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Crimean War 1853-1856: The Reality Vs Anti-Russian Propaganda

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Crimean War 1853-1856: The Reality Vs Anti-Russian Propaganda
This article is written by OldAdmiral and appeared at his Livejournal; Translated by Elmo Goof exclusively for SouthFront

My aim was to get certain facts through to the viewers, facts which are practically unknown in our country or are distorted. They let us see the outcome of that war in a totally different light. Different from what we are used to, because they have a relatively unbiased view on that war. Naturally, that point of view is quite unfavorable for us, because the interests, which forced our opponents then to a confrontation with Russia didn’t disappear. But the Western hypocrisy cannot be compared to what was going on back then in our country.

The relation of forces. One of the main destructive consequences of the anti-Russian propaganda is the fact that people, and we notice this as well in this blog with certain characters as an example, have a declined sense of truth and justice. They believe that history is a battlefield of equally false ideological schemes, of which one is ‘ours’ and this is why we will fight for it, no matter its credibility.

The result of this disastrous state of affairs is that a lot of our people have an artificial, imaginary portrait of historical events. This is why they may believe that real limitations are ‘fabrications of enemy propaganda’. Because all our limitations and errors are fabrications of enemy propaganda, aren’t they? But secretly they believe that all our achievements and accomplishments are fabrications of propaganda as well. But in this case it’s their propaganda.
The paragraph above had to be written to avoid the next fact I’d like to share with you. The Crimean War was one of the few wars in the history of Russia which was held with a significant superiority of the enemy. They always tell us that we fight against a significant superiority of the enemy:

Another reason of the temporary failures of our army is our shortcoming of tanks and partly aviation. It’s very difficult for the infantry to fight without tanks and without sufficient air cover in a modern war. The quality of our aviation is superior to that of the Germans … But we still have lesser planes than the Germans. The quality of our tanks is superior to that of the Germans. But we have just a little bit lesser tanks than the Germans. (J. Stalin’s speech on the 6th of November 1941).

Indeed, they always tell us that, but it’s not always the truth. And so it is without a doubt for the Crimean War. Russia was forced to keep an army with more than 350 battalions on the border with Austria. Austria mobilized her both armies, threatened to mobilize the third as well and constantly raised the question of the mobilization of the German union troops during its meeting in Frankfurt. Russia had to keep just a bit more than 200 battalions on the border with Sweden; they threatened to join the coalition as well. Moreover, there was an enormous fleet on the Baltic peninsula and the capitol of the Empire was threatened. It was impossible for Crimea to gather at least 150 battalions in the situation mentioned above. When the allies landed in Crimea in September 1854 they had 50-55 thousand soldiers against 35 thousand Menshikov had. During moments of the most intense fighting, as it was with the assault in June, the battle near the Black River and the taking of Sevastopol the power ratio in Crimea was 180 thousand allies against 130-135 thousand Russians. This has to be always borne in mind before giving the Russian army and Russia a derogatory valuation.

We hear frequently that Russia was so under-developed that the state of roads, the collapse of supplies and the embezzlement of public funds by officials of the service corps department led to the fact that the allies, who had way longer lines of communication, had way more possibilities for the supply and the expanding of their alignment than Russia. Russia who was fighting on her own territory! Russian soldiers were ill, suffered hunger and massively died during the poorly organized march by Russian central regions.

Let’s start with the fact that the sea by itself is one of the best ways of communication. It’s enough to quote Sydney Herbert, a representative of the British military authorities, to give a rating of how much easier marine communications are than land communications. During the hearings in the British Parliament about the cause of a bad supply of the British army he said that the distance from Plymouth to the camp of the British army near Sevastopol is 3006 miles, 3000 miles of which by sea and only 6 miles by land. But to overcome these last 6 miles for the food and army freight is practically impossible, because of that the British army is suffocating without provisions, but in the meantime Balaklava is literally drowning in the abundance. And now give a rating of the significance of the extended land communications for Russia. Now, for whom was it easier to supply their troops in Crimea?

