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Chapter XXXIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2


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We have dwelt on this massacre of Hango, because it was in many respects the most startling fact produced by 1855. No one would have believed that the officers of any great power would commit, still less that its Ministers of State would sanction and defend, so foul an outrage as the murder of unarmed men who had relied on the sanctity of the white flag. Nevertheless, that is what was done by Russian officers and Russian Ministers of State in the second half of the nineteenth century!

During the month of July the lighter craft performed some smart actions on the enemy's coasts. Captain Storey had already destroyed 20,000 tons of shipping near Nystad, in the Gulf of Bothnia. On the 4th of July Captain Yelverton, with the Arrogant and two other vessels, appeared off Swartholm. Here the enemy had abandoned and blown up a fort of immense strength, commanding the approaches to Lovisa; and on the 5th, Captain Yelverton, shifting his flag to the Ruby gunboat, and accompanied by the boats of the squadron, Went up to Lovisa, landed, and made search for Government stores. He found they were in the town, and therefore he spared them, lest in burning the stores he should burn the town - a magnanimous answer to the Hango massacre. Nevertheless, Lovisa was burnt down, not by the British, but by accident. On the 13th the same officer, with the Ruby and his boats, entered the bay a little to the north of Cronstadt, at the head of which stands the town of Vyborg. Here he saw a Russian war steamer towing two gunboats, and made chase, but they escaped. Steaming on, he hoped to close with Vyborg and its gunboats, when the Ruby was brought up short by a species of boom. Suddenly a masked battery opened fire, and the steamer and gunboats revealed themselves, and took part in the fray. The Ruby and the boats kept the battery in check, but the boom could not be broken, and the expedition was forced to withdraw. As the flotilla retired the Russian sharpshooters kept pace with the boats, but did no mischief. Unhappily, an explosion in one of the cutters swamped the boat, and killed Midshipman Storey. The crew were saved. The boat was drifting ashore, and seemed likely to become a prize to the enemy, when a boat, under Lieutenants Haggard and Dowell, with a volunteer crew, dashed in and towed her off under a heavy fire. Lieutenant Woollcombe and eight men were wounded, and one was killed, in this expedition. On the 20th, Captain Yelverton, with three frigates and a gunboat, attacked, and in one hour silenced, a six- gun battery at Fredericksham, between Sweaborg and Lovisa. Our loss was three men wounded. On the 26th, with three frigates and four mortar vessels, Captain Yelverton made a successful descent upon the island of Kotka, drove out the garrison, and, landing the marines, burnt the Government buildings and immense stores of timber. Thus the whole coast, from Viborg on the east almost up to Sweaborg, had been visited, and the enemy harassed; while Rear-Admiral Baynes, steaming up the channel north of Cronstadt, showed his flag to the inhabitants of St. Petersburg, and from the yards of his ship looked on the Russian capital. The remainder of the fleet, except the flying squadrons and blockaders, was at Nargen, preparing for an attack upon Sweaborg.

This is the bulwark of the south coast of Finland, and, if the enemy's soldiers did their duty, it was quite beyond the reach of any fleet, no matter how powerful or numerous it might be. The Russians, in 1808, when they filched Finland from Sweden by the connivance of Napoleon I., were only able to get possession of Sweaborg by the combined efforts of a large army and an overmastering marine. In that case it was the army, and not the navy, which took Sweaborg, for the navy could do nothing but blockade the sea front; and those were not wanting who insinuated at the time that the place was taken by golden weapons. Built on rocky islands, facing a shallow and treacherous sea, it was plain, even to the eyes of a tyro in military science, that Sweaborg, though it might be bombarded, could not be taken without the aid of a land force. Like Cronstadt and Sebastopol, it was able to defy ships of war; and even an army aided by a fleet could only have captured it after a long siege, always assuming that it was stoutly defended. Bomarsund, cut off from the main land by the sea, required the aid of a land force to capture it; and Sweaborg, far more formidable than Bomarsund, was in direct communication with the capital of the Russian empire, which was only a few score miles distant. But although a fleet could not take Sweaborg, a fleet could burn everything within its range of granite batteries, and thus inflict a heavy loss on the enemy. This is what the allies accomplished.

