Battle of Balaclava, 25 October 1854

Battle of Balaclava, 25 October 1854

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Battle of Balaclava, 25 October 1854

The Battle of Balaclava was fought on the 25 October 1854, and was the second major engagement of the Crimean War. The battle occurred while the British and French were conducting the siege of Sevastopol. Lord Raglan had become concerned about the potential vulnerability of the Allied supply base at Balaclava and on the 18 September he went to the Sapoune Ridge but could see no immediate threat, despite having received reports of Russian movement across the Tchernaya River. The Russians, under Prince Menshikov, were preparing to advance however, and had already probed towards the line of redoubts along the Woronzov (Causeway) Heights and continued to do so in early to mid-October.

Next to Balaclava lay Mount Hiblak (nicknamed Marine Heights), with Kamara and the Baidar Valley to the east. Kadikoi was just north of Balaclava and just to the north of this was the Plain of Balaclava running west to east and split by the Woronzov Heights in to the North and South Valleys. The Russian Field Army (composed of some 25,000 men and 78 guns under the local commander Lieutenant General P P Leprandi) actually lay in the area of Chorgun, beyond the Tchnernaya River to the east of the Woronzov heights. The Russians could advance over the Tractir and other bridges to cross the river and aqueduct (that carried Sevastopol's water supply) or from Kamara to menace the six redoubts. Unfortunately the redoubts were not quite as strong as anticipated as five of the six were spread roughly 500 yards apart but No. 1 was isolated on Canrobert's Hill, about 1,000 yards from No. 2. Nos. 5 and 6 were unfinished. Around 1,500 Turks (commanded by British artillery NCOs) with nine guns defended the Heights. Deployed around Kadikoi were six companies of the 93rd (Sutherland) Highlanders, a battalion of Turks and a six-gun field battery, while 1,200 Marines defended Mount Hiblak with 26 field guns. To the north-west of Balaclava, five British infantry divisions and the French Corps of Observation stood on the Chersonese Uplands, with the British Cavalry Division deployed just to the west of No. 6 redoubt.

Prince Menshikov had decided to attack in three main axes. The first axis (in the south) under Major General S I Gribbe, with a combined force of infantry (three battalions of the Dnieper Regiment), cavalry (Uhlans and Cossacks) and artillery would take the village of Kamara and the surrounding high ground, along with a monastery to the south and direct pressure to No. 1 redoubt. The second axis in the centre would be under Major General K R Semiakin with two columns, one of which he would command himself consisting of the Azov Regiment and one battalion from the Dnieper Regiment plus artillery support, and the other under Major General F G Levutski consisting of the Ukraine Regiment with artillery. This force would attack towards No. 1 and No. 2 redoubts after crossing the Tchernaya. The third axis (to the north) would be under Colonel A P Skiuderi, comprising the Odessa Regiment, 53rd Don Cossack Regiment with artillery support and would drive over the Tractir Bridge and advance towards No. 3 redoubt. After the redoubts were taken, the main cavalry force under Lieutenant General I I Ryzhov (fourteen Hussar squadrons, an Ural Cossack regiment and two artillery batteries) would attack the British positions around Kadikoi. A force of some 5,000 men under Major General O P Zhaboritski would protect the flank.

Early on the morning of 25 October the Russians advanced towards the line of redoubts, alerting the British cavalry under the command of Lord Lucan, who quickly sent word to Lord Raglan (the British Commander-in-Chief) about the grave threat, and deployed the Heavy Brigade (under Brig Gen James Scarlett) with the Light Brigade (under The Earl of Cardigan) in reserve. From here, the battle can be seen to transpire in four phases. The first phase began at dawn with the Russian infantry advancing on and taking redoubts 1 to 4 with light resistance from the Turkish defenders and then concentrating around 1 to 3 in preparation for a cavalry attack towards Kadikoi. Raglan put the British 3rd Division on alert (Sir Richard England), and ordered the 1st Division (Duke of Cambridge) into the South Valley via The Col, and the 4th Division (Sir George Cathcart) down the Woronzov Road into the North Valley. Unfortunately, both these divisions would be slow to react and would not reach the battlefield before 10.30am. The French Commander-in-Chief Canrobert, sensing the threat to the British lines of communication, sent two infantry brigades and eight cavalry squadrons from Bosquet's Corps down past The Col to the western end of the South Valley.

