Drift to war
Lord Palmerston, the Home Secretary, represented a broad swathe of opinion in declaring that 'something must be done to wipe away the stain [of Sinope]', seen in twenty-first-century terms as a crime against humanity. Thus, on 3 January 1854, British and French naval squadrons entered the Black Sea with Turkish connivance. Eight days later a formal note to St Petersburg demanded that all Russian warships return to equivalent to a declaration of war.' The Tsar did not reply. Even before the formal declaration of war on 28 March, British troops had begun to leave south-coast ports amid scenes of wild enthusiasm, and British and French officers were in Turkey to inspect the defences of Constantinople and plan for allied intervention.
Prospects for a peaceful solution had not yet altogether gone. British, French, Prussian and Austrian representatives were still in diplomatic conclave, Napoleon wrote personally to Nicholas 1, and a Quaker delegation went from London to St Petersburg. Aberdeen optimistically, though futilely, held that 'I, for one, deny ... that war is inevitable.' But the British a French declarations came almost simultaneously, and on 10 April the tw countries signed a treaty of alliance (a to five days later by Turkey). Next day, Tsar in turn declared war on Britain and Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston (1784-1865). Home Secretary in 1854, Palmerston was keen to confront Russia. Benefiting from public dissatisfaction at failure to take Sevastopol, he became Prime Minister in February 1855. (Ann Ronan Picture Library)
France, protesting that 'Russia fights not for the things of this world, but for the Faith'. Commenting on British enthusiasm for war, Charles Greville (Clerk to the Privy Council) prophetically wrote in his diary: 'Before many months are over, people will be heartily sick of it, as they are now hot upon it.' Years later, the pacifist John Bright observed: 'When people are inflamed in that way, they are no better than "mad dogs".'
A just war
Three months before Britain went to war, on 24 December 1853 Sir James Graham (First Lord of the Admiralty) focused attention on the Crimea. He argued that command of the Black Sea, which would preserve the integrity of Turkey and deny Russian warships passage through the Straits, could be secured only by
'the entire destruction of Sebastopol [sic] with its naval and military establishments'. But the known strength of the port's massive seaward fortifications, which protected the entrance to the harbour, ruled out a successful naval attack without the assistance of a land force. Graham and the Duke of Newcastle (Secretary of State for War and the Colonies) therefore began to visualise such a combined operation with Sevastopol as the prize. In the wake of public and political reaction to the Sinope affair, events moved ahead speedily.
On 7 February, the Master-General of the Ordnance, Lieutenant-General Lord Raglan (soon promoted general and, before the end of the year, field marshal) was verbally offered the post of 'General Officer Commanding the Forces eastwards of Malta'. Six days later the Cabinet approved his appointment. Some reservations were expressed about his age (65) and lack of campaign experience after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Since 1819 he had held a series of high-ranking staff appointments but, in truth, he had never commanded in the field. However, he had served at the Duke of Wellington's side, first as his
aide-de-camp (ADC) then as Military Secretary from 1808 to 1815, and he had been on the staff of the British Embassy Paris from 1814 to 1818, besides leading
diplomatic mission to Spain in 1823. He and delicate situations, such as threats to public order in London during presentation of the third Chartist petition to Parliament in 1848. He was not only familiar with France, but also fluent in the French language. This made him an ideal choice for dealing with a touchy ally. His tact would be fully extended in dealing with three successive French commanders and a proud Turkish Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C), sensitive to any perceived slight. Diplomacy, as much as military acumen, would be required for the forthcoming campaign.
Initially, on 8 February, the Cabinet agreed to dispatch 10,000 troops to Malta, although Newcastle acknowledged that more would be needed if 'a trial of strength' with Russia were to develop. By mid-March, Britain, France and Turkey were informally looking to national contingents of 5,000 with which to invade the Crimea. Raglan chose his own immediate staff (adjutant-general, quartermaster-general and military secretary) and ADCs, but he could only recommend officers to command divisions and brigades. He did not always get his way. The Cabinet would not approve Sir George Brown as his second-in-command, and Raglan's protests at putting the volatile lords Lucan and Cardigan in close proximity were overridden.