The south coast of Finland is indented with creeks and harbours, and fringed with rocks and islets. The harbour of Sweaborg is a broad sheet of deep water running up to Helsingfors, the capital of the country. Across the broad mouth of this harbour is a string of islands. Except in one instance, the channels between them are so narrow that they have been easily connected together by means of bridges. These islands bear the names of Lilia Swarto, West Swarto, East Swarto, Vargön, and Gustavswert. Upon these the Russians had built granite batteries, and had in some places hewn embrasures in the living rock. To the east of Gustavswert are the islands of Bak Holmen and Sandham, and on these the enemy had thrown up heavy earthworks. The whole of the batteries mounted some 2,000 guns. The deep channel, giving access to the harbour, ran between Gustavswert and Bak Holmen, and across this channel the enemy had moored a three- decker, with her broadside raking the fair way. There were other islands, some fortified, others garrisoned by troops prepared to resist a landing. Although there was deep water close up to the forts, yet the sea front was studded with " rocks awash and reefs under water," and the whole of the approaches were very perilous. These perils, however, the masters of the ships were able to overcome and, by diligent sounding and a plentiful use of buoys, mark out passages for the men-of-war. To show the dangerous character of this sea, it need only be stated that the Merlin, commanded at the time by Captain Sullivan, " struck upon an unknown rock on ground which, ho had repeatedly examined." Yet Captain Sullivan was one of the most able sailors in the fleet, and especially adroit and careful in surveying.

The allied fleet arrived off Sweaborg on the 6th and 7th of August. Admiral Dundas and Admiral Penaud had no troops under their orders. They had determined not to assail the place with ships of the line, but to rely upon their gunboats and mortar vessels to set fire to the buildings and blow up the magazines of the enemy. The British had sixteen, and the French five gunboats. The British had sixteen, and the French five mortar vessels. Beside these there were several ships of the line, frigates, and corvettes; but, on the whole, it will be seen that the gun and mortar boats did the work. Two days were spent in preparations. The small vessels with which it was intended to fight were placed in position. They were ranged in curving lines, the French in the centre. The mortar vessels were anchored; the gunboats were directed to protect them, and to keep constantly in motion. On an islet Admiral Penaud constructed a battery for four mortars, nearly opposite Gustavswert, and this formed the centre of the line. Two gunboats, armed with Lancaster guns, were directed to fire at the three-decker barring the channel into the harbour. Two ships of the line and a frigate were detached to cannonade Sandham, and a frigate and two corvettes were sent to occupy the attention of a body of troops on the island of Drumsio, on the extreme west.

The action began about seven o'clock on the morning of the 9th of August. The fire of the guns and mortars was to be pressed to the fullest extent deemed proper by the officers in command; and as soon as the accuracy of the range was tested the whole mass of ordnance afloat began and sustained a most rapid fire. The Russians estimated that thirty shells per minute fell into their batteries. At first they replied with great spirit, but although the range of their heavy guns extended far beyond the allied lines, yet they were unable to do any damage, either to the passive mortar vessels or the restless gunboats. While the action was raging in the centre the detached ships were busy on the flanks, especially off Sandham, where the liners were engaged in a combat with earthen batteries, on which they could make little impression. Within three hours after the beginning of the bombardment in the centre the incessant hail of shells within the fortress had told with effect. The fire, so brisk before, now began to slacken. The Russian gunners could not hit the small boats of the allies, while they were exposed to a crushing fire. About ten o'clock the Russian buildings were on fire. Soon a loud report showed that a magazine had been pierced, then another and another. The third, about noon, was very destructive. "This monster explosion," says one writer, "lasted without intermission for more than two minutes. It was like a volcano in a state of eruption, vomiting forth lighted shells, roofs of houses, and beams of timber." It is reported that the force of the explosion was so immense that one battery of guns en barbette was blown to pieces. The magazine of the works on Vargön had exploded, creating a vast gap, above which a dense cloud of smoke hung like a pall. There, buildings on the islands were now devoured by a conflagration which no efforts could quench, because the hostile shells, dropping in without intermission, stimulated the flames. At dusk one continuous sheet of red flame and swarthy smoke raged along the islands. When it grew dark, and the gunboats had been recalled, and the mortars ceased to fire, the boats of the fleet, fitted with rocket-tubes, ran in nearer to the fortress, and poured forth their incendiary missiles till the flames rose to the height of a hundred feet, swaying to and fro in a brisk breeze.

