The naval battle of Eressos is considered the first frontal naval battle by the Greek navy during the Greek Revolution of 1821. A battle against the intimidating two-wheeled ship of the Imperial Ottoman fleet took place on May 27, 1821 in Eressos bay of Lesvos.
The protagonist of this naval battle was Dimitrios Papanikolis, famous for being the first to successfully employ a fireship to destroy an enemy ship.
This success had been particularly significant both for the morale of the Greek navy and for future development in the naval struggle against the Turks. At the same time, however, a tragic consequence of this was the destruction of Kydonia of Asia Minor which followed 15 days later.
With the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, the need to create a combat fleet to help and protect the struggle from the sea was immediately apparent. So within the next month and after many consultations with ship owners of the three main “naval” islands of Spetses, Hydra and Psara, it was decided on Sunday April 17, with celebrations, the partnership and distribution of their merchant fleets in the holy struggle, calling for other islands to join as well. The Saronic islands, the Cyclades and others like Kasos immediately followed suit.
The formed Greek fleet in the Aegean coincided with the tragic events that took place in Constantinople and the hanging of the Patriarch, events that infuriated not only the crews but also the inhabitants of islands and coastal areas of Asia Minor, many of whom came to strengthen the Greek ships.
Around mid-May, a Greek fleet sailed to the Gulf of Corinth to block the castles of Nafpaktos, Rio and Antirio and prevent the Turks from descending to the Peloponnese, while a second larger squadron sailed to the North Aegean to block the Dardanelles. Nevertheless, two liners, three frigates and three corvettes with a lieutenant commander of the Ottoman fleet managed to reach the straits in the Aegean on May 22.
The Battle of Eressos
On May 23, 1821, the Greek fleet, consisting of 57 ships, sailed from Psara and set out in search of the Turkish fleet, as there were reports that its exit from the Straits was expected. The next day, the Greek admirals were notified that three ships from the Straits had been spotted. Two of them were corvettes and the third which was much larger, followed at a distance.
Ships were immediately dispatched to meet the two Turkish war ships. They traded under the Russian flag and headed for Europe. The captains informed the Greeks that the ship that was following them was a two-wheeler without a flag. The Greek masters concluded that it was hostile and was the Turkish fleet. They took it afterwards, but while it was sailing in the Strait of Chios, it suddenly changed direction and turned to the west coast of Lesvos, specifically to the port of Eressos.
Greek ships monitored it from a distance, as its size and armament did not allow it to approach. However, Giannis Zakkas began to attack the two-wheeler. It received heavy fire from the cannons of the Turkish army and was quickly forced to retreat, with three dead and one wounded.
The two-wheeler then docked in the port of Eressos and those on board disembarked. The mission was to reinforce the guards on the islands along Asia Minor with ammunition and men. It had 74 artillery pieces and a large military force, consisting of more than 1,000 men. The Greek navy dared a second attack but their terrible firepower forced the Greeks to abandon the attempt.
But it was fisherman Dimitrios Papanikolis who went down in history as the one who set fire to the Turkish two-wheeler with 74 guns and 1,000 men at the port of Eressos in Lesvos on May 27, 1821 with a fire ship.
The Battle of Eressos was a great success for the Greek forces, giving a great impetus to the morale of the Greeks, while it had the opposite effect for the Turks.