The Crimean War part one – The Narrative

This war has always interested me; mainly because of the use of technology and the admittedly fuzzy reasoning for the war in the first place.   The war was probably the last European Great Power War that was fought for limited dynastic and prestige reasons.   The ostensible cause of the war was a dispute in 1852 between the Orthodox and Catholic churches over control and access to some of the shrines in Jerusalem.   The Russians decided to get involved as the self-appointed guardians of Christian places in the Turkish Empire and the French got involved in their self-appointed role as the guardian of Catholics.   At that, war was not declared until October 1853 and the shooting did not really start until November when the Russian Black Sea Fleet decimated the Turkish navy.

 Church dispute was the ostensible reason for the war but historians have tended to agree that the real cause was the Russian desire to control Constantinople and the only outlet from the Black Sea for their Black Sea fleet.   This actually makes sense when you consider that the Black Sea contains Russia’s only warm water port that is open year-round.   Whoever controls the Bosporus, controls Russia’s access to the Mediterranean sea and their only reliable year round access to shipping.   This was something Russia coveted, the Russians did not like it that the Turks could cut off their shipping whenever they wanted.   Come to think of if, the Russians pretty much did not like the Turks to begin with.

The French and British got involved essentially out of Great power rivalry.   The French, to prove that they were still a Great power after the drubbing they had taken under Napoleon and the resurrection of the Republic after 1848.   The British because they had a large empire in the Middle East and were already in potential contact with the Russians in Afghanistan and wanted to keep the Russians in their place.

The war started in earnest on March 28th, 1854 when the British and French declared war on Russia and moved a combined fleet into the Black Sea.   In September 1854, a Franco-British force landed on the Crimean Peninsula and moved to invest and lay siege to the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s home port of Sevastopol.   First, the British and French engaged and defeated the Russians at the Battle of the Alma in an almost Pyrrhic victory on September 20th, 1854.   Then the combined army figured out that because they landed north of Sevastopol there were no ports capable of supporting them and so they had to march south of the town to Balaklava and Kamiesch where their own fleets could support them.  

By October 17th they had laid siege to Sevastopol and then the war settled down for almost a year.   The Russian position at Sevastopol was very strong and made stronger by last minute improvements from the Russian garrison commander.   The incompetents the British and French had put in command of their respective forces could not find a very good way of getting into the fortress.   Several large bastions stopped them every time they tried to take the town.

During the siege the Russians tried several times to cut the allies off from their supply bases and fought two major battles before winter arrived, the Battle of Balaklava on October 25, 1854 and the Battle of the Inkerman on November 5th, 1854.   The Battle of Balaklava is most noteworthy for the Charge of the Light Brigade in which the British Light Cavalry Brigade charged a battery of Russians artillery down a valley that was also lined with Russian artillery and lost 247 of the 673 troopers who started the charge.   The Charge of the Light Brigade was immortalized in poetry by Lord Tennyson as a forlorn hope.

The siege continued throughout the winter and into the summer of 1855 with several more actions by the Russians to break the siege and with the capture of Kerch in may 1855 the allies had completely cut off Sevastopol.   The allies continued to bombard Sevastopol an slowly whittles its defenses down until the French captured the Malakoff bastion making the rest of the city untenable forcing the Russians to evacuate.   The capture of Sevastopol was the last big fight of the war and all parties agreed to a final peace at Vienna on February 1st, 1856.

 What makes the war stand out for me is the use of technology.   I have argued elsewhere that the Crimean War should be called the first modern war because there were so many things that we consider modern sued during the war.   The Crimean War was the first major war in which telegraph, the Miníe rifles, shell guns, steam powered warships, ironclad warships, railroads, and it also saw the emergence of modern military medicine

 It the use of technology that really makes the Crimean War interesting but that will have to be covered in another post.

Here are some pretty good online links to histories of the Crimean War:  Crimean War, 1853-1856, and The Crimean War