The storming of the impregnable sea fortress of Corfu

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The storming of the impregnable sea fortress of Corfu
The storming of the impregnable sea fortress of Corfu

Video: The storming of the impregnable sea fortress of Corfu

Video: The storming of the impregnable sea fortress of Corfu
Video: Hammered Coins - Differences Between Edward I, II & III 2023, October

Hooray! To the Russian fleet!.. Now I say to myself: Why was I not near Corfu, even a midshipman!

Alexander Suvorov

215 years ago, on March 3, 1799, the Russian-Turkish fleet under the command of Admiral Fedor Fedorovich Ushakov completed the operation to capture Corfu. French troops were forced to surrender the largest and most well-fortified of the Ionian Islands - Corfu. The capture of Corfu completed the liberation of the Ionian Islands and led to the creation of the Republic of the Seven Islands, which was under the protectorate of Russia and Turkey and became a stronghold for the Russian Mediterranean squadron.



The French Revolution led to serious military and political changes in Europe. At first, revolutionary France defended itself, repelling the attacks of its neighbors, but soon went over to the offensive ("export of the revolution"). In 1796-1797. the French army under the leadership of the young and talented French general Napoleon Bonaparte captured Northern Italy (The first serious victory of Napoleon Bonaparte. The brilliant Italian campaign of 1796-1797). In May 1797, the French captured the Ionian Islands (Corfu, Zante, Kefalonia, St. Mavra, Cerigo and others) belonging to the Venetian Republic, which were located along the western coast of Greece. The Ionian Islands were of great strategic importance, control over them made it possible to dominate the Adriatic Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.

France had extensive plans of conquest in the Mediterranean. In 1798, Napoleon began a new campaign of conquest - the French expeditionary army set out to capture Egypt (Battle for the Pyramids. Egyptian campaign of Bonaparte). From there, Napoleon planned to repeat the campaign of Alexander the Great, his minimum program included Palestine and Syria, and with a successful development of hostilities, the French could move to Constantinople, Persia and India. Napoleon successfully escaped a collision with the British fleet and landed in Egypt.

On the way to Egypt, Napoleon captured Malta, which, in fact, then belonged to Russia. The capture of Malta by the French was perceived by Pavel Petrovich as an open challenge to Russia. Russian Tsar Paul I was the Grand Master of the Order of Malta. Another reason for Russia's interference in Mediterranean affairs soon followed. After the landing of French troops in Egypt, which was formally part of the Ottoman Empire, Porta asked Russia for help. Paul decided to oppose France, which in Russia was considered a hotbed of revolutionary ideas. Russia became part of the Second Anti-French Coalition, in which Britain and Turkey also became active participants. December 18, 1798 Russia concludes preliminary agreements with Britain to restore the union. On December 23, 1798, Russia and the Port signed an agreement, according to which the ports and Turkish straits were open to Russian ships.

Even before the conclusion of an official agreement with the alliance between Russia and Turkey, it was decided to send ships of the Black Sea Fleet to the Mediterranean Sea. When a plan for a Mediterranean campaign arose in St. Petersburg, the squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Ushakov was on a long campaign. The ships of the Black Sea Fleet for about four months plowed the waters of the Black Sea, only occasionally visiting the main base. In early August 1798, the squadron planned to make another call to the base. On August 4, the squadron approached Sevastopol "to pour fresh water." A courier from the capital boarded the flagship and conveyed to Ushakov the order of Emperor Paul I: to immediately go to the Dardanelles and, at the request of Porta for help, to assist the Turkish fleet in the fight against the French. Already on August 12, the squadron set out on a campaign. It consisted of 6 battleships, 7 frigates and 3 messenger ships. The landing force consisted of 1,700 naval grenadiers of the Black Sea naval battalions and 35 midshipmen of the Nikolaev naval school.

