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.

While these proceedings were taking place in the Baltic, in order as much as possible to annoy the Russians in all portions of their vast territory, a small British squadron, consisting of the Eurydice, Captain Ommaney, the Miranda, Captain Lyons, and the Brisk, Commander Seymour, were sent into the White Sea, where, though they found it impossible to attack Archangel, they destroyed several government establishments. TheMiranda also, steaming up the river Kola for thirty miles, attacked the capital of Russian Lapland, of the same name, and, with her yardarms almost over the walls, set the city on fire and destroyed most of the public buildings and magazines. In spite of the hot fire with which his ship was assailed from the batteries, Captain Lyons returned from his gallant enterprise without losing a man, and, after capturing a fleet of merchant-vessels, rejoined Captain Ommaney.

The most unfortunate event of the whole war occurred on the Pacific coast, when a small English and French squadron, in attempting to take a number of Russian vessels anchored off Petro Pauloffsky, they were driven off, while by bad management the whole of the Russian vessels escaped.

The following year Admiral Dundas, being appointed to the command in the Baltic, sailed in the Duke of Wellington, of 130 guns, with Rear-Admiral Sir Michael Seymour as his second in command in the Exmouth, of 90 guns, and numerous other line-of-battle ships, block-ships, and smaller vessels, nearly all fitted with the screw, and upwards of twenty gunboats. At the end of May the fleet arrived off Cronstadt, when the two admirals, going on board the Merlin, which, under the command of Captain Sulivan, had been actively surveying that and other places in the Baltic, stood in to examine the works and the Russian fleet protected by them. They were not long in coming to the conclusion that the place, if not impregnable, would be most difficult to assail, while it was ascertained that a vast number of torpedoes had been placed in all directions in the shallow waters over which the ships must pass. Many had been put down in the preceding year, but, though looked for, none had been discovered; this year, however, several were fished up, and one was brought on board the Exmouth, when, while Admiral Seymour and his officers were examining it, it exploded in their midst. Though the admiral was wounded, as were several other officers and men, not one was killed. TheMerlin, also, while passing over a shallow, exploded two, one of which drove in her side, breaking or disabling everything in that portion of the ship, though, happily, without committing any further damage. The greater number discovered had not been properly set, and thus had become injured from various causes. The boats, by carefully creeping wherever they were likely to be placed, ultimately discovered nearly the whole which it was supposed had been laid down. Very different would have been the result had they been constructed as torpedoes are at the present day, when in all probability many of our ships would have been destroyed.

The Russian fleet kept securely within their fortifications while the English and French remained off Cronstadt. All intention of attacking it being abandoned, the allies proceeded in different directions. The smaller vessels cruised off the coast, destroying all the government magazines and stores they could reach, and capturing innumerable merchant-vessels; while the admirals were preparing for an attack on the fortress of Sveaborg, which had been considerably strengthened since the preceding year. It stands on three islands, round the whole circumference of which the works form an almost unbroken line, and within them are vast arsenals full of all descriptions of warlike stores; while in front of the fortress lies a cluster of rocky islets. The passages between these islets had been carefully surveyed by Captain Sulivan, and on each of those nearest the fortress, mortar batteries were now placed, while the mortar-boats formed in a line outside them. The gunboats and mortar-vessels in different divisions were directed to stand in among the islets, where there was sufficient room for their movements, while the whole were covered by the frigates, which took up their stations outside. Some of the principal buildings in the fortress had been selected as targets, and so well had Captain Sulivan placed the mortar-vessels, that the shells thrown from them fell exactly on the spots at which they were aimed, as was ascertained by the cloud of smoke which rose from each. Hitherto it had been considered necessary not to fire more than seven shots in an hour from a mortar, but Captain Wemyss, who had charge of the mortar-vessels, considering that should such a plan be adopted, the enemy would have time to extinguish the flames they produced, determined to allow a much less interval to elapse, and sent no less than thirty shells an hour from each mortar. The gunboats were in the meantime performing their part, moving rapidly in circles, each boat firing as she brought her guns to bear on the fortifications. Besides their ordinary armament, each vessel had received on board from the line-of-battle ships a 10-inch gun, and two of them, the Snapper and Stork, had been armed with long Lancaster guns. These were detached to attack a large three-decker at anchor between the islets, and so furious a fire did they open that flames several times burst out from her, while in a short time nearly seventy of her crew had been killed. The Russians, with their numerous guns, fired away rapidly in return. Though the gunboats were within range, their small size and quick movements made them difficult marks to hit, and only one or two were struck. The batteries thrown up on the small islets were throwing shells at the same time, while the Arrogant, Cornwallis, Hastings, and Amphion attacked the Drumsio and Sandham batteries, and kept them amply employed. About noon, some shells fell into several powder-magazines, which blew up with successive explosions, casting huge fragments of masonry and numberless shells into the air, proving the destruction which had been produced. The bombardment continued during the whole day, and not till sunset did Admiral Dundas withdraw the gunboats, or till some time afterwards the mortar-vessels, when the boats of the fleet, armed with rockets, were sent off to attack Vargon and the other principal islands, under Captain Caldwell, of the Duke of Wellington. Thus fearfully the unhappy garrison were annoyed during the whole night, and at daybreak the gunboats and mortar-vessels again began to play on the batteries. The mortars, however, were so considerably worn by the firing of the previous day, that one or two burst, and none were so effective as before. East Svarto, which had before escaped, was now attacked by a division of English and French mortar-boats, placed by Captain Sulivan considerably nearer the fortifications than they had hitherto ventured. Their fire was replied to by some heavy guns, which the enemy had brought up, but no damage was received from them. In a short time, dense columns of smoke and forked flames ascending in all directions showed that the buildings, magazines, and arsenal were being destroyed, and when night came on, one unbroken sheet of flame ascended from the fortress. To prevent the enemy from attempting to extinguish it, the rocket-boats were again sent in, and effectually performed their object. The conflagration continued, raging all night, and on the morning of the 11th there was no sign of its abatement. The admiral was therefore satisfied that the work he had undertaken was accomplished, and as the Russians had ceased to fire, he discontinued the action. The whole of the operation had been accomplished without the loss of a single man killed, and scarcely 16 in the British fleet wounded; but the slaughter among the unfortunate Russians was prodigious. Of one whole regiment but few had survived, and at Vargon and Svarto a large number of the garrison had been killed. Had shells not been used, and an attempt simply been made to destroy the fortress with the ships’ heavy guns, the allies would probably have been driven away with severe loss, without making any impression on its massive walls. It was the first time in the history of war that shells had been thrown from a distance at which the besiegers could not be reached by the enemy’s shot, or that shot had been discharged from vessels moving at so rapid a rate as to render it scarcely possible for the besiegers to strike them. These circumstances, with the use of torpedoes, showed that a new era in marine warfare had commenced, and that from henceforth the style of fighting which had existed down to the period of Algiers and Navarino was about entirely to be changed.

