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The Crimean War – witnesses and historians speak
The Crimean War, 1854-1856, confirmed earlier suspicions… that military engagements on distant fields of glory were a recipe for disaster. After Russia invaded the Ottoman provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, thereby posing a threat to the Straits, British troops were sent to Crimea in support of the main force of French and Turks, but their performance was hardly the cause of rejoicing. Three times as many soldiers perished from disease and ill-treated wounds than were killed in battle. The most celebrated action, the Charge of the Light Brigade, ended in unmitigated fiasco. And after… months of campaigning, the combined forces of coalition had only succeeded in capturing the one solitary Russian fortress of Sevastopol.
The Isles. A history, Norman Davis
The Battle of Sevastopol. Panorama.
“The war is popular beyond belief!”
to the king of Belgians.
“I believe that if this barbarous nation (Russia) the enemy of all progress... should once succeed in establishing itself in the heart of Europe, it would be the greatest calamity which could befall the human race.”
Lord Lyndhurst in a speech
to the House of Lords
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1854
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not,
Not the six hundred.
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
“…after the eleven months of fighting against the enemy that was two times stronger, now came the order to leave this place (Sevastopol) without doing any more battle.
This order was not comprehensible to every Russian, and the first impression of it was bitter and heavy... After walking across the bridge, almost every soldier took off his hat and crossed himself. Behind this feeling there was still another one, heavy and gnawing — it was a feeling of regret, shame and anger. Practically every soldier, who turned and looked back at Sevastopol that had been evacuated, sighed with an unfathomable bitterness in the heart and shook an angry fist at the enemy.”
Sevastopol in August 1855, Leo Tolstoy
“The Crimean War turned out to be an important stage in the development of the art of warfare. Guns with spiral grooves ousted smoothbores, and steamships replaced the sails. New war tactics were developed.”
Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya (Big Soviet Encyclopedia)
“The war arose from the conflict of great powers in the Middle East and was more directly caused by Russian demands to exercise protection over the Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman sultan. Another major factor was the dispute between Russia and France over the privileges of the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the holy places in Palestine.
...The war did not settle the relations of the powers in Eastern Europe. It did awaken the new Russian Emperor Alexander II (who succeeded Nicholas I in March 1855) to the need to overcome Russia’s backwardness in order to compete successfully with the other European powers. A further result of the war was that Austria, having sided with Great Britain and France, lost the support of Russia in central European affairs. Austria became dependent on Britain and France, which failed to support that country, leading to the Austrian defeats in 1859 and 1866 that, in turn, led to the unification of Italy and Germany.”
The war began as a quarrel between Russian Orthodox monks and French Catholics over who had precedence at the holy Places in Jerusalem and Nazereth. Tempers frayed, violence resulted and lives were lost. Tsar Nicholas I of Russia demanded the right to protect the Christian shrines in the Holy Land and to back up his claims he moved troops into Wallachia (present day Rumania) and Moldavia, then part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. His fleet then destroyed a Turkish flotilla off Sinope in the Black Sea. Russian domination of Constantinople and the Straits was a perennial nightmare of the British and with the two powers already deeply suspicious of each others intentions in Afghanistan and Central Asia, the British felt unable to accept such Russian moves against the Turks. Louis Napoleon III, Emperor of France, eager to emulate the military successes of his uncle Napoleon I and wishing to extend his protection to the French monks in Jerusalem allied himself with Britain. Both countries dispatched expeditionary forces to the Balkans. The British was commanded by Lord Raglan, who had last seen action at the Battle of Waterloo; the French by General St. Arnaud and, after his death from cholera, General Canrobert, both veterans of France’s Algerian wars.
In February 1853 Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia, mobilized two army corps and sent his ambassador, Menshikov, to Constantinople. Menshikov demanded not only the restoration of Greek rights but also a secret alliance and the protection of all Orthodox laymen under Turkish rule and that meant some 12 million subjects of the Porte. At this point the British got into the act in the person of a very clever diplomatic operator in Constantinople by the name of Stratford de Redcliffe. The latter outfoxed Menshikov who got concessions on the Greek rights issue but none of the other demands.
