Italy. He arrived in Greece in 1824, fought for the Greeks and died during the Revolution.