|Bombardment of Odessa|
|Part of the Crimean War|
Bombardment of Odessa, showing the explosion of the Imperial Mole
|Commanders and leaders|
|Dmitri Osten-Sacken||James Dundas|
|Shore batteries and troops|
|Casualties and losses|
|5 killed, 15 wounded|
Background and formation
On 6 April 1854, soon after the declaration of war by Britain and France on Russia, the British steam frigate Furious, under the command of Captain William Loring, sailed to Odessa and sent a boat into the port under a flag of truce to collect the British Consul there. When leaving the port the boat was fired upon by the Russians. The British naval commander Vice-Admiral James Dundas demanded an explanation from Lieutenant-General Dmitri Osten-Sacken, the military governor of Odessa, for this breach of the laws of war. His reply was considered unacceptable, so a squadron was quickly selected to mount a punitive expedition.
An article by Karl Marx, printed in the New York Daily Tribune of 16 May 1854, reported that the Russians had claimed that the Furious was actually carrying out a covert reconnaissance of the port, as the Retribution had done some time earlier, entering the port of Sevastopol under the pretext of delivering dispatches, but also making a survey of the defences, as had been admitted by the British press. Marx also pointed out the "ridiculousness" of the Allies requiring such justifications for launching an attack on an enemy naval base in a time of war.
The squadron consisted of eight steam paddle-wheel frigates; the French Descartes, Mogador and Vauban, and the British Furious, Retribution, Sampson, Terrible and Tiger, supported by the British screw frigate Highflyer, fourth-rate sailing frigate Arethusa, and steam ship Sans Pareil, and the French screw corvette Caton. There were also six ship's boats armed with 24-pounder rockets; two from Britannia, and one each from Agamemnon, Trafalgar, Sans Pareil and Highflyer.
On 22 April the Anglo-French fleet arrived off Odessa, and lay offshore. At 5 a.m. the first division (Descartes, Sampson, Tiger and Vauban) sailed in, and opened fire on the Russian positions from a range of about 2,000 yards (1,800 m), though with little effect. Vauban was hit by a red-hot shot that started a fire aboard and was obliged to temporarily withdraw. She soon returned, bringing the screw corvette Caton with her. The second division (Furious, Terrible, Retribution and Mogador) then joined the attack, while Arethusa, Highflyer and Sans Pareil remained further offshore as a reserve. The attacking ships now anchored closer in, and it was not long before a shot from Terrible hit a magazine on the Imperial Mole, which exploded causing great damage. About 24 Russian ships in the military port were set on fire, and several British and French merchant ships detained there took advantage of the confusion to escape. Meanwhile, the rocket-boats set fire to the dockyard storehouses. Late in the action the Arethusa, under the command of Captain William Robert Mends, engaged batteries on the south side of the Quarantine Mole, until recalled. As numerous fires were now threatening the town, the attack was ended at 5.30 p.m., and the squadron withdrew.
As a result of this "affair of honour", Odessa was essentially neutralised as a naval base, and remained so for the rest of the war, allowing the Allies to operate in the Black Sea with impunity and to thus maintain their supply lines following the subsequent invasion of the Crimean Peninsula in September.
Order of battle
- "No. 21552". The London Gazette. 12 May 1854. pp. 1473–1476.
- Marx, Karl (16 May 1854). "The Bombardment of Odessa". New York Daily Tribune. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
- Clowes (1901), pp. 399–401.
- Troude (1868), p. 340.
- Vanner, Antoine (12 June 2015). "The Bombardment of Odessa 1854". The Dawlish Chronicles. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
- Roberts, Stephen S. (2015). "2nd class screw corvettes". French Navy Ships by Type, 1816-1859. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
- Clowes, William Laird (1901). The Royal Navy: A History From the Earliest Times to the Present. VI. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Company. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
- Troude, Onésime-Joachim (1868). Batailles Navales de la France (in French). IV. Paris. Retrieved 6 November 2012.