Battle of Sinop

Battle of Sinop

The Battle of Sinop (Sinope) was an important naval battle during the war between Russia and Turkey that grew into the Crimean War (1854–1856). The designs of Russian czar Nicholas I (r. 1825–1855) upon the Ottoman Empire led, in July 1853, to Russian occupation of the Ottoman Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (later joined as Romania). The Ottomans declared war on Russia on October 4. Russian warships based at Sevastopol were active in the Black Sea from the beginning of the war, but there was little naval action apart from the Russian capture of an Egyptian frigate. That situation changed in November 1853.

Late that month, Ottoman vice admiral Osman Pasha was en route north along the western Black Sea coast with seven sailing frigates, two corvettes, and several transports to resupply Ottoman land forces. Osman flew his flag in the 60-gun Avni Illah. Caught by a storm in the Black Sea, he took his ships into the Ottoman port of Sinop. The largest Ottoman ship guns were only 24-pounders, but the anchorage was protected by 84 guns, some of them possibly landed from the ships.A Russian naval force under Admiral Paul S. Nakhimov now arrived at Sinop. Nakhimov had three ships of the line and several smaller craft, but he secured from Sevastopol four 120-gun 3-deckers: the Grossfürst Constantin, Tri Sviatitla, Paris, and Zvolf Apostel.

Their main armament comprised new 68-pounder shell guns.A thick mist on the morning of November 30 masked the approach of the Russian ships into the harbor. The Ottomans barely had time to clear for action before battle was joined at 10:00 a.m. Within half an hour the Grossfürst Constantin had sunk an Ottoman frigate and silenced the Ottoman shore batteries. The battle raged until 4:00 p.m. Only one Ottoman vessel, the paddle steamer Taif, managed to escape; the rest were sunk. The Russians admitted to 37 dead; the Ottomans lost upwards of 3,000.

Although the Ottomans had been badly outgunned at Sinop, the inequity of the losses conclusively demonstrated the superiority of shell over shot against wooden vessels. The Imperitritza Marie had been struck by 84 cannon balls without major damage, but the Ottoman fleet had been destroyed. The battle heightened world interest in the construction of ironclad warships for protection against shell.

The Battle of Sinop also produced a wellspring of support in Britain and France for the Ottoman Empire. The British press labeled this legitimate act of war “a foul outrage” and a “massacre.” In early January 1854 French and British warships entered the Black Sea, and in March both nations agreed to protect the Ottoman Empire’s coasts and shipping against Russian attack. That same month, a strong Russian land force invaded the Ottoman territory of Bulgaria.

References

Barker, A. J. The War against Russia, 1854–1856. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

Lambert, Andrew, ed. Steam, Steel and Shellfire: The Steam Warship, 1815–1905. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1993.