The hike had to start in rough seas. Some ships were damaged. On two ships, it was necessary to carry out serious repairs and they were sent back to Sevastopol. When Ushakov's squadron arrived in the Bosphorus, representatives of the Turkish government immediately arrived at the admiral. Together with the British ambassador, negotiations began on a plan of action for the allied fleets in the Mediterranean. As a result of negotiations, it was decided that Ushakov's squadron would head to the western coast of the Ionian Islands and its main task would be to liberate the Ionian Islands from the French. In addition, Russia and Turkey were supposed to support the British fleet in the blockade of Alexandria.

For joint actions with the Russian squadron, a squadron of Turkish ships was allocated from the Ottoman fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Kadyr-bey, which came under the command of Ushakov. Kadyr-bey was supposed to "read our vice-admiral as a teacher." The Turkish squadron consisted of 4 battleships, 6 frigates, 4 corvettes and 14 gunboats. Istanbul undertook to provide the Russian ships with everything they needed.

From the composition of the combined Russian-Turkish fleet, Ushakov allocated 4 frigates and 10 gunboats, which, under the command of Captain 1st Rank A. A. Sorokin, went to Alexandria to blockade the French. Thus, Russia and Turkey supported the allies. Many ships of Nelson's British squadron were damaged in the Battle of Abukir and went to Sicily for repairs.

On September 20, Ushakov's squadron left the Dardanelles and moved to the Ionian Islands. The liberation of the islands began with Cerigo. On the evening of September 30, Admiral Ushakov invited the French to lay down their arms. The enemy promised to fight "to the last extreme." On the morning of October 1, artillery shelling of the Kapsali fortress began. Initially, the French artillery actively responded, but when the Russian landing prepared for the assault, the French command ceased resistance.

Two weeks later, the Russian fleet approached the island of Zante. Two frigates approached the shore and overwhelmed the enemy's coastal batteries. Then the troops were landed. Together with local residents, Russian sailors surrounded the fortress. The French commandant, Colonel Lucas, seeing the hopelessness of the situation, capitulated. About 500 French officers and soldiers surrendered. Russian sailors had to protect the French from the just revenge of local residents. I must say that during the liberation of the Ionian Islands, the local residents very happily greeted the Russians and actively helped them. The French behaved like savages, robberies and violence were commonplace. The help of the local population, who knew the waters, the terrain, all the paths and approaches, was very helpful.

After the liberation of the island of Zante, Ushakov divided the squadron into three detachments. Four ships under the command of Captain 2nd Rank D. N. Senyavin went to the island of St. Moors, six ships under the command of captain 1st rank I. A. Selivachev went to Corfu, and five ships of captain 1st rank I. S. Poskochin - to Kefalonia.

In Kefalonia, the French surrendered without a fight. The French garrison fled to the mountains, where he was captured by the locals. On the island of St. The Moors, the French, refused to surrender. Senyavin landed a paratrooper detachment with artillery. After a 10-day bombardment and the arrival of Ushakov's squadron, the French commandant, Colonel Miolet, went to negotiations. On November 5, the French laid down their arms.

The storming of the impregnable sea fortress of Corfu
The storming of the impregnable sea fortress of Corfu

Russian cannon from the times of the joint Russian-Turkish campaign in Corfu.

Fortifications of the island and the strength of the parties

After the liberation of the island of St. Martha Ushakov went to Corfu. The first to arrive to the island of Corfu was the detachment of Captain Selivachev: 3 ships of the line, 3 frigates and a number of small ships. The detachment arrived at the island on October 24, 1798. On October 31, a detachment of Captain 2nd Rank Poskochin arrived at the island. On November 9, the main forces of the combined Russian-Turkish fleet under the command of Ushakov approached Corfu. As a result, the combined Russian-Turkish forces had 10 battleships, 9 frigates and other vessels. In December, the squadron was joined by detachments of ships under the command of Rear Admiral P. V. Pustoshkin (74-gun battleships "St. Michael" and "Simeon and Anna"), Captain 2nd Rank A. A. Sorokin (frigates "St. Michael" and "Our Lady of Kazan"). Thus, the allied squadron consisted of 12 battleships, 11 frigates and a significant number of small ships.

Corfu was located on the east coast in the central part of the island and consisted of a whole complex of powerful fortifications. Since ancient times, the city was considered the key to the Adriatic and was well fortified. French engineers supplemented the old fortifications with the latest achievements of fortification science.