The second phase of the battle began at about 8.30am. Liprandi ordered Ryzhov to lead the main force of Russian cavalry 'against the enemy camp'. The order was very vague and there was some confusion as to its precise meaning. Ryzhov therefore, began advancing westwards along the North Valley, supported by 26 field guns, but was concerned about meeting infantry fire on his route. Major General Sir Colin Campbell was at that point, finalising the defences around Kadikoi. He had some 700 British and 1,000 Turks with six field guns. The Russian cavalry continued to advance westwards along the North Valley, with a small force wheeling off over the Woronzov Heights towards the village of Kadikoi, but were forced to retire by the determined action of the British and Turkish defenders that became known as 'The Thin Red Line'.

The third phase of the battle involved the Heavy Brigade. Raglan had ordered Lucan to move the Heavy Brigade in support of the British and Turkish forces that were being faced with the Russian cavalry advancing on Kadikoi. However, 'The Thin Red Line' had prevailed and Scarlett, after negotiating some difficult terrain, was faced with the remaining Russian cavalry under Ryzhov (some 2,000 men) approaching his left flank in the vicinity of No. 5 redoubt after turning southwards towards Kadikoi. At that point, Ryzhov halted (later he claimed, to reorganise two of his Hussar regiments side-by-side in the face of Scarlett's extended line) only 100 yards from the Heavy Brigade, in bewilderment at the apparently unconcerned British. Scarlett, in the face of the main enemy cavalry force, wheeled his force with calm and although outnumbered, charged the Russian cavalry, which, after some desperate fighting, broke and retreated in haste back over the Woronzov Heights.

The fourth and final phase of the battle began at around 10.15 when Raglan sent an order to Lucan to advance and seize any opportunity to retake the Heights. Lucan assumed this meant the Woronzov Heights and ordered the Light Brigade into the North Valley and kept the Heavy Brigade in the South. Unfortunately, the infantry that was to support them was delayed and were not in position by 10.30am. Raglan could see that the Russians were preparing to tow away the captured guns from the redoubts and so sent the fateful and controversial order (copied down by his Quartermaster General Richard Airey) for the cavalry to rapidly advance and stop the Russians appropriating the guns. Captain L E Nolan (Airey's ADC) left the ridge with the order as Raglan called after him 'Tell Lord Lucan the cavalry is to attack immediately.' What happened between Nolan and Lucan will never be known, Lucan maintaining that Nolan pointed to the end of the North Valley where the Russian guns were sited to protect the Tchernaya river crossings. Just after 11am, Cardigan led the Light Brigade (673 men) and Nolan up the 2km long valley. Twenty minutes later, the survivors returned - the brigade suffered 360 casualties amongst the men, 517 amongst the horses. The French cavalry performed an admirable action in clearing the Fedoukine Hills to protect the survivors' right flank. Nolan was killed shortly after the advance started, waving his sword in the air, possible to try and redirect the charge towards the redoubts. The recriminations began soon after with Raglan censoring Cardigan who pointed to the order from Lucan, who blamed Nolan. The dispute as to what exactly had passed between these individuals rumbled on for years. What is of importance are the personalities of those involved. Lucan and Cardigan detested one another, while Nolan was contemptuous of Lucan's failure to act on Raglan's third order, and was not the best person to calmly explain the Commander-in-Chief's intentions. Meanwhile the two infantry divisions had reached the plains and exchanged intermittent fire with the Russians all afternoon. The Russians remained in charge of the Woronzov Heights and the guns were towed away.

For all the mistakes that were made, Balaclava remained in Allied hands, and so Raglan could claim victory, but few in Britain saw it that way, as for many, the Charge was the battle, and that was a disaster. However, there was no question as to the bravery of the troops concerned (even the Turks, who, it must be pointed out, had held out for one-and-a-half hours against overwhelming odds) and the successes of both 'The Thin Red Line' and the Heavy Brigade. The success of the 1st French Cavalry Brigade (under d'Allonville) had shown the value of inter-Allied co-operation too, with the clearing of the Fedoukine Hills. The Russians also had reason to be satisfied with the day, despite failing to cut the British lines of communication or seriously threaten Balaclava, as they had captured a number of redoubts forming Balaclava's outer defences and a number of field guns.

Balaklava: 25 October 1854 Part I

Lord Raglan is utterly incompetent to lead an army through any arduous task. He is a brave good soldier, I am sure, and a polished gentleman, but he is no more fit than I am to cope with any leader of strategic skill.

We are commanded by one of the greatest old women in the British Army, called the Earl of Cardigan. He has as much brains as my boot. He is only to be equalled in want of intellect by his relation the Earl of Lucan . . . two such fools could not be picked out of the British Army to take command.


