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The War[148]

Frederick Engels

At last, then, we have to report an exploit of the "British Tar". The fleet of Admiral Napier has destroyed, after eight hours' bombardment, the fort of Gustaysvaern (which translated from the Swedish means "Gustav's defence, or stronghold," "Gustav's Wehr") and taken the garrison prisoners of war, to the number of 1,500. This is the first serious attack upon Imperial Russian property, and compared with the drowsy and torpid affair at Odessa, shows at least that Charles Napier is not going to sacrifice his own renown and that of his family if he can help it. The fort of Gustaysvaern is situated on the extremity of a peninsula, forming the south-west corner of Finland, close to the lighthouse of Hango-Udd, well known as a landmark to all skippers going up the Finnish Gulf. Its military importance is not very great; it defends a very small area either of land or water, and might have been left in the rear by the attacking fleet without any risk whatever. The fort itself cannot have been large, as is evident from the numbers of its garrison. But in the present blessed ignorance existing even in the British Admiralty and War Office as to the real strength and importance of the Baltic Coast defences of Russia, we may be excused if we delay any comments upon the tactical merits of the affair until fuller particulars have arrived. We can, for the present, only say this much: the eight hours' duration of the cannonade proves a brave, if not over-skilful defence on the part of the Russians, and forebodes a greater obstinacy than may have been expected, in the defence of the first class fortresses in that same gulf. On the other hand, the fifteen hundred prisoners of war are no appreciable loss at all to Russia (they make up about two average days' loss by sickness on the Danube), while they must prove a serious embarrassment to Napier. What in the world will he do with them? He cannot release them on parole; or without parole; and there is no place nearer to bring them to than England. For a safe transport of these 1,500 men he would require at least three ships of the line or twice that number of steam frigates. The very effects of his victory cripple him for a fortnight or three weeks. Lastly, as he has no landing troops, can he hold the ground he has conquered? I do not see how he could, without again crippling his thinly-manned fleets by a further weakening of each ship's contingent of sailors and marines. This circumstance brings us to a subject which is discussed with great vehemence in the British press, although far too late as usual.

The British press has, all at once, found out that a fleet, however powerful, is of very little avail unless it has troops on board, strong enough to go on shore and complete the victory which ships' guns, in the best case, can obtain only very incompletely against land defences. It appears there was not a man in the British official world directing the war, nor in the official world directing British public opinion who was ever struck by this idea up to the end of last month. Now, all available troops and means of transport are engaged for the Black Sea, and the whole land force under orders for the Baltic, of which not a man has been sent off, the very staff of which has not yet been organised, consists of one brigade of 2,500 men!

As to the French, they are woefully limping[a] behind. Their Baltic fleet you recollect the pompous report of secretary Ducos: "Your Majesty ordered the equipment of a third fleet; the orders of your Majesty are executed"[b]—this splendid armament which was to be ready for the sea by the middle of March to the tune of ten ships of the line, has never consisted of more than five ships of the line, which with frigates and small vessels, are at present creeping slowly along the mouth of the Great Belt, to reach which from Brest, it has taken them fully three weeks, westerly winds prevailing all the time. The grand Camp of Saint Omer[c], to contain 150,000, in case of need, 200,000 troops pretended for a Baltic expedition, has been formed, on paper, three or four weeks ago, and not a brigade is, as yet, concentrated. The French, however, might easily spare some 10,000 to 15,000 infantry and field artillery from their coast garrisons, without the fuss and pomp of a large theatrical camp demonstration, but where are the means of transport? British merchantmen would have to be chartered; they would, according to the rate of sailing of the French fleet, require from four to six weeks to arrive, one by one, on the scene of action; and where should the troops be landed, the brigade and division concentrated, the staff and commissariats organised? That is the vicious circle in which the allies move; in order to have a land-army in the Baltic, they must first conquer an island or peninsula where to concentrate and organise it for attack; and in order to conquer this desideratum, they must first have a landing force on the spot. There is no difficulty in getting out of this scrape, as soon as you have a good admiral who knows as much of land-warfare as is necessary to enable him to command a land-force; and there is no doubt Charles Napier is quite up to that, as he has fought a great deal on shore. But with an Aberdeen[d] reigning supreme, with four different ministries meddling with the fighting force, with the eternal antagonism of army and navy, and with French and English forces combined, and jealous of each other's glory and comforts, how can you expect anything like unity of action?

