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Heroic Defence of Sebastopol (1854-1855): an Essay
In the Crimean War of 1853-1856 a special place belongs to the heroic defence of Sebastopol. Throughout more than eleven months the Russian soldiers and sailors, though being greatly outnumbered, did not spare themselves and defended Sebastopol, displaying remarkable heroism, indescribable courage and valour.
On 18 November, the Russian squadron under the command of Admiral Nakhimov routed the Turkish fleet in its own harbour Sinope. In April 1854, England and France declared war on Russia. The British Fleet bombarded Odessa and conducted several raids in various places – in the White Sea, in the Gulf of Finland and even in the Far East having attacked Kamchatka. In September 1854, the Allied British-French-Turkish troops landed in the Crimea. Their immediate task was to siege Sebastopol. However, fearing of Russian fierce counteractions, the enemy Chief Commanders decided to land their troops in a more suitable place far from the Russian troops which were deployed mainly in the district of Sebastopol.
On 1 September, the Allied British-French fleet consisting of 89 warships and 300 transports came to Yevpatoria.
The non-stop landing operation continued for 6 days. 62 000 men were landed and 134 field guns were unloaded.
At the same time, the Russian troops in the Crimea numbered only 33 000 men. The enemy army, being supported by the fleet from the sea, advanced along the coastline for Sebastopol.
Prince Menshikov, the Chief Commander of the Russian troops in the Crimea, decided to give battle to the enemy army on the position which he had chosen beforehand, namely nearby the Alma River – between Yevpatoria and Sebastopol. He concentrated some 30 000 Russian soldiers in this place.
On 7 September, the Allied troops approached the Russian position and stationed their troops northward, 6 km away from it. Compared to the Allies, the Russians had half the number of soldiers, a third of artillery guns and a very little number of rifled barrels. The Russian infantry was armed with flint smooth-bore guns of 300-step rifle range. While the British and French were armed with Schtuzer rifle barrels of 1200-step firing range. The battle actually began in the morning of 8 September. In order to aid the Allied troops, the enemy sought to suppress the Russian artillery counteractions by concentrating intensive fire on them. The losses in artillery-men, both killed and wounded, were extremely serious. Our infantry suffered huge losses from the enemy long-range guns. The Russians were trained in bayonet attacks and were trying to employ this tactics all the time when possible. The French and British, on the contrary, avoided hand-to-hand combat and were heavily firing from the distance which could not be covered by the out-dated Russian guns.
Being under cover of heavy artillery and gun fire, the British successfully crossed the Alma River. Then one of the Russian regiments – the Vladimirsky regiment – was sent to repulse the enemy attacks, but this regiment alone, despite the heroism of its soldiers, could not help the situation. The Chief Commander gave an order to retreat. The British-French troops suffered such serious losses and were so severely damaged that they did not dare to pursuit Menshikov’s army which had moved back to Sebastopol.
But on 12 September, Menshikov out of fear that the enemy might cut him off the central regions of Russia, ordered to re-locate the Russian army closer to Bakhchisaray and station it nearby the Mekensian heights, eastwards of Sebastopol.
At the outset of this war, Sebastopol numbered up to 42 000 citizens, 30 000 of whom were fit for military service. All the approaches to the city from the sea were fortified with coastal-defence batteries. 14 batteries with 610 pieces of ordnance of various calibers were available there.
Unfortunately Sebastopol was not at all protected from land. There were only 134 small-caliber guns placed in the unfinished trenches and earth fortifications along the entire 7km defensive line area.
From the north Sebastopol was protected only by one fortification which was built in 1818 and since then it stayed unaltered. This fortification was simply an octagonal fort encircled by a ditch. There were 50 guns capable of operating in different directions available in this fort; each sector could be simultaneously protected by 3-4 guns.
The city’s defence was headed by the Black Sea Fleet Chief of Staff Vice-Admiral Vladimir Alekseevich Kornilov. Being the closest associate and a student of M.P. Lazarev, our outstanding fleet commander and the father of the Black Sea Fleet, Kornilov placed all his knowledge, efforts and remarkable organizational abilities at the service of strengthening the Sebastopol defenses. He took the city defence in his own hands and acted with great enthusiasm and energy. Kornilov’s closest assistant was Vice-Admiral Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov, who was in charge of Southern Sebastopol defence. Under the direct leadership of Kornilov and Nakhimov, the heroic defenders of the city made Sebastopol a powerful fortress which successfully withstood 349 days of fierce enemy attacks.
The defensive works in Sebastopol were underway round the clock at all the sectors of the line of defence. Apart from soldiers and seamen, civilian population was fully engaged in the construction process. Women worked just as hard as men. A whole battery was erected by women independently and that is why it was called a “female one”. At night they worked by the light of torches and lamps.
In one of his orders, Kornilov gave the following estimation of the heroic efforts of the citizens who selflessly defended their native city:
“Starting from the very first day of the siege, the troops which were to defend it have shown remarkable readiness and willingness to die saving their city…
Within a relatively short period of time, owing to hectic activity of both officers and lower ranks, strong and very reliable fortifications have appeared on this land and guns taken from the old ships have been placed on this formidable terra firma…”
During those first days of the heroic defence of Sebastopol it was decided to scuttle some of the old ships near the Sebastopol harbour to hinder the enemy’s access to the Sebastopol roads. The decision on scuttling the ships was right because the enemy fleet consisted of 34 battleships, 55 frigates, 50 wheel-propelled and screw steamers. Whereas the Black Sea Fleet had only 50 ships including 14 battleships and 7 frigates, 11 wheel-propelled steamers and no screw ones. Given such inequality of forces, any operation at sea would inevitably inflict the destruction of the Black Sea Fleet.
