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Chapter XXXIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8


Naval Operations - The Baltic Fleet - Off Cronstadt - Great Strength of the Allies - The " Hango Massacre " - Its Abominable Character - The Russian Minister Defends it - Shameful Nature of the Defence - Coast Operations - Storey at Nystad - Yelverton at Lovisa - Off Wiborg - At Fredericksham - At Kotka - Sweaborg: its Strength and Importance - It is Bombarded - Vast Conflagration for Three Days - Destructive Explosion - Small Loss of the Allies - Heavy Loss of the Enemy - Operations in the White Sea - In the Pacific - Escapes of the Russian Squadron - Petropaulovski Blown up - The British off the Amur - Insignificant Character of their proceedings.
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The naval operations of the allies in 1855 were again entirely confined to encounters between ships and forts. The war seemed to be made on purpose to furnish illustrations of the superiority of a well-designed scheme of coast and harbour defence over a navy, be it never so powerful. It is further remarkable as a war between maritime powers unmarked by a single naval action. The Russians, of course, outnumbered everywhere, except in the Gulf of Tartary, were not bound to fight, and they were, moreover, again, except in the Pacific, shut up in narrow seas. These are and must be their only legitimate excuses for yielding up their waters to the allies without striking or attempting to strike a blow.

The British fleet was more powerful in 1855 than it was in 1854. The Government had built several gun and mortar boats, and destined for the Baltic a larger force of frigates and ships of the line. Sir Charles Napier had pushed his quarrel so far with the Admiralty that it was quite impossible to give him the command again. The officer selected was Rear-Admiral Richard Saunders Dundas, with Rear-Admiral Michael Seymour as second, and Rear-Admiral Baynes as third in command; and Captain Pelham, so distinguished in the attack on Bomarsund, as captain of the fleet. A light squadron, under Captain Watson of the Imperieuse, consisting of six ships, started for the Baltic on the 19th of March, and on the 4th of April Admiral Dundas sailed from Portsmouth with thirteen sail of the line and four frigates; Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort being present on board the royal yacht. The Russians did not show a sail in the Baltic. The frigates, as soon as the ice permitted, scoured the narrow seas, capturing some prizes, and establishing a blockade. The Gulf of Finland was closed in May, when the main body of the fleet lay off Nargen, where they could watch Revel and Helsingfors. The French fleet, under Rear-Admiral Penaud, did not sail till later. They were not in the Baltic until the 21st of May. The English fleet had gone up the Gulf of Finland towards Cronstadt, and it was here on the 1st of June that the French joined them. The British ships lay across the gulf, and as the French came up, out of compliment to their allies, they formed a second line, and after communication with Admiral Dundas, the two fleets formed combined squadrons, showing both flags in front line to the enemy. But the Russians, who had not been tempted by the smaller, showed no disposition even to look at the larger force« All their ships, except a few steamers, were dismantled^ and lying under the protection of the forts. There was nothing to be done but reconnoitre, fish up "infernal machines," and engage in small operations. These machines were iron cones containing about ten pounds of gunpowder. They were moored about ten feet below the surface, and their position at that depth was preserved by having a chamber in the cone filled with air. If struck, by an ingenious arrangement, part of the interior machinery was broken, and certain chemical agents were brought in contact, which produced fire and an explosion. Our sailors fished them up, finding a great many. Admiral Seymour, having one in his hands, thoughtlessly showed how the explosion was produced. The practical illustration was only too successful, and the gallant sailor was severely wounded. For three weeks the fleet lay off Cronstadt. On the 14th of July the greater part sailed for Nargen, leaving Admiral Baynes with a powerful squadron to watch Cronstadt. There were now eighty-five British vessels in the Baltic, mounting 2,098 guns, and sixteen French ships, mounting 408 guns. In the combined fleet there were twenty- three line-of-battle ships, carrying 1,853 guns; thirty- one frigates and corvettes, with 554 guns; twenty- nine lighter steamers and gunboats, bearing 78 guns; and eighteen mortar vessels. The whole force consisted of 101 ships, carrying 2,506 guns.

While the allied fleet was off Cronstadt an incident had occurred which showed that the enemy, irritated by his losses, could descend to acts of vengeance and treachery. At Inkermann the wounded had been slain in cold blood, and the parties gathering up the wounded had been shelled by the war steamers. At Odessa, in 1854, a flag of truce had been fired upon by the shore batteries; and now a party bearing a flag of truce were massacred on the coast of Finland. These acts are remarkable and unaccountable, because the Russians treated kindly their prisoners of war. No one in their hands breathed a word of complaint; yet, as will be seen, they could be guilty of acts which would stamp disgrace on any civilised nation.

