Title:
PP/GC/PO/275 Copy of a memorandum written by General Chrzanowski, concerning Turkey and the threat of Russian invasion, 15 March 1836: contemporary copy
Date:
15/03/1836
Content:
Copy of a memorandum, in French, written by General Chrzanowski: the Turkish empire was founded on conquest. The last offensive campaign undertaken by the Turks was against Vienna. This period may be seen as the high point of her power. Since then, the terror which Turkish armies inspired in Europe gradually began to diminish. Superiority in the art of combat passed to enemy ranks. The Turks could now only support defensive campaigns, which simply delayed the decline to a greater or lesser extent. At home there was a lack of quality men, of which there had been a great number previously. The discipline in which the Ottoman armies of old had excelled, slackened. The military institutions all changed in character and became subject to abuse, and indolence and laxity gripped the nation. Whilst Turkey slumbered and subsided, Russia was rising and making immense progress. Turkey had against her an excellent frontier, strengthened by man-made defences and the particular obstacles of geography and climate. No other country ever possessed a stronger military frontier. There were three lines of defence in Europe: the Dniester, the Danube and the Balkans, all three backed by numerous forts, and beyond the Dniester there were other good bases for mounting offensive operations. This area, flanked by the Crimea, could be supported by fleets in the Black Sea which the Russians could only counteract with small craft. In Asia, the Caucasus, inhabited by a warlike nation who acknowledge the suzerainty of the Sultan, protected the empire on that side. All these barriers, despite their strength, have not withstood concerted action by Russia directed towards a fixed goal. The Turks, trusting in their own strength, watched nonchalantly as the Russians subjugated the Crimea, set themselves up on the southern flank of the Caucasus, wiped out some of the mountain population and created a naval force in the Black Sea, without making any effort to hide their motives. Further wars were, however, necessary before the forts beyond the Dniester and along its length and Ismail on the Danube fell to the power of the Russians. At last the Turks began to rally. The Sultan, Selim, felt that it would be impossible to restore all the Turkish institutions to their former state and that there were several which could not last the century. He undertook to stamp out abuse and to bring the military institutions into line with those of the rest of Europe. He failed in this attempt and paid for it with his life. This example did not intimidate Mahmud. Despite great difficulties elsewhere, he did not abandon Selim's idea. Taking it up more skilfully and aided by one section of the populace who had felt the pressing need for reform, he managed to overcome the greatest obstacles and put reform in hand. Russia, however, fearing that her prize would escape her, did not stand by inactive. This was a repetition of events in Poland in 1792, when similar disasters revealed to the Polish the cause of evil. The only difference is that the Polish succeeded in abolishing the abuses and setting up a system of progressive reforms, which would have returned their country to strength, smoothly and without violence. By intervening in Poland, Russia did not allow these reforms to take place and openly declared herself protector of the recently abolished laws which legally constituted licence and anarchy. In 1828, as the eyes of Europe were turned towards her, shame prevented Russia from declaring herself publicly as protector of the Turkish abuses; but it did not stop her acting secretly and being party to them. The Turks were unprepared for conflict. Violent reform had shaken the state to her foundations. The fleet had been destroyed. The troops which could formerly have been hastily called up were few because for the most part they no longer existed, and there was no time to organise a suitable force along the newly adopted lines. The war, however, took an unexpected turn. There were several causes for this as well as the difficulties arising from the very nature of the country. These included Russian incompetence in siege warfare, the courage of the Turks in defending their forts and the bravery of individuals which forced the Russians to tread carefully, contagious diseases, but above all the way in which the Russian army was commanded. In the first campaign, Marshal Witgenstein was given nominal command, but as the Emperor found himself with a hundred officers of different ranks in his retinue their ideas prevailed over his. As a result, there was no unity in either policy or action. Operations were bungled and nobody would take the blame. After that, the Marshal declared to the Emperor that unless he stopped interfering he no longer wished to command the army. The command was removed from him and conferred on General Diebitsch. The Emperor heard of plots against Diebitsch and about a month after the opening of the campaign, Woroncow was appointed to succeed him. The order relating to this was just about to be sent when news arrived of the battle of Kulevcha, and the decision was revoked. News of the decision still spread and affected General Diebitsch's conduct: he put all his attention into evading even the slightest setback, he dared put nothing at risk and instead of great victories aimed rather at ending the war as quickly and as decently as possible. After this war, Turkey had hardly had time to draw breath before Mehemet Ali's revolt broke out. The support received from Russia on this occasion was dearly bought. Turkey expects to be able to rid herself of that