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The War that Looms on Europe[33]

Frederick Engels

A few weeks more, and unless peace is made at Vienna[34] with a promptitude that nobody in Europe now seems to expect, we shall witness the opening on that Continent of a war in comparison with whose events the Crimean campaign will sink into that insignificance which, in a war between three of the greatest nations on the face of the earth, it always ought to have worn. The hitherto independent operations in the Black Sea, and in the Baltic, will then be connected by a line of battle extending across the whole breadth of the Continent which separates those two colossal inland lakes; and armies whose magnitude is adequate to the almost boundless extent of the Sarmatian plain, will contend for its dominion. Then, and then only, can the war be said to have become truly a European one.

The Crimean campaign requires but a short additional notice at our hands. We have so often, and in such detail, described its character and its chances, that we have merely to record a few fresh facts in confirmation of our statements. A week ago we observed[a] that it had degenerated into a steeple-chase of reenforcements, and that the Russians were likely to get the best of this race. There is now hardly a doubt that by the time when the season admits of uninterrupted operations, followed up according to a preconcerted plan, the Russians will have from 120,000 to 150,000 men in the Peninsula, to whom the Allies can, with superhuman efforts, oppose, perhaps, 90,000. Supposing, even, that both France and England had troops sufficient to send there, where are the transports to be found, as long as out of every four steamers sent to the Black Sea, three are kept there under all possible pretexts? England has already completely disorganized her transatlantic mail steam service, and nothing is at present in greater demand there than ocean steamers; but the supply is exhausted. The only thing which could save the Allies, would be the arrival in the Crimea exactly at the time it is wanted, of an Austrian corps of some 30,000 men, to be embarked at the mouth of the Danube. Without such a reenforcement, neither the Piedmontese corps, nor the Neapolitan corps, nor the driblets of Anglo-French reenforcements, nor Omer Pasha's army, can do them any real good.

Now let us see what part of their respective forces England and France have already engaged in the Crimea. We shall speak of the infantry only, for the proportions in which cavalry and artillery are attached to such expeditions are so variable that no positive conclusions respecting them can be established. Besides, the whole active force of a country is always engaged in proportion as its infantry is engaged. Of Turkey we speak not, for with the army of Omer Pasha she engages her last, her only army, in this struggle. What is left to her in Asia is no army; it is but a rabble.

England[b] possesses, in all, 99 regiments, or 106 battalions of infantry. Of these, at least 35 battalions are on Colonial service. Of the remainder, the first five divisions sent to the Crimea took up about 40[c] battalions more; and at least eight battalions have been sent since as reenforcements. There remain about 23 battalions, hardly one of which could be spared. Accordingly, England fairly acknowledges, by her last military measures, the peace establishment of her army to be entirely exhausted. Various devices are brought forward in order to make up for what has been neglected. The militia, embodied to the number of some 50,000, are allowed to volunteer for foreign service. They are to occupy Gibraltar, Malta, Corfu, and thus to relieve about twelve battalions on Colonial service, which then may be sent to the Crimea. A foreign legion is decreed; but, unfortunately, no foreigners seem to come forward for enlistment under the rule of the cat-o'-nine-tails. Finally, on the 13th February, orders were issued to create second battalions for 93 regiments—43 of 1,000 men and 50 of 1,200 men each. This would give an addition of 103,000 men, besides about 17,000 more men for the cavalry and artillery. But not one of these 120,000 men has as yet been enlisted; and then, how are they to be drilled and officered? The admirable organization and general management of the British army has contrived to engage, one way or another, between the Crimea and the colonies, almost the whole of the infantry, with the exception of depot companies and a few depot battalions—not only the men, but the cadres too. Now, there are plenty of half-pay generals, colonels and majors on the British army list [who] can be employed for this new force; but of captains on half-pay, as far as we know, there are none, or very few, while lieutenants, ensigns and non-commissioned officers are nowhere to be had in the manufactured state. Raw material there is in plenty; but raw officers to drill raw recruits would never do; and old, experienced, steady non-commissioned officers, as everybody knows, are the mainstay of every army. Besides this, we know from the best authority—Sir W. Napier—that it takes full three years to drill the tag-rag-and-bobtail of Old England into what John Bull calls "the first soldiers of the world" and "the best blood of England." If that is the case when the cadres are at hand waiting to be filled up, how long will it take, without subaltern or non-commissioned officers, to manufacture heroes out of the 120,000 men who are not yet found? We may consider the whole military force of England so far engaged in this war that, for the next twelvemonth, the utmost the British Government can do will be to keep up a "heroic little band" of forty or fifty thousand men before the enemy. That number could only be exceeded for very short periods, and with essential derangement of all preparation for future reenforcements.

