Siege of Taganrog
|Siege of Taganrog|
|Part of the Crimean War|
The British raft Lady Nancy producing close fire support for the raiding part during the destruction of the Taganrog military depot on 3rd June 1855.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Yegor Tolstoy
| Edmund Lyons
Armand Joseph Bruat
Béral de Sedaiges
3 warships - Унылая (Cheerless), Секстант (Sextant) and Акерманъ (Akkerman)
2 barges used as floating batteries
3 armed customs launches
|2 paddle gunboats (Recruit and Danube), 12 armed ships launches, and 1 armed raft (Lady Nancy)
1 paddle gunboat (Mouette) and 4 launches
|Casualties and losses|
|470 killed and wounded, including civilians
all three warships destroyed
1 gunboat captured and destroyed
The Siege of Taganrog is a name given in some Russian histories to Anglo-French naval operations in the northeastern part of the Sea of Azov between June and October 1855 during the Crimean War. British and French forces were implementing a strategy of destroying the supply lines for the main Russian army which ran across the Sea Azov. Taganrog was one of the major logistical hubs of the Russian army and was attacked and destroyed as a military depot on 3 June 1855 (NS) as part of a series of attacks on all major Russian supply bases in the area, except Rostov-on-Don, which could not be reached due to the large shoals not admitting any available warship.
In the spring of 1855, as the Crimean War dragged on into its third year, the British and the French decided to begin operations in the Sea of Azov. They reasoned that this would allow them to cut off the Crimea even further from Russia and prevent further supplies from reaching Russian forces there by sea via the seaports in the Taman. This strategy required them to occupy the Strait of Kerch, which was to be undertaken by a joint force of British and French soldiers and warships.
Taganrog, at the far eastward end of the Sea of Azov, was selected as a potential target for attack. Taganrog is located on a strip of land jutting out slightly into the Sea of Azov and, to the British and the French, formed an excellent stepping stone to Rostov-on-Don. Taking Rostov-on-Don would allow the allies to threaten the rear of the Russian forces.
Plans were drawn up, and the British and French prepared 16,000 ground troops and about forty small warships for the "Azov Campaign". Meanwhile, Taganrog's governor-general, Nikolay Adlerberg, had been replaced by Yegor Tolstoy, an ageing but versatile general, who had served in the Russian Army in fighting against the Turks. In April 1854, Tolstoy assumed command at Taganrog, along with Ivan Krasnov (who commanded the Don Cossacks in the region) and prepared his forces. He had three sotnias of Don Cossacks (No.s 180 Моршанская дружина, 184 Спасская and 188 Борисоглебская) and a local garrison of some 630 soldiers at his command at the time of the siege. A unit of "home guards", totalling 250 men, were recruited from the local population. Taganrog lacked any modern fortifications and Tolstoy had no artillery to speak of.
Operations against Taganrog
Order of Battle
The allied force that attacked Taganrog on 3rd June 1855 consisted of:
- HMS Recruit (Lt George Fiott Day, with Capt E.M. Lyons and staff aboard) - paddle gunboat, 6 guns
- HMS Danube (Lt R.P. Cator) - nominally unarmed paddle tug but armed as per the launches, towed Lady Nancy into position
- Mouette (Captaine du Corvette Lallemand) - paddle aviso, 2 guns
- 1st launch from HMS Royal Albert (Lt J.D. Curtis) - each launch carried a single boat howitzer (24 pdr) and a rocket launcher
- 2nd launch from HMS Royal Albert (Lt T.M.S. Pasley)
- 1st launch from HMS Hannibal (Mr. A.F. Hurt, acting mate)
- 2nd launch from HMS Hannibal (Lt J.H. Crang)
- 1st launch from HMS Algiers (Mr. J.C. Wilson, mate)
- 2nd launch from HMS Algiers (Lt F.G.C. Paget)
- 1st launch from HMS Agamemnon (Lt T.L. Gaussen)
- 2nd launch from HMS Agamemnon (Lt T.J. Young)
- 1st launch from HMS St. Jean d'Acre (Lt E.W. Turnour)
- 2nd launch from HMS St. Jean d'Acre (Lt T.J. Young)
- 1st launch from HMS Princess Royal (Lt John Murray)
- 2nd launch from HMS Princess Royal (Lt W.H.Jones)
- four similar French launches
- Lady Nancy - raft with a short 32 pounder on deck in the protected cupola.
