|Part of Ottoman wars in Europe and the Russo-Turkish wars|
Detail of Franz Roubaud‘s panoramic painting The Siege of Sevastopol (1904)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Total: 1,000,000||Total: 710,000|
|Casualties and losses|
|Total: 350,000–375,000 dead||Total: 220,000 dead:
80,000 killed in action
40,000 died of wounds
100,000 died of disease
The Crimean War (pronounced /kraɪˈmiːən/ or /krɨˈmiːən/) (October 1853 – February 1856):7 was a conflict in which Russia lost to an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia. While neutral, the Austrian Empire also played a role in stopping the Russians.
The immediate issue involved the rights of Christians in the Holy Land, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The French promoted the rights of Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Orthodox. The longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the unwillingness of Britain and France to allow Russia to gain territory and power at Ottoman expense. Russia lost and the Ottomans gained a twenty-year respite from Russian pressure. The Christians were granted a degree of official equality and the Orthodox gained control of the Christian churches in dispute.:415 Russia survived, gained a new appreciation for its religious diversity, and launched a reform program with far-reaching consequences.
Russia and the Ottoman Empire went to war in October 1853 over Russia’s rights to protect Orthodox Christians. Russia gained the upper hand after destroying the Ottoman fleet at the Black Sea port of Sinope; to stop Russia’s conquest, France and Britain entered in March 1854. Most of the fighting took place for control of the Black Sea, with land battles on the Crimean peninsula in southern Russia. The Russians held their great fortress at Sevastopol for over a year. After it fell, a peace was arranged at Paris in March 1856. The religion issue had already been resolved. The main results were that the Black Sea was neutralised—Russia would not have any warships there—and the two vassals Wallachia and Moldavia became largely independent under nominal Ottoman rule.
There were smaller campaigns in eastern Anatolia, Caucasus, the Baltic Sea, the Pacific Ocean and the White Sea. In Russia, this war is also known as the “Eastern War” (Russian: Восточная война, Vostochnaya Voina).
The war transformed the region. Because of battles, population exchanges, and nationalist movements incited by the war, the present-day states of Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and regions such as Crimea and the Caucasus all changed in small or large ways due to this conflict.
The Crimean War is notorious for logistical, medical and tactical failure on both sides. The naval side saw both a successful Allied campaign which eliminated most of the ships of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, and a successful blockade by the Royal Navy in the Baltic. It was one of the first “modern” wars because it saw the first use of major technologies, such as railways and telegraphs.(Preface) It is also famous for the work of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, who pioneered contrasting modern medical practices while treating the wounded. The war was one of the first to be documented extensively in written reports and photographs.
- 1 Pre-battle tensions: “The Eastern Question”
- 2 Battles
- 3 End of the war
- 4 Historical analysis
- 5 Documentation
- 6 Criticisms and reform
- 7 Chronology of major battles of the war
- 8 Prominent military commanders
- 9 Last veterans
- 10 In culture
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Pre-battle tensions: “The Eastern Question”
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 the British role in the eastern Mediterranean.