The mortars and guns went nearer to the place at daylight on the 10th, and resumed their destructive labours. It was observed that the three-decker had been removed from the channel between Gustavswert and Bak Holmen. Three times she had been on fire. Although the garrison were beset by the flames of their burning barracks and stores, yet on the 10th they opened a more sustained fire than on the preceding day. The operations, however, were of the same character, and they produced the same effects, except that the explosions ceased. Again at night the rocket-boats were called into play, and this time the mortars were steadily active all night. The light from the burning place was so great that the enemy could see the rocket-boats distinctly; but the latter maintained their ground, with great gallantry and little loss, amid showers of bursting shells. By the morning of the 13th the admirals considered that enough had been done - that, in fact, they could do no more; neither destroy the forts nor touch the squadron they sheltered. The place was gutted, but " the sea defences in general were little injured," as the admiral reported. We had inflicted this loss on the enemy at a cost to ourselves of one officer, Lieutenant Miller, and seventeen men wounded. The squadron engaging Sandham lost fifteen men wounded. The cost, therefore, so far as life and limb were concerned, was not out of proportion to the result. The enemy, on the contrary, lost heavily in men and material. According to the British Minister at Stockholm, the loss in men was not less than 2,000. Every magazine in the place was destroyed; also immense stores of rope, cordage, tar, and other naval supplies. The three-decker had one side blown out, and fourteen different kinds of craft lying inside the place were destroyed. Nevertheless, the people of England were not satisfied; but in this, as in many other cases, the people of England was a very hard taskmaster. The clamour was not so great as it had been in the preceding year, for the public were becoming better judges of what ships could effect against granite batteries; but they were and still are far from having formed a just conception of what can be done by a fleet, even a fleet of gun and mortar boats, without an army. Those who took a dispassionate view, with some knowledge of warfare, were satisfied that the fleet had done its uttermost in the Baltic and the rock-strewn waters of its great gulfs. The incessant activity of the admirals and captains had swept the enemy's commercial marine from the sea, had taken many ships, had destroyed vast stores, had kept a large body of troops employed, had harassed all the accessible parts of the coast, had shown the British and French flags to the enemy in his capital, and had gutted a first-rate fortress, with an insignificant loss to themselves. To do more - to take Cronstadt, and conquer Sweaborg - would have required an army equal to the reduction of Finland, an enterprise which would have put a severe strain on the resources both of France and England, and one that might yet have failed: for the seasons in those regions fight on the side of Russia; and if these heavy blows could not have been struck in six months, the fleet and army must have decamped, under penalty of being frozen up and destroyed.

This expedition against Sweaborg was the last conspicuous action of the allies in those waters. The ships soon began to steer for home. A strong squadron, however, remained in the Baltic and the gulfs until the ice compelled them to retreat. Admiral Dundas did not leave the neighbourhood of the Sound until the end of November, and the flying squadron held the sea until even a later date, only quitting it when there was not the least chance of a Russian ship getting into the North Sea.

The naval operations of the allies on the other coasts of European Russia were without any importance. The White Sea was visited, and a small squadron again appeared off the Dwina and among the islands; but no enterprise of any moment was undertaken. The Russians had made great preparations to resist a descent and to drive off the ships, but they were not called upon to test the value of their measures.

On the Pacific coast there was a more important, although, to a great extent an ineffectual, campaign. Russia, driven on by a desire to reach the open sea somewhere, had pushed her settlements from Siberia down the great river Amoor, which enters the Gulf of Tartary opposite the northern end of the Japanese Island of Saghalien. Formerly both banks of this fine stream were in possession of the Chinese, or rather of the Manchoos; but year by year the Russians gained ground, and at length they had crept from the mountains to the sea. The mouth of the Amoor became the port of Siberia, and a town built near it on the left bank, and called Nikolaevsk, became the Russian head-quarters. But, not content with the left or northern bank, the Russians had occupied the southern bank below the river Usuri, and with it a large tract of country. At Castries Bay, on the coast of this tract, they had built a town called Alexandrovsk, and still farther south they had a settlement, named after Constantine, at Port Imperial, or Barracouta Bay. In short, before 1854, and still more subsequently, Russia was bent on making a solid establishment on the Pacific, as an outlet to Siberia and as the base of a Pacific fleet. She had also a town and forts at Petropaulovski on the coast of Kamschatka, and, before the war, in Aniwa Bay, at the south end of the island of Saghalien. Here was the nucleus of a strong maritime position in the Pacific, and it gave Russia great influence both in Pekin and Yeddo. More than this, it threatened our supremacy in the eastern seas.

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The Hango massacre
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