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Events at the Theatres of War

Karl Marx

London, August 22. The reports of Admirals Penaud and Dundas[a] confirm the assessment which we have made of the "glorious destruction of Sweaborg, the Gibraltar of the North" (Times terminology). Thus we read today in one of the London newspapers:

"The great bombardment of Sweaborg was such that one can only say that it has perhaps inflicted considerable damage on the enemy owing to the spread of fire. We do not, however, seem to have gained much by it. The success was neither brilliant nor substantial. As much remains undone in the Baltic as before."[b]

Of course The Times, needing fair weather and good tidings during the Queen's trip to France[346], having painted nothing but couleur de rose for the last few days and pretending to be suffering from a fit of optimism—The Times stubbornly insists on dreaming of the destruction of the "town" of Sweaborg.

As far as the Chernaya affair[347] is concerned, further reports, above all, are required for its proper evaluation. For everything depends on how far the battle was centred on the narrow passes of the Chernaya and to what extent the depth of the water made the river a real obstacle. If the battle took place in front of the French lines without such an obstacle then this would cast great discredit on the Russians. If, on the other hand, it was a case of forcing narrow passes which could not be circumvented, this would explain the large Russian losses, and both sides may have acquitted themselves honourably. But in any case it is not clear why the Russians failed to attempt a detour through the Baidar Valley. It is, however, certain that if the allies do not voluntarily move out, the Russians have now proved their inability to expel them from the plateau and the Chernaya line. And so the old dilemma has cropped up again.

The storming of Malakhov may be expected any day now. If it fails, the Allies are in a difficult position. If it succeeds, which is after all possible, though only with tremendous losses, this still does not mean that the south side is lost, unless evacuation should be necessary due to lack of provisions. But at any rate the Allies would have achieved the prospect of driving out the Russians before winter. The reports about the state of health of the English army in the Crimea are contradictory. According to one account every month 1,000 English soldiers in the trenches become unfit for duty. It is certain that out of a single regiment, the 10th Hussars, with a force of 676 men, 161 are sick. Dr. Sutherland, head of the health commission despatched to the Crimea by the government, writes in a letter to Lord Shaftesbury inter alia:

"Week ending July 7. Strength of the British army 41,593, total deaths 150, deaths from cholera 71, deaths from fever 17, deaths from diarrhoea 19, deaths from dysentery 2. Week ending July 14. Strength of the army 42,513, total deaths 123, deaths from cholera 55, deaths from fever 18, deaths from diarrhoea 10, deaths from dysentery 5. The deaths from wounds for these two weeks were 44 and 30, making a total of 74."[c]

The ratio of deaths due to disease to deaths due to injuries during the first two weeks of July is thus almost 4:1. Dr. Sutherland makes the following contrast between the Army's state of health last winter and this summer:

"The winter mortality was a far different thing from the summer mortality. Hardly any of the causes—namely, bad food, want of rest, overwork, want of clothing and shelter, and exposure to the elements, which caused scorbutis over the whole army—exist now. [...] All the cases then were scorbutic, and hence the awful mortality in the hospitals at Scutari; it was exactly like the Irish famine fever" (1847); "now we have [...] fever and cholera, the intensity of which in our camp has been, no doubt, most materially lessened by the great care bestowed on the men."

The besieged army's state of health is at present ,indisputably worse than that of the besiegers. Dr. Sutherland's letter can, however, by no means command full confidence since, as a recent incident has shown, criticism within the English camp is punished. Approximately six weeks ago The Times published an anonymous letter denouncing the unforgivable treatment of the wounded after the bloody carnage of June 18[d]. The War Office demanded the name of the correspondent from The Times. The demand was rejected, unless Mr. Frederick Peel expressly promised that the-correspondent would not suffer any reprisals because of his revelations. Peel would not accept this condition but denounced the refusal of The Times in Parliament. Mr. Bakewell (assistant surgeon[e]), the author of the letter in question, had in the meantime been sent on sick-leave to Scutari. This occurred in the middle of July. The authorities in the camp discovered somehow or other that he had written the letter. Behind his back, and during his absence, a court of inquiry was set up consisting of superior medical officials, for the most part personally compromised by Bakewell's letter. This court condemned him, without giving him the chance to defend himself or submit evidence to substantiate his charges. On August 3 his dismissal[f] was announced in the general ordre du jour of the army. One should gauge the credibility of the official or semi-official English reports on the state of health of the army, care of the injured, etc., with this incident in mind.

Written on August 22, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 395, August 25, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] The report of Penaud was published in Le Moniteur universel, No. 230, August 18, 1855, and that of Dundas in The Times, No. 22138, August 21, 1855.—Ed.

[b] In a report from Paris of August 15 published in The Times, No. 22135, August 17, 1855.—Ed.

[c] The letter was printed in The Times, No. 22139, August 22, 1855.—Ed.

[d] [R. H. Bakewell,] "The Wounded before Sebastopol. To the Editor of The Times", The Times, No. 22098, July 5, 1855.—Ed.

[e] Marx uses the English term.—Ed.

[f] The Times, No. 22139, August 22, 1855.—Ed.

[346] In August 1855 Queen Victoria visited France. According to the official British press, the visit was meant to strengthen the "Holy Alliance of England and France".

[347] On August 16, 1855 Russian troops attacked the French and Sardinians on the river Chernaya about twelve kilometres southeast of Sevastopol in an attempt to weaken the Allies' siege of the city. However, the Russians were repulsed and suffered heavy losses due to inadequate preparation of the attack and errors on the part of the Russian command. Engels analysed this important episode of the Crimean War in his article "The Battle of the Chernaya" (see this volume, pp. 504-12).

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.490-492), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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