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November 1854 - INKERMAN - The Crimean War - 21st
Inkerman, fought on 5th November 1854, was the principal land battle of the Crimean War of 1854-56. This war was fought against Russia by an alliance consisting of Britain, France and Turkey and its object was to prevent Russia from seizing Turkey. Such a seizure would have given Russia control of access into the Mediterranean for the Black Sea Fleet and, consequently great influence in Eastern Europe. Most European countries were keen to prevent this as Russia was a notoriously despotic power, firmly opposed to the liberal policies which were then spreading throughout much of Europe.
Due to the long peace in Europe, official parsimony and public indifference to the upkeep of the Army, the British Expeditionary Force was committed to a war which was ill-conceived, poorly directed, and very badly administered. Regimental organisation was, on the whole, good however the Army’s administrative services were virtually non-existent due to national neglect rather than to poor planning on the part of the War Office.
The main effort of the war took place in the Crimean Peninsula in South Russia, where the naval base of Sevastopol stands. The object was to capture the port and thus deprive Russia of her naval base in the Black Sea. An Allied landing was effected in September 1854 and Sevastopol was soon invested. In October, a Russian attempt to raise the seige was thwarted and the enemy’s next move was to plan a direct assault on the Allied lines on their inland flank, in the British sector. A Russian field army was to fall on the British in a dawn attack at the same time as the garrison of Sevastopol made a large-scale sortie; Sunday, November 5th was the chosen date.
The day broke dark and foggy, providing ideal cover for the Russians, who achieved complete surprise, so much that at no time throughout the day was there any concerted plan for battle on the part of the British; divisions, brigades and even individual regiments stood-to, marched for the sound of firing and engaged the enemy as and where they found him. ‘Generals fought like colonels, colonels fought like private soldiers and privates fought like heroes.’
The main body of the 21st (part of the 2nd Division) was in camp, the night picket having just come in, when the alarm was given. The Battalion stood to arms and set off up the road leading north from the 2nd Division lines. Appeals for help to bolster up the left of the British line caused the Commanding Officer, Colonel Ainslie, to send off a strong detachment under Major Lord West while he himself continued the advance towards the centre. Very soon Ainslie detected the Russian skirmish line advance through the fog and deployed to attack them. The Russians gave way and the 21st pursued them to a point about three hundred yards past ‘the Barrier’ a stone breastwork built across the road to cover this approach into the British lines.There a strong Russian force loomed out of the mist and it became obvious that it would be useless to make a stand in the open. The 21st fell back on the Barrier and during the withdrawal Colonel Ainslie was mortally wounded, leaving Captain Haines as the senior officer in command .
Haines at once began to organise the defence of the Barrier, realising that this outwork must be held at all costs if the Russians were not to break through the British centre. All through that morning the struggle went on and the Barrier was one of the very few points which never changed hands and which thus served as one of the anchor-points of the defender’s line. Assault after assault was beaten off ; Haines was able to bring under his command various isolated parties which rallied on the Barrier in the confusion of fog and fight. Reinforcements and ammunition were both desperately needed but still Haines contrived to maintain a sufficient force and to hold the Barrier.
At last the tide turned as the Russians, taken aback by the unexpected failure of their dawn assault to overwhelm the British, began to lose heart and break off the action. The Barrier, which had been almost a beleagured outpost, now became the spearpoint of an offensive-defensive action until Haines, sensing a slackening in the Russian assaults, ordered a counter attack. The enemy gave way before him, as they were doing all along the line, and soon after mid-day the battle was over and with it the Russian attempt to relieve Sevastopol, which remained besieged until its surrender in late 1855. On the day after the battle the bodies of three men of No 1 Company of the 21st were found marking the furthest point of the counter-attack.
The Regiment lost one out of three killed or wounded that day and Sir Frederick Paul Haines, although he lived to become a Field Marshal and Colonel of the Regiment, always looked back on Inkerman as the most arduous day of his long service.
The war ended in 1856 but the Allies achieved their aim. They would almost certainly not have done so had not the 21st behaved so resolutely in a key position of the British Line at Inkerman.
The battle is commemorated each year in the Regiment on "Assaye / Inkerman day".
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