When the Menshikov Mission became public knowledge, it strengthened the anti-Russian faction in the British Cabinet. So the British decided it was worth a war to keep and expand their interest in the Eastern Mediterranean. In June 1853 an Anglo-French naval force entered the Dardanels. In July the Russian army invaded the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. The war could still have been prevented. There were 11 different projects for pacification at the end of 1853.
Then in October 1853 Turkey took action by declaring war on Russia. The Anglo-French fleet now penetrated further into the straits and anchored in the Bosphorus. In November off the coast of Sinope in the Black Sea the Turkish fleet was defeated by the Russians. Any settlement after this was impossible. The popular press in England and France became violent. In January 1854 the Anglo-French fleet sailed into the Black Sea. France, England and Turkey then made a formal alliance. When the Russian troops crossed the Danube, the Turkish war merged into a war against the European coalition. This was precisely the turn of events Nicholas had tried so hard to avoid.
In the years 1854 to 1856, Britain fought its only European war between the ending of the Napoleonic conflict in 1815 and the opening of the Great War in 1914. Although eventually victorious, the British and their French allies pursued the war with little skill and it became a byword for poor generalship and logistical incompetence.
While the equipment of the Allies was clearly superior to that of the Russian, they could not win the war — or at least there was no quick victory. When the Danubian campaign of Gorchakov turned into a disaster, Palmerston suggested the Crimean expedition — an attempt to hit Russia in the soft underbelly, as Churchill might have said. But strong Russian resistance at the Sevastopol naval base came as a shock to the Allies. What followed was a surprise to the general public but not those in the know. A storm of indignation broke out in France and England over the failures of the military high command. The famous “charge of the Light Brigade” was only the most blatant example of allied military blundering. Russia did better with the Turks and won the battle of Kars, their only major victory.
The Battle of Inkermann, or “the Soldier’s Battle” raged for almost the whole day, and was prosecuted in thick fog, heavy undergrowth, and with little if any generalship being shown on either side. As dusk fell, the British held the field.
After the battle, the weather deteriorated to such an extent that further action in the field was precluded, and the activities of the Allies were restricted to siege operations. During the winter of 1854/55 the shortcomings of the British military supply system were thrown into sharp focus, as thousands of men died from illness, exposure and malnutrition — four times as many died from disease as did from enemy action. One Regiment, nominally over a thousand men strong, was reduced to a total of seven men by January 1855.
The Battle of Sevastopol. Panorama.
The Bloodiest Engagement of the Eastern War
“It had rained almost incessantly the night before, and the early morning gave no promise of any cessation of the heavy showers which had fallen for the previous four and twenty hours. Towards dawn a heavy fog settled down on the heights and on the valley of the Inkermann. The pickets and men on outlying posts were thoroughly saturated, and their arms were wet, despite their precautions… The fog and vapors of drifting rain were so thick as morning broke that one could scarcely see two yards before him. At 4 o’clock the bells of the churches in Sebastopol were heard ringing drearily through the cold night air. During the night, however, a sharp-eared sergeant on an outlying picket of the light division heard the sound of wheels in the valley below, as though they were approaching the position up the hill. He reported the circumstance to Major Bunbury, but it was supposed that the sound arose from ammunition carts or arabas going into Sebastopol. No one suspected for a moment that enormous masses of Russians were creeping up the rugged sides of the heights over the valley of the Inkermann on the undefended flank of the Second Division. There all was security and repose. Little did the slumbering troops in camp imagine that a subtle and indefatigable enemy were bringing into position an overwhelming artillery, ready to play upon their tents at the first glimpse of daylight.
Total Russian losses in the war, including victims of disease, are estimated to amount to 600,000. This was a loss the government could hardly sustain. Nicholas and his ultra-conservative policies were held to be responsible for the formation of the anti-Russian coalition which defeated them. The personal ambitions and irresponsible adventures of Nicholas I, Napoleon III, prime minister Palmerston, and Stratford also played a role in the disaster of the war. Unwise decisions at the very top were made consistently throughout the war. For Russia it meant that reforms were now unavoidable.”
