CrimeanWar.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Battle of Inkerman

 

 

 

This clash was something of a dress rehearsal for a much more serious clash on 5 November. The north-eastern corner of the plateau occupied by the allies before Sevastopol featured an area of high ground about 1.5 by 0.75 miles (2.4 by 1.2km). It was known to the British as Mount Inkerman and the Russians as Cossack Mountain, was bordered on the west deep Careenage Ravine, and to the east the escarpment of Sapoune Ridge.

Roughly in the middle of Mount Inkerman and 2,000yds (1,830m) south-east of Sevastopol stood Shell Hill, approximately 600ft (180m) above sea level, with two extensions, East and West Gut. About a quarter of a mile (0.4km) from the southern end of the Quarry Ravine, 1,200yds (1,100m) from Shell Hill and 30ft (9m) higher than it, was the L-shaped Home Ridge. This would be the focal point of the forthcoming battle and was where 6,500 'muffin caps' of Russian infantry with four field guns had been repulsed during the skirmish on 26 October.

On Mount Inkerman, which comprised rocky scrubland, were two small defence works. Just north-east of Home Ridge was the Sandbag Battery - an empty 9ft-high (3m) position with embrasures cut for two guns to cover the Tchernaya river below, but no banquette for small arms. In front of Home Ridge, where the old post road emerged from the Quarry Ravine on to the plateau, stood a 4ft-high (1.2m) heap of stones known as The Barrier. Another 2ft-high (0.6m) rampart, called Herbert's Folly, on Home Ridge offered some protection for gunners. There were no entrenchments, only these meagre protective walls.

In this area, the British 2nd Division, commanded by Major-General J. L. Pennefather in place of the sick de Lacy Evans, deployed approximately 3,000 men either south of Home Ridge or thrown forward in pickets. About a mile (1.6km) to the south, the Brigade of Guards was encamped with a troop of horse artillery, but also had a forward picket overlooking the Careenage Ravine. Bosquet's Corps of Observation was yet a further mile south on Pennefather in an emergency would not, therefore, be easy.

For Prince A. S. Menshikov, the Russian commander, the episode of Little Inkerman had been no more than a reconnaissance in force. On the basis of what he learnt, he drew up a plan to drive the British from Mount Inkerman and disrupt their communication with Balaclava. General P. D. Gorchakov, with 22,000 troops and
88 guns, would advance across the Tchernaya towards the Fedioukine Hills, 'to support the general attack, distracting the enemy forces. trying to secure the approach to the Sapoune, the dragoons being ready to scale the heights at the first opportunity'. Lieutenant-General F. I. Soimonov, with 19,000 men and 38 guns, was to emerge from Sevastopol at 6 am to cross the Careenage Ravine and advance along the two gullies on to the plateau. Lieutenant-General P. Ia. Pavlov, leading 16,000 men and 96 guns, would leave the Mackenzie Heights at 5 am, descend to the Tchernaya and cross Tractir Bridge and the aqueduct to attain the heights from the north-east via the three ravines.

These two columns were to meet in the area of Shell Hill at 7 am, where the 4 Corps commander, General P. A. Dannenberg, would take tactical charge of the operation. Lieutenant-General F. F. von Moeller, commanding the land forces in Sevastopol, was to cover the attackers with his batteries and make a demonstration on the allied left to discourage the French from reinforcing Mount Inkerman. The attacking force that was ordered to 'seize and occupy the heights', exclusive of Moeller's troops, therefore totalled 57,000 men and 222 guns, with another 4,000 men and 36 guns in reserve on Mackenzie Heights.

Fortunately for the British, Pavlov and Soimonov did not achieve the required co-ordination, Pavlov being delayed for two hours at the Tchernaya by bridge repairs. Perhaps, even more fortunately, Dannenberg's plan for Soimonov to keep west of Careenage Ravine to clear Victoria Ridge on Pavlov's flank was not followed. Still more galling for the Russians, Gorchakov inexplicably left the bulk of his force east of the Tchernaya, and Bosquet quickly realised that his threat was not dangerous. This allowed the French corps commander readily to support Pennefather.

