Russian Heavy Frigates

Capturing of Swedish 44-gun frigate Venus by Russian 22-gun cutter Merkuriy of June 1, 1789.

Captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus.

The spring of 1789 was marked by two single-ship actions on the part of a young Irish-born Lieutenant, Commander Roman Crown, that were to have long-term consequences for Russian naval history. As commander of the 22-gun two-masted cutter Merkurii, Brown captured a 12-gun Swedish tender, ironically named Snapupp, on 29 April (10 May), a useful but unremarkable feat. He then performed the remarkable feat of surprising, engaging and capturing the much more powerful Swedish heavy frigate, the 40-gun Venus, on 21 May (1 June) of the same year. Crown would rise to become a Russian admiral in the coming years, with a record of proven valour and high accomplishment that extended into the 1820s. The captured Venus would be taken into the Russian navy under the command of the heroic young officer who had captured her. In Russian service under Crown’s command, she would accomplish great deeds against her nation of origin, fighting at Revel’ in 1789 and Vyborg in 1790 and then assisting in the capture of the Swedish 64-gun Rättvisan in the immediate aftermath of the battle. Her stout construction and excellent design characteristics would be incorporated into the designs of nearly two score Russian heavy frigates built during the nineteenth century. As for Lieutenant Commander Crown’s first command, the Merkurii, she lent her name to a 20-gun brig built in 1820 and destined for even greater fame than her name-ship by single-handedly engaging a Turkish 120 and a 74 in a four-hour battle in 1829 and emerging heavily damaged but intact.

Although the Greek Ionian Islands had been granted formal independence after the withdrawal of Russia from the war with France, they remained de facto Russian colonies. A small squadron of Russian warships made up of two ships of the line, a single battle frigate, three corvettes and two brigs remained stationed at Corfu after Ushakov’s departure. The heavy ships were veterans of Ushakov’s campaign and the small craft were all captured or converted vessels picked up in and about the Adriatic. In order to reinforce this squadron in the face of growing problems with the French, a moderately sized squadron was dispatched from the Baltic in 1804 under the command of Commodore Aleksei Greig, son of Samuel Greig. Greig’s squadron was comprised of a single Russian-built 74 and three elderly Swedish veterans of the 1788–92 war, the 62-gun Retvizan, the 44-gun Venus and the 24-gun rowing frigate Avtroil. It is unclear whether these Swedish veterans were sent because of their excellent and sturdy construction or because they were simply odd numbers in the Russian Baltic fleet. Regardless of their advancing age, they all served with distinction through the coming campaigns, with Venus acquiring the highest honours and suffering the most unusual fate.

Venus 44/50 Karlskrona

Constructor         F. Chapman

Laid down             31.3.1783 Launched 19.7.1783 Captured 21.5.1789

Dimensions          156 ft x 40 ft x 17 ft 6 in (Swedish measurement)

151 ft 6 in x 38 ft 10 in x 15 ft 9 in (Russian measurement)

Armament            Captured 26/30 x 24pdrs, 14 x 6pdrs (Veselago)

Swedish heavy frigate captured on 21.5.1789 by Russian cutter Merkurii. Attached to Vice-Adm. Kozlyaninov’s squadron at Copenhagen in 1789. Fought at Revel’ on 2.5.1790 with 1 killed and 2 wounded and 737 rounds fired. Fought at Vyborg on 22.6.1790, capturing 2 Swedish galleys. On 3.5.1790, assisted by Iziaslav (66), she captured the Swedish Rättvisan (64). Cruised in the Baltic in 1791, 1793–4, 1795–7 and 1798. To England in 1799–00. Cruised in the Baltic with naval cadets in 1801. Repaired in 1804. To the Mediterranean as flag to Commodore Greig (Adm. Greig’s son) in 1804. Involved in the capture of Tenedos in 1807. Engaged in the pursuit of Turkish squadron on 9.5.1807, leading the Russian attack and engaging a Turkish line of battle ship. Dispatched by Adm. Seniavin on 9.11.1807 in search of Commodore Baratynskiy’s division. Damaged, repaired at Palermo, blockaded by the British, and placed in Neapolitan custody to avoid bloodshed. Crew evacuated to Trieste.