In Kornilov’s order on the necessity to scuttle the ships the following was written:
“My friends! Our troops after a bloody battle with the superior enemy forces had to retreat to Sebastopol to protect it.
You have tested the enemy’s steamers and have seen they need no sails to sail. Our enemy has twice as many ships to attack us from the sea so we have to give up our favorite idea of destroying the enemy at sea. Besides, they need us to protect the city where we have our families and property”.
On 11 September, five old battleships and two frigates were scuttled at the Sebastopol harbour. The ships guns were used to strengthen the coastal defence constructions while the sailors and officers were sent to defend the city.
On 14 September, the Allied troops approached the Northern side of Sebastopol. Being given overstated information concerning the number of its fortifications, the enemy changed the direction and decided to attack the city from its Southern side.
It was the grossest blunder on the part of the British and French as the fortifications in the Northern part of Sebastopol were not only insignificant but also obsolete. Moreover, by transferring their troops to the Southern part, they gave the Sebastopol defenders some extra time for additional fortifications construction.
Along the entire 7-km-long line of the Southern fortifications, the Russians managed to concentrate some 16 000 men 10 000 of whom were sailors. In the Northern part 3 500 soldiers were stationed. 3 000 men remained on the ships anchored in the harbour.
Towards the end of September the enemy had 67000-strong army near Sebastopol, including 41 000 French soldiers, 20 000 British soldiers and 6 000 Turks.
The garrison of Sebastopol consisted of 30 000 soldiers, sailors and officers.
The Allied commanders decided to form a battery line around the Southern part and after that plaster the city and its fortifications with artillery and battery fire, neutralize the city defence and take Sebastopol by storm.
The bombardment of Sebastopol with further storm was scheduled for the 5th of October.
On 5 October, at about 7 a.m., the enemy batteries opened fierce fire on the city. Some time later the Allied fleet approached the Sebastopol harbour and started to bombard the city expecting to neutralize our batteries and force its way to the harbour.
The French squadron ships were armed with 794 pieces of ordnance from one side; against them there were 84 Russian guns set on two batteries of the southern part of the Sebastopol harbour. The British squadron fired 546 guns having only 31 Russian guns to return fire. Thus, the Allied fleet operated 1340 guns from one side as against 115 Russian ones.
The rest of the Russian batteries situated along the harbour could not participate in the artillery duel as they were to attack the ships which managed to break through to the harbour. During a continuous 8-hour bombardment from sea, the Allied ships fired more than 50 000 shells. Though the Sebastopol garrison did have losses, none of its batteries was neutralized completely. By returning fire and attacking them, the Russian batteries inflicted significant damage on the enemy ships. The British ship Albion, for example, had 93 shot-holes, and all her masts were destroyed; the French Paris had 50 shot-holes, etc. A great number of enemy ships were put out of action; some of them went out of control and went aground. As a result of this battle, the Allies were forced to send several ships to Constantinople for major repairs.
The enemy’s plan was ruined. Despite the overwhelming supremacy in artillery, the Allied fleet failed to destroy the Russian batteries. The Allied Chief Commanders, taking into account extensive damage of their ships, rejected the previous intention to bombard Sebastopol from sea. Bombardment from land was of a little use either. The Russian artillery-men tried to fire as quickly as only possible in order to make up for shortages of guns. As a result of this, the guns became so red-hot that there was a risk of explosion. It was ordered to fire with bigger intervals.
In the course of this artillery contest, the lack of ammunition became even more evident and alarming. In order to fetch it from the landing pier, volunteers would head for the harbour. It was a very dangerous thing to do as the enemy cannons and bombs covered the entire territory of both fortifications and approaches to them. The most part of those carriers usually were disabled towards the end of the day.
On 5 October, at about 10 a.m. the artillery-men of the 5th bastion succeeded in blowing up a powder-magazine of the French battery ¹ 4. Most of the French batteries lost their guns. So, by 11 o’clock, the French guns were silenced.
On the left flank of the line of defence the battle with the British was in full swing. The 3d bastion, on which most of the British guns had been concentrating their fire, was severely damaged. By 3 p.m., the gun crews had been relieved twice. Despite the enemy withering fire, our artillery-men kept on firing non-stop. The steam-frigates Vladimir (Captain Second Rank G.I. Butakov) and Khersones (Captain-Lieutenant I. Rudnev) actively participated in firing at the British batteries, as a result of this significant damage to the British was caused.
The heroic actions of the Sebastopol citizens prevented the enemy from achieving his main goal. All the plans and efforts of the Allied troops, which were under arms all day, to carry out an infantry attack were in vain. The assault did not take place.
The Sebastopol garrison’s losses were 1250 men in killed and wounded. Vice-Admiral V.A. Kornilov, a talented organizer who led the defence of Sebastopol, was killed.
During a heavy cannonade, he was inspecting the batteries, instructing the commanders and reassuring the soldiers and sailors. At 11.30 he was fatally wounded with a cannon-splinter, and the same evening he died. Kornilov’s last order was as follows: “Defend Sebastopol”. After Kornilov died, Nakhimov remained the one and only Chief of Sebastopol defence. Having made sure that Sebastopol could not be taken as quickly as they had expected, the British-French started to besiege the city.
