Ottoman Navy - 1853

The Illustrated London News

24 September 1853

The re-establishment of the Ottoman Navy was the work of three Turkish Admirals, all of whom (the first more especially) were among the most remarkable men of their day.

The first was the famous Hassan, surnamed "Ghazi", whose life and active career seem more like a legend than a history. He commanded the 'Kapondana', or Admiral's ship, on that day, or rather on that fatal night, which saw the annihilation of the Turkish fleet in the Gulf of Tchesmé (July 7th, 1770). Escaping almost alone from his burning vessel and his shipwrecked companions, Hassan returned to Constantinople, where he was promoted to the rank of Admiral by the Sultan Moustafa, and commenced almost immediately that serried of exploits which have gained him the nickname among Turkish historians of "The Crocodile of the Sea of Battles." At the same time he undertook the reorganisation of the navy. Up to that period, the Turkish squadrons, which hardly ever quitted the port of Constantinople but during the three summer months, to gather the tributes from the islands, or to make cruising expeditions against the pirates in the Archipelago, or on the shores of Syria, were composed of vessels of the line (alaï quemilèi) and large frigates (called caravelles), with immense poops, whose bulk and weight retarded all progress. This circumstance was, to a great extent, the cause of the disaster of Tchesmé. If the Turkish vessels had been more manageable, they would have been enabled to escape the Russian fleet. From this period the Turks ceased to build caravelles, and vessels were made in quite another fashion, more approaching the form of European ships; but their armament and crews remained on the same footing as before. Hassan was raised to the post of Grand Vizier. Incessant wars kept him away from Constantinople and his work remained unfinished.

Two years after his death, the task was resumed by Kutchuk Hussein Pacha. His fortune was not less extraordinary than that of his predecessor. Born in Georgia, and a slave from the day of his birth he was presented, when still a child, to the Sultan, who was then of the same age as himself: they grew together in common captivity and mutual attachment up to the day when Selim became Emperor (1789). He then nominated Hussein Admiral, and shortly afterwards gave him his sister in marriage. Hardy, indefatigable, of a firm, decided character, but at the same time just and generous; sure of the favour of his master, of whose ideas and plans of reform he also partook, Hussein resolved to bring about a revolution in the department confided to him, and he succeeded.

He commenced by inviting civil engineers from France and Sweden. The French Directory sent him MM. Roi, Brun, and Benoit; Sweden on her part dispatched many, of whom only one rendered himself valuable by the construction of a basin, and several other hydraulic works. In less than six years, nearly twenty vessels of the line constructed according to the model of those built in the port of Toulon, were launched from the dockyards of Constantinople, Sinope and Rhodes. The Ottomans adopted the words and phrases made use of in the French Navy; the mathematical school (mutendis klané), founded towards the year 1770 by the Baron de Toff, was completely re-organised, and received henceforth not less than two hundred students, who prepared themselves to fill the positions of officers and engineers in the naval service. The crews of the fleet, as well as the levends (marines) were thoroughly drilled and subjected to an inflexible discipline. At stated periods the superb forests of the southern chain of the Taurus were cut down; and more than 20,000 quintals of copper were drawn from the mines of Iskat, to sheathe the bottoms of their ships.

The death of Hussein followed soon after the deposition of Selim, and brought this progressive state of things to a premature close; and the Ottoman navy again sunk deeper and deeper towards its former condition, up to the moment when Sultan Mahmoud nominated Takir Pacha to the post of High Admiral. The circumstances of the country were most critical. It was shortly after this period that Russia declared war against the Porte, still bleeding from the wounds of Navarino. The naval forces of Turkey - which, in 1827, comprised twenty vessels of the line, fifteen frigates, and thirty-two smaller sail-had been reduced to about thirty vessels, half disabled; which Takir Pacha who commanded the Ottoman division on that unhappy day, had brought back to Constantinople. Soon afterwards, the formation of the new kingdom of Greece (by the protocol of March 22nd, 1829), in taking from Turkey the islands of Hydra, Ipsara, and Spezzia - which furnished her with the greater part of the crews for her fleet-seemed to be the finishing blow for the Ottoman navy. What was to become of this navy without the Greeks? Would the Government succeed in making sailors and pilots of the Turks -devoted, almost exclusively, until that time, to artillery and the land service? At this time there was a new navy to be created - not only as regarded ships and armaments, but as regarded men; and all this had to be done with a budget which never exceeded 400,000,000 piasters (9,200,000 francs). The ability and energy of Takir Pacha sufficed for everything. An experienced sailor - a sincere patriot, although an enemy of reform - he appealed to all the resources of the country; and, powerfully seconded by France, and more especially by England, he succeeded, during the ten years of his administration (from 1829 to 1839), not only in repairing the disaster of Navarino, but in organising the fleet in such a manner as to place Turkey in an honourable position among the maritime powers of the second class. The Ottoman squadron, which was surrendered to Mehmet Ali by the treason of Ahmed Feozi in 1840, did not amount to less than twenty-two vessels, of which eighteen were ships of the line. The years between 1840 and 1850 were signalised by a considerable increase in the effective power of the navy, and principally of the steam navy. In 1849 the force amounted to seventy-four vessels, of which sixteen were of the first and second-class, and ranged from 74 to 130 guns each. The greater part of these vessels must, at the present day, be considered as non-effective, some of them being under repair, and others completely disabled. The fleet may now be said to consist of the following:

2 Three-deckers, of 120 and 130 guns.
4 Two-deckers, of 90 to 74 guns.
16 Sailing frigates, of 60 to 40 guns.
6 Corvettes, of 26 to 22 guns.
14 Brigs, of 20 to 12 guns.
15 Cutters and schooners, of 12 to 4 guns.
6 Steam frigates, of 800 to 450 horsepower.
12 Corvettes and smaller vessels.
Total: 70 ships

The construction of the Ottoman vessels is excellent, even on the confession of the officers of the British navy, whose testimony, in such a cases cannot be suspected. The machinery of the steam-vessels is constructed in England, and generally according to the best principles.

The Marine Arsenal (tersane) of Constantinople (residence of the Capitan Pacha), constructed in the year 984 of the Hegira (1576) at one mile from the entrance of the Golden Horn, is one of the finest in the world. Embanked by a magnificent stone quay, about a mile and a half long, and of a depth sufficient to allow the largest vessels of the line to lie alongside of the wharves, it comprises, in its vast circumference, a prison and two barracks for the marines, four docks and building yards, two graving docks, several forges, a ropeyard, and everything that is necessary for the building and repair of ships, and their preparation for sea. A new iron-foundry was established last year by Mehemet Ali Pacha. The annual consumption of the tersané (or arsenal) is estimated at 20,000 quintals of iron, mostly derived from England, Russia, and the mines of Samagov, and 12,000 quintals of copper from the mines of Toket. The timber is procured from the mountains of Asia Minor, and arrives at Ismid (Nicomedia), from which place from fifteen to twenty vessels are constantly occupied in transporting it to Constantinople. The timber for the masts-supplied from Bulgaria and Wallachia-are embarked upon the Danube, in rafts, with masts and sails, that descend to Constantinople by the Black Sea during the fine season. The ropes and sails are principally derived from Russia, which annually furnishes from 12,000 to 15,000 quintals. Turkey possesses other dockyards, less important, at Sinope and at Eregli, on the Black Sea, and in the islands of Rhodes and Metelin.

We must not omit to mention among the number of the maritime establishments of Turkey, the Naval School (Mektèbi bahriè), which was transferred last year to Khalki, one of the Prince's Islands. This school is under the direction of the Vice-Admiral Salih Pacha. There are in it from 120 to 130 scholars.

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