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Crimean War: Battle of Inkerman

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Battle of Inkerman - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Inkerman was fought November 5, 1854, during the Crimean War (1853-1856).

Armies & Commanders:

Allies

  • Lord Raglan
  • General François Canrobert
  • 15,700 men (7,500 British, 8,200 French)
  • 56 guns

Russians

  • Prince Menshikov
  • 42,000 men
  • 134 guns

Battle of Inkerman Background:

The Allied armies of Britain, France, and Turkey landed on the Crimea on September 15, 1854 and began advancing south towards Sevastopol. Defeating the Russians at the Battle of Alma five days later, the Allied leaders could not agree on a plan of attack and delayed assaulting the city allowing the Russians to improve its defenses. Finally marching east of Sevastopol, they approached from the south and began siege operations. Seeking to disrupt these, the Russian commander, Prince Alexander Menshikov, directed his forces to attack the British base at Balaclava.

In the resulting Battle of Balaclava on October 25, the Russians secured favorable terrain but were unable to take the town. Despite this failure, the battle exposed the Allies' lack of manpower as they had difficulty maintaining the siege while also covering their rear. Seeking to take advantage of this, Menshikov devised a plan for attacking the British 2nd Division on Mount Inkerman. More precisely a series of ridges, Mount Inkerman consisted of Home Ridge which ran east-west with a spur to the north known as Fore Ridge.

Plans & Positions:

In a strong position on the heights, the 2nd Division was under the temporary command of Brigadier General John Pennefather. A post road from ran over the ridge and north to the Tchernaya River. To strengthen their position, the British built a wall across the road on the north side of the ridge, dubbed "The Barrier," as well as constructed a position on Fore Ridge known as the "Sandbag Battery." Possessing around 2,700 men, Pennefather deployed a strong series of pickets to warn of approaching attacks. Seeking to crush the British, Menshikov intended to launch two columns against the Mount Inkerman position.

The first of these consisted of around 20,000 men under Lieutenant General F.I. Soimonoff which would advance from Sevastopol, move along the southern edge of Careenage Ravine and strike the British left flank. This would be supported by 15,000 men under Lieutenant General P.I. Pauloff who would strike Home Ridge from the north. Once combined, General P.A. Dannenberg would take overall command and drive the British from the heights. Marching through heavy fog early in the morning of November 5, Soimonoff erred and moved along the north edge of Careenage Ravine.

The Battle of Inkerman:

As a result, he was unable to effectively use his larger numbers due to the constricted terrain. Placing his artillery on Shell Hill, northwest of the British position, Soimonoff advanced with 6,000 men leaving 9,000 with his guns. Encountering the British pickets, the Russians pressed forward the attack. An aggressive commander, Pennefather ordered his troops to advance to meet the threat. Though outnumbered, this maneuver prevented losses as the Russian artillery opened fire on the crest of the ridge.

Unable to advance on a broad front, the Russians took heavy losses as the British, using their more advanced rifled muskets, stubbornly defended and mounted local counterattacks. Forced back across the valley to Shell Hill, Soimonoff reformed his men for a second assault. Leading the attack personally, Soimonoff moved against Pennefather's left reaching the ridge just as British reinforcements began to arrive. Encountering troops from the Light Division, the Russians battled fiercely but were forced to retreat when the 47th Regiment attacked their flank. Soimonoff was killed in the fighting.

With Soimonoff dead, the Russian attacks from the east tapered off as the focus shifted to Pauloff's column approaching from the north. Initial attacks on the Barrier and Home Ridge were beaten off and Dannenberg rode forward to take charge. Summoning the 9,000 men at Shell Hill and Pauloff's troops, he began a series of sustained attacks on the British. As these moved forward, additional reinforcements in the form of the Guards Brigade and the 4th Division were en route to aid Pennefather. Under heavy pressure, the British were forced back from the Barrier, but soon recaptured it.

To the east, fighting swirled around the Sandbag Battery with the position repeatedly changing hands. Arriving on the field, Major General Sir George Cathcart's 4th Division was used to plug holes in the British lines. Gathering around 400 men, Cathcart personally led an attack on the Russian flank, but was killed and his force broken up. His efforts caused several other British units to abandon the line and mount attacks of their own, destabilizing the overall position. These emerging gaps allowed the Russians to reach the crest of the ridge. The situation was only saved when French reinforcements reached Home Ridge and drove the enemy back.

While fighting raged on the north slope of the ridge, the Russians renewed their efforts on the west side. Surging forward, they poured from Careenage Ravine and were met by heavy fire from the Allied troops. Though pressed, the defenders held. To aid in the fight, the British commander, Lord Raglan, ordered forward 18-pdr guns to suppress the Russian fire from Shell Hill. Effective in this role, they also aided in a series of Allied counterattacks which drove back the battered Russians and saw troops take Shell Hill as well as capture a significant amount of their artillery. Realizing the day was lost, Dannenberg ordered a retreat and by 2:30 PM the Russians had left the field.

Aftermath of Inkerman

The fighting at Inkerman cost the British 597 killed and 1,860 wounded, while the French lost 143 killed and 750 wounded. Russian losses totaled 10,729 killed, wounded. The defeat at Inkerman effectively broke the fighting spirit of the Russian army and put 24 of the 50 battalions engaged out-of-action. Inkerman was the last time the Russians attempted to defeat the Allies in the field and the war effectively became the siege of Sevastopol. For the Allies, the battle eliminated hopes of a quick victory in the Crimea as a tenuous manpower situation was further worsened. As a result, operations were limited until reinforcements could arrive. Despite this, Inkerman was a stunning victory for the British Army as its men had been outnumbered 5-to-1 during much of the fighting.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1800s
  6. Crimean War
  7. Battle of Inkerman - Crimean War Battle of Inkerman

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