By mid-October, the overall strength of the Russian Army in the Crimea totaled 65 000 men. Apart from that, they expected two infantry divisions to arrive. Having started the siege, the enemy had to stretch his forces at a considerable distance to ensure a proper cover from the Russians. Terrain conditions permitted the Russians to act as they needed in the direction of Balaclava which had been chosen by the British as their base. Gaining the rear of the enemy would undermine the British troops’ supplies and hinder their further actions.
The Russian Headquarters’ initial plan was reduced, mainly, to three divisions striking a heavy blow in order to cut Balaclava off the region where the siege operations were underway, to seize Balaclava fortifications and then take in the rear of the enemy main bodies which had besieged the Sebastopol.
But Menshikov refused to implement this plan and, not waiting for reinforcements to arrive, he ordered one infantry division with cavalry to attack the British limiting their operational task to seizing the 1st line of fortifications which consisted of several separate redoubts.
On 13 October, a detachment, which consisted of infantry and cavalry, took the offensive. The battle took place near the Kadykioy village (the battle of Balaclava). Within several hours the detachment took four redoubts. The British sent their best cavalry units to conduct a counterattack, but they were utterly destroyed by the Russians. Unfortunately, due to insufficient strength of the detachment (some 16 000 men), they failed to exploit this success further. Menshikov, who did not believe in capabilities of the troops under him and did not engage sufficient number of men in the attack, was to blame for this failure.
Meanwhile, the British and French were constantly bombarding the city and its fortifications. On 20 October, the Allied army Military Council decided to schedule the Sebastopol assault operation for the 6th of November.
However, the enemy’s plan was once again undermined. Ultimately, the Russians received the long-awaited reinforcements – the two-division corps. The Russians overall strength in the region of Sebastopol reached 85 000 men. Among them, some 35 000 were available in the city, and 50 000-strong army was stationed outside the city controlling the enemy right flank. Owing to the fact that the main road for Simferopol was still under our control, a close contact was possible between this army and the Sebastopol garrison. With the Russians being reinforced, the correlation of forces changed in our favour. Taking this into account, Menshikov made a decision to attack the British right flank from the side of Inkerman.
The preliminary attack preparations were conducted in an absolutely unsatisfactory manner. Even the commanding officers did not have an itinerary of the region and cross-country movement map. Chief Commander Menshikov’s and corps commander Dannenberg’s performance and the way they led the troops were extremely inadequate and incompetent. As a result of the 7-hour-long battle with the better-armed enemy, the Russian troops, having caused him, especially the British, serious damage, had to retreat to their initial position.
Their successful and safe retreat was secured, to a large extent, by the steam-frigates Vladimir and Khersones, which had pushed forward to the Inkerman harbour and were accurately firing at the enemy who was chasing the Russian regiments. The Battle of Inkerman proved how courageous, brave and staunch the Russian soldiers were.
The outcome of the Battle of Inkerman is unique and unparalleled in the naval history: the Russian army which waged attacks, failed to achieve its goal, yet it was able to cause the enemy such serious damage and inflict such a moral defeat that the enemy was forced to change the battle plan and resort to another tactics, namely replace the offensive attitude with the defensive one.
The enemy’s plan to storm Sebastopol before winter was ruined. The Allies had to take thorough preparations for the winter campaign in haste of which they had not even thought before hoping then to conduct a swift attack on Sebastopol.
Towards the end of November, bad unsettled weather set in bringing heavy rains. All these resulted in epidemic outbreaks and a sharp increase in mortality. The poor conditions, in which the Allied troops found themselves, led to numerous deserters and traitors – during those bitterly cold winter days up to 30 Allied soldiers would desert to the Russian side every day.
In November-December 1854, the British army was completely demoralized. However, Chief Commander of the Russian army Menshikov failed to take advantage of this and did not take any serious actions until the next February. The enemy was waiting for spring to come and for reinforcement to arrive.
The Russian troops, as one might have thought, were in a more advantageous position. While in reality, the opposite was true. The lack of proper care and support of the soldiers on the part of Menshikov and poor supplies due to the wide-spread red-tape, embezzlement of the state funds and bribe-taking on the part of the tsarist bureaucrats, led to the Russian soldiers being deprived of the goods of first priority. There was an outbreak of gastric and catarrhal diseases in the Russian army, too. The ammunition and rations supplies to Sebastopol were hampered by extremely bad roads.
In February 1855, Menshikov was replaced by Prince Gorchakov, the Chief Commander of the Danube army. During that winter Sebastopol lived a very energetic and active life. Works on the damaged fortifications restoration were in full swing; gun batteries and trenches were moved forward; numerous night sorties were made with the purpose of the enemy fortifications and batteries destruction and taking prisoners.
From 50-60 to 200-300 men would participate in those sorties. Sometimes they practiced several sorties in different sectors per night. In order to take part in those night sorties, they would usually employ volunteers, and every time they would find more people than was required. Later on, they started to form separate units to be joined by volunteers. There were night sorties specialists both among sailors, soldiers and officers.
To name some of them, Lieutenant Biryulez, Lieutenant-Colonel Zavalishin, sailors Pyotr Koshka, Fyodor Zaika, Akseny Rybakov, Ivan Dimchenko, Ignaty Shevchenko and soldier Afanasy Eliseev were those men who distinguished themselves among the numerous heroes of Sebastopol. The whole of Russia knew those names. Of course, the press of those times paid less attention to the “lower ranks” focusing more on the names of officers.
