By the 16th of June, 1788, the experienced Turkish admiral Hassan el Ghazi often referred to as Captain Pasha advanced past Ochakov and into the Liman with his whole fleet, which was far superior to his opponent’s, to attack the Russians. “The rear admiral [John Paul Jones] 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”. That is how the most crucial and famous Naval actions at the Siege of Ochkov (also known as the Battle of the Lyman) started in John Paul Jones’ own words: “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 center. 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 a signal, and the whole squadron immediately set sail to commence the attack on the Turks.
The Turks got into confusion the instant this maneuver 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 major striking force under the circumstances became the above-mentioned Ukrainian Zaporozhian Cossacks on their rowboats under the command of two courageous warriors – Antin Holowaty and Sydir Bilyi.
During the Battle of June 17, the Cossacks fought so well, that John Paul Jones mentions some instances in his memoirs:
“Some days afterwards, a colonel of Cossacks boarded the vessel run down in the road, and set fire to it, by leaving in it lighted brandcouglesi for which he received public thanks.”
“The Turkish fleet was now distant. The prince of Nassau was told that the Admiral’s flag, which had been displayed on the vessel of the capitan pacha, was struck, and he hastily advanced to claim it… The Zaporozhians picked up the flag from the water, and the prince of Nassau, a long while afterwards, had the glory …of having snatched it from their hands“.
The battle was a great victory for John Paul Jones and his fleet. Even the battery he had installed on the tongue of land brought instant success:
“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 sandbank”
During one of the most dramatic episodes of the naval battle, the wind ceased to blow leading to a total calm on the sea just at the moment the Russian fleet was making a maneuver. The fleet froze in a position very convenient for the Turkish fleet to attack. In a short while, it could all be over for the Russian fleet, but at that crucial moment, the Cossack rowboats came to the rescue and towed the ships into a safe position.
All came at a cost for the Ukrainian Cossacks – in the course of that battle, the Cossack ataman Sydir Bilyi was fatally wounded. General Potemkin wrote to Catherine II of the accident, of the victory in which the major Turkish forces were defeated, and of the crucial role the Cossacks played in the Battle: “The Zaporozhians were of great service: if not for them, not our single ship would have been able to move.”
In her reply, Catherine asked Potemkin to avoid using the word “Zaporozhians” to her. She asked to rename them into the Black Sea Cossacks.
Excerpt is taken from the “Ukraine & the United States” e-book.