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Ottoman Control of the Danube River

Below - The Danube river, this “was of vital importance to the Ottoman Empire. It was the only natural boundary separating Ottoman lands from the European potentates in the north. ..., the most important questions for the Ottomans was how to ensure control of the Danube. This was essential for protection of their position [in the Balkans].” [1]. In 1867, the Ottomans evacuated Serbia. Following defeat in the Turkish-Russian war of 1877-78, the Ottoman empire lost the Danube due to the independence of Serbia, and Romania, the creation of an autonomous Bulgaria, and the occupation of Bosnia Herzegovina by Austro-Hungaria [2]. In 1878, the lower Danube became a neutral waterway.


[1] Jakub J. Grygiel. 2008 Great Powers and Geopolitical Change. JHU Press.

[2] Gabor Agoston, Bruce Alan Masters. 2010 Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. Infobase Publishing.

1433 Ottoman Stalac (Morava Rivers)

Some 80-100 barges and galiotes were kept by the Ottomans at Stalac, in 1433 (at the confluence of the two Morava rivers), and used for raiding. It was guarded by 300 soldiers, and was kept secret [1].


[1] John Jefferson. 2012  The Holy Wars of King Wladislas and Sultan Murad: The Ottoman-Christian Conflict from 1438-1444. BRILL.

1440 Siege of Belgrade Ottoman River Flotilla

Ottoman galleys equipped with cannon played a role in the siege of Belgrade in 1440 [1]. Ottomans also maintained a river flotilla to transport raiding parties from one bank of the Danube to the other. These transport ships were housed and stockpiled in boarder fortresses, or is river tributaries out of reach of enemy raids.


[1] John Jefferson. 2012  The Holy Wars of King Wladislas and Sultan Murad: The Ottoman-Christian Conflict from 1438-1444. BRILL.

1456 Siege of Belgrade Ottoman Danube Fleet

At the 1456 Siege of Belgrade, the Ottomans amassed a fleed of  200 vessels [1]; including:

  • Large Ottoman galleys;
  • Large vessels;
  • Smaller vessels.

In the 15th century, the Ottoman maintained riverside arsenals housing the Ottoman Danube Galley Fleet, amounting to some 100 vessels [2].


[1] Kenneth M. Setton. 1984 The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571, Vol. 3: The Sixteenth Century to the Reign of Julius III. American Philosophical Society.

[2] James D. Tracy. 2000 City Walls: The Urban Enceinte in Global Perspective. Cambridge University Press.

1688 Siege of Belgrade Ottoman Danube Fleet

Above - Extracted from the print by Jean Le Clerc, of the 1688 Siege of Belgrade, this shows several different types of Ottoman galleys on the Danube. Some of the smaller vessels show a 'house-like' structure erected on the quarter/poop deck of the ship.

Right - Some of these 'ship-houses' could be janissary ridge tents. Extracted from Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli. 1732 Stato Militare dell' Imperio Ottomanno, Incremento e Decremento del Medesimo); as several janissary orta served as ship soldiers.

Ottoman River Men-of-War and Military Organisation (16-18th Centuries)

Ottoman Danube Fleet was composed of "river men-of-war" [1], as well as transport barges. The earliest organisation of the Danube fleet was units of boats attached to the main ports which patrolled strictly defined stretches. From the early fifteenth century there had been a captain (kapudan) in Vidin (a port town on the southern bank of the Danube in north-western Bulgaria). In the 1660s he was in command of ten boats with 300 soldiers whose main task was to persecute brigands who crossed the river or infested the islands. It is not clear, that before the seventeenth century the Vidin detachment, and the others in the sancak had formed an independent unit under the general command of the sancakbeyi or had been part of a separate structure of the river fleet. From the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the Tuna kapudanlık (Danube Admiralty) was formed and the seat of the admiral was established in Ruscuk (Bulgaria), until the mid-eighteenth century, all small captainships on the lower Danube, including the one in Vidin, were under the command of this high officer, who at the end of the seventeenth and probably at the beginning of the eighteenth century held the rank of a provincial governor (mirimiran).

"Until the end of the sixteenth century ships were constructed at several places along the Danube, including at Vidin. The local shipbuilding works produced boats for the last campaign of Suleyman the Magnificent in Hungary in 1566, and in 1573–4 after the destruction of the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto. ... during the second half of the seventeenth century the dockyard (tersane) at Ruscuk/Yergogi, under the direct supervision of the kapudan pasa, became the main basis for construction, repairs and equipment of the river state-owned ships. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries some workshops at Vidin were probably maintained for smaller repairs." [1]


[1] Rossitsa Gradeva. 2009 Between Hinterland and Frontier: Ottoman Vidin, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries.Proceedings of the British Academy: 156, 331–351.

17th Century Ottoman Danube Fleet

In the 17th century (during the Great Turkish War 1683-1699), the Ottoman Danube Fleet numbered 52 vessels, consisting [1] [2]:

  • Four galliots;
  • 28 frigates; and,
  • 20 flat-bottomed river boats.

The fleet was manned by 4,070 crew.


[1] Virginia Aksan.  2014 Ottoman Wars, 1700-1870: An Empire Besieged. Routledge.

[2] Rhoads Murphey, 1999 Ottoman Warfare 1500-1700. Rutgers University Press.