Sorties were made at sea as well. For example, on 24 November, following Admiral Nakhimov’s order, two steam-frigates Vladimir and Khersones under the command of Vladimir’s Captain Second Rank G.I. Butakov were engaged in such a sortie. The Vladimir was to attack the enemy screw ship Megera which had been controlling the Russian vessels’ actions in the harbour. The Khersones was sent to start a battle with 2 enemy steamers which were anchored in the immediate proximity so that they could come to the aid of Megera. Entering the sea at her full speed, the Vladimir headed for Megera firing several accurate shots at the enemy camps situated on the shore. Giving a signal of sudden attack, the Megera made an attempt to join her fleet based in the Kamyshy and Cossacks harbours. Having accompanied the enemy steamer with shots, the Vladimir joined Khersones and they started to bombard both the two enemy steamers and the camp.
Meanwhile, several enemy ships had weighrd anchores and headed for the battle area. In order not to be cut off the access to the harbour, Butakov stopped the battle and returned to the base with no losses.
An underground mine warfare was of a remarkably wide scope during the siege of Sebastopol. The French, being unable to move forward to the 4th bastion, decided to go forward in underground mine galleries in order to blow up the bastion.
Sebastopol Chief naval engineer Totleben had discovered their intentions and got down to the construction of an extended front countermine bastion.
The idea of the Russian countermine system consisted of the following: carry out an underground attack, blow up the enemy tunnels and hurl the enemy back.
During the underground mine warfare in the course of the Sebastopol defensive operations, the Russians made 7000 meters of tunnels and branches, and blew up 120 mines.
The heroic 4th bastion was able to repulse all the French ground and underground attacks.
Facing such energetic and selfless counteractions, the enemy did not risk storming the 4th bastion during the spring and summer of 1855, and this was one of the reasons why the enemy chose to concentrate his efforts on the other flank of the Russian line of defence where the main fortifications were the Malakhoff redoubt and the 2nd bastion.
In February, the enemy dug several batteries, and the way they were arranged showed that they were intended for firing at the height in front of the Malakhoff redoubt and the territory between this height and the Malakhoff redoubt. In order to strengthen the position of this redoubt, the Russian Headquarters decided to pass ahead of the enemy and take this height first.
To do that they were to consolidate their positions at the heights situated behind the Killen-balka. Otherwise, the enemy could take on the flank and in the rear of the height situated in front of the Malakhoff redoubt.
A detachment under General Khruschev was ordered to fortify its positions on the heights behind the Killen-balka. The detachment consisted of the Volynsky and Seleginsky regiments. At night of 10 February, both regiments approached the chosen place. The Volynsky regiment moved forward covering the Seleginsky regiment which had started to build fortifications. It was only at dawn that the enemy spotted the Russians and opened artillery fire. However, they did not stop their work. The new fortification was named Seleginsky redoubt. The enemy decided to spare no efforts and take this unfinished redoubt at all costs.
In the night of 12 February 1855, the enemy attempted to seize the Seleginsky redoubt but the Russians made him retreat in disorder.
The steam-frigates Vladimir, Khersones, Gromonosets and battleship Chesma took part in repulsing the attack by firing at the enemy and his reserves.
On 17 February, the Russians succeeded in moving even further and laid the foundations of another redoubt, the Volynsky, some 500 meters away from the enemy trenches. By 27 February, both redoubts had been finished.
Since it was impossible to deliver heavy artillery to the heights where those two redoubts were situated, the Russians decided to place 22 light guns there.
Surprise advancement of the Russian troops forced the enemy to change his plans to approach the city’s line of defence. It was no longer possible for him to target the Malakhoff redoubt and the 2nd bastion. Now they had to rid themselves of this new obstacle in the form of those two redoubts. It took months for the British-French troops to overcome this obstacle. Meanwhile, the Russians occupied the heights in front of the Malakhoff redoubt where they erected a fortification later named Kamchatsky lunette (it was built by the Kamchatsky regiment). Ten light cannons were placed there.
Nakhimov committed Rear-Admiral Vladimir Ivanovich Istomin to take command of the key sector of defence which included the Malakhoff redoubt, the 2nd bastion, Seleginsky and Volynsky redoubts and Kamchatsky lunette.
Rear-Admiral Istomin, being then in the rank of naval cadet, took part in the famous Battle of Navarino. For his excellence during the battle he was decorated with the Cross of St. George. He received his second order of St. George in Sebastopol. Being in the rank of Captain, Istomin was in command of the 120-gun ship Paris during the Battle of Sinope. According to Nakhimov, no one could have acted better and more accurately in that battle than Istomin. Such high praise, expressed by Nakhimov, was in itself the highest award.
Istomin was an example of remarkable fearlessness and unruffled coolness even during the most furious battles; being put in a critical situation, he always showed a surprising presence and lucidity of mind and was always capable of finding the right solution to any problem he encountered on his way. He never paraded his fearlessness yet he was not afraid to die, and one could always find him in the most dangerous sectors of the front. During half a year that he spent on the Malakhoff redoubt, Istomin was wounded and contused once, but never did he leave the fortifications.
The headquarters were on the intact ground floor of the tower on the Malakhoff redoubt. There he lived. With beginning of the Kamchatsky lunette construction, he would visit the site once or twice a day and would give instructions on proper guns mounting and batteries erection.
