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The Battle Of Balaclava History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The Allied victory against the Russians at the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 was a succession of blunders. Besides the most famous of which is Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” there were also major failures in intelligence and communications. Inadequate intelligence preparation resulted in inadequate planning and execution. Poor situational awareness by the Allied commanders on the battlefield contributed to disastrous misunderstandings in communication. The extraordinary bravery exhibited by “The Thin Red Line” of the Highlanders and the selfless charge of the Light Brigade “Into the Valley of Death” would not make up for these shortcomings.

Failure to Prepare

The Crimean War was fought between the Allies of France, Britain and Ottoman Turkey against Russia to remove Russian occupation from the Crimean Peninsula. The war lasted from October 1853 to February 1856. The Battle of Balaclava was the second major Crimean campaign. The purpose of the campaign was to occupy the Russian held port of Sebastopol on the western end of the peninsula. The British army was to march southeast, occupy Balaclava, and lay siege to Sebastopol. The occupation of Balaclava was necessary for resupply and protection of the Allied flank (Kennedy, 1976).

The British had failed to consider the climate of the Crimean peninsula in their planning. There was a lack of tents and proper winter clothing which led to reduced combat effectiveness. The British did not have maps and conducted the march by compass alone. The British did not have intelligence of the Russian unit locations. During the march to Balaclava, the leading British elements stumbled across the rearguard elements of a Russian unit at Mackenzie’s farm. A Russian officer was captured and questioned, but no usable intelligence was gained because the officer was inebriated (Kennedy, 1976).

The British lack of intelligence meant they did not know the size of the waiting Russian force they were approaching at Balaclava. The only resistance they met at Balaclava was from a small garrison. The day after the British arrived, French units also arrived. The plan had been for the British and French to both occupy Balaclava prior to the siege of Sebastopol. Their intelligence had failed to show that Balaclava was much too small to support such a force. The French Force was moved to Kameisch Bay leaving the British solely responsible for protecting the Allied flank. Intelligence analysis of the terrain north of Balaclava would have revealed this was not a good choice (Kennedy, 1976).

The valley north of Balaclava was blocked to the west by the Sapaune Heights. On the east end of the valley were the Woronzlov Heights. The north side of the valley was bounded by the Fedioukine Heights on top of which ran a road into the interior. Down the middle of the valley, from east to west, ran a ridgeline known as the Causeway Heights (see appended Figures 1-3). The Causeway Heights concealed any actions on the north side of the valley from observers in the south side of the valley (Kennedy, 1976). This blockage of the line-of-sight would contribute to the later blunders.

The British constructed four redoubt positions manned by Turks under the command of British Artillery Non-Commissioned Officers along the top of the Causeway Heights approximately a half-mile from each other and a fifth redoubt on top of Canrobert’s Hill. The cavalry units were encamped at the western end of the South Valley. Infantry (93rd Highlanders), more Turks, and a field battery were positioned around Kadikoi. Twelve-hundred Royal Marines defended Mount Hiblak with twenty-six guns. To the northwest, five British infantry divisions and the French Observation Corps were in the Chersonese Heights (Anthill, 2001). This left the British units extended and unable to support one another while attempting to cover all possible avenues of approach. The British still did not have intelligence on the size or distribution of the Russians (Kennedy, 1976).

The British did know, as a result of their skirmish at Mackenzie’s Farm, that there was an element of Russians somewhere to the east. The British did not know the intentions of the Russians resulting in frequent alerts everytime a Russian scouting patrol was seen. These alerts led to decreased morale and a boy-who-cried-wolf mentality among the British troops. On 24 October a Turkish spy reported the Russians were going to attack on 25 October with 25,000 troops. As a result of the numerous false alerts, this warning was ignored. No attempts were made for reinforcement or to strengthen the British position (Kennedy, 1976).

The Russian Attack

The Russians, on the other hand, had been conducting intelligence operations and were aware of the weaknesses of the British position. The Russian Commander, Prince Menshikov, planned a three axis attack. In the south, Major General Gribbe, would capture the village of Kamara and move toward redoubt number one. Gribbe had a combined force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. In the center, second axis, Major General Semiakin would command two columns with artillery support to attack towards redoubts one and two after crossing the Tchernaya. In the north, Colonel Skuderi would cross the Tractir Bridge and move towards redoubt three. After these redoubts were taken, General Ryzhov was to attack the positions around Kadikoi with a unit under Major General Zhaboritski to protect their flank (Anthill, 2001).

Before dawn on 25 October the Russians started their advance alerting the British troops under command of Lord Lucan. Lucan sent word to the British Commander-in-Chief, Lord Raglan, and moved Brigadier James Scarlett’s Heavy Brigade with the Earl of Cardigan’s Light Brigade in reserve to the western end of the Causeway Heights. The battle began at dawn when the Russian infantry attacked and took redoubts one to four with very little resistance from the Turkish defenders (See Figure 1, A). The Russian force then concentrated around redoubts one to three to prepare for a cavalry attack on Kadikoi. Raglan put the 3rd Infantry on alert, ordered the 1st Division into the South Valley, and the 4th Division into the North Valley. Unfortunately, these divisions would not make it to the battlefield before it was all but over. Sensing the threat to the British lines of communication, the French Commander-in-Chief, Canrobert, ordered two infantry brigades and eight cavalry squadrons to the western end of the South Valley (Anthill, 2001).