No other operation of importance was undertaken, and the winter approaching, the admiral sent home the sailing-vessels and gunboats, though he did not finally quit Kiel till the first week in December, when soon afterwards the whole fleet arrived safely in England. Happily, the various reverses he had experienced induced the Emperor of Russia to see the hopelessness of continuing the war, and to sue for peace.

From the time of the Crimean war and onwards, the British Navy has happily never had occasion to engage in warfare with the ships of any of the other great Powers. Individual ships and “naval contingents,” however, have taken part in operations of more or less importance, and the first action in which a British vessel was opposed to an ironclad, took place in 1877, when the cruiser Shah engaged for some hours the Peruvian turret-ship Huascar.

In the course of one of the numerous revolutions that so often convulse the South American Republics, the latter vessel had become little better than a pirate, by levying contributions on various seaport towns, but having been venturesome enough to deal with British vessels in the same way, the Shah and the Amethyst were sent to demand satisfaction. The Huascar, however, paid no attention, and at last the British ships opened fire on her.

The Shah was a fast cruiser armed with heavy guns, but was wholly unarmoured, while the Amethyst was only a small sloop, also unarmoured. The Huascar was a small, low, turret-ship of the Devastation type, with only one ten-inch gun mounted in her turret, but she was thickly armoured, and obtained a great advantage by taking up such a position that the Shah had frequently to cease fire for fear of sending her shot into the adjacent town of Ylo.

The combat continued for three hours without result, as the Shah had to keep at long-range; her shot repeatedly struck her opponent, but without result, owing to her armour. One shell however pierced the armour, and bursting inside, killed one man and wounded several more. None of theHuascar’s shot struck the Shah although they fell close on every side. Night put an end to the combat, and enabled the Huascar to escape. In the course of the action the Shah fired the first Whitehead torpedo ever used in actual warfare; the distance however, was too great and it failed to reach the mark. Next day the Huascar surrendered to her own government.

The next occasion on which British warships were engaged was at Alexandria in July 1882. There had been trouble in Egypt for some time, and a month previously many Europeans had perished at the hands of the Alexandrian mob. A “National” party, headed by Arabi Pasha, was preparing revolt, and it was found that the fortifications of Alexandria were being strengthened, which would give serious trouble if marines had to be landed again to give protection to the Europeans. As the French declined to co-operate in any way, the British Government were left to deal with the matter alone, and, as the Egyptians declined to surrender the forts, pending the restoration of order, notice was given that the forts would be bombarded unless the demands were complied with. No answer being forthcoming, seven of the most powerful ironclads proceeded to bombard the forts, and after firing the whole day, drove the Egyptians from their guns and silenced the forts, blowing up a couple of magazines, and dismounting many of the guns. A large number of the Egyptians were killed, while on our side, only six men were slain, the armour giving efficient protection. The armour of the flag-ship however, was once perforated by a 10-inch shell, which dropped smoking on the deck, but a brave gunner, named Israel Harding, rushed upstairs, flung water on it to extinguish the fuse, and then dropped it into a bucket of water. For this brave deed, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Later on, our sailors gave great assistance during the expedition sent to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum, manning the gunboats which advanced up the Nile to that city, only to find that he had been murdered whenever it became known that they were at hand.