Battle of the Alma, 20 September 1854

Battle of the Alma, 20 September 1854

Battle of the Alma, 20 September 1854

The Battle of the Alma was the first major engagement between the British, French and Russians in the Crimean War. The Allied armada had aimed to concentrate in Balchik Bay, fifteen miles north of Varna but delayed due to bad weather.

Lord Raglan arrived in Balchik on the 5 September but found that the French commander, Marshal Armand Jacques Leroy de St Arnaud had already left. It wasn't until the 8 September, with the invasion fleet now strung out, had Raglan finally caught up with him. Raglan learnt that the French now favoured a landing at Kaffa, 100 miles east of Sebastopol. A conference the next day rejected Kaffa and Raglan, as well as eleven other British and French officers, sailed to reconnoitre the west coast of the Crimean Peninsula. They returned to the rendezvous where the rest of the fleet had gathered, forty miles west of Cape Tarakan. The site of the invasion was now in Calamita Bay, some thirty miles north of Sebastopol. The fleet proceeded eastwards and the Allies occupied the small port of Eupatoria on the 13 September with the main landings taking place the next day and continuing for four days due to stormy weather.

The Allies Move South

The Allies started to move south on the morning of the 19 September. The British were on the left flank with two regiments of light cavalry in front of them, while the French and Turks were adjacent to the coast on the right. The Allies subsequently came to the small Bulganek River, which was the first of four major water obstacles to be crossed (the other three were the Alma, Katcha and Belbec Rivers - the Tchernaya River flowed southeast from the Bay) before reaching the Bay of Sebastopol which divided its northern suburbs from the southern dockyards. Raglan sent across the light cavalry to investigate the sighting of Russian Cossacks beyond. As they crossed the sun caught the bayonets of massed Russian infantry hidden in dead ground, waiting in ambush. The cavalry skilfully withdrew covered by 6 and 9pdr field guns. The first skirmish on Crimean ground had occurred.

The march resumed the following day, with the knowledge that the Russians were gathering in strength on the south bank of the Alma, the second river that ran into the Black Sea only five miles from the Bulganek. The northern bank of the river (from which the Allies had to cross from) sloped gently into the river while the southern bank rose, in some places, to fifteen feet, and then to between 300 and 500 feet, presenting an ideal position from which to dominate the river and its approaches. Where the river ran into the sea there was a 350ft cliff with an old Tartar fort overlooking the river-mouth. The three villages in the area (going west to east, Almatamack, Bourliouk and Tarkhanlar) were all on the northern bank and had fords leading to a wagon track, which was suitable for artillery. The old Post Road that led from Eupatoria to Sebastopol passed close to Bourliouk, crossed a wooden bridge and climbed through a gorge dominated by Kourgane Hill (450ft) to the east and Telegraph Height (named from the unfinished telegraph station on the top) to the east. Raglan, who had been in conference with St Arnaud the evening before, had refused to be committed to a stringent plan of battle by the Frenchman. As the Allies approached the Alma River and discerned the overall dispositions of the Russian forces under Prince Menshikov, Raglan's caution the night before was justified. He did however, now accept the basic plan under pressure from St Arnaud, but declined to throw the British forces against the strongest part of the Russian defence at a definite time. Ideally the moment would come after the French had taken the Heights on the right flank and the Russians were disorganised and in some confusion, but Raglan was determined that only he could choose the precise moment.

The Russian Position

Prince Menshikov had discounted the possibility of a serious attack from the west of Telegraph Hill and thought that the Post Road would be the key. He had fortified Kourgane Hill with two positions, called the Greater and Lesser redoubts, which were armed with 12 and nine cannon respectively. Both were in fact low breastworks, 3 - 4ft high. The larger one was a formidable position and the smaller one, built facing the northeast to deter a flank assault, could prove troublesome to a frontal attacker too.

The main Russian forces consisted of 6 Corps under General P D Gorchakov (Lieutenant General D A Kvintsinsky's 16 Infantry Division and Lieutenant General V Ia Kiriakov's 17 Infantry Division) plus one brigade from 14 Infantry Division; a Hussar brigade and two Don Cossack regiments of cavalry; 4 battalions from the 13 Infantry Division (two from the Belostock and two from the Brest regiments); one rifle battalion; one naval battalion; and one engineer regiment. In total, he had some forty-two infantry battalions, sixteen squadrons of light cavalry, eleven squadrons of Cossacks and eighty-four guns. Menshikov was under the impression that the track onto the heights close to the sea was unable to be used for military purposes, and so deployed a single battalion of the Minsk Regiment with half a battery of field guns near to Ulkul Akles, a mile to the south of the river mouth, with a single company forward in the Tartar fort. The main Russian defence line therefore started about 2,000yds along the Alma, just east of Almatamack. There, Menshikov stationed the four battalions of the Brest and Belostock regiments, with the Tarutin Regiment available in reserve to support. To the east of them, the Borodin Regiment straddled the Post Road, supported by two batteries of field artillery, while the Moskov Regiment was held in reserve to support them. The Kazan Regiment was deployed to defend the Greater Redoubt, with the Vladimir and Uglitz regiments, aided by two Don Cossack field batteries in reserve. The Suzdel Regiment guarded the flank in the Lesser Redoubt and had two Don Cossack regiments supporting it. Additional reserves were available some 2,000yds south of the Alma, astride the old Post Road (the Volyn Regiment, three battalions from the Minsk Regiment, a Hussar brigade and a light horse battery).

There seems to have been some confusion in the Russian ranks as to who exactly commanded what, as the units west of the Post Road seem to have been under Kiriakov, but the Borodin Regiment was actually still administratively part of Kvintsinsky's 16 Division. Added to that, Kiriakov was under Menshikov's direct command, not that of his Corps commander, Gorchakov. Kvitsinsky exercised tactical command of Kourgane Hill. Menshikov therefore had some 33,000 infantry, 3,400 cavalry and 116 guns at his disposal and an excellent natural position to defend. Some 20,000 men and eighty guns were east of Telegraph Height covering the gorge and Kourgane Hill while 13,000 men and thirty-six guns were stationed between Telegraph Height and the sea.

The Allied Deployment

The French and Turks deployed some 37,000 men and sixty-eight field guns on the Allied right next to the sea (and so could be supported by steamers just offshore). The two brigades of the French 2nd Division under Bosquet would use the steep coastal path and the track near Almatamack, while the 1st Division under Canrobert, positioned to the east of Bosquet, would advance directly south (passing just to the east of Almatamack) and use another identified track. To the east of Canrobert was the 3rd Division under Prince Napoleon, which would attack Telegraph Height directly and be supported by General Forey's 4th Division on an 'as required' basis. The British force was on the Allied left and Raglan had some 26,000 men and sixty guns and faced he strongest part of the enemy defence. The 2nd Division was to the east of the French 3rd Division, in line with the Light Division on the Allied far left. The 3rd and 1st Divisions formed a second line (the 3rd behind the 2nd and the 1st behind the Light), with the 4th Division in reserve and the Light Brigade guarding the flank.

The Allies had been slow to move away from their camp but my 11.30am the main Allied force had halted 1.5 miles from the Alma while it waited for Bosquet to continue his advance. Either through poor staff work or inexperience, the British now found themselves too close to their Allies and did not have sufficient room in which to deploy properly. A number of units overlapped and the resulting congestion was never really sorted out. Naval gunfire started around noon in support, and the Russian company in the Tartar fort withdrew as the French approached. By 1pm Bosquet had reached the heights close to the sea and the British resumed their advance. After half-an-hour they halted and waited for French success against Telegraph Height. They were now just within Russian artillery range which started a constant barrage. Bosquet's two brigades, under Bouat and Autemarre, began their advance up their respective tracks. After some time their artillery arrived and St Arnaud gave the order for Canrobert and Napoleon to start their assault. At this point things began to unravel. As Canrobert moved forward, he found that the track he was to use (the second from the sea) was unfit for artillery and so sent it around to follow in the wake of Autemarre's. This caused a delay, which almost proved fatal. Canrobert's 1st Division, like Bouat's brigade, could not continue the advance until their artillery were in position and therefore could not contribute to the overall attack. The Russians by this time had started to react to the French presence and had started to shift troops and artillery to bring fire to bear on both Canrobert and Napoleon's divisions. After an hour-and-a-half the French had failed to take Telegraph Height, as they were still unable to get sufficient field guns onto the high ground to support the attack as doctrine required. Unfortunately, Bosquet was in no position to assist. Raglan, always sensitive to the suffering of his men, realised that his immobile forces were taking casualties in their exposed position and so ordered a resumption of the advance at 3pm.

At this point, Raglan and his staff crossed the river just west of Bourliouk to a position where he could see Kourgane Hill and the Russian reserves. He realised that the enemy might be enfiladed from this spot and so sent back for a brigade of the 2nd Division and field artillery to join him. Meanwhile the Light Division had gone rather haphazardly into the assault after having become somewhat disorganised while crossing the Alma. The division took the Great redoubt after suffering serious casualties but withdrew due to a confused order from an unknown staff officer, prompted by a rather ponderous and overly cautious Russian counterattack. At around 3.40pm, two field guns reached Raglan and started to harass the enemy positions on Kourgane Hill as the 1st Division, following up the Light Division, retook the redoubts with the Highland Brigade taking the Lesser (after a counterattack by the Suzdel Regiment), and the Guards Brigade (after becoming disorganised as the Light Division had done in crossing the Alma) taking the Greater, despite the Scots Fusilier Guards being partly carried away by the retreating Light Division. The 2nd Division continued its advance, but became seriously disorganised in its crossing of the Alma and having to move around the burning village of Bourliouk. It took time to reorganise and form up but then advanced towards the amphitheatre formed between Kourgane Hill and Telegraph Heights. One of the regiments, the 95th, become separated and moved off in the direction of where the Guards Brigade had began their assault. Another, the 55th, went to the aid of the 7th Royal Fusiliers who had become embroiled in a life-or-death struggle with the Kazan Regiment. The arrival of the 2nd Division, and close behind it the 3rd Division, both relatively fresh, finally turned the tables. The Russians started to fall back. With the British now in possession of Kourgane Hill, the French finally assaulted and occupied Telegraph Height. By 4.30pm the battle had been won and the Russians were in full retreat. Lucan sent the Light Brigade in pursuit but it was recalled by Raglan as the Russians still had some 3,000 uncommitted cavalry in reserve and Kiriakov had rallied infantry and some thirty guns two miles south of Telegraph Height. Raglan asked St Arnaud to take up the pursuit but the Frenchman declined as his troops' supplies had been left on the northern bank of the river, and his artillery was almost out of ammunition.

The British suffered some 2,000 casualties (362 killed), the French are reported to have suffered some 1,243 casualties (a number of these are thought to be cholera victims) and the Russians incurred some 5,511 casualties (1,810 killed). It was the first battle between European nations for almost forty years and a crucial victory, as failure here may well have brought the entire Crimean campaign to a premature end. Menshikov however, should not have been evicted from such a strong position so easily, his overconfidence playing a major part in the outcome. The British had used the line in attack very skilfully and while they had proved amateurish and disorganised in administration, had fought with bravery and courage. The French, while better prepared, had failed to exploit the surprise gained with their flank attack. More importantly, the Allied entente held.


Books on the Crimean War | Subject Index: Crimean War


Magnificent, but Not War: George B. McClellan in Crimea

The Crimean War holds a strange place in history. Remembered for a failed cavalry charge and a woman of mercy, the war paved the way for a united Italy, British Army reform, and military correspondence.

It was also a war witnessed by foreign observers, one of them a young American who would become infamous in the next war the United Stated found itself engaging.

Charge of the Light Brigade by Caton Woodville

Fought from 1853-1856 between the Russian Empire and Ottoman Empire, over, as was so often the case, the Balkans, the matter of religious protection of the Ottoman’s Catholic population drew in France under Napoleon III, and the British followed suit following a threatening Russian naval action in the Mediterranean. Looking ahead to a united Italy, Sardinia threw their hat in with the British, French, and Ottoman’s against the Russian Bear.

George McClellan at National Portrait Gallery

As per the customs of the time, foreign officers observed the two sides wage their war, taking notes and reporting back to their homelands with observations and ideas about new tactics and the potential threat of the various participating factions.

Among those military observers was a young American officer by the name of George B. McClellan. Before he gained his fame and infamy in the American Civil War, McClellan observed as the Old World once more went to war.

With the escalation of the war in 1855, United States Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, seeking to keep the United States military up to date, received Presidential approval to send a three-man team on a tour of Europe’s militaries and observe The Crimean War.

A young Captain not even thirty years old, McClellan joined the team along with two Majors Richard Delafield and Alfred Mordecai. Though incredibly flattered by the choice that may well have made his future career, privately he complained of being sent to Europe with, as he put it, “those d–d old fogies!!”

Siege of Sevastopol

The British quickly agreed to let the American observers witness their Army’s actions at the siege of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

The French, however, balked, only agreeing to allow the Americans to observe the French forces if they agreed not to observe the enemy Russians as well. The French, for whatever reason, feared the Americans would reveal military secrets to the forces of the Czar. The three Americans refused and moved to petition the Russians.

Reaching St. Petersburg in mid-June, the three Americans quickly discovered their petition, easily granted by the Czar, lost within the primitive yet ponderously complex bureaucracy of the archaic autocracy. Not wanting to waste time, the American observers darted around northern Europe collecting material on Russian and Prussian military installations.

Soldiers near trench, the Great Redan, Sevastopol.

Russia finally responded to the three’s request in mid-August. Similar to the French, the Russians refused to let the Americans observe their forces if they intended to do the same with their enemies.

As by that time Sevastopol had already fallen, the three exasperated commissioners rejected the Russian conditions, accepted the French terms, and contented themselves that observing the abandoned Russian defensive works would have to be good enough for their reports.

On October 8, 1855, the three reached Balaclava, linking up with the British as they got to work once again. Though McClellan focused the bulk of his report on European militaries, he devoted the opening of his research on the war’s progress in Crimea.

Though the city fell, the Russians still made their presence known, their artillery echoing in the distance. McClellan was grateful for the chance to be under fire, no matter how distant it might have been.

2nd Rifle Brigade leading the Light Division across the river at the Battle of the Alma on 20th September 1854 during the Crimean War: picture by Louis Johns

McClellan’s report included detailed postulations on the Battle of the Alma, an early step in the allied effort to reach Sevestopol. Of the Russian’s efforts at the battle, the young Captain wrote “Instead of offering battle at the Alma, two other plans were open for the consideration of the Russian.”

