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A Critique of the Events in The Crimea[188]

Frederick Engels

London, June 8. The arrival of three French reserve divisions in addition to the two Sardinian divisions makes it impossible for the allies to remain spellbound within the narrow confines of the Heracleatic Chersonese. So, on May 25, shortly after General Pélissier assumed command, they sent 20,000-25,000 men to the Chernaya, occupied the line of this river and expelled the Russian outposts from their positions on the heights overhanging the river's right bank. It will be remembered that more than a month ago we pointed out[a] that this, the Russians' advanced line of defence, was not their true battlefield and that consequently, instead of holding their ground and accepting battle along this line, they would probably give it up at the first serious assault so as to concentrate all their forces on the strong line between Inkerman and the range of hills to the east of that place. This has now happened. By this advance the allies have nearly doubled the extent of the area occupied by them, and opened a gateway to the fertile valley of Baidar, which may become very useful in the future. Up to now, however, the advantage gained has not been swiftly and vigorously followed up. The first movement was immediately followed again by stagnation. Lack of transport facilities may have made this inevitable. Disunity between the allied commanders is cited as one cause. The shelling of Sevastopol, resumed on June 6, shelling No. 3, arouses the suspicion that it may be intended to return after an interlude to the old routine. The shelling may, however, be combined with operations in the field. At any rate, one necessary measure (cf. No. 241 of the N.O-Z.)[b] has at last been taken the transportation of some 20,000 Turks under the personal command of Omer Pasha from Eupatoria to Chersonese. The allied army has thus increased to a full 200,000 men. With a fighting force of this size active operations can certainly be begun as soon as the organisation of supplies and transport facilities permits the army to take the field. But here there seem to be great difficulties to be overcome.

The second affair to be mentioned in the story of the main army is the battle between the Quarantine Harbour and the Central Bastion (No. 5 of the Russians). It was stubborn and bloody. As we can now see from General Pélissier's report, the Russians held all the ground from the head of the Quarantine Harbour to the churchyard, and from there to the Central Bastion by means of detached earthworks and trenches, although even the official British Admiralty map of the siege-works indulges in the fantasy of placing French fortifications over the whole of this important area. As soon as the Flagstaff and Central bastions were seriously threatened, and the outer works protecting them were taken by the French, the Russians turned this extensive stretch into one great fortification. In a few nights long lines were connected with one another, ramparts thrown up intended to enclose the whole area and form a spacious place d'armes, i.e. a - fortified place where the troops could be gathered in safety in order to act against the flanks of any French attack or to undertake strong assaults on the flanks of the advanced French fortifications. To deprive the Russians of the time to carry out their plan, Pélissier decided to fall on them immediately, while their earthworks were still incomplete. On the evening of May 22 an attack was made in two columns. The left column established itself in the Russian trenches at the head of the Quarantine Harbour and managed to dig itself in; the right column also captured the advance trenches but was forced to retire again at daybreak by the heavy fire of the enemy. On the following evening the attempt was renewed with stronger columns and complete success. The entire fortification was captured and turned against the Russians by removing the gabions from one side of the trench to the opposite side. In this action the French seem to have fought again with the famous furia francese, although it has to be admitted that the manner in which Pélissier describes the difficulties to be overcome is not free from a tinge of boasting.

It is generally known that the expedition to the Sea of Azov was rewarded with total success. A flotilla consisting chiefly of the light warships of the two fleets, manned by 15,000 British, French and Turks, seized Kerch, Yenikale and the straits leading to the Sea of Azov without encountering resistance. Advancing into this lake, the ships appeared off Berdyansk, Genichesk and Arabat, destroying or compelling the Russians to destroy large supplies of corn and munitions, a number of steamships and nearly 200 transport boats. At Kerch they succeeded in capturing Gorchakov's letters to the commander of the place. The Russian commander-inchief complains about the lack of provisions in Sevastopol and urges the rapid despatch of fresh supplies. Now it turns out that throughout the campaign the Sea of Azov was the main channel along which the Russians in the Crimea had been receiving their supplies and that 500 sailing-boats had been used to transport them. As the allies have up to now only found and destroyed 200 such boats, the remaining 300 must be further up near Taganrog or Azov. A squadron of steamships has therefore been sent out in search of them. The success of the allies is all the more important as it forces the Russians to send all supplies along a slow and less safe land-route via Perekop or via the interior of the Sivash Sea[c] and to set up their main depots at Kherson or Berislav on the Dnieper, in positions far more exposed than those at the head of the Sea of Azov. The almost uncontested success of this expedition is the greatest reproach to the allies' conduct of the war. If such results can now be achieved in four days, why was the expedition not sent out in September or October last year, at a time when similar breaches in the Russians' line of communication might have entailed the retreat of their army and the surrender of Sevastopol?

The land forces accompanying this expedition are intended to protect the steamers if necessary, to supply the captured places with garrisons and to go into action against the Russian communications. Their main corps seems intended to act in the field as a simple flying corps, making sorties whenever there is a chance of dealing a swift blow, retiring behind its fortifications under cover of the ships' guns, and, if the worst comes to the worst, embarking again when threatened by a greatly superior enemy force. If this is its purpose it can perform important duties, and 15,000 are not too many for this. If on the other hand it is intended to act as an independent corps with its own base of operations, undertaking a serious flanking movement against the Russians and attempting to pose a serious threat to the interior of the Crimea, then 15,000 men, weakened by detachments, are far too few for such an operation and run a considerable risk of being cut off, surrounded by superior forces and annihilated. At present we only know that they have landed at Kerch and are engaged in preparing it for defence against the interior. The Russians having voluntarily evacuated Sudjouk Kale, Anapa remains the only fortress in their hands on the Circassian coast. It is a natural stronghold that is now moreover well fortified. We doubt that the allies will attack it at the moment. Should they do so they will be making a big mistake, if not positive of rapid success. They would be dispersing troops that need the utmost concentration and wasting their energies by attacking new targets before the old ones are secured.

Written about June 8, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 265, June 11, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] See this volume, pp. 184-85.—Ed.

[b] Ibid., p. 212.—Ed.

[c] Most western part of the Sea of Azov.— Ed.

[188] This article is, in part, a German version of Engels' report "From the Crimea" written for the New-York Daily Tribune (see this volume, pp. 249-52). The translation and editing were done by Marx. The description of the Allies' expedition to the Sea of Azov, their landing of May 25, 1855, and the capture of Kerch and Yenikale may have been taken from the same report, the relevant passage of which might have been left out by the Tribune editors because reports on this expedition had been published in the paper earlier (see the leading articles "From the Crimea" and "The Crimean War" in the New-York Daily Tribune, Nos. 4415 and 4422, June 14 and 21, 1855).

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.253-256), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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