 

Battle of Inkerman, 5 November 1854. Major-General J. L Pennefather (mounted centre), temporarily leading the British 2nd Division in place of its sick commander Lieutentant-General Sir Geory de Lacy Evans, watches British infantry repulse Russians (right), as reinforcements approach (left). (Author's collection)

 

 

 

Heavy rain on 4 November persisted well into the night and at dawn light rain and thick mist still cloaked Mount Inkerman, concealing the Russians' advance. Shortly after daybreak, forward pickets gave warning of their movement, and Raglan reached Home Ridge from his HQ, 4 miles (6.4km) south of Home Ridge, at about 7.30 am. He learnt that Soimonov's troops were making their way on to the plateau, and recognised the threat to the whole Mount Inkerman position. Ordering England's 3rd Division to be vigilant on the British left, he told Cambridge (with the Guards Brigade) and Cathcart (4th Division) to support the 2nd Division. He discovered that Brown had declined Bosquet's offer of help, but promptly welcomed it. Crucially, as it transpired, he feared the range of the Russian artillery, which could reach the British encampments from Shell Hill. Raglan therefore ordered up two 18pdr guns from the siege park.

Soimonov did get 22 12pdr guns on to Shell Hill and West Gut, from which to bombard Home Ridge and the 2nd Division camp beyond. Under cover of their barrage, the Russian infantry advanced south to be met by troops sent forward by Pennefather towards the Sandbag Battery on the right, The Barrier in the centre and Miriako on the left. As British battalions depl meet them, two 9pdr field guns fired their heads into the gloom. Another s battery went up to the head of the M was engulfed by enemy troops debo from the gully and lost three guns. A determined counter-attack by the 88th Regiment saved the day and more field guns arrived to raise the number on and around Home Ridge to 36. At the Wellway, the 77th drove back another grey mass; 'no order could be given owing to the fog. All we could do was to charge them when they came in sight,' wrote Lieutenant the Hon. Henry Clifford. By 8 am, Soimonov's infantry were on their way back to Shell Hill. Pavlov had not yet appeared.

When Pavlov's men eventually debouched from the ravines at about 8.30, fierce fighting was renewed, particularly around the Sandbag Battery, which changed hands several times and where French troops were heavily engaged. Not until 11 am was this position finally secure. Seeing bodies piled around the defence work, Bosquet pithily remarked: 'Quel abbatoir!' Meanwhile, as the mist lifted, Raglan had seen that the enemy was close to breaking through between The Barrier and Sandbag Battery, where British troops were fighting desperately at close quarters to protect Home Ridge. Raglan sent word for Cathcart urgently to assist the Brigade of Guards there, but the 4th Division commander decided independently to advance on the extreme right and turn the Russian left. In doing so, tragically he led the troops with him down a gully and paid for the error with his life. His last words allegedly were 'I fear we are in a mess.'

Although the Guards were successfully- reinforced, the Home Ridge remained in danger. With Soimonov dead and his division effectively out of the line, Dannenberg had taken command; 9,000 of Pavlov's men were still uncommitted and he now launched them towards The Barrier. Only determined use of bayonet saved the day. One observer recorded that the dead in the area were 'as thick as sheaves in a cornfield' enemy artillery'. Undoubtedly, their ability to silence enemy guns on Shell Hill proved important, possibly even decisive. As the Russians streamed away from The Barrier and Sandbag Battery, Raglan sent men to clear Shell Hill to prevent Dannenberg from entrenching on it. Realising that the day was lost, the Russian corps commander ordered a general retreat behind a covering force. By
2.30 pm, the enemy had fallen back from Shell Hill and half an hour later Raglan and Canrobert together watched them recross the Tchernaya in disarray.

The Battle of Inkerman had been won - at a price. Surveying the field of carnage, Captain Temple Godman remarked: The field of battle is a terrible sight.' In all, 
10,729 Russians were killed (including Soimonov), wounded or taken prisoner (a figure rising to 11,974 if casualties from the Sevastopol garrison and Gorchakov's force are added). The British suffered 2,357 casualties, 597 of them killed (including 39 officers, two of them generals). French casualties amounted to 1,743 (175 dead, including 25 officers).

 

 

 

 

 

 Flank March

Home

 Winter Turmoil