Heavy frigates

A term applied to large and heavily armed 24-, 30- and 36pdr frigates found in significant numbers in both the Baltic and the Black Sea fleets. These larger ships were more numerous in both theatres than the smaller standard 18pdr frigates; but their respective popularity in the Baltic and the Black Seas arose from rather different tactical requirements and emphases. In the Black Sea, where the type was first introduced, heavy frigates were not regarded as traditional cruisers suited for scouting and raiding, but were rather the direct descendants of the previously described battle frigates and were intended to supplement the line of battle against similar Turkish ships. In the Baltic, on the other hand, heavy frigates were quite ironically the direct design descendants of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus, specifically designed by Fredrik Henrik af Chapman to take its place in the line of battle, and captured by the Russians during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–91. Russian heavy frigates built along the lines of the Venus were utilized in traditional frigate roles and not as battle line adjuncts as was the case with the Black Sea heavies.

During the period between 1770 and 1860, a total of 85 heavy and battle frigates joined the two Russian fleets, almost all of them armed with 24pdr cannon and ranging between 141 ft and 174 ft in length.

Arkhangel Mikhail class (3 ships)

Arkhangel Mikhail 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         M. D. Portnov

Laid down             14.7.1790 Launched 24.5.1791

Dimensions          151 ft 6 in × 38 ft 10 in × 15 ft 9 in

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

398 men

Arkhangel Mikhail class. Based on the design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Departed Arkhangel’sk on 8.7.1792. Damaged and forced to winter at Bergen. Joined Adm. Kruz’s squadron in the summer of 1793 and cruised in the North Sea. Arrived at Kronshtadt on 15.9.1793. To England in 1795–6. Wrecked while returning home on 25.10.1796 off Porkkala-udd on the coast of Finland. No casualties.

Arkhangel Rafail 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         M. D. Portnov

Laid down             14.7.1790 Launched 24.5.1791

Dimensions          151 ft 6 in × 38 ft 10 in × 15 ft 9 in

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

398 men

Arkhangel Mikhail class. Based on the design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Sailed to Kronshtadt in 1794. To England in 1795–6. Operated off Holstein in 1797. Repaired in 1798. To Holland with troops with Rear-Adm. Chichagov’s squadron in 1799. Returned to Kronshtadt on 26.9.1800. Carried cargo between Baltic ports in 1802–3. Broken up in 1804.

Schastlivyi 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         G. Ignatyev

Laid down             19.12.1796 Launched 19.5.1798

Dimensions          151 ft 6 in × 38 ft 10 in × 15 ft 9 in

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

256/398 men

Arkhangel Mikhail class. Based on the design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. To England with Vice-Adm. Thate’s 2nd Division on 3.7.1798, arriving at the Nore on 8.8.1798. Operated in the North Sea 1798–1800. Returned to Kronshtadt on 21.7.1800. Cruised in the Baltic with naval cadets in 1801–3. Cruised to Dogger Bank with Rear-Adm. Lomen’s squadron in 1804. Participated in Vice-Adm. Thate’s landing of over 20,000 troops on the German coast in 1805. Training duties in Kronshtadt Roads in 1806. Cruised with Adm. Khanykov’s squadron in 1808 and returned to Kronshtadt in 10.1808. Stationed in Kronshtadt Roads as a guard ship in 1809. Blockship in Kronshtadt Roads in 1810–12.

Feodosii Totemskii class (2 ships)

Feodosii Totemskii 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         G. Ignatyev

Laid down             9.8.1798 Launched 24.9.1798

Dimensions          150 ft × 39 ft × 16 ft

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

Feodosii Totemskii class. Based on an amended design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Departed Arkhangel’sk for England with Vice-Adm. Baratynskiy’s squadron in 9.1799. Returned to Revel’ in 9.1800. Cruised in the Baltic in 1803–4. Landed troops on the German coast with Adm. Thate’s squadron in 1805. Cruised in the Baltic with Adm. Khanykov’s squadron in 1808 and returned to Kronshtadt in 10.1808. Floating battery in Kronshtadt Roads in 1809–11. Broken up in 1819.

Tikhvinskaya Bogoroditsa 44 Arkhangel’sk

Constructor         G. Ignatyev

Laid down             19.8.1798 Launched 22.7.1799

Dimensions          150 ft × 39 ft × 16 ft

Armament            LD 28 × 24pdrs (short frigate guns)

FC & QD 16 × 6pdrs + carrs

Feodosii Totemskii class. Based on an amended design of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus. Departed Arkhangel’sk for England with Vice-Adm. Baratynskiy’s squadron in 9.1799. Returned to Kronshtadt in 9.1800. Cruised in the Baltic with naval cadets in 1801–3. Cruised to Dogger Bank in 1804. Landed troops on the German coast with Adm. Thate’s squadron in 1805. Fire watch ship at Revel’ in 1807. Cruised with Adm. Khanykov’s squadron in 1808. Returned to Kronshtadt in 10.1808. Stationed in Kronshtadt Roads in 1809. Fire watch ship at Riga in 1812. Broken up in 1819.

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