The Crimean War, by Deborah Bachrach
This book is a discussion of one of the more obscure major wars of the last couple hundred years in the Crimean War. There are a few elements of this war that are of interest to readers. For one, there is the way that the war began in an obscure conflict over religious sites in the Middle East between Catholics (represented by France) and Orthodox Christians (represented by Russia). For another, there is the absolute blundering in every level of leadership by all of the armies responsible, some of which is simply staggering to believe in terms of sheer incompetence, leading to massive deaths in battle as well as through disease. The war is best remembered in contemporary times for one of two reasons–it being the only war fought by European powers between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I, and for the revolution in nursing that came as a result of Florence Nightingale. Most of the time, though, the war is simply not well known, although this book does point out the Charge of the Light Brigade as being one of the more notable elements of the battle of Balaklava, which is known to students of Victorian poetry.
This book is divided in a chronological fashion and lasts about a hundred pages. The book begins with a foreword as well as a chronology and introduction that seek to set the Crimean War in its proper time and place. This setting is admittedly obscure to many Westerners, although the setting of the Crimean War also includes the Danube principalities that would later become Romania and holy sites in the Middle East. This leads into a discussion of the debate over the fall of the Ottoman Empire that served as part of the causes of the Crimean War (1). After that comes a comparison of the armies involved (especially Russia, Turkey, Britain, and France), as well as their war preparations (2). The third chapter looks at the initial combat up to the successful crossing of the Alma by the British and French troops (3). This is then followed by chapters on the battles of Balaklava (4) and Inkerman (5) where Russia attempted to throw back the ineffective siege of Sevastopol by the allied forces. After this the author talks about life in the war zone (6) as well as the siege of Sevastopol itself (7) and then then the negotiated peace that ended the war (8). The book ends with notes, suggestions for further reading, a bibliography of works consulted, index, picture credits, and information about the author.
How many ways can armies be incompetent? The Turkish navy began the war by having themselves blasted in their home port of Sinope. The Russian army was too incompetent to challenge the landing of the British and French troops on the Crimea. The French and British were too incompetent to cooperate in their initial attack on Russian positions, as well as to seize the city of Sevastopol when they had an easy chance to do so. British commanders were terrible at logistics, letting their army nearly starve, while ignoring intelligence that came from local Turkish spies as well as from people at home who had a better understanding of the war than did the leaders of the British army. The book shows over and over again the bravery and courage of the common soldiers on all sides and the total mismanagement of those troops by general officers, a weakness that would continue to trouble European armies in World War I. The Crimean War should have been a wake-up call, but instead its lessons were frequently neglected. It is unfortunately all too easy for command failures to sabotage the valor of common soldiers and that happened here to an incredible extent that deserves to be better remembered and understood.