Three of the British cruisers, the Cossack, the Esk, and the Magicienne, had made some prizes, and for good reasons it was resolved to set at liberty seven of the prisoners, three of them being masters, who were on board. They were placed in the Cossack, commanded by Captain Fanshawe, and he resolved to put them ashore at Hango Head. This rocky point of land forms the western cape of the southern shore of Finland. It is a small peninsula running out into the Gulf, about eighty miles west of Sweaborg. On the western side is the open sea, and on the eastern the creek of Eckness, which town is the nearest military station to the village and telegraph at the Head. When the Cossack was signalled as being off the coast, on the 5th of June, two or three companies of the grenadier regiment, whose titular colonel was the late King of Prussia, arrived from Eckness, but made no show, keeping close and out of sight. It was, probably, thought that the British man-of-war was about to make an attack, and perhaps land a force. The captain of the Cossack, however, was only intent on landing the prisoners. Accordingly, a boat was lowered and manned. It was commanded by Lieutenant Geneste, and there were on board, beside the crew, the prisoners, the ship's surgeon, Easton, and Lorton, the midshipman's steward. The boat made straight for the landing-place, having a large white flag fastened to a boarding-pike at the bow. There were no signs of soldiers on shore. A few women were seen near the houses; nothing more. The boat - a cutter - • ran into the landing-place, a jetty thrown out from the rocky coast. Still no one appeared. "I landed the Russian prisoners," writes Lieutenant Geneste, "and in company with them and Dr. Easton proceeded towards the house, to communicate with the people, and with the officer of the telegraph. The three stewards also accompanied us, in order, if possible, to purchase fresh provisions. But all the boat's crew were left in the boat, with strict orders not to land, as you [Captain Fanshawe] had directed. We also carried with us a white flag of truce on a boarding-pike, Lorton, the midshipmen's steward, carrying it beside me. We had only proceeded about fifty yards from the boat, when suddenly Russian soldiers, who had lain concealed behind rocks and houses, and of whose vicinity we were completely ignorant, rose and fired on us and the boat from all sides. Taking the white flag from the steward, Lorton, who was shot down by my side, I endeavoured with it in my hand to prevent the soldiers firing at the boat, and so called the attention of their officer, who came near me, to it. However, I regret to state that the firing did not cease until many of our people had been hit. As we were completely surrounded by soldiers it was impossible to effect our escape, the soldiers being within a few yards of the boat on every side; and, seeing the inutility of making any resistance, not having a loaded musket in the boat, and the greater number of our small boat's crew of eleven men being killed or wounded by the first fire of the enemy, not a shot was fired on our side. We were all seized by the soldiers, taken to the houses, and, without a moment's delay, placed in carriages, which appeared to me to be ready for us, and transported to Eckness, where we arrived the same afternoon. I regret to have to state that we have six of our men killed, and four have been badly Wounded, nearly all the others having slight scratches. One Finnish captain was killed, and four Russian captains were wounded." Such was the mode in which the regular soldiers of Holy Russia, led on by regular officers, treated a party covered by a flag of truce, an ensign sacred among all civilised nations, on the 5th of June, 1855. The incident was known, and deserved to be known, as the Massacre of Hango, and it made a profound impression at least upon the people of Western Europe.

Alarmed by the absence of his boat, Captain Fanshawe sent his gig, with a flag of truce, to discover what had become of the cutter and her crew. The gig ran in to the jetty. No one made any opposition. The soldiers had gone, and the place seemed deserted. There lay the cutter, with four bodies huddled together on her bloody timbers, done to death by musket shots. The gig was about to return when, lo! the cutter began to move out. One of the crew, dangerously wounded, had concealed himself in the boat, and he was now trying to force the cutter into the wake of the gig. He was at once rescued, and both boats returned to the ship. the seaman told the tale of the massacre; and, of course, the admiral took steps to call the enemy to account.

A thrill of horror and indignation ran through the British people. The act was denounced in the House of Peers as " atrocious," as "an outrage, horrible and unparalleled," as one which the Russian Government must disown, so cruel was it, so contrary to the laws and usages of war. There was a fierce demand for reprisals. " If ever the land cried for blood," exclaimed Lord Brougham, "it is now." But happily the demand for reprisals was not listened to, since to take vengeance would have been to act with a cruelty like that of the Russians. They were left to the verdict of Public Opinion.

General de Berg commanded in Finland. His name was not known to the public then. It is known now. The Governor-General of Finland in 1855 was the Governor of Warsaw in 1863-4. The later incidents of his career will serve to throw a light on the defence of the Hango massacre. Admiral Dundas demanded explanations. He gave the representative of the Emperor of Russia an opportunity of " defending the character of his flag." The defence was an adoption of the broad stain imprinted on that flag on June 5th, by the Grenadier regiment, named after the late King of Prussia. What was his line of defence? He first brought counter charges. British ships were in the habit of hoisting Russian colours, in order to capture Russian ships - an admirable reason for treacherously murdering seven sailors. Then he alleged that a party bearing a flag of truce had landed at a village in Finland, and had burnt huts and boats - a shameful thing, if done, but a thing which, happily, had not been done. Thirdly, he came to the case of the Cossack's cutter. Here he alleged that she hoisted the British flag; that Lieutenant Geneste " pretended," he hoisted a white flag; that no Russian saw the "pretended white flag; " and that, therefore, it was " natural they should attack the cutter" - natural to Russian grenadiers to attack unarmed men, even, although they were not under a flag of truce. General do Berg, who afterwards became notorious at Warsaw, threw the responsibility of the bloodshed on the "irregularity" with which the proceedings of the cutter were conducted, and prescribing a mode of communicating under flags of truce with Russians in Finland, made the officer in command of the cutter answerable for not haying observed rules not laid down on the 5th of June. This line of action only made the crime committed at Hango Head more flagrant. It showed what Russians high in authority understood by the phrase "usages of war." The governor-general defended treachery by falsehood.