‘You have lost the Light Brigade!’ It was thus that Lord Raglan bitterly reproached Lord Lucan on the evening of 25 October 1854. As a simple statement of fact the words were not unfounded. Before the charge, according to Captain Portal who rode in it, the Light Cavalry Brigade had mustered on parade some 700men after it they numbered a mere 180. But was it Lucan who lost it? Controversy as to who was to blame has featured in many an analysis of the battle. The truth is, of course, that many people were to blame, Lucan among them. It was a combination of personal ill-feeling, general mismanagement and peculiarly bad orders which led to so great, yet glorious, a blunder. Given the circumstances which prevailed, however – a Commander-in-Chief who had no clear idea of how to conduct a battle, and who, unlike his former chief, Wellington, was in the habit of expressing himself with ambiguity rather than precision a Commander of the cavalry, Lucan, who was at odds with Raglan’s handling of the campaign and with his subordinate, Cardigan, in charge of the Light Brigade and given too that the aide-de-camp who delivered the fatally misconstrued order was half insane with impatience and injured pride, so much so that he actually seemed to indicate the wrong objective – then it was perhaps not so remarkable that things went awry, although why General Airey, Raglan’s Chief of Staff, should have pronounced the Light Brigade’s charge as ‘nothing to Chilianwala’ may still puzzle us. It was after all a feat of arms recalled for courage and discipline rather than for foolhardiness and waste.

But if by chance Raglan had shown the same sort of drive and initiative at the first battle of the campaign as Wellington did at Salamanca, then the charge of the Light Brigade, indeed the entire affair at Balaklava, need never have taken place at all. And even if he had behaved as he did during that first encounter and the British army had still found itself at Balaklava in October 1854, it only required the Light Brigade’s commander, Cardigan, to display some spark of military daring, some inkling of the cavalry spirit, even some modicum of tactical know-how for the charge of his brigade, to have been a very different matter with a possibly decisive outcome. We must go back to the start of the campaign to see how things might have developed.

In spite of all the fuss about custody of the Holy Places, the Crimean War came about because Czar Nicholas I believed the time had come to expel the Turks from Europe and divide up the property of ‘the sick man’. At the same time Emperor Napoleon III of France was possessed of an ardent desire to cut a figure in the world and add to the military glory attained by his uncle. Moreover, Britain was determined to maintain Turkey’s integrity and put a stop to the extension of Russian power in the East. Thus a relatively trivial dispute was used to justify a struggle for supremacy in the East.

The Czar could hardly have chosen an envoy more likely to provoke Turkey’s ire than Prince Menschikoff, who went to Constantinople in March 1853 and demanded that the Sultan should recognize both the Greek Church’s claim to custody of the Holy Places and – much more significantly – Russia’s right to protect the Sultan’s Greek Orthodox subjects. Menschikoff was both tactless and insolent, but these disagreeable qualities were largely offset by the diplomatic skills of the highly regarded British Ambassador at the Sublime Porte, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, who had been there for ten years, had encouraged reform and who, in spite of his hostility to the Czar, persuaded the Sultan to satisfy the Greek Church with regard to the Holy Places, at the same time lending his support to the Sultan in rejecting Russia’s claim to be protector of Turkey’s Greek Christians. Whereupon in June 1853 Russia invaded the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, and after the failure of the Great Powers to reach some compromise, Turkey declared war in October. An extension of the war swiftly followed. Turkey defeated a Russian army at Oltenitza, the Russian fleet destroyed a Turkish squadron at Sinope, the French and British fleets passed the Dardanelles and entered the Black Sea in January 1854. Two months later France and Britain declared war on Russia.

Thus France, Great Britain and Turkey were Allies. For centuries in the past the British had been fighting the French. With the exception of the Vichy episodes in the Second World War, they were never to do so again. Yet Lord Raglan could not get out of his head that the enemy – even when in this particular war they were fighting side by side with him – were the French, and would frequently refer to them as such during the campaign. This was not the only difficulty encountered by the Allies.

It was all very well to declare war on Russia, but where was it to be waged? The Allies wished to ensure that the Russian armies evacuated the principalities and did not reach Constantinople. But what strategy should they adopt to realize these aims? By the end of May 1854 both the French and British armies had arrived at Gallipoli and Scutari, and the striking difference between their administrative arrangements was at once evident. The French were properly equipped with tents, medical services and a transport corps. The British were hopelessly ill prepared in all these respects, although Raglan had requested proper transport, only to be refused by the War Office. When the two armies made their way to Varna in order to deal with the Russians in the principalities, they found they had gone. It was now August and both malaria and cholera devastated the Allied soldiers. But at least some strategic idea emerged, and it was decided that the Allies would attack and take Sebastopol, thus removing this base of Russian power in the Black Sea and its threat to Turkey. This decision was made, not by commanders on the spot, who opposed it, but by the Allied Governments, hardly an auspicious beginning. None the less, in September the British and French armies – composed respectively of 26,000 men, 66 guns and 30,000 men, 70 guns – landed in the bay of Eupatoria, north of Sebastopol, and began their advance.