Crimean War 1853-1856: The Reality Vs Anti-Russian Propaganda

Picture: British cargo ships in Balaklava

But Soviet comrades will object this: the rotten and stagnant tsarist government didn’t take care of covering Russia in a thick network of railroads, which would give a crucial advantage in the communications and maybe it would even make the allies operation in Crimea impossible. I will be so bold to remind you that in 1850 France had 3100 kilometers of railroads. Do you think the possession of the same kind of length of networks would help Russia a lot? I doubt that. Only the distance from Saint-Petersburg to Sevastopol is 2000 kilometers. But that’s not even the problem. The problem is that the railroads in Europe were commercially viable. They brought grist to the mill and were built by private companies at their own expense. That happened by force of a much bigger population density compared with Russia and proportionally bigger alleged income for a rail kilometer. To cover the same range of residents and industrial enterprises (that means potential users) in Russia, they would have to build multiple times more rails and in order to get relatively the same income they would have to bear multiple times more costs. In this way the government was the main builder of railways and the financial source of this activity was the budget. That same situation could be observed until the beginning of the revolution. It’s a qualitatively different picture than in European countries. Was Russia’s budget in those days able to withstand the sudden making of a gigantic network of railways of a strategic importance, which wouldn’t bring any serious income? Was this use of the budget rational? Of course it wasn’t.

In this way, the communication factor was only favorable for the allies in this war. It’s hard to imagine that they decided to challenge Russia in no other place than on her own territory.

Under-development. One of the greasiest memes, which perhaps was seriously announced for the first time during the Crimean War and onwards was used ever since. Until the revolution started, that is. Then it suddenly stopped. Apparently we had beaten under-development. Let’s go through a few points concerning ‘under-development’.

First of all it’s important to remind you that the most developed countries were involved in this war and the soldiers were fighting ‘like adults’. This war was very advanced if I may say so. Technical aspects included. Take the telegraph as an example. Napoleon III, who was thousands of miles away from the battle field, was trying to guide his troops through a telegraph. To put it mildly, back then it reminded of commanders on the ground.

Or steam ships. Russia is being severely scolded for the lack of modern battle-ships, which were represented in the fleet of Britain and France. There are two aspects for this. First of all, the Russian fleet was unable to fight for the domination of the Black Sea, not because we didn’t have steam battle-ships. Our fleet could count on a good protected base and was able to choose the battle time. It was completely possible to attack when the weather was fresh, the steam machines wouldn’t bring any advantages, they would be an unnecessary burden and they would be even a source of danger for the ships. It was even possible to wait for a favorable wind course. Many captains of Russian ships seriously proposed to attack an allied fleet, because they were convinced of the power of our ship artillery and the excellent skills of the sailors. But the steam machines weren’t the case, the case was that Britain and France were the leading maritime powers back in those days. Above all of that, Russia was also forced to divide her fleet among isolated battle fields. It wasn’t possible for Russia to keep a fleet in the Black Sea which had to be superior to the total power of the allies’ fleet.

Secondly, the making of a powerful steam fleet is an expensive affair. It has to aim for a concrete purpose. Russia was a sub hegemony, dominating the European continent with her infantry. For what kind of purposes does Russia need such a powerful steam fleet? The building of that fleet would certainly require serious investments, which are used for the army maintenance. The same people often criticize Russia for having spent significant investments for the building of a dreadnought fleet before the First World War started. According to those people it would be better to invest in the army equipment. And immediately follows the slander of the Russian government, which hasn’t created an adequate steam fleet at the beginning of the Crimean War. Though building a fleet that could withstand the total power of the British and French fleets and in all the isolated directions was in each case impossible.

Of course people can contradict me by saying that the Russian governance did in fact learn from the mistakes made during the war. The start of the fleet modernization got our fleet to one of the leading places in the world ranking. I will give an answer to this with what I’ve started my discourse. The war showed us that our fleet got a target. That target is Britain. To threat Britain with infantry is impossible. This is why, without a fleet, it’s only possible to have a passive role in relation to Britain and becoming the object of its intrigues and adventures. In lesser than 10 years, Russia has built a fleet that seriously forced Britain to change its hostile politics.