On the eastern part, on a steep cliff, was the "Old Fortress" (sea, Venetian or Paleo Frurio). The Old Fortress was separated from the main city by an artificial moat. Behind the moat was the "New Fortress" (coastal or Neo Frurio). The city was protected from the sea side by a steep coast. In addition, it was surrounded on all sides by a high double rampart and a moat. Moats were located along the entire length of the rampart. Also on the land side, the city was defended by three forts: San Salvador, San Roque and Abraham frot. The most powerful was San Salvador, which consisted of casemates carved into the rocks, connected by underground passages. The well-protected island of Vido covered the city from the sea. It was a high mountain dominating Corfu. Booms with iron chains were installed on the approaches to Vido from the sea.

The city's defense was commanded by the Governor of the Islands, Divisional General Chabot and Commissioner General Dubois. The garrison of Vido was commanded by Brigadier General Pivron. Before the arrival of the Russian squadron to the island, Dubois transferred a significant part of the troops from other islands to Corfu. In Corfu, the French had 3 thousand soldiers, 650 guns. Vido was defended by 500 soldiers and 5 artillery batteries. In addition, the space between the islands of Corfu and Vido served as anchorage for French ships. A squadron of 9 pennants was located here: 2 battleships (74-cannon Generos and 54-cannon Leandre), 1 frigate (32-gun frigate La Brune), bombarding ship La Frimar, brig Expedition”And four auxiliary vessels. The French squadron had up to 200 guns. From Ancona, they planned to transfer another 3 thousand soldiers with the help of several military and transport ships, but after learning about the state of affairs in Corfu, the ships returned.


New Fortress.

Siege and storming of Corfu

Upon arrival at Corfu, Selivachev's ships began blockade of the fortress. Three ships took up positions at the North Strait, the rest - at the South. The French were offered to surrender, but the surrender offer was rejected. On October 27, the French conducted reconnaissance in force. The Zheneros ship approached the Russian ship Zakhari and Elizabeth and opened fire. The Russians responded, the French did not dare to continue the battle and turned back. In addition, Russian ships captured a French 18-gun brig and three transports that were trying to break through to the fortress.

After the arrival of Ushakov's squadron, several ships approached the port of Gouvi, located 6 km north of Corfu. A village with an old shipyard was located here. But almost all of the buildings were destroyed by the French. In this harbor, Russian sailors organized a coastal basing point. In order to prevent the French garrison from replenishing food by robbing local residents, Russian sailors, with the help of the local population, began to build batteries and earthworks in the area of the fortress. On the northern coast, the battery was installed on the hill of Mont Oliveto (Mount Olivet). Captain Kikin's detachment was located here. From the hill it was convenient to fire at the forward forts of the enemy fortress. On November 15, the battery opened fire on the fortress. A battery was also installed to the south of the fortress. Here was a detachment of Ratmanov. They gradually formed a militia of about 1, 6 thousand people from local residents.

The French command counted on the impregnable fortifications of the fortress, and was confident that the Russian sailors would not be able to take it by storm and would not be able to conduct a long siege, and would leave Corfu. General Chabot tried to wear down the besiegers, keeping them in suspense, from day to day conducted sorties and artillery attacks, which required constant vigilance and readiness from Russian sailors to repel French attacks. In many ways, these were correct calculations. The besiegers experienced enormous difficulties with ground forces, artillery and supplies. However, the Russian squadron was led by the iron Ushakov and the French fortress was besieged by the Russians, not the Turks, so the calculation was not justified.

All the brunt of the siege of Corfu was carried on their shoulders by Russian sailors. The assistance of the Turkish squadron was limited. Kadyr Bey did not want to risk his ships and tried to refrain from direct clashes with the enemy. Ushakov wrote: “I shore them like a red testicle, and I don’t let them in danger…, and they themselves are not hunters for that.” In addition, the Ottomans did not fulfill the combat missions assigned to them. So, on the night of January 26, the battleship Generos, following Napoleon's order, broke through from Corfu. The French painted the sails black for camouflage. The Russian patrol ship detected the enemy and gave a signal about it. Ushakov ordered Kadyr-bey to chase the enemy, but he ignored this instruction. Then Lieutenant Metaxa was sent to the Ottoman flagship to force the Ottomans to carry out the admiral's order. But the Turks never weaned. The Generos, together with the brig, quietly left for Ancona.