On 7 March 1855, while inspecting the redoubt, Istomin was killed by a shell splinter which struck him in the head. Having lost such a true friend and loyal companion-in-arms, Nakhimov had to take on part of Istomin’s responsibilities. On 27 March 1855, Vice-Admiral Nakhimov was promoted to the rank of Admiral.
During February and March they continued to fortify the Sebastopol line of defence by taking the guns from the ships and placing them on the newly-erected forward-defence positions. An overall number of guns soon reached 900 units but only 460 of them could be used for firing at the enemy trenches and artillery. The rest of them, of smaller caliber and shorter range, were arranged to fire at the closest approaches and to protect the fortifications from the inside.
There were 482 guns at the enemy batteries. In terms of pieces of ordnance, the enemy’s superiority was not at all serious but in terms of fire capacity it was obvious. One volley of the British and French guns totaled 12000 kg of metal while those of the Russians – only 9000 kg, i.e., 25% less. Besides, the Russians had only 57 artillery mortars, half of which could not be used due to the absence of shells. Whereas the enemy boasted of 130 large-caliber mortars to open plunging fire at the fortifications and cover the entire territory of the city.
The enemy reserve of shells was 600 units per gun, 350 units per mortar while the Russian shad 15- units per gun and 25-100 units per mortar depending on caliber.
The Sebastopol garrison was in a desperate need of shells and, especially, gunpowder. On 28 March, the 2nd heavy bombardment of Sebastopol began, and it continued round the clock up to the 6th of April.
The enemy failed to achieve success during the first day of the battle. The British-French Headquarters decided to continue intensive, non-stop bombardment for 3 more days and simultaneously form avenue of approach to the 4th bastion and Kamchatsky lunette. However, on 2 April it became clear that the Russian artillery kept on firing as heavily and intensively as they did at the very beginning of the bombardment. So they decided to bombard for 3 more days and then launch an assault: the French were sent to the 4th bastion and Kamchatsky lunette while the British were to direct their attack on the 3d bastion. Yet their attempts to storm on the 5th of April failed, too. At the council held on the 6th of April the Allied commanders put off the storm on the 16th of April in order to concentrate on fortifying their artillery.
During the 2nd bombardment, the enemy used up 168 700 shells while the Russians returned 88 700. The Sebastopol defenders used up almost all their shells reserve with the exception of the emergency reserve saved for assault operations.
The assault operation scheduled for the 16th of April did not take place either. That long-standing yet unsuccessful siege of Sebastopol resulted in the enemy‘s Chief Commander Kanrobert being removed and replaced by General Pelissier.
In order to lessen the public tension in England and France, new Chief Commander decided to attack the Azov Sea ports where ample food reserves of the Russians were stored. By doing this, he expected to hinder the Russian troops’ supplies. However, this maneuver did not produce the desired effect on the course of events though most of the bread supplies were destroyed. Food supplies were brought to Sebastopol from the Crimean storehouses and the neighboring regions of Ukraine. The Russian army’s provision was impeded not so much by the enemy’s actions as by poor dirt roads and transport conditions as well as bureaucratism and embezzlement of the funds on the part of the tsarist officials.
In April-May, the enemy continued to receive reinforcements to their positions nears Sebastopol. Towards the end of May, the Allied troops strength increased by 200 000 men.
There were some 70 000 Russian soldiers in Sebastopol and its outskirts, while only 40 000 of them were directly engaged in Sebastopol defensive operations.
The enemy, taking into account his overwhelming numerical superiority, better armament and huge ammunition supplies, started preparations for an all-out assault operation. First of all, he planned to seize 3 Russian fortifications which had been moved far ahead of the line of defence thus hampering the Allied troops. These were the Seleginsky and Volynsky redoubts and Kamchatsky lunette.
On 25 of May, at 15.00, the 3d Sebastopol bombardment began; it lasted till the 30th of May. The enemy batteries had been ordered to fire 150 shots with each gun by 6 o’clock of the 26th of May. 500 to 600 shells per gun had been prepared. While Russians’ shell reserve did nor exceed 60-90 units per gun.
Up to 18.oo o’ clock the Russian artillery had been able to keep up with the enemy’s one but after that the Sebastopol defenders’ fire grew weaker due to the ammunition shortages.
On 27 May, 35 000 French soldiers attacked the Volynsky, Seleginsky redoubts and Kamchatsky lunette. Having been hurled back several times by the Russians’ counterattacks, the French, being supported by the British, finally managed to force the defenders back to the Malakhoff redoubt. Nakhimov, who was at the lunette, appeared to be encircled but, together with sailors and soldiers, was able to break out of the enemy encirclement.
During the Kamchatsky lunette storm, the steam-frigates Vladimir, Crimea and Khersones caused substantial damage to the Allies by bombarding their ships from the Killen-harbour.
On 5 June 1855, the 4th bombardment of Sebastopol began after which the enemy launched an assault operation against the city fortifications. 30 000 French soldiers were concentrated in front of the Malakhoff redoubt, the 1st and 2nd bastions on which main fire was centered.
At the same time, the British were assaulting the 3d bastion. 14000 British soldiers were sent there. So, the overall strength of the troops assigned to this sector was 44 000 which exceeded the Sebastopol defenders’ strength in this sector twice.
Some 70 000 men were allotted for protecting the troops from possible counterattacks of the 30000-strong Russian army which had been stationed outside the city on the Mekensian heights (between Sebastopol and Simferopol).
On 5 June, the enemy batteries fired very intensively all day long. Towards evening, the consequences of that bombardment were obvious. The Malakhoff redoubt together with the 2nd and the 3d bastions were especially severely damaged.