For over 200 years, Russia had been expanding in a southerly direction toward the warm water ports of the Black Sea. Warm water ports that did not freeze over in the winter were essential for the development of Russian year-round trade and development of a strong navy.:11This brought the emerging Russian state into conflict with the Ukrainian Cossacks and then with the Crimean Tatars. When Russia conquered these groups and gained possession of Ukraine, the Ottoman Empire lost its buffer zone against Russian expansion, and Russia and the Ottoman Empire fell 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.(ch 1)
The immediate causes of the war
The immediate chain of events leading to France and Britain declaring war on Russia on 27 and 28 March 1854 came from the ambition of the French emperor Napoleon III to restore the grandeur of France. He wanted Catholic support that would come his way if he attacked Eastern Orthodoxy, as sponsored by Russia.:103 The Marquis Charles de La Valette was a zealous Catholic and a leading member of the “clerical party” which demanded French protection of the Roman Catholic rights to the holy places in Palestine. Napoleon appointed La Valette in May 1851 as his ambassador to the Porte (the Ottoman Empire).:7–9 The appointment was made with the intent to force the Ottomans to recognise France as the “sovereign authority” over the Christian population.:19 Russia disputed this attempted change in authority. Pointing to two more treaties, one in 1757 and the 1774 Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, the Ottomans reversed their earlier decision, renouncing the French treaty and insisting 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. This action was a violation of the London Straits Convention.:19 However, the Ottomans knew that the Charlemagne sailed at a speed of 8½ knots and could defeat the technologically inferior Russian and Ottoman navies combined.:104 Thus, France’s show of force presented a real threat, and when combined with aggressive diplomacy and money, induced Sultan Abdülmecid I to accept a new treaty, confirming France and the Roman Catholic Church as the supreme Christian authority with control over the Roman Catholic holy places and possession of the keys to the Church of the Nativity, previously held by the Greek Orthodox Church.:20
Tsar Nicholas I then deployed his 4th and 5th army corps along the River Danube, and 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.: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 Britain’s or France’s interfering in any conflict between Russia and the Ottomans, as well as to prevent their allying.
Nicholas began courting Britain by means of conversations with the British ambassador, George Hamilton Seymour, in January and February 1853.:105Nicholas insisted that he no longer wished to expand Imperial Russia:105 but that he had an obligation to the Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire.:105 The Tsar next dispatched a diplomat, Prince Menshikov, on a special mission to the Ottoman Sublime Porte in February 1853.:107 By previous treaties, the sultan was committed “to protect the (Eastern Orthodox) Christian religion and its churches”. Menshikov attempted to negotiate a new sened, a formal convention with the power of an international treaty, under which the Ottomans would allow to Russia the same rights of intervention in the affairs of the Orthodox religion as recently allowed France with respect to Catholic churches and churchmen. Such a treaty would allow Russia to control the Orthodox Church’s hierarchy in the Ottoman Empire. Menshikov arrived at Istanbul on 16 February 1853, on the steam-powered warship Gromovnik (Thunderer).:4–5 The ship (Thunderer) that Menshikov sailed to Constantinople aboard was aptly named.:108 Once in Constantinople, Menshikov proceeded to break protocol at the Porte. At his first meeting with the sultan, he insulted the Turks by appearing in civilian clothes rather than customary and traditional military uniform for his official welcome to the Porte.:109 He then proceeded to condemn the Ottomans’ concessions to the French. Menshikov also began demanding the replacement of highly placed Ottoman civil servants—particularly Fuad Efendi the Ottoman foreign minister.:109
Since the departure in January 1853 of Stratford Canning, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, the British embassy at Constantinople had been run by Hugh Rose, chargé d’affaires for the British.:110 Using his abundant resources within the Ottoman Empire, Rose gathered intelligence on Russian troop movements along the Danube frontier, and became concerned about the extent of Menshikov’s mission to the Porte. On 8 March 1853, Rose, using his authority as the British representative to the Ottomans, ordered Vice-Admiral Sir James Whitley Deans Dundas, stationed on the island of Malta, to bring a British squadron of warships to Urla, İzmir, on the Ionian coast of Turkey.:5 However, Sir James Dundas refused to leave Malta:5 and resented the diplomat (Rose) for believing he could interfere in the Admiralty‘s business. Within a week, Rose’s actions were cancelled. The French fleet sailed from Toulon on 22 March 1853, and headed for the Bosporus.:112 Their intent was to head off any naval attack on Constantinople on the west side of the narrows at Bosporus. Thus, only the French sent a naval task force to support the Ottomans.