France[d], with her larger army and far more complete organization, has engaged a far inferior proportional part of her forces. France possesses 100 regiments of infantry of the line, 3 of Zouaves, and 2 foreign legions, at 3 battalions each; beside 20 battalions of rifles, and 6 African battalions—together 341 battalions. Of these, 100 battalions, or one to each regiment of the line, are considered as dépôt-battalions, for the reception and drilling of recruits; the two first battalions only are sent out for active service, while the dépôt prepares the reenforcements destined to keep up their full strength. Thus, 100 battalions must be at once struck off the number. If subsequently these dépôt-battalions are made use of as the groundwork for a third field battalion, as was more than once done under Napoleon, they can do so by having an extraordinary number of recruits made over to them, and then it is some time before they are fit for the field. Thus, the available force of the French army, at the present time, does not exceed 241 battalions. Of these, 25 at least are required for Algeria. Four are at Rome. Nine divisions of infantry, or at least 80 battalions, have been sent to the Crimea, to Constantinople and to Athens. Altogether, say 110 battalions engaged, or very nearly one half of the available infantry of France, upon the peace establishment; minus the dépôts. Now, the arrangements in the French army, the dépôt-battalions organized beforehand, the calling in of the soldiers dismissed on furlough during their last year of service, the faculty of calling out the full number of every year's conscription, beside extraordinary recruitings, and finally the aptitude of the French for military duty, allow the Government to double the number of their infantry in about a twelvemonth. Considering the quiet but uninterrupted armaments made since the middle of 1853, the establishment of ten or twelve battalions of Imperial Guards, and the strength in which the French troops mustered in their respective camps last autumn, it may be supposed that their force of infantry at home is now fully as strong as it was before the nine divisions left the country, and that, as regards the capability of forming third field battalions out of the dépôt-battalions, without much impairing their efficiency as depots, it is even stronger. If we estimate, however, at 350,000 men, the infantry force which France will have on her own territory by the end of March, we shall be rather above than below the mark. With cavalry, artillery, &c., such an infantry force would, according to the French organization, represent an army of about 500,000 men. Of these, at least 200,000 would have to remain at home, as cadres for the dépôts, for the maintenance of tranquillity in the interior, in the military workshops, or hospitals. So that by the 1st of April, France might take the field with 300,000 men, comprising about 200 battalions of infantry. But these 200 battalions would, neither in organization nor in discipline and steadiness under fire, be upon a par with the troops sent to the Crimea. They would contain many young recruits, and many battalions composed for the occasion. All corps where officers and men are strangers to each other, where a hasty organization upon the prescribed plan has but just been completed in time before they march out, are vastly inferior to those old established bodies in which the habit of long service, of dangers shared together, and of daily intercourse for years, has established that esprit de corps which absorbs very soon, by its powerful influence, even the youngest recruits. It must, then, be admitted that the eighty battalions sent to the Crimea represent a far more important portion of the French army than their mere number indicates. If England has engaged, almost to a man, the best part of her army, France, too, has sent to the East nearly one-half of her finest troops.

We need not here go into a recapitulation of the Russian forces, having very recently stated their numbers and distribution[e]. Suffice it to say that of the Russian active army, or that destined to act upon the western frontier of the Empire, only the third, fourth, fifth and sixth corps have as yet been engaged during the war. The Guards and Grenadiers corps are quite intact, as is the first corps also; the second corps appears to have detached about one division to the Crimea. Beside these troops, eight corps of reserve, equal in number of battalions, if not in numerical strength, to the eight corps of the active army, have been, or are still being formed. Thus, Russia brings up against the West a force of about 750 battalions, 250 of which, however, may be still forming, and will always be weak in numbers, while 200 more have suffered great losses during two campaigns. The Reserve, as far as the fifth and sixth battalions of the regiments are concerned, must principally consist of old soldiers, if the original plan of organization has been followed up; but the 7th and 8th battalions must have been formed of recruits, and be very inefficient, as the Russian, in spite of his docility, is very slow to learn military duties. The whole reserve, besides, is badly officered. Russia, therefore, has engaged at the present time about one-half of her regularly organized active army. But then, the Guards, Grenadiers, first and second corps, forming the other half, which has not yet been engaged, are the very flower of her army, the pet troops of the Emperor, the efficiency of which he watches over with especial care. And, moreover, by engaging one-half of her active army, what has Russia obtained?[f] She has almost annihilated the offensive and defensive strength of Turkey; she has forced England to sacrifice an army of 50,000 men, and has disabled her for at least a twelvemonth; and she has, besides, forced France to engage a similar proportion of troops to those she herself engaged. And while the best African regiments of France are already before the enemy, Russia's own elite has not yet fired a shot.

