One of the most crucial dates in Greece’s War of Independence is October 20, 1827. It was on this date that a coalition of European powers defeated the Ottoman naval forces in Navarino.
After almost 400 years of Ottoman rule, the Greeks revolted and bravely fought against their occupiers. Greece’s revolution was viewed sympathetically in Western Europe and Russia, with Britain, France and Russia offering considerable help to the fighting Greeks.
The Russians, who like the Greeks were members of the Orthodox Christian faith, were very favorable to the Greek cause. The Russian Tsar believed that he had a duty to support his Orthodox brethren. At the same time, France and Britain were not keen on the Ottoman Empire gaining a strong foothold in Europe and were therefore also sympathetic to the Greek cause.
By 1827, the rebellious but outnumbered Greeks were exhausted after six years of fighting. The Ottomans saw this fatigue as an opportunity to crush the Greeks and sought the support of Egypt, which was nominally part of the Ottoman Empire but was in practice independent under the rule of Muhammed Ali. The presence of Egyptian army forces in Europe provoked outrage and led the great powers to form an alliance to help the Greeks to attain their freedom.
Britain, France, and Russia joined forces and sent naval ships to the Ionian Sea. The decision to attack the Ottoman fleet at Navarino Bay was made by British Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, in cooperation with the French and in consultation with Greece’s first governor, Ioannis Kapodistrias. The two powers wanted to secure Greek autonomy and bind Russia by treaty as a check on Russia’s own expansionist tendencies. In turn, Russia wished to take over Ottoman territories and therefore sought to weaken Ottoman forces.
It was hoped that a show of force from Europe and Russia would persuade the Turks to end their occupation of Greece. However, the Turks and the Egyptians did not budge, instead deciding to confront the allies’ naval squadrons. The two opponents met off the coast of the Peloponnesean town of Navarino (or Pylos). Turkish ships fired first on the allied ships, commencing the Battle of Navarino.
Though the Ottomans attacked first, the allies’ ships were superior and their guns had a longer range. Codrington’s ship led the counterattack, and within hours the superior artillery of the European forces utterly destroyed the Turkish and Egyptian armada. The defeat of the Turks was so complete that they lost control of seas that that had been in their possession for centuries.
The Ottomans’ defeat in Navarino was so devastating that their position in Greece was substantially eroded. While they continued their efforts to control Greece, the Ottomans had lost the upper hand. Ottoman forces were ultimately forced to abandon Greece in 1832, with Greece gaining its independence that same year.