Inkerman, Battle Of

INKERMAN, BATTLE OF, fought on the 5th of November 854 between a portion of the Allied English and French army icsieging Sevastopol and a Russian army under Prince Menshikov see CRIMEAN WAR). This battle derives its name from a ruin n the northern bank of the river Tchernaya near its mouth, but t was fought some distance away, on a nameless ridge (styled Mount Inkerman after the event) between the Tchernaya and he Careenage Ravine, which latter marked the right of the siegeworks directed against Sevastopol itself. Part of this ridge, called lome Ridge and culminating in a knoll, was occupied by the British, while farther to the south, facing the battleground of Jalaklava, a corps under General Bosquet was posted to cover he rear of the besiegers against attacks from the direction of Traktir Bridge. The Russians arranged for a combined attack on the ridge above-mentioned by part of Menshikov's army (16,000) and a corps (19,000) that was to issue from Sevastopol. This attack was to have, beside its own field artillery, the support of fifty-four heavy guns, and the Russian left wing on the Balaklava battleground was to keep Bosquet occupied. If successful, the attack on' the ridge was to be the signal for a general attack all along the line. It was apparently intended by Menshikov that the column from the field army should attack the position from the north, and that the Sevastopol column should advance along the west side of the Careenage Ravine. But he only appointed a commander to take charge of both columns at the last moment, and the want of a clear understanding as to what was to be done militated against success from the first. General Soimonov, with the Sevastopol column, after assembling his troops before dawn on the 5th, led them on to the upland east of Careenage Ravine, while the field army column, under General Pavlov, crossed the Tchernaya near its mouth, almost at right angles to Soimonov's line of advance.

The British troops on or near the ground were the 2nd Division, 3000, encamped on the ridge; Codrington's brigade of the Light Division, 1400, on the slopes west of the Careenage Ravine; and the Guards' brigade, 1350, about f m. in rear of the 2nd Division camp. No other forces, French or British, were within 2 m. except another part of Sir George Brown's Light Division. A mist overhung the field and the hillsides were slippery with mud. Soimonov, with his whole force deployed in a normal attack formation (three lines of battalion columns covered by a few hundred skirmishers) pushed forward along the ridge (6 A.M.) without waiting for Pavlov or for Dannenberg, the officer appointed to command the whole force. Shell Hill, guarded only by a picquet, was seized at once. The heavy guns that had been brought from the fortress were placed in position on this hill, and opened fire (7 A.M.) on the knoll, 140x5 yds. to the S., behind which the 2nd Division was encamped. The Russian infantry halted for the guns to prepare the way, and the heavy projectiles both swept the crest of the British knoll and destroyed the camp in rear. But already General Pennefather, commanding the division, had pushed forward one body of his infantry after another down the forward slope, near the foot of which they encountered the Russians in great force. On his side, Soimonov had been compelled to break up his regular lines of columns at the narrowest part of the ridge and to push his battalions forward a few at a time. This and the broken character of the ground made the battle even in the beginning a melee. The obscurity of the mist, which had at first allowed the big battalions to approach unobserved, now favoured the weaker side. Soimonov himself, however, formed up some 9000 men, who drove back the British left wing for the whole of Pennefather's force at the time was no more than 3600 men. But the right wing, not as yet attacked, either by Soimonov or by Pavlov, held on to its positions on the forward slope, and a column of Russian sailors and marines, who had been placed under Soimonov's command and had moved up the Careenage Ravine to turn the British left, were caught, just as they emerged on to the plateau in rear of Pennefather's line, between two bodies of British troops hurrying to the scene of action. On the front, too, the Russian attack came to a standstill and ebbed, for Soimonov's overcrowded battalions jostled one another and dissolved on the narrow and broken plateau. Soimonov himself was killed, and the disciplined confidence and steady volleys of the defenders dominated the chaotic ilan of the Russians. Thus 3300 defenders were able to repulse and even to " expunge from the battlefield " the whole of the Sevastopol column, except that portion of it which drifted away to its left and joined Pavlov. This stage of the battle had lasted about forty minutes. But, brilliant as was this overture, it is the second stage of the battle that gives it its epic interest.