In February 1853, the British government of Lord Aberdeen, the prime minister, re-appointed Stratford Canning as British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.:110 Having resigned the ambassadorship in January, he had been replaced by Baron Strathnairn. 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 would eventually force 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 MarshallIvan Paskevich and General Mikhail Gorchakov across the Pruth River 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 combat,:118–119 for the Russian army still suffered from medical service that ranged from bad to none.
Russia had previously obtained from the Ottoman Empire recognition 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 Hungarian Revolution in 1849.
In July 1853, the Tsar sent his troops into the Danubian Principalities. Britain, 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.
At the same time, however, the European powers hoped for a diplomatic compromise. The representatives of the four neutral Great Powers—Britain, France, Austria and Prussia—met in Vienna, where they drafted a note which 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 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; however, Abdülmecid I rejected the proposal, feeling that the document’s poor phrasing left it open to many different interpretations. Britain, France, and Austria united in proposing amendments to mollify the Sultan, but the court of St Petersburg ignored their suggestions.:143
Britain and France 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. Nonetheless, the Sultan formally declared war on Russia on 23 October 1853, and proceeded to the attack, his armies moving on the Russian army near the Danube later that month. 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.In the Caucasus, the Ottomans were able to stand ground with the help of Chechen Muslims led by Imam Shamil.
Nicholas responded by dispatching warships, which in the Battle of Sinop on 30 November 1853 destroyed a patrol squadron of Ottoman frigates and corvettes while they were anchored in port in northern Anatolia. The destruction of the Ottoman ships provided Britain and France with the casus belli (“case for war”) for declaring war against Russia on the side of the Ottoman Empire. By 28 March 1854, after Russia ignored an Anglo-French ultimatum to withdraw from the Danubian Principalities, Britain and France formally declared war.
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. When Britain and France demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from the principalities, Austria supported them and, though it did not immediately declare war on Russia, it refused to guarantee its neutrality.
Russia then withdrew its troops from the Danubian principalities, which were then occupied by Austria for the duration of the war. This removed the original grounds for war, but Britain 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 proposed several conditions for a peaceful resolution, including:
- Russia was to give up its protectorate over the Danubian Principalities;
- It was to abandon any claim granting it the right to interfere in Ottoman affairs on behalf of Orthodox Christians;
- The Straits Convention of 1841 was to be revised;
- All nations were to be granted access to the River Danube.
When the Tsar refused to comply with these Four Points, the Crimean War commenced.
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. It established strongholds at Vidin in the west, and Silistra,:172–84 which was located in the east, near the mouth of the Danube.
The Turkish/Ottoman move up the Danube River 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, the Austrians resisted Russian diplomatic attempts to join the war on the Russian side. Austria remained neutral in the Crimean War.
Following the Ottoman ultimatum in September 1853, forces under the Ottoman general Omar Pasha crossed the Danube at Vidin and captured Calafatin 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. On 31 December 1853, the Ottoman forces at Kalafat moved against the Russian force at Chetatea or Cetate, a small village nine miles north of Kalafat, and engaged them on 6 January 1854. The battle began when the Russians made a move to recapture Kalafat. Most of the heavy fighting, however, 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.:130–43
In the spring of 1854 the Russians again advanced, crossing the Danube River 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 center, the Russian forces crossed the Danube and laid siege to Silistra from 14 April until 23 June 1854.
In the west, the Russians were dissuaded from attacking Vidin by the presence of the Austrian forces, which had swelled 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. However, when the Russian troops actually crossed the River Pruth into Moldavia, the Orthodox Christians still showed no interest in rising up against the Turks.: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 Turkey, the Austrians entered the war on the side of Turkey 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.:185
In June 1854 the Allied expeditionary force landed at Varna, but made little advance from their base there.:175–176 In July 1854, the Turks 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 Turks immediately threatened Bucharest in Wallachia with capture by the same Turk army. On 26 July 1854, Tsar Nicholas I 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.:188–190
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.:189 There was little further action on this front after the autumn of 1854 and in September the allied force boarded ships at Varna to move up the Dardanelles to the Black Sea to invade the Crimean Peninsula.:198
Black Sea theatre
The naval operations of the Crimean war commenced with the dispatch, in summer of 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 theDardanelles. 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 (currently named Istanbul) 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 harbor at Sinop, and destroyed it. There was little additional naval action until March 1854 when on the declaration of war the British frigate Furious was fired on outside Odessa harbour. In response the British fleet bombarded the port, causing much damage to the town.