Ottoman Danube Gunboat Flotilla (1788)

Below - From the An engraving in the Belgrade City Museum's collection. Originally published engraving, from the book: 'Vorfalle des Krieges Zwischen den Beiden Hohen Aliirten Kaiserlichen Hofen und der Hohen Pforte, by Jacob Friedrich Neumann, Zittau 1791.  Showing, a 1788 battle between Ottoman and Austrian river gunboat fleets, on the Danube near Zemun, during the first year of the siege of Belgrade. The Austrian river fleet under the command of von Magdeburg ,  repulsed an attack by the Turkish boats (called in the original German discription "Turk Sajko"), at a military camp near Zemun. The Turkish river fleet  lost six of its boats:sajko, and was forced to withdraw.

Above - The 1788 Turkish river gun boats:sajko, appear to be identical to the Austrian boats. These vessels have:

  • High pointed ‘swan shaped’ ship's bow.
  • High pointed sterns (with prominent keel-posts).
  • Single masted, that is placed far-forward at the bow-end.
  • High fighting platforms, for a column of troops to fight from.
  • Have lower deck guns, that fire ‘broad-side’, with approximately three guns per side.
  • Are steered, with two large steering oars.

The Austrian boat shown as a single square-sail, whereas the Ottoman boat have a single lateen-rigged mast.

  • The Ottoman boat has a large crescent finial added to the mast.
  • The Austrian boats have a swallow-tailed flag flying from their mast heads (this was likely a black, and yellow stripped flag).
  • The Ottoman boats likely had a large red crescent and star (with several points), painted on the sails.

The illustration also shows both fleets sailing in line-abreast formations, spanning the entire river from bank-to-bank.

  • One side relying on the river current for momentum, and the other likely the opposite flowing wind.
  • The first side to crash through the others’ battle line is able to deliver its cannon broadsides, as well as massed volley-fire from the musketeers lined-up on either side of the top-deck. Possibly getting ready with grappling hooks to board the opposing boat in a battle.

The Ottoman force, appears to show 12 vessals, and the closes one appears to show around 28 figures standing on the deck. 

  • If all the boats in the Ottoman fleet were similar sized this would give a force of some 300-350 soldiers. At this time the typical Ottoman 'Captain's Fleet' (the basic command unit in the Danube Fleet) consisted of ten vessals, and 300 soldiers [1].


[1] Rossitsa Gradeva. 2009 Between Hinterland and Frontier: Ottoman Vidin, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries.Proceedings of the British Academy: 156, 331–351.

Ottoman Danube Gunboat Flotilla (1810)

The Russians, and Ottomans also operated river gunboats on the Danube, and had their own ‘Danube gunboat flotillas’, that featured in the Russo-Turkish War of 1810. At the battle of Batin (September, 1810), the Russian army made a demonstration against the heavily defended Turkish-left with the assistance of Russian gunboats on the Danube. These gunboats also caught a small Turkish flotilla, anchored close to the Turkish position on the Danube, by surprise and sank two and captured five of the vessels [1].


[1] North, J. 2000 Attack along the Danube: The Russo-Turkish War of 1810. Napoleon Series webpage.

Ottoman Danube Gunboat Flotilla (1817)

Some 700 Cossacks, in 1817, were recruited to serve in the reformed Ottoman Danube Flotilla (a river fleet of gun boats). [1] [2]


[1] Levy, A. 1982 Formalization of Cossack Service Under Ottoman Rule. East Central European Society and War. Ed. Gunther E. Rothenberg et al. New York: Columbia University Press.

[2] Flaherty, C. 2016 Universal Wargames Rules Supplement 1: Napoleonic Small Siege, River Ship, Gunboat & Pontooning. Partizan Press.

Ottoman Danube Gunboat Flotilla (1853)

In 1853, during the Ottoman army's attempt to cross the Danube, at Oltenica village their attacks at Chetati, Zhurzhi and Kelerasha were beaten off; and the Russian gun batteries destroyed the Ottoman Danube Fleet, of six gunboats and one ship [1].


[1] Sergei R. Grinevetsky, Igor S. Zonn, Sergei S. Zhiltsov, Aleksey N. Kosarev, Andrey G. Kostianoy 2014 The Black Sea Encyclopedia. Springer.

Ottoman Danube Gunboat Flotilla (1876)

Right - The Turkish Hizber class river monitor (1876) [1] [2].


[1] Ivan Gogin, 2014 Ottoman/Turkish Navy (Ottoman Empire/Turkey): Other Fighting Ships.

[2] Quintin Barry. 2012 War in the East: A Military History of the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78. Helion and Company.

Ottoman Nile Gunboat Flotilla (1798)

Known as the ‘Battle of Chebreisse’ (1798) this was a battle on the Nile between an Ottoman gunboat flotilla from Cairo, and the French river boat fleet of gunboats [1].

Right - An illustration of an Ottoman Nile river boat, called a 'Jarim' ('Cerim' in Ottoman-Turkish). These were basic transport "ships used to transport heavy items like wood along the Nile." [2]


[1] Bourrienne [Louis Antoine Fauvelet de] 1831 Private Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte: During the Periods of the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire, Volume 1. Carey & Lea.

[2] Alan Mikhail, 2011 Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History. Cambridge University Press.

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