The Crimean War, also known in Russia as the Eastern War (Восточная война, Vostochnaya Vojna) (March 1854–February 1856) was fought between the Russian Empire on one side and an alliance of France, the United Kingdom, the Kingdom of Sardinia (which would be absorbed into Italy in 1861), and the Ottoman Empire on the other. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining Ottoman Empire. Most of the conflict took place on the Crimean Peninsula, with additional actions occurring in western Turkey and the Baltic Sea region.
The Crimean War is sometimes considered to be the first "modern" conflict and "introduced technical changes which affected the future course of warfare.".
Russia disputed this newest change in "authority" in the Holy Land. Pointing to two more treaties, one in 1757 and the other in 1774, 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, a violation of the London Straits Convention. France's show of force, 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 in the Holy Land with control over the Christian holy places and possession of the keys to the Church of the Nativity, previously held by the Greek Orthodox Church.
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 St. 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.
As conflict loomed over the question 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 together.
Nicholas began courting Britain through Seymour. Nicholas insisted that he no longer wished to expand Imperial Russia, but that he had an obligation to Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire.
The Tsar next dispatched a diplomat, Prince Menshikov, on a special mission to the Porte. By previous treaties, the Sultan was committed "to protect the Christian religion and its churches." Menshikov attempted to negotiate a new treaty, under which Russia would be allowed to interfere whenever it deemed the Sultan's protection inadequate. Further, this new synod, a religious convention, would allow Russia to control the Orthodox Church's hierarchy in the Ottoman Empire. Menshikov arrived at Constantinople on 16 February 1853 on the steam-powered warship Gromovnik. Menshikov broke protocol at the Porte when, at his first meeting with the Sultan, he condemned the Ottomans' concessions to the French. Menshikov also began demanding the replacement of highly-placed Ottoman civil servants.
The British embassy at Constantinople at the time was being run by Hugh Rose, chargé d'affaires for the British. Using his considerable 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. Rose, using his authority as the British representative to the Ottomans, ordered a British squadron of warships to depart early for an eastern Mediterranean cruise and head for Constantinople. However, Rose's actions were not backed up by Whitley Dundas, the British admiral in command of the squadron, who resented the diplomat for believing he could interfere in the Admiralty's business. Within a week, Rose's actions were cancelled. Only the French sent a naval task force to support the Ottomans.
At the same time, however, the British government of Prime Minister Aberdeen sent Lord Stratford. Lord Stratford convinced the Sultan to reject the treaty, which compromised the independence of the Turks. Benjamin Disraeli blamed Aberdeen and Stratford's actions for making war inevitable, thus starting the process by which Aberdeen would be forced to resign for his role in starting the war. Shortly after he learned of the failure of Menshikov's diplomacy, the Tsar marched his armies into Moldavia and Wallachia (principalities along the Danube, under Ottoman suzerainty, in which Russia was acknowledged as a special guardian of the Orthodox Church), using the Sultan's failure to resolve the issue of the Holy Places as a pretext. Nicholas believed that the European powers, especially Austria, would not object strongly to the annexation of a few neighbouring Ottoman provinces, especially given Russian involvement in suppressing the Revolutions of 1848.
When the Tsar sent his troops into the "Danubian Principalities", Britain, seeking to maintain the security of the Ottoman Empire, 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 the Russians and Ottomans. The note met with the approval of Nicholas I; it was, however, rejected by Abdülmecid, who felt that the document's poor phrasing left it open to many different interpretations. Britain, France and Austria were united in proposing amendments to mollify the Sultan, but their suggestions were ignored in the court of St Petersburg.
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. The Sultan formally declared war on 4 October 1853 and proceeded to the attack, his armies moving on the Russian army near the Danube later that month. Nicholas responded by dispatching warships, which destroyed a patrol squadron of Ottoman frigates and corvettes while they were anchored at the port of Sinop in northern Turkey on 30 November 1853. The destruction of the Turkish ships provided Britain and France the casus belli for declaring war against Russia, on the side of the Ottoman Empire. On 28 March 1854, after Russia ignored an Anglo-French ultimatum to withdraw from the Danubian Principalities, Britain and France formally declared war.
Though the original grounds for war were lost when Russia withdrew its troops, 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:
When the Tsar refused to comply with these Four Points, the Crimean War commenced.
The Russians had to scuttle their ships, and used the naval cannons as additional artillery and the ships' crews as marines. 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. Admiral Nakhimov suffered a fatal bullet wound to the head and died on 30 June 1855. The city was captured in September 9, 1855, after about a year-long siege.
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 6 1/2 hours and landed 300 troops near the Old Stairway in the 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 H.M.S. Jasper grounded 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 August 19-31, 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 September 2, 1855, with minor military operations along the Azov Sea coast continuing until late autumn 1855.
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 Bomarsund on the Åland Islands 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 the autumn, 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 abortive, as was the siege of Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka. Here, an Anglo-French naval squadron successfully shelled the town but a naval brigade of 800 sailors and marines landed the next day was repulsed.
In 1855, the Western Allied Baltic Fleet tried to destroy heavily defended Russian dockyards at Battle 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 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, who is widely recognized for being the inventor of dynamite and a founder of the Nobel Prize. Immanuel helped the war effort for Russia by applying his skilful 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 defenses about Cronstadt and Sevastopol", as one American officer put it in 1860.
In Trewavas's own words, "As we paddled out of sight of our ship, on a little mound we could see the Russians motioning the soldiers on shore to keep down and our man in the bow with a loaded rifle wanted to have a 'go' at them but the gunner gave him orders not to do so. I was pulling the bow oar and when we were near the floating bridge, I leapt onto it, cut the hawsers and jumped back in the boat again and shoved off. During this time the Russians, who were only 80 metres off, had not fired a shot, and our man in the bow fired his rifle at them swearing he hit his man. The Russians then let fly. For some time we could not get away as the water was so shallow, and the shot came at us like hailstones, wounding three men and riddling the boat with shot. Reaching safety and the protection of our ship, our boat was sinking and full of water."
(Trewavas wondered why the Russians had not fired upon the British as they approached the pontoon bridge at Genitchi, but later a Russian officer explained that they had no idea the sailors planned to destroy the bridge, believing rather that they intended to destroy shipping, and therefore held fire with the intention of taking them prisoner.)
The Treaty of Paris stood until 1871, when France was crushed by the German states in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. Whilst Prussia and several other German states united to form a powerful German Empire, the Emperor of the French, Napoleon III, was deposed to permit the formation of a French Republic. During his reign (which began in 1852), 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 Fürst von Bismarck, Russia denounced 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.
Having abandoned its alliance with Russia, Austria was diplomatically isolated following the war. This led to its defeat in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and loss of influence in most German-speaking lands. Soon after, Austria would ally with Prussia as it became the new state of Germany, creating the conditions that would lead to World War I.
Notwithstanding the 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 although Russia made no territorial gains the states of Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria achieved autonomy.
The Crimean War was infamously known for military and logistical incompetence. 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, 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 telegraph. 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 the serfdom in 1861: Alexander II saw the military defeat of the Russian serf army by free troops from Britain and France as proof of the need for emancipation.