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 toscuttling 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, 3-decker ships of the line, twelve 84-gun 2-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 April 1855 they supported an invasion of 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.
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.:192 However, war fever among the public in both Britain 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. Indeed the Peelite Government of George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen fell on 30 January 1855 on a no-confidence vote because Aberdeen was reluctant to sign on to a plan of extending the war.:311Accordingly, allied troops sailed from Varna, on the coast of the Turkish province of Bulgaria to land in the Crimea, with the intent of besieging the city ofSevastopol, home of the Tsar’s Black Sea Fleet. In the eyes of the British and the French, the Russian fleet was a threat to the Mediterranean. The British and the French both wished to keep the Russians an effectively landlocked power for as long as possible. If the Russian Black Sea Fleet were allowed through the Straits of the Dardanelles, the Mediterranean might then effectively be under contested control between British, French, and Russian interests. Additionally, Russian maritime and military access to the Mediterranean meant that the balance of power in Europe might thereafter be forever changed to the detriment of the Western European powers. Seeing this as an unacceptable outcome of a Russian victory in their war with the Turks—as the war had indeed begun, and which the Turks, whom the Allies came to aid, had started.
The Crimean campaign opened in September 1854 with the landing of the allied expeditionary force on the sandy beaches of Calamita Bay on the south west coast of the Crimean Peninsula.:201 Their main strategic goal was to capture the Russian fortresses at Sevastopol located to the south of Calamita Bay.:194 However, to protect the allies’ left flank from attack by the Russians, the allied armies first moved north and west along the coast of the Peninsula to occupy the city of Eupatoria.:201After the crossing the Alma River on 30 September 1854, the allies moved on to invest Sevastopol. The Russian army retreated to the interior. A Russian assault on the allied supply base at Balaclava was rebuffed on 25 October 1854.:521–527The Battle of Balaclava is noteworthy for the bravery of two British units. The 93rd Highlanders stood solidly against repeated attacks by a larger Russian force.:523 This stand led the 93rd Highlanders to be remembered in history as the “Thin Red Line“. The second British unit to gain immortality in the Battle of Balaclava was the Light Cavalry Brigade under the command of the Earl of Cardigan. An extremely ambiguous order sent the brigade on the near suicidal charge of the Light Brigade into the north Valley of the Balaclava battlefield.:524 The heights around the north Valley were brimming with Russian artillery which bombarded the Light Brigade. Of the original nearly 700-man strength of the Light Brigade, 278 were killed or wounded. The Light Brigade was memorialised in the famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson called 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 have revised this conclusion somewhat by stating that the charge of the Light Brigade did succeed in at least some of its objectives.:252 The aim of any cavalry charge is to scatter the enemy lines and frighten the enemy off the battlefield. In this regard, even the Russians admitted that the charge of Light Brigade had so un-nerved the Russian cavalry, which had previously been routed by the Heavy Brigade, that the Russian Cavalry was set to full-scale flight by the subsequent charge of the Light Brigade.:252 Thus, the charge of the Light Brigade is now viewed in some circles as having achieved at least part of its objective.
The failure of the British and French to follow up on the Battle of Balaclava led directly to another and much more bloody battle—the Battle of Inkerman.:526 On 5 November 1854, the Russians attempted to raise the siege at Sevastopol with an attack against the allies near the town of Inkerman which resulted in another allied victory.
Meanwhile at Sevastopol, the allies had surrounded the city with entrenchments and, in October 1854, unleashed an all–out bombardment (the first of many) against the city’s defences. Winter, and a deteriorating supply situation 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.