We have already observed that Lord Raglan was not distinguished for either his fitness to command or the clarity of his direction. His counterpart, General St Arnaud, was gravely ill – he was shortly to die – and was in no condition to provide bold leadership or offensive spirit. Moreover, Raglan’s subordinate commanders hardly inspired confidence. Lucan and Cardigan, leaving aside their sheer incompetence, were at loggerheads, and were soon to demonstrate their absolute inability to handle the cavalry properly. The two infantry divisional commanders, Sir George Cathcart and the Duke of Cambridge, were not as useless as the cavalrymen – no one could have been – but they had none of the experience or dash of men like Craufurd, Picton, Pakenham and Hill who had served under Wellington. Raglan’s Chief of Staff was General Airey, who should have been aware that apart from giving sound advice, his main purpose was to ensure the clarity of his Commander-in-Chief’s orders, which he singularly failed to do.

Happily for the British army this weakness of leadership at the top was more than counterbalanced by the strength of the regimental system. It was Humphrey Ward who praised Kipling for discovering Tommy Atkins as a hero of realistic romance. No army, said Ward, had so strong a sense of regimental unity and loyalty as our own. Arthur Bryant too was eloquent in emphasizing regimental pride:

the personal individual loyalty which each private felt towards his corps gave to the British soldier a moral strength which enabled him to stand firm and fight forward when men without it, however brave, would have failed. To let down the regiment, to be unworthy of the men of old who had marched under the same colours, to be untrue to the comrades who had shared the same loyalties, hardships and perils were things that the least-tutored, humblest soldier would not do.

Raglan was fortunate therefore in having under his command regiments of the Light Division, the Highlanders and the Brigade of Guards when it came to tackling the enemy. What would these famous regiments have to fight?

Opposing the Allied advance towards Sebastopol was a force of some 40,000 Russian soldiers under the command of Prince Menschikoff, who had positioned his men and about a hundred guns on the high ground overlooking the river Alma, fifteen miles north of Sebastopol. The battle of Alma was fought on 20 September and was characteristic of most Crimean encounters as far as the Allies were concerned. There was no proper reconnaissance, no clear plan, no thought about exploitation of success, no coordination between armies, no control or direction by Raglan, and the outcome was determined by the sheer courage and endurance of the British infantry. This dereliction of duty by those who were supposed to be directing the battle may be gauged by the fact that the Great Redoubt, key to the whole Russian defence, had to be taken twice, first by the Light Division and 2nd Division, and then again – because the reserve divisions were not moved forward quickly enough to consolidate its capture, thus allowing the Russians to reoccupy it – by the Guards and Highlanders. Its initial capture shows us the mettle of the British infantry:

The first line of the British army, the Light Infantry Division and the 2nd Division, rose to its feet with a cheer, and, dressing in a line two miles wide, though only two men deep, marched towards the river. Under terrific fire – forty guns were trained on the river, and rifle bullets whipped the surface of the water into a bloody foam – the first British troops began to struggle across the Alma, the men so parched with thirst that even at this moment they stopped to drink . . . During the terrible crossing of the river formation was lost and it was a horde which surged up the bank and, formed by shouting, cursing officers into some ragged semblance of a line, pressed on up the deadly natural glacis towards the Great Redoubt. It seemed impossible that the slender, straggling line could survive . . . Again and again large gaps were torn in the line, the slopes became littered with bodies and sloppy with blood, but the survivors closed up and pressed on, their officers urging, swearing, yelling like demons.

The men’s blood was up. The Light Division, heroes of a dozen stubborn and bloody battles in the Peninsula, advanced through the smoke, swearing most horribly as their comrades fell . . . suddenly, unbelievably the guns ceased to fire . . . the British troops gave a great shout, and in a last frantic rush a mob of mixed battalions tumbled into the earthwork. The Great Redoubt had been stormed.

But, alas, the Duke of Cambridge’s division with a brigade of Guards and the Highland Brigade, which should have been following up, had not moved from its position north of the river, allowing large numbers of Russians to take advantage of their own artillery bombardment, move forward and reoccupy the Great Redoubt. Thereupon the Guards and Highlanders, under terrible fire from cannon and rifles, advanced with the same steadiness as if taking part in a Hyde Park review. So heavy were the casualties suffered by the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards that one officer suggested to Sir Colin Campbell that they should retire or risk destruction. He received the magnificent reply that it would be better for every man of Her Majesty’s Guards to lie dead on the field than for them to turn their backs on the enemy. Neither course of action was necessary, however, for not only did the Guards and Highlanders retake the Great Redoubt, they successfully repelled a further Russian infantry attack. As they charged forward the enemy fled, leaving the Allies in triumphant possession of the battlefield.

