These notes come from 'Before The Dreadnought ; the Royal Navy from Nelson to Fisher' by Richard Humble , published by MacDonald & Jane's of London 1976 . Its ISBN is either 0356083241 or 0356082341 . Most of the information comes from the 'White Sea and Far East' chapter of Part Two-Crimean Interlude 1854-6 .
The British Far East Squadron was commanded by Rear-Admiral David Price , who had just hoisted his pennant after a soul-destroying 39 years crawl up the Post-Captain's list . Price was not only a worn-out man of 64 but (as events were soon to prove) mentally unstable as well .
Rear Admiral Price had been given a squadron of sailing ships - inevitable because of the problems of coaling steam warships in Far Eastern waters .
Allied Fleet consisted of :-
Facing this was the Russian force based at Petropavlosk on the Kamchatka Peninsular , under Puniatkin (sic) with 4 ships :-
The Russian force was soon diminished by the wreck of the Pallas up the Amur River .
Puniatkin pulled the rest of his force inside Petropavlosk , dug in some coastal batteries and waited to see what the Allies would do
Price chose the obvious course of action . He ordered a bombardment of Petropavlosk and took most of the Allied squadron with him , leaving behind Amphitrite , Trincomalee and Artemise .
The squadron arrived off Petropavlosk on 30 August (1854) and prepared to open fire . BUT Price went below - and shot himself ... There was no obvious reason why ; his mind was perhaps unbalanced after waiting 39 years for promotion . The effect was very dispiriting and the Allied fleet withdrew for the night . Captain Nicolson of the Pique assumed temporary command . He ordered a half-hearted bombardment on 31st August .
The Allied squadron prepared to take Petropavlosk by land assault. They did not have much solid intelligence to help them. But deserters from American whalers contributed encouraging snippets of information about the siting and strength of the defences.
On 4th September 700 British and French seamen and marines were landed. One of the American deserters led the whole force into a devastating ambush. (Did he do this on purpose ?). The assault force panicked and fled back to the beach , leaving 208 dead behind them.
This was a shattering defeat and the Allies had no choice but to retire leaving Puniatkin safe , sound and well-pleased with himself in Petropavlosk.
Operations in the Far East petered out for the rest of 1854.
By Spring 1855 the Allies were ready for another try.
Rear Admiral H.W. Bruce (63) was given command in the Far East
Two additional ships were sent to keep an eye on the Russians in Petropavlosk :-
Up from the East Indies and China Station came Commodore the Hon. C. Elliot with the
|brig||Bittern||auxiliary steam corvette||Hornet|
Bruce and Elliot were upstaged at the very beginning by Admiral Puniatkin. He had come to the conclusion that there was little point in exposing his force to piecemeal destruction out on the Kamchatka Peninsular.
17th April he took advantage of a dense full fog to evacuate the entire Petropavlosk garrison Safely eluding the Barracouta and Encounter the Russian force escaped to the Gulf of Tartary between the island of Sakhalin and the Siberian mainland North of Vladivostok .
Puniatkin himself however did not make the tricky passage through the La Perouse strait. His flagship Diana was wrecked on Honshu and his crew promptly interned by the Japanese
The British touched at Hokkaido for provisions on 29th April. (The British desire to take on board fresh meat was repeatedly foiled by the Japanese propensity for raw fish and vegetables). Commodore Elliott learnt the excellent news of the removal from the scene of his opposite number.
Elliot headed North for Sakhalin on 7th May. He arrived off the Southern tip of the island on 15th May. The British squadron pushed North into the Gulf of Tartary , pausing at Alexandrovsky (on Sakhalin) between 16th and 20th May for more provisioning and watering.
The fugitive Russian squadron had anchored in Castries Bay , just across the Gulf of Tartary on the mainland opposite Alexandrovsky . It was on 20th May that the Russian ships were finally encountered and the chase was over . Elliot could now choose against blockading Castries Bay or going in and destroying them.
A close reconnaissance by the Hornet soon showed Elliot that the Russian ships had been carefully anchored to contest any hostile entry of the Bay. (Note - who was commanding them at this moment ?)
In addition to this situation the Allied ships had nothing in the way of reliable charts - an attack would therefore require surveying under fire . Elliot decided against it .
The Hornet withdrew from the Bay after trading three shots with the Dvina (all of which fell short).
Elliot's consequent actions seem a bit strange. Instead of instituting a close blockade he headed South with the entire British (sic) squadron on 22nd May. (I presume Allied is meant as we haven't mentioned the departure of the French vessels). When he checked on Castries Bay again on 28th May he found that the Russians had vanished again. Landing parties found fresh bread in warm ovens - the Russians clearly had a start of only a few hours. However Elliot hung around Castries Bay until 7th June 1855.
(It is probable that Elliot's actions and his subsequent ones below were the result of the Allies being unaware that there was a Northwards passage out of the Gulf of Tartary and he was confused over where the Russian ships had gone too , possibly expecting that they had slipped away hoping to return once the British left)
For the next 3 weeks Elliot cruised vaguely up and down the West coast of Sakhalin . He took one last fruitless look in Castries Bay on 27th June and decided to sweep into the Sea of Okhotsk .
This was to the North but as the Allies did not know that Sakhalin was an island they took the long way round South then up the East coast of Sakhalin , reaching Baikal Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk on 22nd July.
(Note that Elliot had been told about a strait Northwards out of the Gulf of Tartary whilst at Alexandrovsky but made no effort at all to have a look for himself).
The Russian force had not in fact headed for the Sea of Okhotsk but had gone South and reached the coast in the Vladivostok region.
In the Sea of Okhotsk the Barracouta was detached to chase a Russian merchantman , the trading brig Okhotsk , which was run down and captured by a boarding party from the Barracouta after a long chase.
After the success Barracouta was sent South to the Japanese coast whilst Elliot took the squadron across the Sea of Okhotsk to Ayan (on the Siberian coast) where he hoped the Russians would be found . On 2nd August 1855 he discovered Ayan had been deserted by its population.
On 3rd August Barracouta arrived (at Ayan presumably) loaded down with Russian prisoners-of-war . These were none other than the ship's company of Puniatkin's Diana , who had broken jail in Japan and escaped in the brig Greta. Their bid for liberty was foiled by running across the Barracouta.
Elliot stayed on at Ayan until 13th August before deciding to call off the chase
By 30th September his ships had withdrawn to Nagasaki and the naval campaign in the Far East was over for good .