8 septembre 1855 – capitulation of the Sevastopol Fortress effectively putting an end to the Crimean War

Оборона Севастополя во время Крымской войны

Аннотация

Статья рассказывает о событиях Крымской войны. Русскому читателю будет интересно узнать мнение европейского ученого об этом. Крым имеет давнюю историю, когда-то здесь было королевство Киммерийский Босфор (в V веке до н. э.). С тех пор греки, римляне, византийцы, готы, гунны, монголы и татары поселились на полуострове. Крым был подчинён Османской империи с XV века и далее, пока не был покорен князем Потемкиным в 1784 году при императрице Екатерине II. В результате такого изменения обстоятельств и многочисленных нашествий местное население оставалось крайне разнообразным. Климат средиземноморского типа, хотя зимой может быть холодным.

В середине XIX века Россия Николая I получила большое влияние благодаря тому, что стала во главе коалиции против Наполеона, и русский царь искал способы расширить свои владения за счет Османской империи. Однако война с Османской империей закончилась для России неудачно. Новый царь был не так смел, как его отец. Он боялся военно-морской блокады и предложил провести переговоры. В результате был подписан Парижский мир (30 марта 1856) и дана гарантия целостности Османской империи и нейтрального статуса Черного моря.

С другой стороны, в ходе Крымской войны умерли свыше 30000 французских солдат, и Наполеон III начал проводить необоснованную политику экспансии. Королевство Пьемонт получило авторитет и начало предпринимать попытки захвата всей Италии. На деле победила Великобритания, поскольку теперь англичане могли продолжить захват Центральной Азии, затем Британия воспользовалась итогами Франко-прусской войны в 1870-71 г. в целях раздробления Османской империи (Египет, Судан, Сомали, Йемен, протектораты на Аравийском полуострове и захватить Кипр).

Ключевые слова и фразы: Крымская война, Российская империя, Османская империя, Великобритания, Николай I.

Annotation

This article tells about the events of the Crimean war. The Russian reader will be interested to know the opinion of the European scientist on it these days. Crimea had seen the mythical quest of the Golden Fleece by the Argonauts in Antiquity. An Hellenised kingdom had been established in the Cimmerian Bosphorus in the Vth Century B.C. From then on, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Goths, Huns, Khasars, Coumans, Mongols and Tatars had settled in turn in the peninsula. The khanate of Crimea had played tribute to the Great Turk from the XVth century onwards until being conquered by Prince Potemkin in 1784 under Empress Catherine II.

As a result of such changing circumstances and many invasions, the local population has remained extremely diverse up to this day. Climate is Mediterranean-like although winters can be rude. In the middle of the XIXth century, Russia of Nicolas I was still granted with the credit of having led the coalition against Napoléon and was looking for ways to expand its territory at the expense of the Ottoman Empire (once tagged by the Russian Chancellor Alexander Kortchakov the sick man of Europe).

The new tsar was not as bold as his father. He feared a naval attempt in the Baltic see and offered to negotiate. The Treaty of Paris (30th March, 1856) guarantee integrity of the Ottoman Empire and neutral status for the Black Sea. In excess of 30’000 French troops had died for no sensible purpose, and Napoléon III would now target further crazy objectives for his bellicose attempts. The Kingdom of Piedmont had gained credibility in its purpose of unifying the Italian Peninsula. As to the United Kingdom, it was actually the big winner since it was left to push its advantages in Central Asia (cf. The Great Game), then to take advantage of the unfortunate Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71 in order to cut the Ottoman Empire to pieces (Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, protectorates in the Arabian Peninsula and capture of Cyprus). Somewhat disdainful of French support, Britain was inclined to a policy of Splendid Isolation. As to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire that had avoided choosing sides, it only waited to be challenged by the Italian Risorgimento led by Piedmont manoeuvring and soon after by the Kingdom of Prussia determined to capture Silesia in the North of the Empire.

Key words and phrases: Crimean war, Russian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Kingdom, Nicholas I of Russia.

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8 septembre 1855 – capitulation of the Sevastopol Fortress effectively putting an end to the Crimean War

Half a league half a league
Half a league onward
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
“Forward the Light Brigade
Charge for the guns” he said
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred…

Charge of the Light Brigade. Alfred Tennyson (1864)

Сrimea (Tauric Chersonese of the Ancient Greeks) had seen the mythical quest of the Golden Fleece by the Argonauts in Antiquity. An Hellenised kingdom had been established in the Cimmerian Bosphorus in the Vth Century B.C. From then on, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Goths, Huns, Khasars, Coumans, Mongols and Tatars had settled in turn in the peninsula. The khanate of Crimea had played tribute to the Great Turk from the XVth century onwards until being conquered by Prince Potemkin in 1784 under Empress Catherine II.