Now we come to the first great If of the Crimean campaign. If at this point the British cavalry, who were poised ready for pursuit, had been launched against the fleeing enemy, they could have inflicted frightful loss. Lucan and Cardigan were aching to do so. It was one of those rare opportunities which when seized lead on to triumphant success, but when neglected deliver only frustration and guilt. Yet Raglan positively forbade the pursuit. There could be but one reason for his doing so – the French refused to go further and Raglan dared not go on alone. Had he been more forceful or decided to act with British troops only, he might have ended the campaign there and then, by capturing Sebastopol. As it was, the defeated Russians, totally unmolested, streamed into the city.

When we consider that the whole purpose of the Crimean campaign, as directed by the Allied Governments, was to take Sebastopol – and here as a result of the very first battle of the campaign, an absolutely heaven-sent chance of doing so presented itself, yet was not taken – we may perhaps sympathize with the outraged sentiments of Captain Nolan, 15th Hussars. A passionate advocate of cavalry’s proper and aggressive use, Nolan burst into William Howard Russell’s tent and gave vent to his sense of outrage – a thousand British cavalry contemplating a beaten, retreating army, complete with guns and colours, with nothing but a few wretched, cowardly Cossacks, ready to gallop away at the mere sound of a trumpet call, to dispute their passage, and nothing done: ‘It is enough to drive one mad! It is too disgraceful, too infamous.’ The generals should be damned. We shall meet Captain Nolan again when another great chance, another great If, and another gross mishandling of cavalry occurred.

Having omitted to take this tide at the flood, Lord Raglan was obliged to put up with the shallows and the miseries of what was left of his life’s voyage. It would not be for long and would lead to his humiliation and death. Instead of seizing Sebastopol the Allied armies made their ponderous way to the east and then the south of the city, giving the Russians time both to reinforce its defences and indeed to pour more troops into the Crimea. This new deployment of the British army emphasized the strategic importance of Balaklava, through whose port all the sinews of war had to come. It was the Russian attempt to capture it that resulted in the battle of Balaklava. On the morning of 25 October the British army was singularly ill deployed to meet and defeat this Russian attack. Apart from the 93rd Highlanders and about 1,000 Turks, the only troops between the port and General Liprandi’s advancing force of 25,000 horse, foot and guns were the two brigades of the Cavalry Division, positioned some two miles north of Balaklava at the foot of the Fedioukine Heights.

The idea that chaos is a good umpire and chance a well-known governor of battles was well illustrated at Balaklava, for nothing could have been more chaotic or chancy. During the action of 25 October, Lord Lucan received four orders from Lord Raglan. Not one of them was either clear or properly understood. Each one was either too late to be executed as intended, violently resented by Lucan, ignored or so misinterpreted that the outcome was calamitous. We may perhaps comfort ourselves with the reflection that there was nothing unusual about this. Even today, with superlative communications when orders are transmitted from one level of command to another, their purpose and emphasis are subject to very different translation into action, for each commander has his own view of a battlefield, broad or narrow. Each has his own intention. No wonder they seldom coincide.

Raglan’s first order to Lucan was: ‘Cavalry to take ground to left of second line of Redoubts occupied by the Turks.’ To execute the order, although he did so, was not merely distasteful to Lucan, for the very last thing cavalry was designed for was to take or hold ground, but, much more important, it was tactically dangerous, since moving to the Redoubts on the Causeway Heights, the cavalry would further isolate Sir Colin Campbell’s small force of 500 Highlanders, the final defence of Balaklava itself. Thus at the very beginning of the action, we find Lucan totally unable to comprehend what his Commander-in-Chief had in mind. Indeed, from his point of view Raglan was guilty of a gross tactical error. We may perhaps discover the reason for this absolute discord when we remember that being in very different positions on the ground, the two men had very different conceptions of what was taking place. This perilous disparity of view was magnified by what happened next.

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Rich, Norman. Why the Crimean War? A Cautionary Tale. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.

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Florence Nightingale and Her Nurses Depart for the Crimea – 21 October 1854

On 21 October 1854, Florence Nightingale (‘the Lady with the Lamp’) and 38 volunteer nurses sailed from Southampton on their way to Scutari in the Crimea. Here’s a newspaper report published on 27 October 1854 thar reports on the departure of Miss Nightingale’s party. Read some more of our blog posts about the Crimean War. Cork Examiner – Friday 27 October 1854 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Dundee Courier – Saturday 16 May 1953 Image …

300 VS 2,000: The Magnificent Charge Of The British Heavy Brigade At Balaclava

The battle of Balaclava, which took place on October 25, 1854 and was one of the main battles of the Crimean War, is almost universally remembered for being the battle in which one of the greatest military blunders in history, the charge of the Light Brigade, took place.

