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The Battle of Balaclava

The Battle of Balaclava

The Battle of Balaclava, fought on 25 October 1854, was a key battle during the Crimean War, fought between the allied forces of the United Kingdom, French Empire and the Ottoman Empire on one side and Russia on the other. It was the first of two attempts by the Russians to break the Siege of Sevastopol.

The hilly battlefield consisted of two valleys oriented in an east-to-west direction, divided by low hills and ridges, with the terrain consisting of open grassland. The British force was divided between the two valleys. The southern plain was held by the British cavalry's Heavy Brigade (the Royal Dragoon Guards and the Scots Greys). The Light Brigade, consisting of the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, under the command of Major-General the Earl of Cardigan, was positioned in the northern valley. The overall command of the British cavalry was exercised by the Earl of Lucan. A French force was also present. The Russian force was significantly larger than that of the allies, but was hampered by poor discipline, poor leadership, and inferior weapons.

Lieutenant-General the Lord Raglan commanded the British Army and General François Certain Canrobert commanded the French Army. Prince Aleksandr Menshikov commanded the Russian Army, while the Russian assault on Balaclava was commanded by General Pavel Liprandi, Menshikov's second in command.

The battle started with a successful Russian attack on Ottoman positions. This led to the Russians breaking through into the valley of Balaklava (anglicised as "Balaclava"), where British forces were encamped. The port of Balaklava, a short distance to the south, was the site of a key British supply base. The Russian advance was intended to disrupt the British base and attack British positions near Sevastopol from the rear.

An initial Russian advance south of the southern line of hills was repulsed by the British. A strong attacking force of Russian cavalry emerged over the ridgeline, and split into two portions. One of these columns drove south towards the town of Balaklava itself, threatening the supply of the whole British army. That drive was repulsed by the steady musketry of the 93rd (Highland) Regiment, which had been formed into a lone line of two rows by its gallant commander, Sir Colin Campbell - the action became known in history as "The Thin Red Line".

The second column of Russian cavalry was then smashed by the British Heavy Brigade, in an illogical uphill charge that greatly enhanced the image and prestige of the British cavalry, forcing the Russians to retreat to their artillery, which was strategically positioned along the ridges above the valley. Raglan ordered the Light Brigade to "prevent the enemy carrying away the guns", in a written order delivered by Captain Nolan. Though the following events are shrouded in mystery, it is generally accepted that Nolan was fully aware that Lord Raglan had intended for the Light Brigade to charge the captured British guns that were being carried off the redoubt by the Russians. Nolan infamously delivered the written order in haste while verbally indicating to Lord Cardigan that he should charge the Russian gun battery that was down the valley, causeing what would forever be known as the Charge of the Light Brigade. The Light Brigade was saved from total destruction by an intervention from the French 4th Chasseurs d'Afrique.

The battle ended inconclusively, with both sides retaining their guns and starting positions. The British suffered a total of 360 casualties, with Russian casualties unknown, but estimated at several hundred.

The name of the battle Balaclava was transferred to the knitted woollen headgear, the balaclava.

Numerous poems have been written about the Light Brigade, the most renowned being The Charge of The Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

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