So far, then, Russia has had the best of it, although her troops employed in Europe cannot boast of a single success, but have had, on the contrary, to give way in every action of moment, and to abandon every one of their enterprises. But the matter will change entirely as soon as Austria joins in the war. She has an army of some 500,000 men ready for the field, beside 100,000 more in the dépôts, and 120,000 more in reserve; an army, which, by very little extraordinary recruiting, may be brought to some 850,000 men. But we will take its number at 600,000, inclusive of dépôts, and omitting the reserve, which has not yet been called in. Of these 600,000 men, 100,000 are in the dépôts, about 70,000 more in Italy and other portions of the interior not menaced by Russia. The remaining 430,000[g] are assembled in several armies, from Bohemia through Galicia to the Lower Danube, and 150,000 men could be in a very short time concentrated upon any given point. This formidable army at once turns the balance against Russia, so soon as Austria begins to act against her; for since the whole of the late Russian army of the- Danube has been drafted into the Crimea, the Austrians are superior to the Russians on every point, and can bring their reserves to the frontier quite as soon, in spite of the start the Russians have now got. There is only this to notice: that the Austrian reserve is far more limited in its number than that of the Russians, and that the 120,000 reserve soldiers once called in, all further increase must arise from fresh recruiting, and, therefore, be very slow. The longer, therefore, the Austrians hold back a declaration of war, the more advantage they give to Russia. To make up for this, we are told, a French auxiliary army is to march into Austria. But the road from Dijon or Lyons to Cracow is rather long, and unless matters are well arranged, the French army may arrive too late, unless the intrinsic value of the reorganized Austrian army should render it a match for even a moderately superior number of Russians.[h]

Austria, then, is the arbiter of the situation. Ever since she took up a military position on her Eastern frontiers, she has maintained her superiority over the Russians. If well-timed arrivals of Russian reserves should for a moment deprive her of it, she may trust to her experienced generals—the only ones, save a very few Hungarians, who of late years have shown military genius—and to her well-organized troops, most of whom have been under fire. A few skilful maneuvers, a very slight step backward, would force her opponent to such detachments as to assure her a fair field. Militarily speaking, Russia is thrown completely on the defensive the very moment Austria moves her armies.[i]

Another point must be mentioned. If France raises her domestic army to 500,000 men, and Austria increases her total forces to 800,000, either of these countries is capable of calling, within a twelvemonth, at least 250,000 men more under arms[j]. On the other hand, the Czar, if ever he completes the seventh and eighth battalions of his infantry regiments, thereby raising his total active force to say 900,000 men, has done almost everything in his power for defense. His late recruiting is said to have everywhere met with considerable difficulties; the standard of hight has had to be lowered, and other means resorted to, to get the requisite number of men. The decree of the Emperor, calling the whole of the male population of Southern Russia[36] under arms, far from being an actual increase of the army, is a plain confession of the impossibility of further regular recruiting. This means was resorted to on the French invasion of 1812, when the country was actually invaded; and then in seventeen provinces only. Moscow then furnished 80,000 volunteers, or one tenth of the population of the province; Smolensk sent 25,000 men, and so forth. But, during the war they were nowhere; and these hundreds of thousands of volunteers did not prevent the Russians from arriving on the Vistula in as bad a state, and in as total a dissolution as the French themselves[k]. This new levy en masse means, besides, that Nicholas is resolved on war to the utmost.