However, another significant cavalry charge also took place during this battle, one with a decidedly different outcome to the ill-fated Light Brigade’s charge. The charge of the Heavy Brigade, which has been all but forgotten by history, pitted some three hundred cavalrymen of the British Heavy Brigade against a force of over two thousand Russian cavalry troops.

The British cavalrymen who took part in the charge of the Heavy Brigade – which consisted, in this charge, of the Inniskilling Dragoons, the 1st Dragoon Guards, the 4th and 5th Dragoons, and the Scots Greys – at Balaclava were primarily armed, as the men of the Light Brigade were, with sabers.

Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.

Some may have carried carbines as well, and officers would likely have carried revolvers, but sabers were nonetheless their primary weapons. Lances, another primary weapon of 18th and 19th century British cavalry forces, were generally only carried by light cavalry regiments, such as the 16th and 17th Lancers.

While the differences between heavy cavalry and light cavalry had been more marked in the 18th century and early 19th century, by the time the Crimean War broke out in 1854 the differences between these types of cavalrymen were less obvious.

The Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava by William Simpson (1855), illustrating the Light Brigade’s charge into the “Valley of Death” from the Russian perspective.

Formerly, heavy cavalry had mainly performed the role of shock troops, whose function was to smash through enemy lines and sow terror among the ranks. As such, they were generally big men, often partially armored with breastplates and steel or brass helmets, and they rode large, powerful horses and carried heavier sabers.

Light cavalry had previously performed more of a scouting function, as well as the pursuit of fleeing enemies, and had consisted of smaller men on lighter, faster horses.

However, by the middle of the 19th century the line dividing the light and heavy cavalry regiments had become quite blurred, and they were not as distinctly different as they had previously been in terms of men, horses, functions, and arms.

Print shows the Enniskillen Dragoons and the 5th Dragoon Guards engaging the Russian cavalry in the midst of the camp of the light cavalry brigade which is being plundered by the Russian troops during the battle of Balaklava.

Still, for most of these cavalrymen their primary function in battle was to charge into the enemy and inflict as many casualties as they could with their sabers and lances – and this is exactly what the men of the Heavy Brigade did on the 25th of October, 1854 at Balaclava.

The Heavy Brigade was commanded at this time by Major-General Scarlett, an elderly gentleman on the eve of retirement, who up to this point in his career had not yet seen action in battle.

Despite his lack of actual battle experience, Scarlett did not hesitate to order a charge when his Heavy Brigade, which had been ordered to assist Sir Colin Campbell’s defence of the town of Balaclava, came across a force of Russian cavalry 2,000 strong.

The Russian force appeared at the top of a hill and began advancing toward the British Heavy Brigade at a trot, confident of an easy victory due to their overwhelming superiority of numbers and the fact that the British were downhill from them.

Despite the rough ground that stood between the British and the Russians, Scarlett ordered a charge, leading his men from the front. Because they were going uphill and over uneven ground, the “charge” was more like a fast walk – but when Scarlett and his three hundred cavalrymen crashed into the midst of the Russians, it was like a tornado had hit them.

General Sir James Yorke Scarlett

The British troops, badly outnumbered, fought with the fury of men possessed. As another force of four hundred British heavy cavalry smashed into the Russian flanks, Scarlett and his men hacked, stabbed and slashed their way through the Russian ranks, eventually scattering the Russian cavalry and forcing them to retreat.

Despite the overwhelming odds against them the British Heavy Brigade won a resounding victory. Russian losses were 40-50 killed, and well over 200 injured, while 10 British cavalrymen were killed and almost one hundred wounded. Scarlett survived the battle with five saber wounds and a dent to his helmet, and was promoted to the rank of general. He was then knighted in 1855.

The 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons and 5th Dragoon Guards engage the Russians in the Charge of the Heavy Brigade.

The British could have inflicted even greater casualties on the Russians had the Light Brigade been unleashed on the fleeing Russian cavalrymen, but due to a miscommunication, this was not done. Then, of course, the Light Brigade was to become involved in a tragedy of epic proportions a few hours after this engagement – one which would completely overshadow the victory the Heavy Brigade had achieved.

Scarlett’s battle-dented helmet from the Charge of the Heavy Brigade remained as an heirloom in his family after his death in 1871, until in 2004 it was donated to the Royal Dragoons Museum, where it remains on display.