At nightfall, energetic work on restoring the ruined sectors of the defensive line began. By dawn, major defects were repaired, damaged guns were replaced.
By 3 o’clock, enemy artillery fire had suddenly ceased, and the French passed to the assault of the 1st and the 2nd bastions. The defenders of those two bastions met the French columns with case-shot fire. The steam-frigates Vladimir, Thunderer, Khersones, Crimea, Bessarabia and Odessa, which had taken up their positions nearby the Killen-harbour, also opened fire at the French reserves and assault troops located in Killen-balka.
The enemy’s attack got bogged down some 30-40steps away from the Russian fortifications. Suffering huge losses, the French started to retreat. 15 minutes later they repeated the attack, but it was not a success either. After that, the Malakhoff redoubt was assaulted by the French once again while the British concentrated their efforts on the 3d bastion; but al these attacks were repulsed.
The enemy assaults were repulsed at all the sectors of the front. During those bombardments and assaults the enemy had used up 72 000 shells as opposed to 19 000 from the Russian side. Total losses of Russians numbered 4800 men. The enemy’s losses in killed were 7000men while 18 officers and 270 soldiers were taken prisoners.
After they had repulsed the assaults, Sebastopol defenders were granted brief respite. This afforded the Russians an opportunity to get down to the damaged fortifications restoration. On the whole, the scope of engineering and construction works was not as wide as it was required. The reason for that was the same poor, incompetent management.
The enemy had to abandon his offensive plans for a while; however, he intensified artillery fire in order to cause the Russian troops as much damage as only possible. On 28 June, Sebastopol defenders suffered the most terrible loss: Admiral Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov was fatally wounded by a sniper at the Malakhoff redoubt. The bullet struck him in his temple the very moment he went out of the cover of the fortification to examine the enemy trenches. Without coming to his senses, Nakhimov died on 30 June 1855.
In the garrison order of the day, the following was written concerning the admiral’s death:
“…Our garrison will not be the only one mourning over the death of such a valorous fellow-seaman, outstanding and talented commander, a knight without fear and without reproach, - all Russia will be crying the tears of sincere grief over the untimely death of the Sinope Hero.
Sailors of the Black Sea Fleet! He was a witness of your valour and heroism; he was capable of appreciating your remarkable selflessness at its true value; he never abandoned you in the face of difficulties; he always led you to victory and glory…”
With Nakhimov passed away, Sebastopol lost “the heart and soul of defence”, the Russian Fleet lost one of the greatest and most talented fleet commanders while the people of Russia – one of the worthiest sons. After Nakhimov died, Sebastopol saw especially hard times. By the beginning of August the distance between the French forward-trenches and the Malakhoff redoubt was not more than 110 meter and the 3d bastion – 120 meters. The enemy’s pieces of ordnance totaled 640 units not to mention 250 units in reserve.
All the Russian army staff were craving for active actions. After a rather long period of hesitation and consultations, Chief Commander Gorchakov, finally, made a decision to attack the enemy by force of the army stationed outside Sebastopol. On 4 August, a battle, which was named in the naval history as a “battle on the Chernaya (Black) River”, took place. This battle did not bring success to our army. The main bodies were scattered, the reserves were not engaged in an efficient way; the actions of the units were very poorly coordinated.
After the battle on the Chernaya River, Chief Commander Gorchakov, displaying the lack of firmness and constant hesitation, so characteristic of him, changed the plan of action several times. In the end, he ordered to continue the defence o Sebastopol and, at the same time, secretly prepare the evacuation of the people.
On 5 August, an intensified bombardment of Sebastopol was launched; it lasted twenty days. The city underwent an especially heavy hurricane of artillery fire twice – between 5 an 8 August and between 24 and 26 August. These 2 periods were named the 5th and the 6th bombardments.
On 5 August, at 4 a.m., just at dawn, 800 enemy artillery guns opened fire. The Malakhoff redoubt, the 2nd and the 3d bastion were under an especially intensive shelling.
During a brief period of calm, Chief Commander Gorchakov visited the 2nd bastion. He addressed the sailors and soldiers the following question: “Are there many of you on his bastion?” One of the soldiers answered: “I will do for some 3 days, Your Excellency”. The answer and the tone with which it was pronounced showed the spiritual strength and courage of the Sebastopol citizens who preferred to die in this unequal battle rather than surrender their native land to the enemy.
Between the 5th and the 8th of August, the enemy fired 56 800 shells while between the 9th and the 24th of August – 132 500 shells, i.e., an average 9 000 units per day. The Russians returned 51 300 shells, i.e., 3 400 units per day which was three times less. That meant that Sebastopol defenders were running out of shells and there were few guns left at heir disposal.
Gorchakov decided to re-station the troops to the Northern part of the city. By 15 August, a 900-meter floating bridge was built across the Sebastopol bay. The same day, Gorchakov ordered all the staff and administration to be transferred to the Northern side.
On 22 August, at the Allied military council the French chief engineer pointed at the danger created by the Russians’ erecting the 2nd line of defence. He understood perfectly well that if the Russians managed to finish these works, the Allied army would have to spend another winter near Sebastopol which would be tantamount to a catastrophe for them. So they had to undermine these plans at all costs, and the only way they could do this was to launch an assault. Pelissier made a decision on storming Sebastopol after conducting an intensive preliminary bombardment.
On 24 August, the 6th bombardment of Sebastopol began. 807 Allied guns (including 300 mortars) opened fire. The Russians fired 540 guns.
