British Foreign Policy 1815-65

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.

The Crimean War: comment on attitudes in Britain

This document has been copied from its primary location on The Victorian Web.

The Crimean War was the result of a string of blunders:

In Britain the events were perceived as an excellent, popular war by the press, the general public, and the armed forces. There was a feeling of Britain being 'war hungry'. Britain had little to gain from the war but became involved to

Britain perhaps had more to lose by entering the war because if she lost she would have to accept a peace imposed by Russia. That might include loss of territory, bases and ports, and pose a threat to India. Britain therefore had to be victorious in order to maintain her prestige, empire, the routes to and control of India and her Mediterranean bases. For Britain, the war was very much a gamble with the odds stacked her for a while. Having blundered into the war, Aberdeen's government then failed to conduct it competently. The result was stalemate: it should have been a short war - everyone said that it would be 'over by Christmas' but it dragged on. It was almost a war of honour rather than one of necessity so that Britain could 'teach Russia a lesson'.

The west coast of the Crimean peninsula. This map is taken from Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan, (Longmans, 1961), p. 10, with the author's kind permission. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr Hibbert.

Click on the image for a larger view

There could be no naval action of any significance during this war because Russia was a land power. Britain was therefore unable to use her major force to any effect; and there was no way that Russia would risk a naval engagement because she did not have the sea power. Britain and France knew their armies faced huge difficulties on land against Russia because of the Russians' "scorched earth" policy - no-one knew the devastating effect of this better than the French who had been defeated in 1812 by this policy and the Russian weather. Consequently, the war had to be a coastal fringe campaign; it became bogged down in the Crimean peninsula where neither side could win, but both could reinforce.

The Allies initially went to Varna to ensure that Russia had evacuated Moldavia and Wallachia. By the time they arrived the Russians had almost completed their withdrawal, therefore to teach the Russians a lesson it was decided to take the troops to the Crimea for a quick campaign against Sevastopol, which was to be captured and destroyed. Russia could have been defeated within a few weeks, but was not because of lost opportunities. All the combatants wanted a quick campaign and rapid end, once honour had been seen to be satisfied. Britain and France landed troops at Eupatoria on 14 September 1854. This was not an auspicious day: it was that anniversary of:

Troops quickly fell prey to cholera at Varna in the summer of 1854 and were weakened by September. There was also confusion because the British and French had never fought together before: traditionally, they were enemies. The British forces were led by Lord Raglan, aged 66. Raglan had served under Wellington and followed his methods, without his ability. he thought that the French were the enemy at times. He died in the Crimea. The French forces were led by Marshall St. Arnaud, who died in the war and was replaced by Canrobert. There was no overall supreme command and the Commanders-in-Chief found it difficult to co-operate with each other.

The Landing at Eupatoria: William Simpson, The Seat of War in the East, second series. I am grateful to John Sloan for permission to use this image from the Xenophongi web site and which graciously he has agreed to share with the Victorian Web. Copyright, of course, remains with him.

Click on the image for a larger view

The target of landing at Eupatoria was Sevastopol - the main Crimean town. They had a march of 100 miles between the two, which could have been taken within a week of their arrival. At this point, the generals showed themselves to be a match for the politicians in incompetence.

These men were brothers-in-law, hated one another and refused to work together.

Furthermore, the Allies were equipped for a short summer campaign. Insufficient supplies were provided and the armies were not equipped for a winter campaign. The Supply Department in Britain had not been reformed since the French Wars and was inadequate to deal with the demands of a war 2,000 miles away. In the British army, the purchase of Commissions still ruled the day and experienced officers from India were treated as inferior. This meant that inexperienced men led the army and refused to make use of the knowledge of officers who had fought recently.

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 12 January, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind