Battle of Balaclava, 25 October 1854

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The Battle of Balaclava was fought on the 25 October 1854, and was the second major engagement of the Crimean War. The battle occurred while the British and French were conducting the siege of Sevastopol. Lord Raglan had become concerned about the potential vulnerability of the Allied supply base at Balaclava and on the 18 September he went to the Sapoune Ridge but could see no immediate threat, despite having received reports of Russian movement across the Tchernaya River. The Russians, under Prince Menshikov, were preparing to advance however, and had already probed towards the line of redoubts along the Woronzov (Causeway) Heights and continued to do so in early to mid-October.

Next to Balaclava lay Mount Hiblak (nicknamed Marine Heights), with Kamara and the Baidar Valley to the east. Kadikoi was just north of Balaclava and just to the north of this was the Plain of Balaclava running west to east and split by the Woronzov Heights in to the North and South Valleys. The Russian Field Army (composed of some 25,000 men and 78 guns under the local commander Lieutenant General P P Leprandi) actually lay in the area of Chorgun, beyond the Tchnernaya River to the east of the Woronzov heights. The Russians could advance over the Tractir and other bridges to cross the river and aqueduct (that carried Sevastopol's water supply) or from Kamara to menace the six redoubts. Unfortunately the redoubts were not quite as strong as anticipated as five of the six were spread roughly 500 yards apart but No. 1 was isolated on Canrobert's Hill, about 1,000 yards from No. 2. Nos. 5 and 6 were unfinished. Around 1,500 Turks (commanded by British artillery NCOs) with nine guns defended the Heights. Deployed around Kadikoi were six companies of the 93rd (Sutherland) Highlanders, a battalion of Turks and a six-gun field battery, while 1,200 Marines defended Mount Hiblak with 26 field guns. To the north-west of Balaclava, five British infantry divisions and the French Corps of Observation stood on the Chersonese Uplands, with the British Cavalry Division deployed just to the west of No. 6 redoubt.

Prince Menshikov had decided to attack in three main axes. The first axis (in the south) under Major General S I Gribbe, with a combined force of infantry (three battalions of the Dnieper Regiment), cavalry (Uhlans and Cossacks) and artillery would take the village of Kamara and the surrounding high ground, along with a monastery to the south and direct pressure to No. 1 redoubt. The second axis in the centre would be under Major General K R Semiakin with two columns, one of which he would command himself consisting of the Azov Regiment and one battalion from the Dnieper Regiment plus artillery support, and the other under Major General F G Levutski consisting of the Ukraine Regiment with artillery. This force would attack towards No. 1 and No. 2 redoubts after crossing the Tchernaya. The third axis (to the north) would be under Colonel A P Skiuderi, comprising the Odessa Regiment, 53rd Don Cossack Regiment with artillery support and would drive over the Tractir Bridge and advance towards No. 3 redoubt. After the redoubts were taken, the main cavalry force under Lieutenant General I I Ryzhov (fourteen Hussar squadrons, an Ural Cossack regiment and two artillery batteries) would attack the British positions around Kadikoi. A force of some 5,000 men under Major General O P Zhaboritski would protect the flank.

Early on the morning of 25 October the Russians advanced towards the line of redoubts, alerting the British cavalry under the command of Lord Lucan, who quickly sent word to Lord Raglan (the British Commander-in-Chief) about the grave threat, and deployed the Heavy Brigade (under Brig Gen James Scarlett) with the Light Brigade (under The Earl of Cardigan) in reserve. From here, the battle can be seen to transpire in four phases. The first phase began at dawn with the Russian infantry advancing on and taking redoubts 1 to 4 with light resistance from the Turkish defenders and then concentrating around 1 to 3 in preparation for a cavalry attack towards Kadikoi. Raglan put the British 3rd Division on alert (Sir Richard England), and ordered the 1st Division (Duke of Cambridge) into the South Valley via The Col, and the 4th Division (Sir George Cathcart) down the Woronzov Road into the North Valley. Unfortunately, both these divisions would be slow to react and would not reach the battlefield before 10.30am. The French Commander-in-Chief Canrobert, sensing the threat to the British lines of communication, sent two infantry brigades and eight cavalry squadrons from Bosquet's Corps down past The Col to the western end of the South Valley.

The second phase of the battle began at about 8.30am. Liprandi ordered Ryzhov to lead the main force of Russian cavalry 'against the enemy camp'. The order was very vague and there was some confusion as to its precise meaning. Ryzhov therefore, began advancing westwards along the North Valley, supported by 26 field guns, but was concerned about meeting infantry fire on his route. Major General Sir Colin Campbell was at that point, finalising the defences around Kadikoi. He had some 700 British and 1,000 Turks with six field guns. The Russian cavalry continued to advance westwards along the North Valley, with a small force wheeling off over the Woronzov Heights towards the village of Kadikoi, but were forced to retire by the determined action of the British and Turkish defenders that became known as 'The Thin Red Line'.