protectorship. Far from falling into despair after so many set-backs, the Sultan all the more vigorously introduced improvements in administration and military organisation. The Sultan changed the unpopular name of 'Nizam-qedid' to another, which, translated literally, means the 'victorious Muslim troops'. The infantry was organised by ferik, which corresponds to a division, commanded by a feriki. It is composed of four regiments each under the command of a colonel, with another senior officer beneath him. There are four battalions to a regiment, each commanded by a senior officer, and each comprises eight companies, of which the fourth and the eighth are light infantry. Each company is composed of eighty men with three officers and four individuals to carry orders. Chrzanowski does not know how many feriks there are. As regards the cavalry and artillery, the manner of their organisation was not definitely determined by 1833, and Chrzanowski has no information. While reforms were being carried out in the army, the organisation of a national guard was under way, which, judging by the name given to it, which would also serve as the army reserve. This name, extracted from the Koran, means 'the choirs of angels who follow on without ceasing'. All this may be praiseworthy of the Sultan, but other aspects do not merit the same commendation. The revolt in Albania was quelled, but prevention would have been preferable. An expedition was made to Tripoli: profitable, for it brought millions into the treasury, and reminded the region of its dependence on the Sultan. It was a mistake, however, to station several thousand men there and to open a conflict with the natives. It should have been arranged to preclude the need to station troops there who could be needed urgently elsewhere. It would be advantageous to quash Mehemed quickly, before Russia has the time to intervene. This is impossible, but it should not be necessary to send nearly all the troops in Asia and similarly in Europe and put oneself at the mercy of Russia. These hostile demonstrations against Mehemed have not, fortunately, led to war, and there could still be time for reconciliation and for the forces of Egypt and Turkey to be reunited against their common enemy. Appropriate means must be found to win the assistance of the Kurds who recognise the suzerainty of the Sultan and will provide soldiers for him. The method followed at the moment can only destroy one side and force the other to throw themselves into the arms of Russia. Russian influence on the Sultan is plain to see. They mask this influence skilfully, by giving advice for the Sultan to implement in his reforms. But it is clear that as soon as reforms reaches at a point where they cause Russia offence, such indirect means will no longer be used to maintain Turkey in a state of weakness. Russia always safeguards her own supremacy and will wish to control the Dardanelles under any pretext: they will use this pretext to protect Turkey against what they consider the unreasonableness of England. They do not need much time to complete their preparations. Their fleet has been quite ready since the beginning of spring. A corps of troops could be embarked from their present situation in the Crimea. They have troops in Silistria, which could be reinforced with others, seeing that there is a considerable army in Bessarabia and in Podolia which will be mustered and inspected by the Emperor in the spring. In Georgia their army numbers almost eighty thousand men, half of which could easily be directed towards Asia Minor to keep in check the Turkish troops there. As the situation is now, execution of this project will not meet with any serious obstacle. A soon as the Russian fleet and invasion force entered the Bosporus, the main body of troops would enter Turkish territory in both Europe and Asia; M. Boutenief would present an explanatory note to the Sultan; the Turks would be stunned; Russian troops disembarking at the entrance to the Dardanelles and backed by the fleet would easily seize all the forts which, being unprepared for defence and unprovisioned, would be unable to offer real resistance; waves of fresh troops entering Turkey would prevent forces from mustering, and would disarm the population and those sections of Turkish troops they encountered. In a word, Turkey, with the exception of Constantinople, would be occupied by a military force almost without a blow being struck. Following the exchange of diplomatic notes, the Russians could perhaps be induced to withdraw their troops from Turkey, but they certainly would not abandon the Dardanelles. It is thus a matter of the utmost urgency that measures be taken against any such coup-de-main which the Russians only have to attempt, to succeed. The surest way of maintaining Turkey's independence without declaring war on Russia would be to send a sufficiently large fleet to cast anchor beneath the walls of the Seraglio. It would be fitted out as temporary maritime establishment, although it would have access to part of the Turkish ship yards. Whilst the fleet remained, the Turks could be encouraged to rid themselves of Russian influence. Once thus freed and protected, they could perfect the formation of their army, mustering it at suitable places, and organise their country for defence and for war. If, on the arrival of the English fleet at Constantinople, the Russians open hostilities, the fleet should move into the Black Sea to take command of it. While the Turks would undoubtedly muster all that they could at Shumla where their army could be successively reinforced, without information on their numbers and exact location it is impossible to state anything more precisely. The Russians, reduced to communication by land, would need some time to