The Crimean War
In Britain, the Crimean War is principally remembered for three reasons: the Charge of the Light Brigade, maladministration in the British army, and Florence Nightingale. However, this war, fought by an alliance of Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia against Russia, is far more complex.
Many wars have been fought on the grounds of the strategic importance of a region; many wars have been fought over religious differences. The Crimean War was the result of both factors.
The causes of war
During the years leading up to the Crimean War, France, Russia and Britain were all competing for influence in the Middle East, particularly with Turkey. Religious differences were certainly a catalyst in the Crimean War. Control of access to religious sites in the Holy Land had been a cause of tension between Catholic France and Orthodox Russia for a number of years and in 1853, the conflict came to a head with rioting in Bethlehem, which was then part of the Ottoman empire ruled by Turkey. A number of Orthodox monks were killed during fighting with French monks. Tsar Nicholas I blamed the Turks for these deaths.
'The sick man of Europe'
Tsar Nicholas I demanded that the dispute be resolved in favour of the Orthodox Church and sent his representative Menshikov to Constantinople (now Istanbul) with demands on the Porte (the Turkish court). These demands were not met however and Nicholas took the opportunity to mobilise the Russian army against Turkey, which at this point was beginning to lose its grip on its empire. Nicholas referred to Turkey and its weakening empire as the 'sick man of Europe' and historians have argued that he had ambitions of his own in the eastern Mediterranean. The British and French, for their part, were concerned about Russian expansion in the region and the potential threat to their trade routes.
Russia attacks Turkey
Initial Russian operations against the Ottoman empire were conducted in Romania with the Russian army crossing the River Pruth into Moldavia on 2 July 1853. In response Turkey declared war on Russia on 5 October. On 4 November, the Russians destroyed the Turkish fleet at Sinope, on Turkey's Black Sea coast, sinking seven frigates and other shipping. The British and French responded quickly. In March 1854, they declared war on Russia expecting, with their naval supremacy, a quick victory. The allied forces were mustered at Varna in Bulgaria and they prepared for an all-out assault on Russian forces in the Crimea to seize the naval base at Sevastopol.