But if Austria's participation in the war, throws Russia, militarily speaking, on the defensive, this is not necessarily the case, politically speaking. The Czar's great political means of offense—we have called attention to it more than once—is the raising of the Austrian and Turkish Slavons and the proclamation of Hungarian independence. How greatly these measures are dreaded by Austrian statesmen is known to our readers. No doubt, in case of necessity, the Czar will resort to this means; with what result, remains to be seen. We have not spoken of Prussia—she is likely to go, finally, with the West against Russia, though perhaps only after some storms which nobody can foresee. At all events, until some national movement takes place, her troops are not likely to play a very important part, and, therefore, we may for the present take very little account of her.

Written about February 20, 1855 Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4332, March 8, 1855
Re-printed in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1022, March 13, 1855;
an abridged German version was first published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 93, February 24, 1855
Marked with the sign x


[a] See this volume, p. 3.—Ed.

[b] The text of this paragraph was used by Marx in his report "Parliamentary and Military Affairs" (see this volume, pp. 41-42).—Ed.

[c] Here the New-York Daily Tribune has a misprint: 46. The correct figure is given in the German version of this article published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung of April 23, 1855.—Ed.

[d] Here begins the text that was reproduced by Marx, with abridgements and alterations, in his report "Condition of the Armies" in the Neue Oder-Zeitung of February 24, 1855. The passage beginning with the words "France, with her larger army..." is preceded by the following paragraph: "We have seen that in the next twelve months England can put up against the enemy no more than 50,000 of her own troops, a fighting force which despite its numerical weakness is not to be despised given good leadership and sound administration. One need only recall the battle of Inkerman."[see note 35↓]—Ed.

[e] See Engels' article "The European War" (present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 609-14).—Ed.

[f] Instead of this sentence the German version published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "Only the effect of diplomacy on the Western Powers' conduct of the war explains the results already achieved by Russia.—Ed.

[g] Here the New-York Daily Tribune has a misprint: 330,000. The correct figure is given in the German version published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[h] Instead of the passage beginning with the words "and unless matters are well arranged" and ending with the words "a moderately superior number of Russians", the version published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "The longer the diplomats procrastinate the less the likelihood that it will arrive on time.—Ed.

[i] The Neue Oder-Zeitung further has: "Even a short-lived successful offensive could not alter this result.—Ed.

[j] The Neue Oder-Zeitung further has: "while England's contingent would continually grow from the second year onwards."—Ed.

[k] Here ends the text reproduced by Marx in his report "Condition of the Armies" in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[33] This article was written by Engels for the New-York Daily Tribune. The section relating to the British army was included by Marx, in free translation and with a number of alterations, in his report "Parliamentary and Military Affairs" (February 20, 1855) written for the Neue Oder-Zeitung (see this volume, pp. 40-42; the corresponding passage is indicated in Engels' article by a footnote). Both Marx and Engels are therefore given as the authors of this report in the present edition. A considerable part of Engels' article was reproduced by Marx, with cuts and minor alterations, in another report for the Neue Oder-Zeitung entitled "Zustand der Armeen" ("The State of the Armies"), dated by him February 21 and published on February 24, 1855. As it entirely consists of material taken from the article "The War That Looms on Europe", this report has not been included in the present edition. The most significant alterations made by Marx have been indicated in footnotes.

[34] A reference to the talks between the British, French and Russian Ambassadors and Austrian Foreign Minister Buol sponsored by Emperor Francis Joseph, which opened in December 1854. Their official purpose was to work out a basis for peace negotiations between the belligerents in the Crimean War. They were a sequel to an earlier round of talks between diplomats of the Western Powers, the Prussian Ambassador and the Austrian Minister (the Russian Ambassador refused to participate) held in Vienna in 1853-54 by way of mediation in the Russo-Turkish conflict. The second round failed to resolve the differences between the belligerents in the Crimean War. In mid-March 1855 representatives of Austria, Britain, France, Turkey and Russia met at a higher level at the Vienna Conference (Britain was represented by Special Envoy Lord John Russell, France by Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuys). That conference also produced no results (see Note 88↓).

[35] In the battle of Inkerman in the Crimea (November 5, 1854) the Anglo-French forces defeated the Russian army, but the Russians' vigorous action compelled the enemy to refrain from storming Sevastopol and instead lay siege to the city. Engels described the battle in detail in his article "The Battle of Inkerman" (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 528-35).

[36] On January 29, 1855, Nicholas I issued a manifesto calling for the formation of a people's militia. It was to be recruited in 18 gubernias of Central Russia (not Southern Russia, as the article says) after the regular levy.

[88] The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points (see Note 43). While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.32-39), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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