Russia in the Azov Sea

Azov campaigns of 1695-1696  

Campaigns of Russian army and fleet led by Peter I during the Russian-Turkish war of 1686-1700 with a view to protecting Russia’s southern lands against the attack of the Turkish and Tatar troops and occupying the Turkish fortress Azov that closed Russia’s access to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. Early in April of 1695, the Russian forces (around 31,000 warriors) that consisted of Streltsy (soldiers), regiments of a new “fighting formation” and manorial noblemen’s cavalry set out from Moscow to Azov. To divert enemy attention from the fortress, troops headed by B. P. Sheremetev were sent to the lower reaches of the Dnieper River. On July 5 (15), Russian troops concentrated around Azov which was defended by a garrison of 7,000 soldiers. The enemy repelled two assaults causing heavy casualties to the attackers. Therefore, Peter I lifted the siege and on November 22 (December 2) Russian troops returned to Valuiki and Voronezh. As peparations for a new campaign under the guidance of Peter I were being made, the Azov fleet was established. A. Ya. Lefort was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Azov Fleet. A. S. Shein was the Commander of the Azov Army. Peter I was in charge of overall leadership of the second campaign. On April 23-26 (May 3-6), 1696 the army set out on the campaign from the districts of Voronezh, Tambov, and Valuiki overland and by ships down the Voronezh and Don rivers. Sheremetev’s cavalry again headed for the Dnieper lower reaches, but stopped at the Kolomak River. On May 27 (June 6), the main forces of the Russian fleet set out on the Sea of Azov in the Azov area and by June 12 (22) isolated the city, while the Russian army lay a siege from the land. The Turkish fleet tried to rescue Azov but failed. On June 14(24) the Turkish fleet emerged opposite the Don River mouth (6 corvettes, 17 galleys with a landing party of around 4,000 men), but having seen the Russian galleys, the fleet left for the sea. On July 17 (27), after heavy artillery fire, assault of the fortress began simultaneously from land and sea. On July 19 (29), the garrison surrendered. As a result of successful termination of the second Azov campaign, Russia attained access to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, made provisions for the security of the country’s southern frontiers. Because under the Constatinople Peace Treaty of 1700, fortresses in the circum-Dnestr area were to be demolished, Russia’s international standing was enhanced, Turkish neutrality on the eve of the Northern War was secured. The seizure of Azov was the first major victory of the Russian army and fleet in the struggle for access to the sea.

Azov Fleet

First regular formation of the Russian Navy instituted by Peter I in order to fight Turkey for access to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. In 1694, there began the construction of large ships and assembly of galleys and fire ships, using parts made in Bryansk, Preobrazhenskoe Village (near Moscow) and at other locations. By the spring of 1696, three 36-cannon ships, 23 galleys, 1,300 sailrow boats and 4 fire ships were built. The fleet, under the command of F. Ya. Lefort left Voronezh and on May 27 (June 6) entered the Sea of Azov. On June 12 (22), the Russian ships blocked the Azov Fortress in the mouth of the Don River, while the ground troops did the same from land. On July 19 (29), the fortress garrison surrendered. At the insistence of Peter I, the Boyar Duma decreed: “Let there be sea vessels”. This date is regarded the official birthday of regular Russian fleet. The admiralty was transferred from Voronezh to Tavrov on the coast of the Sea of Azov, a sea port comes into being in Taganrog. During the period from 1696 to 1711, 215 ships of diverse classes were built for the Azov fleet. In the spring of 1699, Peter I for the first time in the history of Russian Navy held sea maneuvers in the vicinity of Taganrog. In August, the largest 46-cannon ship “Krepost” (`Fortress’) sailed in the Black Sea and visited Constantinople with a diplomatic mission. After the Prut Treaty of 1711 and return of Azov and Taganrog to Turkey, the Azov fleet ceased to exist, its ships were disassembled or sold to Turkey.