Finding that he could not obtain justice from General de Berg, Admiral Dundas appealed to the fountain-head - he wrote to Prince Dolgorouky, Minister of War, and demanded the surrender of the prisoners, so nefariously captured, and so illegally held in bonds. The Minister of War refused. He went further than General de Berg in his vindication of the massacre. He described the transaction as an expedition on Russian territory. He insisted that Lieutenant Geneste should have departed the moment he had landed his captives. He had no right, without permission, to land on hostile ground. But if we allow this reasoning to be well-founded, what a condemnation it is of the conduct of the Russian soldiers, who instead of surrounding the intruders, fired upon and killed them! " After having left his boat at his own risk and peril," writes the Russian Minister, " Lieutenant Geneste falls into an ambuscade; he does not expect it, having only seen two or three women on the shore." What an admission of the wilful character of the murders committed! " By his want of foresight," the Prince continues, still treating the proceedings of Geneste as an expedition, "he is surprised by a force superior in numbers." Even a Russian Minister of War has not the courage to allude to the massacre that ensued. " Then, to ensure his safety, he claims the privilege of a flag of truce. Had he a right to do so? Had he taken the necessary precautions to be recognised in that character before he landed on hostile ground Ï Nothing of the sort. Surrounded [and fired into, Prince] on every side, he surrenders a prisoner of war. Dr. Easton, Mr. Sullivan, and his crew [especially the six murdered seamen] share his fate." This is very exquisite in the way of misrepresentation. What follows is equally so as a specimen of the inventive faculties of the servants of the Czar. " Meantime," the word is used to avoid a reference to the slaughter - " the men who had remained in the boat, threw overboard the gun% with which the boat was armed. 300 cartridges are seized and 400 caps, and two incendiary tubes, with their matches. Among the muskets taken by our men, many of them gave proof of having been recently fired." To use the words of Admiral Dundas in his scathing commentary on and answer to this brazen dispatch, it was evident " that wilful falsehoods had been invented in vindication of a decided outrage." It was necessary to be impolite, and give the Russian Minister of War the lie. For instance, so far from the crew of the cutter having thrown a gun overboard, it is a well-established fact "that the boat was not fitted with one, and had never mounted one on any occasion." Lieutenant Geneste was not released from captivity until the autumn of 1855, when, having been exchanged, he returned home by way of Sebastopol. In his report to the Admiralty at that time in reference to the charge of being armed, he wrote - "The muskets belonging to the boat were in her, as is customary whenever a boat is sent away from a ship in war time in an enemy's waters. The boat's magazine was also in the boat, containing its usual complement, that is, only cartridges for the muskets, two small blue lights for signals - [these are the ' incendiary tubes! " - one small rocket for the same purposes, and one slow match [these are the matches for the said tubes]. The muskets were in the bottom of the boat [covered with a tarpaulin, as we have read elsewhere, and] under the baggage belonging to the prisoners. The crew had not their cartouche boxes on, they being attached to the muskets, and with them in the bottom of the boat." So far the muskets. Now as to the charge of their having been "recently fired." This was false. " As soon as we had left the ship, the coxswain of the boat asked me if he should serve out the ammunition to the men, and if the muskets should be loaded, as is the usual custom on going away from the ship in war time. I replied, ' Certainly not; that as we were going with a flag of truce, we should not require them.' In consequence of this order the magazine was not unlocked, and no ammunition was given out, nor any musket loaded." Thus, the Russians had not one fact which told in their vindication. At the last, when they were driven from every other ground, they tacitly admitted their defeat, by resting the defence of treachery and murder on the assertion that Lieutenant Geneste should have waited until his flag of truce was recognised as such by the Russian authorities. Even this assertion is untenable. It is, indeed, the custom in time of war, for the bearers of a flag of truce to wait until the flag is recognised, the signal of recognition being a white flag hoisted by the enemy. How was it at Hango? The Russian grenadiers, seeing the boat approaching, took no obvious notice of it at all, but, instead, prepared an ambuscade. Now, if a flag of truce is not recognised, the laws of war prescribe some kind of announcement of the determination of the enemy. The Russians at Hango made no such announcement - it would have spoiled their murderous plot. But while concealment and silence facilitated the execution of an assassination, they destroyed the validity of the plea that the flag had not been recognised - for, in war, and as regards flags of truce, silence is consent. Even the legal plea, strained as it is, will not, if allowed, justify the gross treachery of the enemy. It is quite true that they alleged against us divers abuses practised under flags of truce, but these were all unfounded reports. The most famous was the newspaper story that the captain of the Viper, under pretence of returning a captured carriage to the governor of Kertch, had gone in to take soundings. This report was altogether untrue; and the act of courtesy performed on that occasion was not stained by any such act of treachery.

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The Hango massacre
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