British Foreign Policy 1815-65

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The Battle of Sinope

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On 13 November 1853 a Turkish flotilla had been sent to Sinope, supposedly on a pacific mission. Osman pasha, the admiral, had been ordered to keep on his good behaviour and not to fire unless fired upon. Soon after he got there he sent back a dispatch complaining of six Russia sail of line which were just off port: 'If reinforcements are not sent to us and our position continues the same for sometime, it may well happen that the Imperial fleet may incur disaster.' His appeal fell on deaf ears; no ships were sent to aid the flotilla at Sinope against Russian warships from Sebastopol, barely a hundred miles away. On the morning of 30 November the Russian squadron put in at Sinope, and demanded that Osman hoist the white flag. Osman refused and fired the first shot. Minutes later the Russian battleships answered his guns. Before morning was out every Turkish ship had been destroyed and 3,000 Turkish soldiers were killed.

Sinope was memorable as the most spectacular success in the history of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It was memorable for another, more important reason. For 300 years wooden sailing ships held their unchecked sway over the seas. Sinope was the last time they did so. During the Crimean War wooden ships fell out of fashion; armoured men-of-war, driven by steam, took their place. Curiously enough, the Russians seemed to have recognised this new twist of fate. Sinope had no sequel. The Russian fleet made no appearance in the Black Sea; and before the Crimean War was over the Russian warships were finished off by their own crews. A historian of the technology of war has written: "Exact figures are lacking but it appears that in 1854 and 1855 the Russian fleet lost in this way four ships of 120 guns, twelve 84s and four 60-gun frigates besides a large number of smaller vessels'.


David Wetzel, The Crimean War: a diplomatic history. Boulder: East European Monographs, 1985.

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