The blockade of the fortress weakened its garrison, but it was obvious that an assault was needed to capture Corfu. And for the assault there were no necessary forces and means. As Ushakov noted, the fleet was located far from the supply bases and was in great need. Russian sailors were deprived of literally everything that was required for conventional combat operations, not to mention the storming of a first-class fortress. Contrary to the promises of the Ottoman command, Turkey did not allocate the required number of ground forces for the siege of Corfu. In the end, about 4, 2 thousand soldiers were sent from Albania, although they promised 17 thousand people. The situation was also bad with siege land artillery and ammunition. The lack of ammunition constrained any military activity. Ships and batteries were silent for a long time. Ushakov ordered to take care of those who had shells, to shoot only when absolutely necessary.

The squadron was also in great need of food. The situation was close to disaster. For months, the sailors lived on starvation rations, and there were no supplies of provisions either from the Ottoman Empire or from Russia. And the Russians could not follow the example of the Ottomans and the French, rob the already disadvantaged local population. Ushakov informed the Russian ambassador in Constantinople that they were being killed with the last crumbs and were starving. Moreover, even the food supplied was of disgusting quality. So, in December 1798, the transport "Irina" arrived from Sevastopol with a load of corned beef. However, a significant part of the meat turned out to be rotten, with worms.

The sailors on the ships were undressed and needed uniforms. At the very beginning of the campaign, Ushakov reported to the Admiralty that the sailors had not received salaries, uniforms and uniform money for a year. Those who had uniforms fell into disrepair, there were no ways to rectify the situation. Many did not have shoes either. When the squadron received the money, it turned out that they were of no use - the officials sent paper notes. Nobody accepted such money, even with a significant reduction in their price. Therefore, they were sent back to Sevastopol.

The situation was aggravated by the fact that Petersburg was trying to lead the squadron. Orders, orders of Paul and high dignitaries came, which were already outdated, did not correspond to the military-political situation or the situation in the Mediterranean theater of military operations. So, instead of concentrating all the forces of the squadron at Corfu. Ushakov now and then had to send ships to other places (to Ragusa, Brindisi, Messina, etc.). This made it difficult to effectively use the Russian forces. In addition, the British, who themselves wanted to liberate and seize the Ionian Islands for themselves, sought to weaken the Russian squadron, insisting that Ushakov allocate ships to Alexandria, Crete and Messina. Ushakov, correctly assessed the dastardly maneuver of the "ally" and informed the ambassador to Constantinople that the British wanted to distract the Russian squadron from real affairs, "force them to catch flies", and to take "those places from which they are trying to distance us".

In February 1799, the position of the Russian squadron improved somewhat. Ships arrived in Corfu, which were sent earlier to carry out various orders. They brought several detachments of auxiliary Turkish troops. On January 23 (February 3), 1799, new batteries began to be erected on the southern side of the island. Therefore, Ushakov decided to move from a siege to a decisive assault on the fortress. On February 14 (25), the last preparations for the assault began. Sailors and soldiers were trained in the techniques of overcoming various obstacles, the use of assault ladders. Ladders were made in large numbers.

First, Ushakov decided to take the island of Vido, which he called "the key to Corfu." The ships of the squadron were supposed to suppress enemy coastal batteries, and then land troops. At the same time, the enemy was to be attacked by detachments located on the island of Corfu. They were supposed to hit the forts of Abraham, St. Roca and El Salvador. Most of the commanders fully approved Ushakov's plan. Only a few Ottoman commanders described the plan of operation as "unrealizable." However, they were in the minority.