McClellan wrote that Russian strategy should have been to destroy the surrounding, smaller harbors to deny them to the enemy, leaving a defensive garrison in Sevastopol and using the rest of their forces “to operate on the left flank of the allies, in which case his superior knowledge of the ground ought to have enabled him at least to delay them many days in a precarious position.”

The Siege of Sevastopol by Franz Roubaud (1904)

The Second potential plan, as McClellan saw it, was to “remain in the vicinity of the city, occupy the plateau to the south of it, and allow the allies to plunge as deeply as they chose into the cul de sac thus opened to them.” Both plans demonstrated a daring and tactical depth McClellan admitted partially born of hindsight.

Though Russian forces were forced to give up the harbor fort, the young Captain could not help but admire their stalwart defense, writing “They were attacked as field works never were before, and were defended as field works never had been defended.”

Siege of Sevastopol 1855 by Grigoryi Shukaev

On the allies’ effort at the Alma, McClellan wrote that the combined forces should have “cut off the Russian army from Sebastopol, and following the battle by a rapid advance upon the city, to enter it, at all hazards, over the bodies of its weak garrison, effect (sic) their purposes, and either retire to the fleet or hold the town.”

The second thing they should have done, according to McClellan, was “cut off the Russian army of operations from all external succor on the part of troops coming from the direction of Simpheropol (sic), to drive them into the city, and enter at their heels.”

Map of Crimean War (in Russian)
Черное Море = Black Sea, Российская Империя = Russian Empire (yellow), Австрийская Империя = Austrian Empire (pink), Османская Империя = Ottoman Empire (dark grey) I, Koryakov Yuri CC BY 2.5

Of the defensive works themselves, he observed “that the siege of Sebastopol proved the superiority of temporary (earthen) fortifications over those of a permanent nature. It is easy to show that it proved nothing of the kind, but that it only proved that temporary works in the hands of a brave and skilful garrison are susceptible of a longer defence (sic) than was generally supposed.”

Lincoln in McClellan’s tent after the Battle of Antietam

Summarizing his section on Crimea, McClellan concluded that the United States should maintain its coastal defenses, improve the drilling and organization of its military, and maintain a small, disciplined defensive force. Looking to invasion rather than offense, McClellan noted the effect of artillery in support of defensive fortifications.

In McClellan’s reports we see the future battles of the American Civil War the flanking efforts of Rebel generals making use of their knowledge of Southern terrain and the future earthworks of Vicksburg are echoed in the rapid movement of the allies and stalwart defense of Sevastopol by the Russians.

U.S. Civil War -Fredericksburg attack on Rebel works by Alfred Waud 1862

Further ahead, the use of artillery in support of defensive trench works foretells the bloody stalemate of the Western Front. Though McClellan did not lead Union forces long enough to see their full echoing in the actions in Crimea, the future of warfare is clear in his report, and, had he foreseen the lessons on which he wrote, his own campaigns in Virginia may have ended very differently.

Cited Sources:
McClellan, George B., Report of the Secretary of War: Communicating the Report of Captain George B. McClellan, (First Regiment United States Cavalry,) One of the Officers Sent to the Seat of War in Europe, in 1855 and 1856, AOP Nicholson, 1857.

Sears, Stephens W., George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon, De Capo Press, 1999.


Contents

September 1854 Edit

The allies (French, Ottoman, and British) landed at Eupatoria on 14 September 1854. [10] The Battle of the Alma (20 September 1854), which is usually considered the first battle of the Crimean War (1853–1856), took place just south of the River Alma in the Crimea. [11] An Anglo-French force under Jacques Leroy de Saint Arnaud and FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan defeated General Alexander Sergeyevich Menshikov's Russian army, which lost around 6,000 troops. [12]

Moving from their base at Balaklava at the start of October, French and British engineers began to direct the building of siege lines along the Chersonese uplands to the south of Sevastopol. [13] The troops prepared redoubts, gun batteries, and trenches. [14]

With the Russian army and its commander Prince Menshikov gone, the defence of Sevastopol was led by Vice Admirals Vladimir Alexeyevich Kornilov and Pavel Nakhimov, assisted by Menshikov's chief engineer, Lieutenant Colonel Eduard Totleben. [15] The military forces available to defend the city were 4,500 militia, 2,700 gunners, 4,400 marines, 18,500 naval seamen, and 5,000 workmen, totalling just over 35,000 men. [ citation needed ]

The Russians began by scuttling their ships to protect the harbour, then used their naval cannon as additional artillery and the ships' crews as marines. [16] Those ships deliberately sunk by the end of 1855 included Grand Duke Constantine, City of Paris (both with 120 guns), Khrabryi, Imperatritsa Maria, Chesma, Rostislav, and Yagondeid (all 84 guns), Kavarna (60 guns), Konlephy (54 guns), steam frigate Vladimir, steamboats Thunderer, Bessarabia, Danube, Odessa, Elbrose, and Krein. [ citation needed ]

October 1854 Edit

By mid-October, the Allies had some 120 guns ready to fire on Sevastopol the Russians had about three times as many. [17]

On 5 October (old style date, 17 October new style) [a] the artillery battle began. [18] The Russian artillery first destroyed a French magazine, silencing their guns. British fire then set off the magazine in the Malakoff redoubt, killing Admiral Kornilov, silencing most of the Russian guns there, and leaving a gap in the city's defences. However, the British and French withheld their planned infantry attack, and a possible opportunity for an early end to the siege was missed. [ citation needed ]

At the same time, to support the Allied land forces, the Allied fleet pounded the Russian defences and shore batteries. Six screw-driven ships of the line and 21 wooden sail were involved in the sea bombardment (11 British, 14 French, and two Ottoman Turkish). After a bombardment that lasted over six hours, the Allied fleet inflicted little damage on the Russian defences and coastal artillery batteries while suffering 340 casualties among the fleet. Two of the British warships were so badly damaged that they were towed to the arsenal in Constantinople for repairs and remained out of action for the remainder of the siege, while most of the other warships also suffered serious damage due to many direct hits from the Russian coastal artillery. The bombardment resumed the following day, but the Russians had worked through the night and repaired the damage. This pattern would be repeated throughout the siege. [ citation needed ]

November 1854 Edit

In late October and early November, the battles of Balaclava [19] and Inkerman [20] took place beyond the siege lines. Balaclava gave the Russians a morale boost and convinced them that the Allied lines were thinly spread out and undermanned. [21] But after their defeat at Inkerman, [22] the Russians saw that the siege of Sevastopol would not be lifted by a battle in the field, so instead they moved troops into the city to aid the defenders. Toward the end of November, a winter storm ruined the Allies' camps and supply lines. Men and horses sickened and starved in the poor conditions. [ citation needed ]

While Totleben extended the fortifications around the Redan bastion and the Malakoff redoubt, British chief engineer John Fox Burgoyne sought to take the Malakoff, which he saw as the key to Sevastopol. Siege works were begun to bring the Allied troops nearer to the Malakoff in response, Totleben dug rifle pits from which Russian troops could snipe at the besiegers. In a foretaste of the trench warfare that became the hallmark of the First World War, the trenches became the focus of Allied assaults. [ citation needed ]

1855 Edit

The Allies were able to restore many supply routes when winter ended. The new Grand Crimean Central Railway, built by the contractors Thomas Brassey and Samuel Morton Peto, which had been completed at the end of March 1855 [23] was now in use bringing supplies from Balaclava to the siege lines. The 24 mile long railroad delivered more than five hundred guns and plentiful ammunition. [23] The Allies resumed their bombardment on 8 April (Easter Sunday). On 28 June (10 July), Admiral Nakhimov died from a head wound inflicted by an Allied sniper. [24]

On 24 August (5 September) the Allies started their sixth and the most severe bombardment of the fortress. Three hundred and seven cannon fired 150,000 rounds, with the Russians suffering 2,000 to 3,000 casualties daily. On 27 August (8 September), thirteen Allied divisions and one Allied brigade (total strength 60,000) began the last assault. The British assault on the Great Redan failed, but the French, under General MacMahon, managed to seize the Malakoff redoubt and the Little Redan, making the Russian defensive position untenable. By the morning of 28 August (9 September), the Russian forces had abandoned the southern side of Sevastopol. [8] [25]

Although defended heroically and at the cost of heavy Allied casualties, the fall of Sevastopol would lead to the Russian defeat in the Crimean War. [1] Most of the Russian casualties were buried in Brotherhood cemetery in over 400 collective graves. The three main commanders (Nakhimov, Kornilov, and Istomin) were interred in the purpose-built Admirals' Burial Vault. [ citation needed ]

  • Skirmish at River Bulganek (19 September 1854) (20 September 1854)
  • First bombardment of Sevastopol (17 October 1854) (25 October 1854)
  • Battle of Little Inkerman (26 October 1854) (5 November 1854)
  • Aborted Russian attack at Balaklava (10 January 1855) (17 February 1855)
  • Aborted allied attack at Chernaya (20 February 1855)
  • Russian army assaults and seizes the Mamelon (22 February 1855)
  • French assault on the "White Works" repulsed (24 February 1855)
  • Second bombardment of Sevastopol (9 April 1855)
  • British assault "the Rifle Pits" successfully (19 April 1855)
  • Battle of the Quarantine Cemetery (1 May 1855)
  • Third bombardment of Sevastopol (6 June 1855)
  • Allies successfully assault the "White Works", Mamelon and "The Quarries" (8-9 June 1855)
  • Fourth bombardment of Sevastopol (17 June 1855)
  • Allied assaults on the Malakoff and Great Redan repulsed (18 June 1855) (16 August 1855)
  • Fifth bombardment of Sevastopol (17 August 1855)
  • Sixth bombardment of Sevastopol (7 September 1855)
  • Allies assault the Malakoff, Little Redan, Bastion du Mat and the Great Redan (8 September 1855)
  • Russians retreat from Sevastopol on 9 September 1855

The British sent cannons seized at Sevastopol to many towns in Britain, and several important cities across the Empire. [b] [28] [29] Additionally, several were sent to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. These cannon are now all kept at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (renamed after the closing of RMA Woolwich shortly after the Second World War) and are displayed in front of Old College, next to cannon from Waterloo and other battles. Many of the cannon sent to towns in Britain were melted down during the Second World War to help the war effort, though several of these have subsequently been replaced by replicas. [c] [30]

The cascabel (the large ball at the rear of old muzzle-loaded guns) of several cannon captured during the siege was said to have been used to make the British Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the British Armed Forces. However, Hancocks, the manufacturer, confirms that the metal is Chinese, not Russian, bronze. The cannons used are in the Firepower Museum in Woolwich and are clearly Chinese. There would be no reason why Chinese cannon would be in Sevastopol in the 1850s and it is likely that the VC guns were, in fact, British trophies from the China war in the 1840s held in the Woolwich repository. Though it had been suggested that the VCs should be made from Sevastopol cannons, it seems that in practice, they were not. Testing of medals which proved not to be of Russian bronze has given rise to stories that some Victoria Crosses were made of low grade material at certain times but this is not so – all Victoria Crosses have been made from the same metal from the start.

Components of the 1861 Guards Crimean War Memorial by John Bell, in Waterloo Place, St James's, London, were made from melted down Sevastopol cannons. [31]


Watercolour by Orlando Norie (1832-1901), 1854.

The Coldstream Guards are shown exchanging fire with Russian Infantry. Orlando Norie's uncle, Frederick Norie, is believed to have accompanied the Sardinian Army to the Crimea, painting a number of military scenes there in 1854-1855. Although Orlando painted a number of Crimean battle scenes, it is thought that he did not travel to the seat of war in the East, but rather based his watercolours on his uncle's sketches. This may account for the 'staged' quality of the picture.


Battle of the Alma, 20 September 1854 - History

This document has been shared, most graciously, with the Victorian Web by David Stewart of Hillsdale College, Michigan it has been taken from the College's website. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr. Stewart.-- Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.

Bivouac, River Alma, 21 September 1854

I hasten to write a few lines to tell you I am safe and sound, knowing how anxious you will be, after hearing that we have had an action with the Russians.

Accounts of the battle you will see in the papers, much better describing it than any I could give, as I could see nothing beyond what was going on in my own brigade. That you will see was in the thickest of it, as the returns of our casualties will prove, our loss being very severe. The march from Kamischli to Baljanik, where we bivouacked on the night of the 19th, and again from Baljanik to Alma, was the grandest spectacle I ever saw. The whole Army, French, English, and Turkish, advanced in battle array for that distance over a plain as smooth almost as a lawn, and with just sufficient undulation to shew one at times the whole force at a coup d'oeil. My division was on the left, and we were about three miles from the sea the fleet, coasting along abreast of us, completed the picture.

Left to right: (a) The allied route to Sevastopol This map is taken from Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan (Longmans, 1961), p. 10, with the author's kind permission. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr Hibbert. (b) Victory of the Alma from Punch . (c) The Late Marshall St. Arnaud, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies . [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

At about 12 o'clock on the 20th, on crowning a ridge, we came all at once in sight of the Russian army, in an entrenched camp beyond the Alma, distant about three miles. Immediately we appeared they set fire to a village between us and them so as to mask their force by the smoke.

We continued advancing steadily, halting occasionally to rest the men, till half-past one, when the first shot was fired, and soon after the rattle of musketry told us that our rifle skirmishers were engaged. Our division then deployed into line, and we stood so for about twenty minutes, an occasional round shot rolling up to us, but so spent that one was able to step aside from it. Wounded men from the front soon began to be carried through our lines to the rear, and loose and wounded horses began to gallop about.

At last we were ordered to advance, which we did for about 300 yards nearer the batteries, and halted, and the men lay down. We were now well within range, and the round shot fell tolerably thick, an occasional shell bursting over our heads.

After standing steady for about twenty minutes, the light division (who were in line in front of us) advanced again, and we followed.

The Russians had put posts to mark the ranges, which they had got with great accuracy. We now advanced to within 200 yards of the river and 700 from the batteries, and halted under a low wall for five minutes, till we saw the light division over the river, when we continued our advance in support of them. On crossing the wall we came into vineyards, and here the cannonade was most terrific, the grape and canister falling around us like hail — the flash of each gun being instantly followed by the splash of grape among the tilled ground like a handful of gravel thrown into a pool.

On reaching the river, the fire from a large body of riflemen was added, but the men dashed through, up to their middle in water, and halted on the opposite side to re-form their ranks, under shelter of a high bank. At this moment the light division had gained the intrenchment, and the British colour was planted in the fort but, ammunition failing them, they were forced back.

