Crimean Peninsula

Crimean War

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.".

Pre-battle tensions

Conflict over the Holy Land

The chain of events leading to Britain's and France's declaring war on Russia on 28 March 1854 can be traced to the coup d'état of 1851 in France. Napoleon III had his ambassador to the Ottoman Empire force the Ottomans to recognise France as the "sovereign authority" in the Holy Land.

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.

First hostilities

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.

Peace attempts

Nicholas felt that because of Russian assistance in suppressing the Hungarian revolt 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.

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:

  1. Russia was to give up its protectorate over the Danubian Principalities;
  2. It was to abandon any claim granting it the right to interfere in Ottoman affairs on the behalf of the Orthodox Christians;
  3. The Straits Convention of 1841 was to be revised;
  4. 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.


Siege of Sevastopol

During the following month, though the immediate cause of war was withdrawn, allied troops landed in the Crimea and besieged the city of Sevastopol, home of the Tsar's Black Sea Fleet and the associated threat of potential Russian penetration into the Mediterranean.

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.

In the same year, the Russians besieged and occupied the Turkish fortress of Kars (the Battle of Kurekdere had been fought between the two in the same general area the year before).

Azov Campaign

In spring 1855, the allied British-French commanders decided to send an expedition corps into the Azov Sea to undermine Russian communications and supplies to besieged Sevastopol. On May 12, 1855 British-French war ships 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 terms of its proximity to Rostov on Don and due to the vast amounts of food, especially bread, wheat, barley and rye that were amassed in the city after the outbreak of war prevented its exportation.

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.

Baltic theatre

The Baltic was a forgotten theatre of the war. The popularisation of events elsewhere has overshadowed the significance of this theatre, which was close to the Russian capital. From the beginning, the Baltic campaign turned into a stalemate. The outnumbered Russian Baltic Fleet confined its movements to the areas around fortifications. At the same time, British and French commanders Sir Charles Napier and Parseval-Deschènes – although they led the largest fleet assembled since the Napoleonic Wars – considered Russian coastal fortifications, especially the Kronstadt fortress, too well-defended to engage and limited their actions to blockading Russian trade and conducting raids on less fortified sections of the Finnish 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 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.

Genitchi Strait

The Russians had built a large floating pontoon bridge across the Genitchi Strait, Sea of Azov, to connect the town of Genitchi to the Arabat Spit, and it served as the main supply route to reinforce their troops at Sevastopol. The destruction of the bridge would force the Russians to travel an extra 192 km (120 miles) to deliver supplies, and it therefore became a strategic objective for British forces. Two attacks to cut the floating bridge's hawsers had proved unsuccessful and alerted the Russian garrison. The British made a third attempt on 3 July 1855 using HMS Beagle's four-oared gig, commanded by Gunner John Hayles, and a small paddle-box steamer with one gun, under Midshipman Martin Tracy. The paddle-box steamer moored where the crew could see Russian soldiers marching about on shore and fired the first round in the breech, which drew the gun's securing bolts and made it useless. That left six men in a four-oared boat (including Joseph Trewavas), one rifle, ten rounds of ammunition, and a cutlass apiece to face two hundred enemy on shore behind heaps of coal.

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.)


Minor naval skirmishes also occurred in the Far East, where a strong British and French Allied squadron (including HMS Pique) under Rear Admiral David Price and Contre-admiral Febrier-Despointes besieged a smaller Russian force under Rear Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin at Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula. An Allied landing force was beaten back with heavy casualties in September 1854, and the Allies withdrew. The Russians escaped under snow in early 1855 after Allied reinforcements arrived in the region.

Italian involvement

With the Italian Unification campaign going on at the time in the Italian states, Camillo di Cavour, under orders by Victor Emmanuel II of the Kingdom of Sardinia, sent troops to side with French and British forces during the war. This was an attempt at gaining the favour of the French especially when the issue of uniting Italy under the Sardinian throne would become an important matter. The deployment of Italian troops to the Crimea allowed Piedmont to be represented at the peace conference at the end of the war, where it could address the issue of the Risorgimento to other European powers.

End of the war

Peace negotiations began in 1856 under Nicholas I's son and successor, Alexander II, through the Congress of Paris. Furthermore, the Tsar and the Sultan agreed not to establish any naval or military arsenal on the Black Sea coast. The Black Sea clauses came at a tremendous disadvantage to Russia, for it greatly diminished the naval threat it posed to the Turks. Moreover, all the Great Powers pledged to respect the independence and territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire.

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.

Criticisms and reform

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.

Major events of the war

Prominent military commanders

Last Veterans

  • Yves Prigent (1833-1938). Was in French Navy.
  • 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. May also have been the last British veteran of the Crimean War.

