A method of warfare that extended in prehistory came to an end around 3pm on October 20, 1827 at Navarino Bay on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula. It was a one-sided fight, much more in the tradition of Ulundi and Omdurman than Trafalgar or Camperdown, with a fairly modern fleet of British, French, and Russian ships (10 ships of the line, 10 frigates, and 6 below rates) taking on an obsolescent fleet of the Ottoman Empire (2 ships of the line, 17 frigates, and 39 below rates).
Navario took place in the context of the Greek War of Independence. It was a cause that had engendered much sympathy in the West, Lord Byron died fighting there in 1824, but it did not rise to the level of a casus belli for either Britain or France. Russia, then as now, was acting opportunistically to extend her influence into the Balkans.
The immediate cause was a program of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Ottomans to suppress rebellion in areas of Greece. Russia was threatening war and Britain and France viewed a war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire as being counterproductive to Mediterranean trade and provoked the specter of Russia extending her influence to control the Dardanelles and Bosporus. The Treaty of London, signed in July 1827 by those three powers, called for Greece to be given autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. Annexes to the treaty also called for Greece to be recognized as a republic and for the navies of the three powers to enforce the treaty if the Ottoman Empire refused to accept it.
On August 20, the commander of the British Mediterranean fleet, Admiral Sir Edward Codrington (whom we’ve discussed here) was given orders to establish a blockade to ensure that Ottoman forces in Greece could not be reinforced by sea but to avoid precipitating a battle.
On August 29, rather predictably, the Ottomans rejected the terms of the Treaty of London.
Maneuvering ensued with the Ottoman fleet concentrating in Navarino Bay and the allied fleets deciding to enter the bay to confront them. As the allied fleets positioned themselves, a British frigate, HMS Dartmouth, sent a cutter to tow an Ottoman fireship away from the allied line. The cutter was fired upon by small arms. Sailors and marines from Dartmouth and the French ship of the line Sirène returned fire to cover the cutter’s retreat. An Ottoman corvette, showing more chutzpah than common sense, opened fire on Sirène with its main battery and they were off to the races.
By dusk the Ottomans had lost some 3,000 dead and 1100 wounded. They had only one ship of the line, 2 frigates, and 5 below rates still seaworthy. The allied fleets had ships 6 damaged and lost 181 dead and 480 wounded.
So ended the last major battle fought between ships powered entirely by sail.