New York Times, 19 October 1855
“Some time must elapse before the suspense of the public can be relieved by any definite intelligence from the new scene of war. All that we can do in the interval is to consider the nature and prospects of the enterprise now announced, and we are confident that in both these respects the expedition to the Crimea will approve itself to the judgment of the country. We have repeatedly expressed our opinion that the capture of Sebastopol would effect more than any other achievement towards accomplishing the object of the war. Such an exploit, indeed, would carry with it nothing less than the destruction of Russian power in the East, and the emancipation of Turkey from that aggressive dominion which perpetually menaced her existence… Finally, we may observe that this expedition will deprive Austria of the most plausible reason she has hitherto alleged for her own inaction — viz, the inaction of the allies themselves. When 80,000 Anglo-French troops have actually landed on Russian territory and invested the redoubtable stronghold of the Czar, it will no longer be possible to accuse us of hesitation, and a similar amount of decision on the part of Austria would go far towards bringing affairs to a conclusive issue.”
The London Times, July 8, 1854
“The following extracts of a letter from a private in the 20th Regiment to his friends at Chelmsford give at once a melancholy picture of the hardships endured by our soldiers in the Crimea, and a renewed assurance of their uncomplaining endurance: “The weather is wet and cold, and we have but little clothing to keep us warm, and scarcely a shoe to our feet; our rations come in only by chance, and then we fall short. We have no firing to cook with, but when we come across a tree or a house we down with it for fuel. We are poisoned with vermin and dirt; the men are dying with cold and exposure; we are tenting it, and are in the open air 20 days out of the month watching the enemy, and there is every sign of our remaining in this position for the winter.” He then adds, “Our worst misfortunes are a want of necessaries for the wounded, but we do not complain. Our officers are noble fellows, and they do all they can to alleviate the sufferings of the men. Our courage is unflinching — ready amid every privation to our utmost for old England’s honour.”
The Times 25 December 1854
The Camp correspondent of the London Times says:
“Early this week the army was agitated by the universal report and belief that they would be sent on some great expedition forthwith, before they settled down in their winter quarters. The French made a great demonstration towards Baldar and Altodor, which led to no result, except directing the attention of the enemy to the pass from the latter place to the plateau of the Belbek. Now, all hope of active operations being undertaken before the winter sets in, has been abandoned; but there is some reason to hope that the advantage offered by Eupatoria as a base of operations, will no longer be neglected, and that the Allies will act on the Russian rear, from that point. It is said that Simpheropol is quite open, and that no field-works or redoubts have been erected to protect it.
Every one is going to Sebastopol. The fear of mines has died out. All day we walk about and watch the Russians. Now and then the soldiers blow themselves up impromptu in the magazines, but, generally speaking, few accidents have occurred.”
The Loss of our Light Brigade by Starvation to the Editor of The Times:
“Sir, — Lord Panmure, the new Minister of War, well observed on Friday night, in answer to Lord Ellenborough, that, in his opinion, it would be advantageous if military as well as naval officers were invariably called to account before a court-martial for every grave disaster which occurred to the troops under their care.
About 400 of its horses (Light Brigade) were lost in an attack in which the prospect of loss was so certain and serious, and the probable advantage to be gained so slight, that I shall ever deplore having been compelled by orders from my superior officer to make it. The remainder of the brigade died, not of disease, not of cold, or exposure, but simply of starvation! The managers of the war, who had sent the most valuable cavalry and artillery horses to this country could collect 3,000 miles across the sea by the most expensive mode of conveyance, and had succeeded in landing them in the Crimea in high health and efficiency, had, according to Lord Cardigan, actually omitted sending thither at the same time sufficient provender to keep them alive!”
The Times 19 Feb 1855
The terms of the Treaty of Paris were detrimental to the goals of the Concert of Europe because they permanently altered the balance of power. As a form of punishment to the Russians, the treaty banned battleships in the Black Sea and the straits, which left Russia with an undefended southern border. Because the balance of power no longer offered Russia a more or less equal position and in fact afforded it a disadvantage, Russia was no longer motivated to uphold what was left of the balance and participate in the Concert of Europe, which was quickly coming unraveled.
In conclusion, the Crimean War was the main cause of the disintegration of the Concert of Europe because war broke out between the great powers, as was not the case with the earlier armed suppressions of revolutions and the Russo-Turkish War.
