Snuff-box from the museum exposition, commemorating the Russian fleet victory in the Battle of Gangut

The achievements of the Russian fleet hold a special place in the era of Peter the Great. The very first naval victory in the glorious history of our fleet was of paramount importance for the successful termination of the Great Northern War (1700–1721).

By that time, the Great Northern War had been lasting for over 14 years. The initiative in the military operations had long belonged to Russia; the standout victories near the village Lesnaya and the Poltava battle were achieved. The Swedes, if we recall Pushkin, bent in all directions, except for the naval one.

Before Gangut, Russia captured the key ports in Estonia, Livonia, most of Finland, thereby depriving the Swedes of the fixed pivots beyond the boundaries of their own territory. Nevertheless, Russia did not receive the full-scale access to the sea, since the Swedish ships dominated the Baltic. A redoubtable and indisputable victory over the Swedes at sea was particularly needful. It was attained in the summer of 1714.

The Baltic shipyards worked day and night on the eve of Gangut, Peter the Great was buying war vessels abroad. However, the Russian ships were inferior to the Swedish ones in quantity, quality and crew training level.

In June 1714, Admiral Fyodor Matveevich Apraksin with 15 thousand soldiers in 99 vessels and transports moved from St. Petersburg to Helsingfors (now Helsinki). To screen Apraksin, Peter I concentrated all available battleships near Revel (now Tallinn). Doing this, he forced the Swedish squadron of Gustaf Wattrang to tear around and greatly contributed to the victory at Gangut. The further actions of Russian admirals surpassed all expectations.

The weather on August 6, 1714 was calm. The sea was completely calm as well. Thus, the Swedish ships were not able to manoeuvre. The Russian fleet commanders had an idea to slip past the Swedes. Soon a detachment of 20 vessels under the Commander Matvey Khristoforovich Zmayevich rushed on oars to pass ahead the very nose of Gustav Wattrang. The Swedish admiral ordered the immediate launch of the boats in order to tow the ships closer to the shore, since the cannon balls did not reach them. While the boats were dragging the heavy battleships, another detachment of 15 vessels slipped along the coast. The Swedes came closer to the shore and completely blocked the navigating channel with their fire. On the night of August 7, Wattrang retreated to the sea to avoid a sudden Russian boarding operation. However, the Russians were not planning to attack anyone. Instead, the remaining Stepan Apraksin’s ships with the troops on board calmly passed along the quit navigating channel. These 64 ships completely cut off the Nils Ehrenschiöld’s detachment from the main troops. He tried to evade the battle, but got lost between fjords and was trapped. Pavel Yaguzhinsky was sent to the Swedish Rear Admiral to negotiations on surrender. The descendant of the Vikings rejected it shrewdly, and Apraksin gave the order to carry out the attack. The Swedish galleys were no match for the Russian vessels - each was armed with 14 cannons. They lined up in a crescent and opened fire. All Russian forces were thrown to the left flank of the Swedes, where they managed to break through the line of fire, and the infantry entered into action. The first victim of the boarding fight was the “Tranan” galley. Tsar Peter himself took part in this boarding operation.

One by one, all Swedish ships surrendered. The last to fall under the onslaught of eleven Russian galleys was the Swedish flagship “Elephant”. The battle was blistering and fierce. By the end, the Swedes did not even load the cannons with cannon balls; they fired pure powder, striking the attackers with powder gases.

In total, 361 of the 941 members of the Swedish crews perished, the rest were captured. Russian losses amounted to 127 killed and 342 wounded. The Russians did not have any sunk ships, and all the Swedish ones were captured.

What the Gangut victory meant for Russia

Sweden did not suffer much damage from the loss of the Nils Ehrenschiöld’s detachment. The Swedish advantage in the Baltic sea remained, and the Russian fleet still had to act with caution. However, Peter I used the Gangut victory as efficiently as possible.

Tsar Peter personally red-penciled all victorious articles about Gangut that were sent to the German and Dutch newspapers. A solemn entry of the winners to St. Petersburg was arranged. Hence the main thing was that the unassuming naval victory (one floating bastion and several galleys were captured) became a sign that Russia was able to defeat the Swedes at sea.

Russia duly appreciated this victory. Every participant in the battle received a medal stamped out in honor of Gangut. Tsar Pyotr Alekseevich received the rank of Vice admiral. The church of St. Panteleimon was built in St. Petersburg when the victory was won. Five Russian and Soviet ships bore the proud name "Gangut".

Snuffbox with the medal commemorating the Gangut battle is presented in museum Collection exposition. It was created in the last third of the 18th century. A premium award medal for the victory at Gangut in 1714 is built-in the lid. The portrait of Peter the Great is on the medal obverse. Borrowed from “The Book of Mars” (the book, narrating about the Great Northern War battles) of 1713, image of the sea battle in the vicinity of the islands with the circumferential inscription in Cyrillic: " ПРИЛѢЖАНИЕ * ИВѢРНО[СТЬ*ПРЕ] ВОСХОДИТЬ*СИЛНО" is on the reverse side.

Source: History of the Russian Federation, https://histrf.ru/biblioteka/b/kak-pietr-i-vzial-shviedov-na-abordazh-piervyi-triumf-russkogho-flota)