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The Crimean War (October 1853–February 1856) was fought between the Russian Empiremarker on one side and an alliance of the British Empire, Francemarker, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia 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 Crimeanmarker Peninsula, but there were smaller campaigns in western Turkeymarker, the Baltic Seamarker, the Pacific Oceanmarker and the White Seamarker.

The war has gone by different names. In Russia it is also known as the "Oriental War" ( , Vostochnaya Voina), and in Britain at the time it was sometimes known as the "Russian War".

The Crimean War is notorious for the logistical and tactical mistakes that plagued both sides. Nonetheless, the War is sometimes considered to be the first "modern" conflict as it "introduced technical changes which affected the future course of warfare," including the first tactical use of railways and the telegraph. It is also famous for the work of Florence Nightingale, who pioneered modern nursing practices while caring for wounded British soldiers. The Crimean War was the first war to be extensively documented in photographs.

Pre-battle tensions

Conflict over the Holy Land

The chain of events leading to France and Britain declaring war on Russia on 27 March and 28 March 1854 can be traced to the coup d'état of 1851 in France. Napoleon III sent his ambassador to the Ottoman Empire to attempt to force the Ottomans to recognize 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 Seamarker, 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 Nativitymarker, 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. Petersburgmarker:

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 Ottoman Sublime 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 Mediterraneanmarker 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 Lord 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 Austriamarker, would not object strongly to the annexation of a few neighbouring Ottoman provinces, especially given Russia had assisted Austria's efforts in suppressing the Revolutions of 1848.

When on 2 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 Dardanellesmarker, 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 Prussiamarker — met in Viennamarker, 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 I, 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 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 Danubian front. The Ottoman leader Omar Pasha managed to pull in 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 Shamel. 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 at the port of Sinopmarker, northern Turkey. 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. By 28 March 1854, after Russia ignored an Anglo-French ultimatum to withdraw from the Danubian Principalities, Britain and France had 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.

Russia then withdrew its troops from the Danubian principalites, 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:
  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 behalf of 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.


Map of Crimean War

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 Sevastopolmarker, home of the Tsar's Black Seamarker 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.

Azov Campaign

In spring 1855, the allied British-French commanders decided to send an Anglo-French naval squadron into the Azov Seamarker to undermine Russian communications and supplies to besieged Sevastopolmarker. On May 12, 1855 British-French war ships entered the Kerch Straitmarker and destroyed the coast battery of the Kamishevaya Bay. On 21 May 1855 the gunboats and armed steamers attacked the seaport of Taganrogmarker, the most important hub in proximity to Rostov on Donmarker 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 Taganrogmarker for 6 1/2 hours and landed 300 troops near the Old Stairwaymarker 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 Donmarker, 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 Seamarker coast continuing until late autumn 1855.

Caucasus theatre

There was fighting between the Russians and the Turks in the Caucasus, which included the Battle of Kurekdere in 1854, and the siege of Kars (a Turkish fortress) by the Russians in 1855.

Baltic theatre

The Balticmarker 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 Petersburgmarker, the Russian capital. From the beginning, the Baltic campaign was 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 Alexandre Ferdinand Parseval-Deschenes – although they led the largest fleet assembled since the Napoleonic Wars – considered Russian coastal fortifications, especially the Sveaborgmarker fortress, too well-defended to engage, so they 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 Bomarsundmarker on the Åland Islandsmarker and Fort Slava. Other such attacks were not so successful, and the poorly planned attempts to take Hankomarker, Ekenäs, Kokkolamarker, and Turkumarker were repulsed.

The burning of tar warehouses and ships in Oulumarker and Raahemarker led to international criticism and, in Britain, MP Thomas Gibson demanded in the House of Commonsmarker 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 Helsinkimarker. 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. 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 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 Azovmarker, to connect the town of Genitchi to the Arabat Spitmarker, 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 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:

(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.)

White Sea theatre

In autumn 1854 a squadron of three British warships led by HMS Miranda left the Baltic for the White Seamarker, where they shelled Kolamarker (which was utterly destroyed) and the Solovki. Their attempt to storm Arkhangelskmarker proved abortive.

Pacific theatre

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 Peninsulamarker. 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.

The Anglo-French forces also made several small landings on Sakhalinmarker and Urupmarker (one of the Kuril Islandsmarker).

Italian involvement

Camillo di Cavour, under orders by Victor Emmanuel II of the Kingdom of Sardinia (also known as Piedmont), 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 Sardinian troops to the Crimea allowed it 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 defeated by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. While Prussia and several other German states united to form a powerful German Empiremarker, 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 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 contributed to its defeat in the 1866 Austro-Prussian Warmarker and loss of influence in most German-speaking lands. Soon after, Austria would ally with Prussia as it became the new state of Germany. With France, now hostile to Germany, allied with Russia, and Russia competing with the newly re-named Austro-Hungarian Empire for an increased role in the Balkans at the expense of the Turks, 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 Bulgariamarker, Romaniamarker, Serbiamarker and Montenegromarker achieved independence.

Criticisms and reform

The Crimean War was notorious for military and logistical immaturity by 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 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 Londonmarker 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 Balaclavamarker, 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: 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. The Crimean War also led to the eventual realisation by the Russian government of its current technological inferiority, namely in its military practices as well as its military weapons.

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

Prominent military commanders

Last veterans

In fiction

  • Music
    • The song "The Trooper" by heavy metal band Iron Maiden tells a story from the point of view of a Britishmarker soldier.
    • Glass Tiger's song The Thin Red Line was inspired by the war and the music video depicts a battle between Scots and Russians.
    • 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 Kerrymarker who fights in the war.

See also



  1. Kinglake (1863:354)
  2. Sweetman (2001:7)
  3. Royle. Preface
  4. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  5. Royle. Pg 19
  6. Royle. Pg 20
  7. Kinglake (1863:195)
  8. Kinglake (1863:463–4)
  9. Mining in the Crimean War
  10. Mikhail Vysokov: A Brief History of Sakhalin and the Kurils: [1]


  • 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
  • Turkey Treaties between Turkey and foreign powers, 1535-1855. Compiled by the librarian and keeper of the papers, Foreign Office (1855) -
  • Wetzel, David The Crimean War: A Diplomatic History (1985) Columbia University Press ISBN 0-88033-086-4
  • Russell, William Howard, "The Crimean War: As Seen by Those Who Reported It". Baton Rouge LA. :Louisiana State University Press, 2009 ISBN 978-0-8071-3445-0
  • Walter Zander, Israel and the Holy Places of Christendom, (Weidenfield & Nicolson), 1971

Further reading

  • Hamley, The War in the Crimea, (London, 1891)
  • Kinglake, The Invasion of the Crimea, (nine volumes, London, 1863-87)
  • Kovalevski, Der Krieg Russlands mit der Türkei in den Jahren 1853-54, (Leipzig, 1869)
  • Lodomir, La guerre de 1853-56, (Paris, 1857)
  • Marx, The Eastern Question, 1853-56, (translated by E. M. and E. Aveling, London, 1897)
  • Rein, Die Teilnahme Sardiniens am Krimkrieg und die öffentliche Meinung in Italien, (Leipzig, 1911)
  • Russell, The War in the Crimea, 1854-56, (London, 1855-56)

External links

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