Crimean War in fiction

  • The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson depicted a disastrous but brave 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.
  • In the Thursday Next series of novels by Jasper Fforde, which are set in an alternative reality, the Crimean War lasts 132 years from 1853 to 1985, and creates sour relations between Imperial Russia and England. The protagonist of the series, Thursday Next, fought in the conflict.
  • Beryl Bainbridge's novel Master Georgie is set in the Crimean War.
  • Garry Douglas Kilworth's series of Fancy Jack Crossman novels, 5 in all, also deal with the Crimean War. Battle of the Alma, The Valley of Death, Soldiers in the Mist, The Winter Soldiers, Battle for the Redan.
  • George MacDonald Fraser's novel Flashman at the Charge (1986) is also set in the Crimean War. Fraser uses his anti-hero Harry Flashman to provide a first-person perspective of the events leading up to the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, as well as the Charge itself.
  • Stephen Baxter's novel Anti-Ice starts with the siege of Sevastopol, which is shortened dramatically by a new Anti-Ice weapon. The book asks the question - what if nuclear weapons had existed in Victorian times?
  • Jack Archer: A Tale of the Crimea by G.A. Henty, 1883, a historical novel, details the adventures of two sailors in the Crimean War.
  • "Luck", by Mark Twain, mentions the Crimean War in connection with a celebrated war hero.
  • The Great Stink by Clare Clark, debut novel published 2006, tells the story of a traumatised veteran of the Crimean War and contains a number of references and flashbacks to this conflict.
  • The Brazilian novelist Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis used the Crimean War as the subject of a polemic between the protagonist Bento and his sickly neighbour in his masterpiece Dom Casmurro. The neighbour concludes every letter he writes in support of the Anglo-French alliance with the statement, "The Russians will never enter Constantinople!" prompting Bento to reflect, years after the neighbour's death, on the sense of permanency created by his use of the word "never", wondering when the statement would become invalid or if the Russians would ever enter Constantinople, though the war ended long ago.
  • Crime Fiction author Anne Perry's William Monk novels include commentaries on the Crimean War through the eyes of the character Hester Latterly, 'one of Miss Nightingale's nurses'.
  • "Hope" by Lesley Pearse describes the experiences of a nurse in the Crimean War as part of a wider and longer plot.
  • The Michael Crichton novel The Great Train Robbery revolves around the theft of a gold shipment that was to pay the troops in the Crimea.
  • The Crimean War is mentioned as the time in which the background events to the Sherlock Holmes Adventure of the "Gloria Scott" took place.
  • In chapter 34 of Anna Sewell's novel Black Beauty an old war horse called Captain tells Black Beauty of his experiences in the cavalry during the Crimean war.
  • In William Golding's novel The Pyramid the advances in turnip production during the Crimean war are referenced throughout, with the novel possibly being a metaphor for farm life.
  • The novel The Rose of Sebastapol by Katherine McMahon is set in Victorian England during the Crimean War, with the latter part of the book being set in the Crimea itself.
  • The song "Abdul Abulbul Amir" by Irish music hall performer Percy French was inspired by the Crimean War and reduces it to two fighters, the Turk Abdul and the Russian soldier Ivan Skavinsky Skivar, who duel over a triviality and both die, accomplishing nothing.
  • The Irish music song "The Kerry Recruit" deals with the experiences of a young man from Kerry who fights in the war.
  • The music video for Kasabian song "Empire" is set during the Crimean War - with the band members as British infantrymen. It was shot on location outside of Bucharest, Romania.
  • The song "The Trooper" by English metal band Iron Maiden is about the Crimean War.
  • Kevin J. Anderson's novel Captain Nemo: The Fantastic History of a Dark Genius includes a number of Jules Verne's characters, including Captain Nemo and Robur the Conqueror, as being involved in the Allied side of the Crimean War.
  • James Joyce's Finnegans Wake includes an episode known as "How Buckley Shot the Russian General" which is based on a story from the Crimean War and contains innumerable references to the war, its locales, the languages spoken there, and the literature inspired by the war, including "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

See also




  • Bridge and Bullen, The Great Powers and the European States System 1814-1914, (Pearson Education: London), 2005
  • Bamgart, Winfried The Crimean War, 1853-1856 (2002) Arnold Publishers ISBN 0-340-61465-X
  • Ponting, Clive The Crimean War (2004) Chatto and Windus ISBN 0-7011-7390-4
  • Pottinger Saab, Anne The Origins of the Crimean Alliance (1977) University of Virginia Press ISBN 0-8139-0699-7
  • Rich, Norman Why the Crimean War: A Cautionary Tale (1985) McGraw-Hill ISBN 0-07-052255-3
  • Royce, Simon The Crimean War and its place in European Economic History (2001) University of London Press ISBN 0-3825-2868-6
  • Royle, Trevor Crimea: The Great Crimean War, 1854-1856 (2000) Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 1-4039-6416-5
  • Schroeder, Paul W. Austria, Great Britain, and the Crimean War: The Destruction of the European Concert (1972) Cornell University Press ISBN 0-8014-0742-7
  • Wetzel, David The Crimean War: A Diplomatic History (1985) Columbia University Press ISBN 0-88033-086-4

Further reading

  • Hamley, The War in the Crimea, (London, 1891)
  • Kinglake, The Invasion of the Crimea, (nine volumes, London, 1863-87)
  • Russell, The War in the Crimea, 1854-56, (London, 1855-56)
  • Marx, The Eastern Question, 1853-56, (translated by E. M. and E. Aveling, London, 1897)
  • Lodomir, La guerre de 1853-56, (Paris, 1857)
  • Kovalevski, Der Krieg Russlands mit der Türkei in den Jahren 1853-54'', (Leipzig, 1869)
  • Rein, Die Teilnahme Sardiniens am Krimkrieg und de öffentliche Meinung in Italien, (Leipzig, 1910)

External links

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