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The Attack on The Russian Forts[258]

Frederick Engels

At last it seems that the allied French and English are to make a genuine attack on Russia. The outmost fortifications of the Empire, on the Aland Isles and at Sevastopol in the Black Sea, are successively, if not simultaneously, to be assailed. Indeed, it is rumored in Western Europe that the former point has already been taken after a brief bombardment, but the report wants confirmation, and is probably premature. As for the attempt upon Sevastopol, we have no official information that it is to be made, but it is positively asserted by The London Times[a] and generally believed in that city. So far only a couple of divisions of French and English troops have been embarked at Varna, and though it is supposed they form part of the expedition to the Crimea, it is possible, on the other hand, that they are destined to besiege the Russian fortress of Anapa in Asia. On this point all doubt will probably be removed by the arrival of the next steamer.[259]

The attack upon Bomarsund will be an event of great military interest. It will be the first time that Montalembert's casemated town-fortifications are put to the proof. To judge from views and plans of the place, the forts there, although on a far smaller scale than those of Helsingfors, Kronstadt, or Sevastopol, are defended against a land attack as much as against a bombardment by ships, and are exclusively constructed upon Montalembert's principles. A long bomb-proof fort, with about one hundred guns flanked by temporary earth works, forms the main defense against ships, while it is commanded and protected in the rear by large towers, mounting one thirty, and one ten guns. While the main fort would chiefly engage the ships, the attack on the towers would occupy the land forces. According to our last accounts the garrison is very much weaker than we had supposed; it consists of but little more than three thousand men. It is not quite clear, from the information attainable, how far the sea-attack and the land-attack can, not merely coincide, but actually cooperate and support each other; for a sea-attack is necessarily an attack de vive force[b], which must be decided in a very short time, while any land-attack against masonry presupposes preparatory operations, with at least one parallel and batteries, and therefore is a matter of some duration. This kind of questions, however, can only be decided on the spot. At all events the taking of Bomarsund will have, in a military point of view, a far higher interest than even the capture of Sevastopol, inasmuch as it contributes to the solution of a much-discussed question, while the latter feat would merely be the successful carrying out of old-established military rules.

The proposed attack upon Sevastopol is to be mainly executed by land forces; while the action of the fleets must be almost entirely confined to the close blockade of the harbor. It thus amounts to a land and sea blockade of a sea-port incompletely fortified on the land side. We have no means of knowing what fortifications may have been raised by the Russians on the south of the town and bay; but that they have established redoubts and lines which may necessitate a regular siege, unless great sacrifices are submitted to, there can hardly be a question. At all events, we know that a permanent and to all appearance well-constructed fort—a large square with ample ditch-defenses on each of its sides, and mortar-batteries in each of its salient angles crowns the hill on the north of the bay, just opposite the town[c]. That hill is the only position near the town which appears not to be commanded within gun-range by other hights, and which itself commands the bay and its opposite slope. Here, then, at all events, will be the chief resistance; but it may be doubted if the possession of the town and harbor can be maintained, even if all the coast-forts on the southern shore are taken, unless this fort is reduced. There will be some regular siege work, there, at least. Now, the extent of the bay from Cape Constantine to its head is about eight miles; and allowing a moderate range to the town and forts, the allied forces would have to extend on a semi-circle of twenty-two or twenty-four miles around them, in order to insure the blockade on land. They must be strong enough on all points to resist the sallies of the garrison, and the attacks of any troops which might be collected in their rear. Although we have no means of knowing the forces which Russia can bring directly or indirectly to the defense of her Black Sea stronghold, yet these details show that no inconsiderable body of troops is required for its capture. There is, besides, a dangerous enemy to be encountered in the deadly climate of the Lower Crimea. As in this attack the strand-batteries can be hardly of any utility to the Russians, the attempt must lose a great deal of its military interest, reducing itself to a siege of very large, but by no means unprecedented, proportions. The force destined for the movement is nowhere stated at above 100,000 men, including a detachment of Turks. Taking all the circumstances into account, this army does not seem sufficient for the purpose.

Written on August 7, 1854
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4162, August 21;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 964, August 22
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 676, August 26, 1854 as a leader
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] The Times, No. 21814, August 8, 1854, leader.—Ed.

[b] By sheer strength.—Ed.

[c] The reference is to the fortification on the northern shore of the Big Bay.—Ed.

[258] This article by Engels was included by Marx, as is seen from his letter to Engels of August 8, 1854, in his own article: "Evacuation of the Danubian Principalities.—The Events in Spain.—A New Danish Constitution.—The Chartists" (see this volume, pp. 350-56). This composite article was entered in the Notebook as "Dienstag. 8. August. Sebastopol. Alandsinseln. Russian Retreat—Espartero Recit—Danish coup d'état—Jones Rede in Bacup". The Tribune editors cut up Engels' war review and published it as a leader. Marx's article was published in the same issue of the newspaper. The title of Engels' article, "The Attack on the Russian Forts", was presumably given by the Tribune editors.

[259] This sentence was added by the Tribune editors.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.347-349), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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