Czarist Navy in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877
Von Moltke, in his memorable study of the war of 1828-29, foretold that, in the next Russo-Turkish conflict, Russian naval supremacy in the Black Sea would be strongly asserted. This prophecy was not fulfilled. Whether taught by history or inspired by caprice, the Sultan Abdul Aziz conceived the idea of creating an armourclad fleet, and between the years 1864 and 1875 fifteen armoured ships, ranging from the Mesoodiyeh, of 8,990 tons, to the Idjlaliyeh, of 2,240 tons, and three gunboats of 400 to 330 tons, were launched for the Turkish Government. Two of these vessels were built at Constantinople, all the rest in Great Britain or France., In addition, the Turkish Navy List of 1876 included five steam frigates, eleven corvettes, and some river gunboats. The nominal total personnel of the navy exceeded eighteen thousand men.
The total of the armored ships of Russia in 1876 is given by Lord Brassey as twenty-nine, including fourteen coast-defence monitors. Only two sea-going vessels carrying more than seven inches of armor were then completed. When war was declared in April 1877, the Russians had no naval force with which to oppose the fleet of Abdul Aziz, and the Turkish command of the Black Sea was practically as complete as that asserted by the Allies in 1854-55.! The difficulties of the campaign were thus materially enhanced, and the invading army was compelled to force the passage of the Danube and the Balkans, and to depend for the whole of its supplies upon a lengthening line of difficult land communications. Russian naval activity was limited to unimportant raids on coasting craft and some torpedo-boat work,* of which the only result was the sinking of the Turkish gunboat Seift in the Matchin channel of the Danube. On the other hand, the Turks made no use of their command of the sea for offensive purposes, and the handling of their gunboats on the Danube at the beginning of the campaign showed a total lack of vigor, by which many opportunities were lost.
Thus the war took the form of two mutually independent land campaigns in Europe and Asia respectively; and although the Russians suffered severely for want of the sea-power which materially contributed to their success in the campaigns of 1828-29, there were certain mitigations of their difficulties. In the European theatre of war, road communications north and to a less extent south of the Danube had greatly improved, and railways facilitated the primary concentration of the invading army. In the Asiatic campaign, the complete subjugation of Georgia and the Caucasus, and the advance of the frontier to Alexandropol, accomplished after the Crimean War, proved a great advantage.
The naval weakness of Russia, which had hampered the operations of the campaign, rendered the position of the army before Constantinople insecure, and without any effective ally in Europe she was naturally unwilling to force an issue. Lord Beaconsfield laid special stress on the fact that the Treaty of San Stefano would render the Black Sea a Russian lake, as had long been the case.
The lessons of the war of 1877-78 were taken to heart in Russia. Many reforms were introduced into the army, and steps were taken to increase the navy, and especially to create a Black Sea squadron. With the year 1882, a fresh period of naval development began. In 1886, the Tchesmt and the Catharine II, and in 1887 the Sinope, battle-ships of 10,180 tons, were launched, forming the nucleus of a powerful new Black Sea fleet. At the same time the construction of a large torpedo-boat flotilla was commenced. Naval progress since proceeded steadily.
The principal political effect of the proceedings of 1878 was to embitter Anglo-Russian relations by creating mutual suspicions, while at the same time Great Britain gained no increase of influence at Constantinople. It naturally followed that measures would be taken to promote difficulties on the Indian frontier, and at the end of May 1878 General Stolietoff left Tashkent on a mission to Kabul, which led to the Afghan War, entailing an expenditure of twenty-two millions sterling upon the people of India.
Meanwhile, Skobeleff, the hero of the Turkish War, formulated a visionary scheme of invasion by organised "hordes of Asiatic horsemen, who, to a cry of blood and plunder, might be launched against India as the vanguard, thus reviving the days of Timur." This project had no military value, since "the days of Timur" happily cannot be revived, and large masses of cavalry could not subsist among the wild mountains of the frontier which Skobeleff never saw; but the existence of such impracticable schemes has exercised a powerful influence upon Indian polity.
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