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1885 Russian war scare

PostPosted: 19 Jul 2014 13:37
by jf42
I read came upon this phrase today, which I understand was a consequence of the Russian advance in Central Asia, particularly the capture of Merv. How serious was this threat taken at the time and what measures were taken in India and at home?

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 19 Jul 2014 15:12
by Mark
I believe this is the so-called Panjdeh Incident, when Russian forces seized Afghan territory at Panjdeh. At the time it was taken very seriously, and it was only the efforts of Lord Dufferin that avoided a wider conflict. If I remember correctly preparations for war were certainly made both in Britain and India, including the arming of fast merchant ships with a view to attacking Russian shipping. Indian troops destined for Egypt were also held back in India and orders were placed for increased numbers of arms and ammunition.

Mark

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 20 Jul 2014 02:47
by mike snook
....and it also provided Gladstone with an excuse to renege on the cabinet's decision to allow Wolseley to renew his Nile campaign, in the wake of the fall of Khartoum, with the stated aim of 'smashing' the Mahdist movement.

As ever

Mike

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 20 Jul 2014 11:05
by Rural53
It also started a flurry of building of coastal defences around the empire (Canada, Australia and New Zealand to name a few) as Britain realised how unprotected her colonies were from attack from a Russian fleet.

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 20 Jul 2014 14:41
by jf42
Thank you. All interesting perspectives.

I wonder, was the contemplation of armed confrontation restricted to imperial interfaces (e.g. colonial harbours and beyond the Northwest Frontier) or was there a prospect of confrontation on the peripheries of Europe as in 1854? I should add, confrontation on land, as opposed to harassment by 'armed fast merchantmen' (great image- presages of the Grimsby fishing fleet being shelled in 1904).

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 21 Jul 2014 14:54
by Mark
I suspect from Britain's point of view that any conflict with Russia would have to have been fought mainly at sea, due to the size and power of the Royal Navy. Any conflict on land, not the preferred option, would be in defence of India and keeping the Russians out of Afghanistan. All that said I also suspect there was little real interest in a war on the part of either Britain or Russia, especially with the Crimea still well within living memory.

Mark

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 21 Jul 2014 17:07
by jf42
So effectively, all posturing in the Great Game. Topical, eh?

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 21 Jul 2014 19:18
by mike snook
I'm not entirely up to speed with this and hence wouldn't want to be counted as a subscriber to it, but I believe that there is a modern school of thought that would have it that the Russian menace in central Asia at this period was substantially imaginary. Unlike Eastern Europe today I might say.

As ever

Mike

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 21 Jul 2014 19:40
by Mark
In recent months I have been reading a lot about the Great Game and the North West Frontier of India, and as Mike says the threat from Russia was indeed very much in the paranoid imagination of the British. That said the Russians were not adverse to giving the British a scare from time to time, the Panjdeh Incident being the prime example. The British certainly took the 1885 scare far more seriously than the Russians did.

All that said, I am no expert in this field!

Mark

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 21 Jul 2014 22:39
by jf42
The jockeying for influence in Afghanistan was real though, wasn't it? I suppose the question is, was it ever really likely that a Russian Army might actually march down the Khyber. Russian military men might fantasise but meanwhile they could create enough difficulty through proxies among the Pathans and other peoples along the NWF.

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 22 Jul 2014 14:33
by Mark
You might find researching Jan Prosper Witkiewicz interesting. I suspect you might also enjoy 'Return of a King' by William Dalrymple, which covers this topic in addition to the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Mark

Re: The Russian war scare of 1885

PostPosted: 22 Jul 2014 14:38
by jf42
Thanks, Mark. 'Return of a King' is on my list. I only have three other Dalrymple books to get through first.

re Witkiewicz, perhaps I should just dig out my copy of 'The Great Game' again as a refresher. It's been a while.

Re: 1885 Russian war scare

PostPosted: 24 Dec 2014 09:44
by jenniib
Another book of historical fiction about this period is The Mulberry Empire by Phillip Hensher. Wonderful insight into this period.