Book Review: The Crimean War: British Grand Strategy Against Russia, 1853-1856


by Andrew D. Lambert

Farnham, Surrey, UK/Burlington, Vt: Ashgate Publishing, 2011. Pp. xvi, 380. Illus., maps., tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $104.95. ISBN: 1409410110

A revised edition of the ground-breaking 1990 look at British strategy during the Crimean War from Prof. Lambert (King's College London), who specializes in British naval history during the Nineteenth Century. 

If anything, the revised edition reinforces Lambert’s basic argument that Britain essentially waged a limited war because of the limitations of British power.  Supreme at sea, Britain nevertheless committed itself to a land war against Russia with a small army, unsuited to a protracted conventional war, and with little ability to expand it.  This had two important results.  Firstly, potential allies such as Austria and Sweden, although tempted, were reluctant to commit themselves to a war in which Britain seemed unwilling to make a determined effort.  Perhaps more importently, however, the focus on the Crimea led Britain to neglect what was certainly the more important theatre of operations, the Baltic.  Lambert argues convincingly, that after the initial Anglo-French success in the Baltic with the capture of Bomarsund in mid-1854, the allies largely ignored the theatre.  Despite this, the Russians invested heavily in strengthening the defenses of St. Petersburg. 

This is an important work for several reasons.  Not only does it throw fresh light on the Crimean War, but it also reveals the limitations of British power even at the height of its greatness, and stresses the failure of British political and military leaders to address those limitations, so that Britain went into World War I little better prepared for a protracted land war than it had been 60 years earlier. 

A valuable book for anyone interested in how superpowers can fail to understand the limitations of their power.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor    

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