Then there cannot now he brought up any effective land-force to the Baltic before the end of June; and unless the war is decided and peace concluded in four months, the whole of the conquests made will have to be given up, troops, guns, ships, provisions, all will have to be withdrawn, or abandoned, and for seven winter months the Russians will be again in possession of all their Baltic territory. This shows clear enough that all serious and decisive attacks upon Baltic Russia are out of the question for the present year; it is too late. Only when Sweden joins the Western Powers, have they a base of operations in the Baltic which will admit of t heir carrying on a winter campaign in Finland. But here again we have a vicious circle, though vicious only, as the former one, to the pusillanimous. How can you expect the Swedes to join you, unless you show them by sending a land-force, and taking part of Finland, that you are in earnest? And, on the other side, how can you send that force thither without having made sure of Sweden as a base of operations?

Verily, Napoleon the Great, the "butcher" of so many millions of men, was a model of humanity in his bold, decisive, home-striking way of warfare, compared to the hesitating "statesman-like" directors of this Russian war, who cannot but eventually sacrifice human life and hard cash to a far greater amount if they go on as they do.

Turning to the Black Sea, we find the combined fleets before Sevastopol amusing themselves with a little harmless long-range exercise against some paltry outworks of that fortress. This innocent game, we are informed, has been carried on for four days by the majority of the ships, and during all this time the Russians, having only twelve ships of the line ready for sea, did not show their faces outside the harbour, to the great astonishment of Admiral Hamelin (vide his report, May 1-5)[e]. That heroic sailor is, however, old enough to recollect the time when French squadrons were not only blocked up, but even attacked in harbour by English squadrons of far inferior strength[149]; and certainly it is expecting a little too much, that the inferior Russian squadron should come out of Sevastopol to be shattered and sunk by twice their number of ships, and thus offer themselves up in expiation for the "hideous crime" of Sinope!

In the meantime, two ships of the line (screws) and seven steam-frigates are on their road to Circassia. They were to explore the coasts of the Crimea, and then to destroy the forts on the Circassian coast. But in this latter attack only three steam-frigates were to participate, the remaining four being instructed to return to the fleet as soon as the Crimea was duly reconnoitred. Now the three forts the Russians still occupy on the Circassian coast, viz: Anapa, Sukhum-Kaleh and Redut-Kaleh, are, as far as we know, of considerable strength, built upon heights which entirely command the offing (except Redut-Kaleh), and it may be doubted whether the force sent will be sufficient to effect their purposes, especially as it is not accompanied by landing troops. The squadron, which is commanded by Rear Admiral Lyons, is at the same time to communicate with the Circassians, and especially with their chief, Shamyl. What Rear Admiral Lyons is to communicate to him the report telleth not, but there is this certain that he cannot bring him what he wants most, viz: arms and ammunitions, for men-of-war on active service have no room to spare for goods shipped to order. Two paltry merchant brigs or schooners freighted with these valuable articles would be far more acceptable than all the moral but perfectly useless support of five men-of-war. At the same time we learn that the Turkish fleet has sailed for the same destination, this time carrying along with it- the articles required for arming the Circassians. Thus two allied fleets are going on the same errand, the one not knowing of the other. This is unity of plan and of action with a vengeance. May be, each may take the other for Russians, and a famous sight it will he for the Circassians, these two squadrons firing one into the other!

The allied land-forces, in the meantime, fraternise at Gallipoli and Scutari in their own way, annihilating enormous quantities of the strong and sweet wine of the country. Those who happen to be sober are employed upon the construction of field-works, so situated and so constructed, that they will be either never attacked, or never defended. If a proof was wanted that neither the British nor the French Government have any intention of doing Friend Nicholas any serious harm, it is given to the very blindest in their way of spending the time of the troops. In order to have a pretext to keep their troops away from the field of action, the allied commanders set them to dig a continuous line of field-works across the neck of the Thracian Chersonesus. Everybody, and particularly every French engineer, knows that continuous lines of defence are under almost all circumstances to be rejected in field fortifications, but it was reserved to the Anglo-French army of Gallipoli to employ continuous lines upon a ground, two-thirds of which are commanded by heights, situated on the side where the enemy is expected from. However, as the slow-coach system cannot be carried on without making at least a snail-like sort of progress, we are informed that 15,000 French are to go to Varna, there to form what? The garrison of the place. And to do what? To die of fever and ague.

Now, if there is any sense in this warfare, the chiefs must know t hat what the Turks are deficient in, is the art of manoeuvring in the open field, in - which again the Anglo-French troops are masters, asters, and that, on the other hand, the Turks are fit for the defence of walls, ramparts, and even breaches, against stormers, in a degree which neither the British nor the French can lay any claim to. Therefore, and because Varna, with a Turkish garrison, did that which no fortress before it had ever done, that is, held out for twenty-nine days after three practicable breaches had been laid in the rampart therefore[f] the half-disciplined Turks are taken out of Varna and sent to meet the Russians in the open field, while the well-drilled French, brilliant in attack, but unsteady in lengthy defence, are sent to guard the ramparts of Varna.