The Scots Fusiliers were hurried on to support them before they had time to reform themselves, and the 23rd, retiring in some confusion upon them, threw them for a few minutes into utter disorder. The Russians, perceiving this, dashed out of the fort upon them, and a frightful struggle took place which ended in their total discomfiture.

For a minute or two the Scots Fusilier colours stood alone in the front, while General Bentinck rallied the men to them, their officers leading them on gallantly.

At this moment I rode off to the Coldstream, through whose ranks the light division had retired, leaving them the front line. They advanced up the hill splendidly, with the Highlanders on their left, and not a shot did they fire till within 150 or 200 yards from the intrenchments. A battery of 18 and 24 pounders was in position in our front, and a swarm of riflemen behind them. Fortunately the enemy's fire was much too high, passing close over our heads, the men who were killed being all hit on the crown of the head, and the Coldstream actually lost none. When we got about fifty yards from the intrenchment, the enemy turned tail, leaving us masters of the battery and the day.

As they retired they took all their guns except two, and a great many of their wounded. In spite of this the ground was covered with dead and dying, lying in heaps in every direction on what might be called the glacis, and inside the intrenchments they were so thick that one could hardly avoid riding over them but the excitement of the victory stifled for the time all feeling of horror for such a scene, and it was not till this morning when I visited the battle-field, that I could at all realise the horrors which must be the price of such a day. Most fervently did I thank God, who had preserved me amidst such dangers. How I escaped seems to me the more marvellous the more I think of it. Though on horseback (on my old charger), my cocked-hat and clothes were sprinkled all over with blood.

The loss of the Brigade of Guards is very severe, but the proportion of deaths to wounded is extraordinarily small. On calling the roll after the action, 312 rank and file and fifteen officers were discovered to be killed and wounded.

Besides there was my poor friend Horace Cust, who was struck by a round shot in crossing the river. He was aide-de-camp to General Bentinck, and we were watering our horses at the time when the shot struck his horse in the shoulder and smashed poor Cust's thigh. He died soon after the leg was amputated. Charles Baring, who has lost his arm (taken out of the socket) is the only other Coldstream officer hit. They only went into action with sixteen officers, less than half their complement.

We have been occupied the whole day in burying the dead. About 1000 were laid in the ditch of the fort, and the earthen parapet was then thrown back upon them. We find that the whole garrison of Sebastopol were before us, under Mentschikoff in person. His carriage has fallen into our hands, and in it a letter stating that Sebastopol could hold out a long time against us, but that there was a position at Alma which could hold out three weeks. We took it in three hours.

So convinced were they of the impossibility of our taking it that ladies were actually there as spectators, little expecting the review they were destined to be spectators of. We expect now to find no resistance whatever at the Katcha river, the whole Russian force having retired into Sebastopol. We always turn out at four o'clock in the morning, an hour before daybreak.


Oil on canvas, by E Walker (fl 1836-62), 1854.

The 7th Royal Fusiliers and the Coldstream Guards attack Russian-held heights.

When Britain and France joined Turkey in a war against Russia, the main theatre of war was in the Crimean peninsula. The first action of the Crimean War (1854-1856) took place when an allied force found its route to the naval base of Sevastopol blocked at the Alma River. The Russian force, under the command of Prince Alexander Sergeievich Menshikov, numbered 36,400 men.

The allied force crossed the river without too much difficulty but were then faced by a steep slope. This was only carried after a hard fight and the Russians were driven off the heights south of the river. Menshikov lost 1,200 men killed, although more than 4,000 Russians were captured. Allied losses were heavier with about 3,000 British and 1,000 French soldiers killed in action.

In this representation of the Battle of the Alma, the artist has compressed the action by depicting the 7th (Royal Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot, the Coldstream Guards and men of the Highland Brigade storming the Great Redoubt simultaneously. In reality the Highlanders carried out an outflanking move to the left, the Fusiliers were involved in a protracted firefight to the right and the only one of these formations actually to close with the Redoubt was the Guards.


The Battle of the Alma 1854

On 20 September 1854 the combined British and French armies confronted the Russians at the river Alma in the critical opening encounter of the Crimean War. This was the first major battle the British had fought on European soil since Waterloo almost 40 years before. In this compelling and meticulously researched study, Ian Fletcher and Natalia Ishchenko reconstruct the battle in vivid detail, using many rare and unpublished eyewitness accounts from all sides - English, French and Russian. Their groundbreaking work promises to be the definitive history of this extraordinary clash of arms for many years to come. It also gives a fascinating insight into military thinking and organization in the 1850s, midway between the end of the Napoleonic era and the outbreak of the Great War.


Crimean Fiasco: Battle of the Alma

Two world wars have obscured the huge scale and enormous human cost of the Crimean War. Today it is almost forgotten. Even in the countries that took part in it (Russia, Britain, France, Piedmont-Sardinia in Italy and the Ottoman Empire, including those territories that would later make up Romania and Bulgaria) there are not many people today who could say what the Crimean War was about. But before World War I the Crimea was the major conflict of the 19th century.

The losses were immense—at least three-quarters of a million soldiers killed in battle or lost through illness and disease, twothirds of them Russian. The French lost around 100,000 men, the British about 20,000, because they sent far fewer troops (98,000 British soldiers and sailors were involved in the Crimea compared to 310,000 French). Nobody has counted the civilian casualties: people starved to death in besieged towns populations devastated by disease entire communities wiped out in campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Crimea. This was the first “total war,” a 19th century version of the wars of our own age.

It was also the earliest truly modern war—fought with new industrial technologies novel forms of logistics and communication important innovations in military medicine and reporters and photographers directly on the scene. Yet at the same time it was the last war to be conducted by the old codes of chivalry. The early battles in the Crimea, on the River Alma and at Balaklava, were not very different from the fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Yet the siege of Sevastopol, the longest and most crucial phase of the Crimean War, was a precursor of the industrialized trench warfare of 1914–18.

The war began in 1853 between Ottoman and Russian forces in the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia—today’s Romania— and spread to the Caucasus, where the Turks and the British encouraged and supported the struggle of the Muslim tribes against Russia, and from there to other areas of the Black Sea. By 1854, with the intervention of the British and the French on Turkey’s side and the Austrians threatening to join this anti-Russian alliance, the tsar withdrew his forces from the principalities, and the fighting shifted to the Crimea.

The soldiers on the ships [of the allied fleet invading Crimea> had no clear idea where they were going. At Varna they had been kept in the dark about the war plans, and all sorts of rumors had circulated among the men. Without maps or any direct knowledge of the Russian southern coast, the enterprise assumed the character of an adventure from the voyages of discovery. Few had any idea of what they were fighting for—other than to “beat the Russians” and “do God’s will,” to quote two French soldiers in their letters home.

When the expedition left for the Crimea, its leaders were uncertain where it was to land. On September 8, [British commander General Lord] Raglan, on the steamer Caradoc, conferred with [commander Marshal of France Jacques Leroy de] Saint-Arnaud, on Ville de France. Saint-Arnaud finally agreed to Raglan’s choice of a landing site, at Kalamita Bay, a long, sandy beach 28 miles north of Sevastopol.

The French were the first to disembark, their advance parties scrambling ashore and erecting colored tents at measured distances along the beach to designate the separate landing points for the infantry divisions of [General François] Canrobert, General Pierre Bosquet and Prince Napoléon, the emperor’s cousin. By nightfall they had all disembarked with their artillery.

The British landing was a shambles compared to the French—a contrast that would become all too familiar during the Crimean War. No plans had been made for a peaceful landing unopposed (it was assumed they would have to fight their way onto the beach), so the infantry was landed first, when the sea was calm by the time the British tried to get their cavalry ashore, the wind was up, and the horses struggled in the heavy surf. Saint-Arnaud watched the scene with mounting frustration, as his plans for a surprise attack on Sevastopol were undermined by the delay. “The English have the unpleasant habit of always being late,” he wrote to the emperor.

It took five days for the British troops and cavalry to disembark. Many of the men were sick with cholera and had to be carried off the boats. There were no facilities for moving baggage and equipment overland, so parties had to be sent out to collect carts and wagons from the local Tatar farms. There was no food or water for the men, except the three days’ rations they had been given at Varna, and no tents or kitbags were offloaded from the ships, so the soldiers spent their first nights without shelter, unprotected from the heavy rain or the blistering heat of the next days.

At last, on September 19, the British were prepared, and at daybreak the advance on Sevastopol began. The French marched on the right, nearest the sea, their blue uniforms contrasting with the scarlet tunics of the British, while the fleet moved south alongside them as they advanced. Four miles wide and just over three miles long, the advancing column was “all bustle and activity,” wrote Frederick Oliver, bandmaster of the 20th Regiment, in his diary. Apart from the compact lines of soldiers, there was an enormous train of “cavalry, guns, ammunition, horses, bullocks, packhorses, mules, herds of dromedaries, a drove of oxen and a tremendous drove of sheep, goats and bullocks, all of which had been taken from the surrounding countryside by the foraging parties.” By midday, with the sun beating down, the column began to break up, as thirsty soldiers fell behind or left to search for water in the nearby Tatar settlements. When they reached the River Bulganak, seven miles from Kalamita Bay, in the middle of the afternoon, discipline broke down altogether, as the British soldiers threw themselves into the “muddy stream.”

Ahead of them, on the slopes rising south from the river, the British got their first sight of the Russians—2,000 Cossack cavalry, who opened fire on a scouting party from the 13th Light Dragoons. The rest of the Light Brigade, the pride of the British cavalry, prepared to charge the Cossacks, who outnumbered them 2-to-1, but Raglan saw that behind the Russian horsemen there was a sizeable infantry force that could not be seen by his cavalry commanders, Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan, who were farther down the hill. Raglan ordered a retreat, and the Light Brigade withdrew, while the Cossacks jeered and shot at them, wounding several cavalrymen. The British bivouacked on the southern slopes of the Bulganak, from which they could make out the Russian troops amassed on the Alma Heights, three miles away. The next morning they would march down the valley and engage the Russians, whose defenses were on the other side of the Alma.

[Russian commander Prince Aleksandr] Menshikov had decided to commit the majority of his land forces to the defense of the Alma Heights, the last natural barrier on the enemy’s approach to Sevastopol, which his troops had occupied since September 15, but his fears of a second allied landing at Kerch or Theodosia (fears the tsar shared) led him to keep back a large reserve. Thus there were 35,000 Russian soldiers on the Alma Heights—less than the 60,000 Western troops but with the crucial advantage of the hills—and more than 100 guns. The heaviest guns were deployed on a series of redoubts above the road to Sevastopol that crossed the river less than three miles inland, but there were none on the cliffs facing the sea, which Menshikov assumed were too steep for the enemy to climb. Many officers were sure of victory. Menshikov was so confident he invited parties of Sevastopol ladies to watch the battle with him from the Alma Heights.

The Russian troops themselves were not so confident. Few if any of these men had ever engaged in a battle with the army of a major European power. The sight of the mighty allied fleet anchored just offshore and ready to support the enemy’s land forces with its heavy guns made it clear to them they were going to fight an army stronger than their own.

By midmorning the allied armies were assembling on the plain, the British on the left of the Sevastopol Road, the French and Turks on the right, stretching out toward the coastal cliffs. It was a clear and sunny day, and the air was still. From Telegraph Hill, where Menshikov’s well-dressed spectators had arrived in carriages to watch the scene, the details of the French and British uniforms could be clearly seen the sound of their drums, their bugles and bagpipes, even the clinking of metal and the neighing of the horses could be heard.

The Russians opened fire when the allies came within 2,000 yards—a spot marked with poles to let their gunners know the advancing troops were within range—but the British and the French continued marching forward toward the river. According to the plan the allies had agreed to the day before, the two armies were to advance simultaneously on a broad front and try to turn the enemy’s flank on the left—the inland side. But at the final moment Raglan decided to delay the British advance until the French had broken through on the right he made his troops lie on the ground, within range of the Russian guns, in a position from which they could scramble to the river when the time was right. There they lay for an hour and a half, from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m., losing men as the Russian gunners found their range. It was an astonishing example of Raglan’s indecisiveness.

While the British were lying on the ground, Bosquet’s division arrived at the river near the sea, where the cliffs rose so steeply to the heights, almost 170 feet above the river, that Menshikov had thought it was unnecessary to defend the position with artillery. At the head of Bosquet’s division was a regiment of Zouaves, most of them North Africans, who had experience of mountain fighting in Algeria. Leaving their kitbags on the riverbank, they swam across the river and quickly climbed the cliffs under heavy cover of the trees. Once they had reached the plateau, the Zouaves hid behind rocks and bushes to pick off the defending forces of the Moscow Regiment one by one. Inspired by the Zouaves, more French soldiers climbed the cliffs. They hauled 12 guns up a ravine, arriving just in time to engage the extra soldiers and artillery Menshikov had transferred from the center in a desperate attempt to stop his left flank being turned.

The Russian position was more or less hopeless. By the time their artillery arrived, the whole of Bosquet’s division and many of the Turks had reached the plateau. The Russians had more guns —28 to the French 12—but the French guns were of larger caliber and longer range, and Bosquet’s riflemen kept the Russian gunners at a distance where only the heavier French guns could take effect.

Meanwhile, the guns of the allied fleet were pounding the Russian positions on the cliffs, undermining the morale of many of their troops and officers. When the first Russian battery of artillery arrived, it found the remnants of the Moscow Regiment already in retreat under heavy fire from the Zouaves, whose Minié rifles had a longer range and greater accuracy than the outdated muskets of the Russian infantry. The commanding officer on the left flank, Lt. Gen. V.I. Kiriakov, was one of the most incompetent in the tsarist army and was rarely sober. Holding a bottle of champagne in his hand, Kiriakov ordered the Minsk Regiment to shoot at the French but misdirected them toward the Kiev Hussars, who fell back under the fire. Lacking confidence in their drunken commander, and unnerved by the lethal accuracy of the French rifles, the Minsk Regiment also began to retreat.

In the center of the battlefield, the two other French divisions, led by Canrobert and Prince Napoleon, were unable to cross the Alma in the face of heavy Russian fire from Telegraph Hill. Prince Napoléon sent word to General [Sir George] De Lacy Evans, on his left, calling on the British to advance and take some pressure off the French. Raglan was still waiting for the French attack to succeed before committing British troops and at first told Evans not to take orders from the French, but under pressure from Evans, he finally gave way. At 2:45 p.m. he ordered the infantry of the Light, 1st and 2nd Divisions to advance—though what else they should do he did not say. The order was typical of Raglan’s thinking, which remained rooted in the bygone age of Napoleonic battles, when the infantry was used for primitive direct attacks on prepared positions.