On February 17, the ships received an order - at the first convenient wind, to attack the enemy. On the night of February 18, the wind was south-westerly, and there was no reason to count on a decisive attack. But in the morning the weather changed. A fresh wind blew from the northwest. A signal was raised on the flagship: "the whole squadron to prepare for an attack on the island of Vido." At 7 o'clock two shots were fired from the ship "St. Paul". This was the signal for the ground forces in Corfu to begin shelling the enemy fortifications. Then the ships began to move into position.


Scheme of the storming of Corfu on February 18, 1799.

In the vanguard were three frigates, they attacked the first battery. The rest of the ships followed them. "Pavel" fired at the first enemy battery, and then concentrated its fire on the second battery. The ship was positioned at such a close range that all the guns could be used. Following the flagships, other ships also stood up: the battleship "Simeon and Anna" under the command of Captain 1st Rank KS Leontovich, "Magdalene" Captain 1st Rank GA Timchenko; closer to the north-western promontory of the island occupied positions by the ship "Mikhail" under the command of I. Ya. Saltanov, "Zakhari and Elizabeth" by captain I. A. Selivachev, the frigate "Grigory" by lieutenant captain I. A. Shostak. The ship "Epiphany" under the command of A. P. Aleksiano did not anchor, firing at enemy batteries on the move. Kadyr-bey's ships were located at some distance, without risking approaching the French batteries.

In order to paralyze the French ships, Ushakov allocated the ship "Peter" under the command of D. N. Senyavin and the frigate "Navarkhia" under the command of N. D. Voinovich. They fought with French ships and the fifth battery. They were assisted by the ship "Epiphany", firing at these targets in the course of its movement. Under the influence of Russian fire, the French ships were badly damaged. The battleship Leander was especially badly damaged. Barely keeping afloat, he left his position and took refuge near the walls of the fortress. Russian ships also drowned several galleys with troops on them, which were intended to strengthen the Vido garrison.

Initially, the French fought bravely. They were convinced that the batteries were impregnable against an attack from the sea. Stone parapets and earthen ramparts protected them well. However, as the battle continued, confusion among the ranks of the enemies grew. Russian ships, volley after volley, struck at the French batteries and did not intend to retreat. The losses of the French grew, the gunners died, the guns fell out of action. By 10 o'clock, the French batteries had significantly reduced the intensity of the fire. The French gunners began to abandon their positions and flee inland.

Ushakov, as soon as he noticed the first signs of a weakening of enemy fire, ordered the start of preparations for unloading the landing. The amphibious groups on barges and boats headed for the island. Under the cover of naval artillery, the ships began to land troops. The first group landed between the second and third batteries, where the naval artillery dealt the most powerful blow to the enemy. The second detachment landed between the third and fourth batteries, and the third at the first battery. In total, about 2, 1 thousand paratroopers were landed on the shore (of which about 1, 5 thousand were Russian soldiers).


Storming the fortress of the island of Corfu. V. Kochenkov.

By the time of the assault, General Pivron had created a serious antiamphibious defense of the island: they set up obstacles that impeded the movement of rowing ships, blockages, earth embankments, wolf pits, etc. The landing ships were fired not only from land. But also small ships standing near the coast. However, the Russian sailors overcame all obstacles. Having established themselves on the shore, the Russian paratroopers began to press the enemy, seizing one position after another. They moved towards the batteries, which were the main points of resistance. First, the third battery was captured, then the Russian flag was raised over the strongest, second battery. The French ships located at Vido were hijacked. French soldiers fled to the south side of the island, hoping to escape to Corfu. But the Russian ships blocked the way for the French rowing ships. The first battery went down at about noon. The French could not withstand the onslaught of the Russian sailors and surrendered.

By 14 o'clock the battle was over. The remnants of the French garrison laid down their arms. The Turks and Albanians, embittered by the stubborn resistance of the French, began to slaughter the prisoners, but the Russians protected them. Of the 800 people who defended the island, 200 people were killed, 402 soldiers, 20 officers and the island's commandant, Brigadier General Pivron, were taken prisoner. About 150 people were able to escape to Corfu. Russian losses amounted to 31 people killed and 100 wounded, the Turks and Albanians lost 180 people.