Compiled by Olga Panasyeva
• March 2, Menshikov arrives in Constantinople with demands on the Porte.
• May 21, Menshikov leaves Constantinople, breaking off relations.
• May 31, Russian ultimatum to Turkey.
• June 8, British fleet approaches the Dardanelles.
• July 2, Russian army crosses the Pruth River into Moldavia (Rumania).
• October 5, Turkey declares war on Russia.
• October 30, British fleet enters the Bosporus.
• November 4, Russians defeated by Turks at Oltenitza (Border with Rumania and Bulgaria).
• November 30, Turkish naval squadron destroyed at Sinope (Asia Minor).
• January 4, Allied fleets enter the Black Sea.
• January 8, Russians invade the Dobruja (Romania).
• February 23, The first British troops sail for Turkey.
• March 28, France and Great Britain declare war on Russia.
• April 20, Austria and Prussia declare their neutrality.
• April 22, The bombardment of Odessa.
• June 26, French and British fleets arrive off of Kronstadt, near St. Petersburg.
• August 21, Bombardment of Kola, in the White Sea, by the British squadron.
• August 30, British naval failure at Petropaulovsk.
• September 5, Allies embark at Varna for the Crimea.
• September 14, Allies land unopposed at Kalamata Bay, north of Sevastopol.
• September 19, Allies encounter Russians at the River Bulganek.
• September 20, the Battle of the River Alma.
• September 23, Russians scuttle fleet in Sevastopol to block entrance to harbour.
• September 26, British enter Balaklava.
• September 29, French commander, St. Arnaud, dies.
• October 17, First bombardment of Sevastopol.
• October 23, Departure from England of Florence Nightingale and 28 nurses.
• October 25, Battle of Balaklava, Charge of the Heavy Brigade, Charge of the Light Brigade
• October 26, Russians attack of ’Little Inkermann’.
• November 4, Florence Nightingale arrives in Scutari with 38 nurses.
• November 5, The Battle of Inkermann.
• November 14, The hurricane in the Crimea.
• January 10, Russians feint attack on Balaklava.
• January 17, Russian attack on Eupatoria, north of Kalamata Bay.
• January 26, The Kingdom of Piedmont joins the Allies.
• February 20, Allied attack across the River Chernaya frustrated by snowstorm.
• February 22, Russians seize and fortify the Mamelon, a position outside of the fortress and in front of the French lines.
• February 24, French attack on Sevastopol fails.
• March 2, Tsar Nicholas I, dies and is succeeded by Alexander II. Menshikov recalled.
• March 15, Conference of Vienna opens.
• April 9, Second bombardment of Sevastopol.
• April 26, Vienna conference closes, without results.
• May 1, Fierce fighting on the French left flank at the Quarantine cemetery.
• May 2, First French expedition sails for Kertch, and is recalled.
• May 16, Conrobert, French Commander, resigns command, and is replaced by Pelissier.
• May 23, Expedition to Kertch sails again (Near the Sea of Azov, west of Sevastopol).
• May 25, Kertch and Yenikale captured.
• May 26, Allied naval forces enter the Sea of Azov.
• June 6, Third bombardment of Sevastopol. Capture of the Mamelon and the Quarries by the Allies.
• June 17, Fourth bombardment of Sevastopol.
• June 18, Main assault on the Malakov and Redan defeated, with heavy losses.
• July 1, General Sir James Simpson appointed to command of the British army in the Crimea.
• July 14, Conference at which Turkish commander Omar Pasha asks permission to withdraw his troops and concentrate on Asia Minor.
• August 7, Second Russian attack at Kars.
• August 16, Russian attack at Battle of the Chernaya River and defeated by French and Kingdom of Piedmont forces (Northeast of Balaklava).
• August 17, Fifth bombardment of Sevastopol.
• September 5, Sixth bombardment of Sevastopol.
• September 8, At Sevastopol, the attack on the Malakov by the French is successful. The French fail at Little Redan; the British fail at the Redan.
• September 9, The Russians evacuate the South Side of Sevastopol.