The British advanced in thin lines to maximize their rifle power, although in this formation it was hard to keep the men together over rough terrain without effective commanders of the line. Under heavy fire, the British reached the river, collecting in groups at the water’s edge to unload their equipment, unsure of the water’s depth. Holding their rifles and ammunition pouches above their heads, some men managed to wade across, but others had to swim, and some drowned in the fast current. All the time the Russians fired at them with grapeshot and shell. Many men were too frightened to get into the water, which was full of dead bodies. They hugged the ground on the riverbank while mounted officers galloped up and down, shouting at the men to swim across and sometimes even threatening to cut them with their swords. Once they had crossed the river, all order was lost. Companies and regiments became jumbled together, and where there had been lines two men deep there was now just a crowd. The Russians began to advance down the hill from either side of the Great Redoubt, firing on the British down below, where mounted officers galloped round their men, urging them to reform lines but it was impossible, the men were exhausted from crossing the river and happy to be in the shelter of the riverbank, where they could not be seen from the heights.

Aware of the danger of the situation, Maj. Gen. [Sir William] Codrington, in command of the 1st Brigade of the Light Division, made a desperate effort to regroup his men. Spurring his white charger up the hill, he bellowed: ‘Fix bayonets! Get up the bank and advance to the attack!’ Soon the whole of Codrington’s brigade—the regiments all jumbled up—began scrambling up the Kurgan Hill in a thick crowd. Junior commanders gave up forming lines—there was no time—but urged their men to “Come on anyhow!” Once they had climbed onto the open slopes, most of the men began to charge with yells and screams toward the Russian guns in the Great Redoubt, 500 yards up the slope. The Russian gunners were astonished by the sight of this British mob —2,000 men running up the hill—and found easy targets. Some of the Light Division’s advance guard reached the entrenchments of the Great Redoubt. Soldiers clambered over the parapets and through the embrasures, only to be shot or cut down by the Russians. Within a few minutes the Great Redoubt was a swarm of men, pockets of them fighting on the parapets, others cheering and waving their colors, as two Russian guns were captured in the confusion.

But suddenly the British were confronted by four battalions (some 3,000 men) of the Vladimirsky Regiment, pouring into the redoubt from the open higher ground, while more Russian guns were pitching shell at them from higher up the Kurgan Hill. With one loud “Ooorah!” the Russian infantry began charging with their bayonets, driving out the British, and firing at them as they retreated down the hill. The Light Division “made a front” to fire back, but suddenly and unexpectedly there was a bugle call to cease firing, copied by the buglers of every regiment. For a few fatal moments there was a confused pause in the firing on the British side: An unnamed officer had thought the Russians were the French and had ordered his men to stop firing. By the time the mistake was corrected, the Vladimirsky soldiers had gained the upper hand they were steadily advancing down the hill, and British troops were lying dead and wounded everywhere. Now buglers truly did give the order to retreat, and the whole Light Division, or what was left of it, was soon running down the hill toward the shelter of the riverbank.

The charge had partly failed be- cause there had been no second wave, the Duke of Cambridge having stopped the guards from advancing in support of the Light Division for lack of further orders from Raglan (another blunder on his part). Evans, on his right, got the guards marching once again by giving the duke an order to advance, which he pretended had come from Raglan, who in fact was nowhere to be seen.

The three regiments of the Guards Brigade (Grenadiers, Scots Fusiliers and Coldstream) waded across the river. In their red tunics and bearskins they were an imposing sight. On the other side of the river they took an age to reassemble into lines. Irritated by their dithering, Sir Colin Campbell, the commander of the Highland Brigade, ordered an immediate advance. A firm believer in the charge with bayonets, Campbell told his men not to fire their rifles until they were “within a yard of the Russians.” The Scots Fusiliers, who had crossed the river before the other guards, began charging up the hill, repeating the mistake of the Light Division, which at that moment was running down the hill pursued by the Russian infantry. The two crowds of men ran straight through each other— the Scots Fusiliers bearing the brunt of the collision, with men knocked over and bearskins flying. When they emerged on the other side and continued running toward the Great Redoubt, they were only half their number and in a chaotic state.

The Grenadiers and Coldstream Guards filled the gap left by the Scots Fusiliers but refused orders to advance up the hill. Instead, on their own initiative, the 2,000 guards formed into lines and fired 14 volleys of Minié rifle shot into the Russian infantry. The volleys delivered an intensity of fire achieved by half a dozen machine guns. They stunned the Russian infantry, who fell in heaps upon the ground and then withdrew up the hill. By disobeying their commanders, who had ordered them to charge with bayonets, the guards had demonstrated a crucial innovation—the long-range firepower of the modern rifle—which would prove decisive in all the early battles of the Crimean War. The Minié was a new weapon. Most regiments had been issued it only on their way to the Crimea and had received hurried training in how to use it. They had no idea of its tactical significance— its ability to fire with a lethal accuracy from well beyond the range of the Russian muskets and artillery—until the guards discovered it for themselves on the Alma. Reflecting on the impact of the Minié rifle, Russian military engineer Eduard Totleben wrote in his history of the Crimean War:

Left to themselves to perform the role of sharpshooters, the British troops did not hesitate under fire and did not require orders or supervision. Troops thus armed were full of confidence once they found out the accuracy and immense range of their weapon.…Our infantry with their muskets could not reach the enemy at greater than 300 paces, while they fired on us at 1,200.

Without entrenchments to protect their infantry and artillery, the Russians were unable to defend their positions on the heights against the deadly Minié rifles. Soon the fire of the guards was joined by that of the 2nd Division under Evans, on the British right, whose 30th Regiment could clearly see the gunners of three Russian batteries from the riverbank and take them out with their Minié rifles without the Russians even knowing where the firing was from. As the Russian infantry and artillery withdrew, the British slowly advanced up the hill, stepping over the dead and wounded bodies of the enemy. By 4 p.m., the British were converging on the Russian positions from all directions. With the French in command of the cliffs above the Alma, it was clear the battle had been won.

On the Russian side there were signs of panic, as the enemy closed in and the devastating effect of their long-range rifle fire became apparent. Priests went round the lines to bless the troops, and soldiers prayed with growing fervency, while mounted officers used the knout to whip them forward into line. But otherwise there was a general absence of authority among the Russian commanders. “Nobody gave any direction what to do,” recalled one soldier. “During the five hours that the battle went on we neither saw nor heard of our general of division, or brigadier, or colonel: We did not receive any orders from them either to advance or to retire and when we retired, nobody knew whether we ought to go to the right or left.” The drunken Kiriakov gave a general order to retreat from the left flank of the heights, but then lost his nerve and went missing for several hours (he was discovered later hiding in a hollow in the ground). It was left to the junior commanders to organize the retreat from the heights.

With no clear idea of where they were to go, the Russians fled in all directions, running down the hill into the valley, away from the enemy. Mounted officers tried in vain to stop the panic flight, riding round the men and whipping them, like cowboys rounding up cattle but the men had lost all patience with their commanders. By half past 4 the battle was over.

At the top of Telegraph Hill the French captured the abandoned carriage of Prince Menshikov. In the carriage they found a field kitchen, letters from the tsar, 50,000 francs, pornographic French novels, the general’s boots and some ladies’ underwear. On the hill were abandoned picnics, parasols and field glasses left behind by parties of spectators from Sevastopol.

On the battlefield itself the ground was covered with the wounded and the dead—2,000 British, 1,600 French and perhaps 5,000 Russians, though the exact numbers are impossible to calculate, since so many of them were abandoned there. It took the British two days to clear the battlefield of the wounded. They had neglected to bring any medical supplies on the ships from Varna—the ambulance corps with its carts and wagons and stretchers was still in Bulgaria.

The Russians were unable to collect their wounded from the battlefield. Those who could walk were left to look for treatment on their own, many of them staggering to the dressing stations set up on the River Kacha, nine miles south of the Alma, or limping back to Sevastopol. About 1,600 wounded Russian soldiers were abandoned on the battlefield, where they lay for several days until the British and the French, having cleared their own, took care of them, burying the dead and carting off the wounded to their hospitals.

If the allies had pushed on directly from the Alma, they would have taken Sevastopol by surprise. In all probability they would have captured it in a few days, at relatively little cost in human lives compared to the tens of thousands who were to die during the 349-day siege that followed from their errors and delays.


Contents

As the Ottoman Empire steadily weakened during the 19th century, Russia stood poised to take advantage by expanding south. In the 1850s, the British and the French, who were allied with the Ottoman Empire, were determined not to allow this to happen. [16] [ page needed ] A. J. P. Taylor argues that the war resulted not from aggression but from the interacting fears of the major players:

In some sense the Crimean war was predestined and had deep-seated causes. Neither Nicholas I nor Napoleon III nor the British government could retreat in the conflict for prestige once it was launched. Nicholas needed a subservient Turkey for the sake of Russian security Napoleon needed success for the sake of his domestic position the British government needed an independent Turkey for the security of the Eastern Mediterranean . Mutual fear, not mutual aggression, caused the Crimean war. [17]

Weakening of the Ottoman Empire in 1820–1840s Edit

In the early 1800s, the Ottoman Empire suffered a number of existential challenges. The Serbian Revolution in 1804 resulted in autonomy of the first Balkan Christian nation under the Ottoman Empire. The Greek War of Independence, which began in early 1821, provided further evidence of the internal and military weakness of the Ottoman Empire, and the commission of atrocities by Ottoman military forces (see Chios massacre) further undermined the Ottomans. The disbandment of the centuries-old Janissary corps by Sultan Mahmud II on 15 June 1826 (Auspicious Incident) helped the Ottoman Empire in the longer term, but in the short term it deprived the country of its existing standing army. [ clarification needed ] In 1828, the allied Anglo-Franco-Russian fleet destroyed almost all the Ottoman naval forces during the Battle of Navarino. In 1830, Greece became an independent state after 10 years of war and the Russo-Turkish War (1828–29). According to the 1829 Treaty of Adrianople, Russian and Western European commercial ships were authorized to freely pass through the Black Sea straits, Serbia received autonomy, and the Danubian Principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia) became territories under Russian protection.

France took the opportunity to occupy Algeria in 1830. In 1831 Muhammad Ali of Egypt, who was the most powerful vassal of the Ottoman Empire, claimed independence. Ottoman forces were defeated in a number of battles, which forced Sultan Mahmud II to seek Russian military aid. A Russian army of 10,000 landed on the shores of the Bosphorus in 1833 and helped to prevent the capture of Constantinople by the Egyptians. As a result, the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi was signed, benefiting Russia greatly. It provided for a military alliance between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, if one of them were to be attacked and a secret additional clause allowed the Ottomans to opt out of sending troops but to close the Straits to foreign warships if Russia was under threat. Egypt remained nominally under Ottoman sovereignty, although it was de facto independent. [ citation needed ]

In 1838 the situation was similar to 1831. Muhammad Ali of Egypt was not happy about his lack of control and power in Syria, and he resumed military action. The Ottomans lost to the Egyptians at the Battle of Nezib on 24 June 1839, but were saved by Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia, who signed a convention in London on 15 July 1840 granting Muhammad Ali and his descendants the right to inherit power in Egypt in exchange for the removal of Egyptian forces from Syria and Lebanon. Moreover, Muhammad Ali had to admit a formal dependence [ clarification needed ] to the Ottoman sultan. After Muhammad Ali refused to obey the requirements of the London convention, the allied Anglo-Austrian fleet blockaded the Nile Delta, bombarded Beirut, and captured Acre. Muhammad Ali accepted the conditions of the London convention in 1840.

On 13 July 1841, after the expiry of the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, the London Straits Convention was signed under pressure from European countries. The new treaty deprived Russia of its right to block warships from passing into the Black Sea in case of war. Thus the way to the Black Sea was open for British and French warships in case of a possible Russo-Ottoman conflict.

Russian historians tend to view this history as evidence that Russia lacked aggressive plans. [ citation needed ] Russian historian V. N. Vinogradov writes: "The signing of the documents was the result of deliberate decisions: instead of bilateral (none of the great powers recognized this Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi), the new Treaty of London was obligatory for all, it closed the Bosphorus and Dardanelles." [18] [ verification needed ]

Assistance from Western European powers had twice saved the Ottoman Empire from destruction, but the Ottomans had now lost their independence in foreign policy. Britain and France desired more than any other states to preserve the integrity of the Ottoman Empire because they did not want to see Russia gaining access to the Mediterranean Sea. Austria had fears for the same reasons.

