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 Flank march

The Flank march. Faced with formidable Russian defences north of Sevastopol Bay. on 25 September 1854 the allies marched round them to the east The following day, invading troops poured across the Plain of Balaclava on to the Chersonese plateau to besiege Sevastopol.

Possibly because he was terminally ill, but allegedly because his men were fatigued, St Arnaud refused to move on during the following two days. Meanwhile, the dead were buried and Russian wounded evacuated to Odessa. The allied march did not resume until 23 September, to the chagrin of Admiral Lyons, who firmly believed that 'a golden opportunity' had been lost to snatch Sevastopol before the Russians could reorganise. Yet, how Sevastopol was to be attacked had still not been decided: seizure of the northern half then bombardment to induce surrender of the southern dockyard districts; or, alternatively, a march round Sevastopol to the east and a siege of the port from upland to the south. High ground and two more rivers (the Katcha and Belbec) lay ahead, though, before Sevastopol came into sight.

 

Rear-Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons (1790-1858). Second in command of the Black Sea fleet, in charge of the in-shore squadron and naval liaison officer at Lord Raglan's headquarters; succeeded Vice-Admiral Dundas as C-in-C in January 1855.

 

Unknown to the allies, Menshikov had made a decision that would fundamentally affect the course of the campaign. On 23 September, he sent Kiriakov with a covering force to the Belbec river, ensured that warships were sunk across the entrance to Sevastopol to prevent penetration by the allied fleets, left a garrison in the port (supplemented by sailors from the sunken ships), marched surplus regiments over the Tchernaya river to the east and began to gather a 30,000-strong field army on high ground beyond. From there, he could threaten the flank of the invaders and keep in touch with reinforcement routes from the north and east.

24 September was a pivotal day for the allies. Intelligence was received that 'yesterday' the Russians had sunk seven warships across the entrance to Sevastopol harbour and built a new earthwork near mouth of the Belbec. Sent ahead to scout, Cardigan reported that an 'impracticable' marsh lay beyond the Belbec, whose causeway was dominated by enemy guns and infantry (Kiriakov's force). That evening a decisive conference took place in camp on the Belbec.

The preferred option of taking the northern suburbs preparatory to a bombardment and assault across the bay on the southern dockyard paled. The octagonal Star Fort (its guns capable of 4,000yds [3,660m]) range) had been strengthened by construction of two batteries nearby and support by entrenched infantry. A Polish deserter also claimed that the area had been mined. Sir John Burgoyne 'strongly' favoured marching round Sevastopol to mount a regular siege from the south. The French, worried about the strength of the northern defences, agreed.

 

Lieutenant-General Sir John Fox Burgoyne.

 

 

 

So with Cathcart's 4th Division and the 4th Light Dragoons left at the Belbec to maintain communication with the fleets, the flank march began on 25 September; 'this bold and extraordinary movement, which claims rank with the greatest efforts of military science', according to The United Service Magazine. During its course, his escort having temporarily lost its way, Raglan very nearly rode into the rearguard of the Russian field army making its way out of Sevastopol. During the morning of 26 September, the British commander crossed the Tchernaya river and entered the village of Kadikoi 1.5 miles (2.4km) from Balaclava. Approaching the chosen British supply port through a narrow gorge and having been assured of a friendly reception, Raglan was fired on from an old castle at the harbour entrance, which rapidly surrendered.

The choice of Balaclava seemed strange. On the left of the line, the British could legitimately have wheeled on to the upland before Sevastopol and made use of the nearby ports of Kamiesch and Kazatch. But Burgoyne and Lyons urged Raglan to secure Balaclava and the new French commander, Canrobert, agreed. On 25 September, Canrobert had succeeded St Arnaud, who died at sea four days later.

 

General Francois Certain Canrobert (1809-95). A divisional commander with the French Expeditionary Force, he succeeded St Arnaud as C-in-C in September
1854. In May 1855 he resigned in favour of General A. J. J. Pelissier. taking over his corps and remaining in the theatre of war

 

So on 27 September, the allies deployed on the high ground south of Sevastopol with the French on the left and British on the right. The Chersonese upland, shaped rather like a heart, had an eastern escarpment (the Sapoune Ridge) 700ft (210m) high overlooking the Plain of Balaclava. A break in the south-eastern corner (the 'Col') gave access to Balaclava via a steep track. This would be used to transport the British supplies. The boundary between the British and French areas of responsibility was the 'Man of War Harbour', a deep inlet from Sevastopol Bay known to the Russians as South Bay.

