Cossack pirates

Cossack pirates

The sea battles of the Cossacks began in the 15th century becoming quickly adept at military strategies in conflict against the Turkish flotilla on the Black and Azov seas. The French ambassador to Istanbul, Fillipe de Arle de Sezi, in 1625 called the Cossacks the "masters of the Dniepr and Black Sea". In the first half of the 17th century, the Cossacks brought to a halt the expansionist policies of the Turkish port and stopped the Turkish annexation of territories in Ukraine, Moldova, Poland and Moscovy. The final nail ending these policies was done during the 1790 when the Cossacks gained the keys to the city of Izmail.


Reason for Cossack piracy

Turkey considered the Black Sea as its own internal water transport system, controlling the Bosphorus channel which led to the Marmara and Mediterranean seas. The Black and Azov seas were a natural border for the Cossacks and an integral part of Europe. This natural border, however was also the field of numerous conflicts. In 1570 an anti-Turkish coalition was established in Europe between the Vatican, the Habsburg Empire, and the Polish kings. After the success of the Cossacks at the Battle of Khotyn in 1621, King Sigismund III directed the Cossacks to focus the attention on the Turkish bases around the Black Sea, promising rewards for conquest.


Cossack boats

The Cossacks developed a boat known as the Chaika, a term which has its origins in the Ukrainian word for seagull. The first versions of the chaika were approximately 14 m. in length and 3-3.5 m. in width made of willow or lime tree. Later, the boats grew to 19–20 m. in length and 3-3.5 m. in width. The boats had two sterns with 10-15 oars on each side and could hold a mast. The Chaikas were surrounded by reeds which helped in buoyancy and also provided extra protection against gunfire. From the 18th century chaikas were also made of Oak.

Campaigns combined some 40-50 boats and occasionally 100. In 1625 the Cossack flotilla in the battle against Kari-Khaman united 300-4000 boats.

Each Chaika held 50-70 cossacks, armed with muskets and swords. Each Chaika could have up to 6 falconets (small cannon).

Cossacks were fed dried bread loaded into a barrel which was taken out through a special hole. A barrel of boiled corn which had a sour taste was called a salamakha.

The chaikas could reach a speed of 20 km/h, much faster than the Turkish boats of the day, which gave definition to the method of attack, which were quick and unexpected using the element of surprise. The boats were low and hard to see. Larger boats called baidaks were also used for both transport and for military use.

Turkish boats

Military strategies

Initial campaigns

Against Turkey

Against the crimean khanate

Campaigns of 1634-1642

Cossack flottilla in the Russian Turkish wars



  • Brekhunenko Viktor - Morski vijny Ukrainskykh kozakiv. Kyiv 2007

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