I.K. Aivazovsky. Naval battle at Vyborg. 1846
230 years ago, in June 1790, the Russian fleet under the command of Chichagov inflicted a heavy defeat on the Swedish fleet in the Vyborg Bay.
Blockade of the Swedish fleet
After an unsuccessful battle in the Krasnaya Gorka region, on May 23-24, 1790, the Swedish fleet under the command of the Duke of Södermanland disappeared into the Vyborg Bay. The Swedish naval fleet, together with the rowing one, was blocked from the sea by the combined forces of the Baltic Fleet (Kronstadt and Revel squadrons) under the general command of Admiral V. Ya. Chichagov. On the land side – by a rowing flotilla and a land army. Thus, the plan of the Swedish king Gustav III to attack Petersburg from land and sea to force Catherine II to surrender was finally destroyed. The Swedish command no longer thought about the offensive. Now the Swedes were concerned about saving their blocked fleet.
The Russian empress ordered Chichagov to “attack and destroy the Swedish fleet.”
The entire Swedish ship and galley fleet was stationed with an assault force in the Vyborg Bay beyond the Birch Islands. The Swedish forces numbered up to 400 ships and vessels with 3 thousand guns and 30 thousand sailors and soldiers on board (according to other sources, up to 40 thousand people). The Swedish sailing fleet, under the command of flag captain Admiral Nordenskjold and Grand Admiral Prince Karl, Duke of Södermanland, consisted of 22 ships of the line, 13 frigates and several small ships (total crew of 16 thousand people). The skerry flotilla (over 360 ships and 14 thousand crew) was commanded by flag captain Georg de Frese. The Swedish monarch Gustav was also with the navy.
Initially, the Swedes, demoralized by the Krasnogorsk battle, blocked in a small space, were waiting for their death. However, Chichagov’s passivity allowed the enemy to come to his senses. To distract the Russians, from June 1 to June 6, King Gustav organized an attack on the fortified approaches to the Vyborg fortress and on Kozlyaninov’s squadron. The attack failed.
Meanwhile, the situation for the Swedes was getting worse. The water was running out. All suitable water sources on land were occupied by Russian shooters and Cossacks. Provisions were also running out, the crews were transferred to a third of the portion. The wind was blowing all the time from the southeast, large reinforcements were approaching the Russians. The spirit of the Swedes fell, even the idea of surrender was discussed. King Gustav was against it, offered to go for a breakthrough and fall in battle. He even put forward the idea of a breakthrough for both fleets through Bjorkezund, to the west. But he was dissuaded. It was too dangerous a plan. The place was narrow, the ships could not turn around. The Russians could attack from the shores. The passage can be blocked by sunken ships. The Russian skerry fleet was in a more advantageous position. As a result, it was decided, with a favorable wind, to make a simultaneous strike by the ship and rowing fleet on the part of the Russian battleship that would be on the way.
Map to the article “Vyborg Naval Battle” in the “Military Encyclopedia of Sytin” (St. Petersburg, 1912)
Forces of the Russian fleet
On June 8, 1790, the Russian ship fleet was concentrated near Vyborg: 27 battleships, 5 frigates, 8 rowing frigates, 2 bombardment ships and 10 small ships. The Russian rowing fleet at this time is scattered in several places. His main forces under the command of Kozlyaninov (52 ships) were in Vyborg, cut off from the ship’s fleet. The commander of the rowing fleet, Prince of Nassau-Siegen, with great difficulty recruited commands for the ships and only on June 13 left Kronstadt with 89 ships. With him came three ships of the line, which were repaired at the base of damage after the Battle of Krasnogorsk: the 74-gun flagship “John the Theologian”, the 74-gun “Sysoy Veliky”, the 66-gun “America” under the command of Rear Admiral Evstafiy Odintsov. They settled at the entrance to the Bjorkezund Strait. The Nassau-Siegen flotilla was also located here, thereby ensuring communications of the main forces of the fleet with Kronstadt.