The French put their 3rd and 4th divisions under Forey in the siege lines, the 1st and 2nd in a Corps of Observation commanded by Bosquet in reserve behind the British in the south-eastern quarter of the plateau. The British 3rd and 4th divisions were placed immediately east of the Great Ravine, the southward extension of Man of War Harbour, with the Light Division in its rear. The 2nd Division held the extreme right in the area later known as Mount Inkerman, with the Brigade of Guards from the 1st Division supporting it. The French, therefore, faced the Old Town, containing the artillery and engineer stores; the British, the newer, eastern Karabel suburb with the naval barracks, dry docks and main dockyard area.

At the outbreak of hostilities, the civilian population comprised approximately 38,000 Russians, Armenians, Jews, Tartars and Greeks, many of them traders.

 

Battle of Balaclava, 25 October 25, 1854

 

"Thin Red Line tipped with steel”, painted by Robert Gibb, 1881, In this incident, the 93rd, aided by a small force of Royal Marines and some Turkish infantrymen, led by Sir Colin Campbell, routed a Russian cavalry charge.

As the allies settled on the upland on 27 September, a semicircle of fortifications could be seen facing them, supported by unsunken warships firing long-range from Sevastopol Bay. Apparently, only 23 of the Russian guns on land were effective, but this was not evident to the allies, who believed that 20,000 men were defending the naval port in addition to the field army in the east. In fact, later evidence suggests that, including militia, marines and disembarked sailors but excluding 5,000 workmen, the garrison actually totalled 30,850 men at this time.

The Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava  illustrating the Light Brigade's charge into the "Valley of Death"

Neither Burgoyne nor the French supported an assault without preliminary bombardment, so preparations for one were begun. Answering a request from Raglan, on
October Admiral Dundas agreed to land 1,000 marines with a complement of field guns in addition to a naval brigade of 1,040 officers and men with heavier cannon. The Royal Artillery disembarked its siege train, dragging it almost 8 miles (13km) to the heights. The British troops were entrenched 2,300yds (2,100m) away from
the enemy, and assaulting across such a wide expanse of open ground would be suicidal without total reduction of the fortifications ahead. On the left, the French put batteries on Mount Rodolph; the British similarly did so on Green Hill and Woronzov Height, 1,300-1,400yds (1,190-1,280m) from Sevastopol, with the Lancaster guns situated in two 'half-sunken batteries' 2,800yds (2,560m) from the enemy. As preparations for the bombardment went ahead, sickness among the troops mounted, and towards the end of October Raglan could muster only 16,000 fit men.

 

What became known as the First Bombardment by 126 British and French guns began at dawn on 17 October. The Russians (now with an estimated 220 guns, including those of steamers in the Bay) forestalled this by opening fire earlier, and there is some suggestion that allied batteries responded prematurely and piecemeal. None the less, the naval 68pdrs in particular proved extremely effective, and Paymaster Henry Dixon of the 7th Royal Fusiliers pleaded to his father that 'you must excuse much as the row [sic] is too great to write a line'.

At 10.30, two hits on ammunition magazines silenced the French. Thereafter only 41 British guns were engaged. Moreover, the planned simultaneous naval bombardment did not actually commence until 1.30 pm, achieved little and obliquely proved that the fleets at sea could contribute nothing tangible to the siege with their guns. On land the British seriously damaged the Malakov and Great Redan works and theoretically opened a way for an infantry assault. But the French were unable to attack the Flagstaff bastion in front of them and Raglan rightly decided that, unless they could do so, his men would be liable to heavy losses from flank fire. The Russians were therefore able to repair their fortifications overnight under the direction of the able engineer Lieutenant-Colonel F. E. I. Todleben.
Although the French did reopen fire the following day and the bombardment continued for a further week, it ended in failure. The Russian commander o Sevastopol, Vice-Admiral Kornilov, w mortally wounded, however, and direction of the military and naval forces devolved separately on Lieutenant-General von Moeller and Vice-Admiral Nachimov.

 

Gun batteries in action. Heavy mortars and siege artillery fire on the Russians before Sevastopol. The Woronzov metalled road from Yalta is extreme left, the Malakov defence work far right, Sevastopol Bay and harbour entrance in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

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