Frigate «OLEG»

Alexander Korolev
Andrey Bykov
Frigate «OLEG»

«Neptune XXI century» magazine unfailingly pursues its activity in the field of undersea archeology. Thus, in August of 2006 the research team of our magazine comprising of camera-men and assisting them divers performed series of dives on the wreck of the screw drived sailer – frigate «Oleg», sunken in 1869 nearby the Gogland island. The main task of this expedition was to make photo-shooting of the wreck, resting on the 60 meters depth of the Baltic sea.

Frigate (holl. fregat, fr. fregate, from ital. fragata). The frigate sailer presented in itself is a three-masted vessel inferior by its artillery (up to 60 canons) only to a ship of the line, but surpassing it in speed. The frigate was conceived for actions on sea comunication lines. The steam-engined frigates with paddle wheel and then with screw drive entered in service already in the middle of XIX century. It is namely these latters became the most efficient ships for operations on the oceanic merchant lanes. Performing long passages a frigate could unexpectedly for an enemy to appear in a decisive place and in a decisive moment.

Practically all significant events in the world history, which occurred during the passed centuries, have to be considered in the light of «sea power». In XIX century the most strong rival of Russia on the seas was the British Empire. Having this in mind, Russian ship-makers tried to make their best in designing and construction of ships being able to challenge the Royal Navy.

These were the sailer frigates with screw drive, the main features of which were mighty artilllery weaponery, steam-powered engine and numerous crew. In total, 19 such frigates were built on the shipyards of St.-Petersburg, Kronstadt, Arhangelsk and Helsingfors/Helsinki. The sail’s rig of these vessels made it possible to exploit wind in full measure, thus saving coal in passages of long duration; the use of steam engine was reserved for battle encounters and pursue of an adversary.

The ships of this class were customised for conducting cruising operations on the enemy’s sea-lines. They had a smaller displacement than battleships and ships of the line, but were more speedy. Besides they were more autonomous as compared with only steampowered ships of eventual enemy, which could not operate too far from their coal-supplying bases and required specially equipped moorages and maintenance facilities.

«Oleg» – the three-masted sailer frigate with screw drive had been designed under the guidence of an experienced shipbuilder, 2nd class captain A.H. Shaunburg. The vessel was laid down on the Kronstadt shipyards in January 29 of 1858. The «Oleg» was launched on June 4 of 1860. The frigate had oaken set and larch planking.

The set and inside planking were secured by diagonal criss-crossed metallic riders. The set as a whole were bolted and copper-bottomed; stem and stern posts, keel and rudder were reinforced by forged cover plates. The ship’s plating thickness equalled 6 inches (152 mm). By the waterline it attained 9 inches (229 mm). In the process of construction the project underwent some changes. Thus, «by the wish of His Majesty, General-admiral» Great Prince Constantin, cumbersome latrine latices and massive protruding part of a cutwater adorned by fretwork (usually depicting a mermaid) were deleted.

The ship got small top-gallant forecastle, the stern was rounded, without traditional widenings by the sides. Due to these amendments the architectonics of the hull became more modern looking as compared with the earlier built frigates of this series.

According to the new classification, «Oleg» belonged to the 1st rank cruisers. Its displacement – 4890 t, length – 84,3 m, beam – 16,5 m, hight (of the hull) – 7,09 m. Power of the steam engine – 2500 h.p. Speed – 10,5 knots; crew – 693 men. 6 steam boilers, heated by coal, provided steam for 2-cylinders’ horisontal engine, driving the screw shaft. 2-blades screw (diameter – 5,8 m) was placed in vertical frame, sliding along grooves in the stern cut-out. During cruise under the sail the screw was retracted into the «well» foreseen for this occasion in the stern trimming. Its hauling up was performed by means of thick trussed rope, run to the capstan through the block fixed on the deck.

The ship’s artillery comprised of an open battery – on the upper deck (27 pieces) and a closed one – on the bottom deck (30 pieces). In the bow part of of the upper deck a long barrel 60 lb (196 mm) cannon was installed on the rotary mount. By means of pulleys the mount could change its position – to be displaced to the gun port on the star-board or on the left board, following the bow-like copper track on the deck. Besides of that, 8 short barrel 60 lb cannons were installed on the upper deck – by the gun ports between the groot- and bezaan-masts. As all other artillery pieces, they had wooden rolled mounts – gun carriages.

On the upper deck there were emplacements for 18 light 30 lb cannons. The bottom battery consisted of 30 cannons: 26 (60 lb) and 4 (30 lb). By its time it was very mighty armament. The range of fire of the 60 lb cannon (while using high-explosive shell weighing 17,7 kg) was equaled to 1,6 nautical mile (almost 3 km).

During its service period «Oleg» visited the ports of France, Greece, Turkey. The frigate staunchly withstood winter storms in the Atlantic Ocean. The sea-worthiness and endurance of the ship were highly praised by its captain. In one of his reports he noted: «…engine works without problems, the hull proved to be quite reliable even during 6-day pitching and rolling in the Bay of Biskay…it easily sustained 10-11 knots speed without sails…»

However, there were also some accidents. Thus, in winter of 1861, during the strong gale, «Oleg» was torn off from its anchorage in the harbour of Ville-Franche and thrown by its stern on the stony shoal. After being relieved from the bank, the ship managed to reach Tulon. French shipbuilders and sailors were greatly amazed, as it was really unbelievable, that wooden vessel could pass 160 nautical miles with the keel damaged on the extent of 28 meters and without of any assistance get into a dock. In 1863, while manoeuvring in tricky waters of the Aland’s archipelago, the frigate once again settled on the sandbank (which lately was named after the ship).

In 1865, taking into account that all these hardships, badly affected the vessel’s hull, it was decided to restrict the service area of the storm-beaten frigate by the Finnish Gulf, where it was involved in oceanographic studies. For some years it participated in training sails conducted by the Baltic fleet.

In August of 1869 during the grand manoevres, monitor «Kreml», performing in the squadron formation rather risky turn in conditions of very bad visibility, rammed (with the speed of 7 knots) the left board of «Oleg» in the rib-midship section under thewater-line. The damage caused by the collision was so serious, that the frigate remained afloat for only 15 minutes. It sank between the islands of Gogland and Sommers, at the depth of 60 meters. In October of 1869 «Oleg» was deleted from the Baltic fleet as it turned out to be technically impossible to salvage it from the bottom.

Being the typical ship of the transitional period in the shipbuilding, characterized by the gradual replacement of the sails by the steam engine, «Oleg» also belonged to the series of frigates, which symbolized the end of epoch of wooden sailers, armed with the smoothbore cannons, loaded through the muzzle. From the next series of frigates, armoured and armed with the threaded-bore cannons featuring the increased range of fire, had developed the new class of navy ships – the cruisers.

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