Armor was another innovation that got christened in battle during the Crimean War and which determined the development of battle fleets almost a century ahead. French engineers found a very quick solution for the problem of vulnerable wooden ships for bomb tools after facing the effective Russian explosive projectiles in Sinop and suffering a crushing failure in the attempt using the fleet for bombing the ports in Sevastopol. And on the 17th of September 1855 ironclad steamships ‘Love’, ‘Tonnen’ and ‘Devastation’ headed to storm Kinburn. Russian artillerists bombed brilliantly, they managed to make 195 hits, but the armor saved the ships from serious damage.

The Crimean War was the first war that reached an unseen level of ammunition spending. In this sense it was perhaps the first ‘artillery’ war. And Russia was certainly not a figurant in this celebration of life death. During one of the first serious bombings of Sevastopol on the 1st of November 1854, the allies’ artillery projected 140 thousand shells! But the Russian artillery used 200 thousand! The Russian artillery managed to reach an igneous superiority in comparison to the adversaries. It’s clear that it was out of the question to storm the city in these circumstances. The allies had two options: leave the peninsula or stay for the winter. The possible catastrophic political consequences of the first option forced them to choose the second option, which was no lesser catastrophic for the allies armies. With great difficulty, straining the working arsenals day and night, the Franco-British managed to achieve superiority of their own artillery in summer 1855.

Crimean War 1853-1856: The Reality Vs Anti-Russian Propaganda

Picture: terrible messenger of horrors of the Great War: a road covered in bullets near Sevastopol.

But unlike USSR, even in such an advanced war Russia had not only backlog but also priorities. Take as an example mines. Here we managed to be ahead of everyone. The efficiency of this new way of struggle on the sea helped to level down the gigantic superiority of the allies’ fleet on the Baltic peninsula and to cool down the British and French admirals, who hoped to threat the Russian capitol. Russia kept her leading role as a mine expert until the First World War and the revolution.

It’s a quite well-known fact that the Russian fleet used bombs in the battle of Sinop. In those times it was one of the most advanced weapons, which not all fleet possessed. It was used for the first time in the battle of fleets with a terrifying efficiency. I think it’s necessary to explain what kind of bombs those were. Because bombarding ships which shot with discontinuous shells were known in our country since Tsar Peter I. So it is true, but the thin-walled bombs of those times and grenades were only used to shoot from mortar gun tools with a small initial speed and a hinged trajectory. They could be used for the shelling of ports, but it was almost impossible to hit a ship with that kind of shells. Paixhans guns (another name for explosive shells) fired discontinuous shells point-blank. Enemy ships were their main target.

And last, but not least, let’s mention another point of under-development: the notorious rifles. Everyone repeats this ‘fetish’, without understanding the essence of the question. The rifle was already known long before the Crimean War, e.g. during the wars with Napoleon the Russian Army had enough union guns. The problem was that those rifles had a significant low rate of fire, although they had a bigger range and accuracy. It took a lot of trouble to get the bullet through the grooves into the gun barrel. This is why rifles weren’t so popular, just a small group of shooters was equipped with them. But in 1849 Claude Minié offered a bullet with a conic notch on the bottom part. The bullet had a caliber that allowed it, despite the grooves, to fit in perfectly into the gun barrel, which made recharging such a rifle just as quickly as recharging a smoothbore gun. However, under the influence of propellant gases, the rear part of the soft bullet expanded and got into the grooves, which led to the desired shooting range and accuracy.

It’s important to understand that it was possible to shoot from all kinds of rifles with the Minié bullet with an appropriate caliber, despite the amount and abruptness of the grooves. The term ‘Minié-rifle’, which was used frequently in historical works, was in this case misinterpreted. It’s not necessary to have a special rifle to combine the speed of recharging and the range of shooting. The Minié-bullet was taken in the Russian Army at the beginning of the war, which put the Russian Army in equal conditions as their opponents. A capsule for the charge ignition instead of the silicon lock was another innovation of those times, which was as well implemented everywhere in the Russian Empire.

This way there is only one issue left to discuss, namely the amount of infantry armed with rifles. The value of the Minié-bullet is that with its appearance it became possible to rearm the entire artillery with long-range rifles without losing the shooting rate. And the most part of our compatriots, who are usually very well-informed, are misled by ‘friends’ that the entire British and French infantry were all without exception armed with rifles, what without a doubt gave them a decisive advantage on the battle field. All of that isn’t true.