“The Thin Red Line”

At about 0830 Liprandi ordered Ryzhov to attack the enemy camp; the first of many vague orders during the battle. Ryzhov moved west along the North Valley. A small force cut off over the Woronzlov Heights towards Kadikoi. The 93rd Highland Foot was positioned behind a ridge in the road to take cover from the artillery turned against them. The commander of the 93rd, Sir Colin Campbell, arranged his men two deep (instead of the doctrinal four deep) standing abreast. On their flanks were Turks who fired one volley before retreating. Sir Colin Campbell rode up and down the line saying: “There is no retreat from here men, you must die where you stand.” The 93rd fired three volleys into the advancing cavalry. The Russians wheeled and retreated to rejoin Ryzhov’s main body (See Figure 1, B). The Crimean War was the first war to see war cor-respondents on the battlefield. London Times correspondent W.H. Russell watched the scene and wrote of seeing “the thin red streak tipped with steel”. This phrase would be shortened into the now common phrase “The Thin Red Line” (93rd Sutherland Highland Regiment of Foot Living History Unit, Inc.).

“‘Follow,’ and up the hill, up the hill, up the hill, Follow’d the Heavy Brigade.”

– Tennyson, The Charge of the Heavy Brigade

The Heavy Brigade was next to be involved against the Russians. ‘The Thin Red Line’ had succeeded and Ryzhov had halted about one hundred yards uphill from the Heavy Brigade. Brigadier Scarlett, facing the main enemy cavalry force, wheeled his force and although outnumbered, charged uphill toward the Russian cavalry (See Figure 1, C). Even someone completely unfamiliar with military tactics can understand that consideration of the terrain could have placed the Heavy Brigade in a better location instead of positioning them to charge uphill. Despite this terrain dis-advantage, after some heavy fighting, the Russian cavalry broke and retreated back to the Woronzlov Heights (Anthill, 2001).

“Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred.”

— Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade

The greatest blunder of the battle, and one that lives in infamy began at approximately 1015. Raglan ordered to advance and seize any opportunity to retake the “Heights”, but did not specify which heights. Rather than seek clarification, Lucan took this to mean the Woronzlov Heights and moved the Light Brigade into the North Valley and kept the Heavy Brigade in the South. Raglan saw the Russians were moving to haul away the captured guns from the redoubts. In what resembled a bad example of the children’s game of “telephone” Raglan gave an order to his Quartermaster, Brigadier Airey, who in turn wrote the order as “Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French Cavalry is on your left. Immediate” (The National Archives, United Kingdom) and gave it to his Aide de Camp, Captain Nolan, who in turn relayed the order to Lieutenant General Lucan. What message Nolan passed to Lucan is unknown, though Lucan claimed that Nolan vaguely waved his arm across the North Valley and stated that they were to charge the guns. From his lack of situational awareness, Lucan only knew of the guns at the end of the North Valley where Ryzhov had moved. The next stage of the blunder came into play. Lord Cardigan, the commander of the Light Brigade, had recently divorced Lucan’s youngest; not creating the best command climate. Lucan ordered Cardigan to charge the guns. As Cardigan started the Light Brigade up the 2 kilometers of the North Valley, Nolan was waving his sword in the air, possible to try and redirect the charge toward the redoubts when he was killed (see Figure 3). The Light Brigade took artillery fire from one of the captured batteries on their right flank, three batteries on their left flank, and from the battery they were charging toward. They pushed through the line of guns and forced Ryzhov’s cavalry to retreat back. The Russians believed the British must have been drunk. The French Marshal Bousqet stated “It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness”. Twenty minutes after the start of the charge, the survivors returned. Six-hundred thirty-seven started the charge. The brigade lost three-hundred sixty men and five-hundred seventeen horses (Anthill, 2001). The French Cavalry swept in and cleared the Fedioukine Heights (see Figure 2) to protect the Light Brigade’s flank during the retreat. The British infantry divisions moved into the valley and continued a halfhearted fight against the Russians for the rest of the afternoon. The Russians held the Woronzlov Heights and pulled away the captured guns.

Aftermath and Conclusion

Blame for the destruction of the Light Brigade began soon after the battle. Raglan blamed Cardigan who blamed Lucan who blamed Nolan. Since Nolan was killed in the battle, he couldn’t defend himself. The matter would be debated for decades. The press coverage exalted the bravery of the Light Brigade instead of the failures of the command. Cardigan went home to Britain as a hero and was made Inspector General of the Cavalry. Lucan was made the scapegoat by the British command, but was still awarded with the Order of the Bath. This attitude of “bravery” over intelligence led operations would prevail in the British military until World War I.

Both sides claimed the battle as a victory. The British succeeded in defending Balaclava. The Russians, although failing to break through the Allied lines of communication, had succeeded in taking strategic positions. The Battle of Balaclava and especially the charge of the Light Brigade remains a classic example of military failures in intelligence and communication. Today’s Soldiers can identify with the importance of clarifying vague orders. The modern version of the operations order and fragmentary orders used by the United States Army greatly aid in this clarification. Clearly defining the Commander’s intent is possibly the most stressed step for the planning cell when preparing an operations order.

If the British military had used modern methods of intelligence preparation of the battlefield, they could have better planned for the defense. They could have defined the avenues of approach, established fields of fire, and been aware of how the terrain affected line of sight. If the commanders on the field had been kept aware of the overall battlefield situation, rather than just what was within view, the Light Brigade may have moved according to Raglan’s intent. The Battle of Balaclava, especially the charge of the Light Brigade, remains a classic example of military failures in intelligence and communication.

File:Battle of Balaclava (map 1).png

Figure 1. (Public domain)

File:Battle of Balaclava (map 2).png

Figure 2. (Public domain)

File:Charge Timeline.jpg

Figure 3. (Public domain)


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