Battle of Inkerman, 5 November 1854 - The Soldier's Battle

The Terrain
The Allied Position
The Russian Plan
The Russians Advance
Battle is Joined
Bibliography

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The Battle of Inkerman was the third major engagement of the Crimean War, between the Allies and the Russian on the Crimean Peninsula. It was preceded by a smaller engagement, known as the Battle of Little Inkerman (in reality a skirmish). This action occurred the day after Balaclava (26 October) and saw a Russian force move out of Sebastopol against the right of the siege line, which was occupied by the British. De Lacy Evans's 2nd Division, supported by the Guards brigade and artillery, drove off the Russian attack in an action that lasted some three hours, with only light casualties. In a significant move, Bosquet moved up French reserves in case they were needed, another example of inter-Allied co-operation.

The Terrain

The skirmish was in fact a dress rehearsal for a much larger engagement that was to follow in early November. The plateau occupied by the Allies featured an area of high ground in its northeast corner, with dimensions of about 1.5 by 0.75 miles (2.4 by 1.2 kilometres). The British knew it as Mount Inkerman (and by the Russians as Cossack Mountain) and was bordered to the west by the Careenage Ravine and to the east by the Sapoune Ridge. A couple of gullies (Miriakov and Wellway) ran eastwards from the Careenage Ravine and another three (Georgievski, Volovia and Quarry), running south of the Sapper Road parallel to the bay between the Tractir Bridge and the port, provided access to the plateau.

Located roughly in the middle of Mount Inkerman and almost two kilometres southeast of Sebastopol stood a feature called Shell Hill, that was approximately 200m above sea level and had two extensions running from it, named East and West Gut. About 400m from the southern end of the Quarry Ravine, 1.1km from Shell Hill and slightly taller was Home Ridge, an 'L' shaped feature that would feature heavily in the coming battle, as it did in the skirmish of 26 October.
On Mount Inkerman itself were located three small defensive fortifications. Sandbag Battery, located northeast of Home Ridge, was a 9-foot high position with embrasures cut for two guns to cover the Tchernaya River, although it had no banquette for small arms. Just in front of Home Ridge (where the Old Post Road emerged from the Quarry Ravine) stood a 4-foot high barricade of stones, called The Barrier, while a 2-foot high rampart, named Herbert's Folly, was located on top of Home Ridge itself.

The Allied Position

In the area of Home Ridge were deployed some 3,000 men of the British 2nd Division (commanded by Major-General J L Pennefather in place of de Lacy Evans who was ill), while a mile to the south was the Guards Brigade with a troop of horse artillery, and Bosquet's Corps of Observation was another mile to the south on the upland. The rest of the British forces (3rd, 4th and Light) in the immediate vicinity were over to the west, separated from the 2nd by a series of ravines, which would make reinforcement in an emergency difficult.

The Russian Plan

For Prince A S Menshikov, the skirmish of Little Inkerman was merely a reconnaissance in force. From the information that had been gathered, he planned to drive the British from Mount Inkerman and disrupt communications with the base at Balaclava. Four columns would be used in the attack and three of them would move against Mount Inkerman, while two would directly attack Shell Hill at around 7am. The first was led by Lieutenant General F I Soimonov with 19,000 men and thirty-eight guns, which would emerge from Sebastopol at 6am and cross the Careenage Ravine and advance along the two gullies onto the plateau. The second led by Lieutenant General P Ia Pavlov with 16,000 men and ninety-six guns, would leave the Mackenzie Heights at 5am, descend to the Tchernaya, cross the Tractir Bridge, converging on Mount Inkerman from the northeast through the ravines. These would then come under the tactical command of General PA Dannenberg, the IV Corps commander. The third column was led by General P D Gorchakov with 22,000 troops and eighty-eight guns and would advance across the Tchernaya River towards the Fedioukine Hills and act as a distraction to the Allies as well as being ready to support the main attack if necessary. The fourth column would be led by Lieutenant General F F von Moeller, the land commander in Sebastopol, and be used to make a demonstration on the allied left to try and discourage the French from reinforcing Mount Inkerman.

The Russians Advance

To many of the Regimental Officers, the lessons of the 26 October were obvious in that the enemy had found a weakness and would attempt to exploit it unless the position was reinforced. The 2nd Division were to busy to undertake this work themselves, and apart from some improvement to the positions around Home Ridge, little was done despite increasing urgent reports from spies, deserters and even official sources in St Petersburg that an attack was imminent. The Russians started to move in the early hours of 5 November. Fortunately for the British, the Russians never achieved the required coordination of their forces. Pavlov ended up being delayed at the Tchernaya for two hours while waiting for bridge repairs. Dannenberg's plan for Soimonov to keep west of Careenage Ravine to clear Victoria Ridge on Pavlov's flank was not followed, and to make matters worse, Soimonov moved off earlier than ordered. Additionally, Gorchakov, for whatever reason, left the bulk of his force east of the Tchernaya and Bosquet quickly realised that there was little threat from this direction, allowing him to readily support the British 2nd Division under Pennefather.

