The Crimean War (1853-1856) was a brutal conflict that took its name from the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. The war, which claimed an estimated 650,000 lives, pitted Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia against Russia, whose ruler, Tsar Nicholas I, was trying to extend his influence over the Middle East. and the Eastern Mediterranean at the expense of the declining Ottoman Empire. . The British and French, in turn, viewed Nicholas’ takeover as a danger to their trade routes and were determined to stop it.
The event is generally remembered today as the setting for Alfred’s poem, Lord Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, which vividly portrays the bravery of a British cavalry unit that suffered from gruesome losses when she launched a reckless attack on a defended enemy position. It is also the conflict in which Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, became famous for her efforts to help wounded British soldiers who were dying of cholera and typhoid in squalid hospital wards.
Religious tensions spark war
The spark that started the war was religious tension between Catholics and Orthodox believers, including Russians, over access to Jerusalem and other places under Turkish rule that were considered sacred by both Christian sects. . After the violence in Bethlehem in which Orthodox monks were killed, Nicholas sent an envoy to the Turkish Sultan, Abdulmecid I, and demanded not only equal access to religious sites, but also that the Sultan recognize Nicholas as the protector of the Orthodox Christians throughout the Ottoman Empire, as a British journalist and author AN Wilson wrote.
After the Sultan refused his request, Nicholas – who considered Turkey to be the “sick man” of Europe – decided to occupy the Turkish-controlled principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (a territory which today is part of Europe). of the Romanian nation). In response, in October 1853, Turkey declared war on Russia and counterattacked Russian forces.
Although the Turks had some initial victories, the fight was lopsided in favor of Russia. A month after the start of the war, Russian gunships pounded an archaic Turkish naval force on ships in the Black Sea port of Sinop, setting their wooden hulls on fire with incendiary shells and killing people near 2,000 Ottoman sailors and officers, according to Candan Badem’s 2010 book The Ottoman Crimean War. This horrific massacre helped to inflame public opinion in Western Europe against the Russians.
British and French go to war
Russia’s aggressiveness also made the British nervous about maintaining trade with Turkey and access to India. Meanwhile, the French, who still remember Napoleon I’s defeat against the Russians, see a chance for revenge. The two countries entered the war alongside Turkey at the end of March 1854. With the combined might of their navies and armies, including a force of 60,000 men protecting Istanbul, the Turkish capital, they expected to become one. mouthful of the Tsar’s army.
In mid-September 1854, the Allies landed 30,000 French soldiers, 26,000 British soldiers and 4,500 Turks at Yevpatoria, a town on the Crimean peninsula. The plan was to march south and capture Savastopol, a heavily fortified port city that served as the main naval base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. A few days later, the Allies confront the Russians in the Battle of the Alma, which ends three hours later with the rout of the Tsar’s forces. More than 5,700 Russian soldiers were killed, while the British and French lost 962 men, according to the Lancashire Infantry Museum.
The Allies then headed for Sevastopol for what they believed to be a three-month siege. Instead, the fighting ended up dragging on for almost a year.
British infantrymen hold ‘thin red line’
From the start, the Russians attempted to break through the British lines and capture an Allied base at Balaklava, a crucial port for the supply of the Allied operation. The British were forced to divert part of their forces to defend themselves. At the Battle of Balaklava in October 1854, the advance of the Russian cavalry was greeted by the 93rd British Highland Infantry Regiment, whose commander, Marshal Sir Colin Campbell, told his men that he was not no question of retirement. Instead, he ordered, “you must die where you are,” unless they manage to fend off the charging Russian cavalry.
Campbell’s “thin red line” did just that remarkably, keeping their cool and firing disciplined volleys. The Heavy Brigade, a force of 800 British cavalrymen, then pursued the Russians, throwing them into disarray.
But this success was overshadowed by the British blunder that followed. To prevent the Russians from moving the captured artillery, British Marshal Lord Raglan ordered another cavalry unit, the Light Brigade, to enter and capture it. But one of his officers, George Bingham, the Earl of Lucan, became confused about the weapons Raglan was talking about. The result was that the Light Brigade, led by Lord Lucan’s brother-in-law, James Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan, set out to attack the wrong artillery battery, the one that was located in a well-defended valley where the Russians could fire at. them from three sides.
As Lord Cardigan later described, “when we found ourselves at a distance of fifty yards from the mouths of the artillery which had thrown us destruction, we were in fact surrounded and surrounded by a flame of fire, in addition to the fire. riflemen on our flanks. Of the 670 soldiers in the Light Brigade, 110 were killed and 160 were wounded, and the unit also lost 375 of its horses.
In desperation, the Russians attempted another surprise attack in November, but failed again. The Battle of Inkerman unfolded in the terrifying confusion of thick fog, which forced small groups of British soldiers to blindly advance towards gunfire and fight the Russians wherever they found them. The Russians couldn’t see the Allied strength and never realized they were outnumbered. Eventually the Russians retreated, but not before leaving 12,000 dead behind them, while the British lost 2,500 men and the French 1,700.
But the allies faced other obstacles than the Russians. During the winter of 1854-55, a severe storm hit the Crimean Peninsula, destroying British Army tents and sinking ships carrying medical supplies, food and clothing, and soldiers had to open from the trenches in freezing cold, and many succumbed to diseases such as cholera.
Russia recedes, tensions persist
The besieged Russians also suffered and their resolve eventually collapsed. In the summer of 1855, after two unsuccessful assaults and a long bombardment, at the beginning of September, French soldiers overwhelmed the Russians in close combat and hoisted their flag over the Malakoff redoubt, a key fortification of Sevastopol’s defenses. A few days later, the Russians burned their remaining ships in Sevastopol and withdrew from the city.
With the Austrians threatening to join the war alongside the Allies, the Russians finally decided they had had enough. They agreed to end the war and the Treaty of Paris was signed in March 1856. Russia agreed to return the territory it had seized and the Black Sea was demilitarized. But peace had come at a heavy cost, and tensions between Russians and Turks continued for decades. The two empires eventually clashed on opposing sides in World War I, an even bloodier conflict in which neither Tsarist Russia nor the Ottoman Empire survived.
The Crimean War was in some ways the first modern technological conflict, according to the Institution of Engineering and Technology. For the first time, soldiers used mass-produced rifles in factories and landed on the coasts in armored assault ships. British and French forces communicated between Crimea and headquarters in Paris via telegraph lines and constructed railway lines to transport supplies and ammunition.
The war also indirectly led to an even bigger breakthrough. After British industrialist Henry Bessemer developed a new type of artillery shell that was more powerful and more precise, he discovered that the barrels of then-standard cast iron naval guns could not withstand the forces generated by his projectiles. After the war Bessemer patented a process for the mass production of steel, which became an essential material in modern warfare.