How did Russia lose the Crimean War? ️ What can we learn from the past ️ DOCUMENTARY

How did Russia lose the Crimean War? ️ What can we learn from the past ️ DOCUMENTARY

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In 1854, Britain and France allied together to  defend the Ottoman Empire against what they saw   as Russian aggression. This move began not  only the Crimean War, but also a history of   confrontation between Western and Eastern Europe  that continues to this day. In this opening act,   Russia quickly admitted defeat by 1856, and gave  up its influence in Europe for a generation.   How did the Allies manage such a feat?   The Allies won the Crimean War despite their  poor grand strategy, which resulted from   multiple constraints. At the international level,  Britain and France remained geopolitical rivals,  

and each sought to stop the other from  making excessive gains against Russia.   At the domestic level, neither the British Prime  Ministers – Aberdeen, then Palmerston – nor the   new French Emperor Napoleon III enjoyed secure  political support, which placed further limits   on the scope and conduct of their war. Ultimately, the Allies could only agree on   a barebones set of goals, laid out  in the '4 Points' of August 1854.   In them, the Allies pledged to remove  Russia's right to intervene in the affairs of   Ottoman vassals, Ottoman Orthodox Christians  and the Danube River trade, and also to roll   back Russia's naval strength in the Black  Sea. For hawks like Palmerston or Napoleon,   these terms were a climbdown from their deeper  desire to redraw Europe at Russia's expense.  

Even in this reduced state, the' 4 Points'  represented a significant rollback of Russian   influence, and an end to the Czarist dream  of dominating the Balkans. Russia would   only agree to this if the Allies posed a  large enough threat: logically speaking,   the Allies needed to mobilize large numbers of  men and material to create precisely that.   But the political weakness of the Allied  leaders made it impossible to launch   such a large mobilization, last seen during the  Napoleonic Wars 40 years ago. Instead, they could   only conduct a limited mobilization that drew on  a much smaller portion of their national strength.  

On land, the most the Allies  fielded was 300 thousand men:   even accounting for their superior armaments and  the additional 250 thousand from the Ottomans,   this was hardly enough to threaten the Russians  and their 800 thousand men. In the same vein,   the British navy only reached about  a third of its Napoleonic size.   This mismatch between means and ends  was the fundamental strategic dilemma   of the Crimean War. The Allies wanted to  threaten Russia into making large concessions,   but didn't mobilize the resources to pose as  a large enough threat. Without a solution,   Russia would feel no pressure to submit, and the  War would degenerate into a grinding stalemate.   One obvious solution to the Allied  strategic dilemma was diplomacy.  

If other states could contribute their resources  alongside the limited Allied mobilization,   the sum total might be enough to get Russia to  cave, perhaps even before any actual fighting.   Accordingly, as War loomed the Allies reached  out to the neutral states of Europe, especially   the Great Powers of Austria and Prussia. A few minor powers showed interest in fighting   Russia. Their reasons for doing so were reflected  in the pre-conditions they set for an alliance:   Sweden wanted Allied support in recovering Russian  Finland, while Spain and Sardinia-Piedmont wanted   protection from the United States and Austria  respectively. While superficially different,   these requests all basically asked for  the same thing: Allied resources.  

Such requests made the proposed alliances  worthless in Allied eyes: after all, they would   be diverting their scarce first-tier units away  from Russia, only to receive a few second-tier   units in return. As such, the Allies insisted  that the minor neutrals drop their pre-conditions:   in the end, only Sardinia-Piedmont did so, hoping  that this would buy French goodwill for its   planned unification of Italy. Its 20 thousand men  did not add much extra threat against Russia.   Things seemed even less promising when  it came to the Great Powers. Russia had   a longstanding anti-revolutionary alliance  with Austria and Prussia: in particular,   it had just saved Austria's Empire twice:  first by suppressing the Hungarian Revolution,   then by stopping Prussia from  usurping the German leadership.   In return, the Czar expected the two powers  to quietly accept his Balkan expansion.  

Instead Austria, to paraphrase a contemporary  quip, would 'shock' Russia 'with the depths of   its ingratitude'. In reality, Russia had  made a major strategic miscalculation,   and it should have been clear that Austria  would not accept more Russian influence in   the Balkans. It would mean Russia controlling the  lower Danube, which was Austria's trade lifeline;   it would boost Russian influence over  the region's Orthodox Christians,   many of whom lived in Austria; and it would  encourage another round of nationalist revolts,   when Austria was still recovering from the  previous one. For Austria, going along with   Russian plans would mean the end of its Great  Power status, if not its very existence.   So right from the beginning,  Austria was on the Allied side.  

It warned the Russians against  attacking the Ottomans;   it helped Britain and France craft the '4 Points';  and when Russia actually invaded the Balkans,   it mobilized its army and demanded the Russians  leave. In late 1854, the Austrians even pledged   to join the Allies and enter the War next year. With Austrian resources now on their side,   the Allies could finally become a major  threat to Russia. In response, the Czar   meekly accepted the Austrian demands and withdrew  his army, ending his dreams of Balkan expansion.   But the War continued – so why didn't Russia  give in to the rest of the Allied demands?   The simple answer is that Austria  didn't want the other Allied demands   either. As a multiethnic state wary of  nationalist movements and border changes,   Austria fundamentally wanted to preserve  the existing European political landscape,   not just from Russian expansion, but also from  Allied hawks bent on redrawing Eastern Europe.  

Austria had hoped that its input regarding the  '4 Points' would restrain Allied demands against   Russia. But while Allied hawks were initially  disappointed by the limited nature of the Points,   they soon got around this by interpreting each  Point in a way that justified greater punishment   of Russia, even calling for a '5th Point' that  would support independence movements within the   Russian Empire. And as the British and French  diplomatic positions shifted to reflect these   new interpretations, Austria began to see  them as the latest threat to its security.  

It therefore ended its participation in  the War, leaving the Allies, yet again,   with the dilemma of confronting Russia  without sufficient resources.   Neutral diplomacy had failed, and with it, the  hope that the Allies could successfully threaten   Russia by assembling a significant resource  advantage. Now the Allies had to consider the   alternative, which was to threaten Russia through  superior use of what resources they already had.   In other words, if the Allies could use  their small force to inflict enough strategic   defeats on Russia, the Czar would eventually be  threatened enough to give in to the '4 Points'.   But where could the Allies outfight the  Russians so decisively? Granted, the average   Allied rifleman had a moderate technological  edge over his Russian musketeer counterpart,   and the Allies had the luxury of choosing when  and where to invade. But if the Allies were to   advance their war goals, they needed to  take strategically-valuable territory,   all of which the Russians were already heavily  guarding. Furthermore, the overall Russian  

numerical superiority meant that the small Allied  force would need a string of one-sided victories   just to avoid being ground down. It would  have been impossible for any army to achieve   decisive results under such conditions. At least, that was the case on land. At sea, the   Allies enjoyed a decisive technological edge over  the Russians, whose obsolete sail fleets stood no   chance against steam-powered warships. Without  effective naval opposition, the Allies expected   that a mere couple of warships on Russia's seas  and coasts would inflict the serious, one-sided,   strategic defeats that were needed for victory. As such, the initial Allied war strategy revolved   around naval and coastal aggression. Allied fleets  would be sent to Russia's Black and Baltic coasts   with two objectives: first, blockade  and destroy Russia's maritime trade;   second, win one-sided fights against  Russian warships and coastal defenses.  

The idea was to get Russia to waste a  disproportionate amount of resources responding   to the naval harassment, even as its economy  was being strangled through the trade blockade.   Eventually, the Czar would have to accept  Allied terms or face economic collapse.   Elements of this strategy would persist  throughout the Crimean War. But the bulk  

of it was derailed from the very start, when the  Allies landed an oversized force in the Crimea   as part of a 'Grand Raid' against the naval base  of Sevastopol. Despite initially catching the   Russians off-guard, overcautious generalship soon  saw the Allies stalemated outside of the city.   At this point, the Allies probably should  have withdrawn and raided someplace easier,   but it became politically impossible  to have such a large force retreat   without first achieving something. So Allied  war strategy quickly began revolving around   the Siege of Sevastopol, with Allied leaders  convincing themselves that capturing the city   would be enough to get Russia to admit defeat. This was a major strategic mistake.  