• September 29, Russians attack at Kars defeated. Cavalry skirmishes at Eupatoria. Omar Pasha’s troops embark for Asia Minor.
• October 7, Kinburn expedition sails for the mouth of the Dnieper River.
• October 17, Allied expedition captures forts at Kinburn. Ochakov evacuated by Russians.
• November 11, Sir James Simpson resigns as British Commander, and is replaced by Sir William Codrington.
• November 15, French magazine at Sevastopol explodes.
• November 26, Russians accept surrender of the Turkish forces at Kars.
• December 8, Omar Pasha’s army forced to withdraw from the River Skeniscal, south of the Caucasus Mountains.
• December 16, Count Esterhazy takes Austria’s ultimatum to St. Petersburg.
• January 16, Tsar Alexander II accepts the Austrian demands.
• January 29, Russian guns bombard Sevastopol.
• February 25, The Paris Peace Conference opens.
• February 29, The Armistice is signed.
• March 30, The Treaty of Paris is signed.
• April 27, Ratification of the Treaty of Paris in London formally ends England’s participation in the war.
Prof. Viktor Yu. Korol,
Ph.D., Shevchenko National University, Kyiv.
The Crimean War of 1853–1856 is a significant historical event open to many interpretations. On the one hand, thousands upon thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers showed feats of heroism fighting against the better equipped and better organized coalition forces. For the Russian Empire, this war was a continuation of the military campaigns in the Crimea and of the Russian-Turkish wars of 1768–1774 and of 1787–1791, whose final result was the inclusion of the Crimean peninsula into the Russian Empire (and eventually it led to the Crimea becoming part of Ukraine). Bravery and heroism demonstrated in the war could — and should — be used in the patriotic education of young people in Ukraine.
On the other hand, the Crimean War in itself, was, like any war is, a tragic event, particularly so for Ukraine, since the interests of the warring parties did not include Ukraine, though thousands of Ukrainians died fighting in the war.
But in spite of the fact that Ukraine was not directly affected by the war, the consequences of it did lead to long range of political changes beneficial for Ukraine.
As is known, the Russian imperial government’s policy in the middle of the nineteenth century was directed at gaining control over Constantinople (Istanbul) and of the Bosporus. In addition to a great strategic importance of having such control established over the historical centre of the Orthodox Christian world, Russia, if successful, would confirm the validity of its historic mission in uniting all the Orthodox nations. The starting point in the idea of the Orthodox messianic mission of Russia is to be found in the so-called Peter’s Testament (Tsar Peter I, the first Russian Emperor, died in 1725), in which the goal of conquering Istanbul was set. In fact, similar ideas are still alive among Russia’s extreme right political forces. The defeat in the Crimean War put an end to the attempts to realize such plans. Europe affectively prevented Russia from pursuing the policy of expansion into the neighbouring countries to the east of the Empire and thus slowed down the development of Russia. But it is known that when an empire stops developing, it begins to crumble, maybe slowly but inadvertently. The failure to win the Crimean War was not directly responsible for the collapse of the Russian Empire but contributed to the emergence of the factors that eventually led to the dismantling of the Empire, and — in the long run — to the emergence of a Ukrainian independent state.
The fact that the 150th anniversary of the Crimean War is going to be marked in Ukraine suggests that a pretentious attempt is being made to impress upon the general public the idea that Ukraine has been destined by history to side with Russia and maintain the common course of opposing the western world. Besides, it can lead to an increase in inter-ethnic tension — the Crimean Tatars were not involved in the Crimean War, which was a war of foreign powers for them, and they did not take part in it — only suffered.
Patriotic upbringing and education cannot do without important historical events being discussed, marked or celebrated. There is more than sufficient number of significant events in the history of Ukraine to be marked and celebrated properly, but such celebrations should be well prepared — popular and scholarly studies and books should be published, mass media should be involved as well to inform the general public of the significance of this or that event. But nothing of the sort is being done, and we will have what boils down to an official celebration of the victory of Great Britain and France over the Russian Empire in a war that did not at that time involve Ukraine’s interests directly, rather than commemoration of those Ukrainians who died giving their lives for the cause that was to bear fruit so many decades later.[Prev][Contents][Next]