Samuel Greig was born on 30th November 1736 in the burgh of Inverkeithing in Fife.
The port town, located on the north side of the Firth of Forth had been granted burgh status by King David I of Scotland around 1165 AD and was a common ferry crossing point to nearby Edinburgh.
Having entered the Royal Navy at an early period of life, he was soon recognised for his keen abilities and skills in the performance of his duties. He quickly attained the rank of Lieutenant just as tensions between the Russian and Ottoman Empires were reaching breaking point and civil war threatened in Poland where there was strife between King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski and the Polish nobles of the realm. The King was reliant upon the support of Catherine II of Russia, and whose Russian forces were pitched against a consortium known as the Bar Confederation.
In 1768, a detachment of Cossacks in Russian service entered Balta, Ukraine, within the Ottoman Empire and during the pursuit of Polish Bar Confederation forces. The Ottoman Empire subsequently accused the troops of having conducted the slaughter of its subjects in Balta; a charge denied by the Russian authorities but in response, Sultan Mustafa III of the Ottoman Empire formed an alliance with the Polish opposition forces of Bar Confederation and declared war on Russia on 25th September 1768.
Britain sided with the Russians and agreed to a request by the Court of Russia that skilled officers of the Royal Navy be transferred to the Russian Navy with a view to improving its operational capability by significant measure. Lieutenant Greig had the honour of being selected as one of these officers for these duties and his abilities soon attracted the notice of the Russian government.
He was was speedily promoted to the rank of Captain and sent to join the Mediterranean fleet under command of Count Alexey Orlov and Admiral Grigory Spiridov. On the 7th July 1770, the Battle of Larga was fought between 65,000 Crimean Tartars cavalry and 15,000 Turkish infantry under Kaplan Girey against 38,000 Russians under Field-Marshal Pyotr Rumyantsev on the banks of the Larga River. It was fought on the same day as the Mediterranean Fleet of the Russian Fleet engaged a much superior force of fifteen Turkish ships plus frigates and galleys near Chesna Bay in Western Turkey. The smaller Russian fleet comprised nine ships of the line and three frigates and the initial conflict was indecisive.
As the day wore on, the Turkish fleet drew closer inside Chesna Bay and where they were well-protected by shore batteries. Notwithstanding the formidable position the enemy had taken up, the Russian admiral determined to pursue, and if possible destroy these by means of fire-ships.
At one o’clock in the morning Captain Greig bore down upon the enemy with fire-ships and succeeded in totally destroying the Turkish fleet. Captain Greig, on this occasion assisted by another British officer, a Lieutenant Drysdale, and who acted under his command, set the match to the fire ships with his own hands. Once this perilous duty had been performed, he and Drysdale leaped overboard and swam to their own boats and while under a tremendous fire from the Turks and the imminent risk of being killed by the explosion of their own fire ships.
The Russian fleet, following up this success, now attacked the town and batteries on the shore and by nine o’clock in the morning there was scarcely a vestige remaining of either town, fortifications, or fleet.
For his important part in this action, Captain Greig, who had been appointed Commodore on his being placed in command of the fire ships, was immediately promoted by Count Orlov to the rank of Admiral; an appointment which was confirmed by an express message from Catherine the Great; Empress of Russia.
Two weeks later, at the Battle of Kagul, Field Marshall Pyotr Rumyantsev arranged his army of 45,000 soldiers in solid squares and surprisingly chose to go on the offensive against the allied forces of the Khanate of Crimea and the Ottoman Empire; the latter comprising 30,000 infantry and 45,000 cavalry. About 80,000 Crimean Tatar cavalry were deployed within 20 km from the battlefield but they did not engage in the battle. It was the largest and last major conflict of the war with the Russians suffering comparatively few losses compared to their enemy.
Reinforced defences prevented the Russians from reaching Constantinople (now Istanbul) and the two sides eventually met to sign a treaty some four years later and thus ending the war.
Samuel Greig now began a program of improving the Russian Navy and earning him the title of 'father of the modern Russian Navy' and whose services were handsomely rewarded by a grateful nation. He was three times decorated by Catherine the Great and elevated to the high rank of Admiral of the Russian Empire and Governor of Kronstadt.
Admiral Greig next distinguished himself against the Swedes in 1788 during the Russo-Swedish war and where Swedish forces planned an invasion of Russia on three fronts but whose implementation needed the Russian Navy to be contained within ports at Tallin (then called Reval) and at Kronstadt. On the 17th July 1788, the Swedish Navy attempted to blockade these ports and Samuel Grieg took an evenly matched fleet to sea.
The Battle of the Hogland, as it became known, ended when the Swedish ships were forced to withdraw on account of low ammunition. In terms of numbers, the Russians suffered more than their Swedish attackers but from a strategic viewpoint, Greig had done what needed to be done and the invasion plans were postponed and never fully resurrected.
Several days after winning the Battle of Hogland, he was attacked by a violent fever, and having been carried back to Tallin aboard his own ship, the Rostislav.
News about his condition was relayed to the Empress and who instantly sent for her first physician, Dr Rogerson, and ordered him to proceed immediately to Revel and to do everything in his power for the admiral’s recovery. Dr Rogerson obeyed but all his skill was unavailing.
Admiral Samuil Karlovich Greig, as he was known in Russia, died on the 26 October 1788 in the 53rd year of his life.
Pictures are in the public domain since copyright has expired.
Text by Alandon.