Thursday, 24 February 2011


french zouaves
During the campaign of Crimea (1854-56)it was not only Italians that were to supply troops for war, but also other countries. Many germans and swiss as well. when the British refused to soldier the government realised that the war was lost if they could not put more troops in the line.
The government  expressly requested the Kingdom of Piedmont to send their  entire body

. The core of the voluntary Italian Legion had their hq and recruitment centre in Chivasso, before leaving.
The doctor of the Legion was Joseph Sampson Gamgee born in Livorno in 1828, of English nationality, a collaborator for a certain period of Pasteur, University of Paris.
 Before exercising with the Italians he was doctor at the hospital italiano of Malta (after the war he continued his work as a doctor and scholared in Birmingham).
The possibility that the Italy could gain from their help meant  at the end of the conflict, once paid the debts, Cavour could  come to the negotiating table, not so much against the Tsar, but as "equal degree allies" with the  Austrians.
 The British Italian legion  was not the first unit that fought in favour of the King of England. It had already happened at the time of Napoleon..
 From 1806 to 1816 two regiments of  Piedmont and Sicily and still undefined )served under the Union Jack.
 Among the foreign troops was recruited a number of men (14000?) to form a veritable "Legion",one that  that remained, even after the end of the war ,in permanent service. We have no information about who they really were and little  has survived.
Most likely the reason was that the British saw these mercenaries as an example of shame due to British soldiers refusing to soldier. The army then consisted of salaried professionals,  mercenaries and those who needed a billet at all costs. The Swiss , were professional soldiers and served under British colours in the Crimea. Others were Germans.

This ‘Crimean War’ lasted from 1854-1856 and killed 650,000. In many ways it was the first modern war, using industrial killing technologies and, largely fought in trenches, it heralded the First World War. Indeed, if the War had continued into 1856, Austria, Prussia and Sweden might well have taken part. Then it could well have turned into a First World War, spreading to the USA and European colonies, causing the collapse of Empires and repeating the insurrections of 1848. Fortunately, the sufferings of all involved were cut short, for the Crimean War was one in which everyone lost.

At the time this War was not known in Great Britain as the ‘Crimean War’, but as ‘the Russian War’ or ‘The Great War with Russia’. This was because it was fought against Russia, not only in the Crimea, but also in the Caucasus, the Baltic and in the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans. However, even this was a misnomer, for Russia had never attacked Great Britain. In fact, it was an offensive war, when ill-equipped British peasant soldiers were sent off by a bungling government in support of a huge and well-equipped foreign (French) Army to invade a country they knew nothing of. (Echoes of the first years of this millennium in Iraq and Afghanistan?). Perhaps the term ‘Franco-Anglo-Ottoman War’ would be more correct.

In this country many propaganda myths were associated with the War in order to disguise the actual British defeat. These include the Charge of the Light Brigade (an idiotic blunder by incompetent war-leaders) and Florence Nightingale (a foolish upper-class woman who killed hundreds of soldiers through her medical ignorance). In reality, on the British side, the War was a series of blunders caused by incompetence and disorganisation. It led to the near-annihilation of the ill-trained British Army, mainly through disease and lack of winter supplies. It also highlighted the appalling conditions in the Royal Navy and in 1855 actually brought about the collapse of the then British government. France possessed by far the best-led and organised active army, whereas Russia’s huge but ill-trained and ill-equipped peasant army suffered three quarters of the casualties. Even though France and Russia had the most effective medical care, some two-thirds of all the dead in the war on all sides died of disease, not in fighting.
The War was sparked off by Roman Catholic aggression against Orthodox in the Holy Places in Jerusalem. This was used as a pretext by Napoleon III to attack Russia, a country which had helped to keep France weak in Europe as punishment for its Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon wanted to repeat the victories of his reputed uncle, who had been defeated by Russia in 1812, so that France could once more dominate Europe through bloodshed. In other words, France’s motive was revenge. French (and other, especially Spanish) Roman Catholic leaders were only too keen for war against Russia. On the 800th anniversary of the Western Schism of 1054, the Archbishop of Paris, Mgr Sibour, rejoiced with these words: hing fat water wagon full of cholera

The war which France is starting with Russia is not a political war, but a holy war; it is not a war of state against state, a people against a people, but only a religious war…The real reason for this war is the need to push back the Photian heresy, to bludgeon it and to trample it down; such is the open aim of this crusade; such was the aim of all the crusades, although the participants in them did not recognise it. (1)

Great Britain’s motivation was largely imaginary. The paranoid and nonsensical fears of its elite were that the Russian Navy would come to dominate the eastern Mediterranean or that Russian armies would invade India, if it did not take part. Thus Great Britain fell into the Franco-Turkish war, ironically allying itself with its traditional enemy, France. Its bungling diplomacy and its proud, insular and ignorant politicians (‘Britain is best’) did not realise what they were doing. As for the Army, controlled by arrogant and utterly incompetent, feuding Norman aristocrats, it would be sacrificed, failing to learn from the highly organised and far larger French Army.

As for Russia, its secular intentions were simply to secure its borders. However, its spiritual intentions were to help Orthodox in Jerusalem and free Christian Europe on its borders, which was appealing to it for aid, from Islam. This it hoped to do by liberating Constantinople and setting free the whole of the Balkans, Moldavia and Wallachia (modern Romania), Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and all of Greece, from the oppression of the failing Ottoman Empire. The war and the economic, political and social disruption it caused did not stop the Russian Empire in this, but did delay it in its intentions by some fifteen to twenty years. Thus Britain and France merely prolonged the agony of the Christians who had already suffered for centuries under the Turks.

The British, as usual their budget devoted to the Navy, were unable to finance, equip and organise an efficient Army (as later in the First and Second World Wars) and were forced to use mercenaries. This was nothing new. In the eighteenth century, when Britain was ruled and oppressed ( remember the Stalinist collectivisation of the ‘Enclosures’) by German Kings, about half of the British Army was composed of mercenaries. Much of the ethnic cleansing of Scotland (euphemistically called ‘the Highland clearances’) was brutally carried out by these mercenaries. These were also used against British settlers in North America, which helped to guarantee the result of the American War of Independence and the loss of British colonies there. (Partly as a result of the memory of this imperialism, the USA was to support Russia in the Crimean War against the meddling Western Europeans and their Muslim allies. Some Americans even volunteered to fight with the Russians and their Greek and Bulgarian allies).

The French also used mercenaries in its colonial troops and still today has a ‘Foreign’ Legion. In the same way, the British used foreign or colonial troops in the Napoleonic and the two World Wars and still today uses Nepalese mercenaries (‘the Ghurkas’). And in today’s offensive wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, where many British troops do not want to fight and are leaving the army in droves, as they see that they have already lost the needless wars started by irresponsible and ego-driven politicians, mercenaries are again being used. So too at the time of the Crimean War, the British recruited mercenaries from Switzerland and above all from Germany. Although these troops were not finally used because the war ended too soon, 5,000 were recruited and called the ‘German Legion’.

Today, most historians have concluded that the ‘Crimean’ War was quite unnecessary, ‘a mistake’ and ‘a failure’, and the deaths were in vain. Indeed, it has often been seen as the classic example of why wars should not be fought >

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