The British-French artillery density reached 150 guns per every kilometer of the front. Never before in the history of battles was fire so dense and concentrated. Starting from 24 August, the city and its fortifications were covered with thick clouds of smoke which hung over heroic Sebastopol for 3 days making it impossible for the sunshine to penetrate.
One of the bombs hit the anchored transport Berezan’, made a hole in the deck and blew off in the hold. A fire broke out. The flames burst outside and enveloped the entire vessel. The bright glow of the fire attracted the enemy’s attention, and he concentrated his fire on the burning transport. The anchors failed, and the transport was carried by the stream and heavy waves across the harbour right on the bridge which could be severely damaged. They had to save the bridge at all costs. The sailors demonstrated exceptional dexterity and heroism. Though being under heavy artillery fire, they were able to tow the burning transport to the middle of the harbour and, by firing at its underbody, sink it.
During the first days of the 6th bombardment, the British-French soldiers fired more than 60 000 shells while the Russians – 20 000. The next two days, the 25th and the 26th of August, saw a heavy, non-stop bombardment. The losses on the part of Russians grew more serious reaching 2500-3000 men per day.
The enemy launched incendiary rockets causing fires; the citizens had to deal with fire protecting the fortifications. They had to stop putting out those fires due to manpower shortages.
The cannonade went on non-stop for 3 days. Despite the heavy bombardments and half-destructed line of defence, each defender on his place. The 348th day of Sebastopol defence was coming to its end.
Taking into account the overwhelming numerical superiority, half-destructed Russian fortifications and heavy losses sustained by the Russian troops during the last month, Pelissier, hesitating for a while, gave an order to assault the city on 27 August.
This time they made more thorough preparations for the assault. The enemy even managed to conduct a surprise attack in spite of the fact that Russians had always been on alert. Several times Russians had brought reserves and each time their efforts had been in vain: there had been no assault operation and the losses only increased. The Russians had expected the enemy to start his assault at dawn or at nightfall. He had taken all these into account and scheduled the attack for 12.00. He also did it out of fear that the Russian troops stationed outside the city might go down from the Mekensian heights and take his assault columns on the flank. Scheduling his assault for 12.00 helped the enemy eliminate the risk of being attacked by those troops because in this case the Russians would not have time to go down from the heights and attack them. At dawn, on 27 August, the enemy opened fire from all the guns available concentrating it, mainly, on the Malakhoff redoubt and 2nd bastion. The intensive cannonade lasted several hours. The Russian troops, which had been concentrated at the fortifications, suffered huge losses. In view of that, the reserves were withdrawn.
At noon, they launched an all-out offensive along the entire Sebastopol’s line of defence. The French troops centered their main blow on the 2nd bastion and the curtain between the 2nd bastion and Malakhoff redoubt. The French attacked the 2nd bastion three times constantly reinforcing their troops but all that was in vain.
The steam-frigates Vladimir, Khersones and Odessa, which at the very beginning of the assault had taken up a position in Killen-harbour and attacked the French, played a very significant role in repulsing the attacks on the 2nd bastion and the curtain.
The sailors of the Vladimir were especially good at maneuvering and firing. Having reached the Killen-balka, the Vladimir opened starboard fire with bombs and case-shot at the French assault columns causing hem huge losses. Resulting from the efficient actions of Captain G.I. Butakov, the Vladimir managed to take up such a position on the roads that the French battery fire, coming from the Killen-balka height, could not reach her as she was covered by the bank, while other French battery failed to aim properly at the roads due to the bank steepness. However, the strength of the wind and waves as well as the necessity to maneuver in search of the proper line of aim sometimes brought her to the enemy line of fire of which the French took advantage every time. During that 3-hour-long battle the Vladimir lost 15 men killed and wounded and got 22 shot-holes. Nevertheless, the Vladimir, skillfully maneuvering, did not cease fire on the enemy trenches and his Killen-balka battery till it was dark.
At about 12 o’clock, the French launched another assault of the Malakhoff redoubt. Despite the enemy’s numerical superiority, the Russian sailors and soldiers did not spare themselves and defended the Malakhoff redoubt. Reserves were sent to aid the defenders. They were led by General Khrulev. The French met the columns with terrible concentrated fire. Khrulev was wounded and then transferred to the home front. General Lysenko the command. He flung his troops on the enemy but the French numerical superiority stopped them. Lysenko was killed in that battle. General Yurofeev came to take command of the army. He gathered all what was left of the Army and headed the attack for the third time.
But then a cruel, heated hand-to-hand combat developed. Yurofeev with a group of soldiers was encircled. The Russians kept on desperately repulsing the French pressing attacks.
The courageous citizens of Sebastopol, who had already been engaged in attacks several times, did not abandon the redoubt. They retreated to the back of it and there, being separated from the enemy by a wide traverse, fired back for about an hour in order not to let the French go round the traverse.
It was impossible to launch an all-out counterattack as a large number of officers had left the ranks, while all the detachment commanders and battalion commanders had been either killed or wounded. The Malakhoff redoubt was in the French’ hands, however they could not move any further.
The 3d battalion was assaulted by the British. Their two attacks were repulsed.
Two large-scale attacks on the 5th bastion were also repulsed. The 4th bastion was not assaulted at all. The enemy, not without reason, considered it the most fortified sector of the Russian line of defence.
At 15 o’clock, General Pelissier, taking into account the lack of success and serious losses, ordered to cease assaults and pass to firing at the Russian fortifications.