Let’s start with Britain. This was one of the most developed industrial states in those times and it had a symbolic population in the infantry. For an instance, in 1860 the number of the British armed forces was a total of 347 thousand men, of which the biggest part was accounted for the fleet. If you compare that with France, that number was 608 thousand and in Russia 862 thousand, with a beyond comparison smaller fleet proportion. The British could naturally arm such a small army with everything they wanted without a big loss for the treasury. But even the British had just one of the six battalions armed with rifles in the Batlle of Inkerman in the Cathcart’s division. They could entirely rearm themselves with rifles only closer to the end of the war.

But the British Army was just a small and a not very battle worthy part of the allies. The French were the main power of the coalition. There was a totally different state of affairs in the French Army. Only the guard, the huntsmen and the African departments had rifles. The entire line infantry, that is the biggest part of the French Army, was armed with smoothbore guns.

But this is not all. It seemed as if the experience of the Crimean War showed the superiority of the rifles. And now all the countries will quickly get rid of the old smoothbore guns. At least the war participants, who paid for that experience with blood, will do that. Far from it! In 1859, the Franco-Austrian War broke out, also known as the Italian War of Independence. The under-developed advanced Austrian Army is armed with Lorenz rifles. And according to the Soviet propagandists, during the Crimean War the former advanced French Army was armed with … smoothbore guns, which could kill from 300 feet. As they say in Russia ‘the bullet is a fool, the bayonet is a fellow’, on this occasion Napoleon III had to encourage his soldiers: Keep close to each other during the battle! The new rifles are only dangerous from a distance; it cannot compete with a bayonet, which is still a terrifying weapon of the French infantry. Oops. Excuse me, but what was the experience the French got from the Crimean War then? Or was it due to the under-development that it wasn’t possible to rearm the army? From whom? The template keeps bursting at the seams. The smoothbore rifles don’t interfere with letting the French to win the war quite convincingly and practically all the other collisions as well. Apparently the problem is not only the rifles? The problem is anti-Russian propaganda.

People usually reproach me for idealizing the old Russia and that I don’t want to face her scandalous limitations. This is not true. Because, in the beginning, all of those limitations were so well-painted and exaggerated by the ‘liberal’ public and afterwards by the Soviet propaganda that it just makes no sense to mention them again. I put liberal between quotation-marks because the enemies of our country absolutely don’t care under which flags the local fifth colony operates; under the European liberalism, Asian totalitarianism or local nationalism. Of course there were worthless officers in the Russian Army. In the first place, it’s very difficult to make us Russians really prepare for the war in peaceful time. The bonus of Romanov’s Russia was that the significant part of the officer corps consisted of Germans. Germans had another attitude towards the military art. Thanks to this, the situation of ’41 was hardly possible during the policy of the tsar.

There was also abuse in the service corps office, although basically we know about that from the litigations that took place after the war. This means that theft was an exception and people were fighting it. Here is what Delbrück thinks of this:

Perhaps the Russian service corps didn’t have as many qualified and honest workers as the French, but its achievements are usually underestimated even by experts like T. Bernhardi. In general, the Russian troops didn’t suffer any privation. The North Crimean prairies had sufficient cattle to feed the army. The soldiers got daily one pound of meat and two glasses of vodka. In general, the Russians were fed sufficiently and healthy. In particular, they didn’t suffer much from scurvy. They say that the frequent delivery of horseradish contributed to that. 960 centners were delivered to Sevastopol.

It’s not about the desire or the lack of desire to face limitations, but the speculation about them, what the enemies of Russia systematically do. Everyone has limitations. Let me remind you that the initial plan on the Crimean campaign, developed by marshal Saint-Arnoult, provided the conquest of Crimea during four weeks with an army of 50 thousand men. Of course no one was planning to stay for the winter in Crimea. In the end, they needed a year and a half, two awful winters and an army of 200 thousand men plus the loss of 320 thousand people to occupy the half of Sevastopol and a scarp of the coastal territories. Let alone the conquest of Crimea. After making a chess move, the allies were forced to save face (because losing to an ‘Asian tyrant’ would be very humiliating for a world hegemony and second world-power), dropping into a wearisome and difficult campaign. What do you think of this planning quality of world-powers?

