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Info Crimean War






In the years 1854 to 1856, Britain fought its only European war between the ending of the Napoleonic conflict in 1815 and the opening of the First World War in 1914. Although eventually victorious, the British and their French allies pursued the war with little skill and it became a byword for poor general ship and logistical incompetence. The war began as a quarrel between Russian Orthodox monks and French Catholics over who had precedence at the holy Places in Jerusalem and Nazereth. Tempers frayed, violence resulted and lives were lost. Tsar Nicholas I of Russia demanded the right to protect the shrines in the Holy Land and to back up his claims, he moved troops to Moldavia. His fleet then destroyed a Turkish flotilla at Sinope in the Black Sea. Russian domination of Constantinople and the Straits was a perennial nightmare of the British and with the two powers already suspicious of each others intentions in Afghanistan and Central Asia, the British felt unable to accept such Russian moves against the Turks. Louis Napoleon III, emperor of France, eager to emulate the military successes of his uncle Napoleon I and wishing to extend his protection to the French monks in Jerusalem, allied himself with Britain. Both countries dispatched forces to the Balkans. The war began in March 1854 and by the end of the summer, the British / French forces had driven the Russians out of Moldavia. The fighting should have ended there, but it was decided, that the Great Russian naval base at Sevastopol, was a direct threat to the future security of the region and in September 1854 the French and British landed their armies on the Crimean peninsula. From their landing beaches the allies marched southward to attack Sevastopol. On the way there they fought their first major battle. The defeated Russians retreated inland and as the siege of Sevastopol began a regrouped Russian army hovered menacingly on the flank of the British army who were using the inlet of Balaklava as its supply harbour.



Sevastopol was invulnerable to any kind of seaborne attack and her landward defenses were also fantastic. Soon the major strong points in the defenses, the Redan, the little Redan and the Malakoff bastion, would become household words in Britain. As the British and French prepared their siege works, the Russian army on the British right flank struck. They were flung back at this, but only with great losses with the British light cavalry. A further attempt by the Russians resulted in the Battle of Inkerman, a murderous fistfight fought out in a fog so thick that sometimes the troops could only see a few yards ahead. Again the Russians were pushed back.




It was the Russian army hanging on the flank of the British that caused the second of the Crimean War's battles, the Battle of Balaklava. North of Balaklava harbour was a slight rise where the Highlanders had made their camp. Beyond this, there lay an open valley leading up to a higher line of hills known as the Causeway Heights. The Causeway Heights looked down on a valley called the North Valley and beyond it the Fedoukine Hills. It was in the North Valley, that the spectacle and most tragic event of the war would take place. The charge of the Light Brigade. Along the crest of the Causeway Heights were a string of six redoubts, manned by Turkish infantry. On the morning of 25th October, 1854 they were approached by a superior force of Russian troops well supported by artillery. The Turks held their ground, and frantic messengers run back to warn the British. Unfortunately, the British reacted very slowly and by the time they had started across the South Valley, the Turks were in full flight, four of the redoubts in enemy hands and Russian cavalry were swarming over the Causeway Heights. Soon they approached the Highlander. There could be no retreat, as they were all that stood between the enemy and the disorganized British camp. Though the Highlanders drove off the Russian cavalry on their front. Russian horsemen were moving up the North Valley, in the direction of the British had quarters. Disturbed by the fire of a British gun, they crossed over the Causeway Heights to the left of the Highlanders and saw below them the Heavy Brigade, six squadrons of British heavy cavalry. The Russians were a dense grey mass all wearing yellowish-grey greatcoats and the British cavalry approaching them in lines have seemed hopelessly fragile, in their bright scarlet tunics. They were led by General Sir James Scarlett, who had never commanded troops in battle. Scarlett organized his squadrons as if on parade. The Russian cavalry, from the slopes of the Causeway Heights, watched with incredulous fascination. There had been no British cavalry charges so far in the war and only a fool would dare to take such an action now, against a much stronger enemy. Scarlett's trumpeter sounded the charge and his men moved off. As they drove into the Russian line, the red tunics seemed to disappear in a sea of Russian grey. There was no room for fancy swordsmanship and the troopers hacked around them as it where meat cleavers. The ferocity, execution and sheer arrogance of the charge, however, were too much for the Russians and they faltered. Then they broke and fled northwards back over the Causeway Heights. It was not the most spectacular charge ever made by British cavalry, but it was probably the most effective. The Russians retreated and the wounded were being carried back to camp. The battle now moved over to the western end of the North Valley where the Light Brigade was positioned and a crucial factor came into play. The topography of the battlefield made it very difficult for officers in the field, to see much more than what was on their direct front. Because of this, the generals watching from the hills above, enjoyed an almost unimpeded view. The Heavy Brigade reformed and British infantry advanced on the westernmost of the captured redoubts. It was Cardigan's Light Brigade, that would have to lead any forward movement. Unfortunately, the only guns that either of them could see were the Russian artillery, a mile away, at the eastern end of the North Valley. Supported by massed infantry and cavalry and with other guns and riflemen on both sides of the valley. The Russian position was like the jaws of some ferocious beast. Cardigan sounded the charge and the Light Brigade started forward. The first line consisted of the Light Dragoons on the right, the Lancers on the left and the Hussars in support. The second was formed by the Light Dragoons and the Hussars. 673 men rode forward when the trumpet sounded. Less than 200, almost all of them wounded would return. For the first fifty yards nothing happened and then the Russian guns opened fire. The horses began to move faster from a trot, to a canter and to a gallop and the officers had trouble restraining some of their men from spurring on ahead. From three sides a storm of lead and iron winnowed the ranks of the British. Barely fifty men of the first line reached the Russian guns. They rushed past, slashing at those gunners who had been slow to find cover, and slammed into the Russian cavalry behind the guns. They drove it backwards in disorder, until overwhelming numbers slowed the momentum of their charge and they were forced to retire. The second line slaughtered the Russian gunners and pushing forward was met by the remnants of the first line in retreat. The English turned their horses back down the valley up which they had charged at such cost. As they retired the Russian lancers seemed to part to let them through with just a few desultory lance prods to see them on their way. Some said this was a Russian gesture of respect for the heroism of the charge. Some said it was the result of the ineffectual leadership that was apparent in the handling of Russian cavalry. Perhaps it was simply the ordinary Russian troopers disdaining to risk their lives against an obviously spent force that had shown such a proclivity to insanity. More than 500 British horses died in the charge and it's possible the Russians just felt sorry for the surviving mounts. The Battle of Balaklava was claimed as a victory by the British but in reality it was not. British cavalry played were unable to play any significant role for the remainder of the war and the Causeway Heights were left in Russian hands. This would greatly add to the misery of the British Army, as it faced the Crimean winter.



The war settled down to one of spade and artillery as the Allies pushed their trenches nearer the defensive lines of Sevastopol. The winter of 1854 - 1855 brought great misery to the troops, particularly the British as their commissary department was grossly incompetent and for months the men were clothed in rags, cold, hungry and short of everything. The only bright light in this tale of stupidity was the work of Florence Nightingale who almost single-handedly drastically cut mortality rates for the British wounded at the hospital in Scutari. Finally, in early 1856, Sevastopol fell and the war was ended by the Peace of Paris. The place where the famous Dacha Sevastopolskaja and Florence Nightingale did do their work!


 Updated: 16. januari 2017 18:13:58 +0300



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