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John Paul Jones' first Black Sea decisive battle - June 17, 1788

Posted 1/4/2019



’’.. having received my orders, I set out on the same day for Cherson, in company with the Chevalier de Ribas, Brigadier du Jour of the prince marshal.” (405)

The headquarters of the Russians was at Cherson. As one can already see, the part of the command of the Russian fleet consisted of the foreigners.

Chevalier de Ribas mentioned above, is the one after whom the central avenue in Odessa is named – Deribasovska street.


“on the journey M. de Ribas told me, 'that all the force of the Liman, comprehending that of the prince of Nassau, would be under my orders.'

­" I spent but one evening and night at Cherson. But even this short period was enough to show that I had entered on a critical and disagreeable service. Rear Admiral Mordwinoff", chief of the admiralty, did not affect to disguise his displeasure at my arrival ; and though he had orders from the prince marshall to communicate to me all the details concerning the force in the Liman, and to put me in possession of the silk flag belonging to my rank as rear admiral, he gave himself not the least trouble to comply therewith.” (406)

Prince of Nassau (appointed commander of the flotilla), and Brigadier Alexiano will be the ones intriguing against JPJ.


I hoisted my flag on board the Wolodimer on the 26th of May, 1788.”

It’s interesting to note that the name of the Kiev Prince is spelled “Ukrainian-way” – Wolodimir, and not Wladimir. That spelling is historically correct by the way.


"In the meanwhile General Suvorrof, commandant of Kinbourn, made the rear admiral responsible for the safety of that place ; while Brigadier Alexiano and the prince of Nassau on their part, did all that was possible to make him distrustful of the means which he possessed for attack or defence.” (409)

“There is a note from Suvorrof to Jones, throwing upon him the responsibility spoken of in the text: you know well that, under the circumstances, the Radical of the operations regards Kinbourn, a principal, efficacious, and unequivocal point, and one on which all our cares and pains should be directed. It is plausible enough to wait for the approach of the land army. In the meanwhile, I cannot answer for results. Enough said, for a soldier who has never been a seaman. Ever your excellency's humble and obedient servant, Alexandre Suvorrof." (409)

The letter is dated May 31st and it means that already on the 5th day of his presence on the Black Sea theatre, even Suvorov shifts his responsibility on JPJ.


"By the 16th June, the patience of the capitan pacha was exhausted. He brought from his grand fleet, without Kinbourn, two thousand picked men, to reinforce the body under the vyalls of Oczakow; and being strengthened still farther by the troops of the garrison, he advanced with his whole fleet and flotilla, and with a fair wind, into the Liman, to attack and board us. The ship, which bore one of the admiral's flags, steered right towards the Wolodimer from the commencement of the movement. When within two verstes of us, or little more, this ship got aground, and all the vessels which accompanied it immediately dropt anchor. It was then about two in the afternoon.” (416)

" The rear admiral summoned a council of war to consult on what should be done. He addressed the council, at which were present all the commanders of the squadron and the flotilla, and concluded by telling them, ' that they must make up their minds to conquer or die for their country.

­" The wind, which was rather fresh, being against us; the only thing proposed by the rear admiral that was found practicable was, to draw up our force in an obtuse angle, by bringing forward, by anchors, the right of the line up to the centre. This movement was completed before midnight. The wind had shifted to N. N. E. and at break of day on the 17th, the rear admiral made signal, and the whole squadron immediately set sail to commence the attack on the Turks.

The Turks got into confusion the instant this manoeuvre was perceived. They raised their anchors or cut their cables with the greatest precipitation, and not the shadow of order remained in their fleet.

'" The plan of the capitan pacha was to bear down full sail on the vessels of our flotilla, and ran them to the bottom by the shock of the encounter of his large ships. He also proposed to burn our squadron by throwing in fire-balls, (grappins,) and setting fire to certain trading vessels which he had prepared as fire-ships. He had reason to calculate on success, had he not been thwarted by a circumstance which no man could have foreseen." — Note by PaulJones. (416 notes)


The rear admiral was so struck at finding the tongue of land at Kinbourn without any battery or block fort, that he instantly spoke of it to the commandant, General Suvorrof. This tongue of land, from its position, commands the only passage by which large vessels can either enter or come out of the Liman, and the fortress of Kinbourn is far too distant to be able to command this passage.

The rear admiral proposed to establish one or more strong batteries upon this stripe of land, and M. de Ribas seconded the proposition. After considerable delay. General Suvorrof resolved to establish a block fort with heavy cannon upon this point, and a battery farther within. But the capitan pacha had already got the twenty-one ships in question into the Liman.

­" At 10 o'clock on the night between the 17th and 18th of June, the capitan pacha attempted to carry the remains of his squadron, which had been defeated at eve, out of the Liman ; but the block fort and battery fired on his ships, of which nine of the largest were forced aground upon the sand bank which runs out from Oczakow, at the distance of cannon shot from the block fort.” (420)

General Suvorrof had the nobleness to say at court, in February, 1789, in a conversation with the Baron and General Elmt, that the plan of establishing this block fort belonged to the rear admiral. — Note by Jones. (420)

As can be seen even by this brief account, it was rear admiral John Paul Jones’ knowledge and leadership that won the battle with the surpassing enemy, but may have saved the whole Russian campaign in that war.

Next part will be about the Ukrainian Cossacks and a christened Cossack Pavel Dzhones.