Lieutenant General the Earl of Raglan commanded the British Army; General Canrobert commanded the French Army while Prince Menshikov commanded the Russian Army. The immediate commanders in the battle were Brigadier Pennefather, Major General Sir George Brown and Major General Sir George Cathcart for the British, leading 8,500 men with 38 guns; General Bosquet for the French, leading 7,500 men with 18 guns and Generals Dannenberg, Soimonoff and Pauloff for the Russians, leading 42,000 men with 134 guns.
Precursor to Inkerman
The British, French and Turkish Armies had landed on the western coast of the Crimea in the Ukraine on 14th September 1854 with the intention of capturing the Russian naval port of Sevastopol. The Allied army marched southwards to the city, crossing a series of rivers and winning the battle of the Alma.
The allied armies could then have forced their way into the city, taking advantage of the confusion of defeat and the defender's failure to put Sevastopol in a proper state of defence but the French General St Arnaud and the British commander, Lord Raglan, were unable to agree on a plan of attack.
Instead, the allies marched around the city, establishing positions to the East and South and began a formal siege, digging entrenchments and batteries and bombarding the Russian defences. Just before the siege began, Prince Menshikov took his field army out of Sevastopol, and crossed the Tchernaya River to the North East of the city, where only a garrison remained. During October 1854 Menshikov received substantial re-inforcements and was urged by Tsar Nicholas II to take the offensive.
On 25th October 1854 a Russian force under General Liprandi crossed the Tchernaya and advanced on the British base, leading to the battle of Balaclava. The assault was foiled in the battle, during which the charges of the Light Brigade and Heavy Brigade took place, but the Russians were left holding a strong position north of the British line. The battle revealed the weakness of the allied position outside Sevastopol: there were insufficient allied troops to man the siege lines around the city and at the same time to oppose Prince Menshikov's substantial army.
The Battlelines are Drawn
On 5th November 1854 the Russians launched a heavy attack on the allied positions to the east of the city. The attacking force was made up of infantry and guns from the garrison of Sevastopol, commanded by General Soimonoff, and a second column from the field army, commanded by General Pauloff. The two forces, numbering 42,000 men and 134 guns, would come under the overall command of General Dannenberg once they had combined. The attack fell on the British Second Division, comprising just 2,700 men and 12 guns.
Soimonoff advanced along the southern side of a deep ravine known as the Careenage, moving east. With Pauloff advancing from the north-eastern side of the Tchernaya River to join him, the combined force would be in a position to overwhelm the Second Division on the end of the British line, before support could arrive. However, Soimonoff took the majority of his force along the northern side of the Careenage Ravine where there was insufficient space for his substantial force to deploy.
The Second Division had its positions and camp on a hill called Home Ridge. The post road from the south of the Crimea climbed over Home Ridge and descended into the valley to its north past an outcrop known as Fore Ridge, before crossing the Tchernaya River at Inkerman Bridge. The British troops built a wall across the post road on its descent, which they called “The Barrier”. On the eastern face of Fore Ridge overlooking the Tchernaya River was an empty battery position called the “Sandbag Battery”. The Barrier and the Sandbag Battery were to be of great significance in the battle, both bitterly contested, particularly in the second series of attacks by Pauloff’s columns.
The Battle Commences
Soimonoff’s force of 20,000 men and 100 guns set off from the city before dawn. Soimonoff’s guns, many of them of the heaviest calibres, 20 pounders and more, established themselves on a hill called Shell Hill to the North-West of Home Ridge.
As dawn broke on this foggy day, all the church bells of Sevastopol began a frenzied peel to encourage the Russian troops. Soimonoff’s 6,000 men columns advanced on Home Hill, preceded by 300 riflemen. A reserve force of 9,000 men remained behind Shell Hill.
The day after Balaclava, a reconnaissance battle known as Little Inkerman had taken place and strong British pickets had been left in place along the valley to the North West, many at company strength. In the fog these pickets engaged the advancing Russian columns and the firing in the valley warned General Pennefather, the acting divisional commander, of the beginning of a general action.
Pennefather, a highly aggressive officer, sent all the units of the Second Division forward to engage the Russians. On this occasion, his actions were providential, even though he was committing a small number of troops to battle against overwhelming odds. The Russian heavy artillery on Shell Hill opened a bombardment of the Second Division’s position on Home Ridge. The camp was destroyed but there were no troops on the crest, the division having moved off the ridge into the valley.
The Russian infantry, advancing through the drifting fog in dense columns, were met by the British regiments in open skirmishing order or line. The British minié rifled muskets gave quicker, longer ranged and more accurate fire than the Russian flint lock muskets of the Napoleonic period, the cap firing mechanism of the minié infinitely more reliable in the wet conditions.
The bottleneck formation prevented the Russians from making their final approach to Home Ridge on a broad front. The first Russian column to attack emerged from the constricted ground and advanced on the Second Division’s left. A wing of the British 49th Regiment fired a volley into the column and charged with the bayonet, driving the Russian column down the slope and across the valley to Shell Hill.