Thus, Russian ships blocked the exits from the Vyborg Bay of Bjorkezund. A detachment of ships under the command of Captain Prokhor Lezhnev was stationed between the Rond Island and the Birch Islands: 74-gun flagship Boleslav, 66-gun Pobedoslav, Iannuari and 64-gun Prince Karl, 1 frigate and 1 bombing ship. The main forces of the Russian fleet: 18 battleships in the first line (100-cannon “Rostislav”, “Saratov”, “Chesma”, “Twelve Apostles”, “Three Hierarchs”, “Vladimir”, “St. Nicholas”, 74-cannon ” Ezekiel “,” Tsar Constantine “,” Maxim the Confessor “,” Cyrus John “,” Mstislav “,” Saint Helena “,” Boleslav “, 66-gun” Victorious “,” Prokhor “,” Izyaslav “,” Svyatoslav “) ; 7 frigates and 3 small ships in the second line under the command of Chichagov stood from the Repier bank to the Rond Island.
On the left flank, a detachment of five battleships took up positions under the leadership of Rear Admiral Illarion Povalishin (74-gun “St. Peter”, “Vseslav”, “Prince Gustav”, 66-gun “Don’t touch me” and “Panteleimon”) and 18 -cannon bomber ship “Pobeditel”. Povalishin’s ships took up a position at the Repier bank. Two more detachments were located on the left flank. A detachment of three frigates (46-gun flagship “Bryachislav”, 38-gun “Archangel Gabriel” and “Elena”) under the command of Rear Admiral Pyotr Khanykov stood between the Kuinemi shoal and the Passaloda Bank. A detachment of three frigates (44-gun flagship “Venus”, 42-gun “Gremislav”, 38-gun “Alexandra”) and two ships under the command of Captain 2nd Rank Robert Crown maneuvered off Pitkepass Island.
Breakthrough of the enemy
Almost a month passed in the inactivity of the Russian fleet. Under the pressure of general discontent, Chichagov proposed starting a general attack with the forces of the naval fleet, the flotillas of Nassau and Kozlyaninov. Only on June 21 did the squadron of Prince Nassau-Siegen arrive, delayed by headwinds. The brave naval commander immediately attacked the enemy gunboats in Bjorkezund, near the island of Ravitsa. The fierce battle lasted until early morning. The Swedes could not withstand the onslaught and retreated to the north, clearing Bjorkezund. The position of the Swedish fleet has deteriorated significantly.
However, on the evening of June 21, the wind changed to the east. The Swedish sailors had been waiting for this for four weeks. Early in the morning of June 22, Swedish ships began to move north to enter the fairway at Cape Krusserort. Rowing ships went parallel to the ships, but closer to the coast. The start of the movement was unsuccessful: on the northern flank the ship “Finland” ran aground tightly.
With the return of the sails by the enemy fleet, Chichagov gave the order to prepare for battle. The admiral obviously expected the enemy to attack his main forces and prepared to take the fight at anchor. However, the Swedes were moving towards the Russian left wing. At 7.30 a.m. the advanced Swedish detachment went to the ships of Povalishin. The lead Swedish 74-gun ship “Drizigheten” (“Courage” under the command of Colonel von Pucke), despite heavy fire, entered the interval between the ships of Povalishin and fired a volley almost at point-blank range. Other Swedish ships followed. Rowing ships passed along the coast. All of them actively fired at the detachments of Povalishin and Khanykov.
The Russian main forces at this time were inactive, remaining at anchor. The commander hesitated. He believed that the main forces of the enemy would go to break through to the south. Only at 9 o’clock, Chichagov ordered his northern flank to weaken anchor and provide assistance to the damaged ships. At about 9 o’clock Lezhnev’s detachment was ordered to go to the left flank. And only at 9 hours 30 minutes Chichagov himself with the main forces weighed anchor. At this time, the Swedish avant-garde had already entered the clean water. And the ships of Povalishin and Khanykov were shot and could not pursue the enemy.
