It is important to state here that this, the previous and future articles are merely the barest bones of all events described in my book, There was a Time, which is itself a digest of British history. These notes are only intended to inform of its contents.
The opening shots were fired between the Russian and Ottoman navies. The former totally destroyed their enemy’s fleet at Sinope in the southern Black Sea, to the alarm of the British Admiralty. For the first time in naval gunnery encounters, the projectiles were exploding shells rather than cannon balls, requiring the Royal Navy to adapt very quickly.
The war was a catalogue of errors, starting with the appointment of the respective commanders.
The French were led by Marshal St Arnaud who was close to death, the British by Lord Raglan, Wellington’s former ADC, who lost his right arm at Waterloo but stayed in the army although never holding a field command and was 65 years old. The Russians had Prince Menshikov who was totally incompetent.
The expeditionary forces landed at Kalamita Bay, 30 miles from the intended landfall. They were quickly engaged in the first of three field battles: the Alma River, Balaclava and Inkermann.
The first victory was comprehensive and with competent leadership could have been followed up by an advance along an open road to invest Sevastopol itself. Instead, they procrastinated, St Arnaud died, and two other battles had to be fought. In the meantime the port was turned into a fortress, guns taken from the ships to the ramparts and the allied armies forced to endure two long winters of suffering wounds, disease and deprivation before the siege was finally brought to an end through a concerted attack by French forces. The city was ransacked, the ships either sunk or damaged beyond repair and the Russians surrendered.
The most famous encounter of the war from a British perspective was the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ at Balaclava. This doomed and tragic event occurred as a consequence of Raglan’s garbled order to Lord Cardigan, commander of the Light Brigade.
The war was notable for several innovations as listed below.
1 It was the first war to be observed by a war correspondent of The Times and a photographer. Together they brought to homes the horrors of war especially the suffering of the sick and wounded men.
2 A line was installed connecting the peninsula to the European telegraph network, enabling two-way communication with London in less than 24 hours.
3 The conditions in the field prompted the young nurse Florence Nightingale to go there and set up and run a field hospital at Scutari on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.
4 The British government announced that purchased commissions and promotions would henceforth be prohibited; this did not happen immediately.
The allies were outnumbered by a ratio of 5:1 in both men and field guns and yet triumphed in the final battle at Inkermann for one specific reason: the British had been issued with the first long-barrelled Enfield rifles. The weapon was effective at more than 1,000 yards, whereas the enemy’s smooth-bore muskets were unlikely to hit the actual target at 100 yards, though they might hit somebody in the enemy’s ranks. The Russian soldiers were decimated and demoralised before hand-to-hand fighting began against longer rifles and bayonets. Casualties reflected this disparity.
The Enfield rifle was extensively used by both sides in the American Civil War shortly afterwards but the Crimean War had further reaching consequences.
Imperial Russia had been comprehensively beaten and its military prestige lost. This changed the balance of power in Europe and its influence there would not start to be restored until the détente with France was signed 40 years later.