- a four-oared gig that landed Lt Cecil Buckley and Boatswain Henry Cooper
HMS Sulina (unarmed paddle tug, Mr. C.H. Williams, acting mate) and HMS Medina (unarmed steam packet, Lt Comd H.B. Beresford) along with Danube towed the launches to outside Taganrog, but did not approach the city. Similarly the French paddle aviso Dauphin,2 towed their launches, but did not approach the city. The light forces were split into two groups; one under Commander Coles was to bombard the store, and a second group under Lt J.F.C. Mackenzie, RMA landed and covered Buckley and Cooper.
Destruction of the Military Depot
Starting on 24 May (12 May O.S.), 1855, the British and the French began operations in the Sea of Azov. They landed troops on either side of the Kerch Strait, quickly capturing the cities of Kerch and Enikale. Following those actions, naval forces destroyed the Russian coastal battery at Kamishevaya Bay and entered the Sea of Azov.
On the evening of 1 June 1855 the Anglo-French squadron, which consisted of 5 paddle steamers and 16 armed launches (on loan from the main allied fleet at Sevastapol) commanded by Captain Edmund Lyons (son of Rear Admiral Edmund Lyons) and Captain Béral de Sedaiges, anchored 8.5 miles of Taganrog in 18 feet of water. On the 2nd HMS Recruit was sent forward to reconnoiter Taganrog and sound the shoals off the town. On the 3rd the Recruit returned and under a flag of truce requested the surrender of the military depot for destruction, the withdrawal of military forces five miles away from the city and the evacuation of the civilian residents. Accompanying the Recruit were the British paddle steamer Danube, the French paddle aviso Mouette, and many small launches from larger ships operating elsewhere. These included 12 British armed steam launches (each with a 24 pounder boat howitzer and/or a rocket launcher), 4 similarly armed French launches, and the raft Lady Nancy. This latter raft occupies an interesting place in the history of naval architecture as Commander Cowper P. Coles of HMS Stromboli had erected an protected cupola on her, and placed a 32 pounder within. From this sprang ultimately the modern turret used aboard warships.
The ultimatum was answered by Tolstoy's official for important missions, Baron Yevgeny Pfeilizer-Frank (nephew to former governor Otto Pfeilizer-Frank) and poet Nikolay Sherbina, who later described the event in Moskovskiye Vedomosti on 21 June 1855. The allies demanded the surrender of all government property, the withdrawal of troops and the evacuation of civilians. After an hour of consideration Baron Pfeilizer-Frank returned to the envoys with Tolstoy's reply, rejecting the demands. The Recruit then hauled down her flag of truce and opened fire on the town. The Danube and Mouette, towing the Lady Nancy moved up in the company of the armed launches and joined in the bombardment. A four-oared gig then landed Lt Cecil Buckley and Boatswain Henry Cooper, who proceeded to set fire to the military depots buildings before returning, in the same manner they had at Genitchi on 29 May. The raft Lady Nancy and some of the launches gave close support to the raiding party. Both earned the Victoria Cross for their actions and due to seniority and spelling Buckley was awarded the first VC ever gazetted. All the stores of grain, timber, tar, all the boats in the harbour (including the Russian gunboat Akkerman and various other warships under construction) and any boats under construction, together with the Customs House and the main government buildings were set ablaze.
Tolstoy in his official report claimed the allies had landed a major force near the Old Stone Steps (Каменная лестница) and Greek Church in downtown Taganrog followed the bombardment which was allegedly repulsed by the Cossacks and the volunteer corps.
The allies suffered a single casualty in the operation, Gunner C. Evans of the Royal Marine Artillery was struck in the face by a spent musket ball whilst manning the howitzer of the launch from HMS Princess Royal. Russian losses were significant, including the gunboat Akkerman destroyed in the harbour, and four months food supply for the main Russian army at Sevastapol. 
The allied squadron, having effected their objective, moved off and attacked Mariupol on 5 June and Gheisk on the 6th with similar destructive effects. By mid-June every single coastal town on the Sea of Azov had been attacked and their supplies destroyed to deny them to the main Russian army at Sevastapol.
