The Yankee Expedition to Sebastopol

John Gowen and the Raising of the Russian Black Sea Fleet 



by Chuck Veit

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At the beginning of the epic siege of Sebastopol in 1854, Russian defenders blocked the entrance to the harbor by sinking several lines of older sailing ships at the mouth of the bay. One year later, as the Czar’s forces abandoned the town, the remainder of the Black Sea Fleet, along with a number of transports and merchant vessels, were also scuttled. All told, nearly a hundred ships carpeted the bottom of the bay when British, French and Turkish forces occupied the port. English engineers pronounced the job of raising the hulks an impossibility, and were content to let them rot–a slow process that would ensure the strategic port remained unusable for years to come. But the Russians had a plan, one that involved a young American who, only a few years before, had managed another salvage project deemed “impossible by human means” by “professional” European divers.

This is the never-before-told story of the five-year salvage of the Imperial Fleet from the Harbor of Sebastopol by John E. Gowen, a self-taught salvor from Lynn, Massachusetts, whose unique approach to technology, to dealing with the repeated “burstings and breakings” of the project, present an alternative to our own modern perceptions of progress and innovation. 


Part I: The Siege

Chapter I
Scuttlings, and a Request:
September 1854-Spring 1856

Part II: The Salvage Operator

Chapter II
HMS Plumper:
5 December 1812

Chapter III
The Development of Submarine Armor:

Chapter IV
HMS Plumper:
Summer 1849

Chapter V
USS Missouri: August 1843-May 1852

Chapter VI
June 1852-August 1857

Part III: The Sebastopol Operation

Chapter VII
Reconnoisance: August-December 1856

Chapter VIII
Preparation and Competition:
January-June 1857

Chapter IX
Setting up Shop:
June-August 1857

Chapter X
Diving at Sebastopol

Chapter XI
Two Steps Back, One Step Forward:
Sept. 1857-Mar. 1858

Chapter XII
Raising Ships . . . and Children

Chapter XIII
April-December 1858

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV
Quickening the Pace: 1859

Chapter XVI
Dénouement: January 1860-December 1862

Chapter XVII
Russian Duplicity: 1862-1875

Chapter XVIII

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