General Soimonoff led a further assault on the Second Division’s left with substantially greater numbers. As the Russians approached the ridge, troops of General Buller’s brigade from the Light Division and a battery of guns came up. The 88th Regiment passed the crest followed by the battery, but were driven back allowing three guns to fall into Russian hands. But Buller charged the column with the 77th and the 88th while the 47th Regiment attacked the Russian’s flank and the column retreated, giving up the captured guns. Russian sailors attempting an approach from the Careenage Ravine was also attacked by Buller’s men and driven back. General Soimonoff was killed in the struggle and General Buller wounded. The remainder of Soimonoff’s first line advanced down the post road to the Barrier where they were bombarded by a British battery and finally driven back by the assembled British pickets and the remaining companies of the 49th.
The initial Russian assaults had all failed. Some of Soimonoff’s regiments were so severely attacked, losing a high proportion of their officers, that they took no further part in the war. While the initial engagement had been intense it was nothing compared to the severity of the fighting that began with the arrival of Pauloff’s force from across the Tchernaya River.
Pauloff led 15,000 men advanced down the post road towards Home Ridge and Fore Ridge. The main focal points of the battle became the Barrier, the Sandbag Battery and the crest of the ridge above them.
As Pauloff advanced towards the Sandbag Battery, the wing of the British 30th Regiment holding the Barrier, 300 men, leapt over the wall and attacked with bayonet. Savage fighting saw the leading Russian battalions driven back down the slope. Brigadier Adams and the 41st Regiment engaged with five Russian battalions and succeeded in droving their column back to the banks of the Tchernaya River.
General Dannenberg now took command of the two Russian forces; Pauloff’s troops from the field army and Soimonoff’s 9,000 reserve force, and began a sustained and ferocious attack on the Second Division’s positions on Home Ridge. Support was coming up for Pennefather, the Guards Brigade arriving from its camp to the South and General Cathcart approaching with his Fourth Division.
The British troops holding the Barrier abandoned the position to the Russians for a time, but Pennefather sent forward men from the 21st Royal North British Fusiliers, the 63rd and the Rifles to retake it and the Barrier remained in British hands for the rest of the battle, in spite of repeated and determined assaults by the Russians.
The Sandbag Battery
Brigadier Adams held the Sandbag Battery with 700 men, supported by the 1,300 men of the Guards Brigade. The Russians launched an attack on his position with 7,000 men, beginning a series of charges and counter-charges which saw the ground changing hands several times as the fighting raged up and down the hillside.
The British were enabled to go on the offensive with the arrival of Cathcart’s Fourth Division which was used to plug gaps in the line as they appeared. Cathcart himself led 400 men in a flank attack on the Russians which started off well until Cathcart was taken in the rear by an unexpected assault from the crest of the ridge. Cathcart was killed and his force broken up, but his initial successes had encouraged other British units to break from the line and attempt charges down the hill, which gave a Russian regiment the opportunity to gain the crest of the ridge. The situation was retrieved by the timely arrival of a French regiment under General Bosquet which attacked the Russians in flank and drove them off the ridge and down the hillside. The 21st Regiment still held the Barrier on the post road, although the position had been enveloped by each Russian advance.
The Russians then launched a further assault on the left of the Second Division’s position at the exit from the Careenage Ravine, with a second attack on the Home Ridge, bypassing the Barrier. A savage struggle developed, but the presence of the French and other British reinforcements was decisive and the Russian attacks were all driven back.
During the day the 100 Russian guns on Shell Hill provided a substantial support for their infantry but, towards the end of the battle two 18 pounder British guns, called up by Lord Raglan from the siege park, were manhandled onto Home Ridge and brought into action. These two guns with the assistance of the field batteries along the line overwhelmed the Russian guns, whose unprotected crews had been subjected to long range rifle fire.
Lieutenant-General Hamley described the end of the fighting saying: “This extraordinary battle closed with no final charge nor victorious advance on the one side, no desperate stand nor tumultuous flight on the other. The Russians, when hopeless of success, seemed to melt from the lost field.”
The exhausted English regiments with their French colleagues were left on a field strewn with casualties; the main points of the fighting, the Sandbag Battery and the Barrier were heaped with bodies. The regiments stood down and returned to the siege positions around Sevastopol or to their encampments, too exhausted to turn the battle into a rout.
Scots Fusilier Guards (Scots Guards)
1st Regiment, the Royal Regiment (Royal Scots)
4th the King’s Own Royal Regiment (King’s Own Royal Border Regiment)
7th Royal Fusiliers (Royal Regiment of Fusiliers)
19th Regiment (Green Howards)
20th Regiment (Royal Regiment of Fusiliers)
21st Royal North British Fusiliers (Royal Highland Fusiliers)
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers
28th Regiment (Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment)
30th Regiment (Queen’s Lancashire Regiment)
33rd Regiment (Duke of Wellington’s Regiment)
38th Regiment (Staffordshire Regiment)
41st Regiment (Royal Regiment of Wales)
44th Regiment (Royal Anglian Regiment)
47th Regiment (Queen’s Lancashire Regiment)
49th Regiment (Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment)
50th Regiment (Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment)
55th Regiment (King’s Own Royal Border Regiment)
57th Regiment (Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment)
63rd Regiment (King’s Regiment)
68th Regiment (Light Infantry)
77th Regiment (Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment)
88th Regiment, the Connaught Rangers, disbanded in 1922
95th Regiment (Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment)
The Rifle Brigade (Royal Green Jackets)