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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Monday 11 June 2018

This Untoward Event

I picked up a copy of C.M Woodhouse's 'The Battle of Navarino' in a second hand bookshop, prior to my recent trip to the Peloponnese.

Published in 1965, it provides a comprehensive account of the naval action that largely secured the independence of Greece from the Ottoman Empire. It was fought on 20 October 1827 between the combined Egyptian and Ottoman fleets, and the allied British, French and Russian fleets commanded by Admiral Codrington. Navarino is a bay and port on the south-west coast of the Peloponnese.

The battle was described in the King's speech to parliament on 29 January 1828 as 'this untoward event', which Prime Minister Wellington explained as meaning 'unexpected or unfortunate', to considerable criticism at the time. This is because Britain was traditionally an ally of the Ottoman Empire as a bulwark against Russian expansion. However, the cause of Greek Independence was popular in Britain and many of the Greek commanders were British, as well as significant numbers of volunteers, known as Philhellenes. The King was reported to have 'winked' as he read out the speech.

The combined fleets had instructions to enforce an armistice, at sea at least, which would force the Sultan into peace talks. They had effectively blockaded the Ottoman fleet until it broke out in an attempt to reinforce Patras. After being intercepted by the British fleet, they withdrew again to Navarino.

After this the allies decided that the only way to enforce the armistice was by a show of force. This involved sailing into the bay and anchoring within range of the Ottoman fleet. There is some dispute as to who initiated the fighting, but it is agreed that a Turkish ship fired first. This led to a full engagement in which the Ottoman fleet had a numerical advantage, but their ships were not as experienced or as competently handled as the allies. Their fleet was destroyed as a fighting force.

Turkish and Egyptian losses included three ships of the line, 17 frigates, some 40 other ships and around 4,000 dead. Allied fleets lost 182 dead. As no state of war existed, no prizes were taken.

The book is well illustrated, mostly with the many oil paintings commissioned after the battle. The book is largely based on the Codrington papers in the National Maritime Museum, supplemented by French and Russian secondary sources and Egyptian records. As is often the case, the Ottoman sources are scant. There are few copies still around on the second hand book market.

I have been clearing out some old wargame magazines in an effort to create some space on my shelves. Coincidentally, I came across a very good article on the battle by Jonathan Carruthers, for Wargames Illustrated, I think back in 1988. He suggests a more balanced game by allowing the Ottomans to contest the allied fleet at the entrance to the bay. I suspect the outcome would have been the same, but casualties would have been higher, given the shore batteries and the narrow entrance.

No ships, but here are a few of my 15mm Greek War of Independence figures in 15mm.

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