In February 1855 the Russians attacked the allied base at Eupatoria,:321–322 where an Ottoman army had built up and was threatening Russian supply routes. The battle saw the Russians defeated:321 and led to a change in command. The strain of directing the war had taken its toll on the health of Tsar Nicholas.:96 With his resistance down, Nicholas caught a cold in February 1855. On 8 February 1855, the Tsar’s cold developed into influenza.:321 News of the Russian defeat at Eupatoria reached the Tsar in St. Petersburg on 16 February 1855 and depressed him more than before. The Tsar’s condition worsened and he caught pneumonia.:322 He died on 18 February 1855 according to the Julian calendar.:98
On the allied side the emphasis of the siege at Sevastopol shifted to the right-hand sector of the lines, against the fortifications on Malakoff hill.:339 In March there was fighting by the French over the fort at Mamelon, located on a hill in front of the Malakoff. Several weeks of fighting saw 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,:340 but no ground assault followed.:341 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.:344 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. In June a third bombardment was followed 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, suffered a fatal bullet wound to the head and died on 30 June 1855.:378
In August the Russians again made an attack on the base at Balaclava. The resulting battle of Tchernaya was a defeat for the Russians, who suffered heavy casualties. September saw the final assault. On 5 September another French bombardment (the sixth) was followed by an assault by the French Army on 8 September resulting in the capture of the Malakoff by the French, and the collapse of the Russian defences. Meanwhile the British captured the Great Redan, just south of the city of Sevastopol. The city fell on 9 September 1855 after a year-long siege.:106
At this point both sides were exhausted, and there were no further military operations in the Crimea before the onset of winter.
In spring 1855, the allied British–French commanders decided to send an Anglo-French naval squadron into the Azov Sea to undermine Russian communications and supplies to besiegedSevastopol. On 12 May 1855, British–French warships entered the Kerch Strait and destroyed the coast battery of the Kamishevaya Bay. On 21 May 1855 the gunboats and armed steamers attacked the seaport of Taganrog, the most important hub in proximity to 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 the ultimatum, responding that “Russians never surrender their cities”. The British–French squadron bombarded Taganrog for 6½ hours and landed 300 troops near the Old Stairway in downtown 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 Don River through the Mius River. On 12 July 1855 HMS Jaspergrounded near Taganrog thanks to a fisherman who repositioned the buoys into shallow waters. 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 autumn 1855.
The Caucasus was already a scene of confrontation for the Russians and the Ottomans, as both had sought to extend their influence in the region.
Russian expansion into the region had been resisted by local peoples in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Circassia. In the region the Russians were opposed by Circassians and Muridists of the Caucasian Imamate, but were grudgingly supported by Georgians and Kakhetians, who valued their independence, but were at odds with their neighbours.
In 1853 the leader of the mountain peoples, Imam Shamil, staged an insurrection against the occupying Russian forces.:335 His forces fought the Russians at Zaqatala, and Meselderg, but were beaten back by the Russian forces. In 1854 he tried again, advancing on Tiflis before being defeated at Shulda.
In summer of 1853 the Ottoman forces held strongholds at Kars, Batum, and Erzurum, with lesser forts at Ardahan and Bayazid. The Ottoman forces planned an invasion of Georgia but after some initial success were unable to maintain this and were forced to retreat. Russian forces in the region were spread thinly, due to the demands of holding down the region against insurrection, but during 1853 were reinforced. In September 1853 there were a number of clashes between Russian and Ottoman forces. Additionally, there were later battles at Fort St. Nicolas in October 1853 and twice atAlexandropol in October 1853 and again in December 1853. On 26 November 1853, the Russians beat the Ottoman armed forces at the battle ofAkhaltsikh. On 1 December General Bebutov led 10,000 soldiers and 32 guns to win a victory over a 36,000-man Ottoman Army under Ahmed Pasha at the battle of Bashkadiklar.