After the destruction of their supply bases on the Azov, the Russians deployed another fourteen sotnias (squadrons) of Don Cossacks to the region around the Sea of Azov to protect the various coastal cities. This brought the total number of Cossack sotnias in the area to 16. They attempted to fortify Taganrog and other points. At Taganrog this work consisted of building an earthwork artillery battery. On 19 July (NS), Commander Sherard Osborn conducted a reconnoiter of Taganrog aboard HMS Jasper and observed the battery being built. The Jasper put two shells into the battery but did not receive a response, and so moved off. The Jasper would shortly thereafter become the only allied warship lost in the Sea of Azov campaign when she grounded on Krivaya Spit or "Crooked Spit" near the present-day town of Sedjove in Ukraine, 15 miles west of Taganrog on 23 July. She had just destroyed a Russian fortification and had taken the captured guns aboard as prizes. Hence she was running much deeper than normal and grounded. Other sources report that local fishermen moved various buoys that marked water depth, which forced the British ship ashore. After a day of being unable to free her, and under fire from a force of Cossacks, Jasper's crew was taken off aboard HMS Swallow and the ship scuttled. Don Cossacks subsequently boarded the derelict and captured her two 24 pounder howitzers and 60 shells from her magazine, along with some trophies, like the ship's ensign. The guns were sent to the Cathedral in Taganrog (used as a military base by the Russian Army) and sent onwards to Cherkassk where they were mounted in the coastal defences. Some sources said the Cossacks blew up the stranded hull. Five days later (29 July) Lieutenant George Lydiard Sulivan (CO of HMS Fancy) dived the wrecked Jasper, recovered her 68 pounder and placed a demolition charge to complete her destruction, as it was found the destruction of her magazine and the shells of HMS Swallow had left her in a salvageable state.
On 5 August 1855 Osborn arrived off Taganrog to destroy the new battery with HMS Vesuvius, HMS Grinder and HMS Wrangler. Driving off the garrison with gunfire the squadron covered a landing party which took control of the battery, took some as prizes, spiked the remaining guns and threw them in the sea, and then blew up the battery before retiring. A few days later the garrison of Taganrog was reinforced further with the Reserve Brigade of the 15th Infantry Division, some 4,000 infantrymen under Major-General Leyna (Лейна), in addition to the large number of Cossacks absorbed by the defence. Patrols continued in the area, and in early September Lt Day's group of HMS Recruit, HMS Curlew and HMS Fancy rode out a storm in Taganrog Roads whilst preparing to strike the Russian force (2 gunboats and 16 barges used as floating batteries) at the mouth of the River Don, but when they approached the Don on 13 September they found the storm had driven off all the Russian defenders. A small raiding party of three from Wrangler, trying to destroy a number of fishing boats at a small lake, was cut off and captured near Mariupol by a group of Cossacks who ambushed them. Patrols continued throughout October and the last patrol of the year reconnoitered Taganrog on 20th November, finding not a single vessel remaining in the harbour. On 24 November Osborn took his remaining ships out of the Sea of Azov as the sea ice started to form, wintering in a warmer climate.
Russian forces at Taganrog stood down on 21 June 1856, and life in the city began to return to normal. The Crimean War cost the city of Taganrog more than one million rubles. Considerable damage was done to local structures. Twenty mansions were completely destroyed, and 74 were damaged to some degree. One hundred and eighty-nine other buildings, primarily granaries and storehouses, were destroyed and 44 damaged. Tsar Alexander II exempted the citizens of Taganrog of having to pay taxes for the year of 1857. 163 Taganrog soldiers were awarded with medals and military orders because of their service during the siege.
The Allied aim was to keep "the coast in a constant state of alarm, and their [the Russian] troops constantly moving". This produced the desired effect, and the Russians in the area believed that an invasion was possible, when the allies had no such intention. However, this state of panic induced in the Russians has permeated their historiography (especially in the Soviet period), to the point where it is in many ways at odds with the western (i.e. British) historiography. Standard English language sources, such as Kinglake tell the above story.
