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The Situation in The Crimea[116]

Frederick Engels

London, March 30. The reports on the progress of the peace negotiations fluctuate wildly from one day to the next. Today peace is certain, tomorrow war. Palmerston's article in the Post bristles with swords and cannon—evidence that he would like to make peace as soon as possible[a]. Napoleon orders his press to write hymns of peace—the surest proof that he intends to continue the war. The course of events in the Crimea by no means indicates that the fall of Sevastopol is imminent. Omer Pasha is now in fact firmly trapped at Eupatoria, on the land-side. The superiority of their cavalry allows the Russians to station their pickets and mounted sentinels quite close to the town, to despatch patrols into the surrounding territory to cut off supplies and, in the event of a serious attack, to fall back on the infantry stationed further off. As we assumed earlier[b], they are succeeding in keeping a superior Turkish force in check with a quarter or a third of their number. The attack made by the Turkish cavalry under Iskander Bey (the Pole Iliński, who earned himself such a glorious reputation at Kalafat[117]) was repulsed by a simultaneous charge by three Russian detachments which attacked from three different points. Like all cavalry which is badly trained and lacking in confidence the Turks, instead of charging headlong at the Russians with sabres drawn, halted at a respectful distance and began firing their carbines. This clear sign of indecision drove the Russians onto the offensive. Iskander Bey attempted an attack with one squadron but was left in the lurch by everybody except the bashi-bazouks[118] and had to force his retreat right through the ranks of the Russians. Omer Pasha awaits the arrival of cavalry reinforcements and has been in the meantime to the Anglo-French camp to inform the allies that for the moment he can do nothing, and that reinforcements of some 10,000 French troops would be very desirable. No doubt, but it is no less desirable for Canrobert himself, who has already discovered that he has at one and the same time too many and too few troops at his disposal. Too many to besiege Sevastopol in the old way and to defend the Chernaya; not enough to sally forth from the Chernaya, to drive the Russians into the interior and surround the northern fortress[c]. Detaching 10,000 men to Eupatoria would not enable the Turks to enter the battle successfully, but would weaken the French army for operations in open country. The siege is daily becoming a more critical affair for the besiegers.

We have seen that, on February 24 the Russians held the redoubt on the Sapun hill (in front of the Malakhov fortifications)[d]. They have now extended and strengthened this redoubt, mounted cannon on it, and have made counter-approaches from it. Similarly a series of new redoubts have been constructed in front of the Kornilov bastion, 300 yards beyond the old Russian fortifications. The reader of The Times must find this inexplicable, for according to that newspaper the allies had long since thrown up their own trenches at less than that distance from the Russian lines. Now at last, e. g. in his letter of March 16, the Times correspondent[e] admits that even at the time of his latest reports the British trenches were still 600-800 yards away, and that the batteries on the point of firing on the enemy are the same ones that opened fire on October 17 last year[f]. This t hen is the great progress, made in the siege, these are the advances made with the building of trenches, which cost two-thirds of the English army their lives or their health. Under these circumstances there was sufficient space between the two lines of batteries to construct the new Russian fortifications. This can be regarded as the opening-up of a new parallel against the besiegers at a distance of 300-400 yards from their fortifications, as a counter-approach on the largest scale against the besieging army. Thus the besiegers are forced onto the .defensive, whereas the first and most essential condition for a siege is that the besiegers should force the besieged onto the defensive.

Just as in the camp at Sevastopol people in England are now beginning to discover that there is no likelihood of taking Sevastopol by storm. In this awkward situation The Times has sought the aid of a "high military authority" and learned that it is necessary to take the offensive, either by crossing the Chernaya and effecting a link-up with the Turks under Omer Pasha, whether it be before or after a battle with the Russian observation army, or by means of a diversion towards Kaffa which would force the Russians to split up. As the allied army now numbers 110,000-120,000 men movements of this kind must be within its capabilities. Thus says The Times.[g]

Now no one knows better than Raglan and Canrobert that a link-up with Omer Pasha's army is highly desirable, but unfortunately the allies do [not] as yet have 110,000-120,000 men at their disposal on the heights above Sevastopol, but at the outside 80,000-90,000 men fit for service. As for an expedition to Kaffa the Russians could not wish for anything better: the allied troops dispersed in three different locations, 60-150 miles from the central point, whilst not being strong enough at either of the two positions they are holding to carry out the task before them! It would appear that The Times has taken its advice from "Russian" military experts.

Since at least some of the men of the 11th and 12th French divisions are on their way and the rest as well as the 13th and 14th divisions and the two Piedmontese divisions are about to follow, the allied army will by the end of May be brought up to a strength which will both enable it and force it to advance from its defensive position on the Chernaya. The troops will be concentrated at Constantinople and probably shipped together, so that they will have to spend as little time as possible on the ill-starred Chersonese. This measure will cause some delay but will bring great advantages. The reinforcements, which up to now were sent to the Crimea in small detachments—although when taken together they form a whole army—never strengthened the expeditionary forces sufficiently to enable them to launch offensive operations.

Written on March 30, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 155, April 2, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the news paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW


[a] "The discussion upon the Third Point...", The Morning Post, No. 25348, March 30, 1855.—Ed.

[b] A reference to the German version of Engels' article "The Results in the Crimea" (see the English version in this volume, pp. 81-85).—Ed.

[c] In the Neue Oder-Zeitung: the "town side".—Ed.

[d] A reference to the German version of Engels' article "A Battle at Sevastopol" (see the English version in this volume, pp. 113-17).—Ed.

[e] W. H. Russell.—Ed.

[f] The Times, No. 22014, March 29, 1855.—Ed.

[g] "The last accounts from the Crimea...", The Times, No. 22012, March 27, 1855.—Ed.

[116] This is an altered German version of Engels' article "Progress of the War". The text was translated and edited by Marx.

[117] This would seem to refer to the fighting between the Turkish and Russian forces that took place at Kalafat, in the Danubian theatre of war, in mid-January 1854.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.136-138), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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