1877-08-27 BRAVERY OF RUSSIAN SAILORS
New York Times, 27 August 1877, p. 2: BRAVERY OF RUSSIAN SAILORS. Sub-heading: THE MEMORABLE ENCOUNTER BETWEEN A MERCHANTMAN AND AN IRON-CLAD -- EXTRAORDINARY BRAVERY OF CAPT. BARANOFF AND CREW -- EVERY OFFICER AND MAN A HERO.
The memorable encounter between a Russian merchantman and a Turkish iron-clad is the theme of the following official report of Baranoff, the commander of the Vesta, which accomplished the feat:
"On the 23rd of June, 7:30 A.M., at 35 miles from Kustendje, while sailing west south-west, I was informed that smoke had been seen south. I ordered the vessel to be put on all speed, and stood south to west to cut off the vessel from the shore, should it prove a merchantman or a lightly-armed man-of-war. About 8 A.M. we discerned a strong Turkish iron-clad, which, hoisting her flag, immediately fired on the Vesta from heavy guns. Upon this the Vesta raised the Russian war flag and gave a salvo from her bows. I then veered north to west, going at full speed, to prevent my engines being struck, and to get an opportunity of firing out of my three 6-inch mortars and one 9-pound cannon. In making this move, I took it for granted that the hostile vessel could make no more than 10 or 11 knots, and that my superior speed, together with the nse [sic; use?] of Davidoff's firing machine, would enable me either to destroy the iron-clad or compel surrender. To my surprise, however, though we were going at the rate of 12 knots an hour, the Turk managed to diminish the distance between us, and presently approached so close that my 9-pounder gun, placed at 12-cable elevation, fired over him. Lieut.-Col. Tchernoff, of the Marine Artillery, who had been directing the fire of our poop guns with unabated steadiness, came to me on the bridge and whispered that the enemy had got too close for us to make use of the indicator of the Davidoff firing apparatus. At this moment the enemy was coming down upon us so rapidly that the distance between us was sensibly diminished even during the bullet's flight. The Turkish projectiles containing shrapnels, our ship was riddled by ship, in consequence of which I permitted Lieut.-Col. Tchernoff and Lieut. Rojdestvenski to fire a full salvo. Two solvos [sic] were fired, but the Turkish projectiles of 11-inch and 7-inch calibre, now hit our stern, struck the upper deck, and even entered the body of the vessel. One bomb set the ship on fire close to the powder magazine, and the destruction wrought on the upper deck was fearful. One bomb deluged the deck with blood, destroyed our mortars, and, striking the Davidoff apparatus, knocked down two of the artillery officers at the guns. Ensign Jakovieff [Jakovleff?] had his neck and shoulder lacerated. Lieut.-Col. Tchernoff, mortally wounded uttered these last words: "Farewell; fire from the right-hand stern gun; it is pointed," and fell dead. Even before this salvo, seeing that our manoeuvering was over and all that we could do was to turn our stern to the enemy and reciprocate bullet for bullet, I determined to go right at the enemy, and either board him or else blow him up by submarine mines. Another reason suggested this resolve was the enemy's evident wish to run his spur into our side. I called Lieut. Michael Pereleshine, the torpedo officer, to the bridge, ordering him to see whether the mines were still fit for use, and to prepare to place them. Pereleshine, in reply, asked permission for himself and Lieut. Jerebko-Rotmistrenko to launch the two sloops and attack the enemy in broad daylight. Notwithstanding the dangerous nature of the enterprise, I should have permitted it had not the sea been too boisterous. Pereleshine had hardly left the bridge when a bomb tore away his leg to the hip. In this condition he still endeavored to speak to me about the nse [sic; use?] to be made of the stream [sic; steam?] sloops.
"But Pereleshine's terrible wound, the death of two officers, the disabling of four others, the destruction of the mortar, and the conflagration in the lower deck were powerless to intimidate my gallant crew. From the oldest to the youngest officer -- Cadet Jakovleff, the brother of the killed Ensign -- the gentlemen associated with me in the command of the ship proved heroes. The place of the killed artillery officers was supplied by Lieut. Krotkoff. While pointing his gun he received 17 wounds from the splinters of a grenade, and, with his hair entirely singed off, continued to work at the guns without the Davidoff apparatus, the conducting wires of which were broken. Lieut. Rojdestvenski, who took the place of Lieut.-Col. Tchernoff, directed the second mortar, stationed on the platform by the side of the Davidoff indicator. Thanks to him, we lodged a bomb in the enemy's chimney and burst in the port-hole of the largest gun. A terrible confusion followed on the deck of the Turk. Unfortunately, we were unable to take advantage of our success, a bomb splinter striking our steering apparatus, so that the rudder ceased to act. The Turks, profiting by our mishap, poured their grenades into us. One of these went right into the steam pipe, and, covering the bridge with fragments, killed two riflemen standing by me, who had been firing at the port-holes of the hostile vessel. At this moment the last remaining artillery officer, Lieut. Krotkoff, was wounded in the face; Cadet Jakovleff likewise was slightly wounded in the head. Splinters were raining over the engine, which, protected by matting and hammocks, was happily kept safe. This was the last serious salvo of the enemy. His great deck gun was disabled, and, as he did not succeed in boarding, he gradually fell back and ceased firing. A dense smoke rose from the deck, and, after two or three rounds more, the enemy veered north to west and then to north-west, and finally went away.
"I had two guns destroyed, two holes in the body of the vessel, two officers killed, four wounded, and the deck strewed with grenades, splinters, and human limbs. The engineers and stokers, after a five hours' encounter, could hardly stand on their legs. This, and the circumstance that the enemy was signaling, and that the masts of other ships were sighted in the distance, induced me to allow the enemy to make off without pursuit.
"Finding the iron-clad took to flight, I ordered the corpses to be removed. As the water was gaining in the hold, and I did not know how long the ship could be regularly moved, I fully expected a fresh attack from some more Turkish iron-clads, and prepared the ship as well as I could for a second encounter. I then ordered the crew to sing a hymn of thanks for our victory, after which we gave three cheers to the retreating enemy, who did not reply to our shots.
"I do not know the name of the ship with which I had to deal. It was an iron-clad of the ram type, with a 10-inch or 11-inch gun in her turret, and another gun, probably of the same calibre, in the stern. In the centre was a block-house containing four 7-inch cannon, in addition to some others of smaller calibre, probably four and nine pounders. The Turkish rifles were equal to our own, and at a distance from 600 to 800 sajen poured salvo after salvo upon us, traces of which were very visible. No damage being done at this distance by the rifle fire, I ordered our riflemen to use their weapons only when the ships were about 400 sajen apart. At that time I clearly saw the red fez in the port-holes, one fez on the bridge, busy with an optical instrument, and giving directions to several persons in European coats of dark blue. I wished to hit the instrument and the European uniforms and caps, and promised a reward to three of the best shots and the commander of the Engstrom gun if they knocked off these men. They gave a salvo; two of the blue-coats fell, the fez disappeared, but the instrument remained in its place."
The rest of the report recounts the bravery of individual officers and men, and of two cabin-boys and a Greek interpreter, who took part in the expedition as volunteers.
Provided by Stephen McLaughlin