RPN
FROM THE HISTORY OF RUSSIA’S PACIFIC FLEET 
 

 BATTLE ON KAMCHATKA

 
Frigate <<Aurora>>      
On August 18, 1854 the defenders of Petropavlovsk spent a sleepless night. The enemy was preparing to attack the city and port. The British and French ships had their lights on. The decks of enemy frigates were visible inthe spyglass. Movement was perceptible on quarterdecks, and landing boatswere being lowered from booms. Time and again, illuminating shells andblue lights pierced the dark of the moonless light. Bright yellow spotswere moving about the dark bay surface. Those were enemy boats moving fromship to ship. It looked like they were fathoming depths to feel their way,as it were, to Mt. Signalnaya.

      Day was breaking. Thoughsunrise was still pending, the sky in the east had already brightened.On the “Aurora”, the bells rang four. Several minutes later, Major-GeneralV. S. Zavoiko received a report that the enemy vessels were raising anchorand connecting towing ropes to the steamship “Virago”. Evidently, on awindless morning sailboats could not take the necessary positions independently.The “Virago” was making complicated maneuvers, towing each of the threefrigates to the needed spot. Now they had turned their starboards to theport.
 “Time to go about business”, Zavoiko told the sailors.“The work will be real hot. Bit we won’t surrender the flag! We’ll useup all our gunpowder, burn our vessels, but won’t give up the flag! Incase of a landing, we’ll make a bayonet assault. That’s where we’ll beon top. We’ll defend with honor the name of Russia and show how Russianspreserve the nation’s honor! Right?”.
   “Ri—ight”, echoed the men.
       The enemy cannonshit the shore. The ships volley fired. Eighty (!) Anglo-French mortar andbombing cannons volleyed at eight Russian coastal guns. The Russian batteriesand the city were bombarded for several hours through August 18 and 19.The enemy apparently reckoned that with their triple advantage in cannonsand personnel, they would gain an easy victory. But nothing of the kindhappened. The Petropavlovsk defenders responded very accurately: severalbombs exploded on “Virago’s” deck to damage its foremast and funnel, andon the “President” during the duel they had to urgently secure the damagedmainmast guys; dents appeared in enemy frigate sides. All that compelledthe British and French to hastily retreat to open sea both on August 18and 19.
       On August 20 at8.00 A.M. the enemy warships commanded by Rear-Admiral De Point (Rear-AdmiralD. Price had died on August 19, according to one version having committedsuicide) took positions behind Mt. Signalnaya. Soon they opened intensefire on the first and fourth batteries of the defenders. The Russian sailorsnonchalantly fired back to inflict losses on the enemy with their accuratesalvos. Yet, the attackers continued to intensify their assault. The firstRussian battery was virtually buried by enemy bombs, and most of its cannonswere put out of action.
       Under the coverof frigates, fifteen French rowing boats were coming closer and closerto the shore. Officers stood in two boats leading the group. Ready to fulfiltheir command at any time, French sailors sat tense with carbines glitteringbetween their knees. One after the other, the boats slipped to spots safefrom fire from the first battery, whose situation was becoming hopeless.But the Russian sailors abandoned the battery only when all its five cannonswere damaged. On orders from Zavoiko, the ship gunners had joined BatteryNo.4.
      Having carried over thefire to that battery, the enemy ships intensified it to start landing aparty on shore. Soon the French reached the positions of the first batteryto instantly hoist the Tricolor.
       Hardly had the French flag start waving over the battery left by its defenders, Lieutenant-Captain Isylmetiev, the “Aurora” commander, received the following signal fromZavoiko: “The battery had fallen. Open fire!” And the cannons of the “Aurora”and “Dvina” began bombarding the enemy landing. Hiding from the Russianfire, the Frenchmen dug in. But then, slipping over the green slopes andaiming at the enemy on the go, Russian sailors and local residents dashedto their positions. The attack and the desire to inflict a defeat on theenemy in hand-to-hand combat were so intense that the Russians formed onesingle mass that frightened the enemy by their uncontrollable assault.   In an ensuing bayonet fight, the battery was retaken, and the French landing party rolled back to the waterline, dropping their arms in panic and falling head over heels to jump back into their hastily departing boats.