In the spring of 1854 the Russians planned an invasion of Ottoman territory. On 16 June Prince Andronikov with 10,000 soldiers and 18 guns achieved a victory over a 34,000-man Ottoman Army at the Cholok river; on 31 July Russian forces seized Bayazid; on 5 August General Bebutov with 18,000 men and 64 guns had successfully waged the battle of Kurekdere, 11 miles from Kars. Following these encounters there was little further action that year.
In 1855 both sides returned to the offensive; after initial maneuverings the Russians staged two assaults on Kars, beginning from 16 June and then on 29 September, which were beaten back with huge losses. However they settled down to a siege on 18 June, which had became almost total from the middle of August. The siege had been successful and Kars surrendered on 28 November 1855. Commander of its garrison Mehmet Vasif Pasha had yielded the fortress keys, 12 Ottoman banners and 18,500 soldiers as captives. As a result of this operation the Russian Army assumed control not merely over the forts and city, but also over the whole area including Ardahan, Kagyzman, Oltu and part of Basen district. Meanwhile the Ottoman army at Batum invaded Georgia, but after an inconclusive clash at the Ingur river the offensive collapsed and they retreated to Batum.
In 1856 the Russians had plans to advance on Erzurum, but the peace of Paris in March 1856 put an end to further operations.
The Baltic was a forgotten theatre of the Crimean War. The popularisation of events elsewhere had overshadowed the significance of this theatre, which was close to Saint Petersburg, the Russian capital. In April 1854 an Anglo-French fleet was sent into the Baltic to attack the Russian seaport of Kronstadt and the Russian fleet stationed there. 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, 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 the summers of 1854 and 1855, and initially, the attacking fleets limited their actions to blockading the Russian trade in the Gulf of Finland. Naval attacks on other ports, such as the ones at Hogland, were more successful. Additionally, they conducted raids on less fortified sections of theFinnish coast.
Russia was dependent on imports for both the domestic economy and the supply of her military forces, and the blockade seriously undermined the Russian economy. Raiding by allied British and French fleets destroyed forts on the Finnish coast including the newly constructed Bomarsund on theÅland Islands which was raided on 3 July through 16 July 1854, and Fort Slava. Other such attacks were not so successful, and the poorly planned attempts to take Hanko, Ekenäs, Kokkola, and Turku were repulsed.
The burning of tar warehouses and ships in Oulu and Raahe led to international criticism and, in Britain, 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”.
In 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 harbor. The Allies fired over twenty thousand shells but were unable to defeat the Russian batteries. A massive new fleet of more than 350 gunboats and mortar vessels was prepared, but before the attack was launched, the war ended.
Part of the Russian resistance was credited to the deployment of newly created blockade mines. Perhaps the most influential contributor to the development of naval mining was inventor and civil engineer Immanuel Nobel, the father of Alfred Nobel. Immanuel helped the war effort for Russia by applying his knowledge of industrial explosives such as nitroglycerin and gunpowder. Modern naval mining is said to date 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.
White Sea theatre
In autumn 1854 a squadron of three British warships led by HMS Miranda left the Baltic for the White Sea, where they shelled Kola (which was utterly destroyed) and the Solovki. Their attempt to storm Arkhangelsk proved unsuccessful.
Minor naval skirmishes also occurred in the Far East, where at Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula a strong British and French Allied squadron including HMS Pique under Rear AdmiralDavid Price and a French force under Counter-Admiral Auguste Febvrier Despointes besieged a smaller Russian force under Rear Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin. In September 1854 an Allied landing force was beaten back with heavy casualties, and the Allies withdrew. The Russians escaped under the cover of snow in early 1855 after Allied reinforcements arrived in the region.
Camillo di Cavour, under orders by Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia sent an expeditionary corps of around 15,000 soldiers, commanded by General Alfonso La Marmora, to side with French and British forces during the war.: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.
