The Battle of Navarino

The Battle of Navarino was a naval battle fought on 20 October 1827, during the Greek War of Independence (1821–32), in Navarino Bay (modern-day Pylos), on the west coast of the Peloponnese peninsula, in the Ionian Sea. Allied forces from Britain, France and Russia decisively defeated Ottoman and Egyptian forces trying to suppress the Greek war of independence, thereby making much more likely the independence of Greece.

An Ottoman armada, which, in addition to imperial warships, included squadrons from the eyalets (provinces) of Egypt, Tunis and Algiers, was destroyed by an Allied force of British, French and Russian warships. It was the last major naval battle in history to be fought entirely with sailing ships, although most ships fought at anchor. The Allies’ victory was achieved through superior firepower and gunnery.

The context of the three Great Powers’ intervention in the Greek conflict was the Russian Empire’s long-running expansion at the expense of the decaying Ottoman Empire. Russia’s ambitions in the region were seen as a major geostrategic threat by the other European powers, which feared the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Russian hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean. The precipitating factor was Russia’s strong emotional support for the fellow-Orthodox Christian Greeks, who had rebelled against their Ottoman overlords in 1821. The British were motivated by strong public support for the Greeks. Fearing unilateral Russian action in support of the Greeks, Britain and France bound Russia by treaty to a joint intervention which aimed to secure Greek autonomy whilst preserving Ottoman territorial integrity as a check on Russia.

The Powers agreed, by the Treaty of London (1827), to force the Ottoman government to grant the Greeks autonomy within the empire and despatched naval squadrons to the eastern Mediterranean to enforce their policy. The naval battle happened more by accident than by design as a result of a manoeuvre by the Allied commander-in-chief, Admiral Edward Codrington, aimed at coercing the Ottoman commander to obey Allied instructions.

The sinking of the Ottomans’ Mediterranean fleet saved the fledgling Greek Republic from collapse. But it required two more military interventions, by Russia in the form of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–9 and by a French expeditionary force to the Peloponnese to force the withdrawal of Ottoman forces from central and southern Greece and to finally secure Greek independence.

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