However, the Swedes did not leave without losses. In the clouds of smoke that enveloped the northern part of the bay, three Swedish ships, “Edwiga-Elizaveta-Charlotte”, “Emheiten” and “Louise-Ulrika”, two frigates and six small ships, lagged behind the nucleus of the fleet, lost their course and at 10 about an hour they ran into the banks of Repier and Passalaude. The ships were killed. The rearguard ship “Enigheten” inadvertently grappled with its fire-ship, which was intended for the Russians. Fire quickly engulfed the ship. Panic began, and the ship fell on the frigate “Zemfira”. The fire quickly spread to the frigate, and both ships took off.
By 11 o’clock the entire Swedish fleet was at sea. Chichagov was far behind. Parallel to the Russian naval fleet, along the coast, there was a highly stretched Swedish rowing flotilla. The Swedish ships were only two cannon shots away from the Russian ships. However, Russian captains, carried away by the pursuit of enemy ships, did not pay attention to the Swedish rowing ships. Far behind, in a reinforced march mode, were the squadrons of Nassau and Kozlyaninov. They were too far away to take part in the battle. In the evening, already beyond Gotland, their forward ships attacked and forced to lower the flag of the end Swedish ship Sophia-Magdalene, which had been badly damaged in previous battles and lagged behind its own. On June 23, already near Sveaborg, where the Swedes fled, the frigate Venus and the ship Izyaslav cut off and captured the ship Retvizan.
If Chichagov had separated at least a few ships from the main forces, he could have captured most of the Swedish rowing fleet and even the Swedish king himself, who was on the gallery. She was captured, and Gustav escaped on a rowboat. Blinded by fire and smoke, stunned by gunfire and explosions, moving slowly, fearing rocks and shoals, the Swedish small ships surrendered almost without resistance. The few Russian frigates that ended up in the Swedish formation were weighed down by prisoners and did not know what to do with them. About 20 ships were captured.
K.V.Sharenberg. Capture by the frigate Venus of the Swedish battleship Retvizan on June 23, 1790
As a result, the Russian fleet won a landslide victory. 7 battleships and 3 frigates, over 50 small ships were destroyed and captured. The 64-gun ship Omgeten, the 60-gun Finland, Sophia-Magdalena and Retvizan, the frigates Upland and Yaroslavets (a former Russian ship), 5 large galleys were captured; the 74-gun ship “Lovisa-Ulrika”, 64-gun “Edviga-Elizabeth-Charlotte”, “Emheyten”, the frigate “Zemfira” were killed. The Swedish fleet lost about 7 thousand people killed and captured (including over 4.5 thousand prisoners).
Russian losses – over 300 killed and wounded. According to other sources, the losses were significantly higher. Six of Povalishin’s ships were literally shot, and blood was pouring from their decks on scuppers. Out of about 700 crew members of each ship, no more than 40-60 people remained intact.
The Vyborg victory was a strategic failure of the Russian fleet. Due to the passivity of Chichagov, who was inactive for almost a month, the Swedish fleet escaped the destruction and capture of the main forces. Then Chichagov made a mistake with the place of the main attack of the enemy, allowing the Swedes to withdraw most of the fleet. With a more successful location of the ships, quick and decisive actions, already during the battle, the Russians could destroy and capture more ships, take prisoner the enemy’s rowing fleet. If Chichagov had moved his main forces to intercept the enemy 2-4 hours earlier, the enemy’s losses would have been much greater. It may have been possible to destroy and capture almost the entire Swedish fleet. In addition, the Russian command made another big mistake: having large forces, it did not form a reserve of the fastest ships in the rear to move it to any and most dangerous place. As a result, Chichagov could quickly strengthen the left flank at Kryusserort and greatly complicate or even eliminate the possibility of a breakthrough.
Such a defeat would have forced Sweden to surrender, and Petersburg could dictate favorable terms of peace.
Soon the Swedish fleet will inflict a heavy defeat on the Russian rowing fleet of Nassau (Second Battle of Rochensalm). This will allow Sweden to conclude the honorable peace of Verela. Russia will win almost all major battles in the war, but will receive nothing.