The third phase of the battle involved the Heavy Brigade. Raglan had ordered Lucan to move the Heavy Brigade in support of the British and Turkish forces that were being faced with the Russian cavalry advancing on Kadikoi. However, 'The Thin Red Line' had prevailed and Scarlett, after negotiating some difficult terrain, was faced with the remaining Russian cavalry under Ryzhov (some 2,000 men) approaching his left flank in the vicinity of No. 5 redoubt after turning southwards towards Kadikoi. At that point, Ryzhov halted (later he claimed, to reorganise two of his Hussar regiments side-by-side in the face of Scarlett's extended line) only 100 yards from the Heavy Brigade, in bewilderment at the apparently unconcerned British. Scarlett, in the face of the main enemy cavalry force, wheeled his force with calm and although outnumbered, charged the Russian cavalry, which, after some desperate fighting, broke and retreated in haste back over the Woronzov Heights.

The fourth and final phase of the battle began at around 10.15 when Raglan sent an order to Lucan to advance and seize any opportunity to retake the Heights. Lucan assumed this meant the Woronzov Heights and ordered the Light Brigade into the North Valley and kept the Heavy Brigade in the South. Unfortunately, the infantry that was to support them was delayed and were not in position by 10.30am. Raglan could see that the Russians were preparing to tow away the captured guns from the redoubts and so sent the fateful and controversial order (copied down by his Quartermaster General Richard Airey) for the cavalry to rapidly advance and stop the Russians appropriating the guns. Captain L E Nolan (Airey's ADC) left the ridge with the order as Raglan called after him 'Tell Lord Lucan the cavalry is to attack immediately.' What happened between Nolan and Lucan will never be known, Lucan maintaining that Nolan pointed to the end of the North Valley where the Russian guns were sited to protect the Tchernaya river crossings. Just after 11am, Cardigan led the Light Brigade (673 men) and Nolan up the 2km long valley. Twenty minutes later, the survivors returned - the brigade suffered 360 casualties amongst the men, 517 amongst the horses. The French cavalry performed an admirable action in clearing the Fedoukine Hills to protect the survivors' right flank. Nolan was killed shortly after the advance started, waving his sword in the air, possible to try and redirect the charge towards the redoubts. The recriminations began soon after with Raglan censoring Cardigan who pointed to the order from Lucan, who blamed Nolan. The dispute as to what exactly had passed between these individuals rumbled on for years. What is of importance are the personalities of those involved. Lucan and Cardigan detested one another, while Nolan was contemptuous of Lucan's failure to act on Raglan's third order, and was not the best person to calmly explain the Commander-in-Chief's intentions. Meanwhile the two infantry divisions had reached the plains and exchanged intermittent fire with the Russians all afternoon. The Russians remained in charge of the Woronzov Heights and the guns were towed away.

For all the mistakes that were made, Balaclava remained in Allied hands, and so Raglan could claim victory, but few in Britain saw it that way, as for many, the Charge was the battle, and that was a disaster. However, there was no question as to the bravery of the troops concerned (even the Turks, who, it must be pointed out, had held out for one-and-a-half hours against overwhelming odds) and the successes of both 'The Thin Red Line' and the Heavy Brigade. The success of the 1st French Cavalry Brigade (under d'Allonville) had shown the value of inter-Allied co-operation too, with the clearing of the Fedoukine Hills. The Russians also had reason to be satisfied with the day, despite failing to cut the British lines of communication or seriously threaten Balaclava, as they had captured a number of redoubts forming Balaclava's outer defences and a number of field guns.

Sweetman Crimean WarThe Crimean War, John Sweetman, Osprey, 2001, 96 pages. A good introduction to the events of the Crimean War, if perhaps a little too focused on the British view of the war. [see more] cover cover cover

Balaclava 1854, Osprey Publishing, London, 1990, Campaign No. 6, John Sweetman cover cover cover

Battles of the Crimean War, W. Baring-Pemberton, Macmillan, 1968, 256 pages. One of the best military histories of the Crimean War, with good accounts of all the major battles, well supported by quotes from the combatants. [see more] cover cover cover

Books on the Crimean War | Subject Index: Crimean War

How to cite this article: Antill, P. (20 June 2001), Balaclava, Battle of, 25 October 1854, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_balaclava.html

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