Crimean War of 1853–56

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Crimean War of 1853–56


the Eastern War, a Russian war against a coalition of Great Britain, France, Turkey, and Sardinia for domination in the Near East.

By the mid-19th century Great Britain and France were squeezing Russia out of Near Eastern markets and had brought Turkey under their influence. Emperor Nicholas I tried without success to reach an agreement with Great Britain on a division of spheres of influence in the Near East; then he decided to restore the lost position by direct pressure on Turkey. Great Britain and France promoted an aggravation of the conflict, figuring to weaken Russia and take away the Crimea, the Caucasus, and other territory.

The pretext for war was a dispute between orthodox and Catholic clergy in 1852 over possession of the “holy places” in Palestine. In February 1853, Nicholas I sent Extraordinary Ambassador A. S. Menshikov to Constantinople, where the latter delivered an ultimatum that Orthodox subjects of the Turkish sultan be placed under the special protection of the Russian tsar. The tsarist government counted on the support of Prussia and Austria and considered an alliance between Great Britain and France impossible. But British prime minister H. Palmerston, fearing the growing strength of Russia, reached an agreement with French emperor Napoleon III on joint actions against Russia. In May 1853 the Turkish government rejected the Russian ultimatum, and Russia broke diplomatic relations with Turkey. With Turkish consent an Anglo-French squadron entered the Dardanelles. On June 21 (July 3), Russian forces entered the principalities of Moldavia and Walachia, which were under the nominal sovereignty of the Turkish sultan. With British and French support, on September 27 (October 9) the sultan demanded that the Russians leave the principalities, and on Oct. 4 (16), 1853, he declared war on Russia.

The 82,000-man army of General M. D. Gorchakov on the Danube was opposed by the Turkish army of Omar Pasha, almost 150,000 strong. But attacks by the Turkish forces at Cetate on Dec. 25 (Jan. 6), 1854, Giurgiu on January 22 (February 3), and Călăraşi on February 20 (March 4) were beaten back. Russian artillery wiped out the Turkish Danube Flotilla. In the Transcaucasus the Turkish army of Abdi Pasha (about 100,000 men) was opposed by the weak garrisons of Akhaltsikh, Akhalkalaka, Aleksandropol’, and Yerevan (about 5,000 men), because the main forces of the Russian troops were occupied with a struggle against mountaineers. An infantry division (16,000 men) was hurriedly moved by sea from the Crimea, and a 10,000-strong Armenian-Georgian militia was formed, which made it possible to concentrate 30,000 troops under the command of General V. O. Bebutov. The main Turkish forces (about 40,000 men) moved against Aleksandropol’, while their Ardahan detachment (18,000) tried to break through Borzhomi Gorge toward Tiflis; the detachment was defeated, however, and then on November 14 (26) it was crushed near Akhaltsikh by General I. M. Andronnikov’s detachment of 7,000. On November 19 (December 1), Bebutov’s forces (10,000 men) crushed the main Turkish forces (36,000) near Başkadyklar.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet blockaded the Turkish ships in their ports. On November 18 (30) the squadron commanded by Vice Admiral P. S. Nakhimov destroyed the Turkish Black Sea Fleet in the Battle of Sinop of 1853. Turkey’s defeat speeded up the entry of Great Britain and France into the war. On Dec. 23, 1853 (Jan. 4, 1854), the Anglo-French navy entered the Black Sea. On February 9 (21), Russia declared war on Great Britain and France. On Mar. 11 (23), 1854, Russian troops crossed the Danube near Brăila, Gala[entity]i, and Izmail and concentrated in northern Dobruja. On April 10 (22) an Anglo-French squadron shelled Odessa. In June and July, Anglo-French troops landed at Varna, while the superior forces of the Anglo-French-Turkish navy (34 ships-of-the-line and 55 frigates, most of them steam-powered) blockaded the Russian Navy (14 sailing ships-of-the-line, six sailing frigates, and six steam frigates) in Sevastopol’. Russia was significantly behind the Western European countries in military technology. Its navy consisted primarily of obsolete sailing ships, and its army was mainly equipped with flintlock smoothbore guns with a short range of fire, whereas the allies were armed with rifles. The threat that Austria, Prussia, and Sweden would enter the war on the side of the anti-Russian coalition forced Russia to keep her main forces on the western borders.

In the Danube region on May 5 (17), Russian troops besieged the Silistra fortress, but on June 9 (21), in view of the hostile position of Austria, Field Marshal I. F. Paskevich, commander in chief of the Russian Army, gave the order to withdraw across the Danube. In early July three French divisions moved from Varna to encircle the Russian forces, but a cholera epidemic forced them to return. By September 1854 the Russian troops had retreated beyond the Prut River, and the principalities were occupied by Austrian forces.

