1877-08-13 AN EXTRAORDINARY NAVAL COMBAT

New York Times, 13 August 1877, p. 3: AN EXTRAORDINARY NAVAL COMBAT. Sub-heading: CAPT. BARANOFF'S THEORIES REGARDING THE USEFULNESS OF IRON-CLADS PUT TO A PRACTICAL TEST -- AN ORDINARY MERCHANTMAN FIGHTS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL TURKISH IRON-CLADS FOR FIVE HOURS, AND INFLICTS AS MUCH DAMAGE AS SHE RECEIVES.

Berlin Correspondence of the London Times, July 31.

            Four months ago Capt. Baranoff, of the Imperial Russian Navy, published a remarkable article in the Golos upon the late Mr. Elder's circular vessels and the advantage to be derived by his country from iron-clads. After attributing to the late Mr. Elder the merit of the original invention -- an admission the partisans of Admiral Popoff had been hitherto numerous enough to repress in Russia -- Capt. Baranoff went on to say that Russia, in his opinion, required no iron-clads at all, neither circular nor oblong. According to him it had been absolutely proved in the Crimean War that however strong in themselves, ships will always succumb to the heavier artillery that may be brought to bear upon them from the shore. As regards combat on the high seas, he was likewise inclined to think that the most powerful cuirass had no chance against the still more powerful artillery sure to fall foul of it. Carrying this argument still further, he advised his Government to abandon the construction of iron-clads, avoid naval battles, and confine operations at sea to the letting loose of a number of cruisers against the enemy's merchantmen. These cruisers he proposed to station chiefly on the Pacific shore of the Russian Empire, whence, as he expressed himself, they could easily be sent to manoeuver in the rear of any enemy likely to be opposed to his country. Those naval engagements that could not be avoided Capt. Baranoff preferred fighting with small craft, making up by agility and speed what they lacked in cuirass, and if the worst came to the worst, easily replaced by other specimens of the same type.

            This article having been much noticed at the time, the author soon after the beginning of the present war, was given to understand by the Admiralty that they did not object to his trying to prove by deed what he had so eloquently advocated in print. Accordingly, a few weeks ago, the merchant steamer Vesta being placed at the disposal of the enterprising officer, was equipped for the task in hand. The Vesta is an ordinary iron steamer of light build, till then employed in no more warlike function than the conveyance of corn and tallow from Russia to foreign shores. Yet, all the preparation Capt. Baranoff thought necessary was to take some 6-inch mortars on board, to receive which the deck of the steamer had to be strengthened. Thus slightly armed he left Sebastopol on the 21st inst., at dawn, and on the morning of the 23rd, 35 miles from Kustendji, fell in with the Turkish iron-clad Assari Tefvik, a formidable vessel with a 12-inch cuirass and the proper complement of 9-inch guns of 12 ton weight. What made the Turk an especiall[y] terrible adversary was a speed of 30 knots an hour. Nothing daunted by the disproportion in size and strength, Captain Baranoff engaged the Assari Tefvik without hesitation, and with a skill and bravery worthy of his printed prophecies, maintained the fight for five hours. As far as can be gathered from the insufficient intelligence already received, the Vesta's superior manoeuvering capacity effectually kept the Turk in check, though the distance between the two vessels was repeatedly lessened to the space required for a telling rifle fire. The Assari Tefvik, too, notwithstanding the tremendous thickness of her armor, thought it discreet to keep constantly moving about with extraordinary alertness and speed. At least, this is the conclusion drawn from the fact that the Turkish vessel in a five hours' encounter, though abundantly struck by small shot, received only three of the enemy's balls. One of these seems to have done little harm. The second shot went right through the deck, kindling a fire which was quickly extinguished. The third struck the turret, and created an impression which, had not a couple of Turkish vessels come to the rescue of their comrade, might have given the Vesta an opportunity to do more, though crippled herself, by that time. The Vesta, in the course of the conflict had been hit by a grenade close to the powder magazine, and had it not been for the rapid measures taken by her commander, would assuredly have been blown up. Worse than this, her rudder being struck, the vessel could not properly obey the helm -- a serious drawback in a fight in which safety mainly depended upon celerity. Despite this, Capt. Baranoff managed to hold his own until, on the two other vessels coming to the assistance of the enemy, he very wisely deemed discretion the better part of valor and beat a retreat. At this juncture the Turks, pouring their shot into their departing adversary, inflicted no little damage, without, however, closely following up their success. At dawn of the 24th, the gallant steamer cast anchor again in Sebastopol, seriously injured yet covered with glory. Of the crew three officers and 11 men were killed, two officers and four men seriously wounded, and three officers and 11 men slightly wounded. Among the last are Capt. Baranoff and M. Vladimir Pereleshine, his First Lieutenant. In fact, scarcely any escaped unscathed.

            The sensation created by this encounter between a giant and a dwarf will probably not be diminished by the detailed reports which have yet to come in. However clumsily the iron-clad may have been managed, there is the fact of a merchantman fighting her for five hours, and inflicting as much damage as she received. 

Provided by Stephen McLaughlin

 

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