The 20th Foot at the Battle of Inkerman by David Rowlands
Original owned by Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The Battle of Inkerman took place on 5th November 1854 in Crimea, during the Crimean War of 1853 – 1856. The territory of Crimea was at that time part of the Russian Empire which had annexed it in 1783.
The battle was fought by the allied British and French troops against the Imperial Russian Army. It earned the name ‘The Soldier's Battle’ because foggy conditions on the day isolated the troops, sometimes into small parties of men, requiring them to rely on their own initiative. The name also refers to the savagery of the fighting.
The Russian attack, comprising 42,000 men and 134 guns, split into two forces, was concentrated on the British Second Division, numbering 2,700 men and 12 guns.
At dawn on Sunday, 5th November, the church bells of the Russian naval port of Sevastopol began pealing, not to call the people to worship, but to encourage the Russian troops as they advanced towards the British. 6,000 soldiers in dense columns were preceded by 300 riflemen. A further 9,000 men were held in reserve.
The Russian infantry pressed forward through drifting fog and were met by British troops using the British Minié rifled muskets. These were designed to give rapid muzzle reloading. They had a longer range and were more accurate than the Russians’ flint lock muskets. They were also more reliable, particularly in wet conditions.
As things began to look very difficult French and British reinforcements arrived, raising the numbers to 8,500 British with 38 guns and 7,500 French with 18 guns. (These numbers vary according to different sources) In spite of being heavily outnumbered, the British being outstripped by 5 to 1 for much of the fighting, the allied troops held their ground and repelled the Russian attacks. The Russians had no fresh reserves, having earlier deployed all their 42,000 troops. Gradually they started withdrawing. The allies did not give chase and by 2:30 pm were left holding the field.
Sir Edward Bruce Hamley, then a young officer, 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.’
This was the last occasion during the Crimean War that the Russians attempted large-scale attacks to defeat their opponents. They had been surprised and impressed by the tenacity and fighting spirit of their adversaries.
Twelve Victoria Crosses were awarded to British soldiers.
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