Azov Military Flotilla  

(1) A formation of Russian fleet established at the beginning of the Russian-Turkish War of 1768-1774. Under the command of the Vice-Admiral D. N. Senyavin, AMF performed successful military operations against the Turkish fleet on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, cooperated with ground troops, when seizing Kerch and Yenikale, repelled enemy attempts to land amphibious parties in the Crimea. In 1783, AMF was disbanded, yet its ships were included in the Black Sea fleet that was established in May of the same year.

(2) Russian flotilla with a base facility at Yeisk was configured to fight against German invaders and the White Guard. When the enemy seized the coast at the end of June of 1918, the ships were disarmed, and their personnel joined the Red Army units. In March of 1920, after Denikin’s army was defeated and the Red Army reached the Azov Sea coast, the flotilla was reestablished by the staff of the South-Eastern Front (the base at Mariupol-currently, Zhdanov; from September- Taganrog; from November-Mariupol again). The flotilla included ships that were in the ports of the Sea of Azov. Flat-bottomed fishing boats and barges were reequipped as battle-boats and floating batteries, tug boats were reequipped as escort ships, fighter boats were delivered by railway. The armament, supplies and personnel came from the Baltic Fleet, Don-Azov, Volga-Caspian and other flotillas that terminated combat activity. From May 25 to September of 1920, the Don River division (former Don Flotilla of the Caucasus front) was subordinated to AMF. In May of 1920, AMF became part of the Marine Forces of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. There were about 70 ships and vessels (9 gun-boats, 4 floating bases, 3 mine layers, 6 escort vessels, 22 chaser cutters, 25 auxiliary vessels), 18 aircraft, for amphibian operations, a marine expeditionary division was detailed (up to 4,600 men). AMF provided fire support to troops, set up a mine-artillery position in Taganrog, placed mine barriers in Kerch Strait, dropped tactical landing parties with a view to eliminating, in association with the 9th Army, the Wrangel landing party Ulagaya; on July 9, 1920, AMF destroyed a White Guard landing party near Krivaya Kosa (`Crooked Spit’), on September 15 in combat near Obitochnaya Kosa, AMF destroyed a group of enemy ships that were transporting troops and armament. After the defeat of Wrangel in April of 1291, the ships and personnel were handed over to the Black Sea Fleet.

(3) During the Great Patriotic War (WWII), on July 22, 1941, AMF was re-established for combat actions against German Nazi invaders (main base at Mariupol; from October 9, 1941-Primorsko-Akhtarsk, at present-Primorsko-Akhtarsk; from August 3 to August 24, 1942-Novorossiisk). AMF comprised the ships of the Danube Military Flotilla, that, the Danube battles over, moved eastward across the Black Sea. AMF included squadrons of escort vessels, mining boats, airborne tactical formation, coastal defense squadrons and marine units. The separate Kuban detachment (from May 3 to August 30, 1942) as well as the separate Don Detachment (from October 5, 1941 to July 28, 1942) based in Rostov-on-Don. The flotilla fought against German-Nazi invaders in liaison with the troops of the South and North-Caucasus Fronts, supported defense actions of the 9th and 51st Armies, took part in the Kerch-Feodosiya landing operation of 1941-1942, evacuated troops of the Crimean Front, assisted ferrying troops of the 56th Army across the Don River. For a long time, marines contained the enemy assault on Taman Peninsula. On September 5, 1942, the flotilla forces were included in Novorossiisk Defense Area (NDA) for marine operations. On February 3, 1943, AMF was reconstituted again (main base Yeisk; from September of 1943-PrimorskoAkhtarsk; from April of 1944-Temryuk). The flotilla ships took part in action on sea lines of communications, dropped tactical landing parties in Taganrog, Mariupol, Osipenko (Berdyansk). In the course of the Kerch-Eltingen Amphibian Operation, AMF dropped units of the 56th Army north of Kerch, and in January of 1944-two tactical landing parties on the coast of Kerch Peninsula. On April 20, 1944 the flotilla was disbanded, its ships handed over to the newly-established Danube Military Flotilla.