Heavy rain that had started the day before, lasted well into the night and by dawn, light rain and mist combined to cover the Russian advance. Shortly after daybreak, forward pickets gave warning of the impending attack and Raglan made his way to Home Ridge from his headquarters four miles away, arriving by 7.30am. He learnt that Siomonov's troops were already advancing onto the plateau and recognised the threat to the whole position. Soimonov had the 6th Rifles leading, the eight battalions of the Tomsk and Kolivansk regiments in the main body and the Katherineburg Regiment in support. He ordered England's 3rd Division to be vigilant on the British left with Cambridge (with the Guards Brigade) and Cathcart (4th Division) to support the 2nd Division. Brown had declined Bosquet's offer of help but Raglan promptly welcomed it. Raglan (crucially as it turned out) feared the range of the Russian artillery which could reach the British encampments from Shell Hill and ordered two 18pdr guns up from the siege park.

Battle is Joined

Siomonov managed to get twenty-two 12pdr guns on to Shell Hill and West Gut with which to bombard Home Ridge and the 2nd Division camp beyond. Under cover of their fire, the Russian infantry advanced southward, forcing the pickets 47th, 55th and 41st regiments to give ground. They were met by troops sent forward by Pennefather towards the Sandbag Battery on the right, The Barrier in the centre and Miriakov Gully on the left. Pennefather had decided this was a general engagement and not merely a sortie as before and so decided to fight this in a different way to de Lacy Evans. The Russian artillery was beginning to find the range to both the 2 nd Division camp and Home Ridge and so he brought up the main body of the division and put them in the dead ground behind the ridge. Pennefather elected to fight the battle as far forward as possible, keeping the enemy away from Home Ridge and buying time for reinforcements. He dispatched most of his formation to the pickets, keeping only a slender reserve (two companies of the 47th, some of the 55th, the 95th and his artillery). As the British deployed to meet the advancing Russians, two 9pdr field guns fired over their heads into the gloom. Another six-gun battery went up to the head of the Miriakov Gully but was overwhelmed by enemy troops and lost three guns. This force also forced a wing of the 49th to fall back (who had just seen off a Russian flanking column), but the first of the reinforcements from the Light Division arrived (four companies of the 88th - the Connaught Rangers). A swift and determined counterattack by first, the 88th, and then the 77th saved the day however, and more field guns arrived to raise the number on Home Ridge to thirty-six. The 77th then drove back the Tomsk Regiment who had been menacing the 30th from near the Wellway after a volley and close quarter fighting. The Kolivansk Regiment was met by elements of the 49th and withering artillery fire and was forced to retreat. By 8am, Siomonov's troops were on their way back to Shell Hill.

Pavlov's infantry streamed from the ravines at around 8.30am with the Borodino and Taroutine regiments leading (having picked up a stray battalion of the Katherineburg Regiment) and fierce fighting was once again the order of the day. This was especially so around Sandbag Battery, which was initially captured by the Taroutine Regiment from elements of the 55th but changed hands on several occasions and where French troops were heavily engaged. The fighting was long and drawn out, and it wasn't until later that morning, around 11am, that the position was finally secure. The Borodino Regiment was met by pickets from the 55th and a wing of the 30th. After giving them something of a volley (many Minie Rifles failing to fire due to damp cartridges) the British charged them (led by Colonel Mauleverer) and forced them to retreat. This was followed by a charge from the 41st led by Brigadier Adams into the Taroutine, which caused them to flee down the Kitspur.

Pavlov's second wave of the Okhotsk, Selenghinsk and Iakoutsk regiments advanced southeast with the aim it seemed of turning the British right. They forced the 41st (Adams) and 30th (Mauleverer) to retire towards Home Ridge and retook Sandbag Battery. At this point, Pennefather launched the first of his reserves, a wing from each of the 1st Rifle Brigade and 95th who engaged the Iakoutsk and forced them back into Quarry Ravine. A column of Iakoutsk moved around their flank however, and had to be met by the exhausted 30th who forced them to join their comrades. As the mist finally started to lift, both Raglan and Pennefather saw that the Russians were dangerously close to breaking through between Sandbag Battery and The Barrier where a gap had opened up, which was devoid of defenders and the Iakoutsk had regrouped and had begun to advanced under the cover of artillery fire. A wing each from the 20th and 57th (Goldie's Brigade, 4th Division) moved up and engaged the Iakoutsk, forcing them to retire and stabilising the situation. Marching towards the fight however was the Guards Brigade, which was launched at Sandbag Battery from Fore Ridge. They smashed into the Okhutsk and drove them off. They were faced however by the remains of the Okhutsk Regiment and the Selenghinsk Regiment who continually assaulted the position. Raglan sent word to the commander of the 4th Division, Cathcart, to go to the assistance of the Guards Brigade, but he had already decided to act on his own initiative and march to the extreme right and turn the Russian left with the 46th and 68th. He was tragically killed when he mistakenly led some of his troops down a gully. The Guards Brigade was successfully reinforced and with elements of the 20th and 95th poured down the slopes to put an end to the Russian threat to the Battery (leaving a few defenders with the Duke of Cambridge) but found themselves short of ammunition and cut off by fresh Russian infantry. Most decided to lay low and await their chance to escape. The Russian Infantry at the top of the Kitspur were in fact two remaining battalions of the Okhotsk and a battalion of the Iakoutsk who had become separated from their regiment. The Russians only had a small force of Guardsmen to contend with at the Battery but help was at hand in the form of the French 6th Line and 7th Light who had come up with Bosquet. While initially they had refused to move without orders from their commanders, General Bourbaki appeared and led the 6th Line in a counterattack with pushed the remaining Russian forces off the Sandbag Battery. At this point there was a lull in the battle.