Russian expansionism Edit

Russia, as a member of the Holy Alliance, had operated as the "police of Europe", maintaining the balance of power that had been established in the Treaty of Vienna in 1815. Russia had assisted Austria's efforts in suppressing the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, and expected gratitude it wanted a free hand in settling its problems with the Ottoman Empire, the "sick man of Europe". Britain could not tolerate Russian dominance of Ottoman affairs, as that would challenge its domination of the eastern Mediterranean. [19]

Starting with Peter the Great in the early 1700s, after centuries of Ottoman northward expansion and Crimean-Nogai raids, Russia began a southwards expansion across the sparsely populated "Wild Fields" toward the warm water ports of the Black Sea, which did not freeze over like the handful of ports it controlled in the north. The goal was to promote year-round trade and a year-round navy. [14] : 11 Pursuit of this goal brought the emerging Russian state into conflict with the Ukrainian Cossacks and then with the Tatars of the Crimean Khanate [20] and Circassians. [21] When Russia conquered these groups and gained possession of their territories, the Ottoman Empire lost its buffer zone against Russian expansion, and Russia and the Ottoman Empire came into direct conflict. The conflict with the Ottoman Empire also presented a religious issue of importance, as Russia saw itself as the protector of Orthodox Christians, many of whom lived under Ottoman control and were legally treated as second-class citizens. [14] ( ch 1 ) The Ottoman Reform Edict of 1856 promulgated after the war largely reversed much of this second class status, most notably the tax non-Muslims paid for not being a Muslim. [22]

Britain's immediate fear was Russian expansion at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, which Britain desired to preserve. The British were also concerned that Russia might make advances toward British India, or move toward Scandinavia or Western Europe. A distraction (in the form of the Ottoman Empire) on their southwest flank would mitigate that threat. The Royal Navy also wanted to forestall the threat of a powerful Russian navy. [23] Taylor says that from the British perspective:

The Crimean war was fought for the sake of Europe rather than for the Eastern question it was fought against Russia, not in favour of Turkey . The British fought Russia out of resentment and supposed that her defeat would strengthen the European Balance of Power. [24]

Because of "British commercial and strategic interests in the Middle East and India", [25] the British joined the French, "cement[ing] an alliance with Britain and . reassert[ing] its military power". [25] Among those who supported this point of view was Karl Marx, in his articles for the New York Tribune circa 1853. Karl Marx saw the Crimean War as a conflict between the democratic ideals of the west that started with "great movement of 1789" against "Russia and Absolutism". Marx described the Ottoman Empire as a buffer against a pattern of expansionism by the Tsar. [26]

Mikhail Pogodin, professor of history at Moscow University, gave Nicholas a summary of Russia's policy towards the Slavs in the war against Turkey. His answer was filled with grievances against the West. Nicholas shared Pogodin's sense that Russia's role as the protector of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire was not understood and that Russia was unfairly treated by the West. Nicholas especially approved of the following passage: [27]

France takes Algeria from Turkey, and almost every year England annexes another Indian principality: none of this disturbs the balance of power but when Russia occupies Moldavia and Wallachia, albeit only temporarily, that disturbs the balance of power. France occupies Rome and stays there several years during peacetime: that is nothing but Russia only thinks of occupying Constantinople, and the peace of Europe is threatened. The English declare war on the Chinese, who have, it seems, offended them: no one has the right to intervene but Russia is obliged to ask Europe for permission if it quarrels with its neighbor. England threatens Greece to support the false claims of a miserable Jew and burns its fleet: that is a lawful action but Russia demands a treaty to protect millions of Christians, and that is deemed to strengthen its position in the East at the expense of the balance of power. We can expect nothing from the West but blind hatred and malice. (comment in the margin by Nicholas I: 'This is the whole point').

Russia was militarily weak, technologically backward and administratively incompetent. Despite its grand ambitions toward the south, it had not built its railway network in that direction, and communications were poor. The bureaucracy was riddled with graft, corruption and inefficiency and was unprepared for war. Its navy was weak and technologically backward its army, although very large, suffered from colonels who pocketed their men's pay, from poor morale, and from a technological deficit relative to Britain and France. By the war's end, the profound weaknesses of the Russian armed forces were readily apparent, and the Russian leadership was determined to reform it. [29] [30]

Immediate causes of the war Edit

The French emperor Napoleon III's ambition to restore the grandeur of France [31] initiated the immediate chain of events leading to France and Britain declaring war on Russia on 27 and 28 March 1854, respectively. He pursued Roman Catholic support by asserting France's "sovereign authority" over the Christian population of Palestine, [15] : 19 to the detriment of Russia [14] : 103 (the sponsor of Eastern Orthodoxy). To achieve this, in May 1851, Napoleon appointed the Marquis Charles de La Valette (a zealous leading member of the Catholic "clerical party") as his ambassador to the Sublime Porte of the Ottoman Empire. [14] : 7–9

Russia disputed this attempted change in authority. Referencing two previous treaties (one from 1757, and the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca from 1774), the Ottomans reversed their earlier decision, renouncing the French treaty, and declaring that Russia was the protector of the Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire.

Napoleon III responded with a show of force, sending the ship of the line Charlemagne to the Black Sea, thereby violating the London Straits Convention. [14] : 104 [15] : 19 This gunboat diplomacy show of force, together with money [ citation needed ] , induced the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid I to accept a new treaty, confirming France and the Roman Catholic Church's supreme authority over Catholic holy places, including the Church of the Nativity, previously held by the Greek Orthodox Church. [15] : 20

Tsar Nicholas I then deployed his 4th and 5th army corps along the River Danube in Wallachia, as a direct threat to the Ottoman lands south of the river. He had Count Karl Nesselrode, his foreign minister, undertake talks with the Ottomans. Nesselrode confided to Sir George Hamilton Seymour, the British ambassador in Saint Petersburg:

[The dispute over the holy places] had assumed a new character—that the acts of injustice towards the Greek church which it had been desired to prevent had been perpetrated and consequently that now the object must be to find a remedy for these wrongs. The success of French negotiations at Constantinople was to be ascribed solely to intrigue and violence—violence which had been supposed to be the ultima ratio of kings, being, it had been seen, the means which the present ruler of France was in the habit of employing in the first instance. [15] : 21

As conflict emerged over the issue of the holy places, Nicholas I and Nesselrode began a diplomatic offensive, which they hoped would prevent either British or French interference in any conflict between Russia and the Ottomans, as well as to prevent an anti-Russian alliance of the two.

Nicholas began courting Britain by means of conversations with the British ambassador, George Hamilton Seymour, in January and February 1853. [14] : 105 Nicholas insisted that he no longer wished to expand Imperial Russia [14] : 105 but that he had an obligation to the Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire. [14] : 105 The Tsar next dispatched a highly abrasive diplomat, Prince Menshikov, on a special mission to the Ottoman Sublime Porte in February 1853. By previous treaties, the sultan was committed "to protect the (Eastern Orthodox) Christian religion and its churches". Menshikov demanded a Russian protectorate over all 12 million Orthodox Christians in the Empire, with control of the Orthodox Church's hierarchy. A compromise was reached regarding Orthodox access to the Holy Land, but the Sultan, strongly supported by the British ambassador, rejected the more sweeping demands. [32]

Tsar Nicholas fumed at "the infernal dictatorship of this Redcliffe" whose name and political ascendancy at the Porte personified for him the whole Eastern question. [33] (Stratford Canning, 1st Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe)

The British and French sent in naval task forces to support the Ottomans, as Russia prepared to seize the Danubian Principalities. [14] : 111–15

First hostilities Edit

In February 1853, the British government of Lord Aberdeen, the prime minister, re-appointed Stratford Canning as British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. [14] : 110 Having resigned the ambassadorship in January, he had been replaced by Colonel Rose as chargé d'affaires. Lord Stratford then turned around and sailed back to Constantinople, arriving there on 5 April 1853. There he convinced the Sultan to reject the Russian treaty proposal, as compromising the independence of the Turks. The Leader of the Opposition in the British House of Commons, Benjamin Disraeli, blamed Aberdeen and Stratford's actions for making war inevitable, thus starting the process which forced the Aberdeen government to resign in January 1855, over the war.

Shortly after he learned of the failure of Menshikov's diplomacy toward the end of June 1853, the Tsar sent armies under the commands of Field Marshal Ivan Paskevich and General Mikhail Gorchakov across the River Pruth into the Ottoman-controlled Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. Fewer than half of the 80,000 Russian soldiers who crossed the Pruth in 1853 survived. By far, most of the deaths would result from sickness rather than action, [14] : 118–19 for the Russian army still suffered from medical services that ranged from bad to none.

Russia had obtained recognition from the Ottoman Empire of the Tsar's role as special guardian of the Orthodox Christians in Moldavia and Wallachia. Now Russia used the Sultan's failure to resolve the issue of the protection of the Christian sites in the Holy Land as a pretext for Russian occupation of these Danubian provinces. Nicholas believed that the European powers, especially Austria, would not object strongly to the annexation of a few neighbouring Ottoman provinces, especially considering that Russia had assisted Austria's efforts in suppressing the 1848 Hungarian Revolution in 1849.

The United Kingdom, hoping to maintain the Ottoman Empire as a bulwark against the expansion of Russian power in Asia, sent a fleet to the Dardanelles, where it joined another fleet sent by France. [34]

Battle of Sinop Edit

The European powers continued to pursue diplomatic avenues. The representatives of the four neutral Great Powers (the United Kingdom, France, Austria and Prussia) met in Vienna, where they drafted a note that they hoped would be acceptable to both the Russians and the Ottomans. The peace terms arrived at by the four powers at the Vienna Conference (1853) were delivered to the Russians by the Austrian Foreign Minister Count Karl von Buol on 5 December 1853. The note met with the approval of Nicholas I, but Abdülmecid I rejected the proposal, feeling that the document's poor phrasing left it open to many different interpretations. The United Kingdom, France and Austria united in proposing amendments to mollify the Sultan, but the court of St. Petersburg ignored their suggestions. [14] : 143 The United Kingdom and France then set aside the idea of continuing negotiations, but Austria and Prussia did not believe that the rejection of the proposed amendments justified the abandonment of the diplomatic process.

On 23 November, the Russian convoy of 3 battle ships discovered the Ottoman fleet harbored in Sinop harbor. Along with the additional 5 battle ships, in the Battle of Sinop on 30 November 1853, they destroyed a patrol squadron of 11 Ottoman battle ships while they were anchored in port under defense of the onshore artillery garrison. The United Kingdom and French press shaped the public opinion to demand the war. Both used Sinop as the casus belli ("cause of war") for declaring war against Russia. On 28 March 1854, after Russia ignored an Anglo-French ultimatum to withdraw from the Danubian Principalities, the UK and France declared war. [35] [36]

Dardanelles Edit

Britain was concerned about Russian activity and Sir John Burgoyne, senior advisor to Lord Aberdeen, urged that the Dardanelles should be occupied and works of sufficient strength built to block any Russian move to capture Constantinople and gain access to the Mediterranean Sea. The Corps of Royal Engineers sent men to the Dardanelles, while Burgoyne went to Paris, meeting the British Ambassador and the French Emperor. Lord Cowley wrote on 8 February to Burgoyne, "Your visit to Paris has produced a visible change in the Emperor's views, and he is making every preparation for a land expedition in case the last attempt at negotiation should break down." [37] : 411

Burgoyne and his team of engineers inspected and surveyed the Dardanelles area in February, and were fired on by Russian riflemen when they went to Varna. A team of sappers arrived in March, and major building works commenced on a seven-mile line of defence designed to block the Gallipoli peninsula. French sappers were working on one half of the line, which was finished in May. [37] : 412

Peace attempts Edit

Nicholas felt that, because of Russian assistance in suppressing the Hungarian revolution of 1848, Austria would side with him, or at the very least remain neutral. Austria, however, felt threatened by the Russian troops in the Balkans. On 27 February 1854, the United Kingdom and France demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from the principalities. Austria supported them, and, though it did not declare war on Russia, it refused to guarantee its neutrality. Russia's rejection of the ultimatum proved to be the justification used by Britain and France to enter the war.

Russia soon withdrew its troops from the Danubian principalities, which were then occupied by Austria for the duration of the war. [39] This removed the original grounds for war, but the UK and France continued with hostilities. Determined to address the Eastern Question by putting an end to the Russian threat to the Ottoman Empire, the allies in August 1854 proposed the "Four Points" for ending the conflict, in addition to the Russian withdrawal:

  • Russia was to give up its protectorate over the Danubian Principalities
  • The Danube was to be opened up to foreign commerce
  • The Straits Convention of 1841, which allowed only Ottoman and Russian warships in the Black Sea, was to be revised
  • Russia was to abandon any claim granting it the right to interfere in Ottoman affairs on behalf of Orthodox Christians.

These points (particularly the third) would require clarification through negotiation, but Russia refused to negotiate. The allies including Austria therefore agreed that Britain and France should take further military action to prevent further Russian aggression against the Ottoman Empire. Britain and France agreed on the invasion of the Crimean peninsula as the first step. [40]

Sultan Abdulmecid I declared war on Russia and proceeded to the attack, his armies moving on the Russian Army near the Danube later that month. [14] : 130 Russia and the Ottoman Empire massed forces on two main fronts, the Caucasus and the Danube. Ottoman leader Omar Pasha managed to achieve some victories on the Danubian front. [41] In the Caucasus, the Ottomans were able to stand ground with the help of Chechen Muslims led by Imam Shamil. [42]

Danube campaign Edit

The Danube campaign opened when the Russians occupied the Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in May 1853, bringing their forces to the north bank of the River Danube. In response, the Ottoman Empire also moved its forces up to the river, establishing strongholds at Vidin in the west and Silistra [14] : 172–84 in the east, near the mouth of the Danube. The Ottoman move up the River Danube was also of concern to the Austrians, who moved forces into Transylvania in response. However, the Austrians had begun to fear the Russians more than the Turks. Indeed, like the British, the Austrians were now coming to see that an intact Ottoman Empire was necessary as a bulwark against the Russians. Accordingly, Austria resisted Russian diplomatic attempts to join the war on the Russian side and remained neutral in the Crimean War. [43]

Following the Ottoman ultimatum in September 1853, forces under the Ottoman general Omar Pasha crossed the Danube at Vidin and captured Calafat in October 1853. Simultaneously, in the east, the Ottomans crossed the Danube at Silistra and attacked the Russians at Oltenița. The resulting Battle of Oltenița was the first engagement following the declaration of war. The Russians counterattacked, but were beaten back. [44] On 31 December 1853, the Ottoman forces at Calafat moved against the Russian force at Chetatea or Cetate, a small village nine miles north of Calafat, and engaged them on 6 January 1854. The battle began when the Russians made a move to recapture Calafat. Most of the heavy fighting took place in and around Chetatea until the Russians were driven out of the village. Despite the setback at Chetatea, on 28 January 1854, Russian forces laid siege to Calafat. The siege would continue until May 1854 when the Russians lifted the siege. The Ottomans would also later beat the Russians in battle at Caracal. [14] : 130–43

In early 1854 the Russians again advanced, crossing the River Danube into the Turkish province of Dobruja. By April 1854, the Russians had reached the lines of Trajan's Wall where they were finally halted. In the centre, the Russian forces crossed the Danube and laid siege to Silistra from 14 April with 60,000 troops, the defenders with 15,000 had supplies for three months. [37] : 415 The siege was lifted on 23 June 1854. [45] The English and French forces at this time were unable to take the field for lack of equipment. [37] : 415

In the west, the Russians were dissuaded from attacking Vidin by the presence of the Austrian forces, which had swollen to 280,000 men. On 28 May 1854 a protocol of the Vienna Conference was signed by Austria and Russia. One of the aims of the Russian advance had been to encourage the Orthodox Christian Serbs and Bulgarians living under Ottoman rule to rebel. When the Russian troops crossed the River Pruth into Moldavia, the Orthodox Christians showed no interest in rising up against the Ottomans. [14] : 131, 137 Adding to the worries of Nicholas I was the concern that Austria would enter the war against the Russians and attack his armies on the western flank. Indeed, after attempting to mediate a peaceful settlement between Russia and Ottoman Empire, the Austrians entered the war on the side of the Ottomans with an attack against the Russians in the Principalities which threatened to cut off the Russian supply lines. Accordingly, the Russians were forced to raise the siege of Silistra on 23 June 1854, and begin abandoning the Principalities. [14] : 185 The lifting of the siege reduced the threat of a Russian advance into Bulgaria.

