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The Great Crimean Blunder[246]

Frederick Engels

If "time is money" in trade, time is victory in war. To let the favorable moment slip away, to miss the opportunity when your own superior strength should be brought to bear upon your opponent, is as great a fault as can be committed before an enemy. The fault is doubled if you commit it when acting on the offensive; for while merely defending a position the consequences of your neglect may be remedied, but when you are in an enemy's country, on an errand of invasion, then such inattention may involve the ruin of your army. All this is very trite, and there is not a lieutenant or cornet in the world but would treat it as a matter of course. Yet there is no rule of strategy or tactics sinned against oftener than this; and it would appear as if Gen. Pélissier, the impetuous man of action, the "Marshal Forward"[247] of the Crimean army, were the very man doomed to exemplify in his own person this common neglect of commonplace things.

The road into Sevastopol leads round by Inkermann to the north side of the fortress, as we have said over and over again[a]. It is not to be supposed that Pélissier and his staff do not know this as well as we do. But to go to the north side the allied army must take the field with its main strength and defeat the Russians, afterward investing the north side, and detaching a corps to keep the Russian field-army at a distance. The moment to do this was when the Sardinian corps had arrived, and the Turks, under Omer Pasha, were at Kamiesh. At that time the Allies must have been considerably stronger than the Russians. But nothing of the sort was done. The expedition to Kertch and the Sea of Azoff was undertaken, and assault after assault was attempted. The field operations were confined to reconnaissances and to an extension of the camping ground to the entrance of Baidar Valley. Now, at last, we learn what is the professed reason for this inactivity: the means of transport are not forthcoming, and after fifteen months campaigning the Allies are as much tied to the sea, to Kamiesh and Balaklava harbors, as ever!

This is really intolerable. The Crimea is not a desert island somewhere about the North Pole. It is a country the resources of which may certainly be exhausted as to food, but which is still able to furnish plenty of provender, draught animals, carts and beasts of burden, to anybody who has the boldness to take them. Cautious and slow movements, forward and backward within a few miles of the Chernaya, are of course not the means to get hold of these useful articles; but even if we leave the camels, ponies and arbas of the Crimea entirely out of the question, there is plenty of means of transport to be had on the Asiatic and European shores of the Black Sea, within two days' steaming from Balaklava. Why are they not impressed into the allied service? We say impressed, for impressment, commonly called requisition, is the proper way to make them available. To employ Spanish muleteers and Bulgarian laborers at a high price will never do; and in a country like Turkey even less than anywhere else. A regiment of cavalry scouring the shores of Anatolia would very soon bring hundreds of conveyances and thousands of animals together, along with the forage required. The war is prosecuted on behalf of the Turks, and to furnish means of transport is the least that can be expected of them. In every continental war the country in which armies operate is expected to do the same. To be more delicate with Turks is doubly absurd; if the Turks have not to work for their Allies, they will have to work for their Pashas, who will treat them much worse. They may not like it, but neither do they like to toil for their Pashas; and if they will not yield to discipline and order, a little application of martial law will soon break them in, as the Pashas always keep them under a similar sort of law. It is perfectly ridiculous that, with such resources within reach, the allied Generals should still complain of inability to move for want of transports.

The Russians, indeed, have given them lessons enough how they should act. The 3d, 4th, and 5th army-corps, beside several divisions of the reserves, were transported into the Crimea at a time when the Allies could not bring up food from Balaklava to the trenches. The troops were partly carried across the steppes in wagons, and they always had plenty of food. And yet the country within a semicircle of 200 miles around Perekop is but very thinly inhabited. But the resources of the more distant provinces were put under contribution; and surely, to bring the wagons of Ekaterinoslav, Poltava and Charkoff, to assist the Russians in the Crimea, is more difficult than to get the conveyances of Anatolia and Roumelia to work there for the Allies.

Nevertheless, under the pretext of want of transports, the opportunity to conquer the Crimea as far as Sympheropol has been allowed to slip by. Now the situation is different. The Russians have formed a reserve army for the Crimea between Odessa and Cherson. What this army consists of we can judge by the simple fact that from the Western army the whole of the second army-corps and two divisions of grenadiers have been detached toward the formation of this new force. The advanced guard of this reenforcement must already have passed Cherson. These troops consist in all of five divisions or eighty-two battalions of infantry; one division or thirty-two squadrons of cavalry; and from fifty to eighty guns. To these we must add a number of reserves, and also a division at least of the reserve cavalry; and as the above eighty-eight battalions belong to the troops which have been chiefly under the eye of the Emperor[b], they must have their full war numbers. Allowing, therefore, for the loss on the march, the whole force assembled between Odessa and Perekop, and intended for the Crimea, may safely be estimated at something like 70,000 to 80,000 men. The heads of their columns must be past Cherson, perhaps past Perekop, by this time; and before July is out they will begin to tell upon the Allies.

Now, what have the Allies to oppose to these reenforcements? Their ranks are again thinned by cholera and fever, no less than by the slaughter of the different assaults. The British reenforcements are slow in arriving, and very few regiments indeed are being sent off. The French Government state that they do not intend to send out fresh divisions, but merely detachments from the depots to fill up the gaps made in the ranks of the various regiments at the seat of war. If these reenforcements arrive in time they will hardly suffice to bring up the allied army to the strength it had in the beginning of June; that is to say, 210,000 men at the outside, including Turks and Sardinians. The probability is it will never exceed 180,000 men at any time; to which force the Russians, by the beginning of August, will be able to oppose at least 200,000 men in good positions, in command of the country at their rear, and in possession of the south side of Sevastopol as a bridgehead.

Then the chances are that the Allies will be driven back upon the plateau behind the Chernaya, unable to move forward or backward, and with an army now so numerous that it must change this narrow piece of ground into one hotbed of disease. And then Pélissier will repent his want of energy and resolution as regards the advance into the field, and his excess of energy as regards the storming of the place. Still, there is yet time for a move in the field. The best moment has passed, but for all that, a bold advance might secure even now a wider range of ground to the Allies. But it does not look as if they were going to avail themselves of this chance.

It must, however, be stated, in fairness to Pélissier, that public opinion in Paris, and in Europe generally, lays the principal fault at the door of Louis Bonaparte. That unfortunate would-be general is said to meddle in everything. The matter is not quite clear yet, but in a short time the nature of the interference of this ambitious adventurer in the Crimean military operations must be cleared up, and we shall then know where the blame of these enormous blunders is to be placed.

Written about July 14, 1855
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4452, July 27, 1855,
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1061, July 27, 1855
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 725, August 4, 1855 as a leading article;
an abridged German version was included in the report by Marx and Engels
published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 327, July 17, 1855, marked with the sign x
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune.


[a] See this volume, pp. 203, 318.—Ed.

[b] Alexander II.—Ed.

[246] The text of this article was reproduced by Marx in an abridged and altered German version (dated July 14) which was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung on July 17 under the heading "Russell's Resignation.—The Events in the Crimea". In the present edition the Neue Oder-Zeitung version is given as a joint article by Marx and Engels (see this volume, pp. 348-51).

[247] The nickname of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, the Prussian field marshal, who advocated active offensive tactics during the 1813 campaign against Napoleon. For more on this see the article "Blücher" by Marx and Engels in Volume 18 of the present edition.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.344-347), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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