To sum it up, all the enemy attacks were repulsed along the entire lengths of the line of defense, and serious losses were caused to his troops. It was only on the Malakhoff redoubt that the French managed to consolidate their positions.
Of course, the Allies did not even think that taking the Malakhoff redoubt would lead to Russians’ complete withdrawal from the territory. Yet Chief Commander Gorchakov, having estimated the current state of affairs on the site, ordered to cease all counterattacks on the Malakhoff kurgan. He decided to surrender the Southern side of Sebastopol.
An extremely unfavorable tactical situation made the Russians Headquarters transfer the troops to the Northern side of Sebastopol, ignoring their willingness to defend the native city.
Transfer of the troops to the Northern side of the Large harbour created natural 900-meter-wide water obstacle between the Russians and the enemy and prevented him from causing us serious daily losses. The Southern side, which was to be surrendered, was in the zone of artillery fire from the Northern side. On the night of 27 August 1855, a signal rocket, which was the signal of treat, was launched.
The first to retreat were the troops stationed near the bridge, after them – those which wee based in the immediate proximity to fortifications and, finally, the bastion garrisons with all their reserves. 100 men were left at each bastion to fire and artillery men from enough to operate one fourth of the guns (to mask the troops retreat). Special units consisting of sailors and field engineers were ready to blow off the guns and powder-magazines. Those units were also chard with burning those buildings and constructions which could e of any value or use to the enemy.
Heavy naval ordnance which could not be transported was put out of order. Light ordnance was taken out from the bastions by artillery men (they did not have horses there) and transported to the harbour where it was sunk since it was impossible to carry it over the bridge.
The order to retreat to the Northern side was received by Sebastopol defenders with big distrust and deep animosity. They even started suspecting Gorchakov of high treason. And they had every reason for that: the enemy’s attacks had been repulsed, the troops were in a cheerful mood ready for action, they did not lose their courage and firmness in those battles, and now after all that they had been through they were ordered to surrender their positions!
The commanders had to, almost by force, send the sailors and soldiers to the bridge as they still were waiting for the countermand of the retreat order to be announced.
The enemy noticed that there were some continuous movements and liveliness in the city and put all that down to relief of the troops. It was not until he heard the fortifications being blown off that he understood that the Russians were retreating.
The crossing went on all night long. The heavy north-east wind was blowing causing rough sea in the harbour. The floating bridge under the whole weight of people, field guns and carriages was shaking; in some places it was covered with water. But, owing to unabated perseverance and selfless actions on the part of sailors and field engineers, who were placing tarred barrels everywhere where it was needed, no emergency situations and accidents took place.
At the same time, all that remained of the Black Sea Fleet was sunk.
At midnight, several rockets were launched. Following this signal, the units left at the bastions ad defensive line batteries started to retreat to the bridge. Abandoning the fortifications, they left behind burning fuses of different length on every powder-magazine so that explosions went one after another with intervals.
All the bastions and batteries with powder and shells blew off one after another. The entire Southern side was but a thick cloud of fire and smoke inside of which there was a constant thunder of explosions. What the enemy got was just a huge heap of ruins, stones and ashes.
The surrender of the Southern side of Sebastopol did not shake the defenders’ willingness to continue their fight against the enemy and oust him from their native land.
The enemy’s hopes to get the large port city as his base, after forcing the Russians from it, did not come true. The city was of no use to him even in terms of his troops quartering for the forthcoming winter. As a result of the retreat to the Northern side, the situation in the Crimea did not become worse for the Russian Army. On the contrary, they managed to get rid of heavy daily losses.
Despite their success in seizing the Southern part of Sebastopol, the British and French did not dare to conduct ant active operations. The Crimean was entered the phase of lull.
The beginning of 1856 was marked by peace talks, and on 30 March, in Paris, the Peace treaty was signed.
The Sebastopol garrison, headed by such outstanding military commanders as Kornilov and Nakhimov, has introduced lots of innovations in warfare tactics.
For the first time a close cooperation between the Army and the Navy was organized in the Battle of Sebastopol. They included ships fire in the defence fire system. The Black Sea Fleet’s warships, which were capable of maneuvering in the harbour, opened accurate fire at the enemy causing him serious damage.
Another factor that largely contributed to Russians’ success in active defence was a high level of naval engineering in the Russian Army as compared to those of Northern Europe.
While defending Sebastopol, the Russians, by skillfully combining terrain conditions with engineering constructions parameter, were able to organize such a fire system that allowed them to cause the enemy serious losses (even being greatly outnumbered in terms of artillery and ammunition) and undermine his plans on approaching the line of defence.
The field fortifications system, the fire system organization, tactical employment of troops in defensive operations (sorties, moving forward the line of fortifications, etc) are those innovations which were introduced to the Russian art of war by our courageous officers, soldiers and sailors during the heroic defence of Sebastopol. The tsarist government suffered an utter defeat.
Back in those days the Russian sailors and soldiers were not at all aware of the very essence and nature of that war: in whose interests it was wages and what the real political purpose was. The only thing they were concerned about was the fact that the enemy had invaded Russia and that it was their primary and sacred duty to knock him out of their native land. In that heroic defence of Sebastopol, the people of Russia has once again demonstrated the whole world both its fighting strength and strength of its character and will.
And decades later the traditions of Sebastopol defenders of 1854-1855 would inspire the Russian people to fight against foreign invaders and conquerors which dared to infringe upon our Motherland’s national independence.