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Napier's Letter

Karl Marx

London, August 24. Today's newspapers have published a letter from Sir Charles Napier, in which our view of the Sweaborg affair[a] is substantially confirmed. We give the following excerpt from it.

"It will be seen by what I have written and by Admiral Dundas's despatch[b], had my plan been followed up to the letter, Sweaborg would have been annihilated. It appears that the allies had only 43 gun and mortar boats, and many mortars have been disabled; they ought at least to have had 100—Sir James Graham in a letter to me" (1854) "said 200. Had that number been there the bombardment would have been continued by means of reliefs, as men are relieved in the trenches. The mortars would have had time to cool, and the bombardment continued till not one stone was left on another, and an opening made for the ships to go in and finish the work. Instead of that, the Admiralty do not seem to have foreseen that mortars could not stand for ever, though they must have had reports from Sebastopol; and thus an operation which appears to have been managed with great judgment has only met with partial success, for Admiral Dundas, in his report, admits the sea defences were little injured. [...] Had Admiral Dundas's means been greater he might have continued the bombardment as long as the weather remained fine, and the fleets, instead of returning to Nargen, might have been at anchor in Sweaborg.

"The first year there might have been some excuse for the Admiralty not having means, but none the second. [...] Instead of building gun and mortar boats they built a parcel of iron floating batteries which could hardly swim and, if they could, they would have been useless, for, had they been placed within 400 yards of Sweaborg they would have been annihilated, and at 400 yards[c] they would have done no harm.

"The first experiment on iron cost the country a million, and where are they? The second experiment not much less than half a million, and they have not yet left our ports, and probably never will. This is because incapable men are at the head. The Ministers have been driven to reform the War Department—when will they think of reforming the Admiralty? Till they do the people's money will be thrown away. The Admiralty do not seem to have contemplated the effect of a bombardment, though I told them upwards of a year ago what would happen and if they had read history they would have known that Martinique was taken by mortars; there were not casemates for all the garrison, nor were there at Sweaborg. Admiral Dundas says it formed no part of his plan to attempt a general attack by the ships on the defences, and his operations were confined to such destruction of the fortress and arsenals as could be accomplished by mortars.

"Had Admiral Dundas been furnished with sufficient means he would have contemplated an attack on the defences, and assembled the. whole of his fleet, ready to take advantage of the terror and confusion occasioned by the gun and mortar boats. The heat of the conflagration alone would have kept the garrison from the guns, and the fleet would have been in Sweaborg, and the whole of the fortifications, islands, and all blown to the Devil; instead of that, the wooden buildings and magazines are destroyed, and the work will have to be begun again next year."

Napier concludes his letter thus:

"Sir James Graham was one of the Ministers who sent a British army to Sebastopol in the middle of last September, without means of moving, without food, proper tents, or clothing, and without hospitals, to pass a dreary winter and perish; and he was the Minister who wanted me to take a British fleet, in the end of October, to perish among the rocks of Sweaborg, and, to their shame, got two naval officers to put their names to the insulting letter he wrote me; and these men still remain in the Admiralty, and that is the way the navy of this country is managed. The two summers in the Baltic will be a lesson to them. They are in possession of my plans of attacking Kronstadt, and I dare say are in possession of Admiral Dundas's; and Sir James Graham and his two coadjutors had better go next summer and carry them into execution."

Written on August 24, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung. No. 397, August 27, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] See this volume, pp. 485-87. Napier's letter was published in The Times, No. 22141, August 24, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Published in The Times, No. 22138, August 21, 1855.—Ed.

[c] In The Times: "at 800 yards".—Ed.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.493-494), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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