Other Russian histories written by military professionals agree with the Allied versions of events, for example in Vol. 2 of Istoriya 3-go dragunskago Ingermanlandskago polka 1704-1904, Genishta and Borisevich state "For his part, the enemy did not undertake any real operations and fortified himself in Kerch, Yenikale, and other places. The allied squadron, however, entered the Sea of Azov and for a whole year carried out attacks on coastal towns: Berdyansk, Arabat, Genichesk, Taganrog, Mariupol, Anapa, and others. The destruction of stores, linked with looting and barbaric assaults on the unarmed inhabitants, was the main object of the enemy’s actions." 
Mansion of Ioannis Varvakis that was known as the House with Bullets as the building was filled with bullets and cannonballs during the siege in 1855
Cannonball in the wall of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker Church, probably fired 5 August 1855 during the destruction of the battery in the grounds of the church.
- The Edinburgh Gazette, 29 June 1855
- The Edinburgh Gazette, 29 June 1855
- Letters from headquarters or The realities of the war in the Crimea, by Somerset John Gough-Calthorpe (7th baron.), London, 1856
- P. Filevski, "Taganrog Encyclopedia", Moscow 1898
- D.K. Brown, "Before the Ironclad", section titled "Gun boat operations and the Black Sea 1855"
- A. Lambert, "The Crimean War: British Grand Strategy against Russia, 1853–56" pgs 247-250
- The Illustrated History of the War Against Russia, Volume 2. J. S. Virtue. 1857. p. 345.
- "Destruction of Russian Stores at Taganrog" in The Illustrated London News, 14 July 1855
- The attack on Taganrog June 1855,
- This section is extracted largely from Captain Lyons' report on the action, available online at https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/21734/page/2452/data.pdf and https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/21734/page/2453/data.pdf
- W.L. Clowes "The Royal Navy: A History" - online at https://archive.org/stream/royalnavyhistory06clow#page/456/mode/2up
- Report of Commander Sherard Osborn dated 21st June 1855, reproduced in "British Battles of the Crimean War 1854-6", Pen and Sword 2014
- B. Perrett "Gunboat!: Small Ships At War", Chapter 1
- The New York Times, 30 August 1855
- The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 - 1861), Saturday 15 December 1855, page 2
- Blackmore, David T. (2011). Warfare on the Mediterranean in the Age of Sail: A History, 1571-1866. McFarland. p. 324. ISBN 0786457848.
- Yonge, Charles Duke (1866). The History of the British Navy: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Volume 3. R. Bentley. pp. 346–47.
- Seymour, Edward Howard (1911). My Naval Career and Travels. Smith, Elder & Company. p. 267.
Herein the Cathedral we saw the ensign of H.M. Gunboat Jasper, lost near here in the war in 1855.
- See Sulivan's entry in the "Royal Navy List" - no online source found at this time
- Identities of ships found in P. Dukkers, "The Crimean War at Sea", Pen and Sword 2011, specifically Chapter 8 "Scouring the Sea of Azoff, Summer 1855"
- Dukker, ibid
- "Full text of "The Victoria cross, an official chronicle of the deeds of personal valour achieved during the ..."". archive.org. Retrieved 2016-12-15.
- Report of Captain Sherard Osborn dated 24th November 1855 - online at https://books.google.be/books?id=v98RAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA148#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Commander Sherard Osborn's report of 21st July 1855 - online at https://books.google.be/books?id=sMc7BAAAQBAJ&pg=PA201
- Kinglake, "The Invasion of the Crimea", vol. 8 - online at https://books.google.be/books?id=5VpeVP78SjgC&pg=PA67
- English translation of this part of Istoriya 3-go dragunskago Ingermanlandskago polka 1704-1904 is online at http://www.marksrussianmilitaryhistory.info/Inger-html.htm
Additional References (to the popular Tsarist interpretation)
- "Оборона Таганрога и его окрестностей" (Defence of Taganrog and its surroundings) by Ivan Krasnov, Saint Petersburg, 1862
- "История Таганрога" (Taganrog Encyclopedia) by П.Филевский (Pavel Filevski), Moscow, 1898
- Taganrog Encyclopedia, 2nd edition, Taganrog, 2003, Оборона Приазовья в Крымской войне 1853-1856 гг.