"Well, here we are, the French and ourselves, at war with Russia, in order to protect Turkey. Ve-ry good. What shall we do, then? Better attack Russia, eh? H'm, yes. (Pause). Big place, ain't it?“ (George MacDonald Fraser, "Flashman at the Charge")
27 March 1854, France and Great Britain declared war on the Russian Empire over spheres of influence in the Balkan territories of the crumbling Ottoman Empire.
|A contemporary cartoon from "Punch" - "The Queen visiting the imbeciles of the Crimea", labelled "Medical Treatment", "Routine" and "Commissariat", i.e. the distribution of supplies and provisions to the troops.|
The "Russian War", as the British called it, or "Eastern War" in Russian usage, became later known as the "Crimean War", since most of the conflict took place on the Crimean Peninsula and was a failed theatre general rehearsal of modern warfare with a cost of life of more than 500.000 fighting men and civilians during three years of conflict.
While the Royal Navy stood the test rather well, the Western European armies, despite unrest and revolutions abundant on the continent, hadn't actually fired a shot in anger since Napoleon surrendered at Waterloo 40 years before, let alone organised a campaign that spanned the whole of Europe from Portsmouth, London and Toulon to the Black Sea or adapted to technological innovation since 1815.
What followed bordered on a humanitarian disaster in medical treatment of injured and sick soldiers, leading to the emergence of modern nursing practises - not only on the battlefield - by Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole and showed the complete incompetence of the British and French General Staff in almost every action, from logistics to the fatal orders Lord Raglan gave when he murdered the Light Brigade at Balaclava in 1854.
The Crimean War also marks the beginning of modern war reporting by the press, when Billy Russel's (The Times) articles reached London on a daily basis via telegraph and especially Roger Fenton's documentation via photographs.
What saved the Allies was the simply incredible discipline, bravery and skill of the common soldier, petty officers and junior officer ranks and that the Russian commanders were equally unorganised and clueless.