As a result of such changing circumstances and many invasions, the local population has remained extremely diverse up to this day. Climate is Mediterranean-like although winters can be rude. In the middle of the XIXth century, Russia of Nicolas I was still granted with the credit of having led the coalition against Napoléon and was looking for ways to expand its territory at the expense of the Ottoman Empire (once tagged by the Russian Chancellor Alexander Kortchakov the sick man of Europe). Russian ambitions were taking argument from populations around the Black Sea being largely Slavic and Orthodox in faith, while also targeting Persian possessions, British settlements along the Persian Gulf and in Northern India as well as casting eyes on the Chinese Empire undergoing a rapid decline. The old Russian dream of reaching to the warm seas appeared close to being. Beyond the Bering Strait, Alaska was still Russian territory at the time.

Victorian Britain was also fast expanding and aimed at consolidating the rotten regime in Istanbul against all odds, while trying to avoid direct confrontation with the Russians. In contrast, Napoléon IIIrd was carried away with an obsession to take revenge on the disastrous outcome of the Russian campaign by his oncle Napoléon Ist in 1812. He felt on the occasions of wars in Spain (1823) and Belgium (1830) France had missed its turn to reverse the course of fortune in its favour. The French emperor had served in the Swiss army in his youth and he was imbued with his military capabilities. He considered Russia a backward country and had very bad personal relations with the tsar. Conversely Napoléon had much consideration for the liberal policies of the United Kingdom and French elites were generally inclined in its favour in spite of the long-standing enmities of the two countries over the centuries. As a result, governments in France and England came about to set up a common naval force, a first instance since Philippe-August and Richard the Lionheart had calmed their quarrels to mount the IIIrd Crusade against the Mahometans in the Holy Land (1190)… Diplomats had tried in vain to rally forces from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and even Piedmont in Italy. Reference to persisting issues in the Near-East were widely referred to as the Orient Question.

British cartoon mocking the territorial ambitions of Empress Catherine II

British cartoon mocking the territorial ambitions of Empress Catherine II (XVIIIth ct.)


The whole thing started as a monastic quarrel in the St Sepulchre basilica in Jerusalem! The tsar supported Orthodox claimants against the Catholic Franciscan fathers and even sent an high officer – Colonel Menchikov – as plenipotentiary to the Sublime Porte. The sultan acceded to some byzantine concessions (door keys left to the Orthodox, appointment of a Moslem keeper, etc.) in spite of insistent demands by Napoléon III (1848-53). Meanwhile Nicholas had gained self-confidence to the point of advancing his paws in the spring of 1853. Russian troops advanced in Moldavia and Walachia, thus passing the Danube for the first time ever. A conference was hastily called in Vienna to settle the case in the mode of St Alliance (September 1853). The tsar was apparently prepared to accept a vague declaration that Orthodox were placed under his patronage in the Orient. To the surprise of many, sultan Abdülmecid Ist refused compromising and opened hostilities again (October 1853). A month later, a Turkish fleet was taken by surprise by a Russian squadron near Sinope and defeated.

The newly established Franco-British allies led by Napoléon and the Earl of Aberdeen (Liberal Prime Minister of Queen Victoria) both declared war in turn on 27thMarch, 1854, supposedly to support the Ottoman cause. Lord Raglan was appointed to lead the British expeditionary corps and General St Arnaud initially, followed by General Canrobert, the French troops, amounting in all to 60’000 men equipped with summer clothing. Generals were expected to coordinate their actions among themselves and with naval forces, yet no one had been appointed to command the whole expedition for sake of not challenging military pride on either side… Turkey was to only provide minimal support and the Kingdom of Piedmont was to join in the coalition the following year as victory seemed at hand…

The commonly held belief that Russia casts its eyes on Constantinople

Cartoon illustrating the commonly held belief that Russia casts its eyes on Constantinople (H. Daumier, XIXth ct.)


All this high brass had only limited military experience and mistakes made during the Anglo-Afghan wars (1838-42) were to be seen again. The Duke of Cambridge, cousin of the queen, required 17 wagons for his personal luggage (!). In May 1854, the expeditionary force landed on the near-island of Gallipoli, where it was to be observed that “soldiers could get drunk for six pence and catch syphilis for a shilling!” It would soon appear to contemporaries that press reporting was on the rise following the expansion of telegraphic service. Prominent newspapers had dispatched envoys to cover this promising venture with attractive reports. The tsar was to observe that “spies were not the least required since he received the London Times!”