The first attack made by Pavlov's advanced guard, aided by parts of Soimonov's corps, was relatively slight, but General Dannenberg now arrived on the field, and arranged for an assault on the British centre and right, to be delivered by 10,000 men (half his intact forces) chiefly by way of the Quarry Ravine, the attack to be prepared by the guns on Shell Hill. Pennefather had been reinforced by the Guards' brigade and a few smaller units. Not the least extraordinary feature of the battle that followed is the part played by a sangar of stones at the head of Quarry Ravine and a small battery, called the Sandbag Battery, made as a temporary emplacement for two heavy guns a few days before. The guns had done their work and been sent back whence they came. Nevertheless these two insignificant works, as points to hold and lines to defend on an otherwise featureless battlefield, became the centres of gravity of the battle.

The sangar at first fell into the hands of the Russians, but they were soon ejected, and small British detachments reoccupied and held it, while the various Russian attacks flowed up and past it and ebbed back into the Quarry Ravine. Possession of the Sandbag Battery was far more fiercely contested. The right wing was defended by some 700 men of the 2nd Division, who were reinforced by 1300 of the Guards. The line of defence adjacent to the battery looked downhill for about 300 yds., giving a clear field of fire for the new Enfield rifle the English carried; but a sharp break in the slope beyond that range gave the assailants plenty of " dead ground " on which to form up. For a time, therefore, the battle was a series of attacks, delivered with great fierceness by the main body of Pavlov's corps, the repulse of each being followed by the disappearance of the assailants. But the arrival of part of the British 4th Division under Sir George Cathcart gave the impulse for a counter-attack. Most of the division indeed had to be used to patch up the weaker parts of the line, but Cathcart himself with about 400 men worked his way along the lower and steeper part of the eastern slope so as to take the assailants of the battery in flank. He had not proceeded far, however, when a body of Russians moving higher up descended upon the small British corps and scattered it, Cathcart himself being killed. Other counter-strokes that his arrival had inspired were at the same time made from different parts of the defensive front, and had the effect of breaking up what was a solid line into a number of disconnected bands, each fighting for its life in the midst of the enemy. The crest of the position was laid open and parts of the Russian right wing seized it. But they were flung back to the lower slopes of the Quarry Ravine by the leading French regiment sent by Bosquet. This regiment was quickly followed by others. The last great assault was delivered with more precision, if with less fury than the others, and had Dannenberg chosen to employ the 9000 bayonets of his reserve, who stood idle throughout the day, to support the 6000 half-spent troops who made the attack, it would probably have been successful.

As it was, supported by the heavy guns on Shell Hill, the assailants, though no longer more than slightly superior in numbers, carried not only the sangar, but part of the crest line of the allied position. But they were driven back into the Quarry Ravine, and, relieving the exhausted British, the French took up the defence along the edge of the ravine, which, though still not without severe fighting, they maintained till the close of the battle. Inkerman, however, was not a drawn battle. The allied field artillery, reinforced by two long i8-pr. guns of the British siege train and assisted by the bold advance of two French horse-artillery batteries which galloped down the forward slope and engaged the Russians at close range, gained the upper hand. Last of all, the dominant guns on Shell Hill thus silenced, the resolute advance of a handful of British infantry decided the day, and the Russians retreated. The final shots were fired about 1.30 P.M.

The total British force engaged was 8500, of whom 2357 were killed and wounded. The French lost 939 out of about 7000 who came on to the field, though not all these were engaged. The Russians are said to have lost 11,000 out of about 42,000 present. The percentage (27-7) of loss sustained by the British is sufficient evidence of the intensity of the conflict, and provides a convincing answer to certain writers who have represented the battle as chiefly a French affair. On the other hand, the reproaches addressed by some British writers to General Bosquet for not promptly supporting the troops at Inkerman with his whole strength are equally unjustifiable, for apparently Sir George Brown and Sir George Cathcart both declined his first offers of support, and he had Prince Gorchakov with at least 20,000 Russians in his own immediate front. He would therefore have risked the failure of his own mission in order to take part in a battle where his intervention was not, so far as he could tell, of vital importance. When Lord Raglan definitely asked him for support, he gave it willingly and eagerly, sending his troops up at the double, and it must be remembered that several British divisions took no part in the action for the same reason that actuated-Bosquet. But, in spite of the seemingly inevitable controversies attendant on an " allied " battle, it is now generally admitted that, as a " soldiers' battle," Inkerman is scarcely to be surpassed in modern history.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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