Operations in the Baltic.
While one British fleet was attacking the Russians on the southern shores of their empire, another of still greater power was sent up the Baltic to prove to them that no part of their coasts was safe. Great results were naturally expected from it, and, indeed, England had never before sent so really powerful a fleet to sea—not on account of the number of the ships, but from their means of inflicting injury, most of them possessing steam power, while their guns were more effective than any which had before been used. The fleet consisted of the Duke of Wellington, of 131 guns, Neptune, Saint George, and Royal George, 120, Saint Jean d’Arc, 101, Princess Royal, James Watt, Nile, and Majestic, of 91, Caesar andPrince Regent, of 90, Monarch, 84, Cressy, 80, Boscawen and Cumberland, 70, Edinburgh, Hogue, Blenheim, and Ajax, of 60, Impérieuse andEuryalus, of 51, and Arrogant, of 46, besides frigates, sloops, and numerous paddle-steamers, the whole under the command of Admiral Sir Charles Napier. Gallant and energetic as he had always proved himself, he was now sixty-eight years of age, and those who knew him best feared too truly that his energies had begun to fail him, and that he would have acted more wisely by remaining on shore. The French also sent a considerable fleet to take part in the operations. The first portion of the fleet entered the Great Belt on the 25th of March, and proceeding to the Gulf of Finland, established a rigorous blockade. Napier then, moving towards Helsingfors, prevented a junction of the two portions of the Russian fleet, while in the meantime Admiral Plumridge, scouring the Gulf of Bothnia, captured a large number of merchantmen.
One of the first exploits in the Baltic was performed by Captain Yelverton, of the Arrogant, and Captain W.H. Hall, of the Hecla, who, running up a narrow creek, made their way to the town of Ekness, eight miles from the sea, where, after a sharp engagement with some batteries, they carried off a large merchant-vessel under the noses of the enemy. The fleets then appeared off Cronstadt, the approaches to which had been carefully surveyed by the indefatigable Captain Sulivan, of the Lightning, but the strength of the fortifications induced the admirals to believe that it would be useless to attack it, and they in vain endeavoured to tempt the Russian fleet to come out and give them battle. Bomarsund was the first place of importance assailed. It was attacked on the land side by the English artillery and French troops, as well as by the English and French marines, with a brigade of seamen who were landed after a fort which was in their way had been blown to pieces, while thirteen ships of the allied fleet assailed it from the sea. The ships directed their fire against a large circular fort mounting nearly 100 guns, with a garrison of 2000 men, when the shot soon shattered the huge masses of stone, which literally crumbled away before them, and in a short time the garrison, seeing that resistance was useless, yielded, and Bomarsund was taken possession of. It was, however, said that the works, though apparently strong, had been constructed by contract, and were therefore less able to withstand the shot hurled against them than the other fortresses which Russia possessed on her sea-board. Still, if such was the case, it does not detract from the praise due to those who had made the attack. The whole fortress was forthwith blown up, with the exception of one portion, which was allowed to stand for a few days to enable the Edinburgh to try some of her heavy guns against it, and it was finally levelled with the rest of the works.
The winter season coming on, compelled the fleet to return to England. Whatever may be said of the gallant old admiral’s conduct during the war, it was acknowledged that the crews of his ships, though inexperienced when they set sail, returned in a high state of efficiency.