But this is not the most interesting part. It’s nothing new during a war when the enemy brings corrections into your plans. Do you know why it didn’t work out to realize the ideas of Saint-Arnoult? The plan was quite adequate. After the landing of the allied forces, it was assumed to move to Sevastopol. To destroy the Russian troops if they will dare to defend the city. The result of the battle of Alma and the relation of forces don’t let us doubt about its feasibility. After this, all the troops in Sevastopol and the south of Simferopol, as well as the entire Russian fleet would be cut off from the Russian mainland and the only way out for them would be surrendering or leaving Crimea. The Russian bear gets a painful flick on the nose and it’s allowed to start the negotiations and dividing of the bait.

But after the landing, the fact revealed that the British troops … didn’t have any wagon trains. They aren’t capable of leading any operations deep into the peninsula, because the delivery is only possible from a ship. That’s it! Finita la commedia! They played WoT, so to say. They had to crawl alongside the coast to reach Sevastopol and to stay there a year and a half without being able to surround it entirely. That is a limitation! That is under-development! That is stagnation! Despite all the efforts, they didn’t manage to form wagon trains until the very end of the war. What could they conquer there in Russia, if they were stuck to the coast? But what do you know about the British under-development and stagnation? Or the under-development and stagnation that took unthinkable victims? Nothing. And about the Russian under-development we know everything in detail and even things that never happened.

You know, sometimes fake users puzzle me when they ask me: where did you read about the maligning of the Russian history during Soviet times? Give some examples! It is so obvious to me, that I even feel a little lost when I hear these questions. Indeed, how will you proof that two times two is four? In this regard, the classic book about the history of military art written by Hans Delbrück and which I quoted here profusely is very revealing. It was edited in 1937 in the USSR. The pick of the crop of Stalinism. The book is provided with comments of a Russian translator. If Delbrück has somewhere the thoughtlessness to praise the decay of the Russian Empire, immediately appears a Soviet interpreter who pours out a bucket of negativity on the head of the Russian Empire.

A part of the book, which is dedicated to the Crimean War, Delbrück concludes with the following words:

Russia was thrown back because of her Eastern politics, but the army has outdone herself.

It’s impossible to tolerate this, so an angry rebuke follows immediately:

The honor of the heroic defense of Sevastopol belongs to the soldiers, certain officers and a few commanders of the Russian Army. Concerning tsar Nikolai I, who brought Russia to the Crimean War and to the loss of that war, during 30 years of his government he created an army, prepared predominantly for parades, that was technically under-developed, with clogged soldiers, impersonal officers and commanders, deprived of any initiatives. This army is the foundation of the entire reactivity of the political system of Nikolai I, born out of fear for a revolution.

Is it possible to give away your position even more, Rodion Romanovich?

But fine. Let’s summarize. The Crimean War was lost because its outcome couldn’t be different. The Russian GDP was 12,7 billion dollars in 1850 (in prices of 1960). The GDP of the two main enemies Britain and France were 12,5 billion and 11,8 billion. Ratio 2:1. And we haven’t mentioned all the other countries which were opposing Russia. The Russian Army costs were 109 million pounds from 1854 to 1856! But the enemies spent: Britain 145,1 million, France 110,4 million, Turkey 3 million (only in 1855), Sardinia 6,1 million. In total: 264,6 million pounds! The allies were herewith certain of their rear, but Russia was forced to send a significant part of her efforts to strengthen her Western borders.

With all the limitations and weaknesses of the both sides, the result of the confrontation was predestined thanks to the material overweight of the coalition. Moreover, if we use boxing terms, this wasn’t a knock-out, but a very doubtful victory. Concerning the fighting efficiency of the Russian Army, I would like to quote John Fox Burgoyne, the head of the British engineering corps near Sevastopol and the advisor of the British commanding lord Raglan:

We do not have the right to look down on our enemies. They are well-armed, well-educated as soldiers, brave and even fanatical.

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