When the Crimean War broke out, many Greeks felt that it was an opportunity to regain Ottoman-controlled Greek territory to add to the recently liberated territory of the independent Kingdom of Greece. The Greek War of Independence (1821–1829) was still fresh in people’s minds, as well as theRussian intervention that had helped secure Greek independence. Just before the Greek War of Independence a leader of Filiki Eteria, Alexander Ypsilantis, and his brother Demetrios Ypsilantis had led Russian troops into Moldavia and Wallachia and coordinated the preparations for uprisings throughout Ottoman-occupied Greece which they later led. Moreover, Greeks had always considered Orthodox Christian Russia as an ally and viewed the Crimean War as a grave injustice against Russia and any support of the Ottoman Empire a grave threat to Greece’s recent independence.
Although the official Greek state, under severe diplomatic and military pressure from the British and French (allies of the Ottomans), which included a naval blockade and the occupation of the country’s main port of Piraeus, refrained from actively entering the conflict, a number of uprisings broke out in Albania in January 1854 and soon spread to Epirus, Thessaly, and Macedonia. A revolt also broke out in Crete, with support from individuals and groups within independent Greece and Constantinople. However, all Greek revolts in the Turkish provinces were soon suppressed. A small Greek volunteer force under Colonel Panos Koronaios went to Russia and fought during the Siege of Sevastopol. However, more Greek nationals fought in the Crimean War with the “Greek Battalion of Balaklava” which had been in the ranks of the Russian army since the first Russo-Turkish war (1768–1774).
End of the war
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 humiliating defeat of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. 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. The veteran former Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston formed a Whig government with backing from the Irish MPs.
Peace negotiations at the Congress of Paris resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 30 March 1856. In compliance with art. III Russia restored to the Ottoman Empire the city and citadel of Kars in common with “all other parts of the Ottoman territory of which the Russian troop were in possession.” By art. IV Britain, France, Sardinia and Turkey 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 art. 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, and it no longer posed a naval threat to the Ottomans. The principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia were nominally returned to the Ottoman Empire; in practice they became independent. The Great Powers pledged to respect the independence and territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire.:432–33
The Treaty of Paris stood until 1871, when France was defeated by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. While Prussia and several other German states united to form a powerfulGerman Empire, the Emperor of the French, Napoleon III, was deposed to permit the formation of a Third French Republic. During his reign, Napoleon III, eager for the support of Great Britain, had opposed Russia over the Eastern Question. Russian interference in the Ottoman Empire, however, did not in any significant manner threaten the interests of France. Thus, France abandoned its opposition to Russia after the establishment of a republic. Encouraged by the decision of the French and supported by the German minister Otto von Bismarck, Russia renounced the Black Sea clauses of the treaty agreed to in 1856. As Great Britain alone could not enforce the clauses, Russia once again established a fleet in the Black Sea.
Although it was Russia that was punished by the Paris Treaty, in the long run it was Austria that would lose the most from the Crimean War despite having barely taken part in the war.:433Having abandoned its alliance with Russia, Austria was diplomatically isolated following the war,:433 which contributed to its defeat in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War:433 and its loss of influence in most German-speaking lands. With France, now hostile to Germany, allied with Russia, and 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 creating the diplomatic alliances that would lead to World War I.
Notwithstanding the guarantees to preserve Ottoman territories specified in the Treaty of Paris, Russia, exploiting nationalist unrest in the Ottoman states 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, Montenegro and Bulgaria achieved their autonomy from direct Ottoman rule.
The Crimean War marked the ascendancy of France to the position of pre-eminent power on the Continent:411 and the beginning of a decline for Tsarist Russia. Thus, the Crimean War represented one of the main causes of the demise of the Concert of Europe, the balance of power that had dominated Europe since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and which had includedFrance, Russia, Austria and Britain.
According to Shepard Clough, professor of history at Columbia University, 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 naïve 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.”
