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Crimean texts

[Transcribed by Megan Stevens]

The Times 27 November 1854 p 6


When an army is engaged in war at a considerable distance from the frontiers of its own country, and, consequently, from the base of operations on which it must chiefly rely for stores and reinforcements, it is a fundamental principle of military administration to prepare and keep up, as it were, in an unbroken stream, those supplies on which the efficiency of the army depends. The troops actually in presence of the enemy form but a part, and sometimes a small part, of the force to be included in the whole estimate of the campaign. They are the head of a column which can only retain its proper numbers and strength by active and incessant communications with the mother country, and by the continual arrival of supplies of all kinds for its use. War is prodigal to excess of all that it uses and requires. Men, horses, stores, arms, ammunition, carriages, tools, and the thousand details without which an army would be condemned to starvation or inaction, are consumed with a rapidity which can scarcely be conceived by those who have only known the more regular and limited demands of troops in time of peace; and, of course, these demands are greatly increased when the scene of hostilities lies in a country thinly inhabited and producing little beyond herds of wandering cattle. To carry on this or any other war under similar circumstances three distinct classes of preparations are necessary — first, the broad basis of operations at home, where men are to be raised, recruits trained, stores and arms prepared, and the contingencies of the seasons provided against; secondly, the transport of the reserve to points from which it can easily be pushed on to the army; and, thirdly, the arrangements for reinforcing the army itself. But of these three stages the first is the most indispensable, for if extensive resources are not prepared at home it is impossible that they should be ready in the hour of need.

The error which appears to have been committed by both the French and English Governments is, that, having sent out the flower of their respective armies to the East about eight months ago, they relied too much on what that army could effect, and did not prepare on a sufficiently large scale the reinforcements it was likely to require. At the commencement of the war the French army had been allowed to fall considerably below its usual strength, and we doubt if it really exceeded 270,000 men. The full contingent of this year and the arrear of the contingent of three preceding years having been called out, while the greater part of the men of 1847 have been kept in the ranks by sending them to the East, it is probable that this force has been raised in the last few months to 450,000; but, even if this surmise be correct, a very large proportion of the French army must consist of conscripts who have not yet had a year’s service. To remedy this deficiency, the French Government very wisely formed the large camps which have existed for the last four months in the neighbourhood of Boulogne and St. Omer, and in which the troops are to pass this winter. But when the North of France was selected for these cantonments it would seem that the object of LOUIS NAPOLEON was to form an army capable of carrying on extensive operations in the Baltic next spring, and possibly to act as a corps of observation on the Rhine. Too much reliance having been placed by the commanders of the allied armies, and also by the allied Governments, on the speedy and successful termination of the campaign in the Crimea, instead of concentrating their preparations for ulterior operations in the ports of the Mediterranean, the reinforcements to the East fell off when they were most needed, and have only begun again to arrive in the Crimea since the battle of the 5th of November. It would have been more prudent to collect a considerable French army at Toulon and on the coast of Africa, and to place the British reserves at Malta and Corfu, in order to meet the contingency which has now occurred. The history of the Battle of Inkermann, and of the peril to which the allied armies were exposed by the Russian attack on that day, is simply that the emperor of RUSSIA had found means to throw his reinforcements into the Crimea much faster than our fresh troops arrived.

The exact strength of the French army on the theatre of war has never been stated with accuracy, but we have endeavoured to ascertain the force of our allies at the beginning of the present month, and previously to the arrivals of the troops that have since been coming in. Each division of the French army consists of four regiments of the line, of two battalions each (the third battalion in most cases remaining at the depôt), and one regiment of Chasseurs — making in all an effective force of about 6,000 rank and file. The whole French army before Sebastopol is divided into two corps;— the first, consisting of the three divisions of General FOREY, Prince NAPOLEON JEROME, and General LEVAILLANT, is more particularly engaged in the siege operations, and in the defence of the extreme left of the lines of the besiegers; and this corps may be estimated at 18,000 bayonets, not including the Artillery and Engineers. General BOSQUET has a separate command, consisting of about 10,000 French and African troops, including the Zouaves and Spahis, and including also some 12,000 or 15,000 Turks, of whose exploits we have as yet heard nothing. This corps forms what is termed "the French Army of Observation," as it is intended to watch and protect the rear and flank of our position, by assisting the British forces when they are severely pressed — a duty which was performed by General BOSQUET with consummate bravery and skill on the 5th of November, when the dashing and irresistible charge of the Zouaves gave the crowning blow to the defeat of the enemy. General MAURICE, who commands the French cavalry, had about 1,400 horsemen under his orders, who are by this time augmented to 2,000; but, taking all the regular French forces into account, we believe that General CANROBERT’S army on the 1st of November did not much exceed 30,000 men. Our own forces, as is well known, were reduced at the same date to about half that number; and the allied army suffered a further loss of at least 4,000 men by the Battle of Inkermann. If the reports of the reinforcements which had reached Prince MENSCHIKOFF are correct, he must have had at one moment about double the number of troops with which the allied armies were said to be conducting the siege.

This extreme disparity of forces, however, was not of long continuance, and fortunately some of the reinforcements began to arrive to both armies immediately after the battle. The division of General MAYRAN, including the corps of occupation from Athens, passed the Bosphorus on or about the 6th; the last French detachments were summoned to the Crimea from Gallipoli and Varna; the City of London, the Prince, the Queen of the South, and several other steamers, with French and English troops, reached Constantinople and proceeded to Balaklava. Two more French divisions, which must amount to 14,000 men, are embarking at Marseilles, and before the middle of December, if our computation be correct, there will be upwards of 50,000 French soldiers and 20,000 English within our lines. That force is sufficient to banish all alarm as to the safety of the army, but it probably is not sufficient to take Sebastopol when defended by an army of at least equal strength. To accomplish that grand object of the campaign a vigorous and continuous effort is required on the part of both the allied Powers. We have this important advantage — that our resources can all be directed to one point, while those of Russia are necessarily dispersed along the vast circumference of her empire. The powerful fleets lately employed in the Baltic will immediately be at liberty to proceed to the Mediterranean for the transport of troops, and indeed the French Channel fleet is already expected at Toulon, where large forces are ready to embark. When the armies are raised to the full complement required for so great and decisive an enterprise, we entertain no doubt of the result; but, prepared as this country is to make every necessary sacrifice for the achievement of this object, it relies with no less confidence on the spirited co-operation of an ally whose honour and policy are equally pledged with our own, and whose military resources far exceed in amount those of Great Britain.

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