On the Baltic Sea the Anglo-French squadrons of Vice Admiral C. Napier and Vice Admiral A. F. Parseval-Deschênes (11 propeller and 15 sailing ships-of-the-line, 32 steam frigates, and seven sailing frigates) blockaded the Russian Baltic Fleet (26 sailing ships-of-the-line, nine steam frigates, and nine sailing frigates) at Kronstadt and Sveaborg. Being afraid to attack these bases because of the Russian minefields, which were used for the first time in combat action, the allies began a blockade of the coast and bombarded a number of populated points in Finland. On July 26 (Aug. 7), 1854, an 11,000-man Anglo-French group was landed on the Åland Islands and besieged Bomarsund. After its fortifications were destroyed, the city surrendered. Attempts by other landing parties (at Ekenäs, Hangö, Gamlakarleby, and Abo) ended in failure. In the fall of 1854 the allied squadron left the Baltic Sea. In the White Sea, English ships bombarded Kola and the Solovetskii Monastery in 1854, but an attempted attack on Arkhangel’sk failed. The garrison at Petropavlovsk-na-Kamchatke, commanded by Major General V. S. Zavoiko, repulsed an attack by an Anglo-French squadron on Aug. 18–24 (Aug. 30-Sept. 5), 1854, by routing its landing party.

In the Transcaucasus the Turkish army commanded by Mustafa Zarif Pasha was built up to 120,000 men, and in May 1854 it went on the offensive against Bebutov’s 40,000-man Russian corps. On June 4 (16) the 34,000-man Batumi Turkish detachment was routed in the battle on the Coruh River by Andronnikov’s 13,000-man detachment, and on July 17 (29), 3,500 Russian troops routed the 20,000-man Bayazit detachment in an encounter battle on Çengel Pass and two days later, on July 19 (31), captured Bayazit. Bebutov’s main forces (18,000 men) were held up by the invasion of Eastern Georgia by ShamiPs detachment and went over to the offensive only in July. At the same time the main Turkish forces (60,000 men) moved against AleksandropoP. On July 24 (August 5) near Kürükdera the Turkish Army was routed and ceased to exist as an active military force.

On Sept. 2 (14), 1854, the allied navy began landing a 62,000-man Anglo-French-Turkish army near Evpatoriia. The Russian troops in the Crimea (33,600 men commanded by Menshikov) were defeated at the APma River and retreated toward Sevastopol’ and then further back to Bakhchisarai, leaving Sevastopol’ to fend for itself. At the same time the commanders of the allied army, Marshal A. de St.-Arnaud and General F. J. Raglan, hesitating to attack the northern side of Sevastopol’, undertook an encircling maneuver and, passing by Menshikov’s troops on the march, approached Sevastopol’ from the south. There were 18,-000 sailors and soldiers led by Vice Admiral V. A. Kornilov and Vice Admiral P. S. Nakhimov that took up the defense; fortifications were built with help from the population. To defend the sea approaches several old ships were sunk in the entrance to Sevastopol’ Bay, and their crews and guns were sent to the fortifications. The heroic Sevastopol’ defense of 1854–55, which lasted 349 days, had begun.

The first bombardment of Sevastopol’ on October 5 (17) did not reach the target, which forced Raglan and General F. Canrobert (who had replaced the deceased St.-Arnaud) to postpone the assault. Having received reinforcements, Menshikov tried in October to attack the enemy from the rear, but the Battle of Balaklava failed, and in the Battle of Inkerman the Russian troops were defeated.

During 1854 diplomatic talks between the warring parties were carried out in Vienna with Austrian mediation. As conditions for peace Great Britain and France demanded a ban on Russian warships in the Black Sea, the renunciation by Russia of its protectorate over Moldavia and Walachia and its claims to protection of Orthodox subjects of the sultan, and “freedom of navigation” on the Danube (which meant depriving Russia of access to its mouths). On December 2 (14), Austria announced that it had joined the alliance with Great Britain and France. On December 28 (Jan. 8, 1855) a conference of the ambassadors of Great Britain, France, Austria, and Russia was begun, but the negotiations did not produce results and were discontinued in April 1855.

On Jan. 14 (26), 1855, Sardinia entered the war by sending a 15,000-man corps to the Crimea. Omar Pasha’s 35,000-man Turkish corps was concentrated in Evpatoriia. On February 5 (17), General S. A. Khrulev’s 19,000-man detachment tried to capture Evaptoriia, but his assault was driven off. Menshikov was replaced by General M. D. Gorchakov.