Notable documentation of the war was provided by William Russell (writing for The Times newspaper) and the photographs of Roger Fenton.:306–309 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 during the winter of 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.:304–11
Criticisms and reform
The Crimean War was notorious for the military and logistical immaturity of the British army. However, it highlighted the work of women who served as army nurses. War correspondents for newspapers reported the scandalous treatment of wounded soldiers in the desperate winter that followed and prompted the work of Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole, Frances Margaret Taylor and others and led to the introduction of modern nursing methods.
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 shape of the British forces deployed to the 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. It was the first European war to be photographed.
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 Allied rifle range and damage.
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 eventually led to the abolition of the sale of commissions.
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. The Crimean War also led to the eventual realisation by the Russian government of its technological inferiority, in military practices as well as weapons.
Russia had incurred so large a war debt from the Crimean War that Alexander II, realising the difficulty of defending Alaska, decided to sell it to a third party, the United States, in 1867. (No valuable minerals, let alone gold or oil, were discovered in Alaska until 1880, thirteen years after the sale.)
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.
Chronology of major battles of the war
- Battle of Sinop, 30 November 1853
- Siege of Petropavlovsk, 30–31 August 1854, on the Pacific coast
- Battle of Alma, 20 September 1854
- Siege of Sevastopol, 25 September 1854 to 8 September 1855
- Battle of Balaclava, 25 October 1854 (see also Charge of the Light Brigade and The Thin Red Line)
- Battle of Inkerman, 5 November 1854
- Battle of Eupatoria, 17 February 1855
- Battle of Chernaya River (aka “Traktir Bridge”), 25 August 1855
- Sea of Azoff naval campaign, May to November 1855
- Siege of Kars, June to 28 November 1855
Prominent military commanders
- Russian commanders
- French commanders
- British commanders
- Ottoman commanders
- Kingdom of Sardinia commander
- General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora
- Yves Prigent (1833–1938). French sailor.
- Charles Nathan (1834–1934). Last French soldier, also saw action in Italy, Syria, Mexico and the Franco-Prussian War.
- Edwin Hughes (1830–1927). Last survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade.
- Colonel Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton (1845–1940). Repeatedly claimed that he was a cadet on HMS Dragon during the siege of Sevastopol, earning two campaign medals before his twelfth birthday. There is no record of his having enrolled in the Navy; at the time of his visits to the Crimea (mid-May to mid-July 1856), nobody was entitled to the award of the British Crimea Medal.
- Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832–1904). An Italian soldier who served with the British Army in the Crimean War as the aide-de-camp to General Enrico Fardella. Also served in the American Civil War, on the Union Side.
- Timothy the Tortoise (1839–2004). The naval mascot of HMS Queen
- “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson depicted a brave but disastrous cavalry charge during the Battle of Balaclava.
- Leo Tolstoy wrote a few short sketches on the Siege of Sevastopol, collected in The Sebastopol Sketches. The stories detail the lives of the Russian soldiers and citizens in Sevastopol during the siege. Because of this work, Tolstoy has been called the world’s first war correspondent.
- Jack Archer: A Tale of the Crimea by G. A. Henty, 1883, a historical novel, details the adventures of two British midshipmen in the Crimean War.
- The events of the Crimean War are depicted in the 1973 novel Flashman at the Charge in which the eponymous antihero participates in the battles of Sevastopol and Balaclava.
- Franz Roubaud. Panorama Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855)
- Charge of the Light Brigade – 1936 film starring Errol Flynn
- The Charge of the Light Brigade – 1968 film starring John Gielgud and Trevor Howard
- “The Trooper“, song by Iron Maiden included in their 1983 album Piece of Mind, inspired by Lord Tennyson poem, describes the charge from the point of view of a British soldier.
- The 2006 song by Kasabian called “Empire” is an anti-war song with a video set during the Crimean War (also shot on location)