Russia of course hoped to hold Sevastopol;  but as a peripheral naval base that   could always be rebuilt, it wasn't worth  Russia's entire position in the Balkans.   So in a strategic sense, the Allied effort in the  Crimea became a huge diversion, tying down most of   their already-scarce resources and stopping them  from being used against more deserving targets.   With the Allies now prioritizing Crimea, the naval  campaigns envisioned in the original strategy   were left starved of resources, especially when  it came to the soldiers and specialized craft   needed to attack the Russian coast effectively.  Nevertheless, 1854 and 5 saw British-led fleets   operating in the Black and Baltic Seas.  Their tasks remained unchanged: economic   blockade against Russian trade, and one-sided  fighting against the Russian military.   But once again, Allied efforts here were  hamstrung by their own limited mobilization. Right  

from the start, Britain wanted a cheap fleet  mobilization, so it filled its ships with novice   sailors. As a result, half the campaign season  of 1854 was spent training the crews instead.   Furthermore, if mobilization was to remain  limited, the Allies couldn't possibly risk   expanding the War by angering neutral  states. This significantly undermined the   Allied economic blockade, since it meant that  Austrian and American vessels, for example,   were allowed to continue some trade with Russian  ports. More irritatingly, the Allies couldn't even   stop Russia importing banned war materiel such as  steam engines, because the goods were getting in   via neutral Prussia. Indeed, much of what Prussia  was selling actually came from Britain itself!   The Allied fleets tried to overcome this problem  by targeting Russian coastal infrastructure   directly. This degenerated into near-piratical  behavior in many cases, as Allied sailors looted   and burned fishing villages that had little  connection to Russian trade. This policy  

was not only morally questionable for many  fleet commanders, it also demonstrated the   impotence of Allied naval power – the warships  dared not attack anything more defended.   For as soon as the Allies began serious  reconnaissance, it became clear that the   key Russian harbors were actually fortified  beyond what their fleets could easily handle.   To score the one-sided military victories  envisaged by the initial war strategy, the   fleets needed either soldiers to conduct landings,  or specialized craft to bombard from afar – and   the Siege of Sevastopol had priority over the  both of these. As a result, up until mid-1855 the  

Allied fleets, to everybody's frustration, could  only capture a few forts on the Black Sea coast,   and the Aland islands off Finland. This  was hardly enough to threaten the Czar.   But despite failures in both the economic and  military fronts, the Allied strategy of naval   aggression was still a qualified success; because  above all else, the Russians believed in it.   Fearing that Allied ships would indeed smash  down their coastal defenses, the Russians raised   excessive numbers of garrisons: 200 thousand of  the Czar's elite troops, for example, spent the   War around the capital St. Petersburg. The effect of this over-mobilization was   significant: by 1856, the Russian state deficit  reached 30% of state revenue, which was a sum   3 times the total value of Russia's pre-War  exports. That meant that even the most complete   blockade could only inflict a fraction of the  damage Russia's government was doing to itself.  

Slowly but surely, the Czars were being  forced to choose between foreign humiliation   or economic ruination – just as Allied  strategists initially predicted.   Aside from the slow collapse of Russian finances,  the Allies had little else to be happy about   as 1854 drew to a close. Neither diplomatic nor  military action had solved their strategic dilemma   of having insufficient resources to  impose their war goals upon Russia:   in fact, the bulk of Allied forces were now  committed to the strategic wild-goose chase   that was the Siege of Sevastopol, their  leaders operating under the mistaken assumption   that the city’s capture would get  Russia to give up the Balkans.   Nevertheless, things were starting to change.  Over the winter of 1854, the British began a  

crash program to produce the specialized  craft needed to bombard fortified harbors.   The introduction of these new resources,  inevitably on the Crimean front, produced   an immediate result: in May 1855, 5 such craft  entered the Sea of Azov and over the next month,   one-sidedly destroyed the coastal infrastructure  that supported Russian logistics in the Crimea.   This victory made the Russian position  at Sevastopol untenable and by August,   the Russians had accepted that its fall  was only a matter of time. But as mentioned  

and to the horror of Allied leaders, this  fact did not make the Russians give up.   Still, with these new additions, the Allies were  now far more able to implement their strategy   of naval aggression. A new trade blockade  was declared, more thorough compared with   the previous year. Part of this was  due to the specialized bombard craft,   which one-sidedly demolished Russian fortified  harbors in the Black and Baltic Seas. The impact   of these victories, in turn, greatly enhanced the  perceived power of the Allies and therefore the   effectiveness of their diplomacy: Sweden  finally joined the Allies in November,   while Prussia came under serious pressure  to comply with the Allied blockade.  

And despite the limited value of Sevastopol  itself, its fall in September 1855 was a decisive   moment for the Allied war effort, because all the  resources that had been tied down in the Siege   were now freed for new operations  against the Russian coast   and periphery. Ottoman troops were sent to  support revolts in the Northern Caucasus; the   French planned a counter-invasion from the Ottoman  Balkans; and the British Baltic fleet prepared to   assault Kronstadt fortress just off St Petersburg.  There was talk about supporting Romanian,   Finnish and Polish national movements… The Allies seemed to be on the cusp of redrawing   the map of Europe; and if there was one state that  dreaded that as much as Russia, it was Austria. So   it took decisive action to end the War as soon  as possible: using negotiation and pressure,   Austria quickly lined up the German  states behind it, and in December 1855,   issued another demand for the Czar to accept  peace on the basis of the '4 Points'.  

The Allied strategic dilemma was well and truly  solved. Russia now faced the prospect of fighting   almost every large and medium state in Europe,  with no answer to the Allied naval attacks that   were sure to come, relying on a collapsing economy  and under a growing threat of nationalist revolts.   This was a major, even mortal threat to the  Russian state, and against this the loss of   Balkan influence under the '4 Points' was a small  price to pay. The Czar accepted Austria's terms   in March 1856, much to the disappointment of  the remaining British hawks, which brought an   end to the Crimean War. Conclusion  

From a strategic perspective, the Crimean  War was defined by the Allied failure   to set war goals that could be achieved  by the resources they had on hand.   Had they followed the Austrian interpretation  of the '4 Points', the War probably would have   ended early. Had they conducted a larger  mobilization, Allied hawks might have   achieved more of their aims. As it turned out,  the Allies endured 2 years of grueling warfare   only to arrive back at a somewhat harsher  version of Austria's '4 Points'.   During those 2 years, the Allies made several  efforts to break out of their 'strategic dilemma'.   Diplomacy merely replayed the dilemma on a  different level, as the Allies lacked resources   to entice the minor powers and wouldn't  lower demands to satisfy the major ones.  

A strategy of naval aggression proved to be  effective, but it was hobbled due to constraints   of the limited Allied mobilization. The notion  that Sevastopol was a valuable enough asset   to trade for Russia's Balkan  influence was simply mistaken.   In the end, the Allies brought in new  resources over the winter of 1854,   which set a self-reinforcing cycle in motion:  more resources led to more victories, boosting   perceptions of Allied power and making them seem  like better allies as well as graver threats.  

Most decisively, after Sevastopol the Allies  also implicitly shifted their war aims   back towards the Austrian version of the '4  Points'. The result was that Russia came under   intense pressure, not just by the increasing  damage caused by Allied military action, but   also an overwhelming European coalition to boot.  The Czar had little choice but to capitulate.   The Allied effort during the Crimean War  is a classic example of strategy within   a 'Limited War', where a state fights with only a  fraction of its strength. Strategymakers in such   wars not only have to respect the limits  this places on war strategy, they also   have to set appropriate war goals that can be  achieved with the available resources on hand.   In a modern world where unlimited war  inevitably leads to nuclear annihilation,   these conditions make the Crimean War  a very relevant case study indeed.

2022-08-28 04:43

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