Clash of the Cavalry

Seeking to exploit his success, Liprandi ordered forward Ryzhov's cavalry. Advancing across the North Valley with between 2,000 to 3,000 men, Ryzhov crested the Causeway Heights before spotting Brigadier General James Scarlett's Heavy (Cavalry) Brigade moving across his front. He also saw the Allied infantry position, consisting of the 93rd Highlands and the remnants of the Turkish units, in front of the village of Kadikoi. Detaching 400 men of the Ingermanland Hussars, Ryzhov ordered them to clear the infantry.

Riding down, the hussars were met with a furious defense by the "Thin Red Line" of the 93rd. Turning the enemy back after a few volleys, the Highlanders held their ground. Scarlett, spotting Ryzhov's main force on his left, wheeled his horsemen and attacked. Halting his troops, Ryzhov met the British charge and worked to envelop them with his larger numbers. In a furious fight, Scarlett's men were able to drive back the Russians, forcing them to retreat back over the heights and up the North Valley (Map).

Aftermath and Conclusion

Blame for the destruction of the Light Brigade began soon after the battle. Raglan blamed Cardigan who blamed Lucan who blamed Nolan. Since Nolan was killed in the battle, he couldn’t defend himself. The matter would be debated for decades. The press coverage exalted the bravery of the Light Brigade instead of the failures of the command. Cardigan went home to Britain as a hero and was made Inspector General of the Cavalry. Lucan was made the scapegoat by the British command, but was still awarded with the Order of the Bath. This attitude of “bravery” over intelligence led operations would prevail in the British military until World War I.

Both sides claimed the battle as a victory. The British succeeded in defending Balaclava. The Russians, although failing to break through the Allied lines of communication, had succeeded in taking strategic positions. The Battle of Balaclava and especially the charge of the Light Brigade remains a classic example of military failures in intelligence and communication. Today’s Soldiers can identify with the importance of clarifying vague orders. The modern version of the operations order and fragmentary orders used by the United States Army greatly aid in this clarification. Clearly defining the Commander’s intent is possibly the most stressed step for the planning cell when preparing an operations order.

If the British military had used modern methods of intelligence preparation of the battlefield, they could have better planned for the defense. They could have defined the avenues of approach, established fields of fire, and been aware of how the terrain affected line of sight. If the commanders on the field had been kept aware of the overall battlefield situation, rather than just what was within view, the Light Brigade may have moved according to Raglan’s intent. The Battle of Balaclava, especially the charge of the Light Brigade, remains a classic example of military failures in intelligence and communication.

The Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854. The Charge of the Light Brigade. Artist: Simpson, William (1832-1898)

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Battle of Balaclava (25 October 1854) - Russia vs Great Britain

I guessed, British were the aggressors and Russian were defending. Is it true?



You lost in Crimea, but you won in the Arctic (Solovsk Monastery), in the Far East (Petropavlovsk), in the Caucasus (Kars) and the Baltic (Sveaborg, Kroonstad) and Perfidious Albion failed to deprive Russia of the sea ports.


You lost in Crimea, but you won in the Arctic (Solovsk Monastery), in the Far East (Petropavlovsk), in the Caucasus (Kars) and the Baltic (Sveaborg, Kroonstad) and Perfidious Albion failed to deprive Russia of the sea ports.



Joe Shearer


What happened in the end of that conflict? Looks like a movie

I guessed, British were the aggressors and Russian were defending. Is it true?

Are you joking? This was a battle in the Crimean War, and I am sure you will read my post and burst into laughter at my trusting response to your question.

You've just made a fool of me, right?



Are you joking? This was a battle in the Crimean War, and I am sure you will read my post and burst into laughter at my trusting response to your question.

You've just made a fool of me, right?

Joe Shearer




Joe Shearer


The last leaders of the Napoleonic Wars were seen on this battlefield on the British side, that was led by Lord Raglan, the one-armed British General. However, the greatest hero (heroine) who emerged was Florence Nightingale, who introduced improvements in the treatment of wounded soldiers that was largely in place even right through the Second World War.

There are many causes of the war. The biggest was the gradual failure of the Turkish Empire this, the nineteenth century, saw the independence of Greece, soon after the detachment of the provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia, that formed the modern country of Romania. Finally, Egypt, supposedly a vassal state of Constantinople, under a viceroy, Muhammad Ali, beat the Turkish troops twice, and seemed on the verge of conquering Constantinople. Peace was achieved by ensuring the hereditary succession to the rule of Egypt to the descendants of Muhammad Ali, and to their paying a notional homage to the Ottoman Sultan. All this while, Russia had supported the Ottomans, and Britain and France had either tried to keep the balance or opposed the Ottomans. The situation was very tense, and everyone feared that one or the other of Russia, Britain or France would suddenly take advantage of the Turkish weakness and swoop down and obtain some unique advantage over the others.

