Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Crimean War

since history is interesting, war is a part of history, and the Crimea may be important in the near future (Ukraine blaming Russia for encouraging Crimean rebels), I thought I'd talk about the Crimean War. It's always interested me; it's considered to be the first 'modern' war, in a sense that it eschewed the formality and the limited technology of previous wars. It's also infamous for being a war of completely incompetent and careless strategy, leading to lots of needless deaths on both sides.

Fought between the Russian empire and an alliance of european powers, the Crimean war was waged primarily over issues of territory, with a strange kind of pseudo-religious background. The Russians were aghast at the thought of the presence of English forces in Constantinople, a strategic point the Russians had desired for some time. Like most pre-20th-century wars, a secret series of alliances, treaties and legal wrangling drew lines between the sides, and a declaration of war by Britain and France in March of 1854 led to a conflict fought primarily on the Crimean peninsula, a small bit of land jutting out into the Black Sea, connected to Ukraine.

In many ways the war was the first 'modern' war - it was the first to use technologies like railways and the telegraph, and the first to include strategies like trench warfare and blind artillery firing, techniques that would later be used in WW1. Like the trench warfare of WW1, the senseless and constant stream of bullets from the trenches in the Crimean war left more than a few dead on both sides - 522,000 Russians and at least 500,000 British, French, and Ottoman troops. The palpable incompetence of military leaders on both sides is well-remembered; a famous poem, the Charge of the Light Brigade, recounts a recklessly suicidal cavalry charge that led to an entire battalion of British soldiers mowed down by Russian artillery. The entire charge, led by clueless officers and ordered confusedly by a disconnected chain of command, is a typical example of the excessive and needless death caused both in the Crimean War, and in most wars in general. The bodies piled up on both sides during the Crimean War were certainly a grim foreshadowing for the millions that would die in similar wars in the next century.

The war ended in 1856 with a shaky agreement between the Russians and Ottomans to restrict naval action on the Black Sea - a clause of peace that greatly diminished the threat Russia presented to the Ottoman Empire. The conflict here between the Ottomans and Russians foreshadowed the later Russo-Turkish war, which would see a Russian 'victory' - while the Russians gained little in the way of territory, the Ottomans were forced to retreat from the Balkans, leading to independence of numerous Slavic states in the region. The war helped set in motion events that would shape the network of empires and allies in Europe for the century to come, and would push along the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian wars of the late 19th century. Russia would remain a lone power for many years, cutting off alliances to European powers that would later regret it (such as Austria in the aforementioned war.)

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