       Later one of theparticipants in the battle wrote: “Despite our small number, despite thefact that the enemy was at least four times stronger than our combinedparties, he began to retreat running at such speed that before we arrivedto the occupied battery, the entire landing party was already in the boats”.Subsequent attempts by the British and French to land a force to the southof battery No.3 that day were also repulsed. Then the enemy vessels concentratedtheir fire on battery No.2 with eleven cannons at its disposal coveringthe entrance into Petropavlovsk harbor. For ten hours, Russian cnnoneerswaged an unequal battle against the enemy frigates, and eighty enemy cannonsfailed to silence the coastal battery. Once an enemy vessel approachedthe battery, precise salvoes by Russian artillerymen would hit it. Withdawn of dark on August 20, the cannonade ceased, and the defenders successfullyrepulsed the first assault by the enemy.
      Then for three days theBritish and French warships stood anchored out of reach of the Russiancannons, patching up their numerous dents in sides and decks, repairingtheir tackle and restoring their masts. Early in the morning of August24, 1854, they decided to undertake a new assault on Petropavlovsk. Oncethe fog had vanished, the enemy squadron began moving. The “Virago” tookin tow the admirals’ frigates, the British “President” and the French “LaForte”. Having separated from the squadron, H.M.S. “Pike” approached therocky slope of Mt. Signalyana and stopped as if deciding whether to turn to the left, to the isthmus, or to attack the Cemetery battery again. After the enemy had slightly stalled, it became clear to the defenders that heintends to attack Petropavlovsk from the north.
      The enemy frigates approached the coast and stopped at about four cable’s lengths away. Then all the“President’s” port guns fired to be followed by a deafening salvo fromthe “La Forte”. Lieutenant Alexander Maksutov’s battery instantly responded,and of its five cannons left a trace on the “President”. One of the salvoesdamaged the guys, knocked off the gaff and ripped off the flag. Soon theFrench frigate was also hit several times.
       Under a hail ofheavy bombs and cannon balls, the Russian artillerymen fight with exceptionalcourage. But the forces were much too unequal. Maksutov’s battery heldout for over ninety minutes, and when only one gun was still active Maksutovsank a big enemy launch with a landing party on board. At that moment,he was thrown five feet away, and his right arm was torn off to the elbow.For a split second, Maksutov regained conscience, only to lose it subsequentlyforever.
      Continuing to bombardthe coast, the enemy threw into battle the main forces of the landing party. Six hundred men landed near battery No.5 to the north of Mt. Nikolskaya.  They divided into three groups: two moved towards Mt. Nikolskaya, and one along the northern road to Petropavlovsk. Two hundred and fifty more enemy troops that later joined with the group advancing from the north landedat battery No.3.
       They were closingin on Petropavlovsk and thought they would soon topple the Russians. Thatis when battery No.6 began hailing shrapnel fire on the enemy soldiersand sailors, who retreated towards the main forces of the enemy landingparty. SoonMt. Nikolskaya dominating the city and port was in enemy hands.Bullets fired by the landing party from the isthmus whistled over the “Aurora” and  “Dvina”. Petropavlovsk faced the threat of an enemy invasion.
       At that criticalmoment, Major-General Zavoiko dispatched several detachments in the endangereddirections. The culminating point of the entire battle, of the entire defenseof Petropavlovsk, was a bayonet attack by Russian infantrymen and sailorsfrom the “Aurora” and “Dvina” against the Anglo-French landing party. Undera hail of enemy bullets, 300 city defenders rushed against 850 enemy troops.A mighty Russian hurrah resounded, and hot hand-to-hand fighting ensued.Bodies intermingled and bayonets gnashed. The Russians from the “Aurora”in light sailcloth shirts advanced intrepidly, as if not threatened byenemy bullets and bayonets.
       And the enemy couldnot withstand the onslaught. The British and French  wavered and fledhead over heels to their boats hastened by fear. Thjey rushed to theirboats and, rowing with all their might, left for their frigates.
 Enemy losses throughout the defense of Petropavlovsk numbered 450 men, including 273 dead. The city and port defenders lost32 killed and 64 wounded. Among the captured trophies were the banner ofthe British marines, arms and … handcuffs designed for never-taken Russian prisoners. In early 1855, the British “United Service Magazine” wrote thatjust one Russian frigate and several batteries proved invincible in theface of the combined naval might of  Britain and France, and the world’stwo greatest powers were overpowered and defeated by a small  Russiangarrison”.

    On August 27, 1854, the defeated Anglo-French squadron left Avacha Bay to disappear beyond the horizon.

A.V. BORODIN, Leading Editor, Institute of History,Archeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East, F. E. Branch,Russian Academy of Sciences, Colonel (Retired),Pacific Fleet veteran.

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