The Combatants

  The British Army

   In 1854, the British army numbered 132,000 men of whom 28,000 were stationed in India. Moreover, there existed a militia which numbered 38,000. In time of war, volunteers were sought and when the number required was not forthcoming, a draft was used. Life was difficult, and the pay meager. Initial service in the regular army was for 12 years in the cavalry, and 11 years in the infantry. 

Royal Welch Fusiliers Officers' Mess

   The initial expeditionary force sent by Britain consisted of five infantry divisions, a cavalry division, and supporting artillery and engineering units comprising a total of 27,000 officers and men, with 26 field guns. Line infantry units were issued the new Enfield rifled-musket upon landing in the Crimea.

   As the Russian soldier was using the older smooth-bore muskets, this at first may seem an advantage. However, the British soldier needed time to get used to the new weapon, and the Battle of The Al'ma did not allow for time. Eventually, the rifled-musket revolutionized warfare, although tactics were slow to catch up. In fact, during the American Civil War, tactics and leadership would follow the same slow path to change.

The Royal Marines

   The "Red Marines", were infantry troops and were so called because they wore double-breasted red cloth coatees, while the artillery marines, or the "Blue Marines", wore blue uniforms with red cloth facings. Although not mentioned in many histories of the war, the Royal Marines were with Sir Colin Campbell's 93rd Highlanders. This small force was all that stood in the way of the Russians capturing the supply base at Balaklava. The heroic defense of Balaklava by Sir Colin Campbell's men gave birth to the now famous phrase, "The Thin Red Line".

Foreign Legions

   For service during the Crimean War, various foreign troops were recruited. These were formed into the German Legion, the Swiss Legion, and the Italian Legion. Of these troops, one German brigade of 4,250 men, and one Swiss brigade of 2,200 men actually went to the Crimea.

The French Army

   At the time of the Crimean War, the army of the Second Empire was a subscripted army, but was also the most proficient army in Europe. One of the more famous groups were the Zouaves. According to Captain George Brinton McClellan, an American Military Observer, the Zouaves were the "...most reckless, self-reliant, and complete infantry that Europe can produce. With his graceful dress, soldierly bearing, and vigilant attitude, the Zouave at an outpost is the beau ideal of a soldier."

   The French army consisted of the Imperial Guard infantry, the line infantry including the Foreign Legion, cavalry, artillery, and engineer troops. Sources suggest that between 45,000 and 100,000 French forces were involved at one time or the other in the Crimea. Service in the French army was for seven years, with re-enlistments in increments of seven years.

   One curious contingent was the Cantinieres. Cantinieres were women, usually married to NCOs in the regiment. These women had charge of the canteens, provided extra rations in return for payment, and toured the camps with Spirits and wine.

The Turkish Army

   The Turkish army was a conscripted army. All male subjects in the Empire being able bodied were liable to call up when they reached the age of 20 years. The vast Ottoman Empire had a peace time army of about 162,000 men which increased in wartime to approximately 570,000. Each recruit served for a period of 12 years, five in active service, and seven with the reserve. Included in the Turkish army were auxiliary troops from the various provinces of the Empire such as Egypt, Serbia, the Danubian principalities, Tunis, and Tripoli. There were also the irregular troops consisting of Polish cavalry, Don Cossacks living in Asia Minor, and the infamous Bashi-Bazouks whose pillaging and looting not only from the Russians but also from their own countrymen caused serious embarrassment to the Turkish government during the war. The Turkish troops were not considered reliable soldiers by the French or British.

The Sardinian Army

   Although better known as the Sardinian army, it was in fact the army of the Kingdom of Piedmont, the island of Sardinia being part of that kingdom. The Sardinian army was divided into infantry, rifles, cavalry, artillery, engineers, wagon train, and gendarmes. The peace time army totaled 45,500 men, and in time of war this figure increased to 85,000. The Sardinian contingent in the Crimea consisted of 15,000 men formed into provisional regiments. The army was filled by conscription and each man in the infantry was obligated to serve for eight years active service, and eight in reserve.

Photo from the Panorama Museum, Sevastopol.


  The Russian Army

   By the time of the Crimean War, the Russian army numbered more than 770,000 men who were under arms. Of that number, and because the Russians had to supply the Crimean peninsula over land, perhaps 100,000 fought at one time or the other in the war. Moreover, as Austria debated entry into the conflict on the side of the Allies, the Tzar had to maintain an army to defend Russia from that possibility.

   In the Russian army, great emphasis was placed on drill and show. Parade ground precision was what was instilled into recruits and musketry training was neglected. Additionally, while the allied army had the latest in weapons, the Russian army fought the war with smooth-bore weapons including some flintlocks from the war of 1814. The period of service in the Tzar's army was 25 years which was shortened to 20 in the Imperial Guard, and to 15 if the man reached the rank of sergeant and had a good record.

    Discipline was harsh, and the pay poor. What forces Russia did spare for the campaign were debilitated by lack of adequate supplies, shortages of ammunition, reliance on outdated weaponry, and muddleheaded leadership. The major and insurmountable source of Russia's difficulties was its own backwardness. Moreover, because of Allied control of the Black Sea, Russian reinforcements and supplies had to come overland. Troops drawn from Central and Western Russia had to march hundreds of miles to reach the battlefield, whereas, Allied reinforcements came by sea.

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