On March 28 (April 9) the second bombardment of Sevastopol’ began, revealing the overwhelming allied superiority in amount of ammunition. But the heroic resistance of the defenders of Sevastopol’ forced the allies to put off the assault once again. Canrobert was replaced by General Pélissier, an advocate of aggressive actions. On May 12 (24) a 16,000-man French corps landed in Kerch’. Allied ships devastated the Azov coast, but their landings at Arabat, Genichesk, and Taganrog were repulsed. In May the allies carried out a third bombardment of Sevastopol’ and forced the Russian troops back from the forward fortifications. On June 6 (18), after a fourth bombardment, an assault on the bastions of Korabel’naia Storona was attempted but driven back. On August 4 (16) the Russian troops attacked the allied positions on the Chernaia River but were repulsed. Pelissier and General Simpson (who had replaced the deceased Raglan) carried out a fifth bombardment and on August 27 (September 8), after the sixth bombardment, began the general assault on Sevastopol’. After the fall of Malakhov Hill the Russian forces left the city in the evening of August 27 and crossed to the northern side. The remaining ships were sunk.

In the Baltic in 1855 the Anglo-French navy, commanded by Admiral R. Dundas and Admiral C. Penot, limited itself to blockading the coast and bombarding Sveaborg and other cities. On the Black Sea the allies landed a party at Novorossiisk and captured Kinburn. On the Pacific Ocean coast an allied landing in De-Kastri Bay was repulsed.

In the Transcaucasus in the spring of 1855, General N. N. Murav’ev’s corps (about 40,000 strong) pushed the Bayazit and Ardahan Turkish detachments back toward Erzurum and blockaded the 33,000-man Kars garrison. In order to save Kars, the allies landed Omar Pasha’s 45,000-man corps at Sukhumi, but on October 23–25 (November 4–6) he met stubborn resistance from General I. K. Bagration-Mukhranskii’s Russian detachment on the Inguri River and was subsequently stopped on the Tskhenistskali River. A partisan movement of the Georgian and Abkhaz population began in the Turkish rear. On November 16 (28) the Kars garrison surrendered. Omar Pasha retreated to Sukhumi, and from there he was evacuated to Turkey in February 1856.

At the end of 1855 military action had in fact stopped and talks were renewed in Vienna. Russia did not have trained reserves and lacked weaponry, ammunition, food, and financial resources; it was also hindered by the antiserfdom peasant movement, which had grown stronger in connection with massive recruitment for the militia, and the growing activity of the liberal noble opposition. The positions of Sweden, Prussia, and especially Austria, which was threatening war, were becoming more and more hostile. In this situation tsarism was forced to accept concessions. On March 18 (30) the Treaty of Paris of 1856 was signed. According to it, Russia agreed to the neutralization of the Black Sea with a ban on warships and naval bases there, conceded the southern part of Bessarabia to Turkey, obligated itself not to build fortifications on the Åland Islands, and recognized the protectorate of the great powers over Moldavia, Walachia, and Serbia. The Crimean War was unjust and aggressive on both sides. “The Crimean War demonstrated the rottenness and impotence of feudal Russia” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 20, p. 173). The defeat of tsarism undermined its international and domestic prestige and accelerated the maturation of the revolutionary situtation of 1859–61 and the fall of serfdom in Russia.

The Crimean War was an important stage in the development of the art of war. Thereafter all armies became equipped with rifled weapons, and the sailing fleet was replaced with steamships. In the course of the war the weakness of column tactics became apparent, and the tactics of rifle chains and elements of static warfare developed. The experience of the Crimean War was used in carrying out the military reforms of the 1860’s and 1870’s in Russia and was widely applied in the wars of the second half of the 19th century.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vols. 9–11, 28–29. (Articles and letters on the Crimean war.)
Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See Spravochnyi torn, part 1, p. 320.)
Bogdanovich, M. I. Vostochnaia voina 1853–56 gg., vols. 1–4. St. Petersburg, 1876.
Dubrovin, N. F. Istoriia Krymskoi voiny i oborony Sevastopolia, vols. 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1900.
Zaionchkovskii, A. M. Vostochnaia voina 1853–56 gg. v. sviazi s sovremennoi ei politicheskoi obstanovkoi, vols. 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1908–13.
Tarle, E. V. Krymskaia voina, 2nd ed., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1950.
Gorev, L. Voina 1853–56 i oborona Sevastopolia. Moscow, 1955.
Bestuzhev, I. V. Krymskaia voina 1853–56 gg. Moscow, 1956.
Rakhmatullin, M. A. “Voiny Rossii v Krymskoi kampanii.” Voprosy istorii, 1972, no. 8.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.