In June 1854, the Allied expeditionary force landed at Varna, a city on the Black Sea's western coast. They made little advance from their base there. [14] : 175–76 Karl Marx was noted to have quipped, "there they are, the French doing nothing and the British helping them as fast as possible". [46] In July 1854, the Ottomans under Omar Pasha crossed the Danube into Wallachia and on 7 July 1854 engaged the Russians in the city of Giurgiu and conquered it. The capture of Giurgiu by the Ottomans immediately threatened Bucharest in Wallachia with capture by the same Ottoman army. On 26 July 1854, Tsar Nicholas I, responding to an Austrian ultimatum, ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Principalities. Also, in late July 1854, following up on the Russian retreat, the French staged an expedition against the Russian forces still in Dobruja, but this was a failure. [14] : 188–90

By then, the Russian withdrawal was complete, except for the fortress towns of northern Dobruja, while their place in the Principalities was taken by the Austrians, as a neutral peacekeeping force. [14] : 189 There was little further action on this front after late 1854, and in September the allied force boarded ships at Varna to invade the Crimean Peninsula. [14] : 198

Black Sea theatre Edit

The naval operations of the Crimean War commenced with the dispatch, in mid-1853, of the French and British fleets to the Black Sea region, to support the Ottomans and to dissuade the Russians from encroachment. By June 1853, both fleets were stationed at Besikas Bay, outside the Dardanelles. With the Russian occupation of the Danube Principalities in October, they moved to the Bosphorus and in November entered the Black Sea.

During this period, the Russian Black Sea Fleet was operating against Ottoman coastal traffic between Constantinople and the Caucasus ports, while the Ottoman fleet sought to protect this supply line. The clash came on 30 November 1853 when a Russian fleet attacked an Ottoman force in the harbour at Sinop, and destroyed it at the Battle of Sinop. The battle outraged opinion in UK, which called for war. [47] There was little additional naval action until March 1854 when on the declaration of war the British frigate HMS Furious was fired on outside Odessa Harbour. In response an Anglo-French fleet bombarded the port, causing much damage to the town. To show support for Turkey after the battle of Sinop, on 22 December 1853, the Anglo-French squadron entered the Black Sea and the steamship HMS Retribution approached the Port of Sevastopol, the commander of which received an ultimatum not to allow any ships in the Black Sea.

In June, the fleets transported the Allied expeditionary forces to Varna, in support of the Ottoman operations on the Danube in September they again transported the armies, this time to the Crimea. The Russian fleet during this time declined to engage the allies, preferring to maintain a "fleet in being" this strategy failed when Sevastopol, the main port and where most of the Black Sea fleet was based, came under siege. The Russians were reduced to scuttling their warships as blockships, after stripping them of their guns and men to reinforce batteries on shore. During the siege, the Russians lost four 110- or 120-gun, three-decker ships of the line, twelve 84-gun two-deckers and four 60-gun frigates in the Black Sea, plus a large number of smaller vessels. During the rest of the campaign the allied fleets remained in control of the Black Sea, ensuring the various fronts were kept supplied.

In May 1855, the allies successfully invaded Kerch and operated against Taganrog in the Sea of Azov. In September they moved against Russian installations in the Dnieper estuary, attacking Kinburn in the first use of ironclad ships in naval warfare.

Crimean campaign Edit

The Russians evacuated Wallachia and Moldavia in late July 1854. With the evacuation of the Danubian Principalities, the immediate cause of war was withdrawn and the war might have ended at this time. [14] : 192 However, war fever among the public in both the UK and France had been whipped up by the press in both countries to the degree that politicians found it untenable to propose ending the war at this point. The coalition government of George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen fell on 30 January 1855 on a no-confidence vote as Parliament voted to appoint a committee to investigate mismanagement of the war. [14] : 311

French and British officers and engineers were sent on 20 July on HMS Fury, a wooden Bulldog-class paddle sloop, to survey the harbour of Sevastopol and the coast near it, managing to get close to the harbour mouth to inspect the formidable batteries. Returning, they reported that they believed there were 15,000–20,000 troops encamped. [37] : 421 Ships were prepared to transport horses and siege equipment was both manufactured and imported. [37] : 422

The Crimean campaign opened in September 1854. Three hundred and sixty ships sailed in seven columns, each steamer towing two sailing ships. [37] : 422 Anchoring on 13 September in the bay of Eupatoria, the town surrendered and 500 marines landed to occupy it. This town and bay would provide a fall back position in case of disaster. [14] : 201 The ships then sailed east to make the landing of the allied expeditionary force on the sandy beaches of Calamita Bay on the south west coast of the Crimean Peninsula. The landing surprised the Russians, as they had expected a landing at Katcha the last-minute change proving that Russia had known the original campaign plan. There was no sign of the enemy and the invading troops all landed on 14 September 1854. It took another four days to land all the stores, equipment, horses and artillery.

The landing took place north of Sevastopol, so the Russians had arrayed their army in expectation of a direct attack. The allies advanced and on the morning of 20 September came up to the River Alma and engaged the Russian army. The position was strong, but after three hours, [37] : 424 the allied frontal attack had driven the Russians out of their dug-in positions with losses of 6,000 men. The Battle of the Alma resulted in 3,300 Allied losses. Failing to pursue the retreating forces was one of many strategic errors made during the war, and the Russians themselves noted that had the Allies pressed south that day they would have easily captured Sevastopol.

Believing the northern approaches to the city too well defended, especially due to the presence of a large star fort and because Sevastopol was on the south side of the inlet from the sea that made the harbour, Sir John Burgoyne, the engineer advisor, recommended that the allies attack Sevastopol from the south. The joint commanders, Raglan and St Arnaud, agreed. [37] : 426 On 25 September the whole army began to march southeast and encircled the city from the south, after establishing port facilities at Balaclava for the British and at Kamiesch (Russian: Камышовая бухта , romanized: Kamyshovaya bukhta) for the French. The Russians retreated into the city. [48] [49]

The Allied army moved without problems to the south and the heavy artillery was brought ashore with batteries and connecting trenches built so that by 10 October some batteries were ready and by 17 October—when the bombardment commenced—126 guns were firing, 53 of them French. [37] : 430 The fleet at the same time engaged the shore batteries. The British bombardment worked better than that of the French, who had smaller-calibre guns. The fleet suffered high casualties during the day. The British wanted to attack that afternoon, but the French wanted to defer the attack. A postponement was agreed, but on the next day the French were still not ready. By 19 October the Russians had transferred some heavy guns to the southern defences and outgunned the allies. [37] : 431

Reinforcements for the Russians gave them the courage to send out probing attacks. The Allied lines, beginning to suffer from cholera as early as September, were stretched. The French, on the west had less to do than the British on the east with their siege lines and the large nine-mile open wing back to their supply base on the south coast.

Battle of Balaclava Edit

A large Russian assault on the allied supply base to the southeast at Balaclava was rebuffed on 25 October 1854. : 521–27 The Battle of Balaclava is remembered in the UK for the actions of two British units. At the start of the battle, a large body of Russian cavalry charged the 93rd Highlanders, who were posted north of the village of Kadikoi. Commanding them was Sir Colin Campbell. Rather than "form square", the traditional method of repelling cavalry, Campbell took the risky decision to have his Highlanders form a single line, two men deep. Campbell had seen the effectiveness of the new Minie rifles, with which his troops were armed, at the Battle of Alma a month before, and he was confident his men could beat back the Russians. His tactics succeeded. [50] From up on the ridge to the west, Times correspondent William Howard Russell saw the Highlanders as a "thin red streak topped with steel", a phrase which soon became the "Thin Red Line". [51]

Soon after, a Russian cavalry movement was countered by the Heavy Brigade, who charged and fought hand-to-hand until the Russians retreated. This caused a more widespread Russian retreat, including a number of their artillery units. When the local commanders failed to take advantage of the retreat, Lord Raglan sent out orders to move up and prevent the withdrawal of naval guns from the recently captured redoubts on the heights. Raglan could see these guns due to his position on the hill when in the valley, this view was obstructed, leaving the wrong guns in sight. The local commanders ignored the demands, leading to the British aide-de-camp (Captain Nolan) personally delivering the quickly written and confusing order to attack the artillery. When Lord Lucan questioned which guns the order referred to, the aide-de-camp pointed to the first Russian battery he could see and allegedly said "There is your enemy, there are your guns"—due to his obstructed view, these were the wrong ones. Lucan then passed the order to the Earl of Cardigan, resulting in the charge of the Light Brigade.

In this charge, Cardigan formed up his unit and charged the length of the Valley of the Balaclava, under fire from Russian batteries in the hills. The charge of the Light Brigade caused 278 casualties of the 700-man unit. The Light Brigade was memorialised in the famous poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade". Although traditionally the charge of the Light Brigade was looked upon as a glorious but wasted sacrifice of good men and horses, recent historians say that the charge of the Light Brigade did succeed in at least some of its objectives. [52] The aim of any cavalry charge is to scatter the enemy lines and frighten the enemy off the battlefield. The charge of the Light Brigade so unnerved the Russian cavalry, which had been routed by the Heavy Brigade, that the Russians were set to full-scale flight. [14] : 252 [53]

The shortage of men led to the failure of the British and French to follow up on the Battle of Balaclava, which led directly to a much bloodier battle—the Battle of Inkerman. On 5 November 1854, the Russians attempted to raise the siege at Sevastopol with an attack against the allies, which resulted in another allied victory. [54]

The winter of 1854–55 Edit

Winter weather and a deteriorating supply of troops and materiel on both sides led to a halt in ground operations. Sevastopol remained invested by the allies, while the allied armies were hemmed in by the Russian Army in the interior. On 14 November the "Balaklava Storm" sank thirty allied transport ships, [55] including HMS Prince, which was carrying a cargo of winter clothing. [37] : 435 The storm and heavy traffic caused the road from the coast to the troops to disintegrate into a quagmire, requiring engineers to devote most of their time to its repair including quarrying stone. A tramway was ordered. It arrived in January with a civilian engineering crew, but it was March before it was sufficiently advanced to be of any appreciable value. [37] : 439 An electrical telegraph was also ordered, but the frozen ground delayed its installation until March, when communications from the base port of Balaklava to the British HQ was established. The pipe-and-cable-laying plough failed because of the hard frozen soil, but nevertheless 21 miles of cable were laid. [37] : 449

The troops suffered greatly from cold and sickness, and the shortage of fuel led them to start dismantling their defensive Gabions and Fascines. [37] : 442 In February 1855, the Russians attacked the allied base at Eupatoria, where an Ottoman army had built up and was threatening Russian supply routes. The Russians were defeated in the battle, [14] : 321–22 leading to a change in their command.

The strain of directing the war had taken its toll on the health of Tsar Nicholas. The Tsar, full of remorse for the disasters he had caused, caught pneumonia and died on 2 March. [56] : 96

Siege of Sevastopol Edit

The Allies had had time to consider the problem, the French being brought around to agree that the key to the defence was the Malakoff. [37] : 441 Emphasis of the siege at Sevastopol shifted to the British left, against the fortifications on Malakoff hill. [14] : 339 In March, there was fighting by the French over a new fort being built by the Russians at Mamelon, located on a hill in front of the Malakoff. Several weeks of fighting resulted in little change in the front line, and the Mamelon remained in Russian hands.

In April 1855, the allies staged a second all-out bombardment, leading to an artillery duel with the Russian guns, but no ground assault followed. [14] : 340–41

On 24 May 1855, sixty ships containing 7,000 French, 5,000 Turkish and 3,000 British troops set off for a raid on the city of Kerch east of Sevastopol in an attempt to open another front on the Crimean peninsula and to cut off Russian supplies. [14] : 344 When the allies landed the force at Kerch, the plan was to outflank the Russian Army. The landings were successful, but the force made little progress thereafter.

Many more artillery pieces had arrived and had been dug into batteries. The first General assault of Sevastopol took place on 18 June 1855. There is a legend that the assault was scheduled for this date in favour of Napoleon III in the 40th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. This legend is not confirmed by historians. [57] But undoubtedly the appearance of such a legend is symptomatic, if we remember that the war in France was understood as a certain revanche for the defeat of 1812.

In June, a third bombardment was followed after two days by a successful attack on the Mamelon, but a follow-up assault on the Malakoff failed with heavy losses. During this time the garrison commander, Admiral Nakhimov fell on 30 June 1855, [14] : 378 and Raglan died on 28 June. [37] : 460 Losses in these battles were so great that by agreement of military opponents short-term truces for removal of corpses were signed (these truces were described in the work of Leo Tolstoy "Sevastopol sketches"). The assault was beaten back with heavy casualties and it was an undoubted victory of Russia. It is worth mentioning that the Russian Siege of Sevastopol (panorama) depicts the moment of the assault of Sevastopol on 18 June 1855.

In August, the Russians again made an attack towards the base at Balaclava, defended by the French, newly arrived Sardinian, and Ottoman troops. [37] : 461 The resulting Battle of the Chernaya was a defeat for the Russians, who suffered heavy casualties.

For months each side had been building forward rifle pits and defensive positions, which resulted in many skirmishes. Artillery fire aimed to gain superiority over the enemy guns. [37] : 450–62 The final assault was made on 5 September, when another French bombardment (the sixth) was followed by an assault by the French Army on 8 September, resulting in the French capture of the Malakoff fort. The Russians failed to retake it and their defences collapsed. Meanwhile, the British assaulted the Great Redan, a Russian defensive battlement just south of the city of Sevastopol—a position that had been attacked repeatedly for months. Whether the British captured the Redan remains in dispute: Russian historians recognize only the loss of the Malakhov Kurgan (a key point of defence), claiming that all other positions were retained. [58] What is agreed is that the Russians abandoned the positions, blowing up their powder magazines and retreating to the north. The city finally fell on 9 September 1855 after a 337-day-long siege. [56] : 106 [59]

At this point, both sides were exhausted, and no further military operations were launched in the Crimea before the onset of winter. The main objective of the siege, the destruction of the Russian fleet and docks, took place over the winter. On 28 February, multiple mines blew up the five docks, the canal, and three locks. [37] : 471

Azov campaign Edit

In early 1855 the allied Anglo-French commanders decided to send an Anglo-French naval squadron into the Azov Sea to undermine Russian communications and supplies to besieged Sevastopol. On 12 May 1855, Anglo-French warships entered the Kerch Strait and destroyed the coast battery of the Kamishevaya Bay. Once through the Kerch Strait, British and French warships struck at every vestige of Russian power along the coast of the Sea of Azov. Except for Rostov and Azov, no town, depot, building or fortification was immune from attack and Russian naval power ceased to exist almost overnight. This Allied campaign led to a significant reduction in supplies flowing to the besieged Russian troops at Sevastopol.

On 21 May 1855, the gunboats and armed steamers attacked the seaport of Taganrog, the most important hub near Rostov on Don. The vast amounts of food, especially bread, wheat, barley and rye that were amassed in the city after the outbreak of war were prevented from being exported.

The Governor of Taganrog, Yegor Tolstoy, and lieutenant-general Ivan Krasnov refused an allied ultimatum, responding that "Russians never surrender their cities". The Anglo-French squadron bombarded Taganrog for 6 1 ⁄ 2 hours and landed 300 troops near the Old Stairway in the centre of Taganrog, but they were thrown back by Don Cossacks and a volunteer corps.

In July 1855, the allied squadron tried to go past Taganrog to Rostov-on-Don, entering the River Don through the Mius River. On 12 July 1855 HMS Jasper grounded near Taganrog thanks to a fisherman who moved buoys into shallow water. The Cossacks captured the gunboat with all of its guns and blew it up. The third siege attempt was made 19–31 August 1855, but the city was already fortified and the squadron could not approach close enough for landing operations. The allied fleet left the Gulf of Taganrog on 2 September 1855, with minor military operations along the Azov Sea coast continuing until late 1855.

Caucasus theatre Edit

As in the previous wars the Caucasus front was secondary to what was happening in the west. Perhaps because of better communications western events sometimes influenced the east. The main events were the second capture of Kars and a landing on the Georgian coast. Several commanders on both sides were either incompetent or unlucky and few fought aggressively. [60]

1853: There were four main events. 1. In the north the Turks captured the border fort of Saint Nicholas in a surprise night attack (27/28 October). They then pushed about 20,000 troops across the River Cholok border. Being outnumbered, the Russians abandoned Poti and Redut Kale and drew back to Marani. Both sides remained immobile for the next seven months. 2. In the centre the Turks moved north from Ardahan to within cannon-shot of Akhaltsike and awaited reinforcements (13 November). The Russians routed them. The claimed losses were 4,000 Turks and 400 Russians. 3. In the south about 30,000 Turks slowly moved east to the main Russian concentration at Gyumri or Alexandropol (November). They crossed the border and set up artillery south of town. Prince Orbeliani tried to drive them off and found himself trapped. The Turks failed to press their advantage the remaining Russians rescued Orbeliani and the Turks retired west. Orbeliani lost about 1,000 men out of 5,000. The Russians now decided to advance. The Turks took up a strong position on the Kars road and attacked. They were defeated in the Battle of Başgedikler, losing 6,000 men, half their artillery and all their supply train. The Russians lost 1,300, including Prince Orbeliani. This was Prince Ellico Orbeliani whose wife was later kidnapped by Imam Shamil at Tsinandali. 4. At sea the Turks sent a fleet east which was destroyed by Admiral Nakhimov at Sinope.

1854: The British and French declared war on 3 January. Early in the year the Anglo-French fleet appeared in the Black Sea and the Russians abandoned the Black Sea Defensive Line from Anapa south. N. A. Read, who replaced Vorontsov, fearing an Anglo-French landing in conjunction with Shamil, 3rd Imam of Dagestan and the Persians, recommended withdrawal north of the Caucasus. For this he was replaced by Baryatinsky. When the allies chose a land attack on Sebastopol any plan for a landing in the east was abandoned.

In the north Eristov pushed southwest, fought two battles, forced the Turks back to Batum, retired behind the Cholok River and suspended action for the rest of the year (June). In the far south Wrangel pushed west, fought a battle and occupied Bayazit. In the centre the main forces stood at Kars and Gyumri. Both slowly approached along the Kars-Gyumri road and faced each other, neither side choosing to fight (June–July). On 4 August Russian scouts saw a movement which they thought was the start of a withdrawal, the Russians advanced and the Turks attacked first. They were defeated, losing 8,000 men to the Russian 3,000. 10,000 irregulars deserted to their villages. Both sides withdrew to their former positions. About this time the Persians made a semi-secret agreement to remain neutral in exchange for the cancellation of the indemnity from the previous war.

1855: Kars: In the year up to May 1855 Turkish forces in the east were reduced from 120,000 to 75,000, mostly by disease. The local Armenian population kept Muravyev well-informed about the Turks at Kars and he judged they had about five months of supplies. He therefore decided to control the surrounding area with cavalry and starve them out. He started in May and by June was south and west of the town. A relieving force fell back and there was a possibility of taking Erzerum, but Muravyev chose not to. In late September he learned of the fall of Sevastopol and a Turkish landing at Batum. This led him to reverse policy and try a direct attack. It failed, the Russians losing 8,000 men and the Turks 1,500 (29 September). The blockade continued and Kars surrendered on 8 November.

1855: Georgian coast: Omar Pasha, the Turkish commander at Crimea had long wanted to land in Georgia, but the western powers vetoed it. When they relented in August most of the campaigning season was lost. In September 8,000 Turks landed at Batum, but the main concentration was at Sukhum Kale. This required a 100-mile march south through a country with poor roads. The Russians planned to hold the line of the Ingur River which separates Abkhazia from Georgia proper. Omar crossed the Ingur on 7 November and then wasted a great deal of time, the Russians doing little. By 2 December he had reached the Tskhenis-dzqali, the rainy season had started, his camps were submerged in mud and there was no bread. Learning of the fall of Kars he withdrew to the Ingur. The Russians did nothing and he evacuated to Batum in February of the following year.

Baltic theatre Edit

The Baltic was a forgotten theatre of the Crimean War. [61] Popularisation of events elsewhere overshadowed the significance of this theatre, which was close to Saint Petersburg, the Russian capital. In April 1854 an Anglo-French fleet entered the Baltic to attack the Russian naval base of Kronstadt and the Russian fleet stationed there. [62] In August 1854 the combined British and French fleet returned to Kronstadt for another attempt. The outnumbered Russian Baltic Fleet confined its movements to the areas around its fortifications. At the same time, the British and French commanders Sir Charles Napier and Alexandre Ferdinand Parseval-Deschenes—although they led the largest fleet assembled since the Napoleonic Wars—considered the Sveaborg fortress too well-defended to engage. Thus, shelling of the Russian batteries was limited to two attempts in 1854 and 1855, and initially, the attacking fleets limited their actions to blockading Russian trade in the Gulf of Finland. [63] Naval attacks on other ports, such as the ones in the island of Hogland in the Gulf of Finland, proved more successful. Additionally, allies conducted raids on less fortified sections of the Finnish coast. [64] These battles are known in Finland as the Åland War.

Russia depended on imports—both for its domestic economy and for the supply of its military forces: the blockade forced Russia to rely on more expensive overland shipments from Prussia. The blockade seriously undermined the Russian export economy and helped shorten the war. [65]

The burning of tar warehouses and ships led to international criticism, and in London the MP Thomas Gibson demanded in the House of Commons that the First Lord of the Admiralty explain "a system which carried on a great war by plundering and destroying the property of defenceless villagers". [66] In fact, the operations in the Baltic sea were in the nature of binding forces. it was very important to divert Russian forces from the South or, more precisely, not to allow Nicholas to transfer to the Crimea a huge army guarding the Baltic coast and the capital. [67] This goal Anglo-French forces have achieved. The Russian army in Crimea was forced to act without superiority in forces.

In August 1854 a Franco-British naval force captured and destroyed the Russian Bomarsund fortress on Åland Islands. In the August 1855, the Western Allied Baltic Fleet tried to destroy heavily defended Russian dockyards at Sveaborg outside Helsinki. More than 1,000 enemy guns tested the strength of the fortress for two days. Despite the shelling, the sailors of the 120-gun ship Rossiya, led by Captain Viktor Poplonsky, defended the entrance to the harbour. The Allies fired over 20,000 shells but failed to defeat the Russian batteries. The British then built a massive new fleet of more than 350 gunboats and mortar vessels, [68] which was known as the Great Armament, but the war ended before the attack was launched.

Part of the Russian resistance was credited to the deployment of newly invented blockade mines. Perhaps the most influential contributor to the development of naval mining was a Swede resident in Russia, the inventor and civil engineer Immanuel Nobel (the father of Alfred Nobel). Immanuel Nobel helped the Russian war effort by applying his knowledge of industrial explosives, such as nitroglycerin and gunpowder. One account dates modern naval mining from the Crimean War: "Torpedo mines, if I may use this name given by Fulton to self-acting mines underwater, were among the novelties attempted by the Russians in their defences about Cronstadt and Sevastopol", as one American officer put it in 1860. [69]

For the campaign of 1856, Britain and France planned an attack on the main base of the Russian Navy in the Baltic sea - Kronstadt. The attack was to be carried out using armored floating batteries. The use of the latter proved to be highly effective in attacking the sea fortress of Kinburn on the Black sea in 1855. Undoubtedly, this threat contributed on the part of Russia the decision on the conclusion of peace on unfavourable terms.

White Sea theatre Edit

In late 1854, a squadron of three British warships led by HMS Miranda left the Baltic for the White Sea, where they shelled Kola (which was destroyed) and the Solovki.

Pacific theatre Edit

Minor naval skirmishes also occurred in the Far East, where at Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula a British and French Allied squadron including HMS Pique under Rear Admiral David Price and a French force under Counter-Admiral Auguste Febvrier Despointes besieged a smaller Russian force under Rear Admiral Yevfimiy Putyatin. In September 1854, an Allied landing force was beaten back with heavy casualties, and the Allies withdrew. The victory at Petropavlovsk was for Russia in the words of the future military Minister Milyutin "a ray of light among the dark clouds". The Russians escaped under the cover of snow in early 1855 after Allied reinforcements arrived in the region.

The Anglo-French forces in the Far East also made several small landings on Sakhalin and Urup, one of the Kuril Islands. [70]

Piedmontese involvement Edit

Camillo di Cavour, under orders of Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia, sent an expeditionary corps of 15,000 soldiers, commanded by General Alfonso La Marmora, to side with French and British forces during the war. [71] : 111–12 This was an attempt at gaining the favour of the French, especially when the issue of uniting Italy would become an important matter. The deployment of Italian troops to the Crimea, and the gallantry shown by them in the Battle of the Chernaya (16 August 1855) and in the siege of Sevastopol, allowed the Kingdom of Sardinia to be among the participants at the peace conference at the end of the war, where it could address the issue of the Risorgimento to other European powers.

Greece Edit

Greece played a peripheral role in the war. When Russia attacked the Ottoman Empire in 1853, King Otto of Greece saw an opportunity to expand north and south into Ottoman areas that had large Greek Christian majorities. Greece did not coordinate its plans with Russia, did not declare war, and received no outside military or financial support. Greece, an Orthodox nation, had considerable support in Russia, but the Russian government decided it was too dangerous to help Greece expand its holdings. [14] : 32–40 When the Russians invaded the Principalities, the Ottoman forces were tied down so Greece invaded Thessaly and Epirus. To block further Greek moves, the British and French occupied the main Greek port at Piraeus from April 1854 to February 1857, [72] and effectively neutralized the Greek army. Greeks, gambling on a Russian victory, incited the large-scale Epirus Revolt of 1854 as well as uprisings in Crete. The insurrections were failures that were easily crushed by the Ottomans' allied Egyptian Army. Greece was not invited to the peace conference and made no gains out of the war. [14] : 139 [73] The frustrated Greek leadership blamed the King for failing to take advantage of the situation his popularity plunged and he was forced to abdicate in 1862.

In addition, a 1,000-strong Greek Volunteer Legion was formed in the Danubian Principalities in 1854 and later fought at Sevastopol. [74]

Kiev Cossack revolt Edit

A peasant revolt that began in the Vasylkiv county of Kiev Governorate (province) in February 1855 spread across the whole Kiev and Chernigov governorates, with peasants refusing to participate in corvée labour and other orders of the local authorities and, in some cases, attacking priests who were accused of hiding a decree about the liberation of the peasants. [75] [ better source needed ]

British position Edit

Dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war was growing with the public in Britain and in other countries, aggravated by reports of fiascos, especially the devastating losses of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. On Sunday, 21 January 1855, a "snowball riot" occurred in Trafalgar Square near St Martin-in-the-Fields in which 1,500 people gathered to protest against the war by pelting buses, cabs and pedestrians with snow balls. [76] When the police intervened, the snowballs were directed at the officers. The riot was finally put down by troops and police acting with truncheons. [76] In Parliament, Tories demanded an accounting of all soldiers, cavalry and sailors sent to the Crimea and accurate figures as to the number of casualties that had been sustained by all British armed forces in the Crimea they were especially concerned with the Battle of Balaclava. When Parliament passed a bill to investigate by the vote of 305 to 148, Aberdeen said he had lost a vote of no confidence and resigned as prime minister on 30 January 1855. [77] The veteran former Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston became prime minister. [78] Palmerston took a hard line he wanted to expand the war, foment unrest inside the Russian Empire, and permanently reduce the Russian threat to Europe. Sweden-Norway and Prussia were willing to join Britain and France, and Russia was isolated. [14] : 400–02, 406–08

Peace negotiations Edit

France, which had sent far more soldiers to the war and suffered far more casualties than Britain, wanted the war to end, as did Austria. [14] : 402–05

Negotiations began in Paris in February 1856 and were surprisingly easy. France, under the leadership of Napoleon III, had no special interests in the Black Sea and so did not support the harsh British and Austrian proposals. [79]

Peace negotiations at the Congress of Paris resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 30 March 1856. [80] In compliance with Article III, Russia restored to the Ottoman Empire the city and the citadel of Kars and "all other parts of the Ottoman territory of which the Russian troop were in possession". Russia returned the Southern Bessarabia, to Moldavia. [81] [82] By Article IV, Britain, France, Sardinia and Ottoman Empire restored to Russia "the towns and ports of Sevastopol, Balaklava, Kamish, Eupatoria, Kerch, Jenikale, Kinburn as well as all other territories occupied by the allied troops". In conformity with Articles XI and XIII, the Tsar and the Sultan agreed not to establish any naval or military arsenal on the Black Sea coast. The Black Sea clauses weakened Russia, which no longer posed a naval threat to the Ottomans. The Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia were nominally returned to the Ottoman Empire, and the Austrian Empire was forced to abandon their annexation and end the occupation, [83] but in practice, they became independent. The Treaty of Paris admitted the Ottoman Empire to the European concert, and the Great Powers pledged to respect its independence and territorial integrity. [14] : 432–33

Aftermath in Russia Edit

Some members of the Russian intelligentsia saw defeat as a pressure to modernise their society. Grand Duke Constantine (son of the Tsar) remarked that, [84]

We cannot deceive ourselves any longer we must say that we are both weaker and poorer than the first-class powers, and furthermore poorer not only in material terms but in mental resources, especially in matters of administration.