The immediate cause of the war was a totally unnecessary aggressive attitude by France, who declared that she would protect Christians under the rule of the Ottomans. The Russians swiftly got involved, and said that France could take care of the rest, Russia would take care of the Orthodox Christians. Britain tried to cool things down, France reluctantly agreed, but Russia would not. So Russia fought Britain, France and the Ottomans, the aims of the war not being very clear.

The first two years were skirmishing in the Balkans. Without going into too much detail, it began to look as if Turkey would be heavily defeated by Russia. Britain and France tried to stop the Russians, but finally went to war, as they didn't want to leave Turkey to be torn apart by the Russians. After preliminary minor engagements in the Balkans, the allies - Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia (for some reason, Sardinia was also a combatant) attacked Russia on the Crimean Peninsula, in an effort to stop her moving too far towards Turkey.

As you have said in one of your notes, the battles on the Crimea were like World War One. Very large numbers of men were cut down by very modern artillery, and in head-on infantry collisions. The number of wounded was huge, their treatment primitive in spite of the advances made by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. At the worst point of the suffering of the wounded soldiers, the British volunteer, Florence Nightingale, appeared on the scene and substantially improved the hygiene and standards of nursing the wounded. During this part of the campaign, three major battles were fought: the Battle of the Alma, when the allies landed the Battle of Balaclava, that had two very famous incidents, and the Battle of Inkerman. There is nothing much to be said about these three battles that only succeeded in killing large numbers of soldiers.

The war was fought on a large number of fronts only a determined professional historian could remain interested in the details. There was a Baltic Front there was a trans-Danubian front there was the Crimean front there were fronts on other sides as well, of a minor nature. The results of the war were to totally discredit the Russian Tsardom to leave Austria weak and isolated, as her old ally Russia furiously resented her failure to support Russia to weaken the Turks even more to put France on top in European politics, and to acknowledge British domination of the seas. Soon, Prussia had beaten Austria, then she beat France in 1871, and laid the foundation for the war of revenge that the French wanted to fight in 1914.

A sad little, bloody little war, where the generals showed that they were indeed donkeys, and the soldiers showed that they were indeed lions.

Little Bits of History

1854: The Battle of Balaclava is fought. The Battle was part of the Crimean War, fought between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire with allied forces from France, Great Britain, and Sardinia. Ostensibly fought over the rights of Christians in the region, the churches themselves worked out the issues. Neither Nicholas I of Russia nor Emperor Napoleon III pulled back. The Siege of Sevastopol lasted for nearly a year, beginning on October 17, 1854 and ending in an Allied victory on September 9, 1855. This particular Battle was part of the siege of the Black Sea port.

The Allies first contact with the Russians led to a victory but they were slow to follow up on the win. This allowed the Russians to regroup and recover as well as prepare a defense for their Navy, housed in the port. The British under the command of Lord Raglan and the French under Canrobert decided to lay siege instead of engaging in outright battle. Some of their troops were housed on the southern port of Balaclava which led to committing troops to protecting their flank. Today’s battle began with Russian artillery and infantry attacks against the Allies first line of defense. The line fell and the Russians pushed forward.

The second line was held by both Ottomans and the British 93 rd Highland Regiment. They became known as the Thin Red Line as they held their position. Lord Raglan sent a vaguely written order to the commander of what is today called the Light Brigade. Raglan had ordered them to protect the guns from the first line’s fall. But due to some miscommunication (which shall ever remain a mystery since the man delivering the message died within the first minutes of the attack) the Light Brigade was sent off on a frontal assault against a different artillery battery.

The men charged forward and eventually, after receiving extreme casualties, achieved their position. However, they were so badly decimated, they were forced to immediately retreat. Their charge has been forever memorialized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” which was published just six weeks after the disastrous event. The day ended without either side having a clear victory. Both sides incurred losses and casualties over 600. It would take nearly a year for Sevastopol to fall in an Allied victory with each side losing over 100,000 men to both war wounds and disease. Six months later the war would end. Overall the Allies had losses and casualties of nearly one-quarter million while Russia suffered over a half million casualties and losses. More than half of those who died, did not die of war wounds, but were brought down by disease.

All in the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred.

Theirs not to make reply, / Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die.

Cannon to right of them, / Cannon to left of them, / Cannon in front of them / Volleyed and thundered

Into the mouth of hell / Rode the six hundred. – all from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” which can be found here in its entirety

Watch the video: Two Steps from Hell - Victory Charge of the Australian Light Horse, Beersheba - extended version