organise convoys. For an army of sixty thousand men, the Russians would need nearly twenty thousand carts, each pulled by a pair of oxen. This would prevent them using large numbers of troops from the outset and thus allow the Turks to hold the Balkan line until the arrival of reinforcements. The arrival of the English fleet at Constantinople might be interpreted by the Russians as the hostile step which would justify their commencing action, but it will certainly be considered by other European nations purely as a safeguard; despite the Russians' protest, they will none the less seem the aggressor. If, however, the English government continues to defer indefinitely sending her fleet to Constantinople, complicated and very risky measures will have to be taken. Possible measures most appropriate to this hypothetical situation may be considered next: The most important points are Shumla, Constantinople, and the Dardanelles. Concentration should be focused on these, leaving places such as Rushtshuk, Widdin and Varna, once their fortifications are restored, with sufficient garrisons to defend them against attack. Shumla should be designated as a rallying point for all the detachments in the vicinity and as a refuge for the Bulgars. It is from there that the minor war behind Russian lines should then be directed. The preservation of Shumla is very important; it would serve as a pivot for subsequent operations, and once the Russians managed to seize it, it would be difficult to oust them. The forts in the Dardanelles must be provided with commandants with whose loyalty is unshakeable; their garrisons, ordnance and provisioning must be completed. This could be done under the pretext of guarding against England. Preparations must be made for the abandonment and destruction of forts unable to withstand attack, to render them useless to the Russians. At Constantinople, sites for batteries must be chosen, their construction materials and artillery for their armament made ready. The Turks would think nothing of the destruction of hundreds of their own houses if help is at hand. Populations of other Turkish towns have voluntarily abandoned their homes and possessions in order to escape the Russians, without knowing where to find shelter, without weeping and complaint. In order to avoid falling to the power of Russia, the Turkish fleet must be held in a state of readiness under the pretext of some expedition in the Mediterranean. The same pretext could be used for the movement of part of the Turkish army in Asia to the Dardanelles. The distribution of the whole of the army, in both Europe and Asia, must be arranged in advance. The troops for each part of the army must be detailed and nominations for the commanders prepared, in order to avoid mistakes made in haste. Lastly, the English fleet must be sent to Smyrna, and its commander must have orders and contingency instructions. As soon as the Russian fleet has passed the Bosporus to seize the Dardanelles, the English fleet should come to meet it, rally the Turkish squadron and attack the Russians. It would be pointless to enter into further detail of what such a war would involve without having any idea of Turkish strength or their readiness. On the other hand, while it would be a defensive campaign, the measures taken could be modified according to how the Russians made their invasion. It is certain, however, that if Turkey does not want to be taken unawares by the Russians and only have recourse to protest after the event, her course of action must be decided and immediate steps taken; there is no time to lose. The Black Sea is navigable before April, but as the operations of the Russian fleet must be linked with those of their troops on land, the enterprise could not be attempted before 15 April: only after this date is there enough forage for the horses and convoy oxen. Agents in Bessarabia, Wallachia and Georgia should be able to provide information on the numbers and movements of Russian troops and the location of weapons stores. It will be imperative that they report as quickly as possible if oxen and transport carts are mustered: a certain indication that the Russians are about to start the campaign. With precise reports on the number of carts, the number of Russian troops taking part can then be estimated with some exactitude. 15 Mar 1836: contemporary copy A note in pencil on the docket reads: "Transcript in a large hand prepared at Lord Palmerston's direction" Enclosed is a paper, possibly used as a document wrapper, with a note, in the hand of Lord Palmerston: "Keep for me. P.". 1836
Extent:
Ten papers
License:
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Subject:
General Adalbert Chrzanowski, alias Skranowsky, Polish officer in English employ in Turkey
River Dniester; River Danube
Ismail, or Izmail, formerly Ottoman Empire, under Russian control, later Moldavia, Romania, and USSR, subsequently Ukraine
Selim III, Ottoman Sultan, deceased
Mahmud II, Ottoman Sultan
Marshal Ludwig Adolf Witgenstein, alias Wittgenstein, German serving in the Russian army
Tsar Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia
General John Charles Frederick Anthony Diebitsch, alias Diebitsch Zabalkanski, Count of Diebitsch and Narden, Russian army officer
General Michael Woronzow, alias Vorontsov, Russian Governor General of New Russia and Bessarabia
Muhammad Ali Pasha, alias Mehemet Ali, Viceroy or ruler of Egypt
Nizam-i Cedit, or Nizam-qedid: New Order: reformed army established by Selim III, Ottoman Emperor
Apollinariy Petrovich Buteniev, alias Butenev or Butenief, Russian envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at Constantinople
Shumla, or Shumna, Ottoman Empire, later Kolarovgrad, Bulgaria
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