Orlando Figes points to the long-term damage Russia suffered:

The demilitarization of the Black Sea was a major blow to Russia, which was no longer able to protect its vulnerable southern coastal frontier against the British or any other fleet. The destruction of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol and other naval docks was a humiliation. No compulsory disarmament had ever been imposed on a great power previously. The Allies did not really think that they were dealing with a European power in Russia. They regarded Russia as a semi-Asiatic state. In Russia itself, the Crimean defeat discredited the armed services and highlighted the need to modernize the country's defences, not just in the strictly military sense, but also through the building of railways, industrialization, sound finances and so on. The image many Russians had built up of their country – the biggest, richest and most powerful in the world – had suddenly been shattered. Russia's backwardness had been exposed. The Crimean disaster had exposed the shortcomings of every institution in Russia – not just the corruption and incompetence of the military command, the technological backwardness of the army and navy, or the inadequate roads and lack of railways the accounted for the chronic problems of supply, but the poor condition and illiteracy of the serfs who made up the armed forces, the inability of the serf economy to sustain a state of war against industrial powers, and the failures of autocracy itself. [85]

The Treaty of Paris stood until 1871, when Prussia defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. While Prussia and several other German states united to form a powerful German Empire in January 1871, the French deposed Emperor Napoleon III and proclaimed the Third French Republic (September 1870). During his reign, Napoleon, eager for the support of the United Kingdom, had opposed Russia over the Eastern Question. Russian interference in the Ottoman Empire did not in any significant manner threaten the interests of France, and France abandoned its opposition to Russia after the establishment of the republic. Encouraged by the new attitude of French diplomacy after the surrenders of the besieged French army at Sedan and later Metz and supported by the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Russia in October 1870 renounced the Black Sea clauses of the treaty agreed to in 1856. As the United Kingdom with Austria [86] could not enforce the clauses, Russia once again established a fleet in the Black Sea.

After being defeated in the Crimean War, Russia feared that Russian Alaska would be easily captured in any future war with the British therefore, Alexander II opted to sell the territory to the United States. [87]

Historian Norman Rich argues that the war was not an accident, but was sought out by the determination of the British and French not to allow Russia an honourable retreat. Both insisted on a military victory to enhance their prestige in European affairs when a nonviolent peaceful political solution was available. The war then wrecked the Concert of Europe, which had long kept the peace. [88]

Turkish historian Candan Badem wrote, "Victory in this war did not bring any significant material gain, not even a war indemnity. On the other hand, the Ottoman treasury was nearly bankrupted due to war expenses". Badem adds that the Ottomans achieved no significant territorial gains, lost the right to a navy in the Black Sea, and failed to gain status as a great power.. Further, the war gave impetus to the union of the Danubian principalities and ultimately to their independence. [89]

The treaty punished the defeated Russia, but in the long run, Austria lost the most from the war despite having barely taken part in it. [14] : 433 Having abandoned its alliance with Russia, Austria remained diplomatically isolated following the war, [14] : 433 which contributed to its disastrous defeats in the 1859 Franco-Austrian War that resulted in the cession of Lombardy to the Kingdom of Sardinia and later in the loss of the Habsburg rule of Tuscany and Modena, which meant the end of Austrian influence in peninsular Italy. Furthermore, Russia did not do anything to assist its former ally, Austria, in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, [14] : 433 when Austria lost Venetia and, more importantly, its influence in most German-speaking lands. The status of Austria as a great power, with the unifications of Germany and Italy, now became very precarious. It had to compromise with Hungary the two countries shared the Danubian Empire and Austria slowly became little more than a German satellite. [ citation needed ] With France now hostile to Germany and gravitating towards Russia, and with Russia competing with the newly renamed Austro-Hungarian Empire for an increased role in the Balkans at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, the foundations were in place for building the diplomatic alliances that would shape the First World War of 1914.

The Treaty's guarantees to preserve Ottoman territories were broken 21 years later when Russia, exploiting nationalist unrest in the Balkans and seeking to regain lost prestige, once again declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 24 April 1877. In this later Russo-Turkish War the states of Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro gained international recognition of their independence and Bulgaria achieved its autonomy from direct Ottoman rule. Russia took over Southern Bessarabia, [90] lost in 1856. The regions of Batum and Kars, as well as those inhabited by Adjarians (Muslim Georgians) and Armenians, were also annexed to Russia in the Caucasus. At the same time, "protectors" of the Ottoman Empire Britain received Cyprus as a colonial possession, while Austria-Hungary occupied and annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Finally, Ottoman rule in the Balkans ended after the First Balkan War of 1912, when the combined forces of the Balkan States defeated it.

The Crimean War marked the re-ascendancy of France to the position of pre-eminent power on the Continent, [14] : 411 the continued decline of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of a decline for Imperial Russia. As Fuller notes, "Russia had been beaten on the Crimean peninsula, and the military feared that it would inevitably be beaten again unless steps were taken to surmount its military weakness." [91] The war also marked the demise of the Concert of Europe, the balance-of-power system that had dominated Europe since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and had included France, Russia, Prussia, Austria and the United Kingdom.

According to historian Shepard Clough, the war

was not the result of a calculated plan, nor even of hasty last-minute decisions made under stress. It was the consequence of more than two years of fatal blundering in slow-motion by inept statesmen who had months to reflect upon the actions they took. It arose from Napoleon's search for prestige Nicholas's quest for control over the Straits his naive miscalculation of the probable reactions of the European powers the failure of those powers to make their positions clear and the pressure of public opinion in Britain and Constantinople at crucial moments. [92]

The view of "diplomatic drift" as the cause of the war was first popularised by A. W. Kinglake, who portrayed the British as victims of newspaper sensationalism and duplicitous French and Ottoman diplomacy.

More recently, historians Andrew Lambert and Winfried Baumgart have argued that Britain was following a geopolitical strategy in aiming to destroy the fledgling Russian Navy, which might challenge the Royal Navy for control of the seas, and that the war was also a joint European response to a century of Russian expansion not just southwards but also into Western Europe. [35] [82]

In 1870, Prussia persuaded Russia to remain neutral in the Franco-Prussian war. [93] Bismarck, having declared it impossible to keep 100 million Russians in a humiliated position without sovereign rights to their Black Sea coastline, [94] supported Russia against the Treaty of Paris, and in return, Prussia achieved freedom of action against France in 1870-1871 and inflicted a crushing defeat on it.

Documentation of the war was provided by William Howard Russell (writing for The Times newspaper) and the photographs of Roger Fenton. [14] : 306–09 News from war correspondents reached all nations involved in the war and kept the public citizenry of those nations better informed of the day-to-day events of the war than had been the case in any other war to that date. The British public was very well informed regarding the day-to-day realities of the war in the Crimea. After the French extended the telegraph to the coast of the Black Sea in late 1854, the news reached London in two days. When the British laid an underwater cable to the Crimean peninsula in April 1855, news reached London in a few hours. The daily news reports energised public opinion, which brought down the Aberdeen government and carried Lord Palmerston into office as prime minister. [14] : 304–11

Historian R. B. McCallum points out the war was enthusiastically supported by the British populace as it was happening, but the mood changed very dramatically afterwards. Pacifists and critics were unpopular but:

in the end they won. Cobden and Bright were true to their principles of foreign policy, which laid down the absolute minimum of intervention in European affairs and a deep moral reprobation of war . When the first enthusiasm was passed, when the dead were mourned, the sufferings revealed, and the cost counted, when in 1870 Russia was able calmly to secure the revocation of the Treaty, which disarmed her in the Black Sea, the view became general of the war was stupid and unnecessary, and effected nothing . The Crimean war remained as a classic example . of how governments may plunge into war, how strong ambassadors may mislead weak prime ministers, how the public may be worked up into a facile fury, and how the achievements of the war may crumble to nothing. The Bright-Cobden criticism of the war was remembered and to a large extent accepted [especially by the Liberal Party]. Isolation from European entanglements seemed more than ever desirable. [96] [97]

As the memory of the "Charge of the Light Brigade" demonstrates, the war became an iconic symbol of logistical, medical and tactical failures and mismanagement. Public opinion in Britain was outraged at the logistical and command failures of the war the newspapers demanded drastic reforms, and parliamentary investigations demonstrated the multiple failures of the Army. [98] The reform campaign was not well organised, and the traditional aristocratic leadership of the Army pulled itself together, and blocked all serious reforms. No one was punished. The outbreak of the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 shifted attention to the heroic defence of British interest by the army, and further talk of reform went nowhere. [99] The demand for professionalisation was achieved by Florence Nightingale, who gained worldwide attention for pioneering and publicising modern nursing while treating the wounded. [14] : 469–71 Another nurse, Jamaican doctress Mary Seacole, also made an impact providing care for wounded and dying soldiers. The Times war correspondent William Howard Russell spoke highly of Seacole's skill as a healer, writing "A more tender or skilful hand about a wound or a broken limb could not be found among our best surgeons." [100]

The Crimean War also saw the first tactical use of railways and other modern inventions, such as the electric telegraph, with the first "live" war reporting to The Times by William Howard Russell. Some credit Russell with prompting the resignation of the sitting British government through his reporting of the lacklustre condition of British forces deployed in Crimea. Additionally, the telegraph reduced the independence of British overseas possessions from their commanders in London due to such rapid communications. Newspaper readership informed public opinion in the United Kingdom and France as never before. [101] It was the first European war to be photographed. The Russians installed telegraph links to Moscow and St Petersburg during the war, and expanded their rail network south of Moscow after the peace treaty.

The war also employed modern military tactics, such as trenches and blind artillery fire. The use of the Minié ball for shot, coupled with the rifling of barrels, greatly increased the range and the damage caused by the allied weapons.

The British Army system of sale of commissions came under great scrutiny during the war, especially in connection with the Battle of Balaclava, which saw the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade. This scrutiny later led to the abolition of the sale of commissions.

During the Crimean war, the first use of steam armored ships in the military history took place. Three Dévastation-class floating batteries were successfully used against the sea fortress of Kinburn in the autumn of 1855. The direct initiator of this military innovation was the French Emperor Napoleon III. The military threat of the use of this new weapon in the campaign of 1856 contributed to Russia's acceptance of the unfavourable conditions of the Paris treaty of 1856.

Michael Faraday received a proposal from the British government to develop chemical weapons for use in the siege of Sevastopol. Faraday categorically refused and publicly condemned the proposal and his position contributed to the rejection of the development and use of these weapons during the Crimean war.

The Crimean War was a contributing factor in the Russian abolition of serfdom in 1861: Tsar Alexander II (Nicholas I's son and successor) saw the military defeat of the Russian serf-army by free troops from Britain and France as proof of the need for emancipation. [102] The Crimean War also led to the realisation by the Russian government of its technological inferiority, in military practices as well as weapons. [103]

Meanwhile, Russian military medicine saw dramatic progress: N. I. Pirogov, known as the father of Russian field surgery, developed the use of anaesthetics, plaster casts, enhanced amputation methods, and five-stage triage in Crimea, among other things.

The war also led to the establishment of the Victoria Cross in 1856 (backdated to 1854), the British Army's first universal award for valour. 111 medals were awarded.

The British issued the Crimea Medal with 5 clasps, and the Baltic Medal, as well as Valour medals, including the newly created Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Turkish Crimea Medal, the French did not issue a campaign medal, issuing Médaille militaire and Legion of Honour for bravery, Sardinia also issued a medal. Russia issued a Defence of Sevastopol, and a Crimean War medal.


20 September 1854

British and French troops defeat Russians in Crimea in the Battle of Alma.

Battle of Alma, victory by the British and the French in the Crimean War that left the Russian naval base of Sevastopol vulnerable and endangered the entire Russian position in the war. It is generally considered the first battle of the Crimean War.

Commanded by Prince Aleksandr Menshikov, the Russians had occupied a position on the heights above the Alma River in southwestern Crimea, thus blocking the road to Sevastopol. In order to advance, the allied French and British army would have to assault Telegraph Hill, and to the east, Kourgane Hill, both of which were topped with Russian redoubts. The valley in between led to Sevastopol, but no advance would be possible, even with their numerical advantage, if the Russians held the two hills.

The allies landed on the Crimean Peninsula some 35 miles north of Sevastopol on September 14. Suffering from dysentery and cholera, it would be six days before the armies headed south. It was at the Alma, the second of the east-west rivers north of the Sevastopol, where they enjoyed a prime defensive position, that the Russians decided to stand their ground on September 20.

To attack the Russians, the French commander, General Jacques St. Arnaud, decided to cross the river under the cover of a naval bombardment and scale the cliffs with a detachment of French troops. This would divert the Russians and allow the British to attack the redoubts. The French part of the plan began successfully but lost momentum, and the Russians restored their lines. As a result, the British attack faltered and their battalions became entangled in chaos.


Find out more

The Charge by M Adkin (Leo Cooper, 1996)

The Crimean War, 1853-1856 by W Baumgart (Arnold, 1999)

Britain and the Crimea, 1855-56: Problems of War and Peace by J B Conacher (St Martin's, 1988)

Russia’s Crimean War by J S Curtiss (Duke UP, 1979)

The Origins of the Crimean War by David M Goldfrank (Longman, 1994)

The Crimean War: British Grand Strategy, 1853-56 by Andrew D Lambert (Manchester University Press, 1990)

'I have done my Duty': Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, 1854-56 by Florence Nightingale, (Manchester University Press, 1987)

The Banner of Battle: the Story of the Crimean War by Alan Palmer (St Martin's Press, 1987)

The Origins of the Crimean Alliance by A P Saab (Virginia UP, 1977)

. Austria, Great Britain and the Crimean War: The destruction of the European Concert by P W Schroeder (Cornell UP, 1972)


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