The Battle of Navarino, 20 October 1827: from the general chart collection

Plan of the Battle of Navarine fought 21st October 1827Plan of the Battle of Navarine fought 21st October 1827 (G234:12/7). Repro ID: F0400 ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, LondonThe two manuscript charts featured here illustrate the Battle of Navarino, a naval engagement fought on the 20 October 1827 in the Mediterranean Sea during the Greek War of Independence.

A combined fleet of British, French and Russian ships under Admiral Sir Edward Codrington decisively defeated the Turco-Egyptian fleet of Ibrahim Pasha in the bay of Navarino (modern Pylos), on the west coast of the Morea (the Peleponnese). Many Turkish and Egyptian vessels were destroyed in the action, which effectively decided the war in favour of the Greek insurgents struggling to throw off many years of Ottoman Turkish rule. It is also the last recorded occasion that two fleets entirely under sail met in conflict.

Plan of the attack of the Allied Squadrons on the Turkish Fleet at NavarinoPlan of the attack of the Allied Squadrons on the Turkish Fleet at Navarino [Ormos Navarinou], 20 October 1827 (G234:12/36). Repro ID: F0159 ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, LondonThe two charts of the Battle of Navarino, both produced in 1827, are similar in format and highly coloured. They are orientated east to west and show the positions of the two fleets of Codrington and Ibrahim Pasha before action commenced. The distinctive crescent formation of the Turco-Egyptian ships can be clearly seen, with the allied vessels stationed alongside. The anonymous plan contains a highly decorated cartouche, and a key identifying the types of ships involved and their nationality.

The second plan is the work of the respected naval hydrographer, Lieutenant Alexander Bridport Becher, and was drawn from a sketch made by Lieutenant Spencer Smyth of the position and force of the Ottoman fleet. Smyth served on the frigate HMS Dartmouth, the first British ship to engage the enemy, and he was wounded during the subsequent fighting. Smyth was rewarded for his conduct at Navarino by promotion to Commander, and progressed to the rank of Admiral a year before his death in 1879.

Background to the battle

The Battle of Navarino, 20 October 1827The Battle of Navarino, 20 October 1827, George Philip Reinagle, 1828. Repro ID: BHC0623 ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, LondonGreek independence from the Ottoman Empire was declared early in 1822 and a constitutional government formed. Turkey responded with an invasion of Greece, but was defeated in battle at Karpenesion.

From 1823, however, Greek internal rivalries led to civil conflict. In 1825 Turkey took advantage of the situation and invaded the north of Greece to recapture the country. Missolonghi (Mesolongi) was finally captured in 1826 and Athens surrendered to the Turks in 1827 after a siege. The Turks were also supported by the Pasha of Egypt, who dispatched land and naval forces which seized and occupied the Morea.

Public opinion across Europe was sympathetic to the Greek cause. Britain, Russia and France demanded an armistice between Greece and Turkey and the withdrawal of Egyptian troops from the Morea. When the proposals were rejected, the three allies sent naval forces to the Greek coast to secure a truce, with instructions only to resort to force as a last measure.

The British Mediterranean Commander-in-Chief, Vice Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, was an experienced veteran of the battles of the Glorious First of June 1794 and Trafalgar in 1805. He left Malta in the second-rate ship of the line Asia, accompanied by a squadron of ten other warships (including three ships of the line and three frigates).

Meeting the French and Russian squadrons under Admirals de Rigny and Heydon off the Greek coast, Codrington as the senior officer assumed control of the allied fleet. The Egyptian fleet under the command of Ibrahim Pasha was discovered anchored in a semi-circular formation in Navarino Bay.

On the 20 October 1827 the allies, realising that it was impossible to undertake a blockade of Navarino, sailed into the bay to prevent the Turco-Egyptian fleet from leaving. Aware of the well-armed forts and batteries guarding the entrance, they took up position within the enemy crescent formation, almost alongside the opposing vessels. 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 firepower to its opponents. A period of tense negotiation followed, but in a volatile and intimidating situation, conflict was practically inevitable.

While employed in approaching and moving an enemy fireship, a small boat from HMS Dartmouth came under Turkish musket attack, inflicting several casualties. The British frigate returned fire, and within a short time a full-scale battle developed. The engagement ended as a victory for the allied forces, after about four hours of heavy fighting. The Turco-Egyptian fleet suffered heavy losses, with one ship of the line, 12 frigates and 22 corvettes sunk, and about 4000 men killed of wounded. The allies suffered no ship losses, although many of their vessels were badly damaged and around 650 men were killed or wounded.

While the defeat of the Turco-Egyptian fleet was generally received with enthusiasm across Europe, Codrington was recalled to London to account for his obviously provocative action and decision to engage the enemy. He was, however, cleared of charges of disobeying orders and was awarded the GCB soon afterwards.

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