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Sevastopolís Wars: Crimea from Potemkin to Putin, by Mungo Melvin

Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2017. Pp. 752. Illus., maps, tables, chron., append., notes, biblio., index. $38.00. ISBN: 1472807944.

A Military History of Crimea

Retired British Major General Mungo Melvin, author of a very well-received biography of Erich von Manstein, gives us a highly detailed study of a the very complex background to the present crisis over Crimea, the possession of which has historically been critical to the domination of the Black Sea. In sorting through the deep roots of the crisis, Melvin divides his subject into four parts.

The first part covers the early history of the region. Lost by Kievan Russia to the Mongols in the Thirteenth Century, more than 400 years later Peter the Great made several fruitless efforts to retake Crimea from their successors, the Crimean Tatars, clients of the Ottomans. Catherine the Great was more successful, capturing the region in the late Seventeenth Century. The city of Sevastopol was founded, with an arsenal and shipyards, becoming the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and sustaining Russian influence in the Black Sea well into the Nineteenth century.

In the second part, Melvin examines the Crimean War in considerable detail. The city of Sevastopol became the prime objective of the Anglo-French-Turkish alliance. The original defenses were primarily against naval attack, and improvised landward fortifications resulted in a protracted siege. After nearly a year of bloody conflict, the Russians were forced to withdraw, after putting their fleet and the city to the torch. They concluded an unfavorable peace soon afterwards, curbing Russian influence in the Black Sea. The defeat demonstrated the structural weakness of Russia, and led to the Emancipation of the Serfs and attempts at modernization.

Melvinís third part addresses the history of Crimea over the following seven decades. The city was rebuilt and connected by railroad with the rest of Russia, reviving both the region and Russian naval power. But modernization led to problems, notably the revolutionary unrest of 1905-06 which sparked mutinies in the fleet, which were crushed. Though a short period of liberal reform followed, it ended abruptly with the First World War. Russiaís defeat led to Revolution, the Bolshevik coup, , and civil war. The Crimea for a time fell under German occupation, and then various groups competed for control (e.g. the Crimean Tartars, the Ukrainians, the White Guard), until the Red Army secured control, instituting a reign of terror in which thousands were executed and imprisoned.

The fourth part of Melvinís account deals with the gradual recovering of Crimea under Soviet rule, the devastating effects of the Second World War, particularly the forcible relocation of the Crimean Tatars, and the two protracted sieges of Sevastopol, captured by the Germans in 1942, and liberated by the Soviets in 1944. During the postwar years there was a slow revival of the city and the region, which continued to be a vital base for the growing Soviet Black Sea Fleet. It was in this period that the seeds of the present Crimean crisis were planted; in 1954 Premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which left Russiaís primary base on the Black Sea under control of the newly independent Ukraine, which in turn led to Russiaís invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the present crisis in the region.

Melvin very effectively explores the inter-linked economic, cultural, strategic, and political issues involved in the question of control of Crimea over several centuries. This is a complex study of a very complex problem.

Note: Sevastopolís Wars is also available as an eBook, $21.99, ISBN 978-1-4728-2227-7; PDF $21.99, ISBN 978-1-4728-2228-4.

Our Reviewer: Independent scholar Dan David is the author of The 1914 Campaign: August-October, 1914 and numerous reviews and articles. Formerly the manager of Sky Books International, in New York, he is a member of the Board of the New York Military Affairs Symposium, and chairman of the NYMAS Book Awards Committee. His most recent reviews for StrategyPage include Monty's Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe, The Edwardian Army: Recruiting. Training. and Deploying the British Army, 1902-1914, The Indian Army on the Western Front, Gallipoli: Command Under Fire, The Russian Army in the Great War, Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917-1918, and Martial Bliss.: The Story of The Military Bookman.

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Reviewer: Dan David   


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