britain's crimean war -- 12/10/19
Today's selection -- from A Short History of the World by Christopher Lascelles. Britain's Crimean War of 1853-1856:
"Despite Britain's increasing strength during the 19th century, the country still needed to defend its empire from encroaching powers. As the century progressed, Russia's interest in Central Asia -- particularly the lands between Constantinople and India -- increased. The area became a battleground where the two nations competed for spheres of influence in what came to be known as the 'Great Game':
"Russia's southerly expansion was the initial cause of concern: if they continued their southward progress through Afghanistan, it was feared they might be able to invade India via the Khyber Pass. Attempting to control the area, Britain invaded Afghanistan in 1839, but an insurrection there forced the army into ignominious retreat three years later, during which 16,000 soldiers and civilians were massacred. No attempt by a foreign power to rule Afghanistan has ever been successful.
"A decade later, Russia caused further concern by invading two vassal states of the weakening Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, ostensibly to protect Eastern Orthodox Christians. This brought the Russians much closer to the Dardanelles and the nearby Bosphorus Strait, which linked the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Once again, the British feared that this would give the Russians a sea route to India, thereby threatening British control there. The destruction of a Turkish flotilla by the Russian Black Sea Fleet in 1854 gave Britain the pretext it needed to declare war. The French -- keen to avenge their defeat at the hands of the Russians in 1812 -- eagerly joined in.
"And so began the Crimean War. The Russians were rapidly driven out of the territories they had occupied, and the Allies planned to follow this up with the quick capture of Sevastopol -- the principal Russian naval base on the Black Sea -- in present-day Ukraine. Underestimating the Russian defenses, the war dragged on for a year until Sevastopol capitulated in 1855.
"While the Allies won the war, the costs for both sides were immense, with the British and French losing up to 25,000 and 100,000 men respectively, and the Russians losing many multiples of this. The majority of deaths were from diseases such as typhus, cholera and dysentery, despite the best efforts of Florence Nightingale and her fellow nurses to look after the wounded and dying soldiers.
"One consequence of Russia's defeat in the Crimea was a programme of reform and modernisation initiated by Tsar Alexander II, who came to the throne in 1855. While he is credited with the emancipation of the peasants in 1861, his reforms were haphazard and badly managed, and ultimately led to further unrest, ending in his assassination. Over the following years professional revolutionaries would play on the frustrations of the people, and would end up taking over the Russian state in the October Revolution of 1917."