|Clockwise from top left: Sultan Abdulmecid, Emp Napoleon III, |
Czar Nicholas I, Queen Victoria and King Victor Emmanuel II
In truth, Czar Nicholas I had no intention of breaking up the Ottoman Empire. Though he certainly would have liked nothing better, he believed that was something that all the Great Powers would have to collaborate on when the time came. However, he assumed that Britain in particular would understand this and knew what sort of man he was. The British government, however, was a coalition and divided as to how to respond with one faction favoring diplomacy and the other wanting a show of force to frighten Russia into backing away from the Ottomans. Neither side wanted an actual war but this division caused British policy to be erratic and the situation was exacerbated by the British ambassador to Constantinople who was very favorably disposed towards the Turks and personally prejudiced against Russia. There were efforts at a settlement by representatives of the Great Powers meeting in Vienna, but they all failed. The Turks refused to compromise and suspicion toward Russia meant that no matter what the representatives of the Czar said, few were inclined to believe them genuine. As a result, all approached the precipice.
|Russia destroys the Turkish fleet|
The fact that Britain and France had allowed things to get out of hand can be seen in how unprepared they were for war and it took about six months until they were actually able to take real military action. In the meantime, they tried to gain more allies to fight the seeming colossus of Russia. They found little support. Hints that Finland might be regained were insufficient to tempt Sweden to join in but the primary figure to be courted was the Austrian Empire. However, though there was much temptation in Vienna, Emperor Francis Joseph I did not believe that either side was totally in the right. His greatest concern was Russian expansion in the Balkans but the Russian troops that had been in Romania were soon withdrawn and the Austrian Emperor saw no moral justification for war. He was also afraid that if he moved Austrian forces to the east, Italians in the west would rebel again and be supported by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia under the House of Savoy. He would certainly take no action unless the Piedmontese were on side. Later on, when Austria seemed more inclined to join the allies, this played a part in the Russian desire to end the war before another name was added to their list of enemies. The Austrian attitude was particularly infuriating to Czar Nicholas I. He had sent Russian armies to aid the Hapsburg monarch in crushing the rebellion in Hungary in the Revolutions of 1848 and viewed it as an absolute betrayal that the Austrian Kaiser would not only fail to return the favor but even consider joining the ranks of his enemies. Austro-Russian relations would, ultimately, never recover from this.
|Italian light infantry in battle on Crimea|
For the Turks and the Russians, the original combatants, the primary focus was on the Danube front and the Caucasus front. The fighting was brutal and frustrating in both areas. For the allies, the hope was for a ‘knockout blow’ by targeting the primary Russian naval base on the Black Sea; the fortress-city of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula. 50,000 allied troops were landed and the most famous battles of the war would be fought there. The Turks had some success on the Danube front, but the Russians did not offer much resistance so as to focus on more vital areas of conflict. In the Caucasus, the Turks were aided by Muslim Chechens who, as students of current affairs will be aware, are still often engaged in hostilities against Russia today. There were also Ukrainian uprisings against the Russians, particularly in Kiev, which will also sound very familiar to people today. Originally a series of peasant revolts, they were soon supported by Ukrainian aristocrats who opposed the war. There were naval and coastal battles as far ranging as from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean but it was the Crimea that was the decisive area of operations. Conditions were harsh, the suffering was immense and both sides often seemed to be their own worst enemies.
|British Coldstream Guards at the Battle of Alma|
|The Thin Red Line of the 93rd Highlanders|
|Relief of the Light Brigade|
|Russian troops at the siege of Sevastopol|
|Czar Nicholas I|
|Russian troops at Malakhov|
|Allied forces in the Crimea|
Quite a lot of ‘blow-back’ for what started as an inter-Christian spat over sanctuary privileges in Jerusalem.