Other reports inform us that all these movements are mere gammon. They say that great things are in preparation. The combined troops are not intended to act on the Balkans, but they are to execute, with the help of the fleets, tremendous exploits in the rear of the Russians. They are to land at Odessa, to cut off the retreat of the enemy, and to combine in his rear with the Austrians in Transylvania. They are, besides, to send detachments to Circassia; they are, finally, to furnish 15,000 to 20,000 men for the attack of Sevastopol on the land-side, while the fleets are to force the harbour. If you cast a glance at the whole past history of the war and the diplomatic transactions preceding it, you will no doubt very soon dispose of these rumours. They came from Constantinople, shortly after the arrival of Marshal Leroy, commonly called Saint-Arnaud. Whoever knows the past history of this worthy[g], recognises in these bravadoes the man who blustered himself up to the rank he occupies, although three times cashiered as an officer of the army.

The long and the short of this war is this: England, and particularly France, are being dragged "unavoidably, though reluctantly," into engaging the greater part of their forces in the East and the Baltic, that is, upon two advanced wings of a military position which has no centre nearer than France. Russia sacrifices her coasts, her fleets, and part of her troops, to induce the Western Powers to engage themselves completely into this anti-strategical move. As soon as this is done, as soon as the necessary number of French troops are sent off to countries far from their own, Austria and Prussia will declare in favour of Russia, and at once march with superior numbers upon Paris. If this plan succeeds, there is no force at the disposal of Louis Napoleon to resist that shock. But there is a force which can "mobilise" itself upon any emergency, and which can also "mobilise" Louis Bonaparte and his minions as it has mobilised many a ruler before this. That force is able to resist all these invasions, and it has shown it once before to combined Europe, and that force, the Revolution, be assured, will not be wanting the day its action is required.

Written on May 22, 1854
First published in The People's Paper, No. 108, May 27, signed: K. M.
and in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4101, June 9;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 941, June 13, 1854,
signed: Karl Marx


[a] The New-York Daily Tribune has: "lingering".—Ed.

[b] Ducos, Report of the Minister of the Marine of February 25, 1854. Le Moniteur universel, No. 57, February 26, 1854.—Ed.

[c] Department of Pas-de-Calais.—Ed.

[d] The New-York Daily Tribune has: "with an Aberdeen and Palmerston".—Ed.

[e] Review of current events, May 20. Le Moniteur universel, No. 141, May 21, 1854.—Ed.

[f] The words "Therefore and because", "three practicable breaches had been laid in the rampart—therefore" are italicised in the New-York Daily Tribune.—Ed.

[g] Here the New-York Daily Tribune has: "I shall send it you some of these days"(see note 150↓).—Ed.

[148] This article was written by Engels and published by Marx in The People's Paper, and also in the New-York Daily Tribune under the title "The Exploits in the Baltic and Black Seas.—Anglo-French System of Operations". In the Notebook the date of mailing to New York and the fact of its being printed in The People's Paper are entered as "23. Mai. Dienstag. Militaria (abgedruckt in P[eople's] Paper)".

In The People's Paper the article was preceded by an editorial text: "In order to make room for the following able letter, written by a celebrated continental politician, now in England, we are compelled to withdraw our usual summary."

The article was included by Eleanor Marx in The Eastern Question under the title "The Exploits in the Baltic and Black Seas.—Anglo-French System of Operations".

In this volume the article is reproduced from The People's Paper; readings differing from the New-York Daily Tribune are given in footnotes.

[149] Engels presumably alludes to the victory of the English squadron under Nelson over the Franco-Spanish squadron at Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. The battle was fought when a superior Franco-Spanish squadron attempted to break through the blockade by Nelson's ships in Cadiz harbour.

[150] On the fulfilment of Marx's intention see notes 165↓ and 169↓.

[165] This article is entered in the Notebook as "9. Juni. Kriegsministerium Gover. Varna Powers. Handel. Getreide. St. Arnaud". The New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 668 of June 1, 1854 only published the first paragraph of the article. The article was printed in abridged form in The Eastern Question under the title "Speeches. St. Arnaud."

[169] The first half of the article about Saint-Arnaud was written by Marx on June 6, 1854 as entered in the Notebook: "6. Juni. St. Arnaud." The article has not been found in the issues of the New-York Daily Tribune, the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, and the New-York Weekly Tribune available to the editors of this edition.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.201-207), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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