Home Ridge however, remained in danger. Siomonov too had been killed and his division was now in disorder. Dannenberg took command and ordered the reformed Iakoutsk Regiment, supported by clouds of skirmishers and with flank protection from the remainder of Soimonov's troops to advance towards the barrier. Pennefather had been reinforced only by the 63rd and a wing of the 21st and realised that once again, to stand a chance, the British would have to fight well forward. He pushed out a mixture of the 20th, 30th, 49th, 95th and Rifles who met the enemy's skirmishers amongst the thick scrub and smoke. Russian skirmishers bypassed this action though and moved towards the Ridge. Pennefather's resources were slim with elements of the 47th, 55th, 57th and Coldstream Guards at the breastworks, and the 7th Light which was moving up to the rear of the 2nd Division camp. The situation was in the balance as the French having advanced well, came under fire and retired in disarray. The 55th brought them time with a spirited counterattack. The 77th moved forward to the left of the French and formed line which seemed to exert a calming influence. They moved forward together and drove the Russians away. As the main Russian force (Iakoutsk Regiment) advanced they were engaged by more British skirmishers who actually impeded the Allied artillery from engaging the main body. By the time they had broken cleanly away the Russians were very close to the French who despite the presence of the 57th and 77th began to waver. At this point Lt Col Daubeney and a number of men from the 55th launched a perfectly timed mini-counterattack into the column, which combined with artillery fire and a counterattack by the 7th Light and British line began to disintegrate. The 21st and 63rd had reformed and had been pushing the Russian right flank back in the same direction. They advanced ahead of the French and came to rest just beyond the Barrier. The Russians counterattacked and forced this group (by then under the command of Lord West) back to the barrier where this mixed force of regiments stood and held the final Russian thrust against the Barrier. One observer recorded that the dead lay around "as thick as sheaves in a cornfield".
By 9.30am the 18pdrs had come into action and Russian and Allied troops were engaged in bitter fighting near the Sandbag Battery on the right. Bosquet had moved two battalions of Zouaves and Algerians and the 50th Line towards the Battery to support the 6th Line and 7th Light against a determined attack by the Iakoutsk and Selenghinsk regiments. These had been forced back but inertia had gripped the Russians and they came under fire from the 18 pdrs (commanders on both sides commented on their decisive effect) and Boussinière's guns. Spurred on by this, the Zouaves and Algerians led the counterattack, which pushed the Selenghinsk away from the Battery and down the Ravine. They were joined by the British troops who had become cut off earlier. Next to them was a complete mix of British regiments who had made themselves useful by launching counterattacks into the Russian flanks. The 18 pdrs meanwhile effectively silenced the Russian artillery on Shell Hill and forced the infantry into retreat. Raglan then sent troops towards Shell Hill (a company of the 49th under Captain Astley and a company of the 77th under Lt Acton who were joined by Horsford and some of his rifles) to clear it so that Dannenberg would not be able to dig in. Realising the day was lost, the Russian corps commander ordered a general retreat and by 2.30pm had evacuated Shell Hill and had started to retreat across the Tchernaya.

The battle had been won, but at a cost. The British suffered some 2,357 casualties (597 killed, including Cathcart), the French suffered 929 casualties (143 killed), while the Russians suffered a total of 10,729 casualties, including Siomonov who was killed. The commander of the 2nd Division, Pennefather, remarked, "I tell you, we gave 'em a hell of a towelling." The effects on the Russian Field Army were astounding with twenty-four of the fifty battalions ruined or out-of-action. For the Allies, the effect was to dash their hopes of a speedy assault on Sebastopol as the British infantry had been badly mauled and speedy reinforcement would be unlikely meaning the British would be unable to play their full part until their formations had been rebuilt. While the battle had not benefited the Allies situation as regards Sebastopol, it could rightly be considered an important victory, and one of the greatest actions the British Army has fought having been victorious in the face of odds of five-to-one.

Books

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]
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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]
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ffrench Blake, R L V. The Crimean War, Sphere Books, London, 1973.
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Mercer, Patrick. Inkerman 1854, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 1998, Campaign Series No. 51, 96pp. Contains some interesting pictures of the battlefield in 1998.
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Barthorp, Michael, Heroes of the Crimea, Balaclava and Inkerman, Blandford, 1992, 160 pages. A book that brings together the two battles of Balaclava and Inkerman, seperated by less than two weeks in 1854
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Books on the Crimean War | Subject Index: Crimean War

How to cite this article: Antill, P. (5 August 2001), Battle of Inkerman, 5 November 1854 - The Soldier's Battle, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_inkerman.html

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