The above expression would become routine following the publication of “Alice in Wonderland” (L. Caroll, 1865). At the end of spring 1854, troops were boarded again and one would have expected them back home since the tsar had withdrawn from all previously invaded territories. Halas, those promoting war in London and Paris were now aroused and the military command was keen on demonstrating its valiance. Queen Victoria wrote to her cousin Léopold, king of the Belgians : “The war is popular beyond belief.” The sultan was offering a base in Dobrudja (in the estuary of the Danube) that was expected to offer all possible amenities and resources to launch an expedition to Crimea, a peninsula considered to be very well protected, both by retrenchments as well as land and naval forces. After syphilis, cholera was to spread amongst the troops, and actually result in the loss of both generals in chief, Raglan and St Arnaud… On 18th June, the anniversary of Waterloo, the Duke of Cambridge got the strange idea of inviting General Canrobert and his staff to a review of those British regiments that had distinguished themselves in 1815 and were actually showing their trophies once more in front of the French allies.

british_officers_Doherty_Colonel-men

British officers at rest (1854)


On 10th August, a fire raged among the British supplies and destroyed some 16’000 pairs of combat shoes. Suspicion was raised that some Greek auxiliaries had been involved in view of their orthodox affiliation. A month later, another transfer of troops sent them to Eupatoria further East on the sea shore, some 150 km from Sevastopol. Autumn had come and with it cold weather. Russians pioneers under Colonel Todleben had been working hard to consolidate their already formidable positions at the fortress. Lord Raglan had carelessly attempted to cross the river Alma and actually been successful. His Russian opposite, once again Colonel Menchikov, had been taken by surprise and had retreated towards Sevastopol without opposing much resistance (20th September). In actual fact, the allies had failed to coordinate their plans and arrived too late to exploit their previous success and rush onto the fort. Troops were thus reduced to laying siege before the place in spite of the imminent winter coming. On 25th October, confusion raised to the point that British dragons, hussars and lancers under Lord Raglan were to face a large field under the sight of a large gun battery. Cavaliers were ordered to charge against all logic, resulting in some 500 dead out of 670 attackers within some ten minutes. The episode has remained famous under the name of Charge of the light brigade. French General Canrobert was left to comment sarcastically: “What a spectacular move, yet this is not a way to conduct war!”.

The battle of Inkerman (5th November) took place in the fog and finished in total confusion. On 14th November a violent storm raged over the British fleet in front of Balaclava and resulted in the loss of 30 ships that were carrying supplies for the winter campaign…

Contemporary British cartoon

Contemporary British cartoon


Siege of the fortress was now going on among picturesque although mostly sad episodes. Florence Nightingale, a British young lady who had set herself to revisit the traditional way of caring for wounded men with minimal resources had gained popularity with opinion back in the UK. She had established her quarters in Scutari to the East of the Bosphorus and was conducting extensive visits on the frontline to the amazement of commanding officers. In London, distinguished ladies were knitting socks and underwear for the troops… British chroniclers had much consideration for the rescue squads as established among French forces by Baron Larrey, a military surgeon at the time of the First Empire. Colonel Evelyn Wood who had received a piece of shrapnel in his shoulder could hear the surgeon assure: ”I’all have your arm off before you know where you are !” Equipment was not up to the harsh circumstances. In February 1855, more than 2’000 men from the British corps had been taken off due to medical conditions, of which 45% had died. On 1st February, the Chamber of Communes in London voted down the Aberdeen cabinet and Lord Palmerston was to take over while things were at their worst. On 17th February, a Turkish party crushed a Russian supply column at Eupatoria, causing considerable distress on their opponents. The tsar came in person to visit the scene. Nicholas Ist caught a chill and died a month later, which resulted in considerable dismay among the troops.

During the following summer, allied positions around the Sevastopol fortress were to receive reinforcements and could now rely on Piedmont contributions. Additional support actually resulted in a total force in excess of 100’000 men. A gigantic system of gun batteries had been installed and an assault was mounted on 5th September. In the morning of 8th September, General de Mac-Mahon on the French side led a party through a breach cut in the Malakoff bastion and took the upper side. When called back on the ground that there were mines left that were going to blow up, he replied fiercely: «J’y suis, j’y reste!» (Here I am, here I’ll stay). The Russian commander called a cease-fire, allies were feeling great.

The new tsar was not as bold as his father. He feared a naval attempt in the Baltic see and offered to negotiate. The Treaty of Paris (30th March, 1856) guarantee integrity of the Ottoman Empire and neutral status for the Black Sea. In excess of 30’000 French troops had died for no sensible purpose, and Napoléon III would now target further crazy objectives for his bellicose attempts. The Kingdom of Piedmont had gained credibility in its purpose of unifying the Italian Peninsula. As to the United Kingdom, it was actually the big winner since it was left to push its advantages in Central Asia, then to take advantage of the unfortunate Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71 in order to cut the Ottoman Empire to pieces (Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, protectorates in the Arabian Peninsula and capture of Cyprus). Somewhat disdainful of French support, Britain was inclined to a policy of Splendid Isolation. As to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire that had avoided choosing sides, it only waited to be challenged by the Italian Risorgimento led by Piedmont manoeuvring and soon after by the Kingdom of Prussia determined to capture Silesia in the North of the Empire.

the_ghost_of_Empress_Catherine_2_addressing_her_successor_Alexander_1

Cartoon of the time picturing the ghost of Empress Catherine II addressing her successor Alexander I: «Alexander… what have you done with Crimea?»


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