Although the Crimean War was a great victory for the allied British, French, and Turkish forces, the war was characterized by a catalogue of misunderstandings, and misapprehensions by these forces. The mental mistakes made by the Allied forces accounted for many unnecessary deaths of their soldiers, and allowed the Russians to battle back in a war that they seemingly lost from the outset.
A joint invasion force of over 60,000 strong, comprising British, French, and Turkish elements landed on Calmita Bay, south of Eupatoria, on the 14th of September 1854. On the 19th the three armies marched south along the coast in the direction of Sebastopol, 30 miles away. On the Heights of the River Alma, the Russian General Prince Menschikoff had prepared his defenses. On the 20th of September 1854 the Allies, under joint commands of General Lord Raglan, Marshal St. Arnaud and General Omar Pasha, reached the Alma and met the Russians in battle for the first time. A somewhat simplistic battle plan was adopted by the Allies, with the French being responsible for turning the left flank of the defenders, at which point the British were to make a frontal assault. Due to the first of the catalogue of mistakes, the British were forced to assault before the French had fulfilled their objective, with consequent slaughter. Lord Raglan moved so far in advance of his troops that he was actually directing the battle from behind the Russian front line. In approximately three hours, the Russians were completely routed, and fled in defeat.
After the defeat of the Russians at the Alma Lord Raglan wished to pursue the fleeing Russians, but his colleague, Marshal St. Arnaud, refused. This turned out to be a definite mistake by the Allied forces. Because the Allies chose to not pursue the Russians and attack them while they were unprepared and in panic, this allowed the Russians to gather their troops, regain Sebastopol, and with a young genius of a military engineer, Lieutenant Colonel Todleben, prepare Sebastopol?s defenses.
The Allied armies decided not to attack Sebastopol from the North, but instead marched South towards Balaklava harbor which was captured without bloodshed. The British took Balaklava as their supply base, and the French took the undefended harbor of kamiesch to the west. After the Allied bases were established, the Allies made the decision to attack the Russian stronghold with Artillery instead of man on man battle. This turned out to be another grave mistake on the Allies behalf because the time it took to set up the artillery allowed the Russian defenses to become stronger. This also weakened the Allied moral among the ground troops, and was the cause for many Allied deaths because with no activity, deplorable living conditions, and a severely cold climate disease broke out, and the French soldiers were dropping dead with Cholera.
On the 25th of October 1854, Menschikoff made a major assault on the right of the armies, whose forward defense works were a few half hearted gun emplacements along the line of the road of Sebastopol manned by Turkish militia. Although the Turks fought bravely they were forced to retreat after two hours. The fleeing Turks reformed on either side of the four companies of the 93rd Highlanders under Sir Colin Campbell, which were the only troops between the oncoming Russians and the British base at Balaklava. Shortly afterwards these men came under Russian artillery fire. Campbell withdrew the troops, but the Russian cavalry moved quickly in their direction. Campbell then decided the best way for the troops to defend themselves would be if they were to make a straight line and fire on the Russian cavalry. Although this was not the generally accepted way for an infantry to face a cavalry charge the probing Russian advance was driven off with volleys of musket fire. While this was going on another strong force of the Russian cavalry was moving towards the British forces, but this time the Heavy Cavalry Brigade was the focus of its attention. General Sir James York Scarlett led the men of the Heavy Brigade in a gallant uphill charge, and drove the Russians off.
While the British forces were being kept busy by the Russian cavalry?s, the Russians were calmly removing the British guns from the redoubts along the Causeway Heights which had been abandoned by the Turks. Once Lord Raglan found out what the Russians were doing he desperately sent orders to his Light Cavalry Brigade and to his infantry to take action to prevent this. Finally one of his orders were acted upon, and the charge of the Light Brigade began, albeit in the wrong direction. This misunderstanding by the British Light Brigade caused a great disaster where over 650 men charged, and well over a hundred of them died within the next few minutes. At this point the British had lost possession of a considerable amount of ground, including a majority of their forward defenses, as well as the only navigable road in the area.
Ten days later the Russians attacked again, in what came to be known as the Battle of Inkermann. The battle raged for almost the whole day, and was prosecuted in thick fog, heavy undergrowth, and with little if any generalship being shown on either side. As dusk fell, the British held the field, and the numbers of the Russian dead left on the field exceeded the numbers of Allied troops that had been attacked.
After the battle of Inkermann, the weather deteriorated to such an extent that further action in the field was precluded, and the activities of the Allies were restricted to siege operations. During the winter of 1854-55 the shortcomings of the British military supply system were thrown into a sharp focus, as thousands of men died from illness, exposure and malnutrition. Four times as many allied soldiers died from disease as did from enemy action. One Regiment, nominally over a thousand men strong, was reduced to a total of seven men by January 1855.
With the arrival of Spring came the huts and winter clothing from England, too late to save the lives of the thousands who had died as a result of their absence. Military operations continued to be restricted to trench warfare until June 7th 1855 when the outer defenses of Sebastopol were assaulted, with the British capturing the Quarries, and the French the Mamelon. On August 16th the Russian army under Prince Gortchakoff attempted to break through the Allied lines, but was driven off by a combined French and Sardinian force (who had joined the Allies in January 1855) a third its size. On September 8th 1855 the Allies again stormed Sebastopol, with the French successfully defeating the Russians at Malakoff. Since the Malakoff, was the key to the town?s defenses, the fact that the British troops attack on Redan failed didn?t stop the Russians from evacuating Sebastopol. Even though the Russians eventually ended up losing the Crimean War they were able to keep the best troops in the world at bay around Sebastopol for over eleven months.
The misunderstandings, and misapprehensions by the Allied forces allowed the relatively weaker Russian army to maintain their position in Sebastopol, and to battle with a greater level of success than should have been possible against the best soldiers in the world.