The capture of Vido predetermined the outcome of the assault on Corfu. On the island of Vido, Russian batteries were placed, which opened fire on Corfu. While the battle for Vido was going on, Russian batteries in Corfu fired on enemy fortifications in the morning. The shelling of the fortress was also carried out by several ships that did not participate in the assault on Vido. Then the airborne troops began an assault on the French forward fortifications. Local residents showed paths that allowed them to bypass mined approaches. At Fort Salvador, hand-to-hand fighting ensued. But the French repulsed the first attack. Then reinforcements were landed from ships on Corfu. The assault on enemy positions was resumed. The sailors acted heroically. Under enemy fire, they made their way to the walls, set up ladders and climbed the fortifications. Despite desperate French resistance, all three forward forts were captured. The French fled to the main fortifications.

By the evening of February 18 (March 1), the battle died down. The apparent ease with which the Russian sailors took Vido and the advanced forts demoralized the French command. The French, having lost about 1,000 people in one day of the battle, decided that resistance was pointless. The next day, a French boat arrived at Ushakov's ship. The aide-de-camp of the French commander proposed a truce. Ushakov proposed to surrender the fortress in 24 hours. Soon from the fortress they reported that they agreed to lay down their arms. On February 20 (March 3), 1799, the act of surrender was signed.


On February 22 (March 5), a French garrison of 2,931 people, including 4 generals, surrendered. Admiral Ushakov was given the French flags and the keys to Corfu. Russian trophies were about 20 combat and auxiliary vessels, including the battleship Leander, the frigate LaBruin, a brig, a bombarding ship, three brigantines and other vessels. On the fortifications and in the arsenal of the fortress, 629 guns, about 5 thousand guns, over 150 thousand cannonballs and bombs, more than half a million cartridges, a large amount of various equipment and food were captured.

According to the terms of surrender, the French, having surrendered the fortress with all the guns, arsenals and shops, retained their freedom. They only vowed not to fight against Russia and its allies for 18 months. The French were sent to Toulon. But this condition did not apply to the hundreds of Jews who fought alongside the French. They were sent to Istanbul.

Allied forces lost 298 people killed and wounded, of which 130 were Russians and 168 were Turks and Albanians. Sovereign Pavel promoted Ushakov to the rank of admiral and awarded him with diamond insignia of the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky. The Ottoman sultan sent a firman with praise and presented a cheleng (a golden feather studded with diamonds), a sable fur coat and 1,000 ducats for petty expenses. He sent another 3500 ducats for the team.


Cheleng (golden feather studded with diamonds), donated by the Turkish sultan F. F. Ushakov.

The victory at Corfu completed the liberation of the Ionian Islands from the rule of the French and made a great impression on Europe. The Ionian Islands became the mainstay of Russia in the Mediterranean. The European military and politicians did not expect such a decisive and victorious outcome of the struggle against the powerful French stronghold in the Mediterranean. Many believed that it would be very difficult to take Vido, while Corfu would be impossible at all. The fortress had a sufficient garrison, supported by a detachment of ships, first-class fortifications, powerful artillery weapons, large stocks of ammunition and provisions, but could not withstand the onslaught of Russian sailors. “All friends and enemies have respect and respect for us,” noted Admiral Ushakov.

The brilliant skill of Russian sailors was also recognized by the enemies of Russia - the French military leaders. They said that they had never seen or heard anything like it, did not imagine that it was possible with ships alone to take the terrible batteries of Corfu and the island of Vido by attack. Such courage has hardly ever been seen.

The capture of Corfu clearly showed the creative nature of the skill of Admiral Ushakov. The Russian admiral showed the flawed opinion that an attack on a strong fortress from the sea was impossible. Ship artillery became the main means that ensured the suppression of enemy coastal forces. In addition, much attention was paid to the Marine Corps, the organization of amphibious operations to seize bridgeheads, and the construction of coastal batteries. The victorious assault on Vido and Corfu overturned the theoretical constructions of Western European military specialists. Russian sailors have proven that they can perform the most difficult combat missions. The assault on the considered impregnable naval fortress is inscribed in the history of the Russian school of naval art.


Medal minted in honor of F. F. Ushakov in Greece. Central Naval Museum.