Urbane, thoughtful and courteous, Raglan inspired fierce loyalty in those close to him. But he disliked ostentation - invaluable for a commander in projecting himself to a wider spectrum of his own troops and those of his allies. A thoroughly decent man who accepted command of the Expeditionary Force as a matter of patriotic duty, he wloath to exert his authority, preferring a appeal to reason.
Lieutenant-General Sir George Brown took charge of the Light Division. A st disciplinarian, he had fought in the Peninsular War and since 1815 he had held a series of senior staff appointments, including that of Adjutant-General at the Horse Guards. He had quarrelled, however, with Wellington's successor as C-in-C (Lord Hardinge) and resigned.
Lieutenant-General the Duke of Cambridge, the Queen's 35-year-old cousin who had never seen action, commanded them1st Division of infantry after royal pressure for his appointment. He had served in the Hanoverian Army, briefly led the 17th Lancers during the Chartist troubles, then held administrative posts in Corfu and Ireland. Lieutenant-General Sir George de Lacy Evans had the 2nd Division. With experience, like Brown and Raglan, in the Peninsular War, he had also served in India and with the British Legion during the Carlist Wars in Spain. But his radical politics and tendency to fall out with senior officers had stunted his career. Major-General Sir Richard England, vetoed as Raglan's deputy, Cathcart received a 'dormant commission' by which he would assume command should Raglan be incapacitated; but that was not widely known.
Each of the five infantry divisions comprised two brigades of three battalions, making a total of about 4,000 men per division. The Light and 4th divisions contained an additional rifle battalion.
The Cavalry Division was under Major- General (soon local Lieutenant-General) Lord Lucan (54), its Heavy Brigade being led Brigadier-General th e Hon. James Scarl
(55) and the Light Brigade by Lucan's brother-in-law, Major-General Lord Car (57). Each brigade comprised five regi totalling 1,000 sabres. Of the three cav commanders, only Lucan had battle experience. Curiously, that had been when attached to the staff of the Russian force that crossed the Danube into the Balkans in 1828-29, with some sources placing him in command of a cavalry formation in the latter stages of that campaign.
Two field artillery batteries with 6pdr or 9pdr guns were attached to each infantry division, except the Light, which had one field battery and one troop of horse artillery. The Cavalry Division had one troop of horse artillery with it. Heavier guns (up to 32pdrs) were allocated for siege purposes, enhanced before Sevastopol by naval 68pdrs and revolutionary, rifled Lancaster guns. The experienced Royal Engineer Lieutenant- General Sir John Fox Burgoyne (71) would join Raglan's staff in an advisory capacity before the Crimean landings. Excluding the Heavy Brigade, which did not land with the main body, officially 26,095 men of all ranks invaded the Crimea under Raglan's command, supported by 60 guns.
The British fleet in the Black Sea, comprising 16 warships with a total of 645 guns, was commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir James Dundas, with Rear-Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons in command of its in-shore squadron. Once it became clear that the Russian navy had been blockaded in Sevastopol, a Royal Navy brigade went ashore with guns from several ships to swell the besieging force.
Marshal St Arnaud (52), who had seen active service in Algeria and supported Louis Napoleon during his coup d'état in 1851, led the French Expeditionary Force. Brown thought him 'a strange, flighty fellow and one it will not do to take at his word'; years (the Emperor's cousin, 32) and E. F. Forey
(49). When the French landed in the Crimea, St Arnaud had 25,000 infantry, 2,800 other troops (some sources put the combined total at 30,200) and 68 guns, but no cavalry. Thus the only cavalry available to the allied commanders in the first phase of the invasion was the British Light Brigade.
Under the separate command of Vice- Admiral F. A. Hamelin, though subject to greater control by the land force commander than his British counterpart, the French fleet initially comprised 12 battleships and steamers (totalling 780 guns), increasing to 25 warships before the landings in the Crimea
The Turks landed 7,000 infantry and attached them to the French for the march south. Their C-in-C, Omar Pasha, remained at Shumla with a large force in reach of the Danube, deeply suspicious that a renewed advance into the Balkans might take place once the allies had been committed to the Crimea, Eventually, some 30,000-35,000 Turks would serve on the Crimean peninsula, mainly in defence of Eupatoria or in the siege lines before Sevastopol. Omar Pasha spoke French, German and Italian, though heavily accented, and his background was extraordinary. Formerly a Croat named
Aware of the problems associated with a divided allied command, Bosquet remarked: 'The Russians have one enormous advantage over us: their army has only one chief.' That was an illusion. The Crimean peninsula had two Russian commanders-in-chief: in the west, Prince A. S. Menshikov; for eastern Crimea and north-west Caucasus, General P. F. Khomutov, who controlled 12,000 men and the supply route into Sevastopol from the Sea of Azov via Kertch and Theodosia.
Menshikov had no authority over Khomutov and, although his command included the Black Sea Fleet as well as land forces, several more junior officers had effective autonomy beneath him. Vice-Admiral V. A. Kornilov, chief of staff to the Black Sea fleet and an excellent organiser, commanded the garrison of Sevastopol with his subordinate naval commander, Vice- Admiral P. F. Nachimov (victor at Sinope, senior to Kornilov but reluctant to take the garrison post). Lieutenant-General F. F. von Moeller, Menshikov's most experienced divisional commander, acted in a similar capacity for the army. Lieutenant-Colonel F. E. I. Todleben, a 37-year-old engineer, was in charge of making the port's land fortifications effective.
An accomplished linguist and well read, Prince A. S. Menshikov had wide civil and military experience. He had served in the Napoleonic Wars, been seconded to the Foreign Ministry, held naval rank and appointments including Chief of the Naval Staff, been Minister for the Navy and Governor-General of Finland. The year before Britain and France declared war, the diplomat General B. D. A. de Castelbajac referred to Menshikov's 'simple and polished manners', love of 'women, gambling, horses, good and bad company ... witty and caustic repartee'. Menshikov's disdainful treatment of the Sultan during his mission to Constantinople in 1854, which Nicholas I's physician believed 'simply furnished him with a fresh excuse for witticisms and jokes', underlined his aristocratic demeanour and intolerance of those he considered inferior. Critics held that he rarely, if ever, consulted others, although he was careful to cultivate the Tsar. A Russian academic, Professor Tarle, has concluded that Menshikov viewed all appointments as his due. Flexibility of outlook and self-criticism were anathema to him. They were qualities much needed in
the months ahead.
When the allies landed on 14 September 1854, excluding Khomutov's command and units still in transit from Bessarabia and mainland Russia, Menshikov had
38,000 soldiers and 18,000 seamen at his disposal. The previous day, 600 Congreve rockets had arrived to enhance his artillery capability. When 11 French foragers were captured on 15 September and revealed that the allied force exceeded 50,000, Menshikov asked Khomutov for another Cossack cavalry regiment, the Moskov infantry regiment and an additional field battery.
Until now, he had suspected that the landings near Eupatoria were a feint to draw troops away from Sevastopol and lay it open to a coup de main. Not including
5,000 civilian workmen, the total of strength of the Sevastopol garrison once the siege developed was later known to be 30,850 - a mixture of militia battalions, one regular battalion of infantry, artillery and marine personnel, supplemented by seamen from warships withdrawn into harbour from the Black Sea. However, when the allies landed near Eupatoria estimates of the number of Russian troops on the Crimean peninsula varied wildly. For the Russians, work rapidly took place to strengthen the defences of Sevastopol, and within a fortnight of the invasion 172 guns (many of them heavier than those of the besiegers) were in place
to combat an assault from the southern upland. Eastwards across the Tchernaya, at the end of September Menshikov had a field army of approximately 30,000 men (including regiments withdrawn from Sevastopol), which would be further reinforced via the Perekop peninsula in the north and Sea of Azov to the east.
The numbers on both the allied and Russian sides would vary greatly during the forthcoming hostilities, due to battle casualties, disease and reinforcements. But when the allies invaded on 14 September 1854, the forces facing one another on the peninsula were each about 60,000 men.
In the early summer of 1854, the Russians were still occupying Moldavia and Wallachia and threatening Turkish positions along the Danube, especially the fortress of Silistria on its southern bank. If this fell and enemy troops poured into the Balkans, the allies would need to bolster the Turks in Bulgaria; hence the advance to Varna. But before Raglan left England, Newcastle had instructed him that, although his 'first duty' was to protect Constantinople, if the enemy made no 'onward movement it may become essential for the attainment of the objects of the war that some operations of an official character should be undertaken by the Allied armies ... No blow ... struck at